Tag Archives: ISO-NE

Weekly News Check-In 2/19/21

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Welcome back.

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

More about new developments at FERC.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— The NFGiM Team

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about the Weymouth compressor station

FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about FERC

PIPELINES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about pipelines       

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

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

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

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

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

» Read article        

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about protests and actions

GREENING THE ECONOMY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about clean energy

ENERGY STORAGE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile, LFP has steadily gained traction with customers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about energy storage

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

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

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

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

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

» More about clean transportation

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about fossil fuel

BIOMASS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about biomass

PLASTICS RECYCLING

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

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

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

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

We’re not holding our collective breaths.

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

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

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

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

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

» More about plastics recycling

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Weekly News Check-In 3/20/20

WNCI-7

Welcome back.

Construction at the Weymouth compressor station site doesn’t accommodate the social distancing required to address our COVID-19 health crisis, and opponents of the project are requesting a temporary halt to activities there. More Massachusetts news: Columbia Gas will be purchased by Eversourse. We found a thought-provoking editorial suggesting that ownership should pass to the public instead.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), continues to dig in as an increasingly partisan approval mill for fossil fuel projects. Three of the four commissioners are now Republican,  a clear break with past tradition of balanced representation.

Our climate section leads with an MIT study showing that significant amounts of ozone-depleting CFCs are leaking from old refrigeration equipment and insulating foam previously considered too inconsequential to remove and remediate. We now know that CFC leakage from these sources delays recovery of the ozone layer, and is a source of powerful greenhouse gases.

We found some differing opinions among experts regarding how the social and economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic will affect the deployment of clean energy like wind and solar. That is currently a more powerful dynamic in the U.S. than the familiar tug-of-war between the pro-fossil Trump administration vs the combination of progressive state and municipal governments and advances in green technology. Take a look at our offerings in clean transportation and energy storage to see what’s happening along those old familiar story lines.

The fossil fuel industry lost a significant court battle when a federal district court decided in favor of Massachusetts, agreeing that the state has jurisdiction to sue Exxon in Suffolk County Superior Court, where the giant corporation stands accused of “hiding its early knowledge of climate change from the public and misleading investors about the future financial impact of global warming.” This is one of a string of similar cases, all agreeing that states have jurisdiction in these lawsuits.

We close with an article on plastics recycling, because a plastics-to-fuel plant is being proposed in Rhode Island. A feasibility study is considering using the pyrolysis process (gassification at high heat) to remove plastic from the waste stream by converting it to usable fuel. The benefits are presented by a representative from the American Chemistry Council, with arguments against this process being clearly articulated by Kevin Budris, a lawyer from Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) Rhode Island who heads up the Zero Waste Project.

— The NFGiM Team

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

call for halt
Residents call for halt to compressor station construction
By Jessica Trufant, The Patriot Ledger
March 19, 2020

WEYMOUTH — Residents opposed to a natural gas compressor station being built on the banks of the Fore River want construction stopped amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which has brought much of the country to a halt.

Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station called on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration to suspend construction of the Weymouth compressor station, to help slow the spread of the virus.

“This isn’t just about the compressor station, it’s about protecting the community and workers from an ongoing public health crisis,” the group said. “The construction site does not have access to proper sanitation stations, like soap and water, and workers can’t consistently work 6 feet apart.”
» Read article

» More about the Weymouth compressor station

COLUMBIA GAS

Should the public buy Columbia Gas?
Right now, Eversource is proposing to buy the utility for $1.1b
By Craig Altemose, CommonWealth Magazine – Opinion
March 15, 2020

Public utilities are entities entrusted to provide critical public services to the public. That trust means that they are supposed to receive heightened regulation by the government while being given the gift of a government-sanctioned monopoly (i.e. if you live in their territory, they are your exclusive provider). This arrangement is meant to serve the public good, and yet in just the past two years, our public utilities failed us in virtually every way imaginable.

We have recently experienced massive lapses in safety, long-term disruptions of service, the lock-out and denial of healthcare benefits to trained workers, and continued refusal to embrace critical values of public health and climate stability in the governance of our utilities. Indeed, these utilities have used ratepayer dollars to fund exorbitant executive packages (Eversource CEO Tom May makes close to $10 million a year to head a company whose customers broadly had the choice of either buying from his company or sitting in the cold and dark in the homes) and lobby against the public interest.

So this sale is coming at a time ripe for consideration of the idea of public ownership of our public gas and electric utilities.
» Read article     

» More about Columbia Gas

FERC / LNG / OTHER PIPELINES

fossil boosting FERC
Bad news about FERC & Jordan Cove
By Drew Hudson, 198 Methods
March 20, 2020

As we feared, and warned only yesterday, in the midst of the global pandemic the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) conditionally approved the Jordan Cove fracked gas export terminal and Pacific Connector pipeline today.

The approval is conditioned on Pembina, the Canadian fossil fuel corporation behind the project, qualifying for critical permits from the state of Oregon, three of which have already been denied or withdrawn. But it’s still an incredibly disappointing decision from a rogue, rubber stamp agency.

It was only last Thursday that Senate Republicans rammed through a vote on James Danly to be a new commissioner at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Danly is the first totally partisan nominee – traditionally one Democrat and one Republican are nominated together. While a handful of Senators commented on the unusual decision to stack a supposedly bi-partisan commission with three Republicans and one Democrat.
» Read article

Senate Confirms Third Republican to FERC, Breaking With Precedent
James Danly’s confirmation breaks bipartisan norms at the federal energy regulator that’s already under fire for aiding fossil fuels in key decisions.
By Jeff St. John, Green Tech Media
March 12, 2020

The U.S. Senate confirmed James Danly to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Thursday, stacking a third Republican against the lone Democrat on the board of a federal agency that has increasingly been seen as using its authority over interstate energy markets to privilege fossil fuels over renewables.

Danly, who will fill the seat left vacant by the death of Chairman Kevin McIntyre, graduated from law school in 2013 and worked as a corporate energy lawyer before he was named general counsel at FERC in 2017. His lack of experience in the industries he will now regulate has drawn sharp criticism from Senate Democrats, and his nomination last year was initially rejected by the Senate in January, before being sent back by the Trump administration last month.
» Read article

» More about FERC / LNG / Other Pipelines    

CLIMATE

CFC banks
Emissions of several ozone-depleting chemicals are larger than expected
Recovering and safely destroying the sources of these chemicals could speed ozone recovery and reduce climate change.
By Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office
March 17, 2020

In 2016, scientists at MIT and elsewhere observed the first signs of healing in the Antarctic ozone layer. This environmental milestone was the result of decades of concerted effort by nearly every country in the world, which collectively signed on to the Montreal Protocol. These countries pledged to protect the ozone layer by phasing out production of ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons, which are also potent greenhouse gases.

While the ozone layer is on a recovery path, scientists have found unexpectedly high emissions of CFC-11 and CFC-12, raising the possibility of production of the banned chemicals that could be in violation of the landmark global treaty. Emissions of CFC-11 even showed an uptick around 2013, which has been traced mainly to a source in eastern China. New data suggest that China has now tamped down on illegal production of the chemical, but emissions of CFC-11 and 12 emission are still larger than expected.

Now MIT researchers have found that much of the current emission of these gases likely stems from large CFC “banks” — old equipment such as building insulation foam, refrigerators and cooling systems, and foam insulation, that was manufactured before the global phaseout of CFCs and is still leaking the gases into the atmosphere. Based on earlier analyses, scientists concluded that CFC banks would be too small to contribute very much to ozone depletion, and so policymakers allowed the banks to remain.

It turns out there are oversized banks of both CFC-11 and CFC-12. The banks slowly leak these chemicals at concentrations that, if left unchecked, would delay the recovery of the ozone hole by six years and add the equivalent of 9 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere — an amount that is similar to the current European Union pledge under the UN Paris Agreement to reduce climate change.
» Read article

Czech resistance
EU Green Deal Should Be Canceled Because of Coronavirus, Czech PM Says
Will COVID-19 be a reason to accelerate or slow Europe’s energy transition? The battle lines are already being drawn.
By John Parnell, Green Tech Media
March 17, 2020

The Czech Republic’s prime minister, Andrej Babiš, has said the European Union should abandon its Green Deal and focus on fighting the spread of the coronavirus in an early sign of policy battles ahead.

Announced in December, Europe’s Green New Deal seeks to invest €1 trillion ($1.1 trillion) on the road to making the EU economy net-zero carbon by 2050. This would include a huge offshore wind build-out, accelerated electrification of heat and transport, the development of large-scale carbon capture projects and hydrogen storage and infrastructure.

But from the start, the plan came under heavy scrutiny from the coal-heavy Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland, and the COVID-19 crisis appears to have opened a new avenue for attack.

“Europe should forget about the Green Deal now and focus on the coronavirus instead,” Babiš told reporters on Monday.
» Read article

Exxon watching the hen house
Exxon Now Wants to Write the Rules for Regulating Methane Emissions
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
March 16, 2020

ExxonMobil is a company capable of contradictions. It has been lobbying against government efforts to address climate change while running ads touting its own efforts to do so.

And while the oil giant has been responsible for massive methane releases, Exxon has now proposed a new regulatory framework for cutting emissions of this powerful greenhouse gas that it hopes regulators and industry will adopt. As Exxon put it, the goal is to achieve “cost-effective and reasonable methane-emission regulations.”

“It is not target-based, it is not volume-based,” Exxon’s Norton said. “Again, it’s starting a conversation, saying these are things that you can look at.”

Robert Howarth, a biogeochemist at Cornell University whose work focuses on methane emissions in the oil and gas industry, drew attention to areas of Exxon’s framework he thought were lacking. For starters, he pointed out that the proposed framework does not mention emissions from “imperfect well casings and from abandoned wells,” which Howarth says “can be significant.” He also noted that the proposal does not describe “a methodology for characterizing any of these emissions;  there are techniques for doing so, but there is not much demonstrated use of these techniques by industry.”

Finally — and this is the real danger with any sort of industry self-regulation — Howarth said there must be some type of independent oversight to assess actual emissions instead of relying on the industry to self-report. XTO’s well blowout in Ohio is an excellent example of why this third-party verification is critical. Without oversight, the “system is ripe for abuse,” according to Howarth.
» Read article

Greta Not
Heartland Launches Website of Contrarian Climate Science Amid Struggles With Funding and Controversy
Dogged by layoffs, a problematic spokesperson and an investigation by European journalists, the climate skeptics’ institute returns to its old tactics.
By Nicholas Kusnetz, InsideClimate News
March 13, 2020

The conservative Heartland Institute, which made its name undercutting mainstream climate science, has launched a new effort to try to influence public discussion and political debate about global warming.

The move comes as the organization is reportedly struggling financially and has fallen into renewed controversy over its work in Europe promoting climate denial there. Last week it laid off staff just weeks after it announced the hiring of a teenage German climate skeptic to counter the global popularity of environmental activist Greta Thunberg.

The new website, called Climate at a Glance, includes brief explanations of key climate science and policy issues, many of which are either misleading or inaccurate.

In February, European journalists published an investigation about Heartland’s efforts to sow its climate denial in Europe. The journalists went undercover, posing as public relations consultants working for clients in the energy and auto industries. The report detailed Heartland’s methods for channeling donations through a third party, and “how disinformation is professionally scattered around society.”
» Read article       
» Read Published Investigation (English)

» More about climate           

CLEAN ENERGY

COVID-19 threatens renewables
For Wind and Solar Sectors, Biggest Coronavirus Risk May Be a Damaged Economy
It seemed that nothing could slow the global renewable-energy juggernaut. Nothing, that is, until COVID-19.
By Karl-Erik Stromsta, Green Tech Media
March 15, 2020

It seemed that nothing could slow the global renewable-energy juggernaut. Nothing, that is, until COVID-19.

From the solar factory floors of China’s Jiangsu province to wind farm country in West Texas, the clean-energy industries are struggling to gauge the potential damage that lies ahead — and it’s not a pretty picture.

Late last week, Bloomberg New Energy Finance lowered its 2020 global solar demand forecast to a range of 108 to 143 gigawatts — a drop of 9 percent at the low end compared to the market researcher’s prior estimate. That could mean the first down year for global solar installations since the 1980s.

Jenny Chase, BNEF’s head of solar, said the issue of equipment supply seems to be sorting itself out as China’s factories rumble back into production.

“We think there will be a recession,” Chase said on Friday, and the implications could spell trouble for solar manufacturers. “In general, this is a sector of companies that are heavily indebted and making slim margins.”

In the U.S., the world’s second-largest renewables market after China, the biggest immediate threat from COVID-19 is to the wind industry, which was otherwise on track for a record year of installations.

2020 is critical because it’s the last year for developers to complete projects that qualified for the full production tax credit (PTC), the industry’s main subsidy. As a result, the industry was already expected to be pushed beyond its limits this year. Wood Mackenzie previously warned of many U.S. wind projects “at risk” of missing the 2020 deadline, threatening their underlying economics.
» Read article 

Could the Oil Price Collapse Drive More Investment Into Renewables?
Oil companies have long argued that renewables projects offer lower returns. “That argument no longer holds at $35 per barrel.”
By John Parnell Green Tech Media
March 13, 2020

Low oil prices will test the resolve of the majors’ energy transition plans, but analysts expect the companies’ long-term commitments to decarbonization and renewable energy to remain intact.

A dispute between Russia and Saudi Arabia has sent a flood of cheap oil and gas into global markets just as the COVID-19 pandemic is stifling demand.

This market dislocation comes at a time when European oil majors including Shell, Total, Repsol and BP are embarking seriously down a path toward emission reductions and the diversification of their businesses into renewables, e-mobility and other energy services.

Oil companies have been notoriously slow in pivoting their businesses toward cleaner energy sources. Will the current market storm change that? Might it even accelerate the transition?
» Read article

interconnection queue
Wind, solar and storage take up 95% of ISO-New England interconnection queue, marking ‘dramatic shift’
By Iulia Gheorghiu, Utility Dive
March 9, 2020

About 95% of nearly 21 GW of energy resources currently proposed for the New England region are grid-scale wind, solar and battery projects, according to the Independent System Operator of New England (ISO-NE).

The number “reflects a dramatic shift” in the grid operator’s interconnnection queue, ISO-NE president and CEO Gordon van Welie said in a press call on Friday. Five years ago, the majority of projects sought by developers were natural gas resources, he said.
» Read article

» More about clean energy       

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

three states boost EVsFlorida, Utah, Washington approve bills to boost EVs, including $50M Rocky Mountain Power charging plan
By Robert Walton, Utility Dive
March 16, 2020

State lawmakers took significant steps last week to bolster adoption of emissions-free transportation, in moves that could result in millions of dollars in charging infrastructure investment and more electric vehicles on the road.

Emissions benefits would be “maximized” if PacifiCorp reduces its reliance on coal-fired power plants and adds more renewable energy, “so those electric vehicles could be charged on a clean electricity grid,” Aaron Kressig, Western Resource Advocates’ transportation electrification manager, said in a statement.

PacifiCorp last year announced a plan to add nearly 7,000 MW of renewable generation and storage capacity by 2025 and shut down 20 of its 24 coal-fired units by 2038.
» Read article

EV tax credit threat
Oil Industry Front Group Launches Latest Attack on Electric Vehicle Tax Credit in Senate Energy Bill
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
March 13, 202
0

As this week the U.S. Senate tries to advance stalled bipartisan energy legislation, the American Energy Alliance (AEA) last week announced its latest initiative opposing any tax credit extension for electric vehicles (EV) in that bill.

Through a series of digital ads, the group, which receives a substantial share of its donations from an oil refinery trade group, is calling on Senate Republicans to squash a proposed amendment expanding the number of vehicles eligible for the credit.
» Read article

» More about clean transportation      

ENERGY STORAGE

module-level micro-storage
Yotta Energy is putting batteries under solar modules — in the same spirit as microinverters and optimizers
Yotta has a potential solution for solar-plus-storage in the urban environment. Will the micro-storage startup become the next SolarEdge or Enphase? Or the next JLM energy? And whatever happened to SolPad?
By Eric Wesoff, PV Magazine
February 18, 2020

Ten years ago, the idea of putting a microinverter or optimizer behind a rooftop solar panel was a bit of a reliability stretch. Today, module-level panel electronics warrants its own acronym and enjoys an 80% percent market share in the U.S. residential solar market.

Yotta Energy believes batteries are headed in the same direction — to module-level micro-storage — and is deploying a 52-pound, 1 kW-hr lithium iron-phosphate battery on the same solar module racking gear that holds the ballast.
» Read article       

» More about energy storage    

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Exxon Loses Jurisdiction Fight in Massachusetts Climate Suit
By Erik Larson, Bloomberg Green
March 17, 2020

Exxon Mobil Corp. suffered a setback in a climate change case when a federal judge ruled that a consumer protection lawsuit filed by Massachusetts should go back to state court.

U.S. District Judge William G. Young in Boston on Tuesday ordered the litigation back to Suffolk County Superior Court, where Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey sued in October. The state accused the energy giant of hiding its early knowledge of climate change from the public and misleading investors about the future financial impact of global warming.
» Read article

» More about fossil fuels   

PLASTICS RECYCLING

gasification graphic
Is turning waste plastic into fuel the answer to our waste management and energy woes? Probably not…
By Steve Ahlquist, Uprise RI
March 13, 2020

The first meeting of the “Special Legislative Commission to Study the Merits and Feasibility of a Pyrolysis or Gasification Facility in the State of Rhode Island” took place at the Rhode Island State House on Wednesday.

Presenting at the first meeting was Craig Cookson, Senior Director Recycling and Recovery at the American Chemistry Council and Kevin Budris, a lawyer from Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) Rhode Island who heads up the Zero Waste Project.

Cookson’s presentation painted a very rosy picture of pyrolysis and gasification, Budris called into question or debunked nearly all of Cookson’s arguments.

Cookson argued that waste plastic, which is overwhelming our landfills, can best be dealt with by using pyrolysis to convert these plastics into liquid fuels, which can then be burned to power motor vehicles or satisfy other energy needs. Budris disagreed, saying that, “the best way to move away from waste plastics isn’t to find new, creative things to do with them once they become waste, it’s to just move away from them.”

Budris took issue with Cookson’s assertion that plastics are part of a “circular economy.”

“What we’re talking about here is producing fuels from plastics through gasification,” said Budris, countering Cookson. “Producing fuels from plastic is not a circular economy. That’s linear. You have plastic that moves through its life, it’s turned into fuel, and that fuel is burned. That is a one way street.
» Read article

» More about plastics recycling   

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Weekly News Check-In 2/28/20

WNCI-4

Welcome back.

More allies have joined the fight against the Weymouth compressor station. Both Massachusetts U.S. Senators and Rep. Stephen Lynch have asked FERC Chairman Chatterjee to send federal inspectors to the construction site to address concerns.

In other pipeline news, the 125 mile Constitution Pipeline planned to run through Pennsylvania and New York, has been cancelled after eight years of resistance. The developer, Williams Companies, reported a $345M write-off.

Columbia Gas plead guilty to criminal charges related to the 2018 Merrimack Valley gas disaster, and will pay a $53M fine. Eversource will buy Columbia’s Massachusetts operations.

In climate news, we learned that the Environmental Protection Agency has relaxed leak detection regulations on refrigerants. This saves businesses money but allows higher volumes of these powerful greenhouse gas polluters to vent into the atmosphere.

In the clean energy department, we found news that a Michigan electric utility has developed a renewable energy transition plan that may challenge other utilities to do better. Troubling news from Massachusetts though – solar installations have stalled for a variety of reasons.

Tesla is making a splash in clean transportation, approaching 400 miles of driving range in their new Model S.

We spotted plenty of dark clouds over the fossil fuel industry. Both Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase have refused to finance drilling in the Arctic. Meanwhile, Canadian energy developer Teck Resources has withdrawn its bid to develop a huge new oil sands operation in Alberta.

In the plastics/fracking connection, Congressional Democrats introduced a bill that would impose a 3-year moratorium on new plant construction in parts of Appalachia and the Gulf Coast. This is motivated by the alarming buildup of ethane cracker plants and related industrial infrastructure aimed at turning fracked gas into plastic products like single-use water bottles.

— The NFGiM Team

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

N Phillips
Nathan Phillips, Who Went On Hunger Strike To Stop The Weymouth Compressor Station, Calls On Gov. Baker To Denounce The Project
By Zoe Mathews, WGBH
February 27, 2020

Boston University Professor Nathan Phillips didn’t eat for two weeks to raise awareness to serious climate implications he says are related to a compressor station sited in Weymouth. He had three demands during his hunger strike: that more is done to decontaminate trucks leaving the site ; that the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) test old burner bricks on the property for asbestos; and that the state install a permanent air monitor near the site.

Of those demands, the state has so far only committed to installing an air monitor near the site. Phillips joined Boston Public Radio on Thursday to discuss what’s next.
» Listen to report     

requesting the Feds
Legislators ask federal regulators to inspect compressor site
By Jessica Trufant, The Patriot Ledger
February 21, 2020

WEYMOUTH — Several members of Congress are calling on federal regulators to send inspectors to the construction site of the natural gas compressor station to ensure crews are following the approved plan and protocols.

U.S. Sens. Edward Markey and Elizabeth Warren and U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch sent a letter Friday to Neil Chatterjee, chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Committee, asking that he send inspectors to the compressor site due to concerns from residents and local officials that construction crews are not following the approved plans.

“Community members have raised concerns over potential changes to the traffic pattern for construction vehicles, the soil removal process, and the construction height of pylons needed to raise the construction site to a safe level,” the letter reads. “An on-site FERC inspection would help either confirm or allay concerns that misconduct is taking place.”

The compressor station is being built by Algonquin, a subsidiary of Enbridge, and is part of the Atlantic Bridge project, which would expand the Houston company’s pipelines from New Jersey into Canada. Algonquin got the final go-ahead from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in November and started cleanup of existing contamination at the site shortly after.
» Read article       

risk study requested
Risk study sought for Weymouth compressor area
By Ed Baker, Wicked Local Weymouth
February 21, 2020

A high-pressure gas pipeline underneath the Fore River Bridge and a future gas conduit for a compressor station being built nearby pose explosion risks that could disrupt travel across the overpass, according to several South Shore lawmakers.

State Sen. Patrick O’Connor, R- Weymouth, and his legislature colleagues are requesting Massachusetts Department of Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack to order a risk assessment of the Fore River Basin.

“We want MassDOT to analyze all the risks with respect to the Fore River Bridge and all the major points that include the Citgo Terminal, and the MBTA buses that use the bridge,” O’Connor said. “These things are incredibly important, and we want to know what the risks are with this compressor station being built.”
» Read article       

» More about the Weymouth compressor station

OTHER PIPELINES

Pittsburgh bumming
Major Pennsylvania-New York gas pipeline scrapped
By Paul J. Gough, Pittsburgh Business Times
February 24, 2020

A proposed natural gas pipeline that would have brought Pennsylvania natural gas to New York has been canceled.

The Williams Cos. confirmed late Friday it will not be moving ahead with the Constitution Pipeline, a 125-mile route that had been approved in 2014 but ran into controversy, including opposition by New York state officials.

“While Constitution did receive positive outcomes in recent court proceedings and permit applications, the underlying risk adjusted return for this greenfield pipeline project has diminished in such a way that further development is no longer supported,” Williams said in a statement published by The Daily Star newspaper and Kallanish Energy. Williams didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.

While the pipeline would have been on the other side of Pennsylvania, there are local connections: Williams’ regional headquarters is in Pittsburgh and the regional headquarters of one of its partners on the Constitution Pipeline, Cabot Oil and Gas (NYSE: COG), is also in the Pittsburgh region. The other partners are Duke Energy and AltaGas.
» Read article       

Williams scraps Constitution Pipeline project
By Carl Surran, Seeking Alpha
February 21, 2020

Williams (NYSE:WMB) says it has shelved the Constitution Pipeline, the proposed 650K dth/day Pennsylvania to New York natural gas pipeline that triggered an eight-year battle between environmental activists and pro-development advocates.

“While Constitution did receive positive outcomes in recent court proceedings and permit applications, the underlying risk adjusted return for this greenfield pipeline project has diminished in such a way that further development is no longer supported,” Williams says.
» Read article       

Constitution scrapped
Constitution Pipeline Project Scrapped
Victory: Decision is a major win for advocates fighting to protect clean water and our climate
By Moneen Nasmith, Staff Attorney, Earthjustice
February 21, 2020
“Defeating the Constitution Pipeline is an enormous victory for advocates who have been fighting for eight years to protect New York State and its waterways. At this critical moment for our climate, we cannot afford unnecessary fossil fuel projects that will lead to more fracking and exacerbate our climate crisis. It’s time to embrace a 100% clean energy future, and today’s news is an important step in the right direction.”

On behalf of clients such as Catskill Mountainkeeper, Riverkeeper, and Sierra Club, Earthjustice has been engaged in close partnership with other groups in numerous legal battles to stop the project, including challenging the original approval of the pipeline by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and helping to defend the State of New York’s decision to deny Constitution’s application for a critical permit under the Clean Water Act.
» Read article       

energy giant backs out
Energy giant backs out of Constitution Pipeline
By Joe Mahoney, The Daily Star
February 21, 202
0

ALBANY — Williams Companies, the Oklahoma energy giant, confirmed Friday that it has shelved the Constitution Pipeline, a proposed interstate natural gas pipeline that triggered a prolonged battle between environmental activists and pro-development advocates.

“Williams — with support from its partners, Duke, Cabot and AltaGas — has halted investment in the proposed Constitution project,” the company said in response to questions from CNHI.

“While Constitution did receive positive outcomes in recent court proceedings and permit applications, the underlying risk adjusted return for this greenfield pipeline project has diminished in such a way that further development is no longer supported,” Williams added.

Anne Marie Garti, an environmental lawyer who helped form the opposition group Stop the Pipeline, said the group “fought this epic 8-year battle with courage, conviction and intelligence, adding: “Perseverance pays off.”

Williams disclosed this week in a financial report that the investors in the Constitution Pipeline took a $345 million “impairment,” suggesting that the investment in the mammoth 124-mile pipeline was being written off.
» Read article       

Stop the Pipeline - logo
Ding Dong, The Witch Is Dead!
By Anne Marie Garti, Stop the Pipeline
February 20, 2020

Williams has written off its investment in the proposed Constitution Pipeline and stated that work on it has ended.

After more than 8 years of fighting, the company is throwing in the towel and walking away from its failed bid to build this enormous and unnecessary fossil fuel infrastructure project. The Constitution Pipeline is dead!
» Read post        

» More about other pipelines    

COLUMBIA GAS

gas utilities service areas
Baker Cites ‘Real Benefits’ In Eversource-Columbia Gas Deal
By Colin A. Young, SHNS, on WGBH News
February 27, 2020

“First of all, I think all of us were glad to see the U.S. attorney take this one on and to see Columbia settle it in the way that they did because, obviously, it sends a big message about safety which we think is critical and important,” Baker said Thursday. He added, “Obviously, we had a lot of experience with Eversource up in up in the Merrimack Valley during that terrible tragedy a couple years ago and I think we saw at that point in time that there are real benefits to having a locally-owned, locally-managed company worrying about utility issues.”

In the days following the gas explosions in the Merrimack Valley, Baker declared a state of emergency and used the authority that afforded him to replace Columbia Gas and put Eversource in charge of the recovery efforts “on behalf of the Commonwealth.” Baker said at the time that he believed the switch would “make a big difference” in the relationship between what state and local officials are told, and what actually happens.
» Read article       

the fallout
Columbia Gas Will Pay $53M Fine For Merrimack Valley Explosions
By WBZ, CBS Boston Channel 4
February 26, 2020

BOSTON (CBS) – Columbia Gas of Massachusetts will pay a $53 million fine for its role in the deadly 2018 Merrimack Valley gas explosions. As part of a plea agreement, the company will also sell its business in Massachusetts. Eversource announced Wednesday night it has reached an agreement to purchase the natural gas assets of Columbia Gas for $1.1 billion.

The FBI Boston said a joint investigation led to the decision to hold Columbia Gas “criminally & financially accountable” for the explosions and fires that killed a young man and damaged or destroyed several homes and businesses in Lawrence, Andover and North Andover on September 13, 2018.

Money from the fine will go to the Justice Department’s Crime Victims Fund.

U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Andrew Lelling said during a Wednesday press conference that Columbia Gas agreed to plead guilty to violating the Pipeline Safety Act.

“This is by far the largest criminal fine ever imposed under the Pipeline Safety Act,” said Lelling, adding that “this disaster was caused by a wholesale management failure” on the part of Columbia Gas.
» Read article       

» More about Columbia Gas and Merrimack Valley disaster

CLIMATE

fridge rules relaxed
New EPA Rule Change Saves Industry Money but Exacts a Climate Cost
The reversal of an Obama-era regulation relaxes leak detection rules for climate super-pollutants.
By James Bruggers, InsideClimate News
February 28, 2020

For the latest Trump Administration rollback of Environmental Protection Agency rules, the math goes something like this: The change will save businesses and industries $24 million a year. Earth’s atmosphere, on the other hand, will receive emissions of pollutants equivalent to at least 625,000 new cars being added to the road.

This week, EPA Administrator Andrew R. Wheeler signed a new rule that relaxes the requirements that owners and operators of refrigeration equipment have leak detection and maintenance programs for hydrofluorocarbons, a set of refrigerants often referred to as “climate super-pollutants.”

The rule change—the latest reversal of an Obama-era regulation—was part of the administration’s agenda to ease burdens on industry.
» Read article        

bots in denial
Revealed: quarter of all tweets about climate crisis produced by bots

Draft of Brown study says findings suggest ‘substantial impact of mechanized bots in amplifying denialist messages’
By Oliver Milman, The Guardian
February 21, 2020

The social media conversation over the climate crisis is being reshaped by an army of automated Twitter bots, with a new analysis finding that a quarter of all tweets about climate on an average day are produced by bots, the Guardian can reveal.

The stunning levels of Twitter bot activity on topics related to global heating and the climate crisis is distorting the online discourse to include far more climate science denialism than it would otherwise.

An analysis of millions of tweets from around the period when Donald Trump announced the US would withdraw from the Paris climate agreement found that bots tended to applaud the president for his actions and spread misinformation about the science.
» Read article       

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

raising the bar
Inside Clean Energy: A Michigan Utility Just Raised the Bar on Emissions-Cutting Plans
By Dan Gearino, InsideClimate News
February 27, 2020

At least a half-dozen U.S. utilities have released plans to get to net-zero emissions, or close to it, by 2050. Now a Michigan company has elbowed its way into the mix and said, “We can top that.”

Consumers Energy of Jackson, Michigan, said this week that it will get to net-zero emissions by 2040, the fastest timetable of any major utility in the country.

The company is doing this with a plan that differs from those of the other utilities and includes building no new fossil-fuel power plants.
» Read article       

MA solar stumbles
As Massachusetts solar installs plummet, stalled interconnections, land use questions are key hurdles
Last year, solar installments slowed and jobs disappeared in Massachusetts. Now, developers are trying to overcome regulatory barriers and local opposition to land development.
By Catherine Morehouse, Utility Dive
February 27, 2020

New England clouds can’t keep the power of the sun from Massachusetts — but stalled interconnection queues and land use concerns are giving developers pause, according to panelists at this year’s Solar and Storage Northeast conference in Boston.

Massachusetts in 2018 launched its Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target (SMART) Program — with incentives intended to spur an additional 1.6 GW of solar by 2020. The state quickly exceeded that goal and currently has 2.5 GW of solar installed, with almost 1 GW in the interconnection queue.

But in 2019, Massachusetts’ solar industry hit a rut — new installations fell 50% and the sector’s workforce shrank by 30%, according to a September Vote Solar report. Meanwhile, rural opposition led to tensions among developers, municipalities and some conservationists, and some towns considered or put in place temporary solar bans.
» Read article

FERC blows NYISOFERC deals blow to New York renewable, storage projects, adding hurdles to NYISO capacity market
By Iulia Gheorghiu, Utility Dive
February 21, 2020

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved four separate orders to narrow exemptions of buyer-side mitigation (BSM) market rules in the New York Independent System Operator’s (NYISO) capacity zones during Thursday’s public meeting, which critics say will stifle the competitiveness of clean energy resources.

The decisions would make it more difficult for new clean energy projects expected in the state to clear NYISO’s capacity auction. Clean energy advocates say bidding into NYISO’s capacity market is critical to the financial viability of projects like offshore wind and energy storage.
» Read article

» More about clean energy

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

Tesla approaching 400
Inside Clean Energy: Tesla Gets Ever So Close to 400 Miles of Range

The increased range is a step toward bringing EVs—and their contribution to combating climate change—into the mainstream.
By Dan Gearino, InsideClimate News
February 20, 2020

Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted on Friday that his company’s Model S sedan now has an estimated range of more than 390 miles, the result of hardware and software improvements.

Last year, AAA issued a report showing range loss of about 40 percent when it tested five EV models in cold temperatures, and also found some loss during unusually hot weather. The models tested were the BMW i3s, the Chevrolet Bolt, the Nissan Leaf, the Tesla Model S and the Volkswagen e-Golf.

Automakers’ efforts to expand range are a way to counteract the many factors that can reduce range, said David Reichmuth, a senior engineer in the Union of Concerned Scientists’ clean vehicles program.

The aim for automakers is to reassure customers that an EV can work for them, even if few people would drive their EV more than 300 miles.
» Read article       

» More about clean transportation  

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

arctic divestment
Goldman Sachs Refuses to Finance Drilling in the Arctic
The bank is the first in the US to make this commitment
By Chloe Zilliac, Sierra Magazine
February 26, 2020

In December, Goldman Sachs became the first US bank to announce that it would no longer finance oil projects in the Arctic, citing concerns about how drilling would affect the Indigenous peoples of Alaska and endangered species and how it would contribute to the climate crisis. The bank’s new lending policy is a milestone in the fight to preserve the 1.5-million-acre coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which Congress opened for drilling in 2017.
» Read article       
» Update: At the end of February, JPMorgan Chase became the second US bank to announce that it would not finance oil and gas extraction in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Read about it
here.

real-time monitoring
Momentum Builds to Monitor Cancer Alley Air Pollution in Real Time After Exxon Refinery Fire in Louisiana
By Julie Dermansky, DeSmog Blog
February 24, 2020

A large fire at ExxonMobil’s Baton Rouge oil refinery late on February 11 lit up the sky for miles and continued until dawn. The night of the fire, ExxonMobil representatives claimed that air monitoring inside the plant and in surrounding neighborhoods did not detect the release of harmful concentrations of chemicals, a claim echoed by first responders and state regulators. What unfolded, however, reinforced a growing community movement to require real-time independent air pollution monitoring at industrial facilities.
» Read article       

no path forward
Canada Oil-Sands Plan Collapses Over Politics and Economics
A developer has abandoned a nine-year effort to extend mining, sparing Justin Trudeau a choice between energy interests and environmental concerns.
By Clifford Krauss, New York Times
February 24, 2020

A major effort to expand development of Canada’s oil sands has collapsed shortly before a deadline for government approval, undone by investor concerns over oil’s future and the political fault lines between economic and environmental priorities.

Nine years in the planning, the project would have increased Canada’s oil production by roughly 5 percent. But it would have also slashed through 24,000 acres of boreal forest and released millions of tons of climate-warming carbon dioxide every year.

Some Canadian oil executives had predicted that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet would approve the project by a regulatory deadline this week, though with burdensome conditions. But in a letter released Sunday night, the Vancouver-based developer, Teck Resources, declared that “there is no constructive path forward.”

The oil sands are a watery mixture of sand and clay soaked with a dense, viscous form of petroleum known as bitumen. But in addition to being a fossil fuel, bitumen is difficult to extract and energy-intensive to process.
» Read article       

tar sands canned
Mining Company’s Decision Lets Trudeau Off Hook, But Doesn’t Resolve Canada’s Climate Debate
While the cancellation of the tar sands mine, planned for Alberta, was a victory for activists, low oil prices meant the project was unlikely to move forward.
By Nicholas Kusnetz, InsideClimate News
February 24, 2020

A Canadian mining company’s announcement that it would shelve a major oil project spared Prime Minister Justin Trudeau a difficult decision that had pitted his Liberal Party base and environmental advocates against the country’s powerful oil industry and the Western provinces whose economies rely on it.

The decision Sunday came just days before the government was set to decide whether to approve a mine planned by Teck Resources Limited that would have been one of the country’s largest oil sands operations yet.

But the Frontier mine’s fate may have been sealed more by market economics than by whether Trudeau approved the project or not: It was unlikely to have been built anytime soon, if at all. And by canceling the project before a final regulatory decision was issued, Teck Resources avoided the controversy that would surely have continued no matter the government’s decision.
» Read article       

Teck out
Canadian mining giant withdraws plans for C$20bn tar sands project
Teck Resources’ surprise decision drew outrage from politicians in oil-rich Alberta and cheers from environmental groups
By Guardian staff and agencies, The Guardian
February 24, 2020

A Canadian mining giant has withdrawn plans for a massive C$20.6bn ($15.7bn) tar sands mine, days before the federal government was to decide on whether to approve the controversial project.

Teck Resources’ surprise decision to withdraw from open pit Frontier Mine project landed as a bombshell on Sunday night, prompting outrage from politicians in oil-rich Alberta and cheers from environmental groups.
» Read article       

Permian going bust
To Many’s Dismay, Permian Produces More Gas and Condensate Instead of Oil and Profits
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
February 21, 2020

As oil prices plummet, oil bankruptcies mount, and investors shun the shale industry, America’s top oil field — the Permian shale that straddles Texas and New Mexico — faces many new challenges that make profits appear more elusive than ever for the financially failing shale oil industry.

Many of those problems can be traced to two issues for the Permian Basin: The quality of its oil and the sheer volume of natural gas coming from its oil wells.

The latter issue comes as natural gas fetches record low prices in both U.S. and global markets. Prices for natural gas in Texas are often negative — meaning oil producers have to pay someone to take their natural gas, or, without any infrastructure to capture and process it, they burn (flare) or vent (directly release) the gas.

As DeSmog has detailed, much of the best oil-producing shale in the Permian already has been drilled and fracked over the past decade. And so operators have moved on to drill in less productive areas, one of which is the Delaware sub-basin of the Permian. Taking a close look at the Delaware Basin highlights many of the current challenges facing Permian oil producers.
» Read article       

» More about fossil fuels

PLASTICS / FRACKING CONNECTION

ethane cracker
Congressional Democrats Join the Debate Over Plastics’ Booming Future

A new bill would impose a three-year moratorium on new plant construction in parts of Appalachia and the Gulf Coast.
By James Bruggers, InsideClimate News
February 21, 2020

As industry and local authorities count thousands of new jobs and millions in tax revenues, battle lines have been drawn. Scientists warn of premature deaths from air pollution. Environmentalists foresee a plastics climate bomb. And now congressional Democrats have entered the fray, proposing a three-year moratorium on all new plastics plant construction nationwide, while the National Academy of Science studies the consequences of such a build-out on health and climate change.

A far-reaching bill that Democrats call the Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act, has nary a Republican sponsor. But the legislation, which would also hold plastics manufacturers responsible for cleaning up plastic waste, helps frame a raging national debate over plastics in an election year. And it could set the stage for action on plastics reform, should the Democrats defeat President Trump and win the Senate.
» Read article       

» More about the plastics-fracking connection

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Weekly News Check-In 2/7/20

WNCI-1

Welcome back.

Boston University professor Nathan Phillips’ hunger strike is focusing attention on the urgency of risks posed to nearby communities by construction activities underway at the proposed Weymouth compressor station site. We offer reporting on Professor Phillips’ demands.

Gas leaks from aging infrastructure – most notably in the Boston area – are in the news. A recent report shows National Grid struggling to keep up with repairs. In news about other pipelines, a proposed seven mile stretch outside Albany known as E37 is facing strong opposition. While National Grid claims it’s necessary to meet future demand, critics maintain the project’s real purpose is to boost the utility’s profits – and that demand for gas is actually declining.

We see tentative steps toward a greener future in legislative news.  Massachusetts could finally set a price on carbon, but Bernie Sanders’ proposed ban on fracking is unlikely to get traction in the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate. Attorney General Maura Healey is advocating for changes to market rules governing New England’s grid operator – giving renewable energy sources a fair shot to compete against fossil fuels.

Author and climate activist Bill McKibben calls out Canada’s hypocritical energy and climate policies, as it pushes to develop ever-larger tar sands oil projects for the export market. Meanwhile, the shipping industry’s hopes of meeting clean transportation emissions targets by switching fuel from oil to liquified natural gas (LNG), have been dashed by recent reporting of substantial methane leaks from converted marine engines.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) doubled down on pipeline developers’ rights to take private land through eminent domain. Meanwhile, the fossil fuel industry suffers record-low LNG prices in Asia as China locks down against the new coronavirus. All this while Earthworks’ Oil & Gas Accountability Project tracks methane leaks rampant throughout the Permian Basin, and building coal-fired power plants is a booming business in Japan.

— The NFGiM Team

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

DEP demands
DEP to meet with Weymouth compressor station opponents
By Chris Van Buskirk, State House News Service, in Wicked Local Weymouth
February 6, 2020

STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, FEB. 4, 2020…..State environmental regulators set up a meeting for later this week with opponents of a natural gas compressor station being built in Weymouth to discuss the status of the cleanup of the contaminated site and address questions regarding oversight of activities at the site.

Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station requested a meeting with MassDEP officials last week during a visit to the department’s Lakeville office. MassDEP on Friday announced the creation of a temporary air-monitoring station in the project area. Boston University professor Nathan Phillips last Wednesday began a hunger strike in response to “serious public health and safety violations” at the Weymouth compressor station.

Phillips and South Shore activist Andrea Honore visited MassDEP and the governor’s office Tuesday to allege that the department, which approved project permits, had failed to do its job and to raise awareness of the department’s mission to protect the environment. Phillips, who was seven days into his hunger strike on Tuesday, said he would end his strike if three demands were met:

  1. “All dump trucks leaving the site abide by the decontamination procedures described on page 27 of the Release Abatement Measures Plan of November 25, 2019, which require a decontamination pad/station, and other measures to clean tires and exterior vehicle surfaces of site residue.”
  2. “The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection commences comprehensive testing for asbestos in furnace bricks and in the coal ash matrix, across and throughout the vertical profile of the North Parcel.”
  3. “The Baker Administration commits to a date certain, no later than two weeks from the day I began my strike, for the installation and operation of an air quality monitor, as Governor Baker pledged action on “within a couple of days” on Radio Boston on Thursday, January 23, 2020.”

Neither DEP Commissioner Martin Suuberg or a representative from Baker’s office met with Phillips or Honore Tuesday. A staff member from Suuberg’s office said he would relay Phillips’s remarks to the commissioner.

Phillips said he is expecting his demands will be met before or at Friday’s meeting.
» Read article     

Audible Cafe FRRACS
Audible Café Speaks with FRRACS Leader Alice Arena
By Judy Eddy, Audible Cafe
February 6, 2020

The Weymouth Compressor Station is part of the proposal for Atlantic Bridge, a SPECTRA Energy pipeline project that pumps fracked gas from fracking fields in the midwest through New England to…where? to whom? Well, that’s a good question. The story has continued to change as the company strives to build this monster. Initially, it was supposed to be for residents in New England. Now, the gas will go to Canada, and then for export. No local benefit at all.

Construction of the 7,700 hp compressor station is now underway, and it is being protested and opposed, both at the site and in the courts. It’s been a long, long fight, and the opposition is NOT going away!
» Read transcript or listen to podcast     

toxic asset
‘Do your job, DEP’: A B.U. professor is on a hunger strike to get officials to take action at the Weymouth compressor station site
By Christopher Gavin, Boston.com
February 3, 2020

On Monday morning, the Boston University earth and environment professor was approximately 118 hours into the hunger strike he says is needed for state officials to act on vehicle decontamination, asbestos testing, air quality monitoring at the Weymouth compressor station site.

Activists and project opponents like Phillips have long expressed their outrage and concerns over Enbridge’s natural gas facility adjacent to the Fore River Bridge, now under construction after securing final approvals last year.

Phillips has been actively engaged in opposition to the project — including with the local community group, Fore River Residents Against Compressor Station, or FRRACS — and was arrested, among others, for civil disobedience at the site in October, he said.

In fact, the strike is something Phillips has considered ever since final permits were signed off last fall.
» Read article     

hunger for justice
Hunger for Justice
By Mothers Out Front – Website Post
February 1, 2020

The company that plans to build the Weymouth compressor station, Enbridge, continues their disastrous construction work in arsenic and asbestos laden soil. The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) does not Protect the community.

Now our friend Nathan Phillips is on a hunger strike to get the attention of the DEP and Governor Baker to protect the people of the Fore River Basin. We can back him up with our phone calls, tweets, posts and messages. We are amplifying the call of Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station (FRRACS). Our message is aimed at the two men in our state who have the power to act, who could meet the reasonable demands Nathan has made, but so far have refused to do so.
» Visit website for more information, including call numbers       

State To Install Permanent Air Monitoring Station In Weymouth
By Barbara Moran, WBUR
January 30, 2020


State regulators will install a permanent air monitoring station in Weymouth to detect changes in air quality related to a natural gas compressor station under construction nearby.

The monitoring station will collect data on nitrogen dioxide, fine particulate matter, ozone, and volatile organic compounds “consistent with EPA monitoring regulations and guidance,” the State Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) said in a statement. The station will also record wind speed, temperature and direction.

Protesters have picketed the construction site a number of times since ground was broken in December, saying that gas released from the station will pollute the surrounding area.

State Senator Patrick O’Connor, who represents Weymouth, said it has taken four years to get the monitoring station approved.

“This is a small victory in what’s been a tremendous war between communities and natural gas energy companies,” he said.
» Read article     

» More about the Weymouth compressor station    

GAS LEAKS

Ngrid gas leaks
Report raises gas utility safety issues: Says National Grid is struggling to address leaks
By Colin A. Young and Bruce Mohl, Commonwealth Magazine
January 31, 2020

A PANEL REVIEWING the physical integrity and safety of the state’s natural gas distribution system found a gap exists between the way gas utilities say their crews perform work on the gas system and the way that work actually happens in the field. It also found that National Grid, the utility serving eastern Massachusetts, including Boston, is struggling to contain leaks on its gas distribution system.

Dynamic Risk Assessment Systems Inc., a company contracted by the Baker administration to examine the safety of natural gas infrastructure in the wake of the September 2018 natural gas disaster in the Merrimack Valley, turned in its final report this week. The report includes specific observations about each of the state’s gas utilities after spending time observing gas work job sites and reviewing gas company manuals, policies, and procedures.

The utility-by-utility analysis indicates National Grid, the state’s largest gas utility serving 116 cities and towns in eastern Massachusetts, is lagging in repairing gas leaks. Overall, the report said, 28 percent of the utility’s mains are made of leak-prone materials, a percentage that rises to 41 percent in Boston itself. More than 40 percent of the mains across the National Grid system were installed before 1970, and the miles of mains with discovered leaks on the National Grid distribution system actually increased between 2013 and 2018.
» Read article    
» Read report

» More about gas leaks    

OTHER PIPELINES

E37 Protesters
A Seven-Mile Gas Pipeline Outside Albany Has Activists up in Arms
National Grid says the project is needed to meet rising demand, but opponents see it as a means of connecting two interstate pipelines and boosting their capacities.
By Kristoffer Tigue, InsideClimate News
February 3, 2020

Beyond the dispute over whether demand for gas is rising, pipeline opponents argue that smaller segments such as E37 have become an important means for utilities to increase profits.

Robert Wood, an organizer with 350 Brooklyn, a climate change activist group, said E37 is more about National Grid securing another capital investment project and increasing its customer base than it is about meeting rising gas demand.

While regulated utilities do make money on the energy they sell, they don’t control the cost of the fuel and cannot easily raise their rates as market prices fluctuate. “Fuel costs are a straight pass through,” said Michael O’Boyle, director of electricity policy for Energy Innovation, a clean energy advocacy group, “meaning, they don’t earn a margin or a profit on those fuel costs in general.”

Instead, many utilities, including National Grid, rely on capital investment projects to generate the kind of income needed to pay back shareholders and reinvest in company growth, O’Boyle said. When a utility invests in an infrastructure project, like a pipeline, it earns a regulated rate of return on that project.
» Read article     

» More about other pipelines     

LEGISLATION

Senate off the dimeMassachusetts Senate passes economy-wide carbon pricing, net zero emissions target
By Tim Cronin, Climate XChange
January 31, 2020


In a marathon late-night session, the Massachusetts State Senate passed legislation creating economy-wide carbon pricing, and requiring the state to reach net zero emissions by 2050. In doing so, the Senate doubled down on its commitment to the market-based policy to reduce emissions, which passed the chamber in 2018 but failed to make progress in the House.

The political landscape of climate policy has shifted rapidly in the two years since the Senate last voted for carbon pricing. Increased pressure for climate action, new emissions reduction commitments from policymakers, and growing grassroots support, have all increased the odds that the Senate’s bill, and carbon pricing, will become law.
» Read article     

Bernie's fracking ban
Sanders introduces bill to ban fracking
By Rachel Frazin, The Hill
January 30, 2020


Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) this week introduced a bill that aims to ban hydraulic fracking.

The bill was introduced on Tuesday and is titled “a bill to ban the practice of hydraulic fracturing, and for other purposes,” according to the Library of Congress, though the text of the legislation was not available on the site.

Sanders has called for a ban on fracking while campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination, as has Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).
» Read article     

Energy Subcommittee Announces Oversight Hearing on the Natural Gas Act
By House Committee on Energy & Commerce
January 29, 2020


Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) and Energy Subcommittee Chairman Bobby L. Rush (D-IL) announced today that the Energy Subcommittee will hold a hearing on Wednesday, February 5, at 10 am in room 2322 of the Rayburn House Office Building on the Natural Gas Act. The hearing is entitled, “Modernizing the Natural Gas Act to Ensure it Works for Everyone.”

“The Natural Gas Act is nearly a century old, and it is past time that we take a comprehensive look at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s implementation of it,” said Pallone and Rush. “We must reevaluate the pipeline siting process, which has long favored industry over the rights of landowners.  We must also examine rates, charges, imports, exports and what must be done to dramatically reduce impacts to our climate. It’s time to assess whether the Natural Gas Act is truly serving the needs and interests of all Americans, not just those of the gas industry.”
» Read article    
» Witness list and live webcast available here

FREC yes
Massachusetts AG Healey stokes grassroots effort for clean energy market rules in ISO-NE
By Iulia Gheorghiu, Utility Dive
December 13, 2019

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey launched an online effort on Tuesday to educate ratepayers about the region’s grid operator, ISO-New England, including a petition for market rules that promote clean energy.

The office, which also acts as the state’s ratepayer advocate, is trying to increase awareness of market rules and the New England Power Pool (NEPOOL). It’s been in touch with other attorneys general offices and ratepayer advocates in NEPOOL about this initiative.
» Read article    

» Link to the Petition – sign today!    

» More about legislation    

CLIMATE

Lil Justin and The Real Deal
When it comes to climate hypocrisy, Canada’s leaders have reached a new low
A territory that has 0.5% of the Earth’s population plans to use up nearly a third of the planet’s remaining carbon budget
By Bill McKibben, The Guardian
February 5, 2020

Americans elected Donald Trump, who insisted climate change was a hoax – so it’s no surprise that since taking office he’s been all-in for the fossil fuel industry. There’s no sense despairing; the energy is better spent fighting to remove him from office.

Canada, on the other hand, elected a government that believes the climate crisis is real and dangerous – and with good reason, since the nation’s Arctic territories give it a front-row seat to the fastest warming on Earth. Yet the country’s leaders seem likely in the next few weeks to approve a vast new tar sands mine which will pour carbon into the atmosphere through the 2060s. They know – yet they can’t bring themselves to act on the knowledge. Now that is cause for despair.
» Read article       

ocean heat rising
Ocean temperatures hit record high as rate of heating accelerates
Oceans are clearest measure of climate crisis as they absorb 90% of heat trapped by greenhouse gases
By Damian Carrington, The Guardian
January 13, 2020


The heat in the world’s oceans reached a new record level in 2019, showing “irrefutable and accelerating” heating of the planet.

The world’s oceans are the clearest measure of the climate emergency because they absorb more than 90% of the heat trapped by the greenhouse gases emitted by fossil fuel burning, forest destruction and other human activities.

The new analysis shows the past five years are the top five warmest years recorded in the ocean and the past 10 years are also the top 10 years on record. The amount of heat being added to the oceans is equivalent to every person on the planet running 100 microwave ovens all day and all night.

Hotter oceans lead to more severe storms and disrupt the water cycle, meaning more floods, droughts and wildfires, as well as an inexorable rise in sea level. Higher temperatures are also harming life in the seas, with the number of marine heatwaves increasing sharply.
» Read article  

» More about climate      

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

shipping LNG fuel
Shipping Lines Turn to LNG-Powered Vessels, But They’re Worse for the Climate
Natural gas is cheap and cleaner burning than fuel oil, but methane leaks from ship engines fuels global warming.
By Phil McKenna, InsideClimate News
February 1, 2020

Oceangoing ships powered by liquified natural gas are worse for the climate than those powered by conventional fuel oil, a new report suggests. The findings call into further question the climate benefits of natural gas, a fuel the gas industry has promoted as a “bridge” to cleaner, renewable sources of energy but is undermined by emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

The most commonly used liquefied natural gas (LNG) engine used by cruise ships and cargo vessels today emits as much as 82 percent more greenhouse gas over the short-term compared to conventional marine fuel oil, according to the report, published earlier this week by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), an environmental think tank.
» Read article    
» Read report

» More about clean transportation        

FERC

FERC for PennEast
FERC sides with PennEast in opposing court decision that pipeline builder can’t use eminent domain to take public land
Tom Johnson, NPR State Impact, NJ Spotlight
January 31, 2020

In a step viewed as bolstering the PennEast natural gas pipeline, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Thursday sided with the builder in seeking to overturn an adverse federal appeals court ruling halting the proposal from moving forward.

In a 2-1 vote, FERC, in a rare special meeting devoted to only one issue, issued a declaratory order saying a ruling by the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit threatens to disrupt the natural gas industry’s ability to construct interstate gas pipelines.

The action was denounced as a transparent attempt by the agency to back PennEast’s efforts to have the U.S. Supreme Court review the Third Circuit’s ruling by the lone commissioner to vote against the order, James Glick and other pipeline opponents.
» Read article    

» More about FERC         

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Shale Gas Swamps Asia, Pushing LNG Prices to Record Lows
The idling of factories in China due to coronavirus quarantines is weighing on prices already pressured by other bearish factors
By The Wall Street Journal
February 7, 2020

Liquefied natural gas is fetching the lowest price on record in Asia, a troubling sign for U.S. energy producers who have relied on overseas shipments of shale gas to buoy the sagging domestic market.

The main price gauge for liquified natural gas, or LNG, in Asia fell to $3 per million British thermal units Thursday, down sharply from more than $20 six years ago as U.S. deliveries have swamped markets around the world.
» Read article     

pouring it on
Japan Races to Build New Coal-Burning Power Plants, Despite the Climate Risks
By Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times
February 3, 2020

Just beyond the windows of Satsuki Kanno’s apartment overlooking Tokyo Bay, a behemoth from a bygone era will soon rise: a coal-burning power plant, part of a buildup of coal power that is unheard-of for an advanced economy.

It is one unintended consequence of the Fukushima nuclear disaster almost a decade ago, which forced Japan to all but close its nuclear power program. Japan now plans to build as many as 22 new coal-burning power plants — one of the dirtiest sources of electricity — at 17 different sites in the next five years, just at a time when the world needs to slash carbon dioxide emissions to fight global warming.
» Read article     

hunting emissions
The Hunt for Fugitive Emissions in the Permian’s Oilfields
By Julie Dermansky, DeSmog Blog
January 30, 2020

Meaningful regulation of the fracking industry is a non sequitur to Sharon Wilson, organizer for Earthworks’ Oil & Gas Accountability Project. She supports her employer’s efforts to encourage tougher industry regulations, but believes that humankind needs to keep oil and gas in the ground if there is any chance of meeting the benchmarks set by the Paris Climate Accord to limit global warming.

After spending a couple days with Wilson as she monitored for methane leaks at oil and gas industry sites in the Permian oilfields of West Texas, it is easy to understand why she believes that talk of meaningful regulation of the industry lacks meaning itself.

Wilson uses an optical gas imaging (OGI) camera, which makes otherwise invisible emissions visible. With the specialized camera, also used by environmental regulators and industry, she recorded fugitive emissions spewing from nearly every site we visited.
» Read article    

» More about fossil fuels

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