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Weekly News Check-In 10/15/21

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Welcome back.

Today concludes a five day series of protests and actions aimed at raising global awareness of the dangers posed by our continued reliance on fossil fuels. The timing is meant to focus attention on the critical COP26 climate talks opening soon in Glasgow. Participants there will have what may be our last chance to correct humanity’s course and avoid catastrophe.

Michigan’s Governor Whitmer has been trying to shut down the dilapidated Line 5 pipeline where it crosses the Straits of Mackinac. We’re offering three separate articles related to this complicated international issue as Canada, Michigan, and Indigenous groups are all claiming treaty violations.

The divestment movement has made considerable progress with insurers, pension funds, commercial banks, and universities – many of which are dumping fossils from their portfolios. But in what feels like a game of wack-a-mole, along comes venture capital hoping to turn a quick buck by propping up otherwise-abandoned polluters just a little longer.

The steel, ammonia, and cement industries together represent huge carbon emissions while producing products essential to the modern world. Greening those processes is challenging, but that’s not the whole story. The manufacture of cement and concrete requires massive volumes of high quality sand typically found in rivers. Demand for this material supports a global criminal network causing environmental havoc in some of the planet’s most vulnerable communities and ecosystems.

The International Energy Agency is trying hard to get our attention, delivering a clear message ahead of those COP26 climate talks that there’s absolutely no justification for further fossil fuel exploration anywhere, and that efforts to deploy clean energy must accelerate. For a kind of case study, we look at how Texas could avoid adding gas generator plants to shore up its creaky electric grid – implementing energy efficiency measures instead for better performance at much lower cost.

Transitioning to clean transportation is good and necessary, but it won’t happen all at once. Activists in Massachusetts are seeking stepped-up air pollution monitoring along the state’s highways to monitor missions in environmental justice communities.

Residents of Maine will vote November 2nd on a referendum to determine the fate of a controversial electric transmission corridor to bring Quebec hydro power through the state, largely to supply energy-hungry Massachusetts. The outcome of the vote is key to Massachusetts’ decarbonization plans, and may also foreshadow upcoming challenges to new transmission infrastructure elsewhere. But Massachusetts has committed to phasing out gas almost entirely – a commitment that relies on loads of new clean electricity. It also involves negotiations that may be ceding too much control to gas utilities.

Now that deep-seabed mining is poised for its first real expansion, serious questions and concerns are multiplying. This week, we take a look at legal liability – who’s responsible if something goes wrong in this risky venture?

Speaking of risk, the fossil fuel industry has teed up a potentially massive environmental and humanitarian disaster in the Red Sea, in the form of over a million barrels of crude oil aboard a rotting old supertanker called FSO Safer (pronounced saffer). The ship is mixed up in the ongoing war in Yemen, and the oil volume is four times larger than the Exxon Valdez spilled in Alaska thirty-two years ago.

We’ll end with a couple of positive items. First, the Natural Resources Defense Council has analyzed the biomass energy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) model being promoted by DRAX, the UK’s largest biomass energy facility. Their conclusion? It’s bunk – burning biomass makes the climate worse even if you capture carbon dioxide at the site. That’s because of the emissions intensity of harvesting, processing, and transporting the fuel – along with the folly of cutting trees that would otherwise be pulling CO2 from the atmosphere.

The second bit of good news involves plastics recycling, or rather a clear statement that recycling doesn’t work, and will never solve our plastic waste problem. Good. Now maybe we can focus on stopping so much plastic being made in the first place.

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

— The NFGiM Team

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

people v fossil fuels
Indigenous Leaders Deliver Petitions to Army Corps DC Headquarters, After 155 Activists Arrested at The White House
People vs. Fossil Fuels week-long protest continues in Washington DC, with a sustained message to President Biden to take meaningful action against the climate crisis
By Julie Dermansky, DeSmog Blog
October 12, 2021

On the second day of ‘People vs. Fossil Fuels’ demonstrations in Washington, D.C., hundreds marched to the White House, again calling on President Biden to recognize  the world is in a climate emergency and to halt approvals of new fossil fuel projects. More than 150 people were arrested for refusing to clear the sidewalk in front of the White House, just a day after similar arrests of 136 people. After the U.S. Park Police escorted the last protesters away, a second rally was held in front of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers headquarters. There, over a hundred environmental activists showed their ongoing resistance to the recently completed construction of Enbridge’s expanded Line 3 tar sands pipeline.

The event was hosted by Honor The Earth, an Indigenous-led environmental justice organization based in northern Minnesota, with support from Seventh Generation, Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN), and the People vs. Fossil Fuels coalition. And the petitions were collected by community and environmental justice groups, including Braided Justice Collective, Friends of the Earth, Health Professionals for a Healthy Climate, and 350.org, among others.

During a press conference the group held a ceremony with Anishinaabe drummers in front of the building where they presented the Army Corps with the petitions.
» Read article                     

» More about protests and actions

PIPELINES

jockying
Michigan tribes to Biden: Enbridge Line 5 threatens our treaty rights
By Kelly House, Bridge Michigan
October 12, 2021

As Canada leans on an international treaty to keep oil flowing through Line 5, Michigan Native American tribal leaders want the Biden administration to acknowledge that the pipeline’s fate affects their treaty rights, too.

In a press conference Tuesday, Bay Mills Indian Community President Whitney Gravelle called upon the Biden administration to make “a serious commitment” to uphold the rights of Michigan tribes as the federal government faces increasingly complex diplomatic issues regarding Line 5.

Gravelle’s comments come a week after Canada invoked a 1977 treaty governing cross-border pipelines in an attempt to block Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s efforts to shut down Line 5, which runs beneath the Straits of Mackinac. Canada argues that the treaty, part of which says that “no public authority” in either the U.S. or Canada can impede the flow of petroleum products through international pipelines, leaves Whitmer powerless to shut down Line 5.

Lawyers for the state of Michigan dispute that interpretation, and a University of Michigan legal expert earlier told Bridge Michigan that other language in the 1977 treaty gives Michigan the power to regulate the pipeline.

Calling efforts to keep Line 5 open a “direct attack on our sovereignty,” Gravelle argued at a virtual press conference Tuesday that “tribal nations’ treaty rights in this area predate and supersede any of Enbridge’s interests, including any rights the government of Canada or Enbridge may claim.”

The Straits and much of Michigan’s landmass are protected by the 1836 Treaty of Washington, in which tribes ceded millions of acres to the U.S. government in exchange for permanent rights to hunt, fish and gather, among other rights. Michigan tribes have argued an oil spill from Line 5 could decimate fish populations, rendering their protected fishing rights meaningless.
» Read article                   

oil and water
Line 5 opponents criticize Canada’s treaty maneuver, ask Biden to reject move
By Sheri McWhirter, MLive
October 12, 2021

Environmental and tribal advocates argued Canada’s invocation of treaty rights to keep Line 5 open was a ploy to protect fossil fuel profits over Great Lakes protections, and a failure to immediately address the climate crisis with reduced greenhouse gas emissions.

Proponents of shutting down Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline and quashing a replacement tunnel proposal on Tuesday voiced their collective dismay at Canada’s recent argument that treaty rights somehow protect the continued flow of petrochemicals beneath Great Lakes waters at the Straits of Mackinac. The maneuver came as Southern California’s coastline became awash with oil leaked from an underwater pipeline, which they contended is a foreboding warning for Michigan.

“Canada’s last-ditch effort to save Enbridge came while oil was still flowing towards the California coast in an incident that should be instructive for all of us. The California oil spill was likely caused by a ship’s anchor striking the pipeline,” said Sean McBrearty, campaign coordinator for advocacy group Oil & Water Don’t Mix, recalling a 2018 tugboat anchor strike on the pipeline on Lake Michigan bottomlands.
» Read article                     

treaty invoked
Canada invokes 1977 treaty with US as dispute over pipeline intensifies
Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer says Line 5 of pipeline is a ‘ticking time bomb’ and has ordered it shut down
By Leyland Cecco, The Guardian
October 6, 2021

The Canadian government has invoked a decades-old treaty with the United States in its latest bid to save a pipeline that critics warn could be environmentally catastrophic if it were to fail.

For nearly 67 years, Calgary-based Enbridge has moved oil and natural gas from western Canada through Michigan and the Great Lakes to refineries in the province of Ontario.

But Michigan’s governor, Gretchen Whitmer, says that one section of the company’s pipeline – Line 5, which crosses the Great Lakes beneath the environmentally sensitive Straits of Mackinac – is a “ticking time bomb” and has ordered it shut down.

Court-ordered mediation talks between Enbridge and the government of Michigan have broken down, and as tensions mount, Canada this week invoked a 1977 treaty obliging both countries to allow oil to flow uninterrupted.

By invoking the treaty – which would bring the dispute to binding arbitration – Canada has shown a rare frustration with president Joe Biden’s administration and its refusal to wade into the feud.

“While Biden may want to duck the issue to please [Whitmer] and keep the environmentalists in the Democratic caucus on side, the fact is that the treaty guarantees uninterrupted pipeline transit, except in exceptionally grave emergencies,” said Lawrence Herman, an international trade lawyer and senior fellow at the CD Howe Institute. “And even in those emergency cases, any interruption is only allowed for temporary periods.”

Line 5 delivers nearly half the oil needs of both Ontario and Quebec, as well as propane for the state of Michigan, and the treaty was initially pushed by the US to ensure oil could flow from Alaska, through Canada. Senators made the point that it ensured Canadian provinces couldn’t interfere with the movement of oil.
» Read article                     

» More about pipelines

DIVESTMENT

private equity
Private Equity Funds, Sensing Profit in Tumult, Are Propping Up Oil
These secretive investment companies have pumped billions of dollars into fossil fuel projects, buying up offshore platforms, building new pipelines and extending lifelines to coal power plants.
By Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times
October 13, 2021

As the oil and gas industry faces upheaval amid global price gyrations and catastrophic climate change, private equity firms — a class of investors with a hyper focus on maximizing profits — have stepped into the fray.

Since 2010, the private equity industry has invested at least $1.1 trillion into the energy sector — double the combined market value of three of the world’s largest energy companies, Exxon, Chevron and Royal Dutch Shell — according to new research. The overwhelming majority of those investments was in fossil fuels, according to data from Pitchbook, a company that tracks investment, and a new analysis by the Private Equity Stakeholder Project, a nonprofit that pushes for more disclosure about private equity deals.

Only about 12 percent of investment in the energy sector by private equity firms went into renewable power, like solar or wind, since 2010, though those investments have grown at a faster rate, according to Pitchbook data.

Private equity investors are taking advantage of an oil industry facing heat from environmental groups, courts, and even their own shareholders to start shifting away from fossil fuels, the major force behind climate change. As a result, many oil companies have begun shedding some of their dirtiest assets, which have often ended up in the hands of private equity-backed firms.

By bottom-fishing for bargain prices — looking to pick up riskier, less desirable assets on the cheap — the buyers are keeping some of the most polluting wells, coal-burning plants and other inefficient properties in operation. That keeps greenhouse gases pumping into the atmosphere.

At the same time banks, facing their own pressure to cut back on fossil fuel investments, have started to pull back from financing the industry, elevating the role of private equity.

The fossil fuel investments have come at a time when climate experts, as well as the world’s most influential energy organization, the International Energy Agency, say that nations need to more aggressively move away from burning fossil fuels, said Alyssa Giachino of the Private Equity Stakeholder Project.

“You see oil majors feeling the heat,” she said. “But private equity is quietly picking up the dregs, perpetuating operations of the least desirable assets.”
» Read article                     
» Read the Private Equity Stakeholder Project analysis

» More about divestment

GREENING THE ECONOMY

blast furnace
Can the World’s Most Polluting Heavy Industries Decarbonize?

The production of steel, cement and ammonia emit about one-fifth of all human-caused CO2. Technologies are emerging to decarbonize these industries, but big challenges remain.
By Fred Pearce, Yale Environment 360
September 23, 2021

We know how to decarbonize energy production with renewable fuels and land transportation with electric vehicles. Blueprints for greening shipping and aircraft are being drawn up. But what about the big industrial processes? They look set to become decarbonization holdouts — the last and hardest CO2 emissions that we must eliminate if we are to achieve net-zero emissions by mid-century. In particular, how are we to green the three biggest globally-vital heavy industries: steel, cement, and ammonia, which together emit around a fifth of anthropogenic CO2?

Our modern urban environments are largely constructed from concrete — which is made from cement — and steel. Most of our food is grown through the application of fertilizer made from ammonia. These most ubiquitous industrial materials are produced at huge expense of energy and carbon dioxide emissions.

Their staid industries have prospered for over a century using largely unchanged manufacturing processes. But the urgent need to produce green ammonia, steel, and cement is starting to shake them up. Research is providing new options for fundamental changes to chemical processes. And in recent weeks, leading players have announced major initiatives in each of these three crunch industries.
» Read article                     

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

Santa Monica Pier
What sea level rise will do to famous American sites, visualized
New images show what areas of the world can be saved or lost if carbon emissions aren’t curbed
By Aliya Uteuova, The Guardian
October 12, 2021

The land on which 10% of the world’s population lives could be lost to sea level rise if carbon emission trends continue, new maps and visualizations show.

Fifty major cities, mostly in Asia, and at least one large nation on every continent but Australia and Antarctica are at risk. Many small island nations are threatened with near total loss of their land.

The collection of images and videos produced by the non-profit Climate Central visualize future sea level rise if the world fails to meet emissions reduction targets. The images show what areas of the world can be saved and which could be lost, taking with them the heritage and history of these coastal communities.

Meeting the most ambitious goals of the Paris climate agreement could reduce the sea level rise exposure by roughly half. But the world is not on course to limiting global warming to 1.5C (2.7F), as outlined in the 2015 Paris agreement. Based on current emissions, the Earth is expected to reach and even exceed 3C (5.4F) warming by 2100.
» Read article                     

carbon load
Climate scientists should pay more attention to fish poop. Really.
Fish poop transforms ocean chemistry and can store carbon for centuries.
By Benji Jones, Vox
October 8, 2021

Daniele Bianchi, a researcher at the University of California Los Angeles, has a message for climate scientists everywhere: Pay more attention to fish poop.

Fish and their feces play a hugely important and vastly underrated role in ocean chemistry and the carbon cycle that shapes Earth’s climate, according to a new study led by Bianchi and published in the journal Science Advances.

The story goes something like this: Tiny marine organisms called phytoplankton absorb carbon from the water and air around them. As the plankton are eaten by increasingly larger creatures, the carbon then travels up the food chain and into fish. Those fish then release a lot of it back into the ocean through their poop, much of which sinks to the seafloor and can store away carbon for centuries. The scientific term for carbon storage is sequestration.

“We think this is one of the most effective carbon-sequestration mechanisms in the ocean,” Bianchi told Vox. “It reaches the deep layers, where carbon is sequestered for hundreds or thousands of years.”
» Read article                     
» Read the study

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

Baton Rouge refinery
IEA Sends Clear Message to World Leaders: Stop Investing in New Oil and Gas
“It is now beyond doubt that there is no need for further coal, oil, and gas exploration if we are to avoid the most dangerous impacts of climate change.”
By Jake Johnson, Common Dreams
October 13, 2021

Just over two weeks out from the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, the International Energy Agency on Wednesday delivered a straightforward and urgent message to world leaders: Fossil fuels must stay in the ground if planetary warming is to be limited to 1.5°C by the end of the century.

The IEA’s formal recognition of the 1.5°C target—the most ambitious aim of the Paris climate accord—was hailed as a “major shift” in the right direction for the influential agency, whose annual World Energy Outlook (WEO) report is often used as a resource by policymakers and businesses across the globe.

David Tong, Global Industry Campaign manager at Oil Change International, said Wednesday that the latest iteration of the WEO—while far from flawless in its projections and recommendations—”confirms that investment in new fossil fuel projects will undermine our chance to limit warming to 1.5ºC.”

“Today’s report is particularly remarkable because of the IEA’s history,” Tong added. “Big oil and gas companies like Shell and BP have relied on previous, less ambitious IEA scenarios to justify inadequate climate plans and pledges. That hiding place is now gone.”

The IEA’s report specifically finds that even if nations meet their current climate pledges, the world will see just 20% of the greenhouse gas emissions reductions necessary by 2030 to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.

“Reaching that path requires investment in clean energy projects and infrastructure to more than triple over the next decade,” Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director, said in a statement. “Some 70% of that additional spending needs to happen in emerging and developing economies, where financing is scarce and capital remains up to seven times more expensive than in advanced economies.”

Pointing to the upcoming climate summit, the IEA’s report states that “making the 2020s the decade of massive clean energy deployment will require unambiguous direction from COP26.”
» Read article                     
» Read the IEA’s World Energy Outlook

big wind
Biden Administration Plans Wind Farms Along Nearly the Entire U.S. Coastline
Interior Secretary Deb Haaland announced that her agency will formally begin the process of identifying federal waters to lease to wind developers by 2025.
By Coral Davenport, New York Times
October 13, 2021

The Biden administration announced on Wednesday a plan to develop large-scale wind farms along nearly the entire coastline of the United States, the first long-term strategy from the government to produce electricity from offshore turbines.

Speaking at a wind power industry conference in Boston, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said that her agency will begin to identify, demarcate and hope to eventually lease federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico, Gulf of Maine and off the coasts of the Mid-Atlantic States, North Carolina and South Carolina, California and Oregon, to wind power developers by 2025.

The announcement came months after the Biden administration approved the nation’s first major commercial offshore wind farm off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts and began reviewing a dozen other potential offshore wind projects along the East Coast. On the West Coast, the administration has approved opening up two areas off the shores of Central and Northern California for commercial wind power development.

Taken together, the actions represent the most forceful push ever by federal government to promote offshore wind development.
» Read article                     

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

Texas efficiency
These 7 efficiency policies could help Texas avoid $8B in new gas plants, ACEEE says
Robert Walton, Utility Dive
October 14, 2021

Winter Storm Uri knocked about half of Texas’ generation offline, leading grid officials to consider a range of solutions including weatherizing power plants and the construction of new generation. But those system upgrades would raise customer bills while only being relied on in the most extreme situations, ACEEE’s report points out.

“An alternate way to address these problems is to expand Texas’s currently limited energy efficiency and demand response programs,” the report finds, particularly those which reduce summer and winter peak demands.

ACEEE’s analysis concludes that a set of seven residential efficiency and demand response retrofit measures could serve about 9 million Texas households and offset most of the capability of new proposed gas combined-cycle generators. And those residential programs would have a five-year total programmatic cost of about $4.9 billion, or 39% less than the $8 billion capital investment required for new gas plants.

Efficiency programs ACEEE identifies include incentives for attic insulation, electric furnace upgrades, smart thermostats, and heat pumps and electric water heaters. Demand response programs include those targeting the flexibility of water heating, air conditioning and electric vehicle charging.
» Read article                     

» More about energy efficiency

BUILDING MATERIALS

illegal sand mining
Illegal Sand Mining Is Creating an Ecological Crisis in Bangladesh
Sand is at the center of a vast multinational criminal trade that’s having a catastrophic impact on the health of the planet.
By Kat Williams, Vice
September 20, 2021

Sand. If we think about it at all, it’s probably in relation to a relaxing day at the beach.

But sand is also at the center of a vast multinational criminal trade that’s having a catastrophic impact on the health of the planet.

Sand’s value stems from its integral role in the production of concrete, which is a necessary ingredient in both the physical and economic growth of countries across the globe. “Sand is so valuable as a resource that people are and have been killed over it,” says Julian Leyland, a professor of geography and environmental science at the University of Southampton.

And it’s not just any sand that can be used to make high-quality concrete. Jagged, sharp-shaped river sand is particularly sought after because, unlike smooth desert sand, it bonds well with cement.

One valuable source of river sand is Bangladesh, known as the “land of rivers.” Sand mining in Bangladesh is big business, and although it is supposed to be regulated, Bangladeshi sand miners often expand their operations beyond the areas they have legally leased.

Syeda Riswani Hasan, an attorney with the Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association, estimates 60 percent to 70 percent of Bangladeshi sand on the market is illegally mined.

“Sand here in Bangladesh has blood stains on it,” she says. “The entire river ecosystem…is bearing the brunt of sand mining.”

So, why isn’t sand mining better policed? Hasan describes a “thoroughly corrupt” system in which authorities are bribed to look the other way.  Leyland notes that nations are incentivized to turn a blind eye to illegal sand mining to further their own economic goals.

“There’s a real push for development…and so that’s really fueled their demand for sand,” she says.

Hasan foresees the insatiable demand for sand as potentially ruinous for Bangladesh. “Countries who do not want to destroy their own environment will be relying on Bangladesh because enforcement is very weak here,” she says. “And if there is more demand for sand, the entire river ecosystem of the country will simply collapse.”

To make matters worse, there is no international body tracking the sand trade.
» Read article                     
» Watch YouTube video

bags of cement
Cement makers across world pledge large cut in emissions by 2030
Industry responsible for about 8% of CO2 emissions commits to reaching net zero by 2050 without offsetting
By Fiona Harvey, The Guardian
October 12, 2021

Cement makers around the world have pledged to cut their greenhouse gas emissions by up to a quarter this decade and reach net zero by 2050, in a move they said would make a major difference to the prospects for the Cop26 climate summit.

The industry is responsible for about 7%-8% of global carbon dioxide emissions, the equivalent of more than any individual country except China and the US. Cutting emissions from cement production is difficult, because the chemical processes used to make it and concrete release CO2.

The Global Cement and Concrete Association (GCCA), which represents 40 of the world’s biggest producers and about 80% of the industry outside China, made the pledge on Tuesday. Several major Chinese cement and concrete companies, which account for about 20% of China’s market, have also joined.

Companies have been working for more than a decade on ways to change the chemical processes and use different materials, as well as becoming more energy efficient. Tuesday’s pledge marks the first time that major producers have made a public commitment on the climate.
» Read article                     

» More about building materials

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

MA HWY
Activists want more air pollution monitoring near Massachusetts highways

Massachusetts environmental justice advocates want to make sure air pollution near highways is measured so that the state can ensure nearby communities benefit from the state’s transition to cleaner transportation.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
September 29, 2021

Massachusetts environmental justice activists are promoting a bill that would require the state to install more air quality monitors in areas vulnerable to transportation pollution.

The legislation is part of an effort to ensure communities that have borne a disproportionate share of diesel fumes and tailpipe emissions are able to reap the benefits of the state’s transition to cleaner energy. The information collected would be used to create plans to cut contaminants to a quarter of current levels by 2035.

“We want to address wrongs that were made decades ago but are still impacting our communities now,” said state Rep. Christine Barber, one of the sponsors of the bill.

The electrification of the transportation sector is a major component of Massachusetts’ plan for going carbon-neutral by 2050. However, simply reducing overall statewide transportation emissions is not enough, environmental justice activists say. They want the transition to be targeted at helping rectify some of the damage done by years of higher pollution levels in low-income neighborhoods and communities of color.

“Even if we implement policies to lower transportation pollution, disparities in air pollution hotspots will continue to exist,” said Sofia Owen, staff attorney for environmental justice group Alternatives for Community and the Environment. “And in our minds that is unacceptable — we need to do more.”
» Read article                     

loss happens
How Much Range Does an Electric Car Lose Each Year?
All EVs offer a multitude of measures used to slow down the process of battery degradation. However, the process is inevitable.
By Andrew Lambrecht, Inside EVs
October 12, 2021

While electric vehicles have been proven to have considerably lower ownership costs compared to their ICE counterparts, battery longevity remains an equivocal subject. Similar to how consumers ask how long the batteries can last, manufacturers often question the same subject. ”Every single battery is going to degrade every time you charge and discharge it,” Atlis Motor Vehicles CEO, Mark Hanchett, told InsideEVs.

Essentially, it’s inevitable that your electric car battery, or any rechargeable Li-ion battery, will lose its capacity it once had. However, the rate at which it’ll degrade is the unknown variable. Everything ranging from your charging habits to the very chemical makeup of the cell will affect your EV battery’s long-term energy storage.

While many factors are at play, there are four main elements that assist in further degrading EV batteries.
» Read article               

» More about clean transportation

SITING IMPACTS OF RENEWABLE ENERGY

CMP corridor
New England will need more clean power even if the CMP corridor is built
By Jessica Piper, Bangor Daily News
October 13, 2021

The upcoming referendum over a transmission line through western Maine will have broad implications for New England and Quebec’s energy future, as the demand for massive quantities of clean energy will persist regardless of the outcome.

Mainers will vote Nov. 2 on a question that aims to block the $1 billion corridor being built by Central Maine Power affiliates and Hydro-Quebec through western Maine while requiring legislative approval for infrastructure projects on public lands. A yes vote in the referendum would block the project, while a no vote would allow work to continue.

The region has much riding on the outcome, but hydropower and long, controversial transmission lines are likely to play some role in a broad effort to slash carbon emissions whether the corridor is built or not. While alternatives including offshore wind are on the way, they are not likely to bridge the gap as quickly.

“Fighting climate change is a wicked problem, and there’s no easy fix because otherwise we would have found it,” said Francois Bouffard, an engineering professor at McGill University in Montreal. “So there’s always going to be winners and losers.”

But the project has broader consequences for the rest of New England, as well as in neighboring Quebec. In the short-run, the success or failure of the corridor is “very significant” for Massachusetts, which needs the power to meet its aggressive low-carbon energy goals, said Paul Hibbard, an energy consultant and former chair of the public utilities department there.

The Massachusetts attorney general’s office left a comment left before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission earlier this month urging quick resolution to disputes surrounding the project, saying the 1,200-megawatt transmission line was of “vital importance.”

Massachusetts’ shift toward hydropower would have secondary effects for the rest of the New England market, with more power available for others to buy. Although some corridor opponents have been skeptical, experts said there is little doubt that gas-fired power plants would be the first source displaced. Some of their owners have funded the political fight against the corridor.

“We cannot develop enough low-carbon sources fast enough,” Hibbard said. “So any incremental piece of energy coming from any zero carbon source right now is not going to be displacing renewables, it’ll be displacing fossil fuels.”
» Read article                     

» More about siting impacts

DEEP-SEABED MINING

inconclusiveDeep seabed mining is risky. If something goes wrong, who will pay for it?
By Ian Morse, Mongabay
October 8, 2021

Citizens of countries that sponsor deep-sea mining firms have written to several governments and the International Seabed Authority expressing concern that their nations will struggle to control the companies and may be liable for damages to the ocean as a result.

Liability is a central issue in the embryonic and risky deep-sea mining industry, because the company that will likely be the first to mine the ocean floor — DeepGreen/The Metals Company — depends on sponsorships from small Pacific island states whose collective GDP is a third its valuation.

Mining will likely cause widespread damage, scientists say, but the legal definition of environmental damage when it comes to deep-sea mining has yet to be determined.
» Read article                     

» More about deep-seabed mining

GAS UTILITIES

dismissive
The state asked for a blueprint of a gas-free future. Why are the utilities writing the first draft?
By Sabrina Shankman, Boston Globe
October 14, 2021

Looking ahead to a future when fossil fuels must be almost entirely removed from everyday life, Massachusetts last year made what would seem a sensible move: It launched a formal effort to plot the organized phase-out of natural gas.

The outcome of that investigation into the future of natural gas is to be a key step in the state’s climate fight, meant to produce the “policy and structural changes we need to ensure a clean energy future” and address the critical questions of “when and how” the state will wean itself from its most pervasive heating fuel.

So, what state regulators did next triggered more than a few angry questions among climate advocates, legislators, and researchers involved in Massachusetts’ climate efforts: they handed responsibility for writing the first draft of how the state will reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050 to the very industry whose fate hung in the balance, natural gas.

For the first phase of the process, which began earlier this year, the Department of Public Utilities asked the gas companies to create several scenarios for how the state can reach net zero and still provide reliable, affordable heat to residents and business owners. Other interested parties, including state and local governments, and labor, business, and environmental groups, are invited to take part in monthly meetings, but, according to an order from the DPU, it’s the gas companies that lead this part of the process. Only later, once those companies have filed their reports, will others have the chance to formally weigh in.

Moreover, the DPU gave the utilities responsibility for selecting and hiring the consultant needed to develop critical data and models that will be used in the blueprint, rather than retaining its own independent adviser.

Some advocates fear these steps give the gas companies excessive control early in the process, potentially allowing them to lay a foundation for policies that put gas industry interests above the climate, either by prolonging widespread use of natural gas or recommending unproven fuels that fall short on cutting carbon.

“It really is industry driving climate policy in Massachusetts,” said Debbie New, a member of the advocacy group Gas Leaks Allies, which is a participant in the DPU investigation. “It needs to be an independent process in which the gas companies participate but everyone is on a much more equal footing,” she said.

In early September, a number of participants submitted a letter to the DPU listing ways they felt the gas companies were shutting them out of the discussion and failing to adequately consider equity and environmental justice, and asking the department for additional oversight.

The DPU dismissed the groups’ request to have the letter entered into the official record.

The current process calls for gas companies to submit their proposals by March. Next, the DPU will solicit comments from other participants and then “develop a regulatory and policy road map” that fits the state’s overall climate goals, said Craig Gilvarg, a spokesman for the state office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.

The problem with that, according to numerous stakeholders, is that critical decisions — such as which pathways are possible, and what those entail — will have been already made by the time others get to weigh in, and any meaningful changes would be difficult, if not impossible, to make.
» Read article                     

gas meters
Massachusetts advocates say they’re being ignored in future-of-gas talks

Climate and equity groups say gas utilities are marginalizing their views as they develop a legally required “roadmap” for the gas industry’s future in the state.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
October 4, 2021

As Massachusetts gas companies start legally mandated investigations into their role in a clean energy future, advocates are concerned that stakeholder voices calling for aggressive decarbonization, environmental justice, and a fair transition for fossil fuel workers are being shut out at a crucial moment in the process.

While the gas companies contend they are committed to soliciting and incorporating stakeholder feedback, advocates say the utilities are failing to fully engage with their concerns. At the same time, the state has rejected advocates’ requests for increased oversight from regulators.

“It’s important for our perspective to be at the center of this and right now it feels like we’re much more of an audience,” said Debbie New, a participant in the Gas Leaks Allies coalition. “When questions about labor, equity, health, or safety are asked, we are told they will consider them later, rather than making them integral to the process.”

In June 2020, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey asked the state’s department of public utilities to open an investigation into the future of the natural gas industry as the state moves toward its goal of reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. The department launched the investigation in October of that year with the stated goal of developing “a regulatory and policy roadmap to guide the evolution of the gas distribution industry.”

The first step in Massachusetts’ process required the state’s gas distribution companies to hire consultants to analyze the costs, regulatory implications, and emissions reductions involved in several different decarbonization strategies the state could pursue. These studies, the order specified, should look at the so-called “pathways” laid out in the state’s 2050 Decarbonization Roadmap, as well as any other scenarios deemed appropriate. They should also take into account the input of stakeholders, the state said.

The gas companies have secured consultants and are working on the analysis required. A report of their findings, including recommendations for future action, is due in March 2022.

That timeline makes right now a very important moment for environmental and public health activists. The report that emerges from the current process will inform the rest of the discussions and decisions throughout the investigation. Therefore, advocates argue, it is essential that there is broad agreement as to the scenarios the consultants model, the data used, and the assumptions made.
» Read article                     

» More about gas utilities

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

FSO Safer
Rotting Red Sea oil tanker could leave 8m people without water
FSO Safer has been abandoned since 2017 and loss of its 1.1m barrels would destroy Yemen’s fishing stocks
By Patrick Wintour, The Guardian
October 11, 2021

The impact of an oil spill in the Red Sea from a tanker that is rotting in the water could be far wider than anticipated, with 8 million people losing access to running water and Yemen’s Red Sea fishing stock destroyed within three weeks.

Negotiations are under way to offload the estimated 1.1m barrels of crude oil that remains onboard the FSO Safer, which has been deteriorating by the month since it was abandoned in 2017. The vessel contains four times the amount of oil released by the Exxon Valdez in the Gulf of Alaska in 1989, and a spill is considered increasingly probable.

The oil will spread well beyond Yemen and cause environmental havoc affecting Saudi Arabia, Eritrea and Djibouti, according to the latest modelling, which is unlike previous studies because it examines the impact more than a week after the spill.

Three-way talks between the Houthi rebels, the UN-recognised government of Yemen and the UN have foundered, despite repeated warnings, including at the UN security council, of the impact if the tanker explodes, breaks up or starts leaking. UN officials have been unable to secure guarantees to maintain the vessel, including its rotting hull, which is now overseen by a crew of just seven.
» Read article                     

» More about fossil fuel

BIOMASS

accounting corrected
Drax’s ‘Carbon Negative’ Bioenergy Claims ‘Wildly Exaggerated’, Study Argues
Responding to the analysis, Phil MacDonald, chief operating officer of Ember, said this was “exactly the kind of research that the UK government should be doing before it makes a decision on funding BECCS”.
By Phoebe Cooke, DeSmog Blog
October 13, 2021

The current supply chain of biomass giant Drax “makes the impacts of climate change worse”, a new study has claimed.

Analysis by US environmental advocacy group, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), studied the emissions from wood pellets transported from pine plantations in the southeastern United States to be used in a bioenergy, carbon capture and storage (BECCS) operation by Drax in Yorkshire.

Currently bioenergy is classified as a renewable energy source by the UK government, under the premise that it uses trees which can be replanted to recapture carbon and is therefore considered carbon neutral. Advocates of BECCS say the technology can even make the process “carbon negative”, by removing the carbon emissions from burning biomass and storing them underground.

Drax, which has piloted the BECCS technology since 2018, is hoping to deliver its first fully operational plant by 2027 as part of plans to become a “carbon negative company” by 2030 – removing more carbon than it produces.

However Sasha Stashwick, senior advocate at NRDC and campaigner with Cut Carbon Not Forests, said Drax’s claims of becoming “carbon negative” were “wildly exaggerated”.

“Drax’s biomass supply chain is so highly emissive, that with or without CCS (carbon capture and storage), it makes climate change worse,” she said. “This report makes clear that any UK government climate plan that relies on BECCS at Drax is extremely high-risk.

“When you’re in a hole, you stop digging – and the government must stop ploughing money into dirty biomass subsidies. Instead, these funds should be redirected to wind and solar energy, which is not only low-cost and low-risk, but actually helps fight the climate crisis.”
» Read article                     
» Read the NRDC analysis

» More about biomass

PLASTICS RECYCLING

Costa del Esta
Recycled plastic won’t solve tech’s waste problem
It doesn’t get at the root of the problem
By Justine Calma, The Verge
October 6, 2021

Buying a gadget made with recycled plastic instead of brand-new materials might sound like an environmentally friendly investment, but it does very little to cut down on the heaps of plastic pollution and electronic waste that are trashing the environment and ending up everywhere — including in our own bodies.

Think of plastic pollution like an overflowing tub in your bathroom, says Josh Lepawsky, a professor at Memorial University of Newfoundland who maps the international movement of electronic waste. “If you walked into that, probably the first thing you would do would be to turn off the tap — not grab a bucket and a mop, if you think of the bucket and the mop as recycling,” Lepawsky says. Turning off the tap equates to staunching the production of plastic goods. Trying to clean up a growing mess won’t address the root of the problem. “It doesn’t mean, don’t use a bucket and a mop. But that’s not turning off the tap.”

Cutting down waste means cutting down consumption. That’s something that can’t be solved with flashy new product offerings, even if those products are made with recycled materials. Companies need to sell fewer products that last longer so that gadgets aren’t so disposable in the first place. Hyping up recycling can actually stand in the way of that.

The scale of the plastics problem is massive. As of 2017, humans had produced 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic (for comparison, a rhinoceros weighs about 1 metric ton) — much of which can persist in the environment or in landfills for hundreds of years. Recycling has done little to stop that mess. Only 9 percent of plastic waste has ever been recycled, research has found. People send at least 8 million tons of plastic into the ocean every year, where it might end up in giant garbage patches, arctic ice, the bellies of sea life, and back inside our bodies.

“We can’t recycle our way out of this problem—acute reduction of plastic products, recycled or not, is the solution,” Max Liboiron, an associate professor of geography at Memorial University who researches plastic pollution, said in an email to The Verge. “​​Even the production of new plastic items that use some of these ocean plastics as feedstock will result in a net increase in plastic pollution.”
» Read article                     

» More about plastics recycling

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Weekly News Check-In 10/1/21

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Welcome back.

Last Friday, we saw the first Friday for the Future global climate strike since the COVID-19 pandemic locked down many large street-level protests. With upcoming COP26 climate talks, it was time to get back out there. We also offer an in-depth article on Greta Thunberg, whose solitary school climate strike sparked the Friday for the Future movement and inspired a huge wave of youth activism.

And activism is effective. We learned this week of another major natural gas pipeline cancellation. The 36″ diameter PennEast Pipeline was intended to carry fracked gas from Pennsylvania, 115 miles to an interconnection near Pennington, NJ. In spite of federal backing (including a favorable US Supreme Court ruling), New Jersey, having faced years of citizen resistance,  refused a key environmental permit. Case closed.

Meanwhile, operators of the infamous Dakota Access oil pipeline have asked the Supreme Court to exempt them from completing the environmental review – due March, 2022 – that could determine whether that pipeline can continue operating. Claiming the requirement places an undue burden on developers of large infrastructure projects, they stake out the astounding position that anything is OK as long as it’s big.

Greening the economy is going to require a lot of mineral extraction, so we’re posting articles that illuminate the pros and cons of this necessary extraction. California’s horribly toxic Salton Sea and surrounding communities are an existing environmental disaster that could benefit from lithium extraction – if it’s done right. On the other hand, the prospect of deep seabed mining is alarming under any conditions, with huge potential to harm the marine ecosystem and climate.

The climate and biodiversity crises are closely related. So we selected articles this week covering the reluctance of wealthy nations to properly address climate change, along with why it’s in everyone’s best interest to reverse the over-development and over-exploitation of nature that’s fueling an unprecedented wave of extinctions.

There’s good news in clean energy, where studies and also practical experience show that a rapid shift to renewables saves money and increases grid resiliency. Standing between those facts and actual broad U.S. implementation, of course, is a phalanx of fossil industry and utility lobbyists and the legislators of both parties who depend on their money.

Massachusetts recently completed its Whole-Home Heat Pump Pilot program, aimed at showing how air-source heat pumps can provide 100% of a home’s heating and cooling needs without a backup fossil-powered furnace or boiler. Results across a variety of building types were successful and reveal a market ready for further expansion. Unfortunately, New Hampshire has taken a step backward by joining 19 other states with legislation prohibiting municipalities from requiring electric appliances in new construction.

In spite of New Hampshire Governor Chris Sunun’s head-in-the-sand refusal to face the future, we are rapidly approaching a time when fully-electric buildings and electric vehicles will be the norm. That requires a lot more electric transmission capacity, and some of those lines might be buried along existing rail corridors. An experiment is underway to bring 2,100 MW of renewable power from upper Midwest sources to eastern markets this way – avoiding the lengthy and difficult permitting process for stringing high power lines overhead.

Recent battery fires in Chevy Bolts (and some other brands) have caused concern among would-be car buyers considering electric vehicles. Researchers in Singapore recently showed a significant reduction in lithium-ion battery fire hazard by adding an “anti-short” layer of material applied to the separator between the anode and cathode of each cell. The next step is to see if this feature can be integrated into EV batteries without adversely affecting range, performance, or price. This takes time – don’t expect to see it in the upcoming model year.

The fossil fuel industry would like all of the above to just go away, and for us to leave them in peace. Nope. We’ll close out with an investigation of Senator Joe Manchin’s coal industry income, with the oil patch’s habit of sticking taxpayers with the cost of cleaning up old wells, and with satellite evidence of dozens of leaks and spills in the Gulf of Mexico following Hurricane Ida.

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

— The NFGiM Team

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

FFF climate strike
A Friday for the Future: The Global Climate Strike May Help the Youth Movement Rebound From the Pandemic
2019’s protests were unprecedented, driven by passion. The pandemic dampened activism and showed the importance of mass events in spurring political change. Is a comeback at hand?
By Bob Berwyn, Delger Erdenesanaa, Inside Climate News
September 24, 2021

The first global Fridays For Future climate strike of 2021 will help show if the youth climate movement can rebuild momentum while parts of the world still grapple with the coronavirus pandemic. At least 1,300 protests are planned around the world on Friday, including about 300 in the United States.

The movement that was sparked by Greta Thunberg’s solitary school strike and vigil at the Swedish parliament in 2018 quickly grew into a social juggernaut that measurably shifted public concern about climate, according to researchers with the Institute for Protest and Movement Research, a global online academic forum.

Over the next years, attending local strikes became a gateway to sustained political organizing around climate change. Lorena Sosa, an 18-year-old college student from Orlando, Florida and an organizer with the youth climate group This Is Zero Hour, said she was well aware of climate change before 2019, but didn’t know what she could do to help solve the problem.

“For the longest time I had this huge stress about the impact we were having on the environment,” Sosa said. News headlines about deforestation in the Amazon rainforest and the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline left her feeling powerless, she said. But in September 2019, Sosa heard about a protest happening in her city as part of a global day of climate strikes organized by the Fridays for Future movement.

The Fridays For Future model of mass climate marches was a key factor in moving the political and social needle in Europe, but never became as widespread in the United States. Even so, the 2019 Fridays for Future protests were important because they kept the spotlight on the climate issue, said Mélanie Meunier, a researcher at the University of Strasbourg, France and author of a February 2021 study on youth climate activism in the United States.

“There are still people who don’t even want to hear about climate change, but they can’t ignore it when thousands of people are marching in the streets, so it increased awareness at a very basic level,” she said.

In the United States, youth climate activism has been most effectively expressed at the political level by the Sunrise Movement, she said. By focusing youth activism through a political lens, the Sunrise Movement achieved measurable results, arguably helping Joe Biden win key electoral states in the 2020 election, she said.
» Read article                      

transformative
The transformation of Greta Thunberg
By Simon Hattenstone, The Guardian
Portraits by Marcus Ohlsson
September 25, 2021

Three years ago Greta Tintin Eleonora Ernman Thunberg was an unknown 15-year-old terrified that we were destroying the planet and furious that adults were letting it happen. Her fury was particularly directed at those with power. She decided to take unilateral action, and tweeted her plan. “We kids most often don’t do what you tell us to do. We do as you do. And since you grownups don’t give a damn about my future, I won’t either. My name is Greta and I’m in ninth grade. And I am school striking for the climate until election day.” She didn’t expect anyone to take notice. Thunberg had spent her short lifetime not being noticed. She was small, rarely spoke and described herself as “that girl in the back who never said anything”.

Thunberg spent the first day sitting cross-legged on her own outside the Swedish parliament alongside a sign made from wood scrap that read “Skolstrejk för klimatet” (“School strike for climate”). Although she was striking, she still treated it as a regular school day – she rode to the Riksdag on her bike, took out her books and studied till the end of the school day. The next week a few others joined her – fellow students, teachers and parents – and her campaign began to attract media interest. In September 2018 she began a regular Friday strike, calling it Fridays for Future, encouraging other students to join her. By March 2019, her protest had spread to more than 70 countries. On 20 September 2019, 4 million people joined a school strike across 161 countries – the largest climate demonstration in history.

Within a year, Thunberg had become one of the most famous people on Earth. Since then she has been nominated twice for the Nobel peace prize, addressed the UN and been thanked by the pope. Liberal world leaders suck up to her to show their people they take the climate crisis seriously, rightwing populist leaders mock her to show that they don’t.
» Read article                      

» More about protests and actions

PIPELINES

protesting penneast
PennEast cancels natural gas pipeline project; cites lack of environmental permits from N.J.
By Susan Phillips, WHYY
September 27, 2021

In an astounding turnaround after years of battling New Jersey over permits to build a natural gas pipeline from Northeast Pennsylvania to Mercer County, PennEast has canceled its 116-mile project.

The move comes just three months after the U.S. Supreme Court sided with PennEast over the state of New Jersey, which had attempted to block the pipeline company from seizing state-controlled land for the project. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, had granted the company eminent domain to seize land from uncooperative landowners, including the state of New Jersey.

PennEast spokeswoman Pat Kornick issued a statement Monday morning, citing the continued lack of support from the Garden State in acquiring environmental permits.

The pipeline would have shipped Marcellus Shale gas from Luzerne County across the Delaware River to Mercer County to provide what the company said was much-needed, affordable natural gas to residents. Opponents said it would harm acres of forest, wetlands, and waterways; pose a danger from potential explosions; and represented an outmoded fossil fuel infrastructure project at a time when climate change was increasingly tied to extreme weather events.
» Read article                      

NO DAPL we are one
Dakota Access pipeline asks U.S. Supreme Court to scrap environmental study order
By Devika Krishna Kumar, Reuters
September 21, 2021

Dakota Access on Monday asked the U.S. Supreme Court to revisit whether the largest pipeline out of the North Dakota oil basin requires additional environmental review.

The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia revoked a key environmental permit for the pipeline last year and ordered an additional environmental study. read more

The pipeline entered service in 2017 following months of protests by environmentalists, Native American tribes and their supporters. Opponents said its construction destroyed sacred artifacts and posed a threat to Lake Oahe, a critical drinking supply, and the greater Missouri River.

Energy Transfer (ET.N), which operates the 570,000 barrel-per-day (bpd) pipeline out of the Bakken shale basin, has said its pipeline is safe.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was expected to complete its review of the pipeline in March 2022.

The pipeline’s operators said in their petition additional review is unnecessary and that it would impose burdens for other large infrastructure projects.
» Blog editor’s note: Pipeline developers and operators should, in fact, bear the burden of showing any project’s necessity and also thoroughly describing potential environmental impacts. To claim otherwise is outrageous.
» Read article                      

» More about pipelines

GREENING THE ECONOMY

Salton Sea lithium
In search of ‘Lithium Valley’: why energy companies see riches in the California desert
Firms say what’s underneath the Salton Sea could fuel a green-energy boom. But struggling residents have heard such claims before
By Aaron Miguel Cantú, The Guardian
September 27, 2021

Standing atop a pockmarked red mesa, Rod Colwell looks out at an expanse of water that resembles a thin blue strip on the horizon. The Salton Sea, California’s largest lake, has come and gone at least five times in the last 1,300 years, most recently in 1905, when floodwaters from the Colorado River refilled its basin.

A mid-century resort destination, the lake has since become an environmental disaster zone. Its waters, long fed by pesticide-laden runoff from nearby farms, have been steadily evaporating, exposing a dusty shoreline that kicks up lung-damaging silt into the surrounding communities of the Imperial Valley, where rates of asthma are alarmingly high.

But as disastrous as the disappearing Salton Sea is, powerful people believe that a vast reserve of lithium locked beneath it and the surrounding area holds the key to flipping the region’s fortunes.

Global demand for lithium, a metal vital for the batteries in electric cars and computer electronics, is projected to grow by 40 times in the next 20 years as renewable technologies become more ubiquitous. The earth deep below the southern Salton Sea is rich in hot, mineral-abundant brine that contains some of the world’s largest deposits of lithium, and Colwell and others envision a “Lithium Valley” that would establish California as a global production hub and employ thousands of workers for generations to come.
» Read article         
» Read related article covering environmental and environmental justice issues.     

manganese nodules
Critics Question the Climate Crisis Benefits of Deep Seabed Mining
As the world starts to seriously entertain the possibility of commercially mining the deep sea for valuable metals, it’s worth taking a closer look at the claims used to justify its potentially long-lived impacts.
By Marta Montojo and Ian Urbina, DeSmog Blog
September 18, 2021

While commercial mining of the deep seafloor is not yet happening, momentum is building and the world is now seriously entertaining the possibility. The targets of these companies are potato-sized rocks that scientists call polymetallic nodules. Sitting on the ocean floor, these prized clusters can take more than three million years to form. They are valuable because they are rich in manganese, copper, nickel, and cobalt that are claimed to be essential for electrifying transport and decarbonizing the economy amid the green technological revolution that has emerged to counter the climate crisis.

To vacuum up these treasured chunks requires industrial extraction by massive excavators. Typically 30 times the weight of regular bulldozers, these machines are lifted by cranes over the sides of ships, then dropped miles underwater where they drive along the seafloor, suctioning up the rocks, crushing them and sending a slurry of crushed nodules and seabed sediments from 4,000-6,000 meters depth through a series of pipes to the vessel above. After separating out the minerals onboard the ship, the processed waters, sediment and mining ‘fines’ (small particles of the ground up nodule ore) are piped overboard, to depths as yet unclear.

But a growing number of marine biologists, ocean conservationists, government regulators and environmentally-conscious companies are sounding the alarm about a variety of environmental, food security, financial, and biodiversity concerns associated with seabed mining.

These critics worry whether the ships doing this mining will dump back into the sea the huge amounts of toxic-waste and sediments produced by grinding up and pumping the rocks to the surface, impacting larger fish further up the food chain such as tunas and contaminating the global seafood supply chain.

They also worry that the mining may be counterproductive in relation to climate change because it may in fact diminish the ocean floor’s distinct carbon sequestration capacity. Their concern is that in stirring up the ocean floor, the mining companies will release carbon into the environment, undercutting some of the very benefits intended by switching to electric cars, wind turbines and long-life batteries.

“By impacting on natural processes that store carbon, deep sea mining could even make climate change worse by releasing carbon stored in deep sea sediments or disrupting the processes which help ‘scavenge’ carbon and deliver it to those sediments,” Greenpeace stated in a recent report.
» Read article                     
» Read the Greenpeace report

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

Henan rescue workers
‘Verge of the abyss’: Climate change to dominate UNGA talks
Forcing wealthy nations to honour UN climate pledges will ‘be a stretch’, British PM Boris Johnson admitted on Sunday.
By Aljazeera
September 20, 2021

Pressure is building on world leaders to rapidly ratchet up efforts to fight global climate change, a topic expected to top the agenda at the United Nations General Assembly.

Leaders will hear pleas to make deeper cuts in emissions of heat-trapping gases and give poorer countries more money to develop cleaner energy and adapt to the worsening impacts of ever-increasing climate change.

“I’m not desperate, but I’m tremendously worried,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said told the Associated Press ahead of this week’s GA meetings. “We are on the verge of the abyss and we cannot afford a step in the wrong direction.”

On Monday, Guterres and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson host a closed-door session with 35 to 40 world leaders to get countries to do more leading up to crucial COP26 climate negotiations in Scotland in six weeks. Those negotiations are designed to be the next step after the 2015 Paris climate agreement.
» Read article                     

IBW-stuffed
What Covid and the ivory-billed woodpecker being declared extinct have in common
Habitat loss and climate change are causing species to die out, which in turn endangers the humans they leave behind.
By Dr. Alexis Drutchas, attending physician at Massachusetts General Hospital in the Division of Palliative Care, in NBC News / Think
September 29, 2021

For too long, we have treated the natural world as an infinite commodity. In the wake of unchecked human population growth and consumption, we’ve destroyed natural habitats for the sake of creating housing in cities and suburbs, and for vast commercial farms that produce agriculture and livestock. This habitat erosion decimates wild animal populations and renders surviving animals homeless — both of which ultimately endanger humans, as well.

In the most recent example, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed removing 23 more animals and plants from the endangered species list Wednesday — because they’re extinct. Included on this list is the ivory-billed woodpecker, which spanned from coastal North Carolina to East Texas before logging and slaughter for private collectors and hat-makers dwindled the population. Hawaii had a total of eight birds listed as extinct, including the Kaua’i ’o’o, which is known to have a beautiful flute-like call, because invasive species and warming temperatures allowed mosquitoes carrying diseases to access elevations they were once unable to reach.

Habitat loss and climate change are burning the candle at both ends, leading to the tragedy of extinction while also increasing the amount of contact between humans, livestock and the animals that do remain. These complex dynamics then fuel animal-borne infections — in the form of viruses like Covid-19. With fewer barriers between us and animals, viruses can more easily jump the species barrier to become zoonoses, a term for animal-to-human infectious diseases that will inevitably become more familiar to everyone in the years to come.
» Read article                      

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

rapid shift
Rapid Shift to Clean Energy Could Save ‘Trillions.’ But Corporate-Backed Groups Are Fighting the Transition in US Budget Bill
Wind, solar, and batteries are already the cheapest source of electricity and an aggressive shift to clean energy makes more economic sense than a slow one, according to a new study. However, an enormous lobbying effort is underway to block climate policy in the $3.5 trillion budget bill under consideration.
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
September 23, 2021

A slow transition away from fossil fuels would be “more expensive” than a rapid shift to renewable energy, according to a new study, a conclusion that stands in sharp contrast to fossil fuel industry talking points aimed at heading off aggressive climate policy currently being shaped in Congress.

An accelerated clean energy transition would lead to “net savings of many trillions of dollars,” a calculation that does not even take into account the damages from unchecked climate chaos, the recently released study from Oxford University found. On economics alone, the logic of a rapid shift to renewable energy is obvious and necessary.

“The belief that the green energy transition will be expensive has been a major driver of the ineffective response to climate change for the last forty years,” the researchers write. “This pessimism is at odds with past technological cost-improvement trends, and risks locking humanity into an expensive and dangerous energy future.”

The authors note that outdated thinking on renewable energy — that it comes with tradeoffs like higher electricity prices, for instance — has long dominated policy discussions. Echoes of this idea can be found today in mounting attacks by a network of lobbyists and think tanks on the climate provisions in the Democrats’ $3.5 trillion budget package.

But that line of argument has been inaccurate for years, and the Oxford study says it is now decisively wrong. “Our analysis suggests that such trade-offs are unlikely to exist: a greener, healthier and safer global energy system is also likely to be cheaper,” they write [original emphasis].

The U.S. has a chance to solidify an accelerated track towards cleaner energy. The Democrats in Congress are working on legislation that would push the U.S. electricity system to roughly 80 percent carbon-free power by 2030, a definition that includes hydro and nuclear power, up from around 40 percent today.

The so-called Clean Electricity Payment Program (CEPP) is complex, but it essentially rewards utilities that move quickly to add renewable energy to their portfolios with each passing year, while imposing fees on laggards who move slowly.
» Read article                     
» Read the Oxford University study

after the blackout
Five years after blackout, South Australia now only state with zero supply shortfalls
By Giles Parkinson, Renew Economy
September 28, 2021

South Australia’s Liberal government has celebrated the fifth anniversary of the controversial state-wide blackout by claiming that the state is now leading the country – both in terms of renewables, but also in the lack of any supply shortfalls.

“Five years ago South Australia was plunged into a statewide blackout that put lives at risk, inflicted immense damaged our economy and made us the laughing stock of the nation,” state energy minister Dan van Holst Pellekaan said in a statement.

“Today South Australia has the best performing electricity grid in the nation as the Marshall government’s energy policies have strengthened what was a fragile, unstable and highly vulnerable electricity network.”

The state-wide blackout, triggered by massive storms that tore down multiple transmission towers and three transmission links, quickly became a political football and an ideological battleground between parties pro-renewables, and those against.

It amplified the “when the wind don’t blow and the sun don’t shine” meme, but far from putting a stop to renewables, it ensured that more work was done to underpin the massive rollout of large scale wind and solar that followed.

In the past 12 months, South Australia boasts of a world-leading share of wind and solar of 62 per cent (up from 48 per cent at time of blackout).

That has been led by a world-leading share of rooftop solar that earlier this week reached 84 per cent of state demand, and could reach 100 per cent in the next month or so. That is unheard of in a gigawatt scale grid.

The state also boasts new resources, including three big batteries – at Hornsdale (then the world’s largest), Lake Bonney and Dalrymple North – several large scale “virtual power plants,” and new synchronous condensers that (along with the batteries) can provide the critical grid services once delivered by coal and gas.
» What is a synchronous condenser?        
» Read article                      

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

outdoor unit
MassCEC Pilot Showcases Success of Whole Home Heat Pumps
By Meg Howard, Program Director, MA Clean Energy Center
September 13, 2021

Heat pumps can serve as a whole-home heating and cooling solution in Massachusetts. That was the primary takeaway of MassCEC’s Whole-Home Heat Pump Pilot, which ran from May 2019 through June 2021. And whole-home heat pumps will be fundamental to the Commonwealth meeting our goal of one million households using high-efficiency electric heating systems by 2030.

Whole-home heat pumps are essentially heat pumps that serve 100% of a building’s heating needs. While heat pumps are increasingly common in Massachusetts, many are supplementary to fossil fuel heating systems in homes. However, as the state increasingly electrifies its buildings, more and more will rely on heat pumps for all of their heating needs.

Whole-home heat pumps offer many benefits. First, they deliver a comprehensive heating and cooling solution that serves the whole house, increasing comfort and convenience. Second, they do not require homeowners to maintain and operate two separate heating systems. This eliminates the need to maintain fossil fuel pipes or tanks and keeps the homeowner from needing to maintain and potentially replace a second heating system in their home. And last, whole-home heat pumps deliver superior emissions reductions and will continue to get cleaner as the state’s electricity transitions toward being carbon free.

MassCEC’s pilot worked to demonstrate that whole-home heat pump systems offer a high-performance solution today and that the market is ready for significant expansion going forward.
» Read article                      

NH Capitol
New Hampshire gas law handcuffs local government on climate-friendly construction
The Granite State is the latest of 20 states that have barred local governments from requiring electric heating and appliances in new construction, one of the easiest and cheapest ways for cities to curb climate emissions, advocates say.
By Lisa Prevost, Energy News Network
September 27, 2021

New Hampshire is the latest state to adopt a law that prohibits any type of restriction on new natural gas hookups, a fossil fuel industry-driven legislative effort that now extends across 20 states.

The law (SB 86) is unlikely to have any immediate impact in New Hampshire, as no towns were actually considering such restrictions. But environmental groups predict that, over time, these laws will make it harder and more expensive for states and cities across the country to meet their climate targets, while also helping to lock in new emissions for decades.

“These laws make it impossible for cities and towns to do one of the cheapest and easiest actions that they could do to fight climate change — cut carbon out of new buildings,” said Alejandra Mejia Cunningham, a building decarbonization advocate for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “They’re sending towns back to the drawing table and forcing them into other options that are more expensive and won’t really get them to their 2050 climate goals.”

Cities across the country are considering ordinances and incentives to ensure the electrification of new homes and buildings as a way of reducing building emissions. The trend is furthest along in California, where about 50 municipalities have adopted building codes to reduce their reliance on gas, according to the Sierra Club.

A dire alert from the United Nations last month warned that the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report shows the world needs to phase out fossil fuels immediately to avert catastrophic climate change. That includes natural gas, which emits fewer carbon emissions than coal when burned but enough to threaten Paris agreement targets with continued use.

But pro-gas groups are pushing back on electrification efforts, framing the issue as a matter of consumer choice. In New Hampshire, after Republican Gov. Chris Sununu signed the ban prohibition into law late last month, he immediately drew praise from the Consumer Energy Alliance, an advocacy group whose members include the American Gas Association and the American Public Gas Association.
» Read article                      

» More about energy efficiency

MODERNIZING THE GRID

small but soo green
PPL makes ‘small’ investment to gain insight into ‘innovative’ $2.5B SOO Green transmission project
By Robert Walton, Utility Dive
September 27, 2021

New transmission is widely considered a key to bringing more renewables to major power markets and accelerating the energy transition, but large projects can take years to win regulatory and siting approvals. SOO Green’s co-location approach aims to speed that process by undergrounding high voltage lines along existing rail corridors.

PPL’s investment “will enable us to gain greater insight into an innovative approach to building large transmission projects that may avoid some of the traditional barriers to siting, permitting and construction as we work to advance the clean energy transition,” utility spokesman Ryan Hill said in an email.

Along with PPL, the project is owned by Siemens Energy, Jingoli Power and investment funds managed by Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners.

Hill said the company’s position is “small” and “the investment is not considered material.” PPL’s Pennsylvania and Kentucky utilities are not involved with the SOO Green project, he said, meaning ratepayers will not foot the bill for the company’s involvement. “Our investment in SOO Green is being made through a separate subsidiary,” he said.

The SOO Green project aims to enable delivery of 2,100 MW of renewable energy from the upper Midwest to eastern markets. The project will use a 525 kV underground cable and Siemens’ modern Voltage Sourced Converter technology.
» Read article                      

» More about modernizing the grid

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

Bolt EV 2018
Researchers propose fire-preventing “anti-short layer” for EV batteries

By Stephen Edelstein, Green Car Reports
September 29, 2021

Researchers at Nanyang Technological University Singapore (NTU Singapore) have proposed a new way to prevent fires in lithium-ion batteries.

As reported by photovoltaics industry trade journal PV Magazine, the researchers have tested a so-called “anti-short layer,” which is an extra layer of material on the separator between the cathode and anode in lithium-ion cells.

This layer blocks the dendrites that are a main cause of EV battery fires, the researchers claim. Dendrites are caused by manufacturing flaws or damage to the cells, and can grow across the gap between a cathode and anode, causing short circuits.

Such problems have led to a recall of Chevrolet Bolt EV and EUV electric cars after several reported fires. General Motors has stopped production and has said it will replace battery cells and modules in 2017-2019 Bolt EVs, but it’s possible newer models may get replacements as well.

The anti-short layer doesn’t stop dendrites from forming, but does prevent them from reaching from one electrode to the other, researchers claim. It was allegedly tested on more than 50 lithium-ion cells in different configurations, with no short circuits in charging even after batteries exceeded their expected lifecycles.

The layer is made from a material commonly used in battery manufacturing, and would increase battery production costs by around 5%, according to the researchers. NTU Singapore’s spinoff NTUitive will reportedly work to commercialize this technology, but it’s worth noting that promising research doesn’t automatically translate to a commercially-viable product.
» Read article                      

rich Corinthian leather
Building a More Sustainable Car, From Headlamp to Tailpipe
Vehicle makers shy away from traditional materials that are hard to recycle, like leather and plastics, and look to repurpose alternatives that still convey quality.
By Eric A. Taub, New York Times
September 9, 2021

In the 1970s, Chrysler’s TV commercials played up its vehicles’ “rich Corinthian leather.” That meaningless phrase, dreamed up by marketers and cooed by the actor Ricardo Montalbán, became emblematic of what defined a luxury vehicle.

Fifty years later, those words have been replaced by elements that are creating a new concept of automotive luxury: recycled PET bottles, coffee grounds and tree fiber.

“The definition of a premium automobile is changing,” said Rüdiger Recknagel, Audi’s chief environmental officer. “It’s now who’s using the best materials with the least environmental impact.”

As companies around the world turn their attention to reducing the effect their products have on the environment, carmakers are turning away from traditional materials that are hard to recycle, such as leather and plastics, and looking to alternatives that continue to convey quality. In manufacturing as well, they have moved to recycled components in an effort to use fewer resources and cut down on emissions.

Recycled materials make up 29 percent of a BMW vehicle, said Patrick Hudde, BMW’s vice president for sustainability supply chain. The company obtains 20 percent of its plastics from recycled materials, as well as 50 percent of its aluminum and 25 percent of its steel.

At Audi, the Mission: Zero program hopes to achieve a 30 percent reduction of vehicle-specific carbon dioxide emissions by 2025 compared with 2015, and to achieve carbon neutrality across its entire network by 2050; that includes suppliers, manufacturing, logistics and dealer operations.

General Motors expects to have 50 percent sustainable content by weight in its vehicles by 2030, said Jennifer Widrick, the company’s director of global color and trim. The company defines sustainable materials “as those that do not deplete nonrenewable resources or disrupt the environment or key natural resource systems.”

And Volvo, the Swedish manufacturer, predicts that by 2025, 25 percent of its plastics will be bio-based or from recycled materials. In addition, it’s looking to reduce its carbon footprint by 40 percent in four years, compared with 2018, and to achieve climate-neutral manufacturing at that time.
» Read article                      

» More about clean transportation

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Coal Joe
Joe Manchin, America’s climate decider-in-chief, is a coal baron
The pivotal Democratic senator owns millions of dollars in coal stocks. Shouldn’t he recuse himself from US climate talks?
By Mark Hertsgaard, The Guardian
September 30, 2021

Joe Manchin has never been this famous. People around the world now know that the West Virginia Democrat is the essential 50th vote in the US Senate that president Joe Biden needs to pass his agenda into law. That includes Biden’s climate agenda. Which doesn’t bode well for defusing the climate emergency, given Manchin’s longstanding opposition to ambitious climate action.

It turns out that the Senator wielding this awesome power – America’s climate decider-in-chief, one might call him – has a massive climate conflict of interest. Joe Manchin, investigative journalism has revealed, is a modern-day coal baron.

Financial records detailed by reporter Alex Kotch for the Center for Media and Democracy and published in the Guardian show that Manchin makes roughly half a million dollars a year in dividends from millions of dollars of coal company stock he owns. The stock is held in Enersystems, Inc, a company Manchin started in 1988 and later gave to his son, Joseph, to run.

Coal has been the primary driver of global warming since coal began fueling the Industrial Revolution in Great Britain 250 years ago. Today, the science is clear: coal must be phased out, starting immediately and around the world, to keep the 1.5C target within reach.

Scientists estimate that 90% of today’s coal reserves must be left in the ground. No new coal-fired power plants should be built. Existing plants should quickly shift to solar and wind, augmented by reducing electricity demand with better energy efficiency in buildings and machinery (which also saves money and produces more jobs).

This is not a vision that gladdens a coal baron’s heart. The idea of eliminating fossil fuels is “very, very disturbing”, Manchin said in July when specifics of Biden’s climate agenda surfaced. Behind the scenes, Manchin reportedly has objected to Biden’s plan to penalize electric utilities that don’t quit coal as fast as science dictates.
» Read article                      

old wells
Will taxpayers bear the cost of cleaning up America’s abandoned oil wells?
Policy experts warn new proposals to plug abandoned oil and gas wells amount to huge subsidy for the fossil fuel industry
By Leanna First-Arai, The Guardian
September 21, 2021

Oil and gas companies have a century-old bad habit of drilling wells and ditching them. And while Congress finally has a plan to plug some abandoned wells, new proposals effectively pass the fossil fuel industry’s cleanup costs on to taxpayers and may even enable more drilling.

Concerned parties seem to agree on the scale of the crisis: millions of wells sit untended across the US, leaking toxins that pose public health problems along with the potent greenhouse gas methane, which contributes to the climate emergency.

But powerful special interests have carved out a presence in federal well-plugging efforts – one of the most bipartisan corners of Joe Biden’s $1tn infrastructure bill, which is due for a vote later this month. Instead of requiring fossil fuel companies to cover the actual cost of drilling and cleanup, policy experts say the proposal is an additional multibillion-dollar subsidy for the industry most responsible for driving the climate crisis.

“People on the surface think that this is a good environmental thing … but the devil is in the details,” said Megan Milliken Biven, a consultant and former program analyst with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. “This is a bill for the bosses.”
» Read article                      

slick image
After Hurricane Ida, Oil Infrastructure Springs Dozens of Leaks
By Blacki Migliozzi and Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times
September 26, 2021

When Hurricane Ida barreled into the Louisiana coast with near 150 mile-per-hour winds on Aug. 30, it left a trail of destruction. The storm also triggered the most oil spills detected from space after a weather event in the Gulf of Mexico since the federal government started using satellites to track spills and leaks a decade ago.

In the two weeks after Ida, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued a total of 55 spill reports, including a spill near a fragile nature reserve. It underscores the frailty of the region’s offshore oil and gas infrastructure to intensifying storms fueled by climate change.

“That’s unprecedented, based on our 10 year record,” said Ellen Ramirez, who oversees NOAA’s round-the-clock satellite detection of marine pollution, including oil spills. “Ida has had the most significant impact to offshore drilling” since the program began, she said.

Using satellite imagery, NOAA typically reports about 250 to 300 spills a year in American waters, including the Atlantic, Pacific and the Gulf of Mexico, a pace of about 25 spills a month. In the two weeks before Ida, NOAA spotted just five potential oil slicks in the Gulf. The program, the National Environmental Satellite and Data Information Service, uses satellite technology to detect important but hard-to-see events, like methane leaks, signs of deforestation and others, that affect the climate and environment.”
» Read article                      

» More about fossil fuels

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Weekly News Check-In 6/4/21

banner 09

Welcome back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— The NFGiM Team

 

PEAKING POWER PLANTS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about peaker plants               

 

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about the Weymouth compressor station         

 

GRANITE BRIDGE PIPELINE

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

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

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

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

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

» More about the Granite Bridge pipeline project       

 

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about protests and actions                

 

DIVESTMENT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about divestment                

 

GREENING THE ECONOMY

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about greening the economy            

 

CLIMATE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about climate              

 

CLEAN ENERGY

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

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

Can this be done reliably and with existing technologies?

Yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about clean energy           

 

MODERNIZING THE GRID

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about modernizing the electric grid          

 

ENERGY STORAGE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about energy storage           

 

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about clean transportation             

 

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about fossil fuels              

 

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about LNG                       

 

BIOMASS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yet the counties with these industries remain the poorest,” said Zucchino. “This use of taxpayer dollars does not advance the state or support long-term jobs at rural communities.”
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Weekly News Check-In 2/5/21

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Welcome back.

The Weymouth compressor station is operating, and local opposition forces are pressing their public awareness campaign. Opponents recently placed 310 elf effigies near the facility – a whimsical elfin gathering signifying the very real presence of 3,100 local children who live or attend school within a mile of this toxic and dangerous facility.

The Keystone XL pipeline cancellation is broadly celebrated across the environmental community, and The Guardian reports that much credit for this and other significant victories rightly belongs to the many indigenous groups in the forefront of these battles. It remains to be seen whether the recent climate-progressive policies of the Biden administration will finally start to carry an appropriate share of this load. Protests against Enbridge’s Line 3 construction in northern Minnesota offer a prime example of indigenous groups and their allies resisting and highlighting a project that has yet to receive appropriate environmental review. Now these protesters have gained the interest of members of Congress and the Biden administration, and the project faces an uncertain future.

The redirection of U.S. climate policy in the past few weeks underscores the importance of national leadership. Unfortunately, Brazil is led by Jair Bolsonaro, whose full-on assault of the Amazon rainforest is leaving that country more and more isolated in a world that increasingly grasps the scale of the trouble we’re in. As was the case with Trump, the damage from Bolsonaro’s policies are both local and global.

We have positive news about clean energy, as the Vineyard Wind project appears to be back on track – and this bodes well for the U.S. offshore wind industry in general. We’re also calling attention to University of New South Wales’ professor Martin Green, who received the prestigious Japan Prize for his work leading pioneering research into solar PV technologies.

Energy efficiency in buildings continues to make news, as Massachusetts’ Governor Baker considers whether to accept or amend the net-zero stretch code option in the state’s ambitious climate bill. He’s being lobbied hard by the building industry, which opposes this critical provision. On the national stage, the Department of Energy reviewed the International Code Council’s proposal to eliminate voting on future energy efficiency codes by municipal officials. But it’s a new administration and a new DOE – and they were not immediately persuaded. We’ll be watching for further developments.

The massive increase in lithium-ion batteries used in electric vehicles and stationary energy storage appears to have reached critical mass, where the volume of material combined with newly developed recycling techniques have created an emerging circular economy in which recycling can be a profitable business. Of course, lithium and other materials must still be mined because the number of batteries in use is rapidly expanding. But materials from old batteries will increasing make their way back into new batteries, and that’s good news for the environment.

Massachusetts is asking electric utilities to find a way to avoid hitting businesses with huge demand charges when they provide electric vehicle fast-charging stations. Modernizing the demand charge structure would remove a significant barrier to the necessary proliferation of these chargers, which in tern will accelerate the transition away from fuel-burning cars. General Motors placed a big bet on that rapid transition last week, when CEO Mary Barra announced that the company’s entire roster of cars and SUVs will be emissions-free by 2035.

This week’s news on the fossil fuel industry includes a primer on various tricks Big Oil uses to subvert progress on climate action. Now is probably a good time to brush up on that, since the industry is feeling a level of regulatory pressure that was entirely absent during the past four years – and we fully expect their PR fog machine to kick into overdrive.

The proposed Goldboro liquefied natural gas facility in Nova Scotia is intended to export huge volumes of fossil energy to Europe. We peeked inside the natural gas industry for this report. As it happens,  gas first has to get to the facility, and the pipelines don’t yet exist. They’ll certainly face resistance and regulatory hurdles. And wherever pipelines aren’t available, the controversial transport of LNG by rail is one risky alternative under consideration. The Trump administration fast-tracked approval for LNG rail transit, but the Biden administration wants to take another look because public safety wasn’t considered in the original study. Seriously.

Wrapping up, the town of Amherst intends to join a growing number of Massachusetts communities in opposing the proposed biomass generating plant in Springfield. A vote at next week’s town council meeting should make it official. Thank you, Amherst.

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

elf watch at Weymouth
Fire-up of Weymouth Compressor Met with Elfin Resistance
By Amneo Centuri, Boston Hassle
January 28, 2021

Local folks on the South Shore held a whimsically grim show of resistance to the toxin spewing, catastrophically explosive, greenhouse gas emitting compressor station force-built in their community with an Elf Gathering on December 20. Residents, including this “natural” gas compressor’s opposition group, the Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station (FRRACS), placed 310 elf effigies in the park, next to the shut-down compressor, to symbolize the 3100 local children who live or go to school within a mile of this immense public health and safety hazard .

As the Weymouth compressor station begins to fire-up operations you can walk the narrow shoreline park at King’s Cove in Weymouth MA, along-side this disastrous facility, greeted by the sprightly faces of elfin dolls and figurines, many homemade, posed playing in the bushes in trees by the hundreds. What is conveyed by these homespun gestures is unmistakable, that children here have been put in horrible peril. This display of elves both cheery and grotesque, merry and mischievous is able to hit a dire tone while being accessible, humorous, poignant and surreal.

Behind these fanciful, frolicsome elves is the plight of local residents, already living with staggering levels of airborne toxins. They are confronted with the long-term risks of developing deadly disease, that can only increase with the compressor’s chemical emissions, as well as the threat of instant death by incineration. Standing there in the park you’d be only mere yards away from the 7,700-horsepower compressor, a massive piece of methane gas infrastructure that if exploded would immediately vaporize you along with everything within 1000 feet, including homes.

“Natural” gas compressors are usually sited in more rural areas away from large numbers of people but a conflate/deflate of data allowed the proponents to wrongly claim this densely populated urban area was rural. This working-class area, The Fore River Basin, is in sight of the Boston skyline, on the Weymouth/Quincy line just south of Dorchester. The Fore River also runs through Braintree and has been a workhorse for industrial coastal Massachusetts. This area hosts many industries including power plants, fuel storage and distribution, a hazmat facility and also pumps the sewerage for 14 other communities. Part of the major metropolitan area of Greater Boston it is adjacent to the more affluent towns just to the south. It’s hard to imagine this huge, loud, odorous hazard ever being sited in one of the quaint, high income, by-the-sea towns or in Boston proper. These elves are the totems of resistance in a sacrifice zone.

This is not a local “nimby” (not in my backyard) issue as it is sometimes reflexively assumed and dismissed. An accident here could paralyze the region’s power, transportation, home heating oil delivery and knockout sewerage treatment causing raw sewerage to be dumped directly into the ocean. Insidiously, the acceptance of the Weymouth compressor siting has also set a dangerous national precedent for the fossil fuel industry’s ability to impose its dangerous infrastructure on large populations of people. It will be easier now that an Overton window has been cracked.

A compressor is the machinery that pressurizes “natural” gas, methane to push it through pipelines, across regions and eventually to storage, market and customers. The Weymouth compressor is the lynchpin in a scheme to pipe fracked methane from the fracking fields of Pennsylvania up to Canada, most likely for export to China and Europe. “Natural” gas is a greenhouse gas, a potent driver of climate change making this compressor a planetary issue, not only because of the volumes of greenhouse gas it will emit but also for the additional infrastructure it will facilitate with more methane put into our atmosphere. The Weymouth compressor enables the expanded and continued use of “natural” gas, expected to operate for the next 40 years. The compressor station was built to accommodate a total of 5 compressors leading to one critique to characterize it, “fully operational, a fossil fueled [planet] destroying deathstar”.

Originally this compressor was justified to meet local energy needs but it has been well documented by the state of Massachusetts that there is no such need. This was confirmed by the market with major energy companies Eversource and National Grid, the biggest corporate customers for the gas, pulling out of the project before construction started. It appears that the Weymouth Compressor was built out of reckless speculative greed. The push to build this methane compressor may have been powered by the great hope of an energy industry destined to go the way of steam power and whale oil. The game seems to be to keep markets expanding, to prolong the use of this dinosaur fuel deep in the 21st century maximizing “natural” gas investments, the old meth-pushers scheme.
» Read article

» More about the Weymouth compressor station

PIPELINES

indigenous KXL protestersBiden killed the Keystone Pipeline. Good, but he doesn’t get a climate pass just yet
Democrats’ climate record is mixed – and it’s largely pressure from Indigenous and environmental groups that’s pushed them to act
By Nick Estes, The Guardian | Opinion
January 28, 2021

Joe Biden scrapping the Keystone XL permit is a huge win for the Indigenous-led climate movement. It not only overturns Trump’s reversal of Obama’s 2015 rejection of the pipeline but is also a major blow to the US fossil fuel industry and the world’s largest energy economy and per-capita carbon polluter.

There is every reason to celebrate the end of a decade-long fight against Keystone XL. Tribal nations and Indigenous movements hope it will be a watershed moment for bolder actions, demanding the same fates for contentious pipeline projects such as Line 3 and the Dakota Access pipeline.

Biden has also vowed to review more than 100 environmental rules and regulations that were weakened or reversed by Trump and to restore Obama-era protections to two Indigenous sacred sites, Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, which are also national monuments in Utah. And he issued a “temporary moratorium” on all oil and gas leases in the Arctic national wildlife refuge, sacred territory to many Alaskan Natives.

None of these victories would have been possible without sustained Indigenous resistance and tireless advocacy.

But there is also good reason to be wary of the Biden administration and its parallels with the Obama administration. The overwhelming majority of people appointed to Biden’s climate team come from Obama’s old team. And their current climate actions are focused almost entirely on restoring Obama-era policies.

Biden’s policy catchphrases of “America is back” and “build back better” and his assurance to rich donors that “nothing would fundamentally change” should also be cause for concern. A return to imagined halcyon days of an Obama presidency or to “normalcy”– which for Indigenous peoples in the United States is everyday colonialism – isn’t justice, nor is it the radical departure from the status quo we need to bolster Indigenous rights and combat the climate crisis.

Obama’s record is mixed. While opposing the northern leg of Keystone XL in 2015, Obama had already fast-tracked the construction of the pipeline’s southern leg in 2012, despite massive opposition from Indigenous and environmental groups.

His “all-of-the-above energy strategy” committed to curbing emissions while also promoting US “energy independence” by embracing domestic oil production. Thanks to this policy, the lifting of a four-decade limit on exporting crude oil from the United States, and the fracking revolution, US domestic crude oil production increased by 88% from 2008 to 2016.

Domestic oil pipeline construction also increased – and so, too, did resistance to it. During the protests against the construction of the Dakota Access pipeline, Obama’s FBI infiltrated the Standing Rock camps. “There’s an obligation for protesters to be peaceful,” he admonished the unarmed Water Protectors at the prayer camps who faced down water cannons in freezing weather, attack dogs, mass arrests and the ritualistic brutality of a heavily militarized small army of police.
» Read article

fresh nutsWhy there’s now a push to secure the future of Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline
Experts say Canada has lessons to learn from Line 5 about dealing with the U.S. on energy projects
By Elise von Scheel, CBC News
February 5, 2021

The cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline by U.S. President Joe Biden brought energy issues and cross-border pipelines to the forefront of Canada-U.S. relations — attention that is now fixed on Enbridge’s Line 5.

Line 5 transports oil and natural gas from Western Canada through the U.S. to refineries in Ontario and Quebec. Enbridge is working to replace a segment of the 68-year-old pipe that run 7.2 kilometres under the Straits of Mackinac, which connects Lake Huron and Lake Michigan.

The 1,038-kilometre project, built in 1953, travels from northwestern Wisconsin, across the upper peninsula of Michigan, under the Strait of Mackinac and down through the lower peninsula before crossing back up into Canada, terminating in Sarnia, Ont.

American politicians’ environmental objectives are threatening the future of Line 5, making it the latest project in the spotlight during ongoing discussions about North American energy co-operation.

In November, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer moved to revoke the 1953 permit that allows the crossing under the straits. She gave notice that Enbridge must shut down the pipeline by May 2021, arguing the project presents an “unreasonable risk” of environmental damage to the Great Lakes.

Enbridge has said there is no credible basis to revoke the easement and there have never been any spills in the straits.

At the end of January, Michigan environmental regulators approved several permits Enbridge needs to build a $500-million tunnel to house the pipeline. That project was given the green light by then-Governor Rick Snyder in 2018. The regulator said the proposed tunneling would have minimal impact on water quality in the Great Lakes. However, the company still needs other federal and state approvals before proceeding. The tunnel is scheduled for completion in 2024.

Experts say while Line 5 isn’t a make-or-break project for western oil and gas, the pipeline’s precarious future symbolizes the current state of Canada-U.S. energy relations, instability for investors and the potential issues for oil and gas supply within Canada.
» Read article

» More about pipelines

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

name that tune
8 protestors, 1 piano at Line 3 blockade near Park Rapids
Many of the protestors traveled from the northeast “to act in solidarity with Anishinaabe peoples here in Minnesota,” according to a news release.
By Shannon M. Geisen, Park Rapids Enterprise
February 4th 2021

Eight self-described “water protectors,” locked to each other with barrels of concrete and a piano, blockaded an Enbridge fueling station Thursday morning.

They were joined by dozens of additional protesters at the worksite.

According to a news release, “As piano music floated through the early morning light, Water Protectors sang and uplifted the Native-led struggle to protect Anishinaabe territory, sacred wild rice and stand with Mother Earth. Line 3 poses a 10 percent expansion of tar sands production; tar sands is the dirtiest fossil fuel on earth.”

The protest was held near the proposed crossing by Line 3 through the Shell River in Hubbard County. Last weekend, Congresswoman Ilhan Omar visited the Mississippi headwaters and the Giniw Collective encampment, one of several along the route.

Many of the protestors traveled from the northeast “to act in solidarity with Anishinaabe peoples here in Minnesota,” the release said.

Tyler Schaeffer said, “I’m profoundly concerned about the future of life on our planet and my deepest desire is for future generations to grow up safe in a world that hasn’t been wrecked by greed and shortsightedness – where water is clean to drink, where we’ve come back to balance and honor the earth as sacred. It’s time we follow the lead and wisdom of indigenous peoples with humility and courage.”
» Read article          

» More about protests and actions

CLIMATE

climate pariah Bolsonaro
Bolsonaro’s Brazil is becoming a climate pariah
Bolsonaro’s Brazil cuts environment funding despite rising forest losses and fires in the Amazon and elsewhere.
By Jan Rocha, Climate News Network
February 1, 2021

At home and abroad, the environmental policies being adopted in President Bolsonaro’s Brazil are leaving the country increasingly isolated, especially now his climate-denying idol Donald Trump has been replaced by the climate-friendly President Biden.

After two years of record deforestation and forest fires, the government’s proposed budget for environment agencies in 2021 is the smallest for 21 years, according to a report by the Climate Observatory, a network of 56 NGOs and other organisations.

The Observatory’s executive secretary, Marcio Astrini, believes this is deliberate: “Bolsonaro has adopted the destruction of the environment as a policy and sabotaged the instruments for protecting our biomass, being directly responsible for the increase in fires, deforestation and national emissions.

“The situation is dramatic, because the federal government, which should be providing solutions to the problem, is today the centre of the problem.”

Greenpeace spokeswoman Luiza Lima says the problem is not, as the government claims, a lack of funds: “Just a small fraction of the amount which has gone to the army to defend the Amazon would provide the minimum needed by environment agencies to fulfil their functions.”

And she recalls the existence of two funds, the Climate Fund and the Amazon Fund, which have been paralysed by the government because of its anti-NGO stance, expressed in Bolsonaro’s phrase: “NGOS are cancers”.

Not only has Bolsonaro attacked NGOs, but he is also accused of deliberately neglecting Brazil’s indigenous peoples, who number almost a million. He has refused to demarcate indigenous areas, even when the lengthy and meticulous process to identify them, involving anthropologists and archeologists, has been concluded.

Invasions of indigenous areas in Bolsonaro’s Brazil increased by 135% in 2019, with 236 known incidents, and it is these invaders, usually wildcat miners, illegal loggers or land grabbers, who have helped to spread the coronavirus. Rates of Covid-19 among indigenous peoples are double those of the population in general, and 48% of those hospitalised for Covid-19 die, according to one of Brazil’s top medical research centres, Fiocruz.

The green light given by the government, aided by the prospect of impunity thanks to a drastic reduction in enforcement, which will be made worse by the budget cuts, caused massive deforestation in some indigenous areas − exactly when the virus was spreading. Indigenous areas are often islands of preservation, surrounded by soy farms and cattle ranches.

This situation led indigenous leaders Raoni Metuktire and Almir Suruí to file a complaint at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, calling for an investigation of Bolsonaro and members of his government for crimes against humanity, because of the persecution of indigenous peoples.
» Read article

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

back on track
Biden administration puts Vineyard Wind energy project back on track
Offshore wind farm proposal’s fate became uncertain after it faced delays under Trump
By Jon Chesto, Boston Globe
February 3, 2021

The long-delayed Vineyard Wind offshore project has been put back on track by the Biden administration.

In one of her first actions as the new director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Amanda Lefton pledged on Wednesday to conduct a “robust and timely” review of Vineyard Wind and essentially resume the permitting process where it left off in December. That’s when the developers of Vineyard Wind withdrew their proposal for a wind farm that could generate 800 megawatts of electricity, enough power for more than 400,000 homes, to be built about 12 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard. Soon after Joe Biden became president last month, the developers rescinded their withdrawal and requested that BOEM resume its review.

Vineyard Wind, a joint venture of Avangrid and Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners, was to be the first major offshore wind farm in the United States. It would be financed through contracts with three major Massachusetts electric utilities. But the project ran into delays under the Trump administration, after commercial fishermen raised concerns that the giant turbines would be hazardous to their work.

The developers have changed the turbines they plan to use. The nearly $3 billion project will now include 62 of Boston-based General Electric’s Haliade-X turbines. A spokesman for Vineyard Wind said the project is still on track to obtain financing this year, with a goal of getting built in time to generate power by the end of 2023.

Katie Theoharides, Governor Charlie Baker’s energy secretary, praised the federal agency’s decision to keep the Vineyard Wind project moving along.

“This puts Vineyard Wind, an 800-megawatt project that really kicked off the gold rush for the offshore industry here in the US, once again back in the position to deliver on that promise of clean, affordable energy and jobs here in Massachusetts,” she said. “It’s a very good indictor for all of the projects up and down the eastern seaboard.”

Theoharides said the Baker administration expects Massachusetts will need 15 gigawatts of offshore wind power by 2050 to help meet the state’s goal of achieving “net zero” carbon emissions by that date. That’s 10 times the amount of offshore wind power that is under contract today in Massachusetts, including through Vineyard Wind and a similar-sized offshore proposal called Mayflower Wind. The administration and the utilities are authorized to offer contracts for another 1.6 gigawatts.
» Read article

Martin Green
Australia’s Martin Green awarded prestigious Japan Prize for work as ‘Father of solar PV’
By Michael Mazengarb, Renew Economy
February 1, 2021

The University of New South Wales’ professor Martin Green has been awarded the prestigious Japan Prize for his work leading pioneering research into solar PV technologies.

Professor Green was awarded the 2021 Japan Prize in the category of “Resources, Energy, the Environment, and Social Infrastructure”, in recognition the more than four decades of research undertaken at UNSW, that developed technologies now ubiquitous in most commercially available solar panels.

“It’s a privilege to receive this award, which serves as a reminder that the quest for inexpensive, renewable energy is a global quest seeking to sustain the trajectory of human civilisation on our shared planet,” professor Green said in a statement.

“I’d like to pay tribute to the thousands of solar researchers who have worked in the field for many years, including those at UNSW and elsewhere who have helped not just make PERC [solar cells] a reality but solar now the cheapest source of bulk electricity supply.”

Green oversaw the creation of a dedicated solar research group at the University of New South Wales in the 1970s.

The research team, which featured members who would also establish themselves as some of Australia’s leading solar researchers, successfully held the world record for conventional silicon solar cell efficiency for several decades, outperforming much larger international research organisations.

Green’s research group produced the first solar cells with an efficiency above 20 per cent in 1989, and the research team held world silicon solar efficiency record for 30 of the last 38 years.

The research led to dramatic improvements in solar cell designs and has underpinned the progress that has seen solar power rank amongst the cheapest sources of electricity generation in history.

The work has led Green to be dubbed “the father of modern photovoltaics”, with Green beating the likes of Tesla CEO Elon Musk to be awarded another leading technology prize, the Global Energy Prize, in 2018.
» Read article

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

net zero makes sense
Baker take note: Net zero buildings make sense

Cities can get high-quality housing at no extra cost
By Meredith Elbaum, CommonWealth Magazine | Opinion
February 3, 2021

THERE HAS BEEN a lot of misinformation flying around regarding Gov. Baker’s veto of groundbreaking climate legislation this month, but nothing has been more egregious than claims that provisions related to building codes in the bill would stall economic progress in Massachusetts.

Now that the bill is back on Gov. Charlie Baker’s desk, it’s time to set the record straight.

The fact is, Massachusetts can build residential and commercial buildings more quickly and more affordably when following net zero standards, particularly if these buildings are bypassing polluting gas. According to a review of construction in Massachusetts conducted by Built Environment Plus, our state is already building zero-emissions buildings today at no additional upfront cost. The return on investment for building new zero emissions office buildings can be as little as one year.

These cost-findings were confirmed by the city of Boston, which examined how new affordable housing could be constructed to cleaner, pollution-free standards. In its assessment, the city found that there was little-to-no cost increase for building to zero emission building standards, and that available rebates and incentives could actually make the buildings less expensive to construct. These homes and buildings also then locked in long-term operational savings.

So the good news is, if cities are allowed to adopt net zero stretch codes, Massachusetts will receive higher-quality housing at no extra cost. To increase cost-savings even further, Massachusetts should ensure that no new homes or buildings are connected to the state’s aging and risky gas system. Fossil fuel hookups slow down permitting and the construction process, and according to think tank Rocky Mountain Institute, can cost upwards of $15,000 or more in construction costs, depending on the building type.

The cost-savings associated with going pollution-free should be very encouraging for Baker and the real estate industry as they look for ways to lower up-front costs and build more quickly as we recover from the COVID-19 economic recession.
» Read article
» Read summary of climate bill on Governor Baker’s desk            

Pepper Pike home
DOE, House Energy committee question proposed building energy code changes
Increased involvement by local and state officials led to efficiency gains, prompting pushback from the building industry.
By Alex Ruppenthal, Energy News Network
Photo By AP Photo/Tony Dejak
February 1, 2021

The organization responsible for developing model building energy codes is facing growing pressure to reconsider proposed changes that would limit the role of state and local governments in approving future updates.

More than 200 stakeholders submitted comments ahead of the International Code Council’s Jan. 21 board meeting, with about three-quarters of them opposing a plan to overhaul the process for approving its triennial updates.

Meanwhile, the organization received a letter from the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee requesting answers to several questions related to the proposed changes and the influence of industry groups like the National Association of Home Builders on the process. A U.S. Department of Energy official raised similar questions at the recent meeting.

“We at DOE don’t currently have a comprehensive justification for why it’s needed,” said Jeremy Williams, a program specialist with DOE’s Building Technologies Office. “We’d ask ICC to further demonstrate where exactly the current process fails and how the proposed process would proceed.”

The changes would strip voting rights from thousands of public sector members and leave final say over future energy codes up to a committee made up of building code officials, industry groups and other stakeholders, with some spots for clean energy advocates. Any one stakeholder interest group could not account for more than a third of the committee’s members.

The proposed overhaul was set in motion last fall after industry groups representing homebuilders and developers raised concerns over the recently completed code development cycle, which saw record online voting turnout by state and local government officials, resulting in the code’s biggest efficiency gains in at least a decade.
» Read article            

» More about energy efficiency

ENERGY STORAGE

Li recycling takes off
Lithium-Ion Battery Recycling Finally Takes Off in North America and Europe
Li-Cycle, Northvolt, and Ganfeng Lithium are among those building recycling plants, spurred by environmental and supply-chain concerns
By Jean Kumagai, IEEE Spectrum
January 5, 2021

Later this year, the Canadian firm Li-Cycle will begin constructing a US $175 million plant in Rochester, N.Y., on the grounds of what used to be the  Eastman Kodak complex. When completed, it will be the largest lithium-ion battery-recycling plant in North America.

The plant will have an eventual capacity of 25 metric kilotons of input material, recovering 95 percent or more of the cobalt, nickel, lithium, and other valuable elements through the company’s zero-wastewater, zero-emissions process. “We’ll be one of the largest domestic sources of nickel and lithium, as well as the only source of cobalt in the United States,” says Ajay Kochhar, Li-Cycle’s cofounder and CEO.

Founded in late 2016, the company is part of a booming industry focused on preventing tens of thousands of tons of lithium-ion batteries from entering landfills. Of the 180,000 metric tons of Li-ion batteries available for recycling worldwide in 2019, just a little over half were recycled. As lithium-ion battery production soars, so does interest in recycling.

According to London-based Circular Energy Storage, a consultancy that tracks the lithium-ion battery-recycling market, about a hundred companies worldwide recycle lithium-ion batteries or plan to do so soon. The industry is concentrated in China and South Korea, where the vast majority of the batteries are also made, but there are several dozen recycling startups in North America and Europe. In addition to Li-Cycle, that list includes Stockholm-based Northvolt, which is jointly building an EV-battery-recycling plant with Norway’s Hydro, and Tesla alum J.B. Straubel’s Redwood Materials, which has a broader scope of recycling electronic waste.

These startups aim to automate, streamline, and clean up what has been a labor-intensive, inefficient, and dirty process. Traditionally, battery recycling involves either burning them to recover some of the metals, or else grinding the batteries up and treating the resulting “black mass” with solvents.

Battery recycling doesn’t just need to be cleaner—it also needs to be reliably profitable, says Jeff Spangenberger, director of the ReCell Center, a battery-recycling research collaboration supported by the U.S. Department of Energy. “Recycling batteries is better than if we mine new materials and throw the batteries away,” Spangenberger says. “But recycling companies have trouble making profits. We need to make it cost effective, so that people have an incentive to bring their batteries back.”
» Read article

» More about energy storage

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

demand charge reconsideredMassachusetts asks utilities for ways to avoid bill spikes from EV fast-charging
A new state law requires utilities to propose alternatives to help customers avoid large demand charges that can come with installing electric vehicle fast-chargers.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
Photo By Ken Fields via Creative Commons
February 1, 2021

Massachusetts is asking utilities to come up with new ways to tally the bill for customers with electric vehicle fast-charging stations that won’t punish them for drawing electricity in sporadic bursts.

“I don’t think I can stress enough how much of a game-changer this legislation is for electric transportation,” said Kevin Miller, director of public policy at charging station company ChargePoint. “This is going to make it easier for everyone in Massachusetts to drive and ride in electric cars and buses.”

The new policy is part of the comprehensive transportation bill signed into law by Gov. Charlie Baker earlier this month. The goal is to smooth the way for the growth of fast-charging infrastructure, which has been slowed in part by the potential to trigger big increases in monthly utility bills.

As Massachusetts works toward the goal of going carbon-neutral by 2050, transportation, which is responsible for around 40% of the state’s carbon emissions, is a major target for action. Electrifying private cars and trucks, fleet vehicles, and public transportation is a central element of the state’s strategy.

The state has set a goal of putting 300,000 electric vehicles in service by 2025, but is still well short of that number. While it is difficult to determine the exact number of electric vehicles on the road right now, it is likely somewhere between 20,000 and 25,000 of the more than 5 million vehicles registered in the state.

Many drivers are hesitant to make the leap to an electric car because they worry it won’t be able to drive far enough between charges, a concern known as “range anxiety.”

A possible solution to this barrier is the installation of more direct current (DC) fast chargers, which can power up an electric vehicle to 80% full in 20 minutes. They are generally located in public spots like malls, supermarkets, and interstate service areas, where drivers can power up while they buy their groceries or grab a coffee.

“These stations are vital components of the successful electric vehicle adoption strategy,” Miller said.

At the moment, however, there are just 90 publically available fast-charging stations in the state, offering a total of 345 outlets.

The economics of demand charges partially explain the lag. Demand charges are a component of commercial and industrial electric bills that assesses a fee based on the highest amount of energy used in any 15-minute period throughout the month. They are designed to make sure customers are paying their fair share to keep the grid ready to deliver even in times of high demand.

“The cost of delivering electricity is based on the cost of building systems to meet customers’ maximum demand,” said Kevin Boughan, manager of clean energy strategy and business development for utility Eversource. “That’s why demand charges exist.”

There is widespread agreement, however, that traditional demand charges don’t make sense for fast-charging stations, at least not yet. These stations just aren’t used that often, so demand charges can constitute a disproportionate portion of owners’ bills — as high as 80% to 90% — often making it financially unfeasible to offer fast charging.

“The utilities are operating on an old model that wasn’t designed to fit this use,” said Sarah Krame, associate attorney for the Sierra Club. “Demand charges are a really significant burden on direct-current fast charging site operators.”
» Read article

GM CEO Barra
In a Major Move Away From Fossil Fuels, General Motors Aims to Stop Selling Gasoline Cars and SUVs by 2035
The corporation’s zero emission goal is based on technological advances that have lowered the cost of electric vehicles and policies requiring emissions cuts, analysts say.
By Dan Gearino, InsideClimate News
January 29, 2021

General Motors, the largest U.S. automaker and long a king of gas guzzlers, has a new aspiration: The corporation wants to stop selling gasoline and diesel vehicles by 2035.

The goal, announced on Thursday, is in line with GM’s recent actions indicating a desire to move away from internal combustion engines and invest heavily in electric vehicles, but it’s still a striking change for a company that has built much of its brand image and profits on SUVs like the Chevrolet Suburban and Cadillac Escalade.

GM’s push to eliminate tailpipe emissions is part of a larger plan by the company, also announced on Thursday, to get to carbon neutrality by 2040.

With the new timetable, GM joins Volkswagen as among the largest makers of gasoline vehicles to announce a fundamental shift to cut emissions. Analysts attribute the change to advances in technology that are making EVs more affordable and a global policy trend toward requiring companies to cut emissions.

GM’s announcement is “a big deal in the sense that you have now a single set of planning targets that apply to the entire company, and it’s timed very carefully to resonate with the important political debates that are happening right now,” said David Victor, an international relations professor at the University of California, San Diego and a co-chair of the Brookings Institution’s energy and climate initiative.

It probably is no coincidence, he said, that GM is aspiring to get to zero tailpipe emissions in the same year, 2035, that the Biden administration had identified as a target for several of its climate goals. Also, California Gov. Gavin Newsom issued an executive order last year saying the state would ban the sale of new gasoline and diesel vehicles in 2035.

GM’s 2035 target includes light duty vehicles, which are most of the cars, pickups and SUVs GM sells, but does not include heavy trucks.

GM is indicating that it wants to work with the administration and also wants help from the federal government to make sure the country has the charging infrastructure needed for such a major change, Victor said.
» Read article

» More about clean transportation

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

America misledHow to spot the tricks Big Oil uses to subvert action on climate change
Three ways fossil fuel companies try to trick the public.
By Jariel Arvin, Vox
February 1, 2021

In his first week in office, President Joe Biden committed to an all-of-government approach to tackle climate change, signing executive orders recommitting the US to the Paris climate agreement, pausing new leases for oil and gas companies on federal land, and stating his intention to conserve 30 percent of federal lands by 2030.

Yet while Biden’s climate actions have been lauded by many, there are some, often with connections to the fossil fuel industry, who strongly oppose taking stronger action on climate.

Many such detractors use common oil industry talking points in their arguments — talking points that have been developed in collaboration with PR firms and lobbyists to undercut clean energy policies and prolong dependence on fossil fuels.

A 2019 report by researchers at George Mason, Harvard University, and the University of Bristol describes how the fossil fuel industry deliberately misled the public by funding climate denial research and campaigns, all while knowing for decades that human-induced climate change exists.

Aware of the science but afraid of the impacts it might have on their returns, oil executives funded opposition research that “attacked consensus and exaggerated the uncertainties” on the science of climate change for many years, with the goal of undermining support for climate action.

Their messaging has worked for so long because Big Oil has become really good at stretching the truth.

“What’s really important to keep in mind is that part of the reason that oil and gas propaganda is so effective is that there is always a grain of truth to it,” said Genevieve Guenther, the founder of End Climate Silence, an organization that works to promote accurate media coverage of the climate crisis.

“I call it ‘sort of true,’ where there’s something about the messaging that’s true, but that grain of truth gets developed into a whole tangle of lies that obscure the real story,” she said.

Guenther, originally a professor of Renaissance literature, is also working on a book titled The Language of Climate Change. I spoke with her to get a better understanding of how to recognize — and counter — Big Oil propaganda.

As the Biden administration takes important steps to address the climate emergency, the fossil fuel industry and its allies in the media will be ramping up the misinformation campaign to skew public opinion and get in the way of climate policy. Fox News has already started.

Which is why it’s more important than ever to be aware of the tools oil and gas companies use to cloud the issue.

My conversation with Guenther, edited for length and clarity, is below.

Jariel Arvin: So what are the talking points the oil industry uses to try to convince the public in these PR blitzes?

Genevieve Guenther: People can recognize fossil fuel industry talking points by thinking about what they’re designed to do. In general, fossil fuel talking points are designed to do three things: make people believe that climate action will hurt them, and hurt their pocketbooks in particular; make people think we need fossil fuels; and try to convince us that climate change isn’t such a big deal.
» Read article            
» Read “America Misled”, the 2019 report on industry-funded climate denial

KYRAKATINGO
How U.S. Crude Oil Exports Are Hastening the Demise of the Oil Industry
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
January 28, 2021

When Congress lifted the export ban on U.S. crude oil in December of 2015 to allow for exports beginning in 2016, the oil industry celebrated. However, looking back at the impact of lifting the 40-year-old ban, it appears the move has helped hasten the financial demise of the U.S. oil industry — while also increasing the industry’s huge contribution to climate change.

In many ways, the U.S. oil and gas industry’s demise is self-inflicted. When historians look back upon its declines, lifting the export ban will likely mark a turning point where the industry made a huge bet on the profitability of fracking for oil in the U.S. — and subsequently began to dig its own grave.

“Opening the shale revolution to the world through the export ban lifting helped shift the global oil market psychology from supply scarcity to abundance,” Karim Fawaz, director of research and analysis for energy at IHS Markit, told Bloomberg in early 2021. “It unshackled the U.S. industry to keep growing past its domestic refining limitations.”

Now, not only is the U.S. shale oil industry failing financially and facing debts it likely can’t repay, but calls are growing for the new Biden administration to reinstate the crude oil export ban — which President Biden could do immediately under a national emergency declaration.

This would effectively put a limit on the U.S. fracking industry — and be a big step in reducing the industry’s contributions to climate change. It would also restrain the industry from simply producing as much oil as fast as possible, something investors have been lobbying for the last several years. That’s because this approach has led to the loss of over $340 billion since 2010. Investors hope imposing fiscal restraint on the U.S. fracking industry will result in companies producing less oil overall but finally producing some profits.

Lifting the crude oil export ban to allow exports beginning in 2016 unleashed the U.S. fracking industry to produce as much oil as possible because it opened access to global markets with a long list of willing buyers of cheap U.S. crude oil.

It was a seismic change for the U.S. oil industry and built on the excitement of what was being called the fracking miracle; investors continued to lend large sums to the industry to produce record amounts of oil, betting on the promise of future profits to pay back the debt.

The profits never materialized despite the record amounts of oil being produced and now it appears that most of the best U.S. shale oil deposits were drained in that effort.
» Read article

» More about fossil fuel           

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

Goldboro LNG
Pieridae Energy to build Goldboro LNG plant, Nova Scotia
By Bruce Lantz, Resource World
January 29, 2021

Canada’s ability to provide oil and natural gas to its citizens markets abroad is being hindered by the lack of pipeline infrastructure, say industry producers.

“Canada is in the unique position of having abundant natural resources but currently insufficient pipelines and other infrastructure needed to transport Canadian oil and natural gas, and ideally increase exports to the United States and global markets,” said Jay Averill, media relations manager with the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP).

An example of this shortfall is the need for Pieridae Energy Ltd. [PEA-TSX] to import natural gas from the U.S. for its planned $10-billion liquefied natural gas processing facility in Goldboro, Nova Scotia.

While Western Canada features some pipelines in that area, the lack of a pipeline from the West to Eastern Canada means Pieridae must bring product from the U.S. through the Maritimes Northeast Pipeline.

“CAPP is fully supportive of the development of LNG export facilities on Canada’s East Coast,” said Averill. “The LNG industry can become an important source of much-needed jobs in Atlantic Canada, and having the capacity to export LNG off of Canada’s East Coast could offer a future market for Canadian natural gas.”

Averill noted that the total marketable natural gas in the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin is estimated to be 988 trillion cubic feet (tcf), while the rest of Canada holds 223 tcf, a total of 1,220 tcf which CAPP estimates can meet Canada’s domestic demand for 300 years. [Yikes!!! – blog editor’s comment]

“If Canada is going to succeed at becoming a sought-after global energy supplier, additional infrastructure is essential,” he said.

“Canadian producers are looking to increase market share and Canada has vast resources that can offer an affordable and reliable supply of natural gas, which is among the lowest-emissions, most responsibly produced natural gas in the entire world. Unfortunately, a lack of infrastructure is limiting our ability to get Western Canadian product to our own East Coast. CAPP has been vocal in expressing the great need for increased pipeline capacity and new infrastructure.”
» Blog editor’s note: This article offers a snapshot into the mindset of the natural gas / LNG industry – one that assumes energy reserves must and will be extracted and burned, as demanded by an outdated business model that sacrifices a livable planet for the sake of profit. CAPP’s biggest concern is pipeline capacity. Climate activists know that stopping pipeline construction in Canada, as in the U.S., is critically important.
» Read article

safety unfactored
Regulators Discuss LNG-by-Rail Safety Concerns — After Approving New Rule To Allow Transporting LNG by Rail
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
January 26, 2021

New regulations were announced by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) in July 2020 allowing the transportation of liquefied natural gas (LNG) by rail.

That same month, PHMSA released the interim report for its LNG-by-rail task force. It concluded: “The task force did not identify any new safety gaps related to the transportation of LNG in tank cars.”

And yet, it stated, “PHMSA and FRA will continue to pursue research and testing efforts designed to reduce the risks inherent in LNG transportation and hazmat transportation more broadly.”

As part of that continued work, this month, PHMSA held public meetings with a committee from the National Academies of Sciences (NAS) to discuss the “Safe Transportation of Liquefied Natural Gas by Railroad Tank Car.”  (The NAS committee was announced a month before the new LNG-by-rail rule was finalized.) What’s more, earlier this year PHMSA stated that safety wasn’t a pretext for regulation.

The LNG-by-rail regulation fast-tracked by the Trump administration was a gift to the gas and rail industries. The regulation was pushed through without proper safety considerations at a time when there isn’t even any current demand for the moving LNG by rail. The fact that a regulation to move such a dangerous material was approved six months before public meetings began to discuss if moving LNG by rail could be done safely indicates how broken the U.S. regulatory system is — and how it is failing to do its job of protecting the public.

But this is nothing new with PHMSA. Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) has been an [advocate] for new pipeline safety regulations from PHMSA for years. Her Congressional testimony on the matter includes her assessment of PHMSA and the U.S. regulatory system.

“The system is fundamentally broken,” Speier testified in 2015. “PHMSA is actually a toothless kitten, a fluffy industry pet that frightens absolutely no one.”
» Read article           
» Related press release: DeFazio and Malinowski Applaud President Biden for Prioritizing Scrutiny of Reckless Trump Rule to Permit LNG Transport by Rail Tank Car       

» More about LNG

BIOMASS

Amherst action on biomassAmherst Town Council asked to oppose Springfield wood-burning plant
By SCOTT MERZBACH, gazettenet.com
February 2, 2021

The Town Council may soon take a stand against the proposed biomass power plant in Springfield.

The Amherst League of Women Voters is asking councilors to adopt a resolution at their Feb. 8 meeting protesting the wood-burning power plant being developed by Palmer Renewable Energy.

The resolution states that the opposition would be due to “the irreparable harm it would cause to the environment and human health.” It also calls for the state to not offer subsidies or other incentives to support such power plants, and for legislators to pass legislation permanently banning large-scale wood biomass power plants in Massachusetts.

Though the company has the phrase “renewable energy” in its title, the local League of Women voters chapter is making the case that the power plant would increase hazardous pollution in the region and emit more carbon dioxide than coal burning.

League member Martha Hanner wrote in an email the resolution is important because, if constructed, the plant would release significant amounts of respirable particulates and potentially harm mature forests that sequester carbon dioxide.

“Massachusetts is poised to become either a good example in the fight to control CO2 emissions or a very bad example,” Hanner wrote.

Endorsed unanimously by the town’s Energy and Climate Action Committee, the resolution comes as Gov. Charlie Baker has put forward regulations that would allow the plant to receive renewable energy credits under the state’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards.
» Read article

» More about biomass

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