Tag Archives: gas ban

Weekly News Check-In 5/13/22

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Welcome back.

Long-time opponents of the Weymouth Compressor Station celebrated a victory last week when Massachusetts Superior Court Judge Joseph Leighton vacated the facility’s Chapter 91 Waterways permit. The decision sends the permit back to the state Department of Environmental Protection for further review. The compressor is now operating without a full set of permits. Recall that only a few weeks ago, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission admitted that the air quality permit should never have been granted…. Can we just shut it down already?

As momentum builds for natural gas hookup bans, a new gas industry “astroturf” group called ‘Fuelling Canada’ is coordinating a stealth ad campaign targeting first-time home buyers, priming them to think of natural gas as a clean, safe, and desirable fuel for heating and cooking. It’s one arm of the gas industry’s push to build out infrastructure and lock in future use. This relates to another report describing the economic risks associated with continued expansion of fossil fuel development, distribution, and dependence.

Here in Massachusetts, a diverse coalition is proposing to address two big problems at once by doubling the state’s very low deeds excise tax (a real estate transaction tax), bringing us in line with neighboring states. Half of the new revenue would go to affordable housing programs, and the other half would protect neighborhoods, homes, and businesses from the impacts of climate change while also investing in mitigation solutions like energy efficiency.

Climate change is pushing increasingly brutal heat waves, and parts of the world are bumping up against the limits of human survival. Northern India and Pakistan have been so hot already this spring that the health and productivity of workers are significantly impacted. At the same time, the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide exceeded 420 parts per million (ppm) in April for the first time in human history.

Addressing all of the above involves quickly deploying massive clean energy resources. So a Department of Commerce investigation that could lead to retroactive tariffs on certain solar panels imported from Southeast Asia is putting a brake on the U.S. solar industry at a time when business should be booming. We’re also looking at hydropower, and a study showing high methane emissions from some reservoirs.

Producing energy – even green energy – gets messy, but we can always count on good news in the energy efficiency department. This week we’re offering a report describing cold weather heat pumps – widely available today but largely unknown or misunderstood in the U.S.

Energy storage, especially as it relates to electric vehicle batteries, is going to rely on a whole lot of lithium.   We’ve run a number of reports about how environmentally and culturally destructive lithium mining can be, and advocated for doubling down on extraction alternatives such as from geothermal brine at locations like California’s Salton Sea. Researchers at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Washington have produced magnets that can separate lithium and other metals from this sort of brine – a promising step in the right direction.

Meanwhile, the Biden administration announced a $3.16 billion plan to stimulate the production of batteries for electric vehicles in the U.S., an essential step in reducing carbon emissions from transportation.

Two years ago, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey prompted the state to begin mapping a natural gas phaseout. The Department of Public Utilities turned the process over to the gas distribution companies, who (to no one’s surprise) produced recommendations that looked a lot like business as usual and did very little to comply with emissions reduction mandates. AG Healey is calling for the state to toss out those recommendations – time to get serious.

It’s also time to start developing regulations pertaining to pipelines that carry carbon dioxide, in light of ambitious plans for extensive networks serving the future carbon capture and storage industry.

We’ll close with the fossil fuel industry, which is having a moment due to the war in Ukraine and the policy drive to replace Russian oil and gas with hydrocarbons pumped from friendlier regions. Sticking with the longer view that any near-term bump in production must not be allowed to lock in for the future, we’re alarmed by what’s happening. Already, planned increases in fracked oil and gas represent carbon and methane emissions well beyond our global warming budget. And a lot of the Big Oil & Gas decarbonization program appears to be more of an accounting gimmick than anything real. The majors are simply taking highly-polluting production sites off their books by selling to smaller operators who lack their own emissions limits. Related to all this, Canada sees new opportunity for Liquefied Natural Gas sales to Europe, and is reconsidering allowing construction of two Nova Scotia export terminals that seemed doomed just a year ago.

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— The NFGiM Team

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

unnecessary and unwanted
Superior Court judge tosses out waterways permit for Weymouth compressor station
By Jessica Trufant, The Patriot Ledger
May 5, 2022

WEYMOUTH – A Superior Court judge has tossed out one of the state permits granted for the controversial natural gas compressor station in the Fore River Basin.

Judge Joseph Leighton this week vacated the Chapter 91 Waterways permit for the compressor station, sending the permit back to the state Department of Environmental Protection for further review.

The decision boils down to an interpretation of the word “required,” and whether the compressor station is considered an ancillary facility of existing natural gas infrastructure in the basin.

Leighton ruled that regulators incorrectly accepted “required” to mean “suitable,” rather than “necessary,” therefore allowing the siting of the compressor.

“The department’s interpretation was therefore inconsistent with the plain terms of the regulation and an error of law,” he wrote in the decision.

Alice Arena, of the Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station, said the residents are “ecstatic” over the decision.

“It’s very satisfying. The fact the judge concurred is a huge victory in all of this stupidity,” she said.

The compressor station is part of Enbridge’s Atlantic Bridge project, which expands the company’s natural gas pipelines from New Jersey into Canada. Since the station was proposed in 2015, residents have argued it presents serious health and safety problems.

State regulators issued several permits for the project despite vehement and organized opposition from local officials and residents.

Local, state and federal officials have called for a halt of compressor operations since the station opened in the fall of 2020. Several emergency shutdowns since then caused hundreds of thousands of cubic feet of natural gas to be released into the air.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission reexamined operations and safety at the station following the shutdowns. The commission didn’t revoke authorization for the station, but several members said regulators shouldn’t have approved the project to begin with.

Arena said she planned to notify the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission of the Superior Court decision and hopes it will halt operations until Enbridge seeks a new waterways permit.
» Read article   

» More about the Weymouth compressor

NATURAL GAS BANS

astro-Canada
New Gas Industry Astroturf Group ‘Fuelling Canada’ Targets First-Time Homebuyers
‘Fuelling Canada’ is linked to major gas companies that are battling climate regulations.
By Geoff Dembicki, DeSmog Blog
May 10, 2022

In April, the Globe & Mail published an article on its website extolling the virtues of natural gas appliances in people’s houses.

The story, headlined “Why natural gas is the smart choice for your new home,” has the look and feel of actual journalism. It includes statistics about Canada’s “reliable” gas industry, a photo of a young couple cooking on their gas range and quotes from Canadian homebuilders and makers of consumer products—such as grills and fireplaces—that use gas.

It looks explicitly designed to appeal to first-time homebuyers.

But even though natural gas is a major growing source of emissions in the country (Canada is the world’s fourth largest producer of the fossil fuel), the article didn’t once mention climate change, nor the potentially severe health impacts from breathing in gas fumes.

That’s because the article isn’t real journalism, but rather an advertisement paid for by an organization called Fuelling Canada that is linked to some of North America’s top gas companies. It has a small label at the top describing it as “sponsor content.” But otherwise it looks practically identical to news stories from real reporters on the Globe & Mail website.

“That’s what makes these sponsored ads so slimy. For the vast majority of readers who look at stuff very quickly, that nuance is lost on them,” Seth Klein, team lead and director of strategy for an advocacy group called the Climate Emergency Unit, told DeSmog. “The goal of this advertising is to lock us into more decades of using natural gas.”

[…] Fuelling Canada describes itself on its website as “a resource hub for Canadians to learn more about natural gas and its essential role in the Canadian economy.” But it is hardly neutral when it comes to discussing one of the world’s major contributors to global warming.

The organization was created by the Canadian Gas Association, an industry group whose members include gas companies like Enbridge and FortisBC, as well as TC Energy, builder of the Coastal GasLink pipeline, a project that has faced fierce opposition led by hereditary chiefs from the Wet’suwet’en First Nation.

Fuelling Canada wants to create the impression of a national grassroots campaign.

[…] Klein argues it’s not a coincidence that some of the same companies behind Fuelling Canada also belong to an industry alliance that is fighting against municipal rules designed to phase out climate-warming natural gas in homes and buildings and replace them with electric ranges and other cleaner energy sources.

Internal documents describe this “Consortium to Combat Electrification” as a campaign whose mission is to “create effective, customizable marketing materials to fight the electrification/anti-natural gas movement.” The gas industry, one slide explains, is “in for [the] fight of it’s [sic] life.”

The consortium’s members include Enbridge and FortisBC, two of the companies also involved with Fuelling Canada. The major industry players paying for cleverly framed sponsored content promoting natural gas are the very same ones working behind the scenes to stop a shift away from fossil fuels.

“They want to continue to lock in customers in new fossil fuel infrastructure,” Klein said. “And they’re pulling out all the stops.”
» Blog editor’s note: Enbridge operates the Weymouth compressor station as part of its Atlantic Bridge Pipeline.
» Read article  

» More about gas bans

DIVESTMENT

stranded tick-boom
Why our continued use of fossil fuels is creating a financial time bomb
We’re investing in things that will have little value if we move off fossil fuels.
By John Timmer, Ars Technica
May 9, 2022

The numbers are startling.

We know roughly how much more carbon dioxide we can put into the atmosphere before we exceed our climate goals—limiting warming to 1.5° to 2° C above preindustrial temperatures. From that, we can figure out how much more fossil fuel we can burn before we emit that much carbon dioxide. But when you compare those numbers with our known fossil fuel reserves, things get jaw-dropping.

To reach our climate goals, we’ll need to leave a third of the oil, half of the natural gas, and nearly all the coal we’re aware of sitting in the ground, unused.

Yet we have—and are still building—infrastructure that is predicated on burning far more than that: mines, oil and gas wells, refineries, and the distribution networks that get all those products to market; power plants, cars, trains, boats, and airplanes that use the fuels. If we’re to reach our climate goals, some of those things will have to be intentionally shut down and left to sit idle before they can deliver a return on the money they cost to produce.

But it’s not just physical capital that will cause problems if we decide to get serious about addressing climate change. We have workers who are trained to use all of the idled hardware, companies that treat the fuel reserves and hardware as an asset on their balance sheets, and various contracts that dictate that the reserves can be exploited.

Collectively, you can think of all of these things as assets—assets that, if we were to get serious about climate change, would see their value drop to zero. At that point, they’d be termed “stranded assets,” and their stranding has the potential to unleash economic chaos on the world.

[…] The big question is whether these pressures build slowly or suddenly. If assets lose their value slowly, without major strandings, everyone can adjust. Investors can shift to other markets, companies can change their focus, infrastructure can be allowed to deprecate until much of its value is gone. There will undoubtedly be some economic pain, especially if you’re in the fossil fuel business, but there won’t be wholesale economic disruption.

Unfortunately, our climate goals and our continuing emissions are making the probability of this sort of soft landing increasingly remote. “We dragged our feet, and we kind of have to double down,” Rezai told Ars. “If we have to have quicker adjustments, that creates the possibility of more disruptive adjustments, less smooth adjustments.” My conversation with him and Van der Ploeg was filled with talk of the potential for a Minsky moment, in which the value of some assets drops dramatically. For the climate, this could come in response to technology changes or government policy changes.

This sort of sudden collapse will have sweeping effects. People who have livelihoods based on fossil fuel extraction will see their jobs vanish. Governments that rely on taxes and fees from fossil fuel extraction and use may struggle to replace the lost revenue. Companies throughout the economy will take a huge hit. Obviously, this will include lost revenue for fossil fuel companies. But it can also mean that things they treat as assets—from equipment to extraction licenses—will have to be written off as stranded.
» Read article   

» More about divestment

GREENING THE ECONOMY

Putnam Gardens
A strategy for tackling housing, climate crises simultaneously
HERO proposal would double state’s deeds excise tax
By Kimberly Lyle and Joseph Kriesberg, CommonWealth Magazine | Opinion
May 7, 2022

TWO CRISES are bearing down on our state. There’s the critical shortage of affordable housing, which leaves ever more of our neighbors unable to keep a roof over their heads. And there is the climate crisis, which promises more powerful storms, flooding, and deadly heat waves.

These crises demand urgent action. Now, a diverse coalition of housing, environmental, and faith-based organizations has come up with a plan to tackle both at once. The HERO Coalition urges the Massachusetts Legislature to raise the deeds excise tax — paid when real estate changes hands — to a level comparable with other Northeastern states. This could generate as much as $600 million annually for investments in climate and affordable housing.

[…] The HERO Coalition urges the Massachusetts  Legislature to double the deeds excise tax from $4.56 to $9.12 per $1,000 in sales price. This would bring us in line with neighboring states: New Hampshire’s tax is a whopping $15 per $1,000; in New York and Vermont it is $12.50. HERO would generate as much as $600 million in new revenue each year.

Half of the new revenue would go to affordable housing programs — the Affordable Housing Trust Fund and the Housing Stabilization and Preservation Trust Fund — serving both renters and low- and moderate-income homebuyers. The other half would go to the Global Warming Solutions Trust Fund, which would protect neighborhoods, homes, and businesses from the impacts of climate change while also investing in mitigation solutions, like energy efficiency, that will enable us to meet our state’s ambitious climate goals.

Raising the deeds excise tax is an equitable way to generate revenue. It is progressive because the tax is linked to real estate prices, buyers and sellers of high-end homes pay more. And it is affordable for lower-income homebuyers as well. Most families only pay the tax once or twice in their lifetime and it is amortized over the life of their mortgage.
» Read article   

» More about greening the economy  

CLIMATE

too hot
India tries to adapt to extreme heat but is paying a heavy price
Summer hasn’t arrived yet, but early heat waves have brought the country to a standstill
By Gerry Shih and Kasha Patel, Washington Post
May 9, 2022

[…] Typically, heat waves in India affect only part of the country, occur in the summer and only last for a week or so. But a string of early heat waves this spring has been longer and more widespread than any observed before. India experienced its hottest March on record. Northwest and central India followed with their hottest April.

“This probably would be the most severe heat wave in March and April in the entire [recorded] history” of India, said Vimal Mishra, a climate scientist at Indian Institute of Technology Gandhinagar.

Despite the unprecedented heat, fewer people appear to be dying. Heat waves in 2015 and 1998 took thousands of lives, but the India Meteorological Department has reported only a handful of deaths so far.

Across India, extreme heat has forced farmers, construction workers and students to rearrange their lives, showing how daily routines are changing — and work productivity is declining — in countries that are already among the poorest and hottest in the world.

In recent weeks, education officials in nine northern states have cut the length of classes in half so that students can be dismissed by 11 a.m. Some have ended the school year early. Administrators of large government-run rural employment programs mandated that workers digging canals and ditches stop before noon.

These shifts may be small on their own, but taken together they have far-reaching impacts. India loses more than 100 billion hours of labor per year because of extreme heat, the most of any country in the world, according to research published in Nature Communications.

“We’re reaching some of these critical thresholds in Southwest and South Asia, where people can no longer efficiently cool themselves and it’s almost deadly just to be outside, much less work,” said Luke Parsons, one of the paper’s co-authors. “It’s a really major issue in terms of who bears the cost of climate change first.”
» Read article  

new high
Atmospheric CO2 Hits Another All-Time High
By The Energy Mix
May 8, 2022

Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels measured at Hawai’i’s Mauna Loa Observatory breached 420 parts per million (ppm) in April for the first time in human history.

Considered the gold standard for accurate measurements of atmospheric CO2, the new measurements were released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), reports the Independent.

The NOAA data release shows CO2 levels hitting 420.23 ppm in April, eight years after they breached 400 ppm (400.2 ppm) in May, 2013.

Last May, atmospheric CO2 concentrations at Mauna Loa stood at 419.13 ppm. In May 2002, they were 375.93 ppm, and in 1958, the first year scientists began to measure atmospheric CO2 at Mauna Loa, levels stood at 317.51 ppm.

May typically records the highest levels of atmospheric CO2, just before the northern hemisphere’s summer kicks in with an explosion of plant growth that pulls carbon out the atmosphere, causing levels to drop.

Emissions from fossil fuel burning, plus the loss of natural carbon sinks through the destruction of forest, wetlands, and mangroves, now mean that even the lowest seasonal CO2 levels—typically measured in September before the leaves fall—are far too high for climate health.

Last year, September readings at Mauna Loa stood at 413.30, well above the safe limit of 350 ppm long urged by climate scientists.

And CO2 is not the only thing to worry about, the Independent notes.

Atmospheric concentrations of the two other major greenhouse gases, methane and nitrous oxide, are also rising sharply. Methane is about 85 times more potent an atmospheric warming agent than CO2 over a 20-year span; nitrous oxide is 300 times more powerful.

Atmospheric methane levels now stand at 1980.9 parts per billion (ppb), up 340 ppb from the early 1980s, while nitrous oxide just reached 335.2 ppb, up from 316 ppb just 20 years ago.
» Read article   

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

not ideal
Navigating the U.S. Solar Industry’s Spring of Discontent
Solar business owners feel worn down by a federal tariff investigation and the Biden administration’s failure to deliver on policy.
By Dan Gearino, Inside Climate News
May 5, 2022

Troy Van Beek is an optimist by nature, but he sounded dour this week.

His solar business, Ideal Energy in Fairfield, Iowa, is dealing with the blowback from a Department of Commerce investigation that could lead to retroactive tariffs on certain solar panels imported from Southeast Asia.

“We keep getting the rug pulled out from under us,” he said.

[…] The investigation has led to a spike in panel prices in anticipation of potential penalties, which is on top of existing supply chain problems that have made it difficult for solar installers to get the equipment they need.

Van Beek spends much of his time trying to chase down equipment and deciding how much he can pay at a time of volatile prices.

[…] The Commerce Department opened its investigation in response to a February legal filing by Auxin Solar, a small manufacturer in California, that said Chinese companies were circumventing the tariffs imposed in 2018 by the Trump administration. Auxin alleges that Chinese manufacturers avoided tariffs by sending equipment to nearby countries for minor assembly work before delivery to the United States. Since the 2018 tariffs, U.S. panel imports from China plummeted, largely replaced by imports from Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam. Some panel manufacturers have opened plants in the United States, like Jinko Solar of China, which opened in Florida, but the new plants’ output remains small compared to what’s in Asia.

Investigators have a few months to determine if the conduct meets the legal definition of a circumvention of tariffs.

Solar industry groups reacted to the investigation with alarm. The Solar Energy Industries Association said that 24 gigawatts of projects that were projected for 2022 or 2023 would not happen in those years, a decrease of 46 percent compared to the prior forecasts, if the government orders retroactive tariffs. The trade group provided examples of projects that were on hold because of uncertainty about costs that may result from the investigation, and also warned that 100,000 jobs could be lost.

“It’s pretty bad,” said Jenny Chase, lead solar analyst for BloombergNEF, in an email.
» Read article   

hidden emissions
New Research Shows Higher Methane Emissions from Hydropower
By Tara Lohan, The Revelator, in The Energy Mix
May 1, 2022

This month regulators greenlighted a transmission line that would bring power generated from Canadian hydroelectric dams to New York City. New York’s plan to achieve a zero-emissions grid by 2040 depends on hydropower, and it’s not alone.

Globally hydropower is the largest source of renewable energy. In the United States it makes up 7% of electricity generation, and 37 states allow some form of hydropower in their renewable portfolio standards, which establish requirements for the amount renewable energy that must be used for electricity generation.

As U.S. states and countries across the world work to reduce fossil fuels and boost renewables, hydropower is poised to play an even bigger role.

There’s just one problem: A growing body of research published over the past two decades has found that most reservoirs, including those used for hydropower, aren’t emissions-free.

“Hydroelectric reservoirs are a source of biogenic greenhouse gases and in individual cases can reach the same emission rates as thermal power plants,” Swiss researchers found in a 2016 study published in the journal PLoS ONE.

Despite the green reputation of hydropower among policy-makers, some reservoirs emit significant amounts of methane, along with much smaller amounts of nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide.

That’s bad news because we already have a methane problem. This short-lived but potent gas packs 85 times the global warming punch of carbon dioxide over 20 years. If we hope to stave off catastrophic warming, scientists say we need to quickly cut methane. But new data show that despite this warning it’s still increasing at record levels — even with a global pledge signed by 100 countries to slash methane emissions 30% by 2030.

Methane can rise from wetlands and other natural sources, but most emissions come from human-caused sources like oil and gas, landfills, and livestock. We’ve known about the threat from those sources for years, but emissions from reservoirs have largely been either uncounted or undercounted.

In part that’s because tracking emissions from reservoirs is complicated and highly variable. Emissions can change at different times of the year or even day. They’re influenced by how the dam is managed, including fluctuations in the water level, as well as a host of environmental factors like water quality, depth, sediment, surface wind speed, and temperature.

But recent scientific research provides a better framework to undertake this critical accounting. And environmental groups say it’s time for regulators to get busy putting it to work.
» Read article   
» Read the 2016 study

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

snow cap
Heat pumps do work in the cold — Americans just don’t know it yet

These heating/cooling systems have been called the “most overlooked climate solution.” Now they can work in temperatures far below freezing.
By Shannon Osaka, Grist
May 9, 2022

Heat pumps – heating and cooling systems that run entirely on electricity – have been getting a lot of attention recently. They’ve been called the “most overlooked climate solution” and “an answer to heat waves.” And the technology is finally experiencing a global boom in popularity. Last year, 117 million units were installed worldwide, up from 90 million in 2010. As temperatures and greenhouse gas emissions rise, heat pumps, which can be easily powered by renewable energy, promise to provide a pathway to carbon-free home heating. Environmental activist Bill McKibben even suggested sending heat pumps to Europe to help wean the continent off Russian natural gas.

But despite this global surge in popularity, heat pumps in the U.S. are laboring under a misconception that has plagued them for decades: That if the temperature falls to below 30 or even 40 degrees Fahrenheit, their technology simply doesn’t work. “Do heat pumps work in cold weather” is even a trending question on Google.

It’s a narrative that Andy Meyer, a senior program manager for the independent state agency Efficiency Maine, has spent the past decade debunking for residents in one of the U.S.’s coldest states.

“There were two types of people in Maine in 2012,” he said. “Those who didn’t know what heat pumps were — and those who knew they didn’t work in the cold.” But while that concern may have been true years ago, he said, today “it’s not at all true for high-performance heat pumps.”

[…] One of the benefits of installing heat pumps is cost-savings. In Maine, many homes are heated with fuel oil or propane. At current prices, Meyer says, running a heat pump costs half as much as oil and one-third as much as propane. According to Efficiency Maine’s analysis, that can save homeowners up to thousands of dollars in annual energy costs. A 2017 study by CEE similarly found that installing heat pumps in Minnesota could save residents between $349 and $764 per year, compared to heating with a standard electric or propane furnace.

There are some caveats. Lacey Tan, a manager for the carbon-free buildings program at the energy think tank RMI, says there is still a price premium for heat pumps: Some installers aren’t yet comfortable with how they work and try to reduce their risk by increasing up-front costs. In cold climates, some homes may want to have a back-up heating system for extremely frigid days or in the event of a power outage. (In Maine, Meyer says many homeowners use wood stoves as back-up for their heat pumps.)

But many experts believe more and more cold-weather heat pumps will be sold as homeowners learn about the new advances in the technology. Meyer says that Mainers who install heat pumps naturally begin to share their experience with friends and family. “We have over 100,000 salespeople who have already gotten heat pumps,” he said jokingly. “Not bad for a state where they ‘don’t work in the cold.’”
» Read article   

non-condensing
DOE updates water heater rule for first time in two decades
By Miranda Willson, E&E News
May 6, 2022

The Biden administration has unveiled the first new energy efficiency standards in over 20 years for water heaters in commercial buildings, a move it says could slash greenhouse gas emissions and reduce energy costs.

Proposed yesterday by the Department of Energy, the updated standards would save businesses $140 million per year in operating costs and eliminate certain inefficient natural gas-consuming water heaters from the market, according to DOE.

The new standards would reduce carbon emissions by 38 million metric tons between 2026 and 2055, DOE said — an amount equivalent to the annual emissions of about 37 coal-fired power plants, according to an EPA calculator. Natural gas-powered water heaters typically use about 18 percent of the gas consumed in commercial buildings, the department said, citing data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

“Water heating accounts for a considerable share of energy costs and domestic carbon emissions,” Kelly Speakes-Backman, principal deputy assistant secretary for energy efficiency and renewable energy at DOE, said in a press release. “Modernizing commercial water heater technology will slash energy costs for schools, hospitals, and small businesses while removing carbon and methane from our atmosphere.”

If finalized, the proposed rule would go into effect in 2026, resulting in less-efficient water heaters known as “non-condensing” models being effectively eliminated from the market.
» Blog editor’s note: this weak ruling (which still allows businesses to install new, “efficient” natural gas water heaters that will lock in emissions for decades) is opposed by groups representing natural gas utilities. It’s progress, but we need a bigger, faster shift.
» Read article   

» More about energy efficiency

ENERGY STORAGE

nano magnet
In a World Starved for Lithium, Researchers Develop a Method to Get It from Water
National lab uses magnets to extract lithium, potentially helping with shortage of key battery material.
By Dan Gearino, Inside Climate News
May 12, 2022

The world needs vast quantities of lithium to meet demand for lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles and energy storage. And the United States is way behind China in securing a supply of this rare metal.

Catching up in this global race may take some magic, or at least a process that looks like magic.

Researchers at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Washington have produced magnets that can separate lithium and other metals from water. This approach has the potential to allow companies to affordably gather lithium from sources like the brine used in geothermal power systems and the waste water left over from use by industry.

“We believe that this thing can be big,” said Jian Liu, a senior research engineer at the lab.

The lab has developed a magnetic “nanoparticle” that binds to the materials the user is trying to extract from a liquid. Then, as the liquid passes over a magnetic field, the nanoparticle, which is now latched onto the desired material—usually lithium—gets pulled out.

Liu and his team have been developing this system for eight years. The version in the lab looks like a collection of water containers connected by clear plastic tubes and electronic pumps.

[…] The main caveat is that the process has a cost that means it only makes economic sense for use in liquids with higher concentrations of lithium. The lab’s research is working to reduce the costs.
» Read article   

» More about energy storage

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

POTUS at Zero
Biden Announces $3 Billion in Grants for Domestic Electric Vehicle Battery Production
By Cristen Hemingway Jaynes, EcoWatch
May 3, 2022

The Biden administration has announced a $3.16 billion plan to stimulate the production of batteries for electric vehicles (EVs) in the U.S., an essential step in reducing the carbon emissions that are causing global warming.

The money will be made available in the form of grants to encourage the manufacturing of more high-capacity batteries and the sourcing of the raw materials needed to make them. Funded by last year’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the grants will help U.S. companies build new factories and modify old ones so that they can manufacture EV batteries and parts, CNBC reported. There will be an additional $60 million for a battery reuse and recycling program, the Department of Energy said.

“With the demand for electric vehicles (EVs) and stationary storage alone projected to increase the size of the lithium battery market five- to ten-fold by the end of the decade, it is essential that the United States invests in the capacity to accelerate the development of a resilient supply chain for high capacity batteries,” said a grant availability announcement from the U.S. Department of Energy, as the Detroit Free Press reported.

President Joe Biden wants half of all new vehicle sales in the country to be electric by the end of the decade, and has also issued guidelines for all new cars and trucks bought by the federal government to be emissions-free by 2035, reported The New York Times.
» Read article   

» More about clean transportation

GAS UTILITIES

start over
Two years after asking for future of gas investigation, Healey asks state to reject results
By Sabrina Shankman, Boston Globe
May 12, 2022

Attorney General Maura Healey, who two years ago prompted the state to begin mapping the phaseout of natural gas in Massachusetts, is now asking it to scrap the blueprint emerging from the process, saying it favors gas company profits over a healthy climate.

”We should be setting the path for an energy system that is equitable, reliable, and affordable — not one that pumps more money into gas pipelines and props up utility shareholders,” said Healey, who is running for governor.

In a 106-page document filed with the state Department of Public Utilities late last week, Healey also said the agency’s decision-making process should be overhauled to prioritize climate goals over the health of utilities, currently one of its functions.

The filing is the latest salvo in a battle that has raged largely out of sight over the future of the gas industry in Massachusetts. Many climate advocates and the state’s own roadmap to net-zero greenhouse emissions call for radically reducing fossil fuels such as natural gas in favor of electricity supplied by a clean power grid. But when the public utilities department launched what it called an investigation into the future of natural gas in 2020, it gave responsibility for developing the blueprint to the gas utilities themselves.

The proposals now emerging from that process, while they would allow for ramping up electrification, lean heavily on large-scale use of so-called decarbonized gas or renewable natural gas. These include tapping the gas generated by landfills or wastewater treatment plants, for example, or using renewable electricity sources to process hydrogen as a fuel. Utilities have also argued for a “hybrid electrification” system, where homes would have electric heat pumps, but also keep gas as a backup.

But advocates say the industry’s suggestions are problematic since they would allow gas companies to continue using fuels that contribute to global warming simply by replacing what flows through their pipes.

In eight hours of public testimony last week and hundreds of pages of comments submitted in the public utilities department proceeding, advocates, activists, and public officials raised concerns that the gas companies’ proposals overlook certain realities about decarbonized fuels — including high cost, limited supply, and that they may not be as climate-friendly as the utilities are claiming.

”Gas utilities have asked the DPU to approve the spending of ratepayer money on untested and costly technologies to maintain their century-old business plan,” Healey said in response to questions from the Globe.
» Read article  
» For the back story on why the utility-produced plan is so bad, MA Senator Cynthia Creem’s April 4, 2022
“Future of Gas” hearing is a must-watch!

» More about gas utilities

CARBON CAPTURE AND STORAGE

CO2 pipeline regs
Safety advocate warns of a lack of oversight for new CO2 pipelines needed for carbon capture
By Kara Holsopple, The Allegheny Front
April 29, 2022

The federal infrastructure bill has spurred new interest in carbon capture and storage as a way to reduce climate polluting emissions from the air and send them underground.

Bill Caram, the executive director of Pipeline Safety Trust, says there was also an expansion of existing tax credits for carbon capture to decarbonize parts of the economy. But his group has concerns about the current regulation of pipelines that carry carbon dioxide, and the many more CO2 pipelines that would be needed to fulfill some of these visions of the future.

Pipeline Safety Trust recently commissioned a report to assess the state of CO2 pipeline safety regulation, and The Allegheny Front’s Kara Holsopple recently spoke with Caram about it.
» Listen to the conversation, or read the transcript        
» Read the report on CO2 pipeline safety regulations

» More about CCS

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Dacono
US fracking boom could tip world to edge of climate disaster
140bn metric tons of planet-heating gases could be unleashed if fossil fuel extraction plans get green light, analysis shows
By Nina Lakhani and Oliver Milman, The Guardian
May 11, 2022

The fate of the vast quantities of oil and gas lodged under the shale, mud and sandstone of American drilling fields will in large part determine whether the world retains a liveable climate. And the US, the world’s largest extractor of oil, is poised to unleash these fossil fuels in spectacular volumes.

Planned drilling projects across US land and waters will release 140bn metric tons of planet-heating gases if fully realised, an analysis shared with the Guardian has found.

The study, to be published in the Energy Policy journal this month, found emissions from these oil and gas “carbon bomb” projects were four times larger than all of the planet-heating gases expelled globally each year, placing the world on track for disastrous climate change.

The plans include conventional drilling and fracking spanning the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico to the foothills of the Front Range in Colorado and the mountainous Appalachian region. But the heart is the Permian basin, a geological formation 250 miles wide that sits under the mostly flat terrain of west Texas and New Mexico.

One lobe of this formation, known as the Delaware basin, is predicted to emit 27.8bn metric tons of carbon during the lifetime of planned drilling, while another, known as the Midland basin, will potentially unleash 16.6bn tons of emissions.

It means the US, the centre of the world’s addiction to oil and gas, will play an outsized role in the heatwaves, droughts and floods that will impact people around the planet.

Compared with traditional drilling, fracking is linked to higher levels of exposure to toxic air pollutants and poor water quality, as well as unhealthy noise and light pollution. Numerous studies have suggested elevated rates of congenital heart defects, childhood leukaemia, asthma, and premature births in neigbourhoods close to fracking sites, while elderly people living near or downwind are more likely to die prematurely.
» Read article   

Niger Delta flares
Oil Giants Sell Dirty Wells to Buyers With Looser Climate Goals, Study Finds
The transactions can help major oil and gas companies clean up their own production by transferring polluting assets to a different firm, the analysis said.
By Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times
May 10, 2022

When Royal Dutch Shell sold off its stake in the Umuechem oil field in Nigeria last year, it was, on paper, a step forward for the company’s climate ambitions: Shell could clean up its holdings, raise money to invest in cleaner technologies, and move toward its goal of net zero emissions by 2050.

As soon as Shell left, however, the oil field underwent a change so significant it was detected from space: a surge in flaring, or the wasteful burning of excess gas in towering columns of smoke and fire. Flaring emits planet-warming greenhouse gases, as well as soot, into the atmosphere.

Around the world, many of the largest energy companies are expected to sell off more than $100 billion of oil fields and other polluting assets in an effort to cut their emissions and make progress toward their corporate climate goals. However, they frequently sell to buyers that disclose little about their operations, have made few or no pledges to combat climate change, and are committed to ramping up fossil fuel production.

New research to be released Tuesday showed that, of 3,000 oil and gas deals made between 2017 and 2021, more than twice as many involved assets moving from operators with net-zero commitments to those that didn’t, than the reverse. That is raising concerns that the assets will continue to pollute, perhaps even at a greater rate, but away from the public eye.

“You can move your assets to another company, and move the emissions off your own books, but that doesn’t equal any positive impact on the planet if it’s done without any safeguards in place,” said Andrew Baxter, who heads the energy transition team at the Environmental Defense Fund, which performed the analysis.

Transactions like these expose the messy underside of the global energy transition away from fossil fuels, a shift that is imperative to avoid the most catastrophic effects of climate change.
» Read article   
» Read the EDF report on transferred emissions

» More about fossil fuel

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

Goldboro undead
2 stalled LNG projects in Nova Scotia may be on the brink of revival
Renewed signs of interest in Goldboro and Bear Head projects
Frances Willick, CBC News
May 11, 2022

Two proposed liquefied natural gas projects in Nova Scotia that previously stalled are now showing signs of advancing.

Pieridae Energy, the company behind the Goldboro LNG project, is in discussions with the federal government about how to move the project forward.

The proposed LNG terminal in Goldboro, N.S., was previously pitched as a $13-billion land-based facility that would bring in gas from Western Canada and then ship it to Europe. Pieridae shelved the project last summer due to cost pressures and time constraints.

But after Russia — a key supplier of oil and gas to Europe — invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, the federal government approached Pieridae to see if the company could assist with efforts to ramp up energy exports to help wean Europe off Russian resources.

It’s a far cry from the situation a year ago, when Pieridae requested $1 billion from Ottawa to help make the project a reality — funding that did not materialize.

“The world has changed a lot since then,” Pieridae CEO Alfred Sorensen told CBC News Tuesday. “We have to take advantage of all the work we’ve done already and try and see if we can move the project forward very quickly.”

Earlier this year, Pieridae Energy was considering a smaller project with a floating LNG barge where gas would be super-chilled and then transferred onto tankers.

The company is now shifting its attention back to a land-based project because it would be able to produce more gas than a barge-based facility, and the federal government is interested in maximizing output, Sorensen said.

[…] Even with many approvals and permits already in place, Sorensen said gas would not likely flow from a Goldboro facility until January 2027.

[…] Any oil and gas project in Nova Scotia will face opposition from people concerned about its impact on climate change and greenhouse gas reduction targets.
» Read article   

» More about LNG

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Weekly News Check-In 3/4/22

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Welcome back.

The courts have become ground zero for actions that either attack or defend the fossil fuel industry and the polluting economy it supports. We found important stories describing skirmishes from both sides of the fight. On one hand, Honolulu can proceed with a lawsuit that seeks compensation for climate-related damage from the oil majors who lied and concealed the dangers for decades. Sadly, a case before the strongly conservative US Supreme Court could shield the fossil and utility industries from regulation and stymie government efforts to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

Cities and towns fighting hard to implement gas hookup bans are meeting stiff resistance from entrenched utilities and a sluggish regulatory apparatus. In Massachusetts, the green economic boost promised by offshore wind development can’t be taken for granted – and the state is looking at adjusting some incentives.

This week, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) dropped a devastating climate assessment, stating clearly that humanity has already crossed into unsafe territory, and laying out the scale of suffering we’re sleepwalking into through lack of effective action. Our second article in this section is a case in point. According to a study by Johns Hopkins University, only 6% of pandemic recovery funds have been spent on “green” projects. At the same time, half that amount went to propping up fossil fuels. In light of the IPCC report, that represents a colossal failure of leadership and political will during a time when “build back better” became a ubiquitous slogan. Looking at you, G20 nations, and cutting you no slack here.

As horrible as it is, Russia’s unprovoked assault on Ukraine and its attempt to use oil and gas to dampen European resistance, seems to have finally afforded some of those leaders a near-term threat that could result in a real, concerted move toward clean energy. Closer to home, we’re waiting to see if this urgency starts affecting decisions and policies that were already underway as the invasion unfolded. That includes a lackluster attempt by Massachusetts’ Baker administration to improve its “stretch” building energy code even as new affordable housing units are showing the way with Passive House performance. And witness the US Post Office’s clueless insistence on committing much of its huge fleet of new delivery vehicles to burning gasoline for decades to come.

Checking in on the power sector, we have a report showing that electric utilities are underestimating the cost of carbon and climate change, which makes renewables and batteries less attractive investments. Similarly, gas utilities are using pretzel logic to rationalize any moves that disrupt their traditional model of pushing fuel through pipelines to flames. It’s no secret that utilities spend lots of money on lobbying efforts to protect their perceived interests. Now fourteen states are asking the Federal Energy Regulatory Agency to prevent them recouping those costs from ratepayers.

We’ve been watching developments in cryptocurrency because of the astonishing amount of energy “mining” it consumes. While some miners use surplus, or “stranded” renewable energy whenever possible, a new study examining the effect of China’s recent action to expel bitcoin mining concludes the net result is a heavier dependence on fossil-generated power.

We’ll wrap up with the very positive news that delegates to the United Nations Environmental Assembly (UNEA) drafted an international agreement on plastics that includes a broad definition of the problem. It would control pollution across the plastics life-cycle, from production to design to disposal. There’s much to be done before this agreement is enforceable, but it’s a big step in the right direction. Underscoring the urgency to reduce plastics usage and waste is a warning that burning plastics in waste-to-energy facilities could be creating new and powerful greenhouse gases.

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

— The NFGiM Team

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

Honolulu flooded street
‘Historic First’ as Hawaii Court OKs Lawsuit Against Big Oil
“This development should send a message to communities across the country that the legal case for making polluters pay for lying about fossil-fueled damages is strong and defensible.”
By Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams
March 3, 2022

Climate campaigners and local officials this week are celebrating a major series of victories in Hawaii state court rejecting Big Oil’s attempts to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the the City and County of Honolulu.

“This is a big and important win,” said Honolulu City Council Chair Tommy Waters in a statement. “Not only in the sense of legal justice, but also for our local residents.”

“We are facing incredible costs to move critical infrastructure away from our coasts and out of flood zones,” he continued, “and the oil companies that deceived the public for decades should be the ones helping pick up the tab for those costs—not our taxpayers.”

Waters declared that “the reason these companies are fighting so hard to block this case is they don’t want even more evidence to come out. This is just like Big Tobacco, when they tried to take advantage of the public.”

Honolulu’s lawsuit—filed in 2020 against oil giants including BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil, and Shell—claims that despite knowing for decades that their products heat the planet, which “could be catastrophic,” and there was limited time to act, the companies “engaged in a coordinated, multi-front effort” to deny the threats, discredit the science, and deceive the public “about the reality and consequences of the impacts of their fossil fuel pollution.”
» Read article          

Harrison power station
US supreme court signals it may restrict EPA’s ability to fight climate crisis
Roberts suggests states could claim harm from laws not yet enacted
By Oliver Milman, The Guardian
February 28, 2022

Several conservative justices on the US supreme court signaled on Monday that they may be willing to restrict the federal government’s ability to address the climate crisis.

In a case that could have profound implications for those affected by the crisis, the supreme court considered an argument brought by West Virginia, a major coal mining state, that the US Environmental Protection Agency be limited in how it regulates planet-heating gases from the energy sector.

The Biden administration wants the court to throw out the case as baseless because it doesn’t relate to any existing regulation.

But John Roberts, the chief justice, said West Virginia and other states could still claim some “harm” from rules not yet enacted.

[…]The case has deeply worried environmental groups, stoking fear it could hobble any effort to set strict limits on carbon pollution from coal-fired plants.

“It was grotesque to hear big coal’s lawyers argue for tying EPA’s hands on cutting climate-heating pollution, even as the world’s scientists warn of a bigger, worsening swath of human suffering,” said Jason Rylander, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, referring to a report released on Monday by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

“We’re out of time and the president must act boldly now,” Rylander said.

The Biden administration is already dealing with congressional refusal to enact the climate change proposals in its Build Better Back domestic spending plan. Now the justices are taking up an appeal from 19 mostly Republican-led states and coal companies over whether the EPA has the authority to limit carbon dioxide emissions.
» Read article         

» More about protests and actions

GAS BANS

not yet Brookline
Brookline wants a fossil fuel-free future. With latest ruling, the AG says: Not yet (again).
By Sabrina Shankman, Boston Globe
February 25, 2022

In a move widely seen as a setback for cities and towns hoping to accelerate their climate efforts, Attorney General Maura Healey on Friday ruled that the Town of Brookline’s efforts to use zoning bylaws to stop fossil fuels in new buildings violated state law.

This is the second time that Healey’s office has ruled against Brookline’s attempts to stop fossil fuels, and the latest stumbling block has climate advocates wondering: If this can’t happen here, in progressive Massachusetts, where a strong climate law is on the books, will it be able to happen at a fast enough pace anywhere to stave off the worst of climate change?

“When you say that local governments aren’t allowed to try these novel but fully lawful approaches to reducing greenhouse gases, you’re not only preventing the local government from responding to the direct needs of their residents but also from perhaps developing a new model for their neighbors to start adopting as well,” said Amy Turner, a senior fellow for the Cities Climate Law Initiative at Columbia University’s Sabin Center.

This years-long effort by Brookline has been watched all over the country, and particularly in Massachusetts, as cities and towns try to step up the pace of climate action on a local level, even as states lag behind.

In Brookline, the decision felt devastating to the town meeting members behind the effort, which had been approved at a Town Meeting in July by a margin of 206 to 6.

“It feels like I’m a child whose parents have gone out of their way not to give me permission to clean my own room,” said Jesse Gray, one of the petitioners behind Brookline’s efforts. “We need to do this to meet the state’s own climate goals, but what they have made abundantly clear is that they are not going to allow any municipality to do this, even though it’s a basic and necessary and urgent climate step.”

The decision from Healey’s office in many ways echoed what the residents of Brookline — and the many other cities and towns hoping to follow in its footsteps — have heard before: that while the office agrees with the principal of what Brookline wants to do, state law won’t allow it.

Noting that her office has “prioritized the state’s transition away from polluting fossil fuels and towards a clean energy future,” Healey said in a statement her hands were tied by state law.

[…]There are now 30 Massachusetts towns that—like Brookline—have said they want to ban fossil fuels. While Friday’s decision represents a setback for them, a few other avenues remain. Currently, Brookline and four other communities (Acton, Arlington, Concord, and Lexington) have home rule petitions being considered by the legislature, which—if passed—would allow the towns to pass fossil fuel bans for new construction.

“When you’re in a hole, the first thing to do is stop digging,” said state Representative Tommy Vitolo of Brookline. “We must find other policy mechanisms to prevent us from digging ourselves a climate change hole from which we can’t escape.”
» Read article          

» More about gas bans

GREENING THE ECONOMY

gravity shift
In race for offshore wind jobs, Mass. is falling behind. So now what?
Lawmakers pitch changes to how the state awards wind farm leases in bid to compete with neighbors to the south.
By Jon Chesto, Boston Globe
March 2, 2022

If anyone should be trying to build wind farms off the coast of Massachusetts, it’s Ørsted.

The Danish energy company happens to be the world’s biggest developer of offshore wind farms. Its largest US office is here in Boston. And it controls a big stretch of the sea near Martha’s Vineyard, with high winds and relatively shallow waters that make it an ideal place to put up turbine towers.

But Ørsted and its local development partner Eversource steered clear of competing in the state’s third round of bidding for wind energy contracts last year. So did Equinor, another European energy company with a big lease area south of the Vineyard. Their big reason? A price cap baked into state law that requires each bid to be lower than the winning bids in the previous rounds. It’s a rule designed to keep prices under control for consumers. But it threatens Massachusetts’ early lead in a nascent but quickly growing sector, and the on-shore jobs and factories it could bring.

The stakes seem to get higher almost by the month. The race is on for the wind industry thanks to generous federal tax credits, a pro-wind president in the White House, and states along the East Coast putting contracts out to bid to finance these multibillion-dollar projects. Just last week, wind-farm development teams ponied up more than $4 billion, just for the rights to build in federal waters southeast of New York City. The industry’s center of gravity sure seems to be shifting — away from us.

Many lawmakers on Beacon Hill want to make sure Massachusetts doesn’t fall any further behind.

Toward that end, House Speaker Ron Mariano and Representative Jeff Roy, co-chairman of the Legislature’s energy committee, teed up a pro-wind bill for a floor debate on Thursday. The bill would establish new offshore-wind tax incentives, and rework who gets to pick the winners in these contract competitions. It gives economic development such as factories that create long-term jobs a greater weight in future bids, and allows more input from commercial fishermen concerned about the potential navigation hazards posed by these giant towers.

And, perhaps most notably, the bill would remove that controversial price cap.
» Read article           

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

hot already
IPCC Risk Analysis Shows Safe Limits Have Already Been Passed
By Tim Radford, The Energy Mix
March 2, 2022

Humankind is not just heading for a more dangerous future: for some people, the safe limits have already been passed, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change shows in its climate impacts, adaptation, and vulnerability report this week.

Global supplies of food became more precarious a few years ago when the planet’s average temperature increased by 1°C: the risk of possible famine however is classed as moderate, the report states. But if the thermometer rises by 2.5°C, the risk to communities, regions, and whole nations becomes high, as harvests fail and flocks perish.

Food is inseparable from water supply. Right now, 800 million people experience chronic water scarcity. But if the temperature notches up to 2°C this figure reaches three billion, at 4°C, around four billion people will be in trouble. And that’s a calculation that factors in only the present population of the globe, and only the effects of climate change.

But of course that calculation does not and cannot incorporate the other hazards that come with a soaring mercury: the advance of tropical diseases; the chance of displaced, impoverished and malnourished people on the move; the arrival of new crop pests; and the risk of conflict fuelled by drought or heat. Not to mention the damage to natural ecosystems on which all human health and wealth ultimately depend as the insects that pollinate human crops, or dispose of waste, are winnowed at ever-higher temperatures.
» Read article         
» Read the IPCC report

SA coal power station
Only 6% of G20 pandemic recovery spending ‘green’, analysis finds
Review of G20 fiscal stimulus spending counters many countries’ pledges to ‘build back better’
By Fiona Harvey, The Guardian
March 2, 2022

Only about 6% of pandemic recovery spending has been “green”, an analysis of the $14tn that G20 countries have poured into economic stimulus.

Additionally, about 3% of the record amounts governments around the world have spent to rescue the global economy from the Covid-19 pandemic has been spent on activities that will increase carbon emissions, such as subsidies to coal, and will do little to reduce greenhouse gases or shift the world to a low-carbon footing.

The analysis of the G20 fiscal stimulus spending, published on Wednesday in the journal Nature, belies claims many governments made of a “green recovery” that would “build back better” from upheavals caused by the pandemic and lockdowns.

It comes just after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued “the bleakest warning yet” of the ravages of climate breakdown already under way, warning only urgent action to cut emissions could stave off the worst outcomes.

Jonas Nahm, assistant professor in the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University in the US and lead author of the study, said governments had missed a vital opportunity, but there were still ways to improve the situation.

“The spending directed towards economic recovery could have significantly improved our chances of staying within 1.5C [of global heating] and we’ve collectively missed that opportunity,” he told the Guardian. “It’s disappointing that governments have yet to fully grasp that economic growth, prosperity and emissions reductions are actually complementary.”
» Read article          

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

coal complication
Ukraine war prompts European reappraisal of its energy supplies
Analysis: Russian invasion could speed up renewables transition – or lead to disastrous return to coal
By Fiona Harvey, The Guardian
March 4, 2022

Vladimir Putin is using Russia’s hold over fossil fuel supplies to Europe as “a political and economic weapon” in the war in Ukraine, the world’s foremost energy adviser has said, presenting western governments with crucial questions over how they face down the threat to democracy while also heading off climate disaster.

Fatih Birol, the executive director of the International Energy Agency, said: “Nobody is under any illusions any more. Russia’s use of its natural gas resources as an economic and political weapon shows Europe needs to act quickly to be ready to face considerable uncertainty over Russian gas supplies next winter.”

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has prompted European governments, including the UK’s, to make a frantic reappraisal of their energy supplies – one that arguably should have come much sooner. The first outcome has been a fresh resolve in some countries – including from the UK business secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng – to push for more renewable energy generation and energy efficiency to cut dependence on fossil fuels.

Kwarteng’s intervention – “The long-term solution is obvious: gas is more expensive than renewable energy, so we need to move away from gas,” he tweeted – was unexpectedly firm, cheering green campaigners who had feared that rightwing voices in the Tory party who have sought to make scrapping the net zero target a “culture war” issue were in the ascendant.

Doug Parr, the chief scientist for Greenpeace UK, said: “Kwasi Kwarteng has clocked it. Our dependence on gas is a problem, and warmer homes powered by renewables are the cheapest and quickest solution. Kwarteng must convince chancellor Rishi Sunak that we need a masterplan, and the money to get the UK off gas. We need to insulate our homes, roll out heat pumps and renewable power to rapidly address Putin’s grip on European gas markets, our sky-high energy bills, and the climate crisis unfolding before our eyes.”
» Read article          

renewable Europe
This is how we defeat Putin and other petrostate autocrats
After Hitler invaded the Sudetenland, America turned its industrial prowess to building tanks, bombers and destroyers. Now, we must respond with renewables
By Bill McKibben, The Guardian | Opinion
February 25, 2022

The pictures this morning of Russian tanks rolling across the Ukrainian countryside seemed both surreal – a flashback to a Europe that we’ve seen only in newsreels – and inevitable. It’s been clear for years that Vladimir Putin was both evil and driven and that eventually we might come to a moment like this.

One of the worst parts of facing today’s reality is our impotence in its face. Yes, America is imposing sanctions, and yes, that may eventually hamper Putin. But the Russian leader made his move knowing we could not actually fight him in Ukraine – and indeed knowing that his hinted willingness to use nuclear weapons will make it hard to fight him anywhere, though one supposes we will have no choice if he attacks a Nato member.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to dramatically reduce Putin’s power. One way, in particular: to get off oil and gas.

This is not a “war for oil and gas” in the sense that too many of America’s Middle East misadventures might plausibly be described. But it is a war underwritten by oil and gas, a war whose most crucial weapon may be oil and gas, a war we can’t fully engage because we remain dependent on oil and gas. If you want to stand with the brave people of Ukraine, you need to find a way to stand against oil and gas.

Russia has a pathetic economy – you can verify that for yourself by looking around your house and seeing how many of the things you use were made within its borders. Today, 60% of its exports are oil and gas; they supply the money that powers the country’s military machine.

And, alongside that military machine, control of oil and gas supplies is Russia’s main weapon. They have, time and again, threatened to turn off the flow of hydrocarbons to western Europe.
» Read article          

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

State House dome
2 senators say proposed building code comes up short
Urge Baker to allow communities to ban new fossil-fuel infrastructure
By Colin A. Young, CommonWealth Magazine
March 2, 2022

AS THE DEPARTMENT of Energy Resources launches hearings on its straw proposal for a stretch code update and a new municipal opt-in specialized stretch code, two key senators made clear to Commissioner Patrick Woodcock that they expect “substantial revisions” to the proposals before they take effect later this year.

Sens. Michael Barrett and Cynthia Creem, the chairs of the Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy Committee and Senate Committee on Global Warming, told Woodcock in a letter released Tuesday that the suite of state code changes the administration hopes will encourage builders to shift from fossil fuel heating in favor of electrification “comes up short” and took issue with the way DOER scheduled the five statutorily required public hearings.

“The straw proposal bars a city or town from mandating all-electric new construction, even after local officials allow for vigorous analysis and debate. For municipalities in Massachusetts and other progressive states, all-electric construction is the favored strategy for decarbonizing new buildings. Barring communities from employing it would be a significant setback,” the senators said. They added, “Bottom line: Despite its unequivocal support of ‘net zero emissions’ by 2050, despite the special challenges of reducing emissions in buildings, and despite having been given a full 18 months by the Legislature to do its work, the Baker administration has proposed a municipal opt-in specialized stretch energy code that comes up short.”

Updating the existing stretch code and creating a new net-zero specialized stretch code for cities and towns to adopt is one step lawmakers required in last year’s climate roadmap law to move Massachusetts towards net-zero emissions by the middle of the century. The law requires the new net-zero code be in place by the end of 2022.
» Read article          

Harbor Village
Incentives inform and inspire highly efficient affordable housing in Massachusetts
Passive house incentive programs from the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center and Mass Save have sparked the growth of high-performance multifamily buildings, with thousands more units in development.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
March 2, 2022

A pair of statewide incentive programs in Massachusetts is driving a surge of apartment buildings designed to the highly energy-efficient passive house standard.

In the past year, families have moved into 257 affordable housing units in complexes built to the standard, and about 6,000 additional units are now in various stages of development.

Early numbers indicate that this building approach costs, on average, less than 3% more than conventional construction and can slash energy use roughly in half. Air quality is higher in these buildings and residents report the units being more comfortable to live in. Many developers who have tried passive house building have been so pleased with the benefits for residents that they are eager to pursue more projects built to the standard.

“We’re getting closer and closer to the mainstream,” said Aaron Gunderson, executive director of Passive House Massachusetts. “The incentives help people get over that initial hesitancy to change and, once they discover what passive house is, there’s no looking back.”

Passive house is a performance standard that calls for a drastic reduction of energy consumption as compared to a similar, conventionally designed structure. Buildings that meet the standard have airtight envelopes, insulating windows, and continually insulated exterior walls.
» Blog editor’s note: an airtight building envelope sounds suffocating, but these buildings are very well ventilated with fresh air, using efficient energy recovery ventilator (ERV) systems that filter, reduce heat loss, and control humidity.
» Read article          

» More about energy efficiency

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

USPS inertia
The Challenges of an Electric-Vehicle Revolution
The United States Postal Service could lead by example with its new fleet of delivery trucks. What’s standing in the way?
By Ronald Brownstein, The Atlantic
February 18, 2022

Judging by the ads during last weekend’s Super Bowl, electric vehicles are poised to imminently dislodge gasoline-powered cars and trucks from their privileged place on America’s roadways.

An escalating dispute among President Joe Biden’s administration, congressional Democrats, and Postmaster General Louis DeJoy over modernizing the Postal Service’s vehicle fleet shows why the transition may not come quite that quickly. As soon as next week, the Postal Service may place the first order in a multibillion-dollar contract meant to ensure that it relies mostly on gas-powered vehicles until the middle of this century.

The Postal Service’s decision underscores how the transition to an electric-vehicle, or EV, future still faces powerful headwinds from inertia, the lure of the familiar, technological questions about the electric alternatives, and ideological resistance to disconnecting from fossil fuels. Though Democrats still hope to reverse the decision, the struggle with the Postal Service suggests that there are still many bumps ahead on the road to an electrified future for the nation’s cars and trucks.

[…]“All of the companies are struggling with their desire to continue making the gas-guzzling behemoths on which they know how to make money and to avoid having to make the electric vehicles, which they know are the future,” [Dan Becker, the director of the Safe Climate Transport Campaign at the Center for Biological Diversity] said.

The battle over modernizing the Postal Service fleet encapsulates many of these tensions between holding on to the familiar and leaping into the new.
» Read article           

» More about clean transportation        

FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION

dome
14 states urge FERC to tighten accounting rules to prevent utilities from recouping lobbying expenses
By Ethan Howland, Utility Dive
February 23, 2022

In response to a petition from the Center for Biological Diversity, FERC in December issued a “notice of inquiry” (NOI) to see if it should revise its accounting rules related to utility payments of trade association dues.

Under FERC’s accounting rules, association dues are considered “presumptively” recoverable, but the commission doesn’t allow expenses related to lobbying, influencing the public, or political activity to be recovered in rates.

In a first-ever lobbying disclosure report, EEI on Tuesday said its “core” budget for this year is $58.9 million. E9 Insight, a Boulder, Colorado-based consulting firm, estimated utility holding companies spent at least $91.6 million on trade association dues last year.

At a minimum, FERC should require utilities to substantiate their requests for recovery of industry association dues with breakdowns of the trade groups’ activities and clear connections showing how they benefit ratepayers, agencies from nine states said in joint comments.

“Showing that an industry association provides some services that benefit ratepayers should not create a presumption that all dues paid to the industry association are paid for ratepayers’ benefit,” the agencies said. They included the California Public Utilities Commission, the Connecticut attorney general and the Oregon attorney general, among others.

In their comments, the state agencies pointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit decision in December to overturn FERC’s finding that Potomac-Appalachian Transmission Highline (PATH) could recover about $6 million in expenses related to public relations.

“The disputed funds were paid to public relations contractors who hired ‘reliable power coalitions’ that would recruit individuals to testify before the state PUCs in support of PATH’s applications for necessary certificates; polled public opinion of the project; ran promotional advertisements; and sent lobbyists to persuade state officials that the certificates should be granted,” the state agencies said.
» Read article          

» More about FERC

ELECTRIC UTILITIES

IOUs too slow
Investor-owned utilities underestimate potential costs of carbon, climate change, Deloitte finds
By Emma Penrod, Utility Dive
February 24, 2022

Although most investor-owned utilities have set targets for decarbonization, many have also under-estimated the cost of failing to accelerate their decarbonization efforts, according to a new report from Deloitte.

Based on public filings, utilities anticipate a price of carbon in the range of $3-55 per metric ton by 2030, and $60-120 per metric ton by 2050. However, last March, Wood Mackenzie estimated that the price of carbon could run as high as $160 per metric ton by 2030 if the world is to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees.

The potential costs to utilities will likely escalate if action is delayed, according to Jim Thomson, vice chair, U.S. power, utilities and renewables leader for Deloitte. Utilities will need to work with regulators to deploy needed adaptations in time, he said.

Utilities in the northeastern U.S. have made the most progress toward decarbonization, while the Midwest and the South currently face the largest gap between current plans and global climate ambitions, according to the report. These two regions also face the greatest potential costs in the event of inaction. Climate change could cost individual Midwestern utilities $2.5 billion annually, while Southern utilities face $3.6 billion in potential annual costs, according to Deloitte.

While many utilities have plans to achieve decarbonization by 2050, moving the target to 2035 could result in considerable savings for utilities by reducing risks associated with carbon taxation, penalties for emissions noncompliance and lost investment opportunities, Thomson said. It would also reduce the probability of extreme weather events, which would further reduce costs—and the savings could be rolled over into additional adaptation and grid hardening efforts, he said.
» Read article          

» More about electric utilities

GAS UTILITIES

build back fossil free
Berkshire Gas sees natural gas as part of its plan to meet state climate goals. Some observers disagree
By Danny Jin, The Berkshire Eagle
February 27, 2022

Asked how it will help meet Massachusetts climate goals, Berkshire Gas said natural gas will remain a key part of its plans.

Consultants contracted by Berkshire Gas and other Massachusetts utilities released a draft report on Feb. 15 detailing possible strategies.

Based on that report and the stakeholder process, Berkshire Gas concluded in a Feb. 15 document that “all scenarios taken together, including qualitative and feasibility considerations, envision an important role for natural gas in the energy transition.”

Observers who have followed the process continue to voice one central concern. While the changes being floated continue to rely on burning gas, they wanted the process, which Attorney General Maura Healey requested in June 2020, to look at how companies could shift to a business model built around electrification.

[…]Berkshire Gas lists its proposals as consumer education, energy efficiency, electrification, low-carbon fuel growth, renewable electricity, hydrogen and renewable natural gas, and developing technologies.

The reliance on “decarbonized” gases, which refer to synthetic natural gas, hydrogen and renewable natural gas, gives the appearance of a dog and pony show to Jane Winn, executive director of the Berkshire Environmental Action Team.

“You can’t call something ‘decarbonized’ that’s still got carbon in it,” Winn said. “It’s as bad as calling it ‘natural’ gas to make it sound good.”

[…]Climate groups have called for utilities to move toward electrification using solar, wind, geothermal and hydropower instead.

Researchers have debated the merits of synthetic natural gas, hydrogen and renewable natural gas. William Moomaw, a former International Panel on Climate Change scientist who now lives in Williamstown, has said he believes that leaning on those gases, which all emit greenhouse gases when burned, delays an inevitable transition.

[…]Rosemary Wessel, director of BEAT’s No Fracked Gas in Mass. program, said she wants [Attorney General] Healey or the Department of Utilities to reject the report and ask the companies to start from scratch.

“They should say, ‘Well, sorry. It didn’t hit the mark. You’re going to have to do it again,’ ” Wessel said.

Critics have argued that allowing the companies to hire and select the consultants gave them inordinate power over a process meant to change the industry.

[…]While the companies plan to file another three-year plan in 2024, Wessel said she believes the companies have delayed changes.

“This could just turn into a perpetual exercise without a lot of results, where every time they’ll look at it again, and it’ll be the same sort of stall tactic that we’re seeing here,” she said. “They really need to develop new business models, and they have failed to do that.”
» Read article         
» Read the draft report         
» Read the Berkshire Gas overview

» More about gas utilities

CRYPTOCURRENCY

bitcoin mining farm
Bitcoin mining is ‘less green than ever’ after leaving China
Miners lost a key source of renewable energy
By Justine Calma, The Verge
February 28, 2022

Bitcoin’s carbon dioxide pollution has gotten even worse since China ousted Bitcoin miners last year, according to a new analysis. It’s likely the result of Bitcoin miners substituting China’s abundant hydropower with coal and gas, experts say.

“We actually see Bitcoin becoming less green than ever before,” says Alex de Vries, lead author of the analysis published last week in the journal Joule. That directly counters continued claims by industry groups that renewable energy would clean up Bitcoin’s operations.

The new report shows that the Bitcoin boom is becoming a bigger problem for the world’s efforts to eliminate fossil fuel pollution. Mining bans, like the one China put in place last year, don’t seem to be very effective in curbing emissions, de Vries points out, because miners can easily find cheap, dirty energy elsewhere.

Bitcoin currently has a carbon footprint comparable to the Czech Republic’s, according to de Vries’ estimate. The cryptocurrency generates so many greenhouse gas emissions, thanks to the super energy-hungry process of mining new coins. Miners essentially race to solve ever-more-complex puzzles in order to verify transactions on the Bitcoin blockchain, receiving new coins as a reward. The hardware they use to solve those puzzles burns through vast amounts of electricity (and also adds to the world’s growing e-waste problem).

China was home to over 70 percent of the world’s Bitcoin mining operations until the country kicked them out in 2021, purportedly in part because of environmental concerns.
» Read article         
» Read the analysis

» More about crypto       

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

road hogs
Latest energy wake-up call: How long must we depend on autocratic petro-states?
By Andreas Karelas, The Hill | Opinion
March 2, 2022

As Americans navigate through politically divisive times, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has highlighted a clear area of consensus across the aisle: We need to move past our addiction to foreign oil. The only divergence seems to be how. But the “how” is not rocket science. It’s time to say goodbye to fossil fuels once and for all. Hopefully, this latest threat to global energy supply will inspire us to act, and act swiftly.

Indigenous Environmental Network organizer Dallas Goldtooth tweeted “I know the reasons for the #UkraineCrisis are complicated. But it would be remiss of us to not mention how energy is a factor in this invasion. In some ways the conflict is being driven, literally and figuratively, with hands lathered in oil and gas.”

Given the latest shock to world energy markets due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the world is once again waking up to the realities of dependence on foreign despots for energy. Of course, you don’t have to look back too far to recall similar episodes.

Many have argued the Iraq war was motivated in part to keep Iraqi oil flowing to international markets. Before that, the oil shocks of the 1970s spurred President Carter to call for reduced energy usage and to put solar panels on the White House. But once the gas flowed again and the pressure at the pump eased, President Regan took the solar panels off the roof and called for more business as usual, which decades later has come back to haunt us.

All the presidents since, Republican and Democrat alike, have called for ending our addiction to foreign oil, and while some have tinkered in the margins, none of their policies have ever moved the needle.

The U.S. military alone spends $81 billion a year protecting oil shipping lanes and keeping troops in oil-producing regions. This not-too-often spoken about subsidy for giant fossil fuel companies allows them to continue doing business in, supporting and legitimizing, what are often authoritarian ruled petro-states, not friendly to the U.S. and its allies, through taxpayer dollars and tragically, American lives.
» Read article          

big gas station
The Russian invasion of Ukraine has left a hole in the global energy market
Will countries fill it with more oil and gas, or with renewables?
By Shannon Osaka, Grist
February 28, 2022

On Thursday, as bombs fell on major cities in Ukraine and families sheltered in homes, subway stations, and parking garages, global energy prices spiked. For the first time since 2014, crude oil prices surged to over $100. The cost of European natural gas, which has already been at record highs since last summer, increased by almost 20 percent in a single day.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a shock to a global fossil fuel system that has been on edge for the past year. Russia is the world’s largest natural gas and second-largest oil exporter, and provides 40 percent of Europe’s natural gas supply. (One expert wryly referred to the country as “one big gas station.”) If flows of oil and natural gas from the country are disrupted, the entire world could end up paying more for energy at a time when economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic is increasing demand.

There are also questions about whether the war and resulting spike in energy prices will accelerate — or disrupt — the process of shifting to cleaner sources of energy. The conflict and prior energy crunch have exposed the fragility of relying on fossil fuels, especially from foreign powers. But as prices climb, will countries shore up their domestic supplies with fossil fuels or renewables?

In the U.S., some fossil fuel companies and lobbyists are seizing on the crisis to encourage expanded oil and gas production. Last week, the American Petroleum Institute — an oil and gas industry group — urged President Joe Biden to accelerate permitting for fossil fuel infrastructure and allow for more oil and gas development on public lands. “As crisis looms in Ukraine, U.S. energy leadership is more important than ever,” the group tweeted. Republicans in Congress have similarly called on the president to reverse his “war on American energy” and boost fossil fuel production in response to the situation in Ukraine. (While Biden has halted new oil and gas leasing on public lands, he has still allowed substantial drilling during his term.)
» Read article          

over a barrel
US fossil fuel industry leaps on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to argue for more drilling
Petroleum lobby calls for looser regulation and drilling on public lands to ‘ensure energy security’
By Oliver Milman, The Guardian
February 26, 2022

The US oil and gas industry is using Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to pressure the Biden administration to throw open more land and ocean for domestic drilling and to loosen regulations for large companies attempting to ramp up their fossil fuel extraction.

Just hours before Russian troops began their unprovoked assault on Ukraine, the American Petroleum Institute (API) posted a string of tweets calling for the White House to “ensure energy security at home and abroad” by allowing more oil and gas drilling on public lands, extend drilling in US waters and slash regulations faced by fossil fuel firms.

API, which represents oil giants including Exxon, Chevron and Shell, has called on Biden to allow an expansion of drilling and to drop regulations that impede new gas pipelines in order to help reduce fuel costs for Americans and support European countries that have seen gas costs spiral due to concerns over supply from Russia, which provides Europe with around a third of its gas.

“At a time of geopolitical strife, America should deploy its ample energy abundance – not restrict it,” said Mike Sommers, the chief executive of API. Sommers added that Biden was “needlessly choking our own plentiful supply” of fossil fuels.

Some leading Republicans have joined the calls. “No administration should defend a Russian pipeline instead of refilling ours,” Senator Lisa Murkowski, an Alaska Republican, told her state’s legislature this week. “Every day, I remind the Biden administration of the immense benefits of Alaska production, energy and minerals alike, and every day I remind them that refusing to permit those activities can have harmful consequences.”

Environmental groups were quick to criticize the renewed push for more drilling, accusing proponents of cynically using the deadly Ukrainian crisis to benefit large corporations and worsen the climate crisis.

“Expanding oil and gas production now would do nothing to impact short term prices and would only accelerate the climate crisis, which already poses a major threat to our national security,” said Lena Moffitt, chief of staff at Evergreen Action, a climate group. “We stand in solidarity with the people of Ukraine, and stand opposed to actions by leaders of the fossil fuel industry that attempt to profit off of these harrowing atrocities.”
» Read article          

» More about fossil fuel

WASTE INCINERATION

seven six five four
Combustion of plastics could be creating a surge in waste-to-energy plants’ climate emissions
Incineration of plastics containing “forever chemicals” could be generating potent greenhouse gas emissions, but testing methods are not yet in place.
By Marina Schauffler, Energy News Network
February 25, 2022

How much does household waste fuel the climate crisis? Official numbers suggest a small role, but the full contribution is not yet known — even by regulators and scientists.

As New England states work to curb greenhouse gas emissions from transportation and heating, little attention goes to landfills and municipal solid waste, or “waste-to-energy,” incinerators. Combined, those sources typically represent 5% or less of each state’s total emissions, and they get scarce mention in climate action plans.

But growing volumes of plastics in the waste stream complicate incinerator emissions accounting. Less than 9% of plastics are recycled, and global plastic production is expected to double by 2040.

Plastic combustion produces many more byproducts than the three greenhouse gases that most incinerators report annually to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrous oxide and methane.

Some chemical compounds in plastics don’t appear to degrade during incineration, while others break down partially and recombine, potentially forming potent and enduring greenhouse gases — compounds that are thousands of times more effective at trapping heat than CO2  and can linger in the atmosphere for millennia.

Scientists do not yet know the scale of the problem, but a growing body of research suggests that even small amounts of these powerful warming agents could have a significant impact.

The Northeast is home to roughly half of the nation’s 75 waste-to-energy  incinerators, most of which were constructed in the 1980s and are now passing their expected 30-year lifespans.

These facilities typically operate around the clock, feeding waste into boilers that generate steam to produce electricity and that release pollutants in the form of gaseous emissions, fly ash, bottom ash and leachate.

Far more waste is burned in the Northeast than the EPA’s national estimate of 12%. Maine, for example, burns 34% of its municipal waste, Massachusetts 71% and Connecticut 80%.
» Read article          

» More about waste incineration

PLASTICS, HEALTH, AND THE ENVIRONMENT

Juhu beach
For the First Time, Nations Band Together in a Move Toward Ending Plastics Pollution
A United Nations resolution embraces a broad definition of the problem that encompasses the life-cycle of plastics, from production to disposal.
By James Bruggers, Inside Climate News
March 3, 2022

A United Nations gathering in Kenya on Wednesday set the world on track to forge for the first time a legally binding global agreement to curb plastic pollution.

The language in a resolution adopted, to a standing ovation, by delegates to the United Nations Environmental Assembly (UNEA) gave environmental advocates much of what they were looking for: a broad definition of the problem to include pollution across the plastics life-cycle, from production to design to disposal.

There are still a lot of contentious details to navigate, including financial and compliance issues that are only hinted at in the resolution. And the petrochemical and plastics industries are expected to fight any efforts by governments to slow down plastics production.

But against the backdrop of what U.N. officials described as a “triple planetary crisis of climate change, nature loss and pollution,” the assembly’s decision marks the beginning of an official process over the next two years to negotiate a treaty aimed at ending global plastics waste. It establishes a formal negotiating committee that will begin meeting later this year, focused on plastics pollution in marine and other environments, including the tiny bits of plastics debris known as microplastics.

“We are making history today and you should all be proud,” Espen Barth Eide, the assembly’s president and Norway’s Minister for Climate and the Environment, said after declaring the adoption of the resolution without any dissent.

Moments later, Monica P. Medina of the State Department, the U.S. representative at the assembly, fought back tears as she spoke to the gathered delegates.

“It’s the beginning of the end of the scourge of plastics pollution on the planet,” Medina said. “We will look back on this as a day for our children and grandchildren.”
» Read article         
» Read the draft resolution         

» More about plastics in the environment

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Weekly News Check-In 9/17/21

banner 05

Welcome back.

Lewis Carroll published Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in 1865, early in the industrial period and nearly a hundred years before the nascent fossil fuel industry launched its mind-warping climate disinformation campaign to delay meaningful and rational action to avoid the planetary catastrophe baked into their business model. While collecting articles this week, I found myself asking more than once, “How did he know?”

Let’s begin with an overview of how utilities are still selling gas burning peaking power plants as solutions to our need to cut emissions. Also, Canada claims to be reducing emissions while pushing hard to complete the Trans Mountain tar-sands oil pipeline, even as giant Chubb becomes the sixteenth insurer to drop coverage. And while a Congressional committee calls for oil majors to testify next month about their organized and sustained influence and disinformation campaigns, West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin threatens to hold up meaningful climate legislation because, “What is the urgency?”.

“Well, I never heard it before, but it sounds uncommon nonsense.” – L.C.

How about this for urgency… renowned climate scientist James Hansen predicts that, due to a reduction in aerosol pollution, the rate of global warming over the next 25 years could be double what we experienced in the previous 50. Again, Lewis Carroll on what that means for our climate mitigation efforts: “My dear, here we must run as fast as we can, just to stay in place. And if you wish to go anywhere you must run twice as fast as that.”

Meanwhile, back in the real world, efforts are underway to build out lithium battery recycling centers and diversify the green economy workforce. Australian startup SunDrive posted a power output efficiency record with its new solar PV module – using relatively abundant copper in its design instead of silver – a significant clean energy development. And energy storage company EnerVenue has found a way to bring long-duration nickel-hydrogen batteries down in price and down from space, where they have been successfully deployed for years – including on the International Space Station and Hubble Telescope.

At least as important as all that nice technology is actually leaning into the monumental task of improving the energy efficiency of our built environment. While Connecticut falls behind on this effort, the town of Brookline, Massachusetts doggedly pursues a ban on gas hookups for new construction – a key motivator for progress in this area.

We’re using our Clean Transportation section to spotlight where all the lithium for electric vehicles is likely to come from, and also launch a discussion about the biofuel “solution” to aviation emissions – too good to be true?

In the spirit of reality checks, we found some reasonable skepticism about Iceland’s big new carbon capture and sequestration project. The issue is whether it can ever be scaled up to a level that matches the need.

While much of this week’s fossil fuel industry news was just silly, we found some serious reporting on coal. The first article describes the utter environmental devastation caused by a partnership between Wall Street money and mountaintop-removal mining operations in Appalachia. The second notes that plans for most new coal plants have been cancelled in the six years since the Paris Climate Agreement.

We’ll close with a report on efforts in Massachusetts to remove renewable energy subsidies from woody biomass. And for anyone who still maintains that biomass is carbon neutral as it’s being harvested, processed, and burned, we’ll let Lewis Carroll have the last word: “Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

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

— The NFGiM Team

PEAKING POWER PLANTS

CenterPoint
Fight over ‘peaker’ plants poses grid climate test
By Miranda Willson, E&E News
August 24, 2021

A proposed natural gas power plant and pipeline project in southwestern Indiana are drawing fire out of concerns that they will add more pollution to a region saddled with fossil fuel infrastructure.

The controversy surrounding CenterPoint Energy Inc.’s plans for the site of an aging coal plant near Evansville, Ind., highlights a broader debate over natural gas “peaker” plants — backup power producers that rarely run but can be ramped up quickly when electricity demand is high.

Some electric utilities are proposing new peaker units as coal plants retire and the power grid becomes more dependent on intermittent solar and wind farms, but the gas projects face opposition from local environmental groups who say their communities are already overburdened by emissions-spewing facilities.

In addition to the fight brewing near Evansville, utilities in Peabody, Mass., and Queens, N.Y., have similarly proposed new “peaking” gas units at the sites of existing or retiring fossil fuel generators. In all three cases, activists contend that the closure of fossil fuel plants should be used as opportunities to remedy historic environmental injustices.

“The majority of peaker plants across the country are sited in low-income areas and communities of color, many of which are already overburdened by decades of pollution from fossil-fuel infrastructure, industrial processes, and heavy transportation,” Seth Mullendore, vice president of the nonprofit advocacy organization Clean Energy Group, said in an email.

Because new peaker plants are often used less than 10% of the time and release less carbon dioxide than coal plants, environmentalists don’t always challenge them. In Minnesota, for example, several clean energy groups were “encouraged” by Xcel Energy Inc.’s plan to build new solar and wind projects as well as a transmission line, even though it also included two small gas units (Energywire, June 28). The groups added that they are still reviewing the plan and the need for the gas units.

Peaker plants built today are also much more energy efficient and lower-cost than older versions, said Alex Bond, deputy general counsel for climate and clean energy at the Edison Electric Institute, which represents investor-owned utilities.

Nonetheless, clean energy groups are calling on utilities to pursue more advanced solutions to the grid reliability issues posed by renewables, such as battery storage, demand-response programs and power lines to connect to far-flung solar or wind farms. And some environmentalists in communities with a legacy of fossil fuels perceive new gas plants as half measures toward clean air.
» Read article                 

» More about peaker plants

PIPELINES

TMX pipe
Liberals say Trans Mountain pipeline could stay open until 2060
By Brian Hill, Global News
September 14, 2021

The Trans Mountain Pipeline could remain operational for another “30 to 40 years,” according to Liberal candidate Jonathan Wilkinson.

Wilkinson, who is also the current environment minister, made the remarks during an interview with Global News on Sept. 13 about the future of fossil fuels and pipelines in Canada.

“What you’re going to start to see is declining demand for oil over the coming 30 years — 40 years perhaps in the context of some of the developing countries,” Wilkinson said.

“And so, in that context, I would say that the utilization of the Trans Mountain Pipeline is probably in that order of 30 to 40 years.”

Wilkinson said building and operating the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion, which will increase the existing pipeline’s current capacity from 300,000 barrels a day to 890,000 barrels, will ensure Canadian energy producers receive “full value” for the oil they extract by opening up foreign markets other than the United States.

Keith Stewart, a senior energy strategist with Greenpeace Canada and an instructor of environmental studies at the University of Toronto, said expanding any pipeline at a time of decreasing demand for fossil fuels is illogical.

“When you’re supposedly moving to a zero carbon economy, that doesn’t make a lot of sense,” Stewart said.

“There’s this notion that we can basically get off fossil fuels, and yet somehow continue to export them.”

A report recently published in the journal Nature said 84 per cent of Canada’s 49 billion barrels of proven oil sand reserves, and nearly two-thirds of global oil supplies, must remain “unextracted” to avoid temperatures rising 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. That target was set at the 2015 Paris climate change summit.

“Canada’s resources are really expensive to extract, in addition to having a super high carbon intensity,” said Caroline Brouilette, domestic policy manager at Climate Action Network Canada. “In a global market, where demand has to decrease, those resources that are the most expensive and most polluting will have to be the first one to stay in the ground.”
» Read article                  
» Read the Journal Nature report

» More about pipelines                    

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

gas station damage
House Panel Expands Inquiry Into Climate Disinformation by Oil Giants
Executives from Exxon, Shell, BP and others are being called to testify in Congress next month after a secret recording this year exposed an Exxon official boasting of such efforts.
By Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times
September 16, 2021

The House Oversight Committee has widened its inquiry into the oil and gas industry’s role in spreading disinformation about the role of fossil fuels in causing global warming, calling on top executives from Exxon Mobil, Chevron, BP and Royal Dutch Shell, as well as the lobby groups American Petroleum Institute and the United States Chamber of Commerce, to testify before Congress next month.

The move comes as Washington is wrestling with major climate legislation intended to slash the nation’s reliance on oil and gas, and in a year of climate disasters that have affected millions of Americans. Raging wildfires in the West burned more than two million acres, one of the strongest hurricanes ever to make landfall in the United States left a path of destruction from Louisiana to New York City, and heat waves smashed records and delivered life-threatening conditions to regions unaccustomed to extreme heat.

Thursday’s demands from the powerful Oversight Committee put senior executives from some of the world’s largest oil companies at the center of an investigation into the role their industry has played in undermining the scientific consensus that the burning of fossil fuels is a root cause of global warming.

“We are deeply concerned that the fossil fuel industry has reaped massive profits for decades while contributing to climate change that is devastating American communities, costing taxpayers billions of dollars, and ravaging the natural world,” read the letter to Darren Woods, the Exxon chief executive.

“We are also concerned that to protect those profits, the industry has reportedly led a coordinated effort to spread disinformation to mislead the public and prevent crucial action to address climate change,” the letter said.
» Read article                   

» More about protests and actions

DIVESTMENT

TMP - Chubb out
BREAKING: Trans Mountain Loses 16th Insurer as Industry Giant Chubb Walks Away
By The Energy Mix
September 14, 2021

The world’s biggest publicly-traded provider of property and casualty insurance, Chubb, has become the 16th insurer to declare that it won’t back the controversial Trans Mountain pipeline, a coalition of climate and Indigenous campaigners announced yesterday.

The flurry of social media activity was triggered by a single tweet from Financial Times insurance correspondent Ian Smith, with no elaborating news story as The Energy Mix went to virtual press Tuesday evening. “Chubb does not provide insurance coverage for any tar sands projects,” a spokesperson told Smith, following a protest at the U.S. Open tennis tournament earlier this month.

Chubb became the official insurance sponsor for the annual tournament last year.

At the U.S. Open last week, campaigners “erected a 15-foot inflatable of Chubb CEO Evan Greenberg to demand he act on climate change,” Insure Our Future wrote in a release. “U.S. Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) wrote to Greenberg in March asking how Chubb’s underwriting policies align with its sustainability commitments.”

That was apparently enough pressure for Chubb, which became the first U.S. insurer to withdraw investment and risk coverage from coal projects in 2019. That action made the company a leader at the time, Insure Our Future said, “but the company has not made any additional climate commitments since then. In recent months, it has been under increasing pressure for its involvement with the tar sands industry.”
» Read article                   

shift
Harvard to Divest Fossil Fuels, Sets Example for Other Institutions
By The Energy Mix
September 12, 2021

Climate activists are hailing Harvard University’s move to divest from fossil fuels as a profound shift in the status quo and a model for other institutions.

The iconic and wealthy university’s decision to go fossil-free comes after years of resisting calls to divest, writes The Washington Post, citing Harvard President Larry S. Bacow’s invocation of the climate crisis as the reason for the about-face.

“We must act now as citizens, as scholars, and as an institution to address this crisis on as many fronts as we have at our disposal,” Bacow said in an open letter explaining the shift.

The university’s a call to action “is likely to have ripple effects in higher education and beyond, given Harvard’s US$41-billion endowment and its iconic status among American institutions,” notes the Post. Along with ending all direct investment in fossil exploration or development, Harvard “also plans to allow its remaining indirect investments in the fossil fuel industry—through private equity funds—to lapse without renewal.”

That figure currently stands at about 2% of the endowment, the Post says.

“Harvard is really a very potent symbol of the status quo,” said Richard Brooks, climate finance director at San Francisco-based Stand.earth. “With this move, they have shifted the status quo. That’s where the power of this announcement and this change really lies.”
» Read article                  
» Read Harvard President Larry S. Bacow’s letter

» More about divestment

LEGISLATION

urgency is obvious
In the Democrats’ Budget Package, a Billion Tons of Carbon Cuts at Stake
The package is imperiled by opposition from Joe Manchin, a coal state Democrat, who is balking at the costs, and advocates fear the chance won’t come again.
By Marianne Lavelle, Inside Climate News
September 17, 2021

Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia was explaining why he opposed his Democratic colleagues’ $3.5 trillion budget plan, but his words summed up the Congressional response on climate change for the past 30 years.

“What is the urgency?” asked Manchin in an appearance on CNN on Sunday.

With climate action advocates now in a race against both the forces of nature and the political calendar, some might say the answer is obvious.

The legislation that Manchin wants to stall contains the policies that most Democratic senators see as the best hope left to make the deep cuts in greenhouse gases necessary to curb devastating planetary warming.

With a key round of international climate talks scheduled for November in Glasgow—the first since the United States rejoined the Paris accord—Congressional action now would demonstrate the nation’s commitment to President Joe Biden’s ambitious pledge to cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions 50 percent by 2030.

And with the Democrats’ slim majority in both the House and Senate in jeopardy in next year’s midterm elections, the budget package may mark the last opportunity to act.

“We have a responsibility now—while we don’t have fossil fuel-funded Republican control in the House or the Senate, and while we have President Biden in the White House—to get this done,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) at a rally outside the Capitol on Monday. “If we miss this moment, it is not clear when we will have a second chance.”
» Read article                   

» More about legislation

GREENING THE ECONOMY

elemental
Li-ion battery recycling specialist Li-Cycle plans Alabama facility after demand exceeds expectations
By Andy Colthorpe, Energy Storage News
September 13, 2021

Lithium battery recycling company Li-Cycle is planning its fourth facility in North America, the company said, as it made its first financial results release since listing on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in August.

The new plant will be built in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, which Li-Cycle co-founder and executive chairman Tim Johnston said is in response to demand for lithium-ion battery recycling exceeding the company’s expectations. Li-Cycle builds ‘Hub and Spoke’ facilities: lithium batteries are dismantled and turned into ‘black mass’ which contains all their different metals at Spokes and then the black mass is processed at Hubs.

The company has two Spokes already in operation in Kingston, Ontario, and Rochester in Upstate New York and then announced a further Spoke in Arizona in April to meet both supply and demand from the West Coast. Meanwhile it is still developing its first Hub, which will also be in Rochester and is expected to be its major revenue-generator.

Li-Cycle is betting, as are many in the battery industry, that recycling will become a big opportunity further down the line and has sought to enter the space early. At the moment the majority of its feedstock comes from the 5% to 10% of assembly line batteries that manufacturers reject, but it is anticipating a “tsunami” of end-of-life batteries to begin in the next couple of years.
» Read article                   

help wanted
E2: ‘The face of clean energy is predominantly White and male’
By Emma Penrod, Utility Dive
September 14, 2021

People of color and women are “vastly underrepresented” in clean energy jobs compared to the U.S. workforce at large, and many underrepresented groups lost ground between 2017 and 2020, according to a report released last week by BW Research Partnership, E2, and a coalition of clean energy industry groups.

Underrepresented racial and ethnic groups hold just four in ten clean energy jobs, according to the report. Black workers were the most poorly represented in the sector, composing 8% of clean energy jobs compared to 13% of the U.S. workforce as a whole.

With people of color and women now representing the majority of young students in the U.S., clean energy companies could face labor shortages in the future if they fail to recruit more diverse workers, according to Paula Glover, president of the Alliance to Save Energy. “If you’ve done nothing and know nobody, then your roadway is a lot longer than someone who has been at it a long time,” she said.
» Read article                  
» Read the E2 report

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

the devil collects
The Rate of Global Warming During Next 25 Years Could Be Double What it Was in the Previous 50, a Renowned Climate Scientist Warns
Former NASA climate scientist James Hansen urged Congress decades ago to act on climate change. Now he says he expects reduced aerosol pollution to lead to a steep temperature rise.
By Bob Berwyn, Inside Climate News
September 15, 2021

James Hansen, a climate scientist who shook Washington when he told Congress 33 years ago that human emissions of greenhouse gases were cooking the planet, is now warning that he expects the rate of global warming to double in the next 20 years.

While still warning that it is carbon dioxide and methane that are driving global warming, Hansen said that, in this case, warming is being accelerated by the decline of other industrial pollutants that they’ve cleaned from it.

Plunging sulfate aerosol emissions from industrial sources, particularly shipping, could lead global temperatures to surge well beyond the levels prescribed by the Paris Climate Agreement as soon as 2040 “unless appropriate countermeasures are taken,” Hansen wrote, together with Makiko Sato, in a monthly temperature analysis published in August by the Climate Science, Awareness and Solutions center at Columbia University’s Earth Institute.

Declining sulfate aerosols makes some clouds less reflective, enabling more solar radiation to reach and warm land and ocean surfaces.

Since his Congressional testimony rattled Washington, D.C. a generation ago, Hansen’s climate warnings have grown more urgent, but they are still mostly unheeded. In 2006, when he was head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, George W. Bush’s administration tried to stop him from speaking out about the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“The removal of air pollution, either through air quality measures or because combustion processes are phased out to get rid of CO2, will result in an increase in the resulting rate of warming,” said climate scientist and IPCC report author Joeri Rogelj, director of research at the Imperial College London’s Grantham Institute.

There’s a fix for at least some of this short-term increase in the rate of warming, he said.

“The only measures that can counteract this increased rate of warming over the next decades are methane reductions,” Rogelj said. “I just want to highlight that methane reductions have always been part of the portfolio of greenhouse gas emissions reductions that are necessary to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. This new evidence only further emphasizes this need.”
» Read article               

methane plume
U.S., EU pursuing global deal to slash planet-warming methane – documents
By Kate Abnett and Valerie Volcovici, Reuters
September 14, 2021

BRUSSELS/WASHINGTON, Sept 13 (Reuters) – The United States and the European Union have agreed to aim to cut emissions of the planet-warming gas methane by around a third by the end of this decade and are pushing other major economies to join them, according to documents seen by Reuters.

Their pact comes as Washington and Brussels seek to galvanize other major economies ahead of a world summit to address climate change in Glasgow, Scotland, in November, and could have a significant impact on the energy, agriculture and waste industries responsible for the bulk of methane emissions.

The greenhouse gas methane, the biggest cause of climate change after carbon dioxide (CO2), is facing more scrutiny as governments seek solutions to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees, a goal of the Paris climate agreement.

In an attempt to jumpstart the action, the United States and the EU later this week will make a joint pledge to reduce human-caused methane emissions by at least 30% by 2030, compared with 2020 levels, according to a draft of the Global Methane Pledge seen by Reuters.

“The short atmospheric lifetime of methane means that taking action now can rapidly reduce the rate of global warming,” the draft said.
» Read article                   

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

new breed
Australia’s breakthrough solar tech has eye on rooftop and mega-project markets
By Giles Parkinson, Renew Economy
September 15, 2021

The Australian start up that has achieved a major new benchmark for solar cell efficiency says it hopes to target the rooftop solar market first and then expand into some of the mega, multi-gigawatt scale projects proposed in the north and west of Australia.

SunDrive, a solar start-up founded six years ago in a Sydney garage by two UNSW graduates, last week claimed a world record of 25.54 per cent for commercial size silicon solar cell efficiency, from testing carried out by Germany’s Institute for Solar Energy Research at Hamelin.

The significance of this, however, was not so much the record in itself – impressive as it was – it was the fact that it was achieved using a new breed of solar cells that rely on more abundant and cheaper copper rather than the silver traditionally used in solar cells.

The switch from silver to more abundant and lower cost copper is the principal aim of SunDrive, and the goal when graduates and flatmates Vince Allen and David Hu set up operations in a Sydney suburban garage in 2015, with the backing of solar industry luminary Zhengrong Shi, the founder of Suntech.
» Read article                 

ITER magnet
Magnet milestones move distant nuclear fusion dream closer
Teams working on two continents have marked similar milestones in their respective efforts to master nuclear fusion
By FRANK JORDANS, SETH BORENSTEIN and DANIEL COLE, Associated Press, in The Berkshire Eagle
September 9, 2021

SAINT-PAUL-LES-DURANCE, France (AP) — Teams working on two continents have marked similar milestones in their respective efforts to tap an energy source key to the fight against climate change: They’ve each produced very impressive magnets.

On Thursday, scientists at the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor in southern France took delivery of the first part of a massive magnet so strong its American manufacturer claims it can lift an aircraft carrier.

Almost 60 feet (nearly 20 meters) tall and 14 feet (more than four meters) in diameter when fully assembled, the magnet is a crucial component in the attempt by 35 nations to master nuclear fusion.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology scientists and a private company announced separately this week that they, too, have hit a milestone with the successful test of the world’s strongest high temperature superconducting magnet that may allow the team to leapfrog ITER in the race to build a ‘sun on earth.’
» Read article                   

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

Hartcord CT
Connecticut losing ground on building emissions despite efficiency programs

Climate activists say the state’s progress on reducing building emissions has been far too slow given the pace of the climate crisis, and that it needs to end incentives for energy-efficient natural gas heating.
By Lisa Prevost, Energy News Network
September 15, 2021

Greenhouse gas emissions from heating and cooling buildings continue to rise in Connecticut despite the state’s efforts to improve energy efficiency.

An annual greenhouse gas inventory released last week for 2018 — the latest available data — showed vehicle exhaust remains the state’s largest problem, but the sharpest year-over-year increase came in the residential sector. Commercial building emissions were also higher.

The report attributes the increases to greater cold-weather heating demand, but climate activists underscore the state’s lack of progress on building emissions, which are roughly the same as they were a decade ago. They say the state lags on the adoption of electric heat pumps relative to the rest of New England, continues to expand its natural gas infrastructure, and doesn’t allow municipalities to adopt more stringent efficiency standards for new buildings.

Just one day after the emissions report was released, the state’s Energy Efficiency Board approved the next round of ratepayer-funded energy efficiency incentives, and despite pleas not to do so, included subsidies to entice homeowners to switch from oil heating to high-efficiency natural gas furnaces. Activists met the news with incredulity.

“Continuing to subsidize polluting fossil fuels defies logic,” said Shannon Laun, a staff attorney for the Conservation Law Foundation, in a statement. “If Connecticut continues subsidizing gas heating, the state will not meet its climate goals and our communities will suffer.”

“I’m not seeing very much in the way of a change in the standard way of doing business in Connecticut, which is just continuing to do things they way they’ve been done for the last several decades,” said Bruce Becker, a Westport-based developer who specializes in highly efficient building projects and is converting a former office building in New Haven into what could be the country’s first net-zero-energy hotel. “Public utilities are still sending out mailers to get people to convert to natural gas, which is not helping.”
» Read article                   

gas-lit flame
Brookline Tries Again For A Fossil-Free Future
By Bruce Gellerman, WBUR
June 3, 2021

On June 2 Brookline voted, again, to become the first municipality in Massachusetts with an ordinance designed to keep fossil-fuel hookups out of new buildings. This was the town’s second attempt to get builders to go all-electric in future construction.

Brookline’s first attempt, which was overwhelmingly approved in Town Meeting in 2019, was declared unlawful by Attorney General Maura Healey because it superseded state authority. Healey said she supported Brookline’s clean-energy goals, however.

This time, instead of banning fossil-fuel installations in future construction, Town Meeting members proposed two carefully-worded warrant articles. Instead of a ban, the proposals require that people applying for special construction permits agree to go fossil-free in exchange for permit approval. Both proposals passed by margins of more than 200 to 3.

Brookline Town Meeting member Lisa Cunningham, one of the leaders of the effort, says municipalities must take action because the state, which is legally obligated to reduce climate emissions to net zero by 2050, has no mechanism for limiting fossil fuel use. Buildings account for 27% of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Brookline’s new ordinances “won’t get us where we have to go,” Cunningham said, “but it is a first step and we really need to stop making this problem worse; we need to make it better.”

The Attorney General’s Municipal Law Unit will review Brookline’s new ordinances before they go into effect. The office has 90 days for review, which can be extended to six months.
» Read article                   

» More about energy efficiency

ENERGY STORAGE

EnerVenue
EnerVenue to use latest funding to build gigawatt-scale nickel-hydrogen battery factory in USA
By Kelly Pickerel, Solar Power World
September 15, 2021

Metal-hydrogen battery company EnerVenue announced today it has raised $100 million in Series A funding that it will use to build a gigawatt-scale factory in the United States, accelerate R&D efforts and expand its salesforce.

EnerVenue’s batteries use nickel-hydrogen technology that has been tested for decades on the International Space Station and Hubble Space Telescope. The company formed in 2020 to bring the NASA-originated technology to grid-scale and other stationary power applications.

“With the durability, flexibility, reliability, and safety of its batteries, EnerVenue is delivering a unique and future-proof solution for grid-scale energy storage,” said Jorg Heinemann, CEO, EnerVenue. “We have proven the advantages that our next-generation nickel-hydrogen battery delivers and are excited to accelerate our journey forward with Series A backing and our agreement with Schlumberger.”

EnerVenue nickel-hydrogen batteries can work in -40° to 60°C (140°F) temperatures with projected 30,000-cycle lifespans. With no lithium, the batteries have no thermal runaway risk. Also with no toxic materials and easily separable parts, the batteries are expected to be 100% recyclable.
» Read article                   

» More about energy storage

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

white gold ev boom
In Argentina’s north, a ‘white gold’ rush for EV metal lithium gathers pace
By Agustin Geist, Reuters
September 14, 2021

Beneath the South American country’s highland salt flats, reached by winding mountain roads, is buried the world’s third largest reserve of the ultra-light battery metal, which has seen a price spike over the past year on the back of a global push towards greener modes of transport.

Already the fourth top producer of lithium worldwide, Argentina’s national and local governments are now looking to speed up development, held back for years by red tape, high tax rates, rampant inflation and currency controls.

Provinces like Salta are building regional mining logistics nodes and access roads, lowering tax rates and rationalizing confusing rules for the sector to attract investment in the ‘white gold’ metal.

That has seen a flurry of new activity, deals and plans to ramp up production, which could make Argentina a key player in the electric vehicle supply chain in coming years, with demand from carmakers and buyers like China expected to gain pace.

“Argentina could become the world’s leading producer from brines in less than a decade if the flow of projects is followed and maintained,” David Guerrero Alvarado, a consultant advising Canada’s Alpha Lithium, told Reuters in Salta.

Alpha Lithium is in the investigation stage for a project in the nearby Salar Tolillar, one of many early-stage developments that – while offering promise – need an often long and costly process to be turned into a reality.

With countries around the world scrambling to reduce emissions, rising global lithium demand and surging prices have drawn increased interest in the so-called ‘lithium triangle’ that spans parts of Argentina, Bolivia and Chile.
» Read article                   

environmental toll
Biden Outlines a Plan for Cleaner Jet Fuel. But How Clean Would It Be?
Some biofuels may contribute to greenhouse gas emissions in ways that can significantly reduce, and sometimes offset, their advantages over fossil fuels, studies have shown.
By Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times
September 13, 2021

At first glance, it’s a big step forward in curbing climate change. In a deal announced Thursday, the Biden administration and the airline industry agreed to an ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050, a target meant to drive down flying’s environmental toll.

As early as 2030, President Biden said, the United States will aim to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about 10 percent of current jet fuel use — from waste, plants and other organic matter, reducing aviation’s emissions of planet-warming gases by 20 percent and creating jobs.

The airline industry has set sustainable fuel targets before. The International Air Transport Association, a trade group of the world’s airlines, had pledged to replace 10 percent of the jet fuel it uses with sustainable fuels by 2017. That year has come and gone, and sustainable fuels are still stuck at far less than 1 percent of supply.

Could it be different this time?

It could. Momentum is building for action even in industries like aviation, which are particularly reliant on burning fossil fuels, because powering planes solely with batteries, especially for long-haul flights, is tricky.

But there’s a twist: Depending on the type of alternative fuel, using billions of gallons of it could hurt, not help, the climate.

Scientists’ concerns center on the complicated calculations that go into assessing the true climate-friendliness of biofuels, a major subset of sustainable fuels. Growing crops like corn and soy to be made into biofuels can significantly change how land is used, and trigger emissions increases — for example, if forests are cut down or grassland is dug up to make way for those crops.

Add in the emissions from fertilizers, and from transporting and processing the crops into fuel, and the overall climate costs become unclear. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that corn ethanol emits just 20 percent less greenhouse gas emissions than gasoline, and that calculation doesn’t fully take into account past land-use changes, scientists say. Scientific studies have long shown that biofuels can be as polluting as fossil fuels.
» Read article                   

» More about clean transportation

CARBON CAPTURE AND SEQUESTRATION

carbfix
Critics question viability of world’s largest carbon sucking plant
By Andy Rowel, Oil Change International l Blog Post
September 13, 2021

The latest techno-fix to try and reduce carbon dioxide emissions has begun operations in a remote, bleak landscape of Iceland.

Called Orca, or Icelandic for energy, it is the first such facility to suck carbon dioxide out the air and then permanently dispose of it underground as it dissolves into rock.

Climeworks’ co-chief executive Jan Wurzbacher told the Financial Times, “this is the first time we are extracting CO2 from the air commercially and combining it with underground storage.”

Most CCS projects to date try and capture carbon dioxide in a smoke stack after carbon has been burnt, where concentrations of CO2 can be as high as ten percent. However, the Orca plant extracts carbon dioxide directly out of the air, which is less than 0.05 per cent.

So although this plant is different from other CCS projects, such as Gorgon in Australia, it is easy to question whether this is another so-called solution that offers false hope at a time-scale that is unrealistic.

Firstly, it is way more expensive than other CCS projects. As Bloomberg notes: “Individuals wanting to purchase carbon offsets can pay the company up to $1,200 per ton of CO2.”

And then there is CCS’s perennial problem of scale. The new Orca facility, which is built by Swiss startup Climeworks and Iceland’s Carbfix, will capture 4,000 tons of CO2 a year, which according to Bloomberg Green, makes “it the largest direct-air capture facility in the world.”

As with much CCS technology, there is immediately a problem. 4,000 tons of CO2 is the equivalent of the annual emissions of 250 US residents or some 870 cars. As other CCS projects, it is not living up to the hype or the hope. Also to put it in perspective, 33 billions tons of CO2 will be emitted this year.
» Read article                   

» More about CCS

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

mountaintop-removal coal mining
When Wall Street came to coal country: how a big-money gamble scarred Appalachia
Around the turn of the millennium, hedge fund investors put an audacious bet on coal mining in the US. The bet failed – but it was the workers and the environment that paid the price.
By Evan Osnos, The Guardian
September 14, 2021

Around the turn of this century, hedge funds in New York and its environs took a growing interest in coalmines. Coal never had huge appeal to Wall Street investors – mines were dirty, old-fashioned and bound up by union contracts that made them difficult to buy and sell. But in the late 1990s, the growing economies of Asia began to consume more and more energy, which investors predicted would drive up demand halfway around the world, in Appalachia. In 1997, the Hobet mine, a 25-year-old operation in rural West Virginia, was acquired for the first time by a public company, Arch Coal. It embarked on a major expansion, dynamiting mountaintops and dumping the debris into rivers and streams. As the Hobet mine grew, it consumed the ridges and communities around it. Seen from the air, the mine came to resemble a giant grey amoeba – 22 miles from end to end – eating its way across the mountains.

This was more than just the usual tradeoff between profit and pollution, another turn in the cycle of industry and cleanup. Mountaintop removal was, fundamentally, a more destructive realm of technology. It had barely existed until the 90s, and it took some time before scientists could measure the effects on the land and the people. For ecologists, the southern Appalachians was a singular domain – one of the most productive, diverse temperate hardwood forests on the planet. For aeons, the hills had contained more species of salamander than anywhere else, and a lush canopy that attracts neotropical migratory birds across thousands of miles to hatch their next generation. But a mountaintop mine altered the land from top to bottom: after blasting off the peaks – which miners call the “overburden” – bulldozers pushed the debris down the hillsides, where it blanketed the streams and rivers. Rainwater filtered down through a strange human-made stew of metal, pyrite, sulphur, silica, salts and coal, exposed to the air for the first time. The rain mingled with the chemicals and percolated down the hills, funnelling into the brooks and streams and, finally, into the rivers on the valley floor, which sustained the people of southern West Virginia.
» Read article                   

Nantong coal plant
Most plans for new coal plants scrapped since Paris agreement
Report by climate groups found more than three-quarters of projects were discarded after the deal was signed
By Jillian Ambrose, The Guardian
September 14, 2021

The global pipeline of new coal power plants has collapsed since the 2015 Paris climate agreement, according to research that suggests the end of the polluting energy source is in sight.

The report found that more than three-quarters of the world’s planned plants have been scrapped since the climate deal was signed, meaning 44 countries no longer have any future coal power plans.

The climate groups behind the report – E3G, Global Energy Monitor and Ember – said those countries now have the opportunity to join the 40 countries that have already signed up to a “no new coal” commitment to help tackle global carbon emissions.

“Only five years ago, there were so many new coal power plants planned to be built, but most of these have now been either officially halted, or are paused and unlikely to ever be built,” said Dave Jones, from Ember.

“Multiple countries can add their voices to a snowball of public commitments to ‘no new coal’, collectively delivering a key milestone to sealing coal’s fate.”

The remaining coal power plants in the pipeline are spread across 31 countries, half of which have only one planned for the future.

Chris Littlecott, the associate director at E3G, said the economics of coal have become “increasingly uncompetitive in comparison to renewable energy, while the risk of stranded assets has increased”.
» Read article                   

» More about fossil fuels

BIOMASS

Pinetree power station
New bill would eliminate subsidies for biomass energy
By State House News Service
September 14, 2021

With regulations ready to take effect that effectively close about 90 percent of the state’s land area to new wood-burning power generation facilities, Springfield-area lawmakers on Monday pushed for legislation that would more permanently eliminate state clean energy program subsidies for biomass anywhere in the Bay State.

Sens. Eric Lesser and Adam Gomez, and Rep. Orlando Ramos, each of whom represent parts of the western Mass. city known as the asthma capital of the United States, were joined by Boston Rep. Jay Livingstone in calling for the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy to issue favorable reports on bills (H 3333/S 2197) that would remove state incentives for facilities that burn wood products to generate power.

“The purpose of these two bills, and they are identical, is to remove woody biomass as an eligible fuel source in Massachusetts’ renewable energy portfolio standard, RPS, and the alternative energy portfolio standard, the APS standard,” Lesser, an opponent of a controversial wood-burning power plant proposed in East Springfield, said. “I want to be clear … H 3333 and S 2197 do not outright ban biomass. What they do is they eliminate the subsidy for biomass, and I feel strongly that Massachusetts ratepayers should not be subsidizing what is an inherently dirty fuel.”
» Read article                   

» More about biomass

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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 11/13/20

banner 02

Welcome back.

Activists fighting the Weymouth compressor station are keeping pressure on Mayor Robert Hedlund over his recent settlement agreement with Enbridge. We’re also keeping track of pipeline developments, with major projects mired in litigation. These challenges are expected to increase with the incoming Biden administration.

The Mountain Valley Pipeline project has been slowed by relentless litigation, but it has also faced fierce opposition from tree-sitters committed to halting progress by taking up long-term residence high in trees along the pipeline’s path. A remnant group has held out for over two years in steep terrain, but faces removal by court order next Monday.

The other end of the protest and action spectrum includes people who make a living creating the illusion of grass-roots support for fossil fuel projects. We found an important report on FTI Consulting, a well-connected firm financed by industry and laying astroturf far and wide.

California now has almost forty municipalities that have legislated natural gas hookup bans in new buildings. With the recent addition of San Francisco, these local laws are becoming so common that California is considering a state-wide rule. Note that Massachusetts law requires gas hookup bans to be addressed differently – through the building code. Several environmental organizations are promoting that change.

Somewhat related to that, Massachusetts natural gas utilities have embarked on a project initiated by Attorney General Maura Healey, to plan for their orderly transition to a decarbonized future. We have a description of the process, which is similar to efforts underway in California, Colorado, and New York.

Much of this week’s climate news explores the significance of President-elect Biden’s plans and approach. We offer articles describing the important immediate pro-climate steps he could take, and also some of the obstacles created by the Trump administration’s four-year frontal assault on the planet.

In clean energy, the east coast is grappling with the transmission requirements posed by the coming massive deployment of offshore wind resources. And a report from down under shows Australia the path to zero emissions without the natural gas “bridge”.

Even as the clean energy transition unfolds at an accelerating rate, the fossil fuel industry is still building out natural gas infrastructure. We highlight a new gas generating plant beginning construction in Oregon, in spite of stiff resistance. Meanwhile, Royal Dutch Shell launched a snarky promotion on Twitter, gaslighting users by asking “What are you willing to change?” for the climate. The blowback was immediate and intense.

The US liquefied natural gas (LNG) industry is staggering from self-inflicted wounds. Due to sloppy handling and lax regulations, the combined effect of fugitive methane emissions, flaring, and general inefficiency from wellhead to export terminal puts the fuel’s global warming impact on par with coal. This fuel serves export markets in Europe and Asia, and many of these buyers now require a full accounting of upstream emissions associated with any load of LNG. Contracts are being cancelled, and financing has dried up for some planned LNG export facilities.

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 is not for sale
Massachusetts Locals Accuse Town Mayor Of ‘Colluding’ With Enbridge Over Controversial Natural Gas Project
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmo Blog
November 11, 2020

Residents of Weymouth, Massachusetts, are raising questions about a deal made between the city and multi-billion dollar Canadian energy pipeline company Enbridge, Inc., with some calling the situation a “complete sell-off” that could jeopardize the health of the community and environment.

Protesters during a demonstration outside the town hall on November 6 accused the mayor of “colluding” with Enbridge by signing a $10 million settlement agreement dropping the town’s official opposition and legal fights against a newly constructed natural gas compressor station in town. Compressor stations, which pump large volumes of fracked gas at high pressure and are critical parts of gas pipeline infrastructure, are prone to hazards due to the extreme pressure by which the gas is processed.

The demonstration also comes after two recent accidental emergency shutdowns at the Weymouth compressor station less than three weeks apart — the facility is now under federal investigation. But despite this pending safety investigation, the Weymouth mayor struck an unexpected deal on October 30 with Enbridge, the owner of the compressor station, leaving town residents, neighboring municipalities, and even the town council without the town’s official support in their ongoing fight against the operation of the station.

In response to the mayor’s settlement agreement, the Weymouth Town Council voted unanimously this week to send a letter to the Massachusetts Attorney General asking her to look into the legality of the mayor’s newly agreed contract with Enbridge that effectively censures town officials from continuing to challenge the controverisal compressor station. This apparent silencing of the town’s legislative branch without its consent is potentially in violation of the town’s charter.

The town of Weymouth and the mayor had together opposed the compressor project for the last five years.

Wendy Cullivan, a Weymouth resident who attended the Friday demonstration, said the town’s 180-degree-manuever left community members and the town council high and dry in the battle with Enbridge. “From my perspective I’ve always looked to the town of Weymouth as the leader in the fight. When they relinquished themselves from that role last week, they didn’t tell anybody. They just dropped us like a hot potato,” she explained. “The way the agreement works is it carves out our town council from being active in the fight.”
» Read article               

Weymouth protests the settlement deal
Opponents demonstrate against Weymouth compressor station deal
About 70 opponents held a demonstration outside Weymouth Town Hall on Friday.
By  Fred Hanson, The Patriot Ledger
November 8, 2020

WEYMOUTH — Opponents of the newly constructed natural gas compressor station have a message for Mayor Robert Hedlund.

They say the host agreement that the mayor has reached with Enbridge, the owner of the station, is a bad deal and doesn’t go far enough to protect the safety of the community.

“We are not going away,” said Alice Arena, the leader of Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station.

About 70 people gathered in front of Weymouth Town Hall on Friday night, carrying signs with messages of their continued opposition to the compressor station.

Some of the signs read, “A bribe by any other name would smell as bad” and “Hedlund to Weymouth: Drop Dead.” Some passing drivers honked their horns as a show of support for the demonstrators.

Arena said the group will be organizing similar events as time goes on.

The host community agreement would provide the town an upfront payment of $10 million and potentially $28 million in tax revenue over the next 35 years.

The upfront payment can be spent on expenses for public safety, health and environmental needs, general infrastructure improvements for North Weymouth, coastal resiliency infrastructure and information technology.

Arena said the agreement is “selling out our lives and community for a lousy $10 million.”

District 1 Town Councilor Pascale Burga told the group that the council had no involvement in the negotiations for the agreement.

The mayor did not appear at the demonstration.
» Read article                

» More about the Weymouth compressor

PIPELINES

MVP restored landMountain Valley Pipeline faces another legal roadblock. What does that mean for the long-embattled project?
By Sarah Vogelsong, Virginia Mercury
November 12, 2020

On Monday the Richmond-based 4th Circuit issued a ruling that effectively bars Mountain Valley from continuing any construction related to its crossing of hundreds of streams, rivers and wetlands in Virginia and West Virginia until a broader case about the validity of its water-crossing permit is settled.

Project opponents — which include the Sierra Club, Appalachian Voices and Chesapeake Climate Action Network, among others — had argued that “irreparable harm” to the environment would result if stream-crossing work wasn’t halted before the resolution of the larger case. In August, Diana Charletta, president and chief operating officer of Mountain Valley developer Equitrans Midstream, told analysts on an earnings call that the company intended to try to cross “critical” streams “as quickly as possible before anything is challenged.”

MVP attorney George Sibley told the 4th Circuit that the developer’s haste is in recognition “that our opponents are implacable.”

“We have the authorizations,” he said Monday. “We are not going to wait to get sued and wait for those lawsuits to be resolved.”

Mountain Valley has argued that its stream-crossing permit is valid and that by delaying construction, the company is suffering severe financial harm amounting to losses of $20 million per month. Derek Teaney, an attorney for Appalachian Mountain Advocates representing MVP’s opponents, however, characterized those losses as “self-inflicted” because of ongoing deficiencies with agency approvals.
» Read article                

DAPL future uncertain with Biden
Future of Dakota Access pipeline uncertain as Biden presidency looms
By Laila Kearney, Reuters
November 12, 2020

The election of Democrat Joseph Biden could create more headaches for the Dakota Access Pipeline’s (DAPL) owners, who are already embroiled in legal battles to keep the main conduit for flowing oil out of North Dakota running.

The $3.8 billion DAPL ships about 40% of the crude oil produced from the Bakken shale region in North Dakota to refiners in the Midwest and exporters in the U.S. Gulf. Without the 557,000-barrel-per-day line, getting oil out of the area, which has about 1 million bpd of output, would be much more difficult left to smaller existing pipelines and rail.

DAPL’s controlling owner, Dallas-based Energy Transfer LP, is fighting to keep the pipeline running after a judge threw out its permit to run the line under a South Dakota lake that is a water source for Native American tribes that want the pipeline shut.

DAPL was a controversial project that sparked massive demonstrations starting in 2016 in North Dakota by native tribes and climate activists opposed to its completion.

President Donald Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, blocked a permit that would have allowed construction under South Dakota’s Lake Oahe, a critical water source for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe.

The line was finished in 2017 after Trump, upon taking office, approved a final permit allowing construction under the lake to be completed.
» Read article                

» More about pipelines

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

tree-sitters face removal order
Judge orders tree-sitters down after more than 2 years
By Laurence Hammack, The Roanoke Times
November 12, 2020

After spending two years, two months and seven days in the trees — where they have maintained an aerial blockade of the Mountain Valley Pipeline — protesters were told Thursday that they have four more days.

A temporary injunction issued by Montgomery County Circuit Judge Robert Turk ordered the three unidentified tree-sitters and 10 of their supporters to be gone by Monday.

While Mountain Valley has a legal right to a 125-foot-wide easement on which the natural gas pipeline will be built off Yellow Finch Lane, it has been unable to cut trees out of fear that it will harm the protesters in and around them.

If the defendants do not leave the property that has been occupied since Sept. 5, 2018, by Monday, “the Sheriff’s Office shall thereupon take such measures as are necessary to remove them,” the order entered by Turk reads.

Left unsaid in the order and during a two-hour hearing that preceded it was how the protesters might be extracted from tree stands about 50 feet off the ground on a steep, wooded slope near Elliston.
» Read article                

astroturf centralHow One Firm Drove Influence Campaigns Nationwide for Big Oil
FTI, a global consulting firm, helped design, staff and run organizations and websites funded by energy companies that can appear to represent grass-roots support for fossil-fuel initiatives.
By Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times
November 11, 2020

In early 2017, the Texans for Natural Gas website went live to urge voters to “thank a roughneck” and support fracking. Around the same time, the Arctic Energy Center ramped up its advocacy for drilling in Alaskan waters and in a vast Arctic wildlife refuge. The next year, the Main Street Investors Coalition warned that climate activism doesn’t help mom-and-pop investors in the stock market.

All three appeared to be separate efforts to amplify local voices or speak up for regular people.

On closer look, however, the groups had something in common: They were part of a network of corporate influence campaigns designed, staffed and at times run by FTI Consulting, which had been hired by some of the largest oil and gas companies in the world to help them promote fossil fuels.

An examination of FTI’s work provides an anatomy of the oil industry’s efforts to influence public opinion in the face of increasing political pressure over climate change, an issue likely to grow in prominence, given President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s pledge to pursue bolder climate regulations. The campaigns often obscure the industry’s role, portraying pro-petroleum groups as grass-roots movements.

As part of its services to the industry, FTI monitored environmental activists online, and in one instance an employee created a fake Facebook persona — an imaginary, middle-aged Texas woman with a dog — to help keep tabs on protesters. Former FTI employees say they studied other online influence campaigns and compiled strategies for affecting public discourse. They helped run a campaign that sought a securities rule change, described as protecting the interests of mom-and-pop investors, that aimed to protect oil and gas companies from shareholder pressure to address climate and other concerns.
» Read article               

Rise and Resist
With Biden’s Win, Climate Activists See New Potential But Say They’ll ‘Push Where We Need to Push’
Advocacy groups are preparing for the challenges of a likely Republican Senate and planning their next moves.
By Georgina Gustin, InsideClimate News
November 8, 2020

Even before Joe Biden won the presidential election on Saturday, climate activists and environmental groups began vowing to push the new president for aggressive action on climate and strategizing for a Biden administration.

“We’ve seen that Biden, in his final debate speech, committed to a transition off of fossil fuels. We’re excited to hold a Biden administration accountable to that promise,” said Emily Southard, a campaign manager with 350 Action. “We’ll push where we need to push.”

If the Senate remains in Republican hands, the chances of passing transformative climate policies are slim, worrying many advocates who say any compromise on policy will be insufficient to tackle the deepening climate crisis.

But with time running out for avoiding the worst impacts of climate change, every possible action—from local green ballot initiatives to a new federal position of “climate czar” to financial regulatory reforms—is on the advocacy agenda. Already, climate advocates are celebrating a shift in momentum.

“Simply because we have a Republican Senate that isn’t representative of the majority of Americans who want action on climate change, doesn’t mean that things like a Green New Deal aren’t happening already,” Southard said, noting that green ballot initiatives passed in several cities. “The Green New Deal isn’t just a piece of legislation; it’s a vision for an economy that moves us off of fossil fuels. There’s a lot Biden can do, from stopping the Keystone Pipeline to banning fracking on public lands.”
» Read article                

» More about protests and actions

LEGISLATIVE NEWS

Sanfran- gas banSan Francisco’s gas ban on new buildings could prompt statewide action
The vote adds San Francisco to the growing list of nearly 40 California cities to pass such ordinances since Berkeley’s historic ban in July 2019.
By Kristin Musulin, Utility Dive
November 12, 2020

San Francisco this week became the latest, and perhaps the largest, U.S. city to ban natural gas in new buildings.

In a meeting on Tuesday, the city’s Board of Supervisors passed legislation requiring new residential and commercial building construction to utilize all-electric power, starting with projects that file permits next year. This ordinance will cover about 60% of the city’s current development pipeline in an effort to reduce city carbon emissions and tackle climate change, said District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman in the meeting.

“San Francisco has taken climate change seriously for a long time and today — on the heels of yet another catastrophic fire season, a record string of unhealthier days, extreme heat waves, and even a day when the sun didn’t come up — we San Franciscans have an opportunity to make one more incremental but important move to help save our planet,” he told his colleagues in the meeting.

The board’s unanimous vote concludes nearly a year of deliberation with the Zero Emissions Building Taskforce, Mandelman said, which brought together affordable housing and mixed-use developers, architects and engineers, labor and building trades and community advocates to craft the legislation. It complements the approval of the city’s electric preference ordinance, passed last fall to require higher energy efficiency standards from natural gas buildings, and an ordinance passed earlier this year requiring all-electric construction for new municipal projects.

The vote also adds San Francisco to the growing list of nearly 40 California cities to pass such ordinances since Berkeley’s historic ban on natural gas infrastructure July 2019. Experts say San Francisco’s measure could hold enough weight to pressure similar legislation from cities such as Los Angeles, and could even push Gov. Gavin Newsom, D, toward statewide action.
» Read article                

» More legislative news

GAS UTILITIES

gas transition gets real
Can gas utilities survive the energy transition? Massachusetts is going to find out.
By Emily Pontecorvo, Grist
November 4, 2020

Massachusetts may be a climate leader in the U.S., with a goal to reduce economy-wide emissions in the state to net-zero by 2050, but it will face a major obstacle along the way: More than 1.3 million of its households make it through those cold New England winters by burning natural gas. Roughly one-third of the state’s emissions come from the fuels burned in buildings for heating, hot water, and cooking.

Now the state is responding to pressure from its attorney general, Maura Healey, to take a look at what the path to net-zero in the building sector might look like, particularly for the gas companies whose entire reason for existing could be eliminated in the process. Last week, the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities (DPU) officially opened a new proceeding to start guiding utilities into a decarbonized future while protecting their customers. As the number of people using the gas system shrinks over time, the cost of maintaining reliable service for remaining ratepayers could balloon.

“It’s a really complicated set of issues as you look at what’s going to be happening on the gas side as people peel off,” said Susan Tierney, a senior advisor and energy expert at the Analysis Group, an economic consulting firm. “There’s real trade-offs about affordability of supply, safety of service.”

The Massachusetts DPU joins regulators in California and New York, and now Colorado, who have all initiated similar investigations into these trade-offs and the future of natural gas in their states.

To aid in its inquiry, the DPU is requiring gas distribution companies in the state to jointly hire an independent consultant who will review two climate “roadmap” documents the state plans to release for various sectors later this year. The consultant will then analyze the feasibility of the proposed pathways in those roadmaps and offer additional ideas for how each company might comply with state law, using a uniform methodology. Ultimately the consultant must produce a single, comprehensive report of their findings for all companies. By March 2022, the companies are required to submit new proposals with “plans for helping the Commonwealth achieve its 2050 climate goals, supported by the Report,” for the DPU to review.

Tierney called this a “clever approach,” since often in utility rulemakings, each stakeholder will hire its own expert and use its own set of assumptions, leading to a data war of sorts where it’s hard to know whose numbers to go on. In this case, the DPU, utilities, ratepayers, and environmental advocates will at least have a common set of facts on which to base discussions.
» Read article                

» More about gas utilities              

CLIMATE

be the ClimatePresident
Biden Urged to Be #ClimatePresident by Taking These 10 ‘Game-Changing’ Steps in First 10 Days in Office
By Julia Conley, Common Dreams, reposted in DeSmog Blog
November 9, 2020

With Democrats anxious about the probability that President-elect Joe Biden will be forced to grapple with a Republican-led Senate after taking office in January, a coalition of more than a dozen climate action groups are calling on Biden to take every possible step he can to help solve the planetary emergency without the approval of Congress.

Even in the face of a Senate controlled by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and the Republican Party, Biden can and must still be a “Climate President,” say the groups, which include the Center for Biological Diversity, Greenpeace, and Friends of the Earth.

The organizations originally released the Climate President plan nearly a year ago during the Democratic primary, and are now calling on Biden to take “ten steps in [his] first ten days in office” to help “form the necessary foundation for the country’s true transformation to a safer, healthier, and more equitable world for everyone.”

“If the world is to have any reasonable chance of staying below 1.5°C and avoiding the worst impacts of climate change, the next president of the United States must demonstrate national and global leadership and take immediate and decisive action to launch a rapid and just transition off of fossil fuels economy-wide,” reads the website set up by the coalition, ClimatePresident.org. “Recognizing the steps that the next president can take without any additional action from Congress is critical because these are the ‘no excuses’ actions that can be taken immediately to set the nation on a course to zero emissions.”

The organizations list 10 action items which would help the Biden White House single-handedly put the U.S. on the path to meaningfully fighting the climate crisis:
» Read article                

what Trump left us
What Will Trump’s Most Profound Legacy Be? Possibly Climate Damage
President-elect Biden can restore many of the 100-plus environmental regulations that President Trump rolled back, but much of the damage to the climate cannot be reversed.
By Coral Davenport, New York Times
November 9, 2020


WASHINGTON — President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. will use the next four years to try to restore the environmental policies that his predecessor has methodically blown up, but the damage done by the greenhouse gas pollution unleashed by President Trump’s rollbacks may prove to be one of the most profound legacies of his single term.

Most of Mr. Trump’s environmental policies, which erased or loosened nearly 100 rules and regulations on pollution in the air, water and atmosphere, can be reversed, though not immediately. Pollutants like industrial soot and chemicals can have lasting health effects, especially in minority communities where they are often concentrated. But air quality and water clarity can be restored once emissions are put back under control.

That is not true for the global climate. Greenhouse pollution accumulates in the atmosphere, so the heat-trapping gases emitted as a result of loosened regulations will remain for decades, regardless of changes in policy.

“Historically, there is always a pendulum to swing back and forth between Democratic and Republican administrations on the environment, and, theoretically, the environment can recover,” said Jody Freeman, a professor of environmental law at Harvard and a former adviser to the Obama administration. “You can put rules back in place that clean up the air and water. But climate change doesn’t work like that.”

Moreover, Mr. Trump’s rollbacks of emissions policies have come at a critical moment: Over the past four years, the global level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere crossed a long-feared threshold of atmospheric concentration. Now, many of the most damaging effects of climate change, including rising sea levels, deadlier storms, and more devastating heat, droughts and wildfires, are irreversible.

At home, Mr. Biden may find it more difficult than his former boss, President Barack Obama, to use executive authority to create tough, durable climate change rules because the six-justice conservative majority on the Supreme Court is expected to look unfavorably on policies that significantly expand federal agencies’ authority to regulate industry.

And abroad, the influence that the United States once had in climate talks was almost certainly damaged by Mr. Trump’s policy rollbacks and withdrawal from the 2015 Paris climate agreement. Those actions slowed down international efforts to reduce emissions and prompted other governments to follow the American lead in weakening emissions rules, though none have followed the United States out of the agreement.

All of that means that as Mr. Biden works to enact domestic climate change rules and rejoin the Paris accord, emissions attributable to Mr. Trump’s actions will continue, tipping the planet further into a danger zone that scientists say will be much harder to escape.
» Read article                

climate policy reversalA Biden victory positions America for a 180-degree turn on climate change
New administration will seek to shift U.S. off fossil fuels and expand public lands protections, but face serious opposition from Senate GOP.
By Juliet Eilperin, Dino Grandoni and Darryl Fears, Washington Post
November 7, 2020

Joe Biden, the projected winner of the presidency, will move to restore dozens of environmental safeguards President Trump abolished and launch the boldest climate change plan of any president in history. While some of Biden’s most sweeping programs will encounter stiff resistance from Senate Republicans and conservative attorneys general, the United States is poised to make a 180-degree turn on climate change and conservation policy.

Biden’s team already has plans on how it will restrict oil and gas drilling on public lands and waters; ratchet up federal mileage standards for cars and SUVs; block pipelines that transport fossil fuels across the country; provide federal incentives to develop renewable power; and mobilize other nations to make deeper cuts in their own carbon emissions.

In a victory speech Saturday night, Biden identified climate change as one of his top priorities as president, saying Americans must marshal the “forces of science” in the “battle to save our planet.”

“Joe Biden ran on climate. How great is this?” said Gina McCarthy, who headed the Environmental Protection Agency during President Barack Obama’s second term and now helms the Natural Resources Defense Council. “It’ll be time for the White House to finally get back to leading the charge against the central environmental crisis of our time.”

Biden has vowed to eliminate carbon emissions from the electric sector by 2035 and spend $2 trillion on investments ranging from weatherizing homes to developing a nationwide network of charging stations for electric vehicles. That massive investment plan stands a chance only if his party wins two Senate runoff races in Georgia in January; otherwise, he would have to rely on a combination of executive actions and more-modest congressional deals to advance his agenda.

Still, a number of factors make it easier to enact more-ambitious climate policies than even four years ago. Roughly 10 percent of the globe has warmed by 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), a temperature rise the world has pledged to avoid. The price of solar and wind power has dropped, the coal industry has shrunk, and Americans increasingly connect the disasters they’re experiencing in real time — including more-intense wildfires, hurricanes and droughts — with global warming. Biden has made the argument that curbing carbon will produce high-paying jobs while protecting the planet.

Biden’s advisers are well aware of the potential and pitfalls of relying on executive authority to act on climate. Obama used it to advance major climate policies in his second term, including limits on tailpipe emissions from cars and light trucks and the 2015 Paris climate agreement. Trump has overturned them, along with 125 others.

League of Conservation Voters President Gene Karpinski pointed to California — which has already adopted a low-carbon fuels standard and requirement that half its electricity come from carbon-free sources within five years — as a model. “You look at where California is now going, the federal government needs to get there.”

Some of the new administration’s rules could be challenged in federal court, which have a number of Trump appointees on the bench. But even some conservative activists said that Biden could enact enduring policies.
» Read article                

Iris launch
New Technology Claims to Pinpoint Even Small Methane Leaks From Space
Amid growing alarm about methane’s role in driving global warming, a Canadian firm has begun selling a service to detect even relatively small leaks. At least two rivals are on the way.
By Paul Tullis, New York Times
November 11, 2020

Methane, the powerful, invisible greenhouse gas, has been leaking from oil facilities since the first wells were drilled more than 150 years ago. Most of that time, it was very difficult for operators to measure any emissions accurately — and they had little motivation to, since regulations are typically weak.

Now, technology is catching up just as there is growing alarm about methane’s role driving global warming. A Canadian company, GHGSat, last month used satellites to detect what it has called the smallest methane leak seen from space and has begun selling data to emitters interested in pinpointing leaks that previously were harder to spot.

“The discovery and quantification of gas leaks from space is a game-changer in the interaction of atmospheric sciences and climate change mitigation,” said Thomas Roeckmann, professor of atmospheric physics and chemistry at Utrecht University in the Netherlands and coordinator of a project, called MEMO2, to measure methane leaks at ground level. “We will likely be able to detect smaller and thus potentially many more leaks from space in the near future.”

Soon the company may have competition. Bluefield Technologies, based in New York City, plans a group of satellites for launch in 2023 that promises an even finer resolution. And the Environmental Defense Fund hopes to launch MethaneSAT in the next couple of years, which is designed to pick up small perturbations in methane across large areas.

Until a few years ago, measuring methane from small areas such as a fracking well required ground-based sensors. They were good at determining gas concentrations at a site, but considering the millions of oil-and-gas facilities worldwide and the high cost of checking and rechecking, finding leaks could be time consuming and complicated, even with the use of airplanes and drones. In 2002, satellites from Japan and the European Space Agency began taking stock of global emissions, but the resolution was too low to identify point sources.
» Read article                

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

offshore wind transmission
A Looming Transmission Crunch for the US East Coast’s Offshore Wind Ambitions
Planning and cost-sharing disconnects could stymie states’ plans for 29 GW of offshore wind. But there are solutions, experts say.
By Jeff St. John, GreenTech Media
November 11, 2020

Building the transmission grid needed to grow U.S. renewable energy capacity is complicated enough on solid ground. It’s even more complicated for the nascent offshore wind industry.

But if East Coast states want to hit their goals of nearly 29 gigawatts of offshore wind in the next 15 years, they’ll need to find solutions. A key first step will be working with federal regulators and regional grid operators to find ways to share the costs of building offshore transmission, rather than going it alone.

That’s the key message from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s technical conference on offshore wind integration last month, featuring representatives from utilities and states trying to plan ahead for an unprecedented undersea high-voltage transmission system build-out.

Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts are calling for a combined 28.5 gigawatts of offshore wind capacity by 2035. That will cost roughly $100 billion, of which about $15 billion and $20 billion will go into offshore transmission, according to an October report from the Business Network for Offshore Wind advocacy group.

But today’s constructs for allocating transmission costs are unlikely to lead to those investments being completed in time, workshop participants warned.

“The current ‘generator-lead’ approach that states have used to date,” in which individual offshore wind projects and offtakers bear the costs of building individual transmission corridors needed to bring their power to shore, “is unsustainable,” Stuart Nachmias, CEO of the transmission unit of New York utility Con Edison, said in his opening remarks.

Instead, Nachmias promoted a “transmission-first” approach that shares costs among multiple offshore wind project investors, utilities, states and the ratepayers that will end up paying for them.
» Read article               
» Read the BNOW report         

look AU - no gasAustralia will benefit from shift to zero emissions, with no gas required
By Michael Mazengarb, RenewEconomy
November 10, 2020

New analysis published by the Climate Action Tracker initiative has detailed how Australia could take action on climate change consistent with limiting warming to 1.5 degrees, in a way that would leave it economically stronger, and with gas not needed as a transition fuel

In a new report titled Scaling up Climate Action, the Climate Action Tracker initiative found that Australia would be economically better off if governments adopted an ambitious switch to zero emissions energy sources, including an almost complete transition of the electricity system to renewable energy sources by 2030.

The report found that as many as 76,000 new jobs could be created over the next ten years within the renewable energy sector alone, through more ambitious emissions reduction policies.

“This report shows how Australia can get on a pathway to net zero emissions in line with the Paris Agreement goal of limiting warming to 1.5C, increasing employment and ratcheting up its 2030 target from the currently inadequate 26-28% to a 66% emissions reduction,” CEO and senior scientist at Climate Analytics Bill Hare said.

“We show how this is feasible. But it needs real climate policy across all sectors of the economy. An important first step to achieving this is a planned and managed phase out of coal from power generation by 2030.”

The report finds that Australia’s current emissions reduction targets are not consistent with the Paris Agreement’s aims of limiting global warming to no more than 1.5 degrees, and both a commitment to a zero net emissions target, and a stronger 2030 interim target  are a necessary, but achievable, to bring Australia into line with the Paris Agreement.

The analysis detailed an economically and technically feasible pathway for transitioning the electricity system to renewable energy sources, that would help Australia achieve the 66 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.
» Read article               
» Read the report

» More about clean energy

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

wind chaser protest
Oregon Allows a Controversial Fracked Gas Power Plant to Begin Construction

Having fought the plant for years, environmentalists expressed surprise that the state has greenlighted a major new greenhouse gas polluter.
By Ilana Cohen, Inside Climate News
November 5, 2020

Columbia Riverkeeper and Friends of the Columbia Gorge asked a Multnomah County court on Monday to review a “grievously” unlawful decision by the Oregon Department of Energy to allow construction of the controversial Perennial Wind Chaser Station power plant. If built, the plant would be one of the state’s largest stationary sources of greenhouse gas emissions.

The nonprofit environmental groups alleged that the state allowed developers to avoid required stormwater and air pollution permits and meet a Sept. 23 construction deadline by breaking the construction into “phases.” They claimed that grading the site in preparation for an access road represented “phase 1” of the plant construction in a way that was never approved by a state siting panel.

If completed, the 415-megawatt, natural gas-fired power plant, near Hermiston in rural Umatilla County, 160 miles east of Portland, would provide additional power to the power grid to complement intermittent renewable sources, like wind and solar, at times of peak energy demand.

According to Columbia Riverkeeper, the plant would generate more than 1 million tons of carbon dioxide pollution annually, in addition to increased air pollution linked to cardiovascular and respiratory illness.

Five years out from the plant’s initial approval in 2015, developers have yet to secure a buyer for the electricity the plant would produce, though they remain in dogged pursuit.

Finding a market for the plant’s output in Oregon, where hydropower and other renewable energy sources account for a majority of the state’s utility-scale net electricity generation, has probably become more difficult amidst stricter statewide energy standards and a pandemic that has depressed overall natural gas demand.

Environmentalists contend this lack of a market should be proof enough that the plant need not go forward. Still, they say, they find themselves having to use every legal device at their disposal to keep it from proceeding.
» Read article                

Shell endless greenwashShell’s climate poll on Twitter backfires spectacularly
Oil giant accused of gaslighting after asking users: ‘What are you willing to change?’
By Damian Carrington, The Guardian
November 3, 2020

A climate poll on Twitter posted by Shell has backfired spectacularly, with the oil company accused of gaslighting the public.

The survey, posted on Tuesday morning, asked: “What are you willing to change to help reduce emissions?”

Though it received a modest 199 votes the tweet still went viral – but not for the reasons the company would have hoped. The US congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was one high-profile respondent, posting a tweet that was liked 350,000 times.

[I’m willing to hold you accountable for lying about climate change for 30 years when you secretly knew the entire time that fossil fuels emissions would destroy our planet]

Greta Thunberg accused the company of “endless greenwash”, while the climate scientist Prof Katharine Hayhoe pointed out Shell’s huge contribution to the atmospheric carbon dioxide that is heating the planet. Shell then hid her reply, she said.

Another climate scientist, Peter Kalmus, was more direct, and said the company was gaslighting the public by suggesting individual actions could stop the climate crisis, rather than systemic change to the fossil fuel industry. Some Twitter users saw irony in this, while others asked if the company was “out of its mind”.
» Read article                

» More about fossil fuel

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

LNG scrutinized
French government puts U.S. gas imports on ice
By Chathurika Gamage & Georges Tijbosch, Green Biz
November 12, 2020

A move by one of the largest European energy companies shows that both markets and governments are beginning to pay attention to methane emissions and factor them into business decisions. France’s Engie has halted its commitment to a long-term U.S. liquefied natural gas (LNG) import contract with NextDecade Corp estimated at $7 billion.

This is being done under pressure from the French government, which holds a 23.6 percent stake in Engie. The delay was driven in large part by concerns over the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of U.S. gas production, particularly from the Permian Basin, which will feed NextDecade’s proposed Rio Grande LNG export plant in Texas. While we cannot ignore the geopolitical considerations also at play, these concerns reflect the growing consensus that all natural gas cannot be seen as equal in terms of its impact on the climate.

There has long been debate about reducing emissions within the oil and gas sector. Earlier this year, Singapore’s biggest buyer of LNG, Pavilion Energy Pte Ltd, asked all LNG sellers to quantify the GHG emissions associated with each LNG cargo produced, transported and imported into Singapore.

This latest halted contract comes on the back of the European Commission’s (EC) newly proposed EU Methane Strategy, part of the European Green Deal. The strategy prioritizes improved measurement and reporting of emissions of methane, a powerful climate pollutant, for member states and the international community. In the recent announcement, the EC called out energy imports as a major source of methane emissions, and committed to explore possible targets, incentives or standards for energy imports into the EU.

Engie’s decision demonstrates a trend toward increased scrutiny of gas deals within and beyond the EU. From the outside looking in, the United States does not seem to stand up to such scrutiny. The Trump administration’s rollback of many climate policies and EPA rulings, including those pertaining to oil and gas methane emissions reporting, monitoring and repair, are just a few of nearly 100 environmental rules being dismantled.

Continuing down this route may make it difficult for U.S. gas producers and exporters to lock in deals with overseas markets, which could have big economic consequences for the U.S. gas industry. In 2019, 38 percent of the United States’ domestically produced LNG was exported to Europe, equating to about $2.9 billion in revenue (based on the median 2019 price at export). The export volume to Europe has increased substantially over the last five years, paving the way for the approval of 15 new LNG export terminals in North America beyond the six main terminals that exist today. These new terminal projects may face delays or even cancellation of final investment decisions based on the market’s consideration of climate impact.
» Read article                

Bigfoot on the waterGas Export’s Dirty Secret: A Carbon Footprint Rivaling Coal’s
By Catherine Traywick, Stephen Cunningham, Naureen Malik and Dave Merrill (Bloomberg), in gCaptain
January 23, 2020

In May, while President Donald Trump toured a new $10 billion plant designed to prepare natural gas for export, he made a vow. Such facilities would be good for the environment, he said, or they won’t get approved.

The president has greenlit 11 projects so far, bringing the U.S. total to 18. Environmentalists once touted the fuel, nicknamed “freedom gas” by the Trump administration, as a better energy alternative, but an analysis shows the plants’ potential carbon dioxide emissions rival those of coal.

Not all the export terminals are completed and in use, but if they were, simply operating them could spew 78 million tons of CO2 into the air every year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg from environmental filings. That’s comparable to the emissions of 24 coal plants, or 18 gigawatts of coal-fired power—more than Kentucky’s entire coal fleet. And those numbers don’t account for the harm caused by transporting the gas from wellheads to processing facilities and then overseas, which can be significant.

“The emissions from these projects can’t be squared with the sorts of drastic, drastic reductions we need in order to avoid catastrophic climate change,” says Nathan Matthews, a senior Sierra Club attorney.

As long as natural gas stays in the pipeline, emissions remain relatively low. But the sprawling terminals that export the fuel use ozone-depleting refrigerants to supercool it into liquid form, called LNG. They also belch toxic gases such as sulfur dioxide and burn off excess methane, a greenhouse gas more immediately destructive to the atmosphere than CO2.

Proponents of exporting natural gas, including government officials, argue that it will help wean other countries off coal, and that additional emissions here are offset by lower emissions abroad. But natural gas’s role in global warming is complicated. While the fuel has been key to reducing U.S. emissions as it displaces coal-fired power, the electricity industry’s growing dependence on it has nevertheless “offset some of the climate gains from this coal decline,” according to the Rhodium Group. With the effects of climate change already supercharging wildfires and flooding some coastal communities, the surprise that emissions from LNG terminals rival those of coal plants is not a pleasant one.
» Read article                

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