Tag Archives: IEA

Weekly News Check-In 12/10/21

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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 7/23/21

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Welcome back.

Our friends and neighbors are participating in a stand-out protest at the corner of Dalton and Thorndyke Ave in Pittsfield till 6pm today, bringing attention to the bad health and climate effects of peaking power plants – and the need to replace them with batteries. If you’re in the area, head over to join them, or offer a honk and supportive wave as you drive by! Meanwhile, we have breaking news about exciting developments in long-duration battery storage that carry the potential to make all fossil fuel power plants – not just peakers – obsolete within a few years. These developments highlight just how out-of-step Peabody’s proposed 55MW gas/oil peaker plant would be, even as its developer insists on moving forward.

Protests and actions are focused on big banks that finance fossil projects – raising the stakes ahead of this fall’s UN climate summit in Britain. Of course, oil and gas extraction is driven by global demand to either burn the stuff as fuel or process it into other products. A pair of articles explore how a greener economy will have to contend with the issues of consumerism and meat consumption.

This week’s climate reporting includes another stark warning from the International Energy Agency (IEA), noting that we’re failing to lower emissions at all. It spotlights the hypocrisy of wealthy governments’ “build back better” campaigns, which have so far devoted scant resources to clean energy. We also found an article explaining why Canada, a country that definitely knows better, continues to behave as if its fossil future extends forever.

Meanwhile, clean energy keeps getting cheaper, and policy negotiations around modernizing the grid are getting into the real nitty-gritty of figuring out how to allocate transmission reform costs among various stakeholders.

You’ve probably heard the Big Oil propaganda that electric vehicle emissions can be high if drivers recharge from a grid supplied by dirty fuels like coal and oil. An extensive global study resoundingly busted that myth. Turns out EVs are considerably cleaner than comparable gasoline or diesel vehicles no matter where they plug in. Even as global sales surge, General Motors seems determined to drive away its own EV customers. The company is botching its response to defects in the 2017-19 Chevy Bolt that resulted in numerous battery fires.

Carbon capture & sequestration (along with green hydrogen) are increasingly promoted as climate solutions by major fossil fuel players. By banging the drum for this unproven and expensive technology, they hope to convince policymakers that “business as usual” is on the cusp of magically going emissions free. Two articles describe this ongoing folly, and – yikes! – show how much influence it’s already exerting. We consider carbon capture to be a good thing, and support developing technologies that economically pull carbon dioxide from ambient air. It should never serve to enable or encourage continued combustion of fossil fuel.

We close with an update on a fossil fuel industry story we’ve followed for a long time – the unsustainable business model of fracking. While some shale gas production remains viable, it appears that shale oil projects are coming up dry in the hunt for investors.

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

PEAKING POWER PLANTS

Pitts Gen
Some want to stop pollution from local power plants. How does that pollution impact health?
By Danny Jin, The Berkshire Eagle
July 17, 2021

PITTSFIELD — Air pollution might not come up often in conversations between medical doctors and patients. Yet, doctors say that pollutants, including those emitted by local “peaker” power plants, can play a role in worsening heart and lung health.

Exposure to pollutants is associated with greater rates of developing asthma and other ailments that reduce lung function. Small particles known as particulate matter are especially concerning, and those levels also are linked with heightened risk for suffering a heart attack.

“Science has shown that pollutants take years off our lives,” said Dr. David Oelberg, a lung specialist with Berkshire Health Systems. “A lot of this stuff is not something that a patient is going to feel hurts them on a day-to-day basis unless they can see smog in the air. … It’s a bit of a silent killer.”

Oelberg said he only recently has become aware of peaker plants, but he since has signed a petition circulated by the Berkshire Environmental Action Team asking the owners of three local peaker plants to consider switching to less-polluting energy sources. He named carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, sulfur dioxide and particulate matter as harmful pollutants.

BEAT and about 20 other groups are seeking to transition the three peakers to clean energy. The coalition has had what it says are collaborative discussions with the owner of two of those plants, and it now is focusing its efforts on Pittsfield Generating, a gas-fired plant on Merrill Road, near Allendale Elementary School and the Morningside neighborhood in Pittsfield.
» Read article           

Peabody 20MW fossil plant
Peabody utility plans to shutdown older plant
By Erin Nolan, The Salem News
July 21, 2021

PEABODY — Plans to build a 55-megawatt natural gas-powered “peaker” plant along the Waters River are forging ahead, but the Peabody Municipal Light Plant officials recently announced their decision to decommission an existing 20-megawatt fossil fuel-burning plant at the same location.

According to PMLP Manager Charles Orphanos, the decision to retire the older, less efficient plant was made after hearing the concerns of ratepayers and analyzing new census data which shows an increase in the number of “environmental justice areas” surrounding the plant.

Plans to build a new peaker plant, which would only run during periods of especially high demand for electricity, have been in the works since 2015. The plant, referred to as Project 2015A in public documents, would be owned and operated by the Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company (MMWEC) and was previously approved to be built at PMLP’s Waters River substation, behind the Pulaski Street Industrial Park.

On May 11, MMWEC announced they were pausing the $85 million Project 2015A in order to address the environmental and health concerns of residents, seek input from stakeholders and consider alternative energy options.

Sudi Smoller, a Peabody resident and a member of the community group Breathe Clean North Shore (BCNS), said while she and other members of the group are grateful for PMLP’s decision to decommission Gas Turbine Number One, she still has additional concerns.

“We still don’t trust MMWEC or PMLP,” she said, noting all the changes which have been made over the past several weeks. “That suggests to me that we need more time to continue making improvements.”

She also noted that the two plants are not the same size, and decommissioning one plant does not change the fact the PMLP and other municipal light plants are investing in a fossil fuel resource even as climate change concerns are growing.

Smoller also said she is unhappy that MMWEC has not committed to doing an environmental impact study or comprehensive health impact study.

Jerry Halberstadt, another Peabody resident and member of BCNS, said he is also still hoping for more comprehensive environmental and health reviews.

“PMLP has promised to decommission an old, expensive peaker plant, but that does not offset the long-term harm that the new 55MW peaker plant will do,” he said in a statement. “The old plant is long past retirement age; it is a good, but not a sufficient concession. If PMLP and MMWEC were sincere in their desire to respect the concerns of citizens, they would enter into meaningful negotiations.”
» Read article           

» More about peakers

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

Chase funds climate crimes
‘Deadline Glasgow’: As Climate Summit Looms, Campaign Targets Complicity of Banks and Biden
Scores of groups are “calling on all financial institutions and the U.S. government to end their support for companies engaged in climate destruction and human rights abuses.”
By Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams
July 20, 2021

More than 160 organizations launched a new campaign Tuesday, ahead of a United Nations climate summit this fall, demanding that Wall Street and U.S. President Joe Biden cut off funding for companies and projects fueling the climate emergency.

The “Deadline Glasgow—Defund Climate Chaos” campaign is spearheaded by the Stop the Money Pipeline coalition, which targets asset managers, banks, and insurers for their roles in climate destruction.

However, anyone who supports the campaign’s demands can sign a petition “calling on all financial institutions and the U.S. government to end their support for companies engaged in climate destruction and human rights abuses by the start of the Glasgow climate talks.”

The campaign includes an 8:00 pm ET kickoff event featuring Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.); 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben; and Giniw Collective founder Tara Houska, one of the Indigenous women leading the fight against the Line 3 tar sands pipeline.

The two-week U.N. summit known as COP 26, scheduled to start on October 31 in the Scottish city, will be “the most important climate talks since the Paris agreement,” the petition says. That deal, which outlines global goals for limiting temperature rise this century, was adopted at COP 21 in late 2015.

For this year’s summit, hosted by the United Kingdom in partnership with Italy, parties to the Paris agreement are being asked to present greenhouse gas emissions reductions targets for the next decade that align with reaching net zero by 2050.
» Read article           
» Sign the petition        

keep it in the ground line 3City, county leaders join calls to stop Enbridge pipeline projects in Minnesota, Wisconsin
By Chris Hubbuch, Wisconsin State Journal
July 20, 2021

Local leaders are drafting resolutions in support of people working to stop the expansion of Enbridge Energy pipelines that transport Canadian oil across Minnesota and Wisconsin.

The Madison City Council is expected to vote on a resolution Tuesday in support of Indigenous sovereignty and calling on local, state and federal leaders to stop the reroute of Line 5 in northern Wisconsin and construction of Enbridge’s $2.9 billion Line 3 replacement in Minnesota.

The resolution, which has 13 sponsors, notes that each of the lines crosses dozens of rivers, streams and wetlands, including the Mississippi River, and cites spills in 1991 and 2010 that leaked millions of gallons of oil into rivers.

Dane County Board member Heidi Wegleitner said she plans to introduce a similar resolution later this week.

Speaking at a send-off event Monday for several protestors heading to camps along the Line 3 pipeline route through northern Minnesota, Madison City Council President Syed Abbas said people in the United States are fortunate to have clean water.

“We are blessed and we have to say thanks to the Indigenous community for that,” Abbas said. “We need to stand with them. We might tomorrow get to a similar situation where we don’t have clean water because of contamination.”
» Read article           

» More about protests and actions

GREENING THE ECONOMY

retail shipping impact
New Report Reveals Top Retail Shipping Polluters
By Olivia Rosane, EcoWatch
July 20, 2021

The coronavirus pandemic has left U.S. customers ever more reliant on retail goods shipped around the world to their doorsteps, but what does all of this fossil-fuel-fueled transportation cost the environment?

In a new report released Tuesday, nonprofits Pacific Environment and Stand.earth have uncovered the 15 retail giants that contribute the most both to the climate crisis and air pollution by shipping goods to the U.S. from overseas.

“These findings reveal new environmental and public health impacts of retail companies’ manufacturing and transport choices — and they are damning,” the report authors wrote.

By shipping goods, these 15 companies emitted the same amount of greenhouse gases as 1.5 million U.S. homes in 2019 alone. The same year, they also released two-billion vehicles worth of sulfur oxide pollution, 65.7 million vehicles worth of particulate matter pollution and 27.4 million vehicles worth of nitrous oxide pollution.

Walmart topped the list in terms of overall shipping emissions, followed by other familiar names Ashley, Target, Dole, Home Depot, Chiquita, Ikea, Amazon, Samsung, Nike, LG, Redbull, Family Dollar, Williams-Sonoma and Lowes.

The report notes that high shipping emissions are built into the retail business model that has been in place for decades, in which manufacturing is outsourced to other countries and shipped to the U.S. using fossil fuels. As a result, the world’s shipping fleet has quadrupled since the 1980s. Shipping now releases one billion metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions, causes 6.4 million childhood asthma cases and contributes to 260,000 early deaths every year.
» Read article           
» Read the report                

greenwashing meatInvestigation: How the Meat Industry is Climate-Washing its Polluting Business Model

Growing global meat consumption threatens to derail the Paris Agreement, but that hasn’t stopped the meat industry insisting it is part of the solution to climate change.
By Caroline Christen, DeSmog Blog
July 18, 2021

In February last year, the head of a leading global meat industry body gave a “pep talk” to his colleagues at an Australian agriculture conference.

“It’s a recurring theme that somehow the livestock sector and eating meat is detrimental to the environment, that it is a serious negative in terms of the climate change discussions,” Hsin Huang, Secretary General of the International Meat Secretariat (IMS), told his audience. But the sector, he insisted, could be the “heroes in this discussion” if it wanted to.

“We cannot continue business as we have done in the past,” he went on. “If we are not proactive in helping to convince the public and policymakers in particular, who have an impact on our activities – if we are not successful in convincing them of the benefits that we bring to the table, then we will be relegated to has-beens.”

Huang’s speech points to an industry nervous about its role in a carbon-constrained future. In the face of mounting evidence of the livestock industry’s climate impacts and a growing array of meat alternatives, the sector has developed a multi-pronged PR strategy that seeks to legitimise not only the industry’s current activities but also its plans to scale up production — despite clear warnings from scientists that this could scupper efforts to meet climate targets.
» Read article           

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

cooling towersIEA Warns CO2 Emissions Set to Climb to ‘All-Time High’ as Rich Nations Skimp on Clean Energy
The Paris-based agency slammed rich governments for promising to “build back better” but refusing to “put their money where their mouth is.”
By Jake Johnson, Common Dreams
July 20, 2021

The International Energy Agency warned Tuesday that global carbon dioxide emissions are on track to soar to record levels in 2023—and continue rising thereafter—as governments fail to make adequate investments in green energy and end their dedication to planet-warming fossil fuels.

In a new report, IEA estimates that of the $16 trillion world governments have spent to prop up their economies during the coronavirus crisis, just 2% of that total has gone toward clean energy development.

Fatih Birol, executive director of the IEA, slammed what he characterized as the hypocrisy of rich governments that promised a green recovery from the pandemic but have thus far refused “to put their money where their mouth is.” Research published last month revealed that between January 2020 and March 2021, the governments of wealthy G7 nations poured tens of billions of dollars more into fossil fuels than renewable energy.

On top of being “far from what’s needed to put the world on a path to reaching net-zero emissions by mid-century,” Birol said that the money allocated to green energy measures thus far is “not even enough to prevent global emissions from surging to a new record.”

“Governments need to increase spending and policy action rapidly to meet the commitments they made in Paris in 2015—including the vital provision of financing by advanced economies to the developed world,” Birol continued. “But they must then go even further by leading clean energy investment and deployment to much greater heights beyond the recovery period in order to shift the world onto a pathway to net-zero emissions by 2050, which is narrow but still achievable—if we act now.”
» Read article           
» Read the IEA report

plan for Paris
EXCLUSIVE: Experts Press Trudeau to Link Regulator’s Energy Planning to 1.5°C Targets
By Mitchell Beer, The Energy Mix
July 20, 2021

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is under pressure to bring the Canada Energy Regulator (CER)’s energy futures modelling in line with the Paris climate agreement, The Energy Mix has learned, just as an international agency warns that the world’s 1.5°C climate stabilization target is slipping out of reach.

The CER’s annual Energy Futures report is a critically important tool in national energy policy, used by investors and businesses to project future supply, demand, and pricing for fossil fuels. Invariably, it projects continuing growth in fossil fuel production, despite the government’s promise to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 to 45% this decade and bring the country to net-zero by 2050.

Now, in a July 8 letter obtained by The Mix, nearly two dozen climate scientists, academics, and energy system modellers are urging Trudeau to instruct the CER to model an energy future that supports the “monumental task” of bringing global greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2050.

So far, the regulator “has only modelled a suite of scenarios that imply the Paris Agreement’s goals will not be met, where the world does too little to reduce its production and consumption of oil, gas, and coal, and where Canada’s climate policies lack ambition and fail to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050,” the letter states.

While the CER “presents itself as the authoritative source of [Canadian] energy information”, the regulator “does not currently model scenarios where Canada’s energy sector aligns with the government’s net-zero by 2050 goal,” the letter adds. As a signatory to the Paris Agreement and a member country to the International Energy Agency (IEA), “Canada should bring its energy futures modelling into alignment with international best practice and the government’s net-zero goal.”

To make that happen, Trudeau must direct the CER to model energy futures that are “informed” by the IEA’s recent Net Zero by 2050 report, which called for an immediate end to new fossil fuel projects, the 21 signatories say. The  projections in the IEA’s May 18 release were stark: the Paris-based agency foresaw global oil demand falling 75%, to 24 million barrels per day, between 2020 and 2050, gas demand dropping 55%, and remaining oil production “increasingly concentrated in a small number of low-cost producers.”

The takeaway quote from the IEA’s work: “Beyond projects already committed as of 2021, there are no new oil and gas fields approved for development in our pathway, and no new coal mines or mine extensions are required.”
» Blog editor’s note: this article illuminates the maddening disconnect between the Canadian government’s acceptance of climate science, and its refusal to formulate policies that phase out its production of fossil fuels.
» Read article         

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

investors pivoting
Investors pivoting to renewables as cost of energy drops and climate targets loom
By Sean Rai-Roche, PV Tech
July 19, 2021

Investors are turning away from fossil fuels and shifting into renewables because of falling costs and climate targets, with US banks lagging behind their European and Asian counterparts.

This was the message from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis’s (IEEFA) report Global Investors Move into Renewable Infrastructure, which was based on data from BloombergNEF.

It put the increasing investment down to “the inherent advantages of investment in clean energy”, such as higher risk adjusted returns and stable cashflows, along with the COVID-19 recovery packages of some governments incentivising green investment.

The report showed how in the financial year 2020, the clean energy sector received record investment, with US$501 billion committed – an increase of 9% of the previous year. Of this, the renewable energy sector received US$303 billion (60%) of total investment.

Total renewable energy installations hit 260GW last year despite COVID-19 pressures, which is 50% more than 2019. In contrast, total fossil fuel capacity dropped to 60GW in 2020 from 64GW in 2019.

A key factor here is the levelised cost of energy (LCOE) for renewables versus fossil fuels. Solar PV’s LCOE has fallen 90% since 2009, according to the report, while those of coal, nuclear and gas have either increased, remained flat or dropped only slightly.
» Read article           

» More about clean energy

MODERNIZING THE GRID

transmission cost allocation
Cost allocation remains key challenge for FERC ahead of transmission reform, Glick says
By Catherine Morehouse, Utility Dive
July 20, 2021

As federal regulators begin the long process of tackling transmission reform, one of several outstanding challenges will be how to allocate costs, according to Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chair Richard Glick.

Transmission reform is considered a key policy development needed to unleash gigawatts of renewables onto the U.S. power grid, experts agree. FERC last week took an initial step toward revisiting its policies, which were last updated in 2011, by opening a comment period on an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking (ANOPR). The commission will likely host technical conferences this fall as part of its effort to build a record before it issues a NOPR.

Glick ultimately wants to see an outcome that better prepares for future resource buildouts, expedites the interconnection process and improves cost allocation to better assess relative benefits. Cost allocation is poised to be one of the commission’s biggest challenges, but Glick said FERC’s recent joint task force with the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners will help determine what allocation is appropriate.

“We know that the states play a huge role in … how transmission costs are allocated,” he said. “And because I think to the extent you can’t figure out where the costs are allocated, it’s very difficult to build the transmission facility in the first place.”

Current policy generally puts the majority of system costs for new transmission facilities onto power providers, which can cause renewables generators to back out of the interconnection queue altogether. Those withdrawals cause further delays to the already-clogged queues, according to a March report from Concentric Energy Advisors prepared for renewables industry groups. For example, a Tenaska complaint in front of FERC alleges that the Southwest Power Pool overcharged it millions of dollars in upgrade costs, which it says are not needed for its project, and would benefit other projects in the queue.
» Read article           

» More about modernizing the grid

ENERGY STORAGE

Form Energy iron-air
Startup Claims Breakthrough in Long-Duration Batteries
Form Energy’s iron-air batteries could have big ramifications for storing electricity on the power grid
By Russell Gold, Wall Street Journal
Photos by Philip Keith, WSJ
July 22, 2021

A four-year-old startup says it has built an inexpensive battery that can discharge power for days using one of the most common elements on Earth: iron.

Form Energy Inc.’s batteries are far too heavy for electric cars. But it says they will be capable of solving one of the most elusive problems facing renewable energy: cheaply storing large amounts of electricity to power grids when the sun isn’t shining and wind isn’t blowing.

The work of the Somerville, Mass., company has long been shrouded in secrecy and nondisclosure agreements. It recently shared its progress with The Wall Street Journal, saying it wants to make regulators and utilities aware that if all continues to go according to plan, its iron-air batteries will be capable of affordable, long-duration power storage by 2025.

Its backers include Breakthrough Energy Ventures, a climate investment fund whose investors include Microsoft Corp. co-founder Bill Gates and Amazon.com Inc. founder Jeff Bezos. Form recently initiated a $200 million funding round, led by a strategic investment from steelmaking giant ArcelorMittal SA, MT 0.95% one of the world’s leading iron-ore producers.

Form is preparing to soon be in production of the “kind of battery you need to fully retire thermal assets like coal and natural gas” power plants, said the company’s chief executive, Mateo Jaramillo, who developed Tesla Inc.’s Powerwall battery and worked on some of its earliest automotive powertrains. [emphasis added]

On a recent tour of Form’s windowless laboratory, Mr. Jaramillo gestured to barrels filled with low-cost iron pellets as its key advantage in the rapidly evolving battery space. Its prototype battery, nicknamed Big Jim, is filled with 18,000 pebble-size gray pieces of iron, an abundant, nontoxic and nonflammable mineral.

For a lithium-ion battery cell, the workhorse of electric vehicles and today’s grid-scale batteries, the nickel, cobalt, lithium and manganese minerals used currently cost between $50 and $80 per kilowatt-hour of storage, according to analysts.

Using iron, Form believes it will spend less than $6 per kilowatt-hour of storage on materials for each cell. Packaging the cells together into a full battery system will raise the price to less than $20 per kilowatt-hour, a level at which academics have said renewables plus storage could fully replace traditional fossil-fuel-burning power plants.

A battery capable of cheaply discharging power for days has been a holy grail in the energy industry, due to the problem that it solves and the potential market it creates.

Form Energy’s iron-air battery breathes in oxygen and converts iron to rust, then turns the rust back into iron and breathes out oxygen, discharging and charging the battery in the process.

Earlier this year, it built Big Jim, a full-scale one-meter-by-one-meter battery cell. If it works as expected, 20 of these cells will be grouped in a battery. Thousands of these batteries will be strung together, filling entire warehouses and storing weeks’ worth of electricity. It could take days to fully charge these battery systems, but the batteries can discharge electricity for 150 hours at a stretch.
» Read article           

» More about energy storage

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

EV production lineOne of the biggest myths about EVs is busted in new study
Even EVs that plug into dirty grids emit fewer greenhouse gases than gas-powered cars
By Justine Calma, The Verge
July 21, 2021

A new study lays to rest the tired argument that electric vehicles aren’t much cleaner than internal combustion vehicles. Over the life cycle of an EV — from digging up the materials needed to build it to eventually laying the car to rest — it will release fewer greenhouse gas emissions than a gas-powered car, the research found. That holds true globally, whether an EV plugs into a grid in Europe with a larger share of renewables, or a grid in India that still relies heavily on coal.

This shouldn’t come as a big surprise. Fossil fuels are driving the climate crisis. So governments from California to the European Union have proposed phasing out internal combustion engines by 2035. But there are still people who claim that EVs are only as clean as the grids they run on — and right now, fossil fuels still dominate when it comes to the energy mix in most places.

“We have a lot of lobby work from parts of the automotive industry saying that electric vehicles are not that much better if you take into account the electricity production and the battery production. We wanted to look into this and see whether these arguments are true,” says Georg Bieker, a researcher at the nonprofit research group the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) that published the report. The ICCT’s analysis found that those arguments don’t hold true over time.

The report estimates the emissions from medium-sized EVs registered in 2021 in either India, China, the US, or Europe — countries that make up 70 percent of new car sales globally and are representative of other markets across the world, the ICCT says. Lifetime emissions for an EV in Europe are between 66 and 69 percent lower compared to that of a gas-guzzling vehicle, the analysis found. In the US, an EV produces between 60 to 68 percent fewer emissions. In China, which uses more coal, an EV results in between 37 to 45 percent fewer emissions. In India, it’s between 19 to 34 percent lower.
» Read article           
» Read the ICCT report

details emerging
GM leaves owner owing $12K after Bolt EV battery fire last year
By Sean Graham, Electrek
July 20, 2021

GM again exploded into the mainstream news last week with an announcement that it was no longer safe to charge the Chevy Bolt EV unattended and that owners should park outside and away from structures out of fire concerns. This all started with a recall of 68,000 Bolt EVs in November of last year. While Hyundai had a similar problem and eventually elected to replace all Kona EV batteries with newer ones, GM decided that software could fix their problems. There have been at least two Bolt EV fires that had the final software update installed, which prompted GM’s recent announcement.

We reached out to a GM spokesperson for comment. We were told that GM is diligently investigating these latest fires and is working on a potential update to owners as quickly as possible. But the spokesperson could not give a timeframe for how this would progress.

While some are quick to dismiss electric vehicle fires as still less common than gas car fires, the opposite is actually true in this particular case. The Chevy Bolt, at least the 2019 model year, is more than an order of magnitude more likely to catch fire than a 2019 gas car, and it can do so in the middle of the night when you’re sleeping.

Electrek exclusively sat down with several owners of Bolt EV fires, and here’s one of their stories.

This is the owner’s recount from his Bolt EV fire that occurred on June 29, 2020, that GM confirmed to be battery-related.
» Read article           

Alice now
Eviation’s Hotly Anticipated Electric Commuter Plane Will Make Its Maiden Voyage This Year
The Washington-based startup expects its plane to be ready for operation in 2024.
By Bryan Hood, Robb Report
July 19, 2021

Three years after it was announced, Eviation Aircraft’s first electric plane is almost ready to take flight.

The Washington-based startup says its debut aircraft, the Alice, could make its maiden flight before the year is out. In fact, the company is so confident in the battery-powered commuter jet that it expects it to be in operation by 2024.

The just-unveiled production version of the Alice looks quite a bit different from the plane Eviation first showed off back in 2018. The zero-emission prototype had a very clear science fiction-inspired look, but the final version will sport a more refined and traditional fixed-wing design. That’s not the only change, either. The Alice now has just two propellers, both mounted on the tail, as opposed to the three its prototype was outfitted with, which were located at the rear and at the end of each wing.

Despite these changes, the Alice will still have room for nine passengers, not including the two seats in the cockpit for the pilot and co-pilot. That will put the plane firmly in the commuter and business class when it’s finally ready for operation. Each propeller is powered by a magni650 electric motor by magniX, according to a press release. It will also feature a fly-by-wire system from Honeywell, which will afford the pilot improved controls.

Eviation says the Alice will have a top speed of 253 miles per hour and a range of 440 nautical miles, which works out to about 506 miles. That means the plane should be able to easily make the trip between Los Angeles and San Francisco on a single charge. Anyone paying attention to electric vehicle announcements is probably used to outlandish power and range claims, but Alice’s numbers should actually be attainable. That’s because its high-density battery system uses currently available cells.
» Read article           

» More about clean transportation

CARBON CAPTURE & SEQUESTRATION

carbon capture project
Will the Democrats’ Climate Legislation Hinge on Carbon Capture?
The bipartisan infrastructure bill may include billions in support for the technology. Progressive groups are not happy about it.
By Nicholas Kusnetz, Inside Climate News
July 20, 2021

The Democrats’ fragile package of sweeping climate and infrastructure legislation might end up being held together by a technology known as carbon capture and storage. That is, if it doesn’t pull it apart.

The Senate is expected to vote Wednesday on a bipartisan infrastructure bill that includes billions in government support for carbon capture, which pulls carbon dioxide out of smokestack emissions or straight from the air and pumps it underground. But on Monday, a coalition of hundreds of progressive environmental groups sent an open letter to President Joe Biden and Democratic Congressional leaders calling on them to reject the technology.

“Carbon capture is not a climate solution,” the groups wrote in the letter, which was accompanied by an advertisement in the Washington Post. “To the contrary, investing in carbon capture delays the needed transition away from fossil fuels and other combustible energy sources, and poses significant new environmental, health, and safety risks, particularly to Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities already overburdened by industrial pollution, dispossession, and the impacts of climate change.”

The letter reflects a split that has emerged in the advocacy community and among Democrats. Many of the nation’s most influential, mainstream environmental groups did not sign the letter, while those organizations that did sign included more left-leaning, justice-focused and local groups.

Carbon capture and storage, or CCS, has taken on an increasingly central role in climate policy discussions over the last couple of years. It is one of the few climate actions that draws bipartisan support. Most major labor unions also support CCS, arguing that its deployment could provide new jobs and help extend the life of some gas or coal-burning power plants, which often provide high-paying union jobs. And the fossil fuel industries have promoted the technology for decades.
» Read article           
» Read the letter

future of natural gas
DOE Quietly Backs Plan for Carbon Capture Network Larger Than Entire Oil Pipeline System
Obama Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and major labor group AFL-CIO are behind the “blueprint” for a multi-billion dollar system to transport captured CO2 — and offer a lifeline to fossil fuel plants.
By Sharon Kelly, DeSmog Blog
July 18, 2021

An organization run by former Obama-era Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, with the backing of the AFL-CIO, a federation of 56 labor unions, has created a policy “blueprint” to build a nationwide pipeline network capable of carrying a gigaton of captured carbon dioxide (CO2).

The “Building to Net-Zero” blueprint appears to be quietly gaining momentum within the Energy Department, where a top official has discussed ways to put elements into action using the agency’s existing powers.

The pipeline network would be twice the size of the current U.S. oil pipeline network by volume, according to the blueprint, released by a recently formed group calling itself the Labor Energy Partnership. Backers say the proposed pipeline network — including CO2 “hubs” in the Gulf Coast, the Ohio River Valley, and Wyoming — would help reduce climate-changing pollution by transporting captured carbon dioxide to either the oil industry, which would undo some of the climate benefits by using the CO2 to revive aging oilfields, or to as-yet unbuilt facilities for underground storage.

The blueprint, however, leaves open many questions about how the carbon would be captured at the source — a process that so far has proved difficult and expensive — and where it would be sent, focusing instead on suggesting policies the federal government can adopt to boost CO2 pipeline construction.

Climate advocates fear that building such a large CO2 pipeline network could backfire, causing more greenhouse gas pollution by enabling aging coal-fired power plants to remain in service longer, produce pipes that could wind up carrying fossil fuels if carbon capture efforts fall through, and represent an expensive waste of federal funds intended to encourage a meaningful energy transition.

In March, over 300 climate and environmental justice advocacy groups sent a letter to Congress, arguing that subsidizing carbon capture “could entrench the fossil economy for decades to come.”
» Read article           
» Read the letter

» More about CCS

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

shale drilling overThe U.S. Shale Revolution Has Surrendered to Reality
Fracking companies aren’t drilling as investment continues to dry up.
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
July 16, 2021

“Drill, baby, drill is gone forever.”

That was the recent assessment of Saudi Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman of the American oil industry’s future potential. As Saudi Arabia’s energy minister, Prince Abdulaziz is one of the most influential voices in the global oil markets. Fortune termed it a “bold taunt,” and a warning to U.S. frackers to not increase oil production.

The response by the U.S. producers — to shut up and take it — quietly confirms this reality. Shale oil’s era of growth appears to be over. The reason is that even as global oil demand and prices rise, the economics of the shale oil business model continue to not work. The U.S. shale industry has lost hundreds of billions of dollars in the past decade producing oil and selling it for less than it cost to produce.

This was possible because despite the losses, investors kept giving the industry money. But now investors appear to have grown tired of losing money on U.S. shale companies and new lending to the industry has dropped dramatically.

As reported this month by The Wall Street Journal, “capital markets showed little interest in funding expansive new drilling campaigns” for the U.S. shale industry. Shaia Hosseinzadeh, a partner at investment firm OnyxPoint Global Management LP,  told The Journal that the problem facing fracking companies is that “they can’t access cheap capital any longer.”

Without new infusions of money, the industry can’t drill for more oil, and that is why the Saudis feel confident taunting the U.S. oil industry. Prince Abdulaziz’s confidence is based in the financial realities of U.S. shale.
» Read article           

energy for progressHow a powerful US lobby group helps big oil to block climate action
The American Petroleum Institute receives millions from oil companies – and works behinds the scenes to stall or weaken legislation
By Chris McGreal, The Guardian
July 19, 2021

When Royal Dutch Shell published its annual environmental report in April, it boasted that it was investing heavily in renewable energy. The oil giant committed to installing hundreds of thousands of charging stations for electric vehicles around the world to help offset the harm caused by burning fossil fuels.

On the same day, Shell issued a separate report revealing that its single largest donation to political lobby groups last year was made to the American Petroleum Institute, one of the US’s most powerful trade organizations, which drives the oil industry’s relationship with Congress.

Contrary to Shell’s public statements in support of electric vehicles, API’s chief executive, Mike Sommers, has pledged to resist a raft of Joe Biden’s environmental measures, including proposals to fund new charging points in the US. He claims a “rushed transition” to electric vehicles is part of “government action to limit Americans’ transportation choice”.

Shell donated more than $10m to API last year alone.

And it’s not just Shell. Most other oil conglomerates are also major funders, including ExxonMobil, Chevron and BP, although they have not made their contributions public.

The deep financial ties underscore API’s power and influence across the oil and gas industry, and what politicians describe as the trade group’s defining role in setting major obstacles to new climate policies and legislation.

Critics accuse Shell and other major oil firms of using API as cover for the industry. While companies run publicity campaigns claiming to take the climate emergency seriously, the trade group works behind the scenes in Congress to stall or weaken environmental legislation.

Earlier this year, an Exxon lobbyist in Washington was secretly recorded by Greenpeace describing API as the industry’s “whipping boy” to direct public and political criticism away from individual companies.
» Read article           

» More about fossil fuel

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Weekly News Check-In 6/11/21

banner 10

Welcome back.

A public forum on the proposed peaking power plant in Peabody, MA is scheduled for June 22 at the Peter A. Torigian Senior Center at 6:30 p.m. This is an opportunity for clean energy advocates to show up and demand a healthy, emissions-free alternative to the project – one that’s compatible with public health and climate goals.

We welcome the news that Keystone XL pipeline is officially dead. Meanwhile, Enbridge is pushing hard on Line 3 construction across northern Minnesota in the face of surging resistance. This tug-of-war between citizens and fossil interests plays out as climate disruptors like carbon dioxide and methane reach new highs, and as wealthy nations continue to finance natural gas development in the developing world.

With a nod to the reality that climate imperatives don’t automatically prevail over Big Gas & Oil, regulators and legislators in Massachusetts are watching closely as we approach the implementation date for recently passed landmark climate legislation. Of particular concern is the Baker administration’s failure so far to embrace the net-zero language in the state’s future energy efficiency stretch code. Even so, an innovative new program to finance rooftop solar power on affordable housing units should help green up that often-underserved sector.

More broadly in New England, we have a report on proposed governance changes intended to help grid operator ISO-NE modernize to accommodate more rapid growth in renewable energy generation.

We’re heading back to the future, looking at clean transportation from a comfortable seat with amazing views. There’s not much a short-hop jet can do that a blimp can’t do better – bring it on! And for those of us traveling to the blimp port by electric vehicle, scientists have shown (in lab tests) how to extract lithium directly from seawater. If the technique is scalable, it could substantially reduce the environmental impact of obtaining this essential green economy component.

We have a few stories from the fossil fuel industry, including signs that ExxonMobil is exaggerating the performance of Permian Basin fracking operations to appear more favorable to investors. Liquefied natural gas developer Pieridae Energy is also presenting a brave face as it approaches the June 30th deadline to announce its final investment decision (FID) for the Goldboro LNG terminal in Nova Scotia. But we learned that their financial advisor recently stepped away from the project because it’s incompatible with the firm’s desired green image. A year ago, Pieridae lost its engineering firm, KBR, for similar reasons.

A recent International Energy Agency roadmap relies too heavily on biofuels, including forest biomass, according to analysis. Bottom line: we have to stop burning stuff. And in closing, we’re not going to solve the climate crisis without tackling the plastics problem.

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

PEAKING POWER PLANTS

public forum scheduled
Proposed Peabody Power Plant Public Forum Set
The wholesale electric company behind the surge capacity plant project currently on pause will share information and solicit feedback.
By Scott Souza, Patch
June 10, 2021

PEABODY, MA —The wholesale electric company behind a proposed gas-powered surge capacity power plant in Peabody will hold a public meeting on June 22 to share information on the project and address resident concerns.

The project, which has been in the planning stages since 2015, was put on hold on May 11 amid growing opposition from climate advocacy groups and elected officials concerned about quality-of-life issues they say the plant will bring to an already overburdened environmental justice community.

But the Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company has said the plant is necessary to satisfy mandatory surge capacity requirements in a way that renewable energy sources like solar, wind and hydro cannot reliably accomplish.

The MMWEC said it will solicit feedback during the meeting set for the Peter A. Torigian Center at 6:30 p.m.

“As a capacity resource, Project 2015A — MMWEC’s proposed peaking plant in Peabody — is expected to run just 239 hours per year, producing fewer emissions than 94 percent of similar peaking resources in the region, and will help its participating municipal light plants maintain stable rates for their customers,” the MMWEC said in scheduling the forum.

But advocacy groups Breathe Clean North Shore, the Massachusetts Climate Action Network and Community Action Works plan to deliver a petition to the utility’s Ludlow offices Friday morning demanding that the project be abandoned or altered to only use “clean” energy sources.

They say in the petition that the plant — which would be built at the Waters Street substation near the Peabody/Danvers line — will add to pollution, hamper efforts to combat the climate crisis and potentially create a “stranded asset” whose cost will fall on ratepayers.

The groups had also called for more public input on the project, which until recently moved through the planning process in relative obscurity.
» Read article             

30-day minimum pause
Peabody Power Plant Battle Heats Up As ‘Pause’ Nears 30 Days
Climate advocacy groups will request plans for the oil and gas plant to be altered or abandoned ahead of a decision on the project’s future.
By Scott Souza, Patch
June 8, 2021

PEABODY, MA — As a pause in the plans to build a 60-megawatt gas and oil power plant in Peabody nears 30 days, climate advocacy groups are planning to deliver a petition to the Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company behind the project demanding that the utility abandon it or replace it only using clean energy sources.

Breathe Clean North Shore, the Massachusetts Climate Action Network and Community Action Works plan to deliver the petition to the utility’s Ludlow offices Friday morning — one month after the project was delayed amid a sudden swell of community outcry about its potential safety, climate and quality of life impact on Peabody residents and those in surrounding communities.
» Read article             

» More about peaking power plants

PIPELINES

rest in pieces
The Keystone XL Pipeline Is Officially Dead
By Olivia Rosane, EcoWatch
June 10, 2021

The Keystone XL pipeline is officially canceled.

TC Energy, the Canadian company behind the pipeline that would have moved oil from Alberta’s tar sands to Nebraska, confirmed Wednesday that it was giving up on the controversial project.

“The Company will continue to coordinate with regulators, stakeholders and Indigenous groups to meet its environmental and regulatory commitments and ensure a safe termination of and exit from the Project,” the company wrote.

The news was met with jubilation from environmental and Indigenous groups who had spent years battling the project over concerns it would worsen the climate crisis and harm the ecosystems and communities along its route.

“After more than 10 years — we have finally defeated an oil and gas giant! Keystone XL is DEAD!” the Indigenous Environmental Network tweeted in response to the news. “We are dancing in our hearts for this victory!”

The defeated pipeline would have extended 1,179 miles and transported 800,000 barrels of oil a day from Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast, The New York Times explained. It would have ended in Nebraska, but connected to other pipelines that would help the oil complete its journey, as The AP reported.

However, environmental activists have long argued that now was the wrong time to lock in more fossil fuel infrastructure. For them, Wednesday’s victory was a long time coming. Protests against the pipeline first persuaded President Barack Obama to cancel a key permit for the project in 2015. Obama’s decision was then reversed two years later, when President Donald Trump restored the permit early into his term.
» Read article             

» More about pipelines

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

hundreds arrested
Hundreds Arrested at Line 3 ‘Treaty People Gathering.’ Water Protectors Vow To Continue Until the Pipeline is Canceled

Indigenous activists in Northern Minnesota occupied sites of Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline, seeking to disrupt construction. The action puts national attention on an issue that President Biden has tried to ignore.
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
June 8, 2021

Nearly 200 people were arrested on Monday while protesting the Line 3 pipeline, a long-distance tar sands pipeline that runs across Indigenous land and threatens food and water resources, including the headwaters of the Mississippi River. Indigenous and environmental groups, and even some elected officials, condemned the aggressive use of a helicopter to disperse protesters.

More than 2,000 people began gathering at an undisclosed location in Northern Minnesota over the weekend, answering a call from Indigenous Anishinaabe people and a coalition of environmental groups to disrupt the construction of the pipeline.

The “Treaty People Gathering” kicked off on June 7, when hundreds of water protectors arrived at construction sites where Enbridge, a Canadian pipeline company, is ramping up construction of the Line 3 pipeline, which began in June after a several-month hiatus due to weather.

The direct action aims not just to delay and disrupt construction, but also to ratchet up the pressure on the Biden administration to intervene. Biden has avoided a public position on the issue, but growing national attention on the protests could make ignoring the water protectors increasingly difficult for the administration. The silence is all the more glaring as Biden has positioned himself as a champion of both climate action and Indigenous rights.

The Line 3 pipeline has been described as a replacement for an aging line, but much of it traverses new land, and the “replacement” will nearly double the current volume of oil traveling through the system, increasing it to 760,000 barrels per day. The emissions associated with the project would be equivalent to 50 coal-fired power plants.

The threat of oil spills is also not theoretical. In 2010, Enbridge’s Line 6B spilled nearly a million gallons of heavy oil into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan.

Those opposing the pipeline’s construction are seeking to deliberately highlight how the project violates Indigenous people’s treaty rights.

“We called this mobilization the Treaty People Gathering because we are all treaty people. Our non-native allies have a responsibility to stand with us against projects like the Line 3 pipeline that put our Anishinaabe lifeways at risk. Today, we’re taking a stand for our right to hunt, fish, and gather, and for the future of the climate,” said Nancy Beaulieau, Northern Minnesota Organizer with MN350 and co-founder of the Resilient Indigenous Sisters Engaging (RISE) coalition.

The gathering aims to rekindle the spirit and energy of the 2016 Dakota Access pipeline protests, led by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and a broad swathe of Native and non-Native allies, where thousands of people gathered in North Dakota for several months in the latter half of 2016.
» Read article             

opening day
‘Which Side Are You On?’: #StopLine3 Protesters Appeal to Biden on Historic Day of Action
“We still have time to save our sacred waters and land—our life sources,” said Indigenous organizer Dawn Goodwin.
By Brett Wilkins, Common Dreams
June 7, 2021

In what organizers are calling the largest-ever demonstration of its kind in Minnesota history, more than 2,000 Indigenous-led water protectors on Monday continued nonviolent, direct action protests against the planned replacement and expansion of Enbridge’s Line 3 tar sands pipeline.

Stop Line 3 campaigners said over 1,000 water protectors marched with Indigenous leaders to the headwaters of the Mississippi River on the third day of the Treaty People Gathering—which organizers billed as “the beginning of a summer of resistance”—to participate in a treaty ceremony at a proposed Line 3 crossing site.

The $9 billion pipeline project—which if completed will carry up to 750,000 barrels of crude tar sands oil, the world’s dirtiest fuel, from Alberta to the port of Superior, Wisconsin—is slated to traverse Anishinaabe treaty land without tribal consent. The proposed pipeline route crosses more than 200 bodies of water and 800 wetlands, raising serious concerns not only about the project’s impact on the climate emergency, but also about leaks and other accidents opponents say are all but inevitable.

South of the Mississippi headwaters gathering, over 500 activists in coordination and solidarity with the Indigenous women and two-spirit-led Giniw Collective shut down a Line 3 pumping station at Two Inlets, northwest of Park Rapids, with some demonstrators locking themselves to construction equipment.

A low-flying helicopter protesters said belongs to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security kicked up a large dust cloud in an apparent effort to intimidate and disperse activists from the pump station protest site. Water protectors continued their resistance even as police clad in riot gear arrived at the station and reportedly began arresting demonstrators later in the afternoon.
» Read article             

» More about protests and actions

GREENING THE ECONOMY

seawater mining
Scientists Find Cheap And Easy Way To Extract Lithium From Seawater
By MINING.com, in Oil Price
June 7, 2021

Researchers at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology developed what they believe is an economically viable system to extract high-purity lithium from seawater.

Previous efforts to tease lithium from the mixture the metal makes together with sodium, magnesium and potassium in seawater yielded very little. Although the liquid contains 5,000 times more lithium than what can be found on land, it is present at extremely low concentrations of about 0.2 parts per million (ppm).

To address this issue, the team led by Zhiping Lai tried a method that had never been used before to extract lithium ions. They employed an electrochemical cell containing a ceramic membrane made from lithium lanthanum titanium oxide (LLTO).

In a paper published in the journal Energy & Environmental Science, the researchers explain that the membrane’s crystal structure contains holes just wide enough to let lithium ions pass through while blocking larger metal ions.

The cell itself, on the other hand, contains three compartments. Seawater flows into a central feed chamber, where positive lithium ions pass through the LLTO membrane into a side compartment that contains a buffer solution and a copper cathode coated with platinum and ruthenium. At the same time, negative ions exit the feed chamber through a standard anion exchange membrane, passing into a third compartment containing a sodium chloride solution and a platinum-ruthenium anode.

Lai and his group tested the system using seawater from the Red Sea. At a voltage of 3.25V, the cell generates hydrogen gas at the cathode and chlorine gas at the anode. This drives the transport of lithium through the LLTO membrane, where it accumulates in the side-chamber. This lithium-enriched water then becomes the feedstock for four more cycles of processing, eventually reaching a concentration of more than 9,000 ppm.

According to the researchers, the cell will probably need $5 of electricity to extract 1 kilogram of lithium from seawater. This means that the value of hydrogen and chlorine produced by the cell would end up offsetting the cost of power, and residual seawater could also be used in desalination plants to provide fresh water.
» Read article            
» Read the research paper

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

plumeGlobal carbon dioxide levels continued to rise despite pandemic
Emissions rose to 419 parts per million in May, the highest such measurement in the 63 years that the data has been recorded
By Katharine Gammon, The Guardian
June 8, 2021

The data is in: carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere hit 419 parts per million in May. The levels have now reached the dangerous milestone of being 50% higher than when the industrial age began – and the average rate of increase is faster than ever.

The figure is the highest measurement of the crucial greenhouse gas in the 63 years that data has been recorded at the Mauna Loa Atmospheric Baseline Observatory in Hawaii – despite slowdowns in air travel and industry during a global pandemic in the past year.

The 10-year average rate of increase also set a record, now up to 2.4 parts per million per year.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the reason is complex. Global emissions fell by 6.4% in 2020, but given the seasonal and natural variability, modest decreases wouldn’t make a big impact on the global tally of carbon emissions. And even as emissions dropped, wildfires burning through trees released carbon dioxide – maybe even at a similar rate as the modest lowering of emissions from the pandemic’s slowing impact on the global economy.

“The ultimate control knob on atmospheric CO2 is fossil-fuel emissions,” geochemist Ralph Keeling, whose father started gathering data at the Mauna Loa site, told Noaa. “But we still have a long way to go to halt the rise, as each year more CO2 piles up in the atmosphere. We ultimately need cuts that are much larger and sustained longer than the Covid-related shutdowns of 2020.”

In order to meet the goals of the Paris climate accords – to keep temperature rise to 1.5C – the United Nations Environment Programme report finds countries need to cut their global emissions by 7.6% every year for the next decade.

“Reaching 50% higher carbon dioxide than pre-industrial is really setting a new benchmark and not in a good way,” said the Cornell University climate scientist Natalie Mahowald, who wasn’t part of the research.

“If we want to avoid the worst consequences of climate change, we need to work much harder to cut carbon dioxide emissions and right away.”
» Read article             

Akaraolu flare
Wealthy Nations Continue to Finance Natural Gas for Developing Countries, Putting Climate Goals at Risk
Advocates are calling for an end to natural gas development, but some poor nations say doing so would unfairly penalize them and stifle economic growth.
By Nicholas Kusnetz, Inside Climate News
June 7, 2021

As the world’s governments try to raise their collective climate ambitions, one of the biggest questions is whether developing countries can expand their access to energy and reduce poverty without driving a sharp rise in greenhouse gas emissions.

A new report warns that wealthy nations are still pushing in the wrong direction, by continuing to finance new natural gas infrastructure across the global south. While natural gas once held the promise of serving as a “bridge fuel” to a cleaner future, a growing body of scientific research suggests the fossil fuel will need to be phased out rapidly in coming decades in order to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.

The analysis, published Monday by the International Institute for Sustainable Development, a climate think tank, looked at spending by multilateral finance groups like the World Bank and government lenders like the United States Export-Import Bank. It found that the groups provided an average of $15.9 billion annually to gas projects in low- and middle-income countries from 2017 through 2019, more than to any other energy source and four times as much as to wind or solar energy.

“What we’re seeing is increasing pressure on developing countries from the global gas industry and from international institutions to expand their production and consumption of natural gas,” said Greg Muttitt, senior policy adviser at the sustainable development institute and the report’s lead author. “We’re concerned about this because it’s quite clear that with how late we are in the climate crisis, we really need to be winding down fossil fuels as quickly as possible.”

Muttitt said preliminary data from last year, which covers multilateral lenders only, shows an encouraging trend: For the first time, clean energy received more financing than fossil fuels—four times as much. Still, gas continued to draw billions of dollars in support, even as funding for oil and coal fell.

The report comes as leaders of the wealthy G7 nations prepare to meet this week in the United Kingdom. Last month, the climate and environment ministers from G7 countries issued a joint message committing to “take concrete steps towards an absolute end” this year to international financing of coal-fired power plants that aren’t fitted with technology to capture carbon dioxide emissions. They also said they would phase out support for fossil fuel energy more broadly, but did not set a timeline and allowed exceptions “in limited circumstances.”
» Read article             

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

STAR program MA
Massachusetts group tests new model for solar on affordable housing projects

The Solar Technical Assistance Retrofits will offer financial and technical assistance to community development agencies interested in rooftop solar, with private investors providing the upfront capital
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
June 11, 2021

A Massachusetts program announced Thursday that it has secured $10 million to invest in up to 3 megawatts of solar projects on affordable housing buildings.

The Solar Technical Assistance Retrofits program, or STAR, will offer financial and technical assistance to community development agencies interested in installing rooftop solar as a way to lower energy costs.

“We believe that affordable housing should have full access to clean energy just like everyone else — it’s an equity issue,” said Emily Jones, senior program officer at the Local Initiatives Support Corp. in Boston, one of the agencies developing the program.

Solar panels offer environmental and financial benefits to housing agencies, including freeing up money to invest elsewhere or pass savings on to residents. Community development groups also generally serve neighborhoods that stand to feel a disproportionate impact from climate change.

However, over the past decade or so, the tight budgets of these nonprofits have meant few new affordable developments have included solar panels. Many, perhaps most, have instead opted for solar-ready construction, with roofs and electrical systems designed to support a hypothetical future solar system.

But once a development is built, new challenges to going solar appear. The buildings are generally operated with very small margins, leaving the agencies with little money to invest in solar installations.

Furthermore, affordable housing agencies generally own multiple buildings, each with its own advantages and obstacles for solar panels. Researching the often complex and technical options and seeking out financing partners can be too much for agency staff that is already stretched thin. Even the seemingly minor detail of freeing up staff to gather the information and complete the paperwork a solar developer needs can become a major stumbling block.

The STAR program, which launched in January, is designed to address this complex set of obstacles in a way other programs have not. Participating organizations receive grants to help them launch the process, in-depth analyses of their solar options from a local solar developer, and access to financing to help them install solar panels, often with no upfront cost.
» Read article             

proceed with cautionThe Department of Energy is trying to make clean hydrogen this generation’s ‘moonshot’
New “Energy Earthshots” initiative aims to make clean hydrogen cheap.
By Emily Pontecorvo, Grist
June 8, 2021

The U.S. Department of Energy announced a new “Energy Earthshots” initiative on Monday, evoking the spirit of ambition that put astronauts on the moon in the 1960s. This time, the goal is to accelerate the development of clean energy solutions that will help tackle climate change.

The initiative will focus on bringing down the cost of technologies that will enable the U.S. to achieve a net-zero emissions energy system by 2050, a crucial benchmark for preventing runaway global warming. First up is the “Hydrogen Shot” —  a goal to get the cost of clean hydrogen from $5 per kilogram down to $1 by 2030, or an 80 percent drop.

“Clean hydrogen is a game changer,” Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said in a statement. “It will help decarbonize high-polluting heavy-duty and industrial sectors, while delivering good-paying clean energy jobs and realizing a net-zero economy by 2050.”

Hydrogen is a flexible fuel that can be used in a range of applications and doesn’t release any greenhouse gases when it’s burned. Today the United States produces about a seventh of the world’s hydrogen, which is primarily used in oil refineries and to produce ammonia for fertilizer. But hydrogen could be key to cutting emissions from some of the hardest-to-decarbonize activities, such as industrial processes, steelmaking, storing clean energy for the power grid, and powering heavy-duty vehicles.

The problem is that today, about 95 percent of all hydrogen is made by reacting steam with natural gas in a process that releases carbon dioxide emissions. The Department of Energy’s Hydrogen Shot initiative aims to scale up methods of producing the fuel cleanly, using renewable electricity, nuclear power, or natural gas or biomass with  carbon capture technology to prevent emissions from entering the atmosphere.

Clean hydrogen production does exist today at a small scale, and is mainly inhibited by cost. But larger projects are underway. A utility in Florida is building a pilot plant to produce hydrogen from excess solar power, and New York-based company Plug Power has announced plans for three new hydrogen production facilities in New York, Pennsylvania, and Texas that will produce the fuel using hydropower and wind energy.
» Blog editor’s note: Green hydrogen does have a place in our energy future, but producing it from natural gas or biomass (even with carbon capture) would be environmentally problematic. So would overuse of this resource – for instance, using it for any applications that could be handled by wind/solar/storage assets. We’ll be watching this topic closely.
» Read article             

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

watch time
Watchdogs on alert ahead of climate law implementation
By Colin A. Young, WWLP, Chanel 22 News
June 9, 2021

BOSTON (SHNS) – Seventy-five days ago Wednesday, senators, representatives and administration officials gathered in the State Library to watch Gov. Charlie Baker sign a wide-reaching climate policy law. That means there are just 15 days left before it takes effect, and the lead Senate architect of the law made clear Wednesday he will be watching its implementation closely.

Sen. Michael Barrett spoke as part of the Northeast Clean Energy Council and Alliance for Business Leadership’s annual Massachusetts Clean Energy Day, an event that also featured his House counterpart Rep. Jeff Roy and Department of Energy Resources Commissioner Patrick Woodcock […].

“I want to emphasize the Senate’s interest in following through with implementation of the 2021 climate act. The Senate as a body has a lot invested here,” Barrett said, adding that even though the law was a result of legislative and executive branch collaboration, “small gaps” remain between how the Senate would like to see the law implemented and the Baker administration’s perspective.

The law Baker signed in March after months of stops and starts commits Massachusetts to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, establishes interim emissions goals between now and the middle of the century, adopts energy efficiency standards for appliances, authorizes another 2,400 megawatts of offshore wind power and addresses needs in environmental justice communities.

Barrett has taken a watchdog role in the law’s implementation since the governor’s signature was still wet. Minutes after the bill signing, he told the News Service he was concerned that the Baker administration had tried to “evade legislative intent” of the new law. On Wednesday, he pointed specifically to the law’s provision calling for a municipal opt-in net-zero stretch energy code — which was a major point of contention between the Legislature and governor during debate on the bill — as an area of concern.

“The framing, verbally, of the administration’s responsibility here by others in the administration has tended to drop the words ‘net-zero’ out of the conversation, which is really strange because we not only require in statute that there be a definition of net zero building, we also require that there be, and I’m quoting from the statute, ‘net-zero building performance standards’ promulgated by the end of 2022,” he said. The senator added, “So there’s still a difference between legislative intention, which is pretty clear, and what the administration says it intends to do with drafting the net-zero stretch energy code.”

Barrett said the Senate would be “dead serious” about making sure “that the politics within the executive branch, which may include builders and developers, don’t somehow throw us off path.”

“I don’t think it’s going to happen, but I haven’t seen a significant indication really that there’s unambivalent buy-in by the executive at the current time, current company exempted,” he said.

Barrett excluded Woodcock from his criticisms throughout his remarks Wednesday. During his own remarks, Woodcock mentioned that DOER is “moving forward with building code updates, not only with our stretch code but looking at a municipal opt-in that includes a definition of net-zero.”
» Read article             

» More about energy efficiency

MODERNIZING THE GRID

MOPR reform
New England states push for governance changes in ISO-NE, ahead of anticipated MOPR reform
To quell state frustrations, regulators say conversations will have to move beyond reforming the controversial minimum price rule.
By Catherine Morehouse, Utility Dive
June 7, 2021

State regulators in the Northeast are cautiously optimistic that the new administration and improved relations with their grid operator will finally place their states — and their region — on a path toward dramatically reducing emissions in the next decade. But much of that progress depends on whether structures within the New England ISO change beyond the reversal of controversial orders in the region, they say.

Almost every state in the ISO New England footprint has an ambitious mandate or goal for clean electricity in the coming decades, requiring large amounts of renewable energy to come onto the power system. But efforts by the grid operator to prevent price suppression in the region, as a result of increasing levels of subsidized resources, led to tensions between the regional operator and state officials in recent years — specifically, rules set under the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in 2018 to reform its capacity auction by splitting it in two. Under the first auction, the minimum offer price rule (MOPR) would apply, effectively raising the bidding price of all state-subsidized resources. The second auction is an attempt to somewhat rectify this by allowing cleared resources to substitute themselves out for newer, state sponsored resources, and get paid for doing so.

Ultimately, this rule, approved in 2018 and known as Competitive Auctions with Sponsored Policy Resources (CASPR), heightened the conflict between states and their regulators, and for a time cemented the MOPR as an appropriate response to concerns over state-subsidized resources. States felt the rules would interfere with the laws binding them to bring on more clean energy, and regulators became increasingly frustrated when faced with regional policies they believed would not allow them to fulfill their statutory duties to implement those laws.

But now, under a new FERC and faced with a wave of political backlash — including some states in the also MOPRed PJM Interconnection threatening to exit the markets altogether, and a letter sent to the ISO in October from five Northeast states demanding changes to the market’s design, planning process and governance — FERC and the grid operators are working to rectify those policies, and give states a more central voice in the discussion.

“The MOPR regimes and Eastern capacity markets have pretty much forced us to get to a situation where we’re at battle, in many cases, with the states — and needlessly so, in my opinion,” said FERC Chair Richard Glick, who consistently opposed the orders when he was a commissioner, during FERC’s second technical conference in May on re-evaluating resource adequacy in the markets.
» Read article             

» More about modernizing the grid

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

Airlander 10
Inside of world’s largest airship revealed in stunning images
By Edd Gent, Live Science
June 8, 2021

New details about one of the world’s largest aircraft, Airlander 10, reveal a spacious cabin with floor-to-ceiling windows (and plenty of legroom) inside the blimp-like exterior. And the futuristic aircraft will be loads better for the environment.

British company Hybrid Air Vehicles recently released concept images of its forthcoming airship, which is 299 feet (91 meters) long and 112 feet (34 m) wide, with the capacity to hold about 100 people. But rather than being crammed in like sardines, passengers will be treated to floor-to-ceiling windows and the kind of space and legroom commercial airlines currently reserve for business-class customers.

The firm thinks the vehicle, which is expected to enter service by 2025, will soon challenge conventional jets on a number of popular short-haul routes, thanks to its improved comfort and 90% lower emissions.

“The number-one benefit is reducing your carbon footprint on a journey by a factor of 10,” Mike Durham, Hybrid Air Vehicles’ chief technical officer, told Live Science. “But also, while you’re going to be in the air a little bit longer than you would if you were on an airplane, the quality of the journey will be so much better.”

The Airlander is so much greener than a passenger plane, Durham said, primarily because it relies on a giant balloon of helium to get it into the air. In contrast, airplanes need to generate considerable forward thrust with their engines before their wings can provide the lift to get them airborne.

Once it’s in the air, the airship relies on four propellers on each corner of the aircraft to push it along. In the first generation, two of these propellers will be powered by kerosene-burning engines, but the other two will be driven by electric motors, further reducing the vehicle’s carbon emissions. By 2030, the company expects to provide a fully electric version of the Airlander.
» Read article             

» More about clean transportation

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

just another frackerExxon is Telling Investors its Permian Fracking Projects are ‘World Class’. The Data Says Otherwise.
A new report finds that the productivity of ExxonMobil’s wells in the Permian basin declined in 2019, raising “troubling questions about the quality” of its assets.
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
June 10, 2021

ExxonMobil’s production numbers in the Permian basin in West Texas and New Mexico appear to have deteriorated in 2019, according to new analysis, calling into question the company’s claims that it is an industry leader and that its operations are steadily becoming more efficient over time.

Chastened by years of poor returns and rising angst among its own shareholders, ExxonMobil narrowed its priorities in 2020 to just a few overarching areas of interest, focusing on its massive offshore oil discoveries in Guyana and its Permian basin assets, two areas positioned as the very core of the company’s growth strategy.

Exxon has long described its Permian holdings as “world class,” and the company prides itself on being an industry leader in both size and profitability.

“For our largest resource, which is in the Delaware Basin, we’re only just about to unleash the hounds,” Neil Chapman, the head of Exxon’s oil and gas division, said at its March 2020 Investor Day conference. The Delaware basin is a subset of the Permian basin, stretching across West Texas and southeastern New Mexico.

But while the pandemic and the oil market downturn forced cuts in spending, the company’s belief in the Permian and its assurances about its quality remain unshaken.

This is despite ExxonMobil’s wells in the Permian producing less oil on average in 2019 than they did in 2018, according to a new report from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA). The decline raises “troubling questions about the quality” of those assets, the report states, and the company’s “ability to sustain the industry-leading production that the company has been touting to investors.”

IEEFA used data from IHS Markit, an industry analysis firm, the same data that Exxon itself uses in its presentation to investors. The data show that Exxon’s average first-year production per well in the Delaware portion of the Permian basin fell from 635 barrels per day in 2018 to 521 barrels per day in 2019. The slip in performance came as the company drilled twice as many wells over that timeframe.

“[A]s ExxonMobil drilled more Delaware Basin wells, the performance of its wells deteriorated year-over-year, both absolutely and in comparison with peers,” IEEFA analysts Clark Williams-Derry and Tom Sanzillo wrote in their report. Data for 2020 is not complete, but so far, the numbers suggest a further deterioration.
» Read article            
» Read the IEEFA report

Permian Basin flare
Cleaning Up Methane Pollution From Permian Super Emitters is ‘Low Hanging Fruit’ for the Climate, Study Finds
Experts shine a spotlight on the worst offenders in the Permian basin. The technological fixes are obvious, they say, but state regulators are so far unwilling to act.
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
June 4, 2021

Only a handful of super emitters are responsible for an enormous amount of the methane pollution in the Permian basin, according to a new study. And ratcheting down these emissions can lead to quick and significant wins for the climate.

According to the study published on June 2 in the journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters, a relatively small number of sites — 11 percent — account for nearly a third of methane emissions in the region. Methane is a highly potent greenhouse gas — more than 80 times more powerful than carbon dioxide over a 20-year time-frame.

Between September and November 2019, a team of scientists from the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the University of Arizona, and Arizona State University, conducted aerial flights over the Permian basin, using sensors to detect methane plumes, tracing them back to specific emitters. The researchers found that roughly half of all the methane was escaping from drilling sites, and the other half from pipelines and processing facilities, indicating a slightly larger pollution footprint for pipelines compared to other regions.

The findings come at the same time as a separate study from Ceres and Clean Air Task Force, published on June 1, which found that some smaller oil drillers in the Permian basin have worse methane pollution rates than the largest oil and gas companies’ operations there, including ExxonMobil and Chevron.

Slashing methane emissions represents prime targets for climate action. But while the solutions are well-known, researchers and legal experts told DeSmog that state regulators have done very little to compel the industry to clean up.
» Read article            
» Read the study

» More about fossil fuels

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

Societe GeneraleCanada’s Pieridae Energy hires MUFG as SocGen exits over emissions worries
By Sabrina Valle and Simon Jessop, Reuters
May 28, 2021

RIO DE JANEIRO/LONDON (Reuters) – Canada’s Pieridae Energy Ltd has hired Japanese lender MUFG Bank to help raise $10 billion for its proposed Goldboro liquefied natural gas (LNG) export plant in Nova Scotia, it told Reuters on Thursday.

The decision to hire a new banker came after Societe Generale SA, its previous financial advisor, committed to phasing out of new shale financing on environmental grounds.

Societe Generale confirmed it had stopped providing support to both Goldboro and a separate project, Quebec LNG, to limit exposure to shale oil and gas production in North America by 2023.

Historically a backer of LNG projects, SocGen’s departure further reduces investment options for a dozen North American LNG projects still requiring financing. Royal Bank of Scotland and HSBC also have tightened restrictions on lending for high-carbon energy projects.
» Blog editor’s note: Pieridae plans to develop the Goldboro LNG export facility in Nova Scotia – a potential destination for fracked gas traveling through the controversial Weymouth compressor station. A year ago, their engineering contractor KBR quit the project to clean up its environmental portfolio. Their financial advisor just did the same thing.
» Read article        

» More about LNG

BIOMASS

biomass facts for VicBiomass is false solution to climate change
Recent state decisions are a step in right direction
By Philip Duffy and Alexander Rabin, CommonWealth Magazine | Opinion
May 14, 2021
Dr. Philip Duffy is president and executive director of Woodwell Climate Research Center in Woods Hole and Dr. Alexander Rabin is assistant professor of medicine at Tufts University School of Medicine specializing in pulmonary and critical care medicine.

FOR TOO LONG, burning wood has been wrongly considered “clean” energy, when in fact it is bad for both the climate and human health. With two recent decisions, Massachusetts seems poised to reverse direction on this false solution and prioritize healthier communities and a safer climate. While these are steps in the right direction, they are only the first of what is needed, and the Commonwealth has an opportunity to lead.

Springfield is the nation’s “asthma capital,” where residents face some of the highest rates of respiratory illness in the country as a result of decades of environmental hazards and heightened levels of air pollution. Springfield is also an environmental justice community, whose residents have spent 12 years fighting construction of a biomass plant proposed in their backyard. The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection recently revoked the developer’s Air Plan Approval, citing “the heightened focus on environmental and health impacts on environmental justice populations from sources of pollution” in the nine years since the permit was first approved.

This decision and a new proposal from the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources to strengthen the state’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard are welcome recognition that the health and well-being of the community and the environment are inextricably linked.

While these are huge steps in the right direction for Springfield, as well as for other environmental justice communities, in Massachusetts and many other states burning wood to generate electricity is currently considered “renewable” and eligible for incentives under the states’ Renewable Portfolio Standard, a policy that is intended to drive adoption of “clean” energy. But biomass is a false solution that serves neither our climate nor our communities.

For humanity to have a viable future, climate and public health policies must be based on science, not industry messaging. And the science is clear: to have a chance of an acceptable future, we need to immediately and drastically reduce carbon emissions to the atmosphere, and also remove a massive amount of CO2 from the atmosphere. Burning our forests is incompatible with both of those goals and harmful to our health.
» Read article            

IEA roadmap on bioenergy
The IEA’s New Net Zero ‘Roadmap’ is Dangerously Reliant on Destructive Bioenergy
The influential agency is also wildly overestimating the amount of bioenergy currently in production, argues Biofuelwatch’s Almuth Ernsting.
By Almuth Ernsting, DeSmog Blog | Opinion
June 1, 2021
Almuth Ernsting is Co-director of Biofuelwatch and Regional Focal Point for the Global Forest Coalition in Europe and North America.

The International Energy Agency’s new “Net Zero by 2050” report has won plaudits for its bold recommendations on how the world can limit warming to 1.5°C, in line with the Paris Agreement:  no investment in new fossil fuel projects, and an end to petrol and diesel cars by 2035.

But the vision it presents governments is fantastic in another sense of the word, too.

From 2030 onwards, the IEA sees technologies that don’t yet work at scale doing much of the heavy lifting. In reality, annual carbon dioxide emissions reliably mirror the state of countries’ economies, dipping only during recessions.

As for the not-yet-proven technologies, I can think of no better reply than Greta Thunberg’s tweet slamming US Special Envoy for Climate John Kerry for his recent remark that half of emissions cuts would need to come from technologies we don’t currently possess: “Great news! I spoke to Harry Potter and he said he will team up with Gandalf, Sherlock Holmes & The Avengers and get started right away!”

The IEA is made up of thirty member states and eight associated countries, comprising most of the world’s economic power. Its reports both reflect and shape the prevailing paradigm for how governments respond to the climate crisis.

In this light, one of the most pernicious elements of the IEA’s net-zero scenario is the future role it foresees for bioenergy.

This bioenergy “vision” has been rightly criticised as a “false solution” by environmental NGOs. Converting land to biofuel production can have a disastrous impact on both the climate and biodiversity. Palm oil biofuels are linked to three times the carbon emissions of the fossil fuels they replace, and soy biofuels have twice the emissions footprint. Meanwhile, industrial crop and tree plantations are associated with widespread land-grabbing, human rights abuses, and loss of access to food.

So there are numerous drawbacks to the IEA’s supposedly modest bioenergy scenario, which by our estimates would involve a more than four-fold increase in land used for crop and tree plantations, as well as a growing reliance on forest wood. This would worsen climate change and biodiversity loss and lead to a new wave of land-grabbing likely accompanied by human rights abuses and loss of food sovereignty in the Global South.
» Read article             

» More about biomass

PLASTICS, HEALTH, AND ENVIRONMENT

ocean bound plastic
Ocean Plastic: What You Need to Know
By Audrey Nakagawa, EcoWatch
June 8, 2021

Ocean bound plastic is plastic waste that is headed toward our oceans. The term “ocean bound plastic” was popularized by Jenna Jambeck, Ph.D., a professor from the University of Georgia. In 2015, she and a team of researchers estimated the amount of plastic waste entering the ocean from land.

Addressing ocean bound plastic is a key element to ocean conservation. Around 80% of plastic in the ocean can be sourced back to ocean bound plastic. Plastics that end up near bodies of water such as rivers are at risk of ending up in the ocean. Other plastic can reach the sea through sewage systems or storms. For example, in 2011, after the 2011 Tōhoku tsunami and earthquake hit Japan, around 5 million tons of debris ended up in the ocean. Some of the debris sank while some ended up on the U.S. west coast. Additionally, trash and plastic can come from ships or offshore platforms. However, decades ago, countries dumped their waste directly into the sea. In the U.S. this was outlawed in 1988 in the Ocean Dumping Ban Act of 1988.

Plastic waste is a huge threat to our Earth, and diverting ocean bound plastic is one way we can do better to help the environment.

Each year, despite conservation efforts, 8 million tons of plastic reaches our oceans to meet the 150 million metric tons of plastic that already exists in marine environments. According to the Smithsonian, as of 2016, we produce around 335 million metric tons of plastic each year. Half of this plastic is single-use. Of the plastic we use globally, only around 9% of it gets properly recycled.

To create a mental picture of just how much plastic ends up in our oceans, imagine a garbage truck the size of New York City depositing its garbage into the ocean every minute of every day for a whole year. If this doesn’t frighten you enough, the amount of plastic that will be produced and consumed is supposed to double over the course of the next ten years. If nothing is done to address plastic consumption, and the aftermath, there could be over 250 million metric tons of plastic in our oceans in ten years.

Even if you don’t live on a coast, the plastic you throw away can still end up in the ocean. According to the World Wildlife Fund, plastic ends up in the ocean when it’s thrown away instead of recycled, when it’s littered on land, and when products we use are flushed down the drain or toilet. Additionally, cosmetic or cleaning products that contain parabens or microplastic beads can be washed into the ocean.
» Read article             

plastic debris
Who’s Making — and Funding — the World’s Plastic Trash?
ExxonMobil, Dow, Barclays, and more top lists in a new report ranking the companies behind the single-use plastic crisis.
By Sharon Kelly, DeSmog Blog
May 18, 2021

ExxonMobil is the world’s single largest producer of single-use plastics, according to a new report published today by the Australia-based Minderoo Foundation, one of Asia’s biggest philanthropies.

The Dow Chemical Company ranks second, the report finds, with the Chinese state-owned company Sinopec coming in third. Indorama Ventures — a Thai company that entered the plastics market in 1995 — and Saudi Aramco, owned by the Saudi Arabian government, round out the top five.

Funding for single-use plastic production comes from major banks and from institutional asset managers. The UK-based Barclays and HSBC, and Bank of America are the top three lenders to single-use plastic projects, the new report finds. All three of the most heavily invested asset managers named by the report — Vanguard Group, BlackRock, and Capital Group — are U.S.-based.

“This is the first-time the financial and material flows of single-use plastic production have been mapped globally and traced back to their source,” said Toby Gardner, a Stockholm Environment Institute senior research fellow, who contributed to the report, titled The Plastic Waste Makers Index.

The report is also the first to rank companies by their contributions to the single-use plastic crisis, listing the corporations and other financiers it says are most responsible for plastic pollution — with major implications for climate change.

“The trajectories of the climate crisis and the plastic waste crisis are strikingly similar and increasingly intertwined,” Al Gore, the former U.S. vice president, wrote in the report’s foreword. “Tracing the root causes of the plastic waste crisis empowers us to help solve it.”

The world of plastic production is concentrated in fewer hands than the world of plastic packaging, the report’s authors found. The top twenty brands in the plastic packaging world — think Coca Cola or Pepsi, for example — handle about 10 percent of global plastic waste, report author Dominic Charles told DeSmog. In contrast, the top 20 producers of plastic polymers — the building blocks of plastics — handle over half of the waste generated.

“Which I think was really quite staggering,” Charles, director of Finance & Transparency at Minderoo Foundation’s Sea The Future program, told DeSmog. “It means that just a handful of companies really do have the fate of the world’s single-use plastic waste in their hands.”
» Read article             

» More about plastics in the environment

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Weekly News Check-In 6/4/21

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Welcome back.

Plans for a new peaking power plant in Peabody are on hold while the developer and stakeholders explore the feasibility of greener alternatives. Pressure is building to make this exploration more public.

We have recently noticed a development in gas industry messaging – applied both to the Peabody peaker and Weymouth compressor station – that these facilities actually reduce overall fossil fuel consumption because they backstop intermittent energy sources like solar and wind. According to this narrative, readily availability gas-generated power allows the rapid and extensive integration of clean energy onto the grid. That’s true, but we now have reliable, non-emitting alternatives that accomplish the same result, often at lower cost.

So we consider this nothing more than pro-gas propaganda, and suspect that the consistency of the messaging results from gas industry coordination. Expect to see more of it. Meanwhile, the International Energy Agency (IEA) just released its flagship report stating that the climate can’t handle any new fossil fuel infrastructure. It is unequivocal – stop now. Not “soon”, and not once we’ve crossed some fantastical, conceptual “bridge”.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) just published a report describing this clean energy transition in great detail. The report places much higher importance on the development of demand side flexibility in conjunction with battery storage, in preference to the current model that underpins capacity with fossil fuel generation.

That overview sets the stage for a lot of recent news. In New Hampshire, Liberty Utilities failed to get approval to build its Granite Bridge pipeline, and is now seeking other ways to increase sales of natural gas. Protests and actions continue worldwide, pushing back against continued efforts to add fossil fuel infrastructure. This includes risky activism in Uganda in opposition to the East African Crude Oil Pipeline, and a big win as a Dutch court told Shell to cut its carbon emissions far more aggressively than currently planned. In related developments, a new financial disclosure rule in Switzerland requires large Swiss banks and insurance companies to disclose risks associated with climate change.

This all follows a very bad couple of weeks for the fossil fuel industry, when a combination of court rulings and climate-centered investors generated multiple “End of Oil” headlines. One exception is the Biden administration’s unfortunate approval of a major new Alaska oil drilling project. Contending for a new benchmark in the “absurd” category, ConocoPhillips will install chillers in the soggy permafrost which otherwise is too melty to support drilling rigs. That permafrost, of course, is melting because we have already burned too much fossil fuel and warmed the planet to dangerous levels. The chillers will re-freeze enough of that ground to allow the extraction, transport, and combustion of lots of oil for thirty more years.

Our Greening the Economy, Energy Storage, and Clean Transportation sections are all related this week. They grapple with environmental issues surrounding lithium – the primary component in electric vehicle and most grid-scale storage batteries. Articles explore greener sources and alternative technologies that could reduce the impact. We also launched a new section, Modernizing the Grid, to cover what promises to be a critical and complex project.

Wrapping up, we offer an opinion on how to eliminate recently approved rail transportation of liquefied natural gas, along with a view from North Carolina of the biomass pellet industry’s toll on health and the environment.

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

 

PEAKING POWER PLANTS

exploring batteries
Could batteries replace a proposed peaker plant in Massachusetts?   

As a municipal power supplier pauses plans to build a natural gas peaker plant, advocates are urging its backers to consider battery storage instead, but questions remain about whether it’s practical for the site.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
June 2, 2021

Environmental activists and local residents in Massachusetts are urging the group behind a planned natural gas power plant to consider whether battery storage could do the job with fewer climate concerns. 

“It’s six years since this project was proposed,” said Susan Smoller, a resident of Peabody, where the plant would be sited. “We have different alternatives available to us now and we should at least talk about it before we commit.”

The organization developing the plant announced last month that it will pause its plans for at least 30 days to address community concerns and reevaluate possible alternatives, but some involved are still skeptical that storage could be a viable solution. 

The proposed plant is a project of the Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company (MMWEC), a nonprofit that helps municipal utilities procure power supply and advocates for their interests. The 55-megawatt facility would be a so-called “peaker plant,” intended to run only at times of peak demand, estimated at no more than 250 hours per year.

Opponents of the plant are concerned about the additional greenhouse gas emissions as well as the potential for ground-level pollution in an area that is already exposed to high levels of ozone. They also worry that laws and regulations will make the burning of fossil fuels obsolete, leaving consumers on the hook for an $85 million plant that isn’t even used. 

“I don’t want to be paying for an outmoded dirty peaker plant 25 years from now when it’s not even legal to run them,” Smoller said. 

Resistance to the proposed plant has picked up in recent months, as stakeholders have learned more about the plan and started speaking up. In May, a group of 87 health care professionals sent MMWEC a letter opposing the plan. 

In the face of this growing opposition, MMWEC decided to take what it called the “unusual step” of putting a hold on its plans to take “another look at whether advancements in technology make a different approach possible today.” 

Experts say that, in general, battery storage is a viable alternative for plants that only run when demand is highest. Batteries could charge up during times of lower demand, when the power supply is generally from cleaner sources, and then discharge at times of high demand, displacing the energy from peaker plants, which is generally dirtier and more expensive. A study by nonprofit research institute Physicians, Scientists, and Engineers for Healthy Energy found that two-thirds of Massachusetts peaker plants burn primarily oil, a high-emissions fuel. 

As more renewable energy is added to the grid, the power charging the batteries will get yet cleaner, amplifying the impact.

“It’s not a matter of, ‘Can it do it?’ It’s doing it,” said Jason Burwen, interim chief executive of the Energy Storage Association. “The question is the specifics.”
» Read article               

» More about peaker plants               

 

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

no compressor stationThe Weymouth Compressor Station
By Joseph Winters, The Harvard Political Review
May 24, 2021

On Oct. 1, 2020, residents of Weymouth, Massachusetts, gathered on the Fore River Bridge for a socially-distanced rally. Wearing masks and waving hand-drawn posters, they were protesting a natural gas compressor station that had been built in their community by the Canadian oil company Enbridge.

“Shut it down!” their signs read. “Stop Enbridge. Enough is enough.”

It was supposed to be day one of the compressor station’s operation. Despite six years of fierce opposition from community groups, elected officials, and environmental organizations, Enbridge had finally secured the suite of permits necessary to build and operate a natural gas compressor station — a facility needed to keep gas flowing north through the company’s pipelines — in the town of Weymouth, just a few miles south of Boston.

But things had not gone according to plan. Earlier that month, on Sept. 11, a system failure had forced workers to vent 169,000 standard cubic feet of natural gas and 35 pounds of volatile organic compounds from the compressor station, releasing it into the surrounding community. Some of those compounds included toxic chemicals known to cause cancer, damage to the liver and central nervous system, and more. 

Then, on the morning of Sept. 30, just one day before the compressor station was scheduled to begin operating, a roaring sound emanated from the facility, signaling another “unplanned release” of natural gas — a mechanical failure that automatically triggered the compressor station’s emergency shutdown system and vented more gas into the neighborhood.

Rep. Stephen Lynch alerted residents of the September 30 shutdown later that day. “These accidents endangered the lives of local residents,” he said in a tweet, “and are indicative of a much larger threat that the Weymouth Compressor Station poses to Weymouth, Quincy, Abington, and Braintree residents.”

Within hours, a federal agency issued a stay on the compressor’s operation until a safety investigation could be completed. 

So on Oct. 1, as the Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station (FRRACS) gathered on the Fore River Bridge, the compressor station had already been shut down — albeit temporarily. They continued with the demonstration anyway, folding the station’s system failures into their suite of objections to the project, alongside issues of safety, pollution, and environmental justice.

“2 system failures in one month!” one demonstrator’s sign read. “What the FRRACS is going on?”

Besides the long-term health consequences of industrial pollution, FRRACS and its allies have argued that the compressor station imposes an unacceptable risk of disaster onto the community. “They’re trying to plant a bomb in our neighborhood,” one resident said at a public hearing before the station was built.

The possibility of a catastrophic accident is neither negligible nor unprecedented. Most significantly, compressor malfunctions can cause highly flammable natural gas — including significant amounts of methane — to accumulate inside the facilities, raising the risk of a massive fire or explosion. That exact scenario unfolded in December 2020 when a Morris Township, Pennsylvania, compressor station caught fire, burning for more than two hours and causing a temporary evacuation.

Over the past few years, similar explosions have rocked Armada Township, Michigan; West Union, West Virginia; and Ward County, Texas, where a particularly bad explosion in 2018 claimed a man’s life. One report compiled for New York reported 11 more recent accidents at compressor stations across the country, from Utah to New Jersey.

The natural gas pipelines feeding into the compressor station may pose an even scarier safety threat. According to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), pipelines have caused more than 11,000 accidents since 1996, leading to more than $6 billion in damages and killing nearly 400 people.
» Read article            

force majeureWeymouth Compressor Shuts Down Again — For Fourth Time In Less Than A Year
By Miriam Wasser, WBUR
May 21, 2021


The Weymouth Natural Gas Compressor Station is shut down for the fourth time since it began operating last year.

A spokesperson for Enbridge, the company that owns and operates the compressor, said in a statement that the company is “performing maintenance work” and anticipates “safely returning the compressor station to service shortly.” He said the maintenance work was “on a piece of equipment which helps reduce compressor unit emissions”, but he did not say whether it was planned in advance.

On Thursday night, Enbridge posted a notice that the compressor station had “experienced an outage” and in a separate notice declared a “force majeure.” Loosely translated as an “act of God,” a force majeure usually means the shutdown occurred for reasons out of the company’s control.

“It is standard practice to declare a Force Majeure when a compressor station becomes unavailable for service,” the spokesperson said in an email. “In this case, we identified maintenance work to be performed and notified our customers that the Weymouth Compressor Station would be unavailable while the work was performed.”

However, Katy Eiseman, a lawyer and president of the advocacy group The Pipe Line Awareness Network for the Northeast says “routine maintenance is not what I think of as a justifiable reason to claim force majeure,” though she says she’d have to review Enbridge’s customer contracts to be sure.

James Coleman, an energy law professor at Southern Methodist University agrees, noting that “a force majeure usually has to be something [that is not] within the control of the provider.”

State law requires Enbridge to report any gas releases that exceed 10,000 standard cubic feet. According to Enbridge, “there was minimal venting … well below reporting requirements” associated with this latest shutdown.

But for Sen. Ed Markey, a long-time opponent of the compressor station, this most recent shutdown is a cause for concern.

“Whether an act of God or a failure of man, the Weymouth Compressor Station’s fourth shutdown in a matter of months is a sign that it should not be operating now or ever,” the senator said in a statement. “It’s dangerous, unnecessary, and a clear and present threat to public safety.”

Markey said he’s asked the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to look into this most recent outage at the compressor.
» Read article               

» More about the Weymouth compressor station         

 

GRANITE BRIDGE PIPELINE

new Liberty
Liberty Utilities angles for 20-year natural gas contract
By Amanda Gokee, SentinalSource
May 17, 2021

Last year, Liberty Utilities withdrew what had turned into a very contentious proposal to construct a large, expensive pipeline called the Granite Bridge Project. Critics said it was too big, too expensive, and that it would harm the environment. It led to protests and drew fierce opposition from climate-change activists who oppose building new fossil fuel infrastructure.

In the wake of that failed proposal, Liberty has put forward another project that is now being considered by the Public Utilities Commission — a 20-year agreement to increase its natural gas capacity in the state by about 20 to 25 percent through a purchase agreement with Tennessee Gas Pipeline.

The company says it needs to increase its capacity in order to meet customer demand. The new proposal was put forward in January, and it has been proceeding quietly ever since, with none of the dramatic opposition that Granite Bridge garnered. But some environmental advocates still oppose the 20-year contract as an unacceptable option in the face of climate change.

“This is a major step in the wrong direction,” said Nick Krakoff, a staff attorney at the Conservation Law Foundation. The foundation is one of the parties involved in the docket at the utilities commission.
» Read article               

» More about the Granite Bridge pipeline project       

 

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

Stop EACOP
Despite Risks, Climate Activists Lead Fight Against Oil Giant’s Drilling Projects in Uganda
“We cannot drink oil. This is why we cannot accept the construction of the East African Crude Oil Pipeline.”
By Brett Wilkins, Common Dreams
May 28, 2021

Climate campaigners in Africa and around the world on Friday continued demonstrations against Total, with activists accusing the French oil giant of ecocide, human rights violations, and greenwashing in connection with fossil fuel projects in Uganda. 

On the 145th week of Fridays for Future climate strike protests, members of the movement in Uganda global allies drew attention to the harmful effects of fossil fuel development on the environment, ecosystems, communities, and livelihoods. 

Friday’s actions followed protests at Total petrol stations in Benin, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Togo, and Uganda on Tuesday—celebrated each year as Africa Day—against the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP), now under construction, and the Mozambique Liquefied Natural Gas project.

“Total’s fossil fuel developments pose grave risks to protected environments, water sources, and wetlands in the Great Lakes and East Africa regions,” said Andre Moliro, an activist from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, during Tuesday’s pan-African protests.

“Communities have been raising concerns on the impact of oil extraction on Lake Albert fisheries and the disastrous consequences of an oil spill in Lake Victoria, that would affect millions of people that rely on the two lakes for their livelihoods, watersheds for drinking water, and food production,” he added.
» Read article               

celebration at The Hague
‘Historic victory’: court tells Shell to slash emissions on Big Oil’s day of climate pain
Group to appeal verdict in Dutch court that activists claim has major implications as trio of supermajors face emissions scrutiny
By Andrew Lee, Recharge News
May 26, 2021

A court in the Netherlands on Wednesday told Shell to cut its carbon emissions far more aggressively than currently planned, in what climate activists claimed as a landmark ruling with implications for fossil fuel groups globally.

The Shell ruling came on a turbulent day for the world’s oil giants, with fellow supermajors ExxonMobil and Chevron also under pressure over their decarbonisation plans.

A Dutch judge ordered Shell to reduce CO2 emissions by 45% by 2030 against 2019 levels, after hearing a case brought by Friends of the Earth and other groups, plus 17,000 Netherlands citizens.

The Anglo-Dutch group has so far committed to a carbon intensity reduction of its products of 20% by 2030 and 45% by 2035, compared to 2016 levels, as part of a 2050 net zero push.

But the court said those goals were “insufficiently concrete and full of conditions” as it ordered the far tougher action it said would bring the ambitions into line with the Paris climate agreement.

Although the judgment is open to appeal – which Shell indicated it would – Friends of the Earth labelled it a “historic victory” for climate action that has “enormous consequences for Shell and other big polluters globally” and should embolden other campaigners elsewhere.

Rachel Kennerley, climate campaigner at Friends of the Earth England, Wales and Northern Ireland said: “This ruling confirms what we already knew, that global polluters cannot continue their devastating operations because the costs are too high, and they have been that way for too long.

“Today an historic line has been drawn, no more spin, no more greenwashing, big oil is over. The future is in clean renewables.”

The International Energy Agency earlier in May recommended that no more new fossil project investments should be made in order to keep the world on a path to net zero.

Analysts were divided over the implications of the Shell judgment for the global fossil sector.

Liz Hypes, senior environment and climate change analyst for Verisk Maplecroft, a global risk and strategic consulting firm, believes the judgement could pave the way for legal action against energy companies.

“This case could mean open-season on heavy-emitters in the oil and gas industry, and it is not a stretch to envisage activists – or even unhappy investors – bringing similar cases against others in the industry and, potentially, their financial backers.

“While cases like this have to date been largely limited to the US and Europe, we’ve seen a rising trend outside of these countries of climate lawsuits ruling in the claimants’ favour.”

Hypes added: “What this signifies to investors and climate activists is that taking companies to court is an increasingly successful means of triggering climate action and, because of this, the number of climate cases faces carbon-heavy corporates will grow. It shows that the risks of inaction – or of what consumers, investors and the public see as ‘not enough’ action – is mounting.”

“It’s no longer a brand image issue for companies – they are facing genuine legal risks from which the repercussions may be significant and it’s triggering a real discussion about what is their fiduciary duty during the climate crisis.”
» Read article               

» More about protests and actions                

 

DIVESTMENT

finma
Swiss watchdog FINMA requires banks, insurers to disclose climate risks
By Reuters
May 31, 2021

ZURICH (Reuters) -Large Swiss banks and insurance companies will have to provide qualitative and quantitative information about risks they face from climate change, Swiss financial watchdog FINMA said on Monday as it released an amended publication here on disclosure.

FINMA’s updated circular on the new obligations, to take effect on July 1, follows similar moves by the European Central Bank, which last year announced plans to ask lenders in the 19-country currency union to disclose their climate-related risks.

The Swiss watchdog said it is fulfilling its strategic goal of contributing to sustainable development of the Swiss financial centre, by laying out how it will supervise banks and insurers on climate-related financial risk.

FINMA said it crafted the disclosure requirement after talking with industry representatives, academics, NGOs and the federal government last year. The watchdog has previously said the risks such as natural catastrophes are substantial for the sector and merited new disclosure standards.

“Banks and insurance companies are required to inform the public adequately about their risks,” FINMA said in a statement. “These also include the consequences of climate change, which could pose significant financial risks for financial institutions in the longer term.”

Credit Suisse has been in the crosshairs of climate activists, including protesters who blocked access to its Zurich headquarters over complaints of its financing of fossil fuel-related projects. Reinsurer Swiss Re said in April the global economy could lose nearly a fifth of economic output by 2050 should the world fail to check climate change.
» Read article               

» More about divestment                

 

GREENING THE ECONOMY

cleaning up
The plan to turn coal country into a rare earth powerhouse
With plans for a Made-in-America renewable energy transformation, Biden administration ramps up efforts to extract rare earth minerals from coal waste.
By Maddie Stone, Grist
May 26, 2021

At an abandoned coal mine just outside the city of Gillette, Wyoming, construction crews are getting ready to break ground on a 10,000-square-foot building that will house state-of-the-art laboratories and manufacturing plants. Among the projects at the facility, known as the Wyoming Innovation Center, will be a pilot plant that aims to takes coal ash — the sooty, toxic waste left behind after coal is burned for energy — and use it to extract rare earths, elements that play an essential role in everything from cell phones and LED screens to wind turbines and electric cars. 

The pilot plant in Wyoming is a critical pillar of an emerging effort led by the Department of Energy, or DOE, to convert the toxic legacy of coal mining in the United States into something of value. Similar pilot plants and research projects are also underway in states including West Virginia, North Dakota, Utah, and Kentucky. If these projects are successful, the Biden administration hopes that places like Gillette will go from being the powerhouses of the fossil fuel era to the foundation of a new domestic supply chain that will build tomorrow’s energy systems.

In an April report on revitalizing fossil fuel communities, administration officials wrote that coal country is “well-positioned” to become a leader in harvesting critical materials from the waste left behind by coal mining and coal power generation. Several days later, the DOE awarded a total of $19 million to 13 different research groups that plan to assess exactly how much rare earth material is contained in coal and coal waste, as well as explore ways to extract it. 

“We have these resources that are otherwise a problem,” said Sarma Pisupati, the director of the Center for Critical Minerals at Penn State University and one of the grant recipients. “We can use those resources to extract valuable minerals for our independence.”

Those minerals would come at a critical moment. The rare earth elements neodymium and dysprosium, in particular, are essential to the powerful magnets used in offshore wind turbines and electric vehicle motors. A recent report by the International Energy Agency projected that by 2040, the clean energy sector’s demand for these minerals could be three to seven times greater than it is today.
» Read article               

» More about greening the economy            

 

CLIMATE

IEA gets on board
IT’S THE END OF OIL: Blockbuster IEA Report Urges No New Fossil Development
By Mitchell Beer, The Energy Mix
May 19, 2021

No new investment in oil, gas, or coal development, a massive increase in renewable energy adoption, speedy global phaseouts for new natural gas boilers and internal combustion vehicles, and a sharp focus on short-term action are key elements of a blockbuster Net Zero by 2050 report released Tuesday morning by the International Energy Agency (IEA).

The more than 400 sectoral and technological targets in the report would be big news from any source. They’re particularly significant from the IEA, an agency that has received scathing criticism in the past for overstating the future importance of fossil fuels, consistently underestimating the uptake of renewable energy, and failing to align its “gold standard” energy projections with the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement. For years, the agency’s projections have been used to justify hundreds of billions of dollars in high-carbon investments, allowing multinational fossil companies to sustain the fantasy that demand for their product will increase through 2040 or beyond.

“Beyond projects already committed as of 2021, there are no new oil and gas fields approved for development in our pathway, and no new coal mines or mine extensions are required,” the IEA writes. “The unwavering policy focus on climate change in the net-zero pathway results in a sharp decline in fossil fuel demand, meaning that the focus for oil and gas producers switches entirely to output—and emissions reductions—from the operation of existing assets.”

“It’s not a model result,” analyst Dave Jones of the clean energy think tank Ember told Bloomberg Green. “It’s a call to action.”

“Big Oil and Gas has just lost a very powerful shield!” wrote Oil Change International Senior Campaigner David Tong.

By 2040, the IEA sees all coal- and oil-fired power plants phased out unless their emissions are abated by some form of carbon capture. Between 2020 and 2050, oil demand falls 75%, to 24 million barrels per day, gas demand falls 55%, and remaining oil production becomes “increasingly concentrated in a small number of low-cost producers.” OPEC nations provide 52% of a “much-reduced global oil supply” in 2050 and see their per capita income from fossil production decline 75% by the 2030s.

“This is a huge shift from the IEA and highly consequential, given its scenarios are seen as a guide to the future, steering trillions of dollars in energy investment,” Kelly Trout, interim director of Oil Change’s energy transitions and futures program, wrote in an email. “Oil and gas companies, investors, and IEA member states that have been using IEA scenarios to justify their choices and also say they’re committed to 1.5°C are in a tight spot. Will they follow the IEA’s guidance and stop licencing or financing new fossil fuel extraction, or be exposed as hypocrites?”
» Read article            
» Read the IEA report                 

» More about climate              

 

CLEAN ENERGY

electrification futures study
Inside Clean Energy: Yes, We Can Electrify Almost Everything. Here’s What That Looks Like.
National lab wraps up groundbreaking project on electrifying the economy.
By Dan Gearino, Inside Climate News
June 3, 2021

Many scenarios for averting the worst effects of climate change involve electrifying just about everything that now runs on fossil fuels, and shifting to an electricity system that runs mostly on wind and solar.

Can this be done reliably and with existing technologies?

Yes.

That’s one of the main findings of the Electrification Futures Study, an ambitious project of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory that started four years ago and has now issued its final report.

The transformation to a highly electrified economy is an opportunity for consumers and businesses because of the potential for cost-savings and for developing and selling new generations of products, said Ella Zhou, a senior modeling engineer at NREL and a co-author of the report.

“This offers useful information literally for everyone, because electricity touches all of our lives,” she said.

In a sign of changing times and shifting control in Washington, the report’s introduction mentions “decarbonization” and “climate change mitigation” in its first sentence, something that would have been almost unthinkable from a national laboratory during the Trump administration. 

Zhou didn’t comment about the partisan shift, but she did note how much the conversation about the transition to clean energy had changed since the project started in 2017. The idea of electrifying the economy is much closer to the mainstream now than it was then, she said, as is the broad understanding that a shift to renewable energy can save money, compared to using fossil fuels.
» Read article            
» Read NREL’s final report, Electrification Futures Study                  

where it goes
Where Wind and Solar Power Need to Grow for America to Meet Its Goals
By Veronica Penney, New York Times
May 28, 2021

President Biden has promised to sharply reduce America’s planet-warming carbon emissions, which means changes to the country’s energy system may reshape landscapes and coastlines around the country. 

The United States is now aiming to bring emissions down to net-zero by 2050, meaning the country would eliminate as much greenhouse gas as it emits. To reach that goal, Americans will need to get a lot more of their energy from renewable sources like wind and solar farms.

One of the most recent studies on the subject, Princeton University’s Net-Zero America Report, charted five pathways to net-zero, and all of them required the United States to exceed the current pace of building for solar panels and wind turbines.

But what will all that energy infrastructure look like, and where could it go? Here’s a look at the factors and forces that will determine where renewable energy projects could be built.
» Read article           
» Read the Princeton University report         

» More about clean energy           

 

MODERNIZING THE GRID

TOU rates for Maine
Advocates say Maine needs to expand time-of-use rates to hit climate goals

As more drivers switch to electric cars and buildings convert to heat pumps, changing customer behavior with new rate designs could be key to preventing expensive and polluting new investments in the state’s power grid.
By David Thill, Energy News Network
May 27, 2021

Maine clean energy advocates say it’s time to revisit and ramp up time-of-use rates, and the state’s major utilities and several other stakeholders agree. 

Meeting the state’s climate goals could add significant load to the state’s grid as drivers switch to electric cars and buildings abandon fossil fuels for heating. 

Unless some customers can be persuaded to put off drying clothes, running dishwashers or charging vehicles until nighttime, that new demand could force expensive upgrades to the system and make it harder to eliminate fossil fuels. 

That’s where time-of-use rates come into play. Unlike traditional flat rates, time-of-use rates charge customers different prices at different times of the day. Often this means customers pay a relatively expensive rate during the busiest hours of the day and less expensive rates during off-peak hours.

State legislation introduced this year, as well as a recent report on the future of Maine’s electric grid, called on state regulators to investigate how to roll out time-of-use rates on a broader scale than what’s currently offered.

A time-of-use rate needs to be structured so it actually encourages customers to shift their electricity use off-peak, said David Littell, a former Maine utilities commissioner who was part of the stakeholder group.

That requires establishing a sufficient difference between what customers are charged off-peak and on-peak, he said. The peak window also has to be reasonably timed: He found in previous research that, based on hundreds of rate pilots and operational rates, customers were more likely to sign up for time-varying rates when the peak windows were only three hours, as opposed to eight to 14 hours.

Littell and others in the stakeholder report also said time-of-use rates should include all aspects of customers’ bills, including supply and capacity.

“Most of what I’m seeing across the country right now is that if a utility is talking about doing a time-of-use rate, they prefer to start with the supply cost,” he said. That’s something utilities can easily do themselves, structuring the rate based on what it costs to deliver energy to customers.

Capacity would be harder, since utilities don’t have jurisdiction over the line items on customers’ bills for the energy itself. In deregulated utility markets like Maine, the energy is provided by suppliers separate from utilities, at a rate called the standard offer. Suppliers would have to implement their own time-of-use rates. But without making it mandatory for them to do that — something the commission could do — they’re not likely to take that path, Littell said, since it’s far easier to stick with the status quo.

In a small market like Maine, suppliers have less incentive to pursue the education and effort necessary to change their rate design without the guarantee that they’ll make money on it. “If it’s not mandated, it’s not going to happen at the standard offer level, full stop,” said Tom Welch, a former Maine utilities commission chair who also contributed to the recent grid modernization report.

Protections will also be necessary for low-income customers who end up paying more under the new rate than they currently pay, but Welch said that’s easily addressed, for example, with refunds for groups of customers that are unable to respond to the price signals.
» Read report            

» More about modernizing the electric grid          

 

ENERGY STORAGE

CO2 battery system
‘CO2 battery’ technology getting megawatt-scale demonstrator in Italy
By Andy Colthorpe, Energy Storage News
May 27, 2021

A 2.5MW / 4MWh demonstration system using novel energy storage technology based on a “carbon dioxide battery” has begun construction in Sardinia, Italy.

The CO2 battery technology has been developed by Energy Dome, a Milan-headquartered company founded by technologist and entrepreneur Claudio Spadacini and incorporated two years ago. The battery can offer long durations of storage between three to 16+ hours, can be built using off-the-shelf components used in other industries and uses a closed loop thermodynamic process which can enable a high round-trip efficiency, the company claims. It also suffers “little or no degradation” over an anticipated lifetime of more than 25 years.

The battery charges by drawing CO2 from a dome where it is kept, condensing it into a liquid at ambient temperature, while heat created by the compression process is stored in thermal energy storage systems. It then discharges by evaporating and expanding the CO2 back into a gas by heating it using the thermal storage systems. The gas is driven through a turbine to inject power into the grid and then pushed back into the dome, ready to be used for the next charging cycle.

On its website, the company compares the technology as being potentially lower cost than compressed air energy storage (CAES) or liquid air energy storage (LAES), which might be considered competing energy storage technologies. This is because unlike CAES which requires very large underground sealed vessels such as salt caverns to store a large volume of air, or LAES which requires equipment to cool air until it liquifies, the liquid phase CO2 can be stored at ambient temperature, the company said.

Energy Dome also said in a press release this week that its solution could also overcome the limitations of lithium-ion, posing no fire risk, manufacturable without rare earth materials and also even has better performance and lower capital cost. The demonstrator in Sardinia is expected to be launched early next year.
» Read article           

Power Podcast 89
The Benefits of Flow Batteries Over Lithium Ion
By Aaron Larson, Power Magazine
May 27, 2021

Lithium-ion (Li-ion) is the most commonly talked about battery storage technology on the market these days, and for good reason. Li-ion batteries have a high energy density, and they are the preferred option when mobility is a concern, such as for cell phones, laptop computers, and electric vehicles. But there are different energy storage technologies that make more sense in other use cases. For example, iron flow batteries may be a better option for utility-scale power grid storage.

An iron flow battery is built with three pretty simple ingredients: iron, salt, and water. “A flow battery has a tank with an electrolyte—think of it as salt water to be simple—and it puts it through a process that allows it to store energy in the iron, and then discharge that energy over an extended period of time,” Eric Dresselhuys, CEO of ESS Inc., a manufacturer of iron flow batteries for commercial and utility-scale energy storage applications, explained as a guest on The POWER Podcast.

Iron flow batteries have an advantage over utility-scale Li-ion storage systems in the following areas:

  • Longer duration. Up to 12 hours versus a typical duration of no more than 4 hours for large-scale Li-ion systems.
  • Increased safety. Iron flow batteries are non-flammable, non-toxic, and have no explosion risk. The same is not true for Li-ion.
  • Longer asset life. Iron flow batteries offer unlimited cycle life and no capacity degradation over a 25-year operating life. Li-ion batteries typically provide about 7,000 cycles and a 7- to 10-year lifespan.
  • Less concern with ambient temperatures. Iron flow batteries can operate in ambient conditions from –10C to 60C (14F to 140F) without the need for heating or air conditioning. Ventilation systems are almost always required for utility-scale Li-ion systems.
  • Lower levelized cost of storage. Because iron flow batteries offer a 25-year life, have a capital expense cost similar to Li-ion, and operating expenses that are much lower than Li-on, the cost of ownership can be up to 40% less.

“People have been really interested in flow batteries for a lot of reasons, but the most common one that you’ll hear about is the long duration,” said Dresselhuys.
» Listen to podcast            

» More about energy storage           

 

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

briny water
The Lithium Gold Rush: Inside the Race to Power Electric Vehicles
A race is on to produce lithium in the United States, but competing projects are taking very different approaches to extracting the vital raw material. Some might not be very green.
By Ivan Penn and Eric Lipton, New York Times
May 6, 2021

Atop a long-dormant volcano in northern Nevada, workers are preparing to start blasting and digging out a giant pit that will serve as the first new large-scale lithium mine in the United States in more than a decade — a new domestic supply of an essential ingredient in electric car batteries and renewable energy.

The mine, constructed on leased federal lands, could help address the near total reliance by the United States on foreign sources of lithium.

But the project, known as Lithium Americas, has drawn protests from members of a Native American tribe, ranchers and environmental groups because it is expected to use billions of gallons of precious ground water, potentially contaminating some of it for 300 years, while leaving behind a giant mound of waste.

“Blowing up a mountain isn’t green, no matter how much marketing spin people put on it,” said Max Wilbert, who has been living in a tent on the proposed mine site while two lawsuits seeking to block the project wend their way through federal courts.

The fight over the Nevada mine is emblematic of a fundamental tension surfacing around the world: Electric cars and renewable energy may not be as green as they appear. Production of raw materials like lithium, cobalt and nickel that are essential to these technologies are often ruinous to land, water, wildlife and people.

That environmental toll has often been overlooked in part because there is a race underway among the United States, China, Europe and other major powers. Echoing past contests and wars over gold and oil, governments are fighting for supremacy over minerals that could help countries achieve economic and technological dominance for decades to come.
» Read article               

bunker fuel
Tasked to Fight Climate Change, a Secretive U.N. Agency Does the Opposite
Behind closed doors, shipbuilders and miners can speak on behalf of governments while regulating an industry that pollutes as much as all of America’s coal plants.
By Matt Apuzzo and Sarah Hurtes, New York Times
June 3, 2021

LONDON — During a contentious meeting over proposed climate regulations last fall, a Saudi diplomat to the obscure but powerful International Maritime Organization switched on his microphone to make an angry complaint: One of his colleagues was revealing the proceedings on Twitter as they happened.

It was a breach of the secrecy at the heart of the I.M.O., a clubby United Nations agency on the banks of the Thames that regulates international shipping and is charged with reducing emissions in an industry that burns an oil so thick it might otherwise be turned into asphalt. Shipping produces as much carbon dioxide as all of America’s coal plants combined.

Internal documents, recordings and dozens of interviews reveal what has gone on for years behind closed doors: The organization has repeatedly delayed and watered down climate regulations, even as emissions from commercial shipping continue to rise, a trend that threatens to undermine the goals of the 2016 Paris climate accord.

One reason for the lack of progress is that the I.M.O. is a regulatory body that is run in concert with the industry it regulates. Shipbuilders, oil companies, miners, chemical manufacturers and others with huge financial stakes in commercial shipping are among the delegates appointed by many member nations. They sometimes even speak on behalf of governments, knowing that public records are sparse, and that even when the organization allows journalists into its meetings, it typically prohibits them from quoting people by name.

An agency lawyer underscored that point last fall in addressing the Saudi complaint. “This is a private meeting,” warned the lawyer, Frederick J. Kenney.

Next week, the organization is scheduled to enact its first greenhouse gas rules since Paris — regulations that do not cut emissions, have no enforcement mechanism and leave key details shrouded in secrecy. No additional proposals are far along in the rule-making process, meaning additional regulations are likely five years or more away.
» Read article               

» More about clean transportation             

 

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

methane emissions analysis
Here Are America’s Top Methane Emitters. Some Will Surprise You.
Oil and gas giants are selling off their most-polluting operations to small private companies. Most manage to escape public scrutiny.
By Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times
June 2, 2021

As the world’s oil and gas giants face increasing pressure to reduce their fossil fuel emissions, small, privately held drilling companies are becoming the country’s biggest emitters of greenhouse gases, often by buying up the industry’s high-polluting assets.

According to a startling new analysis of the latest emissions data disclosed to the Environmental Protection Agency, five of the industry’s top ten emitters of methane, a particularly potent planet-warming gas, are little-known oil and gas producers, some backed by obscure investment firms, whose environmental footprints are wildly large relative to their production.

In some cases, the companies are buying up high-polluting assets directly from the largest oil and gas corporations, like ConocoPhillips and BP; in other cases, private equity firms acquire risky oil and gas properties, develop them, and sell them quickly for maximum profits.

The largest emitter, Hilcorp Energy, reported almost 50 percent more methane emissions from its operations than the nation’s largest fossil fuel producer, Exxon Mobil, despite pumping far less oil and gas. Four other relatively unknown companies — Terra Energy Partners, Flywheel Energy, Blackbeard Operating and Scout Energy — each reported emitting more of the gas than many industry heavyweights.

These companies have largely escaped public scrutiny, even as they have become major polluters.

“It’s amazing how the small operators manage to constitute a very large part of the problem,” said Andrew Logan, senior director of oil and gas at Ceres, a nonprofit investor network that commissioned the study together with the Clean Air Task Force, an environmental group. “There’s just no pressure on them to do things better. And being a clean operator, unfortunately, isn’t a priority in this business model.”
» Read article              
» Read the Benchmarking Methane analysis           

ExxonMobil Chicago
Engine No. 1’s Big Win Over Exxon Shows Activist Hedge Funds Joining Fight Against Climate Change
“We can’t recall another time that an energy company’s shareholder has been so effective and forceful in showing how a company’s failure to take on climate change has eroded shareholder value.”
By Mark DesJardine, DeSmog Blog | Opinion
May 27, 2021

One of the most expensive Wall Street shareholder battles on record could signal a big shift in how hedge funds and other investors view sustainability.

Exxon Mobil Corp. has been fending off a so-called proxy fight from a hedge fund known as Engine No. 1, which blames the energy giant’s poor performance in recent years on its failure to transition to a “decarbonizing world.” In a May 26, 2021 vote, Exxon shareholders approved at least two of the four board members Engine No. 1 nominated, dealing a major blow to the oil company. The vote is ongoing, and more of the hedge fund’s nominees may also soon be appointed.

While its focus has been on shareholder value, Engine No. 1 says it was also doing this to save the planet from the ravages of climate change. It has been pushing for a commitment from Exxon to carbon neutrality by 2050.

As business sustainability scholars, we can’t recall another time that an energy company’s shareholder – particularly a hedge fund – has been so effective and forceful in showing how a company’s failure to take on climate change has eroded shareholder value. That’s why we believe this vote marks a turning point for investors, who are well placed to nudge companies toward more sustainable business practices.
» Read article               

Conoco misstep
Biden officials condemned for backing Trump-era Alaska drilling project
DoJ says decision to approve project in northern Alaska was ‘reasonable and consistent’ and should be allowed to go ahead
By Oliver Milman, The Guardian
May 27, 2021

Joe Biden’s administration is facing an onslaught of criticism from environmentalists after opting to defend the approval of a massive oil and gas drilling project in the frigid northern reaches of Alaska.

In a briefing filed in federal court on Wednesday, the US Department of Justice said the Trump-era decision to allow the project in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska’s north slope was “reasonable and consistent” with the law and should be allowed to go ahead.

This stance means the Biden administration is contesting a lawsuit brought by environmental groups aimed at halting the drilling due to concerns over the impact upon wildlife and planet-heating emissions. The US president has paused all new drilling leases on public land but is allowing this Alaska lease, approved under Trump, to go ahead.

The project, known as Willow, is being overseen by the oil company ConocoPhillips and is designed to extract more than 100,000 barrels of oil a day for the next 30 years. Environmentalists say allowing the project is at odds with Biden’s vow to combat the climate crisis and drastically reduce US emissions.

“It’s incredibly disappointing to see the Biden administration defending this environmentally disastrous project,” said Kristen Monsell, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the groups that have sued to stop the drilling. “President Biden promised climate action and our climate can’t afford more huge new oil-drilling projects.”

The Arctic is heating up at three times the rate of the rest of the planet and ConocoPhillips will have to resort to Kafkaesque interventions to be able to drill for oil in an environment being destroyed by the burning of that fuel. The company plans to install “chillers’ into the Alaskan permafrost, which is rapidly melting due to global heating, to ensure it is stable enough to host drilling equipment.

Monsell said the attempts to refreeze the thawing permafrost in order to extract more fossil fuel “highlights the ridiculousness of drilling in the Arctic”. Kirsten Miller, acting executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League, said Willow “is the poster child for the type of massive fossil fuel development that must be avoided today if we’re to avoid the worst climate impacts down the road”.
» Read article               

Nat and Gus
How natural gas propaganda made it into elementary classrooms in deep blue America
The incident is the latest example of fossil fuel interests attempting to influence science education in public classrooms.
By Ysabelle Kempe, Grist
May 19, 2021


Gleb Bahmutov found something strange in his nine-year-old son’s backpack earlier this month. The longer he ruminated on what he discovered, the angrier he got. 

The afternoon started off like most, with the 41-year-old software engineer picking his son up from John M. Tobin Montessori School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. But when his son opened his backpack, Bahmutov caught a glimpse of two children’s activity books emblazoned with the logo of Eversource, an energy utility that serves more than 4.3 million customers across New England. The booklets, one of which was titled “Natural Gas: Your Invisible Friend,” include natural gas safety tips and portray the fuel as an ideal, clean way to cook food, power vehicles, and heat and cool buildings. Bhamutov immediately noticed one gaping hole in the information provided in the booklets: They didn’t once mention that burning natural gas emits greenhouse gases and contributes to climate change.

“To come home and find books aimed at children touting how great gas is and how clean it is, that it’s the cleanest fuel possible, that’s just wrong,” Bahmutov told Grist. “It’s unacceptable.”

The activity books caused concern among parents in the climate-conscious city of Cambridge and prompted apologies from both Eversource and the school district. While the utility claimed it was attempting to promote natural gas safety — a particularly salient issue in Massachusetts, which experienced a series of pipeline explosions north of Boston in 2018 — the incident is the latest example of fossil fuel interests attempting to influence science education in public classrooms. 

Cambridge Public Schools’ Chief Strategy Officer Lyndsay Pinkus told Grist that the booklets were mistakenly distributed to students. Any materials provided by outside organizations are typically reviewed by the deputy superintendent’s office, Pinkus explained, but a new staff member did not follow this procedure with the Eversource materials. “It really was an innocent mistake by a new staff member,” she said. In an email to parents, Tobin Principal Jaime Frost stressed that the booklets are not part of the curriculum and the school does not support the messaging. She wrote that the same booklets were sent to all Cambridge Public Schools two years ago, but were caught before being distributed. 

Eversource’s media relations manager, William Hinkle, wrote in an email that the booklets were created to raise awareness about natural gas safety at home, but acknowledged that the material could be improved. “Moving forward, we will work to include climate change information in future educational materials, as well as continue to provide important natural gas safety tips,” Hinkle told Grist. He said that there are various versions of the book for different grade levels that date back to 2011, and the material undergoes periodic updates.

While Hinkle said the books are provided to schools in Massachusetts or Connecticut upon request, Pinkus from Cambridge Public Schools was adamant that nobody in the district requested them. “There’s no way anybody currently or in any recent history would have requested anything even remotely close to this,” she said. Eversource did not respond for comment on this point.
» Read article               

» More about fossil fuels              

 

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

derailedRailroaded by the Gas Industry
How the Biden administration could use insurance requirements to halt LNG by rail.
By Eric de Place, Sightline Institute
March 22, 2021

It’s been less than three months since the Northwest dodged a bullet. On December 22, 2020, another oil train derailed and exploded into flames, this one just outside Bellingham, Washington. The crash spilled 29,000 gallons of crude oil that burned for eight hours while emergency crews hustled to evacuate neighbors and clean up the site before the oil contaminated groundwater. Yet as alarming as oil train derailments are, they may be only an appetizer for a much more destructive main course: trains loaded with highly explosive liquefied natural gas (LNG).

During the Obama years, federal regulators granted railroads in Alaska and Florida limited permission to haul small quantities of LNG on specific routes. Although the move garnered little public attention, it was seen by industry observers as the start of a slippery slope toward broader approval of a cargo that was, until 2015, considered too dangerous for railroads to handle. (DeSmog provides an excellent account of the serious risks of LNG rail transport.) As predicted, in 2020, the Trump administration enacted a new rule allowing rail shipments of LNG, despite criticisms that it lacks safeguards.

The Trump administration’s decision was a win for the gas industry that has found itself increasingly stymied by opposition to building new pipelines. It was also a victory for the rail companies that have for years lobbied for permission to carry LNG, including Union Pacific and BNSF, the dominant railways in Oregon and Washington that have been responsible for several hazardous derailments in the past decade. One of the worst was Union Pacific’s eleven-car derailment in Mosier, Oregon that resulted in a fiery explosion and an oil spill along the Columbia River in 2016. BNSF is responsible for its own oil train conflagrations too, including two North Dakota explosions in 2013 and 2015 that prompted towns to evacuate, a derailment in Illinois in 2015, and the recent explosion in Whatcom County, Washington.

LNG is far more dangerous than crude oil. In fact, experts calculate that it would take only twenty-two tank cars loaded with LNG to hold the energy equivalent of an atomic bomb. That’s not hyperbole. Even a single LNG rail car igniting could level buildings to deadly effect. It’s no wonder, then, that fifteen state attorneys general, including those in Oregon and Washington, have challenged the Trump administration’s approval of LNG trains, stating that it puts people’s lives at risk.

The risk is real, and federal accident statistics bear it out. Trains derailed no fewer than sixty-two times in Oregon and Washington in 2020, including at least fourteen derailments that were carrying hazardous materials. (These statistics almost certainly undercount derailments, a flaw that becomes clear when one realizes that they do not include the fiery oil train derailment in Custer, Washington in late December.)

What’s less understood than the risk to lives and property is the staggering risk to taxpayers. It’s a risk that could prove to be the endeavor’s Achilles’ heel, and it could give the Biden administration a commonsense way to halt LNG rail transport. As it happens, railroads are severely underinsured for many hazardous substance shipments, especially in urban areas, so simply requiring them to carry insurance proportional to the risk would almost certainly render the entire venture uneconomical.
» Read article               

» More about LNG                       

 

BIOMASS

Enviva promo
Communities of Color in Eastern North Carolina Want Wood Pellet Byproducts Out of Their Neighborhoods—And Their Lungs
By Caryl Espinoza Jaen and Ellie Heffernan, INDY week
May 27, 2021

Belinda Joyner describes her home of Northampton County as a dumping ground for undesirable uses—hog farms, landfills. Northampton was also slated to host the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s compressor station before the project was canceled. 

When Joyner stood at a podium in the North Carolina legislative building on Wednesday, she was most concerned about wood pellet facilities. 

“We have other states that have taken into consideration the cumulative impact, the health impact, on these communities and they’re saying no to these companies that are coming,” Joyner said. “You know what? North Carolina has become a cesspool, because everything that everyone else doesn’t want, we don’t have the laws to protect us.” 

Joyner was one of many speakers at a press conference and rally to draw attention to what they say is Governor Roy Cooper’s inattention to deforestation and pollution by the wood pellet industry. North Carolina residents, community leaders, and activists gathered to discuss how the state’s poorest communities are impacted by wood pellet companies such as Enviva Biomass. Speakers addressed their criticisms of environmental policies issued by Gov. Cooper and state government agencies.

The wood pellet industry, which is the third major contributor to rising carbon emissions in the state, is responsible for 60,000 acres of wood loss annually, according to rally organizers. In just seven years, Enviva Biomass logged enough acres to release 28 million tons of carbon dioxide. 

North Carolina is the biggest producer of wood pellets in the United States, and the industry receives $7.1 million in subsidies annually, said Emily Zucchino, the director of community engagement at the environmental advocacy nonprofit Dogwood Alliance. The United States sold 7.2 billion kilograms of  wood pellets with a value of $981 million last year, according to U.S. Census Bureau trade data. A bulk of these exports are burned for fuel in European power stations. 

“Yet the counties with these industries remain the poorest,” said Zucchino. “This use of taxpayer dollars does not advance the state or support long-term jobs at rural communities.”
» Read article               

» More about biomass            

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Weekly News Check-In 3/5/21

banner 17

Welcome back.

This week’s most timely story involves a ham-handed power grab by the building and natural gas industries – forcing a rule change at the International Code Council to deprive thousands of municipal officials of voting rights in future updates to the energy efficiency building code. This mass disenfranchisement appears to be special-interest blowback following the successful 2019 voting round, when record-breaking voter participation resulted in the first significant improvement of base building codes in a decade. The development is particularly unfortunate given recent reports showing that global emissions are still rising while country-level commitments for greenhouse gas reductions are running far below levels necessary to address the climate emergency. Building emissions are a significant part of the problem – especially from the combustion of natural gas for heating, domestic hot water, and cooking.

It’s been 30 years since the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history, when a burst pipeline spewed 1.7 million gallons of crude oil onto Minnesota’s frozen Prairie River. This pipeline is now Enbridge’s Line 3, and the project to replace and reroute it through sensitive wetland habitat is fiercely opposed by local indigenous people, who demand enforcement of Tribal treaties they feel should protect them from this environmental threat.

Another active protest campaign includes opposition to the Formosa Plastics project, a major expansion of the petrochemical industry in Louisiana’s St. James Parish, known as Cancer Alley. Industry abuse of this mostly Black environmental justice community has drawn a sharply critical report from the United Nations Human Rights Council.

We’ve posted a number of reports touting plans and pilot ventures aimed at transitioning coal country into a greener economic model. So far, the efforts have primarily been at the individual, local, and state levels, and disparities are exposing the need for a more coordinated federal program.

As usual, the news gets better when we look at developments in zero-emission technologies. Agricultural land hosting large solar arrays can remain productive by using flocks of sheep to control vegetation, and it’s catching on. Energy storage is looking beyond lithium, especially in the long-duration markets. Thermal storage and non-toxic iron flow batteries are two promising technologies ready to offer grid-scale services. And clean transportation is all about rapidly expanding easily accessible EV charging stations, plus an announcement that Volvo cars and SUVs will be 100% electric by 2030 – five years ahead of rival carmakers’ most aggressive goals.

The news always gets more sobering when we turn our attention back to the fossil fuel industry. A new pilot study shows disturbing health impacts for people living near fracking operations, even while the natural gas industry mounts an all-out effort to block increasingly popular efforts to ban gas hookups in new buildings. Industry leaders seem unable to visualize a business plan that doesn’t involve drilling, piping, and burning planet-cooking toxins. Consequently, they react to any zero-emissions transition plan as an existential threat. Hence today’s lead stories on the assault on energy efficient building codes….

We’ll close by checking in on Massachusetts’ biomass problem, including an opinion article from one of Reading Municipal Light Department’s five elected commissioners explaining how demand for Palmer Renewable Energy’s biomass-generated electricity is far less than it appears.

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

— The NFGiM Team

PIPELINES

thirty years later
30 years later, echoes of largest inland oil spill remain in Line 3 fight
By Dan Kraker and Kirsti Marohn, Minnesota Public Radio
March 3, 2021

Thirty years ago Wednesday, on March 3, 1991, the Line 3 oil pipeline ruptured in Grand Rapids, Minn., spilling 1.7 million gallons of crude oil onto the frozen Prairie River.

It’s still the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history.

Because the river was covered with ice, crews were able to keep the oil from reaching the Mississippi, 2 miles away.

“There would be people on the ice, squeegeeing oil on top of the ice, which was weird, everything was weird, it was like some kind of gross landscape,” Scott Hall, a reporter for Grand Rapids public radio station KAXE, told MPR News in 2018 for an episode of its Rivers of Oil podcast, which dove deep into the impacts of the spill.

“And so they had hoses going down, and just sucking as much oil as they could out into these tanker trucks.”

The Lakehead Pipeline Co. owned Line 3, which was built in the 1960s to carry oil from Canada, at the time of the spill. And the company that succeeded Lakehead, Enbridge Energy, is now replacing that same Line 3 with a new pipeline along a different route across the state.

Construction on the new line began in earnest in December. But Native American tribes and environmental groups continue to fight the $4 billion project, on the ground and in court.
» Read article          
» Oil and Water: The Line 3 Debate – full coverage    

Seamus O'ReganLine 5 ‘very different’ from Keystone XL and Canada will fight hard for it: O’Regan
‘The operation of Line 5 is non-negotiable,’ said natural resources minister
By James McCarten, CBC
March 4, 2021

The federal government won’t let Michigan shut down the Line 5 pipeline, Canada’s natural resources minister said Thursday as he dismissed opposition comparisons to the thwarted Keystone XL project.

Seamus O’Regan sounded almost combative as he vowed to defend the 1,000-kilometre line, which bridges an environmentally sensitive part of the Great Lakes to link Wisconsin with refineries in Sarnia, Ont.

“We are fighting for Line 5 on every front and we are confident in that fight,” O’Regan told a special House of Commons committee on the relationship between Canada and the United States.

The Enbridge Inc. pipeline carries an estimated 540,000 barrels of oil and natural gas liquids daily, and is vital to the energy and employment needs of Ontario, Alberta and Quebec, as well as northern U.S. states, he added. 

“We are fighting on a diplomatic front, and we are preparing to invoke whatever measures we need to in order to make sure that Line 5 remains operational,” he said. “The operation of Line 5 is non-negotiable.”

In November, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ordered Line 5 to be shut down by May, accusing Calgary-based Enbridge of violating the terms of the deal that allows the line to traverse the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac. 

The straits, which link Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, boast powerful, rapidly changing currents that experts have said make the area the worst possible place for an oil spill in the Great Lakes.

Pipeline opponents in the U.S. — many of the same voices who helped make TC Energy’s proposed Keystone XL expansion an environmental rallying point over the last decade — have vowed to see it shut down. 

Enbridge, which has plans to fortify the underwater segment of the line by routing it through a tunnel under the lake bed, is fighting Whitmer’s order in court.
» Read article          

» More about pipelines         

 

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

Sunshine Casino
UN Human Rights Experts Condemn Expanding Petrochemical Industry in Louisiana’s Cancer Alley as ‘Environmental Racism’
By Julie Dermansky, DeSmog Blog
March 3, 2021

Human rights experts appointed by the United Nations Human Rights Council issued a statement on March 2 raising concerns about the further industrialization of Louisiana’s “Cancer Alley.” This largely Black-populated stretch of the Mississippi River between New Orleans and Baton Rouge is lined with more than a hundred refineries and petrochemical plants. The experts said additional petrochemical development in this region, which U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data shows has some of the country’s highest cancer risks from air pollution, constitutes “environmental racism” that “must end.”

“This form of environmental racism poses serious and disproportionate threats to the enjoyment of several human rights of its largely African American residents, including the right to equality and non-discrimination, the right to life, the right to health, right to an adequate standard of living and cultural rights,” the experts said.

The statement calls for U.S. officials to reconsider allowing FG LA LLC, a subsidiary of Formosa Plastics Group, to build its proposed “Sunshine Project” in St. James Parish, in the middle of the region. That development, one of several new petrochemical projects slated for the region, would be a massive complex. Its 14 units would produce two types of plastic and the petrochemical ethylene glycol, which is used to make polyester fabrics and antifreeze.

It is a development that Sharon Lavigne, founder of the faith-based grassroots organization RISE St. James, has been trying to stop ever since learning in 2018 that the company planned to build its complex less than two miles from her home.

If built, “Formosa Plastics’ petrochemical complex alone will more than double the cancer risks in St. James Parish affecting disproportionately African American residents,” the human rights experts wrote. Their statement also took government regulators to task for their role. “Federal environmental regulations have failed to protect people residing in ‘Cancer Alley,’” they said, calling for the U.S. Government “to deliver environmental justice in communities all across America, starting with St. James Parish,” by stopping the Formosa Plastics project.
» Read article          
» Read the UN statement        

» More about protests and actions         

 

GREENING THE ECONOMY

without a map
As coal dies, the US has no plan to help the communities left behind
By Emily Pontecorvo, Grist
March 3, 2021

Here are two tales of the energy transition unfolding in coal country, USA.

In late 2019, Pacificorp, an electric utility that operates in six Western states, told Wyoming regulators it wanted to shut down several of its coal-fired power plants early and replace them with wind and solar power and battery storage. It said this plan would save customers hundreds of millions of dollars on their electric bills and promised to work with local leaders on transition plans for workers and communities affected by the closures.

Wyoming, a state whose economy relies significantly on coal mining and coal power, went on the defensive. State lawmakers had already passed a law requiring coal plant owners to search for a buyer before being allowed to close a plant. Now, with support from the governor, regulators ordered an unprecedented investigation to scrutinize Pacificorp’s analysis and conclusions. Ultimately they determined the plan was deficient — that the company had not adequately considered allowing the coal plants to stay open or installing technology to capture the plants’ carbon emissions.

One rectangle down on the U.S. map, in Colorado, 2019 was the year a new state law passed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 90 percent by 2050. In parallel, Colorado established an Office of Just Transition to help the workers and communities affected by now-inevitable coal mine and power plant closures. To comply with that timeline, the state’s two largest electric utilities recently submitted plans, not unlike Pacificorp’s, to retire several coal plants early and replace them with renewables and batteries.

While Colorado regulators have not yet approved the plans, they’ll likely be concerned with whether the utilities will phase out coal fast enough. Meanwhile, the Office of Just Transition has released a plan to help coal communities adapt to the looming changes in their economies and has already begun outreach efforts.

These two examples represent a larger trend in the West: While policies and proposals in some states (like Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona) acknowledge the writing on the wall for the coal industry, others (like Wyoming and, to a lesser extent, Montana) are protecting it for dear life. A new study by researchers at Montana State University examines this chasm and connects it to the absence of cohesive national energy transition policy.
» Read article          
» Read the Montana State University study       

» More about greening the economy       

 

CLIMATE

back on trend
New IEA Data Shows World on Path to Resume ‘Carbon-Intensive Business-as-Usual’
By Andrea Germanos, Common Dreams, in DeSmog UK
March 2, 2021

Following warnings that the coronavirus-triggered drop in planet-warming emissions would be short-lived without structural changes, the International Energy Agency released data Tuesday showing that global CO2 emissions from the energy sector were 2 percent higher in December 2020 compared to the same month the previous year.

The Paris-based agency said the figures reflect a lack of concrete action by global governments to follow through on pledges to meet net zero emissions by 2050 and predicted 2021 emissions would continue the upward trend barring sufficiently bold action.

“The rebound in global carbon emissions toward the end of last year is a stark warning that not enough is being done to accelerate clean energy transitions worldwide. If governments don’t move quickly with the right energy policies, this could put at risk the world’s historic opportunity to make 2019 the definitive peak in global emissions,” said IEA executive director Fatih Birol.

Birol further warned that the figures “show we are returning to carbon-intensive business-as-usual.”

“This year is pivotal for international climate action,” he added, “but these latest numbers are a sharp reminder of the immense challenge we face in rapidly transforming the global energy system.”

While emissions in the U.S. dropped 10 percent in 2020 overall, the downward trend began moving back up after a low point in spring. The nation capped off 2020 with December emissions being nearly the same as those in December 2019.

In India, an increase in emissions began in September with the loosening of Covid-19-related restrictions. China’s emissions began climbing upward in April, and its emissions for the year overall increased by 0.8 percent.

The global shutdowns brought about by the pandemic resulted in a historic drop in global emissions, which climate activists said should be no substitute for real climate action and scientists said would ultimately do little to rein in global temperature increase.

Stressing that there’s “no time to lose” to address atmospheric concentrations of CO2, WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said in November: “We breached the global threshold of 400 parts per million in 2015. And just four years later, we crossed 410 ppm. Such a rate of increase has never been seen in the history of our records.”

“The lockdown-related fall in emissions is just a tiny blip on the long-term graph,” said Taalas. “We need a sustained flattening of the curve.”
» Read article          

global inaction
Global Action Is ‘Very Far’ From What’s Needed to Avert Climate Chaos
New climate pledges submitted to the United Nations would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by less than 1 percent, the world body announced.
By Somini Sengupta, New York Times
February 26, 2021

The global scientific consensus is clear: Emissions of planet-warming gases must be cut by nearly half by 2030 if the world is to have a good shot at averting the worst climate catastrophes.

The global political response has been underwhelming so far.

New climate targets submitted by countries to the United Nations would reduce emissions by less than 1 percent, according to the latest tally, made public Friday by the world body.

The head of the United Nations climate agency, Patricia Espinosa, said the figures compiled by her office showed that “current levels of climate ambition are very far from putting us on a pathway that will meet our Paris Agreement goals.”

The figures offer a reality check on the many promises coming from world capitals and company boardrooms that leaders are taking climate change seriously.

The United Nations secretary general, António Guterres, called the report “a red alert.”

The tally was all the more damning because fewer than half of all countries submitted fresh targets to the United Nations. The Paris climate accord, designed to limit an increase in global temperatures, had urged them to do so by the end of 2020.
» Read article          

weakening ocean currents
Climate Change is Weakening the Ocean Currents That Shape Weather on Both Sides of the Atlantic
The change in the main ocean heat pump could bring more heat waves to Europe, increase sea level rise in North America and force fish to move farther north.
By Bob Berwyn, InsideClimate News
February 25, 2021

Since the end of the last ice age, a swirling system of ocean-spanning currents has churned consistently in the Atlantic, distributing heat energy along the ocean surface from the tropics toward the poles, with heavy, cold water slowly flowing back toward the equator along the bottom of the sea.

Collectively known as the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, the currents played a key role in shaping the climate of eastern North America and Western Europe, and thus the development of civilizations there. But in the 20th century, the circulation has weakened more than at any other time during at least the last 1,000 years, new research shows.

Together with other studies showing that global warming is driving the weakening, the new findings suggest that the circulation will lose even more strength in the decades ahead. That could cause heat and cold extremes in Europe and rapid sea level rise along the East Coast of the United States. As it weakens, pools of warm water form. That can lead to ocean heat waves, with increasing evidence that overheating oceans are linked with droughts and heat waves on nearby land areas.

The overturning circulation loops like a 10,000-mile conveyor belt through the North and South  Atlantic, connecting polar regions. It brings cold water up from the deep, sends warmer water across the surface and then drops it back down thousands of miles away as it cools.
» Read article          

» More about climate            

 

CLEAN ENERGY

sheep and shade
Connecticut solar developers enlist sheep to cut grass and ease tensions

Several projects before the state’s siting board propose integrating sheep grazing with photovoltaic installations.
By Lisa Prevost, Energy News Network
Photo By Antalexion / Creative Commons
March 3, 2021

It wasn’t your usual Connecticut Siting Council hearing. 

The petition before the regulators last week concerned a proposed 4.99-megawatt solar project on a tobacco farm in East Windsor. But many of the councilors’ questions for developer Greenskies Clean Energy had little to do with the technicalities of solar. 

Robert Hannon wanted to know how manure would be handled. John Morissette asked about the level of animal noise. And Chair Robert Silvestri wondered if the site would be safe from coyotes and other predators. 

The answers were vague, as this is the first time Greenskies has proposed using sheep to control vegetation on a solar site. 

The siting council is likely to become more savvy about the particulars in coming months as another Connecticut solar developer, Verogy, has proposed using sheep at three projects pending in East Windsor, Southington and Bristol. 

The proposals reflect the growing interest throughout the region in what’s called agrivoltaics — the practice of combining agricultural uses and renewable energy production on the same parcel of land.

The idea is that “we essentially utilize the sheep for vegetation maintenance, and it allows the property to continue in an agricultural use,” said Gina Wolfman, a senior project developer for Greenskies. 

And instead of revenues being paid out to landscaping services, “they are directed to the farming community,” said Bryan Fitzgerald, a co-founder of and director of development at Verogy.

That can help ease tensions around the use of prime farmland for large-scale solar arrays.
» Read article          

» More about clean energy            

 

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

now previewing
Code council approves plan to limit city, state input despite pushback

The International Code Council’s decision to limit direct influence by state and local government officials left some critics speculating about the potential to create an alternative to the organization’s widely used model codes.
By Alex Ruppenthal, Energy News Network
March 5, 2021

The nonprofit responsible for developing model building energy codes used by cities and states nationwide finalized a controversial plan Thursday to strip voting rights from thousands of public sector members — a move clean energy advocates fear will slow progress in achieving more efficient buildings and reducing emissions that fuel climate change. 

The decision, which critics say was made to appease the interests of industry groups representing homebuilders and natural gas utilities, came during a Wednesday meeting of the International Code Council’s board of directors. Unlike with its previous meeting in January, the board did not stream Wednesday’s meeting for the public to view. 

The change to the code-setting process was set in motion last fall when groups including the National Association of Home Builders and Leading Builders of America cried foul over the latest code development cycle, during which state and local government officials voted in record numbers, resulting in the code’s biggest efficiency gains in at least a decade. 

In response to the record voting turnout, industry groups alleged voting irregularities and “improper use of voting guides” that had been distributed by efficiency advocates. (The Code Council conducted a review of the voting process and found no evidence of irregularities.) Industry representatives also said the process needed to change because energy codes were getting more complex, requiring a higher level of expertise among voting members. 

“This is a classic case of changing the rules in the middle of the game,” said Lauren Urbanek, a senior energy policy advocate with the Natural Resources Defense Council, in a statement following the ICC’s announcement. “It’s extremely troubling that the ICC Board unnecessarily voted to strip the power from local government officials on the very codes they oversee, after they voted overwhelmingly to make our homes and other buildings more energy efficient and avoid harmful pollution from burning fossil fuels inside them.”
» Read article          

code voter supprssion
Cities voted for green building codes. Now developers want to end voting.
By Alexander C. Kaufman, Grist
March 1, 2021

Kim Havey had a problem. Minneapolis was generating more and more of its electricity from renewables, dropping climate-warming pollution from power to record lows. But emissions from natural gas, which is used to heat buildings and stovetops, were climbing ― overtaking power plants as the city’s top source of carbon pollution in 2017.

Nearly three-quarters of Minneapolis’ emissions came from buildings, and the city was undergoing a construction boom to accommodate a population growing faster than at any point since the 1950s. So Havey, the city’s sustainability director, helped craft new rules mandating more efficient standards for all those new buildings.

But there was a hurdle. Buildings over 50,000 square feet ― medical offices, corporate headquarters, apartment buildings ― fell under state jurisdiction. And Minnesota, like most states, used the International Code Council’s model national energy code as its standard. The ICC ― which, as one newspaper once put it, like the World Series, primarily concerns the U.S. ― is a nonprofit consortium of construction industry groups, architects and local government officials that creates the standard building codes used in towns and cities in all 50 states.

Then Havey learned that as a government official responsible for buildings and energy codes in his city, he could register to vote on the ICC’s next round of energy codes in November 2019. He wasn’t alone in this endeavor. The slow progress in reducing emissions from buildings and a decade of virtually unchanged ICC codes were frustrating officials across the U.S., and hundreds applied that year to vote in a process that takes place every three years.

By the time votes were tallied, this army of Leslie Knopes had won an overwhelming victory. The ballots went 3 to 1 in favor of mandates to ratchet up energy efficiency and require new homes and buildings to include wiring to hook up electric vehicle chargers and electric appliances.

But the triumph was short-lived. The building industry groups that have long wielded dominance over policy at the ICC soon began challenging not only the approved measures, which they called costly and unrealistic, but the members’ right to vote at all.

The National Association of Home Builders, whose influence over the ICC has drawn scrutiny from Congress, demanded the organization reconsider the eligibility of dozens of city departments that cast ballots in 2019. Havey and his entire department were among them.
» Read article          

» More about energy efficiency        

 

ENERGY STORAGE

heat batteries
Aalborg CSP Can Retrofit Coal Plants into Thermal Energy Storage
By Susan Kraemer, SolarPACES
February 28, 2021

Researchers at DLR, and NREL, and the Bill Gates-funded start-up Malta have been investigating converting coal plants into grid-scale thermal energy storage for curtailed intermittent renewable energy, as low-cost heat “batteries.”

Conversion would repurpose most of a coal plant’s assets. Instead of burning coal for the heat, tanks of molten salts would be heated electrically by surplus PV and wind on the grid to “charge” the storage, which could then be “discharged” back to the grid on demand using the former coal plant’s existing power generation and transmission assets.

Now Denmark’s Aalborg CSP A/S has taken a first step to commercialization. Their Integrated Energy System (IES) department, led by Executive Vice President Peter Badstue Jensen now offers their retrofitting of coal plants into thermal energy storage commercially.

The firm’s wide experience in the design and development of complex solar thermal energy and storage systems includes technologies supplying district heating and solar thermal plants operating globally. These include the world’s first seawater desalination solar greenhouse in Australia and seasonal thermal energy storage in Tibet that covers 90% of Langkazi’s annual heating requirement.
» Read article          

ESS all-iron configurable
‘All-iron’ flow battery maker ESS Inc launches ‘configurable’ megawatt-scale product
By Andy Colthorpe, Energy Storage News
February 15, 2021

ESS Inc, the US-headquartered manufacturer of a flow battery using iron and saltwater electrolytes, has launched a new range of energy storage systems starting at 3MW power capacity and promising 6-16 hours discharge duration.

The company announced the launch of the ESS Inc Energy Center last week, a containerised utility-scale energy storage product aimed at serving front-of-the-meter use cases as well as larger commercial and industrial (C&I) site applications. Based on ESS Inc’s second generation of flow battery modules, the solution is designed to support large-scale renewable energy projects, serve transmission and distribution (T&D) applications and supply peaking energy capacity to replace peaker gas plants.

While other companies in the flow battery space have mostly focused on vanadium or zinc-bromine electrolyte, ESS Inc has been bullish on the potential for its ‘all-iron’ flow battery. It has a claimed 25-year expected lifetime without performance degradation and the company claims it is safe: in a 2018 interview CEO Craig Evans told Energy-Storage.news that a report from a fire marshall on the battery chemistry “was [just] three sentences long on how the fire marshal should handle our battery in case of an event”. Meanwhile the battery’s contents are non-toxic and are not made using rare-earth materials or hazardous chemicals, the company claimed. 

In that 2018 interview Evans had conceded that lithium-ion batteries had the big head start on manufacturing scale and cost reduction on newer battery technologies like his company’s, but that technical advantages such as the ESS Inc flow battery’s operating temperature of 50°C — meaning it doesn’t need HVAC solutions to be deployed in hot environments — and ever-cheaper renewable energy could offer market opportunities.
» Read article          

» More about energy storage            

 

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

streetlight powerKansas City plans curbside charging for electric vehicles on streetlights
The federally funded pilot project could become a model for other cities looking to close gaps in charging infrastructure.
By Karen Uhlenhuth, Energy News Network
Photo By Vitaly Vlasov / Creative Commons
March 4, 2021

Kansas City plans to piggyback electric vehicle charging on existing streetlights as a way to improve access in areas currently lacking charging options.

The federally funded pilot project is being led by the nonprofit Metropolitan Energy Center, whose partners include the city and utility Evergy. They hope to install chargers on 30 to 60 streetlights before the end of the year.

Kansas City is a leader when it comes to charging stations — a recent Rocky Mountain Institute analysis ranked it as the region’s top city for electric vehicle infrastructure. But that infrastructure isn’t spread evenly across the city. 

“There are places in the city that don’t have the same access to EV charging as other places,” said Miriam Bouallegue, the energy center’s sustainable transportation project manager. “We’re just trying to fill in some holes.”

As envisioned, the light poles would be equipped with one charger each. Customers would pay for each kilowatt-hour of power, although a rate will have to be established by state utility regulators.

Much of the work so far has involved trying to identify the best locations to install the charging stations. Generally, planners want to locate them near “points of interest” such as stores, apartment buildings, schools and churches. They collaborated with the Missouri University of Science and Technology to map those sites and found about 300 lights that met the criteria.
» Read article          

EV charge station push6 Utilities to Build EV-Charging Network Across 16 States
By Climate Nexus, EcoWatch
March 4, 2021

Six major U.S. electricity utilities will collaborate to build a massive EV charging network across 16 states, they announced Tuesday.

Transportation is the country’s largest source of greenhouse gas pollution, and electrifying the sector is a major opportunity to reduce those emissions through increased efficiency and renewable-generated electricity. Utilities stand to benefit from massively-increased electricity demand driven by widespread EV adoption, but range anxiety — the fear of running out of battery power without being able to reach a convenient charging station — is a barrier to many customers who might purchase (or consider purchasing) an EV.

The newly-formed Electric Highway Coalition — made up of American Electric Power, Dominion Energy, Duke Energy, Entergy, Southern Company, and the Tennessee Valley Authority — is seeking to ameliorate those concerns by creating a network of charging stations from Texas to Indiana to Virginia to Florida. The announcement follows a similar initiative by major midwest utilities last year.
» Read article          

all-electric Volvo
Volvo says it will stop selling gasoline-powered cars by 2030.
By Jack Ewing, New York Times
March 2, 2021

Volvo Cars said it would convert its entire lineup to battery power by 2030, phasing out internal combustion engine vehicles faster than other automakers like General Motors.

Volvo, based in Sweden and owned by Geely Holding of China, has been ahead of larger rivals in converting to electric power. In 2019, all the models it sold were either hybrids or ran solely on batteries.

By 2030, Volvo will “phase out any car in its global portfolio with an internal combustion engine, including hybrids,” the company said in a statement on Tuesday.

Hybrids have better fuel economy than conventional vehicles, but they may not be much better for the climate or for urban air quality if drivers do not use the electric capabilities.

G.M.’s promise to sell only emission-free vehicles, which it made in January, does not take effect until 2035.

Volvo acknowledged that it was responding in part to pressure from governments, many of which have announced bans on internal combustion engines in coming years.

The company said its decision was based “on the expectation that legislation as well as a rapid expansion of accessible high quality charging infrastructure will accelerate consumer acceptance of fully electric cars.”
» Read article          

» More about clean transportation             

 

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

protect our earth
Fractured: The body burden of living near fracking
EHN.org scientific investigation finds western Pennsylvania families near fracking are exposed to harmful chemicals, and regulations fail to protect communities’ mental, physical, and social health.
By EHN Staff, Environmental Health News
March 1, 2021

It’s been 12 years since fracking reshaped the American energy landscape and much of the Pennsylvania countryside.

And despite years of damning studies and shocking headlines about the industry’s impact—primarily on the state’s poor and rural families—people that live amongst wellpads remain in the dark about what this proximity is doing to their health and the health of their families. A two-year investigation by EHN set out to close some of those gaps by measuring chemical exposures in residents’ air, water, and bodies.

In the summer of 2019, we collected air, water, and urine samples from five nonsmoking southwestern Pennsylvania households. All of the households included at least one child. Three households were in Washington County within two miles of numerous fracking wells, pipelines, and compressor stations. Two households were in Westmoreland County, at least five miles away from the nearest active fracking well.

Over a 9-week period we collected a total of 59 urine samples, 39 air samples, and 13 water samples. Scientists at the University of Missouri analyzed the samples using the best available technology to look for 40 of the chemicals most commonly found in emissions from fracking sites (based on other air and water monitoring studies).

This was a small pilot study, so we aren’t able to draw any sweeping scientific conclusions from our findings. Instead, we hope our findings will provide a snapshot of environmental exposures in southwestern Pennsylvania families and help pave the way for additional research.

We found chemicals like benzene and butylcyclohexane in drinking water and air samples, and breakdown products for chemicals like ethylbenzene, styrene, and toluene in the bodies of children living near fracking wells at levels up to 91 times as high as the average American and substantially higher than levels seen in the average adult cigarette smoker.

The chemicals we found in the air and water—and inside of people’s bodies—are linked to a wide range of harmful health impacts, from skin and respiratory irritation to organ damage and increased cancer risk.

But these stories are about more than a list of hard-to-pronounce chemicals. They’re about a single father on disability who fears these exposures are causing his son’s illness but can’t afford to move; a family that did move to escape a school surrounded by well pads, but found themselves living next to a new set of wells and still being exposed; and quiet rural lifestyles once defined by idyllic farms, rolling hills, and fresh air now overwhelmed by heavy truck traffic, heavy industry, and communities at odds over whether to protest that loss or try and cash in by leasing their mineral rights.
» Read article          

banning the gas ban
A Texas city had a bold new climate plan – until a gas company got involved
The fossil fuel industry is using the same playbook to fight city climate plans around the country
By Emily Holden for Floodlight, Amal Ahmed for the Texas Observer and Brendan Gibbons for San Antonio Report, in The Guardian
March 1, 2021

When the city of Austin drafted a plan to shift away from fossil fuels, the local gas company was fast on the scene to try to scale back the ambition of the effort.

Like many cities across the US, the rapidly expanding and gentrifying Texas city is looking to shrink its climate footprint. So its initial plan was to virtually eliminate gas use in new buildings by 2030 and existing ones by 2040. Homes and businesses would have to run on electricity and stop using gas for heat, hot water and stoves.

The proposal, an existential threat to the gas industry, quickly caught the attention of Texas Gas Service. The company drafted line-by-line revisions to weaken the plan, asked customers to oppose it and escalated its concerns to top city officials.

In its suggested edits, the company struck references to “electrification”, and replaced them with “decarbonization”– a policy that wouldn’t rule out gas. It replaced “electric vehicles” with “alternative fuel vehicles”, which could run on compressed natural gas. It offered to help the city to plant more trees to absorb climate pollution and to explore technologies to pull carbon dioxide out of the air – both of which might help it to keep burning gas.

Those proposed revisions were shared with Floodlight, the Texas Observer and San Antonio Report, by the Climate Investigations Center, which obtained them through public records of communications between city officials and the company.

The moves have so far proven a success for Texas Gas. The most recently published draft of the climate plan gives the company much more time to sell gas to existing customers, and it allows it to offset climate emissions instead of eliminating them. The city, however, is revisiting the plan after a backlash to the industry-secured changes.
» Read article          

» More about fossil fuels         

 

BIOMASS

gift to biomass
Baker’s $175m regulatory gift to biomass
Few municipal light plants actually wanted project
By David Talbot, CommonWealth Magazine | Opinion
February 20, 2021

THE BAKER ADMINISTRATION and much of the Legislature is trying hard to give the developer of a controversial proposed wood-fired “biomass” power plant in Springfield everything it wants—especially a regulatory change that could give the plant $175 million in additional cash from Massachusetts electric ratepayers over 20 years.

To those wondering why Beacon Hill is doing so much—despite opposition on emissions and environmental justice grounds from the Springfield City Council, the Massachusetts attorney general’s office, both of our US senators, and five state senators who filed an anti-biomass bill Friday – the answer often comes back that this is what the Commonwealth’s 41 municipal light plants want.

As the story goes, these local electric utilities, anticipating new standards, sought biomass electricity as part of a broader way to meet those standards.

But the actual decisions made by these century-old entities suggest otherwise. When the power contracts for the unbuilt Springfield facility were offered to municipal light plants in late 2019 and early 2020, only eight signed up—and for a total of only 75 percent of the plant’s output—based on information contained in contracts signed in February of 2020.

Low as these numbers are, they overstate the interest. By far the biggest tranche, 25 percent, was taken by the Reading Municipal Light Department, where I am one of five elected commissioners. But the Reading deal was signed at the management level; when our board later learned of this, we voted to examine all options with respect to the contract’s disposition.

In other words, we started looking for exits.

Our board-voted signal meant just seven municipal light plants truly wanted just half of the plant’s output, according to those contracts signed in February 2020.  And though those other local boards were no doubt better informed than ours, it’s not clear how much they knew about the controversy.

If Beacon Hill’s efforts are not answering demands from local municipal electric utilities, the question begging more investigation is why our elected leaders want to shovel so much money to just one developer (no other such plants are currently proposed in Massachusetts) to build a facility wanted by so few.

The developer, Palmer Renewable Energy, first got permits for the plant more than a decade ago. The company prevailed over certain legal challenges – but still needed more than electricity sales at market rates to make a business case to build the $150 million plant. Gov. Charlie Baker and Patrick Woodcock, Baker’s commissioner of the Department of Energy Resources, stepped in to help.

Woodcock, formerly the top energy official under Gov. Paul LePage in Maine, set about gutting the rules for wood-fired biomass plants in the Bay State. The existing ones, in something called the Renewable Portfolio Standard, were stringent. Under them, electricity from the Palmer plant – which would burn 1,200 tons of wood chips per day, hauled in by tractor-trailers potentially from five states—could not be called “renewable.” Only far more efficient versions could do so.

The proposed Baker/Woodcock rewrite puts this giant wood-burning plant on the same “renewable” footing as a fleet of offshore wind turbines or an array of solar panels. And this meant the developer could also sell something called “Class 1 renewable energy certificates,” which is a form of subsidy.
» Read article           

MA-AGO letterhead
Comments on Draft Regulations Amending Renewable Portfolio Standard Class I and II Regulations, 225 C.M.R. §§ 14.00 et seq.and15.00 et seq.( H.5169)

MA OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL, Maura Healey
December 23, 2020

The Commonwealth was prescient in stringently constraining biomass participation in the RPS program, and we should not reverse course now. In this letter, the AGO explains that (1) forest biomass energy production—the burning of woody fuel from forests to generate electricity—will only exacerbate the climate and public health crises facing the Commonwealth; (2) DOER’s Draft Regulations and their complex accompanying analyses, which stakeholders have not had sufficient time to review, raise important substantive and procedural legal concerns; and (3) the Draft Regulations contain numerous provisions that may increase—not decrease—greenhouse gas and other harmful pollutant emissions, and the analyses purporting to support the Draft Regulations appear to overlook important considerations, make unsupported assumptions, reach dubious conclusions, and in any event show the regulations may indeed have troubling emissions impacts.
» Read letter                        

» More about biomass               

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