It’s worth considering whether Russia would be pounding Ukraine if it weren’t flush with fossil fuel revenue and emboldened by Europe’s dependence on its gas. A global climate coalition consisting of over five hundred concerned organizations have signed a letter to President Biden, tying fossil fuel dependence to this and other emergencies facing the planet. It argues for the rapid phaseout of fossils during an accelerated transition to zero-emitting renewable energy sources.
For other climate-relation action, check out the photos from last week’s protest against the Weymouth compressor station – a facility the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission admitted should never have been permitted. Susan Lees of Arlington gets a shout-out for her star turn as a methane molecule!
In a worrying development for the climate, a new report concludes that Covid-19 disruptions to energy markets breathed new life into coal, temporarily reversing the industry’s long decline. China in particular responded by initiating multiple new coal-fired power plants.
All of the above is happening because we’re way behind in building out clean energy. The DoubleGreen Solar Loan program seeks to speed the deployment of residential solar in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, serving lower income folks who have traditionally faced difficulties obtaining the favorable financing that makes these projects possible. Meanwhile, our partners at Massachusetts Climate Action Network are calling out municipal light plants for lagging on the clean energy transition, and the Conservation Law Foundation is challenging New England’s grid operator to modernize more quickly.
Others are stepping up. University of Massachusetts’ flagship Amherst campus just announced an aggressive program to transition to 100% clean renewable energy within a decade. The plan involves decommissioning a gas-fired power plant, improving building envelopes and heating with district geothermal and heat pumps, and powering it all with solar and battery storage. On the other side of the country, Washington became the first state to pass an all-electric mandate for new buildings.
Energy storage has advanced considerably in the past decade, and cutting edge research keeps uncovering more possibilities. Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden have shown that energy from sunlight can be captured and stored for up to 18 years, and released as either heat or electricity as needed. It’s still a lab project that won’t be deployed broadly for a while, but for now you get to toss around terms like Molecular Solar Thermal Energy Storage Systems (MOST) and thermoelectric generators.
The U.S. Postal Service is replacing its fleet of mail delivery trucks, and Earthjustice and the Natural Resources Defense Council are suing to stop the current plan for 90% of those new trucks to run on gasoline. Electrifying that fleet is both possible and necessary. Potential carbon savings are massive.
Another warning light is flashing on the carbon capture and storage dashboard, with a trend developing whereby industry offers assurances that sequestering CO2 underground is safe and secure, but wants government to accept long-term liability. Familiar names are involved, like ExxonMobil and BP. We’ve seen this movie before.
Here in Massachusetts, we’re watching to see if the current round of climate legislation successfully addresses the Gas System Enhancement Plan (GSEP), under which gas utilities are spending billions to replace distribution pipelines in a system that largely needs to abandon gas. The utilities earn a guaranteed 10% return on these pipelines, which the utilities are hoping will someday carry other fuels including hydrogen. But counting on a switch to different fuel is considered a risky bet, and ratepayers are going to be left holding the bag if this zombie program is allowed to continue.
Since we opened with an observation about the war in Ukraine, it’s appropriate to end there too. We offer a story explaining why the fossil fuel industry hasn’t stepped in to provide Europe with a substitute near-term fuel source as they attempt to pull back from Russian supplies.
— The NFGiM Team
PROTESTS AND ACTIONS
Global Climate Coalition Tells Biden Ukraine War Is Chance to ‘End the Fossil Fuel Era’
“The violence of fossil fuels must come to an end to save life on Earth,” said one campaigner.
By Andrea Germanos, Common Dreams
April 27, 2022
Over 520 organizations told President Joe Biden on Wednesday to urgently “end the fossil fuel era” and commit to a rapid renewable energy transition rooted in justice and a more peaceful world.
The demand was delivered in a letter that points to a “cascade of emergencies” currently facing humanity including the climate crisis and Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine, which “share the same dangerous thread: dependence on fossil fuels.”
“Russia’s invasion into Ukraine is fueled by their fossil fuel extraction power, and the world’s reliance upon it,” the signatories, including global groups like Climate Action Network International and 350.org, wrote.
The letter declares that “war makes it more apparent that fossil fuel dependence puts people at risk and makes energy systems insecure” and points to fossil fuel extraction and combustion’s wide-ranging adverse impacts from driving the biodiversity crisis to causing deaths worldwide.
In order “to preserve a livable planet,” the letter outlines four broad steps to make an exit from fossil fuels. They include a stop to any new permits or financing for coal, oil, and gas extraction and related infrastructure. The letter puts a 2030 deadline for coal extraction and 2031 deadline for gas extraction by richer nations such as the U.S.
Nuclear must also be phased out, given it’s “an inherently dirty, dangerous, and costly energy source,” the letter asserts.
Economic policy must also advance a fossil fuel exit; that necessitates no further subsidies for the industry but instead a tax on “windfall profits.”
The letter additionally calls for the creation of “an international plan for an equitable phaseout of fossil fuel production and use in line with the 1.5ºC target” of the Paris climate agreement, one that recognizes “the historical responsibility of rich industrialized countries for the climate crisis and the necessity of their leadership, and the different capacity of countries to rapidly transition and diversify their economies.”
» Read article
» Read the letter
Photos: Protest targets Weymouth compressor station
April 23, 2022
Too many new coal-fired plants planned for 1.5C climate goal, report concludes
Number of new plants planned fell last year, but coal-generated electricity rose by 9% to record high
By Fiona Harvey, The Guardian
April 26, 2022
The number of coal-fired power plants under development around the world fell last year, but far too much coal is still being burned and too many new coal-fired power plants are planned for the world to stay within safe temperature limits.
Coal use appeared to be in long-term decline before the Covid-19 pandemic, but lockdowns around the world and economic upheaval drove an increase in new coal projects in 2020, particularly in China.
Last year, the total coal power capacity in development fell sharply again, by about 13%, from 525GW to 457GW, a record low for new plants under development, according to a report from Global Energy Monitor published on Tuesday. The number of countries planning new plants also fell, from 41 at the beginning of 2021 to 34 countries.
But these encouraging signs were outweighed by a slowdown in older coal-fired power stations being taken out of service. About 25GW of capacity was taken out – roughly equal to the amount of new capacity commissioned in China – and the amount of electricity generated from coal rose by 9% in 2021 to a record high, more than rebounding from a 4% fall in 2020 when Covid first struck.
The authors of the report concluded that “coal’s last gasp is not yet in sight”, despite countries agreeing at the Cop26 UN climate summit last November to a “phase down” of coal. Last year, the International Energy Agency warned that no new exploration of fossil fuels of any kind could take place if the world was to limit global heating to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.
The continuing use of coal comes despite ever starker warnings from scientists in the latest assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which concluded that the world would far exceed the 1.5C limit without rapid reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
» Read article
Solar lending program offers option to marginalized New England households
Despite favorable incentives for lower-income residents in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, the upfront cost of buying solar panels remains a financial barrier for many potential customers.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
April 28, 2022
A community development nonprofit has launched a new solar lending program in Massachusetts and Rhode Island aimed at making it possible for more homeowners to invest in solar panels.
The DoubleGreen Solar Loan is designed to serve households regularly marginalized by existing financing options by offering lower interest rates, longer loan lengths, transparent terms, and more flexible underwriting standards.
This year, the fund aims to close $10 million in solar loans, with 60% of the funds going to low-income households and homeowners of color. The program works with a network of trusted solar installers to ensure buyers are treated fairly and transparently and not charged hidden fees.
“The average income and the average [credit] score of solar adopters has started to come down, but it’s still predominantly upper-middle class and whiter,” said Andy Posner, founder and chief executive of the Capital Good Fund, the organization offering the new loan program.
Posner launched the Capital Good Fund in 2009, with the mission of providing financial services and education to underserved populations. Today, the fund offers three loan products in nine states. The immigration loan program offers borrowers up to $20,000 to help pay for asylum applications, legal assistance, green card fees, or other related expenses. The impact loan program provides small sums to help cover pressing needs like car repairs or utility bills, helping borrowers avoid turning to predatory payday lenders. The weatherization loan helps homeowners pay for energy-saving measures like insulation, storm windows, and high-efficiency heating equipment.
So far, the organization has loaned $20 million to 10,000 families, with a repayment rate of 95%.
The new DoubleGreen Solar Loan evolved out of the weatherization lending program when borrowers started expressing interest in adding renewable energy to their homes as an additional cost- and carbon-cutting measure.
» Read article
Municipal electric companies slow to incorporate clean energy, often rely on nuclear power
By Sabrina Shankman, Boston Globe
April 27, 2022
As Massachusetts races to wean utilities off fossil fuels in order to hit its climate targets, the municipal light companies that provide electricity to some 50 communities collectively have far less clean energy in their portfolios than the major for-profit utilities.
That’s the upshot of a new report from the Massachusetts Climate Action Network, which found, for example, 33 of the municipal providers had less than 1 percent of clean energy sources such as wind and solar in 2020.
While some communities are far ahead of others, particularly Concord, Belmont, and Wellesley, overall just 2.43 percent of the total energy mix at the 40 municipal light companies assessed in the report are from clean energy.
Known as municipal light plants, the community utilities combined had about 420,000 customers as of 2019, and provide roughly 14 percent of the state’s energy supply, said Logan Malik, lead author of the report and clean energy director for MCAN, a climate advocacy organization.
“We are seeing leaders — when you look at Concord, when you look at Belmont, when you look at Wellesley, those are three great examples,” Malik said. “But at the same time, because of the lack of regulation and because of the lack of support, we’re seeing that it’s not translating in every instance. And that has real implications for the Commonwealth’s transition to a clean and just energy future.”
The report found that despite the slow progress on cleaning their energy mix, many municipal light plants are technically on track to reach emission goals set for them in the state’s most recent climate law passed in 2021, thanks to a special standard that allows them to include nuclear energy in their calculations, while investor-owned utilities like Eversource or National Grid cannot.
Taking that into account, the report found that 38 percent of the energy mix from municipal light plants is considered “non-emitting.” That sizable percentage comes largely from contracts that municipal light plants have held with the Seabrook Station nuclear power plant in New Hampshire and the Millstone Unit 3 power plant in Connecticut, both of which came online more than three decades ago.
» Read article
On Earth Day, UMass Amherst unveils major renewable energy overhaul
By Dharna Noor, Boston Globe
April 22, 2022
The University of Massachusetts Amherst officials on Friday rolled out a big Earth Day pledge, unveiling a plan to reach 100 percent renewable power within about a decade.
“Change begins at home,” the university’s chancellor, Kumble Subbaswamy, said in an interview.
The university system’s 1,500-acre flagship campus — which is responsible for 20 percent of emissions from state government-owned buildings, according to Subbaswamy — has its own power plant, which runs mostly on gas and currently supplies most of the school’s heat and electricity.
UMass Amherst plans to retire that plant in the coming years and convert the campus’s heating infrastructure to geothermal power. The campus will also use heat pumps, as well as heat recovery chillers which provide both heating and cooling.
For electricity, the school will use a combination of renewable power purchased from the grid and battery-stored solar energy generated on campus. It will also upgrade and renovate buildings to ensure they are efficient.
The plan comes as universities across the Commonwealth are increasingly grappling with their contributions to the climate crisis. In 2018, Harvard committed to removing fossil fuels from its grid. In 2019, the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth and Mount Holyoke both pledged to transition to all-renewable power, and last year, Boston University followed suit.
The road map for UMass Amherst’s transition has been in the works since late 2018. It’s based on the work of hundreds of staff and faculty, energy consultants, and students, university officials said.
» Read article
Washington State Passes All-Electric Heating Mandate for New Buildings
By Paige Bennett, EcoWatch
April 26, 2022
The first mandate in the U.S. to require all-electric heating has passed in Washington state, where newly constructed buildings will need to install electric heating and hot-water systems. The mandate will go into effect in July 2023.
The mandate passed 11 to 3 in a vote by the State Building Code Council to restrict the use of natural gas in multifamily housing complexes and commercial buildings by requiring installation of electric heat pumps. A similar mandate for smaller residential buildings will be considered within the next few months.
The revised energy code will see that new buildings have heat pumps rather than HVAC systems powered by natural gas. At least 50% of water will also need to be warmed via electric heat pumps, although the remaining amount can be heated through other methods.
Heat pumps are energy-efficient alternatives to furnaces. They work by taking in heat from one area and pumping it into another. For example, in the winter, heat pumps can pull heat from outside, even if the temperature is low, and move it indoors. In warmer months, the opposite happens — the heat pump moves the warm indoor air outside to cool the building’s interior.
[…] Washington’s mandate has exceptions for hospitals, research facilities, and select other buildings, including buildings in cooler parts of the state where winter temperatures can drop well below 0°F.
[…] Heat pumps are considered a sustainable alternative because they can generate three or four times the amount of energy they consume, according to The Conversation. Heat from fossil fuels actually wastes energy, because it needs to convert the energy from one form into another form rather than moving the heat from one place to another. To meet emissions goals by 2030, heat pump use will need to reach one-third of global heating systems.
» Read article
Capturing Solar Energy and Converting It to Electricity When Needed – Up to 18 Years Later
By Chalmers University of Technology, in SciTech Daily
April 18, 2022
The researchers behind an energy system that makes it possible to capture solar energy, store it for up to eighteen years, and release it when and where it is needed have now taken the system a step further. After previously demonstrating how the energy can be extracted as heat, they have now succeeded in getting the system to produce electricity, by connecting it to a thermoelectric generator. Eventually, the research – developed at Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden – could lead to self-charging electronic gadgets that use stored solar energy on demand.
“This is a radically new way of generating electricity from solar energy. It means that we can use solar energy to produce electricity regardless of weather, time of day, season, or geographical location. It is a closed system that can operate without causing carbon dioxide emissions,” says research leader Kasper Moth-Poulsen, Professor at the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at Chalmers.
The new technology is based on the solar energy system MOST – Molecular Solar Thermal Energy Storage Systems, developed at Chalmers University of Technology. Very simply, the technology is based on a specially designed molecule that changes shape when it comes into contact with sunlight. The research has already attracted great interest worldwide when it has been presented at earlier stages.
The new study, published in Cell Reports Physical Science in March 2022 and carried out in collaboration with researchers in Shanghai, takes the solar energy system a step further, detailing how it can be combined with a compact thermoelectric generator to convert solar energy into electricity.
[…] The research has great potential for renewable and emissions-free energy production. But a lot of research and development remains before we will be able to charge our technical gadgets or heat our homes with the system’s stored solar energy.
» Read article
MODERNIZING THE GRID
Challenging the status quo on electricity, heating
Conservation Law Foundation officials call for change
By Bruce Mohl, CommonWealth Magazine
April 25, 2022
TWO TOP OFFICIALS with the Conservation Law Foundation say the region’s power grid operator and the state’s utilities are in some ways part of the problem instead of the solution to dealing with climate change.
Greg Cunningham, the vice president and director of CLF’s clean energy and climate change program, and Caitlin Peale Sloan, the vice president for Massachusetts, said on The Codcast that they are concerned the institutions that should be leading the fight against climate change are not doing so.
Cunningham’s focus is on ISO-New England, the region’s power grid operator headed by Gordon van Welie. Van Welie was a guest on The Codcast two weeks ago and his focus was on the vulnerability of the power grid, the potential for rolling blackouts, and the continued need for natural gas as a backup fuel.
“It’s frustrating needless to say for us to sit here in 2022 and hear the litany of problems and concerns repeated over and over again from the entity that was designed to be central around fixing them,” Cunningham said. “Gordon van Welie has a substantial pedestal from which to speak and many people listen when he does. There’s an unfortunate tendency to use fear-mongering and the risk of rolling blackouts and all of the bad things that may happen if we don’t address these issues rather than identifying for us how we’re going to solve these problems.”
ISO-New England hasn’t yet found a way to incorporate the clean energy New England needs into the region’s wholesale electricity markets. Van Welie is trying to buy more time to find a solution by asking the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to approve an extension, with a few tweaks, of the existing, flawed regulatory system. He is facing pushback from Attorney General Maura Healey and others who feel the status quo is not acceptable.
» Read article
FERC unveils transmission plan seen as key for renewables
By Miranda Willson, E&E News
April 22, 2022
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission released a proposal yesterday that could play a pivotal role in modernizing the nation’s power grid and advancing the transition to clean energy.
The commission plan offers some of the most significant federal changes in over a decade to the transmission planning process, which could help speed up the development of high-voltage power lines considered critical for adding more renewable energy to the grid.
Approved in a bipartisan 4-1 vote at the commission’s monthly meeting, the proposed rules seek to address key challenges in the process for planning new transmission projects and for determining how to fairly allocate their costs. Once the commission has reviewed comments on the proposal, it may issue final rules, most likely by the end of the year.
“Today’s proposed rules, if finalized, would facilitate much-needed transmission investment, improving the resilience of the grid, enhancing reliability and reducing power costs,” Chair Richard Glick, who voted in favor of the proposed rules, said during the meeting. “It’s also going to address our nation’s changing resource mix and the changing role of electricity in our society.”
The proposal came during the commission’s first in-person meeting since February of 2020. In addition to advancing reforms on transmission, FERC issued an order focused on reforming wholesale electricity markets in light of changes in the types of energy resources that provide power for the grid.
Staff at the independent agency also released an annual report on natural gas and electricity markets, highlighting last year’s record-high U.S. natural gas exports and the significant volumes of solar, wind and battery storage capacity that came online in 2021.
Under the changes proposed for the transmission planning process, electric utilities that deliver power would be required to identify transmission needs driven by the changing mix of energy resources, with consideration for potential extreme weather events that could affect infrastructure. Transmission developers would be compelled to assess the need for new regional power lines over a 20-year time frame at a minimum.
Transmission developers would also need to “fully consider” advanced tools that could make the flow of power more efficient and potentially reduce overall transmission costs, FERC staff said in a presentation on the proposal.
» Read article
Climate activists sue USPS to block purchase of gas-guzzling trucks
By Jacob Bogage, The Washington Post, in The Boston Globe
April 28, 2022
Two environmental groups are suing the U.S. Postal Service to block its purchase of 148,000 gas-guzzling delivery trucks over the next decade, alleging the agency has vastly underestimated the vehicles’ costs and adverse ecological impact.
The suits brought on by Earthjustice and the Natural Resources Defense Council contend the mail service relied on flawed assumptions and faulty calculations in selecting its “Next Generation Delivery Vehicles.” The contract reached with Oshkosh Defense in February 2021 is worth as much as $11.3 billion.
As a result, the complaints allege, the agency chose a purchase plan for 90 percent of the new fleet to be gasoline-powered, and the trucks’ 8.6 mpg is only incrementally more fuel efficient than the 30-year-old vehicles they’re designed to replace. That leaves 10 percent of the new fleet dedicated to battery power, well below benchmarks set by rivals FedEx, UPS and Amazon. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
Postal officials hoped the truck procurement would go smoothly with policymakers and signal that the mail agency was evolving to meet new business opportunities and joust with its private-sector competitors.
Officials on both sides of the aisle agree that the mail service desperately needs to replace its delivery fleet, but almost immediately upon striking the deal with Oshkosh, environmental groups said the 10-percent pledge for EVs was insufficient and organized labor groups chafed at the company’s decision to move manufacturing away from unionized shops.
The Postal Service began studying the environmental impacts of the vehicles – which federal regulators estimate would emit roughly the same amount of Earth-warming carbon dioxide each year as 4.3 million passenger vehicles – after paying Oshkosh $482 million to begin production. The suits argue the Postal Service conducted its analysis to retroactively justify its procurement decision.
» Read article
CARBON CAPTURE AND STORAGE
Proponents Say Storing Captured Carbon Underground Is Safe, But States Are Transferring Long-Term Liability for Such Projects to the Public
As companies propose storing carbon dioxide in depleted oil fields or saline aquifers, some states are putting themselves on the hook for future problems with the projects.
By Nicholas Kusnetz, Inside Climate News
April 26, 2022
As states rush to enact rules and regulations for the underground storage of carbon dioxide, a key question is who will hold long-term responsibility for projects that could require monitoring for decades.
The question is increasingly important, as a host of companies have proposed dozens of projects over the last two years that would pull climate-warming emissions from the smokestacks of ethanol plants, fertilizer factories and fossil-fueled power plants. If the projects move forward, they’ll need to pump millions of tons of captured carbon dioxide deep underground into depleted oil fields or saline aquifers, where the gas would need to be stored permanently.
The energy industry and others insist the practice is safe, but nonetheless some companies, including ExxonMobil and BP, have been seeking protections from long-term liability. And increasingly, state lawmakers are responding by putting governments, rather than industry, on the hook.
At least four states have passed laws over the last year that allow companies to transfer responsibility for carbon storage projects to state governments after the operations are shut down. At least three other states have similar statutes on the books, enacted years earlier.
Now, with the federal government poised to spend billions of dollars to jump start a carbon capture and storage industry, some environmental advocates warn these states are setting a dangerous precedent.
“Statutes that relieve operators of liability without due regard to existing legal principles create an incentive for sloppy management, leaks and public opposition,” said Scott Anderson, senior director of energy transition at the Environmental Defense Fund.
Poorly managed projects could increase the risk of carbon dioxide leaking through natural fissures or old wells and contaminating groundwater or escaping into the atmosphere, Anderson said.
» Read article
Spending billions fixing gas system makes no sense
Lawmakers shouldn’t allow utilities to retool to carry new fuels
By Dorie Seavey, CommonWealth Magazine | Opinion
April 26, 2022
Dorie Seavey is a climate economist and author.
TO HAVE ANY CHANCE of averting climate catastrophe, the latest climate science is definitive that we must actively decommission much of our existing fossil fuel infrastructure. Flying in the face of this dire warning, Massachusetts is on course to spend roughly $40 billion recommissioning its gas distribution system. How is this possible?
In 2014, at a time of heightened concern about the threat of explosions from gas leaks and the need to reduce fugitive gas, the Legislature enacted the Gas System Enhancement Plan (GSEP) to encourage the Commonwealth’s six investor-owned gas companies to replace their aging pipes more quickly in exchange for speedier cost recovery paid for by ratepayers.
Since then, GSEP’s original purpose has quietly morphed. Gas companies are now using the plan as an accelerated investment vehicle for making their gas distribution systems biomethane- and hydrogen-ready. With the cooperation of the Department of Public Utilities, their regulator, they are reinvigorating over 90 percent of their asset base and tying it to a nearly 10 percent rate of return through the end of the century.
GSEP’s new purpose is unabashedly acknowledged in gas industry-supported research. The Associated Industries of Massachusetts recently funded a UMass-Lowell study supporting the development of hydrogen in the Commonwealth, including piping and burning it to heat buildings—a false solution for our climate, safety, and public health. The report suggests that “the GSEP timeline could be accelerated” to expedite the introduction of hydrogen since 4,000 miles of mains await GSEP replacement with hydrogen-compatible plastic pipe.
In sharp contrast, GSEP has been a stealth player in the Future of Gas Investigation, a DPU proceeding to examine how gas companies can reconfigure their businesses to help the Commonwealth achieve net-zero emissions. Consultant reports and gas company proposals were filed in March. None describe or assess GSEP’s role in the energy future even though GSEP could not be more foundational to the gas companies’ preferred energy pathways such as “efficient gas equipment” and “hybrid” or “low” electrification. Indeed, these pathways would be non-starters if GSEP disappeared since they require upgraded plastic pipelines ready to deliver fracked natural gas blended with biomethane, synthetic natural gas, or hydrogen.
[…] Legislators should take three crucial steps this session.
First, accurately measure the Commonwealth’s greenhouse gas emissions. Our methane measurements are woefully outdated, accounting for only a fraction of actual leaked gas, and we fail to use a lifecycle approach for measuring greenhouse gases. Accurate measurements will reveal whether gas company business proposals are in fact aligned with our 2050 goals. They will also provide a sound, scientific basis for holding gas companies accountable via targets established both in annual GSEP plans and in the emissions reduction program of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection.
Second, prohibit the use of alternative gases, such as hydrogen and biomethane, for heating residences and businesses. The DPU should not be permitted to greenlight the gas companies’ ill-conceived plans for these gases as they do not meet reasonable standards for safety, health, emissions, and cost.
Third, provide incentives for utility companies to invest in networked ground source heat pumps. We need to shift the substantial financial benefits of GSEP (including asset depreciation past 2050 and cost recovery on an annual basis) from gas pipe replacement to the installation of renewable, non-emitting thermal infrastructure such as GeoGrid water pipes that can heat and cool our buildings.
By correcting the gas companies’ investment calculus, these three legislative actions will lead to a smart, strategic deceleration of investments in fossil fuel infrastructure while opening the door for gas companies to evolve their business models toward non-emitting, renewable thermal energy.
[…] The glaring disconnect between GSEP’s original purpose and its runaway reality must be addressed. To ensure that large investments of ratepayer money actually move us toward our climate goals, the Legislature should replace GSEP with a tailored “gas system transition program” focused on promoting safety, reducing emissions, and using resources wisely during the energy transition.
» Read article
To fight climate change, and now Russia, too, Zurich turns off natural gas
By Dan Charles, NPR
April 20, 2022
European officials are debating whether they can stop buying natural gas imports from Russia. Many say it can’t be done. But the biggest city in Switzerland — Zurich — is already taking ambitious steps to wean itself off gas. It’s shutting down the flow of gas to whole parts of the city.
Zurich started down this path a decade ago to save money and fight climate change. The plan provoked controversy at first. Today, as the city’s residents install alternatives to gas heating, there appears to be broad support for the switch — in part, because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. About half of Switzerland’s natural gas supply comes from Russia.
“Attitudes have changed once again, dramatically,” says Rainer Schöne, a spokesman for Energie 360°, Zurich’s city-owned gas utility. “Today, it’s clear. People want to, and have to, move away from fossil gas.”
Zurich’s experience may offer lessons to other cities around the world that are encouraging residents to switch away from natural gas appliances but are not, so far, shutting down the infrastructure that delivers it.
[…] Some residents of Zurich, especially those in single-family homes, can’t easily connect to the district heating system and have to find alternatives. Ernst Danner is a member of Zurich’s City Parliament from the centrist Evangelical People’s Party. He lives in a single-family home, and he installed an electric heat pump that draws warmth from water circulating through pipes that go deep underground. It cost him just over $40,000 after tax breaks and city subsidies, but it also cut his heating bill in half. Over the lifetime of the system, he says, “I pay a bit more, but it’s not that much more, and it’s more ecological.”
Many of his neighbors, Danner says, have installed less-costly “air-source” heat pumps that draw heat from the air outside. “Those I know are very happy with their heat pumps. It’s very good!” he says.
» Read article or listen to broadcast
FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY
Why U.S. Oil Companies Aren’t Riding to Europe’s Rescue
American energy production has only inched up because executives fear that oil and gas prices won’t stay high.
By Clifford Krauss, New York Times
April 26, 2022
HOUSTON — Oil and gasoline prices are climbing. Energy company profits are surging. President Biden, who came into office promising to reduce the use of fossil fuels, has effectively joined the “drill, baby, drill” chorus. Europe would love to end its dependence on Russia.
Yet most U.S. oil businesses are not eager to capitalize on this moment by pumping more oil.
Production of oil by U.S. energy companies is essentially flat and unlikely to increase substantially for at least another year or two. If Europe stops buying Russian oil and natural gas as some of its leaders have promised, they won’t be able to replace that energy with fuels from the United States anytime soon.
U.S. oil production is up less than 2 percent, to 11.8 million barrels a day, since December and remains well below the record 13.1 million barrels a day set in March 2020 just before the pandemic paralyzed the global economy. Government forecasters predict that American oil production will average just 12 million barrels a day in 2022, and increase by roughly another million in 2023. That would be well short of the nearly four million barrels of oil that Europe imports from Russia every day.
“You had this bombastic, chest-pounding industry touting itself as the reincarnation of the American innovative spirit,” said Jim Krane, an energy expert at Rice University. “And now that they could be leaping into action to pitch in to bring much-needed oil to the world, they are being uncharacteristically cautious.”
The biggest reason oil production isn’t increasing is that U.S. energy companies and Wall Street investors are not sure that prices will stay high long enough for them to make a profit from drilling lots of new wells. Many remember how abruptly and sharply oil prices crashed two years ago, forcing companies to lay off thousands of employees, shut down wells and even seek bankruptcy protection.
» Read article
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