Tag Archives: International Code Council

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               

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


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

Weekly News Check-In 1/15/21

banner 09

Welcome back.

The fate of Massachusetts’ ambitious climate roadmap legislation generated plenty of drama this week, amid speculation that Governor Charlie Baker might veto the state’s first major revamp of its emissions reduction program in a dozen years. He did. We gathered news including why he did, why he should have signed it, and speculation on what could happen next.

Opponents of the Weymouth compressor station have long argued that the facility – if allowed to operate – should use electric motor drive to power the compressor. Compressor stations are typically located far from population centers, where the emissions from natural gas turbines don’t immediately impact human health. Now the MA-DEP has rejected a petition for Enbridge to use electric motor drive instead of a polluting gas turbine in Weymouth. The logic for the decision is stunning.

Protesters are actively resisting Enbridge’s Line 3 tar sands oil pipeline in Minnesota, and Sunrise-CT is standing out against the proposed natural gas generating plant in Killingly.

Related to all of the above, we found a thoughtful essay that considers how to make the green energy transition equitable – avoiding the trap of repeating, with green infrastructure, the same injustices that defined the fossil energy era.

In case anyone reading this newsletter isn’t sufficiently freaked out about the climate, a group of seventeen prominent scientists published a paper intended to wake people up to the “ghastly future” we’re sleepwalking into. Theirs is a call for mass mobilization at a World War II level of urgency. It’s also an appeal to their colleagues to step out of the lab and join the fray – challenging the scientist’s traditional dispassionate role.

Despite clear urgency, clean energy faces a thicket of outdated and cumbersome regulations that slow connection to the U.S. grid. Progress for energy efficiency in buildings also faces obstruction – primarily from the powerful National Association of Home Builders and other industry groups. There’s an effort underway to strip energy code voting rights from municipal officials. This follows a very successful drive in 2019 to recruit climate-aware voters, who forged a meaningful increase in building efficiency for the upcoming revision of residential and commercial building codes. This effort to disenfranchise municipal officials is seen by energy advocates as direct industry blowback. The building lobby’s reflexive objection to better efficiency may have influenced Governor Baker’s veto of the climate roadmap bill.

Massachusetts proposes to clean up its transportation sector by eliminating sales of gas-powered cars by 2035, joining California in this nation-leading goal. Meanwhile, the EV sector is abuzz with news about advances in solid-state batteries, and your future vehicle may double as battery storage for your home and the grid.

We found an excellent opinion piece from Utility Dive, arguing that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission needs to make fundamental changes in how it considers energy infrastructure projects – explaining critical flaws in its “public need” evaluation, on which recent pipelines were justified.

Our wrap-up brings us full circle, because the fortunes of the liquefied natural gas industry directly impact the Weymouth compressor station – intended to push fracked gas from the Marcellus shale play north to Canada for eventual export through the proposed Goldboro LNG facility in Nova Scotia. While Pieridae Energy has brought man-camp trailers to the construction site, the company still lacks the necessary investment to proceed. Completion is years away and not yet guaranteed.

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

LEGISLATIVE NEWS

call for action not answered
Reluctantly, governor vetoes Mass. climate change bill, but it may soon be back on his desk
By Matt Stout and David Abel, Boston Globe
January 14, 2021

Governor Charlie Baker vetoed a far-reaching package of climate change and energy legislation Thursday, rejecting — perhaps temporarily — a bill that would have set the state on a path to in effect eliminate its carbon emissions over the next three decades.

The move disappointed but didn’t surprise lawmakers and advocates, who had feared the Republican governor would veto the bill, despite having laid out his own ambitious plan to achieve zero emissions on a net basis by 2050.

The legislation, considered the state’s most sweeping measure to address climate change since the landmark Global Warming Solutions Act in 2008, would have required the state to reduce its emissions by 50 percent below 1990 levels by the end of the decade.

In a letter to the Legislature, Baker said he shared lawmakers’ goals but differed with them “on how these goals should best be achieved.”

“Reluctantly, I cannot sign this legislation as currently written,” he wrote.

Baker could only sign or veto the 57-page bill, since lawmakers passed and sent it to him one day before their two-year legislative session ended last week.

With more time, Baker said, he would have returned the bill to lawmakers with proposed amendments.

His five-page letter cited a list of reasons why he refused to sign the bill. He said it would have countered a recently enacted law that seeks to promote affordable housing; lacked provisions to help fortify the state against rising seas and other impacts of climate change; would potentially harm regional efforts to procure clean energy; and was not supported by scientific analysis.

He also cited the uncertain consequences of the bill on the state’s economy as it emerges from the pandemic. “As we are all learning what the future will hold, I have concerns about the impacts portions of this bill will have for large sectors of the economy,” Baker said.

But his veto may be short-lived. Democratic leaders in the Legislature have vowed to rush the bill back to Baker’s desk, potentially within days, quickly reviving a package free of the parliamentary limits that Baker suggested had tied his hands.
» Read article           

Vineyard Wind 1
Mariano ready to refile accord on climate, emissions
By Matt Murphy, WWLP Channel 22 News
January 13, 2021

As Gov. Charlie Baker weighs a possible veto of climate legislation on his desk, House Speaker Ronald Mariano is preparing to refile the bill in its entirety on Thursday should the governor reject the bill as passed, according to the speaker’s office.

The step is intended to send a message to Baker that House Democrats stand behind the proposal, which would require Massachusetts to go carbon-neutral by 2050 and set a series of interim benchmarks intended to keep Massachusetts on the path.

The bill would also direct utilities to purchase more offshore wind power, set efficiency standards for appliances and increase the amount of renewable sources that feed the state’s electricity supply to 40 percent by 2030.

“This is meant to send a strong message to people supportive of the bill to stand firm, and that there’s not a lot of appetite for changes,” said someone close to the speaker, who asked to speak anonymously. Mariano also intends to approach Senate President Karen Spilka on Wednesday to discuss his plan.

Both the House and Senate unanimously passed the climate legislation on Monday, Jan. 4, a day before the Legislature brought its two-year session to a close.
» Read article             

they made me do itReal estate groups push for veto of climate bill, saying it could thwart economic recovery
Developers worry that rules allowing towns to adopt “net zero” building requirements could drive up costs and drive away business
By Jon Chesto, Boston Globe
January 12, 2021

A business-backed lobbying push over one controversial provision could end up sinking a far-reaching climate and energy bill that the Massachusetts Legislature passed on the penultimate day of its two-year session.

The point of contention: one sentence in the 57-page bill that would allow cities and towns to adopt rules requiring new buildings to be “net zero,” presumably with regard to greenhouse gas emissions.

The climate bill’s success, seemingly assured just over a week ago, now hangs in the balance. Environmental advocates are increasingly jittery that months of work could be in jeopardy. Governor Charlie Baker has until the end of the day Thursday to decide whether the concern over net-zero buildings and any other issues outweigh all the bill’s potential benefits, such as sparking more offshore wind and solar projects.

The Legislature didn’t end up passing the bill until roughly one day before the two-year session ended last week. For that reason, Baker cannot send the bill back with amendments. He can either sign it or reject it by either explicitly vetoing it or not signing it, a “pocket veto.”

Among the groups calling for a veto: development lobbyist NAIOP Massachusetts, the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, and the Home Builders and Remodelers Association of Massachusetts. Among those urging support: environment-focused nonprofits such as Ceres and RENEW Northeast, and a coalition of municipal leaders in 17 cities and towns in Greater Boston.

For some in the business community, the debate mirrors one that played out during the past year or so over banning new natural-gas hookups in several cities and towns. Those efforts hit a big setback in July when Attorney General Maura Healey ruled that a ban in Brookline was preempted by state law.

While advocates for builders and developers support most aspects of the climate bill, they worry this net-zero building provision in particular could derail the state’s economic recovery by creating a new source of construction costs and delays.
» Read article           

Emily Reichert PhDA letter to Gov. Baker: Sign the climate bill
By Tim Cronin | Emily Reichert, Boston Business Journal / Opinion
January 11, 2021

Comprehensive climate action remains a collaborative process. We need investors to support the entrepreneurs who are developing new technologies. We need business leaders who are eager to test, deploy and believe in climate-tech solutions. And we also need policymakers who are willing to implement smart, ambitious policies to support them. 

This is how we build a just and sustainable future for all citizens of the commonwealth. This, Gov. Baker, is why you need to sign the climate bill. 

The act creating a next-generation roadmap for Massachusetts climate policy is the first major legislative update of climate policy in Massachusetts in over a decade. In the midst of the pandemic’s devastation, and a growing economic downturn, this bill comes just in time to bolster our recovery efforts. Like the 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act, Senate Bill 2995’s mix of ambitious climate goals and 21st century energy solutions is the foundation we need to unleash a new era of economic prosperity in our Massachusetts.

The bill plays to our competitive strengths in areas like energy efficiency and clean technology. We’ve consistently ranked top in the nation for energy efficiency, with that sector representing our fastest job growth in recent years. This bill modernizes our energy efficiency standards, collectively saving businesses and residents $160 million annually and creating tens of thousands of jobs over the coming decade. Similarly, Massachusetts has emerged as a regional and national hub for cleantech incubators, like Greentown Labs. SB2995 will make Massachusetts the first in the nation to set numerical benchmarks for the adoption of clean technology. Meaning businesses can invest in climate tech, with a clearer understanding of the future market for solutions like electric vehicles, charging stations, solar tech, energy storage and heat pumps in Massachusetts.

The climate bill advances markets toward other landmark technology needed to tackle the climate crisis. It nearly doubles the state’s offshore wind capacity over the coming decade, getting us to 5,600 megawatts and creating green jobs in the process. We will also see new incentives to build out the state’s renewable hydrogen fuel cell infrastructure, as well as pilot programs to transition the state’s largest utilities toward renewable thermal technology.

By signing the bill, you will signal to investors that Massachusetts is open for business and fully committed to the kind of climate investments the 21st century demands of us. Importantly, this bill ensures that we go beyond just setting a goal of net zero emissions reductions by 2050. It puts us on the economically prudent path towards a 50 percent greenhouse gas emissions reduction by 2030, with a specific focus on emissions reductions in every sector of the economy. We uniquely have the opportunity to lead the research, development, and deployment of new clean technology in the commonwealth, creating companies and jobs here.
» Read article          

» More about legislation             

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

petition denied
Petition for electric compressor station motor rejected
By Ed Baker, The Patriot Ledger
January 13, 2021

WEYMOUTH — The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection denied a citizens group petition to have an electric powered turbine at a compressor station in the Fore River Basin.

DEP presiding officer Jane Rothchild said federal regulations don’t support a “wholesale replacement” of the gas turbine by Algonquin Gas Transmission, the Enbridge subsidiary that runs the compressor station. 

“A preponderance of the evidence demonstrates that a combustion turbine is a different design than an electric motor drive,” said the ruling on Tuesday. “The equipment in a combustion turbine is different than the equipment in an electric motor drive, and an electric motor drive cannot run on natural gas.”

Rothchild further stated an electric motor drive “is not a pollution-controlled technology that can be applied to the proposed source.”

“Installing an electric motor drive would require additional infrastructure and improvements, including a half-mile of underground high voltage transmission line,” she stated. “Mass DEP took a hard look at the design elements and properly determined that the use of colocating natural gas is integral to the design of the facility.”

Rothchild’s ruling upholds the DEP’s previous determination that an electric motor drive is not the best available control technology to reduce nitrogen oxide and pollutant emissions at the compressor station.
» Blog editor’s note: It is absurd to conclude that a zero-emissions electric motor drive system “is not the best available control technology to reduce nitrogen oxide and pollutant emissions at the compressor station.” Ms. Rothchild’s prior comment gets to the heart of the matter: “Installing an electric motor drive would require additional infrastructure and improvements, including a half-mile of underground high voltage transmission line…”. Yes – it’s an additional investment. It should have been part of the original design because of this facility’s close proximity to an already environmentally burdened community. But it’s clearly not money Enbridge cares to spend. Sadly, the Baker administration has chosen not to defend the public health interest of its Weymouth constituents.
» Read article        

» More about the Weymouth compressor         

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

school strike for climate
Protests Today, Saturday Against Proposed Killingly Gas Plant
By Public News Service
January 13, 2021

HARTFORD, Conn. – Opponents of the proposed Killingly natural-gas power plant are ramping up public pressure, with a protest today in Hartford and another on Saturday in New Haven.

At 2 p.m. today, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., is scheduled to be a featured speaker at the Hartford protest, where there will also be a symbolic “die-in” on the back steps of the Capitol building.

Gov. Ned Lamont has said he wants the state to be carbon-neutral by 2040, so rally organizer Sena Wazer, co-director of the group Sunrise Connecticut and a junior at the University of Connecticut, said she thinks Lamont should intervene to deny final approvals for the plant.

“And it’s really just to show the governor the really disastrous effects that climate change is going to have on our future,” she said, “especially as young people.”

A second protest is planned for 11:30 a.m. Saturday at the New Haven Green.

The state has said the plant would be a source of “bridge fuel” for times when energy from wind or solar isn’t sufficient. The Governor’s Council on Climate Change is supposed to release its final report by the end of the month. If approved, the Killingly plant would go online in 2024 and generate 650 megawatts of power. The Sierra Club estimates it could dump 2 million pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere per year.

Angel Serrano, a community organizer for the Connecticut Citizen Action Group, said the state never will reach its decarbonization goals if it keeps green-lighting new fossil-fuel infrastructure.
» Read article        

honor treaties
As Enbridge Races to Build Line 3 Pipeline, Resistance Ramps Up in the Courts and On the Ground
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
January 8, 2021

On January 2, 2021, during the first weekend of the New Year, dozens of water protectors gathered to demonstrate and pray along Great River Road near Palisade, Minnesota. They joined in song, protesting a controversial tar sands oil pipeline called Line 3, which is currently being constructed through northern Minnesota and traditional Anishinaabe lands. Ojibwe tribes have helped spearhead the opposition to this pipeline, alongside Indigenous and environmental groups.

A clash with police hours later resulted in the arrest of 14 demonstrators. As one water protector, Shanai Matteson, described the confrontation: “There were more police, and fewer Water Protectors, in an unreasonable show of force by officers … who escalated the situation.”

This Indigenous-led resistance to the Line 3 pipeline is reminiscent of Standing Rock in North Dakota, where, since 2015, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has led fellow Native and non-Native water protectors in taking a stand against the Dakota Access pipeline, which ultimately went into operation in 2017. Both of these battles over new tar sands pipelines also have featured direct action demonstrations and legal challenges, all with significant stakes for Native rights and sovereignty, the integrity of impacted water bodies and land, and the global climate.

In Minnesota, the fight over Line 3 has dragged on for over six years. Now, with the Canadian-based energy pipeline giant Enbridge Corporation commencing construction, opponents are continuing their resistance on the ground and in the courts.

Pipeline opponents have been battling Enbridge since the company first proposed the Line 3 project in 2014. Enbridge has pitched it as a replacement of an older, corroding pipe built in the 1960s, though the new pipeline will be larger and much of it traverses through a different area compared to the older pipeline. Opponents therefore describe it as a new pipeline rather than a replacement. This new Line 3 project would nearly double the capacity to carry heavy crude, almost a million barrels per day, from the Alberta tar sands fields in Hardisty to the end point over a thousand miles away in Superior, Wisconsin.

The majority of the nearly $3 billion U.S. portion of the pipeline, around 337 miles of it, would run through Minnesota. State regulators like the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission have issued key permits for the pipeline, despite expert studies — including a review by the Minnesota Department of Commerce — showing the project is unnecessary and would have harmful and costly impacts, particularly to the environment and to tribal communities.

According to a Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) issued by the state last year, the social cost of the project over a 30-year life cycle is estimated at $287 billion — far greater than the roughly $2 billion Enbridge says will flow to the Minnesota economy during construction. This “social cost” is based on the social cost of carbon, or an estimate of societal damages occurring from carbon emissions that drive the climate crisis.
» Read article           

» More about protests and actions            

GREENING THE ECONOMY

justice first
Justice First: How to Make the Clean Energy Transition Equitable
Switching to renewables won’t solve the inequities already baked into our system, says energy and environmental law expert Shalanda Baker. We need a different approach.
By Tara Lohan, The Revelator
January 11, 2021

When Shalanda Baker stopped in Oaxaca, Mexico in 2009 to brush up on her Spanish before heading to Colombia, she didn’t realize it would be a life-changing event. She’d just left her job at a corporate law firm with the hope of lending her expertise to communities fighting coal mines or other dirty energy projects in South America.

But in Oaxaca she met Indigenous community members fighting a different type of energy project: large-scale wind development. “Their struggles echoed the stories of countless communities around the world affected by oil and gas development: dispossession, displacement, environmental harm, unfair contracts, racism and a litany of concerns about impact to culture and community,” she writes in her new book Revolutionary Power: An Activist’s Guide to the Energy Transition.

And she realized that in the pursuit of clean energy and climate solutions, we were on course to replicate many of the same injustices of the fossil fuel economy.

“I knew, in that moment, that this tension — between Indigenous rights and clean energy, between the rush to avert catastrophic climate change and social justice — would form the foundation of my work as an activist and scholar. It would also become my life’s work,” she writes.
» Read article          

» More about greening the economy            

CLIMATE

dire assessment
With Dire Assessment, Scientists Warn Humanity in Denial of Looming ‘Collapse of Civilization as We Know It’
“We aim to provide leaders with a realistic ‘cold shower’ of the state of the planet that is essential for planning to avoid a ghastly future.”
By Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams
January 13, 2021

In an example to the rest of the scientific community and an effort to wake up people—particularly policymakers—worldwide, 17 scientists penned a comprehensive assessment of the current state of the planet and what the future could hold due to biodiversity loss, climate disruption, human consumption, and population growth.

“Ours is not a call to surrender—we aim to provide leaders with a realistic ‘cold shower’ of the state of the planet that is essential for planning to avoid a ghastly future,” according to the perspective paper, co-authored by experts across Australia, Mexico, and the United States, and published in the journal Frontiers in Conservation Science.

Co-author Paul R. Ehrlich of Stanford University’s Center for Conservation Biology—who has raised alarm about overpopulation for decades—told Common Dreams his colleagues “are all scared” about what’s to come.

“Scientists have to learn to be communicators,” said Ehrlich, citing James Hansen’s warning about the consequences of “scientific reticence.” Hansen, a professor at Columbia University’s Earth Institute and former director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, testified to Congress about the climate crisis in 1988.

Ehrlich was straightforward about how “extremely dangerous things are” now and the necessity of a “World War II-type mobilization” to prevent predictions detailed in the paper: “a ghastly future of mass extinction, declining health, and climate-disruption upheavals (including looming massive migrations), and resource conflicts.”

“What we are saying might not be popular, and indeed is frightening. But we need to be candid, accurate, and honest if humanity is to understand the enormity of the challenges we face in creating a sustainable future,” said co-author Daniel T. Blumstein of the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability at the University of California, Los Angeles, in a statement about the paper.

“By scientists’ telling it like it is, we hope to empower politicians to work to represent their citizen, not corporate, constituents,” he said in an email to Common Dreams.
» Read article          
» Read the scientists’ perspective article         

» More about climate          

CLEAN ENERGY

FERC 2003
Report: Renewables Are Suffering From Broken US Transmission Policy
Interconnection backlogs and excessive upgrade costs require ground-up reform to solve, grid advocates say.
By Jeff St. John, GreenTech Media
January 12, 2021

Rob Gramlich, president of Grid Strategies, has a simple explanation for why U.S. transmission grid policy has stalled the growth of wind and solar power. 

“If you talk to a developer, they will say [that] the grid operators and transmission owners are woefully slow and unpredictable in terms of what it costs to connect, and the process is extremely frustrating,” he said in a Monday interview.  

“If you talk to the grid operators, they’ll say, ‘Renewables developers keep throwing in different projects, [so] I have to study each of them — and when I give them an answer, they drop out of the queue and I have to go back and study everything else.’” 

“They’re both right — and it’s because we have a systemic problem,” said Gramlich, co-author of a new report, Disconnected: The Need for a New Generator Interconnection Policy. Despite incremental attempts by the country’s major interstate transmission operators to solve these problems, Gramlich and his colleagues felt they “had to point out how everybody’s working in a fundamentally broken system.”

These observations are backed up by a rising tide of evidence from clean-energy advocates and academic research indicating that attempts to decarbonize the U.S. electricity system may be stymied by a lack of transmission to carry wind and solar power from where it’s most cheaply generated to where it’s most needed. 

The fundamental disconnect stems from Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Order 2003, created in the same year, which allows independent system operators (ISOs) and regional transmission organizations (RTOs) to hold developers of new generation facilities responsible for the costs of upgrades needed to interconnect their projects to the transmission grid. 

The purpose was to avoid cost-sharing structures to force the cost of connecting new generators onto the broad base of utilities and customers. That made sense when the primary new resource being added to the grid was large-scale natural-gas generators that could be sited at the most advantageous interconnection locations.

But it has become a major problem as wind and solar projects, which tend to be most productive in far-away locations, have come to make up about 90 percent of new interconnection requests in the queues of the ISOs and RTOs that manage the transmission networks that provide electricity to about two-thirds of the country’s population.
» Read article           

» More about clean energy               

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

ICC cuts out stakeholders
Cities, states would lose voice on model energy code updates under proposal
The International Code Council is set to consider a proposal that would strip public sector members of their voting rights on updates to influential model building energy code.
By Alex Ruppenthal, Energy News Network
January 13, 2021

Months after record participation by state and local governments helped pass one of the most ambitious building energy code updates in years, the organization that oversees the process is taking steps that would sideline thousands of public sector members from voting on future updates.

Energy efficiency advocates say the proposed changes would give outsized influence to the National Association of Home Builders and other industry groups and make it more difficult to incorporate stricter efficiency requirements into future model energy codes.

“This could potentially strip out the public sector voice in the process, or at least reduce it greatly, which is concerning because it’s supposed to be a code enforced by public officials for health and safety, among other reasons,” said Kathryn Wright, building energy program director with the Urban Sustainability Directors Network, which opposes the changes. 

The International Code Council, a nonprofit that oversees the development of building energy codes, is considering changes this month that would put decisions on future energy codes in the hands of a committee comprised of code officials, industry groups and other stakeholders, including some representing clean energy groups.

The proposed overhaul is in response to concerns raised by industry groups representing homebuilders and developers over the recently completed code development process during which a record number of state and local government officials cast votes, helping win approval for a slate of efficiency-boosting changes.

Lauren Urbanek, a senior energy policy advocate with the Natural Resources Defense Council, called the code council’s proposal “a thinly veiled attempt to prevent clean energy progress from happening in the future.”
» Read article           

» More about energy efficiency           

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

electric cars MA
Gasoline Car Sales to End by 2035 in Massachusetts
Charging stations will need to become as common as gas stations
By Maxine Joselow, E&E News, in Scientific American
January 8, 2021

Massachusetts plans to phase out sales of new gasoline-powered cars by 2035, speeding down the same road as California.

While many climate hawks have their eyes trained on the federal government, the proposal last week from Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R) heralds significant climate action at the state level.

“I’m really excited to see Gov. Baker moving forward to address global warming pollution from cars and get more zero-emission vehicles on the road,” said Morgan Folger, director of the Zero Carbon Campaign at Environment America.

“Transportation is one of the largest sources of global warming pollution in Massachusetts, and, in particular, gas-powered cars are a big chunk,” Folger added. “So phasing out gas-powered cars in the state could make a big dent.”

Baker issued the proposal as part of his interim Clean Energy and Climate Plan for 2030, which outlines how the state can reduce carbon emissions 45% below 1990 levels by 2030—an interim target on the path to net-zero emissions by 2050.

Transportation accounts for 40% of greenhouse gas emissions in Massachusetts, according to the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs. Passenger cars alone are responsible for roughly 27% of all carbon pollution.

“There is no way we can achieve our net-zero 2050 target without urgent action in the transportation sector. And helping people get out of polluting vehicles and into clean vehicles is the fastest way to get there,” said Jordan Stutt, carbon programs director at the Acadia Center, a clean energy-focused nonprofit with offices in Boston.

Stutt said he thinks Massachusetts can reach 100% electric vehicle sales within 15 years if the state addresses two overarching challenges: a lack of point-of-sale incentives for EV drivers and a dearth of EV charging infrastructure.
» Read article           

solid state game changer
Toyota’s Solid-State Battery Prototype Could Be an EV Game Changer
New technology brings electric cars closer to the convenience of their gas-powered counterparts.
By Aaron Gold, MotorTrend
December 14, 2020

Imagine an electric car battery that provides more than 300 miles of range, charges in approximately ten minutes, requires no bulky heating and cooling systems, maintains 80 percent of its charge capacity for 800 cycles (about 240,000 miles), and isn’t prone to spontaneous combustion. Such is the promise of the solid-state car battery, a holy grail that automakers and manufacturers are racing to find. Now, Toyota announced it’ll have a running prototype with a solid-state battery ready by next year.

Before you yawn and click the back button on your browser, consider the implications of this technology. Range and charge times are the biggest barriers to EV adoption, and while a ten-minute charge is still quite a bit longer than it takes to fill a gas tank with liquid fuel, it’s a lot better than having to make lunch plans while your car recharges. A compact fast-charging battery could be the EV equivalent of the electric starter, as it would allow battery-powered electric cars to conquer internal-combustion power once and for all.

Toyota is far from the sole entrant in this race, nor is it the only company making headlines. Last week, a California company called QuantumScape, which has a strategic partnership with Volkswagen, announced promising test results for its own solid-state cell. Toyota’s announcement of its upcoming Euro-market electric SUV included the note that the company plans to have solid-state battery technology in its production vehicles by 2025.

The race to develop a solid-state battery for electric vehicles is on, and if Toyota’s plans to produce a running prototype in 2021 come to fruition, then we could very well be looking at the dominant automotive technology of the future within the next year.
» Read article           

V2G2021 Outlook: The future of electric vehicle charging is bidirectional — but the future isn’t here yet
Within a few years, cars may be able to power homes, participate in energy markets and help businesses lower power bills, experts say.
By Robert Walton, Utility Dive
January 12, 2021

Electric vehicles are growing in popularity, and utilities are preparing for a future where their value goes far beyond transportation.

As more EVs hit the road, there are growing questions about how utilities will manage their charging needs. Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) has estimated that electrifying all of the roughly 251 million light duty vehicles on U.S roads today would increase annual electricity demand by about 25% — and that doesn’t include medium and heavy-duty applications like freight and public transit along with a host of other applications.

While the transition to a fully electric fleet could take decades to achieve, the near-term implications for grid management as more and more EVs hit the road are significant.

Along with adding demand, EVs are increasingly seen as potential grid assets: aligning their charging needs with times of higher renewables production and lower grid stress can help decarbonize transportation and operate electric systems more efficiently. Managed charging, through time-of-use rates and demand response programs, is known as vehicle-grid integration and is already the subject of utility programs around the country.

This approach to managing EV demand — largely reliant on unidirectional power flows that adjust how and when chargers are pulling energy from the grid — is sometimes referred to as level 1 integration (V1G). But there is also interest in using the energy in EV batteries to serve other loads, with what are known as vehicle-to-grid (V2G) capabilities.

While those capabilities are utilized in parts of Europe and Asia, experts say the United States is still years away from widespread use of V2G. There are a few utilities rolling out pilot programs to test the capabilities, including Duke Energy in North Carolina, but there are still safety and engineering concerns to be addressed, technical problems to solve and business cases to study.

“It can be pretty complicated to make it all work. I’ve read hundreds of technical papers on these topics and I just don’t think the value proposition of V2G is at all clear,” said Chris Nelder, a manager with RMI’s mobility practice. 

That said, there is a growing consensus that millions of vehicle batteries will one day serve as energy resources beyond V1G managed charging, to power buildings and microgrids and feed energy back into the bulk power system.
» Read article           

» More about clean transportation      

FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION

reboot FERCFederal Energy Regulatory Commission needs a reboot
By Ashish Solanki, Utility Dive / Opinion
January 8, 2021

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), an independent agency within the Department of Energy responsible for regulating the interstate transmission and sale of electricity and natural gas, needs a massive revamp. The incoming Biden Administration would do well to look for new leadership.

The need for a different approach is especially evident when it comes to gas pipeline approvals. FERC is neglecting to analyze significant energy market changes and continuing to rely on a flawed assumption that the mere existence of a contract to supply gas implies “public need” for a pipeline.

FERC has not only failed to fulfill its statutory responsibilities, but also has continued to make costly and environmentally harmful decisions. Three major pipeline projects — the Constitution, Northeast Supply Enhancement Project and Atlantic Coast Pipeline — were scrapped in 2020 after being approved by the commission. These fiascos could have been avoided if FERC had analyzed the energy market’s needs more efficiently.

The U.S. energy market has undergone significant changes since FERC last updated its guidelines for approving pipelines in 1999. When the guidelines were adopted, natural gas was seen as a relatively scarce resource. The commission’s decisions were made with the goal of increasing the availability and supply of the gas; very few large-scale energy alternatives to natural gas existed.

During the last decade, however, excessive production of natural gas has created a surplus that has vastly exceeded demand. At the same time, renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies have gained momentum, and the renewable energy industry has grown considerably. Renewables are competing directly with the natural gas industry for cheaper and more efficient energy production. This has changed the calculation of necessity for natural gas project proposals.
Ashish Solanki is an Energy Finance Research Associate at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis.
» Read article           

» More about FERC        

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

still not financed
LNG prices skyrocket, but fresh delays mean Canadian projects will miss the boom
The only LNG export facility even under construction in Canada is years away from completion
By Geoffrey Morgan, The Financial Post
January 14, 2021

Canadian natural gas producers are watching with envy as liquefied natural gas prices in Europe and Asia hit new records this month while Canada’s only under-construction export facility is years away from completion and the COVID-19 pandemic has dealt fresh delays to other proponents.

“I won’t hide the fact that COVID has had an impact on the overall development timeline,” GNL Quebec acting president Tony Le Verger said in an interview of his company’s proposed $9-billion Energie Saguenay LNG export project in northern Quebec.

Less than a year ago, at the beginning of March 2020, GNL Quebec confirmed it had lost a major potential investor in the LNG export facility when Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. pulled out of the proposed terminal amid concerns about political risk following rail blockades.

Then, two weeks later, at the beginning of March 2020, the spread of the coronavirus sent natural gas and LNG prices crashing as economies around the world closed down for months. This led Quebec regulators to question whether GNL Quebec’s plans remained viable and the pandemic also delayed regulatory hearings for Energie Saguenay.

While the commodity price has skyrocketed globally, the Canadian export project closest to completion, LNG Canada, isn’t expected to be in service until 2023 at the earliest, which means Canadian producers will largely miss out on the current boom.

Alfred Sorensen, president and CEO of Calgary-based Pieridae Energy Ltd., has been trying to secure financing for an LNG terminal called Goldboro in Nova Scotia [emphasis added] and described 2020 as “a perfect storm,” that has frustrated his company’s capital-raising efforts.

“We had a scenario where gas built up coming into winter, there was no winter in Europe, then COVID-19 came and gas got destroyed,” Sorensen said, adding that he hasn’t been able to travel to meet potential investors in the project through 2020 but is still hopeful he’ll be able to engage investors this year.

“To do the kind of deals we’re going to do, we’re going to have to see how we can go to places. I don’t think that’s going to occur for the next three or four months,” Sorensen said, adding he’s looking to raise $1 billion in the first half of this year.

Sorensen said the company’s new engineering and construction contractor, Virginia-based Bechtel Corp., is due to send the company a preliminary all-in cost estimate for the project by the end of March. The company hopes to make a decision on pre-construction work by the end of June.
» Blog editor’s note: the proposed (and still un-financed) Goldboro LNG terminal is the intended destination for a substantial portion of fracked natural gas to be pumped north from the Weymouth compressor station.
» Read article           

» More about LNG             

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


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