Tag Archives: FERC

Weekly News Check-In 4/16/21

Welcome back.

Two related sets of gears seem to be turning in opposite directions. The Weymouth compressor station’s most recent unplanned massive release of natural gas (3rd in 8 months!) has increased the possibility that its operating permit will be revoked on safety and environmental justice grounds. At the same time, Pieridae Energy is approaching an end-of-June final investment decision on the controversial Goldboro LNG export facility in Nova Scotia. The project appears to depend on fracked natural gas piped from Pennsylvania via the now-imperiled Weymouth compressor.

We’re taking another look at Berkshire Environmental Action Team’s campaign to shut down inefficient and polluting peaking power plants, and also include a story on a new Australian study that finds battery storage to be 30% cheaper than gas peakers – and better suited to the task.

More states are adopting industry-promoted legislation criminalizing nonviolent direct actions, especially those taken against pipelines. This sets up a situation where energy companies can take land, clear trees, dig trenches, and cause significant environmental damage even before completing the permitting process – but aggrieved land owners, indigenous Tribe members, and environmentalists can’t stand in their way without risking serious jail time. That’s wrong – and this week’s climate articles drive home the point that we have very little time left to shake off our dependence on fossil fuels.

We’re remembering John Topping, a Republican climate activist and former Environmental Protection Agency official who grew frustrated with the Reagan administration’s failure to take climate change seriously. An early advocate for climate action, he left the EPA to found the Climate Institute, which he directed until his death on March 9th, at age 77. He had a legitimate claim on being in the battle early with his organization’s simple URL: “climate.org”.

The promise of affordable, grid-scale, long-term battery storage is a little closer to reality now that two projects using flow batteries with zinc-air chemistry have advanced to the demonstration phase in New York and Colorado. Zinc is abundant, non-toxic, and non-flammable; air is pretty much everywhere. That last point is also driving development of carbon capture and sequestration systems based on direct air capture. This technology, still in its infancy, may eventually be useful in drawing down some of the excess atmospheric CO2 – but its success very much depends on how quickly we stop adding to the supply.

A look at clean transportation reveals both good and bad news this week. On the up side, battery prices are dropping quickly and that should drive total conversion to all-electric new car sales by 2035 based on purchase price advantage alone. But converting the heavy truck fleet is another story, because the charging infrastructure to support big rigs is considerably more expensive than auto and light truck EV chargers.

The fossil fuel industry is absorbing a federal court order reversing the Trump administration’s attempt to open the Arctic Ocean and much of the eastern seaboard to drilling. It’s also waiting to see if the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s new emphasis on climate and environmental justice means an end to new pipelines.

We close with a fascinating and insightful article from Grist, exploring how it happened that the Delaware River Basin’s recent fracking ban was implemented by the same group of officials who green-lighted a liquefied natural gas export terminal in Gibbstown, NJ. If built, that facility will depend on the extremely risky business of shipping LNG by rail from fracking fields in Pennsylvania, through vulnerable communities throughout the Delaware River Basin.

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

— The NFGiM Team

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION


Will a Recent Emergency Methane Release Be the Third Strike for Weymouth’s New Natural Gas Compressor?

Nearby residents, environmentalists and energy executives are all asking whether this time, FERC actually pulls the facility’s permit in this closely watched environmental justice case.
By Phil McKenna, Inside Climate News
April 16, 2021

For the third time in less than a year, the operators of a new natural gas compressor shoe-horned into an environmental justice community near Boston have vented an emergency release of natural gas into surrounding neighborhoods.

The unplanned venting came as federal regulators, including a Trump appointee, had already moved to consider a possible re-assessment of the facility’s permit out of safety concerns related to the first two unplanned releases.

The sudden release of large volumes of natural gas poses a potential explosion hazard. Methane, the primary component of natural gas, is also a potent greenhouse gas, 86 times more effective at warming the planet than carbon dioxide over the near-term. The venting of natural gas also contributes to ground level ozone, which causes more than 100,000 premature deaths globally each year, and releases volatile organic compounds like benzene and toluene, some of which have been found to be carcinogenic.

If the permit for the compressor—the linchpin of a pipeline network that ships hydraulically fractured gas from Pennsylvania to Canada—is revoked, it could have wide-ranging implications for the natural gas industry regionally and nationwide.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, a little known yet powerful federal entity that oversees new natural gas infrastructure in the U.S., has only rarely rescinded a permit once it has been issued.

The key question everyone from community and environmental advocates in small town Massachusetts to fossil fuel executives in Calgary and Houston are now asking is whether this might be an instance when the  commission actually takes a permit away.
» Blog editor’s note: Bechtel Corp plans to deliver a fixed-price proposal to build the Goldboro LNG plant by the end of May, and developer Pieridae Energy said on Thursday 4/15 it continues to work toward making a final investment decision (FID) by June 30 (Reuters). Fracked gas, shipped north through the Weymouth compressor station, plays a significant role in Pieridae’s plans.
» Read article        

» More about the Weymouth compressor station

PEAKING POWER PLANTS


Local Environmentalists Demand Cleaner Berkshires Power Plants
By Brittany Polito, iBerkshires
April 11, 2021

Local environmentalists are taking a stand against air pollution from power plants that are hardly used.

A Berkshire Environmental Action Team campaign “Put Peakers in the Past” is demanding that the three peaking power plants located in Berkshire County revert to only renewable and clean alternatives. “Peaking” plants are used to meet periods of high energy demand.

The decades-old plants at Pittsfield Generating Co. on Merrill Road, the Eversource substation on Doreen Street and the EP Energy plant on Woodland Road in Lee run off fossil fuels such as natural gas, oil, and kerosene. Pittsfield Generating is a co-generating plant that also provides steam energy.

Rosemary Wessel, program director for BEAT’s “No Fracked Gas in Mass” campaign, said this sparks concern from environmentalists because the fuels emit excess nitrogen oxides and contribute to the region’ s greenhouse gas emissions.

Pittsfield Generating Co. reportedly accounts for over 15 percent of Pittsfield’s stationary emissions despite only running for a few days out of the year.

“We started last year when we were looking into emissions for the city of Pittsfield and found out that the Pittsfield Generating only runs about 5 percent of the time but it makes 15 percent of the stationary emissions for Pittsfield every year,” Wessel said.

“So even though these plants don’t run often, they only run when there’s a peak demand on the grid when the regular power plants are starting to max out, they tend to be older plants and they’re very inefficient and put out a tremendous amount of pollution for the number of megawatts they generate.”

Most peaker plants in the state run 5 percent of the time or less, she added, but the Doreen Street and Lee plants run less than 1 percent of the time, which makes the total emissions numbers alarming to the group.

“Very little run time, still substantial pollution, ” Wessel said.

The campaign’s first actions are obtaining signatures on their virtual petition and talking to plant owners and see if they already have plans to switch over to clean energy solutions. Wessel said that they haven’t heard back from the plant owners yet and are hoping to get legislators involved to facilitate that communication.

She cited the state’s climate change legislation to reduce gas emissions that was signed by Gov. Charlie Baker last month. This bill codifies into law the Baker-Polito administration’s commitment to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 and furthers the state’s efforts to combat climate change and protect vulnerable communities.

“The state, of course, just signed the next-generation climate bill, which means we’ re going to be going for net zero very quickly, so these plants are facing, sort of a change or die kind of situation,” Wessel explained. “And we’re interested in finding out if they’re planning to retire, or if they have plans to change to clean energy, or how they’re going to deal with the fact that they’ re not going to be able to burn fossil fuels for very much longer. ”

Alternatives to peakers include demand response or  “peak-shaving” in which customers avoid energy use during peak demand, grid storage that uses solar plus storage to produce and store clean energy to use by the grid, and Mass Save’s  “Connected Solutions” program that allows electric customers to use battery storage alternatives to replace power plants.
» Read article              
» Read about the Put Peakers in the Past campaign
» Sign the Petition to Shut Down Berkshire County’s Peaking Power Plants


Battery storage 30% cheaper than new gas peaker plants, Australian study finds
By Andy Colthorpe, Energy Storage News
April 12, 2021

Battery storage can be a significantly cheaper and more effective technology than natural gas in providing peaking capacity, according to a new study released by the Clean Energy Council, the industry group which represents Australia’s clean energy sector.

Grids around the world rely on open cycle gas turbine (OCGT) technology at times when demand for electricity is at its highest. OCGTs often only run for a few hours at a time and a few times per year but are among the most polluting assets in the grid operator’s toolkit for balancing energy supply with demand.

While OCGTs were state-of-the-art decades ago, offering the ability to start generating power within 15 minutes of starting up, lithium-ion battery energy storage can respond to grid signals in fractions of a second and can be charged with renewable energy sources like solar and wind.

The authors of CEC’s new paper, ‘Battery storage: the new, clean peaker,’ found that a 250MW, four-hour (1,000MWh) battery system in New South Wales would be a cheaper option for meeting peak demand than a 250MW new-build OCGT from both levelised cost of energy (LCOE) and levelised cost of capacity (LCOC) perspectives.

The National Electricity Market (NEM), which covers six Australian states including New South Wales, generally sees peaker plants called into use for about three or four hours each night from 6pm as solar production tails off and evening demand goes up.

Batteries can cover this period, CEC said, and even before factoring in the falling cost of charging the batteries with solar and wind energy resources that continue to get cheaper as well as the falling costs and rising efficiencies of the batteries themselves, neither the economic rationale or necessity to build new gas plants exists anymore in Australia.
» Read article              
» Download report, Battery Storage: The New, Clean Peaker

» More about peakers

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS


Driven by Industry, More States Are Passing Tough Laws Aimed at Pipeline Protesters
Bills to increase penalties for “impeding” the operations of a pipeline or power plant—in many cases elevating the offense to a felony—are pending in at least six states and have been enacted in 14 others.
By Nicholas Kusnetz, Inside Climate News
April 12, 2021

When Nancy Beaulieu’s Ojibwe ancestors signed a series of treaties with the federal government in the 19th century, one of the goals was to protect the land, she said. So she sees it as not just her right but her duty to protest the building of a major oil pipeline underway in northern Minnesota.

As an organizer for the state chapter of 350.org, Beaulieu has helped lead a campaign against the replacement and expansion of Line 3, which carries oil from Canada’s tar sands to the United States. Advocates say more than 200 protesters have been arrested as part of the campaign, and Beaulieu said she intends to be arrested herself as construction continues this spring.

But a bill currently pending in the state legislature threatens her right to do so, by increasing the penalties for trespassing on pipelines and other energy infrastructure.

“These are our own lands in some areas, ceded lands. We never gave up the right to hunt, fish and travel. So just because we don’t hold title doesn’t mean we cannot protect. That’s what treaties are all about, is that responsibility,” she said. The Minnesota bill would impose a felony offense carrying up to five years in prison for anyone who enters a pipeline construction site with “intent to disrupt” operations.

“They’re violating our treaties again,” she said. “They’re denying us our voice.”

The legislation is just one of a growing number of such bills, backed by the oil and gas industry, that are pending in at least six states and have been enacted in 14 others over the last four years, according to the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law. While the details vary state by state, the legislation in many cases imposes felony charges for trespassing and “impeding” the operation of pipelines, power plants and other “critical infrastructure.”

The bills emerged in 2017 after a pair of stinging losses for the pipeline industry. Activists had used civil disobedience and mass arrests to draw attention to the Keystone XL and Dakota Access projects, and the Obama administration eventually blocked both. States’ critical infrastructure legislation raised the stakes for protesters by increasing penalties for acts like blocking access to a construction site, in many cases converting the offenses from misdemeanors to felonies.

Some of the laws include clauses allowing prosecutors to seek 10 times the original fines for any groups found to be “conspirators.” Those bills have prompted concerns on the part of civil liberties advocates and leaders of groups like the Sierra Club, who fear they could be roped into trials and face steep fines for having joined with broader coalitions that include an element of civil disobedience.
» Read article              

» More about protests and actions

CLIMATE


Decade of inaction means it’s too late to cap global warming at 1.5 °C
By Michael Mazengarb, Renew Economy
April 15, 2021

Leading Australian climate scientists are calling for Australia to dramatically upgrade its climate policies in the light of new research that shows a decade of inaction means it may be too late to try and limit  average global warming to just 1.5°C.

A review of recent climate science findings published by the Climate Council reveals a growing scientific consensus that the world is already on track to warm by more than 1.5°C, and that only an ‘overshoot and drawdown’ trajectory, requiring the extensive use of carbon capture and storage, will allow temperatures to be stabilised at that level.

It may still be possible to limit average global warming to just 2°C above pre-industrial levels, but a rapid ramp-up of decarbonisation efforts will be required by all countries to meet the target. In Australia, that would translate into reaching 100 per cent renewables, or close to it, by 2030, and a 75 per cent economy-wide emissions reduction target by the same date.

In 2015 in Paris, countries agreed to limit global warming to 2°C, and ideally just 1.5°C. But Climate scientist and Climate Council member professor Will Steffen says it is becoming clear that global warming of at least 1.5 degrees is already inevitable.

“Talking to a lot of my colleagues, particularly in Europe, it’s just become clear to all of us behind the scenes that we’re not going to cap temperature rise at 1.5 [degrees],” Steffen said.

“Talking with my colleagues, I think the best we can do is well below [2 degrees], which is exactly what our report says. It’s not one piece of information. It is a synthesis of a wide range of observations.”
» Read article            


Methane Emissions Spiked in 2020. Scientists Fear Feedback Loops
NOAA announced the biggest annual increase in methane ever recorded.
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
April 12, 2021

Preliminary data shows that methane emissions jumped in 2020 by the largest amount since systematic record-keeping began decades ago. And despite a dip in polluting activities due to the pandemic, concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere rose to its highest level in 3.6 million years.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said that global methane concentrations shot up by 14.67 parts per billion (ppb) in 2020, the largest annual increase ever recorded, and a sharp increase from the 9.74 ppb rise in 2019. The data is an ominous sign that the world is badly off track in terms of reaching its climate goals.

“Human activity is driving climate change,” Colm Sweeney, assistant deputy director of the Global Monitoring Lab, a division within NOAA, said in a statement. The Global Monitoring Laboratory makes highly accurate measurements of methane, carbon dioxide, and nitrous oxide from four baseline observatories in Hawaii, Alaska, American Samoa, and the South Pole.

“If we want to mitigate the worst impacts, it’s going to take a deliberate focus on reducing fossil fuels emissions to near zero — and even then we’ll need to look for ways to further remove greenhouse gasses from the atmosphere,” Sweeney said.

The data that NOAA released this month is preliminary and attributing the precise source of increased methane pollution is difficult. The data suggests that a large portion of the methane comes from fossil fuels, such as drilling, flaring, and other sources of methane leaks. But in a worrying sign, researchers think that some of the increase came from “biogenic” sources, such as methane leaking from wetlands or melting permafrost.

“That would, in a sense, be much worse as that sort of feedback — under which warming begets more warming — both is something we can’t easily control and would make our limits on greenhouse gas emissions to meet a given target even stricter,” Drew Shindell, professor of Earth science at Duke University and a former scientist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, told DeSmog, commenting on the new study. “So in that sense it would’ve been preferable in many ways if these were from fossil fuels, but the jury is still out on that.”
» Read article              


Scientists Warn 4°C World Would Unleash ‘Unimaginable Amounts of Water’ as Ice Shelves Collapse
By Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams, in EcoWatch
April 11, 2021

A new study is shedding light on just how much ice could be lost around Antarctica if the international community fails to urgently rein in planet-heating emissions, bolstering arguments for bolder climate policies.

The study, published Thursday in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, found that over a third of the area of all Antarctic ice shelves — including 67% of area on the Antarctic Peninsula — could be at risk of collapsing if global temperatures soar to 4°C above pre-industrial levels.

An ice shelf, as NASA explains, “is a thick, floating slab of ice that forms where a glacier or ice flows down a coastline.” They are found only in Antarctica, Greenland, Canada, and the Russian Arctic—and play a key role in limiting sea level rise.

“Ice shelves are important buffers preventing glaciers on land from flowing freely into the ocean and contributing to sea level rise,” explained Ella Gilbert, the study’s lead author, in a statement. “When they collapse, it’s like a giant cork being removed from a bottle, allowing unimaginable amounts of water from glaciers to pour into the sea.”

“We know that when melted ice accumulates on the surface of ice shelves, it can make them fracture and collapse spectacularly,” added Gilbert, a research scientist at the University of Reading. “Previous research has given us the bigger picture in terms of predicting Antarctic ice shelf decline, but our new study uses the latest modelling techniques to fill in the finer detail and provide more precise projections.”

Gilbert and co-author Christoph Kittel of Belgium’s University of Liège conclude that limiting global temperature rise to 2°C rather than 4°C would cut the area at risk in half.

“At 1.5°C, just 14% of Antarctica’s ice shelf area would be at risk,” Gilbert noted in The Conversation.

While the 2015 Paris climate agreement aims to keep temperature rise “well below” 2°C, with a more ambitious 1.5°C target, current emissions reduction plans are dramatically out of line with both goals, according to a United Nations analysis.

Gilbert said Thursday that the findings of their new study “highlight the importance of limiting global temperature increases as set out in the Paris agreement if we are to avoid the worst consequences of climate change, including sea level rise.”
» Read article              
» Read the study

» More about climate

ENERGY STORAGE


Progress in US initiatives to demonstrate and investigate long-duration energy storage tech

By Andy Colthorpe, Energy Storage News
April 12, 2021

A zinc-air energy storage system (ZESS) offering 10 hours of storage is being trialled in a New York Power Authority (NYPA) project, while a US Department of Defense-funded investigation into flow batteries has moved into a physical validation and evaluation phase in Colorado.

Zinc8 Energy Solutions won a contract with public power organisation NYPA in January 2020 to demonstrate its patented zinc-air battery technology through the utility’s competitive Innovation Challenge programme, which was hosted in partnership with the Tandon School of Engineering at New York University.

NYPA will contribute to the costs of installing the technology solution in a project which aims to demonstrate the use cases for long-duration storage and how it can help integrate larger shares of renewable energy onto the state’s electric grid network.

“Best known for its industrial use in galvanising steel, zinc is abundant and inexpensive, and without any geopolitical complications as we have a significant North American supply. Zinc utilises the only battery chemistry that uses earth-abundant, recyclable materials with chemistry that is robust and safe.

“Unlike lithium-ion technology, which requires new stacks in order to scale, zinc batteries are able to decouple the linkage between energy and power. This means that scaling the zinc battery technology can be accomplished by simply increasing the size of the energy storage tank and quantity of the recharged zinc particles,” [Ron MacDonald, CEO of Zinc8] wrote.

“Zinc-air batteries use oxygen from the atmosphere to extract power from zinc, making zinc-air battery production costs the lowest of all rechargeable batteries. Zinc-air batteries are non-flammable and non-toxic with a longer lifetime as compared to other batteries.”
» Read article              

» More about energy storage

CARBON CAPTURE & SEQUESTRATION


How direct air capture works (and why it’s important)
Climeworks operates multiple direct air capture plants around the world and is currently building the world’s largest climate-positive direct air capture plant in Iceland.
By Grist
April 15, 2021

In January 2021, eight shipping container-sized boxes were assembled in Hellisheiði, Iceland, next to the third-largest geothermal power station in the world. Twelve giant fans mounted on the outside of each box will start spinning later this year.

The facility, called Orca, is intended to suck approximately 4,000 tons of carbon dioxide directly from the air each year. Developed by the Swiss engineering firm Climeworks, Orca is the largest example of direct air capture to date — a technology intended to suck carbon dioxide out of thin air.

“To me, this is kind of the last hope,” Christoph Beuttler, the carbon dioxide removal manager of Climeworks tells Grist. “This, together with reducing emissions and planting as many trees as we can, enable[s] us to just make the Paris Agreement.”

You can think about the carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere like a bucket. Today, that bucket is almost full: We have about nine percent of the volume left to fill if we want to stay below 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming by 2050. To keep that bucket from overflowing, we’ll certainly have to cut back on global emissions (which, with the exception of 2020’s pandemic shutdown, are projected to keep rising).

But all of the pathways that keep us at or below 1.5 degrees C, as outlined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, also include development of direct air capture technologies like the giant fans set to start spinning in Iceland. Direct air capture can’t keep us below that threshold on its own, but it can help poke a hole in our proverbial carbon bucket to drain out some of our past emissions.

To make a big enough hole, though, this tech will have to remove billions of tons of carbon dioxide from the air each year. Such projects represent “an engineering project probably larger than has ever been created by humanity in the past,” says Jeffrey Reimer, a materials chemist at The University of California Berkeley who is not affiliated with Climeworks. He says there’s still a long way to go, but a few key pieces have fallen into place and set the project in motion.
» Read article            

» More about CCS

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION


Advances mean all new US vehicles can be electric by 2035, study finds
By Oliver Milman, The Guardian
April 15, 2021

Rapid advances in the technology and cost of batteries should allow all new cars and trucks sold in the US to be powered by electricity by 2035, saving drivers trillions of dollars and delivering a major boost to the effort to slow the climate crisis, new research has found.

Electric vehicles currently make up only about 2% of all cars sold in the US, with many American drivers put off until now by models that were often significantly more expensive than gasoline or diesel cars, as well as concerns over the availability of plug-in recharge points.

This situation is likely to drastically change this decade, according to the new University of California, Berkeley study, with the upfront cost of electric cars set to reach parity with petrol vehicles in around five years’ time. As electric cars are more efficient and require less costly maintenance, the rapid electrification of transport would save about $2.7tn in driver costs by 2050.

Researchers said the plummeting cost of batteries, the main factor in the higher cost of electric vehicles, and improvements in their efficiency mean that it will be technically feasible for the US to phase out the sale of new petrol and diesel cars within 15 years. This would shrink planet-heating emissions from transport, currently the largest source of greenhouse gases in the US.

“In order to meet any sort of carbon goals, the transport sector needs to be electrified,” said Amol Phadke, a senior scientist at University of California, Berkeley and report co-author.

Phadke added: “The upfront price of electric vehicles is coming down rapidly, which is very exciting. Because of battery technology improvements, most models now have a range of 250 miles, higher than the daily driving distance of most people, and now come with pretty astonishing fast-charging capabilities.”
» Read article            
» Read the U.C. Berkeley study


EV charging setup would cost Schneider, NFI more than 10 times annual fuel savings: study
By S.L. Fuller, Utility Dive
April 6, 2021

Schneider could save $554,813 in annual fuel costs by electrifying its 42-truck fleet based out of Stockton, California, according to a study prepared by Gladstein, Neandross & Associates funded by the Environmental Defense Fund. And NFI could save $748,311 annually by electrifying its fleet of 50 trucks that operate out of Chino, California, according to the report released Wednesday.

But the report also found that those savings are not enough to mitigate upfront infrastructure costs required to support the electric fleets. Schneider would pay $8.9 million, while NFI would need to shell out $10.4 million. Those costs include charging hardware and construction.

EDF called charging infrastructure “the greatest challenge of electrifying heavy-duty trucks,” and recommended governments and utilities pursue policies to help bring down the upfront costs for fleets.

Whether a fleet or OEM has invested in battery-electric vehicles, fuel-cell-electric vehicles or both, infrastructure is one of the biggest question marks.

Standing up a national hydrogen network presents steep funding and other challenges.

Electric charging capabilities are becoming more commonplace around the country as electric passenger cars grow in popularity. But stations that can accommodate heavy-duty trucks require more power.

NFI is testing 10 electric Daimler trucks out of Chino, and building chargers was the longest part of the project, NFI Senior Vice President of Fleet Services Bill Bliem said in February.

One lesson NFI learned during that process was how different it was to deal with a utility company’s rates, rather than paying for a standard fuel source.
» Read article            

» More about clean transportation

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY


John Topping, 77, Dies; Early Advocate for Climate Action
A former official of the Environmental Protection Agency, he was a Republican activist on global warming when it was an issue with bipartisan support
By John Schwartz, New York TImes
April 10, 2021

John Topping, whose work to warn the world of the risks of climate change stretched back to the 1980s, and who helped spur the international effort to limit warming, died on March 9 at a hospital in Bethesda, Md. He was 77.

The cause was gastrointestinal bleeding, his daughter Elizabeth Barrett Topping said.

A Rockefeller Republican, Mr. Topping took on the emerging climate crisis when fighting planetary warming was still a bipartisan issue.

“John was an early actor,” said Rafe Pomerance, senior fellow at the Woodwell Climate Research Center in Massachusetts, who recalled Mr. Topping’s ability to connect people who might not otherwise have had much in common. “He brought a lot of interesting people to the table and got involved.” As a Republican of solid credentials, Mr. Pomerance said, Mr. Topping “reached out into places I had no access to.”

In a phone interview, Joe Cannon, who served as an Environmental Protection Agency official with Mr. Topping, called him “very patient” and said he had a “gigantic understanding of things — bureaucracy in general, and environmental policy in particular.”

James Hansen, a former NASA scientist who introduced Mr. Topping to climate issues in 1982, recalled a special quality Mr. Topping had as an advocate: “John was a jolly fellow, always upbeat and happy, even though he was working on what he knew was a serious problem.”

Dr. Hansen, who would become a prominent clarion of climate risk, said he first met Mr. Topping when the Ronald Reagan administration tried to cut his funding for research into carbon dioxide and climate change. Mr. Topping and Mr. Cannon got the research funded, but the gains were only temporary, Dr. Hansen recalled. Mr. Topping was disturbed to discover that, by his count, only seven people at the E.P.A. out of some 13,000 staff members were assigned to work on climate change and ozone depletion.

“Topping was frustrated with the administration, which wouldn’t take climate change seriously,” Dr. Hansen said, “so he finally decided to form his own organization.”

The organization that became known as the Climate Institute is widely considered the first nongovernmental entity dedicated to addressing climate change. Mr. Topping served as its president until his death.
» Read article              
» Visit the Climate Institute

» More about the EPA

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY


Federal Court Ends Trump Effort to Open 128 Million Acres of Atlantic, Arctic Oceans to Drilling
“As the Biden administration considers its next steps, it should build on these foundations, end fossil fuel leasing on public lands and waters, and embrace a clean energy future.”
By Jake Johnson, Common Dreams
April 14, 2021

A federal appeals court on Tuesday dealt the final blow to former President Donald Trump’s attempt to open nearly 130 million acres of territory in the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans to oil and gas drilling.

In April of 2017, Trump signed an executive order aiming to undo an Obama-era ban on fossil fuel exploration in that territory, but a federal judge in Alaska ruled the move unlawful in 2019.

Though the Trump administration appealed the ruling, President Joe Biden revoked his predecessor’s 2017 order shortly after taking office, rendering the court case moot. On Tuesday, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed to dismiss the Trump administration’s appeal.

“Because the terms of the challenged Executive Order are no longer in effect, the relevant areas of the [Outer Continental Shelf] in the Chukchi Sea, Beaufort Sea, and Atlantic Ocean will be withdrawn from exploration and development activities,” the court said in its order.

Erik Grafe of Earthjustice, which represented a coalition of advocacy groups that challenged Trump’s order, said in a statement that “we welcome today’s decision and its confirmation of President Obama’s legacy of ocean and climate protection.”

“As the Biden administration considers its next steps, it should build on these foundations, end fossil fuel leasing on public lands and waters, and embrace a clean energy future that does not come at the expense of wildlife and our natural heritage,” Grafe continued. “One obvious place for immediate action is America’s Arctic, including the Arctic Refuge and the Western Arctic, which the previous administration sought to relegate to oil development in a series of last-minute decisions that violate bedrock environmental laws.”
» Read article


‘Seismic shift’ at FERC could kill natural gas pipelines
By Arianna Skibell, E&E News
April 13, 2021

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s decision to assess a proposed natural gas pipeline’s contribution to climate change could have major implications for gas infrastructure, analysts say, including nearly unheard-of project rejections.

“Once one starts to look at the impact of the pipelines on the climate, it won’t be business as usual,” said Jennifer Danis, a senior fellow at the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law. “FERC took a really important first step in a long overdue process.”

For the first time ever, FERC last month weighed greenhouse gas emissions related to a Northern Natural Gas Co. pipeline replacement project running 87 miles from northeast Nebraska to Sioux Falls, S.D. The independent agency ultimately approved the project (Energywire, March 19).

The issue will be revisited this week at FERC’s meeting, where the agency is expected to consider Enbridge Pipeline’s request to intervene in the case. If FERC approves that, the company could file a lawsuit challenging the decision to account for pipeline greenhouse gas emissions.

The landmark order signals that the five-member commission under Democratic Chairman Richard Glick could begin assessing emissions for all projects in its purview, from interstate gas pipelines to liquefied natural gas terminals. Glick has long called for carrying out such reviews.

“FERC announced [through] a policy that it does not consider itself universally incapable of conducting a [greenhouse gas] significance assessment,” said Gillian Giannetti, senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “That would seem to strongly suggest FERC is going to try to do a significance assessment every time.”

Experts agree the move could lead to FERC denying certification for major natural gas projects, though not for all proposals.
» Read article              

» More about fossil fuel

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS


The Delaware River Basin paradox: Why fracking is so hard to quit
The regulatory agency charged with protecting the Delaware River Basin both banned fracking and paved the way for an LNG export facility within a few months, demonstrating just how hard it is to sever ties with natural gas.
By Zoya Teirstein, Grist
April 15, 2021

In late February, the Delaware River Basin Commission made a historic announcement: It banned hydraulic fracturing in the basin, a 13,539-square-mile area that supplies some 17 million people with drinking water.

“Prohibiting high volume hydraulic fracturing in the Basin is vital to preserving our region’s recreational and natural resources and ecology,” said New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, who represents one of the four states in the Delaware River Basin Commission, or DRBC. “Our actions,” he added, “will protect public health and preserve our water resources for future generations.”

The decision to permanently protect the watershed from fracking was the culmination of years of dedicated activism and public input. Politicians, environmental groups, and citizens alike celebrated the decision by the commission — a powerful, interstate-federal regulatory agency made up of the governors of Delaware, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania and the commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ North Atlantic Division.

But the same commission that made the historic decision to protect the basin from fracking also voted several months earlier to pave the way for a natural gas company to use the Delaware River to export its product abroad.

In December 2020, the DRBC voted to approve construction of a dock in the New Jersey city of Gibbstown, in Gloucester County. That dock, attached to an export terminal constructed on the site of a former Dupont munitions plant, will receive a fossil fuel called liquefied natural gas, or LNG, from a plant in northern Pennsylvania and then ship it overseas.

When complete, the Delaware River Basin’s first-ever liquefied natural gas project will pose immediate risks to a wide swath of the Eastern seaboard — to people who live near the liquefaction plant in Pennsylvania and to communities clustered along the 200-mile route between the plant and the export dock in New Jersey — as well as to the Delaware River itself.

The two decisions weighed against each other point to an interesting paradox in the DRBC’s attitude toward natural gas, a significant contributor to global warming. While the commission doesn’t want exploration to pollute the basin, it’s still tacitly permitting the industry to use the river for a different side of the natural gas business — one that’s not without its own environmental and health threats. The rulings illuminate the complex, often contradictory relationship with natural gas that many policymakers find themselves in at the moment, as pressure builds for communities to transition away from fossil fuels toward a clean economy.
» Blog editor’s note: keep reading for a fascinating account of how the Gibbstown LNG project was sneaked in through the back door with little oversight or environmental review, and what might happen next….
» Read article              

» More about LNG

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Weekly News Check-In 3/26/21

Welcome back.

We’re leading this week’s news with a toot of our own horn, thanks to Danny Jin’s excellent reporting on the growing momentum behind BEAT’s campaign to replace polluting peaking power plants with renewables and battery storage. Please join the effort by signing our petition!

The Weymouth compressor station fight appears to be developing into something of a test case at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which is beginning to focus on fossil project climate impacts for the first time. We use that framework to explore a couple potential effects: the impact on the broader U.S. natural gas industry, and the tie-in with another controversial project in Canada – the Goldboro LNG export terminal.

We’re exploring the fascinating contest between Michigan’s Governor Whitmer and environmental allies, vs Enbridge, Canada, and a good chunk of the oil industry, over Michigan’s recent demand the shut down Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline – the aging section crossing under the environmentally sensitive Straits of Mackinac.

Amy Westervelt of Drilled News offers an excellent podcast dive into the fossil fuel industry’s continuing efforts to criminalize nonviolent civil protest. Related to all those protests, the divestment movement has taken off – but big banks are still financing polluters to a shocking degree.

We have late-breaking news that Governor Charlie Baker signed landmark climate legislation into law just before we posted. As Massachusetts moves forward, we’re also keeping an eye on broader efforts to green the economy. We found a report explaining why skepticism is in order when considering big-polluter claims to go net-zero, and also some encouraging news about the greening of some aquaculture operations – a good thing since a new climate report shows that ocean trawling for fish releases as much carbon as emitted by the global aviation industry.

As usual, we can take a breather and enjoy some good news in our clean energy section, including a report on the multiple benefits of covering open canals and aquaducts with solar panels – a huge opportunity in southern California. The news is a bit more sobering as we consider home energy efficiency and electrification, and look at the current shortage of contractors with up-to-date skills. And likewise in clean transportation, where we’re reminded that heavy future reliance on personal electric vehicles, without reducing miles driven, would still be a problem.

Springfield’s City Council has enlisted the support of the Conservation Law Foundation in its fight against Palmer Renewable Energy’s proposed biomass plant. Meanwhile, across the pond, the Dutch have signaled it’s time to end biomass subsidies, ahead of the critical review in June of the Renewable Energy Directive (RED II). The EU must decide whether to continue allowing biomass subsidies and not counting biomass emissions at the smokestack.

We wrap up with a look at plastics, health, and the environment, along with a youtube video of comedian John Oliver’s deep dive into how the plastics industry convinced us to think we could simply recycle our way out of trouble. It’s pretty rude, but to the point.

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

— The NFGiM Team

PEAKING POWER PLANTS


BEAT’s ‘peaker’ campaign draws local support, statewide allies
By Danny Jin, The Berkshire Eagle
March 20, 2021

In its campaign to convert three local power plants to less-polluting alternatives, the Berkshire Environmental Action Team has added local supporters as well as allies across the state.

The “peaker” power plants in Pittsfield and Lee burn [gas, oil, and kerosene]. They serve to meet peak electricity demand — during the hottest summer days, for instance — but rank among the oldest and most polluting plants, disproportionately impacting neighborhoods that already have experienced significant pollution.

More than 10 local groups have joined the coalition opposing the operation of the three plants, and a petition to close them has reached about 200 signatures, said Rosemary Wessel, director of BEAT’s No Fracked Gas in Mass initiative.

“When we put up flyers in the afternoon, you see signatures by the evening,” Wessel said.

As a plan to transition Massachusetts to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 appears set to become law, Wessel said the state’s long-term climate goals align with a move away from fossil fuel-burning plants.

“That’s another argument for us: to switch over before they’re forced to shut down and become extinct,” Wessel said. “It’s a win-win for the companies, and we would get cleaner air sooner.”

The two plants in Pittsfield are on Merrill Road and Doreen Street, and the plant in Lee is on Woodland Road.

Wessel said BEAT has contacted the owners and operators of the plants but has not received a response. The California-headquartered IHI Power Services Corp. runs the Merrill Road plant, and Charlotte, N.C.-based Cogentrix acquired the Doreen Street and Woodland Road plants in 2016.

BEAT is pushing for battery storage as a cleaner alternative for peak demand, especially if paired with solar or wind energy. Wessel said BEAT wants to have a conversation with companies to see which storage incentives they might qualify for. The Clean Peak Energy Standard and the ConnectedSolutions program, for example, aim to cut costs and reduce emissions.

The Merrill Road plant is near Allendale Elementary School and Pittsfield’s Morningside neighborhood, which the state has designated an “environmental justice” area. Doreen Street is by Williams and Egremont elementary schools, and Woodland Road is at the edge of October Mountain State Forest.
» Read article               
» Sign the petition to shut down Berkshire County’s peaking power plants!

» More about peaker plants

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION


Why A Federal Order In The Weymouth Compressor Case Has The Natural Gas World Worried
By Miriam Wasser, WBUR
March 19, 2021

In the six years since Massachusetts residents began fighting a proposed natural gas compressor station in Weymouth, the controversial and now-operational project has mostly been an issue of local concern. Not anymore.

As a challenge to the compressor station’s permit to operate winds its way through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) — the agency in charge of approving interstate energy projects — some on the five-person body have signaled that they’re no longer interested in doing business as usual.

In a 3-2 vote last month, the commission began what some FERC experts are calling “a seemingly unprecedented” review process that not only raises questions about the future of the Weymouth Compressor, but has many in the gas industry worried about the fate of their current and future projects.

At the simplest level, this case is about whether FERC should hold a hearing to relitigate the Weymouth Compressor’s license to operate, known as a “service authorization order.” This happens all the time when project opponents appeal a FERC decision.

But two things make this situation unique: the potential precedent it could set, and the fact that FERC has a new commissioner who has promised to give more weight to climate change and environmental justice concerns.

The Weymouth Compressor was designed to be the linchpin of a large interstate gas pipeline system called the Atlantic Bridge Project. The project connects two pipelines and allows fracked natural gas from western Pennsylvania to flow through New Jersey and New England, and into Maine and eastern Canada for local distribution.

Though no public opinion polling about the compressor exists, there is intense opposition to it here in Massachusetts. From activists groups like the Fore River Residents Against the Compressor (FRRACS) and Mothers Out Front, to elected officials, the anti-compressor movement here is vocal and visible.
» Read article                

Braintree Pays $20K For Air Quality Monitors At Fore River Plant
Mayor Charles Kokoros said the money will help detect harmful chemicals produced by the plant and monitor overall air quality in the area.
By Jimmy Bentley, Patch
March 19, 2021

Braintree will contribute $20,000 to help pay for an air quality monitoring system near the controversial natural gas plant along the Fore River.

Mayor Charles Kokoros said the money will help the activist group Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station (FRRACS), detect harmful chemicals produced by the plant and monitor overall air quality in the river basin’s communities, including Braintree, Weymouth, Quincy and Hingham.

Residents and elected officials in Braintree, Hingham, Quincy and Weymouth have expressed concern and have opposed Enbridge’s compressor station. Elected officials, including U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey, also came out against the plant after an emergency shut down where 265,000 cubic feet of natural gas was released at the facility. There have been numerous protests outside the plant’s [construction] site and several arrests.

But Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs spokesperson Katie Gronendyke said upon the final approval that the project met all state and federal safety regulations, and that the project had passed air-quality testing impact assessments. Enbridge has also maintained that safety is their priority.

With state regulators approving the plant, Braintree joined Quincy, Hingham, the Ten Persons Group and the Ten Citizens Group in appealing the plant’s approval from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection in federal court. The motion was filed last month in the U.S. 1st District Court of Appeals.
» Read article                

» More about the Weymouth compressor station

PIPELINES


Gov. Whitmer offers propane plan for Upper Peninsula after Line 5 shutdown
By Kelly House, Bridge Michigan
March 12, 2021

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration released its plan Friday to heat Michigan homes without depending on the Line 5 oil pipeline to deliver propane.

The plan calls for millions of dollars of investment in rail infrastructure and storage to help wean propane suppliers off the pipeline, plus other programs to reduce propane demand, help low-income customers pay their propane bills, and increase the state’s ability to monitor propane supplies.

The plan was praised by environmental groups, Native American tribes and others opposing Enbridge Line 5. But an Enbridge spokesperson called the plan “wholly inadequate” and at least one propane supplier raised doubts about whether it will adequately replace the propane currently supplied by the pipeline.

Whitmer has given Canadian oil giant Enbridge Energy until May 13 to stop transporting oil through the pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac, citing concerns that the aging underwater pipeline poses an “unacceptable risk of a catastrophic oil spill in the Great Lakes.”

Much of the plan to replace Line 5 relies on grant programs Whitmer has written into her 2022 budget proposal, meaning it may require legislative approval.  Both the House and Senate are controlled by Republicans.

But the plan also notes that some propane suppliers have begun to independently wean themselves off Line 5 since Whitmer made the shutdown order in November.

Whitmer spokesperson Chelsea Lewis Parisio told Bridge Michigan the governor “is looking forward to discussions with the legislature and is hopeful that we can reach bipartisan support for her budget recommendations.”

In an interview Friday, Michigan Public Service Commission Chair Dan Scripps said the plan will put Michigan “in a good place for next winter and for whatever market changes arise.”
» Read article               
» Read the MI Propane Security Plan               


Ohio, Louisiana argue against Line 5 shutdown in federal court
By Garret Ellison, mlive.com
March 22, 2021

Ohio Attorney General David Yost is asking a federal judge in Grand Rapids to block Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s effort to shut down the Enbridge Line 5 pipeline, arguing on behalf of Ohio refineries and the state of Louisiana that closing the submerged oil line would have economic impact beyond Michigan.

Yost filed an amicus brief on Friday, March 19 in the case Enbridge brought against Whitmer last fall, which is pending before Judge Janet Neff in the Western District of Michigan. The case is scheduled to begin mediation in April.

In the brief, Yost argues that closing the pipeline segment under the Straits of Mackinac would cause economic hardship for businesses supplied by the pipeline.

In November, Whitmer announced termination of the 1953 easement that allows the pipeline to cross the lakebed where lakes Michigan and Huron connect. She gave Enbridge until May 12 to stop the oil flow, a deadline the company says it won’t comply with absent a court order.

“Ohio refineries, their employees, and key industrial stakeholders directly rely on Line 5′s crude oil supply, and its economic effects are strongly felt in the Buckeye State and beyond,” Yost wrote. “Ohio, joined by Louisiana, respectfully urges the court to carefully balance protections for both the environment and the economic health of individuals and businesses on both sides of the border by allowing Line 5 to continue to operate safely.”

Case documents indicate Michigan opposes the motion but the state has not yet filed a reply.

Enbridge allies have mounted a full-throated defense of the controversial pipeline this year. Canadian government and business officials are lobbying the Biden Administration to intercede in Whitmer’s decision and are threatening to invoke a 1977 treaty governing the operation of cross-border pipelines unless Michigan backpedals the closure order.

Seamus O’Regan, Canadian natural resources minister, told a parliament committee earlier this month that the pipeline’s operation is “non-negotiable.”

The 68-year-old, 645-mile pipeline runs from Superior, Wisconsin to Sarnia, Ontario by way of Michigan. It is a key part of Enbridge’s Lakehead network that carries light crude and natural gas liquids under the Straits of Mackinac. Its existence has caused escalating concern since another Enbridge pipeline caused a massive oil spill in 2010 on the Kalamazoo River.

Because the pipeline crosses both Michigan peninsulas and many waterways, opponents see little benefit but substantial risk for the state from its existence and dismiss economic concerns around its closure as overblown.
» Read article                

» More about pipelines

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

Another Line 3 Battleground: free speech
By Amy Westervelt, Drilled News
March 20, 2021

We’ve covered the ongoing, fossil fuel-backed push to criminalize protest before. In 2017, Oklahoma passed the first of these bills, specifically citing the Standing Rock protest of the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota. Then American Fuel and Petrochemicals Manufacturers (AFPM), the trade group for refineries and petrochemical facilities, crafted sample legislation based on the Oklahoma bill, and pushed the American Legal Exchange Council (ALEC) to adopt it. In 2020 , the Covid-19 pandemic slowed things down a bit, but in 2021 things are speeding up. In January, Ohio passed a bill that’s been debated for years, bringing the total number of states with so-called “critical infrastructure laws” in place to 14.

What’s defined as critical infrastructure varies a bit from state to state, but pipelines are always included; penalties range, too, but across the board these laws increase both the criminal and financial penalties of protest, potentially landing protestors in jail for years with fines up to $150,000. It’s worth noting that all of these states have trespassing and property damage laws already, it’s not as though those things have been going unpunished; the new laws merely make the consequences much tougher. They also add penalties for organizers and organizing entities. In Montana, for example, a proposed bill would fine organizations up to a million dollars for being involved in protest.

All of which comes into play in Minnesota, where the fight against Line 3 is underway. There are currently six bills under consideration in the state, packaged into four legislative packages. If any of them pass, not only could protestors be facing stiffer penalties but also the organizations involved, most of them led by Native women, could find themselves slapped with large fines too.

In this interview, researcher Connor Gibson walks us through the origin of these laws, why they’re picking up steam, and what to expect this year.
» Listen to podcast, “How the Fossil Fuel Industry Is Undermining Free Speech”

» More about protests and actions               

DIVESTMENT

Big banks’ trillion-dollar finance for fossil fuels ‘shocking’, says report
Coal, oil and gas firms have received $3.8tn in finance since the Paris climate deal in 2015
By Damian Carrington, The Guardian
March 24, 2021

The world’s biggest 60 banks have provided $3.8tn of financing for fossil fuel companies since the Paris climate deal in 2015, according to a report by a coalition of NGOs.

Despite the Covid-19 pandemic cutting energy use, overall funding remains on an upward trend and the finance provided in 2020 was higher than in 2016 or 2017, a fact the report’s authors and others described as “shocking”.

Oil, gas and coal will need to be burned for some years to come. But it has been known since at least 2015 that a significant proportion of existing reserves must remain in the ground if global heating is to remain below 2C, the main Paris target. Financing for new reserves is therefore the “exact opposite” of what is required to tackle the climate crisis, the report’s authors said.

US and Canadian banks make up 13 of the 60 banks analysed, but account for almost half of global fossil fuel financing over the last five years, the report found. JPMorgan Chase provided more finance than any other bank. UK bank Barclays provided the most fossil fuel financing among all European banks and French bank BNP Paribas was the biggest in the EU.

Overall financing dipped by 9% in pandemic-hit 2020, but funding for the 100 fossil fuel companies with the biggest expansion plans actually rose by 10%. Citi was the biggest financier of these 100 companies in 2020.

A commitment to be net zero by 2050 has been made by 17 of the 60 banks, but the report describes the pledges as “dangerously weak, half-baked, or vague”, arguing that action is needed today. Some banks have policies that block finance for coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel, but almost two-thirds of funding is for oil and gas companies.

The report’s authors said targeting of banks by campaigners and activist shareholders could help change bank policies but that action by governments was also needed.
» Read article            

» More about divestment

LEGISLATION

Baker intends to sign climate and emissions bill
By Chris Lisinski, WWLP
March 25, 2021

BOSTON (SHNS) – Gov. Charlie Baker said Thursday that he plans to sign into law a sweeping climate policy bill the Legislature approved last week after vetoing an earlier version in January.

Asked as he departed a press conference if he would approve the climate bill, Baker replied with one-word: “Yes.” A spokesperson for his office then confirmed his intent to sign the legislation.

The landmark proposal aims to craft a path toward achieving net-zero carbon emissions statewide by 2050 by setting interim targets for emissions reductions, establishing energy efficiency standards for appliances and addressing the needs of environmental justice communities. Baker vetoed the original version of the bill, approved at the end of the 2019-2020 lawmaking session, in January over concerns that it could limit housing production and did not do enough to help cities and towns adapt to the effects of climate change effects.

Lawmakers passed the legislation a second time and then adopted many of Baker’s sought changes, though they did not agree to some of his more substantial amendments, such as a lower emissions-reduction milestone for 2030.

Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Kathleen Theoharides signaled after the bill’s passage that the administration was happy with the amendments. Business groups NAIOP and the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce have recently announced support for the bill after previously expressing hesitation. Baker has until Sunday to act on the climate bill.
» Read article            

» More about legislation

GREENING THE ECONOMY

Why Companies’ ‘Net-Zero’ Emissions Pledges Should Trigger a Healthy Dose of Skepticism
By Oliver Miltenberger, The University of Melbourne and Matthew D. Potts, University of California, Berkeley, The Conversation, republished in DeSmog Blog
March 25, 2021

Hundreds of companies, including major emitters like United Airlines, BP and Shell, have pledged to reduce their impact on climate change and reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. These plans sound ambitious, but what does it actually take to reach net-zero and, more importantly, will it be enough to slow climate change?

As environmental policy and economics researchers, we study how companies make these net-zero pledges. Though the pledges make great press releases, net-zero is more complicated and potentially problematic than it may seem.

The gold standard for reaching net-zero emissions looks like this: A company identifies and reports all emissions it is responsible for creating, it reduces them as much as possible, and then – if it still has emissions it cannot reduce – it invests in projects that either prevent emissions elsewhere or pull carbon out of the air to reach a “net-zero” balance on paper.

The process is complex and still largely unregulated and ill-defined. As a result, companies have a lot of discretion over how they report their emissions. For example, a multinational mining company might count emissions from extracting and processing ore but not the emissions produced by transporting it.

Companies also have discretion over how much they rely on what are known as offsets – the projects they can fund to reduce emissions. The oil giant Shell, for example, projects that it will both achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 and continue to produce high levels of fossil fuel through that year and beyond. How? It proposes to offset the bulk of its fossil-fuel-related emissions through massive nature-based projects that capture and store carbon, such as forest and ocean restoration. In fact, Shell alone plans to deploy more of these offsets by 2030 than were available globally in 2019.

Environmentalists may welcome Shell’s newfound conservationist agenda, but what if other oil companies, the airline industries, the shipping sectors and the U.S. government all propose a similar solution? Is there enough land and ocean realistically available for offsets, and is simply restoring environments without fundamentally changing the business-as-usual paradigm really a solution to climate change?
» Read article            


That Salmon on Your Plate Might Have Been a Vegetarian
Pescatarians take note: Farmed fish are eating more veggies and less wild fish, according to new research. That’s good news for nature.
By Somini Sengupta, New York Times
March 24, 2021

Twenty years ago, as farmed salmon and shrimp started spreading in supermarket freezers, came an influential scientific paper that warned of an environmental mess: Fish farms were gobbling up wild fish stocks, spreading disease and causing marine pollution.

This week, some of the same scientists who published that report issued a new paper concluding that fish farming, in many parts of the world, at least, is a whole lot better. The most significant improvement, they said, was that farmed fish were not being fed as much wild fish. They were being fed more plants, like soy.

In short, the paper found, farmed fish like salmon and trout had become mostly vegetarians.

Synthesizing hundreds of research papers carried out over the last 20 years across the global aquaculture industry, the latest study was published Wednesday in the journal Nature.

The findings have real-world implications for nutrition, jobs and biodiversity. Aquaculture is a source of income for millions of small-scale fishers and revenue for fish-exporting countries. It is also vital if the world’s 7.75 billion people want to keep eating fish and shellfish without draining the ocean of wild fish stocks and marine biodiversity.

At the same time, there have long been concerns among some environmentalists about aquaculture’s effects on natural habitats.

The new paper found promising developments, but also lingering problems. And it didn’t quite inform the average fish-eater what they should eat more of — or avoid.
» Read article              
» Read the original study
» Read the new aquaculture study

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE


Trawling for Fish May Unleash as Much Carbon as Air Travel, Study Says
The report also found that strategically conserving some marine areas would not only safeguard imperiled species but sequester vast amounts planet-warming carbon dioxide, too.
By Catrin Einhorn, New York Times
March 17, 2021

For the first time, scientists have calculated how much planet-warming carbon dioxide is released into the ocean by bottom trawling, the practice of dragging enormous nets along the ocean floor to catch shrimp, whiting, cod and other fish. The answer: As much as global aviation releases into the air.

While preliminary, that was one of the most surprising findings of a groundbreaking new study published on Wednesday in the journal Nature. The study offers what is essentially a peer-reviewed, interactive road map for how nations can confront the interconnected crises of climate change and wildlife collapse at sea.

It follows similar recent research focused on protecting land, all with a goal of informing a global agreement on biodiversity to be negotiated this autumn in Kunming, China.

Protecting strategic zones of the world’s oceans from fishing, drilling and mining would not only safeguard imperiled species and sequester vast amounts of carbon, the researchers found, it would also increase overall fish catch, providing more healthy protein to people.

“It’s a triple win,” said Enric Sala, a marine biologist who directs National Geographic’s Pristine Seas project. Dr. Sala led the study’s team of 26 biologists, climate scientists and economists.

How much and what parts of the ocean to protect depends on how much value is assigned to each of the three possible benefits: biodiversity, fishing and carbon storage.

Trisha Atwood, an aquatic ecologist at Utah State University who was one of the study’s authors, compared trawling to cutting down forests for agriculture.

“It’s wiping out biodiversity, it’s wiping out things like deep sea corals that take hundreds of years to grow,” Dr. Atwood said. “And now what this study shows is that it also has this other kind of unknown impact, which is that it creates a lot of CO2.”
» Read article               
» Read the study


We have turned the Amazon into a net greenhouse gas emitter: Study
By Liz Kimbrough, Mongabay
March 19, 2021

Something is wrong in the lungs of the world. Decades of burning, logging, mining and development have tipped the scales, and now the Amazon Basin may be emitting more greenhouse gases than it absorbs.

Most of the conversation about climate change is dominated by carbon dioxide. While CO2 plays a critical role in the complex climate equation, other forces such as methane, nitrous oxide, aerosols and black carbon are also factors.

In a first-of-its-kind effort, a group of 31 scientists calculated the balance of all natural and human-caused greenhouse gases coming in and out of the massive Amazon Basin. The team concluded that warming of the atmosphere from agents other than CO2 likely exceeds the climate benefits the Amazon provides via CO2 uptake. Or more simply: due to humans, the Amazon Basin is now a net greenhouse gas (GHG) emitter.

“I would highlight that natural greenhouse emissions from ecosystems aren’t causing climate change,” the study’s lead author, Kristofer Covey, an assistant professor at Skidmore College told Mongabay. “It’s the many human disturbances underway in the basin that are contributing to climate change.”

Earth receives constant energy from the sun. Climate-forcing factors in the atmosphere, such as greenhouse gases, act like a blanket, trapping that heat energy on Earth. When there’s more energy coming in from the sun than is being reflected back out into space, the planet warms and our climate is thrown out of balance.

A healthy forest ecosystem sucks in CO2 and keeps other climate-forcing factors in relative balance. But in the Amazon, where forests have faced increased logging, mining, dam construction, and clearing for agricultural (typically using fire), the system is drying and degrading. One study found that the amount of aboveground plant tissue in the Amazon was reduced by roughly one-third over the past decade.

In short, the ability of the Amazon to absorb CO2 is declining.
» Read article               

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

Why Covering Canals With Solar Panels Is a Power Move
Covering waterways would, in a sense, make solar panels water-cooled, boosting their efficiency.
By Matt Simon, Science
March 19, 2021

Peanut butter and jelly. Hall & Oates. Now there’s a duo that could literally and figuratively be even more powerful: solar panels and canals. What if instead of leaving canals open, letting the sun evaporate the water away, we covered them with panels that would both shade the precious liquid and hoover up solar energy? Maybe humanity can go for that.

Scientists in California just ran the numbers on what would happen if their state slapped solar panels on 4,000 miles of its canals, including the major California Aqueduct, and the results point to a potentially beautiful partnership. Their feasibility study, published in the journal Nature Sustainability, finds that if applied statewide, the panels would save 63 billion gallons of water from evaporating each year. At the same time, solar panels across California’s exposed canals would provide 13 gigawatts of renewable power annually, about half of the new capacity the state needs to meet its decarbonization goals by the year 2030.

California’s water conveyance system is the world’s largest, serving 35 million people and 5.7 million acres of farmland. Seventy-five percent of available water is in the northern third of the state, while the bottom two-thirds of the state accounts for 80 percent of urban and agricultural demand. Shuttling all that water around requires pumps to make it flow uphill; accordingly, the water system is the state’s largest single consumer of electricity.

Solar-paneling canals would not only produce renewable energy for use across the state, it would run the water system itself. “By covering canals with solar panels, we can reduce evaporation and avoid disturbing natural and working lands, while providing renewable energy and other co-benefits,” says environmental engineer Brandi McKuin of the University of California, Merced, and the University of California, Santa Cruz, lead author on the paper.
» Read article              


As early renewables near end-of-life, attention turns to recycling and disposal
By Emma Penrod, Utility Dive
March 24, 2021

Although only a handful of states have implemented rules related to the disposal of batteries, PV panels and other renewable assets, the time has come to consider their fate as early installations reach the end of their useful life, industry leaders concluded during a Tuesday webinar hosted by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI).

Batteries, solar panels and even wind turbines contain components that could be repurposed and recycled, panelists said, but high costs and the limited availability of these materials present barriers to scaling up recycling operations.

To create a “circular economy” in which no raw materials are wasted would reduce the lifetime environmental impact of renewable energy, but accomplishing this requires intent and funding that “starts at the design phase,” said Peter Perrault, senior manager of circular economy and sustainable solutions at Enel North America.
» Read article                

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY AND ELECTRIFICATION


He wanted to get his home off fossil fuels. There was just one problem.
Want to electrify your home? Good luck finding a contractor.
Emily Pontecorvo, Grist
March 18, 2021

Adam James had been casually browsing the housing market for about a year when he came across a home that seemed like the perfect fit. The 31-year-old and his wife recently had their third child, and the 1960s split-level ranch house in Ossining, New York, a village on the Hudson River with ample green space and a commuter train station, was just what they were looking for. The house had only one downside: Its oil-based heating system was 35 years old and on the brink of sputtering out.

Except that wasn’t a downside for James, who works as chief of staff at Energy Impact Partners, a sustainable energy investment firm. “I was actually excited because I was like, I’m gonna get this thing off of fuel oil and decarbonize it,” he told Grist last October.

By that he meant he wanted to switch out the heating and hot water systems in the house for appliances that run on electricity. This kind of conversion is called electrification, and it is currently the only proven way to eliminate the carbon emissions directly generated by our buildings. But even in New York state, which has a legal mandate to cut emissions 85 percent by 2050, a goal of getting 130,000 electric heat and hot water systems installed by 2025, and several public and private programs that promote and incentivize electric heating, James had an unexpected amount of trouble getting it done.

The first thing James did was call a few local contractors to ask about geothermal heat pumps, highly efficient systems that absorb heat from the near-constant temperature beneath the earth’s surface and transfer it into your home. But he quickly learned that it was going to cost a lot more than he thought — around $40,000, by one estimate. So James gave up on geothermal and began looking into air-source heat pumps, similar systems that instead absorb heat from the outdoor air, even on cold winter days. He found a list of contractors on the website for New York’s Energy Research and Development Authority, or NYSERDA, a state agency tasked with promoting energy efficiency and renewables. The contractors on the list were ostensibly certified to install heat pumps, and James said he called about 10 of them just to figure out what his options were.

Several didn’t respond to his inquiry. A few told him they didn’t do heat pumps. The rest said they could install heat pumps but tried to talk him out of it, explaining that a heat pump would be more expensive than a fuel oil system or a propane furnace, and that he would still need one of those as a backup source of heat.

[Nate Adams, a home performance specialist based in Ohio who goes by the nickname the “House Whisperer,”] said some contractors are afraid of heat pumps because earlier generations of the technology were noisy and didn’t work well in colder temperatures. The technology has come a long way, and new, cold-climate heat pumps work just fine in places like New York, but contractors still perceive them as riskier than traditional systems. “We have 105,000 HVAC contractors across the U.S. that have to be convinced this is a good idea,” said Adams, using the acronym for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning.

There’s disagreement about heat pump effectiveness even among contractors who recommend the technology. In February, about five months after James’ ordeal, I called several contractors from the same list James consulted and reached Scott Carey, a contractor in Briarcliff, New York, who installs heat pumps for clients and even recently put them in his own house. However, he recommends that his customers keep a back-up source of heat, such as a propane furnace, for when the heat pump periodically goes into defrost mode, running the system in reverse and pumping cold air into the house.

Daphney Warrington, who runs an HVAC company called Breffni Mechanical with her husband in Yonkers, New York, and also installs heat pumps, disagreed — she said there was no need for a backup system unless the homeowner wanted to have one. When asked about James’ trouble finding a contractor, Warrington and Carey offered a similar assessment — a lot of contractors are old school and haven’t stayed up to date with the latest technology. “They still are thinking that heat pumps aren’t for this part of the country,” said Carey.
» Read article                

» More about energy efficiency and electrification

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

Critics warn Massachusetts’ climate progress is headed for traffic jam
Climate advocates and analysts say the state will need to reduce driving if it wants to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, and that current plans focus too much on vehicle electrification.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
March 22, 2021

Massachusetts won’t meet its climate goals without getting people to drive less.

That’s the unpopular message from climate advocates and analysts who say the state’s recent Clean Energy and Climate Plan draft places too much emphasis on vehicle electrification and all but ignores the critical need to also reduce driving miles.

The number of vehicle miles traveled in the state is on pace to increase by 21% from 2010 to 2030, according to a new report from the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, the regional planning agency for greater Boston. This growth would cause emissions to rise unless all the vehicles in the state achieved an average — and unlikely — efficiency of 29 miles per gallon, the report concludes.

To alter this course, advocates say, state leaders will need to consider implementing congestion pricing, per-mile fees for road usage, or land use policies that make it easier and more attractive to use public transit — ideas that are not currently major parts of the climate plan.

“It leans on electrification of the vehicle fleet, which is obviously a critical pathway to pursue at the policy level,” said Conor Gately, senior land use and transportation analyst for the planning council. “There’s not as much enthusiasm for the land use side of things to reduce underlying demand.”
» Read article               
» Read the MAPC report

» More about clean transportation

FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION

Glick, Danly spar over gas pipeline reviews as FERC considers project’s climate impacts for first time
By Catherine Morehouse, Utility Dive
March 19, 2021

FERC’s decision to consider climate impacts when approving a pipeline certificate marks a significant compromise between Glick and Commissioner Neil Chatterjee, who had indicated in the weeks leading up to the meeting that he might be willing to consider such factors.

“I give [Chatterjee] a lot of credit,” said Glick. “He approached me a while back and said ‘Hey, I think we can work out some sort of compromise here on this issue.'”

Danly, in his dissent, accused the commission of a “dramatic change” inconsistent with long-standing precedent that the commission does not have the right tools to properly assess the impact of projects’ greenhouse gas emissions. Further, he expressed concern that oil and gas companies were not sufficiently involved in the process.

“It appears to me that the financial gas industry and its customers are on the verge of experiencing some dramatic changes in the coming months and years, and we’ve learned that those changes can come from unexpected proceedings,” he said.

FERC’s Thursday meeting followed the commission’s first listening session of the Office of Public Participation, wherein commissioners listened to hours long testimony from landowners and others who had been negatively impacted by gas infrastructure development and, they felt, left out of FERC’s proceedings. Glick pointed out that Danly’s arguments disregard those stakeholders.

“You had suggested that everyone should intervene in all these natural gas pipeline proceedings,” he said. “Well, I would say the same for not just the pipeline companies, but for all the other people that have been screwed by the Commission,” Glick said, calling Danly’s stance “the height of hypocrisy.”

“You were the general counsel, Mr. Danly, when the Commission … without any notice, without telling landowners, without telling people that are concerned about climate change” repeatedly chose not to examine the climate impacts of infrastructure, despite a 2017 ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit that found that FERC’s environmental impact assessment for pipelines was “inadequate.”

“Absolutely, if you’re a pipeline company, and you want to intervene in a proceeding, go for it … but I would say that everyone else, please you intervene too, because we need to hear your voices as well,” Glick said. “Not just the voices that can afford high-priced Washington D.C. law firms to participate in these proceedings.”
» Read article                

» More about FERC

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS


SLAPPed silly: the company promoting the Goldboro LNG plant that Premier Rankin supports is trying to bully its critics into silence
By Tim Bousquet, Halifax Examiner
March 22, 2021

This weekend, delegates at the Conservative Party of Canada’s national convention rejected a motion that called for the party to acknowledge that “climate change is real.”

Some of the no votes were more nuanced than others, but the gist is that party members don’t want to adopt policies — support for the Paris Accord and carbon taxes, better regulation of emissions from the oil and gas industry — that are necessary to confront the problem. If it means losing votes in the oil fields, they’re against it, the future of the planet be damned.

It’s a reprehensible attitude, but hopefully will have little real-world impact: the CPC is out of power, not even a bit player in the governing minority government, and by voting against the motion, delegates made it that much harder for the party to get back in power.

But it’s an entirely different matter when Iain Rankin, the Liberal premier of Nova Scotia, who is presiding atop a majority government that is setting energy policy for the next several decades, embraces the natural gas industry. Unlike the now powerless CPC, Rankin’s actions can contribute materially to humanity’s failure to confront climate change.

The Pieridae proposal envisions natural gas sourced in Alberta being delivered via new and enlarged pipelines to Nova Scotia, where it will be liquified at the Goldboro plant. That LNG would then be pumped into giant LNG carriers that will carry the LNG across the Atlantic to a new terminal to be built by the energy company Uniper in Wilhelmshaven, Germany; there, the gas will be regasified and distributed to German homes and businesses.

And last night, activists in the US alerted me to yet another possible gas source for the Goldboro plant — natural gas produced by fracking in Western Pennsylvania.

At issue is a now-operating natural gas compressing plant in Weymouth, Massachusetts. As WBUR, the NPR station in Boston, explained it in October:

The 7,700-horsepower Weymouth compressor [emphasis added] is part of a larger gas pipeline plan called the Atlantic Bridge Project. The purpose of the project is to make it easier for “fracked” natural gas from the Marcellus Shale of Western Pennsylvania to get to northern New England and Canada, and it does this by connecting two existing pipeline systems: the Algonquin Gas Transmission, which flows from New Jersey into Massachusetts, and the Maritimes & Northeast Pipeline, which flows from Massachusetts to Nova Scotia, Canada.
» Read article                
» Read background story: The Goldboro Gamble, Part 1           
» Read background story: The Goldboro Gamble, Part 2             

» More about LNG

BIOMASS

Springfield City Council enlists Conservation Law Foundation in fight against Palmer Renewable Energy biomass plant
By Jim Kinney, MassLive
March 23, 2021


The Springfield City Council will challenge Palmer Renewable Energy’s decade-old building permit with the help of the nonprofit Conservation Law Foundation of Boston.

At issue is councilors’ contention that the 2011 permit expired because construction has not begun at the proposed $150 million, 35-megawatt power plant. They say any construction now would require a new special use permit under a 2013 city ordinance.

The appeal will be filed this week — possibly Wednesday — with the Springfield Zoning Board. Whatever side loses at the Zoning Board can appeal to one of several courts after that.

“The people of Springfield seem largely opposed (to the plant),” said Johannes Epke, staff attorney for the Conservation Law Foundation. “We had a unanimous vote of the city council (Monday) night. If the city council and the people of Springfield cannot make these developers come in for a special permit and explain to the city why this is a beneficial use, there is a real problem in the operation of zoning and building enforcement.”

Building permits require construction to commence within six months, Epke said.

The appeal isn’t costing the council, or the city, anything to pursue, Epke said. The Conservation Law Foundation is “happy” to advocate on the council’s behalf, he said.
» Read article                

Dutch to limit forest biomass subsidies, possibly signaling EU sea change
By Justin Catanoso, Mongabay
March 9, 2021

The Dutch Parliament in February voted to disallow the issuing of new subsidies for 50 planned forest biomass-for-heat plants, a small, but potentially key victory for researchers and activists who say that the burning of forests to make energy is not only not carbon neutral, but is dirtier than burning coal and bad climate policy.

With public opinion opposing forest biomass as a climate solution now growing in the EU, the decision by the Netherlands could be a bellwether. In June, the EU will review its Renewable Energy Directive (RED II), whether to continue allowing biomass subsidies and not counting biomass emissions at the smokestack.

Currently, forest biomass burning to make energy is ruled as carbon neutral in the EU, even though a growing body of scientific evidence has shown that it takes many decades until forests regrow for carbon neutrality to be achieved.

The forestry industry, which continues to see increasing demand for wood pellets, argues that biomass burning is environmentally sustainable and a viable carbon cutting solution compared to coal.
» Read article                

» More about biomass                 

PLASTICS, HEALTH, AND THE ENVIRONMENT

My Team Found 2,000 Plastic Bags Inside A Dead Camel
By Marcus Eriksen, Bloomberg | Opinion, in NDTV
March 24, 2021

Digging between the ribs of a dead camel buried in the sands of Dubai, I couldn’t believe what my colleagues and I found: a mass of plastic bags as big as a large suitcase. At least 2,000 plastic bags were lumped together where the animal’s stomach would have been.

We had been led to the site by Ulrich Wernery of the Dubai-based Central Veterinary Research Laboratory, who knew we were researching floating plastics in the Persian Gulf region. After two decades at sea, I thought I had seen it all. We had traveled from the Arctic to the Antarctic, publishing research on plastic pollution across all the oceans’ garbage patches. We found plastic microbeads in the Great Lakes. We have seen albatrosses full of plastic on Midway Atoll, fish with microplastics in their stomachs and California sea lions with nooses of fishing line around their necks.

But the camels were a whole new level of appalling. Our team of scientists documented that more than 300 camels in the Dubai region had died because they ate humans’ trash, accounting for 1% of dead camels evaluated there since 2008. Unlike other research that might examine animals in a laboratory, this was a field study with concentrations of plastic trash that exist in the environment. It is a real-world tragedy with ecologically relevant concentrations of trash.

Imagine having 50 plastic bags in your stomach that you could not digest, causing ulcers and tremendous discomfort and the feeling that you’re full all the time. You can’t and don’t eat any food. This is what happens to camels, and it results in intestinal bleeding, blockages, dehydration, malnutrition and death.

Much of the world still perceives plastic pollution as a problem limited to the ocean. Last month, U.N. Secretary General Antnio Guterres opened the gathering of the United Nations Environmental Assembly, the world’s top environmental decision-making body, by warning that the “oceans are filling with plastic,” and left it at that.

This is wrong. The camels are only the latest casualties occurring in all environments on this planet due to plastic. Researchers have also observed death and suffering in animals from elephants to reindeer. They have found plastic fragments in farmland, food and drinking water. Another recent report drawing on the results of more than 30 studies calls attention to the damage that a chemical found in plastic may do to babies’ brains. Plastic has even been seen in Earth’s orbit.
» Read article                

» More about plastics in the environment

PLASTICS RECYCLING


John Oliver Takes on the Plastics Industry
By Olivia Rosane, EcoWatch
March 23, 2021

In his latest deep dive for Last Week Tonight, comedian John Oliver took on plastic pollution and, specifically, the myth that if we all just recycled enough, the problem would go away.

Instead, Oliver argued, this is a narrative that has been intentionally pushed by the plastics industry for decades. He cited the [iconic] 1970 Keep America Beautiful ad, which showed a Native American man (really an Italian American actor) crying as a hand tossed litter from a car window. Keep America Beautiful, Oliver pointed out, was partly funded by plastics-industry trade group SPI.

“Which might seem odd until you realize that the underlying message there is, ‘It’s up to you, the consumer, to stop pollution,'” Oliver said. “And that has been a major through line in the recycling movement, a movement often bankrolled by companies that wanted to drill home the message that it is your responsibility to deal with the environmental impact of their products.”
» Read article              
» Watch ‘Last Week Tonight’ video (viewer discretion advised)

» More about plastics recycling

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Weekly News Check-In 3/12/21

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Welcome back.

Three areas we’re watching closely this week include the Weymouth compressor station, where an upcoming federal review of safety and health concerns has prompted individuals and groups to register as “interveners”.  Also the highly controversial biomass generating plant proposed for Springfield, which was the subject of a blatant greenwashing effort by its Chief Operating Officer, Vic Gatto – we posted a response from Partnership for Policy Integrity that cuts through the misinformation. And landmark climate legislation, now in final form and mostly intact, but temporarily held up by Republicans in the Massachusetts Senate.

For those of you following the big pipeline battles, we have reports on Dakota Access and the Enbridge Lines 3 & 5. Line 3 construction is pushing ahead in Northern Minnesota, drawing fierce protests from indigenous groups.

The movement to divest from fossil fuels has achieved considerable success, but we’re expanding our view to consider other climate-warming business sectors that are cooking the planet with support from big banks and funds. We offer a report on some agricultural practices that fall squarely in this category. Since all that divested money needs a home, a new kind of bank is investing in a greener economy.

Climate modeling predicts that periodic heat + humidity events could make much of the tropics – home to 3 billion people – uninhabitable for humans once we exceed 1.5C temperature rise above the pre-industrial baseline. We pair that with a report on China’s recently released Five Year Plan, with its decidedly unambitious decarbonization policy.

There’s good news for offshore wind in general, and Vineyard Wind in particular. A Massachusetts program that vastly opens up possibilities for energy storage is spreading throughout the New England grid, and heavy shipping is our clean transportation focus this week.

We continue to follow the disturbing developments at the International Code Council, which recently changed rules and locked out municipal officials from voting on updates to the energy efficiency building code.

A combination of distributed energy resources (solar, wind, battery storage) is now cheaper and more resilient than the fossil-fueled “peaker” power plants that electric utilities have traditionally relied on during periods of high demand. We found an article that explores the change in thinking required to make the change happen.

The fossil fuel industry is still struggling to recognize that fracking has been a complete financial disaster. Meanwhile, White House National Climate Adviser Gina McCarthy says the administration has moved beyond immediate consideration of a carbon tax – preferring regulation, incentives, and other actions as more effective ways to draw down fuel consumption and emissions. And we close this section with a disturbingly bullish industry report predicting record growth in deepwater oil extraction in the next five years – multiplying the sort of risks that BP’s Deepwater Horizon demonstrated so spectacularly just eleven years ago.

We recently reported on a permanent fracking ban imposed throughout the Delaware River Basin, which opponents of the planned liquefied natural gas export terminal in Gibbstown, NJ saw as a potentially fatal blow to that project. All eyes are on New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy – who signed the fracking ban in spite of past support for the Gibbstown project – to see if he’s also disturbed by fracking that occurs farther away, in other people’s backyards.

We wrap up with a report on fossil fuel’s petrochemical cousin – plastic  – and its increasing presence in the environment. A new study finds that marine fish ingest the stuff at twice the rate as they did just a decade ago.

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

— The NFGiM Team

 

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

Weymouth intervenors
Council dealt setback with filing compressor brief
By Ed Baker, Wicked Local
March 9, 2021

Town Solicitor Joseph Callanan said legal precedents don’t allow Town Council to file a legal brief with federal regulators about safety and health concerns posed by a natural gas compressor station in the Fore River Basin.

“Collectively, the Town Council does not have the authority to sue,” he said during a Council meeting, March 8.  “If you do it as individuals, I have no problem with that.”

Councilor-at-large Rebecca Haugh said her colleagues could draft a letter that details their concerns about the compressor station and give it to residents or community groups who seek an intervenor status with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

“Any intervenor could use that letter,” she said.

Residents and community groups have until Thursday, March 11, to register as an intervenor with FERC. 

The Council could approve the letter when it meets, 7:30 p.m. March 15.

Approval of each councilor’s correspondence would require them to be independent intervenors when filing a brief with FERC.

Callanan said the Council couldn’t represent itself as a legal body partly because Weymouth agreed not to appeal judicial decisions that favored the compressor station owner Enbridge Inc. and its subsidiary Algonquin Gas Transmission. 

The town’s decision to not appeal the court rulings is part of a $38 million Host Community Agreement that Mayor Robert Hedlund and Enbridge agreed to in October 2020.
» Read article          

» More about the Weymouth compressor station           

 

PIPELINES

DAPL crossroadsDAPL has reached a crucial crossroads. Here’s a guide to North Dakota’s bitter pipeline dispute
If you haven’t followed every turn in the Dakota Access Pipeline’s federal court hearings, here’s an up-to-date primer on the years-long pipeline saga.
By Adam Willis, Inforum
March 10, 2021

In the last four years, the Dakota Access Pipeline has become a defining conflict, not only in North Dakota but for a national reckoning over America’s climate and energy future. But in the years since the smoke of protest clashes near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation has cleared, the pipeline dispute has carried on more quietly, with many of the biggest decisions being hashed out in courtrooms in Washington, D.C.

With a new president in the White House, DAPL backers and opponents alike have felt that the embattled project may be at another decisive moment. But after a tumultuous year for the pipeline, what has changed, and what is still undecided?
» Read article          

focus on line 3The next big oil pipeline battle is brewing over Line 3 in Minnesota
By Hari Sreenivasan, PBS NewsHour
March 6, 2021

On his first day in office, president Biden signed an executive order to stop construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. But now, many people in the Great Lakes region are asking the Administration to halt a different pipeline project they believe poses an even greater threat to indigenous communities and local waterways. And as NewsHour Weekend’s Ivette Feliciano reports, experts and climate advocates say it’s time to stop oil pipeline projects in the U.S. once and for all.
» Watch report or read article          

oil and water
Between Oil And Water: The Issue With Enbridge’s Line 5
By Jaclyn Pahl, Organization for World Peace
March 3, 2021

Two pipelines have been lying at the bottom of the Great Lakes for six decades. Carrying more than half a million barrels of oil and natural gas liquids every day, Enbridge Inc.’s Line 5 runs from Superior, Wisconsin to Sarnia, Ontario. The pipeline passes under the environmentally sensitive Straits of Mackinac—a narrow waterway that connects Lakes Michigan to Lake Huron. The Strait has shallow water, strong currents, and extreme weather conditions (becoming frozen during winter). If a pipe were to rupture, the oil would reach shorelines, accumulate, and jeopardize Great Lakes Michigan and Huron’s ecology. Citing environmental concerns, Michigan state officials have demanded that the Canadian company close Line 5.

Petroleum reaches Line 5 from Western Canada. Starting in Superior, Wisconsin, Line 5 travels east through Wisconsin to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The pipeline runs along the shore of Lake Michigan until it reaches the Straits of Mackinac. Here, the pipeline splits into two, and each is 20 inches (51 centimetres) in diameter. The lines reunite on the southern side of the straits. The pipeline continues south, crossing the border and terminating in Sarnia, Ontario. The oil and natural gas liquids in Line 5 feed refineries in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Ontario, and Quebec.

Conscious of environmental concerns, on 13 November 2020, Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer demanded that Enbridge halt oil flow through the pipeline within 180 days. A 2016 study by the University of Michigan found that more than 700 miles (or roughly 1,100 kilometres) of shoreline in Lakes Michigan and Huron would be compromised by a Line 5 rupture. The Graham Sustainability Institute used computer imaging to model how the oil potentially could spread. According to their findings, the most significant risk areas include the Bois Blanc Islands, places on the north shore of the Straits, and Mackinaw City. Communities at risk include Beaver Island, Cross Village, Harbor Springs, Cheboygan, and other areas of the shoreline. A pipeline rupture would quickly contaminate Lakes Michigan and Huron’s shorelines and would involve an extensive cleanup.

Enbridge claims Line 5 is in good condition and has never leaked in the past. However, Enbridge has a checkered past when it comes to oil spills. In 2010 an Enbridge pipeline ruptured in the Kalamazoo River (also located in Michigan) and spilled roughly 1 million gallons of crude oil. The spill went undetected for 18 hours, and the United States Department of Transportation fined Enbridge USD 3.7 million. It is one of the largest land-based oil spills in American history. An investigation found the cause of the pipeline breach to be corrosion fatigue due to ageing pipelines. Alarmingly, the pipeline that runs through the Straits of Mackinac is 15 years older than the pipeline that burst in the Kalamazoo River. Additionally, this is not the only time an Enbridge pipeline has leaked oil. Between 1999 and 2013, there have been 1,068 Enbridge oil spills involving 7.4 million gallons of oil.
» Read article          
» Read the 2016 University of Michigan study        

» More about pipelines             

 

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

house on fire
Enbridge pipeline to Wisconsin draws protests
By NORA G. HERTEL, St. Cloud Times, in Wisconsin State Journal
March 8, 2021

PALISADE, Minn. — The air smelled like sage. Fat snowflakes fell among maple and birch trees. And pipeline opponents clutched pinches of tobacco to throw with their prayers into the frozen Mississippi River.

“We’re all made of water,” said Tania Aubid, a member of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe. “Don’t take water for granted.”

Aubid is a water protector, a resident opponent to the Enbridge Energy Line 3 oil pipeline currently under construction in northern Minnesota. Since November, Aubid has lived at a camp along the pipeline’s route north of Palisade.

The camp in Aitkin County is called the Water Protector Welcome Center. It’s home to a core group of pipeline opponents and a gathering place for others, including 75 students, faculty and their families who visited the site last month.

They held a prayer ceremony along the Mississippi River and talked about what they believe is at stake with the Line 3 replacement project: Minnesota’s fresh water and land, specifically Anishinaabe treaty territory.

“These are my homelands in the 1855 treaty territory,” Aubid said. The camp rests on 80 acres of land owned by a Native American land trust. It abuts the pipeline route.

Aubid spent nine months on the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota to demonstrate against the Dakota Access Pipeline, where protesters were sprayed with pepper spray, water cannons and some attacked by dogs.

Demonstrators have taken action to disrupt the construction. Three people recently blocked Enbridge worksites in Savanna State Forest, according to a press release on behalf of the water protector group. Eight were arrested in early January near Hill City. In December, activists camped out in trees along the route.
» Read article          

» More about protests and actions        

 

DIVESTMENT

dangerous bet
Big Banks Make a Dangerous Bet on the World’s Growing Demand for Food
While banks and asset managers are promising to divest from fossil fuels, they are expanding investments in high-carbon foods and commodities tied to deforestation.
By Georgina Gustin, InsideClimate News
March 7, 2021

As global banking giants and investment firms vow to divest from polluting energy companies, they’re continuing to bankroll another major driver of the climate crisis: food and farming corporations that are responsible, directly or indirectly, for cutting down vast carbon-storing forests and spewing greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere. 

These agricultural investments, largely unnoticed and unchecked, represent a potentially catastrophic blind spot.

“Animal protein and even dairy is likely, and already has started to become, the new oil and gas,” said Bruno Sarda, the former North America president of CDP, a framework through which companies disclose their carbon emissions. “This is the biggest source of emissions that doesn’t have a target on its back.”

By pouring money into emissions-intensive agriculture, banks and investors are making a dangerous bet on the world’s growing demand for food, especially foods that are the greatest source of emissions in the food system: meat and dairy. 

Agriculture and deforestation, largely driven by livestock production, are responsible for nearly one quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions. By 2030, livestock production alone could consume nearly half the world’s carbon budget, the amount of greenhouse gas the world can emit without blowing past global climate targets. 

“It’s not enough to divest from fossil fuel,” said Devlin Kuyek, a senior researcher at GRAIN, a non-profit organization that advocates for small farms. “If you look at emissions just from the largest meat and dairy companies, and the trajectories they have, you see that these companies and their models are completely unsustainable.”

Those trajectories could put global climate goals well out of reach.
» Read article          

» More about divestment             

 

GREENING THE ECONOMY

Atmos Financial
Climate Fintech Startup Atmos Financial Puts Savings to Work for Clean Energy
Atmos joins a wave of financial startups pushing big banks to stop lending to new-build fossil fuel projects.
By Julian Spector, GreenTech Media
March 10, 2021

Money doesn’t just sit in savings accounts doing nothing. Banks recirculate deposited cash as loans — for cars, homes, even oil pipelines — and pay customers interest for the service.

Startup Atmos Financial ensures that the money its customers deposit will only go to clean energy projects, rather than funding fossil fuel infrastructure. 

“Banks lend out money, and it’s these loans that create the society in which we live,” said co-founder Ravi Mikkelsen, who launched the service on January 12. “By choosing where we bank, we get to choose what type of world we live in.”

Atmos is one entrant working at the intersection of two broader trends in finance: the rise of fintech, in which startups compete to add digital services that traditional banks lack; and the movement to incorporate climate risk and clean energy opportunities into the world of finance. Climate fintech takes aim at the historical entanglement between major banks and the fossil fuel industry to create forms of banking that don’t lead to more carbon emissions.

“It’s a space that’s starting to see more activity,” said Aaron McCreary, climate fintech lead at New Energy Nexus and co-author of a recent report on the sector. “They’re picking up customers. They’re offering products and services that aren’t normalized in Bank of America or Wells Fargo.”
» Read article          

» More on greening the economy            

 

LEGISLATION

Senate stands pat
Senate stands pat on climate change legislation

Bill rejects major amendments proposed by Baker
By Bruce Mohl, CommonWealth Magazine
March 10, 2021

THE SENATE is preparing to pass new climate change legislation that accepts some minor technical changes proposed by Gov. Charlie Baker but rejects compromise language the governor proposed on several contentious issues.

The Senate bill stands firm in requiring a 50 percent reduction in emissions relative to 1990 levels by 2030, even though the governor had said the 50 percent target would end up costing Massachusetts residents an extra $6 billion. The governor had proposed a target range of 45 to 50 percent, with his administration having the flexibility to choose the end point.

The Senate bill also doesn’t budge on the need for legally binding emission goals for six industry subsectors, although officials said the bill will grant some limited leeway to the administration in a case where the state meets its overall emission target but misses the goal in one industry subsector.

The bill also rejects compromise language put forward by the administration on stretch energy codes used by municipalities to push through changes in construction approaches.

Sen. Michael Barrett of Lexington, the chamber’s point person on climate change, said it would make no sense to back down on the 50 percent emission reduction goal for 2030 given that the Biden administration is preparing to adopt roughly the same goal next month on Earth Day. Barrett said John Kerry, Biden’s climate czar, is expected to adopt the 50 percent target as a national goal by 2030. The national goal uses a different base year than Massachusetts, but Barrett said the outcomes are very similar.
» Read article          
» What’s behind Baker’s $6B cost claim?              

ITC for storage
Investment tax credit for energy storage a ‘once in a generation opportunity towards saving planet’
By Andy Colthorpe, Energy Storage News
Image: Andy Colthorpe / Solar Media.
March 10, 2021

A politically bipartisan effort to introduce investment tax credit (ITC) incentives to support and accelerate the deployment of energy storage in the US could be a “once in a generation opportunity” to protect the future of the earth.

The Energy Storage Tax Incentive and Deployment Act would open up the ITC benefit to be applied to standalone energy storage systems. The ITC has transformed the fortunes of the US solar industry over the past decade but at present, the tax relief can only be applied for energy storage if batteries or other storage technology are paired with solar PV and installed at the same time.

Moves to push for an ITC have been ongoing since at least 2016. Yesterday, politicians from across the aisle in Congress put forward their bid to introduce it once more. Representatives Mike Doyle, a Democrat from Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District, Republican Vern Buchanan from Florida’s 16th Congressional District and Earl Blumenauer, a Democrat from Oregon’s 3rd district introduced the Act which would apply the standalone ITC for energy storage at utility, commercial & industrial (C&I) and residential levels.

“The Energy Storage Tax Incentive and Deployment Act would encourage the use of energy storage technologies, helping us reach our climate goals and create a more resilient and sustainable future,” Congressman Mike Doyle said.

“Cost-effective energy storage is essential for adding more renewable energy to the grid and will increase the resiliency of our communities. This bill would promote greater investment and research into energy storage technologies, bolster the advanced energy economy, and create more clean energy jobs.”
» Read article          

» More about legislation           

 

CLIMATE

TW 35C
Global Warming’s Deadly Combination: Heat and Humidity
A new study suggests that large swaths of the tropics will experience dangerous living and working conditions if global warming isn’t limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
By Henry Fountain, New York Times
March 8, 2021

Here’s one more reason the world should aim to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, a goal of the international Paris Agreement: It will help keep the tropics from becoming a deadly hothouse.

A study published Monday suggests that sharply cutting emissions of greenhouse gases to stay below that limit, which is equivalent to about 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit of warming since 1900, will help the tropics avoid episodes of high heat and high humidity — known as extreme wet-bulb temperature, or TW — that go beyond the limits of human survival.

“An important problem of climate research is what a global warming target means for local extreme weather events,” said Yi Zhang, a graduate student in geosciences at Princeton University and the study’s lead author. “This work addresses such a problem for extreme TW.”

The study is in line with other recent research showing that high heat and humidity are potentially one of the deadliest consequences of global warming.

“We know that climate change is making extreme heat and humidity more common,” said Robert Kopp, a climate scientist at Rutgers University who was not involved in the study. “And both of those things reduce our ability to live in a given climate.”

Dr. Kopp, who was an author of a study published last year that found that exposure to heat and humidity extremes was increasing worldwide, said a key contribution of the new work was in showing that, for the tropics, “it is easier to predict the combined effects of heat and humidity than just how hot it is.”

Ms. Zhang, along with two other Princeton researchers, Isaac Held and Stephan Fueglistaler, looked at how the combination of high heat and high humidity is controlled by dynamic processes in the atmosphere. They found that if global warming is limited to 1.5 degrees, the wet-bulb temperature at the surface can approach but not exceed 35 degrees Celsius, or 95 degrees Fahrenheit, in the tropics.

That region, a band roughly 3,000 miles from north to south that encircles Earth at the Equator, includes much of South and East Asia, Central America, Central Africa. It is home to more than 3 billion people.

Above a wet-bulb temperature of 35 Celsius, the body cannot cool down, as sweat on the skin can no longer evaporate. Prolonged exposure to such conditions can be fatal, even for healthy people. Lower but still high wet-bulb temperatures can affect health and productivity in other ways.
» Read article          

Xi baby steps
China’s Five Year Plan disappoints with “baby steps” on climate policy
By James Fernyhough, Renew Economy
March 8, 2021

On Friday the Chinese government released some long-awaited detail on its latest five year plan, and it was not the news many were hoping for – especially after President Xi Jinping’s surprise promise to go “carbon neutral” by 2060.

Rather than following up that 2060 pledge with a radical, immediate action to curb emissions, the plan contains no absolute emissions targets, and is light on any detail of comprehensive, workable strategies to make China’s energy sector emissions free.

Lauri Myllyvirta, lead analyst as the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air, describes it as “baby steps towards carbon neutrality”.

“The overall five-year plan just left the decision about how fast to start curbing emissions growth and displacing fossil energy to the sectoral plans expected later this year – particularly the energy sector five-year plan and the CO2 peaking action plan. The central contradiction between expanding the smokestack economy and promoting green growth appears unresolved,” he wrote on Friday.

The most ambitious emissions reduction policy in the document was a target to reduce emissions intensity by 18 per cent by 2025. Given over the last five years China’s emissions intensity has fallen by 18.8 per cent, this looks like a “business as usual” approach.

China’s emissions have carried on rising over the last five years even with emissions intensity reduction – Myllyvirta puts it at an average of 1.7 per cent a year – and look likely to continue. China already contributes close to 30 per cent of the world’s CO2 emissions.
» Read article          

» More about climate                     

 

CLEAN ENERGY

Vineyard Wind permiit moving
Biden’s interior acts quickly on Vineyard Wind
By Colin A. Young, State House News Service, on WWPL.com
March 8, 2021

Federal environmental officials have completed their review of the Vineyard Wind I offshore wind farm, moving the project that is expected to deliver clean renewable energy to Massachusetts by the end of 2023 closer to becoming a reality.

The U.S. Department of the Interior said Monday morning that its Bureau of Ocean Energy Management completed the analysis it resumed about a month ago, published the project’s final environmental impact statement, and said it will officially publish notice of the impact statement in the Federal Register later this week.

“More than three years of federal review and public comment is nearing its conclusion and 2021 is poised to be a momentous year for our project and the broader offshore wind industry,” Vineyard Wind CEO Lars Pedersen said. “Offshore wind is a historic opportunity to build a new industry that will lead to the creation of thousands of jobs, reduce electricity rates for consumers and contribute significantly to limiting the impacts of climate change. We look forward to reaching the final step in the federal permitting process and being able to launch an industry that has such tremendous potential for economic development in communities up and down the Eastern seaboard.”

The 800-megawatt wind farm planned for 15 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard was the first offshore wind project selected by Massachusetts utility companies with input from the Baker administration to fulfill part of a 2016 clean energy law. It is projected to generate cleaner electricity for more than 400,000 homes and businesses in Massachusetts, produce at least 3,600 jobs, reduce costs for Massachusetts ratepayers by an estimated $1.4 billion, and eliminate 1.68 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually.
» Read article          

protective suitsInside Clean Energy: 10 Years After Fukushima, Safety Is Not the Biggest Problem for the US Nuclear Industry
Proponents want atomic energy to be part of the clean energy transition, but high costs are a major impediment.
By Dan Gearino, InsideClimate News
March 11, 2021

Today is an uncomfortable anniversary for the nuclear industry and for people who believe that nuclear power should be a crucial part of the transition to clean energy.

On March 11, 2011, an earthquake and tsunami led to waves so high that they engulfed the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan, wrecking the backup generators that were responsible for cooling the reactors and spent fuel. What followed was a partial meltdown, evacuations and a revival of questions about the safety of nuclear power.

Ten years later, it would be easy to look at the moribund state of nuclear power in the United States and in much of the rest of the world and conclude that the Fukushima incident must have played a role. But safety concerns that Fukushima highlighted, while important, are not the main factors holding back a nuclear renaissance. The larger problem is economics, and the reality that nuclear power is substantially more expensive than other sources.

Indeed, one of the remarkable things about Fukushima’s legacy in the United States isn’t how much things have changed in the nuclear industry, but how little.

The high costs of nuclear power are part of why Gregory Jaczko, who was chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission at the time of the Fukushima disaster, thinks that new nuclear plants are not likely to be a substantial part of the energy transition.

“If we need nuclear to solve climate change, we will not solve climate change,” he told me, adding that much of the talk of nuclear as a climate solution is “marketing P.R. nonsense.”
» Read article          

 » More about clean energy            

 

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

NBI on codes
New ICC framework sidelines local government participation in energy code development
NBI strongly opposes changes, which make action on climate “non-mandatory”
By New Buildings Institute
March 4, 2021

The International Code Council (ICC) announced today a new framework that changes the essential nature of the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) development process from a model energy code to a standard. The change, described in vague terms in the ICC material, is impactful because it reduces the opportunity for cities and states to shape future versions of the IECC, even though they must subsequently adopt and implement it.

New Buildings Institute (NBI) opposes this outcome, which NBI staff testified against during an ICC Board of Directors meeting on this proposed change in January. NBI, a national nonprofit organization, has been working with jurisdictions and partners to support development and advancement of model energy codes for over 20 years, including participating in the IECC development process.

To update the 2021 IECC, thousands of government representatives voted loud and clear in favor of a 10% efficiency improvement that will reduce energy use and carbon emissions in new construction projects. These voters answered the call of the ICC for increased participation in the development process and took seriously their role as representatives of their jurisdiction’s goals and interests around climate change. Now, government officials will lose their vote, and instead appointed committees will make the determination of efficiency stringency for new homes and commercial buildings with no directive toward improvements needed to address the current climate crisis. Buildings account for 40% of the carbon emissions in the United States. The nation cannot address climate change without addressing buildings.

“The published changes to the code’s intent fundamentally stall progress on advancing efficiency and building decarbonization and fail to meet the need of the moment as the impacts from climate change bear down upon us,” said Kim Cheslak, NBI Director of Codes. “In addition to reducing governmental member involvement, the changes adopted by ICC will ensure that measures directly targeting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and the achievement of zero energy buildings in the IECC will only be voluntary, and subject to the approval of an unidentified Energy and Carbon Advisory Committee and the ICC Board of Directors. We have seen the make-up of committees have a detrimental impact all too often in previous code cycles when industry interests fight efficiency improvements from inside black-box processes,” Cheslak said.
» Read article          

» More about energy efficiency            

 

ENERGY STORAGE

connected solutions
A new program is making battery storage affordable for affordable housing (and everyone else)
By Seth Mullendore, Utility Dive
March 9, 2021

The battery storage market for homes and businesses has been steadily growing over the past few years, driven by falling battery prices, demand for reliable backup power and the potential to cut energy expenses. However, the uptake of customer-sited battery storage has not been equally distributed across geographic regions or customer types, with higher-income households driving residential sales and larger energy users with high utility demand charges leading the commercial sector. This has left many behind, particularly lower-income households and small-commercial properties, like community nonprofits and affordable housing providers.

However, a battery storage program first launched in Massachusetts, and now available in Rhode Island, Connecticut and New Hampshire, is beginning to transform the landscape for battery storage in homes, businesses and nonprofits. Unlike most battery storage programs and incentives, the design of the program, known as ConnectedSolutions in Massachusetts, focuses on supporting the energy needs of the regional electric grid instead of limiting the benefits to individual facilities.

A 2017 study published by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Clean Energy Group found that up to 28% of commercial customers across the country might be on a utility rate with high enough demand charges to make battery storage economical, which has been the primary driver for commercial markets. That represents around 5 million commercial customers, which is a lot, but it also represents an upper boundary of potential customers.

Even with high demand charges, a property needs to have a peaky enough energy profile — one with spikes in energy usage when power-intensive equipment is operating such as a water pump — in order for battery storage to cost-effectively manage and reduce onsite demand. Many customers, like multifamily affordable housing for instance, have energy usage profiles with broad peaks lasting multiple hours that would be difficult to economically manage with batteries.

The ConnectedSolutions program model solves this problem by compensating battery systems for reducing systemwide peak demand, which is when utilities pay the most for electricity — high costs that get passed on to all customers. A major benefit of this approach is that it creates a revenue stream for battery storage projects that is in no way dependent on a customer’s utility rate structure or how and when the customer uses electricity. Any customer of a regulated utility in a state where a program like ConnectedSolutions is available can participate and get the same economic benefit, regardless of whether that customer represents a large factory, a small community center, or a single-family household.
» Read article          

» More about energy storage                  

 

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

MaerskThe world’s first ‘carbon-neutral’ cargo ship is already low on gas
By Maria Gallucci, Grist
March 8, 2021

When shipping giant Maersk announced last month it would operate a “carbon-neutral” vessel by 2023, the Danish company committed to using a fuel that’s made from renewable sources, is free of soot-forming pollutants — and is currently in scarce supply.

“Green methanol” is drawing interest from the global shipping industry as companies work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and curb air pollution in ports. The colorless liquid can be used as a “drop-in” replacement for oil-based fuels with relatively minor modifications to a ship’s engine and fuel system. It’s also easy to store on board and, unlike batteries or tanks of hydrogen, it doesn’t take away too much space from the cargo hold.

Maersk’s plan to run its container ship on sustainably sourced methanol marks a key milestone for the emerging fuel. Cargo shipping is the linchpin of the global economy, with tens of thousands of vessels hauling goods, food, and raw materials across the water every day. The industry accounts for nearly 3 percent of annual global greenhouse gas emissions, a number that’s expected to rise if ships keep using the same dirty fuels, according to the International Maritime Organization, or IMO, the United Nations body that regulates the industry.

The IMO aims to reduce total shipping emissions by at least 50 percent from 2008 levels by 2050, and to completely decarbonize ships by the end of this century. The policy is accelerating efforts to test, pilot, and scale up more sustainable fuels.

Methanol, or CH₃OH, is primarily used to make chemicals for plastics, paints, and cosmetics. It’s also considered a top candidate for cleaning up cargo ships in the near term, along with liquefied natural gas — a fuel that produces little air pollution but ultimately results in higher emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Long term, however, the leading contenders are likely to be ammonia and hydrogen, two zero-carbon fuels in earlier stages of development.
» Read article          

» More about clean transportation        

 

ELECTRIC UTILITIES

DER services
‘A total mindshift’: Utilities replace gas peakers, ‘old school’ demand response with flexible DERs
Utility-customer cooperation can balance renewables’ variability with flexibility without using “blunt” demand response or natural gas.
By Herman K. Trabish, Utility Dive
March 8, 2021

Utilities and their customers are learning how their cooperation can provide mutual benefits by using the flexibility of distributed energy resources (DER) to cost-effectively balance the dynamics of the new power system.

The future is in utilities investing in technologies to manage the growth of customer-owned DER and customers offering their DER as grid services, advocates for utilities and DER told a Jan. 25-28 conference on load flexibility strategies. And there is an emerging pattern of cooperation between utilities and customers based on the shared value they can obtain from reduced peak demand and system infrastructure costs, speakers said.

“The utility of the future will use flexible DER to manage system peak, bid into wholesale markets, and defer distribution system upgrades,” said Seth Frader-Thompson, president of leading DER management services provider EnergyHub. “The challenge is in providing the right incentives to utilities for using DER flexibility and adequate compensation to customers for building it.”

Customers need to know the investments will pay off, according to flexibility advocates. And utilities must overcome longstanding distrust of DER reliability to take on the investments needed to grow and manage things like distributed solar and storage and electric vehicle (EV) charging, they added.

“It will require a total mind shift by utilities away from old school demand response,” said Enbala Vice President of Industry Solutions Eric Young. “Many utility executives have never envisioned a system where thousands of assets can be controlled fast enough to ensure they get the needed response.”

Customer demand for DER and utilities’ need for flexibility to manage their increasingly variable load and supply are rapidly driving utilities toward cooperation, conference representatives for both agreed. And though technology, policy and market entry barriers remain, an understanding of how new technologies make flexible resources reliable and cost-effective is emerging.
» Read article          

» More about electric utilities             

 

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

next time for sure
Analysis: Some Fracking Companies Are Admitting Shale Was a Bad Bet — Others Are Not
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
March 5, 2021

Energy companies are increasingly having to face the unprofitable reality of fracking, and some executives are now starting to admit that publicly. But the question is whether the industry will listen — or continue to gamble with shale gas and oil.

In February, Equinor CEO Anders Opedal had a brutally honest assessment of the Norwegian energy company’s foray into U.S. shale. “We should not have made these investments,” Opedal told Bloomberg. After losing billions of dollars, Equinor announced last month that it’s cutting its losses and walking away from its major shale investments in the Bakken region of North Dakota.

Meanwhile, at CERAweek, the oil and gas industry’s top annual gathering held the first week of March, the CEO of Occidental Petroleum (OXY), Vicki Hollub, told attendees: “Shale will not get back to where it was in the U.S.”

“The profitability of shale,” she said, “is much more difficult than people ever realized.”

Admissions of questionable profits and the end of growth from a top CEO charts new territory for the shale industry. These comments come after a decade of fracking which has resulted in losses of hundreds of billions of dollars.

But despite the unsuccessful investments and fresh warnings, some companies continue to promise investors that the industry has finally figured out how to make profits from fracking for oil and gas. While not a new argument, these companies are offering new framing — a “fracking 4.0” if you will — focused on new innovations, future restraint, and real profits.

In February, for instance, as fracking pioneer Chesapeake Energy emerged from bankruptcy the company’s CEO Doug Lawler told Bloomberg: “What we see going forward is a new era for shale.”

Meanwhile, Enron Oil and Gas (EOG) — considered one of the best fracking companies — lost over $600 million in 2020. Despite this, the company is now touting “innovations” it has made to help create future profits along with promises of new profitable wells — part of an industry annual ritual promising new technologies and new acreage that will finally deliver profits to their investors.
» Read article          

Gina McCarthy
The Petroleum Industry May Want a Carbon Tax, but Biden and Republicans are Not Necessarily Fans
The new administration has made clear that its approach to reducing emissions will involve regulation, incentives and other government actions.
By Marianne Lavelle and Judy Fahys, InsideClimate News
March 8, 2021

The largest U.S. oil industry trade group is considering an endorsement of carbon taxes for the first time. But the biggest news may be how little that is likely to matter, as U.S. climate policy moves decisively in an entirely different direction.

The American Petroleum Institute confirmed that its member companies are trying to arrive at a consensus about carbon pricing—a position that almost certainly will involve trade-offs, including less government regulation, in exchange for the industry’s support of taxes or fees.

Economists have long favored making fossil fuels more expensive by putting a price on carbon as the most simple and cost-effective way to cut carbon dioxide emissions. Most big oil companies, including ExxonMobil, BP, Shell, and Chevron, endorse carbon pricing, although they have done little to push for it becoming policy. But API’s move for an industry-wide position comes just as the Biden administration has made clear that it is moving forward with regulation, investment in clean energy research and deployment and a broad suite of other government actions to hasten a transition from energy that releases planet-warming pollution.

Unsurprisingly, many view the API move as a cynical effort to stave off a looming green  onslaught. “The American Petroleum Institute is considering backing a carbon tax — but only to prevent ambitious regulation of greenhouse emissions,” tweeted the Center for Biological Diversity.

The White House had no immediate comment on the news. But for now, anyway, there is little sign that the Biden administration is prepared to surrender regulatory authority on climate in exchange for a tax. Biden’s team includes avowed advocates of carbon taxes—most notably, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen. But the unmistakable message from the White House is that it will pursue a government-led drive for action on climate change, not a market-driven approach where taxes or fees do most of the work of weaning the nation off fossil fuels. The administration clearly has been influenced by political and economic thinkers who argue that pricing carbon may be necessary for reaching the goal of net zero emissions, but it would be more politically savvy—and ultimately, more effective—to start with other action to mandate or incentivize cuts in greenhouse gas pollution.

“The problem with doing taxes or even a cap-and-trade program as your first step is that produces a lot of political resistance,” said Eric Biber, a professor at the University of California’s Berkeley Law school. “Basically, you’ve made an enemy of everyone who makes money off of carbon. And if you win, you’re probably only going to get a small tax.”

He and other experts agree that a small tax won’t drive the kind of investment or economic transformation needed to achieve Biden’s ambitious goal of putting the nation on a path to net-zero emissions by 2050, and his interim target of carbon pollution-free electricity by 2035.
» Read article          

deepwater trending
Offshore Oil & Gas Projects Set For Record Recovery
By Tsvetana Paraskova, Oil Price
March 5, 2021

Operators are expected to commit to developing a record number of offshore oil and gas projects over the next five years, with deepwater projects set for the most impressive growth, Rystad Energy said in a new report this week.

The energy research firm has defined in its analysis a project as ‘committed’ when more than 25 percent of its overall greenfield capital expenditure (capex) is awarded through contracts.

Offshore oil and gas development is not only set to recover from the pandemic shock to prices and demand, which forced operators to slash development expenditures and delay projects. It is set for a new record in project commitments in the five-year period to 2025, according to Rystad Energy.

Offshore oil has already started to show signs of emerging from last year’s crisis, as costs have been slashed since the previous downturn of 2015-2016. Deepwater oil breakevens have dropped to below those of U.S. shale supply, making deepwater one of the cheapest new sources of oil supply globally, Rystad Energy said last year.
» Read article          
» Read the Rystad Energy report              

» More about fossil fuel              

 

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

Gibbstown LNG opposition
Foes of South Jersey LNG plan say new frack ban might help their cause
Murphy under pressure to ‘walk the talk’ and say how he would ‘prevent’ construction of export terminal for fracked gas
By Jon Hurdle, NJ Spotlight News
March 9, 2021

A historic decision to ban fracking for natural gas in the Delaware River Basin is raising new questions about plans for a South Jersey dock where fracked gas would be exported in liquid form.

On Feb. 25, Gov. Phil Murphy and the governors of Pennsylvania, New York and Delaware voted at the Delaware River Basin Commission to formally block the controversial process of harvesting natural gas, on the grounds that it would endanger water supplies for some 15 million people in the basin. Murphy’s vote on that ban is prompting opponents of the dock to ask whether they now have a better chance of stopping the project that he has so far supported.

Critics argue that building the dock at Gibbstown in Gloucester County would be at odds with the new policy made explicit in that vote because it would stimulate the production of fracked gas that could contaminate drinking water and add to greenhouse gas emissions even though the gas would be coming from northeastern Pennsylvania outside the Delaware River Basin.

And the fracked gas would be transported in a round-the-clock procession of trucks or trains in a region that has finally rejected the technique of harvesting natural gas, which has been blamed for tainting water with toxic drilling chemicals, and industrializing many rural areas where gas wells are built.

If successful, the port project would provide new global market access for the abundant gas reserves of Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale, one of the richest gas fields in the world, whose development since the mid-2000s has been hindered by low prices and a shortage of pipelines. The Pennsylvania gas would be sold in liquid form to overseas markets, especially in Asia, where prices are much higher than in the U.S.
» Read article          

» More about LNG              

 

BIOMASS

Markey-Warren biomass letter
Palmer Renewable Energy can’t greenwash its emissions away (Guest viewpoint)
By Mary S. Booth, MassLive | Opinion
March 8, 2021

Mary S. Booth is the director of Partnership for Policy Integrity

Vic Gatto’s Guest Viewpoint (Feb. 26) touting the benefits of the controversial wood-burning power plant he wants to build in East Springfield is packed full of fallacies and misinformation. Gatto begins by claiming that the plant will generate “clean green power” but the truth is that clean energy never comes out of a smokestack. He wants you to believe that just because the plant has a permit, it won’t pollute.

For twelve years, the people of Springfield and surrounding communities have made their opposition to this plant clear. Springfield residents already suffer from disproportionately high rates of asthma and heart attack hospitalizations, poor air quality, and inadequate access to health care, according to state environmental health tracking data. Attorney General Maura Healey’s office has written that “The proposed biomass facility in Springfield would jeopardize the health of an environmental community already deemed the nation’s ‘asthma capital.’” The people of Springfield have fought hard to clean up other sources of air pollution in their community — like the Mount Tom coal plant, another facility that claimed to use “state of the art” pollution controls — and are tired of being treated as an environmental sacrifice zone.

In addition to downplaying the health risks, Gatto continues to make unsubstantiated claims about the climate benefits of his project. Gatto claims that burning “waste” wood such as tree trimmings will result in less greenhouse gas pollution “compared to allowing it to decompose to methane on the ground.” This is false – and not supported in the DOER studies Gatto cited. Burning a ton of green wood releases about a ton of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere instantaneously. That same ton of wood, if left to decompose naturally, would gradually emit carbon dioxide over a span of 10-25 years, returning some of the carbon to the soil and forest ecosystem. Methane – a much more potent climate-warming gas – is only created when oxygen is not available. In fact, the 30-foot high, 5,000 ton wood chip pile that Palmer will be allowed to store on site under its operating permit will be far more likely to create the kind of low-oxygen conditions that produce methane than chipping wood trimmings and leaving them in the forest to decompose.

While the Palmer developers have prevailed so far in the courts, they need access to lucrative state and federal renewable energy subsidies in order to make their project financially viable. In this, they have found a willing partner in Gov. Charlie Baker and his top advisor, DOER Commissioner Patrick Woodcock. At Palmer’s request, and over the objection of citizens, environmental groups, and elected officials across the state, the Baker Administration is planning to roll back Massachusetts’ existing science-based protections so that polluting biomass power plants like Palmer will qualify for millions of dollars each year through the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard.

Instead of wasting clean energy incentives on biomass energy, the Baker Administration should be directing those subsidies towards truly green, clean, and carbon-free energy generation. The public can weigh in directly, by going to www.notoxicbiomass.org and sending Governor Baker a strong message that Massachusetts residents do not want to subsidize Palmer’s polluting power. Springfield residents will be harmed first and worst by this proposal, but we all lose if we allow our clean energy dollars to support false climate solutions like biomass energy.
» Read article          

» Read Mr. Gatto’s greenwash piece          
» Read Attorney General Healey’s comments on proposed changes to the Renewable Portfolio Standard               

» More about biomass            

 

PLASTICS IN THE ENVIRONMENT

chinook
New Study Shows Fish Are Ingesting Plastic at Higher Rates
By Tara Lohan, EcoWatch
March 8, 2021

Each year the amount of plastic swirling in ocean gyres and surfing the tide toward coastal beaches seems to increase. So too does the amount of plastic particles being consumed by fish — including species that help feed billions of people around the world.

A new study published in the journal Global Change Biology revealed that the rate of plastic consumption by marine fish has doubled in the last decade and is increasing by more than 2% a year.

The study also revealed new information about what species are most affected and where the risks are greatest.

The researchers did a global analysis of mounting studies of plastic pollution in the ocean and found data on plastic ingestion for 555 species of marine and estuarine fish. Their results showed that 386 fish species — two-thirds of all species — had ingested plastic. And of those, 210 were species that are commercially fished.

Not surprisingly, places with an abundance of plastic in surface waters, such as East Asia, led to a higher likelihood of plastic ingestion by fish.

But fish type and behavior, researchers found, also plays a role. Active predators — those at the top of the food chain, like members of the Sphyrnidae family, which includes hammerhead and bonnethead sharks — ingested the most plastic. Grazers and filter‐feeders consumed the least.
» Read article          
» Read the Global Change Biology study            

» More about plastics in the environment               

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Weekly News Check-In 2/19/21

banner 15

Welcome back.

The reason we so frequently lead this newsletter with an update on the Weymouth compressor station is because its very existence – and its location near environmental justice neighborhoods – is a clear local example of activists and policymakers wrestling with entrenched fossil fuel interests for a shot at a livable future. The head referee in this match is the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), now under the chairmanship of Richard Glick and supported by the Biden administration, in a country recommitted to the Paris Climate Agreement. On this new, reality-based playing field, FERC has agreed to have another look at this compressor and its effect on the health and safety of the community that was forced to “host” it. We’ll be watching this next round, with great appreciation to Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station (FRRACS) and others who have mounted unwavering, effective, and courageous resistance for six long years.

More about new developments at FERC.

It’s a new day for pipelines, too, with Dakota Access possibly the highest-profile project at risk. Protests and actions continue despite the pandemic and harsh winter weather. Activists delivered a couple wheelbarrows of coal to the doorstep of New England’s grid operator, saying it’s time to ramp down funding for the Merrimack Generating Station in Bow, NH.

Grey Sail Brewing of Westerly, RI has installed carbon capture equipment on its brewing operation, joining a growing list of micro-breweries greening their businesses by recycling carbon dioxide rather than releasing it to the atmosphere. Brewing is well-suited for this, as the fermentation process releases CO2 that the brewer later adds back into the product – and new equipment is economical for small operators.

We’re using our climate section to highlight new books by Elizabeth Kolbert and Bill Gates. While Gates lays out the climate challenges and opportunities before us, Kolbert describes the truly unsettling series of planet-scale geoengineering hacks that humans might pursue if we fail to lower planet-warming emissions fast enough.

Fox’s Tucker Carlson, Governor Greg Abbott, and a chorus of fossil industry boosters attempted to use the massive Texas grid failure to do a hit job on clean energy – mounting a disinformation campaign to falsely blame a few frozen wind turbines for the disaster that killed dozens and spread hardship across most of that huge state. We’re not having it. The state’s creaky and under-regulated natural gas infrastructure was by far the main culprit. But we did notice that Senator “Flyin’ Ted” Cruze took a break from all that inconvenience and discomfort and bolted his Houston home for a luxury resort in balmy Cancún, Mexico while his constituents shivered in the dark. We’ll remember that.

The home energy storage market is maturing a bit, with new battery chemistries poised to offer safer and more durable alternatives to current-generation devices. We provide a long excerpt from an excellent article that lays it all out. Similarly, the push for improved electric vehicle batteries passed an important milestone.

Freakish weather and the fossil fuel industry ganged up on Texas this past week. We have more info in this section. Also, California is pushing to ban fracking.

While climate and environmental justice advocates push Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker to reject biomass energy and the proposed Palmer Renewable Energy plant in Springfield, a group of over 500 scientists has published a demand to stop considering the burning of trees to be a climate solution. This has been Massachusetts’ (correct) position since 2012, until the Baker administration decided to reverse course – proposing to reinstate energy generated from burning woody biomass to the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard.

We close with two reports that illuminate some of the difficulties with plastics recycling.

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

— The NFGiM Team

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

far from overFederal commission to explore impacts of compressor station
By Jessica Trufant, The Patriot Ledger
February 18, 2021

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will further explore public safety concerns associated with the Weymouth Compressor Station, though it’s unclear what impact that could have on the facility.

The federal commission in September gave the Canadian company that built the compressor station approval to put the facility into service. In response, the Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station, the city of Quincy, and other petitioners requested the commission revoke the authorization and reconsider its approval of the project.

FERC on Thursday voted to take a look at several issues associated with the compressor station, including whether the station’s expected air emissions and public safety impacts should prompt commissioners to reexamine the project.

Members of the citizens group opposed to the compressor station said they are investigating what FERC’s decision on Thursday means for operations of the station.

State Sen. Patrick O’Connor, a Weymouth Republican, said the commission’s decision suggests “the fight is far from over.”

The controversial compressor station is part of Enbridge’s Atlantic Bridge project, which expands the company’s natural gas pipelines from New Jersey into Canada. It has been a point of contention for years among residents of the area, who say it presents serious health and safety problems.
» Read article       
» Read the FERC press release

» More about the Weymouth compressor station

FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION

subject to flooding
How a pipeline-loving agency could be the key to Biden’s climate plan
By Zoya Teirstein, Grist
February 18, 2021

There’s a saying among energy wonks about the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission: It’s never seen a pipeline it didn’t like. But the commission’s new chair could make that adage a thing of the past.

The independent commission known as FERC, pronounced like a kid-friendly version of the popular expletive, was established by Congress in 1977 to regulate the United States’ energy landscape. FERC wields an enormous amount of power, overseeing the nation’s pipelines, natural gas infrastructure, transmission lines, hydroelectric dams, electricity markets, and, by association, the price of renewables and fossil fuels. It’s made up of up to five commissioners — no more than three members of the same party can serve at a time — including one chair, who sets the commission’s agenda.

Historically, the commission has not done a good job of taking climate change and environmental justice into account as it has approved and regulated energy projects across the U.S. “I would put FERC in the basket of agencies that have huge climate relevance, but where climate has generally not been front and center,” Barry Rabe, a professor of public and environmental policy at the University of Michigan, told Grist. A system for accounting for climate impacts isn’t baked into FERC’s structure, he explained. That could change as President Joe Biden executes a “whole of government” approach to tackling climate change.

“One of the most interesting places to do climate policy is at FERC,” Representative Sean Casten, Democrat from Illinois, told Grist in January. “What would it mean to actually change markets to accelerate the deployment of clean energy? Frankly, you can be much more policy smart and much more environmentally ambitious doing that in the context of a FERC hearing than you can doing it through Congress.”
» Read article       

RG priorities
New FERC Chair’s Focus: Environmental Justice and Climate Change Impacts
Glick’s priorities include fair treatment of new technologies and state policies, as well as transmission and interconnection reforms.
By Jeff St. John, GreenTech Media
February 15, 2021

Richard Glick has a long list of priorities for his chairmanship of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. He has already outlined many of them, such as reforming energy market policies that restrict state-supported clean energy resources, expanding transmission capacity and unblocking new grid interconnections, and incorporating climate change impacts into the agency’s decision-making process.

On Thursday, in his first press conference since being elevated to lead FERC last month by President Joe Biden, Glick brought more clarity to some of FERC’s newest initiatives. These include creating a senior-level position to address environmental justice impacts of its decisions, including those involving natural-gas pipeline projects, to ensure they don’t “unfairly impact historically marginalized communities.”

A 2017 ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit has put pressure on FERC to change its approach to accounting for the indirect greenhouse gas emissions impacts of natural-gas pipeline projects under its purview. Glick has since dissented against many of the pipeline decisions from the Republican majority at FERC on the grounds that they have failed to consider the greenhouse gas impacts of the projects in question but has been outvoted as the agency’s sole Democratic member.

FERC’s five-member board will retain a three-Republican majority through at least the first half of 2021, which is when Biden will have an opportunity to nominate a Democrat to replace departing commissioner Neil Chatterjee. Glick noted that this political reality implies that, on the matter of considering greenhouse gas impacts of its pipeline decisions, “no matter what we do, it will require three votes” to succeed.

The role of the newly created environmental justice position will be to examine if projects under FERC review will have significant health or economic impacts on communities, and if so, whether the projects can be moved or the impacts mitigated.
» Read article       

ISO-NE cap mkt FERCed
FERC Revisits Review of Policy Statement on Interstate Natural Gas Pipeline Proposals
By FERC, News Release
February 18, 2021

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) today reopened its review of the 1999 Policy Statement on the Certification of New Interstate Natural Gas Facilities by asking for new information and additional perspectives that would assist the Commission in moving forward with its review. The Commission is looking to build upon the record already established in response to its April 2018 Notice of Inquiry.

“It’s important to recognize that many changes have occurred since our initial inquiry three years ago,” FERC Chairman Rich Glick said. “I look forward to seeing the comments and working with my fellow commissioners to update our review process for reviewing proposed natural gas projects.”

To guide the process and focus on adding to the existing record, the Commission seeks comments on new questions that modify or add to the April 2018 Notice of Inquiry. For example, the Commission requests comments on how it identifies and addresses potential health or environmental effects of its pipeline certification programs, policies and activities on environmental justice communities.
» Read article         
» Download Notice of Inquiry         

» More about FERC

PIPELINES

Bakken oil takeaway
Time To Consider The Worst-Case Scenario For Dakota Access: A Look At Energy Transfer And Phillips 66 Partners
By Seeking Alpha
February 17, 2021

Fresh off their Keystone XL victory, environment activists have placed the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) squarely in their crosshairs. A DAPL shutdown will set a worrisome precedent for midstream infrastructure regulation. It also will put at risk the midstream companies that have the most to lose amid a shutdown, namely, Energy Transfer LP (ET) and Phillips 66 Partners LP (PSXP).

The Biden administration has not specified what action it might take on DAPL. During his campaign, Biden did not publicly endorse any particular move. Vice President Harris, meanwhile, is opposed to the pipeline. She joined 36 Democrats in submitting an amicus brief in May 2020 urging the courts to shut it down.

Recent developments have not been favorable for the pipeline. On Jan. 26, a federal appeals court upheld a lower court’s decision to revoke an environmental permit that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) issued to DAPL before it had performed an Environmental Impact Statement. The court postponed a final ruling on the DAPL until the USACE completes its EIS, likely in late 2021. It allowed the pipeline to operate while the EIS was ongoing.

With the DAPL’s fate now in the hands of the administration, its opponents have become more vocal. On Feb. 5, members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives wrote a letter to Biden urging him to shut the pipeline down.

Then on Feb. 8, dozens of celebrities and activists wrote a letter urging the president to “remedy this historic injustice and direct the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to immediately shut down the illegal Dakota Access Pipeline.”

Clearly, the Biden administration is under immense pressure to shut DAPL down. By contrast, there’s virtually no countervailing pressure from pipeline supporters.
» Read article       

» More about pipelines       

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

strike down coal
Climate Activists Deliver Wheelbarrows of Coal to ISO-NE Headquarters

Call for grid operator to cease funding coal, other fossil fuels in this week’s forward capacity auction
Press release, Nocoalnogas.org
February 8, 2021

Today, thirty climate activists gathered at the ISO-New England headquarters in Holyoke, Ma, to call on the grid operator to cease funding coal and other harmful fossil fuel sources. Some of the crowd wore white tyvek suits, carried buckets of coal, and chanted “Hey Ho ISO, we don’t want no dirty coal!” while walking to the entrance of ISO-NE’s headquarters. The individuals in tyvek suits dumped their buckets of coal into two wheelbarrows that were delivered to the front gate of the building.

ISO-NE will hold its annual forward capacity auction on Monday, February 8th, to determine how much guaranteed funding plants like Merrimack Generating Station in Bow, NH will receive to stay operable through 2025. The results can either limit or expand the speed of our transition from fossil fuels to renewables across the region.

» Read article        

Niger Delta
U.K. High Court Says Nigerians Can Sue Shell in Britain Over Oil Spills
The Dutch energy company has a presence in Britain, and a judge ruled there was “a real issue to be tried.”
By Stanley Reed, New York Times
February 12, 2021

Britain’s Supreme Court said Friday that a group of about 50,000 Nigerian farmers and fishermen could bring a case in London’s High Court against Royal Dutch Shell over years of oil spills in the Niger Delta that have polluted their land, wells and waterways.

The judges said there was the potential that a parent company like Shell, which has its headquarters in the Netherlands but a large British presence, has responsibility for the activities of subsidiaries like the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria, which operates in the delta region.

The court overruled a lower court that had said there was no case to be brought against Shell in Britain. On Friday, the judges said there was “a real issue to be tried.”

The ruling is “a watershed moment in the accountability of multinational companies,” said Daniel Leader, a partner in the British law firm Leigh Day, who led the legal team representing the Nigerian communities.

Mr. Leader added that the judgment would most likely increase the ability of “impoverished communities” to hold powerful companies to account. Indeed, courts in Western countries have recently indicated that they were increasingly open to hearing such cases. Last month, a court in the Netherlands ruled that Shell was liable for pollution in another case involving Nigerian farmers.
» Read article       
» Read about the Netherlands ruling against Shell

» More about protests and actions

GREENING THE ECONOMY

Grey Sail
Carbon capture and brews: Rhode Island brewery puts emissions back into beers

Systems for capturing carbon emissions from brewing operations have become more economical for small brewers during the pandemic.
By Lisa Prevost, Energy News Network
Photo By Grey Sail Brewing / Courtesy
February 15, 2021

After a decade of beer brewing in the beach town of Westerly, Rhode Island, Grey Sail Brewing has grown from a small operation brewing up batches of its signature Flagship Ale to a regional purveyor of more than half a dozen different beers.

Grey Sail is the first craft brewery in Rhode Island, and the second in New England, to install carbon-capturing technology specially designed for microbreweries. Developed by Earthly Labs, based in Austin, Texas, the system captures the waste carbon dioxide, produced during fermentation, enabling it to be used to carbonate and package the beer.

“Brewing is unique in that you generate carbon as a byproduct, but you also consume it too,” Alan Brinton said. “This investment allows us to reap environmental benefits from brewing great beer.”

Standing next to massive stainless steel fermentation tanks, Brinton explains that the yeast used to ferment the beer breaks down the malt sugar and converts it to alcohol and carbon dioxide, or CO2. Whereas before that CO2 would have simply been released into the atmosphere, now it is captured through a piping system, converted to liquid in a refrigerator-sized box, and stored.

Brinton estimates that he’s currently capturing about 2,000 pounds of CO2 monthly; that level will rise when beer production revs up during the warmer months.

Carbon capture technology is not new to the beer industry as a whole, but it hasn’t been affordable or efficient enough for smaller-scale brewers before now, said Chuck Skypeck, technical brewing projects manager for the Brewers Association, a national organization.

The Earthly Labs system, called CiCi — short for carbon capture — is currently operating in about three dozen craft breweries. It’s designed to be affordable, easy to use and deliver economic value to brewers who produce between 5,000 and 20,000 barrels annually. (Grey Sail makes about 10,000 barrels.)

“Annually, each of these brewers can capture the equivalent of the absorption work of 1,500 trees if they use the technology every week,” George said.
» Read article       

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

under a white sky
Interview: Elizabeth Kolbert on why we’ll never stop messing with nature
By Shannon Osaka, Grist
February 8, 2021

In Australia, scientists collect buckets of coral sperm, mixing one species with another in an attempt to create a new “super coral” that can withstand rising temperatures and acidifying seas. In Nevada, scientists nurse a tiny colony of one-inch long “Devil’s Hole pupfish” in an uncomfortably hot, Styrofoam-molded pool. And in Massachusetts, Harvard University scientists research injecting chemicals into the atmosphere to dim the sun’s light — and slow down the runaway pace of global warming.

These are some of the scenes from Elizabeth Kolbert’s new book, Under a White Sky, a global exploration of the ways that humanity is attempting to engineer, fix, or reroute the course of nature in a climate-changed world. (The title refers to one of the consequences of engineering the Earth to better reflect sunlight: Our usual blue sky could turn a pale white.)

Kolbert, a New Yorker staff writer, has been covering the environment for decades: Her first book, Field Notes from a Catastrophe, traced the scientific evidence for global warming from Greenland to Alaska; her second, The Sixth Extinction, followed the growing pace of animal extinctions.

Under a White Sky covers slightly different ground. Humanity is now, Kolbert explains, in the midst of the Anthropocene — a geologic era in which we are the dominant force shaping earth, sea, and sky. Faced with that reality, humans have gotten more creative at using technology to fix the problems that we unwittingly spawned: Stamping out Australia’s cane toad invasion with genetic engineering, for example, or using giant air conditioners to suck carbon dioxide out of air and turn it into rock. As Kolbert notes, tongue-in-cheek: “What could possibly go wrong?”
» Read article       

global seed vault
Bill Gates: A stark and simple message for the world
His new book affirms what climate scientists have been saying for decades. But Bill Gates says it well, all the same.
By Tim Radford, Climate News Network | Book Review
February 15, 2021

Bill Gates − yes, that Bill Gates − has for years been financing studies in geo-engineering: he calls it a “Break Glass in Case of Emergency” kind of tool.

But he also says, in a new book, How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: the Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need, that he has put much more money into the challenge of adapting to and mitigating climate change driven by global heating powered by greenhouse emissions that are a consequence of our dependence on fossil fuels.

The founder of Microsoft, now a philanthropist, says all geo-engineering approaches − to dim the sunlight, perhaps, or make clouds brighter − turn out to be relatively cheap compared with the scale of the problems ahead for the world. All the effects are relatively short-lived, so there might be no long-term impacts.

But the third thing they have in common is that the technical challenges to implementing them would be as nothing compared with the political hurdles such ambitions must face.

There are some very encouraging things about this disarming book, and one of them is that on every page it addresses the messy uncertainties of the real world, rather than an ideal set of solutions.

People who have already thought a lot about the hazards and complexities of global temperature rise might be tempted to dismiss it as Climate Change for Dummies. They’d be wrong.

First, Gates addresses a global audience that includes (for instance) US Republican voters, fewer than one in four of whom understand that climate change is a consequence of what humans have done.

Then Gates writes as an engineer. He starts from the basics and arrives swiftly and by the shortest route at a series of firm conclusions: sophisticated, but still outlined with considerable clarity and a happy trick of pinning big answers to down-to-earth analogies
» Read article       

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

Texas Tucker
Conservatives Are Seriously Accusing Wind Turbines of Killing People in the Texas Blackouts
Tucker Carlson and others are using the deadly storm to attack wind power, but the state’s independent, outdated grid and unreliable natural gas generation are to blame.
By Kate Aronoff, New Republic
February 16, 2021

Within a few hours of grid horror stories percolating out beyond the Lone Star state, outlets like Breitbart and the Wall Street Journal began to publish grisly tales of a green revolution: that an abundance of wind turbines in Texas had been rendered practically useless by a chilly day and posed a danger to state residents. “The windmills failed like the silly fashion accessories they are, and people in Texas died,” said Fox News’ Tucker Carlson. Yet a surprising number of mainstream media outlets also adopted the narrative. Reuters, for example, mentioned offline wind resources in the first lines of its story about the outages—illustrated with a picture showing a field of turbines. “Frozen wind turbines contribute to rolling power blackouts across Texas,” ran CNN’s headline. The New York Times led with it, too.

As of Monday afternoon, 26 of the 34 gigawatts in ERCOT’s grid that had gone offline were from “thermal” sources, meaning gas and coal. The system’s total installed capacity in the system, Power magazine’s Sonal Patel noted, is around 77.2 GW. Wind and solar power, meanwhile, produced near or even above planned capacity, according to energy analyst Jesse Jenkins, as only small amounts of wind and solar are utilized in peaking conditions. Wind turbines did indeed freeze, and did eventually underperform. But so did natural gas infrastructure, and to a far greater degree. That proved to be a much larger problem since it makes up such a huge proportion of the state’s power supply in extreme weather. And frozen power lines and equipment were a far bigger cause of outages than generation shortages.

As Rice University’s Daniel Cohan put it on Twitter, “ERCOT expected to get low capacity factors from wind and solar during winter peak demand. What it didn’t expect is >20 GW of outages from thermal (mostly natural gas) power plants.” Despite these realities, the narrative about the outages thus far has disproportionately focused on turbines underperforming in the cold due to ice on their blades—and barely mentioned failures in the vast majority of the grid powered by fossil fuels.

Events like this are a godsend to fossil fuel interests eager to build more polluting infrastructure. Investor-owned utilities can’t simply raise rates whenever they like. Instead, they have to go to regulators in statewide public service commissions to “rate base” new infrastructure, i.e., pass the cost of things like new polluting “peaker plants” down to customers. Spun the right way, the chaos playing out in Texas could help them make the case for rate hikes and new fossil fuel infrastructure around the country—all the more so if regulators already enjoy a cozy relationship to the power companies they’re supposed to rein in.
» Read article        

VT greenish
As Vermont nears 75% renewable power, advocates question if it’s clean enough
Most of the power being used to satisfy the state’s renewable electricity standard comes from Hydro-Québec as local wind and solar development lag.
By David Thill, Energy News Network
Photo By Sharath G. / Creative Commons
February 15, 2021

On paper, Vermont boasts one of the cleanest electric grids in the country.

About 66% of the state’s electricity came from renewables in 2019, the most recent year for which final numbers are available. The state’s Renewable Energy Standard requires utilities to get to at least 75% renewables by 2032, including wind, solar, biomass and hydropower.

The problem, critics say, is that utilities are meeting a huge portion of their requirements with out-of-state hydropower, which comes with its own set of ethical and ecological strings attached. Counting renewable energy credits, about 44% of the state’s electricity in 2019 was from Hydro-Québec. Another 19.9% came from other hydroelectric sources, and 2.12% from solar.

“My belief is that we should be shifting towards as much in-state production of renewables as possible,” said Steve Crowley, energy chair of the Vermont chapter of the Sierra Club, which doesn’t think the current system is helping promote true clean energy development.

Like other states, Vermont is moving forward on a long-term push to increase building and transit electrification to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in those sectors. The large-scale transformation won’t be truly clean if the electricity doesn’t come from clean sources.

But clean energy advocates like Crowley say the current criteria for meeting the state’s renewable electricity standard allows utilities to lean far too much on out-of-state renewable energy credits, particularly from Hydro-Québec. In 2019, Hydro-Québec accounted for 69% of utilities’ “Tier 1” resources, the largest and broadest category in the state’s renewable standard.

Hydro-Québec has been a source of controversy throughout New England. Critics say the construction of its dam system in Québec has caused large-scale forest flooding. Not only has that destroyed a carbon sink, but it’s also displaced Indigenous communities in the region and been linked to mercury toxicity in the food they eat.
» Read article       

» More about clean energy

ENERGY STORAGE

NMC-LFP-Zn
Will Safer Batteries Finally Take Over the Home Storage Market?
Tesla and LG Chem rule the market with their NMC battery products, but the LFP battery contenders believe their technology’s time has come.
By Julian Spector, GreenTech Media
February 17, 2021

Tesla and LG Chem currently dominate the U.S. home battery market. Both use the lithium nickel-manganese-cobalt oxide (NMC) chemistry favored by the electric vehicle industry. In cars, the goal is to pack as much energy into as little space as possible. That comes with a tradeoff: the potential for cells to heat up and kick off a chain reaction that can end with fire and, in enclosed spaces, explosion.

But the umbrella term “lithium-ion battery” covers a range of chemistries. A vocal cohort of startups has argued for years that homeowners would be better off with less fire-prone varieties. The favorite contender in this category is lithium-iron-phosphate (LFP), which has an established safety record.

“We chose LFP since the beginning because of its safety properties,” said Danny Lu, senior vice president at grid battery company Powin Energy. “It’s much less flammable, and it takes a much higher temperature to reach thermal runaway than NMC does.”

Thermal runaway is the process in which one battery cell fails and heats up enough to kick off failure in a neighboring cell. Pretty soon a whole rack of batteries can be heating up from the inside, causing fires or worse.

That’s a concern for the kinds of large-scale power plants that Powin recently raised $100 million to supply. But large battery plants are designed with special safeguards to prevent thermal runaway from inflicting massive damage, and typically operate remotely, with no staff onsite. Homes with battery packs, by contrast, lack industrial-grade fire safety tools, and are occupied by humans and pets who would be threatened by a fire.

LFP used to be commercially disadvantaged against NMC, because the chemistry cost more and took up more space. Now, costs have fallen into competitive territory and energy density has improved, making converts of some former NMC fans. After years in which the exhortations of LFP aficionados failed to move the market, trends may be shifting in their favor.

In the early days, using LFP would have meant roughly doubling the cost of batteries and taking up extra space for a home installation, said Aric Saunders, EVP for sales and marketing at home battery startup ElectrIQ. ElectrIQ designed its first two product generations around NMC batteries.

Meanwhile, LFP has steadily gained traction with customers.

One of the few companies manufacturing such batteries in the U.S. is SimpliPhi Power, based in the coastal city of Oxnard, Calif. The company got its start supplying Hollywood film productions, and later the military, with off-grid battery power. That required rugged technology that could stand up to heat and wouldn’t endanger cast and crew. Staff tested “every chemistry available” and “every form factor” and decided to produce LFP, Von Burg said.

“You can say that cobalt batteries are more energy-dense, but the truth is you can’t use the energy in the same robust way as you can with LFP,”  Von Burg noted. “There’s a lot in the performance profile that cuts away and erodes the cost benefit.”

There’s also a more nuanced conversation to be had about battery pricing.

Upfront cost can’t be ignored. But LFP batteries deliver more lifetime energy throughput before they wear out, said Adam Gentner, vice president of sonnen, which exclusively sells LFP battery packs for homes. If a customer wants a battery “just for backup power to an out-building,” NMC may be fine for that infrequent use, Gentner said. But if the goal is to safely use the battery every day, to make use of solar power or make money by delivering services to the grid, LFP is the better pick.

“I expect that we’ll begin seeing the balance tip towards LFP in the coming year,” he said.

Some battery experts are looking for alternatives that go beyond LFP. UCSD battery expert Meng said LFP is “a good intermediate solution until we find the ultimate solution for home energy storage,” which would be a battery that lasts 20 years at a radically lower cost.

Entrepreneur Ryan Brown is trying to build nonflammable residential batteries using zinc and water with his Halifax-based startup, Salient Energy. The goal is to get cheaper than any lithium-ion competitors based on the lower costs of zinc as an active ingredient. Unlike other challengers to conventional batteries, this design uses the same roll-to-roll manufacturing techniques that coat electrodes in lithium-ion factories.

“There’s nothing in it that’s toxic; there’s nothing in it that could possibly catch fire,” Brown said.
» Read article       

lender appeal
Colocating energy storage alongside renewables adds to lender appeal
By Edith Hancock, Energy Storage News
February 17, 2021

Colocating battery energy storage systems alongside renewables projects will be ‘critical’ to energy networks in the future, and could help level up debt financing.

That was the take home point from a panel discussion on solar-plus-storage projects during the virtual Solar Finance & Investment Europe conference hosted by Energy-Storage.news publisher Solar Media earlier this month.

Mark Henderson, chief investment officer of UK-based storage and electric vehicle (EV) charging business Gridserve, said the key factor preventing lenders from handing out debt to developers is “down to the revenue streams”.

“The big challenge with adding batteries over the years has been that they have played into a number of markets,” he said, “and those markets are often very shallow.” However, co-locating storage with solar can increase investors’ appetite.

“By having them together, it means that you can elaborate more on the service side, which you can always see spread across the whole project. The gearing on a combined service storage project is certainly better than you’d be getting on a storage-only project.”
» Read article       

» More about energy storage

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

800 solid cycles
VW partner Quantumscape clears another hurdle on road to solid-state battery
By Bridie Schmidt, The Driven
February 18, 2021

Volkswagen-backed Quantumscape, the company that hit the news in December hailing a “major breakthrough” in its quest to commercialise solid-state batteries, says it has cleared another important hurdle.

Solid-state batteries are something of a holy grail for the electric vehicle industry and have the potential to substantially increase driving range and charging speed. But to date, solid-state cell degradation under normal operating conditions (eg temperature) has kept the technology from commercial success.

Having achieved “automotive performance” in a single-layer cell in 2020, Quantumsape says it has now achieved the next step towards overcoming this hurdle, having made a multilayer cell that can cycle 800 times.
» Read article       

» More about clean transportation

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Pike Electric
Texas’ natural gas production just froze under pressure
Texas’ natural gas infrastructure was already vulnerable
By Justine Calma, The Verge
February 17, 2021

Natural gas wells and pipes ill-equipped for cold weather are a big reason why millions of Texans lost power during frigid temperatures this week. As temperatures dropped to record lows across some parts of the state, liquid inside wells, pipes, and valves froze solid.

Ice can block gas flow, clogging pipes. It’s a phenomenon called a “freeze-off” that disrupts gas production across the US every winter. But freeze-offs can have outsized effects in Texas, as we’ve seen this week. The state is a huge natural gas producer — and it doesn’t usually have to deal with such cold weather.

“When we think about what’s been going on in the last week and why it’s turned the market completely on its head is the fact that the freeze offs are occurring in Texas,” says Erika Coombs, director of oil & gas products at research firm BTU Analytics.

Texas relies on natural gas more than any other fuel for its electricity generation. Gas generated nearly half of the state’s electricity in 2019, according to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT). Wind and coal each accounted for about 20 percent of electricity generation that year, while nuclear made up about another 10 percent. While nuclear and wind power have been hampered by the storm, neither frigid nuclear plants nor frozen wind turbines bear the largest share of responsibility for Texas’ power problems.

“It appears that a lot of the generation that has gone offline today has been primarily due to issues on the natural gas system,” Dan Woodfin, senior director of system operations at ERCOT, said during a call with reporters on February 16th, the Texas Tribune reported.

While the frigid cold slashed fuel supplies of all sorts, it also drove up demand for natural gas to heat homes. That “mismatch” is what’s driving these blackouts, says Coombs. There simply hasn’t been enough fuel on hand to power the state’s electricity needs. Natural gas production was pretty much halved in Texas and its gas-rich Permian Basin during the recent cold and stormy weather. It fell from 22.5 billion cubic feet of gas produced per day in December to between 10 to 12 billion cubic feet of gas per day this week, according to estimates from BTU Analytics.
» Read article       

CA to ban fracking
‘No time to waste’: California bill would ban fracking in state by 2027
Proposal is likely to be one of the most contentious fights in the state legislature this year
By The Guardian
February 17, 2021

A new bill introduced in the California state senate on Wednesday would ban all fracking near schools and homes by 1 January 2022 and in the entire state by 2027.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a technique used to extract huge amounts of oil and gas from shale rock deep underground. It involves injecting high-pressure mixtures of water, sand or gravel and chemicals into rock. Environmental groups say the chemicals threaten water supplies and public health.

The bill introduced by the senators Scott Wiener and Monique Limón would halt new fracking permits and the renewal of current ones on 1 January 2022, in addition to banning new oil and gas production within 2,500ft (762 meters) of any home, school, healthcare facility or long-term care institution, such as dormitories or prisons. It would outlaw all fracking in the state by 1 January 2027, along with three other oil extraction methods: acid well stimulation treatments, cyclic steaming and water and steam flooding.

California has been a leader in combating the climate crisis, with a law in place requiring the state use 100% renewable energy by 2045.
» Read article       

» More about fossil fuel

BIOMASS

Baker can stop this
Activists Urge Gov. Baker To Reverse Energy Rules That Boost Biomass
By Paul Tuthill, WAMC
February 17, 2021

Imminent changes to renewable energy regulations in Massachusetts concern opponents of a long-proposed biomass power plant in Springfield.

At a rally Wednesday in front of the Massachusetts state office building in downtown Springfield, activists launched a campaign to try to pressure Gov. Charlie Baker to withdraw proposed changes to renewable energy rules that would incentivize large-scale biomass power plants.

The activists fear the new rules will benefit Palmer Renewable Energy, which for 12 years has pushed to build a 35-megawatt biomass plant at an industrial site in East Springfield.  The project has been the target of public protests and court challenges, where the developer has always prevailed.

An update to the state’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard – the regulatory mandate for using power from renewable sources –is on track to be finalized early this year.

“The governor can stop this, if he chooses to stop it,” said Verne McArthur of the Springfield Climate Justice Coalition.

The 11th hour campaign to get the Baker administration to reverse course on making biomass eligible for renewable energy subsidies will include letter-writing, phone banks, and social media, according to McArthur.

“We have a very well organized campaign and there is a lot of opposition to this around the state,” said McArthur.

Opponents of the Springfield biomass project have long argued that a wood-burning power plant would have a devastating impact on the city that was dubbed “Asthma Capital” in 2019 by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.
» Read article       

Lockerbie burning
500+ Scientists Demand Stop to Tree Burning as Climate Solution
“Companies are shifting fossil energy use to wood, which increases warming, as a substitute for shifting to solar and wind, which would truly decrease warming.”
By Andrea Germanos, Common Dreams
February 12, 2021

A group of over 500 international scientists on Thursday urged world leaders to end policies that prop up the burning of trees for energy because it poses “a double climate problem” that threatens forests’ biodiversity and efforts to stem the planet’s ecological emergency.

The demand came in a letter addressed to European Commission President Urusla Von der Leyen, European Council President Charles Michel, U.S. President Joe Biden, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, and South Korean President Moon Jae-in. The signatories—including renowned botanist Dr. Peter Raven, president emeritus of the Missouri Botanical Garden—reject the assertion that burning biomass is carbon neutral.

Referring to forest “preservation and restoration” as key in meeting the nations’ declared goals of carbon neutrality by 2050, the letter frames the slashing of trees for bioenergy as “misguided.”

“We urge you not to undermine both climate goals and the world’s biodiversity by shifting from burning fossil fuels to burning trees to generate energy,” the group wrote.

The destruction of forests, which are a carbon sink, creates a “carbon debt.” And though regrowing “trees and displacement of fossil fuels may eventually pay off this carbon debt,” the signatories say that “regrowth takes time the world does not have to solve climate change.”

What’s more, burning trees is “carbon-inefficient,” they say. “Overall, for each kilowatt hour of heat or electricity produced, using wood initially is likely to add two to three times as much carbon to the air as using fossil fuels.”

Another issue is that efforts using taxpayer money to sustain biomass burning stymies what are truly renewable energy policies.

“Government subsidies for burning wood create a double climate problem because this false solution is replacing real carbon reductions,” the letter states. “Companies are shifting fossil energy use to wood, which increases warming, as a substitute for shifting to solar and wind, which would truly decrease warming.”

The letter denounces as further troubling proposals to burn palm oil and soybean, which would entail further deforestation to make way for palm and soy crops.
» Read article       

» More about biomass

PLASTICS RECYCLING

plastic greenwash
Chemical Recycling Is No Silver Bullet for Eliminating Plastic Waste
Chemical recycling projects are attracting massive investments but, so far, the ROI is negligible.
By Clare Goldsberry, Plastics Today
February 13, 2021

A paper published last fall in Chemical & Engineering News (CEN) by the American Chemical Society (ACS), “Companies are placing big bets on plastics recycling. Are the odds in their favor?” noted that “chemical recycling is attracting billions in capital spending, but environmentalists don’t think it will solve the plastic waste problem.”

This isn’t news. Consumers and especially anti-plastics activists have lost faith in the plastic industry’s ability to help solve a problem it has been accused of creating, and the slow pace of advanced recycling technologies, aka chemical recycling, hasn’t helped renew confidence that this will be the silver bullet that will rid the world of plastic waste. But attempts continue unabated and the cost of trying is proving to be extremely high.

Even the pace of adoption of various types of plastic, from recyclable traditional plastics such as PET and HDPE to bioplastics, as alternatives to traditional plastics seems extremely slow. The chemical recycling industry also has taken hits, as noted above. For example, the CEN/ACS paper opened by saying that in 2022 “Mondelez International intends to start packaging its Philadelphia brand cream cheese in a tube made from chemically recycled plastics. The packaging maker Berry Global will mold the containers. Petrochemical giant Sabic will supply the polypropylene. And the start-up Plastic Energy will produce feedstock for that polypropylene from postconsumer plastics at a plant it is constructing on Sabic’s site in Geleen, Netherlands.”

We’re not holding our collective breaths.

For at least a decade I’ve written blogs about the many consumer brand owners such as Kraft Heinz, Mondelez, and Nestlé being pressured by anti-plastics activist group As You Sow to find alternatives to single-use plastic packaging as a means to end plastic waste in the environment. Through shareholder proposals, As You Sow keeps applying the pressure, writing about the continued lack of progress these companies are making and the slow pace of adoption of alternative materials, most of which are no “greener” than plastics when you examine their life-cycle analyses. Still, to appease these activist groups, big brand owners keep promising to find the Holy Grail of recycling that will turn mountains of plastic trash into beautifully pure new plastic, or millions of gallons of fuel and other base chemicals from which to make new plastics.
» Read article       

Coke pollution
Coca-Cola Introduces New 100% Recycled Bottle in U.S., But Is It Enough?
By Olivia Rosane, EcoWatch
February 16, 2021

In December 2020, a report found Coca-Cola was the top corporate plastic polluter for the third year in a row, meaning its products were found clogging the most places with the largest amounts of plastic pollution.

The company seems to be aiming to clean up its act somewhat this year with the introduction of a 13.2-ounce bottle made with 100-percent recycled PET (rPET) plastic. The company announced the new bottle’s debut in select U.S. states this February, but environmental organizations said the move was too little, too late.

“In 1990, Coca-Cola and Pepsi announced plans to sell their products in recycled plastic bottles. The Washington Post quoted Greenpeace as ‘unimpressed’ at the time, urging the companies to eliminate single-use plastics altogether,” Greenpeace USA senior plastics campaigner Kate Melge said in a statement emailed to EcoWatch. “Thirty one years later, companies should not still be boasting about transitioning to recycled content. We remain unimpressed.”
» Read article       

» More about plastics recycling

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Weekly News Check-In 2/12/21

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Welcome back.

Even as the fossil fuel industry pushes out ever more pipelines, a new report from the climate data nonprofit Global Energy Monitor predicts they’re building what will amount to a trillion dollars worth of stranded pipeline assets worldwide. Meanwhile, we’re watching the strong push to shut down the Dakota Access and stop Enbridge’s Line 5.

In a significant climate action, the Paris administrative court found that France has “failed to do enough to meet its own commitments on the climate crisis and is legally responsible for the ensuing ecological damage.”  This decision is impactful, and should put other governments on notice that emissions goals must actually be met.

We offer two reports on greening the economy that highlight some of the damage and inequities caused by the current, fossil-based model. Taken together, these stories underscore the need to address environmental and economic justice during the clean energy transition, while they also debunk industry claims of potential job losses as we move away from fuels.

In legislative news, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker has sent the climate roadmap bill back to the legislature with suggested amendments. Senator Barrett and Representative Golden report that they see some common ground.

Worldwide efforts to mitigate climate change are falling far short of what’s needed. A new study warns that pledges to cut emissions must be scaled up by 80% to keep warming below the dangerous 2°C threshold. Meanwhile, a planned Swedish balloon flight in June has alarmed environmental groups, who think this may be a trial-run for a future planet-cooling geoengineering experiment – releasing reflective particles in the upper atmosphere to mimic the effect of large volcanic eruptions.

Danny Jin, ace reporter for the Berkshire Eagle, posted an excellent article explaining what “peaker” power plants are, and highlighting Berkshire Environmental Action Team’s campaign to replace these polluting plants with clean energy alternatives. We offer a second article in this section describing a new study on achieving carbon-free America by 2050, from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

One of Governor Baker’s amendments to the climate roadmap bill involves energy efficiency requirements for buildings, and a proposed net-zero stretch code that municipalities could opt into. This is a contentious issue, with climate and social activists, architects, building efficiency experts, and many municipal leaders lined up on one side, and building industry trade groups dug in on the other. We’ve spotted a lot of industry-generated misinformation in the press, and offer this well-researched editorial as a helpful explainer.

We’re always happy to post reports on new energy efficient building materials – ones that can be more sustainably sourced, have superior insulating or vapor sealing properties, or carry less embodied carbon from their manufacture. This week, we consider bricks made from mushrooms!

Our energy storage news lines up nicely with BEAT’s campaign to retire polluting fossil peaker power plants. San Fransisco battery storage company Plus Power has won two bids on the ISO-New England electricity capacity market, and will build very large batteries to provide clean power during peak demand periods – eliminating the need for some of those polluting fossil peakers. This is big news because it’s the first win for large-scale battery storage in New England, and shows that clean power is now economically competitive.

The electric vehicle revolution is coming to big rigs, but deployment of these heavy haulers will be slowed by an initial shortage of batteries. Meanwhile, Tesla and others are gearing up a range of products that should be fleet-ready when battery production catches up.

Today, the Washington, D.C. Court of Appeals heard oral arguments from Berkshire Environmental Action Team and Food & Water Watch, who opposed the expansion of a compressor station in Agawam. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approved the project in 2019 without considering the climate impact of emissions from the additional natural gas conveyed by the “improvement”. FERC has new leadership under the Biden administration, and has expressed interest in accounting for upstream/downstream emissions from fossil infrastructure projects. In a related story, FERC is reckoning with the legacy of environmental racism that underpinned so many of its past decisions.

The fossil fuel industry is having difficulty addressing the climate emergency in ways that rise to the actual transformative challenge before them. With few exceptions, most industry efforts look more like rebranding exercises than serious attempts to change the business model. Meanwhile, Big Gas has settled on your gas range as the ideal emotional hook to keep you from disconnecting that pipe.

We’re waiting to see if President Biden’s new EPA Administrator, Michael Regan, will continue his opposition to biomass. In 2019, when he served as head of North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality, he said, “I don’t see a future in wood pellets.” With Governor Baker wobbling on whether to include biomass in the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard – which would green-light construction of the Palmer Renewable Energy biomass generating plant in Springfield – we hope Administrator Regan makes his point loud and clear and soon.

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

— The NFGiM Team

PIPELINES

DAPL loses surety bond
$1 Trillion in Oil and Gas Pipelines Worldwide Could Become Stranded Assets, New Report Warns
By Sharon Kelly, DeSmog Blog
February 4, 2021

On January 7, 2021, Energy Transfer was notified by its insurer, Westchester Fire Insurance Co. of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, that it had lost a $250,000 surety bond for the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL) — a bond that Iowa, one of the four states it passes through, required the pipeline to maintain.

That loss of insurance coverage comes as the Biden administration and a federal court each must confront a decision about whether to order DAPL to shut down, after a federal appeals court last week upheld a lower court’s finding that the oil pipeline still lacks a completed environmental review. Financial observers have been watching DAPL closely — and a new report warns that DAPL is hardly alone in the oil and gas pipeline industry in facing major financial risks linked to projects’ environmental impacts.

“Dakota Access Pipeline has no federal easement. It’s now losing insurance coverage on the state-level which is a requirement for Iowa’s state permit,” the Indigenous Environmental Network said in a January 29 statement. “It’s time to end this saga and do what’s right.”

Environmentalists predicted that the lost insurance coverage could be difficult for Energy Transfer to replace, particularly given DAPL’s incomplete federal review. “It will be difficult because the bond holder will require the pipeline to comply with all legal requirements,” attorney Carolyn Raffensperger, director of the Science and Health Network, told DeSmog. “If it is operating without a permit, any spill would be a big, big legal problem.”

But as consequential as the DAPL fight — which has raged for roughly a half-decade — might be, Dakota Access is just one of hundreds of pipelines worldwide that a new report finds are at risk of early abandonment because they’re “on a collision course” with climate agreements.

The report, titled “Pipeline Bubble 2021” and published by the climate data nonprofit Global Energy Monitor, warns that pipeline construction projects worldwide have put $1 trillion worth of pipeline investment at risk of being rendered obsolete by the energy transition away from fossil fuels.
» Read article             
» Read “Pipeline Bubble 2021” report 

request for more time
Biden administration asks for more time to decide whether to shut down Dakota Access Pipeline
By Rachel Frazin, The Hill
February 9, 2021

The Biden administration is asking for more time to decide the fate of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

In a filing late Monday, the government asked a court to postpone a conference on the status of the pipeline for 58 days while it gets new officials up to speed on the case.

“Department of Justice personnel require time to brief the new administration officials and those officials will need sufficient time to learn the background of and familiarize themselves with this lengthy and detailed litigation,” the government said.

It asked for the Feb. 10 conference to be moved to April 9.

The government’s motion was opposed by Dakota Access LLC, but was not opposed by the tribes who sued over the pipeline.

Last month, a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., ruled that the government should have conducted an environmental impact statement before going forward with the pipeline and vacated easements granted for its construction to cross federally owned land.

However, it did not go as far as a lower court, which had previously ordered the pipeline shut down, leaving that decision up to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE).

The court also left room for additional litigation to potentially shut down the pipeline if the USACE decides against it.

The pipeline, which carries oil from North Dakota to Illinois, has drawn significant opposition from environmentalists and tribes over the years who have cited threats to drinking water and sacred sites. It has spurred massive protests.
» Read article
» Read related article

select alternate route
In pushing for Line 5 shutdown, Bad River Band points to alternative route
The Chippewa tribe in northern Wisconsin says Enbridge could reduce the risk to the Great Lakes by diverting Line 5 oil to another line that runs south to Illinois.
By Patrick Shea, Energy News Network
Photo By U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
February 4, 2021

As legal battles continue over Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline, tribal leaders in Wisconsin say the company is ignoring a safer alternative that’s already in the ground — though the company disagrees.

“The notion that Enbridge is somehow going to be stranded without Line 5 is ludicrous,” said Mike Wiggins, tribal chair for the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, whose reservation on the south shore of Lake Superior is crossed by Line 5.

The 30-inch pipeline originates in Superior, Wisconsin, and carries crude oil 645 miles across Wisconsin and Michigan to Sarnia, Ontario. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer recently ordered Enbridge to shut down the pipeline where it crosses the Straits of Mackinac, citing risk to the Great Lakes.

As the company seeks permits for its proposed reroute south of the reservation, Bad River Band leaders say the company is failing to acknowledge the potential to decommission the 67-year-old pipeline altogether and divert its contents through other routes.

Line 5 is part of a network of Enbridge pipelines called the Lakehead System. As Line 5 cuts east and then south around Lake Michigan, Line 61 runs south from Superior into Illinois before connecting with smaller lines that cross Indiana and Michigan and ultimately reach the same destination: Sarnia, Ontario.

Line 61 is newer and larger — the 42-inch pipeline was completed in 2009 and has already undergone multiple upgrades and expansions. The line carries about 996,000 barrels per day to Pontiac, Illinois — about 75% of its capacity.

“The elephant in the room is that Enbridge has invested heavily in their route from Superior down through Chicago,” Wiggins said, in contrast with Line 5, which he calls “the forgotten pipe.”

The environmental risk posed by the pipeline was highlighted in August 2019 when tribal officials discovered 49 feet of Line 5 unearthed less than 5 miles from Lake Superior. The pipeline itself has contributed to the erosion of a steep bank as an oxbow is forming, according to a February 2020 report from the Bad River Natural Resources Department.

The report also cited major storm events in recent years as a cause for concern, which climatologists project to increase in frequency and severity. “We know that the next massive storm system could potentially shear Enbridge’s pipe right in the Bad River, pumping oil into Lake Superior,” Wiggins said. “We’re concerned every day.”

Shutting down Line 5 and relying exclusively on Line 61 would keep the pipeline far away from the Bad River Reservation, and would reduce the risk of a spill in the Great Lakes or anywhere by retiring Line 5’s aging pipes.
» Read article               

» More about pipelines

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

France found guilty
Campaigners Claim ‘Historic Win’ as France Found Guilty of Climate Inaction
By Isabella Kaminski, DeSmog Blog
February 3, 2021

The French state has been found guilty of climate inaction in what campaigners have dubbed “the case of the century”.

Today the Paris administrative court concluded France has failed to do enough to meet its own commitments on the climate crisis and is legally responsible for the ensuing ecological damage.

France is the third European country where legal action by campaigners has highlighted significant failings in state action on climate change and forced politicians to act, after the landmark Urgenda case in the Netherlands in 2019 and the Irish Supreme Court’s decision in the national Climate Case last year.

Jean-François Julliard, Executive Director of Greenpeace France – one of the four NGOs bringing the case – described the ruling as a “historic win for climate justice”.

“This decision not only takes into consideration what scientists say and what people want from French public policies, but it should also inspire people all over the world to hold their governments accountable for climate change in their own courts,” she said.

“For governments the writing is on the wall: climate justice doesn’t care about speeches and empty promises, but about facts.”

LAffaire du Siècle (case of the century), as it was described by NGOs was brought by Greenpeace France, together with Oxfam France, the Nicolas Hulot Foundation and Notre Affaire à Tous, in December 2018.

The groups filed a legal complaint, saying France was not on track to meet its then target of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2030 compared to 1990 levels, its minimum commitment as an EU member. Since then, this target has been raised to 55 percent for all EU member states, but it is not yet clear how President Emmanuel Macron will deliver this given France’s track record on cutting emissions.

France’s own High Council on Climate has analysed the country’s progress and found it lacking, with emissions substantially exceeding the first two carbon budgets. France had pledged to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 1.5 percent each year, but they fell by only 0.9 percent from 2018 to 2019. The Climate Change Performance Index also shows France’s climate progress slowing, with limited advances in increasing the share of renewables and in decarbonising transport.

The court judgment ruled that: “Consequently, the state must be regarded as having ignored the first carbon budget and did not carry out the actions that it itself had recognised as being necessary to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”
» Read article               

» More about protests and actions

GREENING THE ECONOMY

dirty divide
America’s dirty divide: how environmental racism leaves the vulnerable behind
The health effects caused by decades of systemic racism are staggering. The Guardian is launching a year-long series to investigate
By Frida Garza, The Guardian
February 11, 2021

The climate crisis has forced many people to consider what they would do if the places they call home became unlivable in their lifetimes. But in the US, certain vulnerable communities – especially Black and Indigenous populations – have been fighting for the right to clean, safe, healthy environments for generations.

Decades of systemic racism mean that in the richest country in the world, access to clean air, clean water, and proper sanitation are not a given.

The health effects of these inequalities are staggering. Black Americans are 75% more likely to live in close proximity to oil and gas facilities, which emit toxic air pollutants; as a result, these communities often suffer from higher rates of cancer and asthma. Researchers have found that Black children are twice as likely to develop asthma as their peers.

There has long been a lack of political will to protect the communities most harmed by pollution – and the climate crisis could exacerbate these inequalities, as well as create new ones.

That is why today the Guardian is launching America’s Dirty Divide, a year-long series that will delve into US environmental racism and its history. And we are partnering with Nexus Media, a non-profit news service that focuses on climate change, to produce video documentaries about environmental justice issues.

America’s Dirty Divide will examine environmental justice issues in three areas: pollution and waste; the uneven impacts of a warming planet; and climate events such as hurricanes and flooding, and the often inequitable recovery efforts that follow.
» Read article               

fracking jobs bust
Appalachian Fracking Boom Was a Jobs Bust, Finds New Report
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
February 11, 2021

The decade-long fracking boom in Appalachia has not led to significant job growth, and despite the region’s extraordinary levels of natural gas production, the industry’s promise of prosperity has “turned into almost nothing,” according to a new report.

The fracking boom has received broad support from politicians across the aisle in Appalachia due to dreams of enormous job creation, but a report released on February 10 from Pennsylvania-based economic and sustainability think tank, the Ohio River Valley Institute (ORVI), sheds new light on the reality of this hype.

The report looked at how 22 counties across West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Ohio — accounting for 90 percent of the region’s natural gas production — fared during the fracking boom. It found that counties that saw the most drilling ended up with weaker job growth and declining populations compared to other parts of Appalachia and the nation as a whole.

Shale gas production from Appalachia exploded from minimal levels a little over a decade ago, to more than 32 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d) in 2019, or roughly 40 percent of the nation’s total output. During this time, between 2008 and 2019, GDP across these 22 counties grew three times faster than that of the nation as a whole. However, based on a variety of metrics for actual economic prosperity — such as job growth, population growth, and the region’s share of national income — the region fell further behind than the rest of the country.

Between 2008 and 2019, the number of jobs across the U.S. expanded by 10 percent, according to the ORVI report, but in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia, job growth only grew by 4 percent. More glaringly, the 22 gas-producing counties in those three states — ground-zero for the drilling boom — only experienced 1.7 percent job growth.

“What’s really disturbing is that these disappointing results came about at a time when the region’s natural gas industry was operating at full capacity. So it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which the results would be better,” said Sean O’Leary, the report’s author.
» Read article           
» Read the report             

» More about greening the economy

LEGISLATIVE NEWS

suggested S9 amendments
Baker takes more conciliatory tone on climate change bill
Sends it back with amendments, drops objection on offshore wind
By Bruce Mohl, CommonWealth Magazine
February 7, 2021

GOV. CHARLIE BAKER sent the Legislature’s twice-passed climate change bill back on Sunday with new, compromise language that strikes a more conciliatory tone and dials back some of his earlier objections.

When the Legislature first passed the bill in early January at the end of the last legislative session, the governor could only approve or reject it. He rejected it, raising concerns about its costly emissions target for 2030, its separate emission targets for six industry subsectors, its offshore wind procurements, its support for community energy codes that could deter the production of affordable housing, and the narrowness of its environmental justice provisions.

Lawmakers, irked by the administration’s attitude, responded by passing the same bill again and sending it back to Baker. But administration officials and legislative leaders over the last three weeks also began talking, trying to sort out their differences. “We did try to find areas of common ground,” said Kathleen Theoharides, the governor’s secretary of energy and environmental affairs.

Baker on Sunday returned the bill to the Legislature with an accompanying letter that was much less strident in tone than his earlier veto message. In the letter, Baker withdrew some of his earlier objections and proposed amendments that compromised on others.

The initial reception from legislative leaders was cautious optimism. They indicated they would likely not agree with the governor on everything, but would accept some of his amendments.

Rep. Thomas Golden of Lowell, the House’s point person on the legislation, said the governor’s amendments will get a fair shot. Sen. Michael Barrett of Lexington, the Senate’s point person on the legislation, seemed receptive. He said a number of Baker’s technical amendments improved the bill and welcomed the fact that the critical tone of last session’s veto letter was missing from Sunday’s letter outlining proposed amendments.

“There will be disagreements there, but I liked the new theme,” Barrett said.
» Read article             
» Read Gov. Baker’s letter and suggested amendments

» More legislative news

CLIMATE

current trends inadequate
Study Warns Emissions Cuts Must Be 80% More Ambitious to Meet Even the Dangerously Inadequate 2°C Target
“And as if 2°C rather than 1.5°C was acceptable,” responded Greta Thunberg, calling the findings further evidence “that our so-called ‘climate targets’ are insufficient.”
By Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams
February 11, 2021

A new study warns that countries’ pledges to reduce planet-heating emissions as part of the global effort to meet the goals of the Paris climate agreement must be dramatically scaled up to align with even the deal’s less ambitious target of keeping temperature rise below 2°C—though preferably 1.5°C—by the end of the century.

A pair of researchers at the University of Washington found that the country-based rate of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions cuts should increase by 80% beyond current nationally determined contributions (NDCs)—the term for each nation’s pledge under the Paris agreement—to meet the 2°C target.

The study, published Tuesday in the journal Communications Earth & Environment, adds to the mountain of evidence that since the Paris agreement—which also has a bolder 1.5°C target—was adopted in late 2015, countries around the world have not done enough to limit human-caused global heating.

“On current trends, the probability of staying below 2°C of warming is only 5%, but if all countries meet their nationally determined contributions and continue to reduce emissions at the same rate after 2030, it rises to 26%,” the study says. “If the USA alone does not meet its nationally determined contribution, it declines to 18%.”

“To have an even chance of staying below 2°C,” the study continues, “the average rate of decline in emissions would need to increase from the 1% per year needed to meet the nationally determined contributions, to 1.8% per year.”

Greta Thunberg of the youth-led climate movement Fridays for Future called the findings further evidence “that our so-called ‘climate targets’ are insufficient.”
» Read article             

trial balloonBalloon test flight plan under fire over solar geoengineering fears
Swedish environmental groups warn test flight could be first step towards the adoption of a potentially “dangerous, unpredictable, and unmanageable” technology
By Patrick Greenfield, The Guardian
February 8, 2021

A proposed scientific balloon flight in northern Sweden has attracted opposition from environmental groups over fears it could lead to the use of solar geoengineering to cool the Earth and combat the climate crisis by mimicking the effect of a large volcanic eruption.

In June, a team of Harvard scientists is planning to launch a high-altitude balloon from Kiruna in Lapland to test whether it can carry equipment for a future small-scale experiment on radiation-reflecting particles in the Earth’s atmosphere.

An independent advisory committee will rule on whether to approve the balloon test flight by 15 February. Swedish environmental groups have written to the government and the Swedish Space Corporation (SSC) to voice their opposition.

In the letters, seen by the Guardian, organisations including the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation, Greenpeace Sweden and Friends of the Earth Sweden said that while the balloon flight scheduled for June does not involve the release of particles, it could be the first step towards the adoption of a potentially “dangerous, unpredictable, and unmanageable” technology.

Stratospheric aerosols are a key component of solar geoengineering technology that some have proposed as a plan B for controlling the Earth’s temperature if the climate crisis makes conditions intolerable and governments do not take sufficient action.

Studies have found that widespread adoption of solar geoengineering could be inexpensive and safer than some fear. But critics argue the consequences of its use are not well understood and stratospheric aerosol injections (SAI) on a large scale could damage the ozone layer, cause heating in the stratosphere and disrupt ecosystems.
» Read article               

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

solar clean peak
When power most needed, ‘peaker’ polluters fire up in Berkshires. Should that continue?
By Danny Jin, The Berkshire Eagle
February 7, 2021

When electricity demand peaks, dirtier fuels enter the power grid.

Though they run just a small fraction of the time, “peaker” power plants often fire up on the hottest days of summer or the coldest days of winter. And when they are on, they typically are among the worst polluters.

Local climate advocates have started a push to convert three Berkshire peakers to cleaner alternatives.

The Berkshire Environmental Action Team wants the plants to switch to using renewable energy and battery storage. To make that pitch, it’s seeking to build a coalition that already includes the Berkshire NAACP branch’s environmental justice committee, Masspirg Students, Indivisible Pittsfield and a number of local climate action groups.

“We want to create a large community of opposition to these plants and build this movement together,” said Berkshire Environmental Action Team Executive Director Jane Winn, who said at a recent online presentation that people can sign on to the petition through tinyurl.com/PeakerPetition.

Peakers tend to be located where relatively more people of color and low-income residents live, Winn said. The plants emit greenhouse gases that increase risks for respiratory ailments and contribute to climate change.

Pittsfield Generating, on Merrill Road, runs primarily on natural gas. In 2019, it emitted 39,176.89 metric tons of carbon dioxide and 6.65 metric tons of nitrous oxide while operating just under 6 percent of the time, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

The plant is adjacent to Allendale Elementary School and is near Pittsfield’s Morningside neighborhood, which the state considers an “environmental justice” neighborhood.

Peakers on Doreen Street in Pittsfield and Woodland Road in Lee run on kerosene. While they each run just 0.1 percent of the time, the Doreen Street and Woodland Road plants emitted 152.77 metric tons and 54.03 metric tons of carbon dioxide, respectively, in 2019, according to the EPA.

The Doreen Street site is near Williams and Egremont elementary schools, and Woodland Road borders October Mountain State Forest.

The peakers on Doreen and Woodland once were owned by Essential Power, which was acquired in 2016 by Charlotte, N.C.-based Cogentrix, which includes Doreen in its list of projects but not Woodland.

Cogentrix did not respond to an inquiry regarding the two plants.

Pittsfield Generating is operated by PurEnergy LLC, a subsidiary of NAES and Japanese company Itochu. PurEnergy did not respond to an inquiry.

With Pittsfield Generating’s air permit set to expire this year (Doreen and Woodland are so old that the Clean Air Act does not apply to them), now is the time for the community to reckon with the plant’s impacts, the Berkshire Environmental Action Team said.

Six New York peakers recently began a switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy and storage, and advancements in battery technology might allow more peakers to do so.
» Read article             
» Sign petition to shut down Berkshire County’s peaker plants

big switch
Carbon-free future is in reach for the US by 2050
America could have a carbon-free future by 2050 with a big switch to wind and solar power, say US government scientists.
By Tim Radford, Climate News Network
February 11, 2021

The US − per head of population perhaps the world’s most prodigal emitter of greenhouse gases − can reverse that and have a carbon-free future within three decades, at a cost of no more than $1 per person per day.

That would mean renewable energy to power all 50 states: giant wind power farms, solar power stations, electric cars, heat pumps and a range of other technological solutions.

The argument has been made before: made repeatedly; and contested too. But this time the reasoning comes not from individual scientists in a handful of US universities, but from an American government research base: the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, with help from the University of San Francisco.

To make the switch more politically feasible, the authors argue, existing power plant could be allowed to live out its economic life; nobody need be asked to scrap a brand new gasoline-driven car for an electric vehicle.

Their study − in the journal AGU Advances − looked at a range of ways to get to net zero carbon emissions, at costs as low as 0.2% of gross domestic product (GDP, the economist’s favourite measure of national wealth), or as high as 1.2%, with about 90% of power generated by wind or solar energy.

“The decarbonisation of the US energy system is fundamentally an infrastructure transformation,” said Margaret Torn, of the Berkeley Lab, one of the authors.

“It means that by 2050 we need to build many gigawatts of wind and solar plants, new transmission lines, a fleet of electric cars and light trucks, millions of heat pumps to replace conventional furnaces and water heaters, and more energy-efficient buildings, while continuing to research and innovate new technologies.”

The economic costs would be almost exclusively capital costs necessitated by the new infrastructure. That is both bad and good.
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» Read the study              

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ENERGY EFFICIENCY

condos under construction
Will developers block clean energy standards?
State must not allow builders off the hook
By Joan Fitzgerald and Greg Coppola, CommonWealth Magazine | Opinion
February 11, 2021

LATE IN THE last session, the Massachusetts Legislature passed a landmark climate bill targeting zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and mandating several mechanisms to achieve the goal. Gov. Baker vetoed the bill on the ground that it would make construction too expensive, echoing concerns raised by contractors and developers. The Legislature then passed the identical bill in late January and Baker has sent it back with amendments that will let developers off the hook on moving quickly to high-efficiency building standards. Although the language in the bill could use some clarification, these standards should be non-negotiable.

The legislation would require the state to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. This goal would be achieved by increasing energy-efficiency requirements in transportation, buildings, and appliances; and increased reliance on offshore wind and solar power. A key provision would allow cities and towns to adopt net zero codes—meaning that a building is very energy efficient and completely powered by renewable energy produced either on- or off-site. But this aroused the opposition of real estate interests. Both NAIOP (the National Association of Industrial and Office Properties) Massachusetts and the Greater Boston Real Estate Board, came out against the legislation. (On an array of issues, including rent control, the strategy of developers and landlords has been to use state law to block home rule.)

The irony of the veto is that the climate bill builds on existing policies enacted under Baker, though it does add more teeth. The Commonwealth’s current three-year energy efficiency plan, governing measures from 2019-2021includes tax incentives and subsidies for developers for both market-rate and low-income housing to build to passive house standards.

The Massachusetts Clean Energy and Climate Plan for 2030, which is now open for public comment, will be adopted soon. It calls for the Department of Energy Resources to develop a high-performance stretch energy code in 2021 for submission to the Board of Building Review and Standards for cities and towns to adopt in 2022.

Many state and city programs are supporting these policies. The Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, the state economic development agency accelerating the growth of the clean energy sector, has subsidized several successful projects to acquaint developers with the techniques of highly efficient buildings. Currently, Mass Save offers certification and performance incentives to builders and developers of residential buildings of five or more units and offers 50 percent registration reimbursements for certification courses on construction techniques for achieving the passive house standard. Last year, the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development added bonus points into its scoring system for developers in its Low-Income Housing Tax Credit Program if they build projects to passive house standard. Cambridge’s 2015 Net Zero Action Plan provides a 25-year roadmap to achieving a 70 percent reduction in emissions by 2040.

The terminology of green buildings can be confusing for those not engaged in the policy. It all started with Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). Although its various levels of certification prevail in many cities, it is not the standard to get us to net-zero carbon by 2050. For that, cities and states need to move to passive house, net zero emissions, or zero net energy (ZNE), which are complementary standards. Buildings meeting these standards produce significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions and save their owners money on utilities over time.

The passive house standard can reduce the need for heating by up to 90 percent, while increasing construction costs by no more than 3 percent, on average.

Net zero emission standards require buildings to offset any emissions they produce through carbon removal processes, such as investing in forest restoration projects or direct air capture and storage. A zero-net energy building produces enough renewable energy onsite or offsite to equal to the annual energy consumption of the building. These buildings can produce surplus renewable energy that feeds back to regional electrical grid.

Massachusetts developers are finding all three standards cost efficient. In Fall River, the 50,600-square foot Bristol Community College John J. Sbrega Health and Science Building was constructed in 2016 to ZNE standards without impacting its $31.5 million construction budget. The Commonwealth’s largest net-zero emissions building is the 273,000 square foot complex of the King Open and Cambridge Street Upper School in Cambridge. The complex, comprising two school buildings, a library, and two outdoor swimming pools generates 60 percent of its energy onsite from solar and geothermal sources.

These are not just one-off examples. Nationwide, all three standards are becoming more common.
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ENERGY EFFICIENT BUILDING MATERIALS

mushroom brickOne day, your home could be made with mushrooms
Mushrooms bricks could replace concrete
By Justine Calma, The Verge
February 2, 2021

Mushrooms are helping architects and engineers solve one the world’s biggest crises: climate change. These fungi are durable, biodegradable, and are proving to be a good alternative to more polluting materials.

“Our built environment needs these kinds of materials,” says David Benjamin, founding principal architect at the firm The Living. “Different countries have really ambitious climate change goals, and this material could really help jump-start some of that progress.”

Building materials and construction make up about a tenth of global carbon dioxide emissions. That’s way more than the global shipping and aviation industries combined. And the problem is getting worse.

Materials made with mycelium, the fungal network from which mushrooms grow, might be able to help turn that around. They produce far less planet-heating carbon dioxide than traditional materials like cement. An added bonus is that mushrooms are biodegradable, so they leave behind less harmful waste than traditional building materials. Mushrooms can even help with clean-up efforts, feeding off things that might have otherwise ended up in a landfill, like sawdust or agricultural waste.
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ENERGY STORAGE

NE big storage arrivesPlus Power Breaks Open Market for Massive Batteries in New England
Large standalone battery plants had not succeeded in New England’s capacity market. Until now.
By Julian Spector, GreenTech Media
February 11, 2021

Battery plants have established themselves in the sunny Southwest, but this week was the first time they won big in New England.

San Francisco-based developer Plus Power won two bids in the latest capacity auction held by the New England ISO, which operates the transmission grid and competitive power markets in six Northeastern states. That means that these two battery plants offered a compelling enough price to edge out some fossil fuel plants for delivering power on demand. And they did it without any help from federal tax credits because none of them apply to standalone batteries.

Plus Power now needs to build the plants: a 150-megawatt/300-megawatt-hour system near a cranberry bog south of Boston, Massachusetts and a 175-megawatt/350-megawatt-hour battery in Gorham, Maine. The seven-year capacity contracts start in June 2024.

New England has seen a build-out of smaller batteries. Some have been acquired by municipal utilities willing to get out in front of a grid trend. Others are supported by the Massachusetts SMART program, which incentivizes the addition of batteries at distributed solar projects.

But until now, no standalone battery had won in the competitive capacity auctions opened to energy storage by ISO-NE’s implementation of Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Order 841, and no batteries above the 100-megawatt threshold had been built in the region.

“There’s no mandate, there’s no emergency procurement, there’s no grant program,” Plus Power General Manager Brandon Keefe said. In that light, the company’s capacity market wins represent “the market working and storage winning.”
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CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

e-trucks trickle in
2021: When electric trucks trickle in
Political winds and consumer tastes favor a change in how trucks are fueled. The question is whether manufacturers, fleets and infrastructure are ready for the change.
By Jim Stinson, Utility Dive
February 8, 2021

Electric trucks will accelerate on delivery, research and absorption into fleets in 2021, even though experts doubt more than a few Class 8 trucks will be delivered to carriers.

The electric truck is a crucial part of government and fleet plans to help decrease emissions. But implementation in the United States has been slow. In August, Wood Mackenzie estimated just over 2,000 electric trucks were in service at the end of 2019. The research firm said by 2025, the electric truck fleet will grow to 54,000.

The political winds and consumer tastes favor a change in how trucks are fueled. The new administration seems eager to help make the transition, and President Joe Biden campaigned on a promise of net-zero emissions in the U.S. no later than 2050.

Analysts said they don’t believe 2021 will be the year a notable percentage — say, 5% or 10% — of Class 8 trucks become electric, but some predict this will be the year the change begins.

“I think 2020, last year, was the year of commitments,” said Mike Roeth, executive director of the North American Council for Freight Efficiency. “If everybody says they will do what they say will do, this will happen pretty fast.”

Roeth noted the pipeline for new electric trucks is slow in providing what fleets may want. That means what 2021 sees in the implementation of commercial electric vehicles won’t be a flood — more like a trickle. But that will allow fleets to begin gaining experience with electric trucks: How to charge them, and learning the logistics of charging and range limits.
» Read article       

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FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION

FERC in the dock
Environmental Groups Sue Federal Regulators Over Western Mass. Pipeline Plan
By Miriam Wasser, WBUR
February 12, 2021

Environmental groups are challenging a federal agency’s decision to allow natural gas expansion in central Massachusetts, arguing legal precedent — and a change in regulatory leadership — is on their side.

On Friday, the Washington, D.C. Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments from two groups opposed to the proposed expansion of a compressor station in Agawam, which the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approved in 2019.

The project in question is a proposal from the Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company, LLC — a subsidiary of energy giant Kinder Morgan — to build 2.1 miles of new natural gas pipeline and replace two small compressors with a larger unit at its Agawam site. The company says these upgrades will allow it to deliver more natural gas for distribution in the greater Springfield area, and as such, “alleviate capacity-constrained New England gas markets.”

Opponents of the project, meanwhile, want the panel of appellate judges to nullify the permit issued by FERC, saying the project will contribute to climate change,  prolong our dependence of fossil fuels, and harm local residents by increasing pollution in an area already known for poor air quality and pose public safety risks. They also argue that FERC violated federal law and disregarded legal precedent by allowing the project to move forward.

“The National Environmental Policy Act requires FERC to meaningfully evaluate greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel production and transportation projects,” wrote petitioners, Berkshire Environmental Action Team and Food & Water Watch, in court documents.
» Read article       

EJ arrives at FERC
FERC Chairman Acts to Ensure Prominent FERC Role for Environmental Justice
By FERC
February 11, 2021

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Chairman Richard Glick today announced plans to better incorporate environmental justice and equity concerns into the Commission’s decision-making process by creating a new senior position to coordinate that work.

“I believe that the Commission should more aggressively fulfill its responsibilities to ensure our decisions don’t unfairly impact historically marginalized communities,” Glick said.

Glick said he will have more details about the new environmental justice position at a future date. But he stressed that this will be a cross-cutting position, and that the person who fills the job will be charged with working with the experts in all FERC program offices to integrate environmental justice and equity matters into Commission decisions.

“This position is not just a title,” Glick said. “I intend to do what it takes to empower this new position to ensure that environmental justice and equity concerns finally get the attention they deserve.”
» Read article       
» Read E&E News background article from 7/31/20         

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FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Total rebrand
Oil companies don’t want to be known for oil anymore
By Emily Pontecorvo, Grist
February 12, 2021

In a speech to his board of directors on Monday, Patrick Pouyanné, the CEO of French oil giant Total, announced that the company planned to change its name to TotalEnergies. He said the new name would anchor the company’s transformation into a “broad energy company,” and went on to describe the renewable energy assets Total added to its portfolio over the last year, including a stake in the largest solar developer in the world.

If approved by the company’s investors, Total’s name change would be the latest in a round of oil company makeovers that have accompanied a flurry of climate pledges over the past year. Last February, when BP announced its ambition to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, it said its new purpose was “reimagining energy.” It later claimed it was pivoting from “international oil company” to “integrated energy company.” In December, the CEO of Occidental Petroleum, which also set a net-zero target, said in an interview that it was transitioning toward becoming a “carbon management company,” in reference to its investment in a facility that will suck CO2 out of the air.

Oil companies have been trying to rebrand themselves as cleaner and greener for years. BP famously changed its tagline to Beyond Petroleum in 2000 to advertise its move into solar and wind energy — then it caused the most disastrous oil spill in American history in 2010 and shed many of its renewable energy assets in the aftermath. In 2010, Chevron launched a campaign called “We Agree,” with advertisements that said things like “It’s time oil companies get behind renewable energy,” followed by the words “We agree” in red letters. Then it sold off its renewable energy subsidiary four years later. Exxon has been advertising its research into algae-based fuel since 2009, but over the past decade has only spent around $300 million on said research, or the equivalent of about 1 percent of its capital budget for 2020.

Robert Brulle, a sociologist at Brown University who has studied the industry’s disinformation campaigns for years, told Grist that these greenwashing efforts come in cycles, with companies increasing this kind of promotion in response to political shifts. “By running this sort of campaign, they hope to convince policy makers and the general public that there is no need for legislation,” he said in an email.

Is anything different this time? “It’s certainly a reflection of an enormous amount of pressure on these companies,” said Kathy Mulvey, the climate accountability campaign director at the Union of Concerned Scientists, citing pressure from shareholders, the divestment movement, lawsuits, and the prospect of new policies under the Biden administration.
» Read article              
» Obtain the Brown University study on fossil fuel corporate greenwashing

breaking up is hard to do
How the Fossil Fuel Industry Convinced Americans to Love Gas Stoves
And why they’re scared we might break up with their favorite appliance.
By Rebecca Leber, Mother Jones
February 11, 2021

In early 2020, Wilson Truong posted on the NextDoor social media platform—where users can send messages to a group in their neighborhood—in a Culver City, California, community. Writing as if he were a resident of the Fox Hills neighborhood, Truong warned the group members that their city leaders were considering stronger building codes that would discourage natural gas lines in newly built homes and businesses. In a message with the subject line “Culver City banning gas stoves?” Truong wrote: “First time I heard about it I thought it was bogus, but I received a newsletter from the city about public hearings to discuss it…Will it pass???!!! I used an electric stove but it never cooked as well as a gas stove so I ended up switching back.”

Truong’s post ignited a debate. One neighbor, Chris, defended electric induction stoves. “Easy to clean,” he wrote about the glass stovetop, which uses a magnetic field to heat pans. Another user, Laura, was nearly incoherent in her outrage. “No way,” she wrote, “I am staying with gas. I hope you can too.”

What these commenters didn’t know was that Truong wasn’t their neighbor at all. He was writing in his role as account manager for the public relations firm Imprenta Communications Group. Imprenta’s client was Californians for Balanced Energy Solutions (C4BES), a front group for SoCalGas, the nation’s largest gas utility, working to fend off state initiatives to limit the future use of gas in buildings. C4BES had tasked Imprenta with exploring how social media platforms, including NextDoor, could be used to foment community opposition to electrification.

The NextDoor incident is just one of many examples of the newest front in the gas industry’s war to garner public support for their fuel. As more municipalities have moved to phase gas lines out of new buildings to cut down on methane emissions, gas utilities have gone on the defensive, launching anti-electrification campaigns across the country.
» Read article       

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BIOMASS

Michael S Regan
Will new US EPA head continue his opposition to burning forests for energy?
By Justin Catanoso, Mongabay
February 4, 2021

“I don’t see a future in wood pellets,” Michael S. Regan told me when we spoke late in 2019 while he was serving as head of North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality.

Today, Regan is President Joe Biden’s choice for Environmental Protection Agency administrator; he’s very likely to be confirmed this week by the Senate with bipartisan support. And his words, if put into practice, could have a profound impact on the future of forest biomass — the burning of trees, turned into wood pellets, to make energy on a vast industrial scale — bringing about a major shift in U.S. and potentially international energy policy.

With his administration not even a month old, President Biden is moving swiftly to regain a global leadership role for the United States in climate change mitigation. A portion of that effort could revolve around the U.S. ability to influence international and United Nations policy regarding biomass-for-energy.

Under Donald Trump, biomass burning got favorable treatment. But now, under Biden and Regan, it seems plausible that the nation will follow the lead of current science, which has clearly debunked an earlier mistaken claim of biomass burning’s carbon neutrality.

This is what Michael Regan, 44 and an eastern North Carolina native, said on the topic in a late 2019 interview, long before his EPA appointment (parts of that interview were featured in a series of articles in the Raleigh News & Observer): “I am not shy about saying [that Democratic N.C.] Gov. [Roy] Cooper and I believe in a clean energy, renewable energy future for the state that has the lowest emissions profile,” he said. “That’s going to be driven by technology, business models, new ways of thinking about things. I don’t see a future in wood pellets.”

At the time, Cooper set a goal to reduce North Carolina’s emissions by 70% by 2030 over a 2005 baseline, and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

Regan added that he saw no role for biomass in North Carolina’s energy future, even though his state is among the nation’s largest producers of wood pellets, exporting some 2.5 million tons annually, mostly to the United Kingdom (UK) and European Union (EU). There the pellets are burned in former coal-fired power stations to make electricity; biomass accounts for nearly 60% of the EU’s “renewable” energy mix.
» Read article             

RMLD GM O’Brien defends Palmer plant energy purchase
By BOB HOLMES, Daily Times Chronicle
February 9, 2021

READING – For Coleen O’Brien, it was much like a trip to the grocery store. As the Reading Municipal Light Department’s General Manager, she was shopping for renewable energy for the four towns RMLD serves. She had her list, and biomass was on it, right there in RMLD Policy 30.

On this shopping trip last February, she came home with a 20-year commitment to buy power from a wood-burning biomass facility in Springfield. What seemed like a good idea to O’Brien at the time, has gone south fast.

Since entering into the agreement with the Palmer plant, and especially in recent months, the plant and RMLD’s connection to it has been a growing source of controversy. Protest over the proposed plant goes back years, most of it focused on the air pollution it would bring to an area already dealing with asthma brought on by poor air quality.

The purchase wasn’t the only problem. The process was as well because the RMLD Board of Commissioners and the Citizen Advisory Board (CAB) were left out of the decision to buy power from the Palmer plant.

When the Board of Commissioners was informed of the commitment in October, protest followed. That protest has grown recently after the Department of Energy Resources proposed amendments in December that relaxed state regulations. Senators Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren, Attorney General Maura Healey, State Senator Jason Lewis, and the Reading Select Board all have expressed opposition to the plant and asked for a public hearing on the DOER amendments. RMLD is taking heat for supporting the plant by purchasing 25 percent of its energy over a 20-year span.

Wednesday night the Climate Advisory Committee re-stated their opposition to RMLD’s use of power from the Palmer plant. The committee voted to bring their objections to the Reading Select Board at a future meeting.

O’Brien defended her decision Wednesday but pledged to do whatever the Board of Commissioners and the Citizen Advisory Board tells her to do. That means potential changes to RMLD’s energy shopping list, better known as Policy 30.

“I was instructed to keep buying renewable,” said O’Brien. “We were instructed to buy renewable, meet the goals, make sure it meets the renewable criteria. At that time, Palmer met that criteria. That’s why it’s so important going forward that Policy 30 provides us instruction about what they would want the portfolio to look like. What do they want us to buy?”

When it comes to tweaking Policy 30, she’s open for any discussion.

Regarding Palmer, can RMLD walk away from [the] February agreement?

“No, you wouldn’t be able to just back out of it but you could assign it or sell it,” said O’Brien. “Power is traded like a commodity. You would have to look to taking your power commitment and having someone else pick it up.
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