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Weekly News Check-In 2/26/21

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Welcome back.

We’re following two very positive news developments this week. First, a planned seismic survey for oil and gas reserves in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) – a brutal environmental assault  – was cancelled when a contractor missed a deadline for counting polar bears in the affected area. The Biden administration will not give them a second chance.

A couple days later we learned of a definitive vote by the Delaware River Basin Commission to ban fracking throughout the entire Delaware River watershed – a huge, environmentally sensitive region from the Catskills to Delaware Bay. This makes a longstanding moratorium permanent.

Meanwhile, folks in Weymouth continue to fight the compressor station. Now that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has agreed to review the controversial air quality permit, elected officials are pressing for the community’s health concerns to finally be taken seriously.

We’re showcasing another example of businesses retooling to thrive in a greener economy – a family-owned manufacturer in Virginia, now under third-generation leadership, has pivoted away from making coal mining equipment with plans to go big into battery storage.

Of course the climate is a mess, but we even found some good news here. A Maine startup called Running Tide Technologies is experimenting with carbon sequestration through free-floating kelp farms. Lots of practical and environmental questions have to be answered before the plan can be implemented and scaled up, but the core idea is simple and elegant. Our second bit of climate news will warm the hearts of our policy wonk friends: The Biden administration has reset of the social cost of carbon, and expects to raise it even further. This number, used in cost/benefit analysis around climate mitigation investments, was ridiculously undervalued by the Trump administration.

Since clean energy generation was falsely scapegoated during last week’s weather-related Texas grid failure, we’re offering a report on real lessons that can be learned from that disaster. This is also a good opportunity to consider the other side of the equation – demand for that energy – and the imperative to address energy efficiency in buildings.

We recently ran an article about Highland Electric Transportation, the Massachusetts electric school bus provider with an innovative business model that allows cash-strapped school districts to avoid the steep upfront costs associated with purchasing new electric buses. They’re gaining traction now, attracting investors and landing substantial contracts.

We’ve also been closely following the progress of Massachusetts’ landmark climate legislation as it bounces back and forth between the legislature and governor. Various industry groups lobbied heavily against parts of it, and this is reflected in Governor Charlie Baker’s initial veto and subsequent amendments. We offer a report on these industry influences, and where they’re coming from.

On biomass, we show what it takes to feed trees into Britain’s huge Drax power station. All of the bad ideas making Drax possible are alive and well in Governor Baker’s head, as he pursues the pretzel logic of changing Massachusetts’ Renewable Portfolio Standard to support the proposed biomass generating plant in Springfield.

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

lawmakers push regulators
Lawmakers push regulators to reexamine compressor approval
By Jessica Trufant, The Patriot Ledger
February 24, 2021

Members of Weymouth’s congressional delegation want federal regulators to reconsider their decision to allow the compressor station on the banks of the Fore River to go into service. 

U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch and U.S. Sens. Edward Markey and Elizabeth Warren recently sent a letter to Richard Glick, chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, asking that the commission rescind the in-service authorization issued for the compressor station in September.

“The site is located within a half mile of Quincy Point and Germantown – “environmental justice communities” that suffer persistent environmental health disparities due to socioeconomic and other factors – as well as nearly 1,000 homes, a water treatment plant and a public park,” the legislators wrote in the letter. “An estimated 3,100 children live or go to school within a mile of the site, and more than 13,000 children attend school within three miles of the compressor station.”

Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station, the City of Quincy and other petitioners have also asked the commission to revoke the authorization and reconsider its approval of the project.

“We urge you to review their concerns fully and fairly, and to swiftly move to rehear the approval of the in-service certificate,” the lawmakers wrote in their letter.

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

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.

Last fall, local, state and federal officials called for a halt of compressor operations when two emergency shutdowns caused hundreds of thousands of cubic feet of natural gas to be released into the air.
» Read article                 

» More about Weymouth compressor station       

 

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

no frack zone
Amid lawsuits, Delaware River Basin Commission makes fracking ban permanent
The formal ban came a month after a federal judge set an October trial date to hear a challenge to the drilling moratorium.
By Andrew Maykuth, Philadelphia Inquirer
February 25, 2021

The Delaware River Basin Commission on Thursday approved a permanent ban on hydraulic fracturing of natural gas wells along the river, doubling down in the face of new legal challenges.

The DRBC’s vote maintains the status quo — it formally affirms a drilling moratorium imposed in 2010 by the commission, the interstate agency that manages water use in the vast Delaware watershed. But environmentalists hailed the frack ban as historic.

The commission said it had the authority to ban fracking in order to control future pollution, protect the public health, and preserve the waters in the Delaware River Basin. For more than debate, environmental activists have rallied substantial public opposition in the basin to pressure the commission to enact the ban.

The formal ban came a month after a federal judge set an October trial date to hear a challenge from landowners to the drilling moratorium, which is now a permanent ban. Pennsylvania Republican lawmakers, along with Damascus Township in Wayne County, also filed a separate federal legal action last month alleging that the moratorium illegally usurps state legislators’ authority to govern natural resources.

Representatives of the governors of four states that are drained by the river — Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and New York, all governed by Democrats — voted in favor of the ban. The fifth commission member, a federal government representative from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, abstained because he said the corps needed additional time to “coordinate” with the new Biden administration.
» Read article                
» See Delaware River Basin map      
» Read Natural Resources Defense Council blog post             

Gavin Newsom sued
Avowed Climate Champion Gavin Newsom Sued for ‘Completely Unacceptable’ Approval of Oil and Gas Projects in California
“Newsom can’t protect our health and climate while giving thousands of illegal permits each year to this dirty and dangerous industry. We need the courts to step in and stop this.”
By Brett Wilkins, Common Dreams
February 24, 2021

Accusing California regulators of “reckless disregard” for public “health and safety,” the environmental advocacy group Center for Biological Diversity on Wednesday sued the administration of Gov. Gavin Newsom for approving thousands of oil and gas drilling and fracking projects without the required environmental review.

The lawsuit (pdf) claims that the California Geologic Energy Management Division (CalGEM) failed to adequately analyze environmental and health risks before issuing fossil fuel extraction permits, as required by law. According to the suit, California regulators approved nearly 2,000 new oil and gas permits without proper environmental review. 

“CalGEM routinely violates its duty to conduct an initial study and further environmental review for any new oil and gas well drilling, well stimulation, or injection permits and approvals,” the suit alleges. “Instead, CalGEM repeatedly and consistently issues permits and approvals for oil and gas drilling, well stimulation, and injection projects without properly disclosing, analyzing, or mitigating the significant environmental impacts of these projects.”

The center noted that “despite Gov. Newsom’s progressive rhetoric on climate change, he has failed to curb California’s dirty and carbon-intensive oil and gas production.”

“His regulators continue to issue thousands of permits without review, and the governor has refused to act on his stated desire to ban fracking,” the group said in a statement.
» Read article                
» Read the Center for Biological Diversity complaint against CalGEM                   

» More about protests and actions              

 

GREENING THE ECONOMY

made in Virginia
This Virginia coal-mining equipment supplier sees a future in clean energy
Under third-generation leadership, a family-owned company has pivoted to energy storage and sees opportunity for other southwest Virginia companies to follow.
By Elizabeth McGowan, Energy News Network
Photo By Lawrence Brothers Inc. / Courtesy
February 22, 2021

When Melanie Lawrence packed her bags for the University of Tennessee in 1998 to major in Spanish and English, she aspired — not at all maliciously — to leave Tazewell County in the dust.

The Virginian flourished in Knoxville.

Her academic aptitude was her ticket to Spain and then Brussels for a graduate degree in international law and relations. She traveled the world — including a year spent aiding refugees on the Ethiopia-Sudan border — practicing humanitarian law. By 2007, she was married to fellow globetrotter Fernando Protti and living in a Washington, D.C., suburb. 

A year later, home called. The family business, which manufactured battery trays for coal-mining equipment, was seeking leadership from the third generation. 

The oldest of four sisters, Protti-Lawrence somewhat surprised herself by saying yes, aware that the wide gap between the nation’s capital and Appalachia isn’t measured in mere mileage.

For the last dozen years, Melanie, president, and Fernando, CEO, have fearlessly focused on diversifying Lawrence Brothers Inc.’s product line beyond less-and-less-relevant coal. Now, just 10% of its business is coal-related, a severe and intentional drop from 95% in 2008.

“If we had stuck solely with coal, we would be out of business,” Protti-Lawrence said. “You can’t strategically plan or grow if you’re relying on one industry. We made an absolute effort to go beyond our wheelhouse.”

That grit and innovation inspired an “aha” energy storage moment for Adam Wells of Appalachian Voices and Vivek Shinde Patil of Ascent Virginia.

Both nonprofit thinkers have been dogged about linking an oft-forgotten slice of their state to the wealth of jobs and knowledge blooming in the booming renewable energy industry. Why couldn’t companies in Tazewell and Buchanan counties pivot to exporting advanced batteries and other components that fuel cars in Asia, light homes in California or store energy generated by wind farms in Europe?
» Read article                 

» More about greening the economy          

 

CLIMATE

Running Tide
Maine Startup Aims To Pull Carbon Out Of The Atmosphere By Growing — And Then Sinking — Kelp Farms
By Fred Bever, Maine Public Radio, on WBUR
February 16, 2021

The fight against climate change has long focused on scaling back humanity’s emissions of planet-warming carbon-dioxide. But a movement is growing to think bigger and find ways to actually pull existing CO2 out of the air and lock it up somewhere safe.

One Maine startup has an innovative approach that’s drawing attention from scientists and investors: grow massive amounts of seaweed and then bury it at the bottom of the deepest sea, where it will sequester carbon for thousands of years.

On a fishing boat a few miles out in the Gulf of Maine, Capt. Rob Odlin and Adam Rich are tossing buoys into the water. Each is tethered to a rope entwined with tiny seeds of kelp, a fast-growing seaweed.

“We’re just fishing for carbon now, and kelp’s the net,” Odlin says.

The project is experimental R&D for a company called Running Tide Technologies, based on the Portland waterfront.

Marty Odlin, the boat captain’s nephew and the CEO of Running Tide, explains the company’s mission.

“Essentially what we have to do is run the oil industry in reverse,” he says.

Odlin wants to mimic the natural processes that turned ancient plants into carbon-storing fossil fuels — and do it in a hurry. He sees individual kelp microfarms floating hundreds of miles offshore, over the deepest parts of the world’s oceans.

The kelp soaks up carbon, via photosynthesis, and grows. After about seven months, the mature blades get too heavy for their biodegradable buoys, and sink.

“The kelp will sink to the ocean bottom in the sediment, and become, essentially, part of the ocean floor,” Odlin says. “That gets you millions of years of sequestration. So that’s when you’re making oil. That’s got to be the ultimate goal.”
» Read article            

baseline restored
How Much Does Climate Change Cost? Biden Expected to Raise Carbon’s Dollar Value
The administration is expected to temporarily increase the “social cost” of carbon, at least to the level set by Obama, but climate-concerned economists say that’s not high enough.
By Marianne Lavelle, InsideClimate News
February 19, 2021

In fact, it calculated that the benefits of action on climate change added up to as little as $1 per ton of carbon dioxide, and it set policy accordingly. Almost any steps to reduce greenhouse gases seemed too costly, given the paltry potential gain for society.

President Joe Biden’s White House is moving forward on a crucial first step toward building back U.S. climate policy and is expected to direct federal agencies to use a figure closer to $52 per ton as their guidance for the so-called “social cost of carbon” number on a temporary basis.

That figure, applied during the Obama administration, is likely to serve as a baseline while the Biden administration works on developing its own metric amid calls by climate-focused economists for a value that is at least twice as high.
» Read article                

» More about climate                 

 

CLEAN ENERGY

Texas crisis debrief
Inside Clean Energy: The Right and Wrong Lessons from the Texas Crisis
The state experienced an “all-of-the-above” failure, and previewed a future of winter peaks in energy demand. The Ted Cruz scandal was also instructive.
By Dan Gearino, InsideClimate News
February 25, 2021

Now that the power is back on in Texas, we are entering a phase with investigations of all the systems that failed.

But some of the biggest lessons are already apparent.

Here are some of the things I learned, or relearned:
» Read article            

» More about clean energy                

 

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

five things about builng emissions
5 Things to Know About Carbon-Free Buildings and Construction
By Stuart Braun, Deutsche Welle, in EcoWatch
February 24, 2021

We spend 90% of our time in the buildings where we live and work, shop and conduct business, in the structures that keep us warm in winter and cool in summer.

But immense energy is required to source and manufacture building materials, to power construction sites, to maintain and renew the built environment. In 2019, building operations and construction activities together accounted for 38% of global energy-related CO2 emissions, the highest level ever recorded.

To ensure that the Paris climate targets are met, the building and construction industry needs to become a climate leader by moving towards net-zero construction. Its CO2 emissions need to be cut in half by 2030 for building stock to be carbon-free by 2050, according to a recent report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

In response, a raft of new net-zero building initiatives are focused on curbing emissions across the whole building lifecycle.

A report released by C40 in October 2019 showed that the construction industry alone could cut emissions from buildings and infrastructure by 44% by 2050. Oslo, Copenhagen and Stockholm have since committed to take a leadership role in creating a global market for low-emission construction materials and zero-emission machinery.

Oslo, for instance, aims to make all city-owned construction machinery and construction sites operate with zero emissions by 2025. Meanwhile, Copenhagen’s bold plan to be climate-neutral by 2025 will draw heavily on its commitment to zero-carbon construction. This will be achieved in part through “fossils- or emission-free construction machinery in construction projects,” said Frank Jensen, mayor of Copenhagen.

With Stockholm also part of a cross-border tender for sustainable procurement of mobile construction machinery, such unified demand is designed to send a signal to the market, according to Victoria Burrows. The end result will be to “create a ripple effect” that will help kickstart the net-zero building transition.
» Read article           
» Read the UN report on building sector emissions        

» More about energy efficiency         

 

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

Highland kickstartHighland Electric Raises $235M, Lands Biggest Electric School Bus Contract in the U.S.
Maryland county taps startup’s all-inclusive EV fleet leasing model to break up-front electrification cost barriers.
By Jeff St. John, GreenTech Media
February 25, 2021

Electric school buses don’t just eliminate the carbon and pollution emissions of their diesel-fueled counterparts, they cost less to fuel and maintain over the long haul. 

Unfortunately for cash-strapped school districts, an electric school bus still costs more than twice as much as a diesel bus today. And that’s not counting the cost of new charging infrastructure, or the risk that those charging costs may drive a district’s electric bills through the roof. 

Highland Electric Transportation says it can remove those barriers to school districts and transit authorities, by taking on the financing and management of an EV school bus fleet in exchange for a fixed annual leasing fee. In the past week, the Hamilton, Mass.-based startup has won two votes of confidence in its business model. 

The first came last week, with the close of a $253 million venture capital investment led by Vision Ridge Partners with participation by previous investors and Fontinalis Partners, the venture fund co-founded by Ford Motor Co. executive chairman Bill Ford.

The second came this week, when Maryland’s Montgomery County Public Schools awarded Highland a contract to supply it with what will be the country’s largest electric school bus fleet. The deal will start with 326 buses to be delivered over the next four years, along with charging systems at five bus depots. 

The cost of that service, $169 million, will be spread out over 16 years, and will fit into the existing budget structures for its existing diesel bus fleet, said Todd Watkins, the district’s transportation director. After seven years of budget neutrality, the contract will end up saving the district money compared to what it could have expected to spend on its existing bus fleet, he said.
» Read article            

» More about clean transportation           

 

LEGISLATIVE NEWS

MA state house dome
Andrew Ahern: ‘Who’s delaying climate action in Massachusetts?’
By Andrew Ahern, Telegram & Gazette | Opinion
February 17, 2021

On Jan. 28, the Massachusetts House and Senate approved a major climate change bill, sending it to Governor Baker for him to sign. The “Next-Generation Roadmap for Massachusetts Climate Policy” would be the first major piece of climate legislation passed into Massachusetts law since the 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act.

That may sound surprising to some. In a state with so many progressive voters and an active climate scene, a 13-year gap on climate action seems counterintuitive. Add the fact that within those 13 years, we’ve seen accelerated global warming and record temperatures, it becomes worse than surprising, but maddening. Why such a delay?

Now, we might have some (definitive) answers. In mid-January, Brown University’s Climate Social Science Network (CSSN) released a report titled “Who’s Delaying Climate Action in Massachusetts? Twelve Findings.” The report, using data from over 1,187 pieces of testimony and over 4,000 lobbying records regarding clean energy, has some pretty remarkable findings.

Of the 12 findings, five discuss lobbying efforts from groups and organizations who actively fight against climate policy and clean energy.

Take our investor owned utilities as an example. In “Finding 3: On lobbying, clean energy advocates are outspent more than 3.5 to 1,” the report finds that trade associations representing real estate, fossil fuels and power generation industries are among the top 10 groups opposing climate and clean energy legislation over a six-year period (2013-2018).

National Grid and Eversource, Massachusetts’ two largest utility companies, opposed 56 and 32 climate and clean energy bills respectively, spending over a combined $3.5 million in lobbying efforts to do so. Others, like ExxonMobil and the American Petroleum Institute add to this, with climate action obstructors outspending climate action advocates 3.5 to 1.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t stop there. The report finds that Eversource and National Grid actively oppose solar energy. While the report notes that both utility companies showed some support for expanding wind energy and hydropower, both were active in opposing solar net-metering, which would allow an expansion of solar energy in the commonwealth.
» Read article           
» Read the Brown University CSSN Research Report, “Who’s Delaying Climate Action in Massachusetts? Twelve Findings”              

» More legislative news                

 

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

ANWR seismic survey dead
Seismic Survey of Alaskan Arctic Refuge Won’t Move Forward
A missed deadline for flights to look for polar bears means the work to locate oil reserves in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is effectively killed.
By Henry Fountain, New York Times
February 22, 2021

An Alaska Native group failed to meet a critical deadline as part of its proposal to conduct a seismic survey in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the Interior Department announced. The failure effectively kills the survey, which would have determined the location of oil and gas reserves in part of the refuge in anticipation of drilling there.

A department spokeswoman, Melissa Schwarz, said that the group, the Kaktovik Iñupiat Corporation, had not undertaken reconnaissance flights to detect polar bear dens in the proposed survey area as a prelude to sending trucks and other survey equipment rolling across the refuge’s coastal plain this winter.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, an Interior Department agency, had required that three flights be conducted before Feb. 13 as part of the corporation’s request for an authorization that would require extensive efforts to avoid the animals during the full seismic survey.

As a result of the missed deadline, Ms. Schwarz said that the corporation had been advised “that their request is no longer actionable, and the Service does not intend to issue or deny the authorization.”

Separately, another Interior agency, the Bureau of Land Management, has been reviewing the corporation’s application for an overall permit to conduct the survey. The decision not to act on the polar bear authorization makes the issuance of the broader permit moot, effectively killing the proposal.

The demise of the seismic survey does not have a direct effect on the oil and gas leases in the refuge that were sold in January, the last-minute culmination of the Trump administration’s efforts to open the area to development. Those leases are currently being reviewed by the Biden White House, which is opposed to drilling there.
» Read article            

gas fights backThe battle over climate change is boiling over on the home front
Municipalities want new buildings to go all electric, spurning gas-fired stoves and heating systems. The gas industry disagrees.
By Steven Mufson, Washington Post
February 23, 2021

A new front has opened in the battle over climate change: The kitchen.

Cities and towns across the country are rewriting local building codes so that new homes and offices would be blocked from using natural gas, a fossil fuel that when burned emits carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. New laws would force builders to install heat pumps instead of gas furnaces and electric kitchen stoves instead of gas burners.

Local leaders say reducing the carbon and methane pollution associated with buildings, the source of 12.3 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, is the only way they can meet their 2050 zero-emission goals to curb climate change.

But the American Gas Association, a trade group, and its members are campaigning in statehouses across the country to prohibit the new local ordinances. Four states last year adopted such laws, and this year similar legislation has been introduced in 12 more.

“Logically the natural gas industry does not want to see its business end, so it’s doing what it can to keep natural gas in the utility grid mix,” said Marta Schantz, senior vice president of the Urban Land Institute’s Greenprint Center for Building Performance. “But long term, if cities are serious about their climate goals, electric buildings are inevitable.”

Most of the gas industry, however, is fighting back.
» Read article   

» More about fossil fuel               

 

BIOMASS

Drax doubles downDrax Purchase Would Implicate the United Kingdom in Loss of Canadian Forests
The operator of the world’s largest wood-burning power station is doubling down on its destructive wood-burning business model.
By Elly Pepper Jennifer Skene Sasha Stashwick, NRDC | Blog
February 25, 2021

Today, Drax—which operates the world’s largest wood-burning power station—released its earnings report, continuing to greenwash with its claims that biomass is a “green” energy source.

But, in reality, Drax is simply doubling down on its destructive wood-burning business model, as evidenced by its recent decision to purchase Pinnacle—Canada’s largest wood pellet manufacturer—to become the world’s third-largest manufacturer of wood pellets.

While the U.K. attempts to burnish its environmental record ahead of hosting the COP 26 and push countries toward protecting at least 30 percent of the planet’s lands and oceans by 2030 (30×30) at the meeting of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), its wholesale support for biomass, including £2 million per day in subsidies to Drax, smacks of hypocrisy.

Here are the top reasons this deal makes absolutely no sense:

It will worsen climate change. Biomass energy is already a climate boondoggle since it creates emissions every step of the way, from the time trees are cut down for biomass in the forest to the smokestack when trees are burned to generate electricity. On the landscape, replacing older trees with saplings after harvest reduces the amount of carbon stored in the regrowing forest (even under the best-case scenario in which trees are replanted and regrow immediately). This is a significant source of emissions, known as foregone carbon sequestration. Biomass harvest in forests also releases carbon from the soil. Next, power plants like Pinnacle’s generate emissions by burning fossil gas (or more wood) to manufacture their pellets from the cut wood. And from there, the carbon footprint only grows, with the transport of wood pellets across the globe and the massive carbon emissions from Drax’s smokestacks. Sadly, under the government’s rules, which categorize biomass as a “renewable energy,” Drax can treat its smokestack emissions as zero. With an accounting flourish, Drax’s roughly 13 million tons of CO2 emissions per year just magically disappear in the ledger. And policymakers get to take credit for delivering “low-carbon electricity.”
» Read article             

» More about biomass       

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Weekly News Check-In 2/12/21

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Welcome back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— The NFGiM Team

PIPELINES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about pipelines

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about protests and actions

GREENING THE ECONOMY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about greening the economy

LEGISLATIVE NEWS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More legislative news

CLIMATE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These are not just one-off examples. Nationwide, all three standards are becoming more common.
» Read article             

» More about energy efficiency             

ENERGY EFFICIENT BUILDING MATERIALS

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

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

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

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

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

» More about energy efficient building materials

ENERGY STORAGE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about energy storage

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about clean transportation

FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about FERC

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about fossil fuels

BIOMASS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I was instructed to keep buying renewable,” said O’Brien. “We were instructed to buy renewable, meet the goals, make sure it meets the renewable criteria. At that time, Palmer met that criteria. That’s why it’s so important going forward that Policy 30 provides us instruction about what they would want the portfolio to look like. What do they want us to buy?”

When it comes to tweaking Policy 30, she’s open for any discussion.

Regarding Palmer, can RMLD walk away from [the] February agreement?

“No, you wouldn’t be able to just back out of it but you could assign it or sell it,” said O’Brien. “Power is traded like a commodity. You would have to look to taking your power commitment and having someone else pick it up.
» Read article       
» Related article                   

» More about biomass

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Weekly News Check-In 10/30/20

banner 19

Welcome back.

Time’s up. Before our next check-in, the polls will close in the U.S. election and we will formally withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement.

Vote…. No excuses. Plus be good to yourselves and each other – we’re going to be OK.

News about the Weymouth compressor station centers on emergency response plans from the town and seemingly toothless rumblings from the Attorney General’s office. The thing is built, and will begin operations pending results of investigations into two unplanned gas releases that occurred in September.

The divestment movement notched a recent win, as the Church of England’s Pension Board dumped all its ExxonMobil shares.

With a greener future within reach, we’re following lots of reporting about the social, environmental, and equity issues being addressed as planners seek to avoid some of the failings that mark the current economy.

Our climate section is full of analysis of what this political moment means for the planet’s future – including calls to begin seriously studying solar geoengineering to cool the planet in the event that things get really bad. That story is way scarier than anything else we’ve heard this Halloween….

Fortunately, a team at Stanford University believes it’s possible to achieve a fully green grid as early as 2030 using a combination of solar, wind, and batteries. But even with clean electricity on the grid, older buildings still face barriers to improving energy efficiency to the extent necessary. Mold and asbestos remediation costs are stopping many building envelope improvement projects from moving forward – indicating a need to fund these measures in lower-income neighborhoods.

The stability and reliability of the grid can be enhanced through microgrids, and a new, plug-and-play version developed by Emera Technologies is about to be installed in a housing development in Tampa, Florida.

This week we’re using our clean transportation section to showcase reports that General Motors and Ford both knew their internal combustion engines were climate change drivers as early as the ’60s and ’70s. Instead of investing in emission-free technologies, they instead promoted climate denial while bulking up their trucks and SUVs. These firms may now be exposed to the same litigation as the oil majors are mired in.

The health risks of indoor gas use are worth thinking about as the weather turns cold and we spend more time in closed-up spaces. Climate issues of gas stoves aside, they’re a source of serious health concern when not properly vented to the outside.

The fossil fuel industry found a way to divert Covid-19 relief funds in North Dakota from cleaning up old wells to financing more fracking. While shady schemes and outright fraud are standard fare in this seciton, we also have news that the natural gas industry may be facing ‘peak gas’ much earlier than expected. And the liquefied natural gas industry is processing news that France’s government asked local power group Engie to delay the signing of a 20-year deal to buy LNG from a planned export project in Texas due to concerns over gas production emissions.

We finish with a couple reports on plastics. A petition circulating in Kenya seeks to hold that country’s tough line on plastics imports – a position the U.S. is seeking to undermine during current trade negotiations. And we have another explainer on plastics recycling, and the myth of that little triangle.

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

emergency planTown’s public safety officials offer plan for compressor station emergency
By Jessica Trufant, The Patriot Ledger, in Wicked Local Weymouth
October 27, 2020

The town’s heads of public safety say they feel largely prepared to deal with any emergencies that could happen at the newly-completed natural gas compressor station on the banks of the Fore River.

Emergency Management Director John Mulveyhill, Fire Chief Keith Start and Police Chief Richard Fuller went before town council’s environmental committee this week to discuss the recently-completed contingency plan for the compressor station, which is close by the MWRA sewage pumping station, Fore River Bridge, numerous industrial facilities and hundreds of homes.

The more than 1,000-page plan details what role each agency would play during a medical emergency, gas leak or catastrophic event at the compressor station. It includes evacuation information from the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, regional shelter and emergency operation center plans and a statewide fire and emergency medical services mobilization plan, among other things.

Several portions of the plan regarding the emergency response by Enbridge, the energy company that owns the compressor station, are under review to decide if officials can release anything for public viewing.
» Read article                

Healey wades in
Healey wades into debate over Weymouth gas compressor station
By Statehouse News Service, on Channel 7 News, Boston
October 26, 2020

Responding to a cadre of South Shore lawmakers who had asked her to intervene and address what they described as potential regulatory and civil rights violations impacting environmental justice communities, Attorney General Maura Healey said last week that her office will keep a close eye on a natural gas compressor station in Weymouth and is open to collaborating with lawmakers to change the permitting process for future projects.

Last month, South Shore lawmakers who have long opposed the Weymouth project wrote to Healey with complaints that project operators and state agencies failed to provide sufficient notice to residents, particularly those in designated environmental justice communities, ahead of several important hearings and public comment periods.

“In response to your concerns about public notices to environmental justice communities near the project, my team asked MassDEP to closely examine past public involvement practices with the facility and encouraged the agency to explore additional options for improvements going forward, including ensuring community responsive translation,” Healey wrote in her letter last week. “Public involvement by all communities, but especially environmental justice communities, is equally important. We understand that MassDEP intends to speak again with community leaders to solicit further feedback on what additional steps the agency could include in the current public involvement plan related to cleanup at the site to address any ongoing concerns.”

Healey has previously called for Massachusetts to steer away from expanding natural gas infrastructure but has not vocally and directly opposed the compressor station that Enbridge sought and now controls in Weymouth.

In her letter, however, Healey said she is “deeply concerned about the recent emergency natural gas releases at the facility,” and that her office has been in touch with federal regulators to discuss the issue.
» Read article                

» More about the Weymouth compressor station           

 

DIVESTMENT

Exxon Scope 3
Church Of England Dumps All ExxonMobil Stock
By Charles Kennedy, Oil Price
October 8, 2020

The Church of England Pensions Board divested this week all its shares in ExxonMobil since the U.S. supermajor has failed to set targets to cut Scope 3 emissions—those generated by the products it sells—a spokesperson for the board told Bloomberg on Thursday. 

The Church of England Pensions Board, which manages more than US$3.62 billion (2.8 billion British pounds) in assets, has been one of Exxon’s shareholders that has consistently called on the oil giant to report emissions and provide a pathway to reduce emissions from its operations and the products it sells to customers.  

“Exxon failed to meet the index criteria which embeds the latest assessment by the Transition Pathway Initiative (TPI), and as a result the board is disinvested from Exxon,” the spokesperson for the board told Bloomberg.

While European oil majors have started to report the so-called Scope 3 emissions and have committed to reduce them over the next decades, Exxon hasn’t done that, drawing criticism from its investors, including the Church Commissioners for England and BlackRock.
» Read article                

» More about divestment              

 

GREENING THE ECONOMY

taking actionWhat Is the Clean Energy Industry Doing to Confront Racism?
“We need to be very careful that as we grow and mature we’re not replicating the injustices that have proliferated to date throughout the energy system.”
By Emma Foehringer Merchant, GreenTech Media
October 29, 2020

In the wake of spring outpourings of grief and anger over the killings of Black Americans such as Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, numerous companies in the clean energy industry turned the lens inward. Companies that had never before spoken out about racism published statements condemning it, and some donated to the NAACP’s Legal Defense and Educational Fund.  

Despite the unprecedented action, inequality is not a new or unrecognized problem in the renewables industry. It remains to be seen whether these newest expressions of upset and accompanying initiatives to combat racism within and outside company ranks will continue.

So far, the clean energy industry has largely embraced a “rising tide lifts all boats” approach: If renewables companies help clean up the grid, that will naturally reduce pollution for the communities of color who experience it most acutely. But assessing the industry’s metrics holistically — such as the number of opportunities for Black employees in the industry, wealth created in underserved communities, and the availability of solar to majority-nonwhite neighborhoods — shows that that approach has fallen flat in challenging the legacy of systemic racism within clean energy.

“At its core, the idea of moving forward clean energy, whether it’s solar or wind, has been good,” said Jacqui Patterson, director of the NAACP’s Environmental and Climate Justice Program. But overall, Patterson said, the industry’s approach to anti-racism efforts has been lackluster, even after she’s advised companies on best practices.

“When I have those conversations and send information, there’s no action. […] In this moment, all of a sudden, there’s more of an interest,” Patterson told Greentech Media. “We’ll see whether that actually leads to things being done.”

To make a change, Patterson said, companies need to recognize the “social good” associated with anti-racism alongside the benefits to their business.

In recent weeks and months, several coalitions have put forth new plans. Now companies have to show they will actually put them into practice.
» Read article                

new thinkingGreen stimulus could create $280B in economic benefits: C40
By Chris Teale, Utility Dive
October 28, 2020

C40 Cities formed the COVID-19 task force in late April to prioritize public health, economic equality and climate amid recovery from the pandemic. At the time, the member mayors said they would identify how cities can best create new jobs while keeping emissions and climate change at the forefront of the discussion about recovery.

With C40 having previously voiced its support for a Global Green New Deal and backing a declaration to divest from fossil fuels, the task force warned that a new way of thinking is needed as cities look to stimulate their economies and invest in infrastructure.

“If governments use stimulus funding to try to return to ‘business as usual’ before COVID, emissions will rise and run-away climate breakdown will be locked in,” the mayors wrote in a joint statement. “It is only through a green and just recovery based on the principles of a Global Green New Deal… that emissions will start to fall.”
» Read article                

looking for the exitOil And Gas Workers Continue to be Excluded From ‘Just Transition’, Report Shows
By Chris Silver, DeSmog UK
October 22, 2020

The majority of offshore workers in the North Sea would consider leaving the sector, a new report has found.

Poor job security was cited as the most pressing reason to quit the industry, after the collapse in oil prices from Covid-19 saw 43% of oil and gas workers furloughed or made redundant since March.

The report, carried out by climate groups Platform, Friends of the Earth Scotland and Greenpeace, found 81.7% of workers surveyed were open to leaving the industry, but lacked the government support to switch sectors.

One worker surveyed commented: “The way the industry is treating their workers, especially those in a situation similar to mine, is an absolute disgrace and should not be allowed to happen.”

Another added: “I know guys who have had two or three pay cuts over six months, no negotiations, nothing. If one engineering company cuts rates, all the others do too. I’ve honestly long suspected there is a cartel around this.”

More than half of the 1,383 workers surveyed – representing 4.5% of the offshore workforce – said they would be interested in working in renewables and offshore wind. 

Another respondent, ‘Steve,’ 43, contrasted the experience of decline in oil and gas with the prospect of working towards Scotland’s 2045 net-zero target.  

“It’s always boom and bust to some degree but the last five years have not been a pleasant environment to work in – that’s five years of mental toil,” he said. “To be in an industry that’s growing, versus one that’s declining, that’s really what it’s all about to me.”  

Working towards net-zero “would be an achievement in my working life and mean a lot to me,” he added.
» Read article               
» Read the survey report        

» More about greening the economy            

 

CLIMATE

plan v no plan
There Is Only One Existential Threat. Let’s Talk About It.
Our political culture isn’t ready to deal with climate change.
By Farhad Manjoo, New York Times – Opinion
October 28, 2020

If you’re a supporter of that radical extremist group Keep America Habitable for Human Beings, you might have been encouraged by the 2020 presidential race.

In 2016, climate change — the scientific fact of the earth’s encroaching uninhabitability — was mostly ignored, including in the debates between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. This year, the changing climate and what to do about it got airtime in both presidential debates and the vice-presidential debate. Climate change was also one of the top issues during the Democratic primary race. Several candidates published detailed climate plans; Joe Biden’s proposal is the most ambitious response to climate change ever proposed by a major-party nominee for president.

And yet I keep getting discouraged by how far there is to go. Voters, the candidates and especially the political media have not given it enough attention this year, considering the stakes at hand. Worse, when politicians do address climate change, the discussion in mainstream media is often uninformed, following a script favorable to oil companies.

These problems were on stark display in the ridiculous dust-up over Biden’s statement during the debate last week that the United States needs to transition away from oil. When asked about climate change, Biden told a series of truths. He noted, correctly, that it’s an “existential threat to humanity,” that “we don’t have much time” to address it, that doing so could create hundreds of thousands of jobs and that it would involve eliminating our reliance on the cause of the problem, fossil fuels.

Trump’s answer was a series of absurdities. He said that he loves the environment, but that plans to address climate change would cost a lot of money and many jobs, would require buildings with very small windows and that wind power creates “fumes” and kills a lot of birds. (In fact, cats, buildings and cars are far bigger threats to birds.)

I’m not sure how anyone could come away from that debate thinking that Biden is the one who made a rhetorical flub. “The takeaway isn’t what Biden said, it’s what Trump said,” Kendra Pierre-Louis, a former reporter for The New York Times who is now a reporter on the podcast “How to Save a Planet,” told me. “Trump effectively said he doesn’t have a climate plan, and we are facing an existential crisis.”

Yet it was Biden, not Trump, who got in political hot water for his answer. After the debate, Trump’s campaign, with an assist from talking heads on cable news and the internet, began suggesting that Biden’s comments would hurt his chances in oil- and gas-producing states like Texas and Pennsylvania. Biden later walked back his comment, explaining that a transition away from oil would take very long time.

What a disaster. Why can’t we abide an honest discussion about climate change?
» Read article               

simply grotesque‘Grotesquely Fitting’ Say Climate Campaigners as Trump Mulls Pro-Fracking Executive Order Ahead of Election
Polling data doesn’t support the idea that the issue is politically popular overall, and critics say the order would be “just one more desperate attempt by this White House to make fracking into a winning campaign issue.”
By Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams
October 28, 2020

Climate campaigners and journalists called out President Donald Trump after the Wall Street Journal revealed late Tuesday—just a week before Election Day—that he is considering a last-minute executive order to promote fracking as an apparent ploy to win over undecided voters in battleground states such as Pennsylvania.

Trump is weighing an order “mandating an economic analysis” of hydraulic fracturing, as the oil and gas extraction process is also called, according to the Journal. Unnamed officials told the newspaper that the work would be spearheaded by the U.S. Energy and Interior departments with input from the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative and Treasury Department.

The measure “would ask government agencies to perform an analysis of fracking’s impact on the economy and trade and the consequences if the oil-and-gas extraction technique was banned,” the Journal reported. “It also would order those agencies to evaluate what more they can do to expand its use, possibly through land management or support of developing technology.”

Food & Water Action policy director Mitch Jones responded in a statement Wednesday declaring that “this order is just one more desperate attempt by this White House to make fracking into a winning campaign issue. There is no doubt that fracking poisons our air and water, and that drilling is driving us towards climate crisis. There is something grotesquely fitting that an administration that has sacrificed climate action for the sake of the fossil fuel industry thinks fracking is a winner.”

“The truth is that the fracking industry is in collapse. Fracking has never been the economic engine that its backers have claimed it to be, and any attempts to resuscitate it are only delaying the inevitable,” Jones continued. “Debt-ridden drilling companies have laid off thousands of workers while CEOs make off with millions in profits.”
» Read article                

the last worst ideaAs Climate Disasters Pile Up, a Radical Proposal Gains Traction
The idea of modifying Earth’s atmosphere to cool the planet, once seen as too risky to seriously consider, is attracting new money and attention.
By Christopher Flavelle, New York Times
October 28, 2020

As the effects of climate change become more devastating, prominent research institutions and government agencies are focusing new money and attention on an idea once dismissed as science fiction: Artificially cooling the planet, in the hopes of buying humanity more time to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

That strategy, called solar climate intervention or solar geoengineering, entails reflecting more of the sun’s energy back into space — abruptly reducing global temperatures in a way that mimics the effects of ash clouds spewed by volcanic eruptions. The idea has been derided as a dangerous and illusory fix, one that would encourage people to keep burning fossil fuels while exposing the planet to unexpected and potentially menacing side effects.

But as global warming continues, producing more destructive hurricanes, wildfires, floods and other disasters, some researchers and policy experts say that concerns about geoengineering should be outweighed by the imperative to better understand it, in case the consequences of climate change become so dire that the world can’t wait for better solutions.

“We’re facing an existential threat, and we need to look at all the options,” said Michael Gerrard, director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at the Columbia Law School and editor of a book on the technology and its legal implications. “I liken geoengineering to chemotherapy for the planet: If all else is failing, you try it.”
» Read article                

Trumping NOAAAs Election Nears, Trump Makes a Final Push Against Climate Science
The administration is imposing new limits on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that would undercut action against global warming.
By Christopher Flavelle and Lisa Friedman, New York Times
October 27, 2020

The Trump administration has recently removed the chief scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the nation’s premier scientific agency, installed new political staff who have questioned accepted facts about climate change and imposed stricter controls on communications at the agency.

The moves threaten to stifle a major source of objective United States government information about climate change that underpins federal rules on greenhouse gas emissions and offer an indication of the direction the agency will take if President Trump wins re-election.

An early sign of the shift came last month, when Erik Noble, a former White House policy adviser who had just been appointed NOAA’s chief of staff, removed Craig McLean, the agency’s acting chief scientist.

Mr. McLean had sent some of the new political appointees a message that asked them to acknowledge the agency’s scientific integrity policy, which prohibits manipulating research or presenting ideologically driven findings.
» Read article                

protect what you love
New East Boston Murals Intertwine Beauty And Environmental Concerns
By Cristela Guerra, WBUR
October 27, 2020


In East Boston, a series of seven new large-scale murals emphasize the natural world and the need to preserve the environment at all costs.

Artist Silvia Lopez Chavez has created a visual guardian near the entrance of Boston Harbor Shipyard and Marina. Her mural depicts a massive figure of a woman with ocean waters rising to her nose. Still, she looks composed, serene almost, a woman of mixed ancestry meant to represent the diverse community that lives in East Boston.

The figure’s head is crowned by a clipper ship, a type of vessel that used to be built in East Boston. The ships carried cargo, but also enslaved people, across the oceans. The vessel nods to this nation’s history of colonization, a solemn acknowledgment of how some people arrived on these shores.

“[The woman] represents the past, present, and future,” Lopez Chavez said. “I wanted her to be able to connect to the histories of this place, to connect to that native and indigenous heritage, the history of immigration and all the different peoples and groups that have come through here.”

Presented by Linda Cabot, and in a collaboration with HarborArts and the international nonprofit PangeaSeed Foundation, the initiative is known as Sea Walls Boston and combines activism with art. A seventh piece exploring warming oceans by Colombian-American artist Felipe Ortiz is underway.

“It’s not front of mind for a lot of us, but the Gulf of Maine is the fastest warming body of water in the United States, which is causing many of the cold water marine species in the US to migrate to colder waters,” project director Matthew Pollock said. “The same issues that are destroying coral reefs and causing biodiversity to disappear all over the world also affect us right here at home. This mural represents how our oceans are all connected.”
» Read article               

election crossroadsClimate at a crossroads as Trump and Biden point in different directions
The two US presidential contenders offer starkly different approaches as the world tries to avoid catastrophic global heating
By Oliver Milman, The Guardian
October 26, 2020

Among the myriad reasons world leaders will closely watch the outcome of a fraught US presidential election, the climate crisis looms perhaps largest of all.

The international effort to constrain dangerous global heating will hinge, in large part, on which of the dichotomous approaches of Donald Trump or Joe Biden prevails.

On 4 November, the day after the election, the US will exit the Paris climate agreement, a global pact that has wobbled but not collapsed from nearly four years of disparagement and disengagement under Trump.

Biden has vowed to immediately rejoin the Paris deal. The potential of a second Trump term, however, is foreboding for those whose anxiety has only escalated during the hottest summer ever recorded in the northern hemisphere, with huge wildfires scorching California and swaths of central South America, and extraordinary temperatures baking the Arctic.

“It’s a decision of great consequence, to both the US and the world,” said Laurence Tubiana, a French diplomat and key architect of the Paris accords. “The rest of the world is moving to a low-carbon future, but we need to collectively start moving even faster, and the US still has a significant global role to play in marshaling this effort.”
» Read article               

EU punts 2030 target
EU environment ministers strike deal on climate law, leave out 2030 target
By Kate Abnett, Reuters
October 23, 2020

European Union environment ministers struck a deal on Friday to make the bloc’s 2050 net zero emissions target legally binding, but left a decision on a 2030 emissions-cutting target for leaders to discuss in December.

The landmark climate change law will form the basis for Europe’s plan to slash greenhouse gas emissions, which will reshape all sectors, from transport to heavy industry, and require hundreds of billions of euros in annual investments.

It will fix in law the EU target to reach net zero emissions by 2050 and define the rules for reviewing progress towards climate targets.

Ministers struck a deal on these parts of the law at a meeting in Luxembourg on Friday. None of the 27 member countries rejected the bill, although Bulgaria abstained.

A decision on the most politically sensitive part of the bill – a new 2030 emissions-cutting target – was left for EU leaders to agree, unanimously, at a December meeting.

The law will give Brussels “the legal possibility to act when those who make promises don’t deliver on the promises,” said EU climate policy chief Frans Timmermans at Friday’s meeting. It was held in person, despite much of the continent restricting gatherings to curb surging coronavirus infections.
» Read article                

 nap time is over          Worms Frozen for 42,000 Years in Siberian Permafrost Wriggle to Life
By Mindy Weisberger, LiveScience
July 27, 2018

Did you ever wake up from a long nap feeling a little disoriented, not quite knowing where you were? Now, imagine getting a wake-up call after being “asleep” for 42,000 years.

In Siberia, melting permafrost is releasing nematodes — microscopic worms that live in soil — that have been suspended in a deep freeze since the Pleistocene. Despite being frozen for tens of thousands of years, two species of these worms were successfully revived, scientists recently reported in a new study.

Their findings, published in the May 2018 issue of the journal Doklady Biological Sciences, represent the first evidence of multicellular organisms returning to life after a long-term slumber in Arctic permafrost, the researchers wrote. [Weird Wildlife: The Real Animals of Antarctica]

Though nematodes are tiny — typically measuring about 1 millimeter in length — they are known to possess impressive abilities. Some are found living 0.8 miles (1.3 kilometers) below Earth’s surface, deeper than any other multicellular animal. Certain worms that live on an island in the Indian Ocean can develop one of five different mouths, depending on what type of food is available. Others are adapted to thrive inside slug intestines and travel on slimy highways of slug poop.
» Read article                

» More about climate                 

 

CLEAN ENERGY

super power SWB
Super power: Here’s how to get to 100pct wind, solar and storage by 2030
By Giles Parkinson, Renew Economy
October 28, 2020

A team led by renowned Stanford University futurist Tony Seba says most of the world can transition to 100 per cent wind, solar and storage electricity grids within the coming decade, in what they describe as the fastest, deepest and most profound disruptions ever seen in the energy industry.

The RethinkX team led by Seba, one of the few analysts to correctly forecast the plunging cost of solar over the last decade, predicts that the disruption caused by solar, wind and lithium-ion battery storage, or SWB, will be similar to the digital disruption of information technology.

“What happened in the world of bits is now poised to happen in the world of electrons,” they write.

“Just as computers and the Internet slashed the marginal cost of information and opened the door to hundreds of new business models that collectively have had a transformative impact upon the global economy, so too will SWB slash the marginal cost of electricity and create a plethora of opportunities for innovation and entrepreneurship.”

The key to this disruption, they say, is the near-zero marginal cost of wind and solar, and the falling costs of those technologies and of storage. They say there will inevitably be more wind and solar produced than needed, but that’s OK because this excess production, which they dub “super power”, can be used for long-term storage, electrification of housing and industrial processes and, of course, transport.

“Our analysis shows that 100% clean electricity from the combination of solar, wind, and batteries (SWB) is both physically possible and economically affordable across the entire continental United States as well as the overwhelming majority of other populated regions of the world by 2030.

“Adoption of SWB is growing exponentially worldwide and disruption is now inevitable because by 2030 they will offer the cheapest electricity option for most regions. Coal, gas, and nuclear power assets will become stranded during the 2020s, and no new investment in these technologies is rational from this point forward.”
» Read article                

Koch at DOEThe Koch Operatives Behind the Trump Energy Department’s Renewables Research Censorship
By Ben Jervey, DeSmog Blog
October 28, 2020

Two Trump Energy Department appointees with deep ties to Koch Industries and the Koch donor network have been burying reams of agency research that looks favorably on renewable energy, according to an in-depth investigation by Grist and InvestigateWest. Published October 26, the investigation reveals how the appointed high-ranking officials mandated political review of research, watered down reports, and slow-walked or shelved scientific findings and studies when they favored renewable deployment over continued reliance on fossil fuels.

Documents obtained by InvestigateWest reveal clear political interference in the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), much of it coordinated by Dan Simmons, the office’s Assistant Secretary, and Alex Fitzsimmons, the former Chief of Staff to Simmons. While the article notes the lobbying histories of DOE’s top brass, Simmons and Fitzsimmons also have recent ties to the Koch network.

“In all, the department has blocked reports for more than 40 clean energy studies,” Fairley reported. “The department has replaced them with mere presentations, buried them in scientific journals that are not accessible to the public, or left them paralyzed within the agency, according to emails and documents obtained by InvestigateWest, as well as interviews with more than a dozen current and former employees at the Department of Energy, or DOE, and its national labs.”

“There are dozens of reports languishing right now that can’t be published,” Stephen Capanna, a former director of strategic analysis for the Energy Department’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, told Grist. “This is a systemic issue.”
» Read article                

almost no birds
Danish research shows “almost no birds” die in collisions with wind turbines
By Joshua S Hill, Renew Economy
October 23, 2020

The results of a multi-year scientific study in Denmark has concluded that birds are quite good at avoiding wind turbine blades, putting a serious dent in a common argument raised by anti-wind and -renewable activists.

The new study, carried out by three relevant consultancies for Swedish power company Vattenfall, investigated the area around 11 turbines every three days for three periods of just over a month in both the first and third years after the erection of the 67.2MW Klim Wind Farm in northern Jutland, Denmark (pictured above).

The research was carried out between August 2016 and May 2017 in the first year of operation, and August 2018 and May 2019 in the third year of operation. In an effort to determine an annual collision rate for the pink-footed geese and cranes, 11 selected turbines were inspected during autumn, winter, and spring.

The Klim Wind Farm is a valuable scientific opportunity, located in the immediate vicinity of the international Natura 2000 bird protection area Vejlerne, where each day, thousands of birds leave their roosting areas in Vejlerne to fly out to nearby fields to find food. Unsurprisingly, given its location, many of these birds fly past the Klim Wind Farm.

According to the study – the results of which will be published in DOF BirdLife Denmark’s scientific journal together with a ‘peer review’ for professional consolidation – in the first year of investigation, a total of 17 dead birds were found under the 11 selected wind turbines. In the third year, 22 dead birds or their remains were found.

Importantly, the discovered dead birds or remains were not always those of the pink-footed geese, and no dead cranes were found which had crashed into the turbines.

According to the final analysis, the researchers determined that the evasive response for both the pink-footed geese and the cranes over the two study years worked out to be 99.9% – based on a population of 20,000-30,000 geese and several hundred cranes.

Sponsored by Vattenfall, which naturally has a vested interest in the outcome of the report’s findings, the study was carried out partly to prove that the Klim Wind Farm complied with its environmental permit – which stipulates that collisions must not exceed 75% of the current sustainable mortality rates for populations of pink-footed geese and crane.

However, importantly, the findings stand for themselves, as do the credits of the three independent authors who carried out the investigation.
» Read article               

VPP video
The next generation of power plants will be virtual
Your next home or electric vehicle could be part of a virtual power plant
By Justine Calma, The Verge
October 20, 2020

Increasing numbers of homes outfitted with solar panels and batteries have the potential to help power entire regions with renewable energy. Working together, homes with solar setups are turning neighborhoods into virtual power plants that can feed power back to the grid and prevent blackouts.

These interconnected solar power systems are popping up across the globe — from apartment complexes in California and Utah, to public housing in South Australia. In the future, virtual power plants might even be made up of fleets of electric vehicles. It’s the next generation of solar power technology
» Watch video                

» More about clean energy           

 

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

barriers to efficiency
Mold, asbestos may put Connecticut weatherization goal out of reach
State leaders are looking for funding sources for remediation work that needs to happen before many energy efficiency upgrades can be completed.
By Lisa Prevost, Energy News Network
Photo By National Institutes of Health
October 29, 2020

Lorenzo Wyatt owns a Connecticut energy-efficiency contracting business focused almost exclusively on low-income residents — about 80% of his customers are eligible for no-cost energy savings services through the state’s residential efficiency programs.

But nearly a third of those customers are not able to weatherize their houses or apartments, and lose out on energy savings. That’s because mold, asbestos, and other health hazards discovered in their homes must be cleaned up before contractors can safely seal the space, an undertaking that easily runs into the thousands of dollars.

Those costs are not covered by the state’s efficiency programs. And very few of Wyatt’s customers can afford to pay themselves. 

“Typically, 30% of the income-eligible customers will have these barriers,” said Wyatt, whose company, Home Comfort Practice, is based in Stratford. “Very few will go through with remediation. That’s been the issue.”

It’s a difficult problem that has hampered the state’s residential energy efficiency programs for years and prevents the most money-strapped households from obtaining services that could significantly reduce their energy bills. 

Eversource and United Illuminating, which administer the efficiency programs, say about 10-14% of their market-rate customers have a health and safety barrier in their homes; that percentage rises to 25-30% among low-income households. 

The barriers make it nearly impossible for the utilities to reach the weatherization target set by legislation: weatherize 80% of Connecticut residences by 2030.
» Read article               

» More about energy efficiency                  

 

MICROGRIDS

blockenergy
Emera Technologies Unveils Plug-and-Play Neighborhood Microgrid Geared for Utilities
By Ethan Howland, Microgrid Knowledge
October 26, 2020

Emera Technologies has developed a residential, plug-and-play microgrid system called BlockEnergy that is designed to be owned and operated by utilities – a sector in search of a way to offer microgrids that works within its business structure.

Set to be installed in a housing development in Tampa, Florida, the system aligns with major trends in the utility sector, according to Scott Balfour, president and CEO of Emera, a $32 billion utility company based in Halifax, Nova Scotia and parent of Emera Technologies.

“It provides local, decentralized energy that can interoperate with the grid with never before possible levels of reliability and system safety,” Balfour said. “It contributes to decarbonization, enabling more efficient adoption of much higher levels of rooftop solar generation.

The system, designed for new subdivisions, has four main components, including a Block box that sits outside a home, according to Rob Bennett, Emera Technologies CEO. 

A nanogrid connected to rooftop solar, the box contains control electronics, an energy storage battery and an inverter that converts the microgrid’s direct current power to alternating current for use inside the home, Bennett said.

The box connects to a cable network system — A DC bus — that loops through the neighborhood, connecting all the boxes on the system, Bennett explained. The resources are shared across the network. The loops can handle as many as 50 homes.

The network is connected to a central energy park that includes batteries, controls and a backup, natural gas-fired generator that can provide power during outages or when the solar panels aren’t generating enough power to serve the system, Bennett said.

The network also connects with the wider grid and can provide grid-wide benefits such as frequency support, power export and power import when a utility wants to store energy, according to Bennett.
» Read article                

» More about microgrids            

 

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

GM and Ford knew
Exclusive: GM, Ford knew about climate change 50 years ago
By Maxine Joselow, E&E News
October 26, 2020

Scientists at two of America’s biggest automakers knew as early as the 1960s that car emissions caused climate change, a monthslong investigation by E&E News has found.

The discoveries by General Motors and Ford Motor Co. preceded decades of political lobbying by the two car giants that undermined global attempts to reduce emissions while stalling U.S. efforts to make vehicles cleaner.

Researchers at both automakers found strong evidence in the 1960s and ’70s that human activity was warming the Earth. A primary culprit was the burning of fossil fuels, which released large quantities of heat-trapping gases such as carbon dioxide that could trigger melting of polar ice sheets and other dire consequences.

A GM scientist presented her findings to at least three high-level executives at the company, including a former chairman and CEO. It’s unclear whether similar warnings reached the top brass at Ford.

But in the following decades, both manufacturers largely failed to act on the knowledge that their products were heating the planet. Instead of shifting their business models away from fossil fuels, the companies invested heavily in gas-guzzling trucks and SUVs. At the same time, the two carmakers privately donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to groups that cast doubt on the scientific consensus on global warming.

It wasn’t until 1996 that GM produced its first commercial electric vehicle, called the EV1. Ford released a compact electric pickup truck in 1998.

More than 50 years after the automakers learned about climate change, the transportation sector is the leading source of planet-warming pollution in the United States. Cars and trucks account for the bulk of those emissions.
» Read article                

hummer
Detroit Knew: GM and Ford Were Aware of Climate Risks Decades Ago Too, Investigation Reveals
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
October 28, 2020

Groundbreaking reporting this week by E&E News revealed that, similar to major oil companies like Exxon, American automakers Ford and General Motors (GM) engaged in early cutting-edge climate science research and that the companies were aware as early as the 1960s of potential climate risks that stem from burning the fossil fuels that power their vehicles. The investigation, published Monday, October 26, also describes how the auto giants largely dismissed those risks and actively lobbied to block action and fund climate science denial campaigns.

“Just as with the oil industry, the auto industry was really focused on potential regulatory threats from pollution to its business long ago,” Carroll Muffett, president of the Center for International Environmental Law, a nonprofit law firm which helped uncover historical documents on Ford scientists’ climate research, told DeSmog. 

“That the auto industry would be aware of the emerging science that was relevant to how its products operate is not surprising,” Muffett added. Yet despite this early knowledge, he explained, the industry “embarked on a multi-decade course of action designed to sow uncertainty about climate science and to block climate action.”

What could be relevant in potential climate litigation, which the oil industry is already facing, is not only what the automakers knew and when, but what they did in response. Rather than publicly acknowledging the climate consequences of fossil fuel consumption from automobiles and shifting to alternatives like electric vehicles, Ford and General Motors continued business as usual, while stoking uncertainty about climate science through their private donations.    

“Instead of shifting their business models away from fossil fuels, the companies invested heavily in gas-guzzling trucks and SUVs. At the same time, the two carmakers privately donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to groups that cast doubt on the scientific consensus on global warming,” E&E reporter Maxine Joselow wrote in the investigation.
» Read article                

» More about clean transportation             

 

HEALTH RISKS – INDOOR GAS USE

scary stove
Gas Stoves Are the Scariest Thing in the Kitchen
By Dharna Noor, Gizmodo
October 29, 2020

As a Climate Person, I strongly believe we urgently need to electrify everything and ditch natural gas completely. The problem is, I love my gas stove. I find the heat from an electric stove’s coils basically impossible to control—last time I used one, I burned a beautiful pan sauce to a brown crisp.

Though gas stoves are comparatively easy to cook with, they’re actually incredibly dangerous. One recent report found that gas stoves spew out levels of air pollution inside that would be illegal under outdoor regulations.

“It’s really a cocktail of emissions that they put out,” Brady Seals, senior associate of building electrification at the Rocky Mountain Institute who co-authored the study, said. “There’s the emissions from the gas itself, the main ones of which are nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, and formaldehyde. And then there’s the particulate matter, or the small pollution particles, that come from the stove flames and from the food that’s getting cooked.”

Each of these toxins can enter the human body when we inhale, causing respiratory issues, especially for those who have chronic breathing conditions like asthma. The teeniest bits of particulate matter are so small that they can also pass through the lungs into the bloodstream and even the brain where they have been linked to anxiety and problems with attention and memory.

All that pollution can be mitigated by ventilation hoods, but people don’t tend to use their hoods enough. That’s partially because some of the toxins stoves produce aren’t detectable to the naked eye or nose.

It’s clear that gas stoves simply can’t stick around, as great as they are for cooking compared to electric stoves. Luckily, though, those aren’t the only two options.

“The best alternative is induction stoves,” Aldana Cohen said. “Many of the world’s best chefs use them. They are way better for people’s health. They perform far better than conventional electric stoves.”

Unlike traditional electric stoves, which have coils that get heated by electricity, induction burners run on electromagnetism, making them more energy efficient. Since they only heat magnetic surfaces like iron pans, they’re also safer.
» Read article               

» More about indoor gas use risks          

 

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Covid relief funds fracked
The $16 Million Was Supposed to Clean Up Old Oil Wells; Instead, It’s Going to Frack New Ones
North Dakota, where Covid-19 rates are surging, is redirecting the federal relief money, turning it into grants that will go directly to oil companies.
By Nicholas Kusnetz, InsideClimate News
October 28, 2020

North Dakota’s top oil and gas regulator had a problem. With winter bearing down, his department had yet to spend $16 million in federal coronavirus relief funds earmarked for cleaning up abandoned oil and gas well sites across the state, and the arrival of cold weather would halt the work. 

If the money wasn’t spent by the end of the year, the state would lose it. So Lynn Helms, director of the state’s Department of Mineral Resources, proposed a different use for the funds: paying oil companies to hydraulically fracture new wells.

The proposal landed in front of state lawmakers on Wednesday during a budget meeting that many members attended remotely, calling in from easy chairs and living rooms because of the state’s surging coronavirus caseload. Despite pleas from some lawmakers that the money would be better spent helping nursing homes safely allow family visits or amplifying contact tracing, the committee approved Helms’ request.
» Read article                

gas peaking early
Peak Gas Is Coming to the U.S. Sooner Than Anyone Expected
By Naureen Malik, Brian Eckhouse, Dave Merrill and Jeremy C.F. Lin, Bloomberg
October 22, 2020

One of the largest utilities in the U.S. put $8 billion into a bet that natural gas would dominate American electricity much like coal had before. “We really consider this to be a growth play,” Tom Fanning, chief executive officer of Southern Co., said in an interview just five years ago, as his company set on its landmark acquisition: natural-gas distributor AGL Resources Inc.

Gas looked to be on the verge of generational dominance at the time. The American fracking boom had made the fuel superabundant and cheap, hastening coal’s rapid decline, while energy from wind and solar had higher costs and lower reliability. A giant utility like Southern would naturally see gas pipelines and storage as the key to a durable and lucrative future, meeting demand that would continue to grow.

Now those expansive time horizons are in deep doubt. In fact, there are flashing signs that the U.S. power sector is approaching peak gas, with demand topping out decades ahead of schedule. “The era of robust growth in the U.S. natural gas market is likely coming to a close,” says Devin McDermott, an analyst at Morgan Stanley. “It doesn’t mean the market falls apart. It doesn’t mean gas demand falls off of a cliff. It means that we need less new supply going forward.”

Natural gas only fulfilled its destiny as the nation’s top power source in 2016, backed by hundreds of billions of dollars invested in the creation of a gas-based economy. Renewables could take over as the No. 1 power source on the grid as soon as 2028, according to projections by McDermott and Morgan Stanley analyst Stephen Byrd.

The American gas peak will mark a critical juncture—and it may have already been reached. McDermott expects overall U.S. gas demand growth in the U.S. slow to between 1% and 2% per year through 2030 as use by power generators shrinks by 2% to 3%. Overall demand could flatline or fall slightly if the Democrats win in November, a dramatic shift after years of record growth. “It’s a gradual trend, but it does add up over time,” he says.
» Read article                

» More about fossil fuel     

 

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

Engie hold upFrance Delays U.S. LNG Deal On Environmental Concerns
By Tsvetana Paraskova, Oil Price
October 23, 2020

France’s government has asked local power group Engie, in which it holds more than 20 percent, to delay the signing of a 20-year deal worth US$7-billion to buy liquefied natural gas (LNG) from a planned export project in Texas due to concerns over gas production emissions, Politico reported, quoting sources with knowledge of the issue.

Engie was preparing to sign the multi-billion offtake deal with NextDecade Corporation, which is developing the Rio Grande LNG project in Texas. Rio Grande LNG, whose final investment decision is expected in 2021, is supposed to use the abundant shale gas supply from the Permian Basin and Eagle Ford Shale.

But the French government has asked Engie to hold off on signing the deal because France is concerned that the shale gas producers in Texas emit too much methane at a time when the European Union (EU) and its major economies, including France, are looking to develop and import clean energy.
» Read article                

» More about LNG           

 

PLASTICS IN THE ENVIRONMENT

plastics petitionCampaigners Tell Kenyan Government ‘Don’t Backslide on Plastics’ in US Trade Deal
By Maina Waruru, DeSmog UK
October 27, 2020

Campaigners are calling on the Kenyan government to protect the country from an influx of plastic pollution as a consequence of a new free trade agreement with the US.

An online petition, organised by Greenpeace, calls on officials to reject terms in any new agreement that would make it easier for the US to export its plastic to Kenya.  The “Do Not Backslide on Plastics” campaign already has over 21,000 signatures.

It was launched after revelations by Greenpeace’s investigative journalism unit Unearthed that showed the American Chemistry Council (ACC) lobby group was pushing the US Trade Representative to include terms that would contradict Kenya’s recent efforts to curb its plastic consumption.

In public letters to the US Trade Representative and US International Trade Commission, the Council writes: “Kenya could serve in the future as a hub for supplying US-made chemicals and plastics to other markets in Africa through this trade agreement.”

The ACC is backed by fossil fuel companies including Chevron, ExxonMobil, Shell, Total and BP and major agri-chemical companies including Bayer, BASF, FMC and Corteva.

Greenpeace is asking Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Trade, Industrialisation and Enterprise Development, Betty Maina, “to commit to Africa’s Plastic-free vision” as the country negotiates with the US.

Rwanda pioneered a ban on single use plastic bags in 2008, followed by Kenya in 2017 and Tanzania in 2019. This year Kenya marked World Environment Day by introducing a ban on single use plastic in all beaches, forests and conservation areas.

Fredrick Njehu, Senior Political Advisor for Greenpeace Africa, says most of those who signed the petition are Kenyans, many of them young and alarmed at the prospect of their country being turned into a gateway for the export of plastics to the rest of Africa.
» Read article                

» More about plastics in the environment              

 

PLASTICS RECYCLING

RIC mythThe Plastic Myth and the Misunderstood Triangle
By Dr. Kate Raynes-Goldie, EcoWatch
October 23, 2020

The myth created around plastic recycling has been one of simplicity. We look for the familiar triangle arrows, then pop the waste in the recycling bin so it can be reused.

But the true purpose of those triangles has been misunderstood by the general public ever since their invention in the 1980s.

These triangles were actually created by the plastics industry and, according to a report provided to them in July 1993, were creating “unrealistic expectations” about what could be recycled. But they decided to keep using the codes.

Which is why many people still believe that these triangular symbols (also known as a resin identifier code or RIC) means something is recyclable.

But according to the American Society for Testing and Materials International (ASTM) – which controls the RIC system – the numbered triangles “are not recycle codes.” In fact, they weren’t created for the general public at all. They were made for the post-consumer plastic industry.

In other words, the symbols make it easier to sort the different types of plastics, some of which cannot be recycled – depending on the recycling facility.
» Read article                

» More about plastics recycling         

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Weekly News Check-In 10/16/20

banner 17

Welcome back.

We took a break last week, but the news kept coming. Events are unfolding rapidly around the Weymouth compressor station, but fortunately WBUR’s Mariam Wasser published another of her excellent “explainer” articles. She pulls all the complicated pieces together and provides much-appreciated clarity.

Elsewhere on the pipeline beat, Eversource Energy has completed its purchase of Columbia Gas of Massachusetts. And while they’re still committed to pumping volatile, explosive gas under our streets and into our homes, their message is “this time it will be different.” In the interest of fair and balance reporting, we offer a sobering report about problems with anti-corrosion coatings on natural gas pipes.

We’re catching up on the big-picture impact of recent climate-related lawsuits with an excellent summary article from Dana Drugmand in DeSmog Blog. Closer to home, we found useful information on the health effects of indoor gas use – particularly gas ranges used in non-ventilated kitchens.

Those of us looking forward to a green, sustainable economy apparently have like-minded friends in Helsinki. We found an uplifting article from Finland’s capital, describing a whole population that’s embracing and working toward sustainability.

Our climate section opens with another warning about what will happen if we don’t get our act together quickly, and then follows with potentially hopeful news that China has made its first significant climate policy announcement, committing the country to net-zero by 2060. While that’s too slow, it’s an important beginning.

New York City took a big step toward clean energy when its utility agreed to work with environmental organizations and communities to replace six highly-polluting “peaking” power plants with low- or non-emitting alternatives. That means battery storage, charged during off-peak hours by some combination of conventional and renewable sources. Elsewhere in this section, we look at the complicated issues around hydropower, the down-side of solar in the smoke-choked west – and close with a study showing that reliance on nuclear power actually slows the deployment of renewable power sources.

We found an article describing a financing model for energy efficiency improvements that allows property owners to pay for improvements over time through utility savings. Energy Efficiency as a Service (EEaaS) has been around for decades, but now seems primed for broad application.

Utility Dive’s Kavya Balaraman wrote an extensive 4-part series covering all aspects of energy storage, and we give that whole section to her this week. Taken together, it’s an excellent tour of past, present, and future developments.

The electric vehicle community could see improvements in charging station accessibility and reliability soon, based on a new agreement between EV Connect, vehicle manufacturers, and other partners.

A lot of press lately has focused on cleaning up the fossil fuel industry mess that will inevitably be left behind as we move beyond carbon. It’s a good thing to talk about now, since the industry appears to be actively maneuvering to stick taxpayers with the huge bill. We include cautionary reports from Venezuela and Ecuador, where oil booms went bust without sufficient environmental regulations or remediation.

The South Korean government is defending its renewable energy subsidies for biomass in court. A potentially game-changing suit was brought by the country’s solar industry along with a Canadian citizen who’s trying to stop the clearcutting of British Columbia’s ancient forests to supply wood pellets. The suit charges that biomass burning has “worsened air pollution, accelerated climate change, and stunted the growth of the Korean solar energy sector.”

We close with an article describing a recent study that concludes there is currently 15.5 million tons of microplastics on the ocean floor.

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

— The NFGiM Team

 

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

Weymouth compressor explained
The Controversial Natural Gas Compressor In Weymouth, Explained
By Miriam Wasser, WBUR
October 13, 2020

For the last five years, a coalition of South Shore towns, politicians and local activists have tried to block the construction of a natural gas compressor station in North Weymouth. They’ve waged public awareness campaigns, challenged the project’s environmental permits in court, and even resorted to civil disobedience. Meanwhile, the company building the compressor station cleared every legal and regulatory hurdle in its way, and construction has moved forward.

The Weymouth compressor itself is a complicated project that involves multiple state and federal agencies and private companies — and that’s before you factor in all the litigation and local controversy the facility has generated.

WBUR published an explainer about the compressor station in June 2019, but given how much has happened since then, we felt it was time for an update. So once again, whether you’ve been reading about the issue for years and have questions, or are just hearing about the project for the first time, here’s what you need to know:
» Read article               

 

evacuation planWeymouth compressor station evacuation plan in the works
By Ed Baker, Wicked Local Weymouth
October 7, 2020

A new compressor station in the Fore River Basin has a federal operation permit, but an evacuation plan for residents during a potential emergency at the site remains unknown, according to compressor foes.

“It is simply unacceptable that this compressor station has received its final operating permit from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, but we still have no safety and evacuation plan available to the vulnerable residents,” said Alice Arena, leader of Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station during a Town Council Meeting, Oct. 5.

Weymouth Mayor Robert Hedlund said an evacuation plan is “being finalized.”

“We anticipate it will be done before that station is fully operational,” he said.

The compressor station was scheduled to begin service, Oct. 1, but natural gas leaks on Sept. 11 and Sept. 30 have delayed the facility from being put into use.
» Read article               

 

FRRACS want clarity
Weymouth compressor foes want clarity on gas leaks
By Ed Baker, Wicked Local Weymouth
October 7, 2020

The Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station want Town Council to determine whether Enbridge Inc. properly notified the police and fire departments when natural gas leaks occurred at the compressor station, Sept. 11 and Sept. 30.

“We are asking the council…to request, review, and report on the police and fire 911 records for Friday, Sept. 11 and Wednesday, Sept. 30,” said FRRACS leader Alice Arena during an Oct. 5 council meeting.

According to Enbridge spokesman Maxwell Bergeron, the leaks forced an emergency shutdown of the compressor, and they are under investigation by the company.

Arena said FRRACS wants the council to obtain an investigative report about the gas leaks from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

“We ask the Council to make this report available to the public,” she said.
» Read article               

 

FBI may investigateLynch: FBI To Investigate Possibility of Cyberattack At Weymouth Compressor
By Barbara Moran, WBUR
October 02, 2020

The FBI has been asked to investigate whether a “cyber intrusion” triggered this week’s emergency shutdown at a natural gas compressor station in Weymouth.

The cause of the emergency shutdown on Sept. 30 — the second that month — is still unknown, though it seems to have originated in the plant’s electrical system, said U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch.

“Because this is an international pipeline, and because of the national security implication, the FBI has been asked to take a look at any possible cyber intrusion that might have triggered the release,” Lynch said.

The FBI declined to comment on whether it was conducting an investigation involving the station.

The plant has been shut down since Sept. 30, and will remain so until an independent safety analysis is done and officials with the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) sign off on a re-start plan.

Lynch also submitted a request to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on Friday, asking the agency to revoke the station’s certificate of public convenience and necessity, which would effectively pull the plug on the project. U.S. Sen. Ed Markey made the same request earlier in the week.
» Read article               

» More about the Weymouth compressor station    

 

PIPELINES

William Akley
‘Safe and reliable’: Eversource says Agawam, Longmeadow pipeline projects necessary after acquiring Columbia Gas
By Jim Kinney, MassLive
October 13, 2020

Proposed natural gas pipeline work in Longmeadow and Agawam could help Eversource — now the owner of Columbia Gas of Massachusetts — end leaks from aging cast-iron pipes in Springfield and address other reliability and safety issues.

But the projects — which are opposed by environmentalists and some living in those towns — need a more thorough review now that Eversource is owner of the system, said Bill Akley, the company’s president of gas operations.

Akley spoke at a Tuesday afternoon news conference at what is now an Eversource Gas maintenance depot, formerly a Columbia Gas facility, in Springfield.

Eversource was celebrating the completion of its purchase of the former Columbia Gas of Massachusetts for $1.1 billion. State regulators approved the purchase last week. The federal government had already given an OK.

Also there, uninvited, were members of the Columbia Gas Resistance Campaign, a group opposing pipelines.

Susan Grossberg, a campaign member from Agawam, questioned how the pipeline projects fit with Eversource’s goal to be carbon neutral by 2030.
» Read article               

 

degraded coatings
Too Much Sun Degrades Coatings That Keep Pipes From Corroding, Risking Leaks, Spills and Explosions
Pipeline installation delays leave pipes stored longer than recommended aboveground, where UV light can deteriorate the coatings that prevent corrosion.
By Phil McKenna, InsideClimate News
October 11, 2020

For natural gas pipeline developers hunting for a good deal on a 100-mile section of steel pipe, a recent advertisement claimed to have just what they are looking for.

Following the cancelation of the proposed Constitution natural gas pipeline in Pennsylvania and New York, a private equity firm recently offered a “massive inventory” of never-used, “top-quality” coated steel pipe.

What the company didn’t mention is that the pipe may have sat, exposed to the elements, for more than a year, a period of time that exceeds the pipe coating manufacturers’ recommendation for aboveground storage, which could make the pipe prone to failure.

Long term, aboveground pipe storage has become commonplace as pipeline developers routinely begin construction activity on pipeline projects before obtaining all necessary permits and as legal challenges add lengthy delays.

Whether canceled or stalled, overdue oil and gas pipelines across the country may face a little-known problem that raises new safety concerns and could add additional costs and delays.

Fusion bonded epoxy, the often turquoise-green protective coating covering sections of steel pipe in storage yards from North Dakota to North Carolina, may have degraded to the point that it is no longer effective. The coatings degrade when exposed to ultraviolet radiation from the sun while the pipes they cover sit above ground for years.

The compromised coatings leave the underlying pipes more prone to corrosion and failures that could result in leaks, catastrophic spills or explosions. Degraded coatings were implicated in an oil spill from a failed pipeline near Santa Barbara, California in 2015. Toxic compounds may also be released as the coating breaks down, raising concerns that the pipes could pose a health threat to those who live near the vast storage yards holding them.
» Read article               

» More about pipelines       

 

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

climate suit update
Fossil Fuel Companies Keep Getting Sued Over Climate Impacts. Here’s Where the Cases Stand
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
October 7, 2020

September saw a flurry of new lawsuits filed by cities and states against major fossil fuel companies over the climate crisis and the resulting impacts that are already being felt. After Hoboken, New Jersey sued Big Oil and its largest trade association, the American Petroleum Institute, on September 2, back-to-back lawsuits came the following week from Charleston, South Carolina and the state of Delaware. Connecticut then followed with a lawsuit singularly targeting ExxonMobil, which remains one of the largest oil companies in the world and appears determined to double down on its core fossil fuel business despite knowing decades ago about the climate consequences of using its products. 

These climate lawsuits seek to hold companies like Exxon accountable for spending decades misleading the public on climate risks. Those dangers, projected long ago, have literally hit home in recent months with scorching heat, “record breaking” storms battering the Gulf Coast, and unprecedented and devastating wildfires burning millions of acres in the western U.S.

“Long before Trump entered office, oil and gas CEOs predicted this would be the result of their unfettered industry,” Greenpeace USA Climate Campaign Director Janet Redman said in a late August press release responding to the landfall of Hurricane Laura. “Climate denial is not a victimless crime, and it’s time for the fossil fuel industry to be held accountable.”

The current wave of climate accountability lawsuits started three years ago with a handful of coastal California communities, and has since burgeoned to include nearly two dozen communities across the country so far that are taking the fossil fuel industry to court. Six attorneys general are currently suing Exxon for alleged climate deception, litigation that has started to garner comparisons to the state lawsuits targeting Big Tobacco firms for lying about the health risks of smoking.

The climate cases have not yet made it to trial, with the exception of a securities fraud lawsuit brought by the New York Attorney General against Exxon. A judge dismissed that case following a trial held last October, finding that Exxon did not deceive its investors over climate risks to its business. Since then, attorneys general have filed several new cases alleging that major oil companies such as Exxon misled consumers in violation of state consumer protection laws.

“These companies were not simply reckless in the pursuit of profits,” District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine, who sued BP, Chevron, Exxon, and Shell in June, explained during a recent online briefing. “Their deceptive advertisements and misleading claims violated the D.C. Consumer Protection law.”

One legal expert who is following these climate cases told DeSmog that these consumer protection cases may have an easier path towards trial in state courts. “These are straight-up state consumer rights laws,” Pat Parenteau, an environmental law professor at Vermont Law School (and this writer’s former law professor) said. “So those [cases] are going to go straight to trial I think.”
» Read article               

» More about protests and actions       

 

HEALTH EFFECTS OF INDOOR GAS USE

kill your gas stove
Kill Your Gas Stove
It’s bad for you, and the environment. If you can afford to avoid it, you probably should.
By Sabrina Imbler, The Atlantic
October 15, 2020

Most Americans these days use electric stoves, but approximately a third cook primarily with natural gas, according to a 2015 report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Many of these cooks swear by the blue flame, which can supercharge a cast-iron pan in a way that would put an electric coil to shame. Cooking over a fire may seem natural enough, but these stoves should be a hotter topic: Given advances in induction technology, concerns about the climate, health anxieties, or some combination of the three, should anyone be using one?

If you can afford to avoid it, probably not.

On the air-quality front, at least, the evidence against gas stoves is damning. Although cooking food on any stove produces particulate pollutants, burning gas produces nitrogen dioxide, or NO2,, and sometimes also carbon monoxide, according to Brett Singer, a scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory who studies indoor air quality. Brief exposures to air with high concentrations of NO2 can lead to coughing and wheezing for people with asthma or other respiratory issues, and prolonged exposure to the gas can contribute to the development of those conditions, according to the EPA.
» Read article             

» More about health effects of indoor gas use        

 

GREENING THE ECONOMY

sustainable Helsinki
Helsinki Makes Sustainability a Guiding Principle for Development
By Dorn Townsend, New York Times
October 14, 2020

HELSINKI, Finland — When his tour as the American ambassador to Finland ended in 2015, Bruce Oreck decided to linger. Part of the draw was a business opportunity. In a neighborhood just north of the city center, Mr. Oreck paid about 11 million euros for a vast, abandoned, century-old train factory.

He has been transforming the site into a market and community center that he intends to be a model of green building and consumerism. But Mr. Oreck, who was a New Orleans tax lawyer and professional bodybuilder before he became an Obama political appointee, said he had stayed because he was enchanted by something besides the potential for real estate success.

“You don’t hear about it unless you spend time here, but something is happening in Helsinki that isn’t happening almost anywhere else,” Mr. Oreck said. “Helsinki is a city full of people waiting for the revolution. They really want to make the world a better place, and they’re trying to lead by example. Which is a paradox, because Finns are decidedly not showy people.”

The qualities Mr. Oreck is referring to are sometimes summed up by the term sustainability. In the world’s second-most northern capital, sustainability has moved from concept to guiding principle. It’s rare for a day to pass without hearing a form of the word deployed multiple times as an environmentally friendly noun, adjective or adverb.

But Helsinki has a parallel goal: The city has endorsed measures it hopes will earn it recognition as the world’s most functional city.

In Helsinki this aspiration will be judged against a measurable and widely shared benefit: New master-planned communities must integrate features allowing inhabitants to enjoy an extra hour of free time each day.
» Read article                             

 

diversity and inclusion initiative
Solar firms unite to launch diversity and inclusion initiative
By Jules Scully, PV Tech
October 13, 2020

A group of trade organisations and solar companies have launched a new initiative that aims to improve diversity and inclusion in the industry.

The ‘Renewables Forward’ partnership will see stakeholders share corporate practices and policies as well as invest in under-resourced and minority communities in the US. The goal is to identify tangible ways to collaborate and drive a larger industrywide partnership between CEOs and solar organisations.

Founding members include Capital Dynamics, Cypress Creek Renewables, EDF Renewables, Generate Capital, Mosaic, Nautilus Solar Energy, New Columbia Solar, Nextracker, Sol Systems and Volt Energy, as well as the Solar Energy Industries Association and The Solar Foundation.

“From a mission perspective, the lack of diversity in solar means that whole segments of the American population are simply not participating in climate solutions and are being left out of the economic opportunities that these jobs create,” said Dan Shugar, CEO of Nextracker. “Words are good, but we are overdue in our industry to do better in terms of minority and gender representation.”

Renewables Forward’s initial efforts include coordinating an educational and fundraising programme to support US civil rights organisations the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, The Southern Poverty Law Center and the Urban League.

Gilbert Campbell, CEO of solar project developer Volt Energy, said: “Our diversity issue is not simply a hiring problem, but an issue of education, access, political voice, environmental impact, community protection and sustainability.

“We cannot commit to building a better, more sustainable future without committing both to address the inequities of the past and to build a solution that elevates opportunity for all Americans.”
» Read article                            

 

casting doubt
Fishing industry group casts doubt on offshore wind’s job creation promises
Wind advocates counter that a recent report obscures the potential for long-term employment as the industry continues to grow.
By Lisa Prevost, Energy News Network
October 12, 2020

While offshore wind developers are promising tens of thousands of U.S. jobs from wind farm development along the East Coast over the next decade, the commercial fishing industry is sowing doubt about the projections. 

An economic analysis commissioned by the Responsible Offshore Development Alliance, a fishing industry coalition, concludes that “a surprisingly low” number of new positions will be permanent, and that the bulk of jobs will be created overseas. 

“The claim that the huge investments on offshore wind would provide significant job and economic benefits in the U.S. has been grossly inflated,” wrote the report’s author, Janet Liang, an economist with Georgetown Economic Services, a consulting firm. 

Wind industry representatives are not convinced by the findings, however. So long as Eastern Seaboard states can provide sufficient training to help businesses and workers capitalize on wind industry opportunities, the economic benefit is bound to be substantial, said Liz Burdock, chief executive and president of the Business Network for Offshore Wind. 

“The number that I point to, which is based on annual aggregate data, is what’s happened in Europe, where offshore wind sustains 40,000 jobs,” Burdock said. “I feel fairly confident that we’re going to hit or exceed that number with what we have in the pipeline now.” 

The Georgetown report comes as federal regulators near a long-awaited decision on Vineyard Wind, which is poised to become the nation’s first utility-scale offshore wind farm. Fishing industry interests are imploring regulators to fully consider the impacts on fisheries. While state economic development officials tout offshore wind as an economic boon, some in the fishing industry feel the projections don’t take into account the potential damage to their sector.
» Read article                     

» More about greening the economy        

 

CLIMATE

human cost of disasters
‘Uninhabitable Hell:’ UN Report Warns of Planet’s Future for Millions Without Climate Action
By Jordan Davidson, EcoWatch
October 13, 2020

A new report from the United Nations found that political leaders and industry leaders are failing to do the necessary work to stop the world from becoming an “uninhabitable hell” for millions of people as the climate crisis continues and natural disasters become more frequent, as Al-Jazeera reported.

The Human Cost of Disasters 2000-2019 was released Monday to mark the International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction, which falls on Oct. 13, according to a statement from the office behind the report.

The bulk of the disasters were climate-related, as there were sharp increases in the number of floods, storms, heat waves, droughts, hurricanes and wildfires in the last two decades, according to CNN.

The report found that the world is on a worrying trend line as natural disasters become more frequent and more expensive. In the last 20 years, there were more than 7,300 natural disasters worldwide, accounting for nearly $3 trillion in damages. That’s almost double the prior two decades when there were just over 4,200 natural disasters that totaled $1.6 trillion in economic losses, according to the statement.

“It is baffling that we willingly and knowingly continue to sow the seeds of our own destruction,” said UNDRR chief Mami Mizutori and Debarati Guha-Sapir of Belgium’s Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters, in a joint foreword to the report, as CNN reported.

“It really is all about governance if we want to deliver this planet from the scourge of poverty, further loss of species and biodiversity, the explosion of urban risk and the worst consequences of global warming.”
» Read article                   
» Read the report             

 

China sets a marker
China Has Surprised the World With Climate Action Announcement
By Hao Tan, Elizabeth Thurbon, John Mathews, Sung-Young Kim, The Conversation, in EcoWatch
October 8, 2020

China’s President Xi Jinping surprised the global community recently by committing his country to net-zero emissions by 2060. Prior to this announcement, the prospect of becoming “carbon neutral” barely rated a mention in China’s national policies.

China currently accounts for about 28% of global carbon emissions – double the U.S. contribution and three times the European Union’s. Meeting the pledge will demand a deep transition of not just China’s energy system, but its entire economy.

Importantly, China’s use of coal, oil and gas must be slashed, and its industrial production stripped of emissions. This will affect demand for Australia’s exports in coming decades.

It remains to be seen whether China’s climate promise is genuine, or simply a ploy to win international favor. But it puts pressure on many other nations – not least Australia – to follow.
» Read article               

» More about climate           

 

CLEAN ENERGY

goodbye NY peakers
New York says goodbye to 6 dirty power plants and hello to working with communities
By Emily Pontecorvo, Grist
October 15, 2020

New York’s latest move toward its aggressive decarbonization goals makes good on the promise of a more equitable transition. On Tuesday, the New York Power Authority (NYPA), a publicly owned power utility, announced an agreement to work with environmental justice groups on a plan to transition six natural gas–fired power plants in New York City to cleaner technologies.

These are not just any power plants. The six facilities in question are “peaker plants,” designed to fire up only during times of peak demand, like hot summer days when New Yorkers are cranking up their air conditioners — and air quality is already compromised.

Peaker plants typically operate less than 10 percent of the time, but they have an outsized effect on communities and the environment. Of the city’s 16 peaker plants, most of them are at least 50 years old, and some run on especially dirty fuels like oil or kerosene. These old plants are disproportionately located in communities of color in the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens that are simultaneously burdened with other health risks like heat vulnerability. In addition to emitting carbon dioxide that is heating up the planet, they release harmful pollutants like nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, and tiny, easily inhalable particles that contribute to respiratory issues.

Residents in these communities also feel the burden year-round on their energy bills. A recent report estimated that New Yorkers pay $450 million per year to run the city’s peaker plants no more than a few hundreds hours. The report was authored by the newly formed PEAK Coalition, an alliance of five leading environmental justice groups working to replace fossil fuel peaker plants with renewable energy and battery storage.

Now NYPA has agreed to bring PEAK into the fold as it studies ways to transition its six plants to cleaner technologies. In a memorandum of understanding, the two parties agreed to “evaluate the potential to replace existing peaker units” and “augment or otherwise install renewable and battery storage systems” on these sites and in surrounding communities.
» Read article              
» Read the PEAK Coalition report on peaker plants       
» Read the memorandum of understanding          
» Read the press release              

 

Hoover DamEnvironmentalists and Dam Operators, at War for Years, Start Making Peace
Facing a climate crisis, environmental groups and industry agree to work together to bolster hydropower while reducing harm from dams.
By Brad Plumer, New York Times
October 13, 2020

The industry that operates America’s hydroelectric dams and several environmental groups announced an unusual agreement Tuesday to work together to get more clean energy from hydropower while reducing the environmental harm from dams, in a sign that the threat of climate change is spurring both sides to rethink their decades-long battle over a large but contentious source of renewable power.

The United States generated about 7 percent of its electricity last year from hydropower, mainly from large dams built decades ago, such as the Hoover Dam, which uses flowing water from the Colorado River to power turbines. But while these facilities don’t emit planet-warming carbon dioxide, the dams themselves have often proved ecologically devastating, choking off America’s once-wild rivers and killing fish populations.

So, over the past 50 years, conservation groups have rallied to block any large new dams from being built, while proposals to upgrade older hydropower facilities or construct new water-powered energy-storage projects have often been bogged down in lengthy regulatory disputes over environmental safeguards.

The new agreement signals a desire to de-escalate this long-running war.

In a joint statement, industry groups and environmentalists said they would collaborate on a set of specific policy measures that could help generate more renewable electricity from dams already in place, while retrofitting many of the nation’s 90,000 existing dams to be safer and less ecologically damaging.
» Read article              
» Read the joint statement            

 

CANADA-ECONOMY-ENERGY-FOREST-WATER

Aerial view of Hydro-Quebec’s Romaine 1 hydroelectric dam in Havre St. Pierre, Quebec, October 3, 2018. – On a frigid night, the roar of heavy machinery chipping away at rock echoes through Canada’s boreal forest: in the far north of Quebec province, four massive hydroelectric dams that will produce power for US markets are nearing completion. (Photo by Lars Hagberg / AFP) / TO GO WITH AFP STORY by Clement SABOURIN (Photo by LARS HAGBERG/AFP via Getty Images)

New York and New England Need More Clean Energy. Is Hydropower From Canada the Best Way to Get it?
Two massive projects, requiring hundreds of miles of transmissions lines, have left Indigenous communities in Canada, and some U.S. activists, up in arms.
By Ilana Cohen, InsideClimate News
Photo: Hydro-Quebec’s Romaine 1 hydroelectric dam in Havre St. Pierre, Quebec. Credit: Lars Hagberg/AFP via Getty Images
October 4, 2020

 

With only months until developers start making both projects on-the-ground realities, they have seized public attention within, and beyond, their regions.

Officials and transmission line proponents say importing Canadian hydropower offers an immediate and feasible way to help decarbonize electricity portfolios in New York and New England, supporting their broader efforts to combat climate change. 

But some environmental activists say hydropower has a significant carbon footprint of its own. They fear the projects will make states look “greener” at the expense of the local environment, Indigenous communities, and ultimately, the climate. 

“We’re talking about the most environmentally and economically just pathway” to decarbonization, said Annel Hernandez, associate director of the NYC Environmental Justice Alliance. “Canadian hydro is not going to provide that.” 

To that end, environmental groups opposing Canadian hydropower say New York and New England should seize the moment to expedite local development of wind and solar power.
» Read article               

 

filtered sunlightCalifornia’s solar energy gains go up in wildfire smoke
Pollution from wildfires blocked sunlight and coated solar panels
By Justine Calma, The Verge
October 1, 2020

Smoke from California’s unprecedented wildfires was so bad that it cut a significant chunk of solar power production in the state. Solar power generation dropped off by nearly a third in early September as wildfires darkened the skies with smoke, according to the US Energy Information Administration. 

Those fires create thick smoke, laden with particles that block sunlight both when they’re in the air and when they settle onto solar panels. In the first two weeks of September, soot and smoke caused solar-powered electricity generation to fall 30 percent compared to the July average, according to the California Independent System Operator (CAISO), which oversees nearly all utility-scale solar energy in California. It was a 13.4 percent decrease from the same period last year, even though solar capacity in the state has grown about 5 percent since September 2019.
» Read article              

 

no nukes here
Nuclear power hinders fight against climate change
Countries investing in renewables are achieving carbon reductions far faster than those which opt to back nuclear power.
By Paul Brown, Climate News Network
October 6, 2020

Countries wishing to reduce carbon emissions should invest in renewables, abandoning any plans for nuclear power stations because they can no longer be considered a low-carbon option.

That is the conclusion of a study by the University of Sussex Business School, published in the journal Nature Energy, which analysed World Bank and International Energy Agency data from 125 countries over a 25-year period.

The study provides evidence that it is difficult to integrate renewables and nuclear together in a low-carbon strategy, because they require two different types of grid. Because of this, the authors say, it is better to avoid building nuclear power stations altogether.

A country which favours large-scale nuclear stations inevitably freezes out the most effective carbon-reducing technologies − small-scale renewables such as solar, wind and hydro power, they conclude.

Perhaps their most surprising finding is that countries around the world with large-scale nuclear programmes do not tend to show significantly lower carbon emissions over time. In poorer countries nuclear investment is associated with relatively higher emissions.
» Read article              
» Obtain the study            

» More about clean energy                           

 

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

EEaaS
Cities push ahead on Energy Efficiency as a Service as private sector plays catch up
Forms of EEaaS have existed for decades as alternative funding mechanisms in cities. Now, as technologies accelerate and COVID-19 continues, the private sector wants in.
By Chris Teale, Utility Dive
October 5, 2020

The proliferation of new technologies has transformed areas of mobility and software into comprehensive service offerings to bolster operations. Now, public sector entities are leading the charge on a tech-driven service offering that’s been bubbling under the surface for decades: Energy Efficiency as a Service (EEaaS).

Under EEaaS, businesses and governments can underwrite the up-front costs of energy efficiency upgrades, then pay for them with the savings they get from those upgrades over the course of a long-term financial contract. Those upgrades are typically in the areas of lighting, air conditioning (HVAC) and energy management.

As an alternative funding mechanism, forms of EEaaS have existed for decades. But in contrast to typical innovation trends, the public sector is pushing ahead on EEaaS as private companies try to catch up.
» Read article              

» More about energy efficiency                  

 

ENERGY STORAGE

lithium and moreTo batteries and beyond: Lithium-ion dominates utility storage; could competing chemistries change that?
The industry is growing increasingly comfortable with lithium-ion, but its limitations open up a space for other technologies to compete in the storage mix.
By Kavya Balaraman, Utility Dive
October 15, 2020

Lots of utilities are coming out with carbon goals, and renewables are going to play a big part in that, said Zachary Kuznar, managing director of energy storage, microgrid and CHP development at Duke Energy.

“As you put more and more solar and wind on the grid, the batteries are going to be, in my opinion, kind of an essential resource to help smooth out that intermittency,” Kuznar said. 

“But also, as we get more into some of these more long-duration technologies, like flow batteries and others, I think it’s going to be a critical piece to potentially offset the need to build some kind of future peaking plants.”
» Read article              

 

long-duration energy storage
To batteries and beyond: Compressed air, liquid air and the holy grail of long-duration storage
Proponents of the technologies are looking to carve out a niche for themselves in the market. In both cases, a key draw is duration.
By Kavya Balaraman, Utility Dive
October 14, 2020

In 1991, generation and transmission cooperative PowerSouth — then known as the Alabama Electric Cooperative — started operating a 110 MW compressed air energy storage (CAES) plant in McIntosh, Alabama.

The project was the first of its kind in the U.S., and had a 26-hour duration. It essentially served as a peaker plant, to smooth demand between the low weekday loads and high weekend peaks that came from having a predominantly residential load, according to Bobby Bailie, business development director for energy storage at Siemens Energy. Bailie used to work for Dresser-Rand, the company that built the equipment at the McIntosh plant, which was acquired by Siemens in 2015.

Nearly three decades later, the McIntosh plant is still the only operational utility-scale CAES plant in the U.S. But more recently, utilities and developers have taken a renewed interest in the technology for a completely different reason: the ability to store large amounts of renewable energy for long periods of time.
» Read article              

 

pumped hydro storageTo batteries and beyond: In a high-renewables world, pumped hydro storage could be ‘the heavy artillery’
Experts say pumped hydro is notoriously difficult to site. But as more renewables come online, the industry is eyeing new locations and fresh technologies.
By Kavya Balaraman, Utility Dive
October 13, 2020

 

“You just can’t keep bringing on more and more solar and wind, and just have it then stop when the sun goes down,” [Jim Day, CEO of Daybreak Power] said. “With pumped storage, they were all built some decades ago and they haven’t been built since then, because there was no demand for it…. But there is now, and there will be more and more and more in the coming years.”

Pumped storage hydropower accounted for around 95% of commercial energy storage capacity in the U.S. as of 2018, with around 21.6 GW of installed capacity around the country. Facilities traditionally include two reservoirs, at different elevations; they draw power by pumping water to the upper reservoir, and generate it by passing that water through a turbine. But experts say it’s notoriously difficult to find suitable locations for the pumped hydro plants, which are large, rely on specific geographies like mountains, and have prolonged permitting and development timelines that can stretch to a decade. 

“Pumped storage is very difficult to site. It has a lot of environmental issues with it,” said Glenn McGrath, leader of the electricity statistics, uranium statistics and product innovation team at the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

In 2017, the National Hydropower Association issued a white paper looking at the challenges and opportunities tied to developing new pumped storage, and noted that past projects have generally required constructing a minimum of one dam on main stem rivers, which could affect the local ecology. According to the report, developing “closed-loop” projects — built in areas not connected to river systems — could reduce those concerns.
» Read article             
» Read the NHA white paper       

 

 

hydrogen storageTo batteries and beyond: With seasonal storage potential, hydrogen offers ‘a different ballgame entirely’
The ability to provide weeks — or even months — of storage could give power-to-gas technologies an edge as renewables grow on the grid, some experts think.
By Kavya Balaraman, Utility Dive
October 12, 2020

Jack Brouwer started thinking about the potential of using hydrogen to store massive amounts of energy around 12 years ago.

The idea was this: take inexpensive or excess renewable energy, run it through an electrolyzer to create hydrogen, store that hydrogen for as long as needed, and then use fuel cells to convert it back into electricity. Brouwer, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at the University of California, Irvine, took the idea to the U.S. Department of Energy, and tried to convince the agency that the technology was essential to achieving carbon policy goals and supporting a renewables-heavy grid.

But the agency didn’t move forward with the idea so Brouwer and a group of his students began researching the issue. In 2013, they published a paper that looked at the potential of using large-scale compressed gas to store energy and smooth out intermittent wind resources. That paper caught the attention of some people at Southern California Gas Company (SoCalGas) — the nation’s largest gas utility — who reached out, saying they too had been thinking about the potential of hydrogen and wanted to talk, Brouwer said in an interview.

The discussion led to a demonstration project that was set up at UC Irvine’s campus in 2016, Brouwer said, that made renewable hydrogen from solar power using an electrolyzer — “and then taking that renewable hydrogen, injecting it into our natural gas grid and then delivering it, through our natural gas grid, to a natural gas combined cycle plant to make partially decarbonized electricity from it.”

It ran for four years. By the end, Brouwer’s vision for the technology had crystallized: transforming the natural gas delivery system into a renewable hydrogen delivery system, and using it as a cost-effective way to introduce massive amounts of storage.

“If you need to store terawatt hours of energy — which is what the grid will need if it’s 100% renewable — it’s going to be way cheaper to store it in the form of hydrogen,” Brouwer said.
» Read article             
» Read the 2013 paper        

» More about energy storage               

 

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

EV charge partnership
Electric vehicle firms partner to ramp up charging station access, reliability
By Chris Teale, Utility Dive
October 14, 2020

Electric vehicle (EV) charging management company EV Connect announced its Partner Program on Wednesday to expand access to EV charging stations and improve their maintenance. BTCPower, EVBox and EVoCharge were named the initial program partners.

Through the new EV Connect Manufacturer Portal, the partners can provide manufacturers with insight into charging stations’ performance, meaning maintenance can be managed more quickly and proactively, in a bid to ensure that charging station availability is not affected by downtime. The companies will be able to keep track of stations’ performance data, EV Connect CEO Jordan Ramer said, meaning they can “proactively fix stations before they break.”

For EV users, Ramer said the partnership can help expand charging station access by improving reliability at those stations and reducing downtime for maintenance issues. Meanwhile, cities and site owners looking to manage EV charging infrastructure will benefit from reduced maintenance and operating costs as issues can be more easily tracked and fixed, Ramer said.
» Read article              

» More about clean transportation                   

 

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

planned abandonmentWith Bankruptcies Mounting, Faltering Oil and Gas Firms Are Leaving a Multi-billion Dollar Cleanup Bill to the Public
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
October 15, 2020

Amid a record wave of bankruptcies, the U.S. oil and gas industry is on the verge of defaulting on billions of dollars in environmental cleanup obligations.

Even the largest companies in the industry appear to have few plans to properly clean up and plug oil and gas wells after the wells stop producing — despite being legally required to do so. While the bankruptcy process could be an opportunity to hold accountable either these firms, or the firms acquiring the assets via bankruptcy, it instead has offered more opportunities for companies to walk away from cleanup responsibilities — while often rewarding the same executives who bankrupted them. 

The results may be publicly funded cleanups of the millions of oil and gas wells that these companies have left behind. In a new report, Carbon Tracker, an independent climate-focused financial think tank, has estimated the costs to plug the 2.6 million documented onshore wells in the U.S. at $280 billion. This estimate does not include the costs to address an estimated 1.2 million undocumented wells.

Greg Rogers, a former Big Oil advisor, and co-author of a previous Carbon Tracker report on the likely costs of properly shutting down shale wells, suggested to DeSmog that oil and gas companies have factored walking away from their cleanup responsibilities into their business planning.
» Read article        
» Read background article from 10/4              
» Read the Carbon Tracker report       

 

airborne radioactivity
Airborne radioactivity increases downwind of fracking, study finds
Particles released by drilling could damage the health of nearby residents, say scientists
By Damian Carrington, the Guardian
October 13, 2020

The radioactivity of airborne particles increases significantly downwind of fracking sites in the US, a study has found.

The Harvard scientists said this could damage the health of people living in nearby communities and that further research was needed to understand how to stop the release of the radioactive elements from under the ground.

The radioactivity rose by 40% compared with the background level in the most affected sites. The increase will be higher for people living closer than 20km to the fracking sites, which was the closest distance that could be assessed with the available data.

The scientists used data collected from 157 radiation-monitoring stations across the US between 2001 and 2017. The stations were built during the cold war when nuclear war was a threat. They compared data with the position and production records of 120,000 fracking wells.

“Our results suggest that an increase in particle radioactivity due to the extensive [fracking development] may cause adverse health outcomes in nearby communities,” the team concluded.
» Read article        

 

end of an eraVenezuela, Once an Oil Giant, Reaches the End of an Era
Venezuela’s oil reserves, the world’s largest, transformed the country and the global energy market. Now its oil sector is grinding to a halt. Will it ever recover?
By Sheyla Urdaneta, Anatoly Kurmanaev and Isayen Herrera, New York Times
Photographs by Adriana Loureiro Fernandez
October 7, 2020

CABIMAS, Venezuela — For the first time in a century, there are no rigs searching for oil in Venezuela.

Wells that once tapped the world’s largest crude reserves are abandoned or left to flare toxic gases that cast an orange glow over depressed oil towns.

Refineries that once processed oil for export are rusting hulks, leaking crude that blackens shorelines and coats the water in an oily sheen.

Fuel shortages have brought the country to a standstill. At gas stations, lines go on for miles.

Venezuela’s colossal oil sector, which shaped the country and the international energy market for a century, has come to a near halt, with production reduced to a trickle by years of gross mismanagement and American sanctions. The collapse is leaving behind a destroyed economy and a devastated environment, and, many analysts say, bringing to an end the era of Venezuela as an energy powerhouse.

In Cabimas, a town on the shores of Lake Maracaibo that was once a center of production for the region’s prolific oil fields, crude seeping from abandoned underwater wells and pipelines coats the crabs that former oil workers haul from the lake with blackened hands.

When it rains, oil that has oozed into the sewage system comes up through manholes and drains, coursing with rainwater through the streets, smearing houses and filling the town with its gaseous stench.

Cabimas’s desolation marks a swift downfall for a town that just a decade ago was one of the richest in Venezuela.
» Read article              

 

sangre del diablo
Blood of the Devil

A brief history of oil colonialism in Ecuador, and what happened in the decades leading up to a landmark lawsuit against Texaco in the 1990s.
By Karen Savage and Amy Westervelt, Drilled News
October 2, 2020

Tens of thousands of Ecuadorians have been locked in legal battle with the oil major Chevron for decades. In recent years media attention has been focused on the lawyers in this case, but to understand what’s at stake we need to go back and look at what actually happened in Ecuador as the original defendant in this case, Texaco, began to explore for oil there.

Texaco began its search for Ecuadorian oil in March 1964, when the junta, the military government that had seized power the previous year, granted the firm a concession agreement. The initial agreement gave TexPet, Texaco’s Latin American subsidiary, the right to explore for oil in the Oriente region (in the eastern side of the country, covered primarily by rainforest).

Three years later, in the northern region of the concession that was home to the Indigenous A’i, or Cofán people, Texaco found what it was looking for deep under the rainforest: a vast, untapped reservoir of crude. Texaco and the government expanded their concession agreement, making a subsidiary named TexPet the “consortium operator” in charge of exploration and development of new oil fields.

TexPet’s operations in the A’i ancestral lands eventually expanded to include 15 fields, 18 production facilities, and 316 wells, as well as hundreds of miles of pipelines connecting them.

Texaco’s discovery made bold national headlines and mesmerized government officials, who anticipated that the black gold would line Ecuador’s coffers…and possibly their own pockets.

But the inhabitants of the region knew better, because by the late 1960s, Texaco and its frenzied search for oil, or sangre del diablo, “blood of the devil,” as locals came to call it, had already taken a devastating toll on Indigenous tribes including the Cofán, Secoya, Siona, Huarani, Sansahuari, Kichwa, Rumipamba, and Tetete.
» Read article               

» More about fossil fuels                

 

BIOMASS

Korea biomass suit
Korean solar industry makes unprecedented legal challenge to “green” credentials of biomass energy

Canadian citizen joins suit against Korean government alleging irreparable harm to forests and climate from use of British Columbia wood pellets
By Adam Eagle and Joojin Kim, Partnership for Policy Integrity
September 27, 2020

Solar developers in South Korea are filing a potentially game-changing lawsuit against their national government today (midday Korea Standard Time, 28 September), citing unconstitutional renewable energy subsidies to wood burning that have worsened air pollution, accelerated climate change, and stunted the growth of the Korean solar energy sector. The case represents the first national-level lawsuit challenging the status of wood-burning as renewable energy.

Joining as a plaintiff in the case is a Canadian citizen who represents ancient forests of British Columbia that are being harvested to make wood pellets burned in South Korea, the UK, and Europe.  The suit represents the first time a non-Korean plaintiff has challenged the Korean government for failing in their climate duties and breaching human rights. Other plaintiffs in the case include residents of Korea who live near plants burning biomass and who are affected by the resulting air pollution.

Korea already has some of the most polluted air in the world. Last year, South Korea passed emergency powers to combat the ‘social disaster’ of air pollution leading to the temporary closure of a quarter of its coal-fired power plants.  Joojin Kim, managing director of Seoul-based Solutions For Our Climate, the organization coordinating the case, said: “Data from the plant operators themselves show that biomass plants can emit even more air pollution per megawatt-hour than coal plants, yet the Korean government is increasingly dependent on bioenergy to meet our renewable energy goals, stunting the growth of vital zero-emissions technologies like solar power.”

In addition to conventional air pollutants, burning biomass for electricity generation emits more carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour than burning coal, and multiple scientific studies have found that slow forest regrowth cannot come close to compensating for the excess greenhouse gases in time to meet emissions reduction targets. Bioenergy generation received nearly 40% of total renewable energy subsidies issued between 2014 and 2018 in Korea, the highest among renewable energy sources according to research by Solutions for Our Climate.
» Read article               

» More about biomass             

 

PLASTICS IN THE ENVIRONMENT

ocean floor plasticsNew Study: 15.5 Million Tons of Microplastics Litter Ocean Floor
By Jordan Davidson, EcoWatch
October 6, 2020

Microplastics can be found everywhere from Antarctica to the Pyrenees. A significant amount of plastic waste ends up in the ocean, but very little has been known about how much ends up on the ocean floor — until now.

A new study has found that the ocean floor contains nearly 15.5 tons of microplastics, CNN reported.

Researchers from Australia’s government science agency, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), examined microplastics on the ocean floor near the Great Australian Bight, a large expanse that comprises the bulk of the country’s southwest coastline.

The researchers used a robotic submarine to gather and analyze samples taken from six locations up to 236 miles off the coast, and up to almost 10,000 feet deep, reported CNN.

The results, which were published Monday in Frontiers in Marine Science, revealed about 35 times more plastic at the bottom of the ocean than floating at the surface. In 51 samples taken between March and April 2017, researchers found an average of 1.26 microplastic pieces per gram of sediment, a concentration that’s up to 25 times greater than any previous deep-sea study, CNN reported.
» Read article              
» Read the research article          

» More about plastics in the environment  

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