Tag Archives: Markey

Weekly News Check-In 2/26/21

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Welcome back.

We’re following two very positive news developments this week. First, a planned seismic survey for oil and gas reserves in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) – a brutal environmental assault  – was cancelled when a contractor missed a deadline for counting polar bears in the affected area. The Biden administration will not give them a second chance.

A couple days later we learned of a definitive vote by the Delaware River Basin Commission to ban fracking throughout the entire Delaware River watershed – a huge, environmentally sensitive region from the Catskills to Delaware Bay. This makes a longstanding moratorium permanent.

Meanwhile, folks in Weymouth continue to fight the compressor station. Now that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has agreed to review the controversial air quality permit, elected officials are pressing for the community’s health concerns to finally be taken seriously.

We’re showcasing another example of businesses retooling to thrive in a greener economy – a family-owned manufacturer in Virginia, now under third-generation leadership, has pivoted away from making coal mining equipment with plans to go big into battery storage.

Of course the climate is a mess, but we even found some good news here. A Maine startup called Running Tide Technologies is experimenting with carbon sequestration through free-floating kelp farms. Lots of practical and environmental questions have to be answered before the plan can be implemented and scaled up, but the core idea is simple and elegant. Our second bit of climate news will warm the hearts of our policy wonk friends: The Biden administration has reset of the social cost of carbon, and expects to raise it even further. This number, used in cost/benefit analysis around climate mitigation investments, was ridiculously undervalued by the Trump administration.

Since clean energy generation was falsely scapegoated during last week’s weather-related Texas grid failure, we’re offering a report on real lessons that can be learned from that disaster. This is also a good opportunity to consider the other side of the equation – demand for that energy – and the imperative to address energy efficiency in buildings.

We recently ran an article about Highland Electric Transportation, the Massachusetts electric school bus provider with an innovative business model that allows cash-strapped school districts to avoid the steep upfront costs associated with purchasing new electric buses. They’re gaining traction now, attracting investors and landing substantial contracts.

We’ve also been closely following the progress of Massachusetts’ landmark climate legislation as it bounces back and forth between the legislature and governor. Various industry groups lobbied heavily against parts of it, and this is reflected in Governor Charlie Baker’s initial veto and subsequent amendments. We offer a report on these industry influences, and where they’re coming from.

On biomass, we show what it takes to feed trees into Britain’s huge Drax power station. All of the bad ideas making Drax possible are alive and well in Governor Baker’s head, as he pursues the pretzel logic of changing Massachusetts’ Renewable Portfolio Standard to support the proposed biomass generating plant in Springfield.

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

— The NFGiM Team

 

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

lawmakers push regulators
Lawmakers push regulators to reexamine compressor approval
By Jessica Trufant, The Patriot Ledger
February 24, 2021

Members of Weymouth’s congressional delegation want federal regulators to reconsider their decision to allow the compressor station on the banks of the Fore River to go into service. 

U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch and U.S. Sens. Edward Markey and Elizabeth Warren recently sent a letter to Richard Glick, chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, asking that the commission rescind the in-service authorization issued for the compressor station in September.

“The site is located within a half mile of Quincy Point and Germantown – “environmental justice communities” that suffer persistent environmental health disparities due to socioeconomic and other factors – as well as nearly 1,000 homes, a water treatment plant and a public park,” the legislators wrote in the letter. “An estimated 3,100 children live or go to school within a mile of the site, and more than 13,000 children attend school within three miles of the compressor station.”

Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station, the City of Quincy and other petitioners have also asked the commission to revoke the authorization and reconsider its approval of the project.

“We urge you to review their concerns fully and fairly, and to swiftly move to rehear the approval of the in-service certificate,” the lawmakers wrote in their letter.

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

The compressor station is part of Enbridge’s Atlantic Bridge project, which expands the company’s natural gas pipelines from New Jersey into Canada. Since the station was proposed in 2015, residents have argued it presents serious health and safety problems.

Last fall, local, state and federal officials called for a halt of compressor operations when two emergency shutdowns caused hundreds of thousands of cubic feet of natural gas to be released into the air.
» Read article                 

» More about Weymouth compressor station       

 

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

no frack zone
Amid lawsuits, Delaware River Basin Commission makes fracking ban permanent
The formal ban came a month after a federal judge set an October trial date to hear a challenge to the drilling moratorium.
By Andrew Maykuth, Philadelphia Inquirer
February 25, 2021

The Delaware River Basin Commission on Thursday approved a permanent ban on hydraulic fracturing of natural gas wells along the river, doubling down in the face of new legal challenges.

The DRBC’s vote maintains the status quo — it formally affirms a drilling moratorium imposed in 2010 by the commission, the interstate agency that manages water use in the vast Delaware watershed. But environmentalists hailed the frack ban as historic.

The commission said it had the authority to ban fracking in order to control future pollution, protect the public health, and preserve the waters in the Delaware River Basin. For more than debate, environmental activists have rallied substantial public opposition in the basin to pressure the commission to enact the ban.

The formal ban came a month after a federal judge set an October trial date to hear a challenge from landowners to the drilling moratorium, which is now a permanent ban. Pennsylvania Republican lawmakers, along with Damascus Township in Wayne County, also filed a separate federal legal action last month alleging that the moratorium illegally usurps state legislators’ authority to govern natural resources.

Representatives of the governors of four states that are drained by the river — Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and New York, all governed by Democrats — voted in favor of the ban. The fifth commission member, a federal government representative from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, abstained because he said the corps needed additional time to “coordinate” with the new Biden administration.
» Read article                
» See Delaware River Basin map      
» Read Natural Resources Defense Council blog post             

Gavin Newsom sued
Avowed Climate Champion Gavin Newsom Sued for ‘Completely Unacceptable’ Approval of Oil and Gas Projects in California
“Newsom can’t protect our health and climate while giving thousands of illegal permits each year to this dirty and dangerous industry. We need the courts to step in and stop this.”
By Brett Wilkins, Common Dreams
February 24, 2021

Accusing California regulators of “reckless disregard” for public “health and safety,” the environmental advocacy group Center for Biological Diversity on Wednesday sued the administration of Gov. Gavin Newsom for approving thousands of oil and gas drilling and fracking projects without the required environmental review.

The lawsuit (pdf) claims that the California Geologic Energy Management Division (CalGEM) failed to adequately analyze environmental and health risks before issuing fossil fuel extraction permits, as required by law. According to the suit, California regulators approved nearly 2,000 new oil and gas permits without proper environmental review. 

“CalGEM routinely violates its duty to conduct an initial study and further environmental review for any new oil and gas well drilling, well stimulation, or injection permits and approvals,” the suit alleges. “Instead, CalGEM repeatedly and consistently issues permits and approvals for oil and gas drilling, well stimulation, and injection projects without properly disclosing, analyzing, or mitigating the significant environmental impacts of these projects.”

The center noted that “despite Gov. Newsom’s progressive rhetoric on climate change, he has failed to curb California’s dirty and carbon-intensive oil and gas production.”

“His regulators continue to issue thousands of permits without review, and the governor has refused to act on his stated desire to ban fracking,” the group said in a statement.
» Read article                
» Read the Center for Biological Diversity complaint against CalGEM                   

» More about protests and actions              

 

GREENING THE ECONOMY

made in Virginia
This Virginia coal-mining equipment supplier sees a future in clean energy
Under third-generation leadership, a family-owned company has pivoted to energy storage and sees opportunity for other southwest Virginia companies to follow.
By Elizabeth McGowan, Energy News Network
Photo By Lawrence Brothers Inc. / Courtesy
February 22, 2021

When Melanie Lawrence packed her bags for the University of Tennessee in 1998 to major in Spanish and English, she aspired — not at all maliciously — to leave Tazewell County in the dust.

The Virginian flourished in Knoxville.

Her academic aptitude was her ticket to Spain and then Brussels for a graduate degree in international law and relations. She traveled the world — including a year spent aiding refugees on the Ethiopia-Sudan border — practicing humanitarian law. By 2007, she was married to fellow globetrotter Fernando Protti and living in a Washington, D.C., suburb. 

A year later, home called. The family business, which manufactured battery trays for coal-mining equipment, was seeking leadership from the third generation. 

The oldest of four sisters, Protti-Lawrence somewhat surprised herself by saying yes, aware that the wide gap between the nation’s capital and Appalachia isn’t measured in mere mileage.

For the last dozen years, Melanie, president, and Fernando, CEO, have fearlessly focused on diversifying Lawrence Brothers Inc.’s product line beyond less-and-less-relevant coal. Now, just 10% of its business is coal-related, a severe and intentional drop from 95% in 2008.

“If we had stuck solely with coal, we would be out of business,” Protti-Lawrence said. “You can’t strategically plan or grow if you’re relying on one industry. We made an absolute effort to go beyond our wheelhouse.”

That grit and innovation inspired an “aha” energy storage moment for Adam Wells of Appalachian Voices and Vivek Shinde Patil of Ascent Virginia.

Both nonprofit thinkers have been dogged about linking an oft-forgotten slice of their state to the wealth of jobs and knowledge blooming in the booming renewable energy industry. Why couldn’t companies in Tazewell and Buchanan counties pivot to exporting advanced batteries and other components that fuel cars in Asia, light homes in California or store energy generated by wind farms in Europe?
» Read article                 

» More about greening the economy          

 

CLIMATE

Running Tide
Maine Startup Aims To Pull Carbon Out Of The Atmosphere By Growing — And Then Sinking — Kelp Farms
By Fred Bever, Maine Public Radio, on WBUR
February 16, 2021

The fight against climate change has long focused on scaling back humanity’s emissions of planet-warming carbon-dioxide. But a movement is growing to think bigger and find ways to actually pull existing CO2 out of the air and lock it up somewhere safe.

One Maine startup has an innovative approach that’s drawing attention from scientists and investors: grow massive amounts of seaweed and then bury it at the bottom of the deepest sea, where it will sequester carbon for thousands of years.

On a fishing boat a few miles out in the Gulf of Maine, Capt. Rob Odlin and Adam Rich are tossing buoys into the water. Each is tethered to a rope entwined with tiny seeds of kelp, a fast-growing seaweed.

“We’re just fishing for carbon now, and kelp’s the net,” Odlin says.

The project is experimental R&D for a company called Running Tide Technologies, based on the Portland waterfront.

Marty Odlin, the boat captain’s nephew and the CEO of Running Tide, explains the company’s mission.

“Essentially what we have to do is run the oil industry in reverse,” he says.

Odlin wants to mimic the natural processes that turned ancient plants into carbon-storing fossil fuels — and do it in a hurry. He sees individual kelp microfarms floating hundreds of miles offshore, over the deepest parts of the world’s oceans.

The kelp soaks up carbon, via photosynthesis, and grows. After about seven months, the mature blades get too heavy for their biodegradable buoys, and sink.

“The kelp will sink to the ocean bottom in the sediment, and become, essentially, part of the ocean floor,” Odlin says. “That gets you millions of years of sequestration. So that’s when you’re making oil. That’s got to be the ultimate goal.”
» Read article            

baseline restored
How Much Does Climate Change Cost? Biden Expected to Raise Carbon’s Dollar Value
The administration is expected to temporarily increase the “social cost” of carbon, at least to the level set by Obama, but climate-concerned economists say that’s not high enough.
By Marianne Lavelle, InsideClimate News
February 19, 2021

In fact, it calculated that the benefits of action on climate change added up to as little as $1 per ton of carbon dioxide, and it set policy accordingly. Almost any steps to reduce greenhouse gases seemed too costly, given the paltry potential gain for society.

President Joe Biden’s White House is moving forward on a crucial first step toward building back U.S. climate policy and is expected to direct federal agencies to use a figure closer to $52 per ton as their guidance for the so-called “social cost of carbon” number on a temporary basis.

That figure, applied during the Obama administration, is likely to serve as a baseline while the Biden administration works on developing its own metric amid calls by climate-focused economists for a value that is at least twice as high.
» Read article                

» More about climate                 

 

CLEAN ENERGY

Texas crisis debrief
Inside Clean Energy: The Right and Wrong Lessons from the Texas Crisis
The state experienced an “all-of-the-above” failure, and previewed a future of winter peaks in energy demand. The Ted Cruz scandal was also instructive.
By Dan Gearino, InsideClimate News
February 25, 2021

Now that the power is back on in Texas, we are entering a phase with investigations of all the systems that failed.

But some of the biggest lessons are already apparent.

Here are some of the things I learned, or relearned:
» Read article            

» More about clean energy                

 

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

five things about builng emissions
5 Things to Know About Carbon-Free Buildings and Construction
By Stuart Braun, Deutsche Welle, in EcoWatch
February 24, 2021

We spend 90% of our time in the buildings where we live and work, shop and conduct business, in the structures that keep us warm in winter and cool in summer.

But immense energy is required to source and manufacture building materials, to power construction sites, to maintain and renew the built environment. In 2019, building operations and construction activities together accounted for 38% of global energy-related CO2 emissions, the highest level ever recorded.

To ensure that the Paris climate targets are met, the building and construction industry needs to become a climate leader by moving towards net-zero construction. Its CO2 emissions need to be cut in half by 2030 for building stock to be carbon-free by 2050, according to a recent report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

In response, a raft of new net-zero building initiatives are focused on curbing emissions across the whole building lifecycle.

A report released by C40 in October 2019 showed that the construction industry alone could cut emissions from buildings and infrastructure by 44% by 2050. Oslo, Copenhagen and Stockholm have since committed to take a leadership role in creating a global market for low-emission construction materials and zero-emission machinery.

Oslo, for instance, aims to make all city-owned construction machinery and construction sites operate with zero emissions by 2025. Meanwhile, Copenhagen’s bold plan to be climate-neutral by 2025 will draw heavily on its commitment to zero-carbon construction. This will be achieved in part through “fossils- or emission-free construction machinery in construction projects,” said Frank Jensen, mayor of Copenhagen.

With Stockholm also part of a cross-border tender for sustainable procurement of mobile construction machinery, such unified demand is designed to send a signal to the market, according to Victoria Burrows. The end result will be to “create a ripple effect” that will help kickstart the net-zero building transition.
» Read article           
» Read the UN report on building sector emissions        

» More about energy efficiency         

 

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

Highland kickstartHighland Electric Raises $235M, Lands Biggest Electric School Bus Contract in the U.S.
Maryland county taps startup’s all-inclusive EV fleet leasing model to break up-front electrification cost barriers.
By Jeff St. John, GreenTech Media
February 25, 2021

Electric school buses don’t just eliminate the carbon and pollution emissions of their diesel-fueled counterparts, they cost less to fuel and maintain over the long haul. 

Unfortunately for cash-strapped school districts, an electric school bus still costs more than twice as much as a diesel bus today. And that’s not counting the cost of new charging infrastructure, or the risk that those charging costs may drive a district’s electric bills through the roof. 

Highland Electric Transportation says it can remove those barriers to school districts and transit authorities, by taking on the financing and management of an EV school bus fleet in exchange for a fixed annual leasing fee. In the past week, the Hamilton, Mass.-based startup has won two votes of confidence in its business model. 

The first came last week, with the close of a $253 million venture capital investment led by Vision Ridge Partners with participation by previous investors and Fontinalis Partners, the venture fund co-founded by Ford Motor Co. executive chairman Bill Ford.

The second came this week, when Maryland’s Montgomery County Public Schools awarded Highland a contract to supply it with what will be the country’s largest electric school bus fleet. The deal will start with 326 buses to be delivered over the next four years, along with charging systems at five bus depots. 

The cost of that service, $169 million, will be spread out over 16 years, and will fit into the existing budget structures for its existing diesel bus fleet, said Todd Watkins, the district’s transportation director. After seven years of budget neutrality, the contract will end up saving the district money compared to what it could have expected to spend on its existing bus fleet, he said.
» Read article            

» More about clean transportation           

 

LEGISLATIVE NEWS

MA state house dome
Andrew Ahern: ‘Who’s delaying climate action in Massachusetts?’
By Andrew Ahern, Telegram & Gazette | Opinion
February 17, 2021

On Jan. 28, the Massachusetts House and Senate approved a major climate change bill, sending it to Governor Baker for him to sign. The “Next-Generation Roadmap for Massachusetts Climate Policy” would be the first major piece of climate legislation passed into Massachusetts law since the 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act.

That may sound surprising to some. In a state with so many progressive voters and an active climate scene, a 13-year gap on climate action seems counterintuitive. Add the fact that within those 13 years, we’ve seen accelerated global warming and record temperatures, it becomes worse than surprising, but maddening. Why such a delay?

Now, we might have some (definitive) answers. In mid-January, Brown University’s Climate Social Science Network (CSSN) released a report titled “Who’s Delaying Climate Action in Massachusetts? Twelve Findings.” The report, using data from over 1,187 pieces of testimony and over 4,000 lobbying records regarding clean energy, has some pretty remarkable findings.

Of the 12 findings, five discuss lobbying efforts from groups and organizations who actively fight against climate policy and clean energy.

Take our investor owned utilities as an example. In “Finding 3: On lobbying, clean energy advocates are outspent more than 3.5 to 1,” the report finds that trade associations representing real estate, fossil fuels and power generation industries are among the top 10 groups opposing climate and clean energy legislation over a six-year period (2013-2018).

National Grid and Eversource, Massachusetts’ two largest utility companies, opposed 56 and 32 climate and clean energy bills respectively, spending over a combined $3.5 million in lobbying efforts to do so. Others, like ExxonMobil and the American Petroleum Institute add to this, with climate action obstructors outspending climate action advocates 3.5 to 1.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t stop there. The report finds that Eversource and National Grid actively oppose solar energy. While the report notes that both utility companies showed some support for expanding wind energy and hydropower, both were active in opposing solar net-metering, which would allow an expansion of solar energy in the commonwealth.
» Read article           
» Read the Brown University CSSN Research Report, “Who’s Delaying Climate Action in Massachusetts? Twelve Findings”              

» More legislative news                

 

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

ANWR seismic survey dead
Seismic Survey of Alaskan Arctic Refuge Won’t Move Forward
A missed deadline for flights to look for polar bears means the work to locate oil reserves in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is effectively killed.
By Henry Fountain, New York Times
February 22, 2021

An Alaska Native group failed to meet a critical deadline as part of its proposal to conduct a seismic survey in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the Interior Department announced. The failure effectively kills the survey, which would have determined the location of oil and gas reserves in part of the refuge in anticipation of drilling there.

A department spokeswoman, Melissa Schwarz, said that the group, the Kaktovik Iñupiat Corporation, had not undertaken reconnaissance flights to detect polar bear dens in the proposed survey area as a prelude to sending trucks and other survey equipment rolling across the refuge’s coastal plain this winter.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, an Interior Department agency, had required that three flights be conducted before Feb. 13 as part of the corporation’s request for an authorization that would require extensive efforts to avoid the animals during the full seismic survey.

As a result of the missed deadline, Ms. Schwarz said that the corporation had been advised “that their request is no longer actionable, and the Service does not intend to issue or deny the authorization.”

Separately, another Interior agency, the Bureau of Land Management, has been reviewing the corporation’s application for an overall permit to conduct the survey. The decision not to act on the polar bear authorization makes the issuance of the broader permit moot, effectively killing the proposal.

The demise of the seismic survey does not have a direct effect on the oil and gas leases in the refuge that were sold in January, the last-minute culmination of the Trump administration’s efforts to open the area to development. Those leases are currently being reviewed by the Biden White House, which is opposed to drilling there.
» Read article            

gas fights backThe battle over climate change is boiling over on the home front
Municipalities want new buildings to go all electric, spurning gas-fired stoves and heating systems. The gas industry disagrees.
By Steven Mufson, Washington Post
February 23, 2021

A new front has opened in the battle over climate change: The kitchen.

Cities and towns across the country are rewriting local building codes so that new homes and offices would be blocked from using natural gas, a fossil fuel that when burned emits carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. New laws would force builders to install heat pumps instead of gas furnaces and electric kitchen stoves instead of gas burners.

Local leaders say reducing the carbon and methane pollution associated with buildings, the source of 12.3 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, is the only way they can meet their 2050 zero-emission goals to curb climate change.

But the American Gas Association, a trade group, and its members are campaigning in statehouses across the country to prohibit the new local ordinances. Four states last year adopted such laws, and this year similar legislation has been introduced in 12 more.

“Logically the natural gas industry does not want to see its business end, so it’s doing what it can to keep natural gas in the utility grid mix,” said Marta Schantz, senior vice president of the Urban Land Institute’s Greenprint Center for Building Performance. “But long term, if cities are serious about their climate goals, electric buildings are inevitable.”

Most of the gas industry, however, is fighting back.
» Read article   

» More about fossil fuel               

 

BIOMASS

Drax doubles downDrax Purchase Would Implicate the United Kingdom in Loss of Canadian Forests
The operator of the world’s largest wood-burning power station is doubling down on its destructive wood-burning business model.
By Elly Pepper Jennifer Skene Sasha Stashwick, NRDC | Blog
February 25, 2021

Today, Drax—which operates the world’s largest wood-burning power station—released its earnings report, continuing to greenwash with its claims that biomass is a “green” energy source.

But, in reality, Drax is simply doubling down on its destructive wood-burning business model, as evidenced by its recent decision to purchase Pinnacle—Canada’s largest wood pellet manufacturer—to become the world’s third-largest manufacturer of wood pellets.

While the U.K. attempts to burnish its environmental record ahead of hosting the COP 26 and push countries toward protecting at least 30 percent of the planet’s lands and oceans by 2030 (30×30) at the meeting of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), its wholesale support for biomass, including £2 million per day in subsidies to Drax, smacks of hypocrisy.

Here are the top reasons this deal makes absolutely no sense:

It will worsen climate change. Biomass energy is already a climate boondoggle since it creates emissions every step of the way, from the time trees are cut down for biomass in the forest to the smokestack when trees are burned to generate electricity. On the landscape, replacing older trees with saplings after harvest reduces the amount of carbon stored in the regrowing forest (even under the best-case scenario in which trees are replanted and regrow immediately). This is a significant source of emissions, known as foregone carbon sequestration. Biomass harvest in forests also releases carbon from the soil. Next, power plants like Pinnacle’s generate emissions by burning fossil gas (or more wood) to manufacture their pellets from the cut wood. And from there, the carbon footprint only grows, with the transport of wood pellets across the globe and the massive carbon emissions from Drax’s smokestacks. Sadly, under the government’s rules, which categorize biomass as a “renewable energy,” Drax can treat its smokestack emissions as zero. With an accounting flourish, Drax’s roughly 13 million tons of CO2 emissions per year just magically disappear in the ledger. And policymakers get to take credit for delivering “low-carbon electricity.”
» Read article             

» More about biomass       

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Weekly News Check-In 9/25/20

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Welcome back.

Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.
– Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Of the many gifts Justice Ginsburg left us from her long, brilliantly-lived life, this pearl of wisdom is foremost in my thoughts as she lies in state at the U.S. Capitol, and as I edit this week’s newsletter about our collective struggle for a fair and sustainable future. We will keep up the fight, we will keep it classy, and we very much appreciate those who have chosen to join us.

This week we’re forced to acknowledge that Enbridge will have its Weymouth compressor station, despite the long and fierce opposition and lack of any sane rationale for its existence – anywhere but especially in Weymouth. FERC issued its final approval and gas will flow soon. But this natural gas infrastructure asset deserves to be stranded and decommissioned, and resistance will continue until that happens.

We have news of other projects, too, including a link to a petition opposing the East Africa Crude Oil Pipeline proposed by French oil giant Total. This project would slice through 1,400km of critical wildlife habitat and vulnerable human communities from western Uganda to Tanzania’s coast. It would carry crude oil for export, but the stuff is so sludgy it will have to be heated over the entire pipeline length just to keep it flowing. That’s just one example of projects and policies demanding opposition, so it’s good to see that some protests are beginning to move cautiously back into the street.

The divestment movement took a couple steps forward this week. Oil Change International and Rainforest Action Network published a report identifying the banks most directly responsible for financing the disastrous fracking industry. Wells Fargo has been the biggest banker of U.S. frackers since the Paris Climate Agreement was adopted, and JPMorgan Chase is next in line. Pull the plug. Meanwhile, twelve major cities around the globe, including Los Angeles, New Orleans, New York and Pittsburgh, have committed to fossil fuel divestment, pledging to direct their funds to sustainable projects for a green recovery.

Our “Greening the Economy” section includes an interesting pairing: the first article points out the need for carbon pricing as a tool to drive decarbonization at the required pace. The second article explores why both Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. appear to have abandoned carbon pricing as a viable option. The climate can’t wait while we figure this out. Between the expected influence on environmental regulations of a 6-3 conservative majority in the Supreme Court, to the foot-dragging of fossil fuel corporations in reforming their business models, barriers to policy-driven emissions reductions may be hardening.

As usual, there’s better news down at the level of technology advances and state-level initiatives. The rooftop solar industry is applauding a tentative net-metering agreement in South Carolina between advocates and Duke Energy. Their compromise could become a model for net-metering agreements elsewhere. New, long-duration zinc batteries are set to fill a niche in the energy storage market, and California governor Gavin Newsom has ordered that all new cars and passenger trucks sold in that state must be zero-emissions by 2035. In the same week, Tesla announced battery improvements and claims it will eventually offer a $25K EV.

We wrap up with a warning about methane leaking from abandoned gas wells as the fossil fuel industry continues a decline that’s now locked in by increasing investor awareness of risks associated with pipeline infrastructure projects. And since plastics are what we make from an increasing share of the gas and oil pumped out of the ground, our final piece is a Honduran beach postcard.

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

— The NFGiM Team

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

FERC gives final authorization
Weymouth Compressor Station gets OK to startup
By Chris Lisinski/State House News Service, The Patriot Ledger
September 24, 2020

FERC’s final authorization came amid ongoing opposition to the facility from community groups, environmental and public health activists, and many elected officials who represent the region, who argue that the compressor’s proximity to densely populated neighborhoods and the Fore River present significant threats.

Alice Arena, one of the leaders of the Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station organization, said her group was “very disappointed” but “not at all surprised” with FERC’s approval.

“FERC is and has been nothing but a rubber stamp organization for the fossil fuel industry for decades, so this isn’t at all a shock,” Arena said in an interview. “I wouldn’t say we’re feeling defeated. I would say we’re feeling angry. We will continue to try to stop them from operating, and we will do that through the courts, and we will do that by proving the continued damage they will do to our air quality.”

Despite pushback, the project was able to move through its permitting hurdles at the state and federal levels.

In January 2019, when state regulators awarded air quality permits for the project, Gov. Charlie Baker said he “basically had no choice” about granting approval because of federal rules governing the process and the results of a health impact assessment he sought.

The Metropolitan Area Planning Council, which conducted the assessment that forecast no major health impacts from the facility’s operation, later announced its opposition to the compressor on environmental and safety grounds.

Department of Environmental Protection regulators disclosed during an appeal process in May 2019 that the health study was based on incomplete air-quality data, but that did not change the outcome of the challenge.
» Read article        

Dear Mr. MonacoSenators Warren And Markey Call For Shutdown Of Weymouth Compressor
By Chris Lisinski, State House News Service, on WBUR
September 21, 2020

Both of the state’s U.S. senators called Monday for Enbridge to halt operations at its Weymouth compressor station, warning that the facility should not become operational mere weeks after an equipment failure prompted a release of natural gas. In an email, the energy giant said it was moving forward with plans to make sure the plant is “fit for service.”

Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey urged Al Monaco, Enbridge’s president and CEO, to pause all activities at the site near the Fore River while investigating the circumstances surrounding the Sept. 11 emergency shutdown.

The company said that a gasket failure pushed workers to trigger an emergency shutdown system with a volume of 265,000 cubic feet of natural gas, though it has not confirmed exactly how much it released.

“Concerns have been raised that this amount of gas, vented at ground level, could have possibly been ignited by a spark from a passing vehicle and caused a fire or an explosion,” Warren and Markey wrote in a letter. “This incident clearly demonstrates that we must do more to understand the dangers that the Weymouth compressor station poses to public health and safety.”
» Read article       
» Read the letter

» More about the Weymouth compressor station

PIPELINES

Total madness
Nearly One Million People Sign Petition to Stop Total’s East Africa Crude Oil Pipeline ‘Madness’
By Maina Waruru, DeSmog UK
September 21, 2020

Almost a million people have signed a petition to stop a planned crude oil pipeline in East Africa that campaigners say poses serious risks to communities and wildlife along its route.

The East African Crude Oil Pipeline, developed by a consortium led by French company Total, will run for 1,443 kilometres from western Uganda to the Indian Ocean port of Tanga in neighbouring Tanzania. The multimillion dollar pipeline is supported by the two governments and is being developed by China National Offshore Oil Corporation and the London Stock Exchange-listed Tullow Oil, alongside Total.

Avaaz, the campaign group hosting the ‘Stop This Total Madness’ petition, says the pipeline “will rip through some of the most important elephant, lion and chimpanzee reserves on Earth, displace tens of thousands of families, and tip the whole planet closer to full-blown climate catastrophe”.
» Read article       
» Sign the petition

TGP incidents in Agawam
MassDEP, activists differ on impact from Tennessee Gas pipeline incidents in Agawam

By Peter Goonan, MassLive
September 18, 2020

A state environmental agency says two recent incidents during construction of the Tennessee Gas pipeline extension project were “relatively minor” and cleaned up — a view that drew sharp criticism from opponents of the project.

“The two events were relatively minor and quickly addressed,” said Edmund Coletta, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection.

The Columbia Gas Resistance Coalition, which opposes the Agawam pipeline project, said one incident in August involved Tennessee Gas being cited for driving trucks through a wetland area, and the second incident this month involved clay mud seeping up from the drilling operation.
» Read article        

» More about pipelines

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

Fridays are backFridays for Future Climate Strikers Are Back on the Streets
By Ruby Russell and Ajit Niranjan, Deutsche Welle, in EcoWatch
September 25, 2020

Hamstrung by coronavirus lockdowns, frustrated school strikers have spent months staging digital protests against world leaders failing to act urgently on climate change.

Today they are taking to the streets once more.

The Fridays for Futures movement, which started with activist Greta Thunberg skipping school to sit alone outside the Swedish Parliament in 2018, has become a global youth force calling for climate justice. But a surge in support last year was hobbled after coronavirus lockdowns closed schools and kept children at home.

The protest on Friday is the group’s first global action since the pandemic struck and follows meetings between prominent activists and world leaders. Last month, Thunberg and three other climate activists presented German Chancellor Angela Merkel with a letter signed by nearly 125,000 people demanding EU leaders “stop pretending that we can solve the climate and ecological crisis without treating it as a crisis.”

They have called for an immediate halt to investments and subsidies in fossil fuels and, in Germany, pressured the government to bring forward its deadline to phase out coal from 2038 to 2030, and to go carbon-neutral by 2035 instead of 2050.
» Read article        

take climate action now
Facebook suspends environmental groups despite vow to fight misinformation
Facebook blames mistake in system for restrictions on groups including Greenpeace USA
By Oliver Milman, The Guardian
September 22, 2020

Facebook has suspended the accounts of several environmental organizations less than a week after launching an initiative it said would counter a tide of misinformation over climate science on the platform.

Groups such as Greenpeace USA, Climate Hawks Vote and Rainforest Action Network were among those blocked from posting or sending messages on Facebook over the weekend. Activists say hundreds of other individual accounts linked to indigenous, climate and social justice groups were also suspended for an alleged “intellectual property rights violation”.

The suspended people and groups were all involved in a Facebook event from May last year that targeted KKR & Co, a US investment firm that is backing the Coastal GasLink pipeline, a 670km-long gas development being built in northern British Columbia, Canada.

The suspensions, the day before another online action aimed at KKR & Co, has enraged activists who oppose the pipeline for its climate impact and for cutting through the land of the Wetʼsuwetʼen, a First Nations people.
» Read article        

climate lawsuit SpainClimate Lawsuit Filed in Spain Demanding Government Increase Ambition in Confronting Climate Crisis
By Dana Drugmand, Climate in the Courts
September 22, 2019

Environmental organizations have brought a climate change lawsuit against the government of Spain in an effort to compel more ambitious action in addressing the climate emergency.

Greenpeace Spain, Ecologistas en Acción and Oxfam Intermón filed their case before Spain’s Supreme Court on September 15 contending that Spain has failed to take adequate action on climate in violation of the nation’s international obligations and legal duties. It is the first domestic climate lawsuit initiated against the Spanish government.

“To avoid devastating climate change there is only one way: to drastically and rapidly reduce CO2 emissions and accelerate the ecological transition, which requires courageous political and judicial decisions,” Mario Rodríguez, director of Greenpeace Spain, said in a press release.
» Read article       
» Read the press release (Spanish)

Betchatow plant will close
Polish Court Recognizes Climate Damage, Rules Coal Plant Operators Negotiate Closure with Environmental Lawyers

By Dana Drugmand, Climate in the Courts
September 22, 2020

A judge in Poland has ruled that operators of the Bełchatów coal plant – Europe’s single biggest emitter of carbon pollution – must negotiate a settlement with environmental lawyers that brought a lawsuit last year over the coal plant’s destructive environmental and climate impacts.

The ruling, which followed a hearing on Tuesday, Sept. 22 in the District Court of ŁódĽ, could put the Polish coal facility on a path towards closure. Lawyers for the environmental law charity ClientEarth argued that closing the Bełchatów plant’s coal operations is necessary in the face of the climate crisis. The power plant burns 45 million tons of coal every year, equivalent to a ton every second, and has emitted over a billion tons of CO2 over its lifetime. The plant’s annual emissions are roughly equal to the total annual emissions of New Zealand.
» Read article        

» More about protests and actions

DIVESTMENT

fracking fiasco
Fracking Fiasco: New report names Wells Fargo and JPMorgan Chase as main players funding U.S. shale bust
By Oil Change International – press release
September 24, 2020

A new report by Oil Change International and Rainforest Action Network (RAN) shows how major banks have continued pouring money into fracking companies in recent years despite numerous warnings that the sector was financially unsustainable — on top of the well-documented environmental, health and climate impacts of the industry.

Our research reveals that financing for the fracking industry is highly concentrated, with Wells Fargo the biggest banker of U.S. frackers since the Paris Climate Agreement was adopted, and JPMorgan Chase a standout second place. The fracking industry has been hit hard by the pandemic, with dozens of bankruptcies so far this year, but its troubles long predate the coronavirus.

“Banks and asset managers have enabled the oil and gas industry’s destructive boom and bust cycles for generations. Our planet cannot afford another oil boom. We need regulators, shareholders, and the public to force banks to consider the climate impact and demand they stop financing destructive and unstable business activities,” said Rebecca Concepcion Apostol, U.S. Program Director at Oil Change International. “Our collective health continues to be at risk, and we cannot let banks fund another oil boom when this pandemic passes.”

“The fracking sector has become a poster child for the serious problems facing the U.S. oil and gas industry,” said Alison Kirsch, lead researcher for RAN’s climate and energy program. “The disastrous climate consequences of fracking, as well as its horrific community health impacts, are well known, but by continuing to pour billions of dollars into this dying sector, banks are also injecting a real level of systemic risk into the U.S. economy.”
» Read article       
» Read the report

cities pledge to divest
12 major cities pledge fossil fuel divestment
By Kristin Musulin, Utility Dive
September 23, 2020

The mayors of 12 major cities around the globe have pledged to divest from fossil fuel companies in an effort to further support a green and sustainable COVID-19 recovery.

The C40 Cities-backed declaration, unveiled at a virtual Climate Week NYC event on Tuesday, calls on signatories to commit to divesting all city assets and pension funds from fossil fuel companies; increasing financial investments in climate solutions; and advocating for fossil-free finance from other investors.

The signatories include the mayors of Los Angeles, New Orleans, New York and Pittsburgh, along with the leaders of eight international cities including London and Oslo. Details of individual divestment amounts and timelines were not shared. Following this commitment, cities must navigate their specific divestment processes and structures in proposing next steps to pension boards.

A public declaration from a group of leading cities “sends a huge signal to the marketplace,” [New York’s Chief Climate Policy Advisor Dan Zarrilli] said, which is key to leading this charge and effectively pursuing a green recovery.

“It’s absurd how much we as a globe continue to subsidize fossil fuels, and part of the call here is to make sure our green recovery … is pulling those subsidies out” and instead putting investments toward green jobs and clean infrastructure, Zarrilli said.
» Read article        

» More about divestment

GREENING THE ECONOMY

Darwinian challengeWoodMac: Energy Sector Faces ‘Darwinian Challenge’ to Tame Climate Change
The world is on course for 2.8 to 3 degrees Celsius of warming as existing infrastructure weighs heavy and COVID-19 slows progress.
By John Parnell, GreenTech Media
September 24, 2020

The world is on course to sail past the recognized “safe” level of 2 degrees Celsius of warming to as much as 3 degrees Celsius, according to the latest Wood Mackenzie Energy Transition Outlook.

The Paris Agreement aims to limit warming to “well below 2 degrees Celsius” and ideally to limit it 1.5 degrees. Yet just as efforts toward that goal are finally scaling up — via the EU’s amplified climate targets, China’s new carbon-neutral target for 2060, and other examples — the coronavirus pandemic has introduced a massive dose of uncertainty.

“As the world begins to reconstruct its economy, all energy and natural-resources sectors will face a survival of the fittest,” said Prakash Sharma, head of markets and transitions for Asia-Pacific at Wood Mackenzie. “We call it the ‘Darwinian challenge’ because society and investors must evolve and adapt to the changes needed to overcome the twin crises and prepare for the future.”

“While the world is adding renewable power generation capacity and manufacturing electric vehicles, it is still not enough. No efforts have been made to decarbonize the existing infrastructure,” said Sharma, pointing out that huge swaths of existing steel, cement, refining and transportation infrastructure still have decades left in their life cycles.

David Brown, head of markets and transitions for the Americas at Wood Mackenzie, said that the appropriate figure for the task is $100 per metric ton of carbon dioxide equivalent. An EU carbon credit in its Emissions Trading System is currently priced at just shy of €30 ($35).

“We need more policy support than is available today. The EU is the most favorable,” Brown said during a press conference to launch the report, adding that even that support limits access to carbon credits. “Governments need to actually sponsor these projects to get them off the ground.”

Brown alluded to the need for a regulatory overhaul to make the 2-degree pathway a reality. WoodMac reports that the investment levels required, though not guaranteed, appear to be attainable. The technology necessary already exists, even where it has yet to be scaled. All eyes now return to politicians and regulators.
Blog editor’s note: November 3, 2020… Vote early if you can!
» Read article

priced outPriced Out
Both parties used to love the carbon tax. So why are they giving up on it?
By Shannon Osaka, Grist
September 23, 2020

Although carbon dioxide itself doesn’t constitute a direct health threat, fossil fuel use also releases a slurry of toxic chemicals that can lead to asthma, strokes, heart disease, and cancer. According to the World Health Organization, roughly 7 million people around the world die each year from causes linked to air pollution.

Burning fossil fuels, therefore, creates a massive cost that no one is paying for — a “negative externality” in economist-speak. “Allowing people to emit CO2 into the atmosphere for free is similar to allowing people to smoke in a crowded room or dump trash into a national park,” wrote the Nobel prize-winning economist William Nordhaus in 2008. Nicholas Stern, also an economist and the author of an influential 2006 report on global warming, has argued that climate change “is the greatest market failure the world has ever seen.”

To those who spend their days thinking about money and markets, there’s a simple fix: Put a price on carbon to reflect its actual costs to the planet and human health. If fossil fuels are more expensive, the thinking goes, individuals, corporations, and governments will not only use less energy, they’ll also boost wind and solar power, expand public transportation, and take other steps necessary to build a green economy.
» Read article        

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

RBG
How Justice Ginsburg’s Death Could Affect Future Climate Rulings
Legal experts say a sixth conservative Supreme Court judge could imperil current and future emissions regulations
By Jennifer Hijazi, E&E News, in Scientific American
September 22, 2020

If President Trump is able to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the nation’s highest bench, he may stymie climate action for generations to come.

Legal experts say that the addition of a sixth conservative justice to the court could lock in opposition to expansive readings of the Clean Air Act that encompass greenhouse gas emissions or trigger a reexamination of the landmark 2007 climate case Massachusetts v. EPA.

In either case, court watchers say, the outcome doesn’t bode well for the future of climate regulation.

“Climate change is a crisis, and we really need all the tools we can get, and some of them are probably not going to be there,” said Dan Farber, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley.

“If Trump is able to fill this vacancy, there’ll be at least five conservative votes for at least 20 years, and we don’t know what … new doctrines that are not now on the horizon that could really weaken the power of the government to deal with climate change,” he said.

The Trump administration has made environmental deregulation a cornerstone of its agenda for the last four years, rolling out major changes to rules including emissions standards for automobiles and power plants. Green groups have lambasted the changes as violations of federal environmental and administrative law, which require reasoned rulemaking.

But a conservative Supreme Court majority that favors curbing agency powers could limit oversight of emissions without even touching Massachusetts v. EPA, which said the government can regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases as “air pollutants” under the Clean Air Act, said Hana Vizcarra, staff attorney at Harvard Law School’s Environmental & Energy Law Program.

“EPA has been reconsidering their own interpretations of the law in order to limit their own authority,” she said.
» Read article        

big oil reality check
Spoiler alert: Big oil companies are still failing on climate
By Kelly Trout, Oil Change International
September 23, 2020

Over the past year, big oil and gas companies have seen their social license and financial bottom lines face unprecedented threats. With climate disaster after climate disaster devastating communities across the globe and oil markets crashing in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, these companies have faced growing pressure – from frontline communities and Indigenous Peoples, shareholder activists and major investors, policy experts and city leaders – to take responsibility for the climate wreckage they are causing and change course.

In response, major oil and gas companies have released a slew of new commitments outlining their climate “ambitions” and pledges to become “net zero” carbon companies, all signs that the pressure is having an effect. But these oil company pledges and promises cannot be taken at face value.

That’s why today, Oil Change International, in collaboration with 30 other organisations, released a new assessment of the latest climate pledges from BP, Chevron, Eni, Equinor, ExxonMobil, Repsol, Shell, and Total. In the briefing, called Big Oil Reality Check, we focus on how these companies’ plans stack up against the bare minimum of what’s needed to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (°C).

As one might expect from corporations notorious for decades of climate deception, on the whole, these plans use fancy terminology and convoluted metrics to cover up still grossly inadequate levels of action. Granted, some companies are doing more than others (e.g., Exxon and Chevron really are the worst). But being a “leader” among laggards doesn’t cut it when we’re in a climate emergency – a crisis that the oil and gas industry has done the most to cause.
» Read article       
» Download the paper

second-place finishArctic Sea ice melts to second-place finish at annual minimum
By Gloria Dickie, Mongabay
September 21, 2020

After a spring and summer that saw record-breaking heat waves above the Arctic Circle — with 100+ degree Fahrenheit temperatures — the sea ice floating atop the Arctic Ocean reached its annual minimum extent last Wednesday, with 3.74 million square kilometers (1.44 million square miles) of sea ice remaining, coming in a close second to 2012.

In the last decade, Arctic sea ice cover has declined drastically. The record low of 3.41 million square kilometers (1.32 million square miles) reached in 2012 was largely due to an intense late-season cyclone which decimated the residual ice. What worries scientists is that 2020’s sea ice vanishing act followed a similar trajectory, even in the absence of such an extreme weather event. In no other years on record besides 2012 and 2020 has sea ice extent dropped below 4 million square kilometers (1.54 million square miles). To many experts, this indicates the Arctic has entered a new ecological state.

The drastic heating up of the Arctic is significant in itself, but also to the planet. Over the past 30 years, the region has warmed at twice the rate of the rest of the world, with the significant shifts up North not only felt there, but ultimately influencing weather patterns in the lower latitudes, possibly as far south as the equator.

Jennifer Francis studies these connections as a senior scientist at Woodwell Climate Research Center in Massachusetts. Her past research has focused extensively on how Arctic warming impacts the mid-latitudes of North America, primarily through a weakening of the northern jet stream — a high speed, high altitude river of wind that circles the pole.

The temperature difference between the Arctic (cold) and the temperate zone (warm) is one of the primary drivers of the jet stream in the Northern Hemisphere. But as sea ice vanishes and Arctic temperatures increase, the temperature variant between these regions is getting smaller. That means there’s less force driving the winds in the jet stream from west to east. Losing energy, the weakened jet stream starts to swing wildly southward, deviating from its typical polar path into lower latitudes which can cause temperate weather patterns to stall in place — bringing extended bouts of extreme weather, either drought or deluge, heatwaves or even cold periods.
» Read article                  

risky storageThis Oregon forest was supposed to store carbon for 100 years. Now it’s on fire.
By Emily Pontecorvo and Shannon Osaka, Grist
September 18, 2020

As fires ripped through the West this month, displacing families and releasing a thick, choking cloud of smoke that reached all the way to Europe, some scientists began to worry about yet another loss. Thousands of acres of forest, maintained to offset greenhouse gas emissions, might be going up in smoke.

Claudia Herbert, a PhD student at the University of California, Berkeley, who is studying risks to forest carbon offsets, noticed that the Lionshead Fire — which tore through 190,000 acres of forest in Central Oregon and forced a terrifying evacuation of the nearby town of Detroit — appeared to have almost completely engulfed the largest forest dedicated to sequestering carbon dioxide in the state.

The project, owned by the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, spans 24,000 acres. Before the fires, the state of California had issued more than 2.6 million offset credits based on the carbon stored in its trees. That translates to 2.6 million metric tons of carbon dioxide — or the equivalent of driving 560,000 cars around for one year.

California has a cap-and-trade law that limits greenhouse gas emissions from major emitters like power plants. Those companies, however, have a little bit of leeway — in order to meet the law’s requirements, instead of fully reducing their emissions, they can buy “carbon offsets.” Those often take the form of paying a forest manager to boost growth so the trees will suck up, and store, more carbon dioxide over the long term: in theory, at least 100 years. Those offsets are supposed to counterbalance any extra emissions, so the climate is no worse off than before.

Runaway wildfires, however, throw a wrench in that plan — and as climate change intensifies fires around the world, forest carbon offsets are only going to get riskier.
» Read article        

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

net metering agreement
In South Carolina, a Happy Compromise on Net Metering
The agreement between Duke Energy and Sunrun may allow other states to resolve the debate after years of conflict.
By Dan Gearino, InsideClimate News
September 24, 2020

A compromise in South Carolina between advocates of solar power and a utility may offer a blueprint for other states trying to resolve one of the major conflicts in the clean energy transition: the debate over net metering.

Duke Energy has reached an agreement with Sunrun, the rooftop solar company, and Vote Solar, the solar advocacy group, that sets up a process for compensating solar owners for the excess electricity they send back to the grid.

This potential breakthrough in the net metering debate follows years of bitter conflict in the Carolinas and across the country.

Under the plan, solar owners would pay rates that vary depending on the time of day, and would get credits at those same rates for sending excess electricity to the grid. The rates would be highest from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., when electricity demand is high. Rates would be lower during the day and lowest overnight.

The agreement, which is still subject to approval by state regulators, would allow Duke to pay lower rates for solar during the hours when the grid has plenty of electricity, such as in the morning. And by paying higher rates during times of peak demand, Duke would be encouraging solar owners to set up their panels in places that get more sun during the evening.

“This new arrangement not only recognizes the value of solar and the enabling energy grid, but it unlocks additional benefits for all customers by addressing when utilities experience peak demand across their systems in the Carolinas,” said Lon Huber, Duke Energy’s vice president for rate design and strategic solutions, in a statement.
» Read article       
» Read Duke Energy’s announcement

ORPC tide power
Maine company looks to tidal power as renewable energy’s next generation
After years of development, tidal and river energy supporters say the technology is on the cusp of wider commercial deployment, especially if it can win federal support.
By David Thill, Energy News Network
Photo By ORPC / Courtesy
September 23, 2020

With much of New England’s attention on offshore wind, a Maine company hopes to put itself on the map with tidal energy.

Portland, Maine-based Ocean Renewable Power Company recently signed a memorandum of understanding with the city of Eastport on a five-year plan to develop a $10 million microgrid primarily powered by tidal generation.

The project will be an opportunity for the small port city to expand its workforce and build its appeal for younger residents. It’s also an opportunity for ORPC to expand its reach as the company’s leaders try to find a viable market for ocean- and river-based generation in an industry largely dominated by solar and wind.

While tidal and river energy haven’t reached the same level of visibility as other renewable sources, supporters say these and related resources like wave and ocean current energy — collectively called marine and hydrokinetic resources — are at a similar point now to where solar and wind were a decade ago. They say the predictability of tides and currents in places like the Western Passage, the inlet on which Eastport is located, makes these resources promising as governments aim to create a resilient grid.

The federal Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory is also looking at hydrokinetic energy. “Each one of those [resources] has massive amounts of energy distributed at different locations around the country,” said Levi Kilcher, a researcher who focuses on ocean energy at the lab.

“If we’re totally honest, the amount of energy that’s in the tides and in the waves is not as large” as wind or solar, Kilcher said. “We really see the value in sort of diversifying our energy sources.”

Tides are very predictable, he said, and so are other water resources like rivers, waves and the Gulf Stream. “Then couple that with a diversified energy portfolio,” he said. “In my opinion, a more diverse set of energy resources gives you a more resilient energy system.”
» Read article        

» More about clean energy

ENERGY STORAGE

zinc precipitate
Can a Novel Zinc Battery Deliver Clean Multiday Backup Power?
California is testing Canadian startup e-Zinc’s long-duration technology to keep businesses powered through wildfires and outages.
By Julian Spector, GreenTech Media
September 18, 2020

California is looking for ways to keep power flowing to customers amid wildfires without burning fossil fuels. A Canadian storage technology startup thinks it has the solution.

This summer, Toronto-based e-Zinc won a $1.3 million grant from the California Energy Commission to demonstrate its long-duration zinc battery for the commercial and industrial market. As the state’s worst wildfire season on record rages on, the urgency to find new tools for clean backup power has only grown.

The batteries precipitate little bits of zinc out of a solution while charging, using a windshield-wiper-like tool to clear the plate and make room for more charging. This allows for longer-duration storage, while the cheap component costs promise to keep prices low relative to other options on the market.

The CEC grant will help the startup stake a claim on an underserved market, CEO James Larsen said in an interview.

Lithium-ion batteries are good at daily cycling for bill management, but they can’t run long enough to guarantee multiday backup, he noted. Customers looking for economic multiday backup power usually have to turn to fossil fuels, like gas or diesel generators.

“We can do both: We can do the short-duration time-of-use arbitrage and demand-charge reduction and help monetize those opportunities for customers, but we can also provide them up to two days of backup power in the face of an outage,” Larsen said.
» Read article        

» More about energy storage

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

Cal ICE ban by 2035
Newsom calls for California ban on new gas-fueled cars by 2035
By COLBY BERMEL, Politico
September 23, 2020


Gov. Gavin Newsom is calling for California to ban new gasoline-fueled vehicles within 15 years in a bid to combat climate change and make the state the first in the nation to stop sales of cars with internal combustion engines.

The Democratic governor on Wednesday signed an executive order that directs the California Air Resources Board to establish regulations requiring that all new cars and passenger trucks sold in California in 2035 be zero-emission vehicles.

The ban on gas-powered vehicles is likely to face opposition from automakers and Republican leaders in Washington, who have already battled the state over its stricter fuel economy rules. The Trump administration is fighting the state in court over whether it can set stricter emissions standards than the nation as a whole.

While environmentalists embraced his call to ban gas-powered vehicles, some questioned Tuesday why he wasn’t doing more to stop fracking.

Newsom announced he was asking state lawmakers to implement a fracking ban by 2024, but stopped well short of directing his own oil and gas regulators to stop approving fracking permits. Environmentalists have increased their criticism of Newsom on fracking in recent days, especially as the governor has emphasized California’s role in fighting climate change.
» Read article        

Tesla battery tech
How Tesla plans to make batteries cheap enough for a $25,000 car
Tesla’s big “battery day” event, explained.
By Timothy B. Lee, ARS Technica
September 23, 2020

Tesla’s business model depends on continuous improvements in the cost and energy density of batteries. When Tesla was founded in 2003, it was barely possible to build a battery-powered sports car with a six-figure price tag. Over the next 15 years, cheaper and more powerful batteries enabled Tesla to build roomier cars with longer ranges at lower prices.

Tesla expects that progress to continue—and maybe even accelerate—in the next few years. And it isn’t waiting for other companies to come up with better battery designs. In recent years, Tesla has had a large team of engineers re-thinking every aspect of Tesla’s batteries, from the chemistry inside the cells to the way the batteries are incorporated into vehicles.

At a much-touted Tuesday event, Tesla pulled back the curtain on a suite of improvements the company hopes to roll out in the next three years. In total, Tesla says that all of these innovations put together will enable a 56-percent reduction in the per-kWh cost of its batteries.

As a result, Elon Musk said, Tesla will be able to realize a longstanding dream: a truly affordable electric car.

“We’re confident that long-term we can design and manufacture a compelling $25,000 electric vehicle,” Musk said. He added that this would happen “probably about three years from now.” Tesla didn’t provide a name or other details about this planned low-cost Tesla.
» Read article        

Airbus innovatingAirbus reveals plans for zero-emission aircraft fueled by hydrogen
Aviation firm announces three different concepts with aim of taking to the skies by 2035
Jillian Ambrose, The Guardian
September 21, 2020

Airbus has announced plans for the world’s first zero-emission commercial aircraft models that run on hydrogen and could take to the skies by 2035.

The European aersospace company revealed three different aircraft concepts that would be put through their paces to find the most efficient way to travel long distances by plane without producing the greenhouse gas emissions responsible for global heating.

UK holidaymakers and business travellers could fly from London to the Canary Islands, Athens or eastern Europe without producing carbon emissions, should the plans become a commercial reality.

Guillaume Faury, the Airbus chief executive, said the “historic moment for the commercial aviation sector” marks the “most important transition this industry has ever seen”.
» Read article        

» More about clean transportation

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

abandoned gas well
A Dying Industry is Leaving A Deadly Legacy
By Andy Rowell, Oil Change International
September 18, 2020

An important investigation by Bloomberg Green, published yesterday, examined the issue of the shocking state of over three million abandoned oil and gas wells in the United States. Nor is this a problem only linked to America. There are believed to be nearly 30 million abandoned oil and gas wells worldwide.

Many of these wells are leaking methane, the potent greenhouse gas or polluting water courses. As the article states, “if carbon dioxide is a bullet, methane is a bomb.”

We have known for a long while that abandoned wells were a problem, but we still do not know the extent of the problem. Even now. The oil industry may be dying, but it will still pollute us for decades after its death.

One scientist tracking the issue, Mary Kang from Princeton, has been modeling how carbon dioxide and methane leak from old wells. In 2016, Kang published a study of 88 abandoned well sites in Pennsylvania, revealing that 90% of wells investigated leaked methane.

Another scientist working on the issue, Anthony Ingraffea, a Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Cornell who has studied leaks from oil and gas wells for decades, told Bloomberg, “we really don’t have a handle on it yet… We’ve poked millions of holes thousands of feet into Mother Earth to get her goods, and now we are expecting her to forgive us?”
» Read article       
» Read original Bloomberg Green article

risks revealed
As pipeline projects cancel, future falls into question
By James Osborne, Houston Chronicle
September 15, 2020

For years, a small clique of investors has questioned the logic of putting money into oil and gas pipelines that take decades to pay off when climate change policy was pushing the energy sector away from fossil fuels.

Banks and other institutions, however, largely continued to finance the multibillion-dollar projects, confident in projections by oil and gas companies that the so-called energy transition would take time and oil and natural gas would be needed for decades to come.

But a rash of cancellations and delays of new pipelines, largely brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, raises questions of whether those skeptics’ warnings are starting to catch on and the cancellations reflect a newfound wariness among banks to back the projects in view of an uncertain future for fossil fuels.

“No doubt some of these decisions are short-term concerns, but also an understanding there is a long-term risk profile for (pipeline) assets that cost billions of dollars and at best have 10-year shipper commitments,” said Andrew Logan, head of oil and gas at Ceres, a nonprofit advising investors on sustainability. “There’s a lot more exposure for investors than had been understood before.”

The potential impact of tougher climate policies is increasing borrowing costs for oil and gas companies, analysts said, even as low interest rates push down borrowing costs for most industries.

“The environmental pushback is starting to increase the cost of capital for some producers, leading to lower overall production, and that ultimately boomerangs into the (pipeline) space,” said John Coleman, an oil analyst at the research firm Wood Mackenzie. “The big question is how long does that transition take. Right now, the market is pricing in a rapid transition.”
» Read article

» More about fossil fuels

PLASTICS IN THE ENVIRONMENT

trash tsunami
‘Trash Tsunami’ Washes up on Honduran Beaches

By Olivia Rosane, EcoWatch
September 23, 2020

A “trash tsunami” has washed ashore on the beaches of Honduras, endangering both wildlife and the local economy.

The trash is mostly plastic waste, Voice of America reported Tuesday, and it is polluting the typically pristine tropical beaches of Omoa in the country’s north. Honduran officials said Saturday that the refuse was coming from the mouth of the Motagua River in neighboring Guatemala. It poses a problem for the local economy because it depends on the tourism the beaches attract.

“This wave of trash which came from the Motagua River really surprised us, and even though it caused problems, it has not stopped our activities,” Honduran environment official Lilian Rivera said, as Yahoo News reported. “We are committed to cleaning our beaches and keeping them clean, but today we are demanding that authorities in Tegucigalpa take strong actions, actions to find a permanent solution to this problem.”

Tegucigalpa is the capital of Honduras.

The Hondoran government, meanwhile, has demanded action from Guatemala to stem the tide of plastic, according to Voice of America.

But the plastic flowing from Guatemala’s Motagua River is an ongoing problem for the region, as The Intercept reported in 2019. The plastic tide is fed by the fact that Guatemala has few managed landfills or wastewater treatment plants. The plastic then washes out in the Caribbean Sea, home to the biodiverse Mesoamerican reef.
» Read article        

» More about plastics in the environment

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Weekly News Check-In 11/22/19

WNCI-9

Welcome back.

Massachusetts’ two US Senators are sticking with opponents of the Weymouth compressor station. This week they sent a letter to FERC chairman Chatterjee requesting a new assessment the certificate of public convenience and necessity. Their argument is simple – nearly all of the potential customers that the compressor would serve have dropped out. Remaining ones have stated publicly that the compressor is unnecessary.

On climate, a new UN report details the dangers of completing all the fossil fuel production projects currently underway. We include links to the article and the actual report. The alternative to  producing  all that fossil fuel is to drive hard on clean energy, clean transportation, and energy storage.

There’s been interesting news in what we call the regional energy chess game. In particular, ISO-New England is the subject of a couple articles critical of how they manage capacity, and pointing out that they could do a better job incentivizing the transition to renewable energy.

We found reports of protests against a huge natural gas power plant under construction in New York’s Hudson Valley. The article illuminates what a difference just a few years has made in our thinking about natural gas as a “bridge” fuel versus identifying it as a dangerous and toxic obstruction to our clean energy future. More broadly in the fossil fuel industry, we see the Bureau of Land Management having second thoughts about the legality of recent oil and gas leases on federal lands. And a play by the coal industry to promote its product as a source of rare earth elements.

— The NFGiM Team

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

U.S. senators call for 11th-hour review of compressor station proposal
By Jessica Trufant, The Patriot Ledger
November 20, 2019

WEYMOUTH — Massachusetts’ two U.S. senators are pushing federal energy regulators to hold off on issuing their final approval for a 7,700-horsepower natural gas compressor station and reconsider whether the project is necessary.

U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey sent a letter to Neil Chatterjee, chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, on Wednesday asking that the commission reject a request from gas company Enbridge to start construction of the compressor station, and instead reopen its decision to issue a certificate of public convenience and necessity for the project.

In its [2017] decision, the commission said the project is justified because five local distribution companies, two manufacturing companies and a municipal utility have contracted for the gas that would come from the Atlantic Bridge project.

But two companies that had signed on to ship natural gas made available through the Atlantic Bridge project have withdrawn and assigned their rights to the gas to National Grid, which has stated it does not need the compressor station to deliver the gas. Several other project shippers have said the compressor station is not necessary for their use of the increased capacity.

“There is to be a high bar for public convenience and necessity when the proposed facility will also be posing a serious risk of inconvenience and harm to the surrounding public,” the letter from Warren and Markey reads. “Based on this new information illustrating the lack of need for the Weymouth compressor station, FERC should reject the request for a Notice to Proceed and reexamine its issuance of the certificate of public convenience and necessity.”
» Read article      

» More on Weymouth compressor station

CLIMATE

production gap
Here’s What Will Happen to Climate if Every Planned Fossil Fuel Project Goes Ahead
By Carly Cassella, ScienceAlert.com
November 21, 2019

As the world races to mitigate a climate crisis, too many nations are having their cake and eating it too. If nothing is done to curb the global extraction of fossil fuels, commitments to the Paris agreement and other national goals will mean very little.

In just ten years, the United Nations estimates the world will produce 50 percent more oil, gas and coal than is necessary to keep temperatures below 2°C, and there will be 120 percent more fossil fuel production than we can have if we want to limit warming to 1.5°C.

“Indeed, though many governments plan to decrease their emissions, they are signalling the opposite when it comes to fossil fuel production, with plans and projections for expansion,” reads a recent report from the UN Environmental Program (UNEP).
» Read article     
» Read UNEP Production Gap 2019 Report

» More on climate

CLEAN ENERGY ALTERNATIVES

Rock Port wind
Road to 100: How one man’s mission to power his hometown by wind created a Northwest Missouri boon
By Catherine Morehouse, Utility Dive
November 21, 2019

Chamberlain has helped bring a number of projects to wind-heavy northwestern Missouri, generating $6 million annually in tax benefits for Atchison County, adding dozens of jobs and giving landowners predictable annual lease payments at a time when heightened floods and storms can devastate an agricultural community.

Conservative political commentator Rush Limbaugh made fun of the town in a July 2008 episode, after the city had made headlines. But Chamberlain said Limbaugh’s key punchline was something the city never claimed.

“Rock Port has the capacity to produce more energy in a year than they use. Does it happen on a daily basis? Absolutely not. Does it happen on a weekly or monthly basis? No,” he said.

When the wind doesn’t blow, the local co-op that manages Rock Port and other Missouri cities’ electricity demand and production pulls power from traditional sources. In Missouri, that could easily be coal, which makes up the majority of the state’s power.

“But it doesn’t negate the fact that a very, very significant majority of our power comes from renewable resources and any of that renewable that we don’t use, we’re providing to somewhere else,” said Chamberlain. “So that was the point that Mr. Limbaugh did not understand. And he didn’t ever call and ask me. He just thought that we were so stupid that when the wind wasn’t blowing, we couldn’t watch TV.”
» Read article      

Can America’s First Floating Wind Farm Help Open Deeper Water to Clean Energy?
The floating turbines off Maine’s coast could be operational by 2022. The technology could be a model for other states with deep waters, and deep local opposition.
By Kristoffer Tigue, Inside Climate News
November 20, 2019

The state with perhaps the greatest untapped potential for harnessing its ocean breezes for electricity could soon have turbines spinning off its coast after years of political resistance.

It’s a small project—up to two offshore wind turbines serving as many as 9,000 homes—but it would blaze a new trail: If all goes as planned, in 2022, Aqua Ventus will become the first floating offshore wind farm in the nation.
» Read article       

green bonds
New money: Green banks and green bonds are bringing billions to utilities for the energy transition
The financial mechanisms are bringing investors to renewables and distributed energy as utilities, co-ops and munis move away from uneconomic legacy assets.
By Herman K. Trabish, Utility Dive
November 19, 2019

Hundreds of billions of dollars in untapped new money can finance the U.S. power system’s transition away from legacy fossil assets to renewables and distributed generation.

Utilities like Duke Energy and Xcel Energy have issued billions in green bonds to fund renewables development. Green banks in New York, Connecticut and other states are backing investments in distributed resources and energy efficiency. It appears much more institutional money wants in on the green opportunity.
» Read article       

» More on clean energy

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

California to Stop Buying From Automakers That Backed Trump on Emissions
By Coral Davenport, New York Times
November 18, 2019

California’s government has hit back at automakers that sided with President Trump over the state on fuel efficiency standards, saying Sacramento will halt all purchases of new vehicles from General Motors, Toyota, Fiat Chrysler and other automakers that backed stripping California of its authority to regulate tailpipe emissions.

The ban, which the California governor, Gavin Newsom, plans to implement in January 2020, is the latest shot in the intensifying battle over climate change between Mr. Trump and the state, which he appears to relish antagonizing.

“Carmakers that have chosen to be on the wrong side of history will be on the losing end of California’s buying power,” Governor Newsom said in a statement on Monday.
» Read article       

» More on clean transportation

ENERGY STORAGE

CSP image
Can concentrated solar power act as energy storage? DOE wants to know more
By Matthew Bandyk, Utility Dive
November 19, 2019

The DOE wants information from industry, academia, laboratories and other stakeholders on “accelerating the commercialization of [supercritical carbon dioxide] power cycles that are appropriate for near-term integration with [CSP]” with a focus on “near-term commercial deployment,” according to a notice published in the Nov. 19 Federal Register.

CSP, in which a field of mirrors concentrate the sun’s rays onto a central point like a “power tower” to generate tremendous amounts of heat, can be paired with insulated tanks that absorb the thermal energy. Like a battery, that energy can be deployed at a later time, including at night when there is no PV solar energy.
» Blog editor’s note: CSP kills birds – incinerating them if they fly into the concentrated energy near boiler towers. They are often in pursuit of insects that have been drawn toward the towers’ bright light. This is an example of complex environmental costs associated with any energy source.
» Read article       

In search for cheaper, longer energy storage, mountain gravity could eventually top lithium-ion
By Matthew Bandyk, Utility Dive
November 12, 2019

Mountain gravity energy storage could be a viable way to store electricity for longer durations and at larger scales than lithium-ion battery storage can, according to a study recently published in the academic journal Energy.

The researchers propose that a motorized system similar to a ski lift could pull containers full of sand to a crane at the top of a mountain. The sand can then be sent back down the mountain propelled only by the force of gravity, generating electricity in the process.

The basic concept is similar to a gravity storage technology proposed by the Swiss company Energy Vault, which recently received a greater than $100 million equity investment from SoftBank’s Vision Fund. That technology generates electricity through gravity by lowering concrete blocks in a tower.

Lithium-ion battery storage is the fastest-growing storage type and utilities across the U.S. have procured battery storage as a way to back up intermittent renewable energy. But the length of time that they can deploy energy — typically four hours or shorter for — may not be long enough for the greater and greater amounts of solar and wind resources needed to come online to meet emissions reductions goals.
» Read article      
» Read the study

» More on energy storage

REGIONAL ENERGY CHESS GAME

excess grid capacity
PJM, NYISO and ISO-NE pay $1.4B annually for excess capacity: Report
By Iulia Gheorghiu, Utility Dive
November 22, 2019

PJM Interconnection, New York Independent System Operator (NYISO) and ISO-New England (ISO-NE) retain more control over resource adequacy than the states in their service areas, leading to higher reserve margins and higher capacity market prices, which favor incumbent assets, according to a paper published by Grid Strategies on Thursday.

The report, commissioned by the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Sustainable FERC Project, estimated approximately $1.4 billion per year in total is wasted by the Northeast regional transmission operators and independent system operators by securing a combined 34.7 GW of excess capacity.
» Read article      
» Read Grid Strategies report

Sanders, Warren join fellow senators in urging New England to speed clean energy transition
Robert Walton, Utility Dive
November 20, 2019

The group of lawmakers pointed to recent market rule changes and specifically noted the ISO’s Competitive Auctions with Sponsored Policy Resources (CASPR), a program designed to prevent state subsidized resources from depressing capacity prices.

The officials, including Democratic presidential hopefuls Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., say the CASPR program forces state-sponsored renewable energy to “wait for incumbent fossil fuel generators to retire before these clean resources can enter the capacity market.”

They were also critical of the ISO’s Inventoried Energy Program, which they say will force consumers to pay millions of dollars to existing power plants with on-site fuel supplies, such as oil, coal or liquefied natural gas. Greentech Media reports the program could mean New England consumers spend $150 million more per year on energy.
» Read article    
» Read letter      

» More about regional energy

POWER PLANTS

Cricket Valley protesters
Citing Latest Climate Science, Nearly 30 Arrested Protesting New Natural Gas Plant in New York’s Hudson Valley
By Justin Nobel, DeSmog Blog
November 19, 2019

On Saturday, November 16, 29 people were arrested in a rally at a massive natural gas-fired power plant, the Cricket Valley Energy Center, that is being constructed in a picturesque rural valley of farms and forests near the New York-Connecticut border, about 80 miles north of New York City.

“This is my first arrestable action, I am definitely excited,” said 18-year-old Lucinda Carroll, who wore thick mittens and numerous layers to brace against the sub-freezing cold and was one of 10 people chained to a neon green and yellow tractor.

“With each new report that comes out, and each new article that comes out I get angrier and angrier,” said Carroll, a student at nearby Vassar College. “I’ve spent plenty of time going to marches and rallies, I think at some point you have to take a leap of faith.”
» Read article     

» More about power plants

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY NEWS

BLM suspends leases
U.S. Suspends More Oil and Gas Leases Over What Could Be a Widespread Problem
Fossil Fuel leases totaling hundreds of thousands of acres have been suspended as courts rule against the BLM for ignoring climate impact.
By Nicholas Kusnetz, Inside Climate News
November 17, 2019

The Trump administration’s relentless push to expand fossil fuel production on federal lands is hitting a new snag: its own refusal to consider the climate impacts of development.

The federal Bureau of Land Management’s Utah office in September voluntarily suspended 130 oil and gas leases after advocacy groups sued, arguing that BLM hadn’t adequately assessed the greenhouse gas emissions associated with drilling and extraction on those leases as required by law.

The move was unusual because BLM suspended the leases on its own, without waiting for a court to rule.

Some environmental advocates say it could indicate a larger problem for the bureau.
» Read article        

coal ash goes critical
Creating a New Market for Coal in the Push to Mine ‘Critical Minerals’ for National Security
By Laura Peterson, DeSmog Blog
November 15, 2019

With the backing of the mining industry and anti-regulatory groups, the Trump administration has been seeking to expand mining on public lands and further loosen environmental rules under the banner of weaning the United States off importing minerals deemed “critical” to national security.

This move may have particular implications for the struggling U.S. coal industry and its promoters, which have begun rallying behind efforts to extract some of these so-called “critical minerals” from coal and its by-products.

In 2017, President Trump issued an executive order demanding “recommendations to streamline permitting and review processes” for “critical minerals.” The current government list of critical minerals includes a group of rare earth elements often abundant in the waste materials from mining coal and hardrock minerals like phosphate, as well as in the coal ash produced from burning coal. But while the technology to pull these elements from such mining waste is not yet economically viable and can generate its own toxic pollutants, some see the push for it as a guise for justifying further mining.

“You’ll never make money at it,” said Kevin Ashley, a retired mining engineer and former energy policy advisor. “It’s an academic exercise that allows some people to say, ‘This is why we need to continue mining coal; so we can produce more coal ash.’”
» Read article       

» More on fossil fuels

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» Learn more about Pipeline projects
» Learn more about other proposed energy infrastructure
» Sign up for the NFGiM Newsletter for events, news and actions you can take
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