Tag Archives: floating offshore wind

Weekly News Check-In 5/20/22

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Welcome back.

Just about every Friday, we publish this newsletter with links to a host of great articles that discuss current important climate and energy issues. There’s often a pattern – science jacking up the alarm level, industry spinning the message, and politics gridlocked between competing interests. While each issue can feel like another trip through the spin cycle, we’ve been at this a few years now and can definitely see positive progress – invariably driven by people who have chosen to engage, to work with others who haven’t given up, who are determined to take whatever action they can to meet the climate crisis. So we’re leading today’s issue with one person’s account of how getting involved, getting active, makes her feel hopeful.

Now that we’re fired up and ready to go… let’s jump right in with an observation that the Federal Reserve has yet to see a role for itself in addressing the financial risks associated with climate change. Even though these hazards are well documented and increasingly urgent, Fed Chair Jerome Powell recently said, “Today, climate change is not something that we directly consider in setting monetary policy.” Pension funds are an example of an investment that responds to monetary policies. Ones that still hold a lot of fossil fuel securities are directly exposed to climate risks. But some of these funds are resisting divestment efforts by circulating misinformation that exaggerates the expected costs associated with eliminating fossils from portfolios. This is a replay of tactics previously deployed when resisting calls to dump tobacco and firearms.

Financial risks mentioned above come in two main flavors: the risk to life, property, and business from extreme weather events and other climate-related disasters, and the risk of stranded assets, typically associated with fossil fuel infrastructure that has to be retired earlier than expected. A new scientific study draws a line under the stranded asset issue, concluding that approximately 40% of all existing fossil fuel production sites must be retired early for us to hang on to a 50-50 chance of achieving the Paris Climate Agreement goal of limiting heating to 1.5C.

Last among this week’s finance-related news is consideration of the effectiveness of purchasing carbon offsets as a way to green up air travel. Bottom line: not much. But with time and better regulation, the carbon offset market is expected to improve. For now, buy them if they make you feel better. Fly less if you can.

We’ll close out this section with a couple of excellent articles describing how the same technical loophole that allows European biomass plants to claim their energy is carbon neutral (and to devastate forests in the U.S. southeast), is being used to grow the biomass energy industry in Japan and South Korea – with similar pollution and deforestation consequences. Also, a heads up on the next industry-driven false solution for the single-use plastics problem: “advanced recycling“.

On the positive side, floating offshore wind turbines have come a long way in the past five years. Now, the first commercial deployment is happening off Scotland and strong industry growth is expected to follow. We also found a podcast about the new documentary “Empowered”, focused on the long and checkered history of energy production in Somerset on Mount Hope Bay, near Fall River, MA. Long-serving state representative Patricia Haddad is central to the story.

Across the pond, Norway is seeing the commercial launch of the Hydrovolt battery recycling plant. It’s Europe’s largest facility for recycling electric vehicle and stationary energy storage batteries. Between its initial capacity and plans for growth, it is expected to handle all of Norway’s end-of-life battery market.

On the topic of batteries, it’s certain that long-duration energy storage will involve (among other technologies) some form of flow batteries. We offer a great basic primer on what these are and how they’re being used. And right on queue, a new report by researchers at MIT finds that with today’s available methods, it’s technologically and financially feasible to use energy storage systems to almost completely eliminate the need for fossil fuels to operate regional power grids.

Let’s make it happen.

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

— The NFGiM Team

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

involved
When You Can’t Read Anymore About Climate, Take Action
By Meredith Rose, Yes! | Opinion
May 18, 2022
Meredith Rose has taught composition and literature at San Francisco City College. Her short stories have been published in a handful of literary magazines. With her life partner, she is raising two teenaged kids in Pasadena, CA.

What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done? It might have been something reckless or impulsive, adventurous, or just plain stupid. Here’s mine: I joined a group that works on creating solutions to climate change. Nuts, right? Who does stuff like that when the headlines remind us daily of our impending doom? Well, I did, and I’m learning that it’s not so crazy after all. I admit that when I simply recycled toilet paper rolls and bought LED lights, life was easier. Joining an organization and showing up was definitely out of my comfort zone, let alone actually meeting with my congresswoman. But it seems that every summer where I live in Southern California, the thermometer tops 100 degrees for days on end, and I’m pretty uncomfortable then too.

Now, I’m doing something, along with thousands of others, and together, we’re making a difference. I see it in the laws proposed in Congress and in state legislatures as well. By getting involved, I’ve also met a range of people who haven’t given up, who are determined to take whatever action they can to meet this crisis.

For years, the mainstream media told me who really cared about The Environment: latte-drinking, Volvo-driving elites, or else wild-haired, amoral, eco-terrorists. When I attended my local chapter meeting of Citizens’ Climate Lobby, I met folks who (possibly) drank lattes and (occasionally) had some hairs out of place, but who for the most part were passionate, clear-eyed, and determined. The more involved I got, the more inspired I became. I signed up to staff an info table at a local library event. With me was Rob, a scientist from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and then the head of the local chapter. He knew all the facts backward and forward, but when he talked to people, he spoke from the heart. He encouraged me when, for the first time ever, I talked to total strangers about climate change, and he thanked me for my efforts when my shift was over. I had wanted this scientist to tell me that everything was going to be OK, that the powers that be would figure it out in time, but he never did. Instead, he showed me that every contact with another person—listening first and then responding—was the key to addressing our challenge.
» Read article   

» More about protests and actions

DIVESTMENT

suspense
As California Considers Dropping Fossil Fuels from Major Pension Funds, New Report Calls Out ‘Misinformation’ on Costs
CalPERS and CalSTRS, which oppose fossil fuel divestment legislation, have “wildly exaggerated” divestment costs, according to Fossil Free California’s latest report.
By Sharon Kelly, DeSmog Blog
May 13, 2022

A newly published report by Fossil Free California finds California’s pension fund managers are circulating divestment “misinformation” by exaggerating the costs involved in shedding their fossil fuel investments in documents prepared for state lawmakers.

California lawmakers are currently considering Senate Bill 1173 (SB-1173), California’s Fossil Fuel Divestment Act, which would require the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS), to stop investing in fossil fuels before the decade is out. The move would impact billions of dollars currently invested in oil, gas, or coal on behalf of California’s teachers, firefighters, and other public employees.

The report titled “Hyperbole in the Hearings” found that the pension “funds have wildly exaggerated losses from past divestments” like those involving tobacco, firearms, and some forms of coal. It concludes that CalPERS and CalSTRS estimates for costs associated with fossil fuel divestment are also exaggerated.

Extraordinary sums of money, invested on behalf of California’s public employees and teachers, are on the line. The two pension funds have estimated holdings of $7.4 billion and $4.1 billion respectively in fossil fuel investments that would need to be divested if the law went into effect.

Before it’s enacted, SB-1173 has to survive what California lawmakers call “suspense,” where the fiscal impacts of the law are considered — and it’s become known in the state as the place where bills “are killed without public debate.” That’s because debate between lawmakers during the suspense process is done behind closed doors and there’s no public vote when a bill is killed “on the suspense file.”
» Read article   

» More about divestment

GREENING THE ECONOMY

Northvolt operational
Northvolt’s battery recycling plant Hydrovolt commences operations in Norway
By Cameron Murray, Energy Storage News
May 17, 2022

Commercial operations have begun at the Hydrovolt battery recycling plant in Norway, a joint venture (JV) between Norwegian materials processing company Hydro and Sweden-headquartered lithium battery manufacturing startup Northvolt.

The facility in Fredrikstad, southern Norway, has been under construction since February last year and its JV partners have invested NOK120 million (US$13.94 million) into the project while another NOK43.5 million was put in by Norwegian government enterprise Enova.

It is Europe’s largest electric vehicle battery (EV) recycling plant with the capacity to process approximately 10,900 tonnes (12,000 tons) of battery packs per year, equating to around 25,000 EV batteries. The batteries will be supplied by Batteriretur, a Norwegian company that collects batteries for recycling.

That is sufficient to recycle the entire end-of-life battery market in Norway, Hydrovolt said. CEO Frederik Andresen told Energy-Storage.news when construction started that, although it was EV-focused, the facility is also capable of recycling batteries from stationary energy storage systems (ESS).

Hydrovolt has a long-term aim of increasing its recycling capacity in Europe to 63,500 tonnes of battery packs by 2025 and 272,000 tonnes by 2030.

The Fredrikstad facility can recover and isolate some 95% of the materials in batteries including plastics, copper, aluminium and black mass, a compound containing nickel, manganese, cobalt and lithium. The recovered aluminium will be delivered to Hydro for recirculation into commercial grade aluminium products.
» Read article   

high pressure
Gas is a dangerous distraction for Africa
Arguments for gas exploration and gas-fired power infrastructure in Africa are robbing us of vital time to switch to clean energy.
By Vanessa Nakate, Al Jazeera | Opinion
May 16, 2022
Vanessa Nakate, 25, is a climate activist from Uganda and founder of the Africa-based Rise Up Movement.

At the start of this century, when much of the developed world woke up to the dangers of smoking, Big Tobacco turned to Africa to seek out new profits.

To this day, in my country, Uganda, and many others, foreign tobacco companies work to undermine regulations designed to protect people against the industry – they even market cigarettes to schoolchildren in some African countries.

Now, the same is happening in the context of the global fight against climate change.

As the world finally begins to wake up to the climate emergency, major oil and gas companies from Europe and North America are increasingly losing their licence to operate there, so they are turning to Africa to try and secure at least a few more years of extraction and profit.

Despite United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres recently warning that investing in new fossil fuel infrastructure is “moral and economic madness”, leaders in Africa are being persuaded that extracting more gas is a prerequisite for the continent’s development.

It is true, at least in the short term, that encouraging people to use gas rather than wood fuel to cook is crucial to prevent indoor air pollution. We need to invest in local storage and bottling plants for cooking gas. However, such measures do not require new gas-fired power infrastructure and exploration. These are two completely separate issues.

Arguments for gas exploration and gas-fired power infrastructure in Africa are robbing us of vital time to switch to clean energy.

Decades of fossil fuel development in Africa have failed to bring prosperity and reduce energy poverty. African countries whose economies rely on the production and export of fossil fuels suffer slower rates of economic growth – sometimes up to three times slower – than those with more diverse economies. In Mozambique, where foreign companies have built a $20bn offshore natural gas field and onshore liquefied natural gas facility, 70 percent of the country still lives without access to electricity. The gas is not for local people.
» Read article   

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

hands off
The Fed Is Neglecting Its Duty on Climate Change
Global warming is introducing unprecedented risk into the financial system. The Fed has the power to limit that risk. Instead, Jerome Powell is sitting on his hands.
By Aaron Regunber, The New Republic | Opinion
May 19, 2022
Aaron Regunberg is a longtime progressive organizer, former Rhode Island state representative, and law student.

In early May, the United States Federal Reserve ordered the largest interest rate hike in over 20 years. This week, Fed Chair Jerome Powell declared he “won’t hesitate” to go even further, calling action on inflation an “unconditional need.”

This urgency to maintain price stability highlights a disturbing contrast at the heart of U.S. monetary policy: As the Fed goes all out to curb inflation, it continues to ignore a far more profound threat to our economic and financial stability—climate change.

By the year 2100, according to one study, the high-end cost of unchecked climate change could be $551 trillion. That’s more money than currently exists on earth. Yet just last year, Powell told a panel of his global colleagues, “Today, climate change is not something that we directly consider in setting monetary policy.”

Such a head-in-the-sand approach to climate is simply not compatible with a livable future, given the critical role that fossil fuel finance plays in driving this crisis. A recent report found that the world’s 60 largest banks invested $4.6 trillion in fossil fuels in the six years since the adoption of the Paris Agreement, with four U.S. banks—JPMorgan Chase, Citi, Wells Fargo, and Bank of America—together accounting for one-quarter of all fossil fuel financing. The Fed has the power and the responsibility to rein in these disastrous investment patterns, both to insulate our financial system from the contagious collapse of a dead-end fossil fuel industry and to protect the U.S. economy from the ravages of climate change.

Thus far, however, the Fed has failed to take any meaningful action on climate. This contrasts sharply with its peer institutions around the world. The European Central Bank has announced policies that make green assets eligible for purchase or discount. The Bank of England is actively exploring climate-related capital requirements and has committed to reducing the carbon intensity of its corporate bond purchasing program. The People’s Bank of China and the Bank of Japan have launched dedicated lending facilities to offer discounted funding for clean energy—and the list goes on.

The Fed, alone, has refused to acknowledge that climate requires an active central bank response, with opponents arguing that such actions exceed the statutory limits placed upon the Fed by Congress. This argument both misreads the Fed’s legislative mandates and underestimates the profound havoc that climate devastation will wreak on our financial system. In truth, the Fed’s legislative directives not only allow it to take steps to prevent and mitigate climate change, they actually require the Fed to do so.
» Read article   

» More about climate change

CLEAN ENERGY

Hywind Scotland
Floating offshore wind prepares to go commercial
The recent ScotWind offshore wind leasing round heralds a step change for floating offshore wind as a vital renewable technology for energy transition and energy security. Costs are starting to come down but other hurdles remain.
By Jocelyn Timperley, Energy Monitor
May 16, 2022

Back in 2017, the world’s first floating offshore wind farm, a 30MW demonstration project, was installed off the east coast of Scotland.

Five years on, the UK is targeting 5GW of floating offshore wind by 2030, which is equal to half its current total offshore wind capacity. In the recent ScotWind offshore wind leasing round – the world’s first fully commercial leasing round to support large-scale floating wind – the technology was awarded 14.5GW out of a total 25GW. The Crown Estate is planning a further 4GW of leasing for floating wind in the Celtic Sea.

Five years ago floating offshore wind was seen as potentially interesting and able to play a role in the UK’s renewable energy mix, says Rhys Wyn Jones, director of RenewableUK Cymru, the Wales branch of trade association RenewableUK. “It is now seen as absolutely central to offshore renewables’ contribution to the energy transition between now and 2050. We are on the cusp, and I think ScotWind puts rocket boosters underneath floating wind.”

[…] Floating wind offers several advantages over conventional fixed-bottom offshore wind, the most obvious of which is that floating turbines can be located in seabed depths of several hundred metres, compared with a maximum of around 65m for fixed-bottom. This allows far more flexibility in where it is put. Offshore wind can already access higher wind speeds than onshore, but this allows floating wind to take advantage of the very best spots.

“The fact that you can operate floating wind in much deeper waters gives you access to a far larger resource,” says Wyn Jones. “Stronger winds out in deeper waters have a huge benefit.”
» Read article   

Empowered
Rep. Haddad is star of energy documentary
‘Empowered’ places Somerset’s struggles in historical context
By Bruce Mohl, CommonWealth Magazine
May 16, 2022

REP. PATRICIA HADDAD of Somerset, long a powerful figure in the Massachusetts House, is now also the star of a new documentary written, directed, and produced by California-based filmmaker Kiki Goshay about America’s love affair with energy.

The documentary’s strength is the long look it takes at the country’s haphazard energy evolution from one president to the next, and from one crisis to the next. The story is told using Haddad and Somerset as the laboratory where those twists and turns play out – often with devastating personal and environmental consequences.

“It is a microcosm of all of America,” Goshay says of Somerset on The Codcast.

Somerset is a small community located on Mount Hope Bay across from Fall River. Electricity has long been its chief export, but the fuel used to produce the power has changed with the times. At Brayton Point, the power plant started with coal, shifted to oil when that fuel was cheap and plentiful, and then reverted to coal with the formation of OPEC and the run-up in oil prices in the 1970s.

Then came the environmental movement and the discovery that the Brayton Point plant was polluting the air and killing off the fish in the bay. That led to expensive scrubbers and cooling towers, which made the plant too costly to operate when cheap fracked natural gas came along. The plant was torn down and the cooling towers were imploded in April 2019, paving the way for a turn to offshore wind that has taken far longer than planned with the foot-dragging of the Trump administration finally giving way to the full-speed-ahead approach of the Biden administration.

[…] Goshay said she felt she needed to push ahead with the project for personal reasons as she watched the country fail to wake up to the dangers of climate change. She interviewed scientists, entrepreneurs, and policymakers like Haddad and came away far more optimistic about the nation’s future.

“I called [the documentary series] ‘Empowered’ because it’s exactly how I felt personally,” she said. “When I did this deep dive and met all of these people over the course of two years, I felt this excitement for the future for the first time. I really thought, wow, things are going to be better in five years and even better than that in 10 years because I met the people that are doing the work and I realized we have the tools.”
» Read article or listen to The Codcast

» More about clean energy

ENERGY STORAGE

flow battery graphic
Inside Clean Energy: Flow Batteries Could Be a Big Part of Our Energy Storage Future. So What’s a Flow Battery?
A battery project uses a technology that could be vital for meeting the need for long-duration energy storage.
By Dan Gearino, Inside Climate News
May 19, 2022

A clean energy development this week in the San Diego area isn’t much to look at. Workers will deliver four white shipping containers that house battery storage systems. Soon after, workers will hook up the containers so they can store electricity from a nearby solar array.

The part that I care about is the “flow battery” technology inside those shipping containers, developed by ESS Tech Inc., an Oregon startup. Flow batteries have the potential to be an important part of the energy transition because they can provide electricity storage that runs for much longer than the typical four hours of the dominant technology, lithium-ion batteries.

So what is a flow battery? A key design element is the use of two external tanks that contain electrolyte fluids that get pumped through the battery as it charges and discharges.

The duration of the battery, which is how long it can run before recharging, increases based on the size of the tanks. Think of this as the battery equivalent of one of those novelty baseball helmets that hold two cans of soda. If you switch out cans of soda for two-liter bottles, you can drink a lot more.

“For the whole machine, what you need to do is add more liquid rather than adding many, many more batteries,” said Jun Liu, a University of Washington professor and a fellow at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. He also is director of the federal government’s Battery500 Consortium, which develops next-generation batteries for electric vehicles.

In contrast to flow batteries, lithium-ion batteries and most other batteries are self-contained, with less flexibility in their design, he said.

[…] And one of ESS’ selling points to investors and customers is that it doesn’t rely on rare metals like lithium or vanadium at all. The main ingredients of its fluid are iron, salt and water.
» Read article   

fuel storage tanks
More energy storage is needed to support wind and solar power, MIT study finds
By David Abel, Boston Globe
May 16, 2022

A new report released Monday by researchers at MIT finds that it’s technologically and financially feasible to use energy storage systems, such as massive batteries or hydroelectricity, to almost completely eliminate the need for fossil fuels to operate regional power grids.

Such systems are becoming in greater demand in New England, and beyond, as more renewable energy powers homes and businesses and they require ways to keep the lights on when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing.

“Our study finds that energy storage can help [renewable energy]-dominated electricity systems balance electricity supply and demand while maintaining reliability in a cost-effective manner,” said Robert Armstrong, director of the MIT Energy Initiative, which commissioned the three-year study.

The authors of the report estimated that the costs of transforming power grids in the Northeast, Southeast, and Texas will range between 21 percent and 36 percent higher than if nothing was done to promote storage-backed renewable energy. The costs will be higher in the Northeast, where there are greater energy demands in the winter.

But they described those costs as “relatively modest” and noted there would be many hours when the costs of electricity would be near zero. That means future power grids are more likely to enable the low-cost charging of increased numbers of electrical vehicles and homes with electrical heating systems. They will be able to be charged when prices dip.

“These cost increases are relatively modest compared to the costs of not doing anything, and especially compared to the costs of climate change, which is an existential threat,” said Dharik Mallapragada, one of the authors of the report.
» Read article   
» Read the MIT report

» More about energy storage

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

guilt money
Do Airline Climate Offsets Really Work? Here’s the Good News, and the Bad.
Carbon credits could eventually play an important role in fighting climate change, but right now a few dollars’ worth won’t change much.
By Maggie Astor, New York Times
May 18, 2022

Carbon offset programs have become ubiquitous. You’ve probably seen them as check-box options when booking flights: Click here to upgrade to a premium seat. Click here to cancel your greenhouse gas emissions.

It’s an appealing proposition — the promise that, for a trivial amount of money, you can go about your business with no climate guilt. But if it sounds too good to be true, that’s because, at least for now, it is.

The New York Times asked readers this spring to submit their questions about climate change, and several asked about carbon offsets. How do they work? Do they work at all, or, as one reader put it, “is it just guilt money?”

The idea of carbon offsets, sometimes called carbon credits or climate credits, is simple. We know human activity releases tens of billions of tons of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases every year. We also know it is possible to remove or sequester carbon from the atmosphere by, for example, planting trees.

Offsets seek to compensate for emissions in one place — for example, from passenger airplanes — by funding emission reductions or carbon removal somewhere else, like forests.

Some experts see them as an essential tool to limit environmental damage, at least in the short to medium term, until the world can make a full transition to renewable energy. Governments including California, the European Union and Australia are relying on them to meet their national goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

At some point, carbon offset programs will have to become more transparent and effective, said Bruce M. Usher, a professor of professional practice at Columbia Business School and the former chief executive of EcoSecurities Group, which has designed emissions-reduction projects in developing countries.

Scientists are clear that the world needs to reach net-zero emissions — the point where we either stop pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, or fully counteract the gases that we do produce — by 2050 to avoid the worst effects of climate change, and “it’s virtually impossible to get to zero” without offsets, he said.

But that doesn’t mean offsets work today, and Professor Usher’s advice to people right now is hardly a ringing endorsement. “If you wish to because it aligns with your values, sure, you should buy carbon credits,” he said. “But don’t be under the illusion that, for every credit you buy, it’s absolutely 100 percent reducing emissions by an equal amount.”

Many offset projects do not even come close to 100 percent of the benefits they promise.
» Read article   

» More about clean transportation

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

early retirement
Shut down fossil fuel production sites early to avoid climate chaos, says study
Nearly half existing facilities will need to close prematurely to limit heating to 1.5C, scientists say
By Damian Carrington, The Guardian
May 17, 2022

Nearly half of existing fossil fuel production sites need to be shut down early if global heating is to be limited to 1.5C, the internationally agreed goal for avoiding climate catastrophe, according to a new scientific study.

The assessment goes beyond the call by the International Energy Agency in 2021 to stop all new fossil fuel development to avoid the worst impacts of global heating, a statement seen as radical at the time.

The new research reaches its starker conclusion by not assuming that new technologies will be able to suck huge amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere to compensate for the burning of coal, oil and gas. Experts said relying on such technologies was a risky gamble.

The Guardian revealed last week that 195 oil and gas “carbon bombs” are planned by the industry. This means projects that would each produce at least 1bn tonnes of CO2. Together, these carbon bombs alone would drive global heating beyond the 1.5C limit. But the dozen biggest oil companies are on track to spend $103m (£81m) a day until 2030 on climate-busting schemes.

Greg Muttitt, at the International Institute for Sustainable Development, was one of the leaders of the new research and said: “Halting new extraction projects is a necessary step, but still not enough to stay within our rapidly dwindling carbon budget. Some existing fossil fuel licences and production will need to be revoked and phased out early. Governments need to start tackling head-on how to do this in a fair and equitable way, which will require overcoming opposition from fossil fuel interests.”

Kelly Trout, at Oil Change International, the other lead author of the work, said: “Our study reinforces that building new fossil fuel infrastructure is not a viable response to Russia’s war on Ukraine. The world has already tapped too much oil and gas.” The researchers said governments should accelerate the introduction of renewable energy and efficiency measures instead.
» Read article   

fenceline benzene
US oil refineries spewing cancer-causing benzene into communities, report finds
Analysis shows alarming level of benzene at fence-line of facilities in Texas, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, Indiana and US Virgin Islands
By Aliya Uteuova, The Guardian
May 14, 2022

A dozen US oil refineries last year exceeded the federal limit on average benzene emissions.

Among the 12 refineries that emitted above the maximum level for benzene, five were in Texas, four in Louisiana, and one each in Pennsylvania, Indiana and the US Virgin Islands, a new analysis by the Environmental Integrity Project revealed on Thursday.

Benzene is a known carcinogen that is highly toxic and volatile when exposed to air. Much of the excess emissions come through leaks from valves, tanks, pumps and other means that are hard to detect.

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates 6.1 million people in the US live within three miles of a refinery, with low-income people and people of color represented at rates nearly twice that of the general population.

Out of 129 operable oil refineries in 2021, 118 reported benzene concentration registered at or near the site, otherwise known as the fence-line.

Nearly half of these refineries released benzene levels above 3 micrograms per cubic meter, which the Environmental Integrity Project defines as a long-term potential health threat.
» Read article   
» Read the EIP analysis

» More about fossil fuels

BIOMASS

ramping up
Missing the emissions for the trees: Biomass burning booms in East Asia [Part 1 of 2]
By Justin Catanoso, Mongabay
May 11, 2022

The European Union and the United Kingdom are ramping up controversial wood burning to generate energy and heat as they follow legal mandates to phase out coal. But this practice is leaving smokestack carbon emissions uncounted and the atmosphere in arguably worse shape.

Now, on the other side of the world, two industrial Asian giants are following Europe’s lead, though with less media scrutiny to date.

Japan and South Korea, the world’s third- and 10th-largest economies, have been increasingly relying on burning wood for energy since 2012, taking advantage of a United Nations-tolerated loophole that enables them, like the EU and the U.K., to allow emissions from biomass burning to be counted as carbon neutral, putting it in the same category as renewables such as solar and wind energy.

The result may be an undercounting of their actual greenhouse gas emissions, allowing them to meet their Paris Agreement goals — at least on paper. Both Japan and South Korea pledged in 2020 to reach net zero emissions by 2050; the EU and the U.K. have the same goal.

Western and Eastern biomass usage is creating a surging demand for wood pellets, putting even more pressure on native forests in the southeastern United States, western Canada, and Eastern Europe. Experts say this demand could lead to similar logging in Southeast Asia, especially Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia.

The Environmental Paper Network, a global coalition of forest advocates that tracks biomass usage, estimates that demand for pellets in Japan will rise to 9 million metric tons annually by 2027, up from 0.5 million metric tons in 2017.

[…] In South Korea, government subsidies for further biomass development have been so heavy that they are reducing investment in renewables such as wind and solar, according to a report by Seoul-based NGO Solutions For Our Climate (SFOC).

Meanwhile, “proposed Japanese demand for wood pellets would require the use of all the forests in Virginia,” Tim Searchinger, an expert on biomass for the World Resources Institute, told environmentalists in Japan during a recent presentation to forest advocates. More ominously for forests, his research indicates that “to provide 2% of global primary energy from wood requires doubling global commercial wood harvest.” Searchinger based the 2% prediction on current rising demand forecasts.

This trend comes even as nations proclaim the value in keeping forests intact. In November of last year, more than 100 nations agreed at the U.N. climate summit in Glasgow to reduce global deforestation as a primary climate-mitigation strategy. But the nonbinding pledge left plenty of room for commercial logging, which feeds wood-pellet manufacture, to continue unabated.
» Read article   

chipster
As biomass burning surges in Japan and South Korea, where will Asia get its wood? [Part 2 of 2]
By Annelise Giseburt, Mongabay
May 19, 2022

Under the guise of “carbon neutral” energy, Japan and South Korea’s appetite for woody biomass for electricity generation has increased exponentially over the past decade and continues to grow. The two nations’ biomass subsidies are spurring an increase in the production of wood for burning in Southeast Asia and North America, putting pressure on forests in those regions.

Burning woody biomass for electricity takes stored CO2 out of trees and puts it back into the atmosphere. However, United Nations carbon accounting rules define burning woody biomass as carbon neutral because newly planted trees absorb CO2. As a result, neither Japan nor South Korea counts that CO2 among its emissions, despite the fact that numerous studies have challenged industry claims of biomass burning’s carbon neutrality.

In 2021, Japan and South Korea imported a combined 6 million metric tons of wood pellets, according to data compiled by the nonprofits Biomass Industry Society Network (BIN) and Solutions for Our Climate (SFOC). They both also import palm kernel shells, a byproduct of palm oil production. A smaller percentage of both countries’ biomass fuel, including wood chips, is sourced domestically.

Encouraged by generous subsidies and the long-standing carbon accounting loophole, wood pellet demand in Japan and South Korea is expected to rival that of the United Kingdom and European Union by 2027. The EU currently supplies 60% of its supposedly renewable energy through biomass.

Although Asian woody biomass sourcing is just one production demand being made on the world’s forestry industry (wood for pulp, paper and construction are others), experts warn that a surge in biomass production could lead to increased deforestation — for a fuel that, no matter what the carbon accounting rules say, emits higher levels of CO2 at the smokestack than even coal and large amounts of particulate air pollution.
» Read article   

» More about biomass

PLASTICS RECYCLING

Berawa Beach
Exxon doubles down on ‘advanced recycling’ claims that yield few results
The petroleum company is under investigation for misleading the public while exacerbating the global plastic pollution crisis
By Amy Westervelt, The Guardian
May 11, 2022

Accused of misleading the public for decades on the promise of plastic recycling, oil and chemical companies are pushing a new idea: “advanced recycling”. Environmental advocates, however, say it’s more of the same old greenwash and litigators hope holding companies accountable for past lies might prevent the spread of a new one.

In late April, California attorney general Rob Bonta launched an investigation into ExxonMobil for its role in exacerbating the global plastic pollution crisis. Bonta says he was partly inspired by a 2020 investigation from NPR and Frontline that showed how companies like ExxonMobil, Chevron, Dow and Dupont were aware of the inefficacy of plastic recycling, yet they still strategized marketing campaigns that told a different story to the public.

For oil companies, those campaigns often included removing themselves from the story altogether. Even some climate advocates forget that plastic, which is made from either petroleum or ethane (a byproduct of fracking), is very much part of the climate crisis. Bonta says his investigation started with ExxonMobil because they’ve been a leader, in the plastics industry and in the messaging around recycling. A report out last year from the Mindaroo Foundation found that just 100 companies produce 90% of the world’s plastic pollution. It pinpointed ExxonMobil as the top producer in the world of single-use plastic.
» Read article   

» More about plastics recycling   

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Weekly News Check-In 10/23/20

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Welcome back.

We lead off this week with the story of young climate activists taking a page from the abolitionist playbook, when anti-slavery actions included waking politicians up in the middle of the night in hopes of also waking them up to the important issue at hand. Grab a nice big pan and a stout wooden spoon and set your alarm – there’s plenty of work to be done!

The Dakota Access Pipeline seems to run through dueling realities. In one, it just received a permit to double its flow. In a second, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe filed another injunction in Federal District Court to have it shut down altogether, citing the grave threat it poses to the Tribe’s critical water supply. The strangeness of that situation creates a good segue into the topic of virtual pipelines, especially now that the Trump administration is approving new rules for hauling liquefied natural gas by rail. If oil-carrying trains are bombs, then LNG trains are nukes. 

A new study in the journal Science concludes that the planet could retool its economies to fully comply with the Paris Climate Agreement target of 1.5 degree C of warming by spending just 10% of what Covid-19 has cost the global economy. That moves the concept of greening the economy from being a good idea, to also seeming like quite a bargain. And the climate keeps sending signals that we’re running out of time to make this transition, even as far too many political leaders remain in denial about the crisis.

In our good news section, we look at the clean energy impact of virtual power plants, tidal power, and floating offshore wind turbines. For a real lift, check out the work of BlocPower, a group bringing zero emissions energy efficiency retrofits to mid-sized buildings. Our featured article is an NPR report, and includes a link to the audio content – worth hearing simply to soak up some of CEO Donnel Baird’s immense optimism.

Green Mountain Power’s pilot distributed energy storage program – subsidizing a network of thousands of Tesla Powerwall batteries in people’s homes – has been a huge success. Declared a decisive win for both homeowners and the utility, the program will continue to expand. There’s also encouraging news in clean transportation, as the twelve states participating in the Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI) are hearing from environmental justice advocates demanding less polluting and more accessible public transportation as priority concerns.

What we call the regional energy chess game currently includes a move by New England governors to assert more control over their grid operator ISO-NE. This is prompted by dissatisfaction with the pace of renewable energy integration and rate structures that continue to promote fossil fuel.

Our coverage of the Environmental Protection Agency (coal ash ponds) and fossil fuel industry (Texas, in general) both highlight regulatory agencies failing to function in the public interest.

A proposed liquefied natural gas export terminal at the Gibbstown Logistics Center on the Delaware River is raising concern for its unconventional and risky siting and supply chain plans – including bringing LNG by rail from sources in the Marcellus shale play. See virtual pipelines, above.

The Boston Globe ran an excellent article on the proposed biomass incinerator in Springfield. It’s a must-read and represents an issue well worth contacting state legislators about.

We close with the good news that New York’s plastic bag ban, after weathering industry-supported lawsuits and a brief pandemic-related freakout, is now in effect.

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

 

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

wake up
‘We don’t have any choice’: the young climate activists naming and shaming US politicians
As the election nears, young Americans are calling on US politicians to take action on climate, police brutality and immigration
By Nina Lakhani, The Guardian
October 16, 2020

It was a Saturday night in September when 160 or so middle and high school students logged on to a Zoom call about how to confront American politicians using tactics inspired by young civil rights activists fighting for the abolition of slavery.

The teenagers were online with the Sunrise Movement, a nationwide youth-led climate justice collective, to learn about organizing Wide Awake actions – noisy night-time protests – to force lawmakers accused of ignoring the climate emergency and racial injustice to listen to their demands.

It’s a civil disobedience tactic devised by the Wide Awakes – a radical youth abolitionist organization who confronted anti-abolitionists at night by banging pots and pans outside their homes in the run-up to the civil war.

Now, in the run-up to one of the most momentous elections in modern history, a new generation of young Americans who say they are tired of asking nicely and being ignored, are naming and shaming US politicians in an effort to get their concerns about the planet, police brutality, inequalities and immigration heard.

The first one targeted the Kentucky senator Mitch McConnell after details emerged about the police killing of Breonna Taylor. In the days following the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sunrise activists woke up key Republican senators including McConnell and Lindsey Graham, demanding that they delay the vote on Trump’s supreme court nominee until a new president is sworn in.

“Even though we can’t vote, we can show up on the streets and wake up politicians. It’s our future on the line not theirs,” said 17-year-old Abby DiNardo, a senior from Delaware county. The high school senior recently coordinated a Wide Awake action outside the home of the Republican senator Pat Toomey, a former Wall Street banker who has repeatedly voted against climate action measures.
» Read article           

» More about protests and actions            

 

PIPELINES

new DAPL injunction
Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Files Request to Stop Dakota Access Pipeline
By Native News Online
October 22, 2020

A request for injunction was filed in Federal District Court of the District of Columbia last week by Earthjustice on behalf of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe as an effort to shut down the Dakota Access pipeline.

The brief was filed to have U.S. District Judge James Boasberg clarify his ruling from July 6 that ordered Energy Transfer, the company behind the Dakota Access pipeline, to shut down the flow of oil on Aug. 6. That ruling was overturned by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia

“The Tribes are irreparably harmed by the ongoing operation of the pipeline, through the exposure to catastrophic risk, through the ongoing trauma of the government’s refusal to comply with the law, and through undermining the Tribes’ sovereign governmental role to protect their members and respond to potential disasters,” attorneys Jan Hasselman and Nicole Ducheneaux wrote in a Friday filing.
» Read article          
» Read the brief          

double DAPL
Dakota Access Oil Pipeline Clears Hurdle To Doubling Capacity
By Charles Kennedy, Oil Price
October 16, 2020

Illinois approved this week the plan for the Dakota Access Pipeline to double its capacity from 570,000 bpd to 1.1 million bpd, thus becoming the last state along the pipeline’s route to give its consent to the expansion.

Dakota Access, which has seen a lot of controversy since its inception and initial start-up in 2017, now has the approval of all four states through which it passes—North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, and Illinois—to expand its capacity.

While the approval of the Illinois Commerce Commission is seen as a win for the oil industry, the pipeline’s operator Energy Transfer, and the North Dakota oil producers, environmentalists see the expansion of the pipeline – whose operation they still oppose – as unnecessary with the decreased oil demand in the coronavirus pandemic.

“This vital project will bring an additional half a million barrels a day of domestic energy from North Dakota that will be used to fuel our farms, communities and lives in Illinois and across the Midwest. It’s critical we continue to support and expand our nation’s pipeline infrastructure like DAPL to help family budgets and keep our economy moving – especially in this time of recovery from COVID-19,” Consumer Energy Alliance (CEA) Midwest Director Chris Ventura said in a statement, welcoming the decision.

“It’s wildly inappropriate to be talking about expansion when the real conversation is about shutting it down,” Jan Hasselman, an attorney for EarthJustice who represents the Standing Rock Tribe against DAPL in the federal lawsuit, told Grand Forks Herald.
» Read article           

» More about pipelines                  

 

VIRTUAL PIPELINES

Cleveland LNG disaster
What You Should Know About Liquefied Natural Gas and Rail Cars
Under current federal law, it’s considered too dangerous to carry liquefied natural gas in tank cars. The Trump administration is attempting to change that.
By EarthJustice
August 18, 2020

The explosion risk of transporting volatile liquefied natural gas in vulnerable tank cars through major population centers is off the charts.

Yet the Trump administration is finalizing a rule that would allow trains to travel the country filled with an unprecedented amount of explosive liquefied natural gas. The National Transportation Safety Board and the National Association of State Fire Marshals have objected to the proposed rule.

Earthjustice has filed a legal challenge to stop these “bomb trains.”

Under current federal law, it’s considered too dangerous to carry liquefied natural gas in tank cars.

Liquefied natural gas can only be transported by ships, truck, and — with special approval by the Federal Railroad Administration — by rail in approved United Nations portable tanks.

UN portable tanks are relatively small tanks that can be mounted on top of semi-truck trailer beds or on railcars.

By contrast, tanker rail cars can hold roughly three times the volume of the UN portable tanks.

Here’s what you should know:
» Read article           

» More about virtual pipelines          

 

GREENING THE ECONOMY

Covid happenedTackling climate change seemed expensive. Then COVID happened.
By Joseph Winters, Grist
October 20, 2020

Climate deniers and opponents of aggressive climate action have long argued that governments can’t afford comprehensive measures to confront the climate crisis. The Green New Deal, for example, has been ridiculed as a “crazy, expensive mess” by the Republican Policy Committee.

But then COVID-19 challenged preconceived notions about the limits of government spending. Since August, world governments have pledged more than $12 trillion in stimulus spending to dig their way out of the coronavirus-caused economic downturn — a truly mind-boggling amount of cash that represents three times the public money spent after the Great Recession. How does that compare with the money that would be needed to fight climate change?

That’s the question behind a new paper published last week in the journal Science. According to the analysis, the money countries have put on the table to address COVID-19 far outstrips the low-carbon investments that scientists say are needed in the next five years to avoid climate catastrophe — by about an order of magnitude.

If just 12 percent of currently pledged COVID-19 stimulus funding were spent every year through 2024 on low-carbon energy investments and reducing our dependence on fossil fuels, the researchers said, that would be enough to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F), the Paris Agreement’s most ambitious climate target. At present, countries’ voluntary commitments put the world on track to warm 3.2 degrees C (5.8 degrees F) or more by the end of the century.

Joeri Rogelj, a lecturer in climate change and the environment at Imperial College London and one of the study’s authors, said the findings illustrated a “win-win” opportunity for governments to not only address the acute impacts of the pandemic and its associated economic crisis, but to also put their economies on a more sustainable, prosperous, and resilient long-term trajectory.

“This crisis is not the only crisis looming over people’s heads,” Rogelj said, referring to the pandemic.
» Read article         
» Read the journal Science paper        

» More about greening the economy             

 

CLIMATE

driving while dismissive
Polling Shows Growing Climate Concern Among Americans. But Outsized Influence of Deniers Remains a Roadblock
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
October 22, 2020

More Americans than ever before — 54 percent, recent polling data shows — are alarmed or concerned about climate change, which scientists warn is a planetary emergency unfolding in the form of searing heat, prolonged drought, massive wildfires, monstrous storms, and other extremes.

These kinds of disasters are becoming increasingly costly and impossible to ignore. Yet even as the American public becomes progressively more worried about the climate crisis, a shrinking but vocal slice of the country continues to dismiss these concerns, impeding efforts to address the monumental global challenge.

“Overall, Americans are becoming more worried about global warming, more engaged with the issue, and more supportive of climate solutions,” Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, which leads the “Six Americas” research, said in an email describing the updated polling numbers.

Despite this growing awareness of the climate problem among the public, Americans who fall into the Dismissive category continue to have outsized influence in the public discourse, especially on the political right.

“However, because conservative media organizations prominently feature Dismissive politicians, pundits, and industry officials, most Americans overestimate the prevalence of Dismissive beliefs among other Americans,” Leiserowitz explained by email.

The “Dismissive” viewpoint is not only overrepresented in conservative media, but it has infiltrated the highest levels of the federal government, particularly under the Trump administration and among many Republican lawmakers. It has become part of the conservative orthodoxy to question human influence on the climate and downplay the seriousness of the threat.
» Read article           

melting permafrost
New Climate Warnings in Old Permafrost: ‘It’s a Little Scary Because it’s Happening Under Our Feet.’
A new study shows a few degrees of warming can trigger abrupt thaws of vast frozen lands, releasing huge stores of greenhouse gases and collapsing landscapes.
By Bob Berwyn, InsideClimate News
October 16, 2020

A dive deep into 27,000 years worth of muck piled up on the bottom of the Arctic Ocean has spurred researchers to renew warnings about a potential surge of greenhouse gas emissions from thawing permafrost.

By tracking chemical and organic fingerprints in long-buried layers of sediments remaining from previously frozen ground, the scientists showed that ancient phases of rapid warming in the Arctic, such as occurred near the end of the last ice age, released carbon on a massive scale. Vast frozen landscapes collapsed, turned to mud and flowed into the sea, releasing carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere along the way.

The study, published today in Science Advances, shows that only a few degrees of warming in the Arctic is enough “to abruptly activate large-scale permafrost thawing,” suggesting a “sensitive trigger” for greenhouse gas emissions from thawing permafrost. The results also support climate models that have shown “large injections of CO2 into the atmosphere” when glaciers, and the frozen lands beneath them, melted.
» Read article          
» Read the study               

not a scientist
Amy Coney Barrett’s Remarks on Climate Change Raise Alarm That a Climate Denier Is About to Join the Supreme Court
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
October 14, 2020

During her Senate confirmation hearing on Tuesday, October 13, Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett trotted out a tired and dismissive refrain from climate deniers, saying, “I’m certainly not a scientist” when Senator John Kennedy (R-LA) asked specifically about her views on climate change.

After Barrett said she doesn’t have “firm views” on the subject, Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) pressed her on those views during the hearing Wednesday, where she continued to dodge the question. “I don’t think that my views on global warming or climate change are relevant to the job I would do as a judge,” Barrett said, adding, “I haven’t studied scientific data. I’m not really in a position to offer any informed opinion on what I think causes global warming.”

Her use of the “not a scientist” line, and her subsequent doubling down on the idea, drew swift criticism from activists, journalists, politicians, and other professionals engaged with the issue of climate change.

Whether Barrett is truly a climate science denier herself remains unclear, though the president nominating her has left no doubt about his own stance on climate change. Despite President Trump’s history of calling climate change a hoax and brushing aside the extensive scientific expertise of federal agencies on the subject, Barrett claimed she was unaware of the President’s views when Sen. Blumenthal asked point-blank whether she agreed with Trump.

“I don’t know that I’ve seen the president’s expression of his views on climate change,” she said.
» Read article           

» More about climate        

 

CLEAN ENERGY

VPP explainedSo, What Exactly Are Virtual Power Plants?
GTM helps explain a growing grid resource that can mimic power plants without dominating the landscape.
By Jason Deign, GreenTech Media
October 22, 2020

We live in an increasingly virtual world. You can hold virtual meetings with virtual friends using virtual reality systems hosted on virtual servers. And in energy circles, one of the biggest buzzwords in recent years is the virtual power plant, or VPP.  

The term first started to be bandied about in the 1990s. But VPPs have really taken off in the last 10 years, not just as a concept but as something that a growing number of energy companies are creating, using and commercializing. Here’s the real deal on this virtual energy phenomenon.

According to Germany’s Next Kraftwerke, one of the pioneers of modern VPPs, it’s “a network of decentralized, medium-scale power generating units such as wind farms, solar parks and combined heat and power units, as well as flexible power consumers and storage systems.”

In practice, a VPP can be made up of multiple units of a single type of asset, such as a battery or a device in a demand response program, or a heterogeneous mix of assets.

These units “are dispatched through the central control room of the virtual power plant but nonetheless remain independent in their operation and ownership,” adds Next Kraftwerke.

In other words, a VPP is to a traditional power plant what a bunch of Internet-connected desktop computers is to a mainframe computer. Both can do complex computing tasks, but one makes use of the distributed IT infrastructure that’s already out there. 

A key feature of VPPs is that they can aggregate flexible capacity to address peaks in electricity demand. In this respect, they can emulate or replace natural gas-fired peakers and help address distribution network bottlenecks—but usually without the same capital outlay.
» Read article          

NY tidal power
New York City Is About to Get an Injection of Tidal Power. Is This Time Different?
A tidal energy startup plans to install a small generator in New York’s East River over the coming weeks.
By Jason Deign, GreenTech Media
October 20, 2020

New York City may be weeks away from seeing tidal power injected onto its local grid.

Verdant Power, a 20-year-old tidal energy startup, plans to install a half-scale generator in the East River tidal strait this autumn, adding a small but novel source of generation for a city hungry for renewable energy but with limited means to generate it locally. The Roosevelt Island Tidal Energy (RITE) installation will feature three underwater 35-kilowatt turbines on a single triangular base called a TriFrame.

The RITE project may have bigger implications than the Big Apple’s renewables goals. 

If the RITE generator is successful, Verdant hopes to get its technology certified by the European Marine Energy Centre, the world’s leading tidal testing facility. Subject to certification, the startup then plans to deploy two full-size arrays, equipped with 10-meter-diameter blades instead of the current 5-meter models, off the coast of Wales, U.K., by sometime in 2023, in what it hopes will be the first step in the development of a 30-megawatt tidal farm.

Back in New York, meanwhile, Verdant hopes the RITE project could form the basis for a half-scale tidal demonstration center in the East River. For nearly a decade, the New York-based startup has held a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission license to install up to a megawatt of tidal power in New York City, enough for thirty of its 35 kW turbines mounted on ten TriFrames.

Still, the path toward bigger tidal arrays, and even more demonstration projects, looks challenging.
» Read article           

floating offshore wind explained
So, What Exactly Is Floating Offshore Wind?
Floating wind turbines atop the ocean could be the next big renewables market. GTM helps explain the weird and wonderful world of clean energy.
By Jason Deign, GreenTech Media
October 19, 2020

Onshore wind turbines can be found everywhere from the tropics to the Arctic. Three decades ago, developers started putting them on fixed foundations out at sea, sparking the rise of the offshore wind market, which built 6.1 gigawatts of new capacity in 2019.

More recently, the wind industry embarked on an even more ambitious endeavor: putting turbines on floating platforms in the water, rather than fixed foundations. Now on the verge of commercial maturity, floating wind has the potential to become one of the most important new renewable energy markets.

So, what is floating offshore wind?

It’s pretty much as it sounds. Instead of putting a wind turbine on a fixed foundation in the sea, you attach it to a structure that floats in the water. The structure is tethered to the seabed to stop it from drifting off into a beach or shipping lane.

Today’s floating wind designs envision using standard offshore turbines, export cables and balance of plant. The key difference between floating and fixed-foundation offshore wind is that the latter is limited to water depths of up to around 165 feet.
» Read article           

» More about clean energy          

 

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

Donnel Baird
Fighting Climate Change, One Building At A Time
By Dan Charles, NPR
October 18, 2020

When Donnel Baird was in his twenties, he had twin passions, and he didn’t want to choose between them. “I vowed that I was going to try to combine my passion for Black civil rights with trying to do something about climate change,” he says.

He’s doing it now, with a company that he founded called BlocPower. He’s attacking one of the seemingly intractable sources of America’s greenhouse emissions: old residential buildings. And he’s focusing on neighborhoods that don’t have a lot of money to invest.

Baird wants to show me how it’s done. So we meet in New York City, in front of a classic Brooklyn brownstone in the Crown Heights neighborhood. “It’s still largely African American, West Indian,” Baird says of the building’s residents.

The building is four stories tall, with two apartments on each floor. It’s a cooperative that’s legally designated as affordable housing. BlocPower looked at this building and saw a business opportunity.

“We thought that they were wasting a lot of money paying for natural gas, which whey were using for heating; also to heat their hot water,” he says.

Baird’s company went to the people who live here, the coop owners, with a proposal. BlocPower offered to manage the building’s heating and cooling. The company would install new equipment, and put solar panels on the roof. “Solar panels aren’t just for rich people, or for White people. They’re for everybody,” Baird says.

The best part: The residents wouldn’t have to pay anything up-front. In fact, BlocPower promised that their bills would go down. And they’d be helping the planet, with lower greenhouse emissions.

Shaughn Dolcy, who lives in this building, was sold. “It’s the only way to go,” he says. “There’s no other way.” He says most of his neighbors liked it, too. “I would say 90 percent” of them, he says. “You maybe had, like, one particular family, they weren’t really interested in getting anything progressive or new. They were on-board at the end of the day, though.”

So BlocPower went to work. The company tore out the gas-burning boiler in the basement and installed a set of efficient electric-powered heat pumps instead. Heat pumps capture heat and move it from one space to another, in either direction: during winter they heat a home, and in summer they cool it. BlocPower put up the solar panels, elevated high enough that people still can gather for parties underneath them.

“The result is, they save tens of thousands of dollars a year on their energy costs,” Baird says. Yet they’re still paying enough that BlocPower can earn back its investment. The new equipment saves that much money.
» Read article          

» More about energy efficiency         

 

ENERGY STORAGE

performance confirmedFrom Pilot to Permanent: Green Mountain Power’s Home Battery Network Is Here to Stay
The Vermont utility now controls several thousand Tesla Powerwall batteries sited in customers’ homes. The results have been promising.
By Julian Spector, GreenTech Media
October 16, 2020

Utility pilot projects aren’t famous for being standout financial successes. Usually, the goal is to verify a technology in the field before attempting broader deployment. Sometimes nothing follows the pilot.

Vermont utility Green Mountain Power not only verified the efficacy of residential batteries for meeting grid needs, but it also saved its customers millions of dollars with them. Now, that program has been ratified by the state’s Public Utility Commission as a permanent residential storage tariff, which means battery installations — and utility savings — will continue to rise.

At a time when forward-thinking companies are excited to erect networks of distributed batteries at some point in the next few years, Green Mountain Power represents something of an anomaly. It already has not several hundred, but 2,567 utility-controlled Powerwall batteries sitting in customer homes, adding up to around 13 megawatts.

“These things are functioning exactly as or better than we hoped,” said Josh Castonguay, GMP vice president and chief innovation officer. “You’ve got an asset that’s improving reliability for the customer, paying for itself and providing a financial benefit for all of our customers.”
» Read article           

» More about energy storage           

 

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

TCI and social justiceJustice advocates keep pressure on transportation emission pact planners
Transportation and Climate Initiative organizers recently held a webinar to discuss concerns around equity and environmental justice.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
Photo By barnimages / Flickr / Creative Commons
October 15, 2020

As organizers of a regional transportation emissions pact discuss how to make sure the initiative benefits everyone, environmental justice activists say they need to involve more people of color in the process.

“Anywhere I go, the conversation around [the Transportation and Climate Initiative] is dominated by white people,” said Joshua Malloy, a community organizer with Pittsburgh for Public Transit. “There has to be a way to make this more accessible that I’ve not seen.”

Founded in 2010, the Transportation and Climate Initiative, or TCI, is a collaboration of 12 states and the District of Columbia working to decrease greenhouse gas emissions from transportation sources. Nearly two years ago, nine of the states — Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Virginia — along with Washington, D.C., announced plans to create a market-based system to reduce these emissions.

Since the beginning of the process, environmental justice activists have pushed for the needs of low-income, immigrant, and other marginalized communities to be a central focus of the program. Air pollution is often higher in low-income communities and in areas with high populations of people of color. Industrial developments are also more likely to be located in these neighborhoods than in wealthier areas that have the resources to mount organized opposition. 

Organizers of the initiative have also expressed support for the goal of equity, and late last month held a webinar to share the progress they have made toward designing a system that will benefit all communities and underscore why such efforts are needed.
» Read article           

» More about clean transportation               

 

REGIONAL ENERGY CHESS GAME

NESCOE calls for change
New England states call for changes to wholesale markets, transmission planning and grid governance
By Robert Walton, Utility Dive
October 19, 2020

[New England States Committee on Electricity] NESCOE’s call for reform of the ISO-NE market is the latest example of how some states are pushing back on federally-regulated markets they say ignore renewable energy and decarbonization goals.

The region’s wholesale markets “fail to sufficiently value the legally-required clean energy investments made by the ratepayers they serve,” according to the NESCOE vision statement.

Some states say their preferred resource mix and renewables goals are being undermined in regional markets overseen by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. They say the commission’s rulings have negated the impact of their support for green energy in favor of keeping fossil fuel generators competitive.
» Read article           

NE power play
N.E. governors seek bigger say in power policies

Seek greater role in oversight of grid operator
By Bruce Mohl, CommonWealth Magazine
October 16, 2020

GOV. CHARLIE BAKER and four other New England governors made a push on Friday for a much bigger say in the way the region’s electricity markets are regulated and governed, although the vision statement they issued steered clear of the top recommendation put forth by the region’s power grid operator – a carbon tax.

The governors of Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Maine, and Vermont are concerned that the long-term electricity contracts their states are negotiating with offshore wind operators and the province of Quebec are not being absorbed into the existing wholesale markets for electricity. As a result, the vision statement says, the direct purchases of electricity by states and the production of electricity through wholesale markets are working at cross-purposes and may result in ratepayers paying for the production of power they don’t need.

The vision statement reflects a growing recognition that much larger amounts of electricity will need to be produced to decarbonize the transportation and other sectors of the economy. The vision statement calls for a reimagining of the region’s wholesale electricity markets; the development of a grid that relies less on big power plants and more on local wind, solar, and battery projects; and a new governance structure for the regional grid operator.

One area the mission statement does not explore is the recommendation by the grid operator, ISO New England, that the best way to make wholesale electricity markets work effectively is to impose a carbon tax that would nudge the market in the direction of cleaner forms of energy.
» Read article          
» Read the vision statement          

Eversource strategy chief sees role for green hydrogen, geothermal in Northeast
By Tom DiChristopher, S&P Global
October 16, 2020

Decarbonizing New England’s natural gas grid will require a portfolio of solutions that likely includes green hydrogen and geothermal energy rather than systemwide electrification, according to Roger Kranenburg, vice president for energy strategy and policy at Eversource Energy.

Kranenburg sees electrification of heating playing some role in achieving Massachusetts’ goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80% from 1990 levels by 2050. However, Kranenburg sees Eversource evolving into a “regional energy company” that delivers a range of low-carbon energy to end users, and the right solution might not always be electrification.

“We feel that if you push folks too much artificially towards electrifying heat, you will actually get a lot of backlash and it can undo what we all agree is the end objective, which is to decarbonize the economy,” Kranenburg said during an Oct. 15 webinar hosted by the U.S. Association for Energy Economics’ National Capital Area Chapter. “Instead of thinking of it as systemwide, let’s look at what the customer characteristic and needs are. … Let’s look at it that way, and you’ll come up with a portfolio solution to provide that service.”

With the exception of California, the Boston area has emerged as the most active beachhead in the movement to adopt ordinances that require electric heating in new construction. Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey struck down the region’s first gas ban in July, but lawmakers in several communities have resolved to pursue building electrification.
» Read article          
» Read report from National Renewable Energy Laboratory: Blending Hydrogen into Natural Gas Pipeline Networks: A Review of Key Issues
Report by M. W. Melaina, O. Antonia, and M. Penev, National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), March, 2013

» More about regional energy                 

 

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY

coal ash ponds
EPA may violate courts with new rule extending life of unlined coal ash ponds
By Rebecca Beitsch, The Hill
October 16, 2020

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will allow utilities to store toxic waste from coal in open, unlined pits — a move that may defy a court order requiring the agency to close certain types of so-called coal ash ponds that may be leaking contaminants into water.

Research has found even plastic-lined coal ash ponds are likely to leak, but those risks are even higher when a clay barrier is the only layer used to hold the arsenic-laced sludge.

Environmental groups have already pledged to sue over the Friday rule, which will allow unlined pits to continue operating, so long as companies can demonstrate using groundwater monitoring data that the pond is unlikely to leak.

“These focused common-sense changes allow owners and operators the opportunity to submit a substantial factual and technical demonstration that there is no reasonable probability of groundwater contamination. This will allow coal ash management to be determined based on site-specific conditions,” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a release.  

There are more than 400 coal ash ponds in the U.S. 

An Environmental Integrity Project and Earthjustice review of monitoring data from coal ash ponds found 91 percent were leaking toxins in excess of what EPA allows, contaminating groundwater and drinking wells in nearby communities.
» Read article           

EPA coal ash pone rule
EPA letting some hazardous coal ash ponds stay open longer
By TRAVIS LOLLER, AP
October 16, 2020

The Trump administration will let some leaking or otherwise dangerous coal ash storage ponds stay in operation for years more and some unlined ponds stay open indefinitely under a rule change announced Friday.

The move by the Environmental Protection Agency is the administration’s latest rollback of environmental and public health regulations governing operators of coal-fired power plants, which are taking hits financially as cheaper natural gas, solar and wind power make dirtier-burning coal plants less competitive.

Friday’s move weakens an Obama-era rule in which the EPA regulated the storage and disposal of toxic coal ash for the first time, including closing coal-ash dumping ponds that were unstable or contaminating groundwater.

Coal ash is a byproduct of burning coal for power and contains arsenic, mercury, lead and other hazardous heavy metals. U.S. coal plants produce about 100 million tons (90 million metric tonnes) annually of ash and other waste.

Data released by utilities in March 2018, after the Obama administration required groundwater monitoring around coal ash storage sites, showed widespread evidence of contamination at coal plants from Virginia to Alaska.

For decades, utilities largely disposed of coal ash by sluicing it into huge open pits. In 2008, the six-story-tall dike on a massive coal ash pond at a Tennessee plant collapsed, releasing more than a billion gallons of coal ash into the Swan Pond community. It remains the largest industrial spill in modern U.S. history and prompted the 2015 regulations that were intended to increase oversight of the industry.
» Read article           

» More about the EPA             

 

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Texas regulators failingTexas Regulators Failing to Act on Pollution Complaints in Permian Oilfields, New Report Finds
By Sharon Kelly, DeSmog Blog
October 21, 2020

Over the past five years, environmental advocates with the nonprofit Earthworks have made trips to 298 oil and gas wells, compressor stations, and processing plants across the Permian Basin in Texas, an oil patch which last year hit record-high methane pollution levels for the U.S. During those trips, Earthworks found and documented emissions from the oil industry’s equipment, and on 141 separate occasions, they reported what they found to the state’s environmental regulators.

However, in response to those 141 complaints, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) took action to reduce pollution — by, for example, issuing a violation to the company responsible — just 17 times, according to a new report published today by Earthworks, which describes a pattern in which Texas regulators failed to address oilfield pollution problems, allowing leaks to continue in some cases for months.

TCEQ took “other” regulatory action, which the report said might be contacting the company operating the site or sending out an inspector, in response to 60 complaints, but in many cases Earthworks said TCEQ’s response came weeks or months after the report was filed.

In 22 cases, TCEQ closed the complaint but took no action at all, the report says. And 42 of the nonprofit’s pollution complaints remain open.

“It’s not surprising to Texans that state law favors the oil and gas industry,” said Sharon Wilson, an Earthworks thermographer and Texas coordinator who filed the complaints described by the report. “What should be a surprise is that Texas regulators charged with protecting the public often can’t be bothered to enforce what laws do exist.”
» Read article          
» Read the Earthworks report            

» More about fossil fuels            

 

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

Gibbstown LNG
Controversy Mounts Over Proposed LNG Export Facility on the Delaware River
By Yale Environment 360
October 22, 2020

A plan to build a major liquefied natural gas export facility in southern New Jersey, across the Delaware River from Philadelphia, is being met with increasing scrutiny and opposition from environmentalists and nearby communities. The $450 million project would send liquified natural gas from Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale region to ports in Puerto Rico, Mexico, and Europe.

The Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC), an interstate agency that regulates river development, originally approved the project — an expansion of the Gibbstown Logistics Center — in June 2019, but the decision was appealed by the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, delaying the project. In September, the DRBC voted to delay the final permitting. A final decision on the facility, which has also received permits from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, is expected by year’s end.

According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, the project’s supply chain and location are unusual. Most export facilities are located near deepwater ports, and fuel is loaded directly from an LNG plant onto vessels. But the proposed Gibbstown expansion requires dredging the Delaware River to make it deeper and building a second dock. The natural gas will also be transported hundreds of miles on trains and trucks to the facility from the Marcellus Shale region. According to a permit application, New Fortress Energy, one of the developers of the project, said it expects the facility will receive natural gas from several 100-car trains or up to 700 tractor trailers every day.

“We look at every part of the supply chain that this project entails, and we consider every single step of it to be dangerous and untested,” Delaware Riverkeeper Network Deputy Director Tracy Carluccio told FreightWaves, an industry news site.

More than a dozen environmental groups have joined the Delaware Riverkeeper Network and the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club in opposing the Gibbstown export facility.

In addition to fighting the approval of the Gibbstown export facility, environmental groups have also filed a lawsuit against a new rule approved by the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration allowing for the transit of liquefied natural gas by rail.
» Read article           

» More about LNG        

 

BIOMASS

Springfield biomass plant resistance
In the nation’s asthma capital, plans to burn wood for energy spark fury
By David Abel, Boston Globe
October 20, 2020

SPRINGFIELD — For more than a decade, Amy Buchanan has lived in a small house in an industrial section of the state’s third-largest city, where a pall of pungent air hangs over the neighborhood and heavy trucks spew diesel fumes on their way to a nearby paving company.

Like many of her neighbors in what last year ranked as the nation’s asthma capital, Buchanan has the respiratory disease, while her husband and sister suffer from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Now, they worry their neighborhood could soon become home to the state’s largest commercial biomass power plant, one expected to burn nearly a ton of wood an hour and emit large amounts of fine particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, and other harmful pollutants.

Plans to build a 42-megawatt incinerator have been in the works for more than a decade. In an interview with The Boston Globe last year, Victor Gatto Jr., Palmer’s founder, said the company had already broken ground on the project, which he estimated would cost about $150 million.

“The plant will be built,” he said.

Despite local protests and opposition from nearly all city councilors, the plant’s prospects were given a boost when the Baker administration last year proposed to alter rules that designate woody biomass as a form of renewable energy. The draft rules would make developers eligible for valuable financial incentives, potentially saving Palmer millions of dollars a year.

The revised rules, which are still being vetted by state regulators, are supported by the logging industry that seeks to promote woody biomass, a fuel derived from wood chips and pellets made from tree trunks, branches, sawdust, and other plant matter.

Environmental advocates oppose the rule changes, saying they would increase carbon emissions, create more pollution in the form of soot, and lead to greater deforestation. Trees and plants grow by absorbing carbon dioxide; when they’re burned, they release the heat-trapping gas back into the atmosphere.

Opponents note that a state-commissioned study in 2010 by the Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences found that biomass — which accounts for about 1.5 percent of the state’s carbon emissions — “generally emits more greenhouse gases than fossil fuels per unit of energy produced.” The study also found that large biomass plants are likely to produce greater emissions than coal and natural gas plants, even after they’ve been in operation for decades.

The administration’s push to promote biomass was criticized by Attorney General Maura Healey, who called financial incentives to burn wood for energy a “step backward” in addressing climate change.

In comments submitted to the state, she said the draft rules “raise significant concerns about the potential for increased greenhouse gas emissions . . . and may undermine the commonwealth’s nation-leading efforts to address climate change.”

In Springfield, opponents’ concerns about the biomass plant go beyond greenhouse gases. The soot from burning wood, in addition to asthma, has been linked to heart and other lung diseases.
» Read article          

» More about biomass           

 

PLASTICS BANS

NY ban starts nowNew York Will Finally Enforce Its Plastic Bag Ban
By Olivia Rosane, EcoWatch
October 19, 2020

 

New York is finally bagging plastic bags.

The statewide ban on the highly polluting items actually went into effect March 1. But enforcement, which was supposed to start a month later, was delayed by the one-two punch of a lawsuit and the coronavirus pandemic, NY1 reported. Now, more than six months later, enforcement is set to begin Monday.

“New York’s bag ban has already improved New York’s health by cutting down on plastic pollution,” Environmental Advocates NY deputy director Kate Kurera told NBC4 New York. “We look forward to the State beginning enforcement and stores complying with this important law.”

The new law prohibits most stores from giving out thin plastic shopping bags. They can dispense paper bags, for which counties have the option of charging a five cent fee. Any business caught handing out the banned plastic bags will face a fine, according to NY1.

The law offers exceptions for takeout orders and bags used to wrap meat or prepared food, according to NBC4 New York. Families who use food stamps will also not have to pay the fee for paper bags.
» Read article           

» More about plastics bans            

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