Tag Archives: hydroxyl

Weekly News Check-In 7/8/22

banner 14

Welcome back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— The NFGiM Team

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about protests and actions

FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about FERC

GREENING THE ECONOMY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about energy efficiency       

MODERNIZING THE GRID

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about modernizing the grid

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about clean transportation

SITING IMPACTS OF RENEWABLE ENERGY RESOURCES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about the siting impacts of renewables

CARBON CAPTURE AND STORAGE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about CCS

ELECTRIC UTILITIES

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about electric utilities

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about fossil fuels

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.


» Learn more about Pipeline projects
» Learn more about other proposed energy infrastructure
» Sign up for the NFGiM Newsletter for events, news and actions you can take
» DONATE to help keep our efforts going!

Weekly News Check-In 6/10/22

banner 08

Welcome back.

A case that took six years to move through the courts finally concluded this week when the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that the U.S. Department of the Interior must analyze the climate impacts of oil and gas leasing on 4 million acres of federal land spanning five states before drilling can commence. This comes after the oil and gas industry failed to strike down three separate settlements arising out of lawsuits brought against the DoI by U.S. conservation groups.

In a surprising twist, Massachusetts may become the first state to pass legislation reversing a national trend in which states open their electricity markets to competition. But studies show that retail electric suppliers have generally offered plans that turn out to be more expensive for consumers than default rates from utilities.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s first-ever senior counsel for environmental justice and equity, Montina Cole, has stated that the commission can “absolutely” improve its assessments of natural gas projects to better account for environmental justice issues. We’re looking forward to seeing how this translates into action. FERC recently declared that the Weymouth compressor station should never have been permitted, but then declined to actually do anything about this unhealthy and dangerous facility located within an environmental justice community.

On a related topic, we offer an interview with one of the authors of a new paper arguing that policies focused only on greenhouse gas emissions will be less successful than a broader approach that tackles inequality and climate change together. Turns out that climate change increases inequality – something we already knew – but inequality also makes climate change worse and more difficult to address.

In climate news, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere just surpassed anything seen on Earth in the past four million years. There’s also new research saying we have greater than a 50% chance of locking in global warming of more than 1.5°C unless greenhouse gas emissions can be dramatically reduced before 2025.

That certainly lays down a challenge, so we’re happy to report that the Biden Administration this week took executive action, invoking the Defense Production Act to build up domestic production of all sorts of clean energy products including solar panels, electric transformers, heat pumps, insulation and hydrogen-related equipment. At the same time, we found a cautionary article about hydrogen, calling attention to several chemical pathways by which it could become another powerful greenhouse gas if leaked into the atmosphere. The message: limit hydrogen to applications for which there are no alternatives, and stop hyping it as the answer to all-things-energy.

The European Commission is responding to Russian energy blackmail associated with its war in Ukraine by proposing to end sales of fossil fuel boilers by 2029. That will boost the energy efficiency of building heat by encouraging a more rapid adoption of heat pumps and district geothermal networks, but experts are saying the timeline should be more ambitious.

Out west, Wyoming is preparing to bump coal off its position as the state’s top energy revenue earner, through grid modernization in the form of two major high-voltage transmission lines connecting itself to several other states in the West. The Gateway South and TransWest Express transmission lines will allow a major expansion of wind energy development.

The road to clean transportation isn’t always smooth. Two Massachusetts state senators are calling out the Baker administration for broken electric vehicle chargers along the Mass Turnpike – two of six having been inoperable for over a year. But in the ‘win’ column, Colorado-based Solid Power just took a major step toward realization of its solid state EV battery with completion of its pilot production line. This is necessary to prove production capability at commercial scale, and also allows the long testing and safety certification process to begin.

We have a couple of articles on how some electric utilities have worked behind the scenes to undermine progress toward clean energy, and even to promote climate denial. But regulations are changing to make that harder. In others cases, courts are coming for the worst offenders in the same way they’re going after fossil fuel producers who internally acknowledge climate risk while telling a different story to investors and the public.

We’ve known for a long time about health risks associated with natural gas infrastructure, but it’s difficult to monitor how pollutants move through the air at the local level. A recent innovative study in a heavily fracked Ohio county showed that regional air quality monitors failed to capture short-term neighborhood-level variations in pollution that affect people’s health. But low-cost local monitors revealed the true story.

Wrapping up the energy news, a huge spike in the cost of fossil fuels is driving worldwide inflation. Natural gas futures hit a 13-year high ahead of what traders expect to be a very hot summer. This sort of price volatility is a risk associated with energy derived from fuels traded on global commodity markets. Renewable energy and energy storage are technology-based and therefore tend to experience price reductions over time.

The last word goes to another fossil-derived product: single-use plastics, which the Biden administration just committed to phasing out in all U.S. public lands including national parks. Once fully implemented, it will cut 80,000 tons from the Department of the Interior’s annual waste stream.

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

— The NFGiM Team

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

climate impactsJudge: U.S. Must Conduct Climate Review Of Leases Before Drilling Can Commence
By Julianne Geiger, Oil Price
June 3, 2022

The U.S. Department of the Interior must analyze the climate impacts of oil and gas leasing on 4 million acres of federal land spanning five states before drilling can commence, a legal settlement reached this week concluded, according to Reuters.

The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruling comes after oil and gas industry groups failed to succeed with their motion to strike down three separate settlements arising out of lawsuits brought against the DoI by U.S. conservation groups.

This week’s settlement is just the latest in the six-years-long saga that started when conservation groups WELC and WildEarth Guardians sued the Department of the Interior over millions of federal acres that were leased to oil and gas companies in Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming.

Years ago—well before the Biden Administration took office, U.S. District Court Judge Rudolph Contreras blocked drilling permits and required the DoI to do a more thorough environmental analysis that included GHG emissions. Today confirms that ruling despite oil and gas industry challenges.

The Biden Administration must now conduct a more thorough environmental review of those leases. For Biden, this is a precarious position indeed, particularly in the runup to mid-term elections. On the one hand, the U.S. President has taken heavy criticism for his energy policies in the wake of record-high gasoline prices. On the other, he has taken heavy criticism from his green supporters for his failure to live up to some of his anti-fossil fuel campaign promises.
» Read article       

» More about protests and actions

LEGISLATION

Wikimedia MA Statehouse
Massachusetts lawmakers consider ending retail electric choice for residential customers
By Iulia Gheorghiu, Utility Dive
June 8, 2022

At least 18 states have opened up their electricity markets to competition. Arizona backed away from plans to allow retail choice in the early 2000s in the face of the Western energy crisis, but no states have reversed course so far after allowing it, retail choice advocates say. Massachusetts, which opened its retail electricity market to competition in 1998, could be the first, after studies and support from the Office of the Attorney General showed retail electric supplier offers as generally being more expensive than the default utility supply offer.

The state legislature has considered this issue in the House of Representatives since 2018, as the AG reported higher costs for customers who left municipal or investor-owned utility service. Healey’s testimony on S. 2150 last summer noted that arrears increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, saying that residents were being charged more by electric suppliers in nearly every community examined.

“I know it is a big deal for us to call for the banning of an industry,” Healey told the state Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, but “this industry has overcharged Massachusetts customers for far too long.”

However, the 2021 study is “riddled with inaccurate results,” creating an unrealistic picture for state legislator support of eliminating retail choice for residential customers, Christopher Ercoli, president of the Retail Energy Advancement League, said in an interview with Utility Dive.

According to REAL, retail suppliers lock rates in at the beginning of a contract, so many retail energy customers in Massachusetts that are locked into rates from last fall are currently saving money as energy prices are currently increasing in the country and internationally.
» Read article      

» More about legislation

FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION

Montina Cole
FERC’s EJ counsel says agency can bolster gas oversight
By Miranda Willson, E&E News
June 2, 2022

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission can “absolutely” improve its assessments of natural gas projects to better account for environmental justice issues, according to the agency’s first-ever senior counsel for environmental justice and equity.

One year into her role at FERC, Montina Cole joined a webinar yesterday to discuss how the commission is becoming more responsive to historically disadvantaged communities affected by its decisions and policies — something that environmental justice advocates say has long been overlooked.

Cole said FERC is planning to build staff capacity focused on justice and equity in natural gas proceedings, as well as hold a public workshop on environmental justice issues “that are arising in the gas facility review process.” A FERC spokesperson said the timing on the public workshop has not been determined.

“I’m very, very optimistic and looking forward to ways that we can improve [gas permitting],” Cole said during the webinar, hosted by the Wires Group, a trade association for the electric transmission industry.

[…] Earlier this year, FERC proposed changes to its guidelines for assessing new natural gas pipelines, calling for “robust consideration” of projects’ effects on environmental justice communities as part of a costs and benefit analysis. In its updated permitting policy, the majority of commissioners said that FERC would try to more accurately identify disadvantaged communities. They also said the commission would consider a new pipeline’s cumulative impacts — meaning the total burdens or benefits that affected communities could experience from the facility and other infrastructure in the area.

Critics, however, said the new policy went too far on environmental and landowner issues and would make it difficult and expensive for new gas projects to get built. In March, FERC turned the proposal and another, related policy into “drafts,” open to further consideration and revisions (Energywire, March 25).

While Cole did not directly address that controversy, she said she is reviewing the commission’s “key regulations and guidance” for the siting of new natural gas projects. That effort will include consideration of projects’ cumulative impacts and the “thresholds” currently used by FERC to identify environmental justice communities, Cole said.
» Read article       

» More about FERC

GREENING THE ECONOMY

GND climate case
Q&A: The Causal Relationship Between Inequality and Climate Change
DeSmog interviewed an author of a new paper that says that policies focused only on greenhouse gas emissions will be less successful than a broader approach that tackles inequality and climate change together.
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
June 3, 2022

Climate change has worsened global inequality, with poorer countries less able to withstand and adapt to climate change’s effects. It also has worsened inequality within countries between the rich and the poor: The impacts of drought, floods, hurricanes, and extreme heat are disproportionately felt by low-income communities and communities of color.

But new research suggests the reverse is also true: Not only is climate change contributing to greater inequality, but inequality is also fueling climate change. A new peer-reviewed paper by Fergus Green and Noel Healy, published in One Earth, analyzes the various ways in which inequality contributes to more greenhouse gas emissions while simultaneously making climate action even more difficult to pursue. The paper also asserts that climate policies that only focus on cutting greenhouse gas emissions, while ignoring inequality, will prove less effective at addressing the climate crisis compared to a much broader movement — like the Green New Deal — that attacks both inequality and climate change at the same time.

DeSmog spoke with one of the authors, Fergus Green, a lecturer in political theory and public policy at University College London, about the new research. The following conversation was edited for brevity and clarity.
» Read article      
» Read the paper

Welcome to Ithaca
Inside Ithaca’s plan to electrify 6,000 buildings and grow a regional green workforce using private equity funds

The city has mustered $105 million in private funds to support low-cost loans for businesses and residents to install heat pumps.
By Robert Walton, Utility Dive
June 2, 2022

Ithaca, New York, made headlines last year when its city council voted to fully decarbonize. Achieving the 2030 goal will require grid decarbonization, electrifying transportation and rolling out heat pumps to the city’s 6,000 aging commercial and residential buildings.

Ithaca is known for its progressive politics — in the 90s the city pioneered a time-based currency to inspire local spending, for example. But the decarbonization plan is among its most ambitious efforts, according to Director of Sustainability Luis Aguirre-Torres.

“When I came to Ithaca last year … my job was to craft a plan to decarbonize in eight years. I told the mayor, ‘You’re nuts. This is very difficult to achieve,’” said Aguirre-Torres, who took the job in April 2021.

Ithaca’s plan is “innovative,” Building Decarbonization Coalition Executive Director Panama Bartholomy said, and is an example of the kind of work many cities are now exploring.

“It’s encouraging to see a city take a wholesale approach to buildings instead of trying to adopt policies that are more reactive,” Bartholomy said. “Every major city in the United States right now is trying to figure out the right model for how to do this.”

Installing heat pumps and making other efficiency improvements makes financial sense for some buildings: the energy savings will pay for the improvements. Other projects may be close, or simply not pencil out. Either way, the savings accrue slowly. So in order to get all buildings decarbonized, the city aggregated blocks of buildings to manage project risk, and then securitized the project to attract private capital.

“The numbers work for some [buildings], they don’t work for some. But in the end, as a whole, it works for the investor,” Aguirre-Torres said. The program is essentially a way of covering the upfront costs of making building improvements and turning it into “electrification as a service,” he explained, resulting in long-term leasing or long-term lending at a low interest.
» Read article       

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

future on fire
“Limited time:” World will lock in 1.5°C warming by 2025 without big emissions cuts
By Michael Mazengarb, Renew Economy
June 7, 2022

The world faces a greater than 50 per cent chance of locking in global warming of more than 1.5°C  unless greenhouse gas emissions can be dramatically reduced before 2025, new research suggests.

In a new paper published in the journal Nature Climate Change, researchers from the University of Washington, Seattle, warn that the world needs an ‘abrupt cessation’ of greenhouse gas emissions to prevent locking in global warming above safe levels.

The research also confirm that net zero targets by 2050 are insufficient to cap average global warming  below 2°C, and that does not include like feedback loops that will accelerate temperature rises.

“Gobal warming is projected to exceed 1.5°C within decades and 2°C by mid-century in all but the lowest emission scenarios, the paper says. “That is, there is limited time and allowable carbon dioxide emissions (a remaining carbon budget) before these temperature thresholds are exceeded.”

The research, led by oceanography researcher Michele Dvorak, used geophysical modelling that finds the world already has a 42 per cent chance of exceeding 1.5°C of global warming – even if further greenhouse gas emissions were immediately ceased.

The probability of breaching this and higher temperature levels will increase year-on-year, the research shows, until the world achieves a status of zero net emissions.
» Read article       

Mauna Loa ABO
Carbon Dioxide Levels Are Highest in Human History
Humans pumped 36 billion tons of the planet-warming gas into the atmosphere in 2021, more than in any previous year. It comes from burning oil, gas and coal.
By Henry Fountain, New York Times
June 3, 2022

The amount of planet-warming carbon dioxide in the atmosphere broke a record in May, continuing its relentless climb, scientists said Friday. It is now 50 percent higher than the preindustrial average, before humans began the widespread burning of oil, gas and coal in the late 19th century.

There is more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere now than at any time in at least 4 million years, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officials said.

The concentration of the gas reached nearly 421 parts per million in May, the peak for the year, as power plants, vehicles, farms and other sources around the world continued to pump huge amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Emissions totaled 36.3 billion tons in 2021, the highest level in history.

As the amount of carbon dioxide increases, the planet keeps warming, with effects like increased flooding, more extreme heat, drought and worsening wildfires that are already being experienced by millions of people worldwide. Average global temperatures are now about 1.1 degrees Celsius, or 2 degrees Fahrenheit, higher than in preindustrial times.

Growing carbon dioxide levels are more evidence that countries have made little progress toward the goal set in Paris in 2015 of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. That’s the threshold beyond which scientists say the likelihood of catastrophic effects of climate change increases significantly.
» Read article       

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

DPA invoked
Biden invokes Defense Production Act to boost domestic manufacturing in clean energy, grid sectors
By Ethan Howland, Utility Dive
June 7, 2022

The U.S. Department of Energy aims to build up domestic production of solar panels, electric transformers, heat pumps, insulation and hydrogen-related equipment under the Defense Production Act, or DPA, determinations issued Monday by the White House.

The DOE could support those sectors through commitments to buy clean energy products from U.S. manufacturers; direct investments in facilities; and aid for clean energy installations in homes, military sites and businesses, Charisma Troiano, department press secretary, said in an email.

The Biden administration’s move to use its executive power is a “game changer” that will establish and bolster a manufacturing base to support the renewable energy transition, according to Jean Su, energy justice program director at the Center for Biological Diversity.

The DPA, which President Joe Biden has invoked to spur COVID-19 vaccine and electric battery production, allows the White House to coordinate with industry to obtain supplies that are deemed to be in the interest of national defense, according to Su.

The White House issued similar DPA determinations for the solar, hydrogen, heat pump, insulation and grid equipment sectors.

“Ensuring a robust, resilient, and sustainable domestic industrial base to meet the requirements of the clean energy economy is essential to our national security, a resilient energy sector, and the preservation of domestic critical infrastructure,” Biden said in the findings.

The Center for Biological Diversity in February urged Biden to use his executive powers, including through the DPA, to tackle climate change.
» Read article       

H2 pathways
Hydrogen Leaks Could Make Climate Change Worse, Scientists Warn
By The Energy Mix
June 5, 2022

As the world invests billions in hydrogen fuel systems, scientists are urging vigilance against leakage, since its release into open air can trigger chemical reactions that significantly warm the atmosphere.

Widely seen as one of the only ways to decarbonize sectors that aren’t easily electrified (like heavy industry and aviation), hydrogen has much to recommend it as a clean fuel—unless it leaks into the air, where three chemical pathways can transform it into an indirect greenhouse gas with 33 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide over 20 years, writes Bloomberg.

The first pathway involves hydrogen’s tendency to react with atmospheric hydroxyl (OH), an element which also reacts with methane in a manner that helps remove this dangerous greenhouse gas from the atmosphere. The more hydrogen that leaks into the atmosphere, the less hydroxyl will be available to neutralize the warming effects of methane, which is about 85 times more powerful a warming agent than CO2 over a 20-year span.

The second pathway is hydrogen’s involvement, near ground level, in a chemical chain reaction that produces ozone, another potent greenhouse gas.

Finally, leaked hydrogen that makes it into the stratosphere produces more water vapour, “which has the overall effect of trapping more thermal energy in the atmosphere.”

Most leaked hydrogen would not escape into the air, but would rather be absorbed by microbes in the soil. But any hydrogen that does get airborne can wreak climate havoc, at least in the short term.

And it’s the short term that matters, given the speed with which global temperatures are rising, say climate scientists with the U.S. Environmental Defense Fund (EDF).

“The potency is a lot stronger than people realize,” EDF climate scientist Ilissa Ocko told Bloomberg. “We’re putting this on everyone’s radar now, not to say ‘no’ to hydrogen, but to think about how we deploy it.”
» Read article       

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

  

Meissen rooftops
Ditching gas boilers for heat pumps will take EU “well beyond next winter”
To quit Russian gas, the European Commission now wants to end sales of fossil fuel boilers by 2029. Some experts are pinning new hopes on geothermal heat pumps.
By Nour Ghantous, Energy Monitor
June 3, 2022

As part of its REPowerEU proposal to end Russian fossil fuel imports, the European Commission announced an increase in its energy efficiency target for 2030 from 9% to 13% on 18 May 2022. Part of achieving this ambition will be to double the roll-out of heat pumps, with a view to banning gas boilers by 2029, and integrating geothermal and solar thermal energy in modernised district and communal heating systems.

The move is a win for energy efficiency campaigners who argue that the best way to reduce energy imports is to reduce our energy demands in the first place. “A structural reduction of energy demand must be at the core of any strategy to increase EU energy security,” said Arianna Vitali Roscini, secretary-general of the Coalition for Energy Savings, in a statement about the plans. She suggests that the Commission’s inclusion of energy efficiency targets in its proposal will ensure long-term solutions to the energy crisis: “REPowerEU [proposes] measures that go well beyond next winter only.”

The general response in the EU energy sphere has been a sigh of relief at seeing more robust energy efficiency policies proposed, but no festivities just yet as some argue the plans still fall short of necessary ambition.

“We are very happy to see a phase-out date [for gas boilers] but we are not happy with the date itself,” says Davide Sabbadin, senior policy officer for climate and circular economy at the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), a network of environmental NGOs.
» Read article       

cut by half
St. Paul school is latest to conclude geothermal is ‘the way to go’
Space constraints, energy savings and the long-term return on investment convinced St. Paul Public Schools to install a ground-source geothermal heat pump system at a high school that until now hasn’t had a cooling system.
By Frank Jossi, Energy News Network
June 7, 2022

[…] In St. Paul, only about a third of public schools have air conditioning — a growing liability as heat waves become more common, resulting in potentially distracting or dangerous temperatures in classrooms. The district also has a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from its buildings by 45% by 2030.

Johnson High School, in the Payne-Phalen neighborhood on the city’s East Side, is among the sites that have lacked cooling options. Its 1961 facade and interior were refreshed a few years ago but its HVAC system is decades old.

Space constraints limited the school’s options. While geothermal systems can require a large underground footprint, relatively little equipment is installed above ground, which along with financial aspects made it a good option.

“Geothermal seemed the way to go,” said Henry Jerome, facilities project manager.

The school district hired a local firm, TKDA, to consult on the project. Over the spring, the district hired a contractor to bore 160 wells 305 feet deep into the school’s baseball field. A liquid glycol mixture will run through buried pipes, transferring heat between the ground and the school’s heat pump.

The school won’t be able to entirely depend on geothermal during the coldest stretches of winter. A high-efficiency condensing boiler and two steam boilers will remain in operation when temperatures drop below freezing, but the school expects to cut natural gas consumption by more than half.

[…] Geothermal can cost more upfront than conventional heating and cooling systems and require enough land for well drilling. But the economics can appeal to schools, governments, and other building owners with long-term outlooks. After installation, the systems require a relatively small amount of electricity to operate.

Peter Lindstrom, a manager for Minnesota’s Clean Energy Resource Teams, specializes in helping public sector organizations with clean energy projects. He said geothermal is getting more attention recently as public schools and other institutions aim to reduce emissions and energy costs. Other Minnesota schools that have installed geothermal systems include Pelham, Onamia, and Watertown-Mayer Schools. And it may not be the last in St. Paul.
» Read article    

» More about energy efficiency

MODERNIZING THE GRID

Seven Mile Hill
Greenlit powerlines forecast Wyoming wind energy boom

Developers are poised to double Wyoming’s wind energy capacity, replacing coal as the state’s top source of electrical generation.
By Dustin Bleizeffer, WyoFile, in Energy News Network
June 3, 2022

Having recently cleared key legal and permitting hurdles, developers are slated to begin construction of two major high-voltage transmission lines connecting Wyoming to several states in the West. When completed, the Gateway South and TransWest Express transmission lines will open the door to a major expansion of wind energy development in the Cowboy State, industry officials say.

“The TransWest Express project opens the ability for Wyoming wholesale electricity supplies to reach new markets, like southern California, Arizona and Nevada, that the state is not directly serving today,” Power Company of Wyoming Communications Director Kara Choquette said.

The $3 billion, 732-mile long TransWest Express transmission line will transport electricity from Power Company of Wyoming’s Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Energy Project in south-central Wyoming, as well as other potential new wind energy facilities. Situated in Carbon County, the project’s 900 wind turbines with a total capacity of 3,000 megawatts will be the largest onshore wind energy facility in the United States.
» Read article       

» More about modernizing the grid

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

EVstop
Senators blast Baker administration over broken EV chargers on Mass. Pike
By Aaron Pressman, Boston Globe
June 7, 2022

Two state senators are taking the Baker administration to task for broken electric vehicle chargers along the Massachusetts Turnpike.

As the Globe reported in April, two of the six chargers installed at rest stops along the 138-mile highway — in Natick and the westbound Charlton stop — have been out of service for over a year. EVgo, the company that operated the chargers, withdrew all six charger locations from its listings and said it could not repair the problems on its own.

On Monday, in a letter to Secretary of Transportation Jamey Tesler, state senators Cynthia Creem and Michael Barrett demanded that the broken chargers be fixed by July 1 and asked for information about who was responsible for their operation and maintenance.

“The continued inoperability of these chargers hampers the Commonwealth’s ability to reach its EV goals, not only because it makes it more difficult for EV drivers to travel across the Commonwealth, but also because it feeds into an inaccurate yet prevalent narrative that EVs are not reliable for long-distance travel,” the pair wrote to Tesler.

MassDOT did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“We would like to see the broken EV chargers on the Pike returned to operation by no later than July 1 of this year, ahead of the busiest periods of summer travel,” the senators added. “We would also like to know that there is a plan in place to ensure that future issues with chargers are resolved immediately.”

The chargers were first installed in 2017. Matthew Beaton, then-secretary of energy and environmental affairs, said they would give “consumers confidence that they will have access to charging stations on long trips, a commonly cited hurdle in transitioning to zero emission vehicles.”
» Read article       

Solid Power pilot line
Solid-state batteries for EVs move a step closer to production
Solid Power wants to give cells to BMW and Ford for testing later this year.
By Jonathan M. Gitlin, Ars Technica
June 6, 2022

Solid Power, a Colorado-based battery developer, moved one step closer to producing solid-state batteries for electric vehicles on Monday. The company has completed an automated “EV cell pilot line” with the capacity to make around 15,000 cells per year, which will be used first by Solid Power and then by its OEM partners for testing.

“The installation of this EV cell pilot line will allow us to produce EV-scale cells suitable for initiating the formal automotive qualification process. Over the coming quarters, we will work to bring the EV cell pilot line up to its full operational capability and look forward to delivering EV-scale all-solid-state cells to our partners later this year,” said Solid Power CEO Doug Campbell.

Solid-state batteries differ from the lithium-ion batteries currently used in EVs in that they replace the liquid electrolyte with a solid layer between the anode and cathode. It’s an attractive technology for multiple reasons: Solid-state cells should have a higher energy density, they should be able to charge more quickly, and they should be safer, as they’re nonflammable (which should further reduce the pack density and weight, as it will need less-robust protection).

It’s one of those technologies that to a very casual observer is perennially five years away, but in Europe there are already operational Mercedes-Benz eCitaro buses with solid-state packs.
» Read article       

» More about clean transportation  

ELECTRIC UTILITIES

under the radar
Meet the group lobbying against climate regulations — using your utility bill
The federal government is considering a rule change that would make it harder for utility companies to recover trade association dues.
By Nick Tabor, Grist
June 7, 2022

A typical electricity bill leaves the customer with the sense that she knows exactly what she’s paying for. It might show how many kilowatts of power her household has used, the costs of generating that electricity and delivering it, and the amount that goes to taxes. But these bills can hide as much as they reveal: They don’t indicate how much of the customer’s money is being used to build new power plants, for example, or to pay the CEO’s salary. They also don’t show how much of the bill goes toward political activity — things like lobbying expenses, or litigation against pollution controls.

Most U.S. utility bills also fail to specify that they’re collecting dues payments for trade associations. These organizations try to shape laws in electric and gas companies’ favor, in addition to more quotidian functions like coordinating regulatory compliance. On any given billing statement, these charges may only add up to pennies. By collecting them from tens of millions of households, however, trade associations have built up enormous budgets that translate to powerful political operations.

The Edison Electric Institute, an association that counts all of the country’s investor-owned electric utilities as its members, is the power industry’s main representative before Congress. With an annual budget of over $90 million, Edison is perhaps the largest beneficiary of the dues-collection baked into utility bills. In recent years, it’s attracted attention for its national campaign against rooftop solar panels, and for its role in the legal fight against the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan.

Within the next year or two, however, this financial model could come to an end. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, the top government agency overseeing the utility industry, is considering a rule change that would make it harder for companies to recover these costs. While utilities are already nominally barred from passing lobbying costs along to their customers, consumer advocates and environmental groups argue that much trade association activity that isn’t technically “lobbying” under the IRS’s definition is still political in nature — and that households are being unfairly charged for it.
» Read article       

Plant Scherer
Warned of ‘massive’ climate-led extinction, Southern Company funded crisis denial ads

The Georgia-based utility spent at least $62.1 million running campaigns to deceive the public about climate change, new research has found.
By Geoff Dembicki, The Guardian
June 8, 2022

In 1980, a report circulated to a division of one of the biggest coal-burning utilities in the U.S. warned that “fossil fuel combustion” was rapidly warming the atmosphere and could cause a “massive extinction of plant and animal species” along with a “5 to 6-meter rise in sea level” across the world.

Several years later an official at the utility co-chaired a conference where scientific researchers fretted that “as we continue to exploit the vast deposits of fossil fuels” it could cause “disruptive climate changes.”

Not only did Southern Company fail to adjust its business model towards cleaner energy sources, it began paying for print advertisements saying climate change was not real. “Who told you the earth was warming,” asks one ad from 1991.

Major oil and gas producers are now being sued in more than 20 U.S. jurisdictions for running campaigns to deceive the public about climate change while internally acknowledging the risks of burning fossil fuels. And the new report suggests that coal-burning electric utilities like Southern Company, which were also warned about climate change for decades, could be sued next.

The Georgia-based utility made its multimillion-dollar payments between 1993 and 2004, according to the Energy and Policy Institute’s analysis of corporate filings. It was a crucial period when aggressive U.S. action to combat the climate crisis could have potentially made the emergency less intense than it is now.
» Read article       

» More about electric utilities

HEALTH RISKS – NATURAL GAS INFRASTRUCTURE

Yuri Gorby
In Ohio, researchers find EPA data doesn’t tell the whole story on fracking pollution

Scientists working with community organizations established a network of local-level air monitors, finding details that regional monitors can miss.
By Kathiann M. Kowalski, Energy News Network
June 8, 2022

A recent study in a heavily fracked Ohio county found that regional air quality monitors failed to capture variations in pollution at the local level, spotlighting the need to address gaps in data on fossil fuel emissions.

Existing Environmental Protection Agency monitors track broad regional trends in air quality. But they don’t reflect differences from place to place within an area. And their reporting often misses short-term spikes that can affect human health, said lead study author Garima Raheja at Columbia University.

“Health is not a broad regional effect,” Raheja said. Health impacts from pollution often depend on more local conditions and can vary “day to day, hour to hour,” she noted.

[…] The team developed a grassroots, community-based network of low-cost air monitoring stations. Each monitoring station used PurpleAir monitors. The monitors cost a couple hundred dollars each, compared to up to $100,000 or more for equipment at the regional EPA air monitoring stations, Raheja said.

The equipment measures levels of fine particulate matter, or PM. Corrected data from PurpleAir monitors correlate strongly with those from reference-grade monitors, studies have found. Tweaks to the monitors also let the network track levels of volatile organic compounds, or VOCs. And community members kept logs about physical symptoms or things they noticed in the area.

Additionally, the researchers made an inventory of all pollution emissions already permitted for the area. The data let them model how pollution could travel in the area.

“We wanted to show what people are actually experiencing,” Raheja said. “And we wanted to show some examples of plumes from different sources.”

General trends in emissions levels were similar for the EPA monitoring stations and the local monitors. However, there were substantial variations in the emissions levels recorded by the two types of stations. Those results showed that exposure to pollutants varies throughout the study area.

The results also showed multiple cases when spikes in certain emissions tracked closely with log entries about residents’ health symptoms or other events in the area, such as pipeline pigging or compressor station blowdowns.
» Read article     
» Read the study

» More about gas infrastructure health risks

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

blistering
Natural Gas Futures Hit 13-Year High As Traders Expect “Blistering Hot Summer”
By Tom Kool, Oil Price
June 6, 2022

On Monday, Henry Hub natural gas futures were up nearly 10% at a 13-year high.

At 5:00pm EST, Henry Hub prices for July contracts sat at $9.368, up 9.91%. August contracts were at $9.350, up 9.87%.

A key reason for the sudden surge is heat, with temperatures expected to rise significantly in the middle part of this month, with production declining and demand threatening to exceed supply.

Natural Gas Intelligence (NGI) quoted EBW analyst Eli Rubin as saying in a note to clients that a “blistering hot summer” is first and foremost among fears. Rubin said the increasing demand for natural gas for cooling in the coming weeks “could ignite another substantial rally in Nymex futures into mid-summer”.

Texas, in particular, is expected to see demand for natural gas soar to a historical record this week–even before the hottest part of summer sets in.

Also driving natural gas futures upward is rising demand, declining production, and soaring exports of liquefied natural gas (LNG) from the U.S. Gulf coast, diverting domestic supplies.
» Read article       

» More about fossil fuel

PLASTICS BANS

ban single use
US government to ban single-use plastic in national parks
Biden officials make announcement on World Oceans Day in effort to stem huge tide of pollution from plastic bottles and packaging
By Oliver Milman, The Guardian
June 8, 2022

The Biden administration is to phase out single-use plastic products on US public lands, including the vast network of American national parks, in an attempt to stem the huge tide of plastic pollution that now extends to almost every corner of the world.

The US Department of the Interior will halt the sale of single-use plastics in national parks, wildlife refuges and other public lands, though not entirely until 2032, with a reduction planned in the meantime. The government will look to identify environmentally preferable alternatives to plastic bottles, packaging and other products, such as compostable materials.

Previously, national parks were able to ban the sale of plastic water bottles but this was stopped by Donald Trump when he was president. The Trump administration echoed the sentiments of the bottled water industry in preventing the ban.

The new plastics ban will eventually span 480m acres of federal land, a size about four times larger than Spain, and will cut the 80,000 tons of waste the Department of the Interior creates each year.

“The interior department has an obligation to play a leading role in reducing the impact of plastic waste on our ecosystems and our climate,” said Deb Haaland, the secretary of the interior.

Plastic pollution is now widespread across the US and the rest of the world, with trillions of tiny pieces of plastic found in the oceans, where much of the waste ends up. Plastics are so pervasive they have been found in the lungs of people and in freshly fallen snow in Antarctica.

The growing production of cheap, disposable plastics has been exacerbated by a falling recycling rate, which has dipped to about 5% in the US following some countries’ refusal to take shipments of American waste.
» Read article      

» More about plastics bans

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.


» Learn more about Pipeline projects
» Learn more about other proposed energy infrastructure
» Sign up for the NFGiM Newsletter for events, news and actions you can take
» DONATE to help keep our efforts going!