Tag Archives: Eversource

Weekly News Check-In 4/15/22

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Welcome back.

“We will not continue as generations have before and allow our actions today to have devastating consequences on those tomorrow. It is time to break that cycle and stand up for what is right.” –  Miranda Whelehan, student and campaigner with the Just Stop Oil coalition

Just Stop Oil is a group of mostly young people currently taking numerous direct actions aimed a pressuring the British government to cease permitting new oil exploration and development in the North Sea. Their demand is no more radical than that of a passenger in a speeding car imploring the driver to hit the brakes as they approach a red light. While their actions are causing discomfort and some angry push back, I wonder if that unease more accurately reflects the shame people feel when they see their kids out cleaning up a mess they should have dealt with themselves long ago.

Of course, climate, energy, and environmental battles have always been fought by young and old together, and our local pipeline battles are a good example. What’s different now is the number of young people who feel that quitting fossil fuel has become such an urgent and existential matter, that they’re putting their education and career on hold while they storm the establishment’s ramparts in a mission to rescue their own future. Irrational youth? No… clear eyed and grounded in science. Continuing business-as-usual is madness.

The Canadian province of Quebec has become the first jurisdiction in the world to officially take that critical step of banning new fossil fuel development. Closer to home, the Massachusetts legislature is working hard to strengthen its climate law – plugging some fossil loopholes, putting biomass in its place, and accelerating the clean energy transition. We’ll be watching as this bill moves from Senate to House.

Banning new fossil fuel development goes hand-in-hand with stopping the buildout of fossil infrastructure like gas pipelines and Liquefied Natural Gas terminals. While our friends in Springfield make a solid case that utility Eversource’s proposed pipeline expansion is an unnecessary boondoggle, a new study from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis shows there’s no need for any new LNG export terminals in North America, even as we ramp up shipments to displace Russian gas in Europe. That’s good news as we grapple with a potent new cybersecurity threat to these facilities in particular.

All of the above underscores the need to quickly ramp up clean energy generation and storage. So far, most battery storage has involve lithium and other metals like nickel and cobalt that pose environmental and supply chain challenges. This has led to the threat of deep-seabed mining as a way to supply those materials but with truly frightening associated risks. Work is underway to develop a method to extract lithium from geothermal brine, which could considerably reduce its environmental impact while providing a huge domestic supply. And while there’s no doubt about the benefits of electrifying transportation – and the fact that we need to speed that up – there’s a chance that some long-haul trucking will rely on hydrogen fuel cell technology rather than batteries… reducing some lithium demand.

In parallel, long-duration battery storage is looking increasingly likely to use alternative, and much more abundant, metals like iron or zinc.

Winding down, let’s take a look at carbon capture. Not the “pull carbon out of smoke stacks” false solution proposed by fossil fuel interests as a way to pretend it’s OK to keep burning stuff. Rather, just the sheer volume of CO2 we need to pull directly out of the atmosphere at this point to keep global warming in check (assuming we also rapidly ramp down our use of fuels). This story has great graphics that explain the scope of the challenge.

We’ll close with some encouraging innovations that could lead to greener fashions. A new industry is rapidly developing plant-based materials that replace fur, wool, silk, and skins. Beyond the obvious ethical benefits to this, the new products take considerable pressure off the deforestation effects of all those leather-producing cattle and wool-producing sheep.

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

— The NFGiM Team

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

keeping it light
I went on TV to explain Just Stop Oil – and it became a parody of Don’t Look Up
I wanted to sound the alarm about oil exploration and the climate crisis, but Good Morning Britain just didn’t want to hear
By Miranda Whelehan, The Guardian | Opinion
April 13, 2022
Miranda Whelehan is a student and campaigner with the Just Stop Oil coalition

I hadn’t seen the 2021 satirical film Don’t Look Up when I went on Good Morning Britain on Tuesday. I was there on behalf of Just Stop Oil – a group that has been engaging in direct action by blockading oil terminals. We’re demanding that the UK government ends all new oil licenses, exploration and consent in the North Sea. It’s a simple message that’s in line with science.

But the simplicity of our demands seemed to annoy my interviewer, Richard Madeley. “But you’d accept, wouldn’t you, that it’s a very complicated discussion to be had, it’s a very complicated thing,” he said. “And this ‘Just Stop Oil’ slogan is very playground-ish isn’t it? It’s very Vicky Pollard, quite childish.” I then proceeded to talk about the recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which confirmed that it is “now or never” to avoid climate catastrophe. But they didn’t seem to care.

People were quick to point out the parallels with a key scene in Don’t Look Up, when Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence’s characters, both astronomers, go on a morning talkshow to inform the public about a comet that’s heading to Earth, potentially leading to an extinction-level event. The newsreaders don’t care about what they have to say: they prefer to “keep the bad news light”.

Now that I’ve watched the film, I understand the references people have been making. The worst part is that these presenters and journalists think they know better than chief scientists or academics who have been studying the climate crisis for decades, and they refuse to hear otherwise. It is wilful blindness and it is going to kill us.

[…] Well, to that we say no. We will not continue as generations have before and allow our actions today to have devastating consequences on those tomorrow. It is time to break that cycle and stand up for what is right. “If governments are serious about the climate crisis, there can be no new investments in oil, gas and coal, from now – from this year.” That is a direct quote from Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency. He said that last year. Time has quite literally run out. It only takes one quick search on the internet to see what is happening. Somalia. Madagascar. Yemen. Australia. Canada. The climate crisis is destroying lives already and will continue to unless we make a commitment to stop oil now.
» Read article           

drumming for Lloyds
Just Stop Oil protesters vow to continue until ‘all are jailed’
Extinction Rebellion close Lloyd’s of London as activist groups continue their direct action
By Damien Gayle, The Guardian
April 12, 2022

Anti-fossil fuel activists have vowed to continue blockading oil terminals until they are jailed, as they approached 1,000 arrests for their actions so far.

“Ministers have a choice: they can arrest and imprison Just Stop Oil supporters or agree to no new oil and gas,” Just Stop Oil said on Tuesday morning. “While Just Stop Oil supporters have their liberty the disruption will continue.”

Fuel-blockade activists were taking their first day off in 12 days on Tuesday, after beginning their campaign on 1 April. “We decided to give them a break,” a campaign spokesperson said. About 400 people have been arrested a total of 900 times for taking action so far, according to the campaign.

On Monday, about 40 were arrested at Inter Terminals in Grays, Essex, some after spending more than 38 hours locked on to pipework above the loading bay. Between 15 and 20 who had helped dig tunnels under access roads to the Kingsbury oil terminal were arrested on Sunday and Monday, Just Stop Oil said.

[…] Meanwhile, more than 80 scientists, signed a letter to Greg Hands, the energy minister, saying they support the call made by a hunger striker for a climate change briefing for all MPs from Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientist.

As Angus Rose began his 30th day without food, the scientists, including Sir David King, the former chief scientific adviser, Prof Julia Steinberger, an author on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and Prof Susan Michie, a member of the government’s Sage advisory body, said they “unanimously support” the idea of the briefing – even if they did not all agreed with Rose’s methods.

“The crisis is evolving at a rapid pace, and it is increasingly difficult for politicians to understand the significance of the latest science that they do not have time to read and digest,” the letter states.
» Read article           

» More about protests and actions

PIPELINES

answer is no
$40 million natural gas pipeline roasted by area groups
By Dave Canton, MassLive, in The Business Journal
April 9, 2022

Nearly 200 people from nearly 60 different organizations gathered in front of the federal courthouse on State Street Saturday to protest a proposed natural gas pipeline from Longmeadow to Springfield, a gas pipeline that owner Eversource said is redundant, probably won’t be needed and could cost as much as $44 million.

The company website calls the pipeline a “reliability project,” to ensure the flow of natural gas in the event the company’s primary pipeline is disabled. But some of the protestors said the only reliability coming from the project is profit for Eversource stockholders.

“Eversource, the answer is ‘No’,” Tanisha Arena said. “Just like biomass the answer was ‘No.’ And, this time we are not going to say ‘No’ for 12 or 13 years, the answer is ‘No’.

The Executive Director of Arise for Social Justice, Arena said that the people should not be forced to pay for a project that helps to destroy the environment without providing benefits to the people.

“We have shouldered the burden of all the mistakes they have made, all the engineering disasters, you people blowing stuff up. The people have paid for that in the past and this time they should not have to,” she said.

The short pipeline running from Longmeadow to downtown Springfield is designed as a backup source of natural gas if the primary line is out of service.
» Read article          

» More about pipelines

LEGISLATION

first ban
Quebec Becomes World’s First Jurisdiction to Ban Oil and Gas Exploration
By Mitchell Beer, The Energy Mix
April 13, 2022

In what campaigners are calling a world first, Quebec’s National Assembly voted Tuesday afternoon to ban new oil and gas exploration and shut down existing drill sites within three years, even as the promoters behind the failed Énergie Saguenay liquefied natural gas (LNG) project try to revive it as a response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“By becoming the first state to ban oil and gas development on its territory, Quebec is paving the way for other states around the world and encouraging them to do the same,” Montreal-based Équiterre said in a release.

“However, it is important that the political will that made this law possible be translated into greenhouse gas reductions in the province, since Quebec and Canada have done too little to reduce their GHGs over the past 30 years.”

“The search for oil and gas is over, but we still have to deal with the legacy of these companies,” added Environnement Vert Plus spokesperson Pascal Bergeron. “Although the oil and gas industry did not flourish in Quebec, it left behind nearly 1,000 wells that will have to be repaired, plugged, decontaminated, and monitored in perpetuity. We now expect as much enthusiasm in the completion of these operations as in the adoption of Bill 21.”

Bill 21—whose numbering on Quebec’s legislative calendar leaves it open to confusion with an older, deeply controversial law on religious freedoms—will require fossil operators to shut down existing exploration wells within three years, or 12 months if the sites are at risk of leaking, Le Devoir reports. The bill follows Quebec’s announcement during last year’s COP 26 climate summit that it would join the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance (BOGA), part of a list of a dozen jurisdictions that did not include Canada, the United States, or the United Kingdom.
» Read article          

walking with solar
What to know about the Mass. Senate’s new climate bill
Miriam Wasser, WBUR
April 8, 2022

Several Massachusetts Democrats in the Senate unveiled a sweeping $250 million climate bill this week. The so-called Act Driving Climate Policy Forward builds off last year’s landmark Climate Act with new policies about green transportation and buildings, clean energy, the future of natural gas in the state and much more.

There are a lot of wonky policies and acronyms in the clean energy world, but here, in plain English, is what’s in this new bill:
» Read article           

» More about legislation

GREENING THE ECONOMY

sustainable fashionSustainable fashion: Biomaterial revolution replacing fur and skins
By Jenny Gonzales, Mongabay
April 8, 2022

In a globally interconnected world, textiles such as leather sourced from cattle, and wool sheared from sheep, have become a serious source of deforestation, other adverse land-use impacts, biodiversity loss and climate change, while fur farms (harvesting pelts from slaughtered mink, foxes, raccoon dogs and other cage-kept wild animals) have become a major biohazard to human health — a threat underlined by the risk fur farms pose to the current and future spread of zoonotic diseases like COVID-19.

But in a not-so-distant future, fashion biomaterials made from plant leaves, fruit waste, and lab-grown microorganisms may replace animal-derived textiles — including leather, fur, wool and silk — with implementation at first on a small but quickly expanding scale, but eventually on a global scale.

In fact, that trend is well underway. In less than a decade, dozens of startups have emerged, developing a range of biomaterials that, in addition to eliminating the use of animal products, incorporate sustainable practices into their production chains.

Not all these textile companies, mostly based in Europe and the United States, have fully achieved their goals, but they continue to experiment and work toward a new fashion paradigm. Among promising discoveries: vegan bioleather made with mycelium (the vegetative, threadlike part of fungi), and bioexotic skins made from cactus and pineapple leaves, grape skins and seeds, apple juice, banana stalks and coconut water. There are also new textiles based on algae that can act as carbon sinks, and vegan silk made from orange peel.

[…] The evolution of sustainable biomaterials is largely a response to the need to reduce the environmental impact of the fashion industry, one of the worst planetary polluters. “The fashion industry is responsible for 10% of annual global carbon emissions, more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined [and responsible for] around 20% of worldwide wastewater [that] comes from fabric dyeing and treatment,” according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.
» Read article           

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

CAN
Despite Big Oil Roadblocks, Poll Shows Majority in US Support Climate Action
Amid congressional inaction, solid majorities of U.S. adults favor policies to slash greenhouse gas pollution, a new Gallup survey found.
By Kenny Stancil, Common Dreams
April 11, 2022

A survey published Monday shows that most adults in the U.S. support six proposals to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that lead to rising temperatures and increasingly frequent and intense extreme weather, a finding that comes as congressional lawmakers who own tens of millions of dollars worth of fossil fuel industry stocks continue to undermine climate action.

Gallup’s annual environment poll, conducted by telephone from March 1 to 18, measured public support for a half-dozen policies designed to mitigate the fossil fuel-driven climate emergency.

It found that support for specific measures “ranges from 59% in favor of spending federal money for building more electric vehicle charging stations in the U.S. up to 89% for providing tax credits to Americans who install clean energy systems in their homes.”

“Americans are most supportive of tax credits or tax incentives designed to promote the use of clean energy,” Gallup noted. “They are less supportive of stricter government standards or limits on emissions and policies that promote the use of electric vehicles.”

While President Joe Biden signed a fossil-fuel friendly bipartisan infrastructure bill into law last November, a reconciliation package that includes many of the green investments backed by solid majorities of U.S. adults has yet to reach his desk due to the opposition of all 50 Senate Republicans plus right-wing Democratic Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.) and Joe Manchin (W.Va.), who was the target of protests over the weekend.
» Read article           

Bolsonaro line
Brazil sets ‘worrying’ new Amazon deforestation record
Brazilian Amazon sees 64 percent jump in deforestation in first three months of 2022 compared with a year earlier.
By Al Jazeera
April 8, 2022

Brazil has set a new grim record for Amazon deforestation during the first three months of 2022 compared with a year earlier, government data shows, spurring concern and warnings from environmentalists.

From January to March, deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon rose 64 percent from a year ago to 941sq km (363sq miles), data from national space research agency Inpe showed.

That area, larger than New York City, is the most forest cover lost in the period since the data series began in 2015.

Destruction of the world’s largest rainforest has surged since President Jair Bolsonaro took office in 2019 and weakened environmental protections, arguing that they hinder economic development that could reduce poverty in the Amazon region.

Al Jazeera’s Monica Yanakiew, reporting from Rio de Janeiro, said the new data was especially worrying because Brazil is in the midst of its rainy season – a time when loggers typically do not cut down trees and farmers do not burn them to clear the land.

“So there should be less activity, there should be less deforestation,” said Yanakiew.

She added that the figures came as representatives of 100 Indigenous tribes are in the capital, Brasilia, to demand more protection for their lands and denounce proposed laws that would allow the government to further exploit the rainforest.

“They’re protesting to make sure that Congress will not approve bills that have been pushed by the government to make it easier to exploit the Amazon [rain]forest commercially. President Jair Bolsonaro is trying to get this done before he runs for re-election in October.”
» Read article           

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

takeoff is now
Natural gas-fired generation peaked in 2020 amid growing renewable energy production: IEEFA
By Ethan Howland, Utility Dive
April 13, 2022

Natural gas-fired power production likely peaked in 2020 and will gradually be driven lower by higher gas prices and competition from growing amounts of wind and solar capacity, according to the Institute for Energy Economics and Finance, a nonprofit group that supports moving away from fossil fuels.

[…] IEEFA expects wind, solar and hydroelectric generation will make up a third of U.S. power production by 2027, up from about 19% in December, according to its report. “The transition has just started,” Wamsted said. “We do believe that the takeoff is right now.”

The recent increase in gas prices and concerns about methane emissions from gas production and distribution are adding to the challenges facing gas-fired generation, which hit a record high in 2020 of 1.47 billion MWh, according to IEEFA.

“The soaring cost of fossil fuels and unexpected disruptions in energy security are now supercharging what was already a torrid pace of growth in solar, wind and battery storage projects,” IEEFA said in the report.

The utility sector is speeding up its exit from coal-fired generation, Wamsted said, pointing to recently announced plans by Georgia Power, the Tennessee Valley Authority and Duke Energy to retire their coal fleets by 2035.

Since the U.S. coal fleet peaked in 2012 at 317 GW, about 100 GW has retired and another 100 GW is set to shutter by the end of this decade, partly driven by federal coal ash and water discharge regulations, according to Wamsted.

About three-quarters of the generation expected to come online in the next three years is wind, solar and batteries, IEEFA estimated, based on Energy Information Administration data.
» Read article          

» More about clean energy

LONG-DURATION ENERGY STORAGE

zinc blob
e-Zinc raises US$25m to begin commercial pilot production of long-duration storage
By Andy Colthorpe, Energy Storage News
April 7, 2022

E-Zinc, a Canadian company which claims its zinc metal-based battery technology could provide low-cost, long-duration energy storage has raised US$25 million.

Founded in 2012, the company’s Series A funding round closing announced today comes two years after it raised seed funding and began demonstrating how the battery could be paired with solar PV and grid generation, developing its own balance of system (BoS) solutions along the way.

The technology is being touted as a means to replace diesel generator sets in providing backup power for periods of between half a day to five days, with remote grid or off-grid sites a particular focus.

In other words, the battery has storage and discharge durations far beyond what is typically achieved with the main incumbent grid storage battery technology lithium-ion, which currently has an upper limit of about four to eight hours before becoming prohibitively expensive.

That ability to discharge at full rated power for several days potentially would take it past the capabilities of other non-lithium alternatives like flow batteries and most mechanical and thermal storage plants, with the likes of Form Energy’s multi-day iron-air battery and green hydrogen perhaps the closest comparison.
» Read article          

» More about long-duration energy storage

SITING IMPACTS OF RENEWABLE ENERGY RESOURCES

Elmore geo plant
New geothermal plants could solve America’s lithium supply crunch
By Bryant Jones & Michael McKibben, GreenBiz
April 14, 2022

Geothermal energy has long been the forgotten member of the clean energy family, overshadowed by relatively cheap solar and wind power, despite its proven potential. But that may soon change — for an unexpected reason.

Geothermal technologies are on the verge of unlocking vast quantities of lithium from naturally occurring hot brines beneath places such as California’s Salton Sea, a two-hour drive from San Diego.

Lithium is essential for lithium-ion batteries, which power electric vehicles and energy storage. Demand for these batteries is quickly rising, but the U.S. is heavily reliant on lithium imports from other countries — most of the nation’s lithium supply comes from Argentina, Chile, Russia and China. The ability to recover critical minerals from geothermal brines in the U.S. could have important implications for energy and mineral security, as well as global supply chains, workforce transitions and geopolitics.

As [geologists who work] with geothermal brines and an energy policy scholar, we believe this technology can bolster the nation’s critical minerals supply chain at a time when concerns about the supply chain’s security are rising.

Geothermal power plants use heat from the Earth to generate a constant supply of steam to run turbines that produce electricity. The plants operate by bringing up a complex saline solution from far underground, where it absorbs heat and is enriched with minerals such as lithium, manganese, zinc, potassium and boron.

Geothermal brines are the concentrated liquid left over after heat and steam are extracted at a geothermal plant. In the Salton Sea plants, these brines contain high concentrations — about 30 percent — of dissolved solids.

If test projects underway prove that battery-grade lithium can be extracted from these brines cost-effectively, 11 existing geothermal plants along the Salton Sea alone could have the potential to produce enough lithium metal to provide about 10 times the current U.S. demand.
» Read article          

» More about siting impacts of renewables

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

free parking
Massachusetts needs at least 750,000 electric vehicles on the road by 2030. We are nowhere close.
By Sabrina Shankman and Taylor Dolven, Boston Globe
April 9, 2022

Back in 2014, state officials calculated the number of gas-burning cars they would need to get off the roads and replace with cleaner, greener options to meet climate goals.

By 2020, they said, electric cars in the state needed to total more than 169,000. By 2025, that number had to rise to 300,000.

But reality has fallen wildly short of the dream.

As of last month, just 51,431 electric passenger vehicles were registered in Massachusetts, less than a quarter of the target. Only about 31,000 of those were fully electric. The remainder, plug-in hybrids, burn gas once they deplete their batteries.

It’s a critical failure on the path to a clean future, climate advocates and legislators say. The promising policies put in place — a rebate program to encourage consumers to go electric and a plan to install plentiful charging ports across the state — were insufficient, underfunded, and allowed to languish. The result is that the road from here to where we need to be will be longer and steeper than ever intended.

“The state is not trying hard enough,” said Senator Mike Barrett, lead author of the state’s landmark climate law. “Nobody has chosen to own this.”

Converting large numbers of the state’s 4.3 million gas cars to electric is one of Massachusetts’ most urgent climate tasks as it stares at the 2030 deadline for slashing emissions by half from 1990 levels, which was set by the Next-Generation Roadmap for Massachusetts Climate Policy law. Cars account for about a fifth of all carbon emissions in the state, and advocates, legislators, and other experts say that if Massachusetts doesn’t quickly address its problems, including by improving mass transit and discouraging driving altogether, it may not reach the targets set for the end of the decade.
» Read article     

time to choose
Truck makers face a tech dilemma: batteries or hydrogen?
By Jack Ewing New York Times, in Boston Globe
April 11, 2022

Even before war in Ukraine sent fuel prices through the roof, the trucking industry was under intense pressure to kick its addiction to diesel, a major contributor to climate change and urban air pollution. But it still has to figure out which technology will best do the job.

Truck makers are divided into two camps. One faction, which includes Traton, Volkswagen’s truck unit, is betting on batteries because they are widely regarded as the most efficient option. The other camp, which includes Daimler Truck and Volvo, the two largest truck manufacturers, argues that fuel cells that convert hydrogen into electricity — emitting only water vapor — make more sense because they would allow long-haul trucks to be refueled quickly.

The choice companies make could be hugely consequential, helping to determine who dominates trucking in the electric vehicle age and who ends up wasting billions of dollars on the Betamax equivalent of electric truck technology, committing a potentially fatal error. It takes years to design and produce new trucks, so companies will be locked into the decisions they make now for a decade or more.

[…] The stakes for the environment and for public health are also high. If many truck makers wager incorrectly, it could take much longer to clean up trucking than scientists say we have to limit the worst effects of climate change. In the United States, medium- and heavy-duty trucks account for 7 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. Trucks tend to spend much more time on the road than passenger cars. The war in Ukraine has added urgency to the debate, underlining the financial and geopolitical risks of fossil fuel dependence.
» Read article     

» More about clean transportation

CARBON CAPTURE AND STORAGE

visualize ccs
Visualizing the scale of the carbon removal problem
Deploying direct air capture technologies at scale will take a massive lift
By Justine Calma, The Verge
April 7, 2022

To get climate change under control, experts say, we’re going to have to start sucking a whole lot more planet-heating carbon dioxide out of the air. And we need to start doing it fast.

Over the past decade, climate pollution has continued to grow, heating up the planet. It’s gotten to the point that not one but two major climate reports released over the past week say we’ll have to resort to a still-controversial new technology called Direct Air Capture (DAC) to keep our planet livable. Finding ways to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is “unavoidable,” a report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says.

We already have some direct air capture facilities that filter carbon dioxide out of the air. The captured CO2 can then be stored underground for safekeeping or used to make products like soda pop, concrete, or even aviation fuel.

But this kind of carbon removal is still being done at a very small scale. There are just 18 direct air capture facilities spread across Canada, Europe, and the United States. Altogether, they can capture just 0.01 million metric tons of CO2. To avoid the worst effects of climate change, we need a lot more facilities with much larger capacity, according to a recent report from the International Energy Agency (IEA). By 2030, direct air capture plants need to be able to draw down 85 million metric tons of the greenhouse gas. By 2050, the goal is a whopping 980 million metric tons of captured CO2.
» Read article           

» More about CCS

DEEP-SEABED MINING

unknown
‘A huge mistake’: Concerns rise as deep-sea mining negotiations progress
By Elizabeth Claire Alberts, Mongabay
April 8, 2022

With a four-page letter, the Pacific island nation of Nauru pushed the world closer to a reality in which large-scale mining doesn’t just take place on land, but also in the open ocean. In July 2021, President Lionel Aingimea wrote to the International Seabed Authority (ISA), the U.N.-affiliated organization tasked with managing deep-sea mining activities, to say it intended to make use of a rule embedded in the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) that could jump-start seabed mining in two years.

Since then, the ISA, which is responsible for protecting the ocean while encouraging deep-sea mining development, has been scrambling to come up with regulations that would determine how mining can proceed in the deep sea. At meetings that took place in December 2021, delegates debated how to push forward with these regulations, currently in draft form, and agreed to schedule a series of additional meetings to accelerate negotiations. At the latest meetings, which concluded last week in Kingston, Jamaica, delegates continued to discuss mining regulations, eyeing the goal of finalizing regulations by July 2023 so that seabed mining can proceed.

Observers at the recent meetings reported that while many states seemed eager to push ahead, there was also a growing chorus of concerns. For instance, many states and delegates noted that there wasn’t enough science to determine the full impacts of deep-sea mining, and there isn’t currently a financial plan in place to compensate for environmental loss. The observers said there were also increasing worries about the lack of transparency within the ISA as it steers blindfolded toward mining in a part of the ocean we know very little about.

[…] “Unfortunately, much less than 1% of the deep-sea floor has ever been seen by human eyes or with the camera,” Diva J. Amon, director of Trinidad-and-Tobago-based SpeSeas, a marine conservation nonprofit, told Mongabay. “That means that for huge portions of our planet, we cannot answer that extremely basic question of what lives there, much less questions about how it functions and the role that it plays related to us and the planet’s habitability and also about how it might be impacted.”
» Read article          

» More about deep-seabed mining     

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

sun sets
‘Tricks of the Trade’ Analysis Shows Why Big Oil ‘Cannot Be Part of the Solution’
“Oil companies use deceptive language and false promises to pretend they’re solving the climate crisis, when in reality they’re only making it worse,” said Fossil Free Media director Jamie Henn.
By Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams
April 12, 2022

The nonprofit Earthworks on Tuesday revealed how eight fossil fuel giants use “confusing jargon, false solutions, and misleading metrics” to distort “the severity of ongoing harm to health and climate from the oil and gas sector by helping companies lower reported emissions and claim climate action without actually reducing emissions.”

The group’s report—entitled Tricks of the Trade: Deceptive Practices, Climate Delay, and Greenwashing in the Oil and Gas Industry—focuses on BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Equinor, ExxonMobil, Occidental, Shell, and TotalEnergies, which are all top fossil fuel producers in the United States.

The analysis comes on the heels of an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report that Earthworks policy director Lauren Pagel said last week proves “we are headed in the wrong direction, fast,” and “solutions to solve this crisis exist but political courage and policy creativity are lacking.”

Pagel, in response to Tuesday’s report, reiterated that solving the global crisis “will require strong government intervention on multiple fronts” and specifically called on the Biden administration “to quickly correct the problems the oil and gas industry has created by declaring a climate emergency and beginning a managed decline of fossil fuels.”

Earthworks’ document details the corporations’ spurious accounting strategies that “creatively reclassify, bury, and entirely exclude their total emissions” rather than cutting planet-heating pollution in line with the 2015 Paris climate agreement goals of keeping global temperature rise by 2100 below 2°C and limiting it to 1.5°C above preindustrial levels.

The report highlights that “every company’s climate ambitions fall far short of the IPCC target of reducing emissions 50% by the end of the decade because they omit scope 3 emissions.” While scope 1 refers to direct emissions from owned operations and scope 2 refers to indirect emissions from the generation of electricity purchased by a company, scope 3 refers to all other indirect emissions in a firm’s supply chain.

“Scope 3 emissions make up between 75-90% of emissions associated with oil and gas production,” the paper says, noting that for these firms, the category includes emissions from the fossil fuel products they sell. “Excluding scope 3 emissions allows oil and gas companies to make goals that sound like real progress while pushing off responsibility for most of their emissions onto consumers and allowing them to continue to grow their operations.”
» Read article     
» Read the report

» More about fossil fuel

CYBERSECURITY

pipedream
U.S. warns newly discovered malware could sabotage energy plants
Private security experts said they suspect liquefied natural gas facilities were the malware’s most likely target
By Joseph Menn, Washington Post
April 13, 2022

U.S. officials announced Wednesday the discovery of an alarmingly sophisticated and effective system for attacking industrial facilities that includes the ability to cause explosions in the energy industry.

The officials did not say which country they believed had developed the system, which was found before it was used, and they kept mum about who found the software and how.

But private security experts who worked in parallel with government agencies to analyze the system said it was likely to be Russian, that its top target was probably liquefied natural gas production facilities, and that it would take months or years to develop strong defenses against it.

That combination makes the discovery of the system, dubbed Pipedream by industrial control security experts Dragos, the realization of the worst fears of longtime cybersecurity experts. Some compared it to Stuxnet, which the United States and Israel used more than a dozen years ago to damage equipment used in Iran’s nuclear program.

The program manipulates equipment found in virtually all complex industrial plants rather than capitalizing on unknown flaws that can be easily fixed, so almost any plant could fall victim, investigators said.

“This is going to take years to recover from,” said Sergio Caltagirone, vice president of threat intelligence at Dragos and a former global technical lead at the National Security Agency.

[…] The attack kit “contains capabilities related to disruption, sabotage, and potentially physical destruction. While we are unable to definitively attribute the malware, we note that the activity is consistent with Russia’s historical interest,” said Mandiant Director of Intelligence Analysis Nathan Brubaker.

Liquefied natural gas, including from the United States, is playing a growing role as an alternative to Russian oil and gas imports that the European Union has pledged to reduce because of the invasion.
» Read article          

» More about cybersecurity

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

not required
No Need for New Export Terminals to Move U.S. Gas to Europe, New Analysis Shows
By The Energy Mix
April 10, 2022

There’s no need for new export terminals in the United States to help Europe end its dependence on natural gas from Russia—the U.S. fossil industry’s spin notwithstanding, according to a new analysis by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis.

“The White House and European leaders announced plans in late March to boost U.S gas shipments to Europe by at least 15 billion cubic metres this year,” IEEFA says in a release. But while the fossil lobby is leaning in to the European fossil energy crisis as reason to build more liquefied natural gas (LNG) export capacity, the analysis found the U.S. LNG industry is on track to exceed the target, without the construction of any new LNG plants.”

Already this year, “a combination of increased output from U.S. plants and flexible contracts has allowed much more U.S. LNG to flow to Europe,” said report author and IEEFA energy finance analyst Clark Williams-Derry. The report, based on data from IHS Markit, shows U.S. LNG producers with far more gas available to be sold or redirected than the continent is actually looking for.

“Counting contracted LNG with flexible destinations, spot sale volumes, and pre-existing commitments with European buyers, almost 55 MMt of U.S. LNG (75 bcm of gas) could be available to Europe this year,” states the report. “Destination flexibility in current contracts would allow for a significant increase in U.S. LNG shipments to Europe from their 2021 level of 22.2 MMt (30.4 bcm of gas), without any new long-term sales contracts,” and “European buyers also can negotiate with Asian contract holders to secure additional imports of U.S. LNG.”

“If shipment patterns during the first quarter of 2022 continue, the U.S. LNG industry will far exceed the short-term target, set by officials from the EU and the White House, of boosting U.S. LNG shipments to the EU by 15 billion cubic meters this year,” the report adds. “However, Europe’s increasing appetite for U.S. LNG comes at a cost—for Europe, for the U.S., and for the world.” That’s because “LNG imports are inherently more expensive for the EU than the Russian gas they replace. At the same time, U.S. consumers are now paying much more for their natural gas, because rising LNG exports have contributed to supply shortfalls and tight gas markets in the U.S.”

All of which means that “building new LNG infrastructure in the U.S. could be a long-term financial mistake,” Williams-Derry said in the release. “The U.S. is on track to meet European LNG supply goals using the plants it has, and new plants could face long-term challenges from fickle Asian demand and Europe’s climate commitments.
» Read article          
» Read the IEEFA analysis

» More about LNG

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Weekly News Check-In 2/25/22

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Welcome back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— The NFGiM Team

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about protests and actions       

PIPELINES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about pipelines

DIVESTMENT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about divestment

GREENING THE ECONOMY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about energy efficiency

BUILDING MATERIALS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about building materials

ENERGY STORAGE

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about energy storage

SITING IMPACTS OF RENEWABLES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about siting impacts of renewables

MODERNIZING THE GRID

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about modernizing the grid       

CARBON CAPTURE AND STORAGE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about CCS

GAS BANS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about gas bans

GAS UTILITIES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about gas utilities     

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about fossil fuels

PLASTICS AND THE ENVIRONMENT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about plastics and the environment

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Weekly News Check-In 1/28/22

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Welcome back.

News broke just after the lackluster COP26 climate summit concluded, that the Biden administration would offer up the largest offshore oil and gas drilling lease in history. It was a huge carbon bomb lobbed at the climate, and it made the environmental community furious. Lawsuits came swiftly, and now we’re thrilled to report that the U.S District Court for the District of Columbia has revoked those leases. The ruling states that the Interior Department must consider the climate effects of fossil fuel extraction. Pipeline projects are bogging down in similar legal thickets, partly because of climate impacts, but also for direct environmental harms and safety hazards posed by their construction and operation.

Stanford scientist Robert Jackson took some of the shine off our beloved gas stove with a peer-reviewed study showing considerably higher rates of methane leakage than were previously understood. It’s challenging to send gas through pipes, valves, fittings, and appliances without at least a little bit leaking, and a little bit from a lot of places adds up to a serious problem. This new data bolsters the gas ban movement.

Food for thought: natural gas – methane (CH4) is a huge molecule compared to hydrogen (H2). We obviously don’t have a system that adequately contains methane, but the gas industry is pushing hard to send various mixtures of methane and hydrogen, and eventually all hydrogen, into our homes to perform the same functions currently served by natural gas. You good with that?

Sometime during the recent period of sustained environmental assault by the federal government, America was nudged toward greatness again (in some minds) by delaying the planned phase-out of inefficient, incandescent light bulbs. The effect on greening the economy wasn’t much, but it perversely served to raise the cost of living for people already struggling to get by. This is a good example of choices we make as we address the climate and environmental crises. There are obvious good or bad moves, and then there are unintended consequences – plus entrenched interests eager to game the system to their advantage. We’re seeing these dynamics play out in efforts to modernize the grid, source and site renewable resources, implement a meaningful system of carbon offsets and reforestation, and figure out an appropriate role for carbon capture and storage.

We’re keeping an eye on pushback within the European Union regarding attempts to classify natural gas and nuclear as sustainable energy. Meanwhile, the most blatant EU boondoggle of swapping coal for “carbon neutral” biomass took a hit, as its biggest offender, Drax Group, was booted off the S&P Global Clean Energy Index. And while we’re thumping the EU, what is going on with minimum flight benchmarks that are causing airlines to fly nearly-empty planes just to maintain airport slots?!!

Closer to home, Massachusetts lawmakers are pressing the Baker administration to finalize new energy efficiency standards in the building code. And we found some just plain good news in the latest press on Energy Vault’s gravity-based, long-duration energy storage system. We’ve featured this California company’s technology before, because it’s a standout in terms of simplicity, durability, and minimal environmental impact.

We’ll wrap up with a couple things to keep watching closely. First, the scope of cleaning up the fossil fuel industry’s abandoned and orphaned wells is rising now that the government has offered substantial funds for the task. We predict that cleanup costs will only grow – the mess is worse than industry and regulators have admitted. We’re also tracking growing concern about the prospect of someone implementing solar geoengineering in some form, in a desperate attempt to cool the planet.

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

— The NFGiM Team

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

Port Aransas platform
Court Revokes Oil and Gas Leases, Citing Climate Change
A judge ruled that the Interior Department must consider the climate effects of oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico before awarding leases.
By Lisa Friedman, New York Times
January 27, 2022

WASHINGTON — A federal judge on Thursday canceled oil and gas leases of more than 80 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico, ruling that the Biden administration did not sufficiently take climate change into account when it auctioned the leases late last year.

The decision by the United States District Court for the District of Columbia is a major victory for environmental groups that criticized the Biden administration for holding the sale after promising to move the country away from fossil fuels. It had been the largest lease sale in United States history.

Now the Interior Department must conduct a new environmental analysis that accounts for the greenhouse gas emissions that would result from the eventual development and production of the leases. After that, the agency will have to decide whether it will hold a new auction.

“This is huge,” said Brettny Hardy, a senior attorney for Earthjustice, one of several environmental groups that brought the lawsuit.

“This requires the bureau to go back to the drawing board and actually consider the climate costs before it offers these leases for sale, and that’s really significant,” Ms. Hardy said, adding, “Once these leases are issued, there’s development that’s potentially locked in for decades to come that is going to hurt our global climate.”

Melissa Schwartz, a spokeswoman for the Interior Department, said the agency was reviewing the decision.

As a candidate, Mr. Biden promised to stop issuing new leases for drilling on public lands and in federal waters. “And by the way, no more drilling on federal lands, period. Period, period, period,” Mr. Biden told voters in New Hampshire in February 2020. Shortly after taking office, he signed an executive order to pause the issuing of new leases.

But after Republican attorneys general from 13 states sued, a federal judge in Louisiana blocked that order, and also ruled that the administration must hold lease sales in the Gulf that had already been scheduled.

Biden administration officials have said Interior Secretary Deb Haaland risked being held in contempt of court if the auction was not held. Environmental groups, however, argued that the administration had other options, including doing a new analysis to examine the ways that the burning of oil extracted from the Gulf would contribute to climate change.
» Read article        
» Listen to coverage on NPR        

» Read the U.S. District Court decision

» More about protests and actions

PIPELINES

Peters MountainMountain Valley Pipeline loses permit to cross through Jefferson National Forest
By Laurence Hammack, Roanoke Times
January 25, 2022

For the second time, a federal appeals court has thrown out government approvals for a natural gas pipeline to pass through the Jefferson National Forest.

A written decision Tuesday from the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals marked the latest of many setbacks for the Mountain Valley Pipeline since construction began in 2018.

A three-judge panel of the court found that the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management failed to properly predict — and to prevent — erosion and sedimentation problems caused by building the massive infrastructure project.

Judge Stephanie Thacker wrote in the panel’s unanimous decision that the agencies “erroneously failed to account for real-world data suggesting increased sedimentation along the pipeline route.”

The ruling sends the permit back to the Forest Service and BLM for reconsideration. The first time the court did that, in July 2018, it took two years for the agencies to approve a second permit — which now has also been found lacking by the Fourth Circuit.
» Read article         

Line 5 at Mackinaw Station
Pipeline expert warns of Line 5 tunnel explosion risk, Enbridge balks
By Sheri McWhirter, MLive
January 7, 2022

An oil and gas expert warned Michigan utility regulators not only would a tunnel for the Line 5 pipeline not be a failsafe replacement for the underwater section of the line, but possible accidents could cause a catastrophic underground explosion.

But Enbridge doesn’t even want the possibility considered by decision-makers.

The Canadian oil and gas pipeline company wants much of that expert testimony tossed from the record in the state’s ongoing tunnel permit case review before the Michigan Public Service Commission. An administrative law judge will decide next week.

Enbridge argued the oil and gas expert’s testimony on behalf of Bay Mills Indian Community shouldn’t be considered because of a legal technicality – that nobody has suggested a tunnel explosion before now so it can’t be considered rebuttal testimony.

The company also objected to official statements from a slew of others, including experts who testified on behalf of tribal governments and nonprofit environmental groups opposed to the tunnel proposal and continued use of the existing pipeline.

A Chicago-based lawyer for the Bay Mills tribe said the expert’s testimony is, in fact, intended to rebut prior testimony from MPSC employees who contend the proposed tunnel is a basically foolproof solution to the risk of oil spills from the dual pipelines that currently run across the Great Lakes bottomlands in the Straits of Mackinac.

“We saw what was being submitted in the case with respect to how the tunnel was being characterized – and specifically the pipeline running through the tunnel – and there was a repeated theme from witnesses offered by the MPSC staff, that the tunnel was going to eliminate a risk of a spill or catastrophic event in the Straits,” said Christopher Clark, of nonprofit Earthjustice which is working pro bono on behalf of the state’s Indigenous tribes with co-counsel Native American Rights Fund.
» Read article         

» More about pipelines

GAS BANS

leaky gas stovesYour gas stove is always polluting, even when it’s turned off
Scientists may have just found a source of missing methane in cities.
By Rebecca Leber, Vox
January 27, 2022

When we fire up a gas stove, we’re releasing a powerful climate pollutant into kitchens and beyond. But a new study found that this isn’t just happening when the stove is on. Even when turned off, a typical gas stove will send methane up to the atmosphere.

The new peer-reviewed study, published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, helps answer a particular question that’s been nagging scientists for years. The puzzle has been accounting for all the sources of methane as concentrations in the atmosphere have risen to record levels. They know the natural gas industry, and specifically leaks from its pipelines, is the biggest contributor (natural gas is mostly methane). Other well-documented sources are livestock and landfills.

But there was a mystery when it came to urban environments: In one study in Boston, researchers noted that pipeline leaks couldn’t explain the high levels of methane emissions they detected. There had to be other leaks, most likely from gas-burning appliances inside homes.

So Stanford scientist Robert Jackson, one of the study’s coauthors, set out to track down this missing methane inside homes and buildings. And he was surprised at what his team found.

Basically all stoves “leak a bit when they’re burning,” Jackson said. “And they all leak a bit when you turn them on and off, because there’s a period of time before the flame kicks in. The most surprising was almost three-quarters of the methane that we found emitting from the stoves came from when they weren’t running.”

In other words, the gas stove, a feature of 40 million American homes, is likely always releasing a greenhouse gas. Gas stoves are still a relatively small source of methane compared to pipelines and refineries, and they aren’t even the biggest gas-guzzling appliance in buildings — gas furnaces and water heaters use much more of the fuel through the day and night. But the methane emissions from stoves are roughly equivalent to the carbon dioxide released by half a million gas-powered cars in a year, the researchers found.
» Read article        
» Read the study              

» More about gas bans

GREENING THE ECONOMY

incandescent
Old-Fashioned, Inefficient Light Bulbs Live On at the Nation’s Dollar Stores
A Trump administration weakening of climate rules has kept incandescent bulbs on store shelves, and research shows they’re concentrated in shops serving poorer areas.
By Hiroko Tabuchi, New York TImes
January 23, 2022

For years, Deborah Turner bought her light bulbs at one of the many dollar stores that serve her neighborhood in Columbus, Ohio.

But the bulbs for sale were highly inefficient, shorter lasting, incandescent ones — the pear-shaped orbs with glowing wire centers — meaning that over time Mrs. Turner, who lives in a neighborhood where a quarter of the residents are below the poverty line, would spend hundreds of dollars more on electrical bills, because of the extra power they use, than if she’d purchased energy-saving LED lights.

It’s a pattern repeated nationwide. Research has shown that lower-end retailers like dollar stores or convenience shops still extensively stock their shelves with traditional or halogen incandescent bulbs, even as stores serving more affluent communities have shifted to selling far more efficient LEDs. One Michigan study, for instance, found that not only were LED bulbs less available in poorer areas, they also tended to cost on average $2.50 more per bulb than in wealthier communities.

“You just don’t see them in places like Dollar General,” said Mrs. Turner, a semi-retired addiction-treatment counselor.

The continued prevalence of incandescent bulbs in the United States is one result of a successful effort during the Trump presidency, by an industry group representing the world’s biggest light-bulb makers, to stall energy efficiency standards in the United States. By contrast, in the European Union, those same companies have adhered to a phaseout of incandescent bulbs.

The delay has enabled manufacturers to prolong profits from an inefficient technology, often at the expense of lower-income households, which end up having to replace the short-lived bulbs more frequently, while also paying more to power them.
» Read article         

» More about greening the economy

CLEAN ENERGY

Paris nuke plant
EU Scientists and Politicians Clash Over Gas and Nuclear as ‘Sustainable’ Investments
Lobbyists and an alliance of some EU governments push gas and nuclear in a sustainable investing guide. Scientific experts are “deeply concerned.”
By Stella Levantesi, DeSmog Blog
January 25, 2022

The European Union’s scientific and political communities are locked in a battle over whether gas and nuclear can be considered green investments. The latest development in this years-long fight came on Monday, when the European Commission’s scientific expert group, the Platform on Sustainable Finance (PSF), pushed back against including gas and nuclear in the EU taxonomy, an official guide on sustainable investments. The expert group stated that it is “deeply concerned about the environmental impacts that may result.”

In December 2021, after months of lobbying, strong pushback from pro-gas and pro-nuclear supporters, and informal alliances between governments, the Commission asked the Platform on Sustainable Finance to provide feedback on a draft amendment that included gas and nuclear in the taxonomy, thereby recognizing them as sustainable.

In July 2020, the European Union established the EU Taxonomy Regulation, “a classification system establishing a list of environmentally sustainable economic activities.” It’s a “green investment guidebook,” said Henry Eviston, spokesperson on sustainable finance at WWF European Policy Office. In other words, to call an investment “green,” it needs to be taxonomy compliant.

Economic activities comply with the taxonomy if they pass a number of technical screening criteria and meet at least one of six environmental objectives, without harming any of the others: mitigating climate change; adapting to climate change; protecting and sustainably using water and marine resources; transitioning to a circular economy; preventing and controlling pollution; and restoring and protecting biodiversity.
» Read article         

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

gas-lit flame
Lawmakers want Baker to move faster on new code for green buildings
By WBUR News & Wire Services
January 19, 2022

Frustrated with what they see as foot-dragging from the Baker administration, lawmakers heard testimony Wednesday on bills that would give cities and towns the power to ban natural gas, heating oil or propane infrastructure in new buildings.

State law currently prohibits local governments from banning gas and oil hookups in new construction projects. But the state’s ambitious climate law passed last spring is supposed to change that, allowing communities to “opt in” to a stricter building code.

The law requires the Baker administration produce a draft of this “stretch” energy code by the end of 2022, but legislators said they were expecting one sooner.

“[The Baker administration] told the public to expect a draft of the code by last fall. But something’s happened. It’s not seen the light of day, and we hear some developers want it weakened,” said Sen. Michael Barrett and Rep. Jeffrey Roy, chairmen of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, in a statement. “On the off chance the stretch energy code either does not emerge soon, or emerges but departs from legislative intent, we’re looking at contingency steps the Legislature may want to take.”

At a virtual hearing Wednesday, Barrett said the lack of a draft is a “discouraging early sign of whether or not we’re on track” to live up to the 2021 climate law.
» Read article         

» More about energy efficiency

ENERGY STORAGE

Energy Vault Resiliency Center
We Can Store Our Excess Renewable Energy In An Energy Vault
The company, Energy Vault, has commercialized the ultimate energy storage technology that will build the foundation of a clean energy future – brick by brick.
By James Conca, Forbes
January 27, 2022

The Energy Vault stores excess electrical energy by efficiently transforming it into gravitational potential energy using 35-ton bricks that can be raised and lowered at will, and that can sit still storing the energy for any amount of time, before transforming the energy back to electrical energy when needed.

It is not a battery that can degrade over time. It does not need water or rare elements like Li or Co. It does not depend on the weather and is not affected by extreme weather. It can withstand Cat 4 hurricane winds and magnitude 8 earthquakes (tested at the California Institute of Technology).

It uses common materials like dirt to make the bricks, even solid waste, that can be obtained locally and does not use cement to bind them together. It does not use ten times the steel and concrete that renewables use relative to nuclear or gas. And it has one of, if not the, lowest carbon footprints of any energy generation or storage system.

And this technology comes just in time. According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Storage Grand Challenge Market Report 2020, the World Energy Council, the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Bloomberg NEF and Lazard, the projected grid-related storage deployments between now and 2030 needs to be about 830 GWh. The cumulative investment in this grid-related storage required over this time period is about $270 billion.

I know that game-changer is an overused term, but this technology really is a game-changer. With it, we can achieve a low-carbon future by mid-century. And we don’t need to waste lithium.
» Read article         

» More about energy storage        

MODERNIZING THE GRID

No Eastie Substation
Opponents appeal East Boston substation’s waterfront license
By Walter Wuthmann, WBUR
January 27, 2022

Environmental advocacy groups and East Boston residents are making a renewed attempt to stop construction of an Eversource electrical substation in the neighborhood.

On Monday the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) filed an appeal with the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, saying the state should not have granted a waterfront license for the project.

“This waterways license is yet another example of our state agency making the wrong decision and Eversource Energy not making a good decision,” said Staci Rubin, CLF Vice President of Environmental Justice. “There is a pattern of our governmental decisions granting permits to pollute in communities of color, low-income neighborhoods, and places with limited English-proficient residents.”

Neighbors have long opposed the substation site, which sits on a flood-prone area near Chelsea Creek, across the street from a popular playground, and near tanks of jet fuel for Logan Airport.

Eversource says it needs a new substation in East Boston to meet the neighborhood’s increasing electrical demands. Substations are key components of the grid, converting high-voltage electricity from power plants to a lower voltage for residential use.
» Read article        
» Read background reporting
» Read assessment and alternatives from Union of Concerned Scientists

» More about modernizing the grid

SITING IMPACTS OF RENEWABLES

Ko-Solar panels
MassDOT finds an unusual place to hang solar panels: highway sound barriers
New panels along Route 128 will generate enough power for up to 120 homes
By Jon Chesto, Boston Globe
January 25, 2022

Solar developers are finding interesting places to put their panels: landfills, parking garages, warehouses, shopping malls.

Now, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation is adding a particularly unusual spot to the list: highway sound barriers.

On Monday, MassDOT announced it had signed a letter of intent to create the first such solar “photovoltaic noise barrier,” or PVNB, by mounting solar panels on an existing sound barrier along Route 128 in Lexington in the coming months. The 638-kilowatt project could provide enough power for up to 120 homes. Solect Energy will finance, install, and maintain the 3,000-foot-long project, while Ko-Solar, a Natick startup owned by Koray Kotan, is developing it. Kotan said Ko-Solar is in talks with transportation agencies in several states but the MassDOT project will be the first of its kind in the United States.

A MassDOT spokeswoman said the agency expects to receive a financial benefit of about $23,000 a year over the course of a 25-year lease period, from a combination of lease payments and electric utility savings from the credits the agency will receive for providing the power for the area’s electric grid. The state Department of Energy Resources awarded a $345,000 grant to help subsidize this pilot project.
» Read article         

Tiehm’s wild buckwheat
In a battle between this endangered flower and a lithium mine, who should win?
The decision about whether to allow a mine supplying the materials to build batteries on the habitat of a rare flower exposes questions about how we manage the tradeoffs between preserving nature now versus protecting the climate in the future.
By Adele Peters, Fast Company
January 25, 2022

In a remote corner of Nevada a four hour drive north of Las Vegas, there’s a small yellow flower that exists nowhere else in the world: Its entire global habitat takes up a chunk of federally-owned land a little smaller than two football fields. That land also happens to be the site of a proposed lithium mine, which could produce enough lithium each year for the batteries in 400,000 electric cars.

Later this year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will make a final decision on whether to list the wildflower, called Tiehm’s wild buckwheat, on the Endangered Species List. And the Bureau of Land Management, the agency responsible for granting mining leases on federal land, will decide whether the mine can move forward, potentially destroying 90% of the rare plant’s habitat. It’s one example of a recurring challenge: How far should we go to speed up the energy transition if that also threatens the environment in other ways?

The site is unique, as one of only two places in the world known to contain large amounts of both lithium and boron. In fact, the mining company plans to produce much more boron than lithium. (While lithium is a key ingredient used in batteries for electric vehicles and renewable energy storage, boron plays less of a starring role in the energy transition, though Ioneer has pointed out that boric acid is used in things like magnets in electric cars and wind turbines.) Because the company can mine both boron and lithium simultaneously, it helps substantially lower the cost of production.

Some people living in the area support the mine because it would bring new jobs and tax revenue. And the mine could help with the supply of lithium, which currently can’t keep up with demand, forcing battery costs higher at a time when the car industry needs to switch to electric vehicles to reduce climate risks. Other proposed lithium projects in the U.S. are also facing opposition because of environmental impacts.

“I think we need lithium,” [Patrick Donnelly, the Nevada director for the Center for Biological Diversity, a nonprofit that has been fighting in court to protect the flower for more than three years] says. “It’s not a foregone conclusion we need open pit lithium mines. And we definitely don’t need open pit lithium mines that drive species extinct. That’s not a green technology. That’s just the same old way of doing business that got us to the place we are today. We’re on the brink of the climate crisis and ecological collapse because we drive species extinct, right? You need a new way of doing business.”
» Read article         

» More about siting impacts of renewables

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

spooky
Airlines flying near-empty ‘ghost flights’ to retain EU airport slots
Analysis from Greenpeace finds deserted flights are generating millions of tons of harmful emissions
By Arthur Neslen, The Guardian
January 26, 2022

At least 100,000 “ghost flights” could be flown across Europe this winter because of EU airport slot usage rules, according to analysis by Greenpeace.

The deserted, unnecessary or unprofitable flights are intended to allow airlines to keep their takeoff and landing runway rights in major airports, but they could also generate up to 2.1 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions – or as much as 1.4 million average petrol or diesel cars emit in a year – Greenpeace says.

“The EU Commission requiring airlines to fly empty planes to meet an arbitrary quota is not only polluting, but extremely hypocritical given their climate rhetoric,” said Herwig Schuster, a spokesperson for Greenpeace’s European Mobility for All campaign.

“Transport emissions are skyrocketing,” he said. “It would be irresponsible of the EU to not take the low-hanging fruit of ending ghost flights and banning short-haul flights where there’s a reasonable train connection.”

When the Covid pandemic began, the European commission suspended a benchmark requiring airlines to maintain 80% of their flight operations to keep their slots open.

In October, Brussels upped the benchmark to 50%, and it will rise again to 64% in March.

Lufthansa CEO, Carsten Spohr, said that his airline may have to fly 18,000 “extra, unnecessary flights” to fulfil the adjusted rules, and called for the sort of “climate-friendly exemptions” used in other parts of the world.
» Read article         

» More about clean transportation

CARBON OFFSETS AND REFORESTATION

incinerated assets
Carbon offsetting is not warding off environmental collapse – it’s accelerating it
Wealthy companies are using the facade of ‘nature-based solutions’ to enact a great carbon land grab
By George Monbiot, The Guardian | Opinion
January 26, 2022

There is nothing that cannot be corrupted, nothing good that cannot be transformed into something bad. And there is no clearer example than the great climate land grab.

We now know that it’s not enough to leave fossil fuels in the ground and decarbonise our economies. We’ve left it too late. To prevent no more than 1.5C of heating, we also need to draw down some of the carbon already in the atmosphere.

By far the most effective means are “nature-based solutions”: using the restoration of living systems such as forests, salt marshes, peat bogs and the seafloor to extract carbon dioxide from the air and lock it up, mostly in trees or waterlogged soil and mud. Three years ago, a small group of us launched the Natural Climate Solutions campaign to draw attention to the vast potential for stalling climate breakdown and a sixth mass extinction through the mass revival of ecosystems.

While it is hard to see either climate or ecological catastrophe being prevented without such large-scale rewilding, we warned that it should not be used as a substitute for decarbonising economic life, or to allow corporations to offset greenhouse gases that shouldn’t be produced in the first place. We found ourselves having to shed a large number of partner organisations because of their deals with offset companies.

But our warnings, and those of many others, went unheeded. Something that should be a great force for good has turned into a corporate gold rush, trading in carbon credits. A carbon credit represents one tonne of greenhouse gases, deemed to have been avoided or removed from the atmosphere. Over the past few months, the market for these credits has boomed.

There are two legitimate uses of nature-based solutions: removing historic carbon from the air, and counteracting a small residue of unavoidable emissions once we have decarbonised the rest of the economy. Instead, they are being widely used as an alternative for effective action. Rather than committing to leave fossil fuels in the ground, oil and gas firms continue to prospect for new reserves while claiming that the credits they buy have turned them “carbon neutral”.
» Read article         

» More about carbon offsets         

CARBON CAPTURE AND STORAGE

milestone missed
Shell’s ‘Milestone’ CCS Plant Emits More Carbon Than It Captures, Independent Analysis Finds
By Mitchell Beer, The Energy Mix
January 24, 2022

The federal government is looking into independent analysis claiming that carbon capture at a highly-touted Shell Canada demonstration project in Alberta is producing more greenhouse gas emissions than it prevents, The Energy Mix has learned.

The report issued late last week by London, UK-based human rights organization Global Witness acknowledges that Shell’s Quest carbon capture and storage (CCS) facility near Edmonton captured five million tonnes of carbon dioxide between 2015 and 2019, in what the company celebrated as a major milestone in July 2020.

But Global Witness came up with rather different numbers. “Our new research reveals that Quest is in fact emitting more than it is capturing,” the organization states. Despite the five megatonnes captured, the facility “has emitted a further 7.5 million tonnes of climate-polluting gases during the same time,” the equivalent of 1.2 million internal combustion cars per year.

Shell says it captured emissions equivalent to 1.25 million cars over a five-year span.

Global Witness’s analysis concludes that Quest captured just 48% of the emissions from hydrogen production at its Scotford bitumen upgrader and refinery—far less than the 90% standard promised by fossil executives and lobbyists. That’s because, while the CCS system captured 80% of the emissions from the steam methane reforming (SMR) production process to which it’s attached, it didn’t touch the 40% of total emissions that go into the atmosphere as flue gas, Global Witness says.

“When the plant’s overall greenhouse gas emissions are factored in, such as methane pollution from the fossil gas supply chain, only 39% of its emissions are captured,” the report adds.

For that result, Global Witness says Shell invested US$1 billion in the facility, including US$654 million in government subsidies, despite sustained opposition from many Indigenous communities focused on the industry’s “severe environmental damage”.

Shell maintains the plant has exceeded expectations, capturing more than its target of a million tonnes per year at lower cost than expected. But “Global Witness believes these claims about the CCS facility are misleading,” the report states. “They create the impression the hydrogen plant is less damaging for the climate than is actually the case, while Shell’s promotional materials give no sense of the proportion of carbon dioxide emitted” by Quest.
» Read article         

bubble column
Decarbonisation tech instantly converts CO2 to solid carbon
Researchers have developed a smart and super-efficient new way of capturing carbon dioxide and converting it to solid carbon, to help advance the decarbonisation of heavy industries.
By RMIT University, Melbourne
January 18, 2022

The carbon dioxide utilisation technology from RMIT researchers is designed to be smoothly integrated into existing industrial processes.

Decarbonisation is an immense technical challenge for heavy industries like cement and steel, which are not only energy-intensive but also directly emit CO2 as part of the production process.

The new technology offers a pathway for instantly converting carbon dioxide as it is produced and locking it permanently in a solid state, keeping CO2 out of the atmosphere.

The research is published in the journal Energy & Environmental Science.

Co-lead researcher Associate Professor Torben Daeneke said the work built on an earlier experimental approach that used liquid metals as a catalyst.

“Our new method still harnesses the power of liquid metals but the design has been modified for smoother integration into standard industrial processes,” Daeneke said.

The RMIT team, with lead author and PhD researcher Karma Zuraiqi, employed thermal chemistry methods widely used by industry in their development of the new CCS tech.

The “bubble column” method starts with liquid metal being heated to about 100-120°C.

Carbon dioxide is injected into the liquid metal, with the gas bubbles rising up just like bubbles in a champagne glass.

As the bubbles move through the liquid metal, the gas molecule splits up to form flakes of solid carbon, with the reaction taking just a split second.

“It’s the extraordinary speed of the chemical reaction we have achieved that makes our technology commercially viable, where so many alternative approaches have struggled,” Chiang said.
» Blog editor’s note: the “liquid metal” isn’t specified. But mercury comes to mind as an obvious low-temperature liquid metal. Whatever is used, toxicity and environmental impact could be a real issue if this process is scaled up.
» Read article         

» More about CCS

SOLAR GEOENGINEERING

measuring aerosolsEfforts to dim Sun and cool Earth must be blocked, say scientists
By Shanna Hanbury, Mongabay
January 24, 2022

Blocking the sun’s rays with an artificial particle shield launched high into Earth’s atmosphere to curb global temperatures is a technological fix gaining traction as a last resort for containing the climate crisis — but it needs to be stopped, wrote a coalition of over 60 academics in an open letter and article released in the WIREs (Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews) Climate Change online publication on January 17.

“Some things we should just restrict at the outset,” lead author Aarti Gupta, a professor of Global Environmental Governance at Wageningen University, told Mongabay. Gupta placed solar geoengineering in the category of high-risk technologies, like human cloning and chemical weapons, that need to be off-limits. “It might be possible to do, but it’s too risky.”

The color of the sky could change. The chemical composition of the ozone layer and oceans may be permanently altered. Photosynthesis, which depends on sunlight, may slow down, possibly harming biodiversity and agriculture. And global weather patterns could change unpredictably.

Despite the potential dangers, no mechanism exists today to stop an individual, company or country from launching a solo mission, said Gupta. To prevent this, the open letter suggests five urgent protective measures: no outdoor experiments, no implementation, no patents, no public funding, and no support from international institutions such as the United Nations.
» Read article        
» Read the open letter

» More about solar geoengineering

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

orphan well
Abandoned oil well counts are exploding — now that there’s money on the table
$4.7 billion released by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law has states rethinking their abandoned oil well tallies.
By Naveena Sadasivam, Grist
January 21, 2022

From 2020 to 2021, the number of wells that the state of Oklahoma listed as abandoned — and therefore the government’s responsibility to clean up — jumped from 2,799 to a whopping 17,865. In Colorado, the orphan well tally hovered around 275 from 2018 to 2020 but increased by almost 80 percent last year. In California, the tally almost doubled in the last two years. (It started even lower in 2019, when the state identified just 25 abandoned wells.)

What changed? In 2020, Congress began seriously considering sending states money to plug orphan wells. The proposal had support from both political parties and was ultimately included in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law enacted in November, which set aside $4.7 billion for this purpose. States have long known that their orphan well tallies are outdated and incomplete, but without a source of funding to clean up the wells, many didn’t invest the resources required to identify abandoned wells. That changed as the funding slowly became a reality over the past couple of years.

Orphan oil and gas wells are a climate and public health menace. Abandoned by companies who abscond after fraudulent activity or fall into bankruptcy, these wells quietly belch the potent greenhouse gas methane into the atmosphere and pose a threat to public safety. Last year, a Grist and Texas Observer investigation found that the abandoned well count in Texas and New Mexico is poised to balloon by nearly 200 percent in the coming years. It’s widely accepted that cleanup costs run in the hundreds of millions or billions of dollars nationwide — but both the true cost and the true count are unknown. The EPA estimates the unplugged orphan well count could be as high as 2.1 million across the U.S.
» Read article         

» More about fossil fuels

BIOMASS

Pinnacle wood pellet plant
Tree-burning Drax power plants dropped from green energy index
The world’s largest biomass-burning power generator faces doubts over the sustainability of burning of wood pellets as a replacement for coal
By Adria Vasil, Corporate Knights
January 11, 2022

Here’s a green riddle for you: if a tree falls in the forest and it’s chipped, then shipped to be burned for electricity, is it carbon neutral?

It’s a question that’s been tripping up national carbon calculators around the globe since the days of the Kyoto Protocol. From the late 1990s, industry and governments have largely considered burning wood pellets in power stations to be renewable, zero-emitting energy, since planting new trees should, theoretically, absorb enough carbon dioxide to cancel out the emissions that come out of smokestacks as they burn.

But doubts regarding the science behind those claims and the sustainability of the practice have been mounting as more countries ramp up the burning of woody biomass as a replacement for coal.

In October, the world’s largest biomass-burning power generator, Drax Group, was one of 15 companies booted off the S&P Global Clean Energy Index. S&P also ditched the French bioenergy firm Albioma. The reason given: their “carbon-to-revenue footprint” was too large.

That same month, a study led by Princeton University, published in the journal Science, called out a “serious” error in the climate accounting rules widely applied to biomass energy since the Kyoto Protocol. “This accounting erroneously treats all bioenergy as carbon neutral regardless of the source of the biomass…. For example, the clearing of long-established forests to burn wood or to grow energy crops is counted as a 100% reduction in energy emissions despite causing large releases of carbon.

The carbon-neutral assumption might be true if you’re using perennial grasses or twigs, but scientists say that tree plantations don’t store as much carbon as natural forests, and regrowth takes time. It could take 40 to 100 years for planted trees to absorb the carbon debt released by biomass power plants (in boreal forests those estimates jump to 100 years).

Back in 2018, MIT scientist John Sterman concluded that “burning wood to produce energy can actually worsen climate change, at least through the year 2100 – even if wood displaces coal, the most carbon-intensive fuel.” In early 2021, the European Academies’ Science Advisory Council affirmed that using woody biomass for power “is not effective in mitigating climate change and may even increase the risk of dangerous climate change.”

Meanwhile, the carbon accounting loophole has fuelled a boom in the biomass industry in Europe, the U.S., Canada and the U.K., where it’s highly subsidized. In the EU, biomass accounts for about 59% of all renewable energy consumption.
» Read article         

» More about biomass

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Weekly News Check-In 1/21/22

banner 04

Welcome back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— The NFGiM Team

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about the Weymouth compressor

PIPELINES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about pipelines

DIVESTMENT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about divestment

CLIMATE

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


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

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

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

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

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about energy efficiency

MODERNIZING THE GRID

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

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

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

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

» More about modernizing the grid

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

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

By Bengt Halvorson, Green Car Reports
January 18, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Governor Charlie Baker praised the funding announcements Tuesday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about clean transportation

CRYPTOCURRENCY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about cryptocurrency

CARBON CAPTURE AND STORAGE

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about CCS

ELECTRIC UTILITIES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about electric utilities

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about fossil fuels

WASTE INCINERATION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about waste incineration

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Weekly News Check-In 12/17/21

banner 19

Welcome back.

We’re leading with an update on the 55MW gas/oil peaking power plant heading for construction in Peabody despite stiff opposition from activists and municipal leaders. Elizabeth Turnbull Henry, president of the Environmental League of Massachusetts, offers this: “I think it’s misguided. It has no place in a transition to a fossil fuel-free future.”

The transition to that future is not as straightforward as one would hope. A lot of this week’s reporting buzzed with the disappointing revelation that the Biden Administration’s recent leasing of huge Gulf of Mexico seabed tracts for new oil and gas drilling was not, in fact, compelled by court order as previously claimed. The move appears to have been a political bon-bon to coax West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin to play nice and stop stonewalling critical climate legislation. And how did that go? The fossil fuel industry was the clear winner of this round, and Biden is now the subject of derisive holiday parody videos calling him out as a hypocrite.

Closer to home, utility Eversource heard from residents opposing its planned Springfield and Longmeadow pipeline expansion, and a bold energy efficiency plan that would have put solar panels, heat pumps, and batteries in low- and moderate-income Cape Cod households won’t be implemented quite yet. But here’s some good news: New York has become, by far, the largest US city to ban new gas hookups in new buildings.

Bill McKibben’s review of the past year’s climate news for New Yorker Magazine leans into just how strange, extreme, and unsettling the June/July Pacific Northwest heat event was – and what it says about the fragility of some very big systems that humans have knocked off-kilter.

The Union of Concerned Scientists recently debunked utility claims that large amounts of Southwest wind power was being “curtailed” because the grid was over-supplied with renewable energy. In addition to the problem actually being too much inflexible fossil-fuel generators clogging that grid, insufficient storage was also a factor. Help is on the way. We’re seeing lots of action in long-duration energy storage lately, including an innovative air battery design from Israeli company Augwind.

This is a great time to think about what it might take for a state like Massachusetts or California to go the final mile in their journey to “net-zero” carbon emissions. Grist explains some of the opportunities, challenges, and hype surrounding carbon capture and carbon removal. We also delve into the real, “break glass in event of emergency” possibility that someone might initiate a solar geoengineering project in the future – and the scientific debate over how to prepare for that.

We check in on cryptocurrency developments because activities like Bitcoin mining consume increasingly ridiculous amounts of energy. So, if you move your modular servers into the Permian Basin and run them off waste gas from fracking rigs, are you saving the planet? Not really…. Which brings us tangentially to methane released from landfills, and news that the Environmental Protection Agency may be way off in accounting for it.

We’ll wrap up the same way we started – with a little common sense from people who know what they’re talking about. Partnership for Policy Integrity Director Mary S. Booth takes the Baker Administration to task for its relentless promotion of biomass energy, reminding us that “if you need to set it on fire, it isn’t clean.” And what about the plastics waste problem? Jenna Jambeck, a professor at the University of Georgia’s College of Engineering and coauthor of a high-profile report in the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine writes, “Not producing waste in the first place is the best thing you can do environmentally.”

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

— The NFGiM Team

PEAKING POWER PLANTS

retiring peaker plant
Proposed Peabody ‘peaker’ plant ‘misguided,’ Environmental League of Massachusetts president says
By Mackenzie Farkus, WGBH
December 9, 2021

A proposed 55-megawatt peaking power plant in Peabody is drawing strong opposition from local climate activists. Elizabeth Turnbull Henry, president of the Environmental League of Massachusetts, joined Boston Public Radio on Thursday to share why she believes the area should look to alternative energy solutions.

“I think it’s misguided,” Turnbull Henry said. “It has no place in a transition to a fossil fuel-free future. I’m sorry that it’s moving forward.”

Peaking power plants, also known as peaker plants and “peakers,” are power plants that run when there is a peak demand in electricity. Peakers are typically turned on during the coldest and warmest days of the year to compensate for spikes in space heating and air conditioning. Most peakers run on oil or gas.

Critics of the Peabody peaker plant are concerned over high amounts of CO2 and other pollutants emitted from the plant, believing that the plant is incompatible with a new Massachusetts law aimed at lowering carbon emissions by at least 45% of 1990 levels by 2030 before attaining “net zero” emissions by 2050.
» Read article               

» More about peaker plants

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

Biden BabyCampaigners Say Biden ‘Deserves Lump of Coal This Christmas’ for Broken Climate Promises
Twelve days of “Biden’s Oily Christmas” events conclude with classic holiday movie parodies.
By Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams
December 13, 2021

Friends of the Earth on Monday concluded its campaign calling out U.S. President Joe Biden for breaking his promise to end new leasing of public lands and waters to fossil fuel companies with the release of three parody movie trailers based on classic Christmas films.

The trailers mark the environmental group’s final action as part of the “Biden’s Oily Christmas” campaign, which kicked off on December 2 with climate-emergency-themed carols and spanned a dozen days, inspired by the well-known song “The 12 Days of Christmas.”

The videos—A Christmas Barrel, Biden Baby, and A Wonderful Lie, parodies of A Christmas Carol, Santa Baby, and A Wonderful Life—will play on eight mobile billboard trucks across Washington, D.C. from 9 am to 5 pm local time on Monday.

“President Biden promised to be the first president of the United States to comprehensively address the growing climate crisis. But instead, his Interior Department failed to fully address climate in its recent report on oil and gas leasing and is plowing forward with new lease sales that wreck our public lands and exacerbate climate change—all while enriching Big Oil CEOs,” said Nicole Ghio, senior Fossil Fuels Program manager at Friends of the Earth.

Climate campaigners have slammed the November Interior report as a “shocking capitulation to the needs of corporate polluters” and demanded details by filing public records requests about its development as well as the administration’s auction for the Gulf of Mexico, which occurred last month despite Biden’s pledge as a presidential candidate.
» Blog editor’s note: You can watch the holiday movie parody video clips by clicking on the “Read article” link below.
» Read article               

» More about protests and actions

PIPELINES

no expansion
Eversource natural gas pipeline proposal listening session held in Springfield
By Ashley Shook, Nick Aresco, WWLP Channel 22 News
December 14, 2021

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – Advocacy groups in Springfield expressed their concerns over a proposed natural gas pipeline that would run through their local streets.

Elected officials and residents continue to question why a pipeline is necessary in Springfield’s South End neighborhood, some showing their opposition Tuesday afternoon. Massachusetts’ Rep. Carlos Gonzalez held a meeting with Springfield residents to discuss concerns over the proposed Eversource pipeline project.

Many who live in the area where the pipeline would be constructed oppose the project because of the potential dangers it could pose. Eversource has proposed a roughly $33 million, 16-inch diameter gas pipeline that would be constructed underground between Longmeadow and the South End of Springfield.

“There are multiple problems that I see with the proposal. One is environmental. We are trying to get away from fossil fuels. There is a national effort, and global effort. A lot of ecosystems are being destroyed by fossil fuels,” said David Ciampi of Springfield told 22News.

“I am concerned for the potential hazard the proposal may have on the residents of Springfield. My priority should be moving to a less hazardous and greener production of energy,” said Chairman Gonzalez.
» Read article               

» More about pipelines

NATURAL GAS BANS

NYC skyline
New York becomes largest US city to ban new gas hookups
It’s the biggest city yet to do so and a bellwether for the rest of the US
By Justine Calma, The Verge
December 15, 2021

The Big Apple just became the biggest city yet to say goodbye to gas hookups in new construction. New York City Council passed a bill today that prohibits the combustion of fossil fuels in new buildings, effectively phasing out the use of gas for cooking and heating.

Addressing building emissions is critical to New York City meeting its climate goals; they’re responsible for 70 percent of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions. The ban will apply to structures under seven stories tall starting in 2024 and to larger buildings in 2027. The measure will drastically cut down on pollution that fuels climate change: according to a recent study by clean energy think tank RMI, it’ll slash 2.1 million tons of CO2 emissions by 2040, which has about the same impact as taking 450,000 cars off the road for a year.

For years, the so-called natural gas industry has sold itself as a cleaner alternative to other fossil fuels like oil. But scientists, and a growing number of cities, are no longer buying the argument. Natural gas is primarily methane, a greenhouse gas that has more than 25 times the global warming effect of carbon dioxide over a 100-year timespan. Methane leaks along the natural supply chain from wells to people’s homes. During a high-profile climate summit in November, the US joined over 100 other countries in pledging to cut methane emissions by 30 percent this decade.

Berkeley, California, became the first city in the US to ban gas hookups in new construction in 2019. Since then, the gas industry has fought back by lobbying for policies that prevent local governments from implementing such bans.
» Read article               

» More about gas bans

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY

methane accountingIs There Something Amiss With the Way the EPA Tracks Methane Emissions from Landfills?
Environmental groups say the agency’s methods are outdated and flawed, with considerable climate change implications. An EPA methane expert agrees.
By James Bruggers, Inside Climate News
December 15, 2021

Three environmental groups are making a move to hold the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency accountable for accurately tracking heat-trapping gases emitted from the nation’s landfills.

The Environmental Integrity Project, Chesapeake Climate Action Network and the Sierra Club have filed a notice of intent to sue the EPA, the first step in a legal process under the Clean Air Act. The groups claim the agency allows landfills to use methods that are more than two decades old, which are underestimating methane emissions by at least 25 percent.

The EPA under the law must review and, if necessary, revise its landfill gas emissions calculation methods every three years, and agency officials have known those emissions factors have been off since at least 2008, according to the 10-page legal notice, which was sent to Michael Regan, the EPA administrator, last week.

“When it comes to pollution, it’s very difficult to manage what you can’t measure,” said Ryan Maher, attorney for the Environmental Integrity Project, in a press release. “EPA needs to fix how it estimates emissions from this massive source of methane and other air pollutants, not only to help us understand the full extent of the landfill problem, but also to make sure that we’re holding polluters accountable and regulating these facilities properly.”
» Read article               

» More about the EPA

CLIMATE

climate year 21
The Year in Climate
A summer that really scared scientists.
By Bill McKibben, New Yorker Magazine
December 16, 2021

This year, a lot of the things we’ve come to expect with the climate crisis happened: there were heavy rains (New York City beat its rainfall record twice in eleven days); there was a big global conference (this one in Glasgow) with modest results; the price of renewable energy fell some more; and a record amount of solar power and wind power was produced, but not at a pace fast enough to catch up with climate change. Raging wildfires produced plumes of smoke that spread around the world; President Joe Biden tried to free up a lot of money for climate work and, so far, Senator Joe Manchin has prevented him from doing so.

But some unexpected things happened, too—such as December tornadoes and windstorms, which have devastated parts of the country, and which are increasingly linked to warming. The most unexpected event by far, though—the thing that was truly off the charts—came in June. Toward the end of the month, torrential rains across China created a lot of atmospheric moisture, which the jet stream sucked out over the Pacific. Meanwhile, the remnants of a heat wave in the American Southwest moved north. The two weather events met over the Pacific Northwest and western Canada, forming a giant dome of high pressure that diverted moisture to both the north and the south. Gradually, over a period of several days, the core of the high-pressure area freed itself of clouds, allowing the sun’s rays to blast down during the days immediately after the solstice.

The result was the most remarkable heat wave in recorded history. On Sunday, June 27th, Canada broke its all-time heat record, of a hundred and thirteen degrees Fahrenheit, when the temperature reached nearly a hundred and sixteen degrees in Lytton, a community of around two hundred and fifty residents on the Fraser River, in southern British Columbia. The next day, that record was broken, again in Lytton, when the temperature hit a hundred and eighteen degrees. On Tuesday, it was smashed again, when the temperature in the town soared to a hundred and twenty-one degrees. On Wednesday, Lytton, now parched dry, burned to the ground in a wildfire; only a few buildings were left standing. Breaking a long-standing record is hard (Canada’s old high-temperature record dated to 1937); surpassing it by eight degrees is, in theory, statistically impossible. It was hotter in Canada that day than on any day ever recorded in Florida, or in Europe, or in South America. “There has never been a national heat record in a country with an extensive period of record and a multitude of observation sites that was beaten by 7°F to 8°F,” the weather historian Christopher C. Burt said.

Records of almost equally incredible magnitude came in from across the region.

Essentially, this couldn’t have happened on the Earth we used to know. James Hansen, the planet’s most important climatologist, put it this way when I talked to him last month: “We’ve been expecting extreme events. But what happened in Canada was unusually extreme.”
» Read article               

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

wasted wind
Mythbusting “Wind Oversupply”
By Joseph Daniel, Union of Concerned Scientists | Blog
November 16, 2021

Wind energy is already a common source of electricity because it is abundant, clean, reliable, and a low-cost source of electricity. Wind turbines are also flexible. Grid operators can turn down (or curtail) the output from wind farms to balance electricity supply and demand.

Grid operators curtailing wind power have given rise to the myth that wind curtailment is caused by an “oversupply” of wind. However, a recent analysis shows that wind curtailment is not caused by an oversupply of wind energy. Rather, its main causes include insufficient transmission capacity, the inflexible operation of coal-fired power plants, and a lack of battery storage.

As we continue to add more wind resources, grid operators and others must address these shortcomings in the system. Otherwise, wind curtailment will increase and ultimately hinder the transition to a cleaner, more affordable power system.

The Union of Concerned Scientists commissioned Synapse Energy Economics to investigate how the Southwest Power Pool (SPP), the grid operator in the Great Plains, handles wind curtailment. SPP has the highest level of wind adoption as a percentage of total load and is consequently the grid most likely to experience “wind oversupply” events.

The results were clear: “A wind oversupply does not exist in SPP.”

Rather, during all of the hours when wind was curtailed, other higher-cost, more-polluting resources were still online. And, because of coal resources’ higher marginal cost and emissions rate, electricity customers would be better off if SPP were able to curtail coal instead of wind. Customers could have saved more than $40 million and avoided nearly 1.2 million short tons of carbon emissions per year.
» Read article              
» Read the Synapse Energy Economics report            

solar coaster
The U.S. Faces ‘Solar Coaster’ Amid Challenges And Opportunities
By Tsvetana Paraskova, Oil Price
December 14, 2021

The U.S. solar industry is set to be torn between huge opportunities and major stumbling blocks in the coming months and years, and it will likely see a wild “solar coaster” ride in the next few years, Wood Mackenzie said on Tuesday.

Supply chain setbacks and constraints could delay many projects and put gigawatts of capacity additions at risk, Michelle Davis, Principal Analyst, Solar, at WoodMac, says.

But on the other hand, if Congress passes President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better Act, the U.S. solar industry will receive a shot in the arm with the multiple clean energy incentives set in the legislation, including an extension of the investment tax credit (ITC), Davis added.

Due to the opposing bullish and bearish dynamics, near-term U.S. solar capacity is set for the largest fluctuations since 2016, when the investment tax credit almost expired, WoodMac’s analyst noted.

“It’s the solar coaster like we’ve never seen it before,” Davis wrote.

Solar installations next year would be lower than previously expected due to supply chain constraints and rising prices, Wood Mackenzie reckons.

Utility-scale solar will be hit the hardest, the energy consultancy said, lowering its 2022 utility-scale outlook by 7.5 GWdc, or by 33 percent compared to last quarter’s outlook.

On the other hand, if Congress passes the Build Back Better Act, America would see an estimated 43.5 GWdc of additional solar capacity installed over the next five years, which is a 31-percent increase compared to the WoodMac’s base-case outlook.
» Read article               

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

roof panels
A Cape Cod efficiency compact wants to bundle solar, storage, and heat pumps — but state regulators rejected the plan
The Cape Light Compact says helping low- and moderate-income households install solar, storage, and heat pumps will compound the financial and environmental benefits, but state regulators have rejected the plan.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
December 15, 2021

A Cape Cod energy organization is appealing the state’s rejection of a proposal to provide a package of heat pumps, solar power, and battery storage to low-income customers.

The Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities ruled in early November that the plan would violate state laws regarding the use of energy efficiency funding by supporting technologies that do not improve efficiency. The department also argued the plan would have uncertain financial impacts. Supporters of the plan, however, argue that the state has fundamentally misunderstood both the law and the proposal.

The Cape Light Compact, the organization behind the proposal, has filed an appeal arguing that the decision “is based upon error of law, is unsupported by substantial evidence and unwarranted based on facts found in the record.”

“We were given express legal authority to submit an energy plan that does more than the utilities and more than the state,” said Maggie Downey, administrator of the Cape Light Compact. “We believe that everything we’re doing is consistent with that legislation.”

While Massachusetts is generally considered a leader in both energy efficiency programs and solar incentives, lower-income households adopt these technologies at much lower rates than more affluent residents. A 2020 report by the state’s utilities found that residents of primarily White and higher-income areas took advantage of efficiency services at significantly higher rates than those in marginalized communities. And less than 1% of the solar projects that have received state incentives since 2018 are designated for low-income consumers.
» Read article               

» More about energy efficiency

LONG-DURATION ENERGY STORAGE

Augwind air battery
IEC inks $8 million deal with company that uses air, water to store energy
Touted as a cost-competitive, sustainable alternative to lithium batteries, Augwind’s ‘air batteries’ can power turbines when needed
By Sue Surkes, The Times of Israel
December 15, 2021

An Israeli company that has developed a unique method of storing renewable energy using air and water announced Wednesday that it has signed an $8 million agreement in principle with the Israel Electricity Corporation to build the first facility of its kind in the world, in Dimona, southern Israel.

Augwind, short for augmented wind, has developed a closed, circular system that uses water to compress air. This in turn is stored underground in long, flexible, balloon-like tanks, and when the energy is needed, the air is released, pushing out water which in turn drives a turbine that creates electricity.

The Dimona facility will provide 40-megawatt hours of storage (enough to power a small town for a day). It will be built in 2023, subject to the signing of a detailed agreement with the IEC.
» Read article               

» More about long-duration energy storage

CARBON CAPTURE AND STORAGE

CR v CC
Why California can’t fill a major gap in its climate strategy
The debate over a net-zero bill highlights some of the biggest tensions plaguing climate action around the world.
By Emily Pontecorvo, Grist
December 15, 2021

In the past few years, many states have passed new laws requiring that they achieve “net-zero” emissions by mid-century. Virginia, New York, Washington, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island all plan to cut emissions across their economies by 80 to 90 percent by 2050, and to offset any remaining emissions using either nature-based solutions known as carbon sinks, like trees and soils, or technology to suck carbon out of the air. Several more states, including Oregon, Colorado, and Minnesota, have legally binding targets to reduce their emissions by at least 75 percent by 2050.

Many of these laws were passed in response to a landmark report released by an international group of scientists in 2018. The report found that the whole world needed to cut carbon emissions in half by 2030 and achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 in order to fulfill the Paris Agreement’s promise of trying to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels. The planet will not stop heating up until net-zero emissions is achieved.

But although California passed some of the first and strongest laws to tackle climate change in the nation, its legally mandated economy-wide emissions goals stop at 2030.

“We like to talk about how we’re leading the nation in the fight against climate change,” State Assembly Member Al Muratsuchi told Grist. “But increasingly we’re falling behind.”

This past legislative session, Muratsuchi introduced A.B. 1395, a bill that would have brought the state up to speed by enshrining in law a goal to achieve net-zero by 2045.

The story behind A.B. 1395 highlights one of the biggest areas of tension in the politics of climate change around the world right now: disagreement over the need for carbon capture and carbon removal.

That landmark 2018 report, and many studies since, have concluded that both carbon capture and carbon removal will be needed to stabilize the climate. But a large contingent of the climate and environmental movement, including researchers, justice advocates, and policy experts, reject these solutions due to concerns about locking in dependence on fossil fuels, further burdening communities with pollution, and wasting time and resources on plans that may never pay off.

As seen in California, the debate threatens to slow climate action at a time when it’s becoming increasingly urgent.
» Read article               

» More about CCS

SOLAR GEOENGINEERING

cheap and messy
Think Climate Change Is Messy? Wait Until Geoengineering
Someone’s bound to hack the atmosphere to cool the planet. So we urgently need more research on the consequences, says climate scientist Kate Ricke.
By Matt Simon, Wired
November 30, 2021

Here’s the thing about the stratosphere, the region between six and 31 miles up in the sky: If you really wanted to, you could turn it pink. Or green. Or what have you. If you sprayed some colorant up there, stratospheric winds would blow the material until it wrapped around the globe. After a year or two, it would fade, and the sky would go back to being blue. Neat little prank.

This is the idea behind a solar geoengineering technique known as stratospheric aerosol injection, only instead of a pigment, engineers would spray a sulfate that bounces some of the sun’s radiation back into space, an attempt at cooling the planet. It’s the same principle behind a supervolcano loading the stratosphere with aerosols and blocking out the sun. And it, too, would rely on those winds distributing the material evenly. “If you do it in one place, it’s going to affect the whole planet,” says climate scientist Kate Ricke, who studies the intersection of geoengineering, human behavior, and economics at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. “Not just because you’ve cooled down and changed the global energy balance, but because the particles spread out.”

While it’s not likely that someone will colorize the atmosphere anytime soon, it’s getting increasingly likely that someone will decide it’s time for stratospheric aerosol injection. Emissions are not declining at anywhere near the rate needed to keep global temperatures from rising 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, and the climate crisis is worsening.

But the science isn’t ready. This anthropogenic geoengineering might trigger unintended effects, like droughts in certain regions and massive storms in others. Plus, if engineers abruptly stopped spraying aerosols in the atmosphere, temperatures would swing back to where they started, potentially imperiling crops and species.

Still, stratospheric aerosol injection would be fairly cheap. And there’s nothing stopping countries from unilaterally deciding to spray their airspace, even though those materials would ultimately spread around the globe. “I just have a hard time seeing with the economics of it how it doesn’t happen,” says Ricke. “To me, that means that it’s really urgent to do more research.”
» Read article              
» What is solar geoengineering?     

» More about solar geoengineering

CRYPTOCURRENCY

modular mining
A ‘false solution’? How crypto mining became the oil industry’s new hope
Climate experts warn that plans to repurpose waste gas is not a solution, but more like placing a Band-Aid over a gaping wound
By Leanna First-Arai, The Guardian
December 16, 2021

Cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin, the most-popular decentralized digital currency, have a notoriously large carbon footprint (bitcoin mining alone consumes about half as much electricity in a year as all of the UK). So to leverage a cheap source of energy to run their bitcoin mining operations, Lochmiller and Cavness found themselves partnering with oil companies to repurpose a byproduct, primarily methane, that’s typically vented or burnt off in flares.

Their creation is part of a niche wave of tech startups that are now eyeing the oil and gas industry to help power the cryptocurrency boom. Lochmiller and Cavness, who started a bitcoin mining company called Crusoe Energy, see their fix as a marriage between two problems capable of “solving” one another: the wasting of gas flaring that contributes to the climate crisis, and the need for cheaper energy as crypto increases in popularity.

Climate experts, however, warn it’s a “false solution” so long as oil and gas production is allowed to continue. The world’s leading authority on climate science concludes that only a dramatic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions will help avert a climate calamity; merely finding alternate uses for “waste gas” doesn’t confront the dire need to curb fossil fuel consumption. If anything, researchers warn, oil companies may feel incentivized to drill even more.

“At the end of the day, they’re still burning natural gas,” said Arvind Ravikumar, a methane researcher at the University of Texas at Austin, who deemed flare mitigation and companies proposing similar technologies a “scam”.
» Read article               

» More about crypto

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Deepwater Horizon file photo
Revealed: Biden administration was not legally bound to auction gulf drilling rights
Justice department admits a previous ruling did not force the detonation of what environmentalists call ‘huge carbon bomb’
By Oliver Milman, The Guardian
December 13, 2021

The Biden administration admitted that a court decision did not compel it to lease vast tracts of the Gulf of Mexico for oil and gas drilling, shortly before claiming it was legally obliged to do so when announcing the sell-off, the Guardian can reveal.

Last month, the US government held the largest-ever auction of oil and gas drilling leases in the Gulf of Mexico’s history, offering up more than 80m acres of the gulf’s seabed for fossil fuel extraction.

The enormous sale, which took place just four days after crucial UN climate talks in Scotland, represented a spectacular about-turn from Joe Biden’s previous promise to halt offshore drilling and was denounced by outraged environmental groups as a “huge carbon bomb”.

The president’s administration insisted it was obliged to hold the lease sale due to a court ruling in favor of a dozen states that sued to lift a blanket pause placed on new drilling permits by Biden.

But a memo filed by the US Department of Justice before the lease sale acknowledges that this judgement does not force the government to auction off drilling rights to the gulf.

“The administration has been misleading on this, to put it mildly. It’s very disappointing,” said Thomas Meyer, national organizing manager of Food and Water Watch. “They didn’t have to hold this sale and they didn’t have to hold it on this timeline.

“We know this will exacerbate the climate crisis, it undermines US credibility abroad and it contradicts a campaign promise by Biden. If the administration was taking the climate crisis seriously they would be fighting tooth and nail to keep every molecule of fossil fuel in the ground. They are nowhere near to doing that.”

“This is not going to help with Democratic turnout next year,” said Meyer. “There is a core constituency of young people and people who care about climate change who are upset and feeling betrayed by the Biden administration.”

Some commentators have pointed to Biden’s need to appease senator Joe Manchin, a fossil fuel– friendly centrist Democrat who is a crucial vote for the president’s Build Back Better spending bill, as a reason for the drilling.

“If it is political, that is unfortunate because the climate doesn’t really care about politics,” said [Brettny Hardy, a senior attorney at Earthjustice]. “Climate change will continue to cause problems for the whole nation if we don’t address it.”
» Read article               

Newport Beach cleanup
Texas oil company charged in massive spill off southern California coast
Prosecutors say company repeatedly failed to act on alarms that alerted workers to pipeline rupture
By The Guardian
December 16, 2021

A Houston-based oil company and two subsidiaries have been charged over a massive oil spill off the coast of southern California in October that fouled waters and beaches and endangered wildlife.

Prosecutors say the spill was caused in part by failing to properly act when alarms repeatedly alerted workers to a pipeline rupture.

Amplify Energy and its companies that operate several oil rigs and a pipeline off Long Beach were charged by a federal grand jury with a single misdemeanor count of illegally discharging oil.

Investigators believe the pipeline was weakened when a cargo ship’s anchor snagged it in high winds in January, months before it ultimately ruptured on 1 October, spilling up to about 25,000 gallons (94,600 liters) of crude oil in the ocean.

US prosecutors said the companies were negligent six ways, including failing to respond to eight leak detection system alarms over a 13-hour period that should have alerted them to the spill and would have minimized the damage. Instead, the pipeline was shut down after each alarm and then restarted, spewing more oil into the ocean.
» Read article               

» More about fossil fuels

BIOMASS

chip salad
Baker’s new biomass rules are step backward
Roll back climate, forest protections enacted in 2012
By Mary S. Booth, CommonWealth Magazine | Opinion
November 19, 2021

Mary Booth is director of the Partnership for Policy Integrity, which provides science and legal support so that citizen groups, environmental organizations, and policymakers can better understand energy development impacts on air quality, water quality, ecosystems, and climate.

HERE’S  A QUICK tip for greening our heat and power: if you need to set it on fire, it isn’t clean.

That should be the guiding principle for the state’s new Commission on Clean Heat, which could finally shed some light on a sector rife with methane leaks, oil spills, and wood smoke. Skeptics may wonder if the commission is a way for Gov. Charlie Baker to slow-walk measures to curb pollution from heating systems, but a bigger concern is the administration’s ongoing and relentless promotion of dirty climate solutions, particularly biomass energy.

While many citizens may be aware of controversy around the Massachusetts Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) making biomass power plants eligible for millions of dollars in subsidies, probably fewer know that the MA Alternative Portfolio Standard (APS) also subsidizes biomass power plants, as well as residential and commercial wood heating.

New changes to the RPS biomass rules proposed by Baker will roll back air quality, climate, and forest protections that were enacted in 2012 after a painstaking four-year process. One of the most shocking changes is the new rules will allow inefficient and polluting biomass plants in northern New England to once again qualify for millions each year in publicly funded subsidies, reversing the 2012 prohibition on such support.

As a concession to activists and scientists and an acknowledgement of how polluting wood-burning is, the new RPS rules will prevent biomass plants within five miles of environmental justice communities in Massachusetts from receiving subsidies. Meanwhile, similarly polluting power plants and residential and commercial heating units can still qualify for subsidies under the APS, with no restrictions on where they are built.
» Read article               

» More about biomass

PLASTICS BANS, ALTERNATIVES, AND INITIATIVES

reduce first
Beyond reusing and recycling: How the US could actually reduce plastic production
Whether it’s a cap on production or a market mechanism, it’s likely to meet industry opposition.
By Joseph Winters, Grist
December 13, 2021

A panel of experts last week made a simple, common-sense recommendation for dealing with the U.S.’s plastic pollution problem: Stop making so much plastic.

“Not producing waste in the first place is the best thing you can do environmentally,” said Jenna Jambeck, a professor at the University of Georgia’s College of Engineering and a coauthor of a high-profile report that was released last week by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

It’s an idea that environmental activists have espoused for years. Beyond recycling and reusing the 42 million metric tons of plastic that the U.S. tosses out annually, they say, we should reduce the tide of plastic that is manufactured in the first place. Plastic production is a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions and pollution that harms frontline communities, and plastic waste clogs ecosystems around the world. Making less plastic would help on all three fronts.

Now that the recommendation is coming from the influential National Academies, advocates are hopeful that federal policymakers may give it greater credence, raising a major question: What would a national strategy to phase down the unsustainable production of plastic look like?
» Read article              
» Read the report

» More about plastics bans, alternatives, and initiatives

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