Tag Archives: FERC

Weekly News Check-In 4/29/22

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Welcome back.

It’s worth considering whether Russia would be pounding Ukraine if it weren’t flush with fossil fuel revenue and emboldened by Europe’s dependence on its gas. A global climate coalition consisting of over five hundred concerned organizations have signed a letter to President Biden, tying fossil fuel dependence to this and other emergencies facing the planet.  It argues for the rapid phaseout of fossils during an accelerated transition to zero-emitting renewable energy sources.

For other climate-relation action, check out the photos from last week’s protest against the Weymouth compressor station – a facility the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission admitted should never have been permitted. Susan Lees of Arlington gets a shout-out for her star turn as a methane molecule!

In a worrying development for the climate, a new report concludes that Covid-19 disruptions to energy markets breathed new life into coal, temporarily reversing the industry’s long decline. China in particular responded by initiating multiple new coal-fired power plants.

All of the above is happening because we’re way behind in building out clean energy. The DoubleGreen Solar Loan program seeks to speed the deployment of residential solar in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, serving lower income folks who have traditionally faced difficulties obtaining the favorable financing that makes these projects possible. Meanwhile, our partners at Massachusetts Climate Action Network are calling out municipal light plants for lagging on the clean energy transition, and the Conservation Law Foundation is challenging New England’s grid operator to modernize more quickly.

Others are stepping up. University of Massachusetts’ flagship Amherst campus just  announced an aggressive program to transition to 100% clean renewable energy within a decade. The plan involves decommissioning a gas-fired power plant, improving building envelopes and heating with district geothermal and heat pumps, and powering it all with solar and battery storage.  On the other side of the country, Washington became the first state to pass an all-electric mandate for new buildings.

Energy storage has advanced considerably in the past decade, and cutting edge research keeps uncovering more possibilities. Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden have shown that energy from sunlight can be captured and stored for up to 18 years, and released as either heat or electricity as needed. It’s still a lab project that won’t be deployed broadly for a while, but for now you get to toss around terms like Molecular Solar Thermal Energy Storage Systems (MOST) and thermoelectric generators.

The U.S. Postal Service is replacing its fleet of mail delivery trucks, and Earthjustice and the Natural Resources Defense Council are suing to stop the current plan for 90% of those new trucks to run on gasoline. Electrifying that fleet is both possible and necessary. Potential carbon savings are massive.

Another warning light is flashing on the carbon capture and storage dashboard, with a trend developing whereby industry offers assurances that sequestering CO2 underground is safe and secure, but wants government to accept long-term liability. Familiar names are involved, like ExxonMobil and BP. We’ve seen this movie before.

Here in Massachusetts, we’re watching to see if the current round of climate legislation successfully addresses the Gas System Enhancement Plan (GSEP), under which gas utilities are spending billions to replace distribution pipelines in a system that largely needs to abandon gas. The utilities earn a guaranteed 10% return on these pipelines, which the utilities are hoping will someday carry other fuels including hydrogen. But counting on a switch to different fuel is considered a risky bet, and ratepayers are going to be left holding the bag if this zombie program is allowed to continue.

Since we opened with an observation about the war in Ukraine, it’s appropriate to end there too. We offer a story explaining why the fossil fuel industry hasn’t stepped in to provide Europe with a substitute near-term fuel source as they attempt to pull back from Russian supplies.

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

Marathon refinery Los Angeles
Global Climate Coalition Tells Biden Ukraine War Is Chance to ‘End the Fossil Fuel Era’
“The violence of fossil fuels must come to an end to save life on Earth,” said one campaigner.
By Andrea Germanos, Common Dreams
April 27, 2022

Over 520 organizations told President Joe Biden on Wednesday to urgently “end the fossil fuel era” and commit to a rapid renewable energy transition rooted in justice and a more peaceful world.

The demand was delivered in a letter that points to a “cascade of emergencies” currently facing humanity including the climate crisis and Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine, which “share the same dangerous thread: dependence on fossil fuels.”

“Russia’s invasion into Ukraine is fueled by their fossil fuel extraction power, and the world’s reliance upon it,” the signatories, including global groups like Climate Action Network International and 350.org, wrote.

The letter declares that “war makes it more apparent that fossil fuel dependence puts people at risk and makes energy systems insecure” and points to fossil fuel extraction and combustion’s wide-ranging adverse impacts from driving the biodiversity crisis to causing deaths worldwide.

In order “to preserve a livable planet,” the letter outlines four broad steps to make an exit from fossil fuels. They include a stop to any new permits or financing for coal, oil, and gas extraction and related infrastructure. The letter puts a 2030 deadline for coal extraction and 2031 deadline for gas extraction by richer nations such as the U.S.

Nuclear must also be phased out, given it’s “an inherently dirty, dangerous, and costly energy source,” the letter asserts.

Economic policy must also advance a fossil fuel exit; that necessitates no further subsidies for the industry but instead a tax on “windfall profits.”

The letter additionally calls for the creation of “an international plan for an equitable phaseout of fossil fuel production and use in line with the 1.5ºC target” of the Paris climate agreement, one that recognizes “the historical responsibility of rich industrialized countries for the climate crisis and the necessity of their leadership, and the different capacity of countries to rapidly transition and diversify their economies.”
» Read article  
» Read the letter    

methane molecule
Photos: Protest targets Weymouth compressor station
Wicked Local
April 23, 2022

» View 18 photos  

» More about protests and actions

CLIMATE

stop nowToo many new coal-fired plants planned for 1.5C climate goal, report concludes
Number of new plants planned fell last year, but coal-generated electricity rose by 9% to record high
By Fiona Harvey, The Guardian
April 26, 2022

The number of coal-fired power plants under development around the world fell last year, but far too much coal is still being burned and too many new coal-fired power plants are planned for the world to stay within safe temperature limits.

Coal use appeared to be in long-term decline before the Covid-19 pandemic, but lockdowns around the world and economic upheaval drove an increase in new coal projects in 2020, particularly in China.

Last year, the total coal power capacity in development fell sharply again, by about 13%, from 525GW to 457GW, a record low for new plants under development, according to a report from Global Energy Monitor published on Tuesday. The number of countries planning new plants also fell, from 41 at the beginning of 2021 to 34 countries.

But these encouraging signs were outweighed by a slowdown in older coal-fired power stations being taken out of service. About 25GW of capacity was taken out – roughly equal to the amount of new capacity commissioned in China – and the amount of electricity generated from coal rose by 9% in 2021 to a record high, more than rebounding from a 4% fall in 2020 when Covid first struck.

The authors of the report concluded that “coal’s last gasp is not yet in sight”, despite countries agreeing at the Cop26 UN climate summit last November to a “phase down” of coal. Last year, the International Energy Agency warned that no new exploration of fossil fuels of any kind could take place if the world was to limit global heating to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.

The continuing use of coal comes despite ever starker warnings from scientists in the latest assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which concluded that the world would far exceed the 1.5C limit without rapid reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
» Read article    

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

double green
Solar lending program offers option to marginalized New England households
Despite favorable incentives for lower-income residents in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, the upfront cost of buying solar panels remains a financial barrier for many potential customers.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
April 28, 2022

A community development nonprofit has launched a new solar lending program in Massachusetts and Rhode Island aimed at making it possible for more homeowners to invest in solar panels.

The DoubleGreen Solar Loan is designed to serve households regularly marginalized by existing financing options by offering lower interest rates, longer loan lengths, transparent terms, and more flexible underwriting standards.

This year, the fund aims to close $10 million in solar loans, with 60% of the funds going to low-income households and homeowners of color. The program works with a network of trusted solar installers to ensure buyers are treated fairly and transparently and not charged hidden fees.

“The average income and the average [credit] score of solar adopters has started to come down, but it’s still predominantly upper-middle class and whiter,” said Andy Posner, founder and chief executive of the Capital Good Fund, the organization offering the new loan program.

Posner launched the Capital Good Fund in 2009, with the mission of providing financial services and education to underserved populations. Today, the fund offers three loan products in nine states. The immigration loan program offers borrowers up to $20,000 to help pay for asylum applications, legal assistance, green card fees, or other related expenses. The impact loan program provides small sums to help cover pressing needs like car repairs or utility bills, helping borrowers avoid turning to predatory payday lenders. The weatherization loan helps homeowners pay for energy-saving measures like insulation, storm windows, and high-efficiency heating equipment.

So far, the organization has loaned $20 million to 10,000 families, with a repayment rate of 95%.

The new DoubleGreen Solar Loan evolved out of the weatherization lending program when borrowers started expressing interest in adding renewable energy to their homes as an additional cost- and carbon-cutting measure.
» Read article    

Seabrook Station
Municipal electric companies slow to incorporate clean energy, often rely on nuclear power
By Sabrina Shankman, Boston Globe
April 27, 2022

As Massachusetts races to wean utilities off fossil fuels in order to hit its climate targets, the municipal light companies that provide electricity to some 50 communities collectively have far less clean energy in their portfolios than the major for-profit utilities.

That’s the upshot of a new report from the Massachusetts Climate Action Network, which found, for example, 33 of the municipal providers had less than 1 percent of clean energy sources such as wind and solar in 2020.

While some communities are far ahead of others, particularly Concord, Belmont, and Wellesley, overall just 2.43 percent of the total energy mix at the 40 municipal light companies assessed in the report are from clean energy.

Known as municipal light plants, the community utilities combined had about 420,000 customers as of 2019, and provide roughly 14 percent of the state’s energy supply, said Logan Malik, lead author of the report and clean energy director for MCAN, a climate advocacy organization.

“We are seeing leaders — when you look at Concord, when you look at Belmont, when you look at Wellesley, those are three great examples,” Malik said. “But at the same time, because of the lack of regulation and because of the lack of support, we’re seeing that it’s not translating in every instance. And that has real implications for the Commonwealth’s transition to a clean and just energy future.”

The report found that despite the slow progress on cleaning their energy mix, many municipal light plants are technically on track to reach emission goals set for them in the state’s most recent climate law passed in 2021, thanks to a special standard that allows them to include nuclear energy in their calculations, while investor-owned utilities like Eversource or National Grid cannot.

Taking that into account, the report found that 38 percent of the energy mix from municipal light plants is considered “non-emitting.” That sizable percentage comes largely from contracts that municipal light plants have held with the Seabrook Station nuclear power plant in New Hampshire and the Millstone Unit 3 power plant in Connecticut, both of which came online more than three decades ago.
» Read article    

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

flagship campus
On Earth Day, UMass Amherst unveils major renewable energy overhaul
By Dharna Noor, Boston Globe
April 22, 2022

The University of Massachusetts Amherst officials on Friday rolled out a big Earth Day pledge, unveiling a plan to reach 100 percent renewable power within about a decade.

“Change begins at home,” the university’s chancellor, Kumble Subbaswamy, said in an interview.

The university system’s 1,500-acre flagship campus — which is responsible for 20 percent of emissions from state government-owned buildings, according to Subbaswamy — has its own power plant, which runs mostly on gas and currently supplies most of the school’s heat and electricity.

UMass Amherst plans to retire that plant in the coming years and convert the campus’s heating infrastructure to geothermal power. The campus will also use heat pumps, as well as heat recovery chillers which provide both heating and cooling.

For electricity, the school will use a combination of renewable power purchased from the grid and battery-stored solar energy generated on campus. It will also upgrade and renovate buildings to ensure they are efficient.

The plan comes as universities across the Commonwealth are increasingly grappling with their contributions to the climate crisis. In 2018, Harvard committed to removing fossil fuels from its grid. In 2019, the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth and Mount Holyoke both pledged to transition to all-renewable power, and last year, Boston University followed suit.

The road map for UMass Amherst’s transition has been in the works since late 2018. It’s based on the work of hundreds of staff and faculty, energy consultants, and students, university officials said.
» Read article    

Seattle condo
Washington State Passes All-Electric Heating Mandate for New Buildings
By Paige Bennett, EcoWatch
April 26, 2022

The first mandate in the U.S. to require all-electric heating has passed in Washington state, where newly constructed buildings will need to install electric heating and hot-water systems. The mandate will go into effect in July 2023.

The mandate passed 11 to 3 in a vote by the State Building Code Council to restrict the use of natural gas in multifamily housing complexes and commercial buildings by requiring installation of electric heat pumps. A similar mandate for smaller residential buildings will be considered within the next few months.

The revised energy code will see that new buildings have heat pumps rather than HVAC systems powered by natural gas. At least 50% of water will also need to be warmed via electric heat pumps, although the remaining amount can be heated through other methods.

Heat pumps are energy-efficient alternatives to furnaces. They work by taking in heat from one area and pumping it into another. For example, in the winter, heat pumps can pull heat from outside, even if the temperature is low, and move it indoors. In warmer months, the opposite happens — the heat pump moves the warm indoor air outside to cool the building’s interior.

[…] Washington’s mandate has exceptions for hospitals, research facilities, and select other buildings, including buildings in cooler parts of the state where winter temperatures can drop well below 0°F.

[…] Heat pumps are considered a sustainable alternative because they can generate three or four times the amount of energy they consume, according to The Conversation. Heat from fossil fuels actually wastes energy, because it needs to convert the energy from one form into another form rather than moving the heat from one place to another. To meet emissions goals by 2030, heat pump use will need to reach one-third of global heating systems.
» Read article    

» More about energy efficiency

ENERGY STORAGE

MOST
Capturing Solar Energy and Converting It to Electricity When Needed – Up to 18 Years Later
By Chalmers University of Technology, in SciTech Daily
April 18, 2022

The researchers behind an energy system that makes it possible to capture solar energy, store it for up to eighteen years, and release it when and where it is needed have now taken the system a step further. After previously demonstrating how the energy can be extracted as heat, they have now succeeded in getting the system to produce electricity, by connecting it to a thermoelectric generator. Eventually, the research – developed at Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden – could lead to self-charging electronic gadgets that use stored solar energy on demand.

“This is a radically new way of generating electricity from solar energy. It means that we can use solar energy to produce electricity regardless of weather, time of day, season, or geographical location. It is a closed system that can operate without causing carbon dioxide emissions,” says research leader Kasper Moth-Poulsen, Professor at the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at Chalmers.

The new technology is based on the solar energy system MOST – Molecular Solar Thermal Energy Storage Systems, developed at Chalmers University of Technology. Very simply, the technology is based on a specially designed molecule that changes shape when it comes into contact with sunlight. The research has already attracted great interest worldwide when it has been presented at earlier stages.

The new study, published in Cell Reports Physical Science in March 2022 and carried out in collaboration with researchers in Shanghai, takes the solar energy system a step further, detailing how it can be combined with a compact thermoelectric generator to convert solar energy into electricity.

[…] The research has great potential for renewable and emissions-free energy production. But a lot of research and development remains before we will be able to charge our technical gadgets or heat our homes with the system’s stored solar energy.
» Read article    

» More about energy storage

MODERNIZING THE GRID

SQ not acceptable
Challenging the status quo on electricity, heating
Conservation Law Foundation officials call for change
By Bruce Mohl, CommonWealth Magazine
April 25, 2022

TWO TOP OFFICIALS with the Conservation Law Foundation say the region’s power grid operator and the state’s utilities are in some ways part of the problem instead of the solution to dealing with climate change.

Greg Cunningham, the vice president and director of CLF’s clean energy and climate change program, and Caitlin Peale Sloan, the vice president for Massachusetts, said on The Codcast that they are concerned the institutions that should be leading the fight against climate change are not doing so.

Cunningham’s focus is on ISO-New England, the region’s power grid operator headed by Gordon van Welie. Van Welie was a guest on The Codcast two weeks ago and his focus was on the vulnerability of the power grid, the potential for rolling blackouts, and the continued need for natural gas as a backup fuel.

“It’s frustrating needless to say for us to sit here in 2022 and hear the litany of problems and concerns repeated over and over again from the entity that was designed to be central around fixing them,” Cunningham said. “Gordon van Welie has a substantial pedestal from which to speak and many people listen when he does. There’s an unfortunate tendency to use fear-mongering and the risk of rolling blackouts and all of the bad things that may happen if we don’t address these issues rather than identifying for us how we’re going to solve these problems.”

ISO-New England hasn’t yet found a way to incorporate the clean energy New England needs into the region’s wholesale electricity markets. Van Welie is trying to buy more time to find a solution by asking the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to approve an extension, with a few tweaks, of the existing, flawed regulatory system. He is facing pushback from Attorney General Maura Healey and others who feel the status quo is not acceptable.
» Read article   

FERC members
FERC unveils transmission plan seen as key for renewables
By Miranda Willson, E&E News
April 22, 2022

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission released a proposal yesterday that could play a pivotal role in modernizing the nation’s power grid and advancing the transition to clean energy.

The commission plan offers some of the most significant federal changes in over a decade to the transmission planning process, which could help speed up the development of high-voltage power lines considered critical for adding more renewable energy to the grid.

Approved in a bipartisan 4-1 vote at the commission’s monthly meeting, the proposed rules seek to address key challenges in the process for planning new transmission projects and for determining how to fairly allocate their costs. Once the commission has reviewed comments on the proposal, it may issue final rules, most likely by the end of the year.

“Today’s proposed rules, if finalized, would facilitate much-needed transmission investment, improving the resilience of the grid, enhancing reliability and reducing power costs,” Chair Richard Glick, who voted in favor of the proposed rules, said during the meeting. “It’s also going to address our nation’s changing resource mix and the changing role of electricity in our society.”

The proposal came during the commission’s first in-person meeting since February of 2020. In addition to advancing reforms on transmission, FERC issued an order focused on reforming wholesale electricity markets in light of changes in the types of energy resources that provide power for the grid.

Staff at the independent agency also released an annual report on natural gas and electricity markets, highlighting last year’s record-high U.S. natural gas exports and the significant volumes of solar, wind and battery storage capacity that came online in 2021.

Under the changes proposed for the transmission planning process, electric utilities that deliver power would be required to identify transmission needs driven by the changing mix of energy resources, with consideration for potential extreme weather events that could affect infrastructure. Transmission developers would be compelled to assess the need for new regional power lines over a 20-year time frame at a minimum.

Transmission developers would also need to “fully consider” advanced tools that could make the flow of power more efficient and potentially reduce overall transmission costs, FERC staff said in a presentation on the proposal.
» Read article    

» More about modernizing the grid

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

faulty analysis
Climate activists sue USPS to block purchase of gas-guzzling trucks
By Jacob Bogage, The Washington Post, in The Boston Globe
April 28, 2022

Two environmental groups are suing the U.S. Postal Service to block its purchase of 148,000 gas-guzzling delivery trucks over the next decade, alleging the agency has vastly underestimated the vehicles’ costs and adverse ecological impact.

The suits brought on by Earthjustice and the Natural Resources Defense Council contend the mail service relied on flawed assumptions and faulty calculations in selecting its “Next Generation Delivery Vehicles.” The contract reached with Oshkosh Defense in February 2021 is worth as much as $11.3 billion.

As a result, the complaints allege, the agency chose a purchase plan for 90 percent of the new fleet to be gasoline-powered, and the trucks’ 8.6 mpg is only incrementally more fuel efficient than the 30-year-old vehicles they’re designed to replace. That leaves 10 percent of the new fleet dedicated to battery power, well below benchmarks set by rivals FedEx, UPS and Amazon. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

Postal officials hoped the truck procurement would go smoothly with policymakers and signal that the mail agency was evolving to meet new business opportunities and joust with its private-sector competitors.

Officials on both sides of the aisle agree that the mail service desperately needs to replace its delivery fleet, but almost immediately upon striking the deal with Oshkosh, environmental groups said the 10-percent pledge for EVs was insufficient and organized labor groups chafed at the company’s decision to move manufacturing away from unionized shops.

The Postal Service began studying the environmental impacts of the vehicles – which federal regulators estimate would emit roughly the same amount of Earth-warming carbon dioxide each year as 4.3 million passenger vehicles – after paying Oshkosh $482 million to begin production. The suits argue the Postal Service conducted its analysis to retroactively justify its procurement decision.
» Read article   

» More about clean transportation

CARBON CAPTURE AND STORAGE

Mountaineer
Proponents Say Storing Captured Carbon Underground Is Safe, But States Are Transferring Long-Term Liability for Such Projects to the Public
As companies propose storing carbon dioxide in depleted oil fields or saline aquifers, some states are putting themselves on the hook for future problems with the projects.
By Nicholas Kusnetz, Inside Climate News
April 26, 2022

As states rush to enact rules and regulations for the underground storage of carbon dioxide, a key question is who will hold long-term responsibility for projects that could require monitoring for decades.

The question is increasingly important, as a host of companies have proposed dozens of projects over the last two years that would pull climate-warming emissions from the smokestacks of ethanol plants, fertilizer factories and fossil-fueled power plants. If the projects move forward, they’ll need to pump millions of tons of captured carbon dioxide deep underground into depleted oil fields or saline aquifers, where the gas would need to be stored permanently.

The energy industry and others insist the practice is safe, but nonetheless some companies, including ExxonMobil and BP, have been seeking protections from long-term liability. And increasingly, state lawmakers are responding by putting governments, rather than industry, on the hook.

At least four states have passed laws over the last year that allow companies to transfer responsibility for carbon storage projects to state governments after the operations are shut down. At least three other states have similar statutes on the books, enacted years earlier.

Now, with the federal government poised to spend billions of dollars to jump start a carbon capture and storage industry, some environmental advocates warn these states are setting a dangerous precedent.

“Statutes that relieve operators of liability without due regard to existing legal principles create an incentive for sloppy management, leaks and public opposition,” said Scott Anderson, senior director of energy transition at the Environmental Defense Fund.

Poorly managed projects could increase the risk of carbon dioxide leaking through natural fissures or old wells and contaminating groundwater or escaping into the atmosphere, Anderson said.
» Read article    

» More about CCS

GAS UTILITIES

morphing GSEP
Spending billions fixing gas system makes no sense

Lawmakers shouldn’t allow utilities to retool to carry new fuels
By Dorie Seavey, CommonWealth Magazine | Opinion
April 26, 2022

Dorie Seavey is a climate economist and author.

TO HAVE ANY CHANCE of averting climate catastrophe, the latest climate science is definitive that we must actively decommission much of our existing fossil fuel infrastructure. Flying in the face of this dire warning, Massachusetts is on course to spend roughly $40 billion recommissioning its gas distribution system. How is this possible?

In 2014, at a time of heightened concern about the threat of explosions from gas leaks and the need to reduce fugitive gas, the Legislature enacted the Gas System Enhancement Plan (GSEP) to encourage the Commonwealth’s six investor-owned gas companies to replace their aging pipes more quickly in exchange for speedier cost recovery paid for by ratepayers.

Since then, GSEP’s original purpose has quietly morphed. Gas companies are now using the plan as an accelerated investment vehicle for making their gas distribution systems biomethane- and hydrogen-ready. With the cooperation of the Department of Public Utilities, their regulator, they are reinvigorating over 90 percent of their asset base and tying it to a nearly 10 percent rate of return through the end of the century.

GSEP’s new purpose is unabashedly acknowledged in gas industry-supported research. The Associated Industries of Massachusetts recently funded a UMass-Lowell study supporting the development of hydrogen in the Commonwealth, including piping and burning it to heat buildings—a false solution for our climate, safety, and public health. The report suggests that “the GSEP timeline could be accelerated” to expedite the introduction of hydrogen since 4,000 miles of mains await GSEP replacement with hydrogen-compatible plastic pipe.

In sharp contrast, GSEP has been a stealth player in the Future of Gas Investigation, a DPU proceeding to examine how gas companies can reconfigure their businesses to help the Commonwealth achieve net-zero emissions. Consultant reports and gas company proposals were filed in March. None describe or assess GSEP’s role in the energy future even though GSEP could not be more foundational to the gas companies’ preferred energy pathways such as “efficient gas equipment” and “hybrid” or “low” electrification. Indeed, these pathways would be non-starters if GSEP disappeared since they require upgraded plastic pipelines ready to deliver fracked natural gas blended with biomethane, synthetic natural gas, or hydrogen.

[…] Legislators should take three crucial steps this session.

First, accurately measure the Commonwealth’s greenhouse gas emissions. Our methane measurements are woefully outdated, accounting for only a fraction of actual leaked gas, and we fail to use a lifecycle approach for measuring greenhouse gases. Accurate measurements will reveal whether gas company business proposals are in fact aligned with our 2050 goals. They will also provide a sound, scientific basis for holding gas companies accountable via targets established both in annual GSEP plans and in the emissions reduction program of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection.

Second, prohibit the use of alternative gases, such as hydrogen and biomethane, for heating residences and businesses. The DPU should not be permitted to greenlight the gas companies’ ill-conceived plans for these gases as they do not meet reasonable standards for safety, health, emissions, and cost.

Third, provide incentives for utility companies to invest in networked ground source heat pumps. We need to shift the substantial financial benefits of GSEP (including asset depreciation past 2050 and cost recovery on an annual basis) from gas pipe replacement to the installation of renewable, non-emitting thermal infrastructure such as GeoGrid water pipes that can heat and cool our buildings.

By correcting the gas companies’ investment calculus, these three legislative actions will lead to a smart, strategic deceleration of investments in fossil fuel infrastructure while opening the door for gas companies to evolve their business models toward non-emitting, renewable thermal energy.

[…] The glaring disconnect between GSEP’s original purpose and its runaway reality must be addressed. To ensure that large investments of ratepayer money actually move us toward our climate goals, the Legislature should replace GSEP with a tailored “gas system transition program” focused on promoting safety, reducing emissions, and using resources wisely during the energy transition.
» Read article    

Zurich district heat
To fight climate change, and now Russia, too, Zurich turns off natural gas
By Dan Charles, NPR
April 20, 2022

European officials are debating whether they can stop buying natural gas imports from Russia. Many say it can’t be done. But the biggest city in Switzerland — Zurich — is already taking ambitious steps to wean itself off gas. It’s shutting down the flow of gas to whole parts of the city.

Zurich started down this path a decade ago to save money and fight climate change. The plan provoked controversy at first. Today, as the city’s residents install alternatives to gas heating, there appears to be broad support for the switch — in part, because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. About half of Switzerland’s natural gas supply comes from Russia.

“Attitudes have changed once again, dramatically,” says Rainer Schöne, a spokesman for Energie 360°, Zurich’s city-owned gas utility. “Today, it’s clear. People want to, and have to, move away from fossil gas.”

Zurich’s experience may offer lessons to other cities around the world that are encouraging residents to switch away from natural gas appliances but are not, so far, shutting down the infrastructure that delivers it.

[…] Some residents of Zurich, especially those in single-family homes, can’t easily connect to the district heating system and have to find alternatives. Ernst Danner is a member of Zurich’s City Parliament from the centrist Evangelical People’s Party. He lives in a single-family home, and he installed an electric heat pump that draws warmth from water circulating through pipes that go deep underground. It cost him just over $40,000 after tax breaks and city subsidies, but it also cut his heating bill in half. Over the lifetime of the system, he says, “I pay a bit more, but it’s not that much more, and it’s more ecological.”

Many of his neighbors, Danner says, have installed less-costly “air-source” heat pumps that draw heat from the air outside. “Those I know are very happy with their heat pumps. It’s very good!” he says.
» Read article or listen to broadcast    

» More about gas utilities

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

holding back
Why U.S. Oil Companies Aren’t Riding to Europe’s Rescue
American energy production has only inched up because executives fear that oil and gas prices won’t stay high.
By Clifford Krauss, New York Times
April 26, 2022

HOUSTON — Oil and gasoline prices are climbing. Energy company profits are surging. President Biden, who came into office promising to reduce the use of fossil fuels, has effectively joined the “drill, baby, drill” chorus. Europe would love to end its dependence on Russia.

Yet most U.S. oil businesses are not eager to capitalize on this moment by pumping more oil.

Production of oil by U.S. energy companies is essentially flat and unlikely to increase substantially for at least another year or two. If Europe stops buying Russian oil and natural gas as some of its leaders have promised, they won’t be able to replace that energy with fuels from the United States anytime soon.

U.S. oil production is up less than 2 percent, to 11.8 million barrels a day, since December and remains well below the record 13.1 million barrels a day set in March 2020 just before the pandemic paralyzed the global economy. Government forecasters predict that American oil production will average just 12 million barrels a day in 2022, and increase by roughly another million in 2023. That would be well short of the nearly four million barrels of oil that Europe imports from Russia every day.

“You had this bombastic, chest-pounding industry touting itself as the reincarnation of the American innovative spirit,” said Jim Krane, an energy expert at Rice University. “And now that they could be leaping into action to pitch in to bring much-needed oil to the world, they are being uncharacteristically cautious.”

The biggest reason oil production isn’t increasing is that U.S. energy companies and Wall Street investors are not sure that prices will stay high long enough for them to make a profit from drilling lots of new wells. Many remember how abruptly and sharply oil prices crashed two years ago, forcing companies to lay off thousands of employees, shut down wells and even seek bankruptcy protection.
» Read article     

» More about fossil fuels

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Weekly News Check-In 4/22/22

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Welcome back.

We’ll jump right in with climate reports, because it turns out that after several years of increasingly urgent, hair-on-fire warnings from the United Nations, scientists, and governments, we in Massachusetts appear to be less concerned than we were before. The pandemic, inflation, and the war in Ukraine to have distracted our attention, and those things have given us too many excuses to delay real action.

So what we have is a mixed bag. The fossil fuel industry has long bankrolled a sophisticated disinformation and denial campaign, and the richest countries in the world continue to finance new development projects. We even have a brand new gas peaker plant under construction in Peabody, MA! But there’s also pushback, like the Massachusetts legislature’s good work on a new, nuts & bolts bill designed to execute the broad goals expressed in the 2021 climate “roadmap” law.

The Biden administration finds itself on both sides of this fence. We reported last week on the discouraging (and transparently political) move to sell more oil and gas leases. On the flip side, Biden is increasing the build-out of renewable energy on public lands, and has restored part of an environmental law that was gutted by the Trump administration, “requiring that climate impacts be considered and local communities have input before federal agencies approve highways, pipelines, and other major projects”. Hopefully this constitutes clear guidance for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which recently made a quavering attempt to consider climate impacts of pipelines, but freaked out when the gas industry expressed displeasure.

Before we move on from the topic of natural gas, let’s consider two articles describing how gas utilities are doubling down on their campaign to preserve their pipeline distribution model at all costs – touting far-fetched, false solutions as a way to continue pushing volatile fuel into homes and businesses. Natural gas is primarily methane – a powerful greenhouse gas – and it leaks from every point along the line from production to end use – sometimes spectacularly.

A primary reason the gas distribution model has no future is that modern heat pumps can replace fossil fuel furnaces and boilers, even in frosty New England. As we electrify building heat, we expect some stubborn gas utility obstruction – and we’re getting plenty of that. Less obvious is resistance coming from HVAC installers, especially considering how much they have to gain as communities convert en masse to new equipment. But change is inevitable.

Even the mundane process of charging electric vehicles is evolving. Soon, the idea of plugging in your EV to do nothing but charge overnight will seem as antiquated as heating with gas. With bi-directional charging, the vehicle’s large battery and stored energy can be available for all sorts of uses, from utility demand management to emergency backup power – all while leaving plenty of juice for driving. This can generate income for the individual or fleet EV owner while adding resiliency and flexibility to the grid.

We’ll close with a look at liquefied natural gas, and how the industry is using the Russian invasion of Ukraine to continue its long fight against controlling toxic emissions at export terminals. Also, read about the biomass industry’s lobbying campaign to keep the fires burning under Europe’s dirtiest “renewable” energy.

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

stop Peabody peaker
What to know about a planned natural gas ‘peaker’ plant in Mass
By Miriam Wasser, WBUR
April 08, 2022

This week’s new climate report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is very clear that the world needs to stop building new fossil fuel infrastructure immediately. In fact, to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, countries need to actively decommission a lot of the oil, gas and coal infrastructure that already exists.

Massachusetts also has strong climate laws and has committed to hitting “net zero” emissions by 2050. So why, in 2022, is the state allowing the construction of a new natural gas and diesel-fired power plant in Peabody?

Project opponents say plans for the so-called “peaker” plant are antithetical to the state’s goals, and that the utility group behind the project has not been transparent in their proceedings.

But work on the plant has continued despite the protests, and project managers say the facility will be up and running by 2023.

Whether you’re familiar with this proposed power plant and have questions, or you’re hearing about it for the first time, here’s what you need to know:
» Read article or listen to broadcast    

» More about peakers

DIVESTMENT

advantage oil
Database Shows Rich Governments Funding Fossil Fuels Over Clean Energy
“G20 international public finance is currently blocking a just energy transition, bankrolling 2.5 times more fossil fuels than clean energy.”
By Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams
April 20, 2022

A new online tool launched Wednesday by a U.S.-based advocacy group details how international public finance is continuing to fuel the climate emergency rather than sufficiently funding a just transition to clean energy.

Oil Change International (OCI) unveiled its Public Finance for Energy Database—accessible at energyfinance.org—along with a briefing that lays out key findings, why the group is monitoring public finance for energy, and how these institutions “are uniquely positioned to catalyze a just, transformative, and rapid transition.”

The open-access tool targets development finance institutions (DFIs), export finance agencies (ECAs), and multilateral development banks (MDBs), focusing on Group of 20 (G20) countries, the world’s biggest economies. The website features a data dashboard as well as a policy tracker.

“Public finance shapes our future energy systems,” the briefing states, explaining that these “institutions’ investments total $2.2 trillion a year: an estimated 10% of global financial flows. Worldwide, 693 government-owned or operated banks own assets worth about $38 trillion and if central banks, sovereign wealth funds, pensions, and multilateral banks are also included, this doubles to $73 trillion.”

“The impact of this finance reaches beyond its own scale because public finance has an outsized influence on the decisions private financiers make,” the document adds. “This is because public finance has government-backed credit ratings, is often provided at below-market rates, often has larger research and technical capacity, and signals broader government priorities. All of this helps make a project a less risky and more attractive investment.”

The briefing points out that “G20 international public finance is currently blocking a just energy transition, bankrolling 2.5 times more fossil fuels than clean energy.”
» Read article   
» Access the database

» More about divestment

LEGISLATION

MA Statehouse
Senate passes big climate bill focused on getting to net-zero
By Chris Lisinski, State House News Service, on WBUR
April 15, 2022

Senators took a major step Thursday toward achieving the net-zero emissions target they already set for Massachusetts by approving a policy-heavy bill aimed at expanding the clean energy industry and reining in emissions from the transportation and building sectors.

Nearly 12 hours after they kicked off debate, senators voted 37-3 on legislation (S 2819) that faces an unclear future as negotiators prepare to reconcile it with a smaller-scope bill that cleared the House (H 4515). All three of the chamber’s Republicans, who unsuccessfully pushed an alternative proposal, voted against the final measure.

Along the way, the Senate adopted 45 amendments — including one that calls for attempting to nearly double the amount of offshore wind energy generated for Massachusetts over the next decade-plus — leading to what Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy Committee Chair Sen. Michael Barrett called “a product here that is much better than when we started.”

The legislation, which comes on the heels of a 2021 law committing to reaching net-zero emissions statewide by 2050, would pump $250 million into clean energy expansion, electric vehicle incentives, and electric vehicle charging infrastructure. It would also overhaul the offshore wind procurement process, require greater scrutiny on the future of natural gas, and allow some cities and towns to restrict the use of fossil fuels in new construction.

“Last year’s climate bill was about laying out a plan for tackling this formidable challenge of climate change. This year, in this legislation, we propose to begin to execute on the plan. If you like metaphors, last year was about laying out a roadmap, today we start traveling down the road. That’s why this is all about implementation,” Barrett, a Lexington Democrat, said on the Senate floor. “I am happy beyond measure, I am so happy, that this Senate has the courage to move beyond roadmapping and beyond laying out a template and is in favor of getting to the question of implementation and execution.”
» Read article    

» More about legislation

FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION

providing certainty
FERC must stand strong against industry pressure to weaken climate and environmental justice policies
By Moneen Nasmith, Utility Dive | Opinion
April 20, 2022

[…] Federal law requires FERC to consider a broad range of factors when assessing how gas infrastructure projects, like pipelines and export terminals, impact the public. Gas projects often cause significant harm to the climate and communities. They release methane pollution — a potent greenhouse gas that is a major contributor to the climate crisis — and facilitate the burning of fossil fuels for decades to come. And they degrade air quality and threaten public health, often in low-income communities and communities of color already overburdened with pollution.

But FERC has long overlooked the environmental costs of gas projects while accepting unsubstantiated claims by industry about their alleged benefits. The agency has historically rubberstamped nearly all the gas projects that came before it, without seriously considering whether they are even needed. As a result, these projects have been vulnerable to litigation — and FERC and the pipeline industry keep losing in court.

Most recently, the D.C. Circuit Court ruled in March that FERC failed to adequately assess the greenhouse gas emissions from a compressor station and gas pipeline in Massachusetts. Food & Water Watch and Berkshire Environmental Action team, a community group, filed a lawsuit challenging FERC’s approval of the project without considering climate impacts. The court agreed and ordered FERC to redo its environmental analysis.

To improve its broken review process, FERC recently proposed two common-sense policies to consider adverse effects like greenhouse gas emissions and environmental injustice when it reviews gas projects. The first outlines four factors the agency will consider before approving pipeline projects, including environmental impacts and the interests of environmental justice communities. The second lays out how the agency will quantify and evaluate the impacts from greenhouse gas emissions from a gas project, including pipelines and export terminals. These policies better balance the pros and cons of building new gas projects — something the courts have effectively been directing FERC to do.

Predictably, the fossil fuel industry and their political allies came out in full force to attack the new policies and pressure FERC to weaken and delay implementation of its policies. Gas companies claimed the new policies create uncertainty and will reduce investment in new pipelines and export terminals. But the reality is that the policies will reduce uncertainty for all stakeholders by ensuring that new projects are legally sound.
» Read article   

» More about FERC   

GREENING THE ECONOMY

narrow lakeBiden restores parts of environmental protection law, reverses Trump policy
By Lisa Friedman New York Times, in Boston Globe
April 19, 2022

The Biden administration will announce Tuesday that it is restoring parts of a bedrock environmental law, once again requiring that climate impacts be considered and local communities have input before federal agencies approve highways, pipelines, and other major projects.

The administration plans to resurrect requirements of the 50-year-old National Environmental Policy Act that had been removed by President Donald Trump, who complained that they slowed down the development of mines, road expansions, and similar projects.

The final rule announced Tuesday would require federal agencies to conduct an analysis of the greenhouse gases that could be emitted over the lifetime of a proposed project, as well as how climate change might affect new highways, bridges, and other infrastructure, according to the White House Council on Environmental Quality. The rule would also ensure agencies give communities directly affected by projects a greater role in the approval process.

Brenda Mallory, chairwoman of the council, described the regulation as restoring “basic community safeguards” that the Trump administration had eliminated.

[…] Administration officials said the new rule would not have major immediate impacts since the Biden administration had already been weighing the climate change impacts of proposed projects. But it would force future administrations to abide by the process or undertake a lengthy regulatory process and possibly legal challenges to again undo it.

The National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, was signed into law by President Richard Nixon in 1970, after several environmental disasters including a crude oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara, California, and a series of fires on the heavily polluted Cuyahoga River in Ohio that shocked the nation.

It mandates federal agencies to assess the potential environmental impacts of proposed major federal actions before allowing them to proceed. Agencies are not required to reject projects that might worsen climate change — only to examine and report the impacts.
» Read article    

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

unfocused
As Earth’s temperature rises, Massachusetts residents’ sense of urgency on climate change declines
By Sabrina Shankman and Dharna Noor, Boston Globe
April 19, 2022

Despite increasingly urgent international warnings and an onslaught of catastrophic wildfires and weather linked to global warming, fewer Massachusetts residents see the climate crisis as a very serious concern than they did three years ago, according to a new poll.

It’s not that respondents weren’t aware of the climate threat; a large majority acknowledged that symptoms of the crisis such as increased flooding, extreme heat waves, and more powerful storms are either already happening or very likely within five years, according to the poll, a collaboration of The Boston Globe and The MassINC Polling Group. And more than three quarters called climate change a “very serious” or “serious” concern.”

But with a pandemic and war in Ukraine as a backdrop, fewer than half, 48 percent, ranked climate in the highest category of concern, down from 53 percent in 2019, the last time the poll was taken. Less than half said they would vote along climate lines or take steps such as switching their home heat off fossil fuel.

“Climate change is the kind of issue where people still think they can put it off on the back burner of their minds, especially when they’re dealing with COVID, when they’re dealing with inflation, when they’re dealing with all kinds of other terrible things in the world,” said Richard Parr, research director with The MassINC Polling Group.
» Read article    

gap
G20 Falling Behind, Canada Dead Last in Widening Gap Between Climate Pledges, Climate Action
By Mitchell Beer, The Energy Mix
April 22, 2022

G20 countries are falling behind on the all-important “say-do gap” between their 2030 emission reduction pledges and the climate action they’re actually taking, and Canada shows up dead last among the 10 wealthiest nations in the group, according to the first annual Earth Index released this week by Corporate Knights.

The analysis [pdf] points to some signs of progress, particularly in electricity generation in high-income countries. But it shows slower action in other sectors and warns that middle-income G20 countries are producing three times the emissions of the wealthiest—a trend that will continue without much wider, faster efforts to transfer proven technologies and techniques to the parts of the world that need them.

Corporate Knights CEO Toby Heaps said G20 countries’ climate commitments to date would hold average global warming to 1.8°C, citing an assessment released by the International Energy Agency during last year’s COP 26 climate summit. That outcome would “still be destructive, but it’s a scenario where we can still thrive, species can thrive, and our civilization can thrive,” Heaps told a webinar audience Wednesday.

The problem is the gap, he added, with the latest working group report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change showing warming on a trajectory for 3.2°C.
» Read article   
» Read the Earth Index

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

Zion solar
Biden Admin Wants to Nearly Double Renewable Energy Capacity on Public Lands by 2023

By Olivia Rosane, EcoWatch
April 21, 2022

The Biden administration on Wednesday announced the steps it was taking to increase the amount of renewable energy projects on public lands.

The plans include increasing renewable energy capacity by almost 10,000 megawatts by 2023, which would nearly double existing capacity, The Hill reported.

“The Department of the Interior continues to make significant progress in our efforts to spur a clean energy revolution, strengthen and decarbonize the nation’s economy, and help communities transition to a clean energy future,” Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said in a press release. “The demand for renewable energy has never been greater. The technological advances, increased interest, cost effectiveness, and tremendous economic potential make these projects a promising path for diversifying our national energy portfolio, while at the same time combating climate change and investing in communities.”

The new steps announced by Biden’s Department of the Interior (DOI) Wednesday all advance towards the goal of permitting 25 gigawatts of renewable energy on public lands by 2025 and creating a carbon-free power grid by 2035.
» Read article    

CT green H2 path
CT plans a green hydrogen path, but it has potholes

By Jan Ellen Spiegel, CT Mirror
April 13, 2022

“Green hydrogen” seems to be the climate change solution of the moment — a not-widely-understood substance now talked up by the Biden administration, northeastern governors and Connecticut lawmakers, as well as the few people here who actually know what green hydrogen is.

Among other initiatives, the Biden administration has launched a competition for four hydrogen “hubs” that will share $8 billion in federal funds to develop, well, something. Connecticut is partnering with New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts to come up with a proposal for what one such something might be. Separately, the Connecticut legislature is considering a bill to establish a task force to study green hydrogen’s potential in the state and the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) is planning for a hydrogen component in its new Comprehensive Energy Strategy. The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) includes hydrogen among the mitigation strategies in its final and alarming 6th assessment report released last week.

But the environmental community is, at best, wary of green hydrogen. Some are downright opposed to aspects of making and using it and even more worried about non-green hydrogen. Even green hydrogen’s biggest supporters admit it has limitations and is not a silver bullet for addressing climate change.

“A lot of really important questions come with this policy area,” said Katie Dykes, DEEP’s commissioner. “What is the hydrogen being produced with? What are the emissions associated with the production of the hydrogen? How is it being transported and stored? What are you using it for?

“Those are more questions than answers.”

So what is green hydrogen exactly and is its potential in mitigating climate change worth getting excited about? The answer is complicated.
» Read article    

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

heat pump rebates
Unlikely gatekeepers in the fight against climate change: HVAC contractors
Rebates encourage homeowners to embrace climate-friendly heating systems. Will contractors block or bolster the switch to heat pumps?
By Eve Zuckoff, CAI Public Radio
February 23, 2022

Homeowners looking to replace their heating systems can now receive up to $10,000 to switch from boilers and furnaces to air source heat pumps. The rebates are part of the state’s ambitious plan to lower carbon emissions and address climate change.

But for the state’s plan to work, it needs more than the support of homeowners and environmental activists. It needs your local heating and cooling contractor.

[…] Today, 27 percent of Massachusetts’ total carbon emissions come from heating and water heating in homes and other buildings, according to data from the state. To drastically cut those emissions, state officials want 1 million homes to rely on electric heat pumps, rather than boilers and furnaces, by 2030.

While powerful financial incentives from Mass Save, the state’s energy-efficiency program, are expected to attract homeowners, it’s up to contractors to heed the call. Some say they’re ready.

“I would say nine out of 10 – if not more– of our jobs are heat pump jobs and we’re doing several hundred jobs a year,” said Jared Grier, owner of an HVAC company in Marstons Mills that’s betting hard on the future. It’s called Cape Cod Heat Pumps.

Home heating systems are expensive for most homeowners, but rebates can create a competitive advantage for heat pumps.

Like many contractors, Grier said it’s nearly impossible to estimate the average cost of installing a heat pump system because it involves so many variables, including the size of the home, how insulated it is, and how many units are needed. But the overall cost to install – and operate – a heat pump can be a selling point when compared to other heating systems.

[…] Beyond cost comparisons, some installers say they are pivoting to heat pumps because they’re afraid of what could happen if they don’t.

“You have to embrace it or you get left behind. We can’t afford as a business to be left behind,” said Gary Thompson, sales and installation manager at Murphy’s Services of Yarmouth, which does air conditioning, heating and plumbing. “The boilers and the furnaces – the fossil fuel heating systems – are the dinosaurs. They’re going away.”

Advancing heat pump technology has transformed his sales over the last five years, he said, but many veteran installers remain resistant.

“The contractors – be it time, economics, training – they haven’t embraced it,” he said. “You know, kind of the old adage in this industry: ‘I’ll try anything new as long as my father and grandfather used it first.’”
» Read article    
» See Mass Save heat pump rebates

» More about energy efficiency

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

V2X MOU
Department of Energy looks to integrate Vehicle-to-Everything bi-directional charging into US infrastructure
The US DOE released a Memorandum of Understanding that aims to bring together parties to advance bi-directional charging with cybersecurity as a core component.
By Anne Fischer, PV Magazine
April 21, 2022

The US Department of Energy (DOE) and partners announced the Vehicle-to-Everything (V2X) Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that aims to bring together resources from the DOE, national labs, state and local governments, utilities, and private entities to evaluate the technical and economic aspects of integrating bidirectional charging into the nation’s energy infrastructure.

As the number of electric vehicles (EVs) grows (including larger trucks and buses), their batteries can be used to add support [to] the grid.

A bidirectional EV fleet could serve as both a clean transportation as well as an energy storage asset that sends power back to everything from critical loads and homes to the grid. A bidirectional fleet could also create new revenue opportunities for EV owners or fleets.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) conservatively estimates that 130 million electric vehicles (EVs) will be on the road globally by 2030.  Bidirectional plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) offer an opportunity to support the grid, enhancing security, resilience, and economic vitality.

“The MOU signed today represents a collaborative approach to researching and developing novel technologies that will help unify the clean energy and transportation sectors while getting more American consumers into electric vehicles,” said Deputy Secretary of Energy Dave Turk. “Integrating charging technology that powers vehicles and simultaneously pushes energy back into the electrical grid is a win-win for the future of clean transportation and our energy resilience overall.”
» Read article    

» More about clean transportation

GAS UTILITIES

interchangeable
As N.H. lawmakers and utilities embrace renewable natural gas, environmental groups raise concerns

Environmentalists say renewable natural gas is costly and limited, and that it can be used to justify building and maintaining fossil fuel infrastructure.
By Amanda Gokee, New Hampshire Bulletin, in Energy News Network
April 20, 2022

Buried under a pile of trash in a landfill in northern New Hampshire, apple cores, eggshells, and other bits of discarded food are decomposing. That process generates a greenhouse gas many times more potent than carbon dioxide — a gas the state’s utilities want to capture and use as fuel.

This so-called renewable natural gas comes from other sources, too: livestock operations generating agricultural waste and wastewater treatment plants that handle human waste. Once purified, the gas is “fully interchangeable with conventional natural gas,” according to the U.S. Department of Energy. As of last September, that had resulted in 548 landfill gas projects across the country, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Gas utilities in New Hampshire are looking to use renewable natural gas as a fuel of the future. Lawmakers have broadly supported the efforts, in spite of environmental and cost concerns. Renewable natural gas could cost three times as much as conventional natural gas.

Senate Bill 424 was voted out of two Senate committees with unanimous support and passed the Senate floor on a voice vote in March. The bill left the House Science, Technology, and Energy Committee with five House lawmakers voting against it and 15 in its favor, and it is now up for a vote before the full House with the committee’s recommendation that it pass into law.

[…] Nick Krakoff, a staff attorney for the Conservation Law Foundation, said the guardrails in the bill are too weak to guarantee the promised environmental benefits.

“It gives utilities an opportunity to claim they’re doing something green and environmentally beneficial. But when you pull back the layer, it’s not going to be environmentally beneficial,” Krakoff said.

One specific problem, Krakoff said, is a lack of accounting when it comes to methane leakages, which can occur during processing or transportation and can quickly cancel out the climate benefits associated with renewable natural gas. And the greenhouse gas emissions from transporting the gas must be calculated as well, he said. The bill is currently silent on both. “When you weigh the greenhouse gas impacts, you need to look at the whole picture,” he said.

Krakoff’s larger critique of renewable natural gas is that it’s diverting attention and money from cleaner alternatives, like heat pumps.

The Conservation Law Foundation has written that the gas is both costly and limited; the organization argues that, for those reasons, it will do little to lower emissions but could be used to justify building and maintaining fossil fuel infrastructure.

“It’s just a way of avoiding what really needs to be done to transition to clean energy,” Krakoff said.
» Read article   
» Read CLF’s position on renewable natural gas

first rule of holes
A fossil-free National Grid? Critics call it a pipe dream.
By Bruce Gellerman, WBUR
April 19, 2022


National Grid today released a plan to go fossil-free in order to meet Massachusetts’ 2050 net-zero climate emission targets.

The company’s “clean energy vision” is designed to transform the way the gas utility provides heat throughout its New England territory, while continuing to rely on its vast gas infrastructure.

Currently, most homes and businesses in the region burn natural gas for heat, which National Grid distributes to customers through a network of pipelines. By mid-century, if the company fails to change its business model, the net-zero requirements of the state climate law will essentially put it out of business.

Methane, the main component of natural gas, has a shorter lifespan than carbon dioxide, but is far more effective at trapping heat. Thousands of miles of pipes in Massachusetts leak methane, and are being repaired and replaced at an estimated cost of $20 billion.

The key to National Grid’s plan is using their same pipeline distribution system, but providing a different mix of gas, said Stephen Woerner, regional president of the utility: “We eliminate fossil fuels and we replace them with renewable natural gas and green hydrogen.”

Renewable natural gas — or RNG — is methane produced by decomposing organic matter. The utility plans to capture methane produced on farms, landfills and waste treatment plants and pipe it through its network.  “Green” hydrogen would be produced by offshore wind farms that split water into oxygen and hydrogen, with no carbon emissions. The company envisions a new gas mix including 30% RNG and 20% green hydrogen by 2040, and 80% RNG and 20% green hydrogen by 2050.

One of the environmental groups calling for electrification of the region’s heating system is the Massachusetts-based Conservation Law Foundation. The group also advocates for the use of electric heat pumps and neighborhood geothermal heating, which uses the Earth as a battery to provide heat in winter and cooling in summer.

Caitlin Peale Sloan, vice president of CLF for Massachusetts, called National Grid’s plan “a false solution, just a way for the company to stay in business using their existing network of pipelines to distribute climate-disrupting gas.”

“Any plan that still counts on burning methane is not a decarbonization plan,” Sloan said. She notes that methane, regardless of the source, is still a climate threat.
» Read article    

» More about gas utilities

GAS LEAKS

big cowboy line break
Unregulated gas pipeline causes a huge methane leak in Texas
By Aaron Clark and Naureen Malik, Bloomberg, in The Boston Globe
April 18, 2022

A natural gas pipeline in Texas leaked so much of the super-potent greenhouse gas methane in little more than an hour that by one estimate its climate impact was equivalent to the annual emissions from about 16,000 US cars.

The leak came from a 16-inch (41-centimeter) pipe that’s a tiny part of a vast web of unregulated lines across the US, linking production fields and other sites to bigger transmission lines. Although new federal reporting requirements start next month for so-called gathering lines, the incident highlights the massive climate damage even minor parts of the network can inflict.

Energy Transfer, which operates the line where the leak occurred through its ETC Texas Pipeline unit, said an investigation into the cause of the event last month is ongoing and all appropriate regulatory notifications were made. It called the pipe an “unregulated gathering line.”

The timing of the release and its location appeared to match a plume of methane observed by a European Space Agency satellite that geoanalytics firm Kayrros called the most severe in the US in a year. Bloomberg investigations into methane observed by satellite near energy facilities show the invisible plumes often coincide with routine work and deliberate releases.

Methane is the primary component of natural gas and traps 84 times more heat than carbon dioxide during its first 20 years in the atmosphere. Severely curbing or eliminating releases of the gas from fossil fuel operations is crucial to avoiding the worst of climate change. The International Energy Agency has said oil and gas operators should move beyond emissions intensity goals and adopt a zero-tolerance approach to methane releases.
» Read article    

» More about gas leaks

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Frontline series
‘Frontline’ Review: Why the Climate Changed but We Didn’t
“The Power of Big Oil” examines a dispiriting, well-financed history of denialism and inaction.
By Mike Hale, New York Times
April 18, 2022

PBS’s investigative public-affairs program “Frontline” specializes in reminding us of things we would rather forget. On Tuesday, it begins a three-part dive into climate change, that potential species-killer that has taken a back seat recently to more traditional scourges like disease and war.

Titled “The Power of Big Oil,” the weekly mini-series is focused on climate change denialism as it was practiced and paid for by the fossil fuel industry — particularly Exxon Mobil and Koch Industries — along with its allies in business and, increasingly, politics. By extension, it’s a history, more depressing than revelatory, of why nothing much has been done about an existential crisis we’ve been aware of for at least four decades.

The signposts of our dawning comprehension and alarm are well known, among them the climatologist James Hansen’s 1988 testimony to Congress, the Kyoto and Paris agreements, the documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” and increasingly dire United Nations reports. The response that “Frontline” meticulously charts — a disciplined, coordinated campaign of disinformation and obfuscation that began in industry and was embraced by conservative political groups — is less familiar but was always in plain sight.

Part of the campaign is public, a barrage of talking heads on television and op-eds and advertorials in prominent publications (including The New York Times) that do not absolutely deny global warming but portray it as the night terrors of attention-mongering eggheads. Behind the scenes, the thinly disguised lobbying groups paid for by Big Oil apply pressure on key politicians at key moments — whenever it looks as if the United States might pass legislation affecting their profits.

One lesson the show offers, almost in passing, is the way in which the refusal to accept the reality of climate change prefigured the wider attacks on science — and on knowledge in general — that were to characterize the Trump years and the response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The successful but lonely battle fought by the oil and gas industries is joined wholeheartedly by Republican politicians when they see how climate denialism, and the specter of unemployed miners and drillers, dovetails with their efforts to demonize President Barack Obama and radicalize conservative voters. At that point, the fig leaf of scientific debate is dropped and pure emotion takes over.
» Read article    

KY mountain top
The Decline of Kentucky’s Coal Industry Has Produced Hundreds of Safety and Environmental Violations at Strip Mines
Internal records and emails show that state regulators struggle to keep up with the violations as coal bankruptcies and “zombie” mines proliferate.
By James Bruggers, Inside Climate News
April 18, 2022

As the coal industry has collapsed in Kentucky, companies have racked up a rising number of violations at surface mines, and state regulators have failed to bring a record number of them into compliance, internal documents show.

Enforcement data from 2013 through February, along with recent internal emails, both provided to Inside Climate News by the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet in response to a state open records law request, paint a picture of an industry and its regulators in a state of crisis.

The documents reveal an agency struggling to enforce regulations designed to protect the public and the environment from some of the industry’s most destructive practices amid mining company bankruptcies and an overall industry decline that has also seen the shedding of thousands of coal mining jobs in the state.

Environmental advocates fear lax enforcement could also be happening in other coal mining states, such as West Virginia, Virginia and Pennsylvania, due to similar pressures on the industry and regulators, despite a recent uptick in coal mining. And they are calling on federal regulators to make sure slowed, idled or bankrupt mines are not left to deteriorate.

“This data shows there are a lot of zombie mines out there,” said Mary Varson Cromer, an attorney and deputy director of the Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center Inc., in Whitesburg, Kentucky, using a term that refers to mines that have been idled, sometimes for years, without the required reclamation work on their sites.

[…] “This is completely out of control,” warned Courtney Skaggs, a senior environmental scientist in the Kentucky Department for Natural Resources, in a separate Dec. 15 email to the department’s commissioner, Gordon Slone. “This is going to blow up in someone’s face,” wrote Skaggs, a former acting director of the agency’s Division of Mine Reclamation and Enforcement.
» Read article    

» More about fossil fuel

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

Cheniere
Should EPA Back-Off Pollution Controls to Help LNG Exports Replace Russian Gas in Germany?
Cheniere Energy says the agency’s decision to start enforcing pollution controls on gas turbines is “counterproductive” in light of Russia’s war in Ukraine. Environmentalists strongly disagree.
By James Bruggers, Inside Climate News
April 20, 2022

The nation’s top exporter of liquified natural gas, Cheniere Energy, is using Russia’s war on Ukraine to pressure the Biden administration for a break on regulations aimed at reducing toxic air emissions at its LNG export terminals in Louisiana and Texas.

Environmental advocates are hoping the Biden administration stands firm on its March decision to finally, after nearly two decades, enforce limits on toxic air emissions from certain kinds of gas-powered turbines used in a variety of industrial operations, including the chilling and liquefaction of natural gas at Cheniere’s export terminals on the Gulf Coast for shipment overseas in large tanker vessels.

But Russia’s war in Ukraine has placed enormous counterpressure on the president from the oil and gas industry and its supporters in Congress, Republicans and Democrats alike, who want U.S. LNG exports to replace Russian gas.Before the war, Russia was supplying about 40 percent of the EU’s gas.

Jane Williams, executive director of California Communities Against Toxics, said now is precisely the moment in which Biden should show resolve in the face of Cheniere’s request to relax pollution controls.

“If EPA says, ‘No, you don’t have to comply now, we will give you a waiver for two more years,’ then as soon as they do, every other operator of a stationary turbine will ask for the same thing,” said Williams, who is closely following the issue. In addition to the chillers making LNG, gas powered turbines are commonly used in electricity generation. “We have been trying to get (EPA) to reduce emissions from turbines for 30 years.”

Attorneys at Bracewell, the Houston-based law firm that asked EPA in March for the break on Cheniere’s behalf, say the federal agency has not responded. An EPA spokeswoman said the agency was considering Cheniere’s request.

The next move is Biden’s, and It’s not at all clear how the administration is going to react with the war in Ukraine raging, natural gas prices soaring, gasoline prices at the pump near record highs and the 2022 midterm elections approaching.
» Read article    

» More about LNG

BIOMASS

Drax lobby
Biomass Industry Pushes Back Against Europe’s Plans To Protect Woodlands
Leaked documents show UK power plant Drax is at the heart of lobbying efforts to dilute EU biodiversity rules that could limit its supply of wood.
By Phoebe Cooke, DeSmog Blog
April 12, 2022

A powerful US biomass lobby group is pushing for a raft of changes that would weaken European renewable energy rules geared to better protect biodiversity and tackle climate change, DeSmog can reveal.

Leaked documents shared with DeSmog show that Yorkshire wood-burning power plant Drax is at the heart of the effort to water down EU sustainability criteria.

Campaigners say that the proposed amendments pose an “existential threat” to the company, which in 2021 produced nearly 13 percent of the UK’s renewable electricity through burning wood pellets.

The lobbying by US Industrial Pellet Association (USIPA) comes at a time of intense debate over the future of energy. The European Commission pledged to cut its reliance on Russian gas by two-thirds after President Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. The International Energy Agency has also recommended “maximising” bioenergy – which derives from burning organic material for fuel.

USIPA, whose members include Drax and top pellet producers Granuul and Enviva, sent the document to select MEPs in early March.

In it, the industry group appears to push back strongly against rules that might limit its supply of wood – including opposing the European Commission’s proposal for a no-go area for sourcing biomass from virgin and highly biodiverse  forests.

USIPA also attempts to establish in law that old, or misshapen trees should be used to make pellets, and suggests that companies should still be allowed to harvest wood from countries with national plans for timber and forest management deemed inadequate by the EU.
» Read article    

» More about biomass

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Weekly News Check-In 4/1/22

banner 17

Welcome back.

Another youth-led climate organization is making waves, alongside the better-known Extinction Rebellion that has mounted bold non-violent actions against the buildout of fossil fuel infrastructure for the past few years. The group Just Stop Oil demands that the British government agree to halt all new licenses for fossil fuel projects. This is reasonable, and right in line with United Nations and International Energy Agency roadmaps for limiting global warming to levels just below catastrophic. The kids are alright.

Science and common sense aside, industry’s zombie-like, shuffling trudge toward new fossil projects includes persistent pressure for new gas peaking power plants. We’re fighting one in Peabody, MA; this week’s report highlights one on Long Island. Meanwhile, it seems our good-news story from last week about the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s new requirement to consider downstream emissions and environmental justice communities before permitting new natural gas pipelines may have been a tad premature. In a disappointing reversal, FERC chair Richard Glick is walking that back.

With inflation biting into budgets at a time when about one third of American households already have trouble paying their energy bills, it’s fair to ask whether states with ambitious climate goals will make things better or worse from the kitchen-table perspective. We found a new report that concludes “prioritizing investments in energy-cost-burdened populations can help states meet their emissions reductions targets while saving billions of dollars.” It’s a strong economic argument for improving people’s lives while moving quickly to decarbonize. This involves up-front investment, but it makes a whole lot more sense to shovel loads of cash at something expected to pay handsome social and economic dividends – rather than stuffing all those greenbacks into the furnaces and smokestacks tended by the business-as-usual lobby.

Our climate stories draw a line under that. One talks about the dangers of buying into the popular idea that it’s OK to overshoot our global warming target – that we can pull the planet back into the safe zone later. Nope. Now read the second article, featuring young people who refuse to give up in the face of daunting odds. They argue that embracing climate doom can be a cop out that excuses inaction.

Thousands of Canadians are staying engaged – calling for an end to the carbon capture tax credit, a giveaway to industry that relies on unproven and expensive technology, without meaningful return in the form of emissions remediation. Germany appears ready to act, now that the invasion of Ukraine exposed the country’s untenable dependence on Russia’s natural gas. Chancellor Olaf Scholz is doubling down on a clean energy transition. This, along with decisions made in other European capitals will decide the course of the current industry-led race to simply replace all that Russian gas with shipments of liquefied natural gas from North America. It’s worth stepping back from LNG’s breathless promotion of this “solution” to consider that it would lock in lots of new fossil infrastructure and take years to implement – none of which addresses Europe’s urgent energy needs nor the climate’s requirement that we stop doing things like that.

And consider this: every new study of methane emissions from the oil and gas sector seems to conclude that releases of this extra-powerful greenhouse gas are much larger than previously known. Connecticut is on the right track, with its regulators calling for a halt to subsidies for new gas hookups. The argument that gas is cleaner than any other fuel, including coal, is increasingly difficult to defend.

Good news this week includes the fact that we’re getting closer to integrating the batteries in electric vehicles as energy storage units capable of providing grid services. In the not-too-distant electric-mobile future, a utility could peel off a little charge from tens of thousands of parked EVs, greatly reducing the need for larger battery storage units to handle peak demand. And electrified transportation is a broad category, including e-bikes. Massachusetts is finally expected to move forward with regulations allowing them more widespread use and even subsidies for affordability. Forty-six other states have already taken similar measures.

Of course, expanding electric mobility requires mining a host of metals, and the U.S. has concluded its supply chains are far too reliant on foreign (sometimes unstable and/or unfriendly) sources. Lithium, cobalt, and nickel are key metals in EV batteries, and selecting the least environmentally- and culturally-damaging extraction sites is of urgent importance. We offer a report on locations currently under consideration.

Here in Massachusetts, the Baker administration continues its attempt to rewrite the state’s science-based biomass regulations, to allow certain biomass-fueled electricity generators to qualify for lucrative clean energy credits. Scientists, public health professionals, and activists are strenuously opposing that effort.

We’ll wrap up with two stories on the energy demands of cryptocurrency. Bitcoin miners are moving to the oil patch, increasingly running their power-thirsty banks of processors off “waste” gas from drilling operations and using fuzzy math to claim it’s a win for the climate. Meanwhile, others suggest a practical change that could eliminate up to 99% of that energy demand.

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

just stop oil and XR
Environmental protesters block oil terminals across UK
Activists climb on tankers and glue themselves to roads around London, Birmingham and Southampton
By Damien Gayle, The Guardian
April 1, 2022

Hundreds of environmental protesters have blocked seven oil terminals across the country as part of a campaign to paralyse the UK’s fossil fuel infrastructure.

Early on Friday, supporters of Just Stop Oil began blockades at oil refineries around London, Birmingham and Southampton by climbing on top of tankers and gluing themselves to road surfaces.

Shortly after 4am, activists blocked terminals in Purfleet and Grays, Essex, which they said were the biggest in the country. In Tamworth, near Birmingham, a group of more than two dozen protesters had been hoping to disrupt the nearby Kingsbury oil terminal. However, due to police intervention they were able only to block a road leading to the site.

Just Stop Oil has demanded that the government agree to halt all new licences for fossil fuel projects in the UK. They have vowed to continue disrupting the UK’s oil infrastructure until the government agrees.

Louis McKecknie, 21 from Weymouth, who last month zip-tied his neck to a goalpost at Goodison Park, Everton’s football ground, as part of the campaign, said: “I don’t want to be doing this but our genocidal government gives me no choice. They know that oil is funding Putin’s war and pushing millions of people into fuel poverty while energy companies reap billions in profits. They know that to allow more oil and gas extraction in the UK is suicidal and will accelerate global heating.

“It means millions dying of heat stress, losing their homes or having to fight for food. This is the future for my generation, I stop when oil stops.”
» Read article      

» More about protests and actions     

PEAKING POWER PLANTS

no NRG peaker
NRG’s Proposed Astoria Power Plant Slammed as Company Attempts to Revive Plans
By Allie Griffin, Sunnyside Post
March 17, 2022

A large energy company that had its plans to build a power plant in Astoria rejected by the state in October has challenged the decision and in doing so has drawn the ire of local officials and activists.

NRG Energy is seeking the state’s approval to replace its 50-year-old peaker plant on 20th Avenue with a natural gas-fired generator that it says would significantly reduce its carbon footprint at the site.

The company’s application was denied by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation in October and NRG requested an adjudicatory hearing in November.

Elected officials and climate activists, however, remain firmly opposed to the plan. They slammed the plan at a public hearing Tuesday.

State Sen. Michael Gianaris, who has been an outspoken critic of the plan since its inception, called on the Department of Environmental Conservation to uphold its initial denial of the project. The DEC concluded in October that the plan failed to comply with the state’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, a 2019 law that established a mandate to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

“The DEC was right to deny a permit for a destructive, fossil fuel plant in Astoria and should reject their appeal as well,” Gianaris, who championed the law, said. “Our community drew a line in the sand against new fossil fuel infrastructure and won. Let the DEC issue a strong statement that ‘no new fossil fuel plants’ is the policy of New York as we fight the ravages of the climate crisis.”
» Read article      

» More about peakers

FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION

Glick retreats
FERC retreats on gas policies as chair pursues clarity
By Miranda Willson, E&E News
March 25, 2022

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has rolled back sweeping new policies for large natural gas projects, including a framework for assessing how pipelines and other facilities contribute to climate change, weeks after prominent lawmakers panned the changes.

In a decision issued unanimously at the commission’s monthly meeting yesterday, FERC will revert back to its long-standing method for reviewing natural gas pipeline applications — while opening changes announced in February to feedback rather than applying them immediately.

[…] While the policy changes issued in February were intended to update and improve the agency’s approach for siting new gas projects, the commission has concluded that the new guidelines “could benefit from further clarification,” said FERC Chair Richard Glick.

“I’m all for providing further clarity, not only for industry but all stakeholders in our proceedings, including landowners and affected communities,” said Glick, a Democrat who supported the initial changes.

In a pair of orders condemned by the commission’s Republican members, FERC’s Democratic majority voted last month to advance new policies altering the commission’s process for reviewing new natural gas projects.

One of the policies expanded the range of topics included in FERC’s reviews of interstate pipelines, adding new consideration for environmental and social issues.

It explained that the commission would consider four major factors before approving a project: the interests of the developer’s existing customers; the interests of existing pipelines and their customers; environmental interests; and the interests of landowners, environmental justice populations and surrounding communities.

The other policy was an “interim” plan for quantifying natural gas projects’ greenhouse gas emissions. It laid out, for the first time, how the agency would determine whether new projects’ contributions to climate change would be “significant,” and encouraged developers to try to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.
» Read article      

» More about FERC

GREENING THE ECONOMY

pathways to affordable energy
Aligning climate and affordability goals can save states billions

By Arjun Makhijani and Boris Lukanov, Utility Dive | Opinion
March 30, 2022

One in three U.S. households — about 40 million in all — are faced with the persistent, difficult and fundamental challenge of paying their energy bills and paying for other essentials like food, medicine and rent. Utility bills have been rising as have gasoline prices. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and associated sanctions have added sharp volatility to oil prices. Significant increases, even if temporary, can have adverse long-term impacts on low-income households as evidenced by the fact that over one-third of adults cannot readily meet an unexpected expense of $400.

An urgent question posed by climate imperatives is: will the transition away from fossil fuels worsen energy cost burdens or can it be managed in ways that increase energy affordability. Nearly half of all U.S. states have set legal targets to increase the share of clean energy resources and lower greenhouse gas emissions, yet few of these policies address longstanding concerns around energy affordability and energy equity directly. Our recent study, prepared for the Colorado Energy Office by researchers at PSE Healthy Energy and the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, provides the most comprehensive analysis to date of energy cost burdens — a key metric for measuring energy affordability — and outlines strategies to meet state emissions targets while lowering the cost of residential energy for low-and moderate-income households.

Our conclusion: prioritizing investments in energy-cost-burdened populations can help states meet their emissions reductions targets while saving billions of dollars. These savings result from a significant expansion of energy efficiency, electrification, community solar and demand response programs for low- and moderate-income households, lowering the total amount of direct assistance needed to make utility bills affordable for these households over time. The study also shows that an affordability and equity-informed approach more directly addresses long-standing social inequities stemming from the use of fossil fuels, can lower health-damaging air pollution faster, and can accelerate the clean energy transition, thereby benefiting all of society including non-low-income households.
» Read article
» Read the Pathways To Energy Affordability study            

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

overshoot
Can the world overshoot its climate targets — and then fix it later?
Policymakers seem to be banking on it. But irreversible climate impacts could get in the way.
By Emily Pontecorvo, Grist
March 30, 2022

In February, on the eve of the release of a major new report on the effects of climate change by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, several of its authors met with reporters virtually to present their findings. Ecologist Camille Parmesan, a professor at the French National Centre for Scientific Research, was the first to speak.

Scientists are documenting changes that are “much more widespread” and “much more negative,” she said, than anticipated for the 1.09 degrees Celsius of global warming that has occurred to date. “This has opened up a whole new realm of understanding of what the impacts of overshoot might entail.”

It was a critical message that was easy to miss. “Overshoot” is jargon that has not yet made the jump from scientific journals into the public vernacular. It didn’t make it into many headlines.

[…] The topic of overshoot has actually been lingering beneath the surface of public discussion about climate change for years, often implied but rarely mentioned directly. In the broadest sense, overshoot is a future where the world does not cut carbon quickly enough to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre industrial levels — a limit often described as a threshold of dangerous climate change — but then is able to bring the temperature back down later on. A sort of climate boomerang.

Here’s how: After blowing past 1.5 degrees, nations eventually achieve net-zero emissions. This requires not only reducing emissions, but also canceling out any remaining emissions with actions to suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, commonly called carbon removal. At that point, the temperature may have only risen to 1.6 degrees C, or it could have shot past 2 degrees, or 3, or 4 — depending on how long it takes to get to net-zero.

[…] When I reached out to Parmesan to ask about her statement in the press conference, she was eager to talk about overshoot. “It’s so important, and really being downplayed by policymakers,” she wrote.

“I think there’s very much an increased awareness of the need for action,” she told me when we got on the phone. “But then they fool themselves into thinking oh, but if we go over for a few decades, it’ll be okay.
» Read article      

OK Doomer
‘OK Doomer’ and the Climate Advocates Who Say It’s Not Too Late
A growing chorus of young people is focusing on climate solutions. “‘It’s too late’ means ‘I don’t have to do anything, and the responsibility is off me.’”
By Cara Buckley, New York Times
March 22, 2022

Alaina Wood is well aware that, planetarily speaking, things aren’t looking so great. She’s read the dire climate reports, tracked cataclysmic weather events and gone through more than a few dark nights of the soul.

She is also part of a growing cadre of people, many of them young, who are fighting climate doomism, the notion that it’s too late to turn things around. They believe that focusing solely on terrible climate news can sow dread and paralysis, foster inaction, and become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

With the war in Ukraine prompting a push for ramped up production of fossil fuels, they say it’s ever more pressing to concentrate on all the good climate work, especially locally, that is being done. “People are almost tired of hearing how bad it is; the narrative needs to move on to solutions,” said Ms. Wood, 25, a sustainability scientist who communicates much of her climate messaging on TikTok, the most popular social media platform among young Americans. “The science says things are bad. But it’s only going to get worse the longer it takes to act.”

Some climate advocates refer to the stance taken by Ms. Wood and her allies as “OK Doomer,” a riff on “OK Boomer,” the Gen Z rebuttal to condescension from older folks.
» Read article      

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

Olav Scholz
Germany’s New Government Had Big Plans on Climate, Then Russia Invaded Ukraine. What Happens Now?
A new chancellor and his coalition want to enact major clean energy legislation at the same time that the war has scrambled the geopolitics of energy.
By Dan Gearino, Inside Climate News
March 25, 2022

Vladmir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has made Germany’s reliance on Russian oil and gas untenable, and led the center-left government of Chancellor Olaf Scholz to accelerate the transition to clean energy.

This is more than just talk. German leaders are in the early stages of showing the world what an aggressive climate policy looks like in a crisis. Scholz and his cabinet will introduce legislation to require nearly 100 percent renewable electricity by 2035, which would help to meet the existing goal of getting to net-zero emissions by 2045.

“Our goal of achieving climate neutrality in Germany by 2045 is more important than ever,” Scholz said this week in an address to parliament.

Germany’s strategy is in contrast to the United States, where the Biden administration, also elected with ambitious climate plans, has seen that part of its agenda almost completely stalled.

The difference is that Germany—and much of the rest of Europe—have a head start on the United States in making a transition to clean energy, said Nikos Tsafos of the Energy Security and Climate Change Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington-based think tank.

“There is more social and political consensus in favor of decarbonization [in Europe], and the plans and strategies are far more developed,” Tsafos said in an email. “By contrast, climate legislation remains highly politicized in the United States, and the instinct among many is to merely increase oil and gas production.”
» Read article      

» More about clean energy

ENERGY STORAGE

V2G Leaf
EVs: The next grid battery for renewables?
By Peter Behr, E&E News
March 30, 2022

Around noon on Fridays, as a yoga class heats up at a recreation center in Boulder, Colo., electricity flows in from a Nissan Leaf plugged in behind the facility, cutting the city’s utility bill by about $270 a month, or roughly what it costs to lease the car, Boulder official Matthew Lehrman says.

The results of this experiment are making a potent point about the nation’s clean energy future, demonstrating vehicle-to-building power supply for controlling electricity costs and extending the reach of wind and solar power, according to David Slutzky, founder and chief executive of Fermata Energy, developer of the software that manages the power transfer.

EVs — battery-driven and plug-in hybrids — are projected to grow from about 5 percent of the U.S. car market this year to 30 percent or even one-third by 2030, according to a number of estimates, assuming EV costs shrink and charging station numbers grow.

And by 2025, not just the Leaf but nearly all new EVs are expected to come with bidirectional charging capability, Slutzky predicts, equipping them to be backup power sources when not on the road or being recharged overnight.

The potential of the technology has some high-level supporters, including Jigar Shah, head of the Energy Department’s Loan Programs Office, and John Isberg, a vice president of National Grid, which has electricity customers in New York and New England and has drawn on EV battery capacity last summer to cut peak demand in a partnership with Fermata Energy.

Pacific Gas and Electric Co., California’s largest electric utility, and General Motors this month announced plans to test GM vehicles equipped with bidirectional charging to reduce homeowners’ power demands.

And a division of Siemens AG is working with Ford on a custom bidirectional electric vehicle charger for the Ford F-150 Lightning pickup truck, allowing the truck to provide power to homes and, in the future, the grid itself, the companies said.

“Electric Vehicles like most vehicles are parked 96 percent of the time,” Shah said recently on social media. “If they are plugged in at scale they can be a valuable grid resource.”

[…] A report by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in January listed EVs among the primary customer-owned energy resources that could become “shock absorbers” helping grid operators manage large volumes of renewable power and get through grid emergencies.

“Auto manufacturers see this is really appealing. Even though we’re not there yet, the industry is moving toward bidirectional,” said Kyri Baker, an assistant professor on the engineering staff at the University of Colorado, Boulder.
» Read article      
» Read the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory report    

» More about energy storage

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

legal purgatory
Top lawmaker vows movement on e-bike bill long sought by advocates
By Taylor Dolven, Boston Globe
March 30, 2022

Hours after a protest in front of the State House pushing for legislation that would bring electric bicycles, known as e-bikes, out of their legal purgatory, a top lawmaker said the bill is likely to move out of committee by Friday.

Representative William Straus, co-chair of the Legislature’s Transportation Committee, said he’s confident the committee will act on the bill that would regulate the increasingly popular e-bikes as bikes as opposed to motor vehicles, which require a license, and allow them to be ridden on bike paths, by its Friday deadline. This legislation has been considered by state lawmakers before, but never made it all the way to the governor’s desk.

“I’m optimistic that this is [the] time for e-bike classification,” the Mattapoisett Democrat said.

At the rally in front of the State House Wednesday, city officials and advocates from Boston and nearby municipalities pressed for the legislation that would bring Massachusetts in line with 46 other states and Washington, D.C. Advocates say the much needed clarity will encourage more people to replace car trips with e-bike trips, reducing congestion and climate change-causing emissions.

Advocates also want to see a separate bill pass that would allow the Department of Energy Resources to provide rebates on purchases of e-bikes of up to $500 for general consumers and $750 for low- and moderate-income consumers, currently pending before the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy.

“E-bikes . . . provide climate justice, economic justice, and transportation justice,” said Boston Cyclists Union executive director Becca Wolfson. “We need these bills to pass now.”

E-bikes allow people to travel further distances with more ease than a regular bike. The e-bike regulation bill would create a three-class system to categorize them. The system allows municipalities to regulate e-bikes further, based on the classes.
» Read article      

nickel sheets
Russia’s War in Ukraine Reveals a Risk for the EV Future: Price Shocks in Precious Metals
After the nickel market goes haywire, the United States and its allies launch a critical minerals energy security plan, with stockpiling an option.
By Marianne Lavelle, Inside Climate News
March 28, 2022

[…] Russia’s war on Ukraine has roiled global commodities markets—including those for nickel and other metals used in EV batteries—and laid bare how vulnerable the world is to price shocks in the metals essential to the EV future. That volatility comes on top of the pandemic-triggered supply chain woes that have dogged the auto industry for months. President Joe Biden’s pledge to catalyze the electric vehicle transition has been only partly fulfilled, with consumer EV tax credits, much of the money for charging stations and other assistance stalled with the rest of his Build Back Better package in Congress.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), the linchpin for any effort to revive the legislation, this month said he is particularly reluctant to invest in an EV future because of U.S. dependence on imported metals for electric transportation. “I don’t want to have to be standing in line waiting for a battery for my vehicle, because we’re now dependent on a foreign supply chain,” Manchin said at the annual CERAWeek energy conference in Houston.

But last week, automakers, the Biden administration and U.S. trading partners and allies were doubling down on their commitment to vehicle electrification—not only to address climate change but because of concerns about energy insecurity in a world reliant on oil for transportation. Skyrocketing prices at gasoline pumps have made clear that U.S. drivers are not insulated from spikes in the global oil market, even though the United States is producing more oil domestically than ever.

Automakers are embarking on an array of strategies to secure supply of the critical minerals they will need for electric vehicles, including alternative battery chemistries, investment in new processing plants and deals with suppliers. Meanwhile, the United States and the 30 other member nations of the International Energy Agency last week launched a critical minerals security program. That could eventually include steps such as the stockpiling of metals needed for EVs and other renewable energy applications, just as IEA nations have committed since the 1970s to hold strategic stockpiles of oil. The IEA meeting participants also discussed a greater focus on systematic recycling of metals.
» Read article      

» More about clean transportation

SITING IMPACTS OF RENEWABLE ENERGY RESOURCES

FILE PHOTO: An aerial view shows the brine pools of SQM lithium mine on the Atacama salt flat in the Atacama desert of northern Chile

FILE PHOTO: An aerial view shows the brine pools of SQM lithium mine on the Atacama salt flat in the Atacama desert of northern Chile, January 10, 2013. Picture taken January 10, 2013. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado/File Photo

U.S. seeks new lithium sources as demand for clean energy grows
By Patrick Whittle, Associated Press, on PBS Newshour
March 28, 2022

The race is on to produce more lithium in the United States.

The U.S. will need far more lithium to achieve its clean energy goals — and the industry that mines, extracts and processes the chemical element is poised to grow. But it also faces a host of challenges from environmentalists, Indigenous groups and government regulators.

Although lithium reserves are distributed widely across the globe, the U.S. is home to just one active lithium mine, in Nevada. The element is critical to development of rechargeable lithium-ion batteries that are seen as key to reducing climate-changing carbon emissions created by cars and other forms of transportation.

Worldwide demand for lithium was about 350,000 tons (317,517 metric tons) in 2020, but industry estimates project demand will be up to six times greater by 2030. New and potential lithium mining and extracting projects are in various stages of development in states including Maine, North Carolina, California and Nevada.

[…] Expanding domestic lithium production would involve open pit mining or brine extraction, which involves pumping a mineral-rich brine to the surface and processing it. Opponents including the Sierra Club have raised concerns that the projects could harm sacred Indigenous lands and jeopardize fragile ecosystems and wildlife.

But the projects could also benefit the environment in the long run by getting fossil fuel-burning cars off the road, said Glenn Miller, emeritus professor of environmental sciences at the University of Nevada.

[…] The new lithium mining project closest to development is the one proposed for Thacker Pass by Lithium Americas. That northern Nevada mine would make millions of tons of lithium available, but Native American tribes have argued that it’s located on sacred lands and should be stopped.

Construction could start late this year, said Lithium Americas CEO Jonathan Evans, noting that it would be the first lithium project on federal land permitted in six decades.

[…] California’s largest lake, the salty and shrinking Salton Sea, is also primed to host lithium operations. Lithium can be extracted from geothermal brine, and the Salton Sea has been the site of geothermal plants that have pumped brine for decades. Proponents of extracting lithium from the lake said it would require less land and water than other brining operations.

One project, led by EnergySource Minerals, is expected to be operational next year, a spokesperson for the company said. General Motors Corp. is also an investor in another project on the Salton Sea that could start producing lithium by 2024.

Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, envisions that California’s lithium can position the state to become a leader in the production of batteries. He called the state the “Saudi Arabia of lithium” during a January address.
» Blog editor’s note: Lithium extraction projects mentioned in this article include locations in Maine, North Carolina, Nevada, and California.
» Read article      

» More about siting impacts of renewables

CARBON CAPTURE AND STORAGE

Chrystia Freeland
Thousands of Canadians Call on Government to Scrap Carbon Capture Tax Credit
The scheme, said one campaigner, “is being used as a Trojan horse by oil and gas executives to continue, and even expand, fossil fuel production.”
By Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams
March 28, 2022

“Magical thinking isn’t going to solve the climate crisis.”

That’s what Dylan Penner, a climate and social justice campaigner with the Council of Canadians, said in a statement Monday as advocacy organizations revealed that 31,512 people across Canada are calling on the federal government to scrap a proposed carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS) tax credit expected in the upcoming budget.

Referencing The Lord of the Rings, Penner warned that “doubling down on CCUS instead of cutting downstream emissions from fossil fuels extracted in Canada is like trying to wield the One Ring instead of destroying it in Mount Doom. Spoiler warning: that approach doesn’t end well.”

The signatures were collected by the Council of Canadians as well as Environmental Defense, Leadnow, and Stand.earth. Their demands are directed at Canadian Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, who is also minister of finance.

A December 2021 briefing from Environmental Defense points out that “to date, CCUS has a track record of over-promising and under-delivering. The vast majority of projects never get off the ground. The technology remains riddled with problems, unproven at scale, and prohibitively expensive.”
» Read article      
» Read the Environmental Defense briefing on CCUS

» More about CCS

CRYPTOCURRENCY

ND flare
As Oil Giants Turn to Bitcoin Mining, Some Spin Burning Fossil Fuels for Cryptocurrency as a Climate Solution
In a pilot project last year, ExxonMobil used up to 18 million cubic feet of gas per month to mine bitcoin in North Dakota.
By Sharon Kelly, DeSmog Blog
March 31, 2022

Flaring — or the burning of stranded natural gas directly at an oil well — is one of the drilling industry’s most notorious problems, often condemned as a pointlessly polluting waste of billions of dollars and trillions of cubic feet of natural gas.

In early March, oil giant ExxonMobil signed up to meet the World Bank’s “zero routine flaring by 2030” goal (a plan that — when you look just a bit closer — doesn’t entirely eliminate flaring but instead reduces “absolute flaring and methane emissions” by 60 to 70 percent.)

How does ExxonMobil plan to reach that goal? In part, it turns out, by burning stranded natural gas directly at its oil wells — not in towering flares, but down in mobile cryptocurrency mines.

Roughly speaking, crypto miners compete with each other to solve complex puzzles. Those puzzles, designed to require enormous computing power, can be used to help make a given coin more secure. Successful miners are rewarded for their efforts with newly generated coins.

Using the energy-intensive process of crypto mining to fight pollution is the latest in a wave of claimed climate “solutions” whose environmental benefits seem to only appear if you squint at them from very specific angles — like “low carbon” oil, measured not by the oil’s actual carbon content but by how much more carbon was spent to obtain it.

Critics point out that replacing flaring with mining crypto could become a way for fossil fuel producers to spin money directly from energy, polluting the climate without heating people’s homes or transporting people from place to place in the process. “In terms of productive value, I would say there is none,” Jacob Silverman, a staff writer at the New Republic, said in a recent interview. “The main value of cryptocurrency is as a tool for speculation. People are trying to get rich.”

That, of course, includes oil drillers. “This is the best gift the oil and gas industry could’ve gotten,” Adam Ortolf, a crypto mining executive, told CNBC. “They were leaving a lot of hydrocarbons on the table, but now, they’re no longer limited by geography to sell energy.”
» Read article      

proof of stake
Climate groups say a change in coding can reduce bitcoin energy consumption by 99%
A simple switch in the way transactions are verified could reduce bitcoin’s energy-guzzling mining habits
By Dominic Rushe, The Guardian
March 29, 2022

Bitcoin mining already uses as much energy as Sweden, according to some reports, and its booming popularity is revitalizing failing fossil fuel enterprises in the US. But all that could change with a simple switch in the way it is coded, according to a campaign launched on Tuesday.

The campaign, called Change the Code Not the Climate and coordinated by Environmental Working Group, Greenpeace USA and several groups battling bitcoin mining facilities in their communities, is calling on bitcoin to change the way bitcoins are mined in order to tackle its outsized carbon footprint.

The software code that bitcoin uses – known as “proof of work” – requires the use of massive computer arrays to validate and secure transactions. Proof of work is a way of checking that a miner has solved the extremely complex cryptographic puzzles needed to add to the bitcoin ledger.

Rival cryptocurrency etherium is shifting to another system – “proof of stake” – that it believes will reduce its energy use by 99%. In the proof of stake model, miners pledge their coins to verify transactions; adding inaccurate information leads to penalties.

With the value and use of cryptocurrencies rising, the campaign’s organizers argue bitcoin must follow suit or find another, less energy intensive, method. “This is a big problem. In part because of where the industry stands now but also because of our concerns about its growth,” said Michael Brune, campaign director and former executive director of Sierra Club.

The US now leads the world in cryptocurrency mining after China launched a crackdown on mining and trading last May.

“Coal plants which were dormant or slated to be closed are now being revived and solely dedicated to bitcoin mining. Gas plants, which in many cases were increasingly economically uncompetitive, are also now being dedicated to bitcoin mining. We are seeing this all across the country,” said Brune.
» Read article      

» More about crypto

GAS UTILITIES

CT ending expansion
Connecticut regulators move to end subsidies for new natural gas hookups
The Public Utilities Regulatory Authority said a program meant to help Connecticut residents and businesses switch from oil to natural gas has not met targets and no longer aligns with the state’s climate goals.
By Lisa Prevost, Energy News Network
March 25, 2022

Connecticut regulators want to halt a program that incentivizes homeowners and businesses to convert to natural gas as soon as the end of April.

The program, which began in 2014, is authorized through the end of 2023. But in a draft decision issued Wednesday, the state Public Utility Regulatory Authority, known as PURA, called for “an immediate winding down” of the program and said it is “no longer in the best interest of ratepayers.”

PURA has been reviewing the utility-run gas expansion program, which is subsidized by ratepayers, for more than a year. Established under former Gov. Dannel Malloy at a time when natural gas was considerably cheaper than oil, it called for the state’s three natural gas distribution companies to convert 280,000 customers over 10 years.

After eight years of using marketing and incentives to persuade new customers to sign on, the companies have only reached about 32% of their goal. At the same time, average costs per new service and new customer have tripled for Eversource, and doubled for Connecticut Natural Gas and Southern Connecticut Natural Gas, according to PURA.

In their draft decision, regulators cited the companies’ failure to meet their conversion goals and the rising costs as key reasons for ending the program. In addition, they noted, the price differential between oil and gas has lessened considerably since the program’s start.

And finally, regulators concluded that the program no longer furthers the state’s climate goals. They cited Gov. Ned Lamont’s recent executive order on climate, which recognizes that the greenhouse gas emissions from the state’s building sector have increased in recent years, and calls for a cleaner energy strategy that reconsiders the continued expansion of the natural gas network.

While the gas expansion program “was intended to provide benefits to both ratepayers and the environment,” regulators concluded, “the proffered benefits have simply failed to materialize.”

That conclusion echoes a finding by the state Office of Consumer Counsel, which has also called for an end to the program. Ratepayers “are now funding investments that are likely to become stranded assets in light of the state’s climate and clean energy goals,” the consumer advocate said in testimony submitted earlier this year to PURA.
» Read article      

» More about gas utilities

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Loco Hills NM
Methane Leaks in New Mexico Far Exceed Current Estimates, Study Suggests
An analysis found leaks of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, from oil and gas drilling in the Permian Basin were many times higher than government estimates.
By Maggie Astor, New York Times
March 24, 2022

Startlingly large amounts of methane are leaking from wells and pipelines in New Mexico, according to a new analysis of aerial data, suggesting that the oil and gas industry may be contributing more to climate change than was previously known.

The study, by researchers at Stanford University, estimates that oil and gas operations in New Mexico’s Permian Basin are releasing 194 metric tons per hour of methane, a planet-warming gas many times more potent than carbon dioxide. That is more than six times as much as the latest estimate from the Environmental Protection Agency.

The number came as a surprise to Yuanlei Chen and Evan Sherwin, the lead authors of the study, which was published Wednesday in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

“We spent really the past more than two years going backwards and forwards thinking of ways that we might be wrong and talking with other experts in the methane community,” said Dr. Sherwin, a postdoctoral research fellow in energy resources engineering at Stanford. “And at the end of that process, we realized that this was our best estimate of methane emissions in this region and this time, and we had to publish it.”

He and Ms. Chen, a Ph.D. student in energy resources engineering, said they believed their results showed the necessity of surveying a large number of sites in order to accurately measure the environmental impact of oil and gas production.
» Read article       https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/24/climate/methane-leaks-new-mexico.html
» Read the study

» More about fossil fuels

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

blind alley
Europe Scrambles To Accommodate LNG Import Surge
By Tsvetana Paraskova, Oil Price
March 28, 2022

While Europe is set to import an increasing amount of liquefied natural gas (LNG) as part of its efforts to reduce reliance on Russian pipeline gas, the European market is struggling to secure enough floating storage and regasification units (FSRUs) and advance LNG import facilities construction.

“Europe is screaming for FSRUs to get energy in, whatever it costs,” Yngvil Asheim, managing director of Norway-based FSRU owner BW LNG, told the Financial Times.

Last week, the European Union and the United States announced a deal for more U.S. liquefied natural gas exports to the EU as the latter seeks to replace Russian supplies, on which it is dependent. According to the terms of the deal, the United States will deliver at least 15 billion cubic meters of liquefied natural gas to the EU this year more than previously planned, the White House said in a fact sheet.

Europe–unlike the United States–cannot afford to go without Russian gas currently, so the European partners have been reluctant to slap sanctions or impose an embargo of imports of oil and gas from Russia.

The Russian war in Ukraine made Europe rethink its energy strategy, and the European Union has now drafted plans to cut EU demand for Russian gas by two-thirds before the end of 2022 and completely by 2030, to replenish gas stocks for winter and ensure the provision of affordable, secure, and sustainable energy.

However, FSRUs and LNG import terminals currently operating in Europe are not enough, according to analysts who spoke to FT. It will take years for terminals to be built.
» Read article      

toxic export
US plan to provide 15bn cubic meters of natural gas to EU alarms climate groups
The deal is intended to decrease reliance on Russia but will entrench reliance on fossil fuels, environmentalists say
By Oliver Milman, The Guardian
March 25, 2022

A major deal that will see the US ramp up its supply of gas to Europe in an attempt to shift away from Russian fossil fuel imports risks “disaster” for the climate crisis, environmental groups have warned.

Under the agreement, unveiled on Friday, the US will provide an extra 15bn cubic meters of liquified natural gas (LNG) to the European Union this year. This represents about a tenth of the gas the EU now gets from Russia, which provides 40% of the bloc’s total gas supply.

The increased gas exports from the US will escalate further, with the EU aiming to get 50bn cubic meters of gas a year from America and other countries in order to reduce its reliance upon Russia after its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

Joe Biden, who announced the deal during a trip to Brussels, said the increased supply will ensure “families in Europe can get through this winter” while also hampering Vladimir Putin, who has used gas income to “drive his war machine”.

But environmental groups have reacted to the agreement with alarm, arguing that it will help embed years of future gas use at a time when scientists say the world must rapidly phase out the use of fossil fuels to avoid catastrophic climate change.

“We should be rapidly transitioning to affordable clean energy, not doubling down on fossil fuels,” said Kelly Sheehan, senior director of energy campaigns at the Sierra Club. “Reducing reliance on fossil fuels is the only way to stop being vulnerable to the whims of greedy industries and geopolitics.”
» Read article      

» More about LNG

BIOMASS

we breathe what you burn
Opponents torch proposed rules for burning wood to create electricity in Mass.
By Miriam Wasser, WBUR
March 29, 2022

Massachusetts is once again revisiting wood-burning biomass power regulations, and the public, it seems, is not pleased with the plan.

The state’s Department of Energy Resources held a virtual hearing on Tuesday to get feedback on a proposal to change which biomass plants qualify for lucrative renewable energy subsidies, and how the state tracks and verifies the type of wood these plants burn. And for about two hours, the vast majority of speakers implored the department to leave the regulations alone.

“Whether it’s gas, oil or wood, burning stuff for energy emits carbon dioxide and pollutants into the atmosphere, and that has harmful consequences,” said Mireille Bejjani of the nonprofit Community Action Works.

“Biomass is not a climate solution. It’s a climate problem,” said Johannes Epke, an attorney with the Conservation Law Foundation.

“It is frankly beyond my comprehension how Massachusetts can justify allowing biomass electric-generation plants to be incentivized,” said Susan Pike of Montague. “These are incentives that ratepayers contribute to in order to support clean renewable energy development.”

[…] It’s been a while since biomass was in the news, and to really understand what the state is proposing now, you have to understand how these rules came into effect. If you want to dive deep into biomass, check out our explainer from 2020.

[…] In 2019, the Department of Energy Resources under Gov. Charlie Baker proposed “updating” Massachusetts’ strict biomass rules to make it easier for some older and less efficient plants to get clean energy subsidies. While the administration said it would be good for the state’s climate goals, environmental groups like the Conservation Law Foundation and Partnership for Policy Integrity, as well as Attorney General Maura Healey and prominent climate scientists came out against the changes.

[…] As part of last year’s landmark Climate Law, the office of Energy and Environmental Affairs is legally required to conduct a study about the emissions and public health impacts associated with biomass. That study is not expected to be finished until next summer.

The Department of Energy Resources will likely submit its regulatory changes to the Secretary of State before that deadline.

[…] At a hearing last year, Department of Energy Resources Commissioner Patrick Woodcock said that the proposed changes were intended to do two things: “streamline” language between two clean energy programs and help Massachusetts achieve its climate goals. He argued that it will be a while until renewable energies like offshore wind are able to be a sizable part of our energy portfolio, and in the meantime, we have emissions goals that we need to meet. He added that his department’s calculations show that the state will see net greenhouse gas reductions over the next few decades by burning wood instead of natural gas.

Caitlin Peele Sloan, vice president of the Conservation Law Foundation in Massachusetts, disagrees with these assumptions.

The “[Department of Energy Resources] has been trying to weaken these biomass regulations for more than three years now, while evidence grows that burning wood for electricity is massively inefficient and produces untenable amounts of local air pollution and climate-damaging emissions,” she says.

Many environmental groups in Mass., including the Conservation Law Foundation and the Sierra Club, signed a letter earlier this year in support of legislation that would remove woody biomass from the renewable energy subsidy program, effectively rendering the regulations moot. Several speakers during Tuesday’s hearing pushed for lawmakers to pass this legislation.
» Read article      
» Read the CLF and Sierra Club letter

» More about biomass

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Weekly News Check-In 3/25/22

banner 16

Welcome back.

Six devoted climate activists have pressed a hunger strike for more than a week now, protesting approval of the controversial Peabody, MA  peaking power plant. With the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and International Energy Agency clearly calling for no new fossil fuel infrastructure, the hunger strike is a desperate attempt to get the Baker Administration to revisit the plant’s environmental permit. It’s worth noting that opponents of this peaker have proposed readily available, zero-emissions, less-expensive alternatives – and that this information has been ignored in favor of business-as-usual.

On the bright side, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) will finally consider the climate and social justice impacts of proposed gas pipelines, which prompted a typical, frothy backlash from conservative politicians and the fossil fuel lobby. These folks argue that the new rules make it virtually impossible to approve new gas infrastructure projects. Ah… you’re catching on!

That’s a good introduction to the “alternative facts” world of gas utilities and the fossil fuel industry in general, who have twisted the concept of a clean energy transition to the point where it means continuing to drill, pipe, and burn – but a little bit more efficiently and with the magical help of some fuzzy carbon capture fantasy that makes all those emissions just… disappear. To be clear, that’s bunk. And as a new study shows, a just transition would require fossil fuel extraction to end much sooner in developed and robust economies like the U.S. and Canada, so that poorer countries have time to diversify their economies before turning off the hydrocarbon spigot that currently sustains them.

The solution to the climate crisis is maddeningly simple: stop burning stuff. Getting there is a complicated global project requiring will and cooperation, but we have the tools and technologies ready to go. If we all pull in the same direction, we’ll get there.

Of course, one of those global complications is Russia’s unprovoked assault on Ukraine, and the uncomfortable fact that Europe is sustaining Putin’s army through their purchases of Russian oil and gas. The obvious solution is to pull out all the stops and deploy renewable energy generation and storage while rapidly electrifying transportation and home heating. Sure, it can’t be completed overnight, but neither can we replace all that fuel with liquefied natural gas, given the long lead time to build new terminals and ships. How we tackle this problem may well determine whether or not we keep global warming within the 1.5 degree C limit, beyond which there’s general scientific agreement that things get pretty nasty.

Massachusetts is kick starting its green economy with the help of a program that combines worker training with the goal of expanding access to clean transportation into underserved communities. There’s good news in energy efficient home heating, too. A new study shows that ditching your gas furnace or boiler in favor of an electric heat pump is a big win for the climate, whatever the refrigerant or the source of your electricity. That’s useful information for anyone thinking it’s better to wait until new, non-HFC refrigerants are available. Those are coming, but electrifying now is better than doing it later.

This has been a pretty crazy week in the news, so closing with a couple stories on cryptocurrency seems weirdly appropriate. The themes are familiar – an industry’s products are both beneficial and harmful, and it needs to mitigate a massive carbon footprint while trying to figure out its place in the future world. Also familiar: the mix of real and false solutions couched in lots of green messaging. We’ll keep an eye on it.

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

no more CO2
Hunger Strike Tour Opposed To Peabody Generator Hits Home
By Scott Souza, Patch
March 22, 2022

One full week after starting a hunger strike to protest the planned 60-megawatt fossil fuel-powered generator set for construction at the Waters River substation, seven members of the climate group 350 Mass were planning to be at Peabody’s Courthouse Square Tuesday as part of a passionate plea to stop the project.

The event culminates a week of protests asking the state to step in and re-examine the Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company’s Project 2015A to build a gas- and oil-powered generator capable of providing electricity to 14 municipal energy communities – including Marblehead and Peabody – in times of extreme weather or “peak” energy demand.

The generator gained final approval from the state Department of Public Utilities last summer with a state order from Gov. Charlie Baker or action from Secretary of Environmental and Energy Services Kathleen Theoharides to reopen the environmental review process among the few viable options left to halt the impending project.

“The extremity is simply because nothing else seems to make a dent,” Sue Donaldson told Patch of the hunger strike on Tuesday. “It just feels like what else can you do at this point?”

Donaldson said the Peabody generator is the group’s “poster child” to protest greater issues involved with government oversight agencies’ allowance of continued reliance on fossil fuels amid the climate crisis.

“We are all pretty seasoned activists,” Donaldson said. “We have all protested, and rallied, and gotten arrested, and nothing else seems to have slowed people down. We really wanted to do something to highlight the urgency of the whole issue.”

MMWEC representatives have argued that the generator is necessary to ensure the continued delivery of energy in extreme conditions while protecting consumers from the potential price spikes of purchasing that power on the surge market. They have also said the generator is expected to operate about 239 hours a year and that it will be 94 percent more efficient than comparable generators across the state.

But fierce opponents of the project — including the hunger strikers — say that any new use of fossil fuels further endangers the future of the planet.

“Our house is on fire,” 350 Mass member Judith Black, of Marblehead, told Patch. “It’s amazing to me that everyone doesn’t have this at the top of their list of change. Our government has been criminal in its lack of action.
» Read article      

» More about protests and actions

PEAKING POWER PLANTS

no more gas power plants
As hunger strike continues, leaders push for review
By Dustin Luca, Salem News
March 22, 2022

A hunger strike opposing a new oil-and-gas powered “peaker” plant in Peabody has enlisted some legislative muscle as the strike hits its ninth day.

Opponents to the plant and environmental advocates held a protest in front of Peabody District Court Tuesday afternoon, the eighth day of the strike. The event included the support of state Rep. Sally Kerans, D-Danvers, and state Sen. Joan Lovely, D-Salem, who represents several communities in the area.

“I just want to send my best to the six individuals behind us who are putting themselves in harm’s way for a very important, critical issue,” Lovely said, then leaning to a group of protestors wearing black hats emblazoned with “HUNGER STRIKER” in big, white letters. “That’s why we’re here.”

The hunger strike was launched Tuesday, March 15, in opposition of the “Peabody Peaker” plant, an $85 million facility that will only operate during peak demand times to keep the region’s energy needs met. The plant is being sought by the Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company and would touch 14 communities if built.

“We’re in a fight for a clean energy future,” said Kerans. “To that end, these folks are literally putting your health on the line to make the point that, if we don’t transition to clean energy, the changes will come in other ways and will be cataclysmic and irreversible.

“So it isn’t too much to ask those of us who are in state government to use our authority,” Kerans continued. “That’s what we’re encouraging the officials from the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs — to use their authority to revisit this plant.”

Much of the event targeted Kathleen Theoharides, the state’s secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs. It was organized by Breathe Clean North Shore, which is now celebrating an anniversary because of the project.
» Read article      

» More about peakers

PIPELINES

open-cut trench
FERC Says it Will Consider Greenhouse Gas Emissions and ‘Environmental Justice’ Impacts in Approving New Natural Gas Pipelines
Environmentalists applauded the shifts in policy, while one Senate natural gas advocate said the guidelines would make approvals for new pipelines “next to impossible.”
By Zoha Tunio, Inside Climate News
March 21, 2022

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has issued new policy statements saying its approval process for natural gas pipelines and liquified natural gas facilities will take greenhouse gas emissions and “environmental justice” impacts into consideration in determining whether the infrastructure projects are in the public interest.

Although non-binding, the policy statements, issued last month, could significantly change how natural gas pipelines are approved by the commission going forward. Under its new approach, the commission would  be required to determine whether a project is actually needed to meet the energy demands of a given region and whether it is in the public interest, with its benefits outweighing its potential adverse impacts, such as air pollution or threats to groundwater.

Interim guidelines, which have gone into effect but remain open for public comment through April 4 before being finalized, require environmental impact statements for all projects emitting more than 100,000 metric tons of gases every year.

Pipelines and liquified natural gas facilities often release into the atmosphere vast quantities of methane, the main ingredient in natural gas, because of accidents, or during repairs and routine maintenance. Methane is a climate super-pollutant 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period.

While climate advocacy groups have welcomed FERC’s policy statements, opponents argue that they may have damaging impacts on industry’s ability to transport natural gas and export liquified natural gas, which is produced through an energy-intensive process that requires cooling natural gas to -259 degrees Fahrenheit.

U.S. Sen. John Barraso (R-Wyo.), a leading advocate for the natural gas industry, took aim at the new FERC policy during a March 3 Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing.

“These policies are going to make it next to impossible to build any new natural gas infrastructure or upgrade our existing facilities in the United States,” he said.

[…] But Richard Glick, FERC’s chairman, said that the policies came in response to various court decisions in which the commission’s pipeline approvals were vacated because the commission had not sufficiently determined the pipelines were needed by consumers to provide heat and electricity.

Glick said the commission’s approach had evolved into one in which developers’ proposals “were treated as conclusive proof of the need for a proposed project.”
» Read article      

» More about pipelines

GAS UTILITIES

Dorchester Gas
What’s the future of gas in Mass.? Utilities and critics have different visions
By Bruce Gellerman, WBUR
March 18, 2022


New reports from the state’s five investor-owned gas utilities offer roadmaps to the companies’ future — and, in many ways, our own.

[…] In 2020, Attorney General Maura Healey asked the Department of Public Utilities to investigate how the local distribution companies planned to meet the state’s goals while ensuring continued safe and reliable gas service (even as demand declines), and ensure consumers do not pay unnecessary costs.

Technically known as Department of Public Utility Docket 20-80, the utility reports are based on analysis conducted by two independent research consulting firms selected by the local gas distribution companies. The researcher came up with nine pathways the utilities could take to meet Massachusetts’ ambitious emission limits.

The five utility reports are virtually identical. All call for increased energy efficiency measures; expanded use of heat pumps powered electricity generated by renewable solar and wind; and where necessary, using hybrid gas-electric heating systems comprised of electric heat pumps and back-up gas burners.

[…] But critics say the utility roadmaps are based on unproven technologies and warn the companies will spend billions of dollars installing new pipelines that will be obsolete by mid-century, leaving consumers to pay for the stranded assets long after they’re needed.

[…] The utilities hope to stay in the pipeline distribution business by substituting biogas, also known as renewable natural gas, for natural gas currently obtained from drilling and fracking fossil formations in the earth. Biogas is derived from capturing methane released from decomposing organic matter in landfills, farms and waste water treatment plants. Both biogas and natural gas are equally damaging to the climate if emitted into the atmosphere.

Sam Wade, director of public policy with the Renewable Natural Gas Coalition, estimates biogas can replace 20% of fossil gas.

California recently required the state to obtain 12% of its natural gas from biogas but Matt Vespa, a Senior Attorney with EarthJustice in California thinks that is overly optimistic.

“I think they’re pushing what is feasible with that amount,” Vespa said. “There are limited sources of biogas … so this is a niche solution that should be reserved for the most difficult applications that you can’t electrify.”

[…] National Grid and Eversource are also hoping to use a new technology known as networked geothermal energy. Eversource will drill an experimental pilot project in Framingham this summer. National Grid plans to start two projects next year but has not announced the locations.

Network geothermal uses the earth as a battery, tapping the constant 55 degrees Fahrenheit temperature just a few feet below the surface and circulating it to homes and businesses in the area through a network of pipes. The thermal energy would be heated or cooled using electric pumps.

The networked geothermal technology is promoted by Cambridge based HEET, which describes itself as a non-profit climate incubator. Co-executive director Zeyneb Magavi said gas utilities can evolve into “geo-utilities,” delivering a consistent temperature to customers instead of natural gas, and utilize the expertise of their work crews to drill holes and network the necessary pipes.

Without an ambitious project like that, Massachusetts is nowhere near achieving its goal, Magavi warned.

“If we can’t start doing this at a utility scale, street by street, everybody having access at a cost they can afford, I don’t think we’re going to get there,” she said.
» Read article      

» More about gas utilities

GREENING THE ECONOMY

bike mechanic
Massachusetts program funds strategies pairing equity and clean transportation

Accelerating Clean Transportation for All will provide $5 million in grants to 10 projects across the state focused on improving infrastructure for electric transportation for low-income areas and communities of color.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
March 21, 2022

Massachusetts has announced $5 million in grants for pilot projects aimed at connecting disadvantaged populations with clean, electric transportation.

The program, known as Accelerating Clean Transportation for All, will fund 10 projects across the state that are focused on improving infrastructure for electric taxis, increasing adoption of e-bikes, electrifying nonprofit fleets, or educating consumers about electric vehicles.

“The overarching goal of that program is to address clean transportation in areas that are overburdened by greenhouse gasses and also underserved by public transportation,” said Rachel Ackerman, director for transportation programming at the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, the agency administering the grant program.

Environmental justice has been a centerpiece of Massachusetts’ policy since last year, when the state passed ambitious climate legislation that included several provisions for ensuring the clean energy transition benefits low-income residents and communities of color. Accelerating Clean Transportation for All was developed with this goal in mind.

The grant-winning proposals will receive between $152,000 and $1 million to implement their plans. The clean energy center is in the process of finalizing contracts with the grantees, but many projects are expected to launch as early as this summer.
» Read article      

looming challenge
What happens to used solar panels? DOE wants to know
By David Iaconangelo, E&E News
March 21, 2022

The Department of Energy released an action plan last week intended to help the United States launch a comprehensive system for handling and recycling solar panels, which some studies have suggested could make up a tenth of all electronic waste in coming decades.

The Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) announced a new target to bring the cost of recycling solar panels to about $3 per panel by 2030, a threshold that would make the practice economic for the first time.

That follows an earlier DOE goal to try to halve the price of solar power by decade’s end. By 2035, solar could contribute 37 to 42 percent of the grid’s power, in line with the Biden administration’s goal of a carbon-free grid by that year, according to the office, which is part of DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE)

The new recycling target would mean a cost reduction of “more than half,” DOE’s solar researchers estimated. It also would make recycling roughly as economic as sending old panels to landfills, a process that costs roughly $1 to $5 per panel before transportation costs are factored in, according to previous research from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).

“As we accelerate deployment of photovoltaic systems, we must also recognize the pressing need to address end-of-life for the materials in a sustainable way,” said Kelly Speakes-Backman, EERE’s principal deputy assistant secretary, in a statement. “We are committed to ensuring that the recovery, reuse, recycling, and disposal of these systems and their components are accessible, low-cost and have minimal environmental impact.”

To reach the target, the solar office is aiming to fill a knowledge gap about what happens to solar panels after they reach the end of their useful lives.

“Little is known about the actual state and handling of [photovoltaic end-of-life panels],” including the amount of panel waste being generated, how owners go about decommissioning their panels, who handles the waste and how transportation works, DOE’s plan said.

At least one thing is clear, though, for the solar industry: Figuring out how to recycle old panels — or reuse parts like the precious metals often contained in them — is a looming challenge.
» Read article      

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

world on fire
In a World on Fire, Stop Burning Things
The truth is new and counterintuitive: we have the technology necessary to rapidly ditch fossil fuels.
By Bill McKibben, The New Yorker
March 18, 2022

On the last day of February, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued its most dire report yet. The Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres, had, he said, “seen many scientific reports in my time, but nothing like this.” Setting aside diplomatic language, he described the document as “an atlas of human suffering and a damning indictment of failed climate leadership,” and added that “the world’s biggest polluters are guilty of arson of our only home.” Then, just a few hours later, at the opening of a rare emergency special session of the U.N. General Assembly, he catalogued the horrors of Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, and declared, “Enough is enough.” Citing Putin’s declaration of a nuclear alert, the war could, Guterres said, turn into an atomic conflict, “with potentially disastrous implications for us all.”

What unites these two crises is combustion. Burning fossil fuel has driven the temperature of the planet ever higher, melting most of the sea ice in the summer Arctic, bending the jet stream, and slowing the Gulf Stream. And selling fossil fuel has given Putin both the money to equip an army (oil and gas account for sixty per cent of Russia’s export earnings) and the power to intimidate Europe by threatening to turn off its supply. Fossil fuel has been the dominant factor on the planet for centuries, and so far nothing has been able to profoundly alter that. After Putin invaded, the American Petroleum Institute insisted that our best way out of the predicament was to pump more oil. The climate talks in Glasgow last fall, which John Kerry, the U.S. envoy, had called the “last best hope” for the Earth, provided mostly vague promises about going “net-zero by 2050”; it was a festival of obscurantism, euphemism, and greenwashing, which the young climate activist Greta Thunberg summed up as “blah, blah, blah.” Even people trying to pay attention can’t really keep track of what should be the most compelling battle in human history.

So let’s reframe the fight. Along with discussing carbon fees and green-energy tax credits, amid the momentary focus on disabling Russian banks and flattening the ruble, there’s a basic, underlying reality: the era of large-scale combustion has to come to a rapid close. If we understand that as the goal, we might be able to keep score, and be able to finally get somewhere. Last Tuesday, President Biden banned the importation of Russian oil. This year, we may need to compensate for that with American hydrocarbons, but, as a senior Administration official put it,“the only way to eliminate Putin’s and every other producing country’s ability to use oil as an economic weapon is to reduce our dependency on oil.” As we are one of the largest oil-and-gas producers in the world, that is a remarkable statement. It’s a call for an end of fire.
» Read article      

climate sniffles
Thanks to climate change, ticks and allergies are arriving earlier
By Dharna Noor, Boston Globe
March 22, 2022

Is that familiar allergic tickle in your throat showing up earlier in the spring? Does it seem like ticks are spreading across New England earlier, too? If so, it’s not just you — it’s climate change.

Thanks to the quickly warming Gulf of Maine, the region is warming faster than the rest of the world. Since 1900, temperatures in metropolitan Boston have climbed by about 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 degrees Fahrenheit), while temperatures on the rest of the planet rose an average of 1.14 degrees Celsius.

That means we’re seeing shorter winters, earlier blooms, and more pollen. In a study published last week in the journal Nature Communications, scientists from the University of Michigan examined 15 types of pollen from different plants found in the United States and found, in computer simulations, that pollen counts are increasing.

Richard B. Primack, a biology professor at Boston University who focuses on climate change, said the new study’s findings should come as no surprise.

”Plants are responding [to warming temperatures] by flowering earlier,” he said. “So of course, pollen season is coming earlier than it did in the past.”

Another yearly annoyance that’s exacerbated because of climate change: ticks. Milder winters, earlier springs, and wetter conditions are creating a perfect environment for the pests, which carry a host of dangerous diseases, including Lyme disease. They’re breeding, developing, and growing in population earlier in the year, and they’re also spreading northward into areas that used to be too cold for their liking, research shows.

As the climate is changing, a new kind of tick, known as the Lone Star tick, has also spread into New England, said Larry Dapsis, deer tick project coordinator and entomologist for the Cape Cod Cooperative Extension.

“The Lone Star tick has been spreading north steadily,” he said. “It’s a function of climate change: The earth is getting warmer, and we’re seeing plants and animals where we never used to see them before. This is a great example of that.”

Cases of tick-borne Lyme disease have been trending upward for years around the country, especially in the Northeast. Federal data isn’t available on Massachusetts because state officials have altered their reporting methods, which makes it hard to track trends, but EPA numbers show that Maine and Vermont have experienced the largest increases in reported case rates, with New Hampshire close behind.

“The incidence of Lyme disease has really increased dramatically over the last several decades in New England,” Primark said.
» Read article      

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

blank term
There’s a Messaging Battle Right Now Over America’s Energy Future
Climate scientists and fossil fuel executives use the same terms when they talk about an energy transition. But they mean starkly different things.
By David Gelles and Lisa Friedman, New York Times
March 19, 2022

Climate scientists, oil executives, progressives and conservatives all agree on one thing these days: The energy transition is upon us.

The uninhibited burning of fossil fuels for more than a century has already warmed the planet significantly, and cleaner and more sustainable sources of power are urgently needed in order to avoid further catastrophic changes to the environment.

But even as longtime adversaries use the same terminology, calling in unison for an “energy transition,” they are often talking about starkly different scenarios.

According to the scientific consensus, the energy transition requires a rapid phasing out of fossil fuels and the immediate scaling up of cleaner energy sources like wind, solar and nuclear.

But many in the oil and gas business say the energy transition simply means a continued use of fossil fuels, with a greater reliance on natural gas rather than coal, and a hope that new technologies such as carbon capture and sequestration can contain or reduce the amount of greenhouse gasses they produce.

“The term energy transition is interpreted one way by the climate hawks, and in a totally different way by those in the oil and gas industry,” said Anthony Leiserowitz, the director of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication. “It is a very ambiguous term. Like, what does that even mean?”

The phrase has become what is known in linguistics circles as a “floating signifier,” Dr. Leiserowitz said. He called it “a blank term that you can fill with your own preferred definition.”

Efforts to move the world away from fossil fuels have been proceeding in slow motion for years, as nations and corporations advance scattershot efforts to reduce emissions. But the transformation is reaching an inflection point today, with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine prompting climate advocates and the oil and gas industry to advance dueling narratives about what the energy transition is and how it should be carried out.

Climate researchers point out that there is little room for ambiguity. With increasing urgency, a series of major scientific reports has underlined the need to phase out fossil fuels and the damaging effects of planet warming emissions.
» Read article      

listen up
U.N. Chief Warns of ‘Catastrophe’ With Continued Use of Fossil Fuels
António Guterres, the United Nations secretary general, said instead of replacing Russian oil, gas and coal, nations must pivot to clean energy.
By Lisa Friedman, New York Times
March 21, 2022

Countries are “sleepwalking to climate catastrophe” if they continue to rely on fossil fuels, and nations racing to replace Russian oil, gas and coal with their own dirty energy are making matters worse, United Nations Secretary General António Guterres warned on Monday.

The ambitious promises world leaders made last year at a climate summit in Glasgow were “naïve optimism,” Mr. Guterres said. Nations are nowhere near the goal of limiting the average global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius by the end of this century. That’s the threshold beyond which scientists say the likelihood of catastrophic impacts increases significantly. The planet has already warmed an average of 1.1 degrees Celsius.

And the pollution that is dangerously heating the planet is continuing to increase. Global emissions are set to rise by 14 percent in the 2020s, and emissions from coal continue to surge, he said.

“The 1.5 degree goal is on life support. It is in intensive care,” Mr. Guterres said in remarks delivered to a summit The Economist is hosting on sustainability via video address.

“We are sleepwalking to climate catastrophe,” he said. “If we continue with more of the same, we can kiss 1.5 goodbye. Even 2 degrees may be out of reach. And that would be a catastrophe.”

Mr. Guterres’s speech comes as the European Union is trying to find ways to reduce its dependence on Russian oil and gas, and countries like the United States are scrambling to increase fossil fuel production to stabilize energy markets. President Biden and European leaders have said that the short-term needs will not upend their longer-term vision of shifting to wind, solar and other renewable sources that do not produce dangerous greenhouse gas emissions.

But the U.N. secretary general said he fears that strategy endangers the goal of rapid reduction of fossil fuel burning. Keeping the planet at safe levels means slashing emissions worldwide 45 percent by [2030], scientists have said.
» Per 2019 IPCC report on pathway for achieving 1.5C: “In model pathways with no or limited overshoot of 1.5°C, global net anthropogenic CO2 emissions decline by about 45% from 2010 levels by 2030 (40–60% interquartile range), reaching net zero around 2050 (2045–2055 interquartile range).”
» Read article      

appropriate H2 application
How Putin’s war has “turbocharged” green hydrogen, and long term shift from fossils
By Sophie Vorrath, Renew Economy
March 24, 2022

Much has been written about the unintended boost Russia’s invasion of Ukraine might lend to the global shift to renewables, but two new reports from leading market analysts have singled out green hydrogen as a sector that stands to be “turbocharged” as a result of the conflict.

The reports, from Bloomberg New Energy Finance and Rystad Energy, explain that soaring gas prices, driven up by the Russia-Ukraine war, have – as BNEF puts it – “opened a rare opportunity” for renewable electricity to make hydrogen and hydrogen-derived products more cheaply than gas.

BNEF, in a report published at the start of the month, said that since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, European gas prices have jumped to more than six times higher than the value over the same time period in 2021.

Gas import prices in Asia, meanwhile, have charted a nearly five-fold increase over the same period last year, while US gas prices have jumped by 60 per cent.

This has in turn driven up spot prices for ammonia, a gas-derived product primarily used for fertiliser, and those rising “grey ammonia” costs have in turn opened the door for “green” production processes, which rely on renewable electricity to make hydrogen.
» Read article      

TVA poster
Largest Government-Owned Utility in U.S. Backs Gas, Despite White House Climate Commitments
By The Energy Mix
March 20, 2022

America’s biggest federally-owned utility, still under the influence of a Trump-appointed board of directors, is facing a federal investigation after announcing plans to spend more than US$3.5 billion on new gas-fired power plants rather than investing in cheaper renewables.

Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) said its move to replace its oldest coal plants with gas was all about ensuring reliable and cheap power for its nearly 10 million customers from across the southeastern U.S., writes the New York Times.

But TVA has also “gutted its energy efficiency program” and “interfered with the adoption of renewable energy,” said Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ), chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, condemning the move to build expensive fossil fuel projects rather than invest in less expensive, climate-friendly technologies.

Currently the third-largest electricity provider in the United States, TVA plans to add roughly 5,000 MW of gas to an energy mix which is currently composed of 39% nuclear, 26% gas, 19% coal, 11% hydro, and 3% wind and solar.

“As the largest federally-owned utility, TVA should be leading the way on clean energy,” said Pallone, who has opened an investigation into TVA’s pursuit of new gas-powered plants. “It’s going in the wrong direction right now with more gas burning.”

TVA’s decision “sends a terrible message,” University of California, Santa Barbara environmental policy expert Leah C. Stokes told the Times.
» Read article     

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

HVAC tech
The Climate Math of Home Heating Electrification
By Alex Hillbrand Pierre Delforge, NRDC | Expert Blog Post
March 3, 2022

The strong climate case for electrifying homes across America grew even stronger last week.

Researchers from U.C. Davis published a study in Energy Policy showing that a typical U.S. home can cut its heating-related climate pollution by 45 percent to 72 percent by swapping out a gas-fired furnace for an efficient, all-electric heat pump. And it’s true starting today, in every region in the country.

NRDC, a supporter of the study, asked U.C. Davis to look into this question for a couple of reasons. We often hear the concern that the CO2 emissions from generating electricity to power heat pumps make them too dirty today, and that we should wait to electrify – or swap out appliances that use fossil fuels in exchange for efficient electric models that can be powered by clean energy sources – until the grid gets cleaner. Other times we hear that electrifying too soon will exacerbate the impacts of hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants, which cause climate change when leaked from appliances.

The new findings address both of these issues – plus the impact of the switch on fugitive methane emissions – and confirm that the time to act is now. Here are the results, in brief.
» Read article     
» Read the study

» More about energy efficiency

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

USPS trucks
Watchdog Finds Postal Service Could Serve 99% of Routes With Electric Fleet
The report comes as Democrats in Congress are challenging Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s plan to buy new gas-powered delivery trucks despite the global need to transition off of fossil fuels.
By Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams
March 22, 2022

“A gas-guzzling fleet is clearly the wrong choice.”

That’s what Congressman Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) said in response to a new report from the U.S. Postal Service Office of Inspector General (OIG) about how transitioning to electric vehicles (EVs) would impact the USPS.

The OIG analysis, released last week, came as Huffman and other Democrats in Congress are challenging Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s contract with Oshkosh Defense for new mostly gas-powered mail trucks, given climate experts’ warnings about the need to keep fossil fuels in the ground.

“The U.S. Postal Service employs 217,000 delivery vehicles to deliver mail and parcels to more than 135 million addresses. Many of these vehicles are beyond their intended service life and expensive to operate and maintain,” states the report. “The Postal Service is at a critical inflection point for its aging fleet and is preparing to acquire and operate a new generation of delivery vehicles.”

The OIG “identified several clear benefits of adopting electric vehicles into the postal delivery fleet, including improved sustainability and environmental impacts,” the document continues. “Electric vehicles are generally more mechanically reliable than gas-powered vehicles and would require less maintenance. Energy costs will be lower for electric vehicles, as using electricity to power an electric vehicle is cheaper than using gasoline.”

“Our research confirms that electric vehicle technology is generally capable of meeting the Postal Service’s needs,” the analysis adds, pointing out that of the roughly 177,000 USPS routes nationwide, only “around 2,600 of these routes (1.5% of the total) may be poorly suited to electric vehicle deployment.”

Most of the routes that are not well-suited for an EV are longer than the vehicle’s 70-mile range, though the paper notes that some shorter routes “may also experience range limitations if they include hilly terrain, since acceleration up steep slopes can reduce the range of a fully charged battery.”

The document also emphasizes that despite the higher upfront cost of buying new EVs and installing charging infrastructure, “the adoption of electric delivery vehicles could save the Postal Service money in the long term,” particularly for longer routes that are up to 70 miles, because the USPS would save on rapidly rising gas costs.
» Read article      
» Read the Inspector General’s report

BRPC charge plan
Berkshire Planning Commission Preparing for Electric Vehicle Movement
By Brittany Polito, iBerkshires
March 20, 2022

Berkshire Regional Planning Commission is preparing for the statewide and national movement toward electric vehicles.

BRPC Transportation Planner Justin Gilmore presented a Berkshire County Electric Vehicle Charging Station Plan to the commission on Thursday that aims to put charging capabilities in every community.

“The primary purpose of this plan is really just to educate and inform the reader on the current state of electric vehicles and charging station technology and certainly equip municipal officials with the information they need to start making strategic investments around charging station installation,” Gilmore explained.

“And all of this is really coming on the heels of major commitments to address climate change.”

The state’s decarbonization roadmap, which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 85 percent by 2050, outlines steps to require 100 percent zero-emissions light-duty vehicle (LDV) sales by 2035.

This means that after 2035 in the state of Massachusetts, people will no longer be able to buy new internal combustion engine vehicles.

The Massachusetts Clean Energy and Climate Plan published in 2020 aims to increase the number of EVs in the state from about 36,000 to 750,000 by 2030.

“Transportation is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions nationally, at the state level, and locally here in the Berkshires, so this shift towards electrification really represents a critical opportunity to begin decarbonizing the transportation sector,” Gilmore explained.
» Read article      

pain at the pump
Decades of Lobbying Weakened Americans’ Gas Mileage and Turbocharged Pain at the Pump
The oil and automotive industries, as well as the Koch network, undercut efforts to make today’s fleet of vehicles more efficient and less reliant on fossil fuels.
By Sharon Kelly, DeSmog Blog
March 18, 2022

[…] The pain at the pump for American drivers has roots that run deeper than today’s crisis. In recent years, while fracking’s supporters were shouting “drill baby drill” the oil industry began lobbying behind the scenes to undercut programs designed to make vehicles more fuel efficient or less reliant on fossil fuels. Alongside automakers, they helped pave the way for a boom in gas guzzlers that attracted consumers when gas prices were relatively low: In 2021, a stunning 78 percent of new vehicles sold in the United States were SUVs or trucks, according to the Wall Street Journal. American carmakers like Ford, General Motors, and Fiat Chrysler have nearly abandoned making sedans for U.S. drivers altogether.

That was a step in the wrong direction, efficiency advocates say. “We absolutely should be moving to establishing independence from fossil fuels, both for geopolitical and for public health and climate reasons,” said Luke Tonachel, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s (NRDC) clean vehicles and fuels group. “I think our best tool to fight petro-dictators is to shake off the need for the petroleum that is the source of their power.”

The recent bigger-is-better boom is creating big problems for drivers as gas prices soar because once a vehicle is built, keeping up with maintenance and deploying a few tips and tricks are about all your average driver can do to improve a car’s fuel efficiency beyond its design specs. Until today’s cars are retired, American drivers are pretty much stuck with hundreds of millions of vehicles built while gas prices largely hovered between $2 and $3 a gallon.

But while conversations about fuel efficiency are often dominated by debates about whether buyers or sellers should shoulder the blame for the stampede towards SUVs over Priuses, there’s another often-ignored actor in the room.

Federal rules shape the menu of options offered to consumers by requiring automakers to achieve fleet-wide averages on fuel efficiency. A quick look back shows the oil industry’s fingerprints (alongside those of car manufacturers) on gambits to grind down those fuel efficiency standards, leaving everyday Americans more dependent on oil.
» Read article      

» More about clean transportation

CRYPTOCURRENCY

Peter Wall
Bitcoin Miners Want to Recast Themselves as Eco-Friendly
Facing intense criticism, the crypto mining industry is trying to change the view that its energy-guzzling computers are harmful to the climate.
By David Yaffe-Bellany, New York Times
March 22, 2022

Along a dirt-covered road deep in Texas farm country, the cryptocurrency company Argo Blockchain is building a power plant for the internet age: a crypto “mining” site stocked with computers that generate new Bitcoins.

But unlike other Bitcoin mining operations, which consume large quantities of fossil fuels and produce carbon emissions, Argo claims it’s trying to do something environmentally responsible. As Peter Wall, Argo’s chief executive, led a tour of the 126,000-square-foot construction site one morning this month, he pointed to a row of wind turbines a few miles down the road, their white spokes shining in the sunlight.

The new facility, an hour outside Lubbock, would be fueled mostly by wind and solar energy, he declared. “This is Bitcoin mining nirvana,” Mr. Wall said. “You look off into the distance and you’ve got your renewable power.”

Facing criticism from politicians and environmentalists, the cryptocurrency mining industry has embarked on a rebranding effort to challenge the prevailing view that its electricity-guzzling computers are harmful to the climate. All five of the largest publicly traded crypto mining companies say they are building or already operating plants powered by renewable energy, and industry executives have started arguing that demand from crypto miners will create opportunities for wind and solar companies to open facilities of their own.

The effort — partly a public-relations exercise, partly a genuine attempt to make the industry more sustainable — has intensified since last spring, when China began a crackdown on crypto mining, forcing some mining operations to relocate to the United States. A trade group called the Bitcoin Mining Council also formed last year, partly to tackle climate issues, after Elon Musk criticized the industry for using fossil fuels.
» Read article      

trading machine
There is a greener way to mine crypto
It’s worth examining how the many, many “clean” crypto initiatives, currencies, blockchains, and marketplaces for non-fungible tokens actually stack up.
By Nitish Pahwa, Grist
March 22, 2022

Last April, the cryptocurrency world announced its own virtual iteration of the Paris Agreement: the Crypto Climate Accord. The alliance bills itself as “a private sector-led initiative for the entire crypto community focused on decarbonizing the cryptocurrency and blockchain industry in record time.” Its goal is to transition the crypto industry to renewable energy sources in time for the 2025 United Nations climate conference. By 2040, it seeks to “achieve net-zero emissions for the entire crypto industry.”

Why does crypto need its own climate pact? Because it has a massive carbon footprint, one that’s kept growing as interest in cryptocurrencies — not to mention the sheer number of cryptocurrencies — has grown. A 2019 study in the science journal Joule estimated that, at the lowest bounds, Bitcoin’s power consumption emitted about 22 million metric tons of carbon dioxide the previous year. For context, that’s about 10 percent of the global railway sector’s annual emissions — and it’s just for one currency, even if it’s a major one. Such figures are a bad look for the industry’s public image, which is why phrases like “green crypto” and “clean crypto” are suddenly popping up everywhere, fueling efforts like the new climate accord. Crypto’s dirty reputation is an existential problem — so for the sake of both the planet and the industry, it’s worth examining how the many, many “clean” crypto initiatives, currencies, blockchains, and marketplaces for non-fungible tokens, or NFTs, actually stack up.

[…] The Crypto Climate Accord wants to start fueling crypto with renewables as opposed to fossil fuels, but at the moment, that simply isn’t an option. We don’t have enough renewable energy around the world to meet climate goals even without taking crypto into account; running crypto systems will require that major countries have surplus renewable-produced energy. Already, areas with dedicated green power sources for crypto, like the Nordic states, are running low on the surplus power capacity required for digital mining. Bitcoin’s energy use has shot up over the past year, and Scandinavia’s supply of excess power — about 30 terawatt-hours in an average year — is projected to decline as governments redirect it toward the development of fuels like hydrogen, while also exporting clean power to the rest of Europe.

[…] There are also crypto advocates who put forth dubious cases for digital currencies they claim are actually paving the path for clean power. Jack Dorsey’s company Block, back when it was still known as Square, released a white paper claiming Bitcoin mining is necessary to incentivize the scaling of renewable energy, an argument that doesn’t quite hold up to scrutiny or play out in practice. Many green-blockchain advocates tout their purchasing and trading of carbon offsets, but these so-called offsets often only add to carbon emissions; others advertise themselves as “carbon-neutral,” promoting a shaky concept that’s mostly allowed energy firms aiming for “net-zero” emissions to not substantively reduce their carbon footprints.

So there are a lot of “green crypto” initiatives that are easy to dismiss as pure hype. At the same time, there are many digital traders, artists, engineers, and true believers who have been working for years, out of genuine concern, to try to build and scale solutions to crypto’s environmental problem.
» Read article      

» More about crypto

CARBON CAPTURE AND STORAGE

under Illinois
Advocates urge Illinois landowners to prepare for risks from CO2 pipelines

With geology considered ideal for carbon storage, residents worry about increasing proposals to transport and sequester carbon dioxide below farmland.
By Kari Lydersen, Energy News Network
March 15, 2022

A coalition of downstate Illinois environmental groups is warning rural landowners about potential safety and financial hazards from a planned carbon sequestration project in the region.

Illinois’ sandstone geology is considered ideal for below-ground carbon sequestration. Several such projects in the state have been proposed and researched in the past without coming to completion, as carbon capture and sequestration at scale remains an expensive and largely untested technology.

That could change with a Texas company’s proposed Heartland Greenway project, a 1,300-mile pipeline network that would carry carbon dioxide from ethanol plants in five Midwest states to central Illinois, where up to 15 million metric tons would be stored in “pore space” located under thousands of acres of farmland and other rural property.

The risk of damage from the project’s construction and operation has already raised significant opposition in Iowa. At a March 7 webinar, experts and local advocates in downstate Illinois urged landowners there to prepare a similar defense ahead of potential easement or eminent domain disputes.

Illinois is poised to become a “superhighway for CO2 pipelines gathering [carbon dioxide] all over the Midwest,” energy attorney Paul Blackburn said at the webinar, presented by the Coalition to Stop CO2 Pipelines. “Some folks believe these pipelines will stop climate change, but there are arguments about whether that is actually true.”
» Read article      

» More about carbon capture and storage

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

no more production
Here’s the ‘energy transition’ needed to stave off climate catastrophe
And it’s not the one oil executives had in mind.
By Kate Yoder, Grist
March 23, 2022

The world has a 50/50 chance of keeping climate change to relatively safe levels, a new report says — but only if there are drastic cuts to fossil fuel production, effective immediately.

The analysis, from researchers at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research in the United Kingdom, found that limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial temperatures (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) requires more stringent emissions cuts than what any country is currently considering. The report, published Tuesday, is focused on avoiding going past that 1.5-degree threshold — a sort of danger line beyond which the effects of global warming turn from catastrophic to … well, something even worse.

At this point, the Earth has already warmed by 1.1 to 1.2 degrees C (about 2 degrees F). To have decent odds of meeting this 1.5-degree goal, rich countries would have to completely phase out oil and gas production in 12 years, the report said, while poorer countries would have until 2050 to do so, because they bear less responsibility for creating the problem. The authors make clear that there’s no room for new fossil fuel production “of any kind” — no more coal mines, oil wells, or gas terminals.

The report’s vision of the “energy transition,” a phrase some use to describe the world’s path away from fossil fuels, looks radically different from what oil executives have proposed when they use the same term. The oil and gas industry has argued for the continued use of their key products and lowering emissions by capturing and storing the carbon emitted when fossil fuels are burned.
» Read article      
» Read the Tyndall report

Reagan warned about this
How Europe Got Hooked on Russian Gas Despite Reagan’s Warnings
A Soviet-era pipeline, opposed by the president but supported by the oil and gas industry, set up the dependency that today helps fund the Russian assault on Ukraine.
By Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times
March 23, 2022

The language in the C.I.A. memo was unequivocal: The 3,500-mile gas pipeline from Siberia to Germany is a direct threat to the future of Western Europe, it said, creating “serious repercussions” from a dangerous reliance on Russian fuel.

The agency wasn’t briefing President Biden today. It was advising President Reagan more than four decades ago.

The memo was prescient. That Soviet-era pipeline, the subject of a bitter fight during the Reagan administration, marked the start of Europe’s heavy dependence on Russian natural gas to heat homes and fuel industry. However, those gas purchases now help fund Vladimir V. Putin’s war machine in Ukraine, despite worldwide condemnation of the attacks and global efforts to punish Russia financially.

In 1981, Reagan imposed sanctions to try to block the pipeline, a major Soviet initiative designed to carry huge amounts of fuel to America’s critical allies in Europe. But he swiftly faced stiff opposition — not just from the Kremlin and European nations eager for a cheap source of gas, but also from a powerful lobby close to home: oil and gas companies that stood to profit from access to Russia’s gargantuan gas reserves.

In a public-relations and lobbying blitz that played out across newspaper opinion pages, congressional committees and a direct appeal to the White House, industry executives and lobbyists fought the sanctions. “Reagan has absolutely no reason to forbid this business,” Wolfgang Oehme, chairman of an Exxon subsidiary with a stake in the pipeline, said at the time.
» Read article      
» Read the CIA memo

» More about fossil fuel

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

rusty tub
Why the U.S. Can’t Quickly Wean Europe From Russian Gas
The Biden administration’s plan to send more natural gas to Europe will be hampered by the lack of export and import terminals.
By Clifford Krauss, New York Times
March 25, 2022

President Biden announced Friday that the United States would send more natural gas to Europe to help it break its dependence on Russian energy. But that plan will largely be symbolic, at least in the short run, because the United States doesn’t have enough capacity to export more gas and Europe doesn’t have the capacity to import significantly more.

In recent months, American exporters, with President Biden’s encouragement, have already maximized the output of terminals that turn natural gas into a liquid easily shipped on large tankers. And they have diverted shipments originally bound for Asia to Europe.

But energy experts said that building enough terminals on both sides of the Atlantic to significantly expand U.S. exports of liquefied natural gas, or L.N.G., to Europe could take two to five years. That reality is likely to limit the scope of the natural gas supply announcement that Mr. Biden and the European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, announced on Friday.

[…] Friday’s agreement, which calls on the United States to help the European Union secure an additional 15 billion cubic meters of liquefied natural gas this year, could also undermine efforts by Mr. Biden and European officials to combat climate change. Once new export and import terminals are built, they will probably keep operating for several decades, perpetuating the use of a fossil fuel much longer than many environmentalists consider sustainable for the planet’s well-being. [emphasis added]

For now, however, climate concerns appear to be taking a back seat as U.S. and European leaders seek to punish President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia for invading Ukraine by depriving him of billions of dollars in energy sales.
» Read article      

» More about LNG

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Weekly News Check-In 3/18/22

banner 15

Welcome back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— The NFGiM Team

PIPELINES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about pipelines

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about protests and actions

DIVESTMENT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about divestment

FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about FERC

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about EPA

GREENING THE ECONOMY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about energy efficiency

MODERNIZING THE GRID

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about modernizing the grid

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about clean transportation

SITING IMPACTS OF RENEWABLE ENERGY RESOURCES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about siting impacts    

DEEP-SEABED MINING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about deep-seabed mining   

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about fossil fuels

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