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Weekly News Check-In 4/23/21

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Welcome back.

As part of our Put Peakers in the Past campaign, we’re keeping an eye on a new gas peaking power plant proposed for Peabody on Boston’s north shore. Plans drawn up six years ago are now moving through the permitting process. But much has changed in that brief time, and today it’s very hard to justify building any new gas peakers. The combination of affordable battery storage, energy efficiency measures, and demand response tends to outperform even the most advanced gas plants on all counts: cost, maintenance, grid services, emissions, and environmental justice. Stakeholders are complaining about a lack of transparency by the developer, and pressing for a fresh review of that project.

French and Chinese oil majors received approval to build the East Africa Crude Oil Pipeline, to transport heavy, sludgy crude from at least 130 proposed wells inside Uganda’s largest national park, 900 miles to Tanzania’s Indian Ocean coast. Every part of this project is an ecological disaster, and is widely opposed. Still, it’s moving ahead.

Our divestment section offers a surprising report that shows U.S. gas producers bucking the broader industry trend of tighter, more expensive financing options. In spite of mounting risks associate with litigation and stranded assets, investors appear to remain bullish on gas. Meanwhile, Congress is holding hearings as it fleshes out President Biden’s proposed infrastructure legislation, and getting calls to immediately end all fossil fuel subsidies.

Yesterday was Earth Day, when many of us do a little extra thinking about the sustainability of our lifestyles – and make plans to do better. And while committing to taking public transportation or switching to electric vehicles, or insulating and electrifying our homes are all important, these efforts will only become part of a green economy when government and business make real and lasting moves toward sustainability. We may be at a moment when at least some of those players finally see climate change as an urgent priority. We will be watching the upcoming COP26 climate summit closely – but what happens afterward is the only thing that matters.

Strategies now exist for reliable ways to integrate many sources of clean energy into the modern grid. Now we’re faced with hard decisions about exactly where to locate acres and acres of solar arrays. Our need for solar energy requires a total area that far exceeds available rooftops, parking lots, retired landfills, and other “disturbed” real estate – and resistance to the coming solar buildout is already mounting.

Of course, maximizing energy efficiency reduces pressure to convert agricultural land to solar fields. Look no farther than new commercial and residential buildings to see that Massachusetts’ optional net-zero energy stretch code is a big part of the solution. Experience already shows that multi-unit affordable housing can be built to net-zero with virtually no increase in up-front cost, along with greatly-reduced maintenance and utility costs over the property’s lifetime. In this section, we acknowledge the accomplishment of developer Betsy Harper, who has completed the first-in-the-world net-zero energy Victorian-style home to Passive House standards. Ms. Harper’s project proves that ultra-high performance can be achieved in a wide variety of building styles.

News about energy storage tends to center on grid-scale lithium-ion battery installations, but it’s much more varied than that. We found two articles that demonstrate some of that diversity – including deploying smaller battery installations in specific high-congestion locations, and using advanced compressed air energy systems (no batteries at all!) to generate electricity during periods of peak demand.

The fossil fuel industry has a major problem with radioactive waste, especially associated with fracking operations. We found some excellent investigative reporting on where that stuff actually goes. And ahead of President Biden’s Leaders Summit on Climate this week, a group of 101 Nobel laureates published a letter urging world leaders and governments to “keep fossil fuels in the ground”. The group includes winners in the peace, chemistry, physics, and medicine categories, who consider this a critical first step toward addressing the climate emergency.

In a similar action, more than 200 environmental groups from 27 states urged President Joe Biden to halt the export of liquefied natural gas from six U.S. ports and stop the development of almost two dozen more, in an effort to curtail the expansion of natural gas infrastructure worldwide.

Closer to home, the Baker administration seems to be backing away from some of its earlier support for biomass. Now that the Palmer Renewable Energy biomass generating plant in Springfield has been stopped by the Department of Environmental Protection, it looks like the rush to include biomass in the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard is being reconsidered. Climate and environmental activists argue that it should be removed from the RPS altogether.

We close with an update on plastics recycling, and conclude that it’s till broken. This story relates to our Earth Day article calling for government and corporations to step up and solve some of the problems that just can’t be addressed by individuals.

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

Denver7 peaker plants
The Promising Future Of Battery Storage On The U.S. Grid
Battery storage is becoming a more viable tool for meeting peaks in energy demand — and it could do it in a greener, healthier way than fossil plants.
By Evan Thomas and Cliff Judy, Denver Channel 7 (abc)
April 19, 2021

Today, when demand for energy surges, many utilities will turn to so-called “peaker plants” powered by fossil fuels. But high-capacity batteries are starting to meet more of that demand — and that could help clean up some of the dirtiest parts of the U.S. grid.

“They charge overnight or in the late morning,” says Paul Denholm, principal energy analyst at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. “They are fully charged by that 3, 4 p.m. period, and they can start to discharge to replace the energy that would have otherwise been generated from a peaking power plant.”

Grid-scale batteries can now more often compete on cost with fossil power plants and with pumped water storage. They’re more often being installed with renewable power sources, which makes solar and wind energy more flexible.

And renewable-charged batteries are far cleaner than peaker plants — which can be heavy polluters even by fossil power standards.

Elena Krieger, director of research at Physicians, Scientists and Engineers for Healthy Energy, says: “One of the particular issues that we see with peaker power plants … is that a lot of them have higher emission rates for every megawatt hour of electricity generated than for some of your more baseload plants.”

Research into peaker plants across the U.S. has shown that a disproportionate number of these dirty plants are in disadvantaged communities. Large or even smaller distributed batteries could help meet community power needs in a much healthier, more environmentally just way.
» Read article             

lack of transparency
Column: Peak electricity demand — stoke it or shave it
By Carolyn Britt, Ipswich Local News | Opinion
April 16, 2021

On April 2, Governor Baker signed a ground-breaking energy bill that establishes a roadmap for Massachusetts to achieve “net zero” fossil fuel emissions by 2050. Alongside his earlier executive order setting goals for 2050 and the state’s Global Warming Solutions Act, enacted in 2008, the new law details Massachusetts’ firm commitment to reducing carbon emissions.

Why, then, is the Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Corporation (MMWEC), the entity that provides wholesale electricity to the Ipswich Electric Light Department and nineteen other municipally owned electric light plants (MLPs), proposing a new gas- and oil-burning peaking power plant in Peabody?

The Peabody peaking plant will burn fossil fuels — natural gas and oil — to produce 60 megawatts of electricity during periods of peak electricity demand, estimated at about 200 and no more than 500 hours a year.

The new law specifies that an environmental impact report is required for a facility seeking an air quality permit that is located within five miles of an environmental justice neighborhood. The Peabody peaking plant, however, would be located within a mile from two environmental justice neighborhoods that are already burdened by high rates of air pollution and noisy industrial facilities. But because the project’s permit piggybacks on an existing Peabody power plant, the state’s requirement is inconsistent with the new law.

The project also seems to encompass a serious lack of local transparency. With its non-descriptive name — Project 2015a — and the authority to enter into contracts with municipal light department managers without community review, some participating communities knew nothing about it.

MMWEC is seeking to bond about $85 million for construction with authorization from the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities. Debt service on the bond would not conclude until after 2050 — beyond the year Massachusetts has committed to achieving net-zero emissions.

Instead of investing in a new fossil-fuel powered plant, MMWEC could be joining forward-looking utilities, investing in renewable energy linked to battery installations to address peak demand.

When MMWEC began to plan the Peabody peaking plant six years ago, it may have seemed like a suitable way to provide peak demand power for their members. Since then, however, the energy landscape has changed dramatically. Utilities today have options. Investing in a new fossil-fueled power plant that won’t be paid off until after 2050 seems not only bad for climate trends but fiscally questionable.
» Read article
» Read about climate-friendly alternatives and sign the MA Climate Action Network petition

» More about peakers

PIPELINES

savanna elephant
Total’s East African oil pipeline to go ahead despite stiff opposition
By Mongabay
April 19, 2021

The Ugandan and Tanzanian governments have signed agreements with French oil major Total and China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) to build a 1,400-kilometer (900-mile) pipeline from Uganda’s Murchison Falls National Park to the Tanzanian port of Tanga on the Indian Ocean. The pipeline’s critics say 2,000 square kilometers (770 square miles) of protected areas will be impacted and 12,000 families displaced from their land.

If completed, the $3.5 billion pipeline will transport heavy crude from more than 130 wells inside Uganda’s largest national park, which is home to threatened African elephants and lions, a formidable population of Nile crocodiles, and more than 400 bird species. Conservationists say it won’t just threaten wildlife but that it flies in the face of efforts to curb global warming by locking in investment in a dirty fuel.

“We have been working in the oil-rich subregion of Uganda. It’s not a desert, like many oil mining spaces, but rather a high biodiversity area,” Atuheire Brian at the African Initiative on Food Security & Environment (AIFE) told Mongabay in an email. “We can’t afford to have agreements signed in secrecy, and that’s the case for Uganda.”

Total has a majority stake in the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) project, with the Uganda National Oil Company, CNOOC, and Tanzania Petroleum Development Corporation being minority stakeholders.
» Read article             

» More about pipelines

DIVESTMENT

easy money
As climate concerns grow, how is it getting cheaper to finance gas in the US?
By Justin Guay, Utility Dive | Opinion
April 20, 2021

It appears global financial institutions are beginning to price in the energy transition and associated climate risks — except when it comes to oil and gas.

That’s a key finding of an important new study released by a team of researchers led by Ben Caldecott at the University of Oxford Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment. Poring over financial transaction data that spans two decades, the team sought to answer a basic question — are financial markets pricing in climate risk? The answer it turns out is not that simple and frankly, a bit disturbing.

First the good news — clean energy finance is getting cheaper and coal finance is getting awfully expensive. The most eye popping results the study had to offer were in global loan spreads for thermal coal power generation, which saw an increase of 38% over the past decade plus. When compared to the spreads for offshore wind, which declined 24% over the same time period, it’s clear that lenders have turned on thermal coal generation, making it increasingly more expensive to build and operate. But while coal is receiving the brunt of investor scrutiny, the oil and gas industry has not suffered the same fate.

The big counterintuitive finding from the Oxford team is that while financing costs for coal have gone up, they haven’t budged for oil and gas. In fact, for certain segments of the oil and gas industry in certain parts of the world, they’ve actually fallen. Yes, just as the world is beginning to grapple with the unfolding climate crisis, financing new oil and gas infrastructure has been largely untouched by financier concerns — or even steadily getting cheaper.
» Read article             

» More about divestment                    

LEGISLATION

common senseFossil fuel subsidies are a ‘disgrace’, Greta Thunberg tells US House panel
Climate activist asked to speak at hearing as part of push by Democrats to include fossil fuel subsidy elimination in bill
By Oliver Milman, The Guardian
April 22, 2021

Subsidies given to fossil fuel companies are a “disgrace” and must be immediately ended, Greta Thunberg, the Swedish climate activist, has told a US congressional committee.

A sweeping $2tn infrastructure plan put forward by Joe Biden has proposed the rolling back of support and tax breaks for oil, gas and coal producers to help lower planet-heating emissions and pay for new investments. Eliminating such subsidies would bring in $35bn to the US government over a decade, according to the Biden administration.

Thunberg, testifying to the House oversight committee on Earth Day on Thursday, said it was incredible that fossil fuels were subsidized given the climate crisis.

“It is the year 2021. The fact we are still having this discussion and even more that we are still subsidizing fossil fuels using taxpayer money is a disgrace,” said the 18-year-old. “It’s clear proof that we have not understood the climate emergency at all.”

Thunberg, who sparked the global climate school strike protest movement, was asked to speak to the committee as part of a push by Democrats to including fossil fuel subsidy elimination in an infrastructure bill.

Ro Khanna, a House Democrat from California, said he was committed to ending the subsidies. “They are out of date and they must end,” he said.

The fossil fuel industry currently gets a range of assistance, including tax breaks for drilling costs and tax deductions for if their reserve of resources falls in value over time. Last year, the industry got further tax code breaks due to the Covid-19 pandemic – a financial boost that did not stop many of them shedding tens of thousands of jobs.

This direct and indirect help can be added up in different ways but, globally, the International Monetary Fund has said that such subsidies total more than $5tn a year if the cost of the pollution freely emitted is also considered.

Thunberg said there was a “huge gap” between what countries are doing to cut emissions and what is required to avoid the world heating up by more than 1.5C, a key goal of the Paris climate accords. “The uncomfortable fact is if we are to live up to our Paris agreement promises we have to end fossil fuel subsidies, end new exploration, completely divest from fossil fuels and keep the carbon in the ground,” said Thunberg.
» Read article             

» More about legislation

GREENING THE ECONOMY

bails
Spare Yourself the Guilt Trip This Earth Day – It’s Companies That Need to Clean Up Their Acts
By Courtney Lindwall, Natural Resources Defense Council, in EcoWatch | Opinion
April 18, 2021

Coined in the 1970s, the classic Earth Day mantra “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” has encouraged consumers to take stock of the materials they buy, use, and often quickly pitch — all in the name of curbing pollution and saving the earth’s resources. Most of us listened, or lord knows we tried. We’ve carried totes and refused straws and dutifully rinsed yogurt cartons before placing them in the appropriately marked bins. And yet, nearly half a century later, the United States still produces more than 35 million tons of plastic annually, and sends more and more of it into our oceans, lakes, soils, and bodies.

Clearly, something isn’t working, but as a consumer, I’m sick of the weight of those millions of tons of trash falling squarely on consumers’ shoulders. While I’ll continue to do my part, it’s high time that the companies profiting from all this waste also step up and help us deal with their ever-growing footprint on our planet.

There are currently no laws that require manufacturers to help pay for expensive recycling programs or make the process easier, but a promising trend is emerging. Earlier this year, New York legislators Todd Kaminsky and Steven Englebright proposed a bill—the “Extended Producer Responsibility Act”—that would make manufacturers in the state responsible for the disposal of their products.

Other laws exist in some states for hazardous wastes, such as electronics, car batteries, paint, and pesticide containers. Paint manufacturers in nearly a dozen states, for example, must manage easy-access recycling drop-off sites for leftover paint. Those laws have so far kept more than 16 million gallons of paint from contaminating the environment. But for the first time, manufacturers could soon be on the hook for much broader categories of trash—including everyday paper, metal, glass, and plastic packaging—by paying fees to the municipalities that run waste management systems. In addition to New York, the states of California, Washington, and Colorado also currently have such bills in the works.
» Read article             

climate change adviser
Biden Is Pushing a Climate Agenda. Gina McCarthy Has to Make It Stick.
Gina McCarthy, Barack Obama’s E.P.A. chief, could only watch as the Trump administration dismantled her climate work. Now, she’s back with another chance to build a lasting legacy.
By Coral Davenport, New York Times
April 20, 2021

Gina McCarthy worked six or seven days a week, 12 to 14 hours a day, to produce America’s first real effort to combat climate change, a suite of Obama-era regulations that would cut pollution from the nation’s tailpipes and smokestacks and wean the world’s largest economy from fossil fuels.

Then the administration of Donald J. Trump shredded the work of President Barack Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency chief before any of it could take effect.

Ms. McCarthy is back, as President Biden’s senior climate change adviser, and this time, she is determined to make it stick.

She is the most powerful climate change official in the country other than Mr. Biden himself, and her charge is not simply to reconstruct her Obama-era policies but to lead an entire government to tackle global warming, from the nation’s military to its diplomatic corps to its Treasury and Transportation Department. She will also lead negotiations with Congress for permanent new climate change laws that could withstand the next change of administration.

“I’ve got a small stronghold office, but I am an orchestra leader for a very large band,” Ms. McCarthy, 66, said in a speech in February.

Mr. Biden’s two-day global climate summit meeting, which begins Thursday, is his chance to proclaim America’s return to the international effort to stave off the most devastating impacts of a warming planet, but it is Ms. McCarthy’s re-emergence as well. Mr. Biden is expected to pledge that the United States will cut its planet-warming emissions by at least 50 percent below 2005 levels in the next decade.

The world has seen such promises before, with the Kyoto accords in the 1990s, then the Paris Agreement in the Obama era, only to see them discarded by subsequent Republican administrations. It will fall to Ms. McCarthy to prove the skeptics wrong.

Washington “has offered nothing on how it plans to make up for the lost four years,” said the spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry, Zhao Lijian, on Friday.

The administration plans concurrent efforts to enact regulations to curb auto and power plant emissions, restrict fossil fuel development and conserve public lands while pressing Congress to pass the climate provisions in Mr. Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure bill, such as renewable power and electric vehicle programs. Ms. McCarthy hopes to push the infrastructure bill further, possibly by mandating that power companies produce a certain percentage of their electricity from renewable sources such as wind and solar. That will be a tough sell to many Republicans — but if it passes Congress, it could stand as the Biden administration’s permanent climate legacy, even if other rules are swept away by future presidents.
» Read article             

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

what it isThe Science of Climate Change Explained: Facts, Evidence and Proof
Definitive answers to the big questions.
By Julia Rosen, New York Times
April 19, 2021
Ms. Rosen is a journalist with a Ph.D. in geology. Her research involved studying ice cores from Greenland and Antarctica to understand past climate changes.

The science of climate change is more solid and widely agreed upon than you might think. But the scope of the topic, as well as rampant disinformation, can make it hard to separate fact from fiction. Here, we’ve done our best to present you with not only the most accurate scientific information, but also an explanation of how we know it.

» Read article              

relentless
‘Relentless’ climate crisis intensified in 2020, says UN report
Pandemic had no effect on emissions but made impacts of global heating even worse for millions of people, report says
By Damian Carrington, The Guardian
April 19, 2021

There was a “relentless” intensification of the climate crisis in 2020, according to the UN’s World Meteorological Organization.

The coronavirus pandemic made the accelerating impacts of global heating even worse for millions of people. But the temporary dip in carbon emissions due to lockdowns had no discernible impact on atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases, the WMO report said.

Last year was ranked as the hottest on record, in a tie with 2016 and 2019, despite the cooling effect of the cyclical natural climate phenomenon, La Niña. Without this, 2020 would most likely have been the hottest year yet. The decade 2011-20 was the hottest on record.

Extreme weather events broke records across the world, from hurricanes and cyclones in the US and India, heatwaves in Australia and the Arctic, floods in large parts of Africa and Asia, and wildfires in the US.

“All the key climate and impacts information in this report highlight relentless, continuing climate change, an increasing occurrence and intensification of extreme events, and severe losses and damage, affecting people, societies and economies,” said Petteri Taalas, the WMO secretary general.

The WMO’s State of the Climate report comes just before a global leaders’ summit, convened by the US president, Joe Biden, and as the UK prepares to host the crucial Cop26 UN climate summit in November, at which urgent action must be agreed to meet the goals of the 2015 Paris agreement, to keep the global temperature increase to well below 2C and 1.5C if possible. In 2020, the temperature was 1.2C above pre-industrial levels.

“This is the year for action,” said the UN head, António Guterres. “The climate is changing, and the impacts are already too costly for people and the planet. Countries need to submit, well ahead of Cop26, ambitious plans to cut global emissions by 45% by 2030.”
» Read article             
» Download WMO’s State of the Global Climate 2020          

flaring pit
Ahead of the Climate Summit, Environmental Groups Urge Biden to Champion Methane Reductions as a Quick Warming Fix
Methane cuts remain essential to slow climate change over the coming decades and limit warming to 1.5C.
By Phil McKenna, Inside Climate News
April 20, 2021

The Environmental Defense Fund has a clear message for the Biden Administration on the eve of an international climate summit marking the U.S.’s further re-entry into the Paris climate agreement: “We need to cut methane now.“

So says the U.S.-based environmental advocacy organization in a 15-second ad released after a missive the nonprofit and other, leading environmental advocacy groups sent to the president earlier this month.

The letter calls for a 40 percent or more cut in methane emissions by 2030, including a 65 percent reduction from the oil and gas sector, as part of an ambitious U.S. recommitment to the Paris climate agreement. The commitment, or nationally determined contribution, is anticipated to be released by the administration any day as the U.S. prepares to host the online Leaders Summit on Climate on Thursday and Friday.

Methane is “the biggest and really the only lever we have to slow temperature rise during the next two decades, the critical decades for preventing irreversible tipping points and shaving the peak warming to protect vulnerable communities,” said Sarah Smith, super pollutants program director with the Clean Air Task Force, an environmental organization that co-authored the letter.

Methane, the largest component of natural gas, is sometimes called a “short-lived climate pollutant” because it remains in the atmosphere for far less time than carbon dioxide, which can remain in the atmosphere for hundreds of years.  But methane is also a climate “super-pollutant,” 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide at warming the atmosphere over a 20-year period.

Sources of methane include wetlands, rice paddies, livestock, biomass burning, organic waste decomposition and fossil fuel drilling and transport.

Methane’s potency and short atmospheric life make it a key greenhouse gas for policy makers to focus on as a way to combat global warming in the near term because the impact of those cuts will be felt almost immediately.
» Read article              

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

portfolio conceptAs Biden targets 100% clean electricity, strategies emerge to reliably integrate rising renewables
System controls, flexibility through DER, and new policies supporting market economics are coming
By Herman K. Trabish, Utility Dive
April 19, 2021

In the transitioning power system, barriers are falling between renewables and traditional fossil and nuclear generation and between types of variable generation like wind and solar.

The energy infrastructure proposals from the Biden administration, if approved by Congress, are likely to accelerate the growth of utility-scale wind, solar and storage detailed by a December 2020 data compilation from Department of Energy (DOE) researchers. As variable renewables reach even higher penetrations and reliance on less cost-competitive natural gas fades, new solutions already in the works will assure reliability, power system analysts said.

Combined, utility-scale wind and utility-scale solar were “58% of all new U.S. generation capacity over the past six years,” said Research Scientist Mark Bolinger of DOE’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL). LBNL’s presentation of where the two resources have reached or can reach higher penetrations shows regulators and utilities how to plan “more-realistic portfolios” for their regions to meet Biden administration goals, Bolinger said.

The LBNL data reflects a transition “to an era where we need to assemble portfolios of resources into tradable energy products” that can be dispatched as predictably as traditional generation, Energy Innovation Senior Fellow Eric Gimon said. “There may not be one perfect way to bring this portfolio concept into markets, but we need to learn how to do it” to make clean energy viable and reliable in the energy marketplace.

Regulators, system operators, utilities and the private sector are starting to develop ways to reliably integrate the rising penetrations of variable renewables with flexible distributed energy resources (DER) to increase reliability, Bolinger and Gimon agreed. But the smart 21st century transmission and distribution (T&D) system and policy strategies the new power system will need to optimize this resource transformation are still in the works, stakeholders said.
» Read article             

Four Star Farms
A farmer’s fight for solar reveals a U.S. land problem
By Benjamin Storrow, E&E News
April 19, 2021

NORTHFIELD, Mass. — When the L’Etoile family decided to build a 10-megawatt solar plant, they saw it as a chance to confront climate change and keep the family farm.

Many of their neighbors feel differently.

In a community where views of sweeping cropland are framed against a horizon of rolling hills, some worried about the prospect of staring at a chain-link fence around the panels.

Others worried about declining home values, or disturbing an area rich with Native American history. And still others fretted about a potential future in which the region’s scarce farmland is covered with solar arrays.

The so-called Pine Meadow solar project would generate enough electricity to power 2,000 homes. The L’Etoiles are banking on the lease payments from a Boston-based developer to provide a financial foundation for the farm’s future.

Regulators in Massachusetts estimate that meeting the commonwealth’s net-zero ambitions will require 60,000 acres for solar development, or more than 1% of the state’s land area. It comes as tensions are already high over disappearing crop fields. The state lost 6% of its farmland between 2012 and 2017.

Much of that space could be found on rooftops instead of in fields. But even if nearly every building in the state had solar panels, roughly 30,000 acres of land would still be needed to meet the state’s solar energy goals, regulators say.

Demand for open space has ignited conflict among regional groups that have historically been united. Conservation organizations and renewable interest groups clashed last year as Massachusetts regulators updated state incentives for solar projects.

Conservationists worried the incentives were prompting developers to fell forest and cover farmland with panels. Developers, meanwhile, objected to an initial state proposal that they said was too restrictive on new solar developments.

Regulators settled on a compromise: providing incentives for dual-use projects like the L’Etoiles’ and discouraging developments that reduce open space.

The conflict has scrambled traditional political alliances and alarmed conservation and climate advocates.
» Read article             

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

net zero victorian
A Net-Zero-Energy Victorian Home Makes History
The brand-new—but historic—house at 60 Stearns Street in Cambridge, Massachusetts
By Kristina DeMichele, Harvard Magazine
April 21, 2021

Earth Day encourages all of us to reflect on how we can contribute to building a greener, cleaner environment. Cambridge is known worldwide as a center for innovation of all kinds, including net-zero-energy construction—the Harvard Graduate School of Design’s “HouseZero” being a prime example. Now a new residential house in Cambridge, nearing completion, is showing the way toward low-energy use within the constraints of traditional architecture.

Sustainable construction, more accurately referred to as “high-performance” home development, is gaining traction around the world. In most instances, these newly constructed homes are aesthetically contemporary, modern boxes. In an effort to reach net-zero energy demand (offsetting a home’s already ultra-low energy use with renewable generation), builders sometimes sacrifice design and character for energy efficiency.

Financier turned developer Betsy Harper, M.B.A. ’84, has proven that a new home can be both: net zero with respect to energy use, and rich in architectural details. She has created the first Victorian “passive house” in the world; according to the Passive House Institute (PHIUS), such a home is designed to maintain “comfortable and consistent indoor temperatures throughout the heating and cooling seasons.”

Harper was motivated by her own experience as a homeowner. “I live in a leaky Victorian,” she explained. “It’s architecturally stunning, but I spend $20,000 a year on upkeep. Moisture from rain and snow seeps under the clapboards, making it prone to rot, and I have to stuff pieces of wool under the window sills to stop drafts. Over the years I’ve undertaken air-sealing and insulation renovations four times, and the house still has hot and cold spots that make it uncomfortable in the winter.”

By contrast, the 4,191-square-foot, five-bedroom, five-and-a-half-bath, state-of-the-art house she built in Cambridge will use 70 percent less energy than a conventional Massachusetts-code-compliant home of similar size.

The dwelling already runs entirely on electricity. With solar panels on the south-facing roof, energy modeling predicts a net negative electric bill within the first year of operation. This means the house will actually be net-energy positive: it will produce more energy than it uses, and the homeowners can donate or sell their surplus electricity to others.
» Read article             
» Passive House principles

» More about energy efficiency

ENERGY STORAGE

City Island
ConEd and GI Energy advance new model for storage deployment with Bronx project
By Jason Plautz, Utility Dive
April 19, 2021

Con Edison and infrastructure company GI Energy are partnering on a unique demonstration project, installing a 1 MW battery storage project on a customer property on City Island in the Bronx. The project will deliver power to businesses along the commercial strip in the summer, relieving grid strain when temperatures rise.

The project involved a lease agreement with the business, accommodating an agreement on the terms of location and battery operation guidelines.

“This project simplifies the value proposition for customers,” said Alex Trautner, section manager in Con Edison’s Demonstration Projects group. “Rather than installing batteries for their end use behind the meter, these customers are simply providing land in these higher-value areas for front-of-meter battery installations, in exchange for a lease payment.”

ConEd and GI Energy are planning four installations as part of the demonstration; this is the second battery system in the project, joining one deployed on the North Shore of Staten Island early last year.

As ConEd expands its renewable energy portfolio, increasing battery storage will be essential to ensure grid reliability. The utility is exploring more system platforms and hybrid models, like an integrated microgrid at the Hudson Yards development, as it contends with the energy transition.

But, Trautner explained, there is limited space for large storage projects and relatively few customers have conditions that can justify the up-front cost of a battery while also offering the location that a utility needs. This model, where the utility selects the location and guidelines for the battery in exchange for a lease payment (with no impact to the site’s utility bills), “could help expand the universe of viable high-value locations for siting such front-of-the-meter projects.”
» Read article             

A-CAES
Canada’s biggest-ever clean-energy storage plant plans charged up with launch funding
Up-to-500MW advanced compressed air energy storage facility to be built in Ontario by start-up Hydrostor with $3.2m government seed finance
By Darius Snieckus, Recharge News
April 19, 2021

Canada’s largest clean-energy storage facility, a giant up-to-500MW system based on compressed-air technology, has taken a major stride forward following the award of C$4m ($3.2m) in backing from the country’s government.

Funding for Toronto-headquartered Hydrostor’s Advanced Compressed Air Energy Storage (A-CAES) facility, which came via Natural Resources Canada’s Energy Innovation Programme and Sustainable Development Technology Canada, clears the way for the start-up to complete engineering and planning on the flagship and take “critical steps” toward construction.

The 300-500MW project will be modeled on Hydrostor’s operating 1.75MW/10MWh Goderich, Ontario storage facility, which currently provides the province’s independent electricity system operator with 12 hours of long -duration back-up.

The full-scale A-CAES project, said Hydrostor Curtis VanWalleghem, Hydrostor’s CEO, would “support Canada’s green economic transition [as an example of] designing, building, and operating emissions-free energy storage facilities, [and] employing the people, suppliers, and technologies from the oil & gas sector”.
» Read article             

» More about energy storage

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Lotus LLC waste storage siteWhere Does All The Radioactive Fracking Waste Go?
A year-long investigation finds a major West Texas disposal site with a patchy record is also importing radioactive oilfield waste from abroad.
By Justin Nobel, DeSmog Blog
April 22, 2021

The oil and gas industry produces an extraordinary amount of waste. Much of it is toxic, and it can be highly radioactive too. And since 1997 about one million barrels worth of oilfield waste has been brought to Lotus’s disposal site, situated off a dusty desert road located 19 miles west of Andrews, Texas (and just several miles from a massive solar array financed by Facebook and which provides energy to Shell’s fracking operations).

But according to correspondence with federal and state regulators, documents obtained via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, and interviews with an industry whistleblower, DeSmog has found that the Lotus disposal site has at times struggled to safely manage the radioactive waste it receives from across the United States.

Despite this challenge, it is importing oil and gas waste from other countries too, and is expanding its reach internationally.

The company has relied heavily on a decades-old industry exemption passed in 1980 — known as the Bentsen and Bevill Amendments to the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act — that classifies oil and gas waste as non-hazardous, thereby affording it little regulatory scrutiny. Meanwhile, Railroad Commission documents obtained via a FOIA request suggest that practices at Lotus’s remote disposal site have put the company’s workers and the environment at risk.

“The oil and gas industry has been really good at painting the picture that they are not a radioactive industry,” said Melissa Troutman, an Earthworks analyst and author of a 2019 report on oil and gas waste, “when in reality it produces a massive amount of radioactive material.”

A growing group of environmentalists, politicians, communities, and even the industry’s own workers have become increasingly critical of the fossil fuel industry, and see room for action under the Biden administration, though most attention has been placed on hot-button topics like climate change and methane emissions. But a small yet ardent band of advocacy groups have been focused on radioactive oilfield waste, long an industry problem but one that has metastasized in the fracking boom and potentially poses an even greater risk to the industry’s bottom line.
» Read article             
» Read the Earthworks report on oil and gas waste

nobel letter101 Nobel Laureates Urge World Leaders to ‘Keep Fossil Fuels in the Ground’
“Fossil fuels are the greatest contributor to climate change. Allowing the continued expansion of this industry is unconscionable.”
By Brett Wilkins, Common Dreams
April 21, 2021

On the eve of Earth Day and the start of U.S. President Joe Biden’s Leaders Summit on Climate, a group of 101 Nobel laureates published a letter urging world leaders and governments to “keep fossil fuels in the ground” as a critical first step toward addressing the climate emergency.

The letter—which was signed by Nobel peace, literature, medicine, physics, chemistry, and economic sciences laureates—notes that the climate emergency “is threatening hundreds of millions of lives, livelihoods across every continent, and is putting thousands of species at risk.” It adds that “the burning of fossil fuels—coal, oil, and gas—is by far the major contributor” to the crisis.

Signers of the letter—who include Mairead Corrigan-Maguire, the Dalai Lama, Rigoberta Menchú Tum, Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, Jody Williams, and Muhammad Yunus—said that “urgent action is needed to end the expansions of fossil fuel production, phase out current production, and invest in renewable energy.”

The signatories urge world leaders to do the following “in a spirit of international cooperation”:

  • End new expansion of oil, gas, and coal production in line with the best available science as outlined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and United Nations Environment Program;
  • Phase out existing production of oil, gas, and coal in a manner that is fair and equitable, taking into account the responsibilities of countries for climate change and their respective dependency on fossil fuels, and capacity to transition; and
  • Invest in a transformational plan to ensure 100% access to renewable energy globally, support dependent economies to diversify away from fossil fuels, and enable people and communities across the globe to flourish through a global just transition.

“Fossil fuels are the greatest contributor to climate change,” the letter concludes. “Allowing the continued expansion of this industry is unconscionable. The fossil fuel system is global and requires a global solution—a solution the Leaders Climate Summit must work towards. And the first step is to keep fossil fuels in the ground.”
» Read article             
» Read the letter              

» More about fossil fuels

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

no smoking LNGLooking to halt LNG expansion, opponents urge Biden to block exports
New campaign adds to pressure on Gov. Murphy to block planned natural gas port in South Jersey
By Jon Hurdle, NJ Spotlight News
April 16, 2021

More than 200 environmental groups from 27 states urged President Joe Biden to halt the export of liquefied natural gas from six U.S. ports and stop the development of almost two dozen more, including one in New Jersey.

Activists including the New Jersey State Industrial Council and the New Jersey Student Sustainability Coalition argued in a letter to Biden on Wednesday that exporting the super-cooled form of natural gas results in emissions that are at least as potent as coal in forming greenhouse gases, and so are at odds with the climate policies of the new administration.

Exporting liquefied natural gas (LNG) stimulates the production of fracked natural gas whose main component, methane, is many times more powerful than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas, the letter said. It said that producing, liquefying and transporting natural gas would produce 213 metric tons of CO2 in the U.S. by 2030, or the equivalent of putting 45 million cars on the road, according to research by the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“The expansion of LNG export capacity requires the proliferation of gas drilling and fracking to feed the demand created by the export market,” the letter said. “This induces new and expanded fracking and its infrastructure, such as pipelines and, with that, environmental destruction, public health harm, and climate damage.”

In New Jersey, opponents of LNG export are already pressing the Murphy administration to block a plan by New Fortress Energy to build a new dock at Gibbstown on the Delaware River where LNG from Pennsylvania would be loaded onto ocean-going tankers for shipment overseas.

If built, the Gibbstown dock would be the first LNG export terminal in New Jersey and the second on the East Coast.

The U.S. started exporting LNG in 2016 after the fracking boom beginning in the mid-2000s accessed abundant domestic reserves of natural gas in Pennsylvania and other states, and led the industry to seek overseas markets. LNG prices rose sharply in late 2020 in response to weather-related demand in Asian markets and unplanned outages at some overseas LNG terminals, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The agency predicts that the volume of U.S. LNG exports will rise 30% in 2021 compared with 2020.

The Biden administration could be hard-pressed to ban a business that has seen LNG prices rise to around $6 per thousand cubic feet from about $4 a year ago. But activists who fought successfully to ban fracking for natural gas in New York state in 2014 are hopeful they can do the same with LNG exports.
» Read article            
» Read the letter to President Biden

» More about LNG

BIOMASS

chips
Mass. Backtracks On Renewable Energy Subsidies For Wood-Burning Biomass Plants
By Miriam Wasser, WBUR
April 16, 2021

The Baker administration says it no longer stands behind a plan it proposed last December to change state regulations to allow some wood-burning biomass power plants to qualify for renewable energy subsidies. The move follows a loud outcry from environmental groups, public health experts and several prominent politicians who opposed the planned changes.

The state’s initial recommendations drew widespread criticism because they would have allowed a proposed biomass facility in the heart of an environmental justice community in Springfield to qualify for lucrative rate-payer subsidies. In walking back that proposal, the administration dealt a blow to that project while also effectively preventing any similar facilities from being built in the state in the future.

In a statement, Springfield City Councilor Jesse Lederman celebrated the news and said it was “the direct result of grassroots action by residents, activists, and local elected officials both here in Springfield and across the state.”

Attorney General Maura Healey also applauded the change from DOER, writing in a statement that “this is great news for our state and the type of consideration that should inform all energy policy for our communities.”  She added that “science demonstrates that biomass energy is bad for our residents and runs counter to the [state’s] aggressive climate goals.”

The changes announced Friday have to do with the state’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard (RPS), a list of rules detailing which power sources qualify as “renewable” and under what circumstances power plants can receive renewable energy subsidies.

The Department of Energy Resources (DOER) says its new proposal will do two important things. First, it will mandate that any new biomass facility in the state meet a high efficiency standard in order to qualify for subsidies. Under the previous proposal, DOER would waive these efficiency standards for facilities that used “non-forest derived material” such as sawdust, utility trimmings and other waste wood.

Second, the proposal will prohibit any biomass plant located within five miles of environmental justice community from being eligible for RPS subsidies.

At a press conference Friday morning, state Energy and Environmental Affairs secretary Kathleen Theoharides said that the changes are designed to build upon the environmental justice provisions recently signed into law by Governor Charlie Baker.
» Read article             

» More about biomass              

PLASTICS RECYCLING

wheelie bins
The Recycling Industry in America Is Broken

By Tiffany Duong, EcoWatch
April 20, 2021

Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. According to The National Museum of American History, this popular slogan, with its iconic three arrows forming a triangle, embodied a national call to action to save the environment in the 1970s. In that same decade, the first Earth Day happened, the EPA was formed and Congress passed the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, encouraging recycling and conservation of resources, Enviro Inc. reported.

According to Forbes, the Three R’s sustainability catch-phrase, and the recycling cause it bolstered, remain synonymous with the U.S. environmental movement itself. There’s only one problem: despite being touted as one of the most important personal actions that individuals can take to help the planet, “recycling” – as currently carried out in the U.S. – doesn’t work and doesn’t help.

Turns out, there is a vast divide between the misleading, popular notion of recycling as a “solution” to the American overconsumption problem and the darker reality of recycling as a failing business model.

When it was first introduced, recycling likely had altruistic motivations, Forbes reported. However, the system that emerged was never equipped to handle high volumes. Unfortunately, as consumption increased, so too did promotion of recycling as a solution. The system “[gave] manufacturers of disposable items a way to essentially market overconsumption as environmentalism,” Forbes reported. Then and now, “American consumers assuage any guilt they might feel about consuming mass quantities of unnecessary, disposable goods by dutifully tossing those items into their recycling bins and hauling them out to the curb each week.”

Little has changed since that Forbes article, titled “Can Recycling Be Bad For The Environment?,” was published almost a decade ago; increases in recycling have been eclipsed by much higher consumption rates. In fact, consumerism was at an all-time high in January 2020 before the pandemic hit, Trading Economics reported.

But, if the system doesn’t work, why does it continue? Turns out, consumers were misled – by the oil and gas industry. News reports from September 2020 revealed how the plastic industry-funded ads in the 1980s that heralded recycling as a panacea to our growing waste problem. These makers of virgin plastics were the biggest proponents and financial sponsors of plastic recycling programs because they created the illusion of a sustainable, closed-cycle while actually promoting the continued use of raw materials for new single-use plastics.
» Read article            

» More about plastics recycling

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Weekly News Check-In 3/19/21

banner 19

Welcome back.

Cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline was a positive move for the planet. But in the near term, it will force more tar sands oil into virtual pipelines – rail cars that have been implicated in horrific “train bomb” incidents involving massive destruction and mass casualties. Recent experiments prove that this oil can be transported economically without the explosive volatile constituents that make these trains so dangerous. Fast-track implementation of this transport method would extend direct benefits from the pipeline cancellation down to everyone living or working near train tracks.

Now that the Biden administration’s energy policies are coming into focus, a coalition of more than 430 environmental organizations spanning 53 countries is pressing for a rapid cut-off of all fossil fuel subsidies. The confirmation of Representative Deb Haaland (D-NM) as the Interior Department’s first Native American Secretary sends a powerful signal, and indicates the administration’s seriousness about greening the economy. More locally, activists in Massachusetts are celebrating passage of truly landmark climate legislation, which now appears likely to receive Governor Charlie Baker’s signature.

As wealthy countries distribute Covid-19 vaccines, economic activity is resuming and oil consumption is rebounding toward pre-pandemic highs. Climate watchers expected this, and caution that we’re a long way from addressing the profound changes required at all levels of society to address global warming.

We’re always on the lookout for bird-safe wind power at an appropriate scale for residential use. Spanish startup Vortex Bladeless is proposing more than we bargained for! Maybe News Check-In readers can suggest finishing touches that would show the neighbors you’re really living the clean energy lifestyle.

Energy storage is getting some good attention in New York, with utility Con Edison moving to take advantage of virtual power plant services of batteries in homes and commercial buildings. This is a non-wires solution, where the utility incentivizes ownership of batteries in parts of the grid where extra power is needed during peak usage periods. In a complementary development, large stationary batteries, especially when associated with wind and solar power, have reached an economic point where they out-compete fossil fueled peaking power plants.

Of course batteries are also key to getting everyone into electric vehicles. We lead this section with a side trip into the new age of sailing ships, and follow that with a dose of reality about those vehicle batteries. Two articles consider consequences of sourcing all the lithium, nickel, and cobalt required to whisk all these people and things around without burning fuel.

All these new electric vehicles, wind turbines, and green buildings are – at least for now – going to need a lot of steel. But it’s a notoriously carbon-intensive material, and that has the industry taking a hard look at the possibility of creating a zero-carbon product. It’s technically possible, but the capital investment is daunting.

Regardless of how fast humanity reduces its emissions, we’ve already reached such a crisis point that climate scientists argue for some amount of carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) to avoid the worst effects of global warming. This can be a tricky subject, because the fossil fuel industry dangles the promise of carbon capture from smokestacks to greenwash a version of the future where business-as-usual continues without consequences. We’ll be bringing you CCS news as we find it, and will attempt to call out the propaganda.

While the Biden administration has already paused new oil and gas leases on federal land, legal experts are examining the feasibility of canceling some existing leases. This is in line with the “keep it in the ground” strategy, a reality that the fossil fuel industry appears to be grudgingly acknowledging through record write-downs of the value of their reserves. Another threat to the industry is a broad-based call for Biden to halt liquefied natural gas exports. We found a report that explores that issue, and considers the complicating factors – which unfortunately seem to rely heavily on the “natural gas as a bridge fuel” argument, when maybe we should be diverting some of this LNG build-out investment into the clean energy infrastructure that will achieve real climate goals.

We close with another clarification of the environmental threat that proposed Palmer Renewable Energy biomass generating plant poses to the environmental justice communities in Springfield. Also, a check-in on a newly-implemented international agreement that aims to curb the dumping of waste plastic into developing countries ill-equipped to safely process it.

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

VIRTUAL PIPELINES

bomb train alternativeAnalysis: Canceled Keystone XL Pipeline Driving Major Safety Changes in Canadian Oil-by-Rail
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
March 12, 2021

The Biden administration’s cancellation of the Keystone XL (KXL) pipeline in January appears to be driving a revolutionary improvement in Canadian oil-by-rail safety that could protect the public from what have become known as “bomb trains.”

Without the KXL pipeline to help transport tar sands bitumen from Alberta to refineries in the United States, Canadian oil producers are turning to trains. And using a new technology to help make it more affordable — and less flammable.

When tar sands bitumen is mined and processed, it results in a thick, tarry substance which industry material safety data sheets note is a “low fire hazard” and “must be heated before ignition will occur.”

To ship tar sands oil by pipeline, however, the raw bitumen must be diluted with a light volatile petroleum product called condensate, which turns it into a “highly flammable” product, according to material data safety sheets. “This product,” the safety sheets state, “will easily ignite in the presence of heat sources, sparks, or flames.” This volatility is what causes devastating fires and explosions to happen so easily when oil trains derail.

Traditionally, the industry has chosen to pump this volatile diluted bitumen, or dilbit, into rail tank cars when shipping it by rail. But now the oil-by-rail industry is exploring a way to transport a form of bitumen that no longer easily ignites like the dilbit.

To do this, they’re investing in new technology that removes the flammable component of the diluted bitumen mixture before putting it into rail tank cars. The process is expected to make rail transport as affordable as sending bitumen via pipeline.

The first commercial application of this technology is being marketed as DRUbit and is a collaboration between Gibson Energy and US Development Group LLC that expects to begin operations in the second half of 2021. ConocoPhillips Canada has contracted to move 50,000 barrels per day and rail companies CP and Kansas City Southern will transport the product from Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast.

DRUbit is a form of tar sands that is non-flammable and likely will not create large spills in derailments because raw or less-diluted bitumen doesn’t easily flow when exposed to air temperatures — effectively removing the risks to the public and environment from Canadian crude-by-rail transportation.
» Read article                

» More about virtual pipelines

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

end all fossil subsidies430+ Groups From 6 Continents Demand Biden End All US Subsidies for Global Fossil Fuel Projects
“We have to stop subsidizing fossil fuel companies at the expense of our climate.”
By Jake Johnson, Common Dreams
March 18, 2021

A coalition of more than 430 environmental organizations spanning 53 countries Thursday called on the Biden administration to quickly cut off all U.S. public financing for fossil fuel projects overseas and work with governments around the world to bring about an end to taxpayer subsidies for the dirty energy sources driving the global climate emergency.

“We urge the Biden administration to act swiftly to end new financing for all parts of the fossil fuel supply chain (including for gas), stop new U.S. fossil fuel support within 90 days across all government institutions, and work with other nations to end fossil fuel financing,” reads a letter (pdf) sent to top Biden administration officials, including Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, and Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm.

Signed by 432 groups from six continents—including Africa, Asia, and South America—comes weeks after U.S. President Joe Biden delivered a speech at the White House condemning “handouts to Big Oil” and vowing to work with Congress to eliminate subsidies to the fossil fuel industry in the U.S.

“Governments can’t claim to be serious about climate change if they pump billions of dollars into the most polluting industries every year,” said Alex Doukas of Oil Change International, one of the signatories. “If President Biden is serious about zeroing out emissions by mid-century or earlier, the U.S. must end its billions of dollars in support for oil, gas, and coal projects around the world.”

Arguing that U.S. action to end public funding of fossil fuel infrastructure could spur other nations to follow suit, the new letter urges Biden to follow through on his initial steps toward launching a “whole-of-government” approach to tackling the climate crisis. The groups point to Biden’s January executive order directing federal officials to craft a plan aimed at “promoting the flow of capital toward climate-aligned investments and away from high-carbon investments.”
» Read article                
» Read the coalition letter to the Biden administration

» More about protests and actions

GREENING THE ECONOMY

Deb Haaland confirmedDeb Haaland Confirmed As 1st Native American Interior Secretary
By Nathan Rott, NPR
March 15, 2021

Deb Haaland, a member of New Mexico’s Laguna Pueblo, has become the first Native American Cabinet secretary in U.S. history.

The Senate voted 51-40 Monday to confirm the Democratic congresswoman to lead the Interior Department, an agency that will play a crucial role in the Biden administration’s ambitious efforts to combat climate change and conserve nature.

Her confirmation is as symbolic as it is historic. For much of its history, the Interior Department was used as a tool of oppression against America’s Indigenous peoples. In addition to managing the country’s public lands, endangered species and natural resources, the department is also responsible for the government-to-government relations between the U.S. and Native American tribes.

“Indian country has shouted from the valleys, from the mountaintops, that it’s time. It’s overdue,” Sandia Pueblo tribal member Stephine Poston told NPR after Haaland was nominated.

As a congresswoman, Haaland was a frequent critic of the Trump administration’s deregulatory agenda and supported limits on fossil fuel development on public lands. She opposes hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. She was also one of the first lawmakers to support the Green New Deal, which calls for drastic action to address climate change and economic inequality.
» Read article                

stealth carbon bombI Tried to Buy a Climate-Friendly Refrigerator. What I Got Was a Carbon Bomb.
Most refrigerators in the U.S. are still cooled by climate “super-pollutants” called hydrofluorocarbons. I’d been promised my new fridge wouldn’t be…
By Phil McKenna, Inside Climate News
March 11, 2021

As a climate reporter covering “super-pollutants”—greenhouse gases thousands of times worse for the climate than carbon dioxide—I thought I knew enough to avoid buying a refrigerator that would cook the planet. Turns out, I was wrong.

Nearly all refrigerators in use in the United States today use chemical refrigerants that are some of the most potent greenhouse gases on the planet. Yet, a growing number of manufacturers now offer new models with an alternative refrigerant that has little to no climate impact.

But none of the major appliance makers advertise which fridges are climate-friendly, and which are carbon bombs. In some cases, it seems they themselves don’t know which is which.

It didn’t have to be this way. In 1993, a German appliance manufacturer started selling an HFC-free refrigerator whose very name—“Greenfreeze”—touted its use of a climate-friendly refrigerant. More than 1 billion HFC-free refrigerators have now been sold worldwide, including units sold overseas by U.S. manufacturers, at a time when climate-friendly refrigerators are just becoming available in the United States.

A recent Inside Climate News investigation found the decades-long delay in the use of climate-friendly refrigerants in America has been driven largely by the U.S. chemical industry, which manufactures HFCs. HFCs are multi-billion dollar products that would likely be replaced by less expensive and more efficient climate-friendly alternatives if standards put forth by Underwriters Laboratories didn’t until recently limit their use, likely at the behest of chemical companies. Underwriters Laboratories, now known as “UL,” is a private company that provides independent safety certifications for thousands of consumer products.

When GE first submitted its application to EPA in 2008 to use only small amounts of isobutane as a refrigerator coolant, Honeywell International, one of the leading HFC manufacturers, opposed the rule change. The company claimed that isobutane is “highly flammable and explosive even in small amounts,” a claim that has not been substantiated by the more than 1 billion isobutane refrigerators in safe operation worldwide. The agency finally granted the request in 2011.

When I asked Julie Wood at GE Appliances why the company wasn’t now advertising the environmental benefit of its climate-friendly refrigerator models, she said she didn’t think there would be much interest.

“At the end of the day, there is just low consumer awareness,” Wood said.
» Read article                
» Visit EIA’s HFC-free refrigerator buyer’s guide

» More about greening the economy

LEGISLATION

Kathleen Theoharides EEA Secretary
Baker administration ‘very pleased’ with climate change bill
With few options, top aide embraces Legislature’s amended proposal
By Bruce Mohl, CommonWealth Magazine
March 18, 2021

WITH BOTH BRANCHES of the Legislature approving climate change legislation by veto-proof majorities, the Baker administration on Thursday declared victory and signaled that the governor will sign the bill into law.

“The governor and I are very pleased the Legislature adopted the vast majority of our amendments,” said Katie Theoharides, the governor’s secretary of energy and environmental affairs.

She said she couldn’t definitively say the governor will sign the bill until it actually reaches his desk and he can see it in its final form, but she signaled that was likely. “We are very pleased by the inclusion of key amendments as well as technical changes,” she said.

Baker has little running room on the climate change bill. His only options are to sign the bill into law or veto it, and vetoing it would trigger overrides in the overwhelmingly Democratic Legislature that could hurt him politically.

Baker “reluctantly” vetoed the climate change legislation passed by the Legislature at the end of the last session, saying he was boxed in by the calendar, which allowed him to only veto it or sign it into law because the bill reached his desk after the Legislature had adjourned. The Legislature responded by passing the exact same bill again in the current session; Baker sent it back in February with a series of amendments.

Between the original veto message and the filing of the amendments, Baker’s tone changed dramatically. In the veto message, Baker was defiant and dismissive, insisting the Legislature’s goal of reducing emissions in 2030 50 percent below 1990 levels was too radical and would end up unnecessarily costing Massachusetts residents an extra $6 billion. He also objected to binding interim emission goals for six industry subsectors and raised questions about a proposed municipal energy code and a series of other provisions.

When he sent the bill back with amendments in February, Baker dropped his objections to some provisions and sought to compromise on others. On the 50 percent emissions reduction goal, for example, Baker suggested a target of somewhere between 45 and 50 percent with the administration setting the final goal. He also urged that goals for industry subsectors be used as planning tools rather than binding requirements.

The Senate passed a revised bill on Monday by a 39-1 margin and the House passed it 146-13 on Thursday. Sen. Michael Barrett of Lexington, the Senate’s point person on climate change, said the bill reflected a number of technical changes sought by the governor but didn’t budge on the major provisions in the Legislature’s original bill.
» Read article                

» More about legislation

CLIMATE

wrong direction
As Oil Demand Rebounds, Nations Will Need to Make Big Changes to Meet Paris Goals, Report Says
Covid-19 decreased oil demand by almost 9 percent last year, according to the International Energy Agency. But it could surpass pre-pandemic levels within a few years.
By Nicholas Kusnetz, Inside Climate News
March 18, 2021

Global oil demand is expected to grow steadily over the next five years and quickly surge past pre-pandemic levels, a path that could put climate goals out of reach, according to the International Energy Agency.

In a report released Wednesday, the agency said that while the pandemic will have lasting effects on the world’s oil consumption, governments have to act immediately to set the global energy system on a more sustainable path.

Oil demand needs to fall by about 3 million barrels per day below 2019 levels by the middle of the decade to meet the goals of the Paris climate agreement, the report said. But on the current trajectory, consumption is instead set to increase by 3.5 million barrels per day.

“Achieving an orderly transition away from oil is essential to meet climate goals, but it will require major policy changes from governments, as well as accelerated behavioral changes,” said Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director. “Without that, global oil demand is set to increase every year between now and 2026.”

While Covid-19 sent oil demand plummeting last year by nearly 9 percent, the report said demand is set to surpass pre-pandemic levels by 2023. Nearly all that growth will come from developing and emerging economies, particularly in Asia, and the bulk will come not from transportation but from petrochemicals used to make plastics.

The agency, made up of 30 member countries including the United States, stressed that the future is not preordained. But the report also underscored the huge policy and other changes that will be needed—including faster adoption of electric vehicles and a doubling of plastics recycling rates—to meet the Paris Agreement goal of limiting warming to well below 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius).
» Read article                
» Read the International Energy Agency report

beach erosion UK
World’s coastal cities face risk from land and sea
As the tides rise ever higher, the world’s coastal cities carry on sinking. It’s a recipe for civic catastrophe.
By Tim Radford, Climate News Network
March 15, 2021

Citizens of many of the world’s coastal cities have even more to fear from rising tides. As ocean levels swell, in response to rising temperatures and melting glaciers, the land on which those cities are built is sinking.

This means that although, worldwide, oceans are now 2.6mm higher every year in response to climate change, many citizens of some of the world’s great delta cities face the risk of an average sea level rise of up to almost 10mm a year. Both the rising waters and the sinking city streets are ultimately a consequence of human actions.

Humans have not only burned fossil fuels to alter the planet’s atmosphere and raise global temperatures, they have also pumped water from the ground below the cities. They have raised massive structures on riverine sediments; they have pumped oil and gas from offshore, and they have dammed rivers to slow the flow of new sediments.

And because of such steps, some of the world’s great cities have been steadily going downhill. Tokyo in Japan has subsided by four metres in the course of the 20th century. Shanghai in China, Bangkok in Thailand, New Orleans in the US and Djakarta on the island of Java in Indonesia have all sunk by between two and three metres in the last 100 years.

Now a new study in the journal Nature Climate Change has found that 58% of the world’s coastal citizens live on soil and bedrock that is collapsing beneath their feet. Fewer than 1% are settled on terrain that is uplifting. Most are exposed to possible relative sea level rises of between 7.8mm and 9.9mm a year.
» Read article                
» Read the Nature Climate Change study            

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

skybrator
Good vibrations: bladeless turbines could bring wind power to your home
‘Skybrators’ generate clean energy without environmental impact of large windfarms, say green pioneers
By Jillian Ambrose, The Guardian
March 16, 2021

The giant windfarms that line hills and coastlines are not the only way to harness the power of the wind, say green energy pioneers who plan to reinvent wind power by forgoing the need for turbine towers, blades – and even wind.

“We are not against traditional windfarms,” says David Yáñez, the inventor of Vortex Bladeless. His six-person startup, based just outside Madrid, has pioneered a turbine design that can harness energy from winds without the sweeping white blades considered synonymous with wind power.

The design recently won the approval of Norway’s state energy company, Equinor, which named Vortex on a list of the 10 most exciting startups in the energy sector. Equinor will also offer the startup development support through its tech accelerator programme.

The bladeless turbines stand at 3 metres high, a curve-topped cylinder fixed vertically with an elastic rod. To the untrained eye it appears to waggle back and forth, not unlike a car dashboard toy. In reality, it is designed to oscillate within the wind range and generate electricity from the vibration.

It has already raised eyebrows on the forum site Reddit, where the turbine was likened to a giant vibrating sex toy, or “skybrator”. The unmistakably phallic design attracted more than 94,000 ratings and 3,500 comments on the site. The top rated comment suggested a similar device might be found in your mother’s dresser drawer. It received 20,000 positive ratings from Reddit users.
» Read article                

» More about clean energy

ENERGY STORAGE

powerwall VPP
New York utility Con Edison recognises value of home energy storage with new virtual power plant
By Andy Colthorpe, Energy Storage News
March 17, 2021

The CEO of US virtual power plant provider Swell Energy has said that New York utility company Con Edison has been “very progressive” in recognising the value that aggregated home battery systems paired with solar can offer.

Swell Energy’s Suleman Khan was among a handful of staff that launched what later became known as Tesla Energy in 2015. Having taken responsibility at Tesla for pricing up the company’s Powerwall residential storage product, he now heads up a company that takes storage systems including Powerwalls and aggregates them into virtual power plants by combining their capacity and capabilities.

Swell Energy currently has under contract 300MWh of virtual power plant agreements in territories including Hawaii and California, having raised US$450 million in project financing, which Khan said represents about 14,000 homes’ worth of battery storage. The company’s business model is essentially based around selling homeowners batteries with or without solar at a discounted price, after agreeing local capacity contracts with utilities that help them reduce aggregate load in specific areas, the “surgical value of behind-the-meter storage” as he calls it.

“We ended up, from the business development standpoint approaching utilities and saying: ‘look, here’s your customer base, here’s your aggregate load. If you were to add storage to this portion of the customer base, you would really take your aggregate load down in periods where you want it to be down.’ We show them precisely how certain loads can be taken down on certain circuits in a surgical manner, as opposed to just a massive battery farm in the middle of the desert.”
» Read article               

» More about energy storage

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

Oceanbird
New age of sail looks to slash massive maritime carbon emissions
By Andrew Willner, Mongabay
March 15, 2021

Despite the present dominance of fossil-fueled cargo ships, it’s well understood by industry insiders that the current maritime logistics system is both aging and fragile.

Fossil fuel transport today is up against a grim carbon reality: if ocean shipping were a country, it would be the sixth-largest carbon emitter, releasing more CO2 annually than Germany. International shipping accounts for about 2.2% of all global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the U.N. International Maritime Organization’s most recent data.

This annual surge of atmospheric carbon released by ocean going ships not only worsens climate change — one of nine scientifically defined planetary boundaries (PBs) we now risk overshooting — it also contributes to ocean acidification (a second planetary boundary) which is beginning to seriously impact biodiversity (a third PB). And add to that significant chemical pollution (a fourth planetary boundary) that is emitted from ship smokestacks.

All of these planetary boundaries interrelate and influence one another (negatively and positively): for example, reducing black carbon (or soot), the fine particulate matter emitted from fossil fueled oceangoing vessels could slow global warming somewhat, buying time to implement further steps to reduce carbon emissions.

Another problem with today’s vessels: when cargo ships dock, they use auxiliary engines that generate SOx, NOx, CO2 and particulate discharges, while also creating noxious noise and vibrations. (Innovators are already solving this problem with cold ironing, providing shoreside electrical power to ship berths, allowing main and auxiliary engines to be shut down.)

Today’s cargo industry is plagued not only by environmental issues, but by a difficult logistical and economic problem: its current fleet of fossil-fueled container ships are mostly behemoths — with immense carrying capacities. However, the “overcapacity” of these giant ships leaves them without the nimbleness to adapt to unexpected shifts in global supply and demand; the world’s ports and specialized markets could likely be better served, say experts, by smaller, far more fuel-efficient cargo ships.

The current sea cargo system — reliant upon high-priced carbon-based fuels and unstable energy markets; interwoven inextricably into long-distance, globalized world trade; and designed for just-in-time delivery that requires precisely scheduled shipments — is increasingly vulnerable to the vagaries of fossil fuel shortages, price shocks and surges, as well as geopolitical conflict and volatility in the Middle East, Venezuela and elsewhere.
» Read article                

Thacker Pass
The Battle of Thacker Pass
Electric cars require a lot of lithium. A showdown in Nevada shows that getting it won’t be easy.
By Maddie Stone, Grist
March 12, 2021

When Edward Bartell first learned that a lithium mine might be moving into his remote corner of northern Nevada, the longtime cattle rancher wasn’t upset.

“I was actually kind of excited about it,” Bartell said. He knew that lithium is a key metal used in batteries for electric vehicles and the power grid, and he knew the United States is going to need a lot of it to transition off fossil fuels.

But as Bartell started learning more about the proposed Thacker Pass mine — which would be the second, and by far the largest, lithium mine in the United States — he grew increasingly worried about its impacts on his ranching business and nearby ecosystems. In spite of the numerous concerns Bartell and others raised during a comment period in which the government solicited opinions about the proposed mine project from members of the public, Thacker Pass received speedy review and was approved by the Bureau of Land Management, or BLM, on January 15, the Trump administration’s final Friday in office. Construction of mining facilities and “pre-stripping” to expose lithium-rich ores could begin later this year.

Bartell is now suing the federal government to try to stop that from happening.
» Read article                

perilous pathway
Will the Race for Electric Vehicles Endanger the Earth’s Most Sensitive Ecosystem?
Materials needed to make the batteries for electric cars and other clean technology is driving interest in deep-seabed mining, and scientists fear the cost to the ocean will be steep.
By Tara Lohan, The Revelator
March 10, 2021

From 2010 to 2019 the number of EVs on the road rose from 17,000 to 7.2 million. And that number could jump to 250 million by 2030, according to an estimate from the International Energy Agency.

The growing demand for electric vehicles is good news for limiting climate emissions from the transportation sector, but EVs still come with environmental costs. Of particular concern is the materials needed to make the ever-important batteries, some of which are already projected to be in short supply.

“Climate change is our greatest and most pressing challenge, but there are some perilous pathways to be aware of as we build out the infrastructure that gets us to a new low-carbon paradigm,” says Douglas McCauley, a professor and director of the Benioff Ocean Initiative at the University of California Santa Barbara.

One of those perilous pathways, he says, is mining the seafloor to extract minerals like cobalt and nickel that are widely used for EV batteries. Extraction of these materials has thus far been limited to land, but international regulations for mining the deep seabed far offshore are in development.

“There’s alignment on the need to go as fast as we can with low-carbon infrastructure to beat climate change and electrification will play a big part in that,” he says. “But the idea that we need to mine the oceans in order to do that is, I think, a very false dichotomy.”

As pressure mounts to claim terrestrial minerals, commercial interest is growing to extract resources from the deep seabed, where there’s an abundance of metals like copper, cobalt, nickel, manganese, lead and lithium. Investors already expect profits: One deep-sea mining company recently announced a plan to go public after merging with an investment group, creating a corporation with an expected $2.9 billion market value.

But along with that focus comes increased warnings about the damage such extraction could do to ocean health, and whether the sacrifice is even necessary.

McCauley hopes that a combination of advances will help take the pressure off sensitive ecosystems and that we don’t rush into mining the seabed for short-term enrichment when better alternatives are on the horizon.

“One of my greatest fears is that we may start ocean mining because it’s profitable for just a handful of years, and then we nail it with the next gen battery or we get good at doing low-cost e-waste recycling,” he says. “And then we’ve done irreversible damage in the oceans for three years of profit.”
» Read article         

» More about clean transportation

BUILDING MATERIALS

sheets of steel
How to Clean Up Steel? Bacteria, Hydrogen and a Lot of Cash.
With climate concerns growing, steel companies face an inevitable crunch. ArcelorMittal sees solutions, but the costs are likely to run into tens of billions of dollars in Europe alone.
By Stanley Reed, New York Times
March 17, 2021

Few materials are more essential than steel, yet steel mills are among the leading polluters. They burn coke, a derivative of coal, and belch millions of tons of greenhouse gases. Roughly two tons of carbon dioxide rises into the atmosphere for every ton of steel made using blast furnaces.

With climate concerns growing, a crunch appears inevitable for these companies. Carbon taxes are rising, and investors are wary of putting their money into businesses that could be regulated out of existence.

None of this has been lost on the giant steel maker ArcelorMittal.

The company is spending 325 million euros (about $390 million) on pilot programs that include making steel with hydrogen and using bacteria to turn carbon dioxide into useful chemicals. The amount is less than 1 percent of the company’s 2020 revenue. But [Aditya Mittal, 44, who recently succeeded his father as chief executive], who had been ArcelorMittal’s chief financial officer, said the company had greater technical resources and global scale than most rivals and was well positioned to lead the cleanup.

“We can now imagine that it is possible to make steel without carbon emissions,” he said.

But the future costs of converting a string of blast furnaces into climate-friendly operations are likely to run into tens of billions in Europe alone, the company says.

In recent years, the oil and gas industry has come under pressure from governments embracing increasingly ambitious climate goals. One result is greatly expanded investments in renewable energy. Now, many see the regulatory focus turning to the steel industry and other heavy polluters.
» Read article                

» More about building materials

CARBON CAPTURE & SEQUESTRATION

LCO2 carrier
Two European companies are mapping a future service for direct air capture to sequestration of CO2
By Jonathan Shieber, Tech Crunch
March 9, 2021

The Swiss-based, venture capital-backed, direct air capture technology developer Climeworks is partnering with a joint venture between the government of Norway and massive European energy companies to map the pathway for a business that could provide not only the direct capture of carbon dioxide emissions from air, but the underground sequestration and storage of those emissions.

The deal could pave the way for a new business that would offer carbon capture and sequestration services to commercial enterprises around the world, if the joint venture between Climeworks and the newly formed Northern Lights company is successful. It would mean the realization of a full-chain carbon dioxide removal service that the two companies called a necessary component of the efforts to reverse global climate change.

Northern Lights was incorporated in March as a joint venture between Equinor, Shell and Total to provide processing, transportation and underground sequestration services for captured carbon dioxide emissions. The business is one of the lynchpins in the Norwegian government’s efforts to capture and store carbon emissions safely underground under a plan called The Longship Project.

“There is growing awareness of the need to build capacity to remove CO2 from the atmosphere to achieve net zero by 2050. We are enthusiastic about this collaboration with Climeworks. Combined with safe and permanent storage, direct air capture has the potential to get the carbon cycle back in balance,” said Børre Jacobsen, the managing director of Northern Lights, in a statement.
» Read article                
» Read about the Longship Project

Carbfix
This Icelandic Startup Is Turning Carbon Dioxide Into Stone
By Savannah Hasty, EcoWatch
March 14, 2021

Carbon emissions are the leading cause forcing the climate crisis today. These emissions account for more than 60% of man-made global warming, as well as other conditions related to climate crisis such as ocean acidification and weather pattern disruptions. However, a new solution to these impending carbon catastrophes has been discovered by Icelandic startup Carbfix, which is turning carbon dioxide into stone.

Carbfix offers a plan for reaching Paris agreement goals for limiting anthropogenic warming using a process known as carbon capture and storage (CCS). The project, founded in 2007 by Reykjavik Energy and several research institutions (now owned by Reykjavik Energy), aims to capture CO2 from industrial sites, dissolve it in water, and then inject it into the ground where it turns to rock. The process only takes two years, effectively accelerating the process of natural carbon storage to meet increasing carbon emissions throughout the developed world.

Carbfix’s proprietary technology “captures” the carbon dioxide from an industrial facility before it enters the atmosphere, effectively bringing the facility’s emissions to zero. They are also partnering with a Swiss company, Climeworks, to perform what is called carbon capture, which withdraws the CO2 from surrounding air. This can reduce a company’s net carbon footprint, as well as negate previously unaddressed carbon emissions.
» Read article            

» More about carbon capture and sequestration

PEAKING POWER PLANTS

summer surgesReport: These rarely used, dirty power plants could be cheaply replaced by batteries
By Rachel Ramirez, Grist
June 11, 2020

As air conditioning units begin to hum with summer’s arrival, electricity use surges. Across the U.S., that demand is met by more than 1,000 so-called peaker power plants, which typically only run during infrequent periods of peak energy demand. They tend to be expensive, inefficient, and disproportionately located in low-income neighborhoods of color, where they emit large amounts of carbon dioxide and harmful pollutants.

For all these reasons, environmental advocates consider peaker plants a high priority for retirement and replacement. A sweeping analysis released last month by researchers at the nonprofit Physicians, Scientists, and Engineers for Health Energy (PSE) studied nine states to identify which peaker plants have the greatest potential to be replaced by clean energy alternatives, based on their operational features and the characteristics of local electricity grids, as well as the health, environmental, and equity benefits of retiring the plants. All of these factors combined present unique opportunities to replace some of the electricity sector’s most polluting facilities in Arizona, California, Florida, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, and New York.

The feasibility of these opportunities is largely the result of recent breakthroughs in energy storage, particularly battery storage. Energy storage is essentially any system used to store electricity generated at one point in time for use at another time. The most familiar type of energy storage is battery storage, in which the electricity generated by a solar panel system during the day, for example, could be stored and then later supplied once the sun sets.

“Energy storage is now competitive with peaker power plants,” said Elena Krieger, PSE’s director of research. “We’re sort of at that economic turning point where that’s the opportunity, but ideally that could set a precedent for how we think about adopting clean energy across the grid as a whole — so that we bring on these clean resources and not only reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but prioritize health, prioritize resilience, and prioritize equitable access.”
» Read article               
» Read report – The Fossil Fuel End Game (March 2021)  

» Read report – Dirty Energy, Big Money (May 2020)
» Join BEAT’s Put Peakers in the Past coalition! 

» More about peakers

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Kern County pumpjack
Keeping It All In the Ground?
Exploring legal options for congressional and executive actions to terminate existing fossil fuel leases on federal lands.
By Eric Biber, Legal Planet
March 11, 2021

The Biden Administration has set aggressive goals for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from the United States.  And a necessary component for any long-term plan to address greenhouse gas emissions from the United States is reducing and ultimately eliminating the emissions from fossil fuels produced on federal lands.

Why is this such a critical issue? Almost half of the coal mined in the United States, about a quarter of the oil, and around one-sixth of the natural gas is produced from leasing federal lands to private parties for coal, oil, and gas development.  Without addressing federal fossil fuel leasing, the United States would not be able to meet the commitment of the Paris Accord to reduce greenhouse gas emissions enough to avoid more than two degrees Celsius in global temperature increases.

The Biden transition team indicated that they were looking at ending new fossil fuel leasing on federal lands – particularly coal – to help meet climate goals. On Biden’s first day in office, the administration set a 60-day pause on leasing and permitting, and there is talk of a full moratorium. But that just addresses new leases. What about the existing leases on federal lands, which already lock in substantial emissions and under current leasing systems could produce for decades to come?

Addressing those leases may be crucial for the new Administration.  To help answer this open question, we undertook a comprehensive assessment of the legal capacity of the federal government to end existing fossil fuel leases.

Of course, just because something can be legally done doesn’t mean it should be.  For example, there is a fair amount of uncertainty about whether unilateral efforts by a single nation to restrict the production of fossil fuels will significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, since those unilateral reductions may be offset by imports from other producers around the world, or by substituting one fossil fuel for another.  However, our initial review suggests that it is plausible that termination of coal leasing on federal lands in the United States would lead to significant emissions reductions – in part because the global market for coal is not nearly as robust as for oil, and in part because there are good lower-carbon or carbon-free substitutes for many uses of coal (e.g., renewable energy to produce electricity).
» Read article                
» Read the legal assessment

welcome to Colorado
Energy companies have left Colorado with billions of dollars in oil and gas cleanup
As the state tries to reform its relationship to drilling, an expensive task awaits: plugging nearly 60,000 oil and gas wells.
By Nick Bowlin / High Country News, reprinted in Energy News Network
March 12, 2021

When an oil or gas well reaches the end of its lifespan, it must be plugged. If it isn’t, the well might leak toxic chemicals into groundwater and spew methane, carbon dioxide and other pollutants into the atmosphere for years on end.

But plugging a well is no simple task: Cement must be pumped down into it to block the opening, and the tubes connecting it to tanks or pipelines must be removed, along with all the other onsite equipment. Then the top of the well has to be chopped off near the surface and plugged again, and the area around the rig must be cleaned up.

There are nearly 60,000 unplugged wells in Colorado in need of this treatment — each costing $140,000 on average, according to the Carbon Tracker, a climate think tank, in a new report that analyzes oil and gas permitting data. Plugging this many wells will cost a lot — more than $8 billion, the report found.

Companies that drill wells in Colorado are legally required to pay for plugging them. They do so in the form of bonds, which the state can call on to pay for the plugging. But as it stands today, Colorado has only about $185 million from industry — just 2% of the estimated cleanup bill, according to the new study. The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) assumes an average cost of $82,500 per well — lower than the Carbon Tracker’s figure, which factors in issues like well depth. But even using the state’s more conservative number, the overall cleanup would cost nearly $5 billion, of which the money currently available from energy companies would cover less than 5%.

This situation is the product of more than 150 years of energy extraction. Now, with the oil and gas industry looking less robust every year and reeling in the wake of the pandemic, the state of Colorado and its people could be on the hook for billions in cleanup costs. Meanwhile, unplugged wells persist as environmental hazards. This spring, Colorado will try to tackle the problem; state energy regulators have been tasked with reforming the policies governing well cleanup and financial commitments from industry.
» Read article               

» More about fossil fuels

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

Cove Point 2014Biden faces climate clash over LNG
By Lesley Clark and Carlos Anchondo, E&E News
March 8, 2021

The Biden administration has yet to fully delineate its position on liquefied natural gas, prompting cautious optimism from industry but spurring pushback from groups that want to phase out the fuel.

In an interview Friday, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm acknowledged DOE’s legal responsibility to review proposed LNG export facilities and suggested that could move in step with things like curbing flaring and leaks from gas pipelines (see related story).

LNG shipments are often bound for “countries that would otherwise be using very carbon-intensive fuels,” Granholm said, adding that “it does have the impact of reducing internationally carbon emissions.”

“However, I will say there is an opportunity here, as well, to really start to deploy some [carbon capture, use and storage] technologies with respect to natural gas in the Gulf [of Mexico] and other places that we are siting these facilities for that we are obligated to do under the law,” Granholm said.

The comments highlight a dilemma the Biden administration is facing on LNG: How will the fuel coexist with aggressive climate targets without infuriating a core of the Democratic base? President Biden has vowed to tackle climate change by transitioning to a net-zero-emissions economy by 2050.

It’s currently unclear how Biden might differ on the issue from the previous two administrations. President Obama got many LNG export projects off the ground, and both Trump administration Energy secretaries were enthusiastic supporters. Former Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s DOE dubbed it “freedom gas” at one point, boasting that it provided U.S. allies with a cleaner source of energy.

Biden officials have, however, made comments that mirror those from industry and some analysts about the role LNG exports can play in offsetting the continued growth of coal, particularly in China and Southeast Asia.
» Read article                

» More about LNG

BIOMASS

biomass facts for VicDespite his claims, science is not on Vic Gatto’s side
Proponent of biomass power plant is making up ‘facts’
By Mary S. Booth, CommonWealth Magazine | Opinion
March 18, 2021

VIC GATTO has been a tireless campaigner for the 42-megawatt biomass power plant in East Springfield that his company wants to build over widespread community opposition. But in his effort to ostensibly dispel “public misinformation” about the proposed Palmer Renewable Energy plant (“Biomass Plant COO Says Science is on His Side,” Feb. 27, 2021), he is simply blowing more smoke.

We’ll grant Gatto’s complaint that the permitting process, which began in 2008, has been lengthy, complex, and litigious. This is testament to how bitterly contested this proposal has been from the beginning. But just because this plant has a permit does not make it benign.

Let’s look at the facts. According to its 2011 operating permit from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, the Palmer biomass plant will burn nearly a ton of green wood chips per minute around the clock, requiring a smokestack more than 20 stories high to help disperse the pollution.

Even with “state of the art” pollution controls, the plant will emit more than 200 tons of harmful air pollutants each year, including fine particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, volatile organic chemicals, and heavy metals such as mercury and lead. And that’s assuming the plant, once built, is able to comply with its permit restrictions. Around the country, the performance of biomass plants has been less than stellar, with frequent cases of air and water permit violations, fires, and other environmental hazards.

Gatto’s dismissive comments about the “very slight” air quality impacts of his project are particularly insensitive to the legitimate concerns of the Springfield community. The air permit allows the Palmer biomass plant to release more than 33 tons of fine particulate pollution per year, and emissions from increased truck traffic and “fugitive” emissions from wood chip and ash storage at the site will add to the ground-level air pollution burden. Since the plant was proposed, we’ve learned more about the cumulative impacts of air pollution, which include asthma, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, low birth weight, dementia, and now, increased impacts and deaths from COVID-19.

These impacts are likely to be particularly acute in an overburdened environmental justice community like Springfield, where state environmental health tracking data show that residents already suffer from disproportionately high rates of asthma and heart attack hospitalizations, poor air quality, and inadequate access to health care.  Attorney General Maura Healey’s office has written that “the proposed biomass facility in Springfield would jeopardize the health of an environmental community already deemed the nation’s ‘asthma capital.’”

In addition to denying the health risks, Gatto continues to make unsubstantiated claims about the climate benefits of his project, claiming that a state-sponsored study concludes that burning “waste” wood such as tree trimmings will result in less greenhouse gas pollution compared to chipping it and “allowing it to decompose to methane on the ground.”

We could not find this statement anywhere in the studies Gatto cited — probably because it’s not what the science says.  Burning a ton of green wood releases about a ton of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere instantaneously. That same ton of wood, if left to decompose on the forest floor, would gradually emit carbon dioxide over a span of 10-25 years, returning some of the carbon to the soil and forest ecosystem. Methane — a potent climate-warming gas — is only created when oxygen is not available. In reality, a much more likely source of methane from rotting wood will be the 30-foot high, 5,000-ton wood chip fuel pile at the plant.
» Read article          

» More about biomass         

PLASTICS RECYCLING

trash pickers
Countries Tried to Curb Trade in Plastic Waste. The U.S. Is Shipping More.
Data shows that American exporters continue to ship plastic waste overseas, often to poorer countries, even though most of the world has agreed to not accept it.
By Hiroko Tabuchi and Michael Corkery, New York Times
March 12, 2021

When more than 180 nations agreed last year to place strict limits on exports of plastic waste from richer countries to poorer ones, the move was seen as a major victory in the fight against plastic pollution.

But new trade data for January, the first month that the agreement took effect, shows that American exports of plastic scrap to poorer countries have barely changed, and overall scrap plastics exports rose, which environmental watchdog groups say is evidence that exporters are ignoring the new rules.

The American companies seem to be relying on a remarkable interpretation of the new rules: Even though it’s now illegal for most countries to accept all but the purest forms of plastic scrap from the United States, there’s nothing that prevents the United States from sending the waste. The main reason: the United States is one of the few countries in the world that didn’t ratify the global ban.

“This is our first hard evidence that nobody seems to be paying attention to the international law,” said Jim Puckett, executive director of the Basel Action Network, a nonprofit group that lobbies against the plastic waste trade. “As soon as the shipments get on the high seas, it’s considered illegal trafficking. And the rest of the world has to deal with it.”

The scrap industry says that many of the exports are quite likely compliant with the new rules and that the increase in January reflects growing global demand for plastic to recycle, and use as inputs for new products. Recent history, however, shows that a large amount of plastic scrap exported from the United States does not get recycled but ends up as waste, a reality that was the impetus for the new rules.

The new rules were adopted in 2019 by most of the world’s countries, although the United States isn’t among them, under a framework known as the Basel Convention. Underlying the change was the need to stem the flow of waste from America, and other wealthier nations, to poorer ones.

Though many American communities dutifully collect plastic for recycling, much of the scrap has been sent overseas, where it frequently ends up in landfills, or in rivers, streams and the ocean. China, which once accepted the bulk of that waste, in 2018 banned all plastic scrap shipments, declaring that it no longer wanted to be the “world’s garbage dump.”
» Read article               

» More about plastics recycling

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