Tag Archives: fracking

Weekly News Check-In 4/2/21

Welcome back.

We lead with late-breaking news that the Massachusetts DEP just revoked the approval for Palmer Renewable Energy’s controversial biomass generating plant in Springfield. Expect more details next week, but here’s a link to MA-DEP’s letter.  Unfinished business includes the Baker administration’s desire to include biomass in the Renewable Portfolio Standard. We posted a well-considered editorial on the Springfield plant, which ends with a request for calls to Governor Baker, demanding a biomass-free RPS. At this moment, with the permit revoked, your call will be powerfully effective.

On the Weymouth compressor, we’ve chosen to feature an article that’s nearly a year old and doesn’t even mention this project. It does, however, shed considerable light on Pieridae Energy, its shaky finances and shady practices, and its big plans to develop the Goldboro LNG export facility in Nova Scotia. Meanwhile, a Natural Gas Intelligence report predicts that no new U.S. LNG projects will be financed in 2021 due to market headwinds – a potential red flag for Goldboro which is still trying to tie down its own investor commitments. The tangled web surrounding Enbridge, the Atlantic Bridge pipeline, Weymouth compressor, and Goldboro – and the politicians and regulators allowing all this to happen – is something we’re watching closely.

A pipeline we’re covering is Enbridge’s Line 5, under deadline pressure from Michigan’s Governor Whitmer to shut down its ancient section under the Straights of Mackinac. In the several years since Enbridge proposed to lay a replacement section of pipe through a sealed tunnel beneath the lakebed, project costs dramatically increased while prices declined for the fuels that pipeline would transport. Governor Whitmer is holding firm under intense pressure from Canada and industry.

On its face, our divestment story this week is a pessimistic assessment that green investing will fail to achieve positive climate goals. But it’s more of an observation that unfettered capital markets won’t respond to anything but the profit motive. It’s a call for better legislation, like Massachusetts’ new climate law, and firmer regulation of markets as called for by the International Energy Agency’s Fatih Birol, to steer us toward a greener economy. This is an urgent topic, because our continuing failure to slow emissions has so endangered the climate that some scientists believe it’s time to seriously study solar geoengineering – just to be ready to deploy if all else fails.

We found interesting reports about progress toward harnessing ocean wave energy, a serious technical challenge facing proponents of a hydrogen economy, and a cautionary story from Britain from their recent disastrous attempt to promote energy efficient building retrofits through a poorly executed program.

Clean transportation is a mixed bag, with an innovative car-sharing startup bringing electric vehicles to an underserved community in Boston – and a less-happy story warning that public transportation systems all over the world face a desperate financial reality since Covid-19 drove away so many passengers. Public transit is key to decarbonizing the transportation sector, but right now it’s just trying to survive.

One part of President Biden’s proposed infrastructure plan includes spending billions of dollars to cap and clean up many thousands of orphaned oil and gas wells left behind by the fossil fuel industry. It’s a jobs-and-climate program to employ skilled labor and mitigate the massive volume of planet-heating methane currently spewing unchecked into the atmosphere.

 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


Shell Game
Alberta has a huge problem with drill site clean up and dicey deals shifting who pays. Mike Judd had enough, so the cowboy fought and won.
By Andrew Nikiforuk, TheTyee.ca
May 20, 2020

Alberta’s oil patch regulator made history of a sort last week by saying the word no. The reasons it did pitted a crusty cowboy against a wealthy ballet aficionado, and exposed a gambit by one of the world’s oil giants to offload its responsibilities in a way, the ruling said, that would have defied provincial law.

The story says a lot about where the world’s fossil fuel industry finds itself at this precarious moment, as it struggles to balance falling revenues against mounting environmental liabilities.

And it sheds light on how symbiotic government regulators, public pension managers, and energy corporation minnows and whales alike have become in Canada. It’s a tale with a few twists, so settle in.

It starts with a simple fact. In the last five years the Alberta Energy Regulator, which is funded by the industry, has watched cash-rich companies sell or trade off more than 150,000 inactive or uneconomic wells to small firms that didn’t have the financial ability to perform mandated well cleanups.

That’s what changed last week. Under intense public pressure, the regulator finally refused to greenlight one such transaction.
» Blog editor’s note: We’re posting this article here because it exposes the sketchy finances of Pieridae Energy, the company behind the controversial and highly speculative Goldboro LNG export facility in Nova Scotia – and an important destination for fracked natural gas pushed north from the Weymouth compressor station.
» Read article             

» More about the Weymouth compressor station

PIPELINES



Is the Line 5 tunnel a bridge to Michigan’s energy future or a bad deal?
By Kelly House & Bridge Michigan & Lester Graham, Michigan Public Radio
April 1, 2021

As Canadian officials lobbied a Michigan Senate committee in March to keep the Line 5 pipeline open, Sen. Winnie Brinks (D-Grand Rapids) grew frustrated with a conversation that, up to that point, had focused mainly on the immediate economic and safety implications of a possible shutdown.

“We are at a moment of inflection on our energy future,” said Brinks, and will soon have no choice but to stop burning oil and other fossil fuels to power our vehicles and homes. Additional investment in the pipeline, she said, “does not seem to be the most enlightened way to go forward.”

Rocco Rossi, President and CEO of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, which wants the pipeline kept open, was quick to rebut.

“All of us want a lower (greenhouse gas) future,” Rossi said. But the transition away from the petroleum products that Line 5 carries “is not going to be overnight.” In the meantime, he said, pipelines are the safest and cleanest way to move petroleum from the Alberta tar sands in western Canada to facilities in the U.S. and eastern Canada where it’s turned into propane, jet fuel, plastics and fertilizer.

The exchange highlights a sharpening focus on global climate change and economy-wide energy transitions, in a pipeline fight that began with concerns about oil spill risks in a 4-mile-wide strip of water known as the Straits of Mackinac.

Against the backdrop of recent carbon neutrality pledges from Governor Gretchen Whitmer and President Joe Biden, activists have ramped up their arguments that the Canadian oil giant Enbridge Energy is threatening Michigan’s water as well as its climate future.

Enbridge and its supporters have defended Line 5 as a necessary asset in the transition to clean fuels, without which energy consumers in Michigan and elsewhere would suffer.

Now, as a federal judge considers whether Line 5 should shut down in May and state and federal regulators decide whether to let Enbridge replace it with a tunneled pipe deep below the straits that could keep the oil flowing for decades, they’ll grapple with an issue of global significance:

Are pipelines like Line 5 a “bridge to the energy future,” as Enbridge CEO Al Monaco has said, or a climate liability that threatens Michigan’s and the world’s progress toward carbon neutrality?

Enbridge initially planned to spend $500 million on the tunnel project, bringing it online by 2024. But costs and timelines are both in flux, and experts hired by opponents of the pipeline say the project could cost as much as $2 billion and take years longer.

“The writing’s on the wall that fossil fuel investments are not the future,” said Kate Madigan, director of the Michigan Climate Action Network, one of several groups that are urging state and federal decisionmakers to factor climate and energy trends into permitting decisions for the tunnel project. “It’s really quite remarkable that we’re even considering whether to build an oil tunnel, just on economic grounds alone.”
» Read article or listen to broadcast recording

» More about pipelines

DIVESTMENT


Green investing ‘is definitely not going to work’, says ex-BlackRock executive
Tariq Fancy once oversaw the start of the biggest effort to turn Wall Street ‘green’ – but now believes the climate crisis can never be solved by today’s free markets
By Dominic Rushe, The Guardian
March 30, 2021

From his desk in midtown Manhattan Tariq Fancy once oversaw the beginning of arguably the biggest, most ambitious, effort ever to turn Wall Street “green”. Now, as environmentally friendly investing grows at an exponential rate, Fancy has come to a stark conclusion: “This is definitely not going to work.”

As the former chief investment officer for sustainable investing at BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, Fancy was charged with embedding environmental, social and governance (ESG) corporate policies across the investment giant’s portfolio.

Fancy was a leader in a movement that has given many people, including investors, activists and academics, hope that after years of backing polluters, Wall Street was finally stepping up to confront the climate crisis.

“I have looked inside the machine and I can tell you business does not have this,” Tariq told the Guardian. “Not because these are bad people but because they run for-profit machines that will operate exactly as you would expect them to do,” said Fancy.

Investors have a fiduciary duty to maximise returns to their clients and as long as there is money to be made in activities that contribute to global warming, no amount of rhetoric about the need for sustainable investing will change that, he believes.

“In many cases it’s cheaper and easier to market yourself as green rather than do the long tail work of actually improving your sustainability profile. That’s expensive and if there is no penalty from the government, in the form of a carbon tax or anything else, then this market failure is going to persist,” said Fancy, a former investment banker who now leads an initiative to bring affordable digital education to underserved communities worldwide.

The amount of money that poured into sustainable investment through vehicles like exchange traded funds (ETFs) hit record levels last year. It’s a trend Fancy believes could continue for years and still have zero impact on climate change because “there is no connection between the two things”.

He compared the business communities reaction to the coronavirus pandemic to its views on climate change. “Science shows us that Covid-19 is a systemic problem for which we all need to bend down a curve, the infections curve.”

As the crisis escalated business leaders were immediately supportive of government-led initiatives to restrict travel, close venues and shutter the economy. “The Business Roundtable [the US’s most powerful business lobby] said we should make mask-wearing mandatory. They were right about all those things,” he said.

The world needed government to use its extraordinary powers “because if you left it to the free market everything would have been open in the US and we would have lost millions of people, it wouldn’t have been half a million”.

Climate change too is a problem science says is systemic and one where we have to bend down the curve. “The difference is the incubation period. It’s not a few weeks, it’s a few decades. For that they are still saying we should rely on the free market. That’s where I have a problem.”
» Read article             

» More about divestment

LEGISLATION


What You Need To Know About The New Mass. Climate Law
By Miriam Wasser, WBUR
March 26, 2021

Gov. Charlie Baker signed a sweeping climate bill into law on Friday, signaling a new era in Massachusetts’ plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions, build a greener economy and prioritize equity and environmental justice.

The new law, “An Act Creating a Next Generation Roadmap for Massachusetts Climate Policy,” represents the most significant update to climate policy in the Commonwealth since the landmark 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act. And with hundreds of statutory updates and changes, it tackles a lot — everything from solar panels and offshore wind to new building codes and regulatory priorities for state agencies.

Climate and energy policy can be confusing and full of jargon, but here — in simple English — is what you need to know about what’s in the new law:
» Read article or listen to broadcast recording


Baker signs climate change bill into law
Sets state on road to achieving net zero emissions by 2050
By Chris Lisinski, CommonWealth Magazine
March 26, 2021

IT TOOK BASICALLY all of the last legislative session and the first three months of the new one to get major climate policy signed into law, but the real work begins now that Gov. Charlie Baker has put his signature on the law.

After it took a long, winding and sometimes contentious road, the governor on Friday afternoon signed the long-discussed legislation designed to commit Massachusetts to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, establish interim emissions goals between now and the middle of the century, adopt energy efficiency standards for appliances, authorize another 2,400 megawatts of offshore wind power and address needs in environmental justice communities.

“I’m proud to say that climate change has not been, ever, a partisan issue. We know the impacts on our coasts, on our fisheries, on our farms and our communities are real, and demand action, and that’s why we’ve been committed for over a decade to … doing the things we need to do to deal with the issue at hand and to maintain a structure that’s affordable for the people of the commonwealth,” Baker said after signing the bill in the State House library. He added, “This bill puts us on an ambitious path to achieving a cleaner and more livable commonwealth, while also creating economic development opportunities to support the initiatives.”

Baker and the Legislature see eye-to-eye when it comes to the goal of achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, but the details of how the state would get there proved to be a much more complicated conversation. On Friday, Baker said he was glad lawmakers “went back and forth and back and forth and back and forth on this” with his administration before settling on the final language.

The new law requires that greenhouse gas emissions in 2030 be at least 50 percent lower than 1990 emissions, that 2040 emissions be at least 75 percent lower and that 2050 emissions be at least 85 percent below 1990 emissions. In order to actually net out at zero emissions by 2050, the state will have to make up the remainder, up to 15 percent, through strategies like carbon sequestration and carbon banking. The Baker administration has similarly embraced natural climate solutions in its own climate plans.

The law also requires the executive branch to set interim limits for 2025, 2035 and 2045, and to set sublimits for six sectors of the economy — electric power; transportation; commercial and industrial heating and cooling; residential heating and cooling; industrial processes; and natural gas distribution and service — every five years. Each five-year emissions limit “shall be accompanied by publication of a comprehensive, clear and specific roadmap plan to realize said limit,” the law requires.

That work will begin almost immediately. The first interim plan required by the new law, the plan for 2025, must be in place along with the 2025 emissions limit by July 1, 2022. The bill also requires the Department of Public Utilities to consider emissions reductions on an equal footing as its considerations of reliability and affordability within 90 days, that the governor appoint three green building experts to the Board of Building Regulations and Standards, and that the administration establish the first-ever greenhouse gas emissions reduction goal for the home energy efficiency program MassSave.
» Read article              

» More about legislation

GREENING THE ECONOMY


Urgent policies needed to steer countries to net zero, says IEA chief
Economies are gearing up for return to fossil fuel use instead of forging green recovery, warns Fatih Birol
By Fiona Harvey, The Guardian
March 31, 2021

New energy policies are urgently needed to put countries on the path to net zero greenhouse gas emissions, the world’s leading energy economist has warned, as economies are rapidly gearing up for a return to fossil fuel use instead of forging a green recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Most of the world’s biggest economies now have long-term goals of reaching net zero by mid-century, but few have the policies required to meet those goals, said Fatih Birol, the executive director of the International Energy Agency (IEA).

The IEA’s latest figures show global coal use was about 4% higher in the last quarter of 2020 than in the same period in 2019, the clearest indication yet of a potentially disastrous rebound in the use of the dirtiest fossil fuels, following last year’s lockdowns around the world when emissions plummeted.

Birol told the Guardian: “We are not on track for a green recovery, just the opposite. We have seen global emissions higher in December 2020 than in December 2019. As long as countries do not put the right energy policies in place, the economic rebound will see emissions significantly increase in 2021. We will make the job of reaching net zero harder.”

He urged governments to support clean energy and technology such as electric vehicles, and make fossil fuels less economically attractive. “Governments must provide clear signals to investors around the world that investing in dirty energy will mean a greater risk of losing money. This unmistakable signal needs to be given by policymakers to regulators, investors and others,” he said.
Blog editor’s note: this last paragraph reinforces Tariq Fancy’s warning that green investing is ‘not going to work’ (see Divestment). Mr. Fancy’s pessimistic prediction is meant to warn that governments must provide effective regulatory and financial frameworks, rather than allowing free markets to solve the climate problem by themselves.
» Read article              

» More on greening the economy

CLIMATE


Solar Geoengineering Is Worth Studying but Not a Substitute for Cutting Emissions, Study Finds
By James W. Hurrell, Ambuj D Sagar and Marion Hourdequin, EcoWatch
March 30, 2021

A new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine tackles a controversial question: Is solar geoengineering – an approach designed to cool Earth by reflecting sunlight back into space or modifying clouds – a potential tool for countering climate change?

The report, produced by a committee of 16 experts from diverse fields, does not take a position but concludes that the concept should be studied. It calls for creating a multidisciplinary research program, in coordination with other countries and managed by the U.S. Global Change Research Program, that seeks to fill in the many knowledge gaps on this issue.

The study emphasizes that such research is not a substitute for cutting greenhouse gas emissions and should be a minor part of the U.S. response to climate change. It notes that “engineering the climate” would not address the root cause of climate change – greenhouse gas emissions from human activities. And it calls for a research program that draws on physical science, social science and ethics and includes public input.

These perspectives from three members of the study committee underline the complexity of this issue.
» Read article              

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY


The U.S. is finally looking to unlock the potential of wave energy
After decades of false starts, the federal approval of a new testing site off the coast of Oregon could give wave energy a much-needed jolt.
By Ysabelle Kempe, Grist
March 29, 2021

At first glance, waves have the makings of an ideal renewable energy source. They’re predictable, constant, and tremendously powerful. Their energy potential is astonishing — researchers estimate that waves off the coasts of the United States could generate as much as 2.64 trillion kilowatt-hours annually, or the equivalent of 64 percent of the country’s total electricity generation in 2019.

But capturing the immense power radiating across our oceans’ surfaces is no easy feat — wave energy technology is challenging to engineer, start-up costs are high, and testing in open ocean waters is a regulatory nightmare. That’s why wave energy’s trajectory has been a stop-and-go affair plagued by false starts for decades. But things may finally be starting to shift for the industry: The federal government recently approved the first full-scale, utility grid-connected wave energy test site in the U.S.

The Oregon State University-led project, PacWave South, is a 2-square-mile patch of ocean 7 miles off the rugged Oregon coast, where developers and companies can perform large-scale testing of their wave energy technologies. It will cost $80 million and is scheduled to be up and running by 2023. The design includes four testing “berths,” where wave energy devices will be moored to the seafloor and connected to buried cables carrying electricity to an onshore facility. In total, the PacWave South facility will be able to test up to 20 wave energy devices at once.

While wave energy technology is still in the research and development phase, experts see it as a promising newcomer to the renewable energy landscape. In 2019, the global wave energy market was valued at $43.8 million and is expected to more than triple by 2027.
» Read article              


Hydrogen could be the future of energy – but there’s one big road block
Cairney, Hutchinson, Preuss & Chen, in Renew Economy
March 29, 2021

Experts believe hydrogen could be a boon for renewables and a death knell for the burning of fossil fuels, with “green” hydrogen requiring only electricity and water for its manufacture.

As per the 2019 Australian National Hydrogen Strategy, Australia is at full-speed preparing to use hydrogen as a clean, flexible, sustainable, and storable energy source to achieve the decarbonisation promised in the 2015 Paris Agreement.

Australia also has the potential to become a superpower in the global supply of hydrogen fuel, due to our world-leading renewable energy capacity and our existing strong networks of infrastructure for gas transport and storage.

There are clear environmental and economic incentives for Australia to establish a hydrogen economy, however it’s not as simple as changing out one source of energy for hydrogen.

For a large roll-out of hydrogen power and for Australia to lead in this space, there’s one huge hurdle that must be addressed. That hurdle is known as “hydrogen embrittlement.”

When engineering alloys such as steels or nickel-based alloys are exposed to hydrogen-containing environments, their mechanical performance can deteriorate to the point that catastrophic failure occurs. Scientists and engineers have known about hydrogen embrittlement for more than a century, but the problem remains unsolved.
» Read article              

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY


How Britain’s ‘build back better’ plan went very, very wrong
What the U.S. can learn from the U.K.’s disastrous home retrofit program.
By Emily Pontecorvo, Grist
April 1, 2021

Retrofitting homes is a key pillar of Joe Biden’s $2 trillion American Jobs Plan to “build back better” from the COVID-19 recession. The president urged Congress on Wednesday to mobilize $213 billion to “produce, preserve, and retrofit” more than a million homes for affordability and efficiency. In addition to creating jobs, energy efficiency measures like insulating roofs and walls and installing electric heating will save people money on their utility bills and reduce carbon emissions from the nation’s buildings.

But the Biden administration would be wise to look across the pond for a cautionary tale before rolling out any such program too quickly.

Last summer, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s administration unveiled its own “build back better” economic stimulus package, which centered around a $2 billion program to retrofit England’s homes. The program was supposed to fund energy efficiency and clean heat upgrades in 600,000 homes, getting the country closer to net-zero emissions while creating 100,000 jobs, but it was canceled last week after a shambolic six-month run that may have killed more jobs than it spurred.

“When it comes down to improving the energy efficiency of our homes, this is about the worst thing the government could have done,” Andrew McCausland, the director of a British contracting company, told the i, a daily newspaper. “It has destroyed confidence in the building business in taking on this work in the future.”
» Read article              

» More about energy efficiency

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION


This Boston car-sharing service puts low-income drivers in electric vehicles
Good2Go’s small fleet of electric vehicles provides a clean, affordable transportation option in a neighborhood where many households cannot afford to own a car and public transit can be unreliable.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
March 31, 2021

A car-sharing program that combines electric vehicles and income-tiered pricing has launched in one of Boston’s busiest and most diverse neighborhoods.

The Good2Go service, one of the first of its kind in the country, aims to curb carbon emissions while giving low-income Roxbury residents access to reliable, flexible, and affordable transportation. So far the service has deployed four 2019 Nissan Leafs, and dozens of beta testers are using the cars to commute to work, bring their children to school, and run errands.

“We are officially on the road,” said Susan Buchan, director of energy projects at clean energy nonprofit E4TheFuture, which operates the new service.

Like well-known car-sharing services such as Zipcar, Good2Go gives users a chance to rent vehicles at an hourly rate. Drivers pick up the car, go about their business, then return the vehicle to the same spot they picked it up, paying only for the time they used. The goal is to give people the advantages of a personal vehicle, without the costs and logistical difficulties of car ownership.

Good2Go, however, tweaks the established car-sharing model to focus on environmental impact and economic equity. By using electric vehicles, the service could have a direct impact on the air quality in the community. And car-sharing programs have been shown to take as many as six to 14 cars off the road for each vehicle deployed, Buchan said, reducing emissions even before the switch to electric.

The pricing model is income-tiered so low-income customers pay $5 an hour instead of the standard hourly rate of $10. Participants qualify for the reduced rate if they are enrolled in any of 20 public assistance programs, such as Medicaid or veterans benefits. Program operators made such an expansive eligibility list to make it as simple as possible for low-income residents to qualify.
» Read article


Riders Are Abandoning Buses and Trains. That’s a Problem for Climate Change.
Public transit offers a simple way for cities to lower greenhouse gas emissions, but the pandemic has pushed ridership, and revenue, off a cliff in many big systems.
By Somini Sengupta, Geneva Abdul, Manuela Andreoni and Veronica Penney, New York Times
March 25, 2021

On the London Underground, Piccadilly Circus station is nearly vacant on a weekday morning, while the Delhi Metro is ferrying fewer than half of the riders it used to. In Rio, unpaid bus drivers have gone on strike. New York City subway traffic is just a third of what it was before the pandemic.

A year into the coronavirus pandemic, public transit is hanging by a thread in many cities around the world. Riders remain at home or they remain fearful of boarding buses and trains. And without their fares, public transit revenues have fallen off a cliff. In some places, service has been cut. In others, fares have gone up and transit workers are facing the prospect of layoffs.

That’s a disaster for the world’s ability to address that other global crisis: climate change. Public transit offers a relatively simple way for cities to lower their greenhouse gas emissions, not to mention a way to improve air quality, noise and congestion.

In some places, fear of the virus has driven people into cars. In the United States, used car sales have shot up and so have prices of used cars. In India, a company that sells secondhand cars online saw sales swell in 2020 and its own value as a company jump to $1 billion, according to news reports. Elsewhere, bike sales have grown, suggesting that people are pedaling a bit more.

The worry about the future is twofold. If commuters shun public transit for cars as their cities recover from the pandemic, that has huge implications for air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Most importantly, if transit systems continue to lose passenger fare revenues, they will not be able to make the investments necessary to be efficient, safe and attractive to commuters.
» Read article              

» More about clean transportation

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY


Biden Takes Aim at Reducing Emissions of Super-Polluting Methane Gas, With or Without the Republicans
The president wants to put pipefitters and miners to work capping “orphaned” gas wells as part of his forthcoming $3 trillion infrastructure plan.
By Marianne Lavelle, Inside Climate News
March 29, 2021

The first greenhouse gas actions under the Biden administration are likely to be curbs on the climate “super-pollutant” methane, as both Congressional Democrats and the White House readied moves they can make even without help from Republicans.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) pledged Thursday to bring a resolution to the floor in April that would reverse one of the Trump administration’s final climate policy rollbacks, the lifting of requirements for oil and gas companies to monitor and fix methane leaks from wells and other infrastructure.

That problem was also on President Joe Biden’s mind, as he indicated that fixing methane leaks was one of the key jobs-creation items he planned to include in the infrastructure package he is rolling out this week that is estimated to cost $3 trillion. Biden’s focus was on so-called “orphaned” wells, those that have been abandoned by defunct companies.

“We have over 100,000 wellheads that are not kept, leaking methane,” Biden said at his first White House news conference Thursday. “We can put as many pipefitters and miners to work capping those wells at the same price that they were charged to dig those wells.”

Both the Trump rule repeal and the infrastructure plan are measures that could be passed in Congress without any support from Republicans (although Biden has said he is seeking bipartisan support.)

Adding to the momentum for action on methane was the American Petroleum Institute’s climate action proposal unveiled last week. Although most attention was on the API’s first-ever endorsement of a carbon tax or other pricing mechanism, the oil and gas industry’s largest trade group included in its package a call for “direct regulation of methane.”
» Read article              


Appalachian Fracking Faces Financial Risks, Report Warns. Hopes for Petrochemical Plastics Boom ‘Unlikely.’
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
March 26, 2021

Developing new shale gas fields in Appalachia “may not end up being profitable” in the years ahead according to a new report. In addition, the associated petrochemical buildout that the region has pinned its hopes on as the future of natural gas is “unlikely,” the report states.

Natural gas drillers need prices to rise in order to turn a profit and continue expanding, a scenario that appears doubtful, according to the report published by the Stockholm Environment Institute’s US Center (SEI) and the Ohio River Valley Institute (ORVI), a Pennsylvania-based economic and sustainability think tank. Volatile market conditions for plastics are also putting the region’s plans for new petrochemical plants in question.

Given the poor financial results from the industry over the past decade, “gas prices would need to rebound and increase” if the fortunes of Appalachia’s shale industry are to improve, study co-authors, Peter Erickson, climate policy program director at SEI, and Ploy Achakulwisut, a scientist at SEI, wrote in the report.

Appalachia — already suffering from a long drawn out bust in the coal industry — has for much of the past decade seen natural gas prices languish as drillers pumped too much gas out of the ground, which has resulted in persistently low prices. And a renewed price surge appears unlikely as gas faces growing competition from solar and wind.

“Now there are signs that gas itself could get passed up for lower-cost renewables, introducing new risks for communities that rely on gas extraction for employment and tax revenue,” the authors wrote.

Due to liquefied natural gas (LNG) being a powerful and growing source of climate pollution, LNG’s expansion “would need to be — at best — short-lived,” the SEI/ORVI report’s authors state, noting that global decarbonization efforts could displace much of the gas demand that the industry is anticipating.

At the same time, a souring market for petrochemicals — a result of the industry overbuilding capacity and an uncertain plastic consumption outlook in the future — also undercuts the need for developing a major new petrochemical hub in the region. This is much to the disappointment of various business groups, regional politicians, and even the U.S. government who had planned on this being one of the last bastions of hope for the shale gas industry.

“The regional market is way oversupplied. So, you either find some regional use to consume it, or you’re kind of stopped, you hit a brick wall there,” Anne Keller, an independent consultant and former research director for NGLs at consulting firm Wood Mackenzie, told DeSmog.

Keller doesn’t see global decarbonization efforts cutting into gas demand to such an extent that it would hit Appalachian prices for the foreseeable future. “I’m kind of skeptical about that,” she said. Nevertheless, she did agree that the region is suffering from tremendous oversupply of gas, and that petrochemicals do not offer a way out.

The business case for Appalachian petrochemicals was that it had access to a large U.S. market for plastics, there was an abundant and cheap ethane supply, and low logistics costs. “The dynamics of ethylene have changed,” Keller said, referring to the product produced after ethane is “cracked.”

The Atlantic Coast pipeline was cancelled last year due to delays and ballooning costs. Keller said that all eyes are now on the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a pipeline that would carry Appalachian shale gas to the southeast. “That is the big one. It’s critical,” Keller told DeSmog. It is over 90 percent complete but has been hit with legal and regulatory delays and still faces questions about whether it will be finished.

“The view is if that goes through, [the industry will] breathe a sigh of relief for two or three years..but then you’re back to what’s the next tranche of market access,” Keller said. “If it doesn’t go through, you’re going to see a scramble to rethink strategy.”
» Read article              
» Read the SEI-US report

» More about fossil fuels

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS


No U.S. LNG Export FIDs Predicted in 2021, Says Wood Mackenzie
By Caroline Evans, Natural Gas Intelligence
March 31, 2021

No U.S. liquefied natural gas (LNG) projects are expected to be sanctioned this year, marking the second year in a row developers may postpone moving ahead with facilities, according to Wood Mackenzie.

Consultants during a webcast last week said domestic final investment decisions (FID) were unlikely as sponsors struggle to secure long-term contracts

“Generally, we’ve seen a slowdown in the pace of sales contract activity,” said Wood Mackenzie’s Alex Munton, principal analyst for North American LNG. “Pre-FID projects will continue to struggle to secure buyers, given the huge wave of LNG currently under construction globally. For that reason, we see a limited window to project FIDs in the U.S. for the next couple of years.”

Some projects may not survive, he said, noting Annova LNG’s decision to shelve its South Texas development.
» Read article              

» More about LNG

BIOMASS


Biomass a ‘misbegotten’ climate change trend
By Marty Nathan, Daily Hampshire Gazette | Opinion
March 31, 2021

Think globally, act locally. Fairly reliable advice, particularly for tackling massive issues like climate change and social injustice.

It’s a useful approach for the growing number of us who support making a just transition to an economy that no longer is based on burning fossil fuels that emit greenhouse gases.

It is a particularly appropriate lens through which to view the intensifying effort to prevent Palmer “Renewable” Energy from constructing a 42-megawatt biomass electric-generating plant in East Springfield. Its smokestacks must be 200 feet high because of the amount of pollution it will produce, nearly 200 tons per year of a toxic stew that provokes asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, vascular disease, cancer and an increased susceptibility to COVID-19 infection.

Studies have shown that biomass burning produces more particular matter — the damaging pollutant that buries itself deep in the lungs per unit electricity generated — than does coal. And those high smokestacks are not enough to protect the low-income, racially-diverse community in which the plant is being sited, or the city of Springfield itself, from the smoke and fumes.

Let’s get one thing straight: the inefficient burning of woody biomass for electricity is not an answer to the threat of climate change. The carbon dioxide sequestered in trees is released immediately into the atmosphere when burned, in amounts greater per electrical unit produced than from burning coal, the most harmful fossil fuel. Yes, you can plant trees to recapture that carbon, but that process is not effective for decades for wood wastes, to over a century for whole trees, according to the study authorized by our state nine years ago.

The findings of that study forced the state to remove inefficient biomass from the Renewable Portfolio Standard. Scientists knew we don’t have a century, or even decades, to lower our emissions to prevent the worst effects of global warming.

The recent attempts by politicians to reinstate biomass as a clean and green energy option are a shameless attempt at greenwashing.

This is our local challenge and you can act by calling Gov. Baker at 888-870-7770 and Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources Commissioner Patrick Woodcock at 617-626-7332 to tell them that you are opposed to making biomass subject to renewable energy subsidies and opposed to the Palmer plant. It is a false climate solution and is harmful to people in Springfield and the surrounding area. For more information, go to notoxicbiomass.org/.
» Blog editor’s note: MA-DEP just cancelled the Palmer Renewable Energy plant permit, but Palmer can request an adjudicatory hearing. Your calls to Baker and Woodcock are therefore doubly important. Confirm opposition ahead of a potential hearing, and express opposition to biomass subsidies in the Renewable Portfolio Standard.
» Read MA-DEP letter to Palmer’s Victor Gatto
» Read article              

» Read the Manomet study on Biomass Sustainability and Carbon


The ‘Green Energy’ That Might Be Ruining the Planet
The biomass industry is warming up the South’s economy, but many experts worry it’s doing the same to the climate. Will the Biden Administration embrace it, or cut it loose?
By MICHAEL GRUNWALD, Politico
March 26, 2021

Here’s a multibillion-dollar question that could help determine the fate of the global climate: If a tree falls in a forest—and then it’s driven to a mill, where it’s chopped and chipped and compressed into wood pellets, which are then driven to a port and shipped across the ocean to be burned for electricity in European power plants—does it warm the planet?

Most scientists and environmentalists say yes: By definition, clear-cutting trees and combusting their carbon emits greenhouse gases that heat up the earth. But policymakers in the U.S. Congress and governments around the world have declared that no, burning wood for power isn’t a climate threat—it’s actually a green climate solution. In Europe, “biomass power,” as it’s technically called, is now counted and subsidized as zero-emissions renewable energy. As a result, European utilities now import tons of wood from U.S. forests every year—and Europe’s supposedly eco-friendly economy now generates more energy from burning wood than from wind and solar combined.

Biomass power is a fast-growing $50 billion global industry, and it’s not clear whether the climate-conscious administration of President Joe Biden will try to accelerate it, discourage it or ignore it. It’s usually obvious which energy sources will reduce carbon emissions, even when the politics and economics are tricky; everyone agrees that solar and wind are cleaner than coal. But when it comes to power from ground-up trees, there’s still a raging substantive debate about whether it’s a forest-friendly, carbon-neutral alternative to fossil fuels, or an environmental disaster. Even within the Biden administration, senior officials have taken different sides of that debate.

Biden’s answer will be extremely important, because as odd as it sounds during a clean-tech revolution driven by modern innovations like advanced batteries and smart grids, there’s been a resurgence in the old-fashioned technique of burning wood to produce energy. The idea that setting trees on fire could be carbon-neutral sounds even odder to experts who know that biomass emits more carbon than coal at the smokestack, plus the carbon released by logging, processing logs into vitamin-sized pellets and transporting them overseas. And solar panels can produce 100 times as much power per acre as biomass.

Nevertheless, the global transition away from fossil fuels has sparked a boom in the U.S. wood-pellet industry, which has built 23 mills throughout the South over the past decade, and is relentlessly trying to brand itself as a 21st-century green energy business. Its basic argument is that the carbon released while trees are burning shouldn’t count because it’s eventually offset by the carbon absorbed while other trees are growing. That is also currently the official position of the U.S. government, along with many other governments around the world.

The rapid growth of biomass power over the past decade is in part a story about the unintended consequences of the arcane accounting rules that countries use to track their progress toward global climate goals.

It’s complicated, but the United Nations basically set up global reporting rules that were designed to avoid double-counting emissions, and inadvertently ended up making it easy not to count the emissions at all. In theory, countries were allowed to ignore the emissions from burning wood in power plants as long as they counted the emissions from logging the wood in forests. In practice, countries have let their power plants burn wood without counting the emissions anywhere, which has made biomass seem as climate-friendly as wind or solar.
» Read article              

» More about biomass

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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 3/5/21

banner 17

Welcome back.

This week’s most timely story involves a ham-handed power grab by the building and natural gas industries – forcing a rule change at the International Code Council to deprive thousands of municipal officials of voting rights in future updates to the energy efficiency building code. This mass disenfranchisement appears to be special-interest blowback following the successful 2019 voting round, when record-breaking voter participation resulted in the first significant improvement of base building codes in a decade. The development is particularly unfortunate given recent reports showing that global emissions are still rising while country-level commitments for greenhouse gas reductions are running far below levels necessary to address the climate emergency. Building emissions are a significant part of the problem – especially from the combustion of natural gas for heating, domestic hot water, and cooking.

It’s been 30 years since the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history, when a burst pipeline spewed 1.7 million gallons of crude oil onto Minnesota’s frozen Prairie River. This pipeline is now Enbridge’s Line 3, and the project to replace and reroute it through sensitive wetland habitat is fiercely opposed by local indigenous people, who demand enforcement of Tribal treaties they feel should protect them from this environmental threat.

Another active protest campaign includes opposition to the Formosa Plastics project, a major expansion of the petrochemical industry in Louisiana’s St. James Parish, known as Cancer Alley. Industry abuse of this mostly Black environmental justice community has drawn a sharply critical report from the United Nations Human Rights Council.

We’ve posted a number of reports touting plans and pilot ventures aimed at transitioning coal country into a greener economic model. So far, the efforts have primarily been at the individual, local, and state levels, and disparities are exposing the need for a more coordinated federal program.

As usual, the news gets better when we look at developments in zero-emission technologies. Agricultural land hosting large solar arrays can remain productive by using flocks of sheep to control vegetation, and it’s catching on. Energy storage is looking beyond lithium, especially in the long-duration markets. Thermal storage and non-toxic iron flow batteries are two promising technologies ready to offer grid-scale services. And clean transportation is all about rapidly expanding easily accessible EV charging stations, plus an announcement that Volvo cars and SUVs will be 100% electric by 2030 – five years ahead of rival carmakers’ most aggressive goals.

The news always gets more sobering when we turn our attention back to the fossil fuel industry. A new pilot study shows disturbing health impacts for people living near fracking operations, even while the natural gas industry mounts an all-out effort to block increasingly popular efforts to ban gas hookups in new buildings. Industry leaders seem unable to visualize a business plan that doesn’t involve drilling, piping, and burning planet-cooking toxins. Consequently, they react to any zero-emissions transition plan as an existential threat. Hence today’s lead stories on the assault on energy efficient building codes….

We’ll close by checking in on Massachusetts’ biomass problem, including an opinion article from one of Reading Municipal Light Department’s five elected commissioners explaining how demand for Palmer Renewable Energy’s biomass-generated electricity is far less than it appears.

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

thirty years later
30 years later, echoes of largest inland oil spill remain in Line 3 fight
By Dan Kraker and Kirsti Marohn, Minnesota Public Radio
March 3, 2021

Thirty years ago Wednesday, on March 3, 1991, the Line 3 oil pipeline ruptured in Grand Rapids, Minn., spilling 1.7 million gallons of crude oil onto the frozen Prairie River.

It’s still the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history.

Because the river was covered with ice, crews were able to keep the oil from reaching the Mississippi, 2 miles away.

“There would be people on the ice, squeegeeing oil on top of the ice, which was weird, everything was weird, it was like some kind of gross landscape,” Scott Hall, a reporter for Grand Rapids public radio station KAXE, told MPR News in 2018 for an episode of its Rivers of Oil podcast, which dove deep into the impacts of the spill.

“And so they had hoses going down, and just sucking as much oil as they could out into these tanker trucks.”

The Lakehead Pipeline Co. owned Line 3, which was built in the 1960s to carry oil from Canada, at the time of the spill. And the company that succeeded Lakehead, Enbridge Energy, is now replacing that same Line 3 with a new pipeline along a different route across the state.

Construction on the new line began in earnest in December. But Native American tribes and environmental groups continue to fight the $4 billion project, on the ground and in court.
» Read article          
» Oil and Water: The Line 3 Debate – full coverage    

Seamus O'ReganLine 5 ‘very different’ from Keystone XL and Canada will fight hard for it: O’Regan
‘The operation of Line 5 is non-negotiable,’ said natural resources minister
By James McCarten, CBC
March 4, 2021

The federal government won’t let Michigan shut down the Line 5 pipeline, Canada’s natural resources minister said Thursday as he dismissed opposition comparisons to the thwarted Keystone XL project.

Seamus O’Regan sounded almost combative as he vowed to defend the 1,000-kilometre line, which bridges an environmentally sensitive part of the Great Lakes to link Wisconsin with refineries in Sarnia, Ont.

“We are fighting for Line 5 on every front and we are confident in that fight,” O’Regan told a special House of Commons committee on the relationship between Canada and the United States.

The Enbridge Inc. pipeline carries an estimated 540,000 barrels of oil and natural gas liquids daily, and is vital to the energy and employment needs of Ontario, Alberta and Quebec, as well as northern U.S. states, he added. 

“We are fighting on a diplomatic front, and we are preparing to invoke whatever measures we need to in order to make sure that Line 5 remains operational,” he said. “The operation of Line 5 is non-negotiable.”

In November, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ordered Line 5 to be shut down by May, accusing Calgary-based Enbridge of violating the terms of the deal that allows the line to traverse the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac. 

The straits, which link Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, boast powerful, rapidly changing currents that experts have said make the area the worst possible place for an oil spill in the Great Lakes.

Pipeline opponents in the U.S. — many of the same voices who helped make TC Energy’s proposed Keystone XL expansion an environmental rallying point over the last decade — have vowed to see it shut down. 

Enbridge, which has plans to fortify the underwater segment of the line by routing it through a tunnel under the lake bed, is fighting Whitmer’s order in court.
» Read article          

» More about pipelines         

 

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

Sunshine Casino
UN Human Rights Experts Condemn Expanding Petrochemical Industry in Louisiana’s Cancer Alley as ‘Environmental Racism’
By Julie Dermansky, DeSmog Blog
March 3, 2021

Human rights experts appointed by the United Nations Human Rights Council issued a statement on March 2 raising concerns about the further industrialization of Louisiana’s “Cancer Alley.” This largely Black-populated stretch of the Mississippi River between New Orleans and Baton Rouge is lined with more than a hundred refineries and petrochemical plants. The experts said additional petrochemical development in this region, which U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data shows has some of the country’s highest cancer risks from air pollution, constitutes “environmental racism” that “must end.”

“This form of environmental racism poses serious and disproportionate threats to the enjoyment of several human rights of its largely African American residents, including the right to equality and non-discrimination, the right to life, the right to health, right to an adequate standard of living and cultural rights,” the experts said.

The statement calls for U.S. officials to reconsider allowing FG LA LLC, a subsidiary of Formosa Plastics Group, to build its proposed “Sunshine Project” in St. James Parish, in the middle of the region. That development, one of several new petrochemical projects slated for the region, would be a massive complex. Its 14 units would produce two types of plastic and the petrochemical ethylene glycol, which is used to make polyester fabrics and antifreeze.

It is a development that Sharon Lavigne, founder of the faith-based grassroots organization RISE St. James, has been trying to stop ever since learning in 2018 that the company planned to build its complex less than two miles from her home.

If built, “Formosa Plastics’ petrochemical complex alone will more than double the cancer risks in St. James Parish affecting disproportionately African American residents,” the human rights experts wrote. Their statement also took government regulators to task for their role. “Federal environmental regulations have failed to protect people residing in ‘Cancer Alley,’” they said, calling for the U.S. Government “to deliver environmental justice in communities all across America, starting with St. James Parish,” by stopping the Formosa Plastics project.
» Read article          
» Read the UN statement        

» More about protests and actions         

 

GREENING THE ECONOMY

without a map
As coal dies, the US has no plan to help the communities left behind
By Emily Pontecorvo, Grist
March 3, 2021

Here are two tales of the energy transition unfolding in coal country, USA.

In late 2019, Pacificorp, an electric utility that operates in six Western states, told Wyoming regulators it wanted to shut down several of its coal-fired power plants early and replace them with wind and solar power and battery storage. It said this plan would save customers hundreds of millions of dollars on their electric bills and promised to work with local leaders on transition plans for workers and communities affected by the closures.

Wyoming, a state whose economy relies significantly on coal mining and coal power, went on the defensive. State lawmakers had already passed a law requiring coal plant owners to search for a buyer before being allowed to close a plant. Now, with support from the governor, regulators ordered an unprecedented investigation to scrutinize Pacificorp’s analysis and conclusions. Ultimately they determined the plan was deficient — that the company had not adequately considered allowing the coal plants to stay open or installing technology to capture the plants’ carbon emissions.

One rectangle down on the U.S. map, in Colorado, 2019 was the year a new state law passed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 90 percent by 2050. In parallel, Colorado established an Office of Just Transition to help the workers and communities affected by now-inevitable coal mine and power plant closures. To comply with that timeline, the state’s two largest electric utilities recently submitted plans, not unlike Pacificorp’s, to retire several coal plants early and replace them with renewables and batteries.

While Colorado regulators have not yet approved the plans, they’ll likely be concerned with whether the utilities will phase out coal fast enough. Meanwhile, the Office of Just Transition has released a plan to help coal communities adapt to the looming changes in their economies and has already begun outreach efforts.

These two examples represent a larger trend in the West: While policies and proposals in some states (like Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona) acknowledge the writing on the wall for the coal industry, others (like Wyoming and, to a lesser extent, Montana) are protecting it for dear life. A new study by researchers at Montana State University examines this chasm and connects it to the absence of cohesive national energy transition policy.
» Read article          
» Read the Montana State University study       

» More about greening the economy       

 

CLIMATE

back on trend
New IEA Data Shows World on Path to Resume ‘Carbon-Intensive Business-as-Usual’
By Andrea Germanos, Common Dreams, in DeSmog UK
March 2, 2021

Following warnings that the coronavirus-triggered drop in planet-warming emissions would be short-lived without structural changes, the International Energy Agency released data Tuesday showing that global CO2 emissions from the energy sector were 2 percent higher in December 2020 compared to the same month the previous year.

The Paris-based agency said the figures reflect a lack of concrete action by global governments to follow through on pledges to meet net zero emissions by 2050 and predicted 2021 emissions would continue the upward trend barring sufficiently bold action.

“The rebound in global carbon emissions toward the end of last year is a stark warning that not enough is being done to accelerate clean energy transitions worldwide. If governments don’t move quickly with the right energy policies, this could put at risk the world’s historic opportunity to make 2019 the definitive peak in global emissions,” said IEA executive director Fatih Birol.

Birol further warned that the figures “show we are returning to carbon-intensive business-as-usual.”

“This year is pivotal for international climate action,” he added, “but these latest numbers are a sharp reminder of the immense challenge we face in rapidly transforming the global energy system.”

While emissions in the U.S. dropped 10 percent in 2020 overall, the downward trend began moving back up after a low point in spring. The nation capped off 2020 with December emissions being nearly the same as those in December 2019.

In India, an increase in emissions began in September with the loosening of Covid-19-related restrictions. China’s emissions began climbing upward in April, and its emissions for the year overall increased by 0.8 percent.

The global shutdowns brought about by the pandemic resulted in a historic drop in global emissions, which climate activists said should be no substitute for real climate action and scientists said would ultimately do little to rein in global temperature increase.

Stressing that there’s “no time to lose” to address atmospheric concentrations of CO2, WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said in November: “We breached the global threshold of 400 parts per million in 2015. And just four years later, we crossed 410 ppm. Such a rate of increase has never been seen in the history of our records.”

“The lockdown-related fall in emissions is just a tiny blip on the long-term graph,” said Taalas. “We need a sustained flattening of the curve.”
» Read article          

global inaction
Global Action Is ‘Very Far’ From What’s Needed to Avert Climate Chaos
New climate pledges submitted to the United Nations would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by less than 1 percent, the world body announced.
By Somini Sengupta, New York Times
February 26, 2021

The global scientific consensus is clear: Emissions of planet-warming gases must be cut by nearly half by 2030 if the world is to have a good shot at averting the worst climate catastrophes.

The global political response has been underwhelming so far.

New climate targets submitted by countries to the United Nations would reduce emissions by less than 1 percent, according to the latest tally, made public Friday by the world body.

The head of the United Nations climate agency, Patricia Espinosa, said the figures compiled by her office showed that “current levels of climate ambition are very far from putting us on a pathway that will meet our Paris Agreement goals.”

The figures offer a reality check on the many promises coming from world capitals and company boardrooms that leaders are taking climate change seriously.

The United Nations secretary general, António Guterres, called the report “a red alert.”

The tally was all the more damning because fewer than half of all countries submitted fresh targets to the United Nations. The Paris climate accord, designed to limit an increase in global temperatures, had urged them to do so by the end of 2020.
» Read article          

weakening ocean currents
Climate Change is Weakening the Ocean Currents That Shape Weather on Both Sides of the Atlantic
The change in the main ocean heat pump could bring more heat waves to Europe, increase sea level rise in North America and force fish to move farther north.
By Bob Berwyn, InsideClimate News
February 25, 2021

Since the end of the last ice age, a swirling system of ocean-spanning currents has churned consistently in the Atlantic, distributing heat energy along the ocean surface from the tropics toward the poles, with heavy, cold water slowly flowing back toward the equator along the bottom of the sea.

Collectively known as the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, the currents played a key role in shaping the climate of eastern North America and Western Europe, and thus the development of civilizations there. But in the 20th century, the circulation has weakened more than at any other time during at least the last 1,000 years, new research shows.

Together with other studies showing that global warming is driving the weakening, the new findings suggest that the circulation will lose even more strength in the decades ahead. That could cause heat and cold extremes in Europe and rapid sea level rise along the East Coast of the United States. As it weakens, pools of warm water form. That can lead to ocean heat waves, with increasing evidence that overheating oceans are linked with droughts and heat waves on nearby land areas.

The overturning circulation loops like a 10,000-mile conveyor belt through the North and South  Atlantic, connecting polar regions. It brings cold water up from the deep, sends warmer water across the surface and then drops it back down thousands of miles away as it cools.
» Read article          

» More about climate            

 

CLEAN ENERGY

sheep and shade
Connecticut solar developers enlist sheep to cut grass and ease tensions

Several projects before the state’s siting board propose integrating sheep grazing with photovoltaic installations.
By Lisa Prevost, Energy News Network
Photo By Antalexion / Creative Commons
March 3, 2021

It wasn’t your usual Connecticut Siting Council hearing. 

The petition before the regulators last week concerned a proposed 4.99-megawatt solar project on a tobacco farm in East Windsor. But many of the councilors’ questions for developer Greenskies Clean Energy had little to do with the technicalities of solar. 

Robert Hannon wanted to know how manure would be handled. John Morissette asked about the level of animal noise. And Chair Robert Silvestri wondered if the site would be safe from coyotes and other predators. 

The answers were vague, as this is the first time Greenskies has proposed using sheep to control vegetation on a solar site. 

The siting council is likely to become more savvy about the particulars in coming months as another Connecticut solar developer, Verogy, has proposed using sheep at three projects pending in East Windsor, Southington and Bristol. 

The proposals reflect the growing interest throughout the region in what’s called agrivoltaics — the practice of combining agricultural uses and renewable energy production on the same parcel of land.

The idea is that “we essentially utilize the sheep for vegetation maintenance, and it allows the property to continue in an agricultural use,” said Gina Wolfman, a senior project developer for Greenskies. 

And instead of revenues being paid out to landscaping services, “they are directed to the farming community,” said Bryan Fitzgerald, a co-founder of and director of development at Verogy.

That can help ease tensions around the use of prime farmland for large-scale solar arrays.
» Read article          

» More about clean energy            

 

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

now previewing
Code council approves plan to limit city, state input despite pushback

The International Code Council’s decision to limit direct influence by state and local government officials left some critics speculating about the potential to create an alternative to the organization’s widely used model codes.
By Alex Ruppenthal, Energy News Network
March 5, 2021

The nonprofit responsible for developing model building energy codes used by cities and states nationwide finalized a controversial plan Thursday to strip voting rights from thousands of public sector members — a move clean energy advocates fear will slow progress in achieving more efficient buildings and reducing emissions that fuel climate change. 

The decision, which critics say was made to appease the interests of industry groups representing homebuilders and natural gas utilities, came during a Wednesday meeting of the International Code Council’s board of directors. Unlike with its previous meeting in January, the board did not stream Wednesday’s meeting for the public to view. 

The change to the code-setting process was set in motion last fall when groups including the National Association of Home Builders and Leading Builders of America cried foul over the latest code development cycle, during which state and local government officials voted in record numbers, resulting in the code’s biggest efficiency gains in at least a decade. 

In response to the record voting turnout, industry groups alleged voting irregularities and “improper use of voting guides” that had been distributed by efficiency advocates. (The Code Council conducted a review of the voting process and found no evidence of irregularities.) Industry representatives also said the process needed to change because energy codes were getting more complex, requiring a higher level of expertise among voting members. 

“This is a classic case of changing the rules in the middle of the game,” said Lauren Urbanek, a senior energy policy advocate with the Natural Resources Defense Council, in a statement following the ICC’s announcement. “It’s extremely troubling that the ICC Board unnecessarily voted to strip the power from local government officials on the very codes they oversee, after they voted overwhelmingly to make our homes and other buildings more energy efficient and avoid harmful pollution from burning fossil fuels inside them.”
» Read article          

code voter supprssion
Cities voted for green building codes. Now developers want to end voting.
By Alexander C. Kaufman, Grist
March 1, 2021

Kim Havey had a problem. Minneapolis was generating more and more of its electricity from renewables, dropping climate-warming pollution from power to record lows. But emissions from natural gas, which is used to heat buildings and stovetops, were climbing ― overtaking power plants as the city’s top source of carbon pollution in 2017.

Nearly three-quarters of Minneapolis’ emissions came from buildings, and the city was undergoing a construction boom to accommodate a population growing faster than at any point since the 1950s. So Havey, the city’s sustainability director, helped craft new rules mandating more efficient standards for all those new buildings.

But there was a hurdle. Buildings over 50,000 square feet ― medical offices, corporate headquarters, apartment buildings ― fell under state jurisdiction. And Minnesota, like most states, used the International Code Council’s model national energy code as its standard. The ICC ― which, as one newspaper once put it, like the World Series, primarily concerns the U.S. ― is a nonprofit consortium of construction industry groups, architects and local government officials that creates the standard building codes used in towns and cities in all 50 states.

Then Havey learned that as a government official responsible for buildings and energy codes in his city, he could register to vote on the ICC’s next round of energy codes in November 2019. He wasn’t alone in this endeavor. The slow progress in reducing emissions from buildings and a decade of virtually unchanged ICC codes were frustrating officials across the U.S., and hundreds applied that year to vote in a process that takes place every three years.

By the time votes were tallied, this army of Leslie Knopes had won an overwhelming victory. The ballots went 3 to 1 in favor of mandates to ratchet up energy efficiency and require new homes and buildings to include wiring to hook up electric vehicle chargers and electric appliances.

But the triumph was short-lived. The building industry groups that have long wielded dominance over policy at the ICC soon began challenging not only the approved measures, which they called costly and unrealistic, but the members’ right to vote at all.

The National Association of Home Builders, whose influence over the ICC has drawn scrutiny from Congress, demanded the organization reconsider the eligibility of dozens of city departments that cast ballots in 2019. Havey and his entire department were among them.
» Read article          

» More about energy efficiency        

 

ENERGY STORAGE

heat batteries
Aalborg CSP Can Retrofit Coal Plants into Thermal Energy Storage
By Susan Kraemer, SolarPACES
February 28, 2021

Researchers at DLR, and NREL, and the Bill Gates-funded start-up Malta have been investigating converting coal plants into grid-scale thermal energy storage for curtailed intermittent renewable energy, as low-cost heat “batteries.”

Conversion would repurpose most of a coal plant’s assets. Instead of burning coal for the heat, tanks of molten salts would be heated electrically by surplus PV and wind on the grid to “charge” the storage, which could then be “discharged” back to the grid on demand using the former coal plant’s existing power generation and transmission assets.

Now Denmark’s Aalborg CSP A/S has taken a first step to commercialization. Their Integrated Energy System (IES) department, led by Executive Vice President Peter Badstue Jensen now offers their retrofitting of coal plants into thermal energy storage commercially.

The firm’s wide experience in the design and development of complex solar thermal energy and storage systems includes technologies supplying district heating and solar thermal plants operating globally. These include the world’s first seawater desalination solar greenhouse in Australia and seasonal thermal energy storage in Tibet that covers 90% of Langkazi’s annual heating requirement.
» Read article          

ESS all-iron configurable
‘All-iron’ flow battery maker ESS Inc launches ‘configurable’ megawatt-scale product
By Andy Colthorpe, Energy Storage News
February 15, 2021

ESS Inc, the US-headquartered manufacturer of a flow battery using iron and saltwater electrolytes, has launched a new range of energy storage systems starting at 3MW power capacity and promising 6-16 hours discharge duration.

The company announced the launch of the ESS Inc Energy Center last week, a containerised utility-scale energy storage product aimed at serving front-of-the-meter use cases as well as larger commercial and industrial (C&I) site applications. Based on ESS Inc’s second generation of flow battery modules, the solution is designed to support large-scale renewable energy projects, serve transmission and distribution (T&D) applications and supply peaking energy capacity to replace peaker gas plants.

While other companies in the flow battery space have mostly focused on vanadium or zinc-bromine electrolyte, ESS Inc has been bullish on the potential for its ‘all-iron’ flow battery. It has a claimed 25-year expected lifetime without performance degradation and the company claims it is safe: in a 2018 interview CEO Craig Evans told Energy-Storage.news that a report from a fire marshall on the battery chemistry “was [just] three sentences long on how the fire marshal should handle our battery in case of an event”. Meanwhile the battery’s contents are non-toxic and are not made using rare-earth materials or hazardous chemicals, the company claimed. 

In that 2018 interview Evans had conceded that lithium-ion batteries had the big head start on manufacturing scale and cost reduction on newer battery technologies like his company’s, but that technical advantages such as the ESS Inc flow battery’s operating temperature of 50°C — meaning it doesn’t need HVAC solutions to be deployed in hot environments — and ever-cheaper renewable energy could offer market opportunities.
» Read article          

» More about energy storage            

 

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

streetlight powerKansas City plans curbside charging for electric vehicles on streetlights
The federally funded pilot project could become a model for other cities looking to close gaps in charging infrastructure.
By Karen Uhlenhuth, Energy News Network
Photo By Vitaly Vlasov / Creative Commons
March 4, 2021

Kansas City plans to piggyback electric vehicle charging on existing streetlights as a way to improve access in areas currently lacking charging options.

The federally funded pilot project is being led by the nonprofit Metropolitan Energy Center, whose partners include the city and utility Evergy. They hope to install chargers on 30 to 60 streetlights before the end of the year.

Kansas City is a leader when it comes to charging stations — a recent Rocky Mountain Institute analysis ranked it as the region’s top city for electric vehicle infrastructure. But that infrastructure isn’t spread evenly across the city. 

“There are places in the city that don’t have the same access to EV charging as other places,” said Miriam Bouallegue, the energy center’s sustainable transportation project manager. “We’re just trying to fill in some holes.”

As envisioned, the light poles would be equipped with one charger each. Customers would pay for each kilowatt-hour of power, although a rate will have to be established by state utility regulators.

Much of the work so far has involved trying to identify the best locations to install the charging stations. Generally, planners want to locate them near “points of interest” such as stores, apartment buildings, schools and churches. They collaborated with the Missouri University of Science and Technology to map those sites and found about 300 lights that met the criteria.
» Read article          

EV charge station push6 Utilities to Build EV-Charging Network Across 16 States
By Climate Nexus, EcoWatch
March 4, 2021

Six major U.S. electricity utilities will collaborate to build a massive EV charging network across 16 states, they announced Tuesday.

Transportation is the country’s largest source of greenhouse gas pollution, and electrifying the sector is a major opportunity to reduce those emissions through increased efficiency and renewable-generated electricity. Utilities stand to benefit from massively-increased electricity demand driven by widespread EV adoption, but range anxiety — the fear of running out of battery power without being able to reach a convenient charging station — is a barrier to many customers who might purchase (or consider purchasing) an EV.

The newly-formed Electric Highway Coalition — made up of American Electric Power, Dominion Energy, Duke Energy, Entergy, Southern Company, and the Tennessee Valley Authority — is seeking to ameliorate those concerns by creating a network of charging stations from Texas to Indiana to Virginia to Florida. The announcement follows a similar initiative by major midwest utilities last year.
» Read article          

all-electric Volvo
Volvo says it will stop selling gasoline-powered cars by 2030.
By Jack Ewing, New York Times
March 2, 2021

Volvo Cars said it would convert its entire lineup to battery power by 2030, phasing out internal combustion engine vehicles faster than other automakers like General Motors.

Volvo, based in Sweden and owned by Geely Holding of China, has been ahead of larger rivals in converting to electric power. In 2019, all the models it sold were either hybrids or ran solely on batteries.

By 2030, Volvo will “phase out any car in its global portfolio with an internal combustion engine, including hybrids,” the company said in a statement on Tuesday.

Hybrids have better fuel economy than conventional vehicles, but they may not be much better for the climate or for urban air quality if drivers do not use the electric capabilities.

G.M.’s promise to sell only emission-free vehicles, which it made in January, does not take effect until 2035.

Volvo acknowledged that it was responding in part to pressure from governments, many of which have announced bans on internal combustion engines in coming years.

The company said its decision was based “on the expectation that legislation as well as a rapid expansion of accessible high quality charging infrastructure will accelerate consumer acceptance of fully electric cars.”
» Read article          

» More about clean transportation             

 

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

protect our earth
Fractured: The body burden of living near fracking
EHN.org scientific investigation finds western Pennsylvania families near fracking are exposed to harmful chemicals, and regulations fail to protect communities’ mental, physical, and social health.
By EHN Staff, Environmental Health News
March 1, 2021

It’s been 12 years since fracking reshaped the American energy landscape and much of the Pennsylvania countryside.

And despite years of damning studies and shocking headlines about the industry’s impact—primarily on the state’s poor and rural families—people that live amongst wellpads remain in the dark about what this proximity is doing to their health and the health of their families. A two-year investigation by EHN set out to close some of those gaps by measuring chemical exposures in residents’ air, water, and bodies.

In the summer of 2019, we collected air, water, and urine samples from five nonsmoking southwestern Pennsylvania households. All of the households included at least one child. Three households were in Washington County within two miles of numerous fracking wells, pipelines, and compressor stations. Two households were in Westmoreland County, at least five miles away from the nearest active fracking well.

Over a 9-week period we collected a total of 59 urine samples, 39 air samples, and 13 water samples. Scientists at the University of Missouri analyzed the samples using the best available technology to look for 40 of the chemicals most commonly found in emissions from fracking sites (based on other air and water monitoring studies).

This was a small pilot study, so we aren’t able to draw any sweeping scientific conclusions from our findings. Instead, we hope our findings will provide a snapshot of environmental exposures in southwestern Pennsylvania families and help pave the way for additional research.

We found chemicals like benzene and butylcyclohexane in drinking water and air samples, and breakdown products for chemicals like ethylbenzene, styrene, and toluene in the bodies of children living near fracking wells at levels up to 91 times as high as the average American and substantially higher than levels seen in the average adult cigarette smoker.

The chemicals we found in the air and water—and inside of people’s bodies—are linked to a wide range of harmful health impacts, from skin and respiratory irritation to organ damage and increased cancer risk.

But these stories are about more than a list of hard-to-pronounce chemicals. They’re about a single father on disability who fears these exposures are causing his son’s illness but can’t afford to move; a family that did move to escape a school surrounded by well pads, but found themselves living next to a new set of wells and still being exposed; and quiet rural lifestyles once defined by idyllic farms, rolling hills, and fresh air now overwhelmed by heavy truck traffic, heavy industry, and communities at odds over whether to protest that loss or try and cash in by leasing their mineral rights.
» Read article          

banning the gas ban
A Texas city had a bold new climate plan – until a gas company got involved
The fossil fuel industry is using the same playbook to fight city climate plans around the country
By Emily Holden for Floodlight, Amal Ahmed for the Texas Observer and Brendan Gibbons for San Antonio Report, in The Guardian
March 1, 2021

When the city of Austin drafted a plan to shift away from fossil fuels, the local gas company was fast on the scene to try to scale back the ambition of the effort.

Like many cities across the US, the rapidly expanding and gentrifying Texas city is looking to shrink its climate footprint. So its initial plan was to virtually eliminate gas use in new buildings by 2030 and existing ones by 2040. Homes and businesses would have to run on electricity and stop using gas for heat, hot water and stoves.

The proposal, an existential threat to the gas industry, quickly caught the attention of Texas Gas Service. The company drafted line-by-line revisions to weaken the plan, asked customers to oppose it and escalated its concerns to top city officials.

In its suggested edits, the company struck references to “electrification”, and replaced them with “decarbonization”– a policy that wouldn’t rule out gas. It replaced “electric vehicles” with “alternative fuel vehicles”, which could run on compressed natural gas. It offered to help the city to plant more trees to absorb climate pollution and to explore technologies to pull carbon dioxide out of the air – both of which might help it to keep burning gas.

Those proposed revisions were shared with Floodlight, the Texas Observer and San Antonio Report, by the Climate Investigations Center, which obtained them through public records of communications between city officials and the company.

The moves have so far proven a success for Texas Gas. The most recently published draft of the climate plan gives the company much more time to sell gas to existing customers, and it allows it to offset climate emissions instead of eliminating them. The city, however, is revisiting the plan after a backlash to the industry-secured changes.
» Read article          

» More about fossil fuels         

 

BIOMASS

gift to biomass
Baker’s $175m regulatory gift to biomass
Few municipal light plants actually wanted project
By David Talbot, CommonWealth Magazine | Opinion
February 20, 2021

THE BAKER ADMINISTRATION and much of the Legislature is trying hard to give the developer of a controversial proposed wood-fired “biomass” power plant in Springfield everything it wants—especially a regulatory change that could give the plant $175 million in additional cash from Massachusetts electric ratepayers over 20 years.

To those wondering why Beacon Hill is doing so much—despite opposition on emissions and environmental justice grounds from the Springfield City Council, the Massachusetts attorney general’s office, both of our US senators, and five state senators who filed an anti-biomass bill Friday – the answer often comes back that this is what the Commonwealth’s 41 municipal light plants want.

As the story goes, these local electric utilities, anticipating new standards, sought biomass electricity as part of a broader way to meet those standards.

But the actual decisions made by these century-old entities suggest otherwise. When the power contracts for the unbuilt Springfield facility were offered to municipal light plants in late 2019 and early 2020, only eight signed up—and for a total of only 75 percent of the plant’s output—based on information contained in contracts signed in February of 2020.

Low as these numbers are, they overstate the interest. By far the biggest tranche, 25 percent, was taken by the Reading Municipal Light Department, where I am one of five elected commissioners. But the Reading deal was signed at the management level; when our board later learned of this, we voted to examine all options with respect to the contract’s disposition.

In other words, we started looking for exits.

Our board-voted signal meant just seven municipal light plants truly wanted just half of the plant’s output, according to those contracts signed in February 2020.  And though those other local boards were no doubt better informed than ours, it’s not clear how much they knew about the controversy.

If Beacon Hill’s efforts are not answering demands from local municipal electric utilities, the question begging more investigation is why our elected leaders want to shovel so much money to just one developer (no other such plants are currently proposed in Massachusetts) to build a facility wanted by so few.

The developer, Palmer Renewable Energy, first got permits for the plant more than a decade ago. The company prevailed over certain legal challenges – but still needed more than electricity sales at market rates to make a business case to build the $150 million plant. Gov. Charlie Baker and Patrick Woodcock, Baker’s commissioner of the Department of Energy Resources, stepped in to help.

Woodcock, formerly the top energy official under Gov. Paul LePage in Maine, set about gutting the rules for wood-fired biomass plants in the Bay State. The existing ones, in something called the Renewable Portfolio Standard, were stringent. Under them, electricity from the Palmer plant – which would burn 1,200 tons of wood chips per day, hauled in by tractor-trailers potentially from five states—could not be called “renewable.” Only far more efficient versions could do so.

The proposed Baker/Woodcock rewrite puts this giant wood-burning plant on the same “renewable” footing as a fleet of offshore wind turbines or an array of solar panels. And this meant the developer could also sell something called “Class 1 renewable energy certificates,” which is a form of subsidy.
» Read article           

MA-AGO letterhead
Comments on Draft Regulations Amending Renewable Portfolio Standard Class I and II Regulations, 225 C.M.R. §§ 14.00 et seq.and15.00 et seq.( H.5169)

MA OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL, Maura Healey
December 23, 2020

The Commonwealth was prescient in stringently constraining biomass participation in the RPS program, and we should not reverse course now. In this letter, the AGO explains that (1) forest biomass energy production—the burning of woody fuel from forests to generate electricity—will only exacerbate the climate and public health crises facing the Commonwealth; (2) DOER’s Draft Regulations and their complex accompanying analyses, which stakeholders have not had sufficient time to review, raise important substantive and procedural legal concerns; and (3) the Draft Regulations contain numerous provisions that may increase—not decrease—greenhouse gas and other harmful pollutant emissions, and the analyses purporting to support the Draft Regulations appear to overlook important considerations, make unsupported assumptions, reach dubious conclusions, and in any event show the regulations may indeed have troubling emissions impacts.
» Read letter                        

» More about biomass               

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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.
» Read article             
» Read the study              

» More about clean energy

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.
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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.
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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.”
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» 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.
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» 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.
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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.
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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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