Tag Archives: hydropower

Weekly News Check-In 6/3/22

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Welcome back.

We’re starting off this week by circling back on a story we ran last time – about a group of determined citizens protesting the new peaking power plant currently under construction in Peabody, MA. Thanks again to all our friends who demonstrated and spoke out for state officials to do their jobs – we provide a link to photos. A little closer to home, folks were out on the steps of Springfield City Hall making it clear that Eversource’s proposed Longmeadow-Spfld gas pipeline expansion project is unnecessary and unwanted.

Of course, Eversource is simply following the standard playbook: building pipelines is how utilities traditionally make profits. That model will dominate until regulators put a stop to it, which is exactly what the Ontario Energy Board did recently, when to everyone’s surprise it refused to approve the final phases of a $123.7-million pipeline replacement project in Ottawa proposed by Enbridge Gas. More of that, please! Helpfully, the Biden administration has proposed undoing a Trump-era rule that limited the power of states and Indigenous Tribes to block natural gas pipelines based on their potential to pollute rivers and streams.

For those of us who fondly remember the promise of stepped-up climate action at the Federal level, and were holding out hope that a pared-down Build Back Better bill would somehow rise from the Senate swamp and make it to Biden’s desk… it’s just about time to admit it isn’t going to happen. Memorial Day is gone, and maneuvering for the upcoming midterm elections is going to make passing anything meaningful just about impossible.

That lost opportunity follows a string of others, perhaps the worst of which was the entirety of the Trump presidency in which this country essentially checked out of the climate fight altogether. While some states and cities tried to fill the policy void, the lack of Federal leadership and funding put this country well behind in a race we were already hard-pressed to win. Meanwhile, the United Nations secretary-general is doing all he can to prod world leaders into action, in what must feel like the single most thankless job on the planet.

The Biden administration is pressing ahead with the tools it has, and on Tuesday said it would substantially reduce the cost of building wind and solar energy projects on federal lands. But while those clean resources are getting a boost, California is losing almost half of its hydropower due to extreme drought – forcing its grid to rely more heavily on fossil fuel generating plants through a hot summer.

Wind power is big, and so, increasingly, are the turbines. As these beasts require ever-growing volumes of building materials like steel and concrete, some companies are working to make turbine towers more efficient and more cost-effective by building them with wood.

Proponents of a modernized electric grid often point to the resiliency that distributed sources of generation can offer. The Russian assault on Ukraine has made a good case for that. Recently, a Russian bomb struck a photovoltaic solar power plant in eastern Ukraine, leaving a large crater and lots of destroyed solar panels. But the facility was patched up in a couple of days with only a loss of about 6% of capacity. Imagine the disruption if the same bomb had struck a gas, coal, or nuclear power plant.

Facing a necessary and rapid transition to electric vehicles, the U.S. is pushing hard to develop domestic supply chains for metals critical to building EV batteries. Foremost among those is lithium, and we’re keeping an eye on the social and environmental impacts of all this planned extraction.

There’s a rush to develop carbon capture and storage, too. And the flood of money coming to that sector has been noticed by a public policy firm that represents electric utilities and oil companies. Bracewell LLP recently launched the Capture Action Project to tout technologies that capture carbon from smokestacks as a climate solution, but to us it looks like a way to keep burning fossil fuels through another taxpayer-funded subsidy. And while top environmental ministers from the Group of Seven major industrial countries agreed last Friday to end government financing for international coal-fired power generation and to accelerate the phasing out of unabated coal plants by the year 2035, it’s pretty clear the fossil fuel industry would like to keep the party going for as long as it can.

The rush to send liquefied natural gas to Europe is an example of how the industry leverages short-term crises for rationale to build long-term infrastructure. Even though studies show the U.S. can meet Europe’s needs with the export terminals it has (including two nearing completion), the promoters of other terminals are pitching hard. That has environmental groups urging the Biden administration to reverse a Trump-era rule that allows rail shipments of liquified natural gas (LNG), a super-risky mode of transport that the developers of the proposed Gibbstown, New Jersey LNG export terminal had intended to use in lieu of a pipeline.

Wrapping up, we’re watching a new program in Maine, which encourages proposals for specialized combined heat and power (CHP) biomass generating plants, and claims they will result in meaningful emissions reductions.

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

— The NFGiM Team

PEAKING POWER PLANTS

Water Street Bridge
“Do your job;” Protesters call on lawmakers to stop new Peabody peaker power plant
By Caroline Enos, Salem News
May 26, 2022

About 60 demonstrators gathered at the Waters River Bridge in Danvers Thursday afternoon to protest a new “peaker” power plant in Peabody. Their demand: for lawmakers to “do their job.”

“They’re ignoring the law. They’re ignoring our health needs, our climate needs,” said Jerry Halbertstadt, an environmental activist who has lived in Peabody for 15 years. “Everybody here, in one way or another, is aware of how important it is to make a change now.”

Halbertstadt, who is also a member of Breathe Clean North Shore, joined demonstrators in holding signs and flying kites that bore sayings like “No gas” and “Clean Energy Now, No Dirty Peaker” while standing along the bridge.

Some protesters also rode bikes and paddled kayaks with similar messages on their backs or boats.

The 55-megawatt “peaker” plant would be powered by oil and natural gas, and run during peak times of energy use. Construction on the new plant has already started, with developers expecting the $85 million project to be completed by summer 2023.

Protesters said the project’s developers, particularly the Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company (MMWEC), have not been transparent about the project nor provided adequate health and environmental impact reports.

State Rep. Sally Kerans spoke at Thursday’s rally. She said neither herself nor elected officials in her district, including Peabody’s mayor and city council, were aware of the new plant until activists spoke up.

The state’s Department of Public Utilities also did not allow citizen input on the project before it was greenlighted, she said.
» Read article  
» Slide show from event        

» More about peakers

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

Naia at city hall
Demonstrators take to City Hall steps to protest planned Eversource natural gas pipeline through Springfield and Longmeadow
By Patrick Johnson, MassLive
May 31, 2022

SPRINGFIELD — Some 35 opponents of a proposed natural gas pipeline through Springfield and Longmeadow took to the steps of City Hall on Tuesday to call for the project to be scrapped.

With demonstrators holding signs reading “stop the toxic pipeline,” speaker after speaker called the $35 million to $45 million Eversource pipeline unnecessary, potentially dangerous to the environment, and ultimately a cost that Eversource customers will bear.
» Read article   

» More about protests and actions

PIPELINES

Cliff Street Power Plant
Ontario Regulator Refuses New Pipeline, Tells Enbridge to Plan for Lower Gas Demand
By Mitchell Beer, The Energy Mix
May 29, 2022

The Ontario Energy Board sent minor shock waves through the province’s energy regulatory and municipal energy communities earlier this month with its refusal to approve the final phases of a $123.7-million pipeline replacement project in Ottawa proposed by Enbridge Gas.

Several observers said this was the first time the OEB had refused a “leave to construct” application from a gas utility, laying bare an operating model in which the companies’ revenue is based primarily on the kilometres of pipe they can install, rather than the volume of gas their customers actually need.

The OEB’s written order cites plans to reduce fossil gas demand across the City of Ottawa as one of the factors in the decision, along with Enbridge’s failure to show that a pipeline replacement was necessary or the most affordable option available. Major drivers of that reduction include Ottawa’s community energy plan, Energy Evolution, as well as the federal government’s effort to convert its Cliff Street heating and cooling plant from steam to hot water—changes that Enbridge did not factor into its gas demand forecasts.

“Nobody expected them to lose. Zero expectation,” veteran energy regulatory lawyer Jay Shepherd of Shepherd Rubinstein told The Energy Mix.

But “having the city give evidence that everybody is cutting back on their carbon in Ottawa, the OEB was hard pressed,” he added. “If Enbridge had had any other proof that the existing pipeline was failing, they might have won. But when the city goes in and says it won’t be using as much gas anymore, you can’t just ignore it.”

The implications of the decision could reverberate far beyond Ottawa, said Richard Carlson, director of energy policy at the Pollution Probe Foundation, and Gabriela Kapelos, executive director of the Clean Air Partnership.
» Read article   

» More about pipelines

LEGISLATION

missed chance
Democrats and the endless pursuit of climate legislation
Amid overlapping crises, has Congress missed its moment to act?
By Shannon Osaka, Grist
June 1, 2022

Twelve years ago, when Democrats controlled both houses of Congress and the presidency, the country teetered on the edge of passing its first-ever comprehensive climate bill. A triumvirate of senators were negotiating bipartisan legislation that would invest in clean energy, set a price on carbon pollution, and — as a carrot for Republicans — temporarily expand offshore drilling.

Then an oil rig — the Deepwater Horizon — exploded in the Gulf of Mexico. The loose bipartisan coalition collapsed. As President Barack Obama later wrote in his memoir, A Promised Land, “My already slim chances of passing climate legislation before the midterm elections had just gone up in smoke.”

Today, the sense of déjà vu is strong. The first half of 2022 has been stacked with events that have pushed climate change far down the list of priorities. The Biden administration has been caught between the war in Ukraine, surging inflation, the fight over Roe v. Wade, and, horrifically, continued gun violence. A month ago, many Democrats cited the Memorial Day recess as a loose deadline for having a climate reconciliation bill — one that could pass the Senate with only 50 votes — drafted or agreed upon. Any later, and the summer recesses and run-up to midterms could swallow any legislative opportunity. That date has now come and gone. “If you’re paying attention, you should be worried,” Jared Huffman, a Democratic representative from California, told E&E News last week.

It’s both a sluggish and anticlimactic result for a party that, in 2020 and 2021, threw its weight behind climate action. The Build Back Better Act, President Biden’s massive $2 trillion spending framework, passed the House of Representatives last November, with $555 billion in spending for climate and clean energy. The bill would have invested in wind, solar, and geothermal power, offered Americans cash to buy EVs or e-bikes, retrofitted homes to be more energy efficient, and much, much more — but it died in the Senate, when Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia refused to support it.
» Read article  

» More about legislation

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY

water quality effects
Biden’s EPA aims to erase Trump-era rule keeping states from blocking energy projects
Trump restricted states’ power in favor of fossil fuel development but proposed rule would empower local officials to protect water
By Associated Press, in The Guardian
June 2, 2022

The Biden administration on Thursday proposed undoing a Trump-era rule that limited the power of states and Indigenous American tribes to block energy projects like natural gas pipelines based on their potential to pollute rivers and streams.

The Clean Water Act allows states and tribes to review what effect pipelines, dams and other federally regulated projects might have on water quality within their borders.

The Trump administration sought to streamline fossil fuel development and made it harder for local officials to block projects.

The Biden administration’s proposed rule would shift power back to states, tribes and territories.

The administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Michael Regan, said the draft regulation would empower local entities to protect water bodies “while supporting much-needed infrastructure projects that create jobs”.

The Trump-era rule required local regulators to focus reviews on pollution projects might discharge into rivers, streams and wetlands. It also rigidly enforced a one-year deadline for regulators to make permitting decisions. Some states lost authority to block projects based on allegations they missed the deadline.

Now, the EPA says states should have the authority to look beyond pollution discharged into waterways and “holistically evaluate” impacts on local water quality. The proposal would also give local regulators more power to ensure they have the information they need before facing deadline pressure over a permit.

The public will have an opportunity to weigh in on the EPA proposal. The final rule isn’t expected to take effect until spring 2023. The Trump-era rule remains in effect.
» Read article  

» More about EPA

CLIMATE

US falling behind
Trump Policies Sent U.S. Tumbling in a Climate Ranking
The Environmental Performance Index, published every two years by researchers at Yale and Columbia, found only Denmark and Britain on sustainable paths to net-zero emissions by 2050.
By Maggie Astor, New York Times
May 31, 2022

For four years under President Donald J. Trump, the United States all but stopped trying to combat climate change at the federal level. Mr. Trump is no longer in office, but his presidency left the country far behind in a race that was already difficult to win.

A new report from researchers at Yale and Columbia Universities shows that the United States’ environmental performance has tumbled in relation to other countries — a reflection of the fact that, while the United States squandered nearly half a decade, many of its peers moved deliberately.

But, underscoring the profound obstacles to cutting greenhouse gas emissions rapidly enough to prevent the worst effects of climate change, even that movement was insufficient. The report’s sobering bottom line is that, while almost every country has pledged by 2050 to reach net-zero emissions (the point where their activities no longer add greenhouse gases to the atmosphere), almost none are on track to do it.

The report, called the Environmental Performance Index, or E.P.I., found that, based on their trajectories from 2010 through 2019, only Denmark and Britain were on a sustainable path to eliminate emissions by midcentury.

[…] “We think this report’s going to be a wake-up call to a wide range of countries, a number of whom might have imagined themselves to be doing what they needed to do and not many of whom really are,” said Daniel C. Esty, the director of the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy, which produces the E.P.I. every two years.

A United Nations report this year found that there is still time, but not much, for countries to change course and meet their targets. The case of the United States shows how gravely a few years of inaction can fling a country off course, steepening the slope of emissions reductions required to get back on.
» Read article  

EFF Now
UN’s Guterres demands end to ‘suicidal war against nature’
Unless humanity acts now, ‘we will not have a livable planet,’ United Nations secretary-general warns, pleading for world leaders to ‘lead us out of this mess’.
By Al Jazeera
June 2, 2022

The world must cease its “senseless and suicidal war against nature”, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said, singling out developed nations and their gluttonous use of the planet’s resources.

Guterres said if global consumption were at the level of the world’s richest countries, “we would need more than three planet Earths”.

“We know what to do and increasingly we have the tools to do it, but we still lack leadership and cooperation. So today I appeal to leaders in all sectors – lead us out of this mess,” Guterres said on Thursday.

Developed nations must at least double financial support to developing countries so they can adapt and build resilience to climate disruptions that are already happening, the UN chief said.

“The 17 Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement show the way, but we must act on these commitments. Otherwise, they are nothing but hot air – and hot air is killing us.”

Guterres was speaking in Stockholm where he met Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson in advance of a two-day climate and environment conference.

Humanity has less than three years to halt the rise of planet-warming carbon emissions and less than a decade to slash them almost in half, a recent UN report said.

Global emissions are now on track to blow past the 1.5°C warming limit envisioned in the 2015 Paris Agreement and reach 3.2 degrees Celsius (5.76 degrees Fahrenheit) by the century’s end.

“There is one thing that threatens all our progress – the climate crisis. Unless we act now, we will not have a livable planet,” said Guterres.

“We must never let one crisis overshade another. We just have to work harder. And the war in Ukraine has also made it very clear fossil fuel dependency is not only a climate risk, it is also a security risk. And it has to end,” said Andersson.

In recent months, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has published the first two installments in a trilogy of mammoth scientific assessments covering how emissions are heating the planet – and what that means for life on Earth.

Carbon emissions need to drop 43 percent by 2030 and 84 percent by mid-century to meet the Paris goal of 1.5C (2.7F).

Nations must stop burning coal completely and slash oil and gas use by 60 percent and 70 percent, respectively, to keep within the Paris goals, the IPCC said.
» Read article  

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

Victorville CA
U.S. says it will cut costs for clean energy projects on public lands
By Reuters
May 31, 2022

The Biden administration on Tuesday said it would substantially reduce the cost of building wind and solar energy projects on federal lands to help spur renewable energy development and address climate change.

The new policy comes after years of lobbying from clean power developers who argued that lease rates and fees for facilities on federal lands were too high to draw investment.

In a statement, the Department of Interior said rents and fees for solar and wind projects would fall by about 50%.

The administration also said it would boost the number of people processing renewable energy environmental reviews and permit applications through the creation of five coordinating offices in Washington, Arizona, California, Nevada and Utah.

The offices are expected to improve coordination with other federal agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the departments of agriculture, energy and defense.
» Read article  

Hyatt Powerplant
Extreme drought could cost California half its hydroelectric power this summer
Nearly 60 percent of the state is experiencing ‘extreme’ drought or worse
By Justine Calma, The Verge
June 1, 2022

Drought is forecast to slash California’s supply of hydroelectricity in half this summer. That’s bad news for residents’ air quality and utility bills, the US Energy and Information Administration (EIA) said in its forecast. The state will likely lean on more expensive, polluting natural gas to make up for the shortfall in hydropower.

Nearly 60 percent of California is currently coping with “extreme” drought or worse, according to the national drought monitor map. California’s current water woes stem from low levels of snowpack, which quenches the state’s reservoirs when it melts. In early April, when snowpack usually peaks, the water content of the state’s snowpack was 40 percent lower than the normal levels over the past 30 years.

Two of California’s most important water reservoirs, Shasta Lake and Lake Oroville, were already “critically low” by early May. We haven’t even reached the summer, when the weather could become even more punishingly dry and hot and demand for air conditioning places extra stress on the power grid.

Hydroelectricity is a significant source of energy in the US. It typically makes up about 15 percent of California’s electricity generation during “normal water conditions,” according to the EIA. But that’s expected to drop to just 8 percent this summer, the EIA says.

Sometimes California can buy hydropower from other states in the Pacific Northwest. But Washington State and Oregon are also dealing with drought, so gas may have to fill in the gaps. As a result, the EIA says electricity prices in the Western US will likely be 5 percent higher over the next few months. In California, the drought will result in 6 percent higher carbon dioxide emissions in the energy sector.
» Read article  

» More about clean energy

BUILDING MATERIALS

wood turbine tower
Wood Towers Can Cut Costs of Building Taller, More Efficient Wind Turbines
By Paige Bennett, EcoWatch
June 1, 2022

To be as efficient as possible, wind turbines need to be tall. But the taller the wind turbine, the more expensive it is to construct. The towers, typically made of steel or concrete, can be pricey, not to mention the embedded carbon emissions associated with these materials. Now, companies are working to make the towers of wind turbines taller, more efficient and more cost-effective by building them with wood.

Using wood for such a structure seems simple enough, yet many wind turbines are made with tubular steel or concrete, which can become increasingly expensive the taller the tower gets. But as explained by Energy.gov, “Because wind speed increases with height, taller towers enable turbines to capture more energy and generate more electricity. Winds at elevations of 30 meters (roughly 100 feet) or higher are also less turbulent.”

Most wind turbines in the U.S. are about 90 meters tall and are expected to reach an average height of 150 meters by 2035. To make this process more affordable, companies like Modvion and Stora Enso are working to use laminated timber, a material popular in sustainable building construction, for wind turbine construction.

According to Stora Enso, using wood can reduce a wind turbine’s emissions by up to 90%. Modvion has also noted that wood is lightweight, making it easier to transport and quick to assemble, and reduces manufacturing emissions by 25%, as reported by CleanTechnica.

Wood sourcing is also an issue, as deforestation continues to be a major problem for both its emissions and contribution to habitat loss. Modvion noted that it uses Scandinavian spruce for its wood wind turbines, saying this wood “is abundantly available and for which re-growth exceeds logging.” The wood is either Forest Stewardship Council- or Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification Schemes-certified.

According to Modvion, its towers will last as long as other standard wood turbine parts, about 25 to 30 years. While the first commercially produced wood towers are slated for onshore use, the company does plan to make minor adjustments to also manufacture wood wind turbines for offshore use as well.
» Read article  

» More about building materials

MODERNIZING THE GRID

bombed solar farm
Russian missile strikes Ukraine solar farm, solar farm powers on
By Sophie Vorrath, Renew Economy
May 31, 2022

The safety of Ukraine’s many nuclear power plants has been a focus of major concern during the ongoing Russian invasion, but photos and video making the rounds on social media this week show that renewables, too, have come under attack.

The images, some of them shared above, show a solar farm in eastern Ukraine’s Kharkiv region that was struck by a missile over the weekend, leaving hundreds of smashed panels and a massive crater between two module rows.

According to Reuters via the New York Times, the 10MW solar plant is located in Merefa, southwest of Kharkiv.

Video footage of the attack as it happened has been shared on Twitter by Deutsche Welle, which says there were no casualties from that particular attack, although Ukranian officials say Russian bombs killed at least seven civilians in Karkhiv over the past week.

[…] The DW report also notes that power generation from the plant has since been restored. This has not been verified by the plant’s owner.

Whether the solar farm was the intended target of the Russian bomb is difficult to confirm, but Kirill Trokhin, who works in the power generation industry and is based in Kyiv, said on LinkedIn that the minimal “fallout” – so to speak – from the attack on the PV plant offers yet another very good reason to shift to renewables.

“A Russian bomb hits a photovoltaic solar power plant in eastern Ukraine. As we can see, it does not burn, it is not completely destroyed, and the cumulative destruction can be eliminated in a couple of days if spare materials are available,” Trokhin writes on LinkedIn alongside some of the images being shared.

“And if not – the damaged section can be localised in a day, so as not to affect the operation of the survived equipment.

“Judging by the photo, about four strings were destroyed and four more were damaged, approximately. This is about 200 modules. For a 10MW plant, this is approximately 0.6%. Yes, less than a percent.

“This is another reason to focus on distributed renewable generation if the climatic reason is not enough. To destroy it – you need to try very hard.

“Of course, Russians can hit into substations. But all the same, the resumption of work will happen much faster than when the technological equipment of thermal power plants, hydroelectric power plants, or nuclear power plants is destroyed. And single losses are much less.”
» Read article  

gridlock buster
DOE launches grid interconnection initiative to cut ‘gridlock’ hampering clean energy progress
By Ethan Howland, Utility Dive
June 2, 2022

In an effort to spur clean energy development, the U.S. Department of Energy is launching a program to improve the grid interconnection process through a partnership with utilities, grid operators, state and tribal governments, clean energy developers, energy justice organizations and other stakeholders.

The Interconnection Innovation e-Xchange (i2X) initiative will develop solutions for faster, simpler and fairer grid interconnection through better data, roadmap development and technical assistance, the DOE said Tuesday.

While the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission prepares for possible long-term solutions to improve the interconnection process, the DOE initiative may provide near-term relief to the backlog of interconnection requests, according to Jeff Dennis, Advanced Energy Economy managing director and general counsel.
» Read article   

offshore wind at sunset
Feds approve plan to delay scrapping a New England energy rule that harms renewables
By Miriam Wasser, WBUR
May 28, 2022


A controversial rule that makes it harder for renewable energy projects to participate in one of New England’s lucrative electricity markets will remain in place for another two years.

Late Friday night, Federal energy regulators approved a plan from the regional grid operator, ISO New England, to keep the so-called minimum offer price rule — or MOPR (pronounced MOPE-er) — until 2025.

The MOPR dictates a price floor below which new power sources cannot bid in the annual forward capacity market — a sort of futures market for power plants promising to be “on call” and ready to produce electricity when demand spikes.

The grid operator holds this annual on-call auction to lock in the power capacity it thinks the region will need three years in the future. Power generators that won a spot in the 2022 auction, for example, are on stand-by beginning in 2025.

By keeping the MOPR around longer, Melissa Birchard of the Acadia Center says it will be harder for the New England states to meet their decarbonization goals.

“The MOPR has held the region back for a long time and we need to see it go away forever,” she said. “This decision falls short of providing the certainty and speed that the region deserves.”

As WBUR detailed in a recent explainer about the MOPR, most everyone agrees the rule needs to go; the debate has been over when it should happen.
» Read article  
» MOPR debate explained

» More about modernizing the grid

SITING IMPACTS OF RENEWABLE ENERGY RESOURCES

Thacker Pass photo
Powering Electric Cars: the Race to Mine Lithium in America’s Backyard
The experience of one mining company in rural North Carolina suggests the road ahead will be hard to navigate.
By Aime Williams, The Financial Times, in Inside Climate News
May 31, 2022

At his small red brick farmhouse home near the Catawba river in the rural Piedmont region of North Carolina, Brian Harper is caught up in the dilemma facing America’s big push towards a future powered by green energy.

Running in a band beneath the soil close to Harper’s land lies America’s biggest deposit of spodumene ore, a mineral that when processed into lithium is crucial to building rechargeable batteries of the kind used in electric vehicles.

Seeing the business opportunity in this fast-growing area, Piedmont Lithium, a mining company originally incorporated in Australia, began knocking on the doors of the old houses surrounding a roughly 3,000-acre site several years ago, offering to buy up land so that it could start drilling a large pit mine to extract the mineral.

With the International Energy Agency projecting a boom in demand that vastly exceeds planned supply in coming years, Piedmont found no difficulty pledging future sales of lithium to Tesla, America’s poster-child electric car company, even before they secured all of the necessary mining permits.

But while it has successfully bought up some parcels of land, Piedmont Lithium has run into staunch opposition from many of its potential new neighbors, including Harper, who runs a small business making cogs and gears for industrial machinery just a little down the road from the proposed new mine.

[…] As the U.S. attempts to surge ahead in the global race to build batteries that will power the green transition, Washington is encouraging companies such as Piedmont to break ground on more mining projects across the continental United States. But it also wants to ensure state regulators, environmental activists and local communities are not left behind in the rush.

The explosion in the electric vehicle market has set off a “battery arms race,” according to Simon Moores, chief executive of consultancy Benchmark Mineral Intelligence, which specializes in data on lithium ion batteries.

Battery manufacturers will be trying to source the raw minerals needed to make batteries, including cobalt, nickel, graphite and lithium. Yet while scientists are having early success developing batteries that do not need cobalt or nickel to function, there are so far no leads on eliminating lithium. According to Moores, “lithium is the one that terrifies the industry.”

[…] While there is only one operational lithium mine in the U.S. at present, a number of companies are pressing to get mining projects operational. Lithium Americas is planning a mine at Thacker Pass in Northern Nevada, while Australia-based Ioneer USA Corp. also wants to build a large mine in southern Nevada, about 330 miles north of Los Angeles. Several other companies are proposing projects that would extract lithium from geothermal brine, including one at California’s largest lake in Salton Sea.

In Washington, both Democrats and Republican lawmakers have said they would support updating the federal law dated from 1872 that governs mining on American public lands. Lawmakers variously want to boost U.S. mining capacity and insert more robust environmental protections.
» Read article  

» More about siting impacts of renewables

CARBON CAPTURE AND STORAGE

corporate-backed boondoggle
Bracewell launches pro-CCS group ahead of funding explosion
By Carlos Anchondo and Corbin Hiar, E&E News
May 31, 2022

A public policy firm that represents electric utilities and oil companies recently launched a new group to tout technologies that capture carbon from smokestacks as a climate solution.

Bracewell LLP created the Capture Action Project in April as federal officials prepare to spend $8.2 billion on efforts to catch, transport and store carbon dioxide from industrial facilities. It joined a crowded field of groups that are advocating for expanded research, development and deployment of expensive technologies that can filter CO2 from smokestack emissions or suck CO2 from the air.

The unprecedented influx of government support for carbon capture and storage was provided by the bipartisan infrastructure bill President Joe Biden signed into law last year.

[…] Bracewell’s Capture Action Project has sought to undermine some groups that have raised concerns about carbon capture pipelines.

“Recently, a group called Food & Water Watch has been treating those living near potential carbon capture projects to a barrage of adverse arguments, including the unsurprising conclusion that folks would rather not see eminent domain authority used solely for private gain,” CAP staff wrote on the website. The post went on to highlight a February tweet from the environmental organization that said “all pipelines” are disastrous.

“These hardly seem like objective views that people can use to call balls and strikes on projects so important to maintaining energy security and addressing greenhouse gas emissions,” the CAP post said.

A Food & Water Watch representative said Bracewell’s criticism demonstrated that the environmental group’s campaign to “protect Iowa and other states from these dangerous, unneeded carbon capture pipelines is gaining steam.”

“The Capture Action Project expresses an apparent concern for our climate future, but nowhere does it even mention the aggressive shift to clean, renewable energy that will be required to save this planet from deepening climate chaos moving forward,” Emily Wurth, managing director of organizing for Food & Water Watch, said in an email. “We have the solutions to fight climate change — and it doesn’t involve corporate-backed boondoggles like CCS.”

Bracewell’s CCS advocacy group has also targeted the Pipeline Safety Trust. Earlier this year, the safety advocacy group warned that the U.S. is “ill prepared for the increase of CO2 pipeline mileage being driven by federal CCS policy” (Energywire, March 31).
» Read article  

caution CO2
Federal regulators crack down after pipeline caught spewing CO2
The operators of a pipeline that burst in 2020 face nearly $4 million in penalties
By Justine Calma, The Verge
May 27, 2022

Federal regulators are beginning to crack down on a new generation of pipelines that will be crucial for the Biden administration’s plans to capture millions of tons of carbon dioxide to combat climate change.

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) proposed penalties yesterday on the operator of one such pipeline that ruptured in Mississippi, sending at least 45 people to the hospital in 2020. The agency also pledged to craft new rules to prevent similar pipeline failures from happening as the US makes plans to build out a network of pipelines to transport captured CO2.

There are not many of these pipelines (compared to oil and gas pipelines) yet in the US, which are primarily used by the fossil fuel industry so it can shoot CO2 into oil fields to push out hard-to-reach reserves. One of those pipelines ruptured in February 2020, releasing about 30,000 barrels of liquid carbon dioxide that immediately started to vaporize and triggered the evacuation of 200 residents in and around the small town of Satartia, Mississippi. Some of those who weren’t able to leave in time were left convulsing, confused, or unconscious, according to an investigation published last year by HuffPost and the Climate Investigations Center.

Pipelines for CO2 transport the gas at high pressure and at a high enough concentration to make it an asphyxiant. The CO2 in the pipeline that ruptured was also mixed with hydrogen sulfide, but CO2 can still be harmful on its own. About 100 workers a year die from CO2 accidents globally. It’s heavier than air, allowing a plume of it to sink to the ground and blanket a large area. That can also starve vehicles of oxygen it needs to burn fuel, which can strand people trying to evacuate or authorities trying to respond to the crisis.
» Read article  

» More about CCS

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

terminate funding
Key nations agree to halt funding for new fossil fuel projects
By Brady Dennis, The Washington Post, in The Boston Globe
May 27, 2022

Top environmental ministers from the Group of Seven major industrial countries agreed Friday to end government financing for international coal-fired power generation and to accelerate the phasing out of unabated coal plants by the year 2035.

The group said that it would aim to have “predominantly decarbonized electricity sectors by 2035.”

The commitments on the phaseout of coal plants will particularly affect Japan, which relies heavily on coal-fired power plants.

Unabated coal plants include those that have not yet adopted technology for capturing and using carbon dioxide.

The G-7 ministers also said that new road vehicles in their countries would be “predominantly” zero-emissions vehicles by 2030 and that they plan to accelerate cuts in the use of Russian natural gas, which would be replaced by clean power in the long term.

The private sector in the major industrial countries must crank up financing, the ministers said, moving “from billions to trillions.” The group acknowledged the need laid out by the International Energy Agency for the G-7 economies to invest at least $1.3 trillion in renewable energy, tripling investments in clean power and electricity networks between 2021 and 2030.
» Read article  

» More about fossil fuel

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

tanks and pipes
Worried by Ukraine war impacts, environmentalists petition feds to dump LNG by rail
By Susan Phillips, WSKG-NPR
May 24, 2022

STATEIMPACT PENNSYLVANIA – Environmental groups are urging the Biden administration to reverse a Trump-era rule that allows rail shipments of liquified natural gas (LNG). The groups say the war in Ukraine, and the subsequent plans by the White House to increase LNG exports, should not derail the Department of Transportation’s proposal to reinstate limits on LNG-by-rail.

“We cannot let an energy crisis that comes out of Ukraine turn into a blanket thrown over the climate crisis,” said Tracy Carluccio, of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, during a virtual press conference Wednesday. “The climate crisis is the fight of our lives, it’s the fight of our time.”

The Delaware Riverkeeper Network, along with half a dozen other advocacy groups, petitioned the Department of Transportation on Wednesday to follow through on their plan to suspend a Trump-era rule that opened up the nation’s railways to LNG.

While industry advocates say rail transport is safe, a leak of LNG carries risk of explosion. The petition also urges the Biden administration to outright ban any LNG-by-rail due to both safety hazards, and the climate impacts of expanding fossil fuel infrastructure and development.

Carluccio says the groups are against all forms of LNG production and transport, including pipelines. “We leave it in the ground, that’s basically the answer,” Carluccio said. “We’re not going to be able to ever safely move it, process it, or export it.”

Prior to a new Trump administration rule enacted in 2020, LNG rail transport permits faced steep hurdles, and only a few were approved through a “special permit,” including a plan to send LNG via rail across the Delaware River to Gibbstown, New Jersey. But in an effort to encourage natural gas infrastructure and expand LNG transportation beyond pipelines, the Department of Transportation under Trump reversed long-standing practice to allow a regular permitting procedure. No permits have been issued for LNG-by-rail since that 2020 rule change.
» Read article  

» More about LNG

BIOMASS

Maine biomass CHP
Maine plan for wood-fired power plants draws praise and skepticism

Critics characterize the program, which would capture waste heat for industrial use, as a handout to the timber industry and question whether it will result in meaningful emissions reductions.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
June 2, 2022

A new law encouraging the development of wood-fired combined heat and power plants in Maine is drawing praise for its potential to benefit the economy and the environment.

But some climate activists are skeptical, saying questions remain about whether the program will cut carbon emissions as intended.

The legislation, signed by Gov. Janet Mills in April, establishes a program to commission projects that will burn wood to create electricity and also capture the heat produced for use on-site — heat that would go to waste in a conventional power plant.

Proposals for these facilities are expected to come from forestry or forest products businesses that could use their own wood byproducts to fuel the plants, saving them money on heat and electricity costs and providing an extra revenue stream when excess power is sold back into the grid.

[…] “There is significant disagreement on whether it is truly carbon neutral and emission-free,” said Jeff Marks, Maine director and senior policy advocate for environmental nonprofit the Acadia Center.

[…] “It will not be highly efficient — it’s not feasible with a wood fuel,” [Greg Cunningham, director of the clean energy and climate change program at the Conservation Law Foundation] said. “It will not to any extent be a climate solution.”

The law caps the program at a total capacity of 20 megawatts statewide, a tiny fraction of the 3,344 megawatts of generating capacity the state already has. Still, the climate implications of the new law matter, Cunningham said.

“The money available in the state of Maine to fight climate change and invest in clean energy programs is finite,” he said. “When any amount of it is siphoned off for an anti-climate program, it’s problematic.”
» Read article  

» More about biomass

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Weekly News Check-In 5/13/22

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Welcome back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about the Weymouth compressor

NATURAL GAS BANS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about gas bans

DIVESTMENT

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

The numbers are startling.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about divestment

GREENING THE ECONOMY

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about greening the economy  

CLIMATE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about energy efficiency

ENERGY STORAGE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about energy storage

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

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

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

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

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

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

» More about clean transportation

GAS UTILITIES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about gas utilities

CARBON CAPTURE AND STORAGE

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

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

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

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

» More about CCS

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about fossil fuel

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about LNG

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Weekly News Check-In 12/10/21

banner 18

Welcome back.

Less than two weeks before the year’s longest night, we’re providing the modest public service of leading this newsletter with a bit of good news to boost everyone’s spirits – a short article describing a few things that went pretty well for the planet this past year. Additionally, our own “Put Peakers in the Past” campaign to transition Berkshire County’s three peaking power plants to clean renewables and battery storage took a positive step with a well-attended and well-reported public hearing on the Pittsfield Generating power plant’s air quality permit renewal application. We thank state Senator Adam Hinds, Pittsfield’s state Representative Tricia Farley-Bouvier, and others for their interest, attendance, constructive and informed comments, and support.

Meanwhile, fossil fuel interests keep exploring for new oil and gas deposits – a disruptive process that carries considerable environmental risk. Protesters in South Africa are attempting to prevent Shell from carrying out dangerous seismic blast testing off the ecologically sensitive Wild Coast. And banks keep funding those efforts, even though the divestment movement is growing more effective. But heads up – look for more conservative-leaning states to start passing legislation based on model language provided by Koch-funded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). These bills seek to make it illegal for banks to divest from fossil fuels – calling it a form of discrimination.

While advances in technology and market forces are driving the world toward a greener economy, moving quickly and efficiently toward that future requires considerable coordination. And that demands better, easier access to massive amounts of energy data that the International Energy Agency (IEA) collects and holds.

On the climate front, scientists have recently identified nitrous oxide as one constituent released from melting permafrost in Siberia. The findings are preliminary but potentially important. Nitrous oxide is a climate super-pollutant with global warming potential about 300 times greater than carbon dioxide.

The Baker administration is picking up the pieces from two recent setbacks related to Massachusetts’ clean energy transition plan. Voters in Maine recently chose to stop a major electricity transmission project that would have brought hydro electric power from Quebec. And the regional Transportation Climate Initiative, intended to cut transportation sector emissions, just collapsed. We looked in on Damage Control.

Since we mentioned hydro power, let’s expand the view. Well-documented environmental and justice issues regarding Quebec hydro (which Massachusetts is trying to access) are also playing out in other hydro electricity projects around the world. For example, existing and planned dam projects in the tropics are directly impacting vulnerable tiger and jaguar populations, driving both cats closer to extinction.

Electric vehicle road trips are about to get easier, now that a group of utilities have formed the National Electric Highway Coalition with the mission to greatly expand the number of fast charging station along major routes throughout the US.

Back at home, that stuff you just received from an online order spent time in a huge warehouse on its way to your door. Warehouses are booming, and now we see a growing urgency to transition them away from natural gas heat. Also in this section, we hear from Chef Jon Kung about why he prefers his induction stovetop over gas.

Wrapping up, we get some perspective on the carbon capture and storage boondoggle and the ambitious (wasteful, crazy?) scheme to lay thousands of miles of high-pressure, hazardous liquid CO2 pipelines across the upper mid-West at taxpayer expense. All while the fossil fuel industry is blaming recent market volatility on the transition to renewable energy.

And because we started with good news, we’ll end with a bit more: British Columbia’s only liquefied natural gas project is in trouble, and things aren’t looking good for its planned expansion or for other Canadian (or US?) LNG export terminals.

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

 

GOOD NEWS

monarchs
5 Good Things That Happened for the Planet in 2021
By Linnea Harris, EcoWatch
December 9, 2021

It wasn’t all bad. Here’s some of the good news from this year.

  • Environmental Rights Amendment Passes in New York
  • Monarch Populations Are Bouncing Back
  • Protections Restored to Three Public Lands
  • The Fossil Fuel Divestment Movement Grows
  • More People Are Going Plant-Based

» Read article                     

 

PEAKING POWER PLANTS

DEP do your job
Politicians and activists frustrated with DEP rules that allow business as usual for local ‘peaker’ plant
By Meg Britton-Mehlisch, The Berkshire Eagle
December 7, 2021

PITTSFIELD — Public testimony from residents and environmentalists during a Tuesday night virtual hearing equally reprimanded the operators of a local ”peaker plant” and the state’s Department of Environmental Protection for what they considered out of touch and overly lax emissions regulations.

“It appears the DEP regulations have not been designed to protect the environment by making sure that these higher polluting facilities be the first to close or transition to clean energy,” Jane Winn, the founding executive director of the Berkshire Environmental Action Team, said.

At issue is the air operating permit for Pittsfield Generating Company’s power plant on Merrill Road. These permits, which are issued by the state’s DEP, are reviewed every five years to ensure that the facility is still meeting all state and federal rules around record keeping, facility monitoring and emission limits.

For more than a year, activists from groups like BEAT have waged a public information campaign to educate the public about the health risks that follow “peaker” plants and potential green energy alternatives.

When activists joined with local politicians and residents Tuesday night, they asked the DEP to do two things: deny the permit to the facility or issue a provisional permit that would require the facility switch from natural gas and oil to solar power and battery storage.

The hearing continued for almost an hour despite persistent Zoom bombings that blasted pornographic sounds and racist slurs into the hearing.

Much of the comments during the hearing centered on the space current emission limits give power plants to continue “business as usual” despite Gov. Charlie Baker signing a roadmap for the state to achieve net zero emission by 2050 into law in March. The law would have the state reduce greenhouse gas emissions by half by 2030.

“This is the moment when we need to be acting as robustly as possible in redirecting our use of peaker plants and making sure that we’re doing everything we can to reduce our emission and standing up for environmental justice communities,” Hinds said.

“It starts right here, one permit at a time, one plant at a time, one community at a time,” he added.

Farley-Bouvier joined Hinds and Mark in asking the department to let them know what the department needed to incorporate the state’s new direction into permitting processes for facilities like Pittsfield Generating.

“If your response is ‘But the regulations say that we have to do it this way,’ then please let Representative Mark and Senator Hinds and I know what has to be changed in the regulations,” Farley-Bouvier said. “It would be our job to change the regulations to line up with the 2050 roadmap.”
» Read article             
» Watch recorded public hearing (Zoom bombs edited out…)                           

look ahead PittsfieldLook Ahead, Pittsfield: What you should know about the local ‘peaker’ plant permit on the line this week
By Meg Britton-Mehlisch, The Berkshire Eagle
December 5, 2021

PITTSFIELD — The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection will hold a hearing Tuesday over a local power plant’s request for the renewal of its operating permit. The hearing is pretty typical stuff for the plant, Pittsfield Generating Company, which has its permit reviewed every five years. But this year, local environmental activists hope this hearing is anything but rote for the plant.

For months, a coalition of environmental activists led by the Berkshire Environmental Action Team has pushed for the closure of the plant or for a redesign that would swap the plant’s use of fossil fuels for clean energy alternatives. That push has gained support from both the Pittsfield Board of Health and local state representatives.

What is a peaker plant? As far as peaker plants go, the Pittsfield Generating plant is pretty typical. The plant is 31 years old and runs on fracked natural gas and oil — a design that’s normal for peaker plants across the state. But that design is the plant’s biggest sticking point with environmentalists.

Last year, the plant produced 3.2 tons of nitrogen oxides and 19,152 tons of carbon dioxide — down 55 percent from the 7.3 tons of nitrogen oxides and 42,321 tons of carbon dioxide the plant produced in 2019 according to data from the Environmental Protection Agency.

Earlier this year, The Eagle’s Danny Jin covered the bevy of potential public health impacts that can come from living in the shadow of these peaker plants. The pollution put out by peaker plants can increase the risk of developing asthma, impair lung function and lower heart health.

What do the opponents want? BEAT has put out a series of talking points to prepare their members for the public comment section of the hearing on Tuesday. In the document, BEAT argues that the state’s Department of Environmental Protection should implement a regulation system to enforce its emissions limits, and that such a system should have been created back in 2016 when emission limits were set.

The main request from the group is to deny the permit for the plant. The group believes that the most environmentally conscious solution is to replace the plant with a battery system powered by clean energy, like solar power. If the DEP decides to grant the permit, BEAT is asking that “it should only be provisional for 1 year on the agreement that [Pittsfield Generating] come up with a transition plan” to a greener energy system within two years.
» Read article                     

» More about peaker plants               

 

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

snoek
‘We Won’t Stop Fighting,’ Vow South African Activists After Judge OKs Shell Seismic Blasting at Sea
“We must do everything we can to undo the destructive colonial legacy of extractivism, until we live in a world where people and the planet come before the profits of toxic fossil fuel companies.”
By Brett Wilkins, Common Dreams
December 6, 2021

South African activists on Monday vowed to keep fighting after a court ruling allowing fossil fuel giant Shell to proceed with massive underwater explosions off the ecologically sensitive Wild Coast, a move environmentalists say would cause “irreparable harm” to marine life.

“We won’t stop fighting,” tweeted Greenpeace Africa following Sunday’s nationwide protests. “Shell must immediately stop oil and gas exploration off S.A.’s Wild Coast.”

Demonstrators from more than 30 organizations—including 350.org, Clean Seas, Extinction Rebellion, The Green Connection, Greenpeace Africa, Oceans Not Oil, and Sea The Bigger Picture—turned out for over 70 protests nationwide, according to The Cape Argus.

At Surfers Corner at Muizenberg Beach in Cape Town, activists carried a giant marionette of a snoek, a snake mackerel found in area waters, and held placards with slogans including “Stop killing our coast” and “To hell with Shell.”

“The purpose of this protest is to send a message to Shell bosses and shareholders to stop the company from carrying out the seismic survey on the Wild Coast,” the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA) said in a statement.

In seismic surveys, barrages of powerful sonic pulses are blasted into the ocean floor with airguns; the reflected sound waves are then analyzed to map the seabed for potential oil and gas reserves. The blasts reach more than 250 decibels and kill, injure, and terrorize marine life.

Reinford Sinegugu Zukulu, director of the advocacy group Sustaining the Wild Coast, told the court that the blasting would occur every 10 seconds for five months, would be “louder than a jet plane taking off,” and would be heard underwater for more than 60 miles.

Elaine Mills, a representative of Greenpeace volunteers in Cape Town, told The Cape Argus that the potential destruction “is beyond belief. Really, it’s unimaginable.”

“The harm that [the blasting] can do to marine life is permanent hearing loss, organ rupture as dolphins and whales breach too fast to escape the auditory onslaught, and beach strandings,” she added.
» Read article                     

» More about protests and actions            

 

DIVESTMENT

pledges schmedges
Banks Continue To Fund Fossil Fuels Despite Climate Pledges
By Tsvetana Paraskova, Oil Price
December 6, 2021

Despite investor and societal pressure, banks worldwide continue to lend money and underwrite bonds issued by oil, gas, and coal companies, with bond deals in fossil fuels arranged by banks at nearly $250 billion in 2021, Bloomberg data showed on Monday.

JP Morgan financed the largest volume of loans and bonds combined so far this year, followed by Wells Fargo, Citi, RBC, and Mitsubishi UFJ, data as of December 3 compiled by Bloomberg showed.

Wells Fargo has been the biggest lender to the fossil fuel industry this year, with most of its exposure to the sector going to loans for companies.

While environment-conscious investors push for Wall Street banks—and all banks globally as a matter of fact—to shun fossil fuels, major banks say that by continuing to finance oil and gas, they help the sector invest in low-carbon energy solutions that would help decarbonize the global energy system.

“It is really important that our clients take steps to innovate and decarbonize, but we also need to bring capital to the table for the commercialization of those solutions,” Marisa Buchanan, Global Head of Sustainability at JPMorgan Chase & Co, told Bloomberg.

In May this year, UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ said that banks should finance low-carbon climate-resilient projects, not big fossil fuel infrastructure that is not even cost-effective anymore.
» Read article                     

» More about divestment              

 

LEGISLATION

alarming ALEC model
‘Alarming’: ALEC’s New Model Bill Would Penalize Banks for Divesting From Fossil Fuels
One critic called the proposal, which describes green investment policies as a form of “energy discrimination,” a “desperate attempt by fossil fuel companies and their lobbyists to maintain their profits.”
By Kenny Stancil, Common Dreams
December 8, 2021

Progressives are sounding the alarm about a recently launched right-wing campaign that seeks to preempt green investment policies throughout the United States by portraying the financial sector’s potential turn toward clean energy as discriminatory—and introducing legislation that would punish banks and asset managers for divesting from fossil fuels.

The Koch-funded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which consistently pumps out reactionary bills mostly for state-level Republicans, held its States and Nation Policy Summit last week in San Diego.

In an email obtained and first reported by Alex Kotch of the Center for Media and Democracy, Jason Isaac, director of the Koch-funded Texas Public Policy Foundation, wrote that “this morning at the ALEC Committee meetings you’ll have the opportunity to push back against woke financial institutions that are colluding against American energy producers.”

The “model policy” in question is the so-called “Energy Discrimination Elimination Act.” In his email, Isaac claimed that “major banks and investment firms are colluding to deny lending and investment in fossil fuel companies, using their market power to force companies to make ‘green’ investments. This model bill proposes a strategy in which states use their collective economic purchasing power to counter the rise of politically motivated and discriminatory investing practices.”

ALEC’s Energy, Environment, and Agriculture Task Force voted unanimously to champion the proposal, a version of which Texas’ far-right Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law in June.
» Read article                     

» More about legislation                

 

GREENING THE ECONOMY

IEA paywall
Energy watchdog urged to give free access to government data
Open letter calls on IEA to help researchers by removing paywalls from global energy datasets
By Jillian Ambrose, The Guardian
December 10, 2021

The International Energy Agency is facing calls to make the national energy data it collects from governments publicly available.

This would aid independent research, which in turn could help to accelerate the global transition to low-carbon energy.

More than 30 international academics have written to the global energy watchdog to call for it to drop its paywalls for national energy datasets, which are collected using public funds, to avoid making climate action “more costly and less effective”.

The IEA publishes a number of influential reports on global energy systems, based in large part on the national energy data provided by the governments that it counts among its members. However, much of the data that underpins these reports is inaccessible to independent researchers.

The academics said that putting datasets behind paywalls makes it more difficult for independent energy system analysts, and the interested public, to investigate and better understand the path to net zero.

Instead, the “high-quality data” required to create effective and low-cost pathways to net zero societies should be available under suitable open licences, according to the academics.
» Read article                     

» More about greening the economy               

 

CLIMATE

permafrost NOx
New Study Shows Siberian Permafrost Releasing Climate Super-Pollutant Nitrous Oxide
By Mitchell Beer, The Energy Mix
December 8, 2021

A permafrost region in East Siberia has emerged as a previously unknown source of nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas that carries nearly 300 times the warming potential of carbon dioxide over a 100-year span, a team of researchers from the University of Eastern Finland reported yesterday in the journal Nature Communications.

While annual nitrous oxides releases due to human activity have increased 30% by 1980, and alarmed scientists have been paying attention, nitrous emissions from permafrost would be a largely new twist in the effort to get greenhouse gases and the resulting climate emergency under control.

“The nitrous oxide emissions from thawing permafrost represent a poorly known, but potentially globally significant positive feedback to climate change,” the university writes in a release. “Overall, the consequences of nitrogen release from permafrost for Arctic ecosystems have been insufficiently studied and remain poorly understood.”

What’s known is that “rapid Arctic warming and associated permafrost thaw are threatening the large carbon and nitrogen reservoirs of northern permafrost soils, accumulated under cold conditions where the decomposition rate of soil organic matter (SOM) is low,” concludes the science team led by post-doctoral researcher Maija Marushchak. As the permafrost thaws, those pools are decomposing.

While “the fate of soil nitrogen liberated upon permafrost thaw is poorly studied and more complex” than carbon release, the scientists add, “there is evidence that part of liberated nitrogen may be emitted to the atmosphere as nitrogenous gases.”
» Read article                     

» More about climate                    

 

CLEAN ENERGY

heavy machinery
Two crucial pillars of the state’s plan to cut carbon emissions have crumbled. Where does it go from here?
By David Abel, Boston Globe
December 7, 2021

A year ago, the Baker administration released a detailed road map to effectively eliminate the state’s carbon emissions by the middle of the century.

Now, just weeks after a United Nations summit in Scotland underscored the need for urgent action to address climate change, crucial pillars of those plans have collapsed.

The ambitious cap-and-invest pact known as the Transportation Climate Initiative, or TCI, promised to cut transportation emissions — the region’s largest source of greenhouse gases — by at least 25 percent over the next decade.

A separate initiative, the New England Clean Energy Connect project, sought to build a $1 billion transmission line in Maine to deliver large amounts of hydropower from Quebec to Massachusetts, which would help to significantly reduce the region’s reliance on fossil fuels.

But, in what some have compared to a “one-two punch,” Maine voters rejected the transmission line, and a few weeks later, the pact to reduce transportation emissions was abandoned.

Without those projects, the Baker administration lacks a clear path to meeting its obligations under the state’s new climate law, which requires officials to cut emissions 50 percent below 1990 levels by the end of the decade and effectively eliminate them by 2050.

“This work to hit climate goals is not for the faint of heart,” said Kathleen Theoharides, the state’s secretary of energy and environmental affairs, in an interview. “It was always going to be difficult to get there. We’re talking about rebuilding an entire economy, and infrastructure and society, around clean energy.”
» Read article                     

KT explains
Kathleen Theoharides, Mass. secretary of energy and environmental affairs, sizes up state’s climate goals
By David Abel, Boston Globe
December 7, 2021

After attending last month’s climate summit in Glasgow, Kathleen Theoharides, the state’s secretary of energy and environmental affairs, returned home to find that crucial pillars of the Baker administration’s plan to address climate change had collapsed. Maine voters rejected plans to build a vital transmission line through their state to bring large amounts of hydropower to New England. A few weeks later, Governor Charlie Baker announced he was withdrawing his support for a pact with other East Coast states to reduce transportation emissions. In an interview with Globe environmental reporter David Abel, Theoharides discussed how the administration plans to respond. The interview has been edited and condensed.
» Read interview                     

» More about clean energy            

 

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

warehouse nation
As warehouses take off, they need to kick natural gas
Warehouses have become the king of commercial real estate
By Justine Calma, The Verge
December 3, 2021

Warehouses are increasingly dominating the commercial building landscape in the US, which could have ramifications for efforts to tackle climate change. According to data recently released by the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), warehouses and storage units have become the most common commercial buildings in the country — outpacing offices. That has the potential to cause greenhouse gas emissions to climb or tumble, and it largely hinges on whether warehouses can ditch natural gas.

Compared to office buildings, warehouses that store everything from food to clothes tend to rely more heavily on gas heating systems because upfront costs of those systems are cheap, and they’re easy to install, an expert tells The Verge. Even though warehouses typically use less energy than offices, there’s a risk that their reliance on gas could increase the share of emissions coming from commercial buildings, which are already responsible for 16 percent of the country’s greenhouse gas pollution. For the Biden administration to reach its goal of halving America’s planet-heating carbon pollution compared to 2005 levels by 2030, it’ll have to work to clean up warehouse operations.

“If the building sector itself has moved, that means our strategy has to be adapted,” says Bing Liu, building subsector leader at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. “If you look at space heating energy use, because [warehouses use] less efficient technologies, it’s actually concerning.”
» Read article                     

Jon Kung
A TikTok food star on why gas stoves are overrated
As the natural gas industry tries to defend its turf, chefs are touting the benefits of induction cooking.
By Rebecca Leber, Vox
December 9, 2021

The American stovetop is increasingly a battleground in a war over the fate of the 70 million buildings powered by natural gas.

On one side of the stove wars is the natural gas utility industry, which has tried to thwart cities considering phasing out gas in buildings. One of its PR strategies has been to hire influencers to tout what they love about cooking with gas to generate public opposition to city efforts.

On the other side are climate and public health advocates who point to years of mounting scientific evidence on what combusting methane in a kitchen does to one’s health. Even the relatively small amount of gas burned by the stove has an outsized effect on indoor health because it releases nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide, two pollutants known to increase risks of respiratory and cardiovascular disease. Dozens of cities in California have passed stronger building codes that encourage new construction to be powered by electricity instead of natural gas pipelines. New York City and Eugene, Oregon, may be the next cities to adopt these ordinances.

As more cities move to electricity, what will replace gas stoves? Instead of the electric coiled stoves Americans have learned to hate, there is a newer technology that many chefs prefer: induction.
» Blog editor’s note: watch the short video embedded in this article, where Jon Kung explains and demonstrates induction cooking.
» Read article                     

» More about energy efficiency          

 

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

charging network
Power companies commit to building nationwide EV charging network

They announced a new coalition today
By Justine Calma, The Verge
December 7, 2021

Over 50 utilities across the US have come together to speed up the build-out of electric vehicle charging stations along the nation’s highways. The new National Electric Highway Coalition was announced today by the Edison Electric Institute (EEI), an association of investor-owned power companies.

Together, the companies aim to “fill charging infrastructure gaps along major travel corridors,” according to a fact sheet. Each utility that’s a member of the coalition must commit “in good faith” to create an EV fast charging network across its service territory “using any approach they see fit” by the end of 2023. The US will need more than 100,000 fast charging ports for the 22 million electric vehicles expected to traverse American roadways by 2030, according to the EEI.

For now, the roughly 1.8 million electric vehicles registered in the US can juice up at just 46,000 public charging stations in the country. Just around 5,600 of those, according to the Department of Energy, are DC fast charging stations that can get an EV battery to 80 percent charged in under an under hour. Easier access to faster charging stations, in particular, could help drive greater EV adoption among wary customers.
» Read article                    
» Read the National Electric Highway Coalition fact sheet           

» More about clean transportation               

 

SITING IMPACTS OF RENEWABLES

jaguar
Tigers, jaguars under threat from tropical hydropower projects: Study
By Carolyn Cowan, Mongabay
December 9, 2021

The flooding of land for hydroelectric dams has affected more than one-fifth of the world’s tigers (Panthera tigris) and one in two hundred jaguars (Panthera onca), according to the findings of a new study published Dec. 9 in the journal Communications Biology.

Seen by some as a low-carbon solution to global energy needs, large-scale hydropower projects are increasingly prevalent in the tropics, where untapped power potential overlaps with biodiverse landscapes. In recent years, scientists and Indigenous rights groups have criticized many such schemes for failing to fully consider impacts on biodiversity, freshwater connectivity and local communities.

The results of the new study highlight “just how significant the environmental impacts of hydropower can be,” Luke Gibson, a tropical biologist at the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, China, and a co-author of the new study, told Mongabay in an email.

Gibson and his colleague, Ana Filipa Palmeirim, used published data on the population density and global distribution of tigers and jaguars to calculate the area of habitat lost and the number of individuals affected by existing and planned hydropower reservoirs.

They found that 13,750 square kilometers (5,300 square miles) of tiger habitat and 25,397 km2 (9,800 mi2) of jaguar habitat have been flooded to create hydroelectric reservoirs. A total of 729 tigers, or 20% of the global population, have been displaced by dams, whereas 915 jaguars, or 0.5% of the global population, have been affected.

“There is simply no science which shows what happens to tigers or jaguars when their habitats are flooded by hydropower reservoirs,” Gibson said. Displaced cats might attempt to survive in suboptimal, unoccupied habitat, or they might move into good quality but occupied habitat where they are likely to experience aggressive territorial encounters. In either scenario, according to Gibson, the chances of survival are very low.

The findings are bad news for the struggling big cats. Both species are suffering population declines due to habitat loss, poaching, shifting prey patterns and the effects of climate change.
» Read article                    
» Read the study                 

» More about siting impacts           

 

CARBON CAPTURE & STORAGE

CCS 101
The Future of Fossil Fuels Hinges on Two Huge Midwestern Pipeline Fights
CCS is the fossil-fuel industry’s last-gasp attempt to prevent the U.S. and the world from abandoning fossil energy in favor of cheaper, cleaner solar power.
By Peter Montague, Common Dreams | Opinion
December 9, 2021

The future of the fossil fuel industry depends on an expensive Rube Goldberg technology called carbon capture and storage (CCS), intended to capture billions of tons of hazardous waste carbon dioxide (CO2) from smokestacks and bury it deep underground where optimistic experts say it will remain forever. Pessimistic experts say it won’t work. 

The goal is to continue burning fossil fuels for the next 50 years but keep the resulting CO2 out of the atmosphere where it heats the planet, intensifying storms, floods, droughts, heat waves, wildfires, crop failures, ocean acidification, and rising sea levels. CCS is the fossil-fuel industry’s last-gasp attempt to prevent the U.S. and the world from abandoning fossil energy in favor of cheaper, cleaner solar power.

Back in 2005, a handful of industrialized nations (the so-called G8) agreed to develop CCS technology and since then the U.S. government has worked hard to make it happen but with little success so far.  

Adding carbon-capture filters onto a smokestack is expensive and the CCS filters themselves use about 20 percent of a power plant’s energy output—thereby producing more pollution per unit of electricity, including smog-producing nitrogen, sulfur, and fine particles (PM2.5).  This pollution falls disproportionately on communities of color or low income, so CCS is an environmental justice abuse. And every dollar spent on CCS is a dollar that cannot be spent on renewable energy.

There is no market for billions of tons of hazardous waste CO2.  Cue Uncle Sam.  The federal government has spent more than $9 billion taxpayer dollars since 2010 to help coal and oil companies get CCS off the ground.

To burnish the green credentials of CCS, two major projects are getting underway now in the Midwest, to capture CO2 from dozens of refineries that turn corn into ethanol alcohol, which gets mixed into gasoline. 

The climate credentials of the corn-ethanol industry are shaky. In 2008, a Princeton University research group calculated that a gallon of corn-ethanol releases more CO2 than a gallon of gasoline because forests and grasslands are plowed to plant corn, releasing CO2 from soil. Since then, other studies have tried to refute those Princeton results by claiming land-use changes from corn-ethanol must be ignored because they are too hard to measure.  It’s a crucial issue that remains contested. 

Now a tremendous fight is brewing in the Midwest as two major CO2 pipeline projects seek permission to install over 3000 miles of pipe to carry a total of 27 million tons of liquid hazardous waste CO2 per year across privately-owned farmland, with many land owners saying “No.”  There’s already talk of court battles to stop both projects.
» Read article                     

» More about CCS                  

 

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

not actually the reason
Oil companies blame clean energy transition for market volatility
Representatives at industry gathering in Houston launch attack on the speed of transition to clean energy
By Jillian Ambrose, The Guardian
December 7, 2021

Leaders of the world’s biggest oil companies have used an industry gathering in Houston to launch an attack on the speed of transition to clean energy, claiming a badly managed process could lead to “insecurity, rampant inflation and social unrest”.

Executives from oil companies including Saudi Aramco, the world’s biggest oil producer, and US oil giants ExxonMobil and Chevron publicly described the shift towards clean energy alternatives as “deeply flawed”. They called for fossil fuels to remain part of the energy mix for years to come despite global efforts for an urgent response to the climate crisis.

Saudi Aramco’s chief executive, Amin Nasser, told delegates at the World Petroleum Congress in Houston, Texas, that adapting to cleaner fuels “overnight” could trigger uncontrolled economic inflation.

“I understand that publicly admitting that oil and gas will play an essential and significant role during the transition and beyond will be hard for some,” he said. “But admitting this reality will be far easier than dealing with energy insecurity, rampant inflation and social unrest as the prices become intolerably high, and seeing net zero commitments by countries start to unravel.

“The world is facing an ever more chaotic energy transition centred on highly unrealistic scenarios and assumptions about the future of energy.”

Anders Opedal, the boss of Equinor, Norway’s state oil company, said: “The volatility in commodity prices and the impact on business and people illustrates the risks we face in an imbalanced transition.”

Global oil and gas prices have surged in recent months since the original Covid-19 lockdown, which stifled economies around the world in 2020. Energy experts and economists have argued that the global energy market surge – which has triggered blackouts, higher bills and the shutdown of factories in some countries – should encourage policymakers to accelerate the move away from volatile fossil fuels.
» Read article                 

stop Cambo
Shell U-turn on Cambo could mean end for big North Sea oil projects
Industry sources say Siccar Point will struggle to find new partner to take on Shell’s 30% stake in oilfield
By Jillian Ambrose, The Guardian
December 3, 2021

Shell’s decision to back out of plans to develop the Cambo oilfield could sound the “death knell” for new large-scale North Sea projects, industry figures say, as the UK’s tougher climate agenda prompts oil companies to retreat from the ageing oil basin.

Sources said Shell’s project partner, the private equity-backed Siccar Point, would struggle to find another partner to take on Shell’s 30% stake in the new oilfield, which has provoked outrage among green campaigners.

Shell’s retreat has cast doubt over the future of a project that could yield hundreds of millions of barrels of oil, and sources say it raises fresh doubts over the North Sea’s future large-scale oil projects too.

“This is a turning point,” said one industry source, who asked not to be named. “Companies will be thinking: if Shell can’t do it, can we? I just don’t see any truly large-scale projects being sanctioned in the North Sea any more. There will still be small developments around existing fields. But this is a death knell for major new projects in the UK.”

The Guardian understands that Shell scrapped the Cambo project after the government made clear it would need to meet certain “climate concessions” to win its approval. The company said publicly that the “economic case for investment” was not strong.

Shell’s withdrawal comes weeks after the company was left disappointed by a UK regulator’s “unexpected” decision to decline its application to develop a separate North Sea project at the Jackdaw field.

“It’s a bit embarrassing for Shell so soon after announcing it would relocate its headquarters to London from the Netherlands,” the source added.
» Read article                     

» More about fossil fuels               

 

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

financial albatross
LNG Canada On Track to Become ‘Financial Albatross’, Analysts Warn
By The Energy Mix
November 25, 2021

British Columbia’s only confirmed liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal may be on its way to becoming a “financial albatross”, according to a new analysis released Wednesday, even as a developer continues to tout a second LNG project in Howe Sound, just north of Vancouver.

The LNG Canada megaproject was approved with lavish provincial subsidies in 2018, producing a massive emissions gap in the province’s climate plan. Now under construction, it’s the intended terminus for the Coastal GasLink pipeline that has become a trigger for militarized raids on unceded Indigenous land and a railway blockade in the weeks leading up to COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020.

Now, a report by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) says the first phase of LNG Canada “could be the last liquefied natural gas project built in British Columbia” given changing market conditions, project delays, rising costs, and policy shifts.

“Over the last three years, market shifts and policy changes have tested LNG Canada’s long-term economic viability,” said lead author Omar Mawji, IEEFA’s energy finance Canada analyst. “This project could become a financial albatross for its sponsor investors, and it stands as a warning to other natural gas producers” involved with natural gas fracking projects in the Montney Basin in northeastern B.C.

That isn’t a good look for Phase 2 of the LNG Canada venture, or for other LNG projects that B.C. Premier John Horgan and his Liberal Party predecessor, Christy Clark, have been desperately promoting for years.

“If the project sponsors assessed the energy landscape today instead of 2018, they would likely have been far more cautious in deciding whether to move forward with Phase 1,” Mawji said in an IEEFA release. “The conditions do not bode well for other LNG projects in Canada.”
» Read article                     

» More about LNG                   

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Weekly News Check-In 2/19/21

banner 15

Welcome back.

The reason we so frequently lead this newsletter with an update on the Weymouth compressor station is because its very existence – and its location near environmental justice neighborhoods – is a clear local example of activists and policymakers wrestling with entrenched fossil fuel interests for a shot at a livable future. The head referee in this match is the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), now under the chairmanship of Richard Glick and supported by the Biden administration, in a country recommitted to the Paris Climate Agreement. On this new, reality-based playing field, FERC has agreed to have another look at this compressor and its effect on the health and safety of the community that was forced to “host” it. We’ll be watching this next round, with great appreciation to Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station (FRRACS) and others who have mounted unwavering, effective, and courageous resistance for six long years.

More about new developments at FERC.

It’s a new day for pipelines, too, with Dakota Access possibly the highest-profile project at risk. Protests and actions continue despite the pandemic and harsh winter weather. Activists delivered a couple wheelbarrows of coal to the doorstep of New England’s grid operator, saying it’s time to ramp down funding for the Merrimack Generating Station in Bow, NH.

Grey Sail Brewing of Westerly, RI has installed carbon capture equipment on its brewing operation, joining a growing list of micro-breweries greening their businesses by recycling carbon dioxide rather than releasing it to the atmosphere. Brewing is well-suited for this, as the fermentation process releases CO2 that the brewer later adds back into the product – and new equipment is economical for small operators.

We’re using our climate section to highlight new books by Elizabeth Kolbert and Bill Gates. While Gates lays out the climate challenges and opportunities before us, Kolbert describes the truly unsettling series of planet-scale geoengineering hacks that humans might pursue if we fail to lower planet-warming emissions fast enough.

Fox’s Tucker Carlson, Governor Greg Abbott, and a chorus of fossil industry boosters attempted to use the massive Texas grid failure to do a hit job on clean energy – mounting a disinformation campaign to falsely blame a few frozen wind turbines for the disaster that killed dozens and spread hardship across most of that huge state. We’re not having it. The state’s creaky and under-regulated natural gas infrastructure was by far the main culprit. But we did notice that Senator “Flyin’ Ted” Cruze took a break from all that inconvenience and discomfort and bolted his Houston home for a luxury resort in balmy Cancún, Mexico while his constituents shivered in the dark. We’ll remember that.

The home energy storage market is maturing a bit, with new battery chemistries poised to offer safer and more durable alternatives to current-generation devices. We provide a long excerpt from an excellent article that lays it all out. Similarly, the push for improved electric vehicle batteries passed an important milestone.

Freakish weather and the fossil fuel industry ganged up on Texas this past week. We have more info in this section. Also, California is pushing to ban fracking.

While climate and environmental justice advocates push Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker to reject biomass energy and the proposed Palmer Renewable Energy plant in Springfield, a group of over 500 scientists has published a demand to stop considering the burning of trees to be a climate solution. This has been Massachusetts’ (correct) position since 2012, until the Baker administration decided to reverse course – proposing to reinstate energy generated from burning woody biomass to the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard.

We close with two reports that illuminate some of the difficulties with plastics recycling.

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

— The NFGiM Team

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

far from overFederal commission to explore impacts of compressor station
By Jessica Trufant, The Patriot Ledger
February 18, 2021

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will further explore public safety concerns associated with the Weymouth Compressor Station, though it’s unclear what impact that could have on the facility.

The federal commission in September gave the Canadian company that built the compressor station approval to put the facility into service. In response, the Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station, the city of Quincy, and other petitioners requested the commission revoke the authorization and reconsider its approval of the project.

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

Members of the citizens group opposed to the compressor station said they are investigating what FERC’s decision on Thursday means for operations of the station.

State Sen. Patrick O’Connor, a Weymouth Republican, said the commission’s decision suggests “the fight is far from over.”

The controversial compressor station is part of Enbridge’s Atlantic Bridge project, which expands the company’s natural gas pipelines from New Jersey into Canada. It has been a point of contention for years among residents of the area, who say it presents serious health and safety problems.
» Read article       
» Read the FERC press release

» More about the Weymouth compressor station

FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION

subject to flooding
How a pipeline-loving agency could be the key to Biden’s climate plan
By Zoya Teirstein, Grist
February 18, 2021

There’s a saying among energy wonks about the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission: It’s never seen a pipeline it didn’t like. But the commission’s new chair could make that adage a thing of the past.

The independent commission known as FERC, pronounced like a kid-friendly version of the popular expletive, was established by Congress in 1977 to regulate the United States’ energy landscape. FERC wields an enormous amount of power, overseeing the nation’s pipelines, natural gas infrastructure, transmission lines, hydroelectric dams, electricity markets, and, by association, the price of renewables and fossil fuels. It’s made up of up to five commissioners — no more than three members of the same party can serve at a time — including one chair, who sets the commission’s agenda.

Historically, the commission has not done a good job of taking climate change and environmental justice into account as it has approved and regulated energy projects across the U.S. “I would put FERC in the basket of agencies that have huge climate relevance, but where climate has generally not been front and center,” Barry Rabe, a professor of public and environmental policy at the University of Michigan, told Grist. A system for accounting for climate impacts isn’t baked into FERC’s structure, he explained. That could change as President Joe Biden executes a “whole of government” approach to tackling climate change.

“One of the most interesting places to do climate policy is at FERC,” Representative Sean Casten, Democrat from Illinois, told Grist in January. “What would it mean to actually change markets to accelerate the deployment of clean energy? Frankly, you can be much more policy smart and much more environmentally ambitious doing that in the context of a FERC hearing than you can doing it through Congress.”
» Read article       

RG priorities
New FERC Chair’s Focus: Environmental Justice and Climate Change Impacts
Glick’s priorities include fair treatment of new technologies and state policies, as well as transmission and interconnection reforms.
By Jeff St. John, GreenTech Media
February 15, 2021

Richard Glick has a long list of priorities for his chairmanship of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. He has already outlined many of them, such as reforming energy market policies that restrict state-supported clean energy resources, expanding transmission capacity and unblocking new grid interconnections, and incorporating climate change impacts into the agency’s decision-making process.

On Thursday, in his first press conference since being elevated to lead FERC last month by President Joe Biden, Glick brought more clarity to some of FERC’s newest initiatives. These include creating a senior-level position to address environmental justice impacts of its decisions, including those involving natural-gas pipeline projects, to ensure they don’t “unfairly impact historically marginalized communities.”

A 2017 ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit has put pressure on FERC to change its approach to accounting for the indirect greenhouse gas emissions impacts of natural-gas pipeline projects under its purview. Glick has since dissented against many of the pipeline decisions from the Republican majority at FERC on the grounds that they have failed to consider the greenhouse gas impacts of the projects in question but has been outvoted as the agency’s sole Democratic member.

FERC’s five-member board will retain a three-Republican majority through at least the first half of 2021, which is when Biden will have an opportunity to nominate a Democrat to replace departing commissioner Neil Chatterjee. Glick noted that this political reality implies that, on the matter of considering greenhouse gas impacts of its pipeline decisions, “no matter what we do, it will require three votes” to succeed.

The role of the newly created environmental justice position will be to examine if projects under FERC review will have significant health or economic impacts on communities, and if so, whether the projects can be moved or the impacts mitigated.
» Read article       

ISO-NE cap mkt FERCed
FERC Revisits Review of Policy Statement on Interstate Natural Gas Pipeline Proposals
By FERC, News Release
February 18, 2021

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) today reopened its review of the 1999 Policy Statement on the Certification of New Interstate Natural Gas Facilities by asking for new information and additional perspectives that would assist the Commission in moving forward with its review. The Commission is looking to build upon the record already established in response to its April 2018 Notice of Inquiry.

“It’s important to recognize that many changes have occurred since our initial inquiry three years ago,” FERC Chairman Rich Glick said. “I look forward to seeing the comments and working with my fellow commissioners to update our review process for reviewing proposed natural gas projects.”

To guide the process and focus on adding to the existing record, the Commission seeks comments on new questions that modify or add to the April 2018 Notice of Inquiry. For example, the Commission requests comments on how it identifies and addresses potential health or environmental effects of its pipeline certification programs, policies and activities on environmental justice communities.
» Read article         
» Download Notice of Inquiry         

» More about FERC

PIPELINES

Bakken oil takeaway
Time To Consider The Worst-Case Scenario For Dakota Access: A Look At Energy Transfer And Phillips 66 Partners
By Seeking Alpha
February 17, 2021

Fresh off their Keystone XL victory, environment activists have placed the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) squarely in their crosshairs. A DAPL shutdown will set a worrisome precedent for midstream infrastructure regulation. It also will put at risk the midstream companies that have the most to lose amid a shutdown, namely, Energy Transfer LP (ET) and Phillips 66 Partners LP (PSXP).

The Biden administration has not specified what action it might take on DAPL. During his campaign, Biden did not publicly endorse any particular move. Vice President Harris, meanwhile, is opposed to the pipeline. She joined 36 Democrats in submitting an amicus brief in May 2020 urging the courts to shut it down.

Recent developments have not been favorable for the pipeline. On Jan. 26, a federal appeals court upheld a lower court’s decision to revoke an environmental permit that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) issued to DAPL before it had performed an Environmental Impact Statement. The court postponed a final ruling on the DAPL until the USACE completes its EIS, likely in late 2021. It allowed the pipeline to operate while the EIS was ongoing.

With the DAPL’s fate now in the hands of the administration, its opponents have become more vocal. On Feb. 5, members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives wrote a letter to Biden urging him to shut the pipeline down.

Then on Feb. 8, dozens of celebrities and activists wrote a letter urging the president to “remedy this historic injustice and direct the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to immediately shut down the illegal Dakota Access Pipeline.”

Clearly, the Biden administration is under immense pressure to shut DAPL down. By contrast, there’s virtually no countervailing pressure from pipeline supporters.
» Read article       

» More about pipelines       

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

strike down coal
Climate Activists Deliver Wheelbarrows of Coal to ISO-NE Headquarters

Call for grid operator to cease funding coal, other fossil fuels in this week’s forward capacity auction
Press release, Nocoalnogas.org
February 8, 2021

Today, thirty climate activists gathered at the ISO-New England headquarters in Holyoke, Ma, to call on the grid operator to cease funding coal and other harmful fossil fuel sources. Some of the crowd wore white tyvek suits, carried buckets of coal, and chanted “Hey Ho ISO, we don’t want no dirty coal!” while walking to the entrance of ISO-NE’s headquarters. The individuals in tyvek suits dumped their buckets of coal into two wheelbarrows that were delivered to the front gate of the building.

ISO-NE will hold its annual forward capacity auction on Monday, February 8th, to determine how much guaranteed funding plants like Merrimack Generating Station in Bow, NH will receive to stay operable through 2025. The results can either limit or expand the speed of our transition from fossil fuels to renewables across the region.

» Read article        

Niger Delta
U.K. High Court Says Nigerians Can Sue Shell in Britain Over Oil Spills
The Dutch energy company has a presence in Britain, and a judge ruled there was “a real issue to be tried.”
By Stanley Reed, New York Times
February 12, 2021

Britain’s Supreme Court said Friday that a group of about 50,000 Nigerian farmers and fishermen could bring a case in London’s High Court against Royal Dutch Shell over years of oil spills in the Niger Delta that have polluted their land, wells and waterways.

The judges said there was the potential that a parent company like Shell, which has its headquarters in the Netherlands but a large British presence, has responsibility for the activities of subsidiaries like the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria, which operates in the delta region.

The court overruled a lower court that had said there was no case to be brought against Shell in Britain. On Friday, the judges said there was “a real issue to be tried.”

The ruling is “a watershed moment in the accountability of multinational companies,” said Daniel Leader, a partner in the British law firm Leigh Day, who led the legal team representing the Nigerian communities.

Mr. Leader added that the judgment would most likely increase the ability of “impoverished communities” to hold powerful companies to account. Indeed, courts in Western countries have recently indicated that they were increasingly open to hearing such cases. Last month, a court in the Netherlands ruled that Shell was liable for pollution in another case involving Nigerian farmers.
» Read article       
» Read about the Netherlands ruling against Shell

» More about protests and actions

GREENING THE ECONOMY

Grey Sail
Carbon capture and brews: Rhode Island brewery puts emissions back into beers

Systems for capturing carbon emissions from brewing operations have become more economical for small brewers during the pandemic.
By Lisa Prevost, Energy News Network
Photo By Grey Sail Brewing / Courtesy
February 15, 2021

After a decade of beer brewing in the beach town of Westerly, Rhode Island, Grey Sail Brewing has grown from a small operation brewing up batches of its signature Flagship Ale to a regional purveyor of more than half a dozen different beers.

Grey Sail is the first craft brewery in Rhode Island, and the second in New England, to install carbon-capturing technology specially designed for microbreweries. Developed by Earthly Labs, based in Austin, Texas, the system captures the waste carbon dioxide, produced during fermentation, enabling it to be used to carbonate and package the beer.

“Brewing is unique in that you generate carbon as a byproduct, but you also consume it too,” Alan Brinton said. “This investment allows us to reap environmental benefits from brewing great beer.”

Standing next to massive stainless steel fermentation tanks, Brinton explains that the yeast used to ferment the beer breaks down the malt sugar and converts it to alcohol and carbon dioxide, or CO2. Whereas before that CO2 would have simply been released into the atmosphere, now it is captured through a piping system, converted to liquid in a refrigerator-sized box, and stored.

Brinton estimates that he’s currently capturing about 2,000 pounds of CO2 monthly; that level will rise when beer production revs up during the warmer months.

Carbon capture technology is not new to the beer industry as a whole, but it hasn’t been affordable or efficient enough for smaller-scale brewers before now, said Chuck Skypeck, technical brewing projects manager for the Brewers Association, a national organization.

The Earthly Labs system, called CiCi — short for carbon capture — is currently operating in about three dozen craft breweries. It’s designed to be affordable, easy to use and deliver economic value to brewers who produce between 5,000 and 20,000 barrels annually. (Grey Sail makes about 10,000 barrels.)

“Annually, each of these brewers can capture the equivalent of the absorption work of 1,500 trees if they use the technology every week,” George said.
» Read article       

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

under a white sky
Interview: Elizabeth Kolbert on why we’ll never stop messing with nature
By Shannon Osaka, Grist
February 8, 2021

In Australia, scientists collect buckets of coral sperm, mixing one species with another in an attempt to create a new “super coral” that can withstand rising temperatures and acidifying seas. In Nevada, scientists nurse a tiny colony of one-inch long “Devil’s Hole pupfish” in an uncomfortably hot, Styrofoam-molded pool. And in Massachusetts, Harvard University scientists research injecting chemicals into the atmosphere to dim the sun’s light — and slow down the runaway pace of global warming.

These are some of the scenes from Elizabeth Kolbert’s new book, Under a White Sky, a global exploration of the ways that humanity is attempting to engineer, fix, or reroute the course of nature in a climate-changed world. (The title refers to one of the consequences of engineering the Earth to better reflect sunlight: Our usual blue sky could turn a pale white.)

Kolbert, a New Yorker staff writer, has been covering the environment for decades: Her first book, Field Notes from a Catastrophe, traced the scientific evidence for global warming from Greenland to Alaska; her second, The Sixth Extinction, followed the growing pace of animal extinctions.

Under a White Sky covers slightly different ground. Humanity is now, Kolbert explains, in the midst of the Anthropocene — a geologic era in which we are the dominant force shaping earth, sea, and sky. Faced with that reality, humans have gotten more creative at using technology to fix the problems that we unwittingly spawned: Stamping out Australia’s cane toad invasion with genetic engineering, for example, or using giant air conditioners to suck carbon dioxide out of air and turn it into rock. As Kolbert notes, tongue-in-cheek: “What could possibly go wrong?”
» Read article       

global seed vault
Bill Gates: A stark and simple message for the world
His new book affirms what climate scientists have been saying for decades. But Bill Gates says it well, all the same.
By Tim Radford, Climate News Network | Book Review
February 15, 2021

Bill Gates − yes, that Bill Gates − has for years been financing studies in geo-engineering: he calls it a “Break Glass in Case of Emergency” kind of tool.

But he also says, in a new book, How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: the Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need, that he has put much more money into the challenge of adapting to and mitigating climate change driven by global heating powered by greenhouse emissions that are a consequence of our dependence on fossil fuels.

The founder of Microsoft, now a philanthropist, says all geo-engineering approaches − to dim the sunlight, perhaps, or make clouds brighter − turn out to be relatively cheap compared with the scale of the problems ahead for the world. All the effects are relatively short-lived, so there might be no long-term impacts.

But the third thing they have in common is that the technical challenges to implementing them would be as nothing compared with the political hurdles such ambitions must face.

There are some very encouraging things about this disarming book, and one of them is that on every page it addresses the messy uncertainties of the real world, rather than an ideal set of solutions.

People who have already thought a lot about the hazards and complexities of global temperature rise might be tempted to dismiss it as Climate Change for Dummies. They’d be wrong.

First, Gates addresses a global audience that includes (for instance) US Republican voters, fewer than one in four of whom understand that climate change is a consequence of what humans have done.

Then Gates writes as an engineer. He starts from the basics and arrives swiftly and by the shortest route at a series of firm conclusions: sophisticated, but still outlined with considerable clarity and a happy trick of pinning big answers to down-to-earth analogies
» Read article       

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

Texas Tucker
Conservatives Are Seriously Accusing Wind Turbines of Killing People in the Texas Blackouts
Tucker Carlson and others are using the deadly storm to attack wind power, but the state’s independent, outdated grid and unreliable natural gas generation are to blame.
By Kate Aronoff, New Republic
February 16, 2021

Within a few hours of grid horror stories percolating out beyond the Lone Star state, outlets like Breitbart and the Wall Street Journal began to publish grisly tales of a green revolution: that an abundance of wind turbines in Texas had been rendered practically useless by a chilly day and posed a danger to state residents. “The windmills failed like the silly fashion accessories they are, and people in Texas died,” said Fox News’ Tucker Carlson. Yet a surprising number of mainstream media outlets also adopted the narrative. Reuters, for example, mentioned offline wind resources in the first lines of its story about the outages—illustrated with a picture showing a field of turbines. “Frozen wind turbines contribute to rolling power blackouts across Texas,” ran CNN’s headline. The New York Times led with it, too.

As of Monday afternoon, 26 of the 34 gigawatts in ERCOT’s grid that had gone offline were from “thermal” sources, meaning gas and coal. The system’s total installed capacity in the system, Power magazine’s Sonal Patel noted, is around 77.2 GW. Wind and solar power, meanwhile, produced near or even above planned capacity, according to energy analyst Jesse Jenkins, as only small amounts of wind and solar are utilized in peaking conditions. Wind turbines did indeed freeze, and did eventually underperform. But so did natural gas infrastructure, and to a far greater degree. That proved to be a much larger problem since it makes up such a huge proportion of the state’s power supply in extreme weather. And frozen power lines and equipment were a far bigger cause of outages than generation shortages.

As Rice University’s Daniel Cohan put it on Twitter, “ERCOT expected to get low capacity factors from wind and solar during winter peak demand. What it didn’t expect is >20 GW of outages from thermal (mostly natural gas) power plants.” Despite these realities, the narrative about the outages thus far has disproportionately focused on turbines underperforming in the cold due to ice on their blades—and barely mentioned failures in the vast majority of the grid powered by fossil fuels.

Events like this are a godsend to fossil fuel interests eager to build more polluting infrastructure. Investor-owned utilities can’t simply raise rates whenever they like. Instead, they have to go to regulators in statewide public service commissions to “rate base” new infrastructure, i.e., pass the cost of things like new polluting “peaker plants” down to customers. Spun the right way, the chaos playing out in Texas could help them make the case for rate hikes and new fossil fuel infrastructure around the country—all the more so if regulators already enjoy a cozy relationship to the power companies they’re supposed to rein in.
» Read article        

VT greenish
As Vermont nears 75% renewable power, advocates question if it’s clean enough
Most of the power being used to satisfy the state’s renewable electricity standard comes from Hydro-Québec as local wind and solar development lag.
By David Thill, Energy News Network
Photo By Sharath G. / Creative Commons
February 15, 2021

On paper, Vermont boasts one of the cleanest electric grids in the country.

About 66% of the state’s electricity came from renewables in 2019, the most recent year for which final numbers are available. The state’s Renewable Energy Standard requires utilities to get to at least 75% renewables by 2032, including wind, solar, biomass and hydropower.

The problem, critics say, is that utilities are meeting a huge portion of their requirements with out-of-state hydropower, which comes with its own set of ethical and ecological strings attached. Counting renewable energy credits, about 44% of the state’s electricity in 2019 was from Hydro-Québec. Another 19.9% came from other hydroelectric sources, and 2.12% from solar.

“My belief is that we should be shifting towards as much in-state production of renewables as possible,” said Steve Crowley, energy chair of the Vermont chapter of the Sierra Club, which doesn’t think the current system is helping promote true clean energy development.

Like other states, Vermont is moving forward on a long-term push to increase building and transit electrification to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in those sectors. The large-scale transformation won’t be truly clean if the electricity doesn’t come from clean sources.

But clean energy advocates like Crowley say the current criteria for meeting the state’s renewable electricity standard allows utilities to lean far too much on out-of-state renewable energy credits, particularly from Hydro-Québec. In 2019, Hydro-Québec accounted for 69% of utilities’ “Tier 1” resources, the largest and broadest category in the state’s renewable standard.

Hydro-Québec has been a source of controversy throughout New England. Critics say the construction of its dam system in Québec has caused large-scale forest flooding. Not only has that destroyed a carbon sink, but it’s also displaced Indigenous communities in the region and been linked to mercury toxicity in the food they eat.
» Read article       

» More about clean energy

ENERGY STORAGE

NMC-LFP-Zn
Will Safer Batteries Finally Take Over the Home Storage Market?
Tesla and LG Chem rule the market with their NMC battery products, but the LFP battery contenders believe their technology’s time has come.
By Julian Spector, GreenTech Media
February 17, 2021

Tesla and LG Chem currently dominate the U.S. home battery market. Both use the lithium nickel-manganese-cobalt oxide (NMC) chemistry favored by the electric vehicle industry. In cars, the goal is to pack as much energy into as little space as possible. That comes with a tradeoff: the potential for cells to heat up and kick off a chain reaction that can end with fire and, in enclosed spaces, explosion.

But the umbrella term “lithium-ion battery” covers a range of chemistries. A vocal cohort of startups has argued for years that homeowners would be better off with less fire-prone varieties. The favorite contender in this category is lithium-iron-phosphate (LFP), which has an established safety record.

“We chose LFP since the beginning because of its safety properties,” said Danny Lu, senior vice president at grid battery company Powin Energy. “It’s much less flammable, and it takes a much higher temperature to reach thermal runaway than NMC does.”

Thermal runaway is the process in which one battery cell fails and heats up enough to kick off failure in a neighboring cell. Pretty soon a whole rack of batteries can be heating up from the inside, causing fires or worse.

That’s a concern for the kinds of large-scale power plants that Powin recently raised $100 million to supply. But large battery plants are designed with special safeguards to prevent thermal runaway from inflicting massive damage, and typically operate remotely, with no staff onsite. Homes with battery packs, by contrast, lack industrial-grade fire safety tools, and are occupied by humans and pets who would be threatened by a fire.

LFP used to be commercially disadvantaged against NMC, because the chemistry cost more and took up more space. Now, costs have fallen into competitive territory and energy density has improved, making converts of some former NMC fans. After years in which the exhortations of LFP aficionados failed to move the market, trends may be shifting in their favor.

In the early days, using LFP would have meant roughly doubling the cost of batteries and taking up extra space for a home installation, said Aric Saunders, EVP for sales and marketing at home battery startup ElectrIQ. ElectrIQ designed its first two product generations around NMC batteries.

Meanwhile, LFP has steadily gained traction with customers.

One of the few companies manufacturing such batteries in the U.S. is SimpliPhi Power, based in the coastal city of Oxnard, Calif. The company got its start supplying Hollywood film productions, and later the military, with off-grid battery power. That required rugged technology that could stand up to heat and wouldn’t endanger cast and crew. Staff tested “every chemistry available” and “every form factor” and decided to produce LFP, Von Burg said.

“You can say that cobalt batteries are more energy-dense, but the truth is you can’t use the energy in the same robust way as you can with LFP,”  Von Burg noted. “There’s a lot in the performance profile that cuts away and erodes the cost benefit.”

There’s also a more nuanced conversation to be had about battery pricing.

Upfront cost can’t be ignored. But LFP batteries deliver more lifetime energy throughput before they wear out, said Adam Gentner, vice president of sonnen, which exclusively sells LFP battery packs for homes. If a customer wants a battery “just for backup power to an out-building,” NMC may be fine for that infrequent use, Gentner said. But if the goal is to safely use the battery every day, to make use of solar power or make money by delivering services to the grid, LFP is the better pick.

“I expect that we’ll begin seeing the balance tip towards LFP in the coming year,” he said.

Some battery experts are looking for alternatives that go beyond LFP. UCSD battery expert Meng said LFP is “a good intermediate solution until we find the ultimate solution for home energy storage,” which would be a battery that lasts 20 years at a radically lower cost.

Entrepreneur Ryan Brown is trying to build nonflammable residential batteries using zinc and water with his Halifax-based startup, Salient Energy. The goal is to get cheaper than any lithium-ion competitors based on the lower costs of zinc as an active ingredient. Unlike other challengers to conventional batteries, this design uses the same roll-to-roll manufacturing techniques that coat electrodes in lithium-ion factories.

“There’s nothing in it that’s toxic; there’s nothing in it that could possibly catch fire,” Brown said.
» Read article       

lender appeal
Colocating energy storage alongside renewables adds to lender appeal
By Edith Hancock, Energy Storage News
February 17, 2021

Colocating battery energy storage systems alongside renewables projects will be ‘critical’ to energy networks in the future, and could help level up debt financing.

That was the take home point from a panel discussion on solar-plus-storage projects during the virtual Solar Finance & Investment Europe conference hosted by Energy-Storage.news publisher Solar Media earlier this month.

Mark Henderson, chief investment officer of UK-based storage and electric vehicle (EV) charging business Gridserve, said the key factor preventing lenders from handing out debt to developers is “down to the revenue streams”.

“The big challenge with adding batteries over the years has been that they have played into a number of markets,” he said, “and those markets are often very shallow.” However, co-locating storage with solar can increase investors’ appetite.

“By having them together, it means that you can elaborate more on the service side, which you can always see spread across the whole project. The gearing on a combined service storage project is certainly better than you’d be getting on a storage-only project.”
» Read article       

» More about energy storage

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

800 solid cycles
VW partner Quantumscape clears another hurdle on road to solid-state battery
By Bridie Schmidt, The Driven
February 18, 2021

Volkswagen-backed Quantumscape, the company that hit the news in December hailing a “major breakthrough” in its quest to commercialise solid-state batteries, says it has cleared another important hurdle.

Solid-state batteries are something of a holy grail for the electric vehicle industry and have the potential to substantially increase driving range and charging speed. But to date, solid-state cell degradation under normal operating conditions (eg temperature) has kept the technology from commercial success.

Having achieved “automotive performance” in a single-layer cell in 2020, Quantumsape says it has now achieved the next step towards overcoming this hurdle, having made a multilayer cell that can cycle 800 times.
» Read article       

» More about clean transportation

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Pike Electric
Texas’ natural gas production just froze under pressure
Texas’ natural gas infrastructure was already vulnerable
By Justine Calma, The Verge
February 17, 2021

Natural gas wells and pipes ill-equipped for cold weather are a big reason why millions of Texans lost power during frigid temperatures this week. As temperatures dropped to record lows across some parts of the state, liquid inside wells, pipes, and valves froze solid.

Ice can block gas flow, clogging pipes. It’s a phenomenon called a “freeze-off” that disrupts gas production across the US every winter. But freeze-offs can have outsized effects in Texas, as we’ve seen this week. The state is a huge natural gas producer — and it doesn’t usually have to deal with such cold weather.

“When we think about what’s been going on in the last week and why it’s turned the market completely on its head is the fact that the freeze offs are occurring in Texas,” says Erika Coombs, director of oil & gas products at research firm BTU Analytics.

Texas relies on natural gas more than any other fuel for its electricity generation. Gas generated nearly half of the state’s electricity in 2019, according to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT). Wind and coal each accounted for about 20 percent of electricity generation that year, while nuclear made up about another 10 percent. While nuclear and wind power have been hampered by the storm, neither frigid nuclear plants nor frozen wind turbines bear the largest share of responsibility for Texas’ power problems.

“It appears that a lot of the generation that has gone offline today has been primarily due to issues on the natural gas system,” Dan Woodfin, senior director of system operations at ERCOT, said during a call with reporters on February 16th, the Texas Tribune reported.

While the frigid cold slashed fuel supplies of all sorts, it also drove up demand for natural gas to heat homes. That “mismatch” is what’s driving these blackouts, says Coombs. There simply hasn’t been enough fuel on hand to power the state’s electricity needs. Natural gas production was pretty much halved in Texas and its gas-rich Permian Basin during the recent cold and stormy weather. It fell from 22.5 billion cubic feet of gas produced per day in December to between 10 to 12 billion cubic feet of gas per day this week, according to estimates from BTU Analytics.
» Read article       

CA to ban fracking
‘No time to waste’: California bill would ban fracking in state by 2027
Proposal is likely to be one of the most contentious fights in the state legislature this year
By The Guardian
February 17, 2021

A new bill introduced in the California state senate on Wednesday would ban all fracking near schools and homes by 1 January 2022 and in the entire state by 2027.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a technique used to extract huge amounts of oil and gas from shale rock deep underground. It involves injecting high-pressure mixtures of water, sand or gravel and chemicals into rock. Environmental groups say the chemicals threaten water supplies and public health.

The bill introduced by the senators Scott Wiener and Monique Limón would halt new fracking permits and the renewal of current ones on 1 January 2022, in addition to banning new oil and gas production within 2,500ft (762 meters) of any home, school, healthcare facility or long-term care institution, such as dormitories or prisons. It would outlaw all fracking in the state by 1 January 2027, along with three other oil extraction methods: acid well stimulation treatments, cyclic steaming and water and steam flooding.

California has been a leader in combating the climate crisis, with a law in place requiring the state use 100% renewable energy by 2045.
» Read article       

» More about fossil fuel

BIOMASS

Baker can stop this
Activists Urge Gov. Baker To Reverse Energy Rules That Boost Biomass
By Paul Tuthill, WAMC
February 17, 2021

Imminent changes to renewable energy regulations in Massachusetts concern opponents of a long-proposed biomass power plant in Springfield.

At a rally Wednesday in front of the Massachusetts state office building in downtown Springfield, activists launched a campaign to try to pressure Gov. Charlie Baker to withdraw proposed changes to renewable energy rules that would incentivize large-scale biomass power plants.

The activists fear the new rules will benefit Palmer Renewable Energy, which for 12 years has pushed to build a 35-megawatt biomass plant at an industrial site in East Springfield.  The project has been the target of public protests and court challenges, where the developer has always prevailed.

An update to the state’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard – the regulatory mandate for using power from renewable sources –is on track to be finalized early this year.

“The governor can stop this, if he chooses to stop it,” said Verne McArthur of the Springfield Climate Justice Coalition.

The 11th hour campaign to get the Baker administration to reverse course on making biomass eligible for renewable energy subsidies will include letter-writing, phone banks, and social media, according to McArthur.

“We have a very well organized campaign and there is a lot of opposition to this around the state,” said McArthur.

Opponents of the Springfield biomass project have long argued that a wood-burning power plant would have a devastating impact on the city that was dubbed “Asthma Capital” in 2019 by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.
» Read article       

Lockerbie burning
500+ Scientists Demand Stop to Tree Burning as Climate Solution
“Companies are shifting fossil energy use to wood, which increases warming, as a substitute for shifting to solar and wind, which would truly decrease warming.”
By Andrea Germanos, Common Dreams
February 12, 2021

A group of over 500 international scientists on Thursday urged world leaders to end policies that prop up the burning of trees for energy because it poses “a double climate problem” that threatens forests’ biodiversity and efforts to stem the planet’s ecological emergency.

The demand came in a letter addressed to European Commission President Urusla Von der Leyen, European Council President Charles Michel, U.S. President Joe Biden, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, and South Korean President Moon Jae-in. The signatories—including renowned botanist Dr. Peter Raven, president emeritus of the Missouri Botanical Garden—reject the assertion that burning biomass is carbon neutral.

Referring to forest “preservation and restoration” as key in meeting the nations’ declared goals of carbon neutrality by 2050, the letter frames the slashing of trees for bioenergy as “misguided.”

“We urge you not to undermine both climate goals and the world’s biodiversity by shifting from burning fossil fuels to burning trees to generate energy,” the group wrote.

The destruction of forests, which are a carbon sink, creates a “carbon debt.” And though regrowing “trees and displacement of fossil fuels may eventually pay off this carbon debt,” the signatories say that “regrowth takes time the world does not have to solve climate change.”

What’s more, burning trees is “carbon-inefficient,” they say. “Overall, for each kilowatt hour of heat or electricity produced, using wood initially is likely to add two to three times as much carbon to the air as using fossil fuels.”

Another issue is that efforts using taxpayer money to sustain biomass burning stymies what are truly renewable energy policies.

“Government subsidies for burning wood create a double climate problem because this false solution is replacing real carbon reductions,” the letter states. “Companies are shifting fossil energy use to wood, which increases warming, as a substitute for shifting to solar and wind, which would truly decrease warming.”

The letter denounces as further troubling proposals to burn palm oil and soybean, which would entail further deforestation to make way for palm and soy crops.
» Read article       

» More about biomass

PLASTICS RECYCLING

plastic greenwash
Chemical Recycling Is No Silver Bullet for Eliminating Plastic Waste
Chemical recycling projects are attracting massive investments but, so far, the ROI is negligible.
By Clare Goldsberry, Plastics Today
February 13, 2021

A paper published last fall in Chemical & Engineering News (CEN) by the American Chemical Society (ACS), “Companies are placing big bets on plastics recycling. Are the odds in their favor?” noted that “chemical recycling is attracting billions in capital spending, but environmentalists don’t think it will solve the plastic waste problem.”

This isn’t news. Consumers and especially anti-plastics activists have lost faith in the plastic industry’s ability to help solve a problem it has been accused of creating, and the slow pace of advanced recycling technologies, aka chemical recycling, hasn’t helped renew confidence that this will be the silver bullet that will rid the world of plastic waste. But attempts continue unabated and the cost of trying is proving to be extremely high.

Even the pace of adoption of various types of plastic, from recyclable traditional plastics such as PET and HDPE to bioplastics, as alternatives to traditional plastics seems extremely slow. The chemical recycling industry also has taken hits, as noted above. For example, the CEN/ACS paper opened by saying that in 2022 “Mondelez International intends to start packaging its Philadelphia brand cream cheese in a tube made from chemically recycled plastics. The packaging maker Berry Global will mold the containers. Petrochemical giant Sabic will supply the polypropylene. And the start-up Plastic Energy will produce feedstock for that polypropylene from postconsumer plastics at a plant it is constructing on Sabic’s site in Geleen, Netherlands.”

We’re not holding our collective breaths.

For at least a decade I’ve written blogs about the many consumer brand owners such as Kraft Heinz, Mondelez, and Nestlé being pressured by anti-plastics activist group As You Sow to find alternatives to single-use plastic packaging as a means to end plastic waste in the environment. Through shareholder proposals, As You Sow keeps applying the pressure, writing about the continued lack of progress these companies are making and the slow pace of adoption of alternative materials, most of which are no “greener” than plastics when you examine their life-cycle analyses. Still, to appease these activist groups, big brand owners keep promising to find the Holy Grail of recycling that will turn mountains of plastic trash into beautifully pure new plastic, or millions of gallons of fuel and other base chemicals from which to make new plastics.
» Read article       

Coke pollution
Coca-Cola Introduces New 100% Recycled Bottle in U.S., But Is It Enough?
By Olivia Rosane, EcoWatch
February 16, 2021

In December 2020, a report found Coca-Cola was the top corporate plastic polluter for the third year in a row, meaning its products were found clogging the most places with the largest amounts of plastic pollution.

The company seems to be aiming to clean up its act somewhat this year with the introduction of a 13.2-ounce bottle made with 100-percent recycled PET (rPET) plastic. The company announced the new bottle’s debut in select U.S. states this February, but environmental organizations said the move was too little, too late.

“In 1990, Coca-Cola and Pepsi announced plans to sell their products in recycled plastic bottles. The Washington Post quoted Greenpeace as ‘unimpressed’ at the time, urging the companies to eliminate single-use plastics altogether,” Greenpeace USA senior plastics campaigner Kate Melge said in a statement emailed to EcoWatch. “Thirty one years later, companies should not still be boasting about transitioning to recycled content. We remain unimpressed.”
» Read article       

» More about plastics recycling

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Weekly News Check-In 10/16/20

banner 17

Welcome back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— The NFGiM Team

 

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about the Weymouth compressor station    

 

PIPELINES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about pipelines       

 

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about protests and actions       

 

HEALTH EFFECTS OF INDOOR GAS USE

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

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

If you can afford to avoid it, probably not.

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

» More about health effects of indoor gas use        

 

GREENING THE ECONOMY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about greening the economy        

 

CLIMATE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

» More about climate           

 

CLEAN ENERGY

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

CANADA-ECONOMY-ENERGY-FOREST-WATER

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about clean energy                           

 

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

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

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

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

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

» More about energy efficiency                  

 

ENERGY STORAGE

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about energy storage               

 

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

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

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

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

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

» More about clean transportation                   

 

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

sangre del diablo
Blood of the Devil

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about fossil fuels                

 

BIOMASS

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about biomass             

 

PLASTICS IN THE ENVIRONMENT

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about plastics in the environment  

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