Tag Archives: greenwashing

Weekly News Check-In 8/5/22

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Welcome back.

Just like last week, there’s still a lot of drama around climate legislation. The Massachusetts Legislature incorporated some of Governor Charlie Baker’s proposed amendments and sent this major climate bill back to his desk just as the legislative session wound down. Notably, the Legislature didn’t capitulate to Baker’s suggested amendment on power generated by burning wood, and lawmakers also rejected proposed changes to their plan to permit 10 towns and cities to ban gas hookups in new buildings. If you’re a Massachusetts resident, please call or email the Governor and ask him to sign the bill into law.

While we wait for that, we’re seeing some really positive movement both practically and conceptually away from fossils and toward clean energy. In court, three public interest groups filed a first-of-its-kind lawsuit against Washington [D.C.] Gas Light Company over what they called the “greenwashing” of its use of highly polluting methane gas. The complaint claims that Washington Gas consistently refers to fossil gas in customer-facing materials as clean and sustainable compared to electrification. Sounds familiar!

And on the opposite coast, San Diego officials took action against natural gas to strengthen their city’s position on climate change. The City Council voted unanimously to ban natural gas in new houses and local businesses over the next 12 years, and included a measure to phase out 90 percent of natural gas from existing buildings.

While the gas industry continues to hammer hard on the “can’t cook without my gas range” message, chef Chris Galarza is busy helping restaurants and institutions shift from gas to induction stoves. The change is good for the climate — and for kitchen workers’ mental health and well-being.

On the innovation front, a $70 million initiative will deploy 30,000 window-mounted electric heat pumps to bring climate-friendly comfort to residents of New York City’s aging public housing units. Encouraging a market for this type of heat pump could go a long way toward decarbonizing older buildings that typically heat with oil or gas, where residents rely on window air conditioners for cooling.

Innovation is shaking up building materials, too. Making steel is carbon intensive. It’s responsible for up to 9% of worldwide CO2 emissions and almost a quarter of all industrial emissions. Until recently, substituting green hydrogen for fossil fuel seemed to be the pathway to sustainable steel. But Boston Metal claims it has “cracked the code to electrifying steel manufacturing”. Their process produces steel without releasing carbon dioxide, and without using hydrogen fuel. Of course, the model relies on a green grid to supply that power.

We’ve run a lot of stories about the need for the U.S. transmission grid to expand and modernize, and how it isn’t happening fast enough to support the enormous growth of clean energy that’s quickly coming online. Here, we look at how grid-enhancing technologies enable us to get more out of existing power lines.

Recognizing that the U.S. lags behind China in the capacity to build the batteries it will need to meet its growing demand for electric vehicles, the Department of Energy is planning to loan a U.S. battery manufacturing consortium $2.5 billion to ramp up domestic battery production.

All of that is great, but we’re still stuck with fossils for a while – and the industry is pulling all its levers to draw that out as long as possible. One ploy is to turn the divestment movement back on itself. A New York Times investigation revealed a coordinated effort by Republican state treasurers to use government muscle and public funds to punish companies trying to reduce greenhouse gases.

Another tactic involves claiming that existing fossil emitters like power plants can be cleaned up using in-stack carbon capture technology. We’ve expressed plenty of skepticism about this expensive scheme that consistently under-delivers. A new study bears that out. But the carbon capture and sequestration concept can be applied to removing CO2 directly from the ambient air – and a cutting edge direct air capture facility in Iceland is going big.

One last story about the fossil fuel industry:  The Associated Press recently did some great investigative work based on a 2021 aerial survey of the Permian Basin conducted by Carbon Mapper, a partnership of university researchers and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. That survey documented massive amounts of methane venting into the atmosphere from oil and gas operations along the Texas-New Mexico border, and the AP concluded that just 10 companies owned at least 164 of 533 “super-emitting” sites. The Environmental Protection Agency is taking another look now, with enforcement action in mind.

Our climate section shows why we can’t just ignore that kind of industry malfeasance anymore.    While there are encouraging signs that we may be starting to get some traction in the race against global warming, we’re still way behind and the stakes are high. Scientists say it’s time to consider worst-case scenarios as the planet approaches environmental tipping points that could exacerbate other global crises like pandemics and war. That’s the tried-and-true “hope for the best, but plan for the worst” approach.

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

— The NFGiM Team

LEGISLATION

MA state house stock shot
Legislature amends climate bill, leaving its fate in Governor Baker’s hands
By Dharna Noor, Boston Globe
August 1, 2022

The Massachusetts Legislature sent a major climate bill back to Governor Charlie Baker’s desk as the session wound down, incorporating some, but not all, of his proposed amendments. The fate of the legislation is now in Baker’s hands.

On the House floor Sunday, Representative Jeff Roy, who negotiated the bill in the Legislature along with Senator Michael Barrett, read a passage from Baker’s recent book about the importance of political compromise.

Roy said the bill gives Baker, who isn’t seeking reelection this fall, a chance to secure his climate legacy.

“He indeed has an incredible choice to make and we certainly hope that he embraces the compromises in this bill like all of us have already done,” he said on Monday. “Otherwise, he will be remembered as the one who pulled the plug on electrification and took the breeze out of offshore wind.”

The Legislature didn’t capitulate to Baker’s suggested amendment on power generated by burning wood.

In their original bill, lawmakers sought to remove wood-burning power plants from the state’s renewable portfolio standard, meaning they would no longer count toward renewable energy goals in Massachusetts or be eligible for state clean energy subsidies. The Legislature would have grandfathered in two long-standing small facilities that are currently in the program.

Baker filed an amendment that would have exempted all wood-burning power plants that began commercial operation before 2022.

Environmental advocates say that would have gutted the provision and praised the Legislature for standing its ground. Wood-burning plants produce harmful pollutants like carbon monoxide, and research shows they can emit even more carbon at the smokestack than coal-fired plants.

“In passing this bill, the Legislature is preventing our clean energy dollars from going up in smoke,” said Laura Haight, US policy director for the Partnership for Policy Integrity, in an e-mailed statement.

Lawmakers also rejected Baker’s proposed changes to their plan to permit 10 towns and cities to ban gas hookups in new buildings.

The policies have been contentious for state officials since Brookline first attempted to pass one in 2019.
» Read article   

take it
Baker in take-it-or-leave-it position on climate bill
Lawmakers accept his price cap amendment, reject most others
By Bruce Mohl, CommonWealth Magazine
July 31, 2022

THE LEGISLATURE returned compromise climate legislation to Gov. Charlie Baker on Sunday and urged him to sign it into law even though he didn’t get all the changes he wanted.

Rep. Jeffrey Roy of Franklin, the House chair of the Legislature’s energy committee, gave a speech in which he appealed to Baker to follow his own advice on compromising and warned him of the consequences of not doing so.

Roy read a passage from Baker’s recent book that extolled compromise and suggested the governor should practice what he preaches. He also warned that a veto, which would kill the legislation, would hurt the state’s efforts to meet its climate goals and set the governor up as “the one who took the breeze out of offshore wind.”

Roy said he’s not thrilled with everything in the bill but is nevertheless supporting the compromise version. He said Baker should do the same. Sen. Cynthia Stone Creem of Newton offered a similar perspective. “The governor has now a chance to cement his legacy,” she said.

Not every senator was as enthusiastic. Sen. Marc Pacheco of Taunton urged Baker to sign the bill, but he said he thought the bill did not go far enough. “I hope with a new governor and a new Legislature in January we will go way beyond what we’re going to do today. We need to have bold action on climate,” he said. “What we’re doing today is nowhere near close to where we need to be.”

Baker sent the Legislature’s original climate change bill back on Friday with 19 pages of amendments, including a call for a $750 million appropriation of federal and state funds for clean energy development.
» Read article       

» More about legislation       

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

electrify DC
First-of-Its-Kind Greenwashing Lawsuit Targets Gas Giant for Methane Lies
Washington Gas’s customers, said the plaintiffs, “have a right to the facts about the environmental and health impacts of the products and services they use—including where they get their energy.”
By Julia Conley, Common Dreams
August 4, 2022

Warning that a Washington, D.C. utility has run afoul of the U.S. capital’s consumer protection law, three public interest groups on Thursday announced a first-of-its-kind lawsuit against Washington Gas Light Company over what they called the “greenwashing” of its use of highly pollutive methane gas.

U.S. PIRG Education Fund, Environment America Research and Policy Center, and ClientEarth filed their lawsuit in the District of Columbia Superior Court, saying Washington Gas is consistently misleading more than one million customers by advertising its use of natural gas as a “smart choice for the environment.”

“Washington Gas consistently refers to fossil gas in customer-facing materials as clean and sustainable… compared to electrification,” said ClientEarth in a statement.

The company has focused heavily on convincing customers that using natural gas, whose main ingredient is methane, is a sustainable way to power their homes and workplaces—despite the fact that methane has 80 times the climate-heating potency of carbon emissions in its first 20 years in the atmosphere.

With fracking driving a surge in global gas production over the past two decades, methane is now responsible for nearly half of planetary heating to date and for 23% of Washington, D.C.’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Washington Gas’s customers would never know this from the company’s marketing materials, however, said the groups suing the utility.

“Washington Gas is greenwashing methane gas in its materials,” said Matt Casale, director of environmental campaigns for U.S. PIRG Education Fund. “The truth is that methane is a super-potent greenhouse gas that pollutes our air and worsens the climate crisis.”
» Read article       

» More about protests and actions

GAS BANS

Mayor Todd Gloria
San Diego City Councils votes unanimously for the ban of natural gas in new construction
According to officials, this action will reduce San Diego County’s carbon footprint and hit net-zero emissions by 2035
By Guillermo Mijares, Chulavista Today
August 4, 2022

San Diego officials have taken action against natural gas to strengthen their position on climate change.

City Council recently voted unanimously to ban natural gas in new houses and local businesses over the next 12 years.

According to officials, this action will reduce San Diego County’s carbon footprint and hit net-zero emissions by 2035. This vote against fossil fuels in the latest and future buildings also includes electrifying existing construction over the next decade.

Mayor of San Diego Todd Gloria says this move was necessary because the consequences of failed action on the matter would negatively affect the county.

“The window to reverse the dangerous trends of climate change is rapidly closing, and this moment demands aggressive action,” said Gloria at a public hearing this week. “Implementing this more ambitious plan won’t be easy, but the financial cost and human consequences of inaction are almost unimaginable.”

Several cities in the state of California have installed restrictions involving gas stoves and home heaters in newly-built construction buildings, including in areas like Encinitas.

Jordan More, fiscal and policy analyst at the city’s Office of the Independent Budget Analyst, emphasized what this action means on the state’s fight against one of the biggest issues in the world today.

“There’s one action within this … that outweighs every other strategy, and that is the measure to phase out 90 percent of natural gas from existing buildings,” Jordan More, on the importance of this unanimous vote regarding the fight on climate change.

Cristina Marquez, organizer of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 569, said this move is essentially a green light to produce more jobs in the energy workforce, something the state sees as a big win.
» Read article      

» More about gas bans         

DIVESTMENT

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How Republicans Are ‘Weaponizing’ Public Office Against Climate Action
A Times investigation revealed a coordinated effort by state treasurers to use government muscle and public funds to punish companies trying to reduce greenhouse gases.
By David Gelles, New York Times
August 5, 2022

Nearly two dozen Republican state treasurers around the country are working to thwart climate action on state and federal levels, fighting regulations that would make clear the economic risks posed by a warming world, lobbying against climate-minded nominees to key federal posts and using the tax dollars they control to punish companies that want to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Over the past year, treasurers in nearly half the United States have been coordinating tactics and talking points, meeting in private and cheering each other in public as part of a well-funded campaign to protect the fossil fuel companies that bolster their local economies.

Last week, Riley Moore, the treasurer of West Virginia, announced that several major banks — including Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan and Wells Fargo — would be barred from government contracts with his state because they are reducing their investments in coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel.

Mr. Moore and the treasurers of Louisiana and Arkansas have pulled more than $700 million out of BlackRock, the world’s largest investment manager, over objections that the firm is too focused on environmental issues. At the same time, the treasurers of Utah and Idaho are pressuring the private sector to drop climate action and other causes they label as “woke.”

And treasurers from Pennsylvania, Arizona and Oklahoma joined a larger campaign to thwart the nominations of federal regulators who wanted to require that banks, funds and companies disclose the financial risks posed by a warming planet.

At the nexus of these efforts is the State Financial Officers Foundation, a little-known nonprofit organization based in Shawnee, Kan., that once focused on cybersecurity, borrowing costs and managing debt loads, among other routine issues.

Then President Biden took office, promising to speed the country’s transition away from oil, gas and coal, the burning of which is dangerously heating the planet.

The foundation began pushing Republican state treasurers, who are mostly elected officials and who are responsible for managing their state’s finances, to use their power to promote oil and gas interests and to stymie Mr. Biden’s climate agenda, records show.

[…] Many Democratic state treasurers support efforts to combat climate change and want banks and investment firms to be clear about risks posed to returns for retirees and others. Democratic lawmakers in California and New Jersey are working on legislation that would require their state pension systems to divest from fossil fuels. But Democrats have not mounted anything like the national campaign being orchestrated by the State Financial Officers Foundation.

The Republican treasurers skirt the fact that global warming is an economic menace that is damaging industries like agriculture and causing extreme weather that devastates communities and costs taxpayers billions in recovery and rebuilding. Instead, they frame efforts to reduce emissions as a threat to employment and revenue, and have turned climate science into another front in the culture wars.
» Read article       

» More about divestment

GREENING THE ECONOMY

Chef Chris Galarza
Meet a chef working to electrify commercial kitchens
Christopher Galarza helps restaurants and institutions shift to induction stoves. The change is good for the climate — and for kitchen workers’ mental health and well-being.
By Maria Virginia Olano, Canary Media
August 3, 2022

Working in a commercial kitchen can be intense, and not just because of the pressure to make great food. It entails hours of standing over the open flame of a gas-burning stove, enveloped in a cloud of extreme heat, humidity and steam.

“It’s almost suffocating,” Christopher Galarza says. He spent 10 years cooking in conventional commercial kitchens until, thanks to a job change, he had the chance to experience an entirely different environment — that of a fully electric, induction-powered kitchen.

For Galazara, there was no going back.

Now he wants to see induction stoves become the norm in restaurants and commercial kitchens across the country — for the mental and physical benefits they offer to people who work in those kitchens, and for the role they can play in moving away from fossil gas and addressing the climate crisis.

[…] From the backyard barbecue to the teppanyaki plates sizzling in restaurants, most people associate great cooking with hot open flames. But the fuel that often feeds those flames is not just heating up our kitchens — it’s also contributing to the climate crisis. Methane, the main component in the fossil gas that fuels more than a third of home stoves in the U.S., is a potent greenhouse gas. Fossil gas also negatively impacts human health, containing other toxic chemicals linked to cancer and greater risks of asthma, especially in kids. ​“Like many cooks, I used to think ​‘gas is king,’ but at a certain point, I started questioning why,” Galarza says.

In 2015, Galarza took a job as executive chef at Chatham University’s Eden Hall Campus in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, which is well known for its focus on sustainability. Galarza grew accustomed to cooking produce from local gardens and fish raised on nearby farms. The campus also had one of the country’s first fully electric commercial kitchens, and Galarza experienced for the first time what it was like to cook on induction stoves and in electric ovens, with no gas lines or open flames.

The technology behind induction stoves, which has been around since the 1970s, uses magnetic fields instead of combusting gas to generate heat, and it is orders of magnitude faster, more precise and, critically, cooler and more climate-friendly than any other cooking method.

“I fell in love with it,” Galarza says. It wasn’t just the lack of toxic fumes and hot, injury-inviting surfaces that Galarza appreciated. It was also the ease of cleaning up an induction stove; it needs only warm, soapy water as opposed to the grease-fighting chemicals required to clean up a gas stove, and it takes a fraction of the time.

Another lesser-known benefit of climate-friendly kitchens is how they impact the mental health of the people working in them. Galarza felt the difference immediately. The burnout that had plagued him eased, and he began to experience the joy of cooking again. Reinvigorated, he was eager to share with others what he’d learned at Chatham.
» Read article       

limited listing
The plan to turn blighted houses into a new source of green power for the grid

A California nonprofit is retrofitting homes to make a “virtual power plant” – and fighting gentrification at the same time.
By Emily Pontecorvo, Grist
August 3, 2022

Standing outside the sagging house on 2nd Street in North Richmond, California, it was hard to imagine it as the future site of a pioneering clean energy project. The building’s rotting white siding seemed to sink into the dirt yard with no real foundation. Chunks of it were crumbling to the ground. As we walked around to the back, Jim Becker, my tour guide, pointed to a plastic pipe sticking out of the wall.

“Here, the sewage was just flushing out onto the dirt,” he said. “It was just shooting all the poop into the garden.”

But Becker was excited. He was showing me this house as a sort of “before” picture. Soon, workers will take the building down to its studs and reconstruct the walls and roof. Then it will get a full menu of clean energy offerings: energy-efficient lighting, an electric vehicle charger, an electric stove, electric heat pumps for heating and air conditioning, an internet-connected “smart thermostat.” Solar panels will line the roof, and a backup battery will allow future residents to keep the lights on and the refrigerator running during a power outage.

When the retrofit is done, the house will not be listed publicly on the cutthroat Bay Area real estate market. Instead, it will be shown to a select group of Richmond locals, mostly from low and middle-income backgrounds, who are looking to buy their first home.
» Read article       

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

incinerated
Scientists Say It’s ‘Fatally Foolish’ To Not Study Catastrophic Climate Outcomes
A new paper discusses ‘climate end games’ as the planet approaches environmental tipping points that could exacerbate other global crises like pandemics and war.
By Bob Berwyn, Inside Climate News
August 1, 2022

As global greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, some climate scientists say it’s time to start paying more attention to the most extreme, worst-case outcomes, including the potential for widespread extinctions, mass climate migration and the disintegration of social and political systems.

“Facing a future of accelerating climate change while blind to worst-case scenarios is naive risk management at best and fatally foolish at worst,” an international team of researchers wrote this week in a Perspective piece in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

More than half of all cumulative carbon dioxide emissions have occurred since international climate negotiations started in 1990. Global warming is accelerating and driving a steep increase of extremes like heat waves, wildfires and flooding. Most recent scientific estimates show that, under current policies, the world is headed for about 2.4 to 2.7 degrees Celsius warming by late this century.

As a result, the authors set 3 degrees Celsius warming by 2100 as a benchmark of extreme climate change. They chose that level of warming because it exceeds the current established targets of the Paris climate agreement, and because there are “substantially heightened risks of self-amplifying changes between 2 and 3 degrees Celsius warming that would make it impossible to limit warming to 3 degrees Celsius.”
» Read article   

plume
Tonga’s volcano sent tons of water into the stratosphere. That could warm the Earth
By Bill Chappell, NPR
August 3, 2022

The violent eruption of Tonga’s Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano injected an unprecedented amount of water directly into the stratosphere — and the vapor will stay there for years, likely affecting the Earth’s climate patterns, NASA scientists say.

The massive amount of water vapor is roughly 10% of the normal amount of vapor found in the stratosphere, equaling more than 58,000 Olympic-size swimming pools.

“We’ve never seen anything like it,” said atmospheric scientist Luis Millán, who works at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Millán led a study of the water the volcano sent into the sky; the team’s research was published in Geophysical Research Letters.

The Jan. 15 eruption came from a volcano that’s more than 12 miles wide, with a caldera sitting roughly 500 feet below sea level. One day earlier, Tongan officials reported the volcano was in a continuous eruption, sending a 3-mile-wide plume of steam and ash into the sky. Then the big blast came, sending ash, gases and vapor as high as 35 miles — a record in the satellite era — into the atmosphere.

Drone aircraft and other video from that day show the dramatic scale of the blast, as the volcano launched an incredibly wide plume into the sky. The intense eruption sent a pressure wave circling around the Earth and caused a sonic boom heard as far away as Alaska.

Earlier large volcanic eruptions have affected climate, but they usually cool temperatures, because they send light-scattering aerosols into the stratosphere. Those aerosols act as a sort of massive layer of sunscreen. But since water vapor traps heat, the Tongan eruption could temporarily raise temperatures a bit, the researchers said.

It normally takes around 2-3 years for sulfate aerosols from volcanoes to fall out of the stratosphere. But the water from the Jan. 15 eruption could take 5-10 years to fully dissipate.

Given that timeframe and the extraordinary amount of water involved, Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai “may be the first volcanic eruption observed to impact climate not through surface cooling caused by volcanic sulfate aerosols, but rather through surface warming,” the researchers said in their paper.
» Read article  

» More about climate

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

window heat pump
Window heat pumps will help electrify New York City’s apartments
A $70 million initiative will deploy 30,000 electric heat pumps to bring climate-friendly comfort to residents of NYC’s aging public housing units.
By Maria Gallucci, Canary Media
August 3, 2022

The sleek white machine straddles an apartment window in Queens, New York City, blowing cool air inside the narrow bedroom. Unlike the boxy air-conditioning units that drone loudly and drip water from buildings across the city, this device hums softly and spares passersby from overhead leaks. And when the sticky, sweltering August heat gives way to bone-chilling winter weather, the machine can warm the room instead.

The startup Gradient showcased its new heating and cooling unit — a type of device called a heat pump — this week as part of the Clean Heat for All Challenge. Late last year, city and state officials in New York invited manufacturers to develop new electrified technology that would both improve living conditions and begin to decarbonize public housing buildings, many of which still rely on outdated heating-oil systems and gas-fired boilers.

On Tuesday, New York leaders announced a $70 million initial investment to deploy 30,000 window-sized electric heat pumps in apartments citywide. Gradient and another company, the global appliance maker Midea America, each won seven-year contracts to develop and produce devices for the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), which provides affordable housing. Leaders in other cities, including Jersey City, Boston and Seattle, say they’re tracking the project’s progress closely.

“We’re going to spur innovation for brand-new technologies here in New York that the rest of the nation will be looking at,” New York Governor Kathy Hochul (D) said at a ceremony from a sunbaked basketball court at Woodside Houses, a complex of 20 brick buildings in Queens.
» Read article   

heat pump image
Questions about heat pumps? Connecticut offers free experts to help

The state’s energy efficiency program has hired a Massachusetts firm to provide virtual consultations with heat pump experts, along with developing a local network of trained heat pump installers.
By Lisa Prevost, Energy News Network
August 2, 2022

Electric heat pumps are moving front and center in Connecticut’s energy efficiency program as the state seeks to speed adoption with a free consultation service and significant rebates.

EnergizeCT has contracted with Abode, an energy management company, to operate the consultation service and develop a statewide network of trained heat pump installers. Abode, based in Concord, Massachusetts, operates similar programs in that state that have so far resulted in the installation of close to 2,200 heat pumps in 13 communities, said Christopher Haringa, the company’s program manager.

Ratepayers can sign up for a virtual chat session with a heat pump expert on the EnergizeCT website. Since the service started in late May, Abode has conducted more than 100 consultations lasting an average of 45 minutes each, Haringa said.

“Homeowners are terrified of making the wrong decision, especially when they’re going to be spending $10,000 or more on their install,” he said.

Eversource and United Illuminating, which run EnergizeCT, are also in the process of overhauling the program’s website to better promote heat pump technology, said Ronald Araujo, director of energy efficiency for Eversource.

Air-source heat pumps are heating and cooling systems that run on electricity instead of fossil fuels. They move heat outside in the summer and inside in the winter. They are highly efficient and can significantly lower energy bills when paired with home weatherization.
» Read article   
» Live in MA or CT? Explore free services from Abode

» More about energy efficiency

BUILDING MATERIALS

Boston Metal
Boston Metal Electrifies Steel Manufacturing Using Electrolysis
No hydrogen required to make this CO2-free steel
By Lloyd Alter, Treehugger
July 21, 2022

The process of making steel is responsible for up to 9% of worldwide carbon emissions and almost a quarter of all industrial emissions. There’s chemistry involved: The blast furnace reduces the iron oxide content of the ore by blasting air and pulverizing coal into the melted ore. The carbon monoxide from the burning coal reacts with the iron oxide, producing iron and carbon dioxide, or: Fe2O3 + 3 CO → 2 Fe + 3 CO2.

Some companies, like Hybrit, are replacing coal with hydrogen, which combines with oxygen to make water. It has been called the first fossil-fuel-free steel because they were using hydrogen produced through the electrolysis of water with Sweden’s clean hydroelectric power.

But there is another way to separate oxygen from iron using electricity: Molten Oxide Electrolysis (MOE), where you melt the iron ore, add an electrolyte, and apply a serious amount of electricity. That’s the approach being taken by Boston Metal, which claims it has “cracked the code to electrifying steel manufacturing.”

I often run when I hear the phrase “cracked the code”—see just about every modular housing company we have shown—and the idea of molten oxide electrolysis has been around for a while to make very high-grade steel. One problem has been similar to that of aluminum: The anode was made of graphite, which was consumed in the process, releasing carbon dioxide.

The other problem is most electricity in the world is made by burning fossil fuels and electrolysis needs a lot of it; that’s why the greenest aluminum production is in Iceland and Quebec, Canada. But the world is changing as we try to electrify everything, and more renewable and clean electricity is coming on line every day.

Adam Rauwerdink, Boston Metal’s vice president of business development, tells Treehugger that “the cleaner grid makes this all possible.” He notes it takes a lot of electricity: 4 megawatt-hours per tonne of steel. For reference, the average house uses 11 megawatt-hours per year. Rauwerdink says this energy use is comparable to the HYBRIT process between the melting of the iron ore and the making of the hydrogen and less than the 5-6 megawatt-hours consumed in conventional integrated steelmaking. He also says a “core innovation was the development of the metallic chrome and iron anode that isn’t consumed in the process.”
» Read article   

» More about building materials

MODERNIZING THE GRID

LineVision
How to move more power with the transmission lines we already have
Grid-enhancing technologies enable us to get more out of existing power lines. Here’s an in-depth look at one such technology: dynamic line rating.
By Jeff St. John, Canary Media
July 29, 2022

Over the past few months, we’ve been covering how the U.S. transmission grid isn’t expanding and modernizing fast enough to support the enormous growth of clean energy needed to decarbonize our electricity. We’ve also been covering how regulators, utilities and energy industry players are trying to surmount the technical, legal and economic barriers to building out a 21st-century grid.

But in the meantime — and given how long it takes to build new transmission lines, that meantime could be a long time indeed — there are ways to expand the clean-energy capacity of the power grids we already have. One of the most effective methods for doing this could be using grid-enhancing technologies, or GETs for short.

The term GETs covers a variety of technologies, each with its own role to play. Dynamic line-rating systems can reveal that high-voltage power lines are able to safely carry more electricity than previously known. Topology optimization software can discover ways to configure transmission grid networks to ease power flow bottlenecks that are preventing power from reaching customers. Power flow routing devices can actively direct the flow of electrons from overloaded to underutilized power lines in real time.

Real-world deployments of these GETs over the past decade have shown that they can cost-effectively deliver benefits like redirecting power flows around congested grid lines and reducing the cost of interconnecting more solar and wind power resources. More recent studies have shown that using multiple types of GETs in tandem can unlock enormous amounts of latent capacity on U.S. transmission grids.

A study last year indicated that the use of GETs on the grids crisscrossing the wind-rich plains of Oklahoma and Kansas could double the capacity for new clean energy projects and reduce the amount of power lost to grid congestion, yielding paybacks twice the cost of deploying the technologies in the first year of operations alone.

And in February of this year, the U.S. Department of Energy released a study indicating GETs could pay back their costs through higher production and increased capacity for renewables in New York state within half a decade — far more quickly than traditional grid upgrades.

Achieving these hypothetical best-case scenarios from GETs deployments will take a lot of work, however. Despite their growing track record in delivering real-world value in deployments in Europe and Australia, GETs are just beginning to be put to use in active grid planning and operations in the U.S. Integrating multiple technologies across wide swaths of the grid is still in the realm of computer modeling rather than real-world grid operations.
» Read article       
» Read The Brattle Group report
» Read the DOE report

» More about modernizing the grid

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

gigaboost
EV battery plants in US anticipate boost from $2.5B federal loan
A DOE loan to Ultium Cells, a joint venture of GM and LG Energy Solutions, is aimed at upping domestic production of EV batteries, a sector now dominated by China.
By Jeff St. John, Canary Media
July 26, 2022

The U.S. lags behind China in the capacity to build the batteries it will need to meet its growing demand for electric vehicles. The U.S. Department of Energy is planning to loan a U.S. battery manufacturing consortium $2.5 billion to help change that.

DOE’s Loan Programs Office announced Monday that it has made a conditional commitment to lend the money to Ultium Cells, a joint venture of U.S. automaker General Motors and South Korean battery giant LG Energy Solutions. If approved by the DOE, the loan could help Ultium finance the battery-pack gigafactories it’s building in Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee.

It would be the first loan for battery-pack manufacturing from the Loan Programs Office’s Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing loan program, which loaned a total of about $8 billion to Ford, Nissan and Tesla between 2007 and 2010. Since then, EVs have grown from a niche product to a primary focus for many automakers in the U.S. and around the world, as governments have set mandates aimed at ensuring that fossil-fueled cars, vans and trucks can be replaced with zero-emissions vehicles quickly enough to forestall the worst harms of climate change.

President Biden has set a goal for half of all U.S. auto sales to be electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles by 2030, a target that will require a massive scale-up of EVs and battery production. ​“Those vehicles should be, to the best of our ability, made here in the United States — and the batteries should be made here, and as many of the components as possible should be made here,” said Jigar Shah, head of DOE’s Loan Programs Office.
» Read article       

» More about clean transportation

CARBON CAPTURE AND SEQUESTRATION

methane and CCS
High Carbon Capture Rates at U.S. Coal Plant a ‘Myth’, IEEFA Analysis Shows
By The Energy Mix
August 2, 2022

A proposed carbon capture and storage (CCS) plant in the United States will capture far less than the 95% of carbon dioxide emissions its backers claim, concludes a new analysis released this week by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis.

A full life cycle assessment of the proposed CCS retrofit at New Mexico’s San Juan Generating Station “shows 90% or higher capture is a myth,” IEEFA writes in a release. It “estimates the overall carbon capture rate from both the power plant and the mine that provides its coal would be no more than 72%, and could be significantly lower,” even though “companies continually promise a capture rate of 95%.”

Moreover, project proponent Enchant Energy “acknowledges there is little investor interest in its carbon capture project and it will be asking for US$1 billion from the federal government” to get the job done, IEEFA says.

The San Juan project is a retrofit to be bolted on to an existing power plant, not a new installation, and it’s meant to capture emissions from a coal-fired power plant, not oil or gas—so the process is somewhat different from approaches now in development in the Canadian fossil industry.

But IEEFA says its findings are applicable to other types of carbon capture projects. That conclusion reinforces concerns that the Trudeau government has agreed to a generous subsidy for a technology that still isn’t ready for prime time after 30 years of development—even though more proven, less expensive alternatives are readily at hand.

The institute says this is one of the first studies to look at a carbon capture scheme across its full life cycle—in this case, from extraction to final electricity production. It concludes that:

  • Even if Enchant hits its 90% capture target for the power plant, methane emissions from the associated coal mine will bring CO2-equivalent emissions capture down to 68%. That will leave the Farmington, NM-based energy supplier touting a “low-carbon” project that still emits the equivalent of nearly three megatons of CO2 per year.
  • If the power plant hits a more realistic target of 65 to 75% carbon capture, the life cycle capture rate will fall to between 49 and 57%.
    » Read article       
    » Read IEEFA’s report: Carbon Capture’s Methane Problem

going giga
Going giga: The race to scale up the direct air capture industry
Construction has begun in Iceland on the world’s largest direct air capture facility to date, as the industry looks to scale at a pace rarely seen in the history of commercial markets. Net zero depends on it.
By Oliver Gordon, Energy Monitor
August 1, 2022

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has warned that to limit global warming to 1.5°C, the world will need to remove billions of tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere – and that’s on top of the vast quantities of emissions cuts also required.

However, last month, on a grassy, far-flung stretch of the Icelandic tundra, an important step was taken towards that aspiration: Swiss company Climeworks broke ground on its newest and largest direct air capture and storage (DAC+S) facility to date, Mammoth.

Climeworks opened the world’s first DAC facility, Orca, in September 2021 – also in Iceland. Now, following a $650m equity raise earlier this year, the company plans to rapidly scale up the market’s capacity by introducing large, modular DAC facilities and investing vast sums in developing the technology. Mammoth has been designed with a nominal CO2 capture capacity of 36,000 tonnes (t) per year – an order of magnitude larger than Orca’s 4,000t capacity – when fully operational in 18–24 months’ time.

However, to avoid climate catastrophe, DAC+S technologies need to reach gigatonne capacity at a pace that would make the solar and wind power industries blush. At the Direct Air Capture Summit in Zurich, Switzerland, in July 2022, the industry’s great and good gathered to discuss just how to scale up at such an unprecedented rate.

In Zurich, Climeworks founders Dr Christoph Gebald and Dr Jan Wurzbacher said going giga would require $30–50bn of investment per year from 2030 onwards. That would represent 10% of the annual investment made into renewable energy capacity today: an ambitious target that will require the private and public sectors to work closely together.

Large-scale deployment will also be heavily influenced by the green energy requirements of powering DAC facilities. Conservative projections estimate the industry will require up to 25GW of wind and solar capacity per year from 2030 onwards, accounting for roughly 10% of the installed wind and solar capacity in 2021 and 3% of the annual capacity projected as of 2030.

“The gigatonne target is ambitious, but the numbers are clear: it is doable,” said Gebald. “To make this happen, corporate action, investments, policy-shapers and regulatory guidelines need to come together.”
» Read article       

» More about CCS

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Lenorah colors
Hidden Menace: Massive methane leaks speed up climate change

By MICHAEL BIESECKER and HELEN WIEFFERING, Associated Press
July 28, 2022

LENORAH, Texas (AP) — To the naked eye, the Mako Compressor Station outside the dusty West Texas crossroads of Lenorah appears unremarkable, similar to tens of thousands of oil and gas operations scattered throughout the oil-rich Permian Basin.

What’s not visible through the chain-link fence is the plume of invisible gas, primarily methane, billowing from the gleaming white storage tanks up into the cloudless blue sky.

The Mako station, owned by a subsidiary of West Texas Gas Inc., was observed releasing an estimated 870 kilograms of methane – an extraordinarily potent greenhouse gas — into the atmosphere each hour. That’s the equivalent impact on the climate of burning seven tanker trucks full of gasoline every day.

But Mako’s outsized emissions aren’t illegal, or even regulated. And it was only one of 533 methane “super emitters” detected during a 2021 aerial survey of the Permian conducted by Carbon Mapper, a partnership of university researchers and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The group documented massive amounts of methane venting into the atmosphere from oil and gas operations across the Permian, a 250-mile-wide bone-dry expanse along the Texas-New Mexico border that a billion years ago was the bottom of a shallow sea. Hundreds of those sites were seen spewing the gas over and over again. Ongoing leaks, gushers, going unfixed.

“We see the same sites active from year to year. It’s not just month to month or season to season,” said Riley Duren, a research scientist at the University of Arizona who leads Carbon Mapper.

Carbon Mapper identified the spewing sites only by their GPS coordinates. The Associated Press took the coordinates of the 533 “super-emitting” sites and cross-referenced them with state drilling permits, air quality permits, pipeline maps, land records and other public documents to piece together the corporations most likely responsible.

Just 10 companies owned at least 164 of those sites, according to an AP analysis of Carbon Mapper’s data. West Texas Gas owned 11.
» Read article      
» Read update: EPA announces flights to look for methane in Permian Basin

» More about fossil fuels 

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Weekly News Check-In 7/8/22

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Welcome back.

We’ll kick off this week’s news with groundbreaking court action in The Netherlands. Two Dutch environmental groups represented by ClientEarth are suing airline KLM over claims that its 2019 “Fly Responsibly” ad campaign amounts to greenwashing – a marketing ploy meant to project an image of environmental sustainability that isn’t supported by reality.

Meanwhile, in the real world, the energy transition is accelerating at a time of global supply chain bottlenecks, and this is forecast to create a vast and growing market for recycled solar photovoltaic (PV) panel components. This part of the global green economy is expected to be worth more than $2.7 billion in 2030. That’s a 1,500% increase over the current value of $170 million in 2022, and it’ll grow much more by 2050 when solar will provide around 40% of total energy worldwide. But as our second story in this section illustrates, that economic green wave first has to move aside some of the entrenched relationships that keep state and local budgets reliant on tax revenue from oil, gas and coal to fund schools, hospitals and more.

Joe Biden’s election triggered a global surge in optimism that the climate crisis would finally be decisively confronted. But the US supreme court’s recent decision to curtail America’s ability to cut planet-heating emissions dealt a devastating blow to a faltering effort that is now in danger of becoming largely moribund. We include a climate story that reminds us why it matters. A new study finds that methane is four times more sensitive to global warming than previously thought, due to a nasty feedback loop associated with the increase in carbon monoxide from wildfires. This helps explain underlying causes of the recent stronger-than-expected rise in atmospheric methane.

The court’s EPA decision could also hobble the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which is seen as critical for advancing clean energy.

So with the federal government sidelined, progress on clean energy remains largely at the state level. The Massachusetts Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs just published a roadmap for the state to achieve its emissions reductions targets, including cutting greenhouse gas emissions 50% by 2030 relative to 1990 levels. The Clean Energy and Climate Plan for 2025 and 2030, or CEC, takes two main approaches — electrification of end uses, and the decarbonization of Massachusetts’ electricity system.

Meanwhile, deploying renewable energy resources like large solar arrays can do more harm than good if sites are inappropriate. The Berkshire County town of Lenox is fighting a project now.

Connecticut is also stepping up. A new energy efficiency program is expected to help cut energy bills and improve living conditions for low-income residents throughout the state. Importantly, the program will pay for the cleanup of mold, asbestos and other health and safety barriers that can prevent homeowners from pursuing weatherization projects. And on the west coast, a project aims to address two of Richmond, California’s greatest problems: a lack of affordable housing and unreliable electricity. The project will create a “virtual power plant,” by using software to coordinate solar and storage batteries on housing units to export power to the grid, selling its electricity at times of high demand and high prices.

Our Clean Transportation section offers a reality check for folks buying into the auto industry spin that electric vehicles are green even if they’re huge and powerful. Big vehicles need big batteries to move them any distance. Lithium, the highly reactive silver-white metal that is a crucial ingredient in those batteries, is becoming much more expensive. Its price has risen six-fold since the start of the year, largely because demand is outpacing supply. Other battery chemistries are in development, but this fact of physics will always be true: smaller, lighter vehicles require less energy to move around, and that’s ultimately greener.

For those currently driving EVs in Massachusetts, the utility National Grid has launched a new initiative to give drivers rebates for charging their electric vehicles during off-peak hours. It’s a great idea, but some advocates worry the incentives aren’t high enough to significantly change behavior.

More Massachusetts news: our two major electric utilities currently wield considerable power by choosing the wind farm projects that can be built off the coast. When state-sanctioned clean energy contracts go out to bid, Eversource and National Grid (along with Unitil) get to pick the winners. It’s a power that has prompted conflict-of-interest questions, and state lawmakers may now take the decision-making authority away from the utilities and hand it to a third party, such as the state Department of Energy Resources.

Carbon capture and storage technology (CCS) works by capturing carbon dioxide emissions at their source to prevent their release into the atmosphere, then injecting the CO2 into rocks deep underground. Critics are concerned that CCS is being treated as an easy fix for the climate crisis by polluters who view the technology as a way to avoid strict emissions reductions. We’re focused on three CO2 pipeline projects in early planning in Iowa. The companies behind them have been contacting landowners in hopes of getting them to grant easements, but hundreds of people say they won’t sign.

We’ll wrap up with a look at the fossil fuel industry, and how the pandemic, the war in Ukraine, and inflation are forcing the Biden administration to balance forces that conflict with urgent climate mitigation priorities. As it tries to lower gasoline prices and increase energy exports to counter Russia’s dominance of western European energy, the Biden administration took two of its biggest steps yet to open public lands to fossil fuel development. It held its first onshore lease sales and released a proposed plan for offshore drilling that could open parts of the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska’s Cook Inlet to leasing through 2028.

On top of that, blue hydrogen is having a moment. That’s the flavor of hydrogen that’s derived from natural gas, and the governments of Australia, the Netherlands, Canada, and the European Union believe it’s a “bridge” to an energy-rich future. Meanwhile, environmentalists have cautioned for years that blue hydrogen is little more than the newest attempt by the oil and gas industry to lock in dependency on fossil fuels.

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

— The NFGiM Team

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

KLM greenwashing
In Historic Case, Green Groups Sue KLM for Greenwashing
By Olivia Rosane, EcoWatch
July 6, 2022

In an ad campaign launched in 2019, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines invited airplane travelers and the rest of the aviation industry to join it in “flying responsibly.” A video advertisement released in July of that year said that customers could achieve this goal by scheduling virtual meetings when possible, taking the train instead, packing lighter and offsetting the carbon dioxide emissions from the flight.

Now, two Dutch environmental groups represented by ClientEarth are taking the airline to court over claims that its “Fly Responsibly” ad campaign amounts to greenwashing.

“We’re going to court to demand KLM tells the truth about its fossil-fuel dependent product.” Hiske Arts, a campaigner at Fossielvrij Netherlands — one of the two groups behind the suit — said in a ClientEarth press release. “Unchecked flying is one of the fastest ways to heat up the planet. Customers need to be informed and protected from claims that suggest it is not.”

In a tweet announcing the suit, Fossielvrij Netherlands said it was the first greenwashing case brought against an airline.

Flying is an extremely carbon-intensive activity. A roundtrip flight across the Atlantic generates the same amount of greenhouse gas emissions as a single European resident heating their home for a year. Therefore, experts argue that air traffic must fall if the industry is to meet its climate goals and achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. A recent report from Transport & Environment, for example, found that the net-zero goal could be achieved by ending EU airport expansion and reducing corporate travel to 50 percent of pre-pandemic levels.

The green groups behind the lawsuit — Reclame Fossielvrij in addition to Fossielvrij Netherlands — argue that KLM’s ad campaign offers frequent flyers a false way out. It tells them that they can offset their flight emissions by paying for reforestation efforts or to support KLM’s acquisition of biofuels. However, funding these projects doesn’t actually compensate for the emissions generated by a present-day flight. These claims therefore violate European laws against misleading consumers, the groups argue.
» Read article       

» More about protests and actions

FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION

stepped on
Could Supreme Court ruling thwart FERC’s clean energy plans?
By Miranda Willson, E&E News
July 6, 2022

The landmark Supreme Court decision last week restricting EPA’s regulation of climate-warming emissions could spill over to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which is seen as critical for advancing clean energy.

In a 6-3 opinion, the Supreme Court ruled that the Clean Air Act did not authorize EPA to craft a broad rule targeting emissions from power plants like the Obama-era Clean Power Plan.

The court majority justified the ruling using the “major questions” doctrine, a relatively new legal theory that holds that Congress must clearly express when agencies are allowed to decide matters of “vast economic and political significance”. Some observers say that could stunt potential new rules from agencies such as FERC, particularly on issues that pertain to climate change.

“The major questions doctrine, as they articulated it now, is so broad you could apply it to any major rulemaking,” said Harvey Reiter, a partner at Stinson LLP whose focus includes energy regulations. “[The decision] talks about cases of great ‘economic and political significance,’ but that could characterize any major rule of any agency.”

Charged with overseeing wholesale power markets and interstate energy projects, FERC is weighing rules that could transform the electric power sector and help facilitate the deployment of solar, wind and other clean energy resources. With support from its Democratic majority, the five-person commission this year also proposed changing how it reviews new natural gas projects to account for effects on the climate, nearby landowners and environmental justice communities.

Some legal experts say those actions fall clearly within FERC’s authority to ensure “just and reasonable” energy rates — as outlined in the Federal Power Act — and to approve gas pipelines that are shown to be in the public interest. But others said the Supreme Court decision may give ammunition to industry groups and others who’ve argued for a more narrow reading of what FERC can and cannot do, experts said.

“Even though agencies are different and have different statutory mandates, any agency that’s thinking about being ambitious in addressing climate change now has to worry that a federal court may use the language of the major questions doctrine to attack whatever the agency is doing,” said Joel Eisen, a professor of law at the University of Richmond.

In particular, a proposal issued in February to assess natural gas pipelines’ greenhouse gas emissions could be at risk of being abandoned or changed significantly due to concerns about the major questions doctrine, some analysts said.
» Read article       

» More about FERC

GREENING THE ECONOMY

avoidable
Solar panel recycling market to be worth billions by 2030, say researchers
By Joshua S Hill, Renew Economy
July 7, 2022

Demand for recycled solar photovoltaic (PV) panel components is expected to grow dramatically through the remainder of the decade as installation numbers skyrocket and developers look to avoid supply bottlenecks.

New research published this week by Rystad Energy predicts that recyclable materials from solar PV panels reaching the end of their lifespan will be worth more than $US2.7 billion in 2030 – a mind boggling 1,500% increase over the current value of $US170 million in 2022.

Unsurprisingly, this trend will only accelerate, and is expected to hit $US80 billion by 2050.

In terms of the need for solar PV recycling, current expectations are that solar PV waste will grow to 27 million tonnes each year by 2040.

Conversely, Rystad Energy believes that recovered materials from retired panels could make up 6% of solar PV investments by 2040, as compared to only 0.08% today.

But it is the role in swerving away from an otherwise unavoidable supply bottleneck that is potentially the most important aspect of a solar PV recycling sector. Solar development continues to accelerate, with both residential and large-scale solar farms demanding ever more materials that are in increasing levels of short supply.

Specifically, demand for materials and minerals used in solar PV development will accelerate dramatically, likely causing higher prices, as solar grows to meet around 40% of the world’s power generation in 2050 – equivalent to 19 TW, according to the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) net-zero emissions scenario.
» Read article       

oildorado
California Plans to Quit Oil. Resistance Is Fiercer Than You Think.
Dozens of state and local budgets depend heavily on tax revenue from oil, gas and coal to fund schools, hospitals and more. Replacing that money is turning out to be a major challenge in the fight against climate change.
By Brad Plumer, New York Times
Photographs by Alisha Jucevic
July 7, 2022

TAFT, Calif. — Every five years, this city of 7,000 hosts a rollicking, Old West-themed festival known as Oildorado. High schoolers decorate parade floats with derricks and pump jacks. Young women vie for the crown in a “Maids of Petroleum” beauty pageant. It’s a celebration of an industry that has sustained the local economy for the past century.

This is oil country, in a state that leads the country in environmental regulation. With wildfires and drought ravaging California, Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, wants to end oil drilling in the state by 2045. That has provoked angst and fierce resistance here in Kern County, where oil and gas tax revenues help to pay for everything from elementary schools to firefighters to mosquito control.

“Nowhere else in California is tied to oil and gas the way we are, and we can’t replace what that brings overnight,” said Ryan Alsop, chief administrative officer in Kern County, a region north of Los Angeles. “It’s not just tens of thousands of jobs. It’s also hundreds of millions of dollars in annual tax revenue that we rely on to fund our schools, parks, libraries, public safety, public health.”

Across the United States, dozens of states and communities rely on fossil fuels to fund aspects of daily life. In Wyoming, more than half of state and local tax revenues comes from fossil fuels. In New Mexico, an oil boom has bankrolled free college for residents and expanded medical care for new mothers. Oil and gas money is so embedded in many local budgets, it’s difficult to imagine a future without it.

Disentangling communities from fossil-fuel income poses a major obstacle in the fight against climate change. One study found that if nations followed the urging of scientists and cut emissions from oil, gas and coal deeply enough to avert catastrophic warming, United States tax revenues from oil and gas production, currently about $34 billion per year, could fall by two-thirds by 2050.
» Read article      
» Read the study

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

tatters
Global dismay as supreme court ruling leaves Biden’s climate policy in tatters
Biden’s election was billed as heralding a ‘climate presidency’ but congressional and judicial roadblocks mean he has little to show
By Oliver Milman, The Guardian
July 6, 2022

Joe Biden’s election triggered a global surge in optimism that the climate crisis would, finally, be decisively confronted. But the US supreme court’s decision last week to curtail America’s ability to cut planet-heating emissions has proved the latest blow to a faltering effort by Biden on climate that is now in danger of becoming largely moribund.

The supreme court’s ruling that the US government could not use its existing powers to phase out coal-fired power generation without “clear congressional authorization” quickly ricocheted around the world among those now accustomed to looking on in dismay at America’s seemingly endless stumbles in addressing global heating.

The decision “flies in the face of established science and will set back the US’s commitment to keep global temperature below 1.5C”, said Saleemul Huq, director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development in Bangladesh, in reference to the internationally agreed goal to limit global heating before it becomes truly catastrophic, manifesting in more severe heatwaves, floods, droughts and societal unrest.

“The people who will pay the price for this will be the most vulnerable communities in the most vulnerable developing countries in the world,” Huq added.

The “incredibly undemocratic Scotus ruling” indicates that “backsliding is now the dominant trend in the climate space,” said Yamide Dagnet, director of climate justice at Open Society Foundations and former climate negotiator for the UK and European Union. António Guterres, the secretary general of the United Nations who has called new fossil fuel infrastructure “moral and economic madness”, said via a spokesman that the ruling was a “setback” at a time when countries were badly off track in averting looming climate breakdown.

In the 6-3 ruling, backed by the rightwing majority of justices, the supreme court did not completely negate the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) ability to regulate emissions from coal plants. But it did side with Republican-led states in stating that the government could not set broad plans to shift electricity generation away from coal because of the nebulous “major questions doctrine” that demands Congress explicitly decide on significant changes to the US economy.
» Read article       

LA wildfires
Methane much more sensitive to global heating than previously thought – study
Greenhouse gas has undergone rapid acceleration and scientists say it may be due to atmospheric changes
By Kate Ravilious, The Guardian
July 5, 2022

Methane is four times more sensitive to global warming than previously thought, a new study shows. The result helps to explain the rapid growth in methane in recent years and suggests that, if left unchecked, methane related warming will escalate in the decades to come.

The growth of this greenhouse gas – which over a 20 year timespan is more than 80 times as potent than carbon dioxide – had been slowing since the turn of the millennium but since 2007 has undergone a rapid rise, with measurements from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recording it passing 1,900 parts a billion last year, nearly triple pre-industrial levels.

“What has been particularly puzzling has been the fact that methane emissions have been increasing at even greater rates in the last two years, despite the global pandemic, when anthropogenic sources were assumed to be less significant,” said Simon Redfern, an earth scientist at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.

About 40% of methane emissions come from natural sources such as wetlands, while 60% come from anthropogenic sources such as cattle farming, fossil fuel extraction and landfill sites. Possible explanations for the rise in methane emissions range from expanding exploration of oil and natural gas, rising emissions from agriculture and landfill, and rising natural emissions as tropical wetlands warm and Arctic tundra melts.

But another explanation could be a slowdown of the chemical reaction that removes methane from the atmosphere. The predominant way in which methane is “mopped up” is via reaction with hydroxyl radicals (OH) in the atmosphere.

“The hydroxyl radical has been termed the ‘detergent’ of the atmosphere because it works to cleanse the atmosphere of harmful trace gases,” said Redfern. But hydroxyl radicals also react with carbon monoxide, and an increase in wildfires may have pumped more carbon monoxide into the atmosphere and altered the chemical balance. “On average, a carbon monoxide molecule remains in the atmosphere for about three months before it’s attacked by a hydroxyl radical, while methane persists for about a decade. So wildfires have a swift impact on using up the hydroxyl ‘detergent’ and reduce the methane removal,” said Redfern.
» Read article       

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

green energy plan
Massachusetts releases clean energy plan, roadmap to cut GHG emissions 50% by 2030
By Robert Walton, Utility Dive
July 1, 2022

The Massachusetts Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs on Thursday published a roadmap for the state to achieve its emissions reductions targets, including cutting greenhouse gas emissions 50% by 2030 relative to 1990 levels. The Clean Energy and Climate Plan for 2025 and 2030, or CEC, also sets the state on a path towards carbon neutrality by 2050.

The plan takes two main approaches — electrification of end uses, and the decarbonization of Massachusetts’ electricity system — to reduce emissions from buildings, the transportation sector, power generation, industrial processes and other sources.

Strategies include transitioning to electric vehicles, reducing growth in total vehicle miles traveled, adding offshore wind, solar and storage, and converting building heating systems to utilize heat pumps.

[…] An economic analysis of the CEC plans’s potential impacts sees significant job growth, said officials. According to the plan, modeling shows the 2025 and 2030 targets result in a net gain of over 22,000 jobs by 2030, “most of which will be in installing electric vehicle chargers, solar photovoltaic projects, energy efficiency retrofits in buildings, offshore wind projects, and transmission lines to connect the clean energy that powers the economy.”
» Read article      
» Read the Clean Energy Plan

happy Putin
‘Putin rubbing hands with glee’ after EU votes to class gas and nuclear as green
Parliament backs plan to classify some projects as clean power investments
By Jennifer Rankin, The Guardian
July 6, 2022

The European parliament has backed plans to label gas and nuclear energy as “green”, rejecting appeals from prominent Ukrainians and climate activists that the proposals are a gift to Vladimir Putin.

One senior MEP said the vote was a “dark day for the climate”, while experts said the EU had set a dangerous precedent for countries to follow.

The row began late last year with the leak of long-awaited details on the EU’s green investment guidebook, intended to help investors channel billions to the clean power transition.

The European Commission decided some gas and nuclear projects could be included in the EU taxonomy of environmentally sustainable economic activities, subject to certain conditions.

Under the plans, gas can be classed as a sustainable investment if “the same energy capacity cannot be generated with renewable sources” and plans are in place to switch to renewables or “low-carbon gases”. Nuclear power can be called green if a project promises to deal with radioactive waste.

The plan could only be stopped by a majority of EU member states or members of the European parliament.

With most EU governments in favour, attention turned to the European parliament, but on Wednesday MEPs failed to muster a blocking majority. Only 282 MEPs voted in favour of an amendment against the inclusion of gas and nuclear, falling short of the 353 votes needed to overturn the decision.

Bas Eickhout, the vice-president of the European parliament’s environment committee, said it was “dark day for the climate and energy transition”.
» Read article       

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

plug and spackle
Connecticut weatherization program will tackle mold, asbestos, other barriers
Mold, asbestos and other hazards can prevent energy efficiency contractors from moving ahead with weatherization projects. A new state program will create funding to help homeowners address those barriers.
By Lisa Prevost, Energy News Network
July 7, 2022

A new Connecticut program is expected to help cut energy bills and improve living conditions for low-income residents throughout the state.

The Statewide Weatherization Barrier Remediation Program, overseen by the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, will pay for the cleanup of mold, asbestos and other health and safety barriers that can prevent homeowners from pursuing weatherization projects.

Leticia Colon De Mejias, owner of an energy efficiency contracting company and executive director of the nonprofit Efficiency for All, said the program is long overdue. She has been advocating for a more equitable approach in the state’s efficiency programs since 2015.

That was the year she figured out that 30% to 40% of the homes her staff was visiting had barriers that prevented efficiency work from being done. Most were low-income and under-resourced households. Other contractors she talked to were experiencing the same thing, and, she learned, the weatherization programs simply paid them a fee for their time. The homeowners received no additional support.

“I said, that’s crazy — what are we doing to help these people?” she said. “That’s wrong. That’s exclusionary.”

The new program is expected to cover the cost of remediating hazardous conditions for up to 1,000 income-eligible households over the next three years. The program will draw from a utility-maintained list of some 20,000 homes that have been deferred from participation in the state’s energy efficiency programs due to barriers.

After remediation, the households will receive energy efficiency improvements through either the state-managed or utility-managed weatherization programs. Those programs provide home energy audits to customers at little to no cost, while also making improvements like sealing air leaks and installing low-flow showerheads.
» Read article      
» Check out the program

» More about energy efficiency       

MODERNIZING THE GRID

going virtual
This Virtual Power Plant Is Trying to Tackle a Housing Crisis and an Energy Crisis All at Once
A Bay Area project combines subsidized housing with solar and battery systems that work together to support the larger grid.
By Dan Gearino, Inside Climate News
July 7, 2022

Vicken Kasarjian is giddy as he describes a project that aims to address two of Richmond, California’s greatest problems: a lack of affordable housing and unreliable electricity.

Kasarjian is the chief operating officer of MCE, a nonprofit electricity provider that serves parts of four Bay Area counties. MCE’s plan is to retrofit about 100 houses and 20 businesses with rooftop solar, batteries and smart appliances, and then sell excess electricity from the solar and batteries into the grid.

“It is so interesting, enlightening and fun to do this,” he said.

He’s talking about a “virtual power plant,” which is when a company uses software to coordinate a series of energy systems—usually batteries—to export power to the grid at the same time. The result is a power plant that can participate in the state power market, selling its electricity at times of high demand and high prices.

There are dozens of virtual power plants in development across the country, with thousands of households and businesses involved. What’s different about the MCE project is it has a housing component, with plans to renovate abandoned properties and then sell them at subsidized prices to first-time homebuyers with qualifying incomes.

Richmond, with a population of about 110,000, has suffered for decades from air pollution from a giant Chevron oil refinery. The city has low incomes for the region, but high housing prices due to a lack of supply and proximity to some of the most affluent parts of the country, like Berkeley, which is 10 miles away.

“A virtual power plant is decentralized, decarbonized and democratized,” said Alexandra McGee, MCE’s manager of strategic initiatives.
» Read article       

» More about modernizing the grid

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

Tesla parking
‘Insane’ lithium price bump threatens EV fix for climate change
The price of the metal used in batteries for electric cars has risen six-fold since the start of the year.
By Ian Neubauer, Al Jazeera
July 7, 2022

Lithium, the highly reactive silver-white metal that is a crucial ingredient in batteries used in electric vehicles (EVs), is becoming much more expensive – and fast.

In April, as prices hit a record $78,000 a tonne, Tesla CEO Elon Musk floated the idea of the electric carmaker mining and refining the lightweight metal itself due to the “insane” increase in costs.

For governments ranging from China to the European Union that have pledged to phase out combustion engines in the near future, the soaring cost and growing scarcity of the metal raise questions about how they will meet their deadlines, many of which come due as soon as 2035.

With combustion engines accounting for one-quarter of carbon emissions, according to the United Nations, a delay in transitioning away from petrol and diesel cars would deal a serious blow to efforts to reduce carbon emissions and avert the worst effects of climate change.

“As Elon Musk has said, ‘lithium will be the limiting factor,’” Joe Lowry, an expert on the global lithium market and the founder of Global Lithium LLC, told Al Jazeera. “It is very simple math.”

Despite retreating from its April highs, the price of Lithium has jumped more than 600 percent since the start of the year, from about $10,000 per metric tonne in January to $62,000 in June, according to Benchmark Market Intelligence. Citigroup has predicted more “extreme” price hikes on the way.

[…] “The main takeaway here is that the EV market faces many decades of strong, compound growth,” Fastmarkets said in its most recent lithium report.

“For any supply chain that relies on getting raw materials out of the ground, it is going to be a supreme challenge to keep up with year after year of high compound growth.”

Lithium production will need to quadruple by 2030 to keep up with expected demand, according to Fastmarkets.
» Read article       

off-peak charge
National Grid offers incentives for off-peak electric vehicle charging. Are they enough?

The pilot program could cut the cost of summer charging by more than 17%; advocates say that the discount should be greater.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
July 6, 2022

Massachusetts utility National Grid has launched a new initiative to give drivers rebates for charging their electric vehicles during off-peak hours, but some advocates worry the incentives aren’t high enough to propel meaningful change.

The new program rewards customers who charge their vehicles between 9 p.m. and 1 p.m., when demand on the grid is lower and the power flowing into the system is generally cleaner and less expensive. The goal of the program is to ease the burden on the grid, help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and motivate more drivers to consider switching from gasoline-fueled cars.

“It helps improve the business case for charging at home and hopefully encourages some customers to buy electric vehicles,” said Rishi Sondhi, clean transportation manager for National Grid.

Today, electric vehicles make up just 56,000 of the 5 million vehicles registered in the state. But Massachusetts has set the ambitious target of putting 300,000 zero-emissions vehicles on the road by 2025 as part of its plan to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

As electric vehicle adoption increases, so will the load on the power grid. Currently about 44% of electric vehicles’ charging in Massachusetts is done during times of peak demand, according to National Grid’s testimony to the state public utilities department. If that pattern holds as more people buy electric vehicles, the transmission and distribution infrastructure will require expensive upgrades, and older, dirtier power plants will be called into action more often.
» Read article       

» More about clean transportation

SITING IMPACTS OF RENEWABLE ENERGY RESOURCES

Mountainview
Is a solar energy project a farm? That’s the question, as Lenox faces a legal challenge from a major developer
By Clarence Fanto, Berkshire Eagle
July 5, 2022

LENOX — A major developer is threatening to escalate a legal confrontation with Lenox, as it lays groundwork for a bid to install solar panels on land mostly in a residential area.

So far, it’s been hot words at municipal meetings and filings in local court.

Several Lenox officials want an end to “bombastic” statements by the developer and suggest they are not getting the whole truth about whether land adjacent to Lenox Dale will be used for farming or a large photovoltaic solar array.

The developer says the town is blocking a property owner’s use of its land for agricultural purposes — and the company will do what it takes to prevail.

[…] Alarm bells might have sounded, since the buyer was listed as PLH Vineyard Sky LLC. That’s the real estate partner of Ecos Energy, based in Minneapolis, which operates 37 solar projects across the nation for its parent company, Allco Renewable Energy LTD, headquartered in New Haven, Conn.

In 2018, the Housatonic Street property had been targeted for a $10 million commercial solar project by Sustainable Strategies 2020 and its partner, Syncarpha Capital of New York City. But local opposition doomed the project. In North Adams, Syncarpha’s $9 million, 3.5-megawatt solar array built in 2015 produces enough energy to meet the city’s municipal electricity needs.

But in Lenox, neighbors argued that the array of solar panels would obstruct scenic views and depress property values.

The current Lenox zoning bylaw for ground-mounted solar installations allows them “by right” only in industrial zones. While a small slice of the Housatonic property adjoining Willow Creek Road is zoned industrial, most of the land is in the residential zone.
» Read article       

» More about the siting impacts of renewables

CARBON CAPTURE AND STORAGE

no easement
The bitter fight to stop a 2,000-mile carbon pipeline
Three pipeline projects are in early stages of planning in Iowa. An alliance of farmers, Indigenous groups and environmentalists wants to stop them
By Jenny Splitter, The Guardian
Photographs by Danny Wilcox Frazier
July 7, 2022

[…] There are three CO2 pipeline projects in early stages of planning in Iowa. The companies behind them – Summit, Navigator and a partnership of Wolf Carbon Solutions and Archer Daniel Midlands – have been contacting landowners in hopes of getting them to grant easements.

But hundreds of people say they won’t sign. Not only that, they don’t want to see these projects go forward at all. Webb and other landowners from different Iowa counties, some who farm and some who rent to other farmers, have joined forces in an unusual alliance with Indigenous groups and environmental organizations, to fight against the pipelines.

[…] Carbon capture and storage technology (CCS) works by capturing carbon dioxide emissions at their source to prevent their release into the atmosphere, then injecting the CO2 into rocks deep underground.

It has become a much-hyped answer to the need to rapidly reduce global carbon emissions. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s latest working group report identifies seven pathways for limiting global warming – all but one include CCS. The Biden administration has pledged $2.3bn in funding to enhance capacity for existing US-based projects, each of which would be able to store at least 50m metric tons of captured CO2.

But critics are concerned that CCS is being treated as an easy fix for the climate crisis, especially by polluters who may rely on the technology to avoid strict emissions reductions. In some instances, captured carbon is used for enhanced oil recovery – a technique that uses liquefied CO2 to flush out residual oil – which serves to entrench fossil fuel production rather than replace it.

In Iowa, the pipelines – proposed for ethanol and fertilizer plants and any other agricultural facility that emits carbon dioxide – would transport the CO2 to nearby states, such as North Dakota, which have the right kind of rock formations to store the gas.

According to the companies, these projects would be able to store a total of 25m metric tons of CO2 a year and – of particular interest to Iowa’s corn ethanol industry – boost ethanol’s climate credentials. All three projects say their permits are for CO2 storage only and there are no plans to use the gas to extract oil.
» Read article       

» More about CCS

ELECTRIC UTILITIES

sniff test failed
Eversource faces conflict of interest questions in wind-energy contracts
State lawmakers aim to rein in utility company influence when it comes to selecting wind farm projects off the Massachusetts coast
By Jon Chesto, Boston Globe
July 3, 2022

The state’s two major electric utilities wield considerable power by choosing the wind farm projects that can be built off the coast of Massachusetts. Maybe not for much longer.

When state-sanctioned clean energy contracts go out to bid, Eversource and National Grid (along with Unitil) get to pick the winners. It’s a power that has prompted conflict-of-interest questions since before the Legislature passed the original law allowing it six years ago. Both of the big utilities have arms that invest in offshore wind projects, meaning they might end up with affiliates across the table bidding on these contracts. Even with internal firewalls, critics worry the utilities could still steer the process for their benefit.

This issue came to a head in the third and latest round of wind farm contracts. Eversource’s Bay State Wind venture with Danish energy company Ørsted didn’t even compete this time. But a new report from an independent evaluator, consulting firm Peregrine Energy Group, claims Eversource may have interfered to benefit its own offshore investment by unsuccessfully trying to knock another venture, Mayflower Wind, out of the bidding.

In the end, Mayflower Wind chief executive Michael Brown says he’s happy with the results: In December, his project won contracts for 400 megawatts — enough energy for 200,000-plus homes — while Avangrid’s Commonwealth Wind landed 1,200 megawatts. But the whole brouhaha could help push state lawmakers to take the decision-making authority away from the utilities and hand it to a third party, such as the state Department of Energy Resources.

That’s how these prizes are awarded in New York and Connecticut. Why not here in Massachusetts? Peregrine essentially poses this very question in its latest report.
» Read article      
» Read the independent evaluator report by Peregrine Energy Group

» More about electric utilities

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Huntington Beach
Biden Administration Opens New Public Lands and Waters to Fossil Fuel Drilling, Disappointing Environmentalists
The president’s campaign promise to end fossil fuel development on public lands was thwarted by US courts, high gas prices and Russia’s domination of western European energy.
By Nicholas Kusnetz, Inside Climate News
July 1, 2022

This week, the Biden administration took two of its biggest steps yet to open public lands to fossil fuel development, holding its first onshore lease sales and releasing a proposed plan for offshore drilling that could open parts of the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska’s Cook Inlet to leasing through 2028.

The moves run counter to Joe Biden’s campaign pledge to halt new oil and gas development on federal lands and waters, and come as the president is under mounting political pressure to address high energy prices.

Biden faces a range of conflicting interests on climate change, energy and the economy as he tries to lower gasoline prices and increase energy exports to counter Russia’s dominance of western European energy, all without abandoning the ambitious climate agenda he brought to the White House. On Thursday, the Supreme Court dealt another blow to that agenda with a 6-3 decision that restricted the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to curb climate pollution from the power sector.

The Bureau of Land Management was also expected to release a new environmental impact statement for a major oil development proposed in the Alaskan Arctic this week, but the report was not public at the time of publication. That statement could amount to an endorsement for decades of future production from a sensitive and rapidly warming habitat.

“It is definitely a week that I would say calls into question Biden’s commitment to climate change,” said Nicole Ghio, fossil fuels program manager at Friends of the Earth, an advocacy group.

For many climate advocates, the new oil and gas leasing comes as a bitter disappointment, particularly because any new oil production will take years and is therefore highly unlikely to alleviate current high energy prices. Instead, advocates say, all the leasing will do is lock in additional oil and gas production years from now, when the nation’s climate targets dictate that oil and gas use should be on the decline.

“It is impossible to fight climate change if we continue to lease public lands and waters to fossil fuels,” Ghio said. “We cannot meet our international commitments, we cannot keep stable to 1.5 degrees [Celsius],” a level of warming beyond which climate impacts are likely to grow far worse, scientists say.
» Read article       

truck talk
Hype, Hope, and Hot Air: Inside Canada’s Hydrogen Strategy
Industry and governments are eager to embrace hydrogen power. But the plan to do so is “overly optimistic” and based on “unfounded assumptions.”
By Danielle Paradis, DeSmog Blog
July 5, 2022

Hydrogen is the future of net-zero — at least that is what the governments of Australia, the Netherlands, Canada, and the European Union believe.

Mining billionaire Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest, however, has slammed key elements of these governments’ plans at a recent hydrogen summit in London, calling the movement towards blue hydrogen, a process that turns natural gas into hydrogen and carbon monoxide and dioxide and then sequesters the CO2 emissions using carbon capture and storage, an ineffective greenwash.

Nevertheless, examples of the energy industry’s overly optimistic hype on hydrogen abound. In late April, Nikola Corporation parked a prototype of its next hydrogen-powered semi-truck on a ballroom floor at the Edmonton Convention Centre in Alberta, Canada. The gleaming white Nikola Tre FCEV (fuel cell electric vehicle) was the star of the inaugural Canadian Hydrogen Convention, a three day gathering that aimed “to demonstrate Canada’s leadership in hydrogen.”

[…] However, environmental campaigners have cautioned for years that blue hydrogen is little more than the newest attempt by the oil and gas industry to lock in dependency on fossil fuels. With carbon capture and storage technology still largely unreliable, the key to making this type of hydrogen environmentally friendly is little more than wishful thinking. Even if CCS becomes more dependable, it would only capture emissions in the process of turning natural gas into hydrogen; all the methane — a powerful climate-warming gas — emitted in the production and transport of natural gas, would be unabated.

The problems don’t stop there. A scathing report from Jerry DeMarco, Canada’s federal environment commissioner, concluded that the optimism at the convention does not reflect the reality of hydrogen in Canada. The report, which was released during “hydrogen week,” found that the hydrogen-derived emissions reduction targets set by the federal government were unrealistic and that Canada may be unable to meet its Paris Agreement goals. The report sheds light on inconsistencies between various government agencies’ models of hydrogen’s potential to reduce emissions.
» Read article      
» Read the report

» More about fossil fuels

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Weekly News Check-In 3/25/22

banner 16

Welcome back.

Six devoted climate activists have pressed a hunger strike for more than a week now, protesting approval of the controversial Peabody, MA  peaking power plant. With the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and International Energy Agency clearly calling for no new fossil fuel infrastructure, the hunger strike is a desperate attempt to get the Baker Administration to revisit the plant’s environmental permit. It’s worth noting that opponents of this peaker have proposed readily available, zero-emissions, less-expensive alternatives – and that this information has been ignored in favor of business-as-usual.

On the bright side, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) will finally consider the climate and social justice impacts of proposed gas pipelines, which prompted a typical, frothy backlash from conservative politicians and the fossil fuel lobby. These folks argue that the new rules make it virtually impossible to approve new gas infrastructure projects. Ah… you’re catching on!

That’s a good introduction to the “alternative facts” world of gas utilities and the fossil fuel industry in general, who have twisted the concept of a clean energy transition to the point where it means continuing to drill, pipe, and burn – but a little bit more efficiently and with the magical help of some fuzzy carbon capture fantasy that makes all those emissions just… disappear. To be clear, that’s bunk. And as a new study shows, a just transition would require fossil fuel extraction to end much sooner in developed and robust economies like the U.S. and Canada, so that poorer countries have time to diversify their economies before turning off the hydrocarbon spigot that currently sustains them.

The solution to the climate crisis is maddeningly simple: stop burning stuff. Getting there is a complicated global project requiring will and cooperation, but we have the tools and technologies ready to go. If we all pull in the same direction, we’ll get there.

Of course, one of those global complications is Russia’s unprovoked assault on Ukraine, and the uncomfortable fact that Europe is sustaining Putin’s army through their purchases of Russian oil and gas. The obvious solution is to pull out all the stops and deploy renewable energy generation and storage while rapidly electrifying transportation and home heating. Sure, it can’t be completed overnight, but neither can we replace all that fuel with liquefied natural gas, given the long lead time to build new terminals and ships. How we tackle this problem may well determine whether or not we keep global warming within the 1.5 degree C limit, beyond which there’s general scientific agreement that things get pretty nasty.

Massachusetts is kick starting its green economy with the help of a program that combines worker training with the goal of expanding access to clean transportation into underserved communities. There’s good news in energy efficient home heating, too. A new study shows that ditching your gas furnace or boiler in favor of an electric heat pump is a big win for the climate, whatever the refrigerant or the source of your electricity. That’s useful information for anyone thinking it’s better to wait until new, non-HFC refrigerants are available. Those are coming, but electrifying now is better than doing it later.

This has been a pretty crazy week in the news, so closing with a couple stories on cryptocurrency seems weirdly appropriate. The themes are familiar – an industry’s products are both beneficial and harmful, and it needs to mitigate a massive carbon footprint while trying to figure out its place in the future world. Also familiar: the mix of real and false solutions couched in lots of green messaging. We’ll keep an eye on it.

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

— The NFGiM Team

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

no more CO2
Hunger Strike Tour Opposed To Peabody Generator Hits Home
By Scott Souza, Patch
March 22, 2022

One full week after starting a hunger strike to protest the planned 60-megawatt fossil fuel-powered generator set for construction at the Waters River substation, seven members of the climate group 350 Mass were planning to be at Peabody’s Courthouse Square Tuesday as part of a passionate plea to stop the project.

The event culminates a week of protests asking the state to step in and re-examine the Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company’s Project 2015A to build a gas- and oil-powered generator capable of providing electricity to 14 municipal energy communities – including Marblehead and Peabody – in times of extreme weather or “peak” energy demand.

The generator gained final approval from the state Department of Public Utilities last summer with a state order from Gov. Charlie Baker or action from Secretary of Environmental and Energy Services Kathleen Theoharides to reopen the environmental review process among the few viable options left to halt the impending project.

“The extremity is simply because nothing else seems to make a dent,” Sue Donaldson told Patch of the hunger strike on Tuesday. “It just feels like what else can you do at this point?”

Donaldson said the Peabody generator is the group’s “poster child” to protest greater issues involved with government oversight agencies’ allowance of continued reliance on fossil fuels amid the climate crisis.

“We are all pretty seasoned activists,” Donaldson said. “We have all protested, and rallied, and gotten arrested, and nothing else seems to have slowed people down. We really wanted to do something to highlight the urgency of the whole issue.”

MMWEC representatives have argued that the generator is necessary to ensure the continued delivery of energy in extreme conditions while protecting consumers from the potential price spikes of purchasing that power on the surge market. They have also said the generator is expected to operate about 239 hours a year and that it will be 94 percent more efficient than comparable generators across the state.

But fierce opponents of the project — including the hunger strikers — say that any new use of fossil fuels further endangers the future of the planet.

“Our house is on fire,” 350 Mass member Judith Black, of Marblehead, told Patch. “It’s amazing to me that everyone doesn’t have this at the top of their list of change. Our government has been criminal in its lack of action.
» Read article      

» More about protests and actions

PEAKING POWER PLANTS

no more gas power plants
As hunger strike continues, leaders push for review
By Dustin Luca, Salem News
March 22, 2022

A hunger strike opposing a new oil-and-gas powered “peaker” plant in Peabody has enlisted some legislative muscle as the strike hits its ninth day.

Opponents to the plant and environmental advocates held a protest in front of Peabody District Court Tuesday afternoon, the eighth day of the strike. The event included the support of state Rep. Sally Kerans, D-Danvers, and state Sen. Joan Lovely, D-Salem, who represents several communities in the area.

“I just want to send my best to the six individuals behind us who are putting themselves in harm’s way for a very important, critical issue,” Lovely said, then leaning to a group of protestors wearing black hats emblazoned with “HUNGER STRIKER” in big, white letters. “That’s why we’re here.”

The hunger strike was launched Tuesday, March 15, in opposition of the “Peabody Peaker” plant, an $85 million facility that will only operate during peak demand times to keep the region’s energy needs met. The plant is being sought by the Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company and would touch 14 communities if built.

“We’re in a fight for a clean energy future,” said Kerans. “To that end, these folks are literally putting your health on the line to make the point that, if we don’t transition to clean energy, the changes will come in other ways and will be cataclysmic and irreversible.

“So it isn’t too much to ask those of us who are in state government to use our authority,” Kerans continued. “That’s what we’re encouraging the officials from the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs — to use their authority to revisit this plant.”

Much of the event targeted Kathleen Theoharides, the state’s secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs. It was organized by Breathe Clean North Shore, which is now celebrating an anniversary because of the project.
» Read article      

» More about peakers

PIPELINES

open-cut trench
FERC Says it Will Consider Greenhouse Gas Emissions and ‘Environmental Justice’ Impacts in Approving New Natural Gas Pipelines
Environmentalists applauded the shifts in policy, while one Senate natural gas advocate said the guidelines would make approvals for new pipelines “next to impossible.”
By Zoha Tunio, Inside Climate News
March 21, 2022

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has issued new policy statements saying its approval process for natural gas pipelines and liquified natural gas facilities will take greenhouse gas emissions and “environmental justice” impacts into consideration in determining whether the infrastructure projects are in the public interest.

Although non-binding, the policy statements, issued last month, could significantly change how natural gas pipelines are approved by the commission going forward. Under its new approach, the commission would  be required to determine whether a project is actually needed to meet the energy demands of a given region and whether it is in the public interest, with its benefits outweighing its potential adverse impacts, such as air pollution or threats to groundwater.

Interim guidelines, which have gone into effect but remain open for public comment through April 4 before being finalized, require environmental impact statements for all projects emitting more than 100,000 metric tons of gases every year.

Pipelines and liquified natural gas facilities often release into the atmosphere vast quantities of methane, the main ingredient in natural gas, because of accidents, or during repairs and routine maintenance. Methane is a climate super-pollutant 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period.

While climate advocacy groups have welcomed FERC’s policy statements, opponents argue that they may have damaging impacts on industry’s ability to transport natural gas and export liquified natural gas, which is produced through an energy-intensive process that requires cooling natural gas to -259 degrees Fahrenheit.

U.S. Sen. John Barraso (R-Wyo.), a leading advocate for the natural gas industry, took aim at the new FERC policy during a March 3 Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing.

“These policies are going to make it next to impossible to build any new natural gas infrastructure or upgrade our existing facilities in the United States,” he said.

[…] But Richard Glick, FERC’s chairman, said that the policies came in response to various court decisions in which the commission’s pipeline approvals were vacated because the commission had not sufficiently determined the pipelines were needed by consumers to provide heat and electricity.

Glick said the commission’s approach had evolved into one in which developers’ proposals “were treated as conclusive proof of the need for a proposed project.”
» Read article      

» More about pipelines

GAS UTILITIES

Dorchester Gas
What’s the future of gas in Mass.? Utilities and critics have different visions
By Bruce Gellerman, WBUR
March 18, 2022


New reports from the state’s five investor-owned gas utilities offer roadmaps to the companies’ future — and, in many ways, our own.

[…] In 2020, Attorney General Maura Healey asked the Department of Public Utilities to investigate how the local distribution companies planned to meet the state’s goals while ensuring continued safe and reliable gas service (even as demand declines), and ensure consumers do not pay unnecessary costs.

Technically known as Department of Public Utility Docket 20-80, the utility reports are based on analysis conducted by two independent research consulting firms selected by the local gas distribution companies. The researcher came up with nine pathways the utilities could take to meet Massachusetts’ ambitious emission limits.

The five utility reports are virtually identical. All call for increased energy efficiency measures; expanded use of heat pumps powered electricity generated by renewable solar and wind; and where necessary, using hybrid gas-electric heating systems comprised of electric heat pumps and back-up gas burners.

[…] But critics say the utility roadmaps are based on unproven technologies and warn the companies will spend billions of dollars installing new pipelines that will be obsolete by mid-century, leaving consumers to pay for the stranded assets long after they’re needed.

[…] The utilities hope to stay in the pipeline distribution business by substituting biogas, also known as renewable natural gas, for natural gas currently obtained from drilling and fracking fossil formations in the earth. Biogas is derived from capturing methane released from decomposing organic matter in landfills, farms and waste water treatment plants. Both biogas and natural gas are equally damaging to the climate if emitted into the atmosphere.

Sam Wade, director of public policy with the Renewable Natural Gas Coalition, estimates biogas can replace 20% of fossil gas.

California recently required the state to obtain 12% of its natural gas from biogas but Matt Vespa, a Senior Attorney with EarthJustice in California thinks that is overly optimistic.

“I think they’re pushing what is feasible with that amount,” Vespa said. “There are limited sources of biogas … so this is a niche solution that should be reserved for the most difficult applications that you can’t electrify.”

[…] National Grid and Eversource are also hoping to use a new technology known as networked geothermal energy. Eversource will drill an experimental pilot project in Framingham this summer. National Grid plans to start two projects next year but has not announced the locations.

Network geothermal uses the earth as a battery, tapping the constant 55 degrees Fahrenheit temperature just a few feet below the surface and circulating it to homes and businesses in the area through a network of pipes. The thermal energy would be heated or cooled using electric pumps.

The networked geothermal technology is promoted by Cambridge based HEET, which describes itself as a non-profit climate incubator. Co-executive director Zeyneb Magavi said gas utilities can evolve into “geo-utilities,” delivering a consistent temperature to customers instead of natural gas, and utilize the expertise of their work crews to drill holes and network the necessary pipes.

Without an ambitious project like that, Massachusetts is nowhere near achieving its goal, Magavi warned.

“If we can’t start doing this at a utility scale, street by street, everybody having access at a cost they can afford, I don’t think we’re going to get there,” she said.
» Read article      

» More about gas utilities

GREENING THE ECONOMY

bike mechanic
Massachusetts program funds strategies pairing equity and clean transportation

Accelerating Clean Transportation for All will provide $5 million in grants to 10 projects across the state focused on improving infrastructure for electric transportation for low-income areas and communities of color.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
March 21, 2022

Massachusetts has announced $5 million in grants for pilot projects aimed at connecting disadvantaged populations with clean, electric transportation.

The program, known as Accelerating Clean Transportation for All, will fund 10 projects across the state that are focused on improving infrastructure for electric taxis, increasing adoption of e-bikes, electrifying nonprofit fleets, or educating consumers about electric vehicles.

“The overarching goal of that program is to address clean transportation in areas that are overburdened by greenhouse gasses and also underserved by public transportation,” said Rachel Ackerman, director for transportation programming at the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, the agency administering the grant program.

Environmental justice has been a centerpiece of Massachusetts’ policy since last year, when the state passed ambitious climate legislation that included several provisions for ensuring the clean energy transition benefits low-income residents and communities of color. Accelerating Clean Transportation for All was developed with this goal in mind.

The grant-winning proposals will receive between $152,000 and $1 million to implement their plans. The clean energy center is in the process of finalizing contracts with the grantees, but many projects are expected to launch as early as this summer.
» Read article      

looming challenge
What happens to used solar panels? DOE wants to know
By David Iaconangelo, E&E News
March 21, 2022

The Department of Energy released an action plan last week intended to help the United States launch a comprehensive system for handling and recycling solar panels, which some studies have suggested could make up a tenth of all electronic waste in coming decades.

The Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) announced a new target to bring the cost of recycling solar panels to about $3 per panel by 2030, a threshold that would make the practice economic for the first time.

That follows an earlier DOE goal to try to halve the price of solar power by decade’s end. By 2035, solar could contribute 37 to 42 percent of the grid’s power, in line with the Biden administration’s goal of a carbon-free grid by that year, according to the office, which is part of DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE)

The new recycling target would mean a cost reduction of “more than half,” DOE’s solar researchers estimated. It also would make recycling roughly as economic as sending old panels to landfills, a process that costs roughly $1 to $5 per panel before transportation costs are factored in, according to previous research from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).

“As we accelerate deployment of photovoltaic systems, we must also recognize the pressing need to address end-of-life for the materials in a sustainable way,” said Kelly Speakes-Backman, EERE’s principal deputy assistant secretary, in a statement. “We are committed to ensuring that the recovery, reuse, recycling, and disposal of these systems and their components are accessible, low-cost and have minimal environmental impact.”

To reach the target, the solar office is aiming to fill a knowledge gap about what happens to solar panels after they reach the end of their useful lives.

“Little is known about the actual state and handling of [photovoltaic end-of-life panels],” including the amount of panel waste being generated, how owners go about decommissioning their panels, who handles the waste and how transportation works, DOE’s plan said.

At least one thing is clear, though, for the solar industry: Figuring out how to recycle old panels — or reuse parts like the precious metals often contained in them — is a looming challenge.
» Read article      

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

world on fire
In a World on Fire, Stop Burning Things
The truth is new and counterintuitive: we have the technology necessary to rapidly ditch fossil fuels.
By Bill McKibben, The New Yorker
March 18, 2022

On the last day of February, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued its most dire report yet. The Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres, had, he said, “seen many scientific reports in my time, but nothing like this.” Setting aside diplomatic language, he described the document as “an atlas of human suffering and a damning indictment of failed climate leadership,” and added that “the world’s biggest polluters are guilty of arson of our only home.” Then, just a few hours later, at the opening of a rare emergency special session of the U.N. General Assembly, he catalogued the horrors of Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, and declared, “Enough is enough.” Citing Putin’s declaration of a nuclear alert, the war could, Guterres said, turn into an atomic conflict, “with potentially disastrous implications for us all.”

What unites these two crises is combustion. Burning fossil fuel has driven the temperature of the planet ever higher, melting most of the sea ice in the summer Arctic, bending the jet stream, and slowing the Gulf Stream. And selling fossil fuel has given Putin both the money to equip an army (oil and gas account for sixty per cent of Russia’s export earnings) and the power to intimidate Europe by threatening to turn off its supply. Fossil fuel has been the dominant factor on the planet for centuries, and so far nothing has been able to profoundly alter that. After Putin invaded, the American Petroleum Institute insisted that our best way out of the predicament was to pump more oil. The climate talks in Glasgow last fall, which John Kerry, the U.S. envoy, had called the “last best hope” for the Earth, provided mostly vague promises about going “net-zero by 2050”; it was a festival of obscurantism, euphemism, and greenwashing, which the young climate activist Greta Thunberg summed up as “blah, blah, blah.” Even people trying to pay attention can’t really keep track of what should be the most compelling battle in human history.

So let’s reframe the fight. Along with discussing carbon fees and green-energy tax credits, amid the momentary focus on disabling Russian banks and flattening the ruble, there’s a basic, underlying reality: the era of large-scale combustion has to come to a rapid close. If we understand that as the goal, we might be able to keep score, and be able to finally get somewhere. Last Tuesday, President Biden banned the importation of Russian oil. This year, we may need to compensate for that with American hydrocarbons, but, as a senior Administration official put it,“the only way to eliminate Putin’s and every other producing country’s ability to use oil as an economic weapon is to reduce our dependency on oil.” As we are one of the largest oil-and-gas producers in the world, that is a remarkable statement. It’s a call for an end of fire.
» Read article      

climate sniffles
Thanks to climate change, ticks and allergies are arriving earlier
By Dharna Noor, Boston Globe
March 22, 2022

Is that familiar allergic tickle in your throat showing up earlier in the spring? Does it seem like ticks are spreading across New England earlier, too? If so, it’s not just you — it’s climate change.

Thanks to the quickly warming Gulf of Maine, the region is warming faster than the rest of the world. Since 1900, temperatures in metropolitan Boston have climbed by about 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 degrees Fahrenheit), while temperatures on the rest of the planet rose an average of 1.14 degrees Celsius.

That means we’re seeing shorter winters, earlier blooms, and more pollen. In a study published last week in the journal Nature Communications, scientists from the University of Michigan examined 15 types of pollen from different plants found in the United States and found, in computer simulations, that pollen counts are increasing.

Richard B. Primack, a biology professor at Boston University who focuses on climate change, said the new study’s findings should come as no surprise.

”Plants are responding [to warming temperatures] by flowering earlier,” he said. “So of course, pollen season is coming earlier than it did in the past.”

Another yearly annoyance that’s exacerbated because of climate change: ticks. Milder winters, earlier springs, and wetter conditions are creating a perfect environment for the pests, which carry a host of dangerous diseases, including Lyme disease. They’re breeding, developing, and growing in population earlier in the year, and they’re also spreading northward into areas that used to be too cold for their liking, research shows.

As the climate is changing, a new kind of tick, known as the Lone Star tick, has also spread into New England, said Larry Dapsis, deer tick project coordinator and entomologist for the Cape Cod Cooperative Extension.

“The Lone Star tick has been spreading north steadily,” he said. “It’s a function of climate change: The earth is getting warmer, and we’re seeing plants and animals where we never used to see them before. This is a great example of that.”

Cases of tick-borne Lyme disease have been trending upward for years around the country, especially in the Northeast. Federal data isn’t available on Massachusetts because state officials have altered their reporting methods, which makes it hard to track trends, but EPA numbers show that Maine and Vermont have experienced the largest increases in reported case rates, with New Hampshire close behind.

“The incidence of Lyme disease has really increased dramatically over the last several decades in New England,” Primark said.
» Read article      

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

blank term
There’s a Messaging Battle Right Now Over America’s Energy Future
Climate scientists and fossil fuel executives use the same terms when they talk about an energy transition. But they mean starkly different things.
By David Gelles and Lisa Friedman, New York Times
March 19, 2022

Climate scientists, oil executives, progressives and conservatives all agree on one thing these days: The energy transition is upon us.

The uninhibited burning of fossil fuels for more than a century has already warmed the planet significantly, and cleaner and more sustainable sources of power are urgently needed in order to avoid further catastrophic changes to the environment.

But even as longtime adversaries use the same terminology, calling in unison for an “energy transition,” they are often talking about starkly different scenarios.

According to the scientific consensus, the energy transition requires a rapid phasing out of fossil fuels and the immediate scaling up of cleaner energy sources like wind, solar and nuclear.

But many in the oil and gas business say the energy transition simply means a continued use of fossil fuels, with a greater reliance on natural gas rather than coal, and a hope that new technologies such as carbon capture and sequestration can contain or reduce the amount of greenhouse gasses they produce.

“The term energy transition is interpreted one way by the climate hawks, and in a totally different way by those in the oil and gas industry,” said Anthony Leiserowitz, the director of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication. “It is a very ambiguous term. Like, what does that even mean?”

The phrase has become what is known in linguistics circles as a “floating signifier,” Dr. Leiserowitz said. He called it “a blank term that you can fill with your own preferred definition.”

Efforts to move the world away from fossil fuels have been proceeding in slow motion for years, as nations and corporations advance scattershot efforts to reduce emissions. But the transformation is reaching an inflection point today, with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine prompting climate advocates and the oil and gas industry to advance dueling narratives about what the energy transition is and how it should be carried out.

Climate researchers point out that there is little room for ambiguity. With increasing urgency, a series of major scientific reports has underlined the need to phase out fossil fuels and the damaging effects of planet warming emissions.
» Read article      

listen up
U.N. Chief Warns of ‘Catastrophe’ With Continued Use of Fossil Fuels
António Guterres, the United Nations secretary general, said instead of replacing Russian oil, gas and coal, nations must pivot to clean energy.
By Lisa Friedman, New York Times
March 21, 2022

Countries are “sleepwalking to climate catastrophe” if they continue to rely on fossil fuels, and nations racing to replace Russian oil, gas and coal with their own dirty energy are making matters worse, United Nations Secretary General António Guterres warned on Monday.

The ambitious promises world leaders made last year at a climate summit in Glasgow were “naïve optimism,” Mr. Guterres said. Nations are nowhere near the goal of limiting the average global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius by the end of this century. That’s the threshold beyond which scientists say the likelihood of catastrophic impacts increases significantly. The planet has already warmed an average of 1.1 degrees Celsius.

And the pollution that is dangerously heating the planet is continuing to increase. Global emissions are set to rise by 14 percent in the 2020s, and emissions from coal continue to surge, he said.

“The 1.5 degree goal is on life support. It is in intensive care,” Mr. Guterres said in remarks delivered to a summit The Economist is hosting on sustainability via video address.

“We are sleepwalking to climate catastrophe,” he said. “If we continue with more of the same, we can kiss 1.5 goodbye. Even 2 degrees may be out of reach. And that would be a catastrophe.”

Mr. Guterres’s speech comes as the European Union is trying to find ways to reduce its dependence on Russian oil and gas, and countries like the United States are scrambling to increase fossil fuel production to stabilize energy markets. President Biden and European leaders have said that the short-term needs will not upend their longer-term vision of shifting to wind, solar and other renewable sources that do not produce dangerous greenhouse gas emissions.

But the U.N. secretary general said he fears that strategy endangers the goal of rapid reduction of fossil fuel burning. Keeping the planet at safe levels means slashing emissions worldwide 45 percent by [2030], scientists have said.
» Per 2019 IPCC report on pathway for achieving 1.5C: “In model pathways with no or limited overshoot of 1.5°C, global net anthropogenic CO2 emissions decline by about 45% from 2010 levels by 2030 (40–60% interquartile range), reaching net zero around 2050 (2045–2055 interquartile range).”
» Read article      

appropriate H2 application
How Putin’s war has “turbocharged” green hydrogen, and long term shift from fossils
By Sophie Vorrath, Renew Economy
March 24, 2022

Much has been written about the unintended boost Russia’s invasion of Ukraine might lend to the global shift to renewables, but two new reports from leading market analysts have singled out green hydrogen as a sector that stands to be “turbocharged” as a result of the conflict.

The reports, from Bloomberg New Energy Finance and Rystad Energy, explain that soaring gas prices, driven up by the Russia-Ukraine war, have – as BNEF puts it – “opened a rare opportunity” for renewable electricity to make hydrogen and hydrogen-derived products more cheaply than gas.

BNEF, in a report published at the start of the month, said that since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, European gas prices have jumped to more than six times higher than the value over the same time period in 2021.

Gas import prices in Asia, meanwhile, have charted a nearly five-fold increase over the same period last year, while US gas prices have jumped by 60 per cent.

This has in turn driven up spot prices for ammonia, a gas-derived product primarily used for fertiliser, and those rising “grey ammonia” costs have in turn opened the door for “green” production processes, which rely on renewable electricity to make hydrogen.
» Read article      

TVA poster
Largest Government-Owned Utility in U.S. Backs Gas, Despite White House Climate Commitments
By The Energy Mix
March 20, 2022

America’s biggest federally-owned utility, still under the influence of a Trump-appointed board of directors, is facing a federal investigation after announcing plans to spend more than US$3.5 billion on new gas-fired power plants rather than investing in cheaper renewables.

Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) said its move to replace its oldest coal plants with gas was all about ensuring reliable and cheap power for its nearly 10 million customers from across the southeastern U.S., writes the New York Times.

But TVA has also “gutted its energy efficiency program” and “interfered with the adoption of renewable energy,” said Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ), chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, condemning the move to build expensive fossil fuel projects rather than invest in less expensive, climate-friendly technologies.

Currently the third-largest electricity provider in the United States, TVA plans to add roughly 5,000 MW of gas to an energy mix which is currently composed of 39% nuclear, 26% gas, 19% coal, 11% hydro, and 3% wind and solar.

“As the largest federally-owned utility, TVA should be leading the way on clean energy,” said Pallone, who has opened an investigation into TVA’s pursuit of new gas-powered plants. “It’s going in the wrong direction right now with more gas burning.”

TVA’s decision “sends a terrible message,” University of California, Santa Barbara environmental policy expert Leah C. Stokes told the Times.
» Read article     

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

HVAC tech
The Climate Math of Home Heating Electrification
By Alex Hillbrand Pierre Delforge, NRDC | Expert Blog Post
March 3, 2022

The strong climate case for electrifying homes across America grew even stronger last week.

Researchers from U.C. Davis published a study in Energy Policy showing that a typical U.S. home can cut its heating-related climate pollution by 45 percent to 72 percent by swapping out a gas-fired furnace for an efficient, all-electric heat pump. And it’s true starting today, in every region in the country.

NRDC, a supporter of the study, asked U.C. Davis to look into this question for a couple of reasons. We often hear the concern that the CO2 emissions from generating electricity to power heat pumps make them too dirty today, and that we should wait to electrify – or swap out appliances that use fossil fuels in exchange for efficient electric models that can be powered by clean energy sources – until the grid gets cleaner. Other times we hear that electrifying too soon will exacerbate the impacts of hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants, which cause climate change when leaked from appliances.

The new findings address both of these issues – plus the impact of the switch on fugitive methane emissions – and confirm that the time to act is now. Here are the results, in brief.
» Read article     
» Read the study

» More about energy efficiency

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

USPS trucks
Watchdog Finds Postal Service Could Serve 99% of Routes With Electric Fleet
The report comes as Democrats in Congress are challenging Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s plan to buy new gas-powered delivery trucks despite the global need to transition off of fossil fuels.
By Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams
March 22, 2022

“A gas-guzzling fleet is clearly the wrong choice.”

That’s what Congressman Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) said in response to a new report from the U.S. Postal Service Office of Inspector General (OIG) about how transitioning to electric vehicles (EVs) would impact the USPS.

The OIG analysis, released last week, came as Huffman and other Democrats in Congress are challenging Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s contract with Oshkosh Defense for new mostly gas-powered mail trucks, given climate experts’ warnings about the need to keep fossil fuels in the ground.

“The U.S. Postal Service employs 217,000 delivery vehicles to deliver mail and parcels to more than 135 million addresses. Many of these vehicles are beyond their intended service life and expensive to operate and maintain,” states the report. “The Postal Service is at a critical inflection point for its aging fleet and is preparing to acquire and operate a new generation of delivery vehicles.”

The OIG “identified several clear benefits of adopting electric vehicles into the postal delivery fleet, including improved sustainability and environmental impacts,” the document continues. “Electric vehicles are generally more mechanically reliable than gas-powered vehicles and would require less maintenance. Energy costs will be lower for electric vehicles, as using electricity to power an electric vehicle is cheaper than using gasoline.”

“Our research confirms that electric vehicle technology is generally capable of meeting the Postal Service’s needs,” the analysis adds, pointing out that of the roughly 177,000 USPS routes nationwide, only “around 2,600 of these routes (1.5% of the total) may be poorly suited to electric vehicle deployment.”

Most of the routes that are not well-suited for an EV are longer than the vehicle’s 70-mile range, though the paper notes that some shorter routes “may also experience range limitations if they include hilly terrain, since acceleration up steep slopes can reduce the range of a fully charged battery.”

The document also emphasizes that despite the higher upfront cost of buying new EVs and installing charging infrastructure, “the adoption of electric delivery vehicles could save the Postal Service money in the long term,” particularly for longer routes that are up to 70 miles, because the USPS would save on rapidly rising gas costs.
» Read article      
» Read the Inspector General’s report

BRPC charge plan
Berkshire Planning Commission Preparing for Electric Vehicle Movement
By Brittany Polito, iBerkshires
March 20, 2022

Berkshire Regional Planning Commission is preparing for the statewide and national movement toward electric vehicles.

BRPC Transportation Planner Justin Gilmore presented a Berkshire County Electric Vehicle Charging Station Plan to the commission on Thursday that aims to put charging capabilities in every community.

“The primary purpose of this plan is really just to educate and inform the reader on the current state of electric vehicles and charging station technology and certainly equip municipal officials with the information they need to start making strategic investments around charging station installation,” Gilmore explained.

“And all of this is really coming on the heels of major commitments to address climate change.”

The state’s decarbonization roadmap, which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 85 percent by 2050, outlines steps to require 100 percent zero-emissions light-duty vehicle (LDV) sales by 2035.

This means that after 2035 in the state of Massachusetts, people will no longer be able to buy new internal combustion engine vehicles.

The Massachusetts Clean Energy and Climate Plan published in 2020 aims to increase the number of EVs in the state from about 36,000 to 750,000 by 2030.

“Transportation is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions nationally, at the state level, and locally here in the Berkshires, so this shift towards electrification really represents a critical opportunity to begin decarbonizing the transportation sector,” Gilmore explained.
» Read article      

pain at the pump
Decades of Lobbying Weakened Americans’ Gas Mileage and Turbocharged Pain at the Pump
The oil and automotive industries, as well as the Koch network, undercut efforts to make today’s fleet of vehicles more efficient and less reliant on fossil fuels.
By Sharon Kelly, DeSmog Blog
March 18, 2022

[…] The pain at the pump for American drivers has roots that run deeper than today’s crisis. In recent years, while fracking’s supporters were shouting “drill baby drill” the oil industry began lobbying behind the scenes to undercut programs designed to make vehicles more fuel efficient or less reliant on fossil fuels. Alongside automakers, they helped pave the way for a boom in gas guzzlers that attracted consumers when gas prices were relatively low: In 2021, a stunning 78 percent of new vehicles sold in the United States were SUVs or trucks, according to the Wall Street Journal. American carmakers like Ford, General Motors, and Fiat Chrysler have nearly abandoned making sedans for U.S. drivers altogether.

That was a step in the wrong direction, efficiency advocates say. “We absolutely should be moving to establishing independence from fossil fuels, both for geopolitical and for public health and climate reasons,” said Luke Tonachel, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s (NRDC) clean vehicles and fuels group. “I think our best tool to fight petro-dictators is to shake off the need for the petroleum that is the source of their power.”

The recent bigger-is-better boom is creating big problems for drivers as gas prices soar because once a vehicle is built, keeping up with maintenance and deploying a few tips and tricks are about all your average driver can do to improve a car’s fuel efficiency beyond its design specs. Until today’s cars are retired, American drivers are pretty much stuck with hundreds of millions of vehicles built while gas prices largely hovered between $2 and $3 a gallon.

But while conversations about fuel efficiency are often dominated by debates about whether buyers or sellers should shoulder the blame for the stampede towards SUVs over Priuses, there’s another often-ignored actor in the room.

Federal rules shape the menu of options offered to consumers by requiring automakers to achieve fleet-wide averages on fuel efficiency. A quick look back shows the oil industry’s fingerprints (alongside those of car manufacturers) on gambits to grind down those fuel efficiency standards, leaving everyday Americans more dependent on oil.
» Read article      

» More about clean transportation

CRYPTOCURRENCY

Peter Wall
Bitcoin Miners Want to Recast Themselves as Eco-Friendly
Facing intense criticism, the crypto mining industry is trying to change the view that its energy-guzzling computers are harmful to the climate.
By David Yaffe-Bellany, New York Times
March 22, 2022

Along a dirt-covered road deep in Texas farm country, the cryptocurrency company Argo Blockchain is building a power plant for the internet age: a crypto “mining” site stocked with computers that generate new Bitcoins.

But unlike other Bitcoin mining operations, which consume large quantities of fossil fuels and produce carbon emissions, Argo claims it’s trying to do something environmentally responsible. As Peter Wall, Argo’s chief executive, led a tour of the 126,000-square-foot construction site one morning this month, he pointed to a row of wind turbines a few miles down the road, their white spokes shining in the sunlight.

The new facility, an hour outside Lubbock, would be fueled mostly by wind and solar energy, he declared. “This is Bitcoin mining nirvana,” Mr. Wall said. “You look off into the distance and you’ve got your renewable power.”

Facing criticism from politicians and environmentalists, the cryptocurrency mining industry has embarked on a rebranding effort to challenge the prevailing view that its electricity-guzzling computers are harmful to the climate. All five of the largest publicly traded crypto mining companies say they are building or already operating plants powered by renewable energy, and industry executives have started arguing that demand from crypto miners will create opportunities for wind and solar companies to open facilities of their own.

The effort — partly a public-relations exercise, partly a genuine attempt to make the industry more sustainable — has intensified since last spring, when China began a crackdown on crypto mining, forcing some mining operations to relocate to the United States. A trade group called the Bitcoin Mining Council also formed last year, partly to tackle climate issues, after Elon Musk criticized the industry for using fossil fuels.
» Read article      

trading machine
There is a greener way to mine crypto
It’s worth examining how the many, many “clean” crypto initiatives, currencies, blockchains, and marketplaces for non-fungible tokens actually stack up.
By Nitish Pahwa, Grist
March 22, 2022

Last April, the cryptocurrency world announced its own virtual iteration of the Paris Agreement: the Crypto Climate Accord. The alliance bills itself as “a private sector-led initiative for the entire crypto community focused on decarbonizing the cryptocurrency and blockchain industry in record time.” Its goal is to transition the crypto industry to renewable energy sources in time for the 2025 United Nations climate conference. By 2040, it seeks to “achieve net-zero emissions for the entire crypto industry.”

Why does crypto need its own climate pact? Because it has a massive carbon footprint, one that’s kept growing as interest in cryptocurrencies — not to mention the sheer number of cryptocurrencies — has grown. A 2019 study in the science journal Joule estimated that, at the lowest bounds, Bitcoin’s power consumption emitted about 22 million metric tons of carbon dioxide the previous year. For context, that’s about 10 percent of the global railway sector’s annual emissions — and it’s just for one currency, even if it’s a major one. Such figures are a bad look for the industry’s public image, which is why phrases like “green crypto” and “clean crypto” are suddenly popping up everywhere, fueling efforts like the new climate accord. Crypto’s dirty reputation is an existential problem — so for the sake of both the planet and the industry, it’s worth examining how the many, many “clean” crypto initiatives, currencies, blockchains, and marketplaces for non-fungible tokens, or NFTs, actually stack up.

[…] The Crypto Climate Accord wants to start fueling crypto with renewables as opposed to fossil fuels, but at the moment, that simply isn’t an option. We don’t have enough renewable energy around the world to meet climate goals even without taking crypto into account; running crypto systems will require that major countries have surplus renewable-produced energy. Already, areas with dedicated green power sources for crypto, like the Nordic states, are running low on the surplus power capacity required for digital mining. Bitcoin’s energy use has shot up over the past year, and Scandinavia’s supply of excess power — about 30 terawatt-hours in an average year — is projected to decline as governments redirect it toward the development of fuels like hydrogen, while also exporting clean power to the rest of Europe.

[…] There are also crypto advocates who put forth dubious cases for digital currencies they claim are actually paving the path for clean power. Jack Dorsey’s company Block, back when it was still known as Square, released a white paper claiming Bitcoin mining is necessary to incentivize the scaling of renewable energy, an argument that doesn’t quite hold up to scrutiny or play out in practice. Many green-blockchain advocates tout their purchasing and trading of carbon offsets, but these so-called offsets often only add to carbon emissions; others advertise themselves as “carbon-neutral,” promoting a shaky concept that’s mostly allowed energy firms aiming for “net-zero” emissions to not substantively reduce their carbon footprints.

So there are a lot of “green crypto” initiatives that are easy to dismiss as pure hype. At the same time, there are many digital traders, artists, engineers, and true believers who have been working for years, out of genuine concern, to try to build and scale solutions to crypto’s environmental problem.
» Read article      

» More about crypto

CARBON CAPTURE AND STORAGE

under Illinois
Advocates urge Illinois landowners to prepare for risks from CO2 pipelines

With geology considered ideal for carbon storage, residents worry about increasing proposals to transport and sequester carbon dioxide below farmland.
By Kari Lydersen, Energy News Network
March 15, 2022

A coalition of downstate Illinois environmental groups is warning rural landowners about potential safety and financial hazards from a planned carbon sequestration project in the region.

Illinois’ sandstone geology is considered ideal for below-ground carbon sequestration. Several such projects in the state have been proposed and researched in the past without coming to completion, as carbon capture and sequestration at scale remains an expensive and largely untested technology.

That could change with a Texas company’s proposed Heartland Greenway project, a 1,300-mile pipeline network that would carry carbon dioxide from ethanol plants in five Midwest states to central Illinois, where up to 15 million metric tons would be stored in “pore space” located under thousands of acres of farmland and other rural property.

The risk of damage from the project’s construction and operation has already raised significant opposition in Iowa. At a March 7 webinar, experts and local advocates in downstate Illinois urged landowners there to prepare a similar defense ahead of potential easement or eminent domain disputes.

Illinois is poised to become a “superhighway for CO2 pipelines gathering [carbon dioxide] all over the Midwest,” energy attorney Paul Blackburn said at the webinar, presented by the Coalition to Stop CO2 Pipelines. “Some folks believe these pipelines will stop climate change, but there are arguments about whether that is actually true.”
» Read article      

» More about carbon capture and storage

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

no more production
Here’s the ‘energy transition’ needed to stave off climate catastrophe
And it’s not the one oil executives had in mind.
By Kate Yoder, Grist
March 23, 2022

The world has a 50/50 chance of keeping climate change to relatively safe levels, a new report says — but only if there are drastic cuts to fossil fuel production, effective immediately.

The analysis, from researchers at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research in the United Kingdom, found that limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial temperatures (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) requires more stringent emissions cuts than what any country is currently considering. The report, published Tuesday, is focused on avoiding going past that 1.5-degree threshold — a sort of danger line beyond which the effects of global warming turn from catastrophic to … well, something even worse.

At this point, the Earth has already warmed by 1.1 to 1.2 degrees C (about 2 degrees F). To have decent odds of meeting this 1.5-degree goal, rich countries would have to completely phase out oil and gas production in 12 years, the report said, while poorer countries would have until 2050 to do so, because they bear less responsibility for creating the problem. The authors make clear that there’s no room for new fossil fuel production “of any kind” — no more coal mines, oil wells, or gas terminals.

The report’s vision of the “energy transition,” a phrase some use to describe the world’s path away from fossil fuels, looks radically different from what oil executives have proposed when they use the same term. The oil and gas industry has argued for the continued use of their key products and lowering emissions by capturing and storing the carbon emitted when fossil fuels are burned.
» Read article      
» Read the Tyndall report

Reagan warned about this
How Europe Got Hooked on Russian Gas Despite Reagan’s Warnings
A Soviet-era pipeline, opposed by the president but supported by the oil and gas industry, set up the dependency that today helps fund the Russian assault on Ukraine.
By Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times
March 23, 2022

The language in the C.I.A. memo was unequivocal: The 3,500-mile gas pipeline from Siberia to Germany is a direct threat to the future of Western Europe, it said, creating “serious repercussions” from a dangerous reliance on Russian fuel.

The agency wasn’t briefing President Biden today. It was advising President Reagan more than four decades ago.

The memo was prescient. That Soviet-era pipeline, the subject of a bitter fight during the Reagan administration, marked the start of Europe’s heavy dependence on Russian natural gas to heat homes and fuel industry. However, those gas purchases now help fund Vladimir V. Putin’s war machine in Ukraine, despite worldwide condemnation of the attacks and global efforts to punish Russia financially.

In 1981, Reagan imposed sanctions to try to block the pipeline, a major Soviet initiative designed to carry huge amounts of fuel to America’s critical allies in Europe. But he swiftly faced stiff opposition — not just from the Kremlin and European nations eager for a cheap source of gas, but also from a powerful lobby close to home: oil and gas companies that stood to profit from access to Russia’s gargantuan gas reserves.

In a public-relations and lobbying blitz that played out across newspaper opinion pages, congressional committees and a direct appeal to the White House, industry executives and lobbyists fought the sanctions. “Reagan has absolutely no reason to forbid this business,” Wolfgang Oehme, chairman of an Exxon subsidiary with a stake in the pipeline, said at the time.
» Read article      
» Read the CIA memo

» More about fossil fuel

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

rusty tub
Why the U.S. Can’t Quickly Wean Europe From Russian Gas
The Biden administration’s plan to send more natural gas to Europe will be hampered by the lack of export and import terminals.
By Clifford Krauss, New York Times
March 25, 2022

President Biden announced Friday that the United States would send more natural gas to Europe to help it break its dependence on Russian energy. But that plan will largely be symbolic, at least in the short run, because the United States doesn’t have enough capacity to export more gas and Europe doesn’t have the capacity to import significantly more.

In recent months, American exporters, with President Biden’s encouragement, have already maximized the output of terminals that turn natural gas into a liquid easily shipped on large tankers. And they have diverted shipments originally bound for Asia to Europe.

But energy experts said that building enough terminals on both sides of the Atlantic to significantly expand U.S. exports of liquefied natural gas, or L.N.G., to Europe could take two to five years. That reality is likely to limit the scope of the natural gas supply announcement that Mr. Biden and the European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, announced on Friday.

[…] Friday’s agreement, which calls on the United States to help the European Union secure an additional 15 billion cubic meters of liquefied natural gas this year, could also undermine efforts by Mr. Biden and European officials to combat climate change. Once new export and import terminals are built, they will probably keep operating for several decades, perpetuating the use of a fossil fuel much longer than many environmentalists consider sustainable for the planet’s well-being. [emphasis added]

For now, however, climate concerns appear to be taking a back seat as U.S. and European leaders seek to punish President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia for invading Ukraine by depriving him of billions of dollars in energy sales.
» Read article      

» More about LNG

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Weekly News Check-In 1/21/22

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Welcome back.

Yesterday, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) met to consider the fate of Canadian energy giant Enbridge’s Weymouth compressor station. Their conclusion boiled down to this: “Gosh, folks, you’re right! We never should have approved such a dangerous, polluting facility right there in your neighborhood…. But we did. Sorry. Nothing to be done. Next!” It was a variation on Governor Charlie Baker’s earlier claim that even if he opposed construction of the compressor, there was nothing he could do about it. Given that level of spinelessness from our Governor and Federal regulators, we’re doubly fortunate to have Alice Arena’s Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station (FRRACS) and their many allies including U.S. Senator Edward Markey and other state and local leaders, continuing to press for closing this climate-busting “mistake”. If you can support FRRACS, please do.

A little farther west, Massachusetts’ largest utility, Eversource, is running its own play to foist unwanted and unnecessary gas infrastructure on Longmeadow and Springfield communities through its proposed pipeline expansion, but the Longmeadow Select Board is unsatisfied with the utility’s answers to some basic questions like, “Who’s going to pay for this?” Meanwhile, cities and towns all over the state would love to cut the use of gas but can’t initiate bans because the Baker administration is months late delivering an updated building code that reflects emissions reduction requirements already on the books. Of course, those same regulations classify electricity produced through waste incineration as renewable….

To round things out, the MA Department of Environmental Protection is providing Boston with twelve new propane-powered school buses, even though the state’s climate legislation calls for a move away from fossil-fueled transportation and electric models are available. Did someone recently change the state motto to Coming up short!?

Now that we’ve aired a load of Massachusetts’ dirty laundy, let’s talk about Georgia, and how the Feds are stepping in because state regulators are on the cusp of accepting utility Georgia Power’s argument that they don’t really need to clean up unlined toxic coal ash storage pits that are in contact with ground water. While in North Dakota, a deal is being done to sell the state’s largest coal plant to investors chasing a scheme to use U.S. government subsidies for carbon capture and storage equipment, and thereby avoid shutting the plant down. So far, CCS has proved far better at wasting money than at removing CO2 from smokestacks.

This has been a bit of a rant, and we’re almost to the positive news. But first have a look at how the Permian Basin frack-fest has turned west Texas into an earthquake zone, and treat yourself to a romp through some of the lawless corners of the cryptocurrency world, where unpermitted gas plants in Alberta power bitcoin mining, and a rogue region of Kosovo compounds an energy crisis while refusing to pay electric bills.

While all of the above was going on, oceans absorbed record amounts of heat, and the divestment movement is expanding its scope beyond banking, insurance, and investments – calling for funds to be pulled from fossil-focused advertising and public relations campaigns.

Hydrogen continues to be a hot topic in the clean energy sector, but we’re seeing some encouraging debate about how it’s sourced and what it should be used for. At the same time, money from the recently-passed bipartisan infrastructure bill is about to be applied to modernizing the grid – making it more resilient and able to bring renewable generation and storage onboard more quickly.

We’ll close with some intriguing news: Chinese battery maker CATL has developed a flexible, modular, battery-swapping scheme for electric vehicles with the potential to lower the cost of EV ownership while dropping road trip recharge times to just a few minutes. It’s disruptive, scalable, and very cool.

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

— The NFGiM Team

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

FRACCS and friendsFeds: Regulators ‘should never have approved’ Weymouth compressor, too late to shut it down
“What (FERC) did was morally, ethically and legally wrong on every level, and they just recommitted to that.”
By Jessica Trufant, The Patriot Ledger
January 20, 2022

WEYMOUTH – While several members said regulators shouldn’t have approved the project to begin with, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission says it won’t revoke authorization for the natural gas compressor station in Weymouth.

After reexamining operations and safety at the station following several accidental releases of natural gas, Richard Glick, the commission’s chairman, said regulators “should never have approved” the compressor on the banks of the Fore River, a “heavily populated area with two environmental justice communities and a higher-than-normal level of cancer and asthma due to heavy industrial activity.”

But Glick said the review and findings don’t justify revoking approval for the station, which the commission initially granted in January 2017. The compressor station is owned by Algonquin Gas Transmission, a subsidiary of Spectra Energy, which was later acquired by Enbridge.

“Going forward, the commission needs to pay attention to the impacts of its (decision) and I will push for the those changes,” he said. “I recognize that is cold comfort to the folks who live near the Weymouth compressor station.”

“This is their job. They get to set precedent. They get to say, ‘We went back and looked at this, and we looked into whether (Enbridge) ever needed the compressor in the first place, and the answer is no,’” Arena said. “(The commissioners) can say whatever they want that helps them get through the night, but what (FERC) did was morally, ethically and legally wrong on every level, and they just recommitted to that.”

State regulators also issued several permits for the project despite vehement and organized opposition from local officials and residents. Arena likened the commission’s response on Thursday to that of state regulators and Gov. Charlie Baker.

“They’ve done exactly what Charlie Baker did and said, ‘Our hands our tied. There’s nothing we can do,’ ” she said.

Arena sad the Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station will push forward with its opposition to the project in court. Several rehearing requests are pending in federal court, and the group’s appeal of the waterways permit will soon be heard in Superior Court.
» Blog editor’s note: You can follow and support Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station (FRRACS) through their website or Facebook.
» Read article       
» Watch WBZ-TV news coverage of the reaction to FERC’s decision

» More about the Weymouth compressor

PIPELINES

no expansion
Longmeadow Select Board unsatisfied with Eversource’s pipeline answers
By Sarah Heinonen, The Reminder
January 12, 2022

Longmeadow Select Board Chair Marc Strange read answers provided by Eversource after a December 2021 public hearing on the proposed natural gas pipeline and metering station. The board had requested responses to five questions that the utility company’s representatives were unable to answer during the meeting.

The first question was regarding a 10 percent return on investment that Eversource had stated it would receive from the pipeline project. The board had asked if the return the company would receive was 10 percent of the total capital investment or if it would receive a return annually. After reading Eversource’s response, which cited a Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities docket and stated shareholders would not see a return from the project unless “deemed prudent,” it went on to talk about the relationship between rate base and capital investments and year-long “rate case” proceedings involving the attorney general.

After reading the response, Strange asked, “Does anybody understand what it says?” causing members of the board to chuckle at the legal jargon and industry terminology used.

Select Board Vice Chair Steve Marantz pointed out that Eversource insisted the project will not involve an increase in the amount of gas it moves to customers and questioned how the company can receive a return on its investment without selling more gas.

Select Board member Mark Gold responded that the $40 million investment will be written off in taxes. Fellow Select Board member Thomas Lachiusa agreed, saying, “Eversource will pay less in taxes while increasing their footprint.”

Marantz opined that the cost of the investment will be passed on to ratepayers.
» Read article       

» More about pipelines

DIVESTMENT

climate lies uncovered
450+ Climate Scientists Demand PR Industry Drop Fossil Fuel Clients
“To put it simply, advertising and public relations campaigns for fossil fuels must stop,” states an open letter to ad agencies and major firms.
By Andrea Germanos, Common Dreams
January 19, 2022

In a new letter stressing the need for an “immediate and rapid transition” away from planet-heating fuels, a group of over 450 scientists on Wednesday called on public relations and advertising agencies to no longer work with fossil fuel clients.

“As scientists who study and communicate the realities of climate change,” they wrote, “we are consistently faced with a major and needless challenge: overcoming advertising and PR efforts by fossil fuel companies that seek to obfuscate or downplay our data and the risks posed by the climate crisis.”

“In fact,” the scientists continued, “these misinformation campaigns represent one of the biggest barriers to the government action science shows is necessary to mitigate the ongoing climate emergency. ”

Organized by scientists including Drs. Astrid Caldas, Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, and Michael Mann, along with the Clean Creatives campaign and the Union of Concerned Scientists, the letter is being sent to a number of public relations and advertising agencies including Edelman—the world’s biggest PR firm—and major clients of those companies including Amazon, Microsoft, and North Face.

“If PR and advertising agencies want to be part of climate solutions instead of continuing to exacerbate the climate emergency,” the scientists wrote that those companies “should drop all fossil fuel clients that plan to expand their production of oil and gas, end work with all fossil fuel companies and trade groups that perpetuate climate deception, cease all work that hinders climate legislation, and instead focus on uplifting the true climate solutions that are already available and must be rapidly implemented at scale.”

“To put it simply,” the letter adds, “advertising and public relations campaigns for fossil fuels must stop.”
» Read article       

» More about divestment

CLIMATE

bleached corals
Oceans Absorb Record Heat in 2021
By The Energy Mix
January 16, 2022


The Earth’s oceans yet again absorbed record high levels of heat in 2021 as part of a steady and dangerous 63-year warming trend fueled by human-generated greenhouse gas emissions, concludes a recent study authored by researchers from China, Italy, and the United States.

Published last week in the journal Advances in Atmospheric Sciences, the analysis confirms that the rate at which oceans have been absorbing heat, especially over the last 40 years, would be impossible in the absence of carbon emissions produced by human activity, reports the Washington Post.

The “long-term upward trend” has shown dramatic increases in recent years, with the oceans warming eight times faster since the late 1980s than in the three previous decades, said study co-author John Abraham, a professor of thermal engineering at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota.

“We’ve built up so much greenhouse gas that the oceans have begun to take in an increasing amount of heat, compared to what they previously were,” he told the Post.
» Read article       

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

BayoTech hydrogen generator
New Mexico front and center in nationwide debate over hydrogen
By Kevin Robinson-Avila, Albuquerque Journal
January 17th, 2022

[The] potential wholesale embrace of everything hydrogen is facing a wall of opposition from environmental organizations, which say the governor and local hydrogen supporters are rushing forward to build a new industry that could actually slow New Mexico’s transition to a clean energy economy, and possibly even worsen carbon emissions here. Rather than produce a new, “clean fuel” to help decarbonize things like transportation and residential and commercial heating, environmentalists say full-scale hydrogen production could instead perpetuate mining and consumption of natural gas for 20 years or more at a time when New Mexico and the nation are aggressively working to replace fossil fuels with renewables like solar, wind and backup-battery technology.

That’s because nearly all of today’s hydrogen production uses natural gas in a process that extracts hydrogen molecules from methane, a potent greenhouse gas, with substantial amounts of carbon emitted during operations. Industry and hydrogen supporters say carbon capture and sequestration technology can mitigate nearly all the carbon emissions, but that only intensifies the controversy, because carbon capture must still be proven environmentally and economically effective in commercial projects.

As a result, environmentalists want to halt the hydrogen-promotion bills in this year’s session and instead launch a broad public process to fully evaluate the pros and cons of hydrogen before moving forward. Thirty environmental, clean energy and local community organizations sent a joint statement to New Mexico’s state and federal officials last fall outlining “guiding principles” to better determine whether and how hydrogen development could potentially be used as a supporting tool to combat climate change.

The local controversy reflects growing debate at the national and international levels over the role hydrogen can play as the world works to achieve carbon neutrality by midcentury.
» Read article       

blue is out
Germany’s Massive Boost for Hydrogen Leaves Out Fossil-Derived ‘Blue’ Variety
By The Energy Mix
January 19, 2022

Germany’s new coalition government has unveiled plans to massively accelerate the country’s national hydrogen strategy, while excluding fossil-derived “blue” hydrogen from eligibility for federal subsidies.

“Clean hydrogen is seen as a potential silver bullet to decarbonize industries like steel and chemicals, which cannot fully electrify and need energy-dense fuels to generate high-temperature heat for their industrial processes,” Euractiv reports.

“However, Germany will make no subsidies available for so-called ‘blue hydrogen’, which is created by using fossil gas and sequestering the resulting CO2 emission using carbon and capture (CCS) technology,” the publication adds, citing Patrick Graichen, state secretary to Vice-Chancellor Robert Habeck.

At an event earlier this morning, Clean Energy Wire reports, energy and climate state secretary Patrick Graichen said the country may obtain the “blue” product from Norway for a transitional period. “We will go for green hydrogen in the long term, and whenever we put money on the table, it will be for green hydrogen,” he told a panel discussion on energy cooperation between the two countries, hosted by the Association of German Chambers of Commerce and Industry and German Chambers of Commerce Abroad.

That’s despite concerns from Germany’s oil and gas lobby, the European Commission, and non-profits like the U.S. Clean Air Task Force that “green” hydrogen produced from renewable electricity can’t scale up in time to do its part to reduce emissions.
» Read article       

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

Beverly HS solar array
All around Massachusetts, cities and towns want to go fossil fuel free. Here’s why they can’t.
By Sabrina Shankman, Boston Globe
January 18, 2022

Across Massachusetts, dozens of cities and towns have said they want to outlaw the use of fossil fuels in newly constructed buildings — considered an easy and effective step toward a carbon-free future.

The state’s new climate legislation aimed to do just that, and required the state to come up with a new building code that would allow cities and towns to move ahead.

The Baker administration promised a draft by fall 2021 but failed to deliver. And now some climate-concerned legislators want the administration to answer for it.

“Each additional day of delay means one day less of public discussion,” said Senator Mike Barrett, who cochairs the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, which is scheduled to discuss the delays — and what to do about them — at a hearing Wednesday. “The clock is ticking down, and Baker’s people know it.”

In light of the delay, Wednesday’s hearing will consider legislative action that would allow cities and towns to require new residential and commercial buildings to be “all-electric.”

The exact details of the building code won’t be known until the Baker administration releases it and it goes through a public comment period and a series of five public hearings. It is required to be finalized by December of next year. But the intent, as laid out by the climate law passed last year, is that cities and towns could require new buildings and gut rehabilitations would have net-zero emissions. This likely means a future of heat pumps to deliver heat, solar panels to generate energy, and onsite batteries to store what is produced to get to net zero.

But net zero is not zero, and the climate legislation allows for some wiggle room.

Advocates fear the draft from the Baker administration could ultimately allow for buildings to have fossil fuel hook-ups as long as emissions are offset in another way, like the installation of solar panels. While the offsetting is important for the climate, the continued use of fossil fuels in new buildings would ensure that the required infrastructure remains in place into the future, potentially putting the state’s climate targets at risk.

“The thing we’re really waiting for is to make sure that the code is what it needs to be” said Cameron Peterson, director of clean energy for the Metropolitan Area Planning Council. “The definition I would like to see would have a building that has no combustion in it, but depending on how they write the performance standards, it’s possible that fossil fuel hook-ups could be allowed.”
» Read article       

» More about energy efficiency

MODERNIZING THE GRID

Deepwater Wind
Biden administration announces major new initiatives to clean up the electric grid
Federal agencies announced plans to open up public lands and waters and lay new transmission lines
By Justine Calma, The Verge
January 12, 2022

On Wednesday, the Biden administration announced a slew of new moves to transition the US to renewable energy, with a focus on upgrading the power grid and using public lands and waters to harness solar, wind, and geothermal energy. It’s the administration’s latest effort to clean up the nation’s electricity grid, as Democrats struggle to make headway on key legislation needed to tackle the climate crisis.

The Department of Energy is rolling out a “Building a Better Grid” initiative, which will put federal dollars to work after the recently passed bipartisan infrastructure law allocated $65 billion for grid improvements. Notably, there’s $2.5 billion earmarked for new and improved transmission lines that will be crucial for zipping renewable energy from far-flung solar and wind farms to communities. Another $3 billion will go towards smart grid technologies that aim to make homes more energy efficient and reduce pressure on the grid while balancing the flow of intermittent sources of renewable energy like wind and solar.

There’s also more than $10 billion in grants to states, tribes, and utilities for efforts to harden the grid and help prevent power outages. As the grid ages and extreme weather events are worsened by climate change, blackouts have grown longer in the US, with the average American going more than eight hours without power in 2020 — twice as long as was typical when the federal government started keeping track in 2013. Things could get worse without efforts to rein in greenhouse gas emissions.
» Read article       

» More about modernizing the grid

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

Evogo swap
CATL rolls out one-minute EV battery swapping solution, entire business around it

By Bengt Halvorson, Green Car Reports
January 18, 2022

Battery swapping, once considered a solution that had been outmoded by the capability for faster road-trip charging, is back—with the world’s largest battery supplier CATL onboard and launching an entire business around it.

That business, called Evogo, makes a lot of sense right now that the longtime reduction in battery cell cost has reversed course, largely due to supply constraints. Most EV owners tend to buy the vehicle with the bigger battery so as to eliminate range anxiety, when only 10-20% of the total capacity of the battery is needed for daily use. “They have paid a high sunk cost for a power capacity that is rarely needed,” the company sums.

In terms that customers, automakers, and regulators will all like, it’s a scheme that will allow lower-priced EVs, and more of them.

Evogo, will revolve around “an innovative modular battery swap solution” that uses standardized battery blocks and has “high compatibility with vehicle models.”

That takes the form of a new bar-like battery—nicknamed Choco-SEB and designed around the idea of battery sharing, supporting cell-to-pack technology and an energy density of more than 160 watt-hours per kg, with a volumetric energy density of 325 Wh/L.

CATL says each 26.5-kwh block can enable a driving range of about 200 km (124 miles). And the idea is that you may only need one of these blocks for daily commuting, while three of these will comprise a long-range battery, with customers at battery swaps potentially swapping just one block or all three as needed.Likewise, customers could potentially lease one block with the vehicle but rent additional blocks as needed for a long trip.
» Read article       

detour at best
Boston is getting more propane school buses to combat pollution. They aren’t the cleanest option.
By Taylor Dolven, Boston Globe
January 13, 2022

The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection will spend $350,000 on 12 propane-powered school buses for Boston at a time when the state’s climate plan calls for a rapid shift away from fossil fuels in transportation.

The school buses are part of a $2 million round of Massachusetts grant funding provided by the US Environmental Protection Agency announced this week. The funding aims to cut pollution by getting rid of diesel-powered vehicles. The state said it will spend $740,324 on five electric school buses for Springfield contractor First Student Inc., and the 12 buses bound for Boston will use propane, a fossil fuel.

Governor Charlie Baker praised the funding announcements Tuesday.

“Our administration continues to identify and advance projects that better position the state in combating against the impact of climate change with an equitable approach,” he said in a statement. “The shift to cleaner vehicles will reduce the exposure of our citizens to diesel emissions, improve air quality, and assist us as we work to meet the Commonwealth’s ambitious climate goals.”

Those goals, part of climate legislation signed by Baker last year, are reducing the state’s carbon emissions at least 50 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, 75 percent below those levels by 2040, and getting to “net zero” emissions by 2050. Key to achieving those goals is electrifying most of the transportation sector, according to the state’s own road map.

The majority of Boston’s school bus fleet already runs on propane, but advocates bemoaned the city adding more vehicles powered by fossil fuels rather than moving to electric school buses as some other Massachusetts cities are doing.

“It’s time for the city to step up and be a leader on electric buses,” said Staci Rubin, vice president of environmental justice at the Conservation Law Foundation. “Ideally this would have been the time to get electric buses and figure it out.”

Data from the US Department of Energy Argonne National Laboratory’s transportation fuel calculator tool show that electric school buses far outperform propane school buses in reducing air pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions in Massachusetts. Compared to diesel school buses, propane school buses emit less nitrogen oxides, which contribute to harmful air pollution. Depending on the age and fuel efficiency of the diesel engine, propane buses can provide a slight reduction or a slight increase in greenhouse gases compared to diesel buses.

“It’s a detour at best, a dead end at worst,” said Daniel Sperling, founding director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at University of California Davis.
» Read article       
» Check out the Argonne National Lab’s fuel calculator tool

» More about clean transportation

CRYPTOCURRENCY

questionable value
Bitcoin Creates ‘Regulatory Hornet’s Nest’ as Alberta Orders Third Gas Plant Shutdown
By Jody MacPherson, The Energy Mix
January 18, 2022

A company facing more than C$7 million in penalties for operating two gas-fired power plants in Alberta without approvals has been ordered to shut down a third facility, after the plant in Westlock County was also found to be operating without approvals.

The Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) has also reopened its investigation into the previous two operations, combining it with the new Westlock investigation. At issue is whether the company was generating power for its own use and if the original penalty amount should change with the new information provided by the company.

Energy consumption and environmental concerns with bitcoin mining have surfaced around the world with a number of countries—including China—banning it outright.

China cited environmental concerns and cracked down on bitcoin mining this past summer. In August, an American company announced plans to power up to a million bitcoin “rigs” relocated from China to Alberta.

“It’s a question of what is the highest-value end use of an electron,” said clean energy policy consultant Ed Whittingham, former executive director of the Pembina Institute, in an exclusive interview with The Energy Mix. “Is it to mine a bitcoin? Or is it to help to get to these long-term goals that really balance environmental and social benefit?”

Whittingham said he would like to understand the environmental and social benefits produced by cryptocurrencies like bitcoin “because right now, it seems pretty opaque to me.”
» Read article       

Bitcoin accepted
Panic as Kosovo pulls the plug on its energy-guzzling bitcoin miners
Speculators rush to sell off their kit as Balkan state announces a crypto clampdown to ease electricity crisis
By Daniel Boffey, The Guardian
January 16, 2022

For bitcoin enthusiasts in Kosovo with a breezy attitude to risk, it has been a good week to strike a deal on computer equipment that can create, or “mine”, the cryptocurrency.

From Facebook to Telegram, new posts in the region’s online crypto groups became dominated by dismayed Kosovans attempting to sell off their mining equipment – often at knockdown prices.

“There’s a lot of panic and they’re selling it or trying to move it to neighbouring countries,” said cryptoKapo, a crypto investor and administrator of some of the region’s largest online crypto communities.

The frenetic social media action follows an end-of-year announcement by Kosovo’s government of an immediate, albeit temporary, ban on all crypto mining activity as part of emergency measures to ease a crippling energy crisis.

Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are created or “mined” by high-powered computers that compete to solve complex mathematical puzzles in what is a highly energy-intensive process that rewards people based on the amount of computing power they provide.

The incentive to get into the mining game in Kosovo, one of Europe’s poorest countries, is obvious. The cryptocurrency currently trades at more than £31,500 a bitcoin, while Kosovo has the cheapest energy prices in Europe due in part to more than 90% of the domestic energy production coming from burning the country’s rich reserves of lignite, a low-grade coal, and fuel bills being subsidised by the government.

The largest-scale crypto mining is thought to be taking place in the north of the country, where the Serb-majority population refuse to recognise Kosovo as an independent state and have consequently not paid for electricity for more than two decades.
» Read article       

» More about cryptocurrency

CARBON CAPTURE AND STORAGE

Coal Creek power plant
Sale of North Dakota’s Largest Coal Plant Is Almost Complete. Then Will Come the Hard Part
Minnesota co-op utilities must vote on approval of the plant’s sale. The new owner is betting on carbon capture to extend its life.
By Dan Gearino, Inside Climate News
January 15, 2022

A plan to sell, rather than close, the largest coal-fired power plant in North Dakota is nearly final. The completion of the sale would allow the buyer to move on to the much greater challenge of making the plant financially viable and installing a carbon capture system.

Great River Energy of Minnesota originally planned to close the plant, Coal Creek Station, after years of financial losses, but the company changed course and decided to sell the plant after intense pressure from elected officials in North Dakota. State officials have been zealous in trying to preserve coal jobs, to the point that they helped to arrange the sale and hope to use government subsidies to help retrofit the plant with a carbon capture system.

The efforts by officials to keep the plant open is part of a larger pattern of state and local governments, from Montana to West Virginia, downplaying concerns about the high costs and emissions from burning coal and working to secure a future for coal mines and coal-fired power plants. In some of those places, the coal industry and government leaders are embracing carbon capture, despite warnings from energy analysts that this is a costly investment that is unlikely to be successful at substantially cutting emissions.

Minnesota environmental advocates have opposed the sale every step of the way.

“We need somebody to be held accountable,” said Veda Kanitz, an environmental advocate who also is a customer of one of the co-ops, Dakota Electric Association, that receives power from the plant. “We’re not seeing a true risk-benefit analysis. And I don’t think they’re properly factoring in the climate impacts.”
» Read article       

» More about CCS

ELECTRIC UTILITIES

Plant Scherer
How a Powerful Company Convinced Georgia to Let It Bury Toxic Waste in Groundwater
Documents reveal Georgia Power went to great lengths to advocate for risky waste storage. After a ProPublica investigation exposed this practice, the EPA is trying to block the move.
By Max Blau, ProPublica
January 18, 2020

For the past several years, Georgia Power has gone to great lengths to skirt the federal rule requiring coal-fired power plants to safely dispose of massive amounts of toxic waste they produced.

But previously unreported documents obtained by ProPublica show that the company’s efforts were more extensive than publicly known. Thousands of pages of internal government correspondence and corporate filings show how Georgia Power made an elaborate argument as to why it should be allowed to store waste produced before 2020 in a way that wouldn’t fully protect surrounding communities’ water supplies from contamination — and that would save the company potentially billions of dollars in cleanup costs.

In a series of closed-door meetings with state environmental regulators, the powerful utility even went so far as to challenge the definition of the word “infiltration” in relation to how groundwater can seep into disposal sites holding underground coal ash, according to documents obtained through multiple open records requests.

Earlier this month, Georgia Power was on its way to getting final approval from the state to leave 48 million tons of coal ash buried in unlined ponds — despite evidence that contaminants were leaking out. Georgia is one of three states that regulate how power companies safely dispose of decades worth of coal ash, rather than leaving such oversight to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency itself.

But last week, the EPA made clear that arguments like the ones Georgia Power has been making violate the intent of the coal ash rule, setting up a potential showdown among the federal agency, state regulators and the deep-pocketed power company. In a statement last week, the EPA said that waste disposal sites “cannot be closed with coal ash in contact with groundwater,” in order to ensure that “communities near these facilities have access to safe water for drinking and recreation.”

The EPA’s action follows a joint investigation by Georgia Health News and ProPublica that found Georgia Power has known for decades that the way it disposed of coal ash could be dangerous to neighboring communities.
» Read article       

» More about electric utilities

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Permian Basin gas plant
Texas went big on oil. Earthquakes followed.
Thousands of earthquakes are shaking Texas. What the frack is going on?
By Neel Dhanesha, Vox
January 20, 2022

It’s been a big winter for earthquakes in West Texas. A string of small tremors rocked Midland County on December 15 and 16, followed a week later by a magnitude-4.5 quake, the second-strongest to hit the region in the last decade. Then a magnitude-4.2 quake shook the town of Stanton and another series of small earthquakes hit nearby Reeves County.

That’s an unsettling pattern for a state that, until recently, wasn’t an earthquake state at all. Before 2008, Texans experienced just one or two perceptible earthquakes a year. But Texas now sees hundreds of yearly earthquakes of at least magnitude 2.5, the minimum humans can feel, and thousands of smaller ones.

The reason why is disconcerting: Seismologists say that one of the state’s biggest industries is upsetting a delicate balance deep underground. They blame the oil and gas business — and particularly a technique called wastewater injection — for waking up ancient fault lines, turning a historically stable region into a shaky one, and opening the door to larger earthquakes that Texas might not be ready for.

Early signs of trouble came in 2008, when Dallas-area residents felt a series of small earthquakes that originated in the nearby Fort Worth basin. More earthquakes followed, and a magnitude-4 quake hit a town southwest of Dallas in 2015. No damage was reported, but according to the US Geological Survey, the impact of a magnitude-4 earthquake can include: “Dishes, windows, doors disturbed; walls make cracking sound. Sensation like heavy truck striking building. Standing motor cars rocked noticeably.”

Earthquakes in West Texas increased from a grand total of 19 in 2009 to more than 1,600 in 2017, according to a 2019 study, coinciding neatly with the rise of wastewater injection in the area. Nearly 2,000 earthquakes hit West Texas in 2021, a record high. According to the TexNet, the University of Texas’ earthquake catalog, 17 of those were magnitude 4 or higher.
» Read article       

» More about fossil fuels

WASTE INCINERATION

garbage crane
Trash is a burning question with mixed answers in some Mass. towns
By Hannah Chanatry, WBUR
January 20, 2022

Massachusetts categorizes trash incineration as renewable energy. In fact, it’s almost always one of the leading sources of renewable energy in the region, according to ISO New England’s real-time analysis of energy use, usually beating out solar and wind.

The designation as renewable is a critical problem for the Conservation Law Foundation.

“It’s really just a greenwashing campaign,” said Kirstie Pecci, and environmental attorney with the organization.

Pecci has worked opposing incinerators for a decade. While the idea of energy production sounds good, she said the pollution coming from the facilities is too dangerous for public health and the environment.

“The ash has got dioxin, furans, heavy metals,” she said, “all kinds of [other] nasty chemicals in it as well.” Dioxins are a class of organic pollutants, some of which are highly toxic and are known to cause cancer and reproductive problems.

The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection also identifies nitrogen oxides, which can cause breathing problems and are the primary ingredient in smog, as among the possible emissions from incinerators. Incinerators are required to take  measures to limit emissions below federal and state caps, and conduct continuous and annual monitoring for specific pollutants. Each incinerator is permitted by both MassDEP and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for air quality, water quality, stormwater and spills on site.

The Conservation Law Foundation and other environmental organizations want the state to move to close the incinerators.
» Read article       

» More about waste incineration

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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       

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FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» 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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