Tag Archives: Enviva

Weekly News Check-In 1/7/22

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Welcome back.

Let’s kick it off with a conversation with Holly Jean Buck, author of “Ending Fossil Fuels / Why Net Zero Is Not Enough”. Ms. Buck cuts through industry fog to illuminate false solutions like “low carbon” fuels and carbon capture, and guides us across the slippery terrain of “net zero” world toward a future with very low total emissions.

Also cutting through the fog – and now with a supportive court decision – are journalists investigating Energy Transfer’s use of private security firm TigerSwan in 2016 to counter the Indigenous-led movement against construction of the Dakota Access pipeline at Standing Rock.

Changes are coming as we green the economy, and the California port of Humboldt is working hard to transform itself into a 21st century hub for offshore wind power. Also changing: the ubiquitous American gas station.

As snow falls in the Berkshires and with a sub-zero chill on the way, let’s recalibrate with a study published in the journal Climate that shows New England warming faster than anywhere else on the planet. The region has already surpassed the Paris Climate Agreement threshold of 1.5°C, and we should expect significant ecological and economic challenges as a result.

Massachusetts recently experienced a couple big setbacks to its clean energy plans, and the Baker administration just finalized new solar and electric truck initiatives intended to help get the state back on track. Meanwhile, Vermont is attempting to increase its rate of home weatherization projects over the next decade, and is coordinating with existing training programs to ensure a supply of skilled workers.

In the near future, your electric vehicle may double as your home’s battery storage for emergency backup power and demand management, so a new generation of chargers is arriving to manage all those electrons flowing between solar panels, your vehicle, your home, and the grid. Meanwhile, smart meters are helping to modernize that grid, allowing for increased efficiencies and time-of-use billing.

Everyone who’s paying attention understands that the transition to green energy presents substantial environmental risks along with the obvious benefits. Mining probably represents the greatest negative impact, so it’s good to start seeing articles that indicate a growing awareness of the need for better planning and stronger regulations. Meanwhile, the world continues to stumble toward a truly frightening precipice that marks the onset of deep-seabed mining.

We’ll wrap up with two stories: news that Nova Scotia appears to have pulled away the welcome mat from a number of large fossil fuel projects, followed by a detailed report on how Europe’s continued reliance on biomass is devastating forests in the U.S. Southeast.

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

AUTHOR INTERVIEW

Holly Jean Buck
‘Net-zero is not enough’: A new book explains how to end fossil fuels
Sociologist Holly Buck wants you to know that fossil fuel phaseout isn’t a “fringe” idea.
By Emily Pontecorvo, Grist
December 22, 2021

In just a couple of years, “net-zero” pledges have become the gold standard of climate action. According to one online tracker, more than 4,000 governments and companies around the world have pledged to go net-zero. But as the concept has caught on, it has invited fierce backlash from climate advocates who worry that it is malleable to the point of meaninglessness.

In her new book, Ending Fossil Fuels: Why Net Zero is Not Enough, sociologist Holly Jean Buck explains how striving for net-zero emissions opens up a wide range of possible futures, some of which could include lots of oil and gas. Buck argues that in addition to focusing on emissions, climate policy should be directed at phasing out fossil fuels.

A net-zero pledge is a promise to achieve a state of equilibrium. It implies that any planet-warming emissions you dump into the atmosphere will be offset by actions to pull carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. In theory, if the whole world achieved this balance, the planet would stop heating up. But Buck writes that the phrase creates ambiguity that can be exploited by policymakers and corporate interests.

Focusing on net-zero could lead us toward a “near-zero emissions” world powered by renewable energy, or it could also lead us toward a “cleaner fossil world” where we continue burning oil and gas and build a vast network of infrastructure to capture the resulting carbon and bury or reuse it. Indeed, companies and policymakers are already promising to produce “lower carbon” fossil fuels. The U.S. Department of Energy has a new Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management focused entirely on meeting climate goals while minimizing the environmental impacts of fossil fuels.

Buck concedes that this cleaner fossil fuel future is technically possible but argues that ending fossil fuels is more desirable, with benefits for human health and the potential to rebalance power, restore democracy, and end corruption. The book is a guide for anyone who agrees and wants to fight for this version of the future.
» Read article               

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

veterans confront policeJudge Rules Against Pipeline Company Trying to Keep “Counterinsurgency” Records Secret
In a legal fight over public records, press advocates say that Dakota Access pipeline company Energy Transfer engaged in “abusive litigation tactics.”
By Alleen Brown, The Intercept
January 6, 2022

Last week, a North Dakota court ruled against a bid by the oil company Energy Transfer to keep documents about its security contractor’s operations against anti-pipeline activism secret. The court thwarted the pipeline giant’s attempt to narrow the definition of a public record and withhold thousands of documents from the press. Judge Cynthia Feland ruled that Energy Transfer’s contract with the security firm TigerSwan cannot prevent the state’s private security licensing board from sharing these records with The Intercept, refusing to accept the company’s attempt to exempt the records from open government laws.

“This is the first opinion that I’ve been aware of that’s made it clear that when you give records to a public entity like this private investigation board, they become public records,” said Jack McDonald, attorney for the North Dakota Newspaper Association. “What relationship there was between Energy Transfer and TigerSwan — that doesn’t affect the records.”

The North Dakota case revolves around 16,000 documents that an administrative law judge forced TigerSwan to hand over to the state’s Private Investigation and Security Board in the summer of 2020 as part of discovery in a lawsuit accusing the company of operating without a security license. TigerSwan was hired by Energy Transfer in September 2016 to lead its security response to the Indigenous-led movement to stop construction of the Dakota Access pipeline, or DAPL, at the edge of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.
» Read article               

» More about protests and actions

GREENING THE ECONOMY

Humboldt vision
As the Biden Administration Eyes Wind Leases Off California’s Coast, the Port of Humboldt Sees Opportunity
The administration wants to sell its first lease in 2022, and a new bill in California requires a plan. Some in Humboldt have been waiting years for this moment to arrive.
By Emma Foehringer Merchant, Inside Climate News
January 5, 2022

In the early 20th century, the U.S. Census Bureau declared Humboldt County, California—now famous for its redwoods—the “principal center” of the state’s lumber industry. In 1900, the product accounted for nearly 60 percent of the region’s exports.

But now, though lumber yards and wood suppliers still line Humboldt Bay, the industry is a shadow of its former self.

“You look at old photographs of Humboldt Bay from back then and there’s mills everywhere, pulp mills and ships and docks,” said Matthew Marshall, executive director of the Redwood Coast Energy Authority. “As that retracted there’s a lot of available land and waterfront …. So, there’s a big opportunity.”

The Redwood Coast Energy Authority (RCEA)—a power organization formed by the County of Humboldt and Northern Californian cities such as Trinidad and Eureka—has been working for years to prepare for that opportunity. In 2018, RCEA submitted an unsolicited application to the U.S. Department of the Interior in hopes of building wind energy in waters just west of Humboldt Bay.

That bid helped gain the attention of offshore wind players across the world. Many drew up plans to build off California’s coast. The U.S. government floated several places where wind projects could work. So far, progress in the state has been halting. Meanwhile, the East Coast built pilot projects, crafted designs for offshore wind hubs, and started to build out its ports.
» Read article               

out of service
What Does the Future Hold for the American Gas Station?
The end of the gas car will eventually leave 100,000 stations behind.
By Dan Farber, Legal Planet | Blog
January 3, 2022

Gas stations have been fixtures in our world for a century or more. There are even books of photos of picturesque gas stations, some futuristic, others quaint. We’re transitioning into a world dominated by electric vehicles. What does the future hold for these icons of the fossil fuel era?

There are now about a hundred thousand  gas stations in the U.S. A majority are owned by operators with only one station, making them quintessential small businesses. They don’t actually make a lot of money selling gas. The margin over wholesale prices is about twenty cents a gallon, but the actual profit is only a fraction of that. The real money is in the convenience store inside the gas station. In other words, selling gas is in large part just a way of getting people into the store.

It’s going to take time to phase out gas powered cars even after EVs take over the new car market, which means the business of selling gas isn’t going to disappear overnight. Replacing diesel for heavy trucks may take even longer, especially on long-haul routes. That means that the gas business won’t disappear overnight, but obviously there’s going to be sharply declining demand.

All that means that the future of current gas stations is likely to be as convenience stores.  Older stations are often on small lots that will need to be expanded for  profitable stores. However, stations often sit on corner lots at major intersections, making them prime retail spots.

Still, reuse is going to be a major issue. In Canada, for instance, there are said to be thousands of former gas stations that haven’t been redeveloped because of clean-up costs. We may be able to learn from efforts there and in Norway, which is banning new fossil-fuel cars only a few years from now.

There are lessons to be drawn from the gas station example. One is about the need to deal with the leftover damage of the fossil fuel era — not just contaminated soil at gas stations, but emissions from old wells, refineries, and storage sites. We’re likely to be dealing with those problems for years after gasoline motors are gone.
» Read article               

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

MA coastline - ISS view
New England is warming faster than the rest of the planet, new study finds
By David Abel, Boston Globe
December 30, 2021

New England is warming significantly faster than global average temperatures, and that rate is expected to accelerate as more greenhouse gases are pumped into the atmosphere and dangerous cycles of warming exacerbate climate change, according to a new study.

The authors of the scientific paper, which was published in the most recent edition of the journal Climate, analyzed temperature data over more than a century across the six New England states and documented how winters are becoming shorter and summers longer, jeopardizing much of the region’s unique ecology, economy, and cultural heritage.

The warming in the region already has exceeded a threshold set by the Paris Climate Accord, in which nearly 200 nations agreed to cut their emissions in an effort to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. If global temperatures exceed that amount, the damage from intensifying storms, rising sea levels, droughts, forest fires, and other natural disasters is likely to be catastrophic, scientists say.

With New England’s annual temperatures expected to rise sharply in the coming decades, the authors of the study said the region should expect major disruptions to its economy, including coastal waters that will become increasingly inhospitable to iconic species such as cod and lobster; fewer days when skiing and other winter recreation will be possible; less maple syrup and other agricultural products produced; and a range of other consequences.
» Read article               
» Read the study

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

blue array
Baker approves solar, truck emission initiatives
Moves follow setbacks on transportation, hydroelectricity
By Matt Murphy and Colin A. Young, Statehouse News Service, in CommonWealth Magazine
January 3, 2022

With two of its key climate change policies dead or near-dead, the Baker administration approved two initiatives last week to incentivize the development of solar power and expand the use of zero emission vehicles.

The Department of Public Utilities finalized on Thursday a long-delayed regulatory process for a solar incentive program expected to yield 3,200 megawatts of power, double the size of the existing program. And on the same day the Department of Environmental Protection adopted California regulations requiring a faster adoption rate for zero emission light and heavy-duty trucks.

Both initiatives come after the administration’s Transportation Climate Initiative was declared dead after it failed to gain traction with states in the northeast and a Massachusetts-financed power line bringing hydroelectricity from Quebec was shot down by voters in Maine.

The DEP estimates the total cost of the solar expansion to be $3.6 billion over the next 25 years, which is considerably less per megawatt hour than previous solar incentive programs.

Under the order issued by the Department of Public Utilities, the state’s three private utilities — Eversource, National Grid, and Unitil — have until January 14 to submit proposals for how the newly approved funding for the Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target, or SMART, program will be recovered from ratepayers.

Solar advocates hailed the decision, but said the long delay in moving ahead set the industry back. The SMART program launched in 2018 and was expanded to 3,200 megawatts in 2020, but final approval bogged down amid negotiations with the utilities over tariff rates.

Also on Thursday, the Department of Environmental Protection filed emergency regulations and amendments to immediately adopt California’s Advanced Clean Trucks policy, which requires an increasing percentage of trucks sold between model year 2025 and model year 2035 to be zero-emissions vehicles.
» Read article               

mislabeled
Fury as EU moves ahead with plans to label gas and nuclear as ‘green’
Brussels faces backlash and charges of greenwashing after publishing draft proposals on New Year’s Eve
By Jennifer Rankin, The Guardian
January 3, 2022

The European Commission is facing a furious backlash over plans to allow gas and nuclear to be labelled as “green” investments, as Germany’s economy minister led the charge against “greenwashing”.

The EU executive was accused of trying to bury the proposals by releasing long-delayed technical rules on its green investment guidebook to diplomats on New Year’s Eve, hours before a deadline expired.

The draft proposals seen by the Guardian would allow gas and nuclear to be included in the EU “taxonomy of environmentally sustainable economic activities”, subject to certain conditions.

The taxonomy is a classification system intended to direct billions to clean-energy projects to meet the EU goal of net zero emissions by 2050.

Robert Habeck, who became the economy and climate action minister last month as part of a traffic-light coalition of Social Democrats, business-friendly Free Democrats (FDP) and Greens, said the plans “water down the good label for sustainability”. Habeck, a co-leader of the Greens, also told the German press agency dpa it was “questionable whether this greenwashing will even find acceptance on the financial market”.

Austria’s government repeated its threat to sue the commission if the plans go ahead. Leonore Gewessler, the country’s climate action minister, said neither gas nor nuclear belonged in the taxonomy “because they are harmful to the climate and the environment and destroy the future of our children”.
» Read article               

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

worker drills holes
Vermont aims to weatherize 90,000 homes this decade. Can it find enough workers to finish the job?
A new initiative aims to boost and coordinate existing workforce training programs in hopes of preparing thousands of workers in the coming years to meet the state’s mandatory climate targets.
By David Thill, Energy News Network
January 6, 2022

A group of lawmakers, advocates and nonprofit leaders hopes to hash out a plan in the coming months to help Vermont build the workforce it needs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the coming years.

The initiative, one of the winning pitches at a recent competition hosted by the nonprofit Energy Action Network, aims to reduce barriers to creating Vermont’s “climate workforce,” covering the clean energy and conservation sectors. This could include coordinating training programs and aligning them more directly with employment opportunities, as well as launching a marketing campaign to build interest in working in the clean energy sector.

Vermont’s climate targets, which are legally binding under the 2020 Global Warming Solutions Act, include reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 26% from 2005 levels by 2025 and by 40% from 1990 levels by 2030.

Like other states, progress in Vermont will largely depend on electrifying the transportation and building sectors and weatherizing homes so they use less energy for heating. The state’s recently released Climate Plan — commissioned as part of the 2020 law — calls for another 90,000 homes to be weatherized in Vermont by 2030, in addition to the roughly 30,000 that have been weatherized in recent decades.

“That takes people,” said Gabrielle Stebbins, a state representative and senior consultant at Energy Futures Group, and one of two co-chairs on the new initiative. “And that takes people being trained in the near term so that we can get those folks out and working in the near term” to meet emissions targets.
» Read article               

» More about energy efficiency

ENERGY STORAGE

wallbox
American households might use EVs as backup power with this bidirectional charger

By Stephen Edelstein, Clean Car Reports
January 5, 2022

At the 2022 Consumer Electronics Show (CES), Wallbox Industries will unveil its second-generation bidirectional home charging station for the North American market.

Like its predecessor, the Wallbox Quasar 2 can draw power from an EV’s battery pack, allowing the car to serve as an emergency backup power source for homes. Bidirectional charging effectively turns electric cars into energy-storage units, giving homeowners more flexibility in energy use, Wallbox said in a press release.

Homeowners can also schedule charging sessions when electricity rates are low, store that power in their EV, and discharge it to power their homes when electricity rates are higher. Those with home solar installations can also store excess energy in an EV and use it during peak-rate periods, the company claims.

The Quasar 2 provides up to 11.5 kilowatts of power, and is compatible with the Combined Charging Standard (CCS) used by most new EVs. It connects to a dedicated app via WiFi, Bluetooth, a 4G data connection, or Ethernet.

Several automakers have announced bidirectional charging as a built-in feature for new EVs.
» Read article               

» More about energy storage

MODERNIZING THE GRID

foundational AMI
US smart meter penetration hits 65%, expanding utility demand response resources: analysts
By Robert Walton, Utility Dive
December 21, 2021

As of 2020, about 65% of electricity meters across the United States had “smart” capabilities including integrated data processing and two-way communications, according to Guidehouse Senior Research Analyst Michael Kelly. The penetration of advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) has been steadily growing by about 4-5% annually since 2016, he said.

Utilities are headed towards about 90% AMI uptake by the end of the decade, though penetration varies by type, according to Guidehouse data. Cooperative utilities have about 78% smart meters on their systems, while investor-owned utilities sit around 65% and public power companies at 55%.

Smart meters are a foundational part of the energy transition and can help transform electric vehicle (EV) and building electrification efforts into flexible grid resources. Tens of millions of older meters remain on the grid, and the full transition will take more than a decade, but Kelly said progress on replacing them has been steady for years.

“The only kind of barrier would be on the regulatory side,” said Kelly. And increasingly, regulators are seeing the value of AMI, he added.
» Read article               

» More about modernizing the grid

SITING IMPACTS OF RENEWABLES

Hells Kitchen Lithium2021 was the year clean energy finally faced its mining problem
A clean energy revolution will hinge on getting mining right
By Justine Calma, The Verge
December 29, 2021

This year, the clean energy sector finally started grappling in earnest with one of its biggest challenges: how to get enough minerals to build solar panels, wind turbines, and big batteries for electric vehicles and energy storage. Figuring that out will be critical for escaping fossil-fueled ecological disaster. It’ll also be crucial for policymakers and industry to move forward without throwing certain communities under the bus in the transition to clean energy.

Instead of cutting through landscapes with oil and gas wells and pipelines, clean energy industries and their suppliers will open up the Earth to hunt for critical minerals like lithium, cobalt, and copper. Compared to a gas-fired power plant, an onshore wind turbine requires nine times more mineral resources, according to the International Energy Agency. Building an EV requires six times more minerals than a gas-powered car.

It’s about time to scrutinize what that hunger for minerals might cause, given the recent boom in pledges from countries and companies alike to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions. Digging up the necessary minerals is already proving to be a minefield. Protests are popping up at proposed mines that no one really wants in their backyard. The conflicts that cropped up in 2021 are just the beginning of a challenging road ahead.
» Read article               

» More about siting impacts of renewables

CARBON CAPTURE AND STORAGE

CCS vapor
Plans to capture CO2 from coal plants wasted federal dollars, watchdog says
The DOE funded projects that never came to fruition
By Justine Calma, The Verge
December 30, 2021

The Biden administration wants to shove more money into projects that are supposed to capture CO2 emissions from power plants and industrial facilities before they can escape and heat up the planet. But carbon capture technologies that the Department of Energy has already supported in the name of tackling climate change have mostly fallen flat, according to a recent report by the watchdog Government Accountability Office.

About $1.1 billion has flowed from the Department of Energy to carbon capture and storage (CCS) demonstration projects since 2009. Had they panned out, nine coal plants and industrial facilities would have been outfitted with devices that scrub most of the CO2 out of their emissions. Once captured, the CO2 can be sent via pipelines to underground storage in geologic formations.

That’s not what happened. The DOE doled out $684 million to coal six coal plants, but only one of them actually got built and started operating before shuttering in 2020. Of the three separate industrial facilities that received $438 million, just two got off the ground. Without more accountability, “DOE may risk expending significant taxpayer funds on CCS demonstrations that have little likelihood of success,” the GAO says.
» Read article               
» Read the GAO report

» More about carbon capture and storage

DEEP-SEABED MINING

driving blind
Mining the Bottom of the Sea
The future of the largest, still mostly untouched ecosystem in the world is at risk.
By Elizabeth Kolbert, The New Yorker
December 26, 2021

It’s rare that a tiny country like Nauru gets to determine the course of world events. But, for tangled reasons, this rare event is playing out right now. If Nauru has its way, enormous bulldozers could descend on the largest, still mostly untouched ecosystem in the world—the seafloor—sometime within the next few years. Hundreds of marine scientists have signed a statement warning that this would be an ecological disaster resulting in damage “irreversible on multi-­generational timescales.”

Nauru, which is home to ten thousand people and occupies an eight-square-mile island northeast of Papua New Guinea, acquired its outsized influence owing to an obscure clause of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, or UNCLOS. Under ­UNCLOS, most of the seabed—an area of roughly a hundred million square miles—is considered the “common heritage of mankind.” This vast area is administered by a group called the International Seabed Authority, which is based in Kingston, Jamaica.

Large swaths of the seabed are covered with potentially mineable—and potentially extremely valuable—metals, in the form of blackened lumps called polymetallic nodules. For decades, companies have been trying to figure out how to mine these nodules; so far, though, they’ve been able to do only exploratory work. Permits for actual mining can’t be granted until the I.S.A. comes up with a set of regulations governing the process, a task it’s been working on for more than twenty years.

Marine scientists argue that the potential costs of deep-ocean mining outweigh the benefits. They point out that the ocean floor is so difficult to access that most of its inhabitants are probably still unknown, and their significance to the functioning of the oceans is ill-understood. In the meantime, seabed mining, which would take place in complete darkness, thousands of feet under water, will, they say, be almost impossible to monitor. In September, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which compiles the “red list” of endangered species, called for a global moratorium on deep-sea mining. The group issued a statement raising concerns that “bio­diversity loss will be inevitable if deep-sea mining is permitted to occur,” and “that the consequences for ocean ecosystem function are unknown.”
» Read article               

» More about deep-seabed mining

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

going bust
Why Nova Scotia’s fossil fuel energy megaprojects are going bust
Changing attitudes, financial hurdles posed challenges for troubled projects
By Frances Willick, CBC News
January 2, 2022

Several of Nova Scotia’s energy megaprojects have fizzled in recent months and years, and some say the societal shift toward renewables is the reason.

AltaGas, the company with a plan to store up to 10 billion cubic feet of natural gas in underground caverns, announced in October it was pulling the plug on the project due to the “repositioning of the business and the challenging nature of the storage project economics.”

In July, Pieridae Energy announced it would not proceed with its proposal to build a processing plant and export facility for liquefied natural gas in Goldboro, Guysborough County, citing cost pressures and time constraints.

The future of the Bear Head LNG project, a proposal to bring in natural gas to Port Hawkesbury from Western Canada or the U.S., and then export it to Europe, is uncertain after the company behind the project tried to sell it last year.

The province’s offshore oil and gas future looks less than rosy after a call for exploration bids this year yielded no interest.

Last year, the Donkin coal mine — which produced both thermal coal for electricity generation and metallurgical coal for steelmaking — closed permanently, with the company blaming geological conditions in the underground mine.

Jennifer Tuck, the CEO of the Maritimes Energy Association, said the industry’s transition away from fossil fuels is affecting the energy landscape in Nova Scotia.

“Focus on climate change, achieving global emissions reductions targets, all of those things, I think, make it challenging in the fossil fuel sector,” she said.

Tuck said investment funds have been pulling out of funding oil and gas projects, and federal policy changes are focusing more on clean energies and technologies.

Community and global resistance to fossil fuels also likely played a role in the demise of some of Nova Scotia’s energy megaprojects, said Noreen Mabiza, an energy co-ordinator at the Ecology Action Centre in Halifax.

“It is definitely a factor, not a factor to be ignored,” said Mabiza. “People have been on the ground for years saying they don’t want these sorts of projects.”
» Read article               

» More about fossil fuels

BIOMASS

SouthEast wood pellet plants
How Burning Wood Pellets in Europe Is Harming the U.S. South
A globe-trotting tale of questionable renewable standards, market-driven forest management, and shaky carbon accounting.
By Jake Dean, Slate
January 3, 2022

In November, world leaders arrived to the city of Glasgow, Scotland, in a fleet of carbon-emitting private jets for the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference, commonly known as COP26. And while COP26 president Alok Sharma called the agreements reached there “historic” in an interview with NPR, many feel the achievements were woefully underwhelming.

Indigenous groups around the world lamented the bureaucracy and structural barriers minimizing their participation, with groups like the Hoopa tribe in California and the Mexican collective Futuros Indígenas decrying the COP26 deal as a failure on climate action. Climate and earth science experts noted that even with provisions and national commitments in the updated deal, the world will almost certainly miss the 1.5 degree Celsius warming target. Even Sharma himself apologized for having to change the language on coal from “phasing out” to “phasing down.”

Among other things, COP26 failed to address biomass energy, which many European nations have relied on as a “renewable energy” source. At best, that terminology is a semantic stretch. At worst, it’s greenwashing a dirty fuel at the worst possible moment. One thing is for certain: Biomass has fueled quite the controversy.

Biomass energy comes from organic material like waste crops and animal manure—but it’s mostly wood burned in the form of compressed particle pellets. It’s not super common in the U.S.: According to U.S. Energy Information Administration statistics, biomass energy (again, mostly made from wood) represented roughly 5 percent of total domestic primary energy use during 2020. But the Build Back Better Act passed by the House of Representatives would support increasing its use. It’s already more common across the Atlantic: Biomass energy is the second-largest source of renewable electricity in the U.K., having provided 12 percent of its electricity in 2020. Woody biomass accounts for more than half of the European Union’s renewable energy sources. And a lot of that wood is coming from the Southeastern U.S.
» Blog editor’s note: If Build Back Better ever passes with provisions to increase the use of biomass energy, we guarantee that legions of environmental groups will quickly act to remove it.
» Read article               

» More about biomass

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Weekly News Check-In 6/4/21

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Welcome back.

Plans for a new peaking power plant in Peabody are on hold while the developer and stakeholders explore the feasibility of greener alternatives. Pressure is building to make this exploration more public.

We have recently noticed a development in gas industry messaging – applied both to the Peabody peaker and Weymouth compressor station – that these facilities actually reduce overall fossil fuel consumption because they backstop intermittent energy sources like solar and wind. According to this narrative, readily availability gas-generated power allows the rapid and extensive integration of clean energy onto the grid. That’s true, but we now have reliable, non-emitting alternatives that accomplish the same result, often at lower cost.

So we consider this nothing more than pro-gas propaganda, and suspect that the consistency of the messaging results from gas industry coordination. Expect to see more of it. Meanwhile, the International Energy Agency (IEA) just released its flagship report stating that the climate can’t handle any new fossil fuel infrastructure. It is unequivocal – stop now. Not “soon”, and not once we’ve crossed some fantastical, conceptual “bridge”.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) just published a report describing this clean energy transition in great detail. The report places much higher importance on the development of demand side flexibility in conjunction with battery storage, in preference to the current model that underpins capacity with fossil fuel generation.

That overview sets the stage for a lot of recent news. In New Hampshire, Liberty Utilities failed to get approval to build its Granite Bridge pipeline, and is now seeking other ways to increase sales of natural gas. Protests and actions continue worldwide, pushing back against continued efforts to add fossil fuel infrastructure. This includes risky activism in Uganda in opposition to the East African Crude Oil Pipeline, and a big win as a Dutch court told Shell to cut its carbon emissions far more aggressively than currently planned. In related developments, a new financial disclosure rule in Switzerland requires large Swiss banks and insurance companies to disclose risks associated with climate change.

This all follows a very bad couple of weeks for the fossil fuel industry, when a combination of court rulings and climate-centered investors generated multiple “End of Oil” headlines. One exception is the Biden administration’s unfortunate approval of a major new Alaska oil drilling project. Contending for a new benchmark in the “absurd” category, ConocoPhillips will install chillers in the soggy permafrost which otherwise is too melty to support drilling rigs. That permafrost, of course, is melting because we have already burned too much fossil fuel and warmed the planet to dangerous levels. The chillers will re-freeze enough of that ground to allow the extraction, transport, and combustion of lots of oil for thirty more years.

Our Greening the Economy, Energy Storage, and Clean Transportation sections are all related this week. They grapple with environmental issues surrounding lithium – the primary component in electric vehicle and most grid-scale storage batteries. Articles explore greener sources and alternative technologies that could reduce the impact. We also launched a new section, Modernizing the Grid, to cover what promises to be a critical and complex project.

Wrapping up, we offer an opinion on how to eliminate recently approved rail transportation of liquefied natural gas, along with a view from North Carolina of the biomass pellet industry’s toll on health and the environment.

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

 

PEAKING POWER PLANTS

exploring batteries
Could batteries replace a proposed peaker plant in Massachusetts?   

As a municipal power supplier pauses plans to build a natural gas peaker plant, advocates are urging its backers to consider battery storage instead, but questions remain about whether it’s practical for the site.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
June 2, 2021

Environmental activists and local residents in Massachusetts are urging the group behind a planned natural gas power plant to consider whether battery storage could do the job with fewer climate concerns. 

“It’s six years since this project was proposed,” said Susan Smoller, a resident of Peabody, where the plant would be sited. “We have different alternatives available to us now and we should at least talk about it before we commit.”

The organization developing the plant announced last month that it will pause its plans for at least 30 days to address community concerns and reevaluate possible alternatives, but some involved are still skeptical that storage could be a viable solution. 

The proposed plant is a project of the Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company (MMWEC), a nonprofit that helps municipal utilities procure power supply and advocates for their interests. The 55-megawatt facility would be a so-called “peaker plant,” intended to run only at times of peak demand, estimated at no more than 250 hours per year.

Opponents of the plant are concerned about the additional greenhouse gas emissions as well as the potential for ground-level pollution in an area that is already exposed to high levels of ozone. They also worry that laws and regulations will make the burning of fossil fuels obsolete, leaving consumers on the hook for an $85 million plant that isn’t even used. 

“I don’t want to be paying for an outmoded dirty peaker plant 25 years from now when it’s not even legal to run them,” Smoller said. 

Resistance to the proposed plant has picked up in recent months, as stakeholders have learned more about the plan and started speaking up. In May, a group of 87 health care professionals sent MMWEC a letter opposing the plan. 

In the face of this growing opposition, MMWEC decided to take what it called the “unusual step” of putting a hold on its plans to take “another look at whether advancements in technology make a different approach possible today.” 

Experts say that, in general, battery storage is a viable alternative for plants that only run when demand is highest. Batteries could charge up during times of lower demand, when the power supply is generally from cleaner sources, and then discharge at times of high demand, displacing the energy from peaker plants, which is generally dirtier and more expensive. A study by nonprofit research institute Physicians, Scientists, and Engineers for Healthy Energy found that two-thirds of Massachusetts peaker plants burn primarily oil, a high-emissions fuel. 

As more renewable energy is added to the grid, the power charging the batteries will get yet cleaner, amplifying the impact.

“It’s not a matter of, ‘Can it do it?’ It’s doing it,” said Jason Burwen, interim chief executive of the Energy Storage Association. “The question is the specifics.”
» Read article               

» More about peaker plants               

 

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

no compressor stationThe Weymouth Compressor Station
By Joseph Winters, The Harvard Political Review
May 24, 2021

On Oct. 1, 2020, residents of Weymouth, Massachusetts, gathered on the Fore River Bridge for a socially-distanced rally. Wearing masks and waving hand-drawn posters, they were protesting a natural gas compressor station that had been built in their community by the Canadian oil company Enbridge.

“Shut it down!” their signs read. “Stop Enbridge. Enough is enough.”

It was supposed to be day one of the compressor station’s operation. Despite six years of fierce opposition from community groups, elected officials, and environmental organizations, Enbridge had finally secured the suite of permits necessary to build and operate a natural gas compressor station — a facility needed to keep gas flowing north through the company’s pipelines — in the town of Weymouth, just a few miles south of Boston.

But things had not gone according to plan. Earlier that month, on Sept. 11, a system failure had forced workers to vent 169,000 standard cubic feet of natural gas and 35 pounds of volatile organic compounds from the compressor station, releasing it into the surrounding community. Some of those compounds included toxic chemicals known to cause cancer, damage to the liver and central nervous system, and more. 

Then, on the morning of Sept. 30, just one day before the compressor station was scheduled to begin operating, a roaring sound emanated from the facility, signaling another “unplanned release” of natural gas — a mechanical failure that automatically triggered the compressor station’s emergency shutdown system and vented more gas into the neighborhood.

Rep. Stephen Lynch alerted residents of the September 30 shutdown later that day. “These accidents endangered the lives of local residents,” he said in a tweet, “and are indicative of a much larger threat that the Weymouth Compressor Station poses to Weymouth, Quincy, Abington, and Braintree residents.”

Within hours, a federal agency issued a stay on the compressor’s operation until a safety investigation could be completed. 

So on Oct. 1, as the Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station (FRRACS) gathered on the Fore River Bridge, the compressor station had already been shut down — albeit temporarily. They continued with the demonstration anyway, folding the station’s system failures into their suite of objections to the project, alongside issues of safety, pollution, and environmental justice.

“2 system failures in one month!” one demonstrator’s sign read. “What the FRRACS is going on?”

Besides the long-term health consequences of industrial pollution, FRRACS and its allies have argued that the compressor station imposes an unacceptable risk of disaster onto the community. “They’re trying to plant a bomb in our neighborhood,” one resident said at a public hearing before the station was built.

The possibility of a catastrophic accident is neither negligible nor unprecedented. Most significantly, compressor malfunctions can cause highly flammable natural gas — including significant amounts of methane — to accumulate inside the facilities, raising the risk of a massive fire or explosion. That exact scenario unfolded in December 2020 when a Morris Township, Pennsylvania, compressor station caught fire, burning for more than two hours and causing a temporary evacuation.

Over the past few years, similar explosions have rocked Armada Township, Michigan; West Union, West Virginia; and Ward County, Texas, where a particularly bad explosion in 2018 claimed a man’s life. One report compiled for New York reported 11 more recent accidents at compressor stations across the country, from Utah to New Jersey.

The natural gas pipelines feeding into the compressor station may pose an even scarier safety threat. According to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), pipelines have caused more than 11,000 accidents since 1996, leading to more than $6 billion in damages and killing nearly 400 people.
» Read article            

force majeureWeymouth Compressor Shuts Down Again — For Fourth Time In Less Than A Year
By Miriam Wasser, WBUR
May 21, 2021


The Weymouth Natural Gas Compressor Station is shut down for the fourth time since it began operating last year.

A spokesperson for Enbridge, the company that owns and operates the compressor, said in a statement that the company is “performing maintenance work” and anticipates “safely returning the compressor station to service shortly.” He said the maintenance work was “on a piece of equipment which helps reduce compressor unit emissions”, but he did not say whether it was planned in advance.

On Thursday night, Enbridge posted a notice that the compressor station had “experienced an outage” and in a separate notice declared a “force majeure.” Loosely translated as an “act of God,” a force majeure usually means the shutdown occurred for reasons out of the company’s control.

“It is standard practice to declare a Force Majeure when a compressor station becomes unavailable for service,” the spokesperson said in an email. “In this case, we identified maintenance work to be performed and notified our customers that the Weymouth Compressor Station would be unavailable while the work was performed.”

However, Katy Eiseman, a lawyer and president of the advocacy group The Pipe Line Awareness Network for the Northeast says “routine maintenance is not what I think of as a justifiable reason to claim force majeure,” though she says she’d have to review Enbridge’s customer contracts to be sure.

James Coleman, an energy law professor at Southern Methodist University agrees, noting that “a force majeure usually has to be something [that is not] within the control of the provider.”

State law requires Enbridge to report any gas releases that exceed 10,000 standard cubic feet. According to Enbridge, “there was minimal venting … well below reporting requirements” associated with this latest shutdown.

But for Sen. Ed Markey, a long-time opponent of the compressor station, this most recent shutdown is a cause for concern.

“Whether an act of God or a failure of man, the Weymouth Compressor Station’s fourth shutdown in a matter of months is a sign that it should not be operating now or ever,” the senator said in a statement. “It’s dangerous, unnecessary, and a clear and present threat to public safety.”

Markey said he’s asked the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to look into this most recent outage at the compressor.
» Read article               

» More about the Weymouth compressor station         

 

GRANITE BRIDGE PIPELINE

new Liberty
Liberty Utilities angles for 20-year natural gas contract
By Amanda Gokee, SentinalSource
May 17, 2021

Last year, Liberty Utilities withdrew what had turned into a very contentious proposal to construct a large, expensive pipeline called the Granite Bridge Project. Critics said it was too big, too expensive, and that it would harm the environment. It led to protests and drew fierce opposition from climate-change activists who oppose building new fossil fuel infrastructure.

In the wake of that failed proposal, Liberty has put forward another project that is now being considered by the Public Utilities Commission — a 20-year agreement to increase its natural gas capacity in the state by about 20 to 25 percent through a purchase agreement with Tennessee Gas Pipeline.

The company says it needs to increase its capacity in order to meet customer demand. The new proposal was put forward in January, and it has been proceeding quietly ever since, with none of the dramatic opposition that Granite Bridge garnered. But some environmental advocates still oppose the 20-year contract as an unacceptable option in the face of climate change.

“This is a major step in the wrong direction,” said Nick Krakoff, a staff attorney at the Conservation Law Foundation. The foundation is one of the parties involved in the docket at the utilities commission.
» Read article               

» More about the Granite Bridge pipeline project       

 

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

Stop EACOP
Despite Risks, Climate Activists Lead Fight Against Oil Giant’s Drilling Projects in Uganda
“We cannot drink oil. This is why we cannot accept the construction of the East African Crude Oil Pipeline.”
By Brett Wilkins, Common Dreams
May 28, 2021

Climate campaigners in Africa and around the world on Friday continued demonstrations against Total, with activists accusing the French oil giant of ecocide, human rights violations, and greenwashing in connection with fossil fuel projects in Uganda. 

On the 145th week of Fridays for Future climate strike protests, members of the movement in Uganda global allies drew attention to the harmful effects of fossil fuel development on the environment, ecosystems, communities, and livelihoods. 

Friday’s actions followed protests at Total petrol stations in Benin, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Togo, and Uganda on Tuesday—celebrated each year as Africa Day—against the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP), now under construction, and the Mozambique Liquefied Natural Gas project.

“Total’s fossil fuel developments pose grave risks to protected environments, water sources, and wetlands in the Great Lakes and East Africa regions,” said Andre Moliro, an activist from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, during Tuesday’s pan-African protests.

“Communities have been raising concerns on the impact of oil extraction on Lake Albert fisheries and the disastrous consequences of an oil spill in Lake Victoria, that would affect millions of people that rely on the two lakes for their livelihoods, watersheds for drinking water, and food production,” he added.
» Read article               

celebration at The Hague
‘Historic victory’: court tells Shell to slash emissions on Big Oil’s day of climate pain
Group to appeal verdict in Dutch court that activists claim has major implications as trio of supermajors face emissions scrutiny
By Andrew Lee, Recharge News
May 26, 2021

A court in the Netherlands on Wednesday told Shell to cut its carbon emissions far more aggressively than currently planned, in what climate activists claimed as a landmark ruling with implications for fossil fuel groups globally.

The Shell ruling came on a turbulent day for the world’s oil giants, with fellow supermajors ExxonMobil and Chevron also under pressure over their decarbonisation plans.

A Dutch judge ordered Shell to reduce CO2 emissions by 45% by 2030 against 2019 levels, after hearing a case brought by Friends of the Earth and other groups, plus 17,000 Netherlands citizens.

The Anglo-Dutch group has so far committed to a carbon intensity reduction of its products of 20% by 2030 and 45% by 2035, compared to 2016 levels, as part of a 2050 net zero push.

But the court said those goals were “insufficiently concrete and full of conditions” as it ordered the far tougher action it said would bring the ambitions into line with the Paris climate agreement.

Although the judgment is open to appeal – which Shell indicated it would – Friends of the Earth labelled it a “historic victory” for climate action that has “enormous consequences for Shell and other big polluters globally” and should embolden other campaigners elsewhere.

Rachel Kennerley, climate campaigner at Friends of the Earth England, Wales and Northern Ireland said: “This ruling confirms what we already knew, that global polluters cannot continue their devastating operations because the costs are too high, and they have been that way for too long.

“Today an historic line has been drawn, no more spin, no more greenwashing, big oil is over. The future is in clean renewables.”

The International Energy Agency earlier in May recommended that no more new fossil project investments should be made in order to keep the world on a path to net zero.

Analysts were divided over the implications of the Shell judgment for the global fossil sector.

Liz Hypes, senior environment and climate change analyst for Verisk Maplecroft, a global risk and strategic consulting firm, believes the judgement could pave the way for legal action against energy companies.

“This case could mean open-season on heavy-emitters in the oil and gas industry, and it is not a stretch to envisage activists – or even unhappy investors – bringing similar cases against others in the industry and, potentially, their financial backers.

“While cases like this have to date been largely limited to the US and Europe, we’ve seen a rising trend outside of these countries of climate lawsuits ruling in the claimants’ favour.”

Hypes added: “What this signifies to investors and climate activists is that taking companies to court is an increasingly successful means of triggering climate action and, because of this, the number of climate cases faces carbon-heavy corporates will grow. It shows that the risks of inaction – or of what consumers, investors and the public see as ‘not enough’ action – is mounting.”

“It’s no longer a brand image issue for companies – they are facing genuine legal risks from which the repercussions may be significant and it’s triggering a real discussion about what is their fiduciary duty during the climate crisis.”
» Read article               

» More about protests and actions                

 

DIVESTMENT

finma
Swiss watchdog FINMA requires banks, insurers to disclose climate risks
By Reuters
May 31, 2021

ZURICH (Reuters) -Large Swiss banks and insurance companies will have to provide qualitative and quantitative information about risks they face from climate change, Swiss financial watchdog FINMA said on Monday as it released an amended publication here on disclosure.

FINMA’s updated circular on the new obligations, to take effect on July 1, follows similar moves by the European Central Bank, which last year announced plans to ask lenders in the 19-country currency union to disclose their climate-related risks.

The Swiss watchdog said it is fulfilling its strategic goal of contributing to sustainable development of the Swiss financial centre, by laying out how it will supervise banks and insurers on climate-related financial risk.

FINMA said it crafted the disclosure requirement after talking with industry representatives, academics, NGOs and the federal government last year. The watchdog has previously said the risks such as natural catastrophes are substantial for the sector and merited new disclosure standards.

“Banks and insurance companies are required to inform the public adequately about their risks,” FINMA said in a statement. “These also include the consequences of climate change, which could pose significant financial risks for financial institutions in the longer term.”

Credit Suisse has been in the crosshairs of climate activists, including protesters who blocked access to its Zurich headquarters over complaints of its financing of fossil fuel-related projects. Reinsurer Swiss Re said in April the global economy could lose nearly a fifth of economic output by 2050 should the world fail to check climate change.
» Read article               

» More about divestment                

 

GREENING THE ECONOMY

cleaning up
The plan to turn coal country into a rare earth powerhouse
With plans for a Made-in-America renewable energy transformation, Biden administration ramps up efforts to extract rare earth minerals from coal waste.
By Maddie Stone, Grist
May 26, 2021

At an abandoned coal mine just outside the city of Gillette, Wyoming, construction crews are getting ready to break ground on a 10,000-square-foot building that will house state-of-the-art laboratories and manufacturing plants. Among the projects at the facility, known as the Wyoming Innovation Center, will be a pilot plant that aims to takes coal ash — the sooty, toxic waste left behind after coal is burned for energy — and use it to extract rare earths, elements that play an essential role in everything from cell phones and LED screens to wind turbines and electric cars. 

The pilot plant in Wyoming is a critical pillar of an emerging effort led by the Department of Energy, or DOE, to convert the toxic legacy of coal mining in the United States into something of value. Similar pilot plants and research projects are also underway in states including West Virginia, North Dakota, Utah, and Kentucky. If these projects are successful, the Biden administration hopes that places like Gillette will go from being the powerhouses of the fossil fuel era to the foundation of a new domestic supply chain that will build tomorrow’s energy systems.

In an April report on revitalizing fossil fuel communities, administration officials wrote that coal country is “well-positioned” to become a leader in harvesting critical materials from the waste left behind by coal mining and coal power generation. Several days later, the DOE awarded a total of $19 million to 13 different research groups that plan to assess exactly how much rare earth material is contained in coal and coal waste, as well as explore ways to extract it. 

“We have these resources that are otherwise a problem,” said Sarma Pisupati, the director of the Center for Critical Minerals at Penn State University and one of the grant recipients. “We can use those resources to extract valuable minerals for our independence.”

Those minerals would come at a critical moment. The rare earth elements neodymium and dysprosium, in particular, are essential to the powerful magnets used in offshore wind turbines and electric vehicle motors. A recent report by the International Energy Agency projected that by 2040, the clean energy sector’s demand for these minerals could be three to seven times greater than it is today.
» Read article               

» More about greening the economy            

 

CLIMATE

IEA gets on board
IT’S THE END OF OIL: Blockbuster IEA Report Urges No New Fossil Development
By Mitchell Beer, The Energy Mix
May 19, 2021

No new investment in oil, gas, or coal development, a massive increase in renewable energy adoption, speedy global phaseouts for new natural gas boilers and internal combustion vehicles, and a sharp focus on short-term action are key elements of a blockbuster Net Zero by 2050 report released Tuesday morning by the International Energy Agency (IEA).

The more than 400 sectoral and technological targets in the report would be big news from any source. They’re particularly significant from the IEA, an agency that has received scathing criticism in the past for overstating the future importance of fossil fuels, consistently underestimating the uptake of renewable energy, and failing to align its “gold standard” energy projections with the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement. For years, the agency’s projections have been used to justify hundreds of billions of dollars in high-carbon investments, allowing multinational fossil companies to sustain the fantasy that demand for their product will increase through 2040 or beyond.

“Beyond projects already committed as of 2021, there are no new oil and gas fields approved for development in our pathway, and no new coal mines or mine extensions are required,” the IEA writes. “The unwavering policy focus on climate change in the net-zero pathway results in a sharp decline in fossil fuel demand, meaning that the focus for oil and gas producers switches entirely to output—and emissions reductions—from the operation of existing assets.”

“It’s not a model result,” analyst Dave Jones of the clean energy think tank Ember told Bloomberg Green. “It’s a call to action.”

“Big Oil and Gas has just lost a very powerful shield!” wrote Oil Change International Senior Campaigner David Tong.

By 2040, the IEA sees all coal- and oil-fired power plants phased out unless their emissions are abated by some form of carbon capture. Between 2020 and 2050, oil demand falls 75%, to 24 million barrels per day, gas demand falls 55%, and remaining oil production becomes “increasingly concentrated in a small number of low-cost producers.” OPEC nations provide 52% of a “much-reduced global oil supply” in 2050 and see their per capita income from fossil production decline 75% by the 2030s.

“This is a huge shift from the IEA and highly consequential, given its scenarios are seen as a guide to the future, steering trillions of dollars in energy investment,” Kelly Trout, interim director of Oil Change’s energy transitions and futures program, wrote in an email. “Oil and gas companies, investors, and IEA member states that have been using IEA scenarios to justify their choices and also say they’re committed to 1.5°C are in a tight spot. Will they follow the IEA’s guidance and stop licencing or financing new fossil fuel extraction, or be exposed as hypocrites?”
» Read article            
» Read the IEA report                 

» More about climate              

 

CLEAN ENERGY

electrification futures study
Inside Clean Energy: Yes, We Can Electrify Almost Everything. Here’s What That Looks Like.
National lab wraps up groundbreaking project on electrifying the economy.
By Dan Gearino, Inside Climate News
June 3, 2021

Many scenarios for averting the worst effects of climate change involve electrifying just about everything that now runs on fossil fuels, and shifting to an electricity system that runs mostly on wind and solar.

Can this be done reliably and with existing technologies?

Yes.

That’s one of the main findings of the Electrification Futures Study, an ambitious project of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory that started four years ago and has now issued its final report.

The transformation to a highly electrified economy is an opportunity for consumers and businesses because of the potential for cost-savings and for developing and selling new generations of products, said Ella Zhou, a senior modeling engineer at NREL and a co-author of the report.

“This offers useful information literally for everyone, because electricity touches all of our lives,” she said.

In a sign of changing times and shifting control in Washington, the report’s introduction mentions “decarbonization” and “climate change mitigation” in its first sentence, something that would have been almost unthinkable from a national laboratory during the Trump administration. 

Zhou didn’t comment about the partisan shift, but she did note how much the conversation about the transition to clean energy had changed since the project started in 2017. The idea of electrifying the economy is much closer to the mainstream now than it was then, she said, as is the broad understanding that a shift to renewable energy can save money, compared to using fossil fuels.
» Read article            
» Read NREL’s final report, Electrification Futures Study                  

where it goes
Where Wind and Solar Power Need to Grow for America to Meet Its Goals
By Veronica Penney, New York Times
May 28, 2021

President Biden has promised to sharply reduce America’s planet-warming carbon emissions, which means changes to the country’s energy system may reshape landscapes and coastlines around the country. 

The United States is now aiming to bring emissions down to net-zero by 2050, meaning the country would eliminate as much greenhouse gas as it emits. To reach that goal, Americans will need to get a lot more of their energy from renewable sources like wind and solar farms.

One of the most recent studies on the subject, Princeton University’s Net-Zero America Report, charted five pathways to net-zero, and all of them required the United States to exceed the current pace of building for solar panels and wind turbines.

But what will all that energy infrastructure look like, and where could it go? Here’s a look at the factors and forces that will determine where renewable energy projects could be built.
» Read article           
» Read the Princeton University report         

» More about clean energy           

 

MODERNIZING THE GRID

TOU rates for Maine
Advocates say Maine needs to expand time-of-use rates to hit climate goals

As more drivers switch to electric cars and buildings convert to heat pumps, changing customer behavior with new rate designs could be key to preventing expensive and polluting new investments in the state’s power grid.
By David Thill, Energy News Network
May 27, 2021

Maine clean energy advocates say it’s time to revisit and ramp up time-of-use rates, and the state’s major utilities and several other stakeholders agree. 

Meeting the state’s climate goals could add significant load to the state’s grid as drivers switch to electric cars and buildings abandon fossil fuels for heating. 

Unless some customers can be persuaded to put off drying clothes, running dishwashers or charging vehicles until nighttime, that new demand could force expensive upgrades to the system and make it harder to eliminate fossil fuels. 

That’s where time-of-use rates come into play. Unlike traditional flat rates, time-of-use rates charge customers different prices at different times of the day. Often this means customers pay a relatively expensive rate during the busiest hours of the day and less expensive rates during off-peak hours.

State legislation introduced this year, as well as a recent report on the future of Maine’s electric grid, called on state regulators to investigate how to roll out time-of-use rates on a broader scale than what’s currently offered.

A time-of-use rate needs to be structured so it actually encourages customers to shift their electricity use off-peak, said David Littell, a former Maine utilities commissioner who was part of the stakeholder group.

That requires establishing a sufficient difference between what customers are charged off-peak and on-peak, he said. The peak window also has to be reasonably timed: He found in previous research that, based on hundreds of rate pilots and operational rates, customers were more likely to sign up for time-varying rates when the peak windows were only three hours, as opposed to eight to 14 hours.

Littell and others in the stakeholder report also said time-of-use rates should include all aspects of customers’ bills, including supply and capacity.

“Most of what I’m seeing across the country right now is that if a utility is talking about doing a time-of-use rate, they prefer to start with the supply cost,” he said. That’s something utilities can easily do themselves, structuring the rate based on what it costs to deliver energy to customers.

Capacity would be harder, since utilities don’t have jurisdiction over the line items on customers’ bills for the energy itself. In deregulated utility markets like Maine, the energy is provided by suppliers separate from utilities, at a rate called the standard offer. Suppliers would have to implement their own time-of-use rates. But without making it mandatory for them to do that — something the commission could do — they’re not likely to take that path, Littell said, since it’s far easier to stick with the status quo.

In a small market like Maine, suppliers have less incentive to pursue the education and effort necessary to change their rate design without the guarantee that they’ll make money on it. “If it’s not mandated, it’s not going to happen at the standard offer level, full stop,” said Tom Welch, a former Maine utilities commission chair who also contributed to the recent grid modernization report.

Protections will also be necessary for low-income customers who end up paying more under the new rate than they currently pay, but Welch said that’s easily addressed, for example, with refunds for groups of customers that are unable to respond to the price signals.
» Read report            

» More about modernizing the electric grid          

 

ENERGY STORAGE

CO2 battery system
‘CO2 battery’ technology getting megawatt-scale demonstrator in Italy
By Andy Colthorpe, Energy Storage News
May 27, 2021

A 2.5MW / 4MWh demonstration system using novel energy storage technology based on a “carbon dioxide battery” has begun construction in Sardinia, Italy.

The CO2 battery technology has been developed by Energy Dome, a Milan-headquartered company founded by technologist and entrepreneur Claudio Spadacini and incorporated two years ago. The battery can offer long durations of storage between three to 16+ hours, can be built using off-the-shelf components used in other industries and uses a closed loop thermodynamic process which can enable a high round-trip efficiency, the company claims. It also suffers “little or no degradation” over an anticipated lifetime of more than 25 years.

The battery charges by drawing CO2 from a dome where it is kept, condensing it into a liquid at ambient temperature, while heat created by the compression process is stored in thermal energy storage systems. It then discharges by evaporating and expanding the CO2 back into a gas by heating it using the thermal storage systems. The gas is driven through a turbine to inject power into the grid and then pushed back into the dome, ready to be used for the next charging cycle.

On its website, the company compares the technology as being potentially lower cost than compressed air energy storage (CAES) or liquid air energy storage (LAES), which might be considered competing energy storage technologies. This is because unlike CAES which requires very large underground sealed vessels such as salt caverns to store a large volume of air, or LAES which requires equipment to cool air until it liquifies, the liquid phase CO2 can be stored at ambient temperature, the company said.

Energy Dome also said in a press release this week that its solution could also overcome the limitations of lithium-ion, posing no fire risk, manufacturable without rare earth materials and also even has better performance and lower capital cost. The demonstrator in Sardinia is expected to be launched early next year.
» Read article           

Power Podcast 89
The Benefits of Flow Batteries Over Lithium Ion
By Aaron Larson, Power Magazine
May 27, 2021

Lithium-ion (Li-ion) is the most commonly talked about battery storage technology on the market these days, and for good reason. Li-ion batteries have a high energy density, and they are the preferred option when mobility is a concern, such as for cell phones, laptop computers, and electric vehicles. But there are different energy storage technologies that make more sense in other use cases. For example, iron flow batteries may be a better option for utility-scale power grid storage.

An iron flow battery is built with three pretty simple ingredients: iron, salt, and water. “A flow battery has a tank with an electrolyte—think of it as salt water to be simple—and it puts it through a process that allows it to store energy in the iron, and then discharge that energy over an extended period of time,” Eric Dresselhuys, CEO of ESS Inc., a manufacturer of iron flow batteries for commercial and utility-scale energy storage applications, explained as a guest on The POWER Podcast.

Iron flow batteries have an advantage over utility-scale Li-ion storage systems in the following areas:

  • Longer duration. Up to 12 hours versus a typical duration of no more than 4 hours for large-scale Li-ion systems.
  • Increased safety. Iron flow batteries are non-flammable, non-toxic, and have no explosion risk. The same is not true for Li-ion.
  • Longer asset life. Iron flow batteries offer unlimited cycle life and no capacity degradation over a 25-year operating life. Li-ion batteries typically provide about 7,000 cycles and a 7- to 10-year lifespan.
  • Less concern with ambient temperatures. Iron flow batteries can operate in ambient conditions from –10C to 60C (14F to 140F) without the need for heating or air conditioning. Ventilation systems are almost always required for utility-scale Li-ion systems.
  • Lower levelized cost of storage. Because iron flow batteries offer a 25-year life, have a capital expense cost similar to Li-ion, and operating expenses that are much lower than Li-on, the cost of ownership can be up to 40% less.

“People have been really interested in flow batteries for a lot of reasons, but the most common one that you’ll hear about is the long duration,” said Dresselhuys.
» Listen to podcast            

» More about energy storage           

 

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

briny water
The Lithium Gold Rush: Inside the Race to Power Electric Vehicles
A race is on to produce lithium in the United States, but competing projects are taking very different approaches to extracting the vital raw material. Some might not be very green.
By Ivan Penn and Eric Lipton, New York Times
May 6, 2021

Atop a long-dormant volcano in northern Nevada, workers are preparing to start blasting and digging out a giant pit that will serve as the first new large-scale lithium mine in the United States in more than a decade — a new domestic supply of an essential ingredient in electric car batteries and renewable energy.

The mine, constructed on leased federal lands, could help address the near total reliance by the United States on foreign sources of lithium.

But the project, known as Lithium Americas, has drawn protests from members of a Native American tribe, ranchers and environmental groups because it is expected to use billions of gallons of precious ground water, potentially contaminating some of it for 300 years, while leaving behind a giant mound of waste.

“Blowing up a mountain isn’t green, no matter how much marketing spin people put on it,” said Max Wilbert, who has been living in a tent on the proposed mine site while two lawsuits seeking to block the project wend their way through federal courts.

The fight over the Nevada mine is emblematic of a fundamental tension surfacing around the world: Electric cars and renewable energy may not be as green as they appear. Production of raw materials like lithium, cobalt and nickel that are essential to these technologies are often ruinous to land, water, wildlife and people.

That environmental toll has often been overlooked in part because there is a race underway among the United States, China, Europe and other major powers. Echoing past contests and wars over gold and oil, governments are fighting for supremacy over minerals that could help countries achieve economic and technological dominance for decades to come.
» Read article               

bunker fuel
Tasked to Fight Climate Change, a Secretive U.N. Agency Does the Opposite
Behind closed doors, shipbuilders and miners can speak on behalf of governments while regulating an industry that pollutes as much as all of America’s coal plants.
By Matt Apuzzo and Sarah Hurtes, New York Times
June 3, 2021

LONDON — During a contentious meeting over proposed climate regulations last fall, a Saudi diplomat to the obscure but powerful International Maritime Organization switched on his microphone to make an angry complaint: One of his colleagues was revealing the proceedings on Twitter as they happened.

It was a breach of the secrecy at the heart of the I.M.O., a clubby United Nations agency on the banks of the Thames that regulates international shipping and is charged with reducing emissions in an industry that burns an oil so thick it might otherwise be turned into asphalt. Shipping produces as much carbon dioxide as all of America’s coal plants combined.

Internal documents, recordings and dozens of interviews reveal what has gone on for years behind closed doors: The organization has repeatedly delayed and watered down climate regulations, even as emissions from commercial shipping continue to rise, a trend that threatens to undermine the goals of the 2016 Paris climate accord.

One reason for the lack of progress is that the I.M.O. is a regulatory body that is run in concert with the industry it regulates. Shipbuilders, oil companies, miners, chemical manufacturers and others with huge financial stakes in commercial shipping are among the delegates appointed by many member nations. They sometimes even speak on behalf of governments, knowing that public records are sparse, and that even when the organization allows journalists into its meetings, it typically prohibits them from quoting people by name.

An agency lawyer underscored that point last fall in addressing the Saudi complaint. “This is a private meeting,” warned the lawyer, Frederick J. Kenney.

Next week, the organization is scheduled to enact its first greenhouse gas rules since Paris — regulations that do not cut emissions, have no enforcement mechanism and leave key details shrouded in secrecy. No additional proposals are far along in the rule-making process, meaning additional regulations are likely five years or more away.
» Read article               

» More about clean transportation             

 

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

methane emissions analysis
Here Are America’s Top Methane Emitters. Some Will Surprise You.
Oil and gas giants are selling off their most-polluting operations to small private companies. Most manage to escape public scrutiny.
By Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times
June 2, 2021

As the world’s oil and gas giants face increasing pressure to reduce their fossil fuel emissions, small, privately held drilling companies are becoming the country’s biggest emitters of greenhouse gases, often by buying up the industry’s high-polluting assets.

According to a startling new analysis of the latest emissions data disclosed to the Environmental Protection Agency, five of the industry’s top ten emitters of methane, a particularly potent planet-warming gas, are little-known oil and gas producers, some backed by obscure investment firms, whose environmental footprints are wildly large relative to their production.

In some cases, the companies are buying up high-polluting assets directly from the largest oil and gas corporations, like ConocoPhillips and BP; in other cases, private equity firms acquire risky oil and gas properties, develop them, and sell them quickly for maximum profits.

The largest emitter, Hilcorp Energy, reported almost 50 percent more methane emissions from its operations than the nation’s largest fossil fuel producer, Exxon Mobil, despite pumping far less oil and gas. Four other relatively unknown companies — Terra Energy Partners, Flywheel Energy, Blackbeard Operating and Scout Energy — each reported emitting more of the gas than many industry heavyweights.

These companies have largely escaped public scrutiny, even as they have become major polluters.

“It’s amazing how the small operators manage to constitute a very large part of the problem,” said Andrew Logan, senior director of oil and gas at Ceres, a nonprofit investor network that commissioned the study together with the Clean Air Task Force, an environmental group. “There’s just no pressure on them to do things better. And being a clean operator, unfortunately, isn’t a priority in this business model.”
» Read article              
» Read the Benchmarking Methane analysis           

ExxonMobil Chicago
Engine No. 1’s Big Win Over Exxon Shows Activist Hedge Funds Joining Fight Against Climate Change
“We can’t recall another time that an energy company’s shareholder has been so effective and forceful in showing how a company’s failure to take on climate change has eroded shareholder value.”
By Mark DesJardine, DeSmog Blog | Opinion
May 27, 2021

One of the most expensive Wall Street shareholder battles on record could signal a big shift in how hedge funds and other investors view sustainability.

Exxon Mobil Corp. has been fending off a so-called proxy fight from a hedge fund known as Engine No. 1, which blames the energy giant’s poor performance in recent years on its failure to transition to a “decarbonizing world.” In a May 26, 2021 vote, Exxon shareholders approved at least two of the four board members Engine No. 1 nominated, dealing a major blow to the oil company. The vote is ongoing, and more of the hedge fund’s nominees may also soon be appointed.

While its focus has been on shareholder value, Engine No. 1 says it was also doing this to save the planet from the ravages of climate change. It has been pushing for a commitment from Exxon to carbon neutrality by 2050.

As business sustainability scholars, we can’t recall another time that an energy company’s shareholder – particularly a hedge fund – has been so effective and forceful in showing how a company’s failure to take on climate change has eroded shareholder value. That’s why we believe this vote marks a turning point for investors, who are well placed to nudge companies toward more sustainable business practices.
» Read article               

Conoco misstep
Biden officials condemned for backing Trump-era Alaska drilling project
DoJ says decision to approve project in northern Alaska was ‘reasonable and consistent’ and should be allowed to go ahead
By Oliver Milman, The Guardian
May 27, 2021

Joe Biden’s administration is facing an onslaught of criticism from environmentalists after opting to defend the approval of a massive oil and gas drilling project in the frigid northern reaches of Alaska.

In a briefing filed in federal court on Wednesday, the US Department of Justice said the Trump-era decision to allow the project in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska’s north slope was “reasonable and consistent” with the law and should be allowed to go ahead.

This stance means the Biden administration is contesting a lawsuit brought by environmental groups aimed at halting the drilling due to concerns over the impact upon wildlife and planet-heating emissions. The US president has paused all new drilling leases on public land but is allowing this Alaska lease, approved under Trump, to go ahead.

The project, known as Willow, is being overseen by the oil company ConocoPhillips and is designed to extract more than 100,000 barrels of oil a day for the next 30 years. Environmentalists say allowing the project is at odds with Biden’s vow to combat the climate crisis and drastically reduce US emissions.

“It’s incredibly disappointing to see the Biden administration defending this environmentally disastrous project,” said Kristen Monsell, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the groups that have sued to stop the drilling. “President Biden promised climate action and our climate can’t afford more huge new oil-drilling projects.”

The Arctic is heating up at three times the rate of the rest of the planet and ConocoPhillips will have to resort to Kafkaesque interventions to be able to drill for oil in an environment being destroyed by the burning of that fuel. The company plans to install “chillers’ into the Alaskan permafrost, which is rapidly melting due to global heating, to ensure it is stable enough to host drilling equipment.

Monsell said the attempts to refreeze the thawing permafrost in order to extract more fossil fuel “highlights the ridiculousness of drilling in the Arctic”. Kirsten Miller, acting executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League, said Willow “is the poster child for the type of massive fossil fuel development that must be avoided today if we’re to avoid the worst climate impacts down the road”.
» Read article               

Nat and Gus
How natural gas propaganda made it into elementary classrooms in deep blue America
The incident is the latest example of fossil fuel interests attempting to influence science education in public classrooms.
By Ysabelle Kempe, Grist
May 19, 2021


Gleb Bahmutov found something strange in his nine-year-old son’s backpack earlier this month. The longer he ruminated on what he discovered, the angrier he got. 

The afternoon started off like most, with the 41-year-old software engineer picking his son up from John M. Tobin Montessori School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. But when his son opened his backpack, Bahmutov caught a glimpse of two children’s activity books emblazoned with the logo of Eversource, an energy utility that serves more than 4.3 million customers across New England. The booklets, one of which was titled “Natural Gas: Your Invisible Friend,” include natural gas safety tips and portray the fuel as an ideal, clean way to cook food, power vehicles, and heat and cool buildings. Bhamutov immediately noticed one gaping hole in the information provided in the booklets: They didn’t once mention that burning natural gas emits greenhouse gases and contributes to climate change.

“To come home and find books aimed at children touting how great gas is and how clean it is, that it’s the cleanest fuel possible, that’s just wrong,” Bahmutov told Grist. “It’s unacceptable.”

The activity books caused concern among parents in the climate-conscious city of Cambridge and prompted apologies from both Eversource and the school district. While the utility claimed it was attempting to promote natural gas safety — a particularly salient issue in Massachusetts, which experienced a series of pipeline explosions north of Boston in 2018 — the incident is the latest example of fossil fuel interests attempting to influence science education in public classrooms. 

Cambridge Public Schools’ Chief Strategy Officer Lyndsay Pinkus told Grist that the booklets were mistakenly distributed to students. Any materials provided by outside organizations are typically reviewed by the deputy superintendent’s office, Pinkus explained, but a new staff member did not follow this procedure with the Eversource materials. “It really was an innocent mistake by a new staff member,” she said. In an email to parents, Tobin Principal Jaime Frost stressed that the booklets are not part of the curriculum and the school does not support the messaging. She wrote that the same booklets were sent to all Cambridge Public Schools two years ago, but were caught before being distributed. 

Eversource’s media relations manager, William Hinkle, wrote in an email that the booklets were created to raise awareness about natural gas safety at home, but acknowledged that the material could be improved. “Moving forward, we will work to include climate change information in future educational materials, as well as continue to provide important natural gas safety tips,” Hinkle told Grist. He said that there are various versions of the book for different grade levels that date back to 2011, and the material undergoes periodic updates.

While Hinkle said the books are provided to schools in Massachusetts or Connecticut upon request, Pinkus from Cambridge Public Schools was adamant that nobody in the district requested them. “There’s no way anybody currently or in any recent history would have requested anything even remotely close to this,” she said. Eversource did not respond for comment on this point.
» Read article               

» More about fossil fuels              

 

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

derailedRailroaded by the Gas Industry
How the Biden administration could use insurance requirements to halt LNG by rail.
By Eric de Place, Sightline Institute
March 22, 2021

It’s been less than three months since the Northwest dodged a bullet. On December 22, 2020, another oil train derailed and exploded into flames, this one just outside Bellingham, Washington. The crash spilled 29,000 gallons of crude oil that burned for eight hours while emergency crews hustled to evacuate neighbors and clean up the site before the oil contaminated groundwater. Yet as alarming as oil train derailments are, they may be only an appetizer for a much more destructive main course: trains loaded with highly explosive liquefied natural gas (LNG).

During the Obama years, federal regulators granted railroads in Alaska and Florida limited permission to haul small quantities of LNG on specific routes. Although the move garnered little public attention, it was seen by industry observers as the start of a slippery slope toward broader approval of a cargo that was, until 2015, considered too dangerous for railroads to handle. (DeSmog provides an excellent account of the serious risks of LNG rail transport.) As predicted, in 2020, the Trump administration enacted a new rule allowing rail shipments of LNG, despite criticisms that it lacks safeguards.

The Trump administration’s decision was a win for the gas industry that has found itself increasingly stymied by opposition to building new pipelines. It was also a victory for the rail companies that have for years lobbied for permission to carry LNG, including Union Pacific and BNSF, the dominant railways in Oregon and Washington that have been responsible for several hazardous derailments in the past decade. One of the worst was Union Pacific’s eleven-car derailment in Mosier, Oregon that resulted in a fiery explosion and an oil spill along the Columbia River in 2016. BNSF is responsible for its own oil train conflagrations too, including two North Dakota explosions in 2013 and 2015 that prompted towns to evacuate, a derailment in Illinois in 2015, and the recent explosion in Whatcom County, Washington.

LNG is far more dangerous than crude oil. In fact, experts calculate that it would take only twenty-two tank cars loaded with LNG to hold the energy equivalent of an atomic bomb. That’s not hyperbole. Even a single LNG rail car igniting could level buildings to deadly effect. It’s no wonder, then, that fifteen state attorneys general, including those in Oregon and Washington, have challenged the Trump administration’s approval of LNG trains, stating that it puts people’s lives at risk.

The risk is real, and federal accident statistics bear it out. Trains derailed no fewer than sixty-two times in Oregon and Washington in 2020, including at least fourteen derailments that were carrying hazardous materials. (These statistics almost certainly undercount derailments, a flaw that becomes clear when one realizes that they do not include the fiery oil train derailment in Custer, Washington in late December.)

What’s less understood than the risk to lives and property is the staggering risk to taxpayers. It’s a risk that could prove to be the endeavor’s Achilles’ heel, and it could give the Biden administration a commonsense way to halt LNG rail transport. As it happens, railroads are severely underinsured for many hazardous substance shipments, especially in urban areas, so simply requiring them to carry insurance proportional to the risk would almost certainly render the entire venture uneconomical.
» Read article               

» More about LNG                       

 

BIOMASS

Enviva promo
Communities of Color in Eastern North Carolina Want Wood Pellet Byproducts Out of Their Neighborhoods—And Their Lungs
By Caryl Espinoza Jaen and Ellie Heffernan, INDY week
May 27, 2021

Belinda Joyner describes her home of Northampton County as a dumping ground for undesirable uses—hog farms, landfills. Northampton was also slated to host the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s compressor station before the project was canceled. 

When Joyner stood at a podium in the North Carolina legislative building on Wednesday, she was most concerned about wood pellet facilities. 

“We have other states that have taken into consideration the cumulative impact, the health impact, on these communities and they’re saying no to these companies that are coming,” Joyner said. “You know what? North Carolina has become a cesspool, because everything that everyone else doesn’t want, we don’t have the laws to protect us.” 

Joyner was one of many speakers at a press conference and rally to draw attention to what they say is Governor Roy Cooper’s inattention to deforestation and pollution by the wood pellet industry. North Carolina residents, community leaders, and activists gathered to discuss how the state’s poorest communities are impacted by wood pellet companies such as Enviva Biomass. Speakers addressed their criticisms of environmental policies issued by Gov. Cooper and state government agencies.

The wood pellet industry, which is the third major contributor to rising carbon emissions in the state, is responsible for 60,000 acres of wood loss annually, according to rally organizers. In just seven years, Enviva Biomass logged enough acres to release 28 million tons of carbon dioxide. 

North Carolina is the biggest producer of wood pellets in the United States, and the industry receives $7.1 million in subsidies annually, said Emily Zucchino, the director of community engagement at the environmental advocacy nonprofit Dogwood Alliance. The United States sold 7.2 billion kilograms of  wood pellets with a value of $981 million last year, according to U.S. Census Bureau trade data. A bulk of these exports are burned for fuel in European power stations. 

“Yet the counties with these industries remain the poorest,” said Zucchino. “This use of taxpayer dollars does not advance the state or support long-term jobs at rural communities.”
» Read article               

» More about biomass            

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Weekly News Check-In 7/31/20

banner 06

Welcome back.

Candidate positions on the controversial Granite Bridge Pipeline may be a significant factor determining New Hampshire’s next governor. The contested status of other pipelines is also roiling related industries and enlivening local politics wherever they exist.

Two new nominations to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) may finally rebalance its makeup, which has been operating for much of the year with four of its five commissioners – only one of whom is a Democrat.

The recently-launched nonprofit Rewiring America has released its first major report on greening the economy and the jobs that could be created by a full-on effort at electrification. It’s an exciting prospect that requires a post-Trump political ecosystem. We found a related investigative report from DeSmog Blog, exposing efforts by the natural gas industry to delay electrification of the building sector.

Now that we’re heading into the home stretch of this political season, articles we’re finding on climate all project a jittery edginess around the stakes of the November election. Given the urgent need for sharp emissions reductions and a kind of global leadership that’s only possible when America is at its best, Bill McKibben’s suggestion that this election is about the next 10,000 years lacks even a hint of hyperbole.

We caught some encouraging glimpses of steady advances in clean energy and transportation  – things coming our way despite the best efforts of the Trump administration and fossil fuel industry. News from that sector, as usual, amounts to flashing red lights warning of an impending financial implosion.

We wrap up with two stories about “green energy” that is anything but. While Europe continues to insist – contrary to science – that woody biomass is effectively carbon neutral in the short term, American forests are being felled for pellets to fuel their converted coal power plants. This is all based on a carbon accounting error that originated with the Kyoto Climate Agreement, and was grandfathered into the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. It’s turned out to be a stubbornly difficult problem to correct.

— The NFGiM Team

GRANITE BRIDGE PIPELINE

Breaking news: shortly after we published this post on 7/31, Liberty Utilities announced the cancellation of its Granite Bridge Pipeline project. Look for coverage in the upcoming Weekly News Check-In 8/7/20.

USD 400M misstep
Gas pipeline fuels debate among NH gubernatorial candidates
By Alex LaCasse, Seacoast Online
July 24, 2020

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andru Volinsky called the proposed Granite Bridge pipeline a ”$400 million step in the wrong direction” during a press conference in front of the Town Hall Friday.

Volinsky said Liberty Utilities’ proposed 16-inch liquefied natural gas pipeline for the Route 101 corridor between Exeter and Manchester will exacerbate climate change while other high-profile projects, like the Dakota Access pipeline, were being halted around the country.

“A key part of why I’m running for governor is to combat climate change, and part of that effort is to be opposed to fracked gas pipelines projects, like the Granite Bridge pipeline,” said Volinsky, a member of the state Executive Council. “Last municipal election, Exeter went on record as opposed to the pipeline. Fracking is especially dangerous for the environment, ratepayers would have to pay for that project for 20 or 30 years, and to what purpose? To line the pockets of Liberty Utilities and Granite Bridge shareholders.”

The Granite Bridge application is stalled at the state Public Utilities Commission after being filed in December 2017. The project includes a 150- to 170-foot high tank capable of storing 2 billion cubic feet of LNG in an abandoned quarry in West Epping.
» Read article             

» More about Granite Bridge Pipeline

OTHER PIPELINES

risky business
Dakota Access Pipeline Saga Stalls Oil Production Recovery In The Bakken

By Tsvetana Paraskova, oilprice.com
July 29, 2020

The uncertainty surrounding the future operations of Dakota Access, the key pipeline carrying crude out of the Bakken, is stalling oil companies’ plans to invest in bringing back online the output they had curtailed after the pandemic-driven crash in oil demand and prices, executives told Reuters.

A federal judge ruled on July 6 that the Dakota Access Pipeline, in operation since 2017, must be emptied and shut down by August 5, until a new comprehensive environmental review is completed.

A week later, a U.S. Appeals Court ruled that Dakota Access can continue to operate while the court considers whether the pipeline should be shut down as ordered by a lower court’s ruling.

Until the new saga with the Dakota Access pipeline is resolved, oil drillers in the Bakken are not rushing to restore production as they see the move as too risky in case Dakota Access were to shut down.
» Read article

Ashland Select Board wins court case against Eversource over gas pipeline
By Cesareo Contreras, MetroWest Daily News
July 23, 2020

Eversource must remove a decommissioned gas pipeline if it gets the go-ahead to install a new, wider pipeline through Ashland, a state Land Court judge has ruled.

Associate Justice Michael D. Vhay issued the judgment earlier this week, supporting the Town of Ashland’s position.

In Ashland and Hopkinton, Eversource wants to decommission a 6-inch-wide, 3.7-mile underground gas line that passes through both towns and replace it with new 12-inch pipeline. In Ashland, the gas line runs for 2.5 miles, cutting through more 80 house lots, town-owned properties, wetlands, the Chestnut Street Apartments and the conservation-restricted Great Bend Farm Trust.

Town officials and many residents adamantly oppose the project, saying it will have no direct benefit for Ashland residents and runs counter to the town’s sustainability goals.

In a Facebook status posted on the town’s Facebook page,Town Manager Michael Herbert shared the news of the court’s decision.

“Rarely does a small suburban town of 17,000 people take on a corporate giant like Eversource Gas and come out on top,” he said.
» Read article             

JC permit reversal
Land use permit for Jordan Cove pipeline is reversed
By Amanda Slee, KCBY.com
July 21, 2020

NORTH BEND, Ore. — The Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals has reversed a land-use permit approved by the city of North Bend.

The permit is for the proposed Jordan Cove liquefied natural gas export terminal.

The Oregon Shores Conservation Coalition was the petitioner in the appeal. The decision by the North Bend City Council was to approve a temporary dredging material transport pipeline and dredging offloading facility.
» Read article             

» More about other pipelines        

FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION

FERC nominations
Trump makes two FERC nominations, potentially rebalancing commission
By Rebecca Beitsch, The Hill
July 27, 2020

President Trump made two nominations to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Monday, bowing to pressure from Democratic lawmakers who have pushed to maintain the bipartisan split in the commission.

Trump nominated Allison Clements, Democrats’ preferred nominee, alongside Mark C. Christie, who currently serves as chairman of Virginia State Corporation Commission. If confirmed, the two would regulate electricity and natural gas markets alongside other major energy projects.

FERC’s five-member board is supposed to have no more than three members of any one party, but for much of the year it’s been operating with just four members — three Republicans and one Democrat.

Clements currently serves as the founder and president of Goodgrid, LLC, an energy policy and strategy consulting firm. She previously worked for a decade at the Natural Resources Defense Council. She also spent two years as director of the energy markets program at Energy Foundation, which advocates for energy efficiency and renewable energy.

Christie is one of the nation’s longest-serving state utility regulators, having served for 16 years on Virginia’s board overseeing utilities and other industries.

The nominations come as Commissioner Bernard McNamee’s term expired at the end of June.
» Read article             

» More about FERC

GREENING THE ECONOMY

big green jobs machine
New Analysis Shows How Electrifying the U.S. Economy Could Create 25 Million Green Jobs by 2035
By Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams
July 30, 2020

A report released Wednesday by a new nonprofit—in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, the resulting economic disaster, and calls for a green recovery from those intertwined crises that prioritizes aggressive climate policies—lays out how rapidly decarbonizing and electrifying the U.S. economy could create up to 25 million good-paying jobs throughout the country over the next 15 years.

Mobilizing for a Zero Carbon America envisions a dramatic transformation of the nation’s power, transportation, building, and industrial sectors by 2035 to meet the global heating goals of the 2015 Paris climate agreement. The first project of the newly launched Rewiring America is “based on an extensive industrial and engineering analysis of what such a decarbonization would entail.”
» Read article             
» Read the report

» More about greening the economy

BETTER BUILDINGS

unplugged
Unplugged: How the Gas Industry Is Fighting Efforts to Electrify Buildings
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
July 28, 2020

Just over a year ago, the city of Berkeley, California, passed into law a first-in-the-nation ordinance prohibiting natural gas hookups in new buildings, a move that alarmed the gas industry. This alarm has since boiled over into a full-fledged opposition campaign to counter the rising tide of similar measures meant to restrict gas in favor of constructing all-electric buildings and cutting carbon pollution.

Natural gas constitutes a vast majority, about 80 percent, of the direct fossil fuel CO2 emissions from the residential and commercial sectors, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Transitioning away from direct fossil fuel use in buildings is key for de-carbonizing and meeting climate targets, experts say.

Initiatives are starting to emerge at the local level on the West Coast and in the Northeast to support this transition, with 31 cities in California committed to phasing out gas use in buildings, as of July 8, and several Massachusetts communities in the Boston area doing the same. Policies for electrifying buildings are also in the works in New Jersey as well as Seattle and other cities.
» Read article             

Mass. gas ban backers press ahead after state strikes down 1st East Coast bylaw
ByTom DiChristopher, S&P Global
July 24, 2020

Boston-area lawmakers intend to continue pursuing building electrification ordinances, but they acknowledged their path forward is uncertain after Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey struck down the commonwealth’s first building gas ban.

Healey’s decision undermines the effort to ban natural gas in new construction and renovations in Arlington, Cambridge and Newton — all of which modeled their legislation after the rejected bylaw in neighboring Brookline, Mass.

The Board of Building Regulations and Standards — the state agency that Healey argued has exclusive control over building permits — is one potential avenue, [Cambridge City Councilmember Quinton] Zondervan said. The board regularly updates the state building code and could include a stretch code that allows towns and cities to require certain buildings be fossil fuel free. Bay State climate activists are already pushing for a stretch code allowing net-zero building energy requirements.

Brookline and environmental groups have already called for state-level action in light of Healey’s decision, in which the attorney general expressed support for the policy of limiting gas use.

“The attorney general’s opinion makes clear that the state does have the authority to stop this fracked gas infrastructure if it wants,” Massachusetts Sierra Club Chapter Director Deb Pasternak said in a statement. “The fact is that we need an equitable statewide plan here in Massachusetts to close down the fracked gas energy system.”

The Sierra Club, along with ratepayer advocates and other climate activists, have recently presented regulators with plans for building electrification proceedings and gas distribution system phase-outs.

Healey herself has petitioned the DPU to open a proceeding to overhaul gas infrastructure planning in Massachusetts, with a goal of aligning the regulatory framework with state climate goals and transitioning away from fossil fuels.
» Read article             

» More about better buildings

CLIMATE

regime change starts at home
The Next Election Is About the Next 10,000 Years
By Bill McKibben, YES! Magazine, in EcoWatch – opinion
July 27, 2020

Every election that passes, we lose leverage—this time around our last chance at limiting the temperature rise to anything like 1.5 degrees would slip through our fingers. Which is why we need to register and vote as never before. It’s also, of course, why we need to do more than that: many of us are also hard at work this year taking on the big banks that fund the fossil fuel industry, trying to pull the financial lever as well as the political one. And even within the world of politics, we need to do much more than vote: no matter who wins, Nov. 4 and 5 and 6 are as important as Nov. 3; we have to push, and prod, and open up space for the people we work to install in office.
» Read article             

boot the joker
How the global climate fight could be lost if Trump is re-elected
The US will officially exit the Paris accord one day after the 2020 US election and architects of that deal say the stakes could not be higher
By Oliver Milman, The Guardian
July 27, 2020

It was a balmy June day in 2017 when Donald Trump took to the lectern in the White House Rose Garden to announce the US withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement, the only comprehensive global pact to tackle the spiraling crisis.

Todd Stern, who was the US’s chief negotiator when the deal was sealed in Paris in 2015, forced himself to watch the speech.

“I found it sickening, it was mendacious from start to finish,” said Stern. “I was furious … because here we have this really important thing and here’s this joker who doesn’t understand anything he’s talking about. It was a fraud.”

The lifetime of the Paris agreement, signed in a wave of optimism in 2015, has seen the five hottest years ever recorded on Earth, unprecedented wildfires torching towns from California to Australia, record heatwaves baking Europe and India and temperatures briefly bursting beyond 100F (38C) in the Arctic.

These sorts of impacts could be a mere appetizer, scientists warn, given they have been fueled by levels of global heating that are on track to triple, or worse, by the end of the century without drastic remedial action. The faltering global effort to curb greenhouse gas emissions and head off further calamity hinges, in significant part, on whether the US decides to re-enter the fray.

“The choice of Biden or Trump in the White House is huge, not just for the US but for the world generally to deal with climate change,” said Stern. “If Biden wins, November 4 is a blip, like a bad dream is over. If Trump wins, he seals the deal. The US becomes a non-player and the goals of Paris become very, very difficult. Without the US in the long term, they certainly aren’t realistic.”
» Read article             

better than last year
House climate change bill calls for roadmap
Measure differs from more prescriptive Senate approach
By Bruce Mohl, CommonWealth Magazine
July 29, 2020

The House unveiled a climate change bill on Wednesday that directs the executive branch of government to create a roadmap for reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2050 and includes sections dealing with solar power subsidies, grid modernization, clean energy jobs, and municipal light plants.

The bill is expected to be taken up in the House on Thursday and then go to a conference committee that will be charged with sorting out differences with a Senate bill that is broader in scope and far more detailed in its instructions.

The House bill requires the administration to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 and sets interim goals for 2030 and 2040. It charges the administration with coming up with a roadmap of policies, regulations, legislative recommendations, and carbon pricing mechanisms to reach the targets.

The Senate bill is far more detailed and prescriptive. It requires the administration to meet statewide emission targets every five years and also requires the setting of emission reduction targets for individual sectors, including transportation, buildings, solid waste, and natural gas distribution. The Senate bill calls for phased-in carbon pricing on automobile and building fuels and requires all MBTA buses to be electrified by 2040.
» Read article             

tell the truth
Mainstream News Prioritises Big Business and Opponents of Climate Action – Study
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
July 29, 2020

Statements from large business associations and opponents of climate action are twice as likely to be included in climate change coverage by national newspapers than pro-climate action messaging, according to a new study. The findings suggest mainstream media bias favors entrenched economic interests and that journalistic norms of objectivity and balance have skewed the public conversation around climate change.

“I wanted to specifically look at which interest groups get a say in this debate, what voices are dominating the national conversation about climate change, and how is that reflected in media coverage,” study author Rachel Wetts, Assistant Professor of Environment and Society and Sociology at Brown University, told DeSmog.

The study also found that climate-related messaging from scientific and technical experts was least likely to be picked up in national news. Messaging from business coalitions and large businesses on climate change, on the other hand, received heightened media visibility.

“In terms of this question of whose voices are being heard and who gets to dominate the national conversation around climate change, I find that opponents of climate action and large business interests are the groups that are getting the most visibility, while organizations with scientific expertise are getting very low visibility,” Wetts said in an interview with DeSmog. “This says something about whose voices are being heard that could potentially help explain why we’ve been so slow to adopt any [national] policy to address this issue.”
» Read article             
» Obtain the study            

scud
What’s Going on Inside the Fearsome Thunderstorms of Córdoba Province?
Scientists are studying the extreme weather in northern Argentina to see how it works — and what it can tell us about the monster storms in our future.
By Noah Gallagher Shannon, New York Times
July 22, 2020

Every storm is composed of the same fundamental DNA — in this case, moisture, unstable air and something to ignite the two skyward, often heat. When the earth warms in the spring and summer months, hot wet air rushes upward in columns, where it collides with cool dry air, forming volatile cumulus clouds that can begin to swell against the top of the troposphere, at times carrying as much as a million tons of water. If one of these budding cells manages to punch through the tropopause, as the boundary between the troposphere and stratosphere is called, the storm mushrooms, feeding on the energy-rich air of the upper atmosphere. As it continues to grow, inhaling up more moisture and breathing it back down as rain and hail, this vast vertical lung can sprout into a self-sustaining system that takes on many different forms.
» Read article

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

welcome mat
Colorado’s Eastern Plains is big-time producer of renewable energy, ripe for even more, report says

New report highlights renewable energy’s economic benefits for eastern Colorado: thousands of jobs, millions of dollars a year
By Judith Kohler, The Denver Post
July 29, 2020

Along with wheat, corn and cattle, Colorado’s Eastern Plains grow another big crop: more than 95% of the state’s renewable energy capacity that produces thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in benefits each year.

A report released Tuesday by The Western Way, a conservative organization that promotes environmental stewardship, in partnership with PRO 15 and Action22, policy and economic development organizations, highlights the importance of renewable energy to eastern Colorado.

Greg Brophy, a former state legislator and Colorado director of The Western Way, said he hopes the report demonstrates how valuable renewable energy is to the area’s economy and that it encourages other eastern Colorado counties to “roll out the welcome mat” for wind, solar and battery storage projects.
» Read article       
» Read the report

Sununu Blocks Bill To Expand N.H.’s Required Renewable Energy Use, Now Lowest In New England
By Annie Ropeik, NHPR
July 24, 2020

Gov. Chris Sununu handed down another expected veto of a clean energy plan Friday.

He rejected a bill that would expand New Hampshire’s Renewable Portfolio Standard and increase how much solar power utilities must use.

Right now, the state caps that solar requirement at 0.7% from this year on out. The bill Sununu vetoed would have increased that to nearly 19% by the year 2040.

Sununu says it represented a handout to the state’s fledgling solar industry. Democrats decried the veto as another effort by the governor to block clean energy expansion.

The bill also would have increased the Renewable Portfolio Standard, to make clean energy cover nearly 57% of New Hampshire’s fuel mix by 2040.

The current standard levels out at around 25 percent in 2025 – the lowest percentage, at the earliest date, of any New England state.
» Read article             

green ammonia
How stored electricity can make cleaner fuels
EU industry is seeking ways to save surplus power. Now it’s also hunting for methods to use that stored electricity to make green fuels.
By Paul Brown, Climate News Network
July 21, 2020
   
With renewable energy now the cheapest way of mass-producing electricity, the race is on to find the best way to conserve the surplus for use at peak times, and also to use the stored electricity to develop new fuels for transport.

And European Union companies are competing to devise lucrative ways to use this cheap power just as more solar and wind energy is being produced than the market demands.

Large batteries are currently the favoured method, because they are already cost-effective when used with pumped storage. This uses cheap electricity to move water uphill into reservoirs, to be released later to drive turbines when extra electricity is needed to meet peak demand.

Both these technologies take advantage of buying power at rock-bottom prices, and make their profits by storing it – until they can sell it back at much higher prices when the peak arrives.

The newer technologies under development seek to use the cheap surplus electricity to create so-called green hydrogen, and now green ammonia – both for use as substitutes for fossil fuels.
» Read article             

» More about clean energy

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

plagued by controversy
E.P.A. Inspector General to Investigate Trump’s Biggest Climate Rollback
The agency’s watchdog office said Monday it would investigate whether the reversal of Obama-era fuel efficiency standards violated government rules.
By Coral Davenport and Lisa Friedman, New York Times
July 27, 2020

The Environmental Protection Agency’s internal watchdog said Monday it had opened an investigation into the agency’s weakening of Obama-era regulations that would have limited automobile emissions by significantly raising fuel economy standards.

The yearlong effort to write the Trump administration rule was plagued with controversy. Just weeks before the final rule was published, the administration’s own internal analyses showed that it would create a higher cost for consumers than leaving the Obama-era standard in place and would contribute to more deaths associated with lung disease by releasing more pollution into the air.

“This is really serious,” said Vickie Patton, general counsel for the Environmental Defense Fund. “It’s rare for E.P.A.’s inspector general to conduct an investigation of the agency’s rule-making.”
» Read article             

E-ferry
Danish electric ferry reports successful first year in service
By Nick Blenkey, MarineLog
July 13, 2020

In its first year of operation on a 22 nautical mile route, the pioneering Danish all-electric ferry Ellen has notched up some noteworthy milestones, according to Danfoss Editron .

Operating between the Danish islands of Ærø and Fynshav, the vessel was designed by Jens Kristensen Consulting Naval Architects and built by the Søby Værft shipyard. Just under 60 meters long and with a breadth of approximately 13 meters, the ferry travels at speeds of 12-12.5 knots, and is capable of carrying 198 passengers in summer months, with this capacity dropping to 147 during winter. It can also carry 31 cars or five trucks on its open deck.

With a 4.3 MWh capacity battery pack, the largest currently installed for maritime use, it is the first electric ferry to have no emergency back-up generator on board.

The E-ferry is the result of a project supported by the EU Horizon 2020 program that set out to achieve two main objectives. The first was to design and build an innovative fully-electric vessel which would incorporate an energy-efficient design, lightweight equipment and materials, and state-of-the-art electric-only systems with an automated high-power charging system. The second objective was to validate the feasibility and cost-effectiveness of the concept to the industry and ferry operators. The fully-electric ferry had to be able to cover distances of up to 22 nautical miles in the Danish part of the Baltic Sea that were, at the time, only operated on by conventional diesel-powered vessels.
» Read article

» More about clean transportation

FOSSIL FUEL

hang it up
As Trump Leaves Permian Oilfield, Industry Insiders Question If 2020 Bust Marks Texas Oil’s Last Big Boom
By Sharon Kelly, DeSmog Blog
July 30, 2020

Yesterday, President Trump left Midland, Texas, after arriving in the state’s Permian oilfield region for a $2,800 a plate luncheon and a “roundtable” that required each participant to pony up $100,000.

The west Texas Mr. Trump left behind bears little resemblance to the region as it was when he first took office in January 2017, as the shale rush resumed following 2016’s oil price plunge.

Today, the shale boom of the 2010’s is officially bust, battered not only by the US’s outsized failure to control COVID-19 outbreaks and an oil price war in which foreign producers proved their ability to steer oil prices, but also a wave of multi-billion dollar write-downs by oil giants — write-downs that predated both the price war and the pandemic and resulted from the industry’s perpetual struggles to generate profits from shale drilling and fracking regardless of the price of oil.

In April, Scott Sheffield, the chief executive of Pioneer Natural Resources, testified before the Texas Railroad Commission (which serves as the state’s oil regulator) that the shale rush had been “an economic disaster.”

“Nobody wants to give us capital because we have all destroyed capital and created economic waste,” Sheffield testified, warning that without state intervention, “we will disappear as an industry, like the coal industry.”

Indeed, before the pandemic struck, the shale industry’s financial foundations were stunningly shaky, with experts questioning the ways companies calculated their reserves, their ability to generate free cash flow from their drilling operations, and ratings agencies grading shale debts at junk levels. The entire fossil fuel industry’s long-term future is also deeply uncertain, as the impacts of climate change become increasingly visceral and the global need to cut emissions from oil and gas more urgent.
» Read article             

pipeline uncertainty for oilsands
Regardless of COVID, the outlook for the oilsands gets dimmer year after year
The pandemic has cost the industry billions, but in the long term, it has bigger challenges
By Kyle Bakx, CBC News
July 29, 2020

The latest forecast for oilsands production growth was released on Tuesday, and it continues a trend over most of the last decade of industry experts having a less optimistic outlook for the sector.

The new report by IHS Markit expects oilsands production to reach 3.8 million barrels per day of oil in 2030, compared to last year’s projection of production climbing to 3.9 million bpd.

It’s a relatively small change to the forecast the firm released in 2019, but notable because of yet another downward revision. That pattern has occurred just about every year since 2014, when the main oilpatch industry group forecast oilsands output climbing to 4.8 million barrels per day by 2030.

For context, oilsands production at the beginning of this year was about 2.9 million barrels per day.

Analysts with IHS Markit lowered their latest forecast predominantly because of pipelines. There is still doubt about when and if new export pipelines will be built, and that uncertainty will weigh on the confidence level of companies looking to invest the significant funds needed to build new oilsands facilities.
» Read article             

tick-tick report-zoom Fossil fuel “fraud” regarding climate risks is a “ticking time bomb” to financial system
By Andy Rowell, Oil Change International
July 27, 2020

If the fossil fuel industry had acted decades ago, we would not be in a climate emergency. And some believe that this climate emergency is going to cause a financial emergency too.

A new report, published last week by U.S. National Whistleblower Center (NWC), entitled “How fossil fuel industry fraud is setting us up for a financial implosion – and what whistleblowers can do about it,” does not mince its language.

It outlined what it called “widespread deception by fossil fuel executives regarding the financial risks of climate change [which] represents a ticking time bomb that, if not addressed, could contribute to worldwide economic devastation.”

It claims it is the “first-ever analysis of legal strategies for exposing climate risk fraud by the fossil fuel sector,” and says it is a “call to action” for executives of fossil fuel companies and others with knowledge of improper accounting and disclosure practices, such as external auditors, to blow the whistle on the decades of deception.
» Read article             
» Read the NWC report         

‘It’s Past Time’: Rep. Ilhan Omar, Sen. Bernie Sanders Unveil Bill To Strip Fossil Fuel Funding
The legislation aims to cut off oil, gas and coal companies reaping billions from federal COVID-19 relief and annual subsidies.
By Alexander C. Kaufman, Huffpost
July 24, 2020

In the richest and most powerful nation in history, doctors beg for basic protective gear amid a deadly pandemic, 21% of children live in poverty and 84-year-olds take jobs scrubbing motel toilets to survive.

Yet, as fossil fuel emissions cook the planet and wreak a mounting toll of destruction, the federal government gives oil, gas and coal companies nearly $15 billion per year in direct federal subsidies and already directed billions more in support through coronavirus relief programs this year.

New legislation from five of the country’s top progressive lawmakers, including Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), aims to cut the fossil fuel industry off, HuffPost has learned.
» Read article             

» More about fossil fuel

BIOMASS

burning down the houseBurning down the house? Enviva’s giant U.S. wood pellet plants gear up
By Saul Elbein, Mongabay
July 29, 2020

When biomass manufacturer Enviva completes its two newest U.S. Gulf Coast plants on opposite sides of the Alabama-Mississippi state line, likely by 2021, they will be the largest “biomass for energy” manufacturing plants on the planet.

Every year, the two factories will grind the equivalent of a hundred square miles of forest into 2.7 million metric tons of combustible wood pellets, to be burned at former coal plants in Europe and Asia — with all the resulting carbon released into the atmosphere.

These U.S. biomass plants, and the wood pellets they churn out, will thrive atop a shaky Jenga tower of political, economic and environmental paradoxes, according to environmentalists. Unable to compete with carbon fuels like coal or natural gas on price, Enviva’s wood pellet plants will stay afloat because of direct and implicit subsidies coming from the European Union, whose members agreed to derive 32% of their energy from renewables by 2030 — a category that they deemed to include biomass.

Those subsidies, say scientists, are based on now debunked research first conducted and used as guidance for making policy incorporated into the Kyoto Climate Agreement, a policy then grandfathered into the 2015 Paris Agreement. They say the mistake that makes biomass economically viable today is the contention that burning up the world’s forests to produce energy is carbon neutral, an inconvenient untruth that, critics contend, the United Nations has dodged facing at every annual international meeting since Paris.

And so the EU renewables quotas — with their claim of biomass carbon neutrality — have meant a boon for companies like Enviva that sell wood pellets to energy producers and countries now leery of more traditional power sources, ranging from nuclear to coal to hydropower, and who want to squeeze a few more decades out of existing coal burning power plants — now converted to burning wood pellets on an industrial scale.
» Read article             

what it looks like
House Climate Crisis Action Plan Gets a Lot Right on Biomass

By Sasha Stashwick, National Resources Defense Council – blog post
July 9, 2020

Biomass refers to the use of any plant or organic matter to produce energy. Too often, in places that have incentivized biomass use to generate electricity like the European Union, biomass is incentivized to generate electricity in dedicated power plants, or old coal plants converted to run partially or fully on biomass. The fuel demand of these plants is so large that the only source of biomass supply big enough to meet is, unfortunately, wood from forests.

Established science now shows that burning biomass from forests for electricity is not a climate solution within timeframes relevant to addressing climate change. Here in the US, it’s therefore critical that federal climate plans do not repeat the same mistakes as the E.U. in adopting flawed policies based on the debunked assumption of biomass “carbon neutrality.”

In 2018, when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change put out its report describing the climate action necessary to keep global temperatures from rising beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius, it explained that countries would have to cut their CO2 emissions, such as from power plants, to net zero by around 2050. To reach that goal, it said, CO2 emissions would have to start dropping “well before 2030” and be on track to fall by roughly 45% by around 2030. Scientists are clear that what we do over the next decade is incredibly consequential in this fight.

That is why the timeframe used to evaluate the climate impacts of biomass systems is so critical. Evaluate the carbon impacts of biomass-burning over a long enough timeframe, and it may look good. Eventually, if new trees are replanted, they can suck up the carbon that was emitted when older trees were harvested and burned as fuel for energy production. But trees take many decades to grow back. In the meantime, biomass electricity actually loads the atmosphere with more CO2 than fossil fuels (because wood is a less energy dense fuel, so more of it needs to be burned to generate the same amount of electricity).
» Read article             

» More about biomass

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