Tag Archives: Marty Nathan

Weekly News Check-In 12/3/21

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Welcome back.

We’re remembering the great climate, environment, and social justice advocate, Dr. Marty Nathan who passed away on Monday at age 70. She devoted so much of herself to so many people, through a life well lived. She’ll be sorely missed.

There’s been a lot of news in the past two weeks, so I’ll bundle the stories as they relate to broad themes. Protesters hit the streets in Peabody, MA to draw attention to the contradictions between a planned peaking power plant and the state’s emissions reduction requirements. As fossil boosters charge ahead with construction plans, gas utilities in the mid-Atlantic region are cancelling similar projects. Meanwhile, two more liquefied natural gas export terminals were either cancelled (Jordan Cove) or moved closer to cancellation (Gibbstown). All of the above is related to the increasingly unfavorable investment environment for natural gas infrastructure relative to clean renewable energy and storage.

That same economic calculus is rapidly taking the shine off a fossil industry favorite: carbon capture and sequestration.

Oil and gas pipelines are increasingly difficult to justify – that includes new construction as well as continuing to operate existing assets. Especially when those old pipelines need an infusion of new cash for upgrades. Fossil interests are getting creative with their attempts to keep these lines open. That includes false claims that shutting down pipelines amounts to environmental injustice, and suggestions that implementing climate solutions will tank the economy. But a well-funded and coordinated effort to erode the concept of Native sovereignty is downright underhanded and creepy. Protests at Standing Rock held up construction of the Dakota Access pipeline (and many others since), so industry is acknowledging the potency and moral clarity of Indigenous peoples’ protests and actions by bringing court actions that could strip away Tribes’ ability to protect their own lands.

While the fossil fuel industry continues to dig and drill its way to the finish – extracting and burning every hydrocarbon molecule it can lay hands on – opposing forces continue to gather in strength and numbers. The divestment movement now has clear support from mainstream economic players, who agree that any investment in fossils grows riskier by the day. And legislation supporting citizen rights to a healthful environment, as New York recently passed, makes new fossil pipelines and power plants nearly impossible to imagine.

So we have our eyes on the many opportunities and challenges presented by the greening economy. These include strong demand for clean energy at every scale, often constrained by material supply. The need for massive improvements in energy efficiency along with the challenge of equitable delivery of programs, incentives, and services. Transforming the transportation sector; the red hot race for affordable long-duration energy storage; and the considerable issues around where to locate all this new, clean-energy infrastructure.

Hovering over all that growth and opportunity is the question of where a lot of critical resources are going to come from. Deep-seabed mining represents a potential source of badly-needed copper, cobalt, nickel and manganese. But scientists are concerned that seabed destruction, debris in the water column, and noise all risk vast environmental and ecosystem harm. We continue to list deep-seabed mining as a VBA (Very Bad Idea). Just because you can do something doesn’t mean that you should.

Other VBAs include burning woody biomass for energy, and producing lots and lots of plastics. We’ll keep you up to date on all of it.

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

— The NFGiM Team

MARTY NATHAN

Marty Nathan garden
Community recalls impact, contributions of environmental, social justice activist Dr. Marty Nathan
By BRIAN STEELE , Daily Hampshire Gazette
November 30, 2021

NORTHAMPTON — Tributes are pouring in to celebrate the life and work of Dr. Marty Nathan, a retired physician and trailblazing social justice activist who died Monday at the age of 70.

Nathan’s daughter Leah Nathan said her mother died after a recurrence of lung cancer combined with congestive heart failure. She leaves behind her husband, three children and two grandchildren.

Martha “Marty” Nathan was a co-founder of Climate Action Now, the founder of the environmental activism group 2degrees Northampton and a board member of the Springfield Climate Justice Coalition. She wrote a monthly column for the Gazette on the topic of climate change.

In June, the Gazette and the United Way of Hampshire County honored Nathan with the Frances Crowe Award, named for the legendary Northampton peace and anti-nuclear activist who died in 2019 at the age of 100. Nathan considered Crowe a friend and ally for 25 years, saying the pair “were inhabiting the same ideological and political territory.”

Leah Nathan said her mother “invested everything she had” in causes that mattered to “the people and planet she loved.”

In Nathan’s memory, loved ones should “get involved and just do something to make the change you want to see in the world,” and donate to worthy organizations.

“She was uncompromising in her beliefs, her commitment to justice, her love for her family, and doing the work that real change requires of us,” Leah Nathan said. “She was both complex and crystal clear, and the physical loss of her energy feels impossible to bear.”

Nathan’s advocacy began in the 1960s, when she protested against the Vietnam War, and it never abated. Just six weeks ago, she and three other local activists were arrested in Washington, D.C., for standing in front of the White House fence as part of a climate protest. After they were released without fines or charges, each donated money to the Indigenous Environmental Network, which organized the protest.

Russ Vernon-Jones, an organizer with Climate Action Now, was also arrested that day; he said Nathan was “an inspiration to me. She was such a model of determination and commitment and justice.”

“If she had never done this kind of activism, it would still be a huge loss,” he said, considering what a “warm, caring, generous, compassionate human being she was.”
» Read article               

PEAKING POWER PLANTS

SD no peakers
Amid the push for a cleaner future, a proposed power plant threatens to escalate the war over the region’s power grid
By David Abel, Boston Globe
November 23, 2021

PEABODY — It would cost $85 million to build, spew thousands of tons of carbon dioxide and other harmful pollutants into the atmosphere for years to come, and perpetuate the reliance on fossil fuels in a dozen communities across Massachusetts, all while a new state law takes effect requiring drastic cuts of greenhouse gas emissions.

Without state intervention, construction to build the 55 megawatt “peaker” — a power plant designed to operate during peak demand for electricity — could start in the next few weeks, making it the latest skirmish in an escalating war over the future of the region’s power grid.

Proponents of the controversial project say it’s needed to promote the grid’s reliability and to control potentially costly fluctuations in energy prices, even though its fuel — oil and gas — has become more expensive than wind, solar, and other renewable energy. Over the long term, they say, it should provide significant savings to ratepayers in Peabody and the other communities that have agreed to finance it.

Opponents say it would hinder the state’s ability to comply with the sweeping new climate law, which requires Massachusetts to reduce its carbon emissions 50 percent below 1990 levels by the end of the decade and effectively eliminate them by 2050. They add that its 90-foot smokestack would also spread harmful particulate matter in surrounding vulnerable, lower-income communities, exacerbating asthma and other respiratory illnesses.

Opponents of the project say it’s ludicrous for the state to sanction a new fossil fuel plant, noting that construction would start less than a year after Governor Charlie Baker signed the state’s landmark climate law and just a few weeks after world leaders gathered for a global climate summit in Glasgow and vowed to reduce their emissions sharply in the coming years.

Any new source of emissions, especially one that seeks to continue the use of fossil fuels for decades to come, is detrimental to the cause of eliminating emissions as soon as possible, they contend. Moreover, the hefty cost would be better spent on energy projects that would produce emissions-free power or on plants that use batteries to store that power for peak demand, they say.

This month, concerned residents held a rally in front of Peabody District Court, where they carried signs with messages such as: “Non-Renewable Energy is Peak Stupidity” and “Stop Polluting.”
» Read article               

» More about peakers

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

pro bono
This Land Episode 5. Pro Bono

By Rebecca Nagel, Crooked Media
September 13, 2021

The fight against the Indian Child Welfare Act is much bigger than a few custody cases, or even the entire adoption industry. We follow the money, and our investigation leads us to a powerful group of corporate lawyers and one of the biggest law firms in the country.

[Blog editor’s note: This podcast discusses, among others, the case Brackeen v. Haaland, a case of concern that may soon be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court, with potential to undermine native sovereignty and expose Indigenous lands to further exploitation by the oil and gas industry.]

From transcript: Matthew McGill, the lawyer representing the Brackeens in that big federal lawsuit, has used the same arguments in casino cases that he’s now using in ICWA cases, specifically that state’s rights argument we talked about earlier in the season. He’s used it to stop a tribal casino from opening in Arizona, and Gibson Dunn, where Matthew McGill works, represents two of the top three casino and gaming companies in the world. Gibson Dunn also specializes in the other industry that comes up against tribes a lot: oil. You’ve probably heard about the fight over the Dakota Access Pipeline because the resistance camp at Standing Rock made national headlines. Gibson Dunn represented the pipeline company. What happened at Standing Rock worried the oil industry. One study estimated indigenous resistance cost the Dakota Access Pipeline $7.5 billion. It also inspired movements against other pipelines. Industry leaders, including lobbying groups that represent Gibson Dunn clients, have talked openly about why these indigenous-led protests need to be stopped. Seven months after the resistance camp in North Dakota was shut down, Gibson Dunn filed the Brackeen’s case in federal court.
» Listen to podcast (35 min.)                                   

» More about protests and actions

PIPELINES

Marathon refiinery - Detroit
Right-Wing Group Uses ‘B.S.’ Environmental Justice Argument in Effort to Keep an Oil Pipeline Alive
A D.C.-based think tank with ties to fossil fuel money claims that shutting down the aging Line 5 pipeline would hurt Black communities in Michigan. Community activists say otherwise.
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
November 23, 2021

A right-wing group that has a history of receiving funding from conservative foundations and ExxonMobil is trying to frame the state of Michigan’s attempts to shut down the aging Line 5 oil pipeline as an assault on the Black community.

That industry-backed spin has not gone down well with Michigan activists. “I think that’s B.S. I think it’s phoney baloney,” Theresa Landrum, a community activist in Detroit, told DeSmog. “The Black community is not benefiting. We have been suffering all along.”

Polluting industries are often located near Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities, impacting the health of communities suffering from long standing problems of disenfranchisement and disinvestment. At the same time, these communities are bearing the brunt of the climate crisis, hit hard by extreme heat, floods, and the breakdown of critical infrastructure. And Michigan is no exception, from Flint’s lead pipe crisis, to the urban neighborhoods of Detroit where people breathe toxic air on a daily basis.

Accelerating the shift away from fossil fuels addresses multiple problems at once by cutting carbon emissions while also reducing environmental and public health threats.

But the Washington D.C.-based Project 21 is trying to paint the continued-operation of a major oil pipeline as a crucial lifeline to the Black community in Michigan. In a November press release, the group warns against interrupting the flow of “life-sustaining fossil fuels.”
» Read article                    

» More about pipelines

DIVESTMENT

financial time bomb
‘$22-Trillion Time Bomb’ Ahead Unless Banks Drop High-Carbon Investments, Moody’s Warns
By The Energy Mix
November 28, 2021

Financial institutions are facing a US$22-trillion time bomb due to their investments in carbon-intensive industries, Bloomberg News reports, citing a study last week by Moody’s Investment Services.

“Unless these firms make a swift shift to climate-friendly financing, they risk reporting losses,” Bloomberg writes. And “it’s not just the moral imperative—that fossil fuel use is destroying the atmosphere and life on Earth with it. It’s that their financial health requires leaving such companies behind.”

The $22-trillion calculation is based on the 20% of financial institutions’ investments that Moody sees as risky, the news agency explains. The total includes $13.8 trillion for banks, $6.6 trillion for asset managers, and $1.8 trillion for insurance companies.

Moody’s is urging institutions to shift their business models “toward lending and investing in new and developing green infrastructure projects, while supporting corporates in carbon-intensive sectors that are pivoting to low-carbon business models.”

Bloomberg connects the Moody’s report with an assessment just two days earlier, in which the European Central Bank said most of the 112 institutions it oversees have no concrete plans to shift their business strategies to take the climate emergency into account. Only about half of the institutions are “contemplating setting exclusion targets for some segments of the market,” ECB executive board member Frank Elderson wrote in a November 22 blog post, and “only a handful of them mention actively planning to steer their portfolios on a Paris-compatible trajectory.”
» Read article                    

» More about divestment

LEGISLATION

right to breathe
New York’s Right to ‘a Healthful Environment’ Could Be Bad News for Fossil Fuel Interests
Coupled with the state’s landmark climate law, the provision is a “blinking red light” for new gas pipelines and other oil and gas projects.
By Kristoffer Tigue, Inside Climate News
November 23, 2021

When New York regulators denied a key permit to the controversial Williams Pipeline in early 2020, in part because it conflicted with the state’s climate law, environmental policy experts called it a potential turning point.

No longer could developers pitch major fossil fuel projects in the state without expecting serious regulatory scrutiny or legal challenges, climate campaigners said, touting the decision as a victory for the state’s clean energy aspirations.

That forecast was reinforced in October. State regulators denied permits for two proposed natural gas power plants, again citing the landmark climate law, which requires New York to transition its power sector to net-zero emissions by 2040 and to reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions 85 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

Then, on election day, New York voters approved an amendment to the state constitution that granted all residents the right “to clean air and water and a healthful environment.” That amendment, which passed with nearly 70 percent of the vote, could strengthen lawsuits against polluters and further discourage developers from proposing fossil fuel projects in the state in the future, some energy experts have said.

The state’s climate law, paired with the new constitutional right to a clean and healthy environment, could set the stage for citizens to sue the government or other entities more easily for things like polluting a river or hindering the state’s legally binding clean energy targets, said Michael Gerrard, director of Columbia University’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law.

Not only does the combustion of fossil fuels drive global warming but it emits harmful chemicals and particles into the air that have been proven to contribute to significant health risks and premature death. One recent study found that the soot commonly released by the burning of fossil fuels is responsible for more than 50,000 premature deaths in the United States every year.

“It certainly sends the message that (new) large, fossil fuel facilities are going to have major problems” in New York, Gerrard said. “I wouldn’t call those decisions a death knell, but they’re certainly a blinking red light.”
» Read article                    

» More about legislation

GREENING THE ECONOMY

Robert BlakeMeet the unstoppable entrepreneur bringing solar, EVs and jobs to his Native community and beyond
Solar Bear owner Robert Blake on his booming business, extensive nonprofit work and the $6.6M DOE grant he just landed.
By Maria Virginia Olano, Canary Media
November 29, 2021

Robert Blake is a solar entrepreneur, a social impact innovator and Native activist — and his work weaves all three strands together.

Blake is the founder of Solar Bear, a full-service solar installation company, and Native Sun Community Power Development, a Native-led nonprofit that promotes renewable energy, energy efficiency and a just energy transition through education, demonstration and workforce training. Both organizations have a mission of advancing economic opportunity and environmental justice through renewable energy.

Blake is also building an EV charging network and a solar farm to power it in the Red Lake Indian Reservation in northwestern Minnesota. He hopes his work can be a model for other tribal nations to follow in pursuing energy independence and powering the clean energy transition.

We caught up with Blake to discuss his work and his motivations. The conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.
» Blog editor’s note: Click on the link below and read the conversation with Mr. Blake – he’s inspiring, positive, practical, and visionary.
» Read article                    

cobalt mine near Kolwezi
How the U.S. Lost Ground to China in the Contest for Clean Energy
Americans failed to safeguard decades of diplomatic and financial investments in Congo, where the world’s largest supply of cobalt is controlled by Chinese companies backed by Beijing.
By Eric Lipton and Dionne Searcey, New York Times
Photographs by Ashley Gilbertson
November 21, 2021

WASHINGTON — Tom Perriello saw it coming but could do nothing to stop it. André Kapanga too. Despite urgent emails, phone calls and personal pleas, they watched helplessly as a company backed by the Chinese government took ownership from the Americans of one of the world’s largest cobalt mines.

It was 2016, and a deal had been struck by the Arizona-based mining giant Freeport-McMoRan to sell the site, located in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which now figures prominently in China’s grip on the global cobalt supply. The metal has been among several essential raw materials needed for the production of electric car batteries — and is now critical to retiring the combustion engine and weaning the world off climate-changing fossil fuels.

Mr. Perriello, a top U.S. diplomat in Africa at the time, sounded alarms in the State Department. Mr. Kapanga, then the mine’s Congolese general manager, all but begged the American ambassador in Congo to intercede.

“This is a mistake,” Mr. Kapanga recalled warning him, suggesting the Americans were squandering generations of relationship building in Congo, the source of more than two-thirds of the world’s cobalt.

Presidents starting with Dwight D. Eisenhower had sent hundreds of millions of dollars in aid, including transport planes and other military equipment, to the mineral-rich nation. Richard Nixon intervened, as did the State Department under Hillary Clinton, to sustain the relationship. And Freeport-McMoRan had invested billions of its own — before it sold the mine to a Chinese company.

Not only did the Chinese purchase of the mine, known as Tenke Fungurume, go through uninterrupted during the final months of the Obama administration, but four years later, during the twilight of the Trump presidency, so did the purchase of an even more impressive cobalt reserve that Freeport-McMoRan put on the market. The buyer was the same company, China Molybdenum.

China’s pursuit of Congo’s cobalt wealth is part of a disciplined playbook that has given it an enormous head start over the United States in the race to dominate the electrification of the auto industry, long a key driver of the global economy.
» Read article                      

» More about greening the economy                 

CLIMATE

right-wing arguments
Climate change deniers are over attacking the science. Now they attack the solutions.
A new study charts the evolution of right-wing arguments.
By Kate Yoder, Grist
November 18, 2021

Believe it or not, it’s nearly 2022 and some people still think we shouldn’t do anything about the climate crisis. Even though most Americans understand that carbon emissions are overheating the planet and want to take action to stop it, attacks on clean energy and policies to limit carbon emissions are on the rise.

In a study out this week in the journal Nature Scientific Reports, researchers found that outright denying the science is going out of fashion. Today, only about 10 percent of arguments from conservative think tanks in North America challenge the scientific consensus around global warming or question models and data. (For the record, 99.9 percent of scientists agree that human activity is heating up the planet.) Instead, the most common arguments are that scientists and climate advocates simply can’t be trusted, and that proposed solutions won’t work.

That came as a surprise to the researchers. Scientists get called “alarmists,” despite a history of underestimating the effects of an overheating planet. Politicians and the media are portrayed as biased, while environmentalists are painted as part of a “hysterical” climate “cult.”

“It kind of dismayed me, because I spent my career debunking the first three categories — ‘it’s not real, it’s not us, it’s not bad’ — and those were the lowest categories of misinformation,” said John Cook, a co-author of the study and a research fellow at the Climate Change Communication Research Hub at Monash University in Australia. “Instead, what they were doing was trying to undermine trust in climate science and attack the actual climate movement. And there’s not much research into how to counter that or understand it.”
» Read article                      
» Read the study

Earthshine
“Earthshine” from the Moon shows our planet is dimming, intensifying global warming
By Zack Savitsky, Mongabay
November 18, 2021

For 20 years, researchers stared at the dark side of the moon to measure its faint but visible “earthshine,” a glow created by sunlight reflecting off Earth and onto the lunar surface. Their new analysis, published recently in Geophysical Research Letters, revealed that this ghostly light has darkened slightly, confirming satellite measurements that our planet is getting dimmer.

As the planet reflects less light, the incoming heat gets absorbed by the seas and skies. This lingering warmth probably intensifies the rate of global warming, scientists believe.

Typically, about 30 percent of the light streaming from the sun gets redirected by Earth back to space, mostly from bright white clouds. But that percentage can vary over time. In 1998, a team from the Big Bear Solar Observatory in southern California set out to track Earth’s reflectivity, or albedo, by monitoring earthshine during the days each month the telescope could see the moon’s dark side.

“It is just so naturally appealing,” said lead author Philip Goode, a physicist at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, which operates the observatory. “We’re using the moon as a mirror for the Earth.” The study ran for a full solar cycle—about 20 years—to account for variations in the sun’s activity.

Three years after Goode started Project Earthshine, NASA also began to measure Earth’s albedo with a string of satellites called Clouds and the Earth’s Radiant Energy System, or CERES. Data from both projects has matched up neatly. Since the year 2000, the planet has reflected less energy back into space: about one-half a watt per square meter. That’s similar to the dimming effect from turning off one lightbulb on a panel of 200.

When these experiments began two decades ago, many scientists expected that water in warmer seas would evaporate more quickly and create thicker clouds—thus reflecting more sunlight back into space. But the satellite and earthshine results show just the opposite: “Somehow, the warm ocean burned a hole in the clouds and let in more sunlight,” Goode told Mongabay.
» Read article                      
» Read the analysis

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

solar glare
Renewables see record growth in 2021, but supply chain problems loom
High commodity and shipping prices could jeopardize future wind and solar farms
By Justine Calma, The Verge
December 1, 2021

2021 is on course to break a global record for renewable energy growth, according to the International Energy Agency’s latest Renewables Market Report. That’s despite skyrocketing commodity prices, which could bog down the transition to clean energy in the future.

With 290 GW in additional capacity expected to be commissioned by the end of the year, 2021 will smash the record for renewable electricity growth that was just set last year. This year’s additions even outpace a forecast that the International Energy Agency (IEA) made in the spring.

“Exceptionally high growth” would be the “new normal” for renewable sources of electricity, the IEA said at the time. Solar energy, in particular, was on track to take the crown as the “new king of electricity,” the IEA said in its October 2020 World Energy Outlook report.

Still, there are some dark clouds in the IEA’s new forecast for renewables. Soaring prices for commodities, shipping, and energy all threaten the previously rosy outlook for renewable energy. The cost of polysilicon used to make solar panels has more than quadrupled since the start of 2020, according to the IEA. Investment costs for utility-scale onshore wind and solar farms have risen 25 percent compared to 2019. That could delay the completion of new renewable energy projects that have already been contracted.

More than half of the new utility-scale solar projects already planned for 2022 could face delays or cancellation because of larger price tags for materials and shipping, according to a separate analysis by Rystad Energy.

If commodity prices stay high over the next year, it could erase three to five years of gains solar and wind have made, respectively, when it comes to affordability. A dramatic price drop for photovoltaic modules over the past few decades has fueled solar’s success. Costs fell from $30 per watt in 1980 to $0.20 per watt for solar energy in 2020. By last year, solar was already the cheapest source of electricity in most parts of the world.
» Read article                     

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

blowing cellulose
Massachusetts’ new efficiency plan puts a priority on underserved communities

The state’s latest three-year energy efficiency plan would include new provisions to increase outreach and expand program eligibility for lower-income households and residents of color.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
November 29, 2021

Massachusetts’ new three-year energy efficiency plan would substantially increase efforts to lower energy costs and improve health and comfort for lower-income households and residents of color.

The $668 million plan awaiting approval from the state Department of Public Utilities lays out strategies the state’s ratepayer-funded energy efficiency program intends to implement from 2022 to 2024. They include provisions to increase outreach and expand eligibility in underserved communities — and pay utilities for providing more services in these neighborhoods.

“They’re saying, ‘Let’s figure out how to make sure that everyone paying into the program is able to access and benefit from the program,’” said Eugenia Gibbons, Massachusetts director of climate policy for Health Care Without Harm. “The plan is a good step forward.”

For more than a decade, Massachusetts’ energy efficiency programs have been hailed as some of the most progressive and effective in the country. The centerpiece of the state’s efforts is Mass Save, a collaborative of electric and gas utilities that provides no-cost energy audits, rebates on efficient appliances, discounts on weatherization, and other energy efficiency services, funded by a small fee on consumers’ utility bills.

Mass Save’s programming is guided by three-year energy efficiency plans, a system put in place by the state’s 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act.
» Read article                      

» More about energy efficiency

ENERGY STORAGE

Hydrostor Ontario plant
Inside Clean Energy: Here’s How Compressed Air Can Provide Long-Duration Energy Storage
A Canadian company wants to use compressed air to store energy in California.
By Dan Gearino, Inside Climate News
December 2, 2021

A grid that runs mostly on wind and solar, part of the future that clean energy advocates are working toward, will need lots of long-duration energy storage to get through the dark of night and cloudy or windless days.

Hydrostor, a Canadian company, has filed applications in the last week with California regulators to build two plants to meet some of that need using “compressed air energy storage.” The plants would pump compressed air into underground caverns and later release the air to turn a turbine and produce electricity.

The stored energy would be able to generate hundreds of megawatts of electric power for up to eight hours at a time, with no fossil fuels and no greenhouse gas emissions. Long-duration storage includes systems that can discharge electricity for eight hours or more, as opposed to lithium-ion battery storage, which typically runs for up to four hours.

This project and technology have potentially huge implications for the push to develop long-duration energy storage. But the key word is “potentially,” because there are many companies and technologies vying for a foothold in this rapidly growing part of the energy economy, and the results so far have been little more than research findings and hype.

“Their technology is not overly complicated,” said Mike Gravely, a manager of energy systems research for the California Energy Commission, speaking in general about CAES. “Compressed air is a very simple concept.”

The main challenge, as with so many clean energy technologies, is to get the costs low enough to justify building many of the plants.

Hydrostor, founded in 2010 and based in Toronto, has completed two small plants in the Toronto area, including a 1.75-megawatt storage plant that can run for about six hours at a time.
» Read article                      

» More about energy storage

SITING IMPACTS OF RENEWABLES

Calpine Fore River Energy
Board rejects permit for lithium battery storage
By Ed Baker, The Patriot Ledger
November 23, 2021

Calpine Fore River Energy’s request for a special permit to construct a lithium-ion battery renewable energy storage system at its facility on Bridge Street was rejected by the Board of Zoning Appeals, Nov. 17.

Board member Jonathan Moriarty said the location for a lithium-ion renewable energy storage system, “was not appropriate” because of its proximity to residences.

“The neighborhood is in an area that has the potential to be impacted by a fire or if an explosion occurred,” he said after a public hearing.

Calpine plant engineer Charles Parnell said a risk assessment by Lummis Consulting Services determined a lithium storage system would not pose serious public safety risks.

“We are now at another energy crossroad, where steps need to be taken to reduce carbon emissions by establishing renewable energy and storage,” he said during the hearing.

Parnell said the use of lithium batteries is growing as more communities seek renewable energy sources.

“In Massachusetts, three or four fossil fuel power plants shut down last year,” he said.

Several residents and town officials voiced concerns about noise pollution and hazards posed by a potential fire or explosion at the site.

Blueberry Street resident Alice Arena said many people are not opposed to the idea of a lithium-ion battery storage system.

“We are looking at its placement,” said Arena, the Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station leader.

Arena said iron flow batteries would be safer to use than lithium-ion batteries.

“They are cheaper and store more energy,” she said. “They last longer.”
» Read article                      

irreconcilable conflict
Irreconcilable conflict? Lessons from the Central Maine Power transmission corridor debacle
By Rebecca Schultz, Utility Dive | Opinion
November 30, 2021

On Nov. 2, nearly 60% of Maine voters supported a referendum to halt construction on the New England Clean Energy Connect (NECEC), a 145-mile high-voltage transmission corridor through the state. Since then, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection suspended the project’s permit pending developments in NECEC’s legal challenges to the referendum and the decision by the Maine Superior Court last August that deemed a critical public lands lease illegal.

The growing possibility that the NECEC will be terminated has raised concerns by some that there is an irreconcilable conflict between environmental conservation and the infrastructure build-out needed to transition to a low-carbon grid.

But this is not the lesson we should take from the Central Maine Power (CMP) corridor debacle. The lesson is that we need to build public support for well-designed projects through strategic, long-term transmission and distribution planning.

The project, being developed by CMP and Hydro-Quebec, would deliver existing hydroelectricity from Canada to Massachusetts to help meet that state’s renewable energy requirements, while fragmenting the largest contiguous temperate forest in North America with 53 miles of new construction.

The fight over the project has been fierce, with large energy companies and environmental advocates on both sides, and a record $91 million spent on the ballot measure campaign.

The Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM) is among those environmental groups that are both deeply committed to fighting climate change and stand in opposition to this project.

NRCM would enthusiastically back transmission projects were they well-sited and shown to deliver significant new climate benefits. For example, NRCM supports an effort to build a transmission line to connect new renewable projects in Northern Maine to the New England grid. This is a project that Maine lawmakers unanimously voted to support, the climate benefits of which are indisputable. But the climate benefits of the CMP corridor project are highly speculative, and it is certainly not designed to yield all the climate benefits that it might.
» Rebecca Schultz is senior advocate for climate and clean energy at the Natural Resources Council of Maine.
» Read article                      

» More about siting impacts of renewables

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

TCI crossroads
With regional transportation pact stalled, what’s next for Massachusetts’ climate strategy?

Massachusetts, a chief proponent and logistical leader throughout the development of the Transportation and Climate Initiative, expected the multistate agreement to be a major part of its plan to reduce emissions. Support soon crumbled — so what now?
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
December 2, 2021

In the wake of Massachusetts’ decision to withdraw from a regional plan to curb transportation emissions, environmental and transit advocates see a chance to create policies and programs that could be even more equitable and effective at fighting climate change.

“Now there’s a real opportunity to really invest in infrastructure, invest in public transit, and enforce emissions reductions,” said Maria Belen Power, associate executive director of environmental justice organization GreenRoots.

The expected influx of federal infrastructure funds and bills already pending in the state legislature, advocates said, could help Massachusetts make significant advances in its plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transportation in a manner that benefits populations traditionally marginalized in conversations about environmental progress.

As Massachusetts pursues its ambitious goal of going carbon-neutral by 2050, controlling transportation emissions — currently about 40% of the statewide total — is going to be essential. The regional transportation plan was expected to be a major part of the strategy.
» Read article                      

EV charging graphic
‘A long way to go’: How ConEd, Xcel and 4 other utilities are helping cities meet big EV goals
From New York City to Los Angeles, cities and utilities face cost, land and grid challenges in their efforts to electrify transportation systems.
By Robert Walton , Emma Penrod , Jason Plautz , and Scott Van Voorhis, Utility Dive
November 30, 2021

Electric vehicles (EVs) could finish 2021 as 5% of new car sales in the U.S., according to market observers, and are expected to make up a growing share in the years to come. Driven by city and state electrification goals, and now supported by federal infrastructure dollars, the years ahead will be a critical time for utilities working to drive beneficial electrification.

To get an idea of the challenges American cities will face with the rising numbers of EVs, Utility Dive is taking an in-depth look at how electric utilities in six cities are helping boost electric transportation adoption, through charging infrastructure and helping to support vehicle uptake.

Experts say EV adoption is poised to surge in the United States, potentially fueled by federal purchase credits now being debated on Capitol Hill. The proposal included in the Build Back Better legislation would knock up to $12,500  off the sticker price of a new electric car or truck, depending on where and how it is produced. Used EV buyers could get up to $4,000 back.

If lawmakers pass those credits, “you’ll see an immediate leap forward in demand for EVs,” Joel Levin, executive director of Plug in America, said.

President Joe Biden wants half of all new passenger vehicle sales in the United States to be EVs by 2030. That’s achievable, transportation experts say, but will require development of new supply chains, along with public charging infrastructure to support an equitable transition.

Are cities ready for the transition? Not yet, say experts. But some are heading that way, while others will face difficulties.
» Read article                      

» More about clean transportation

DEEP-SEABED MINING

close quarters
If marine noise pollution is bad, deep-sea mining could add to the cacophony
By Elizabeth Claire Alberts, Mongabay
November 24, 2021

While evidence is mounting that anthropogenic noise adversely affects ocean life, regulatory measures aimed at curtailing noise pollution are generally lacking. This is certainly true in the context of deep-sea mining, a controversial activity that, if allowed to proceed, would entail corporations extracting metals like copper, cobalt, nickel and manganese from the seabed — and creating a lot of noise in the process.

Cyrill Martin, an ocean policy expert at the Swiss NGO OceanCare, said that noise pollution is currently a “wallflower issue” in the larger matter of deep-sea mining, and that more research urgently needs to be done to fill in knowledge gaps. Until more is known, he said, deep-sea mining needs to be approached with a “precautionary principle.”

“The main data we have from deep-sea mining activities stems from laboratory conditions,” Martin told Mongabay in a video interview. “So there’s a lot of data missing. Nevertheless, we do have some data that we can extrapolate from related industries.”

In a new report, “Deep-Sea Mining: A noisy affair,” released on Nov. 22 by OceanCare, Martin and colleagues draw on past studies, expert interviews and stakeholder surveys to provide an overview of the different types of noise pollution that deep-sea mining would produce — and the potential impacts of this noise. Toward the surface, noise would come from boat propellers and onboard machinery, as well as sonar and seismic airguns used to help explore the seafloor for minerals. The midwater column would be filled with the sounds of riser systems moving sediment from the seafloor to the surface, as well as the motors of robots used to monitor these activities. On the seabed itself, acoustic monitoring tools would generate additional sound. Some kinds of seabed mining would also involve drilling, dredging and scraping along the seafloor. Many of these sounds would create noise as well as vibrations that could affect marine life, according to the report.

The report suggests that deep-sea mining activities could impact species present from the surface to the seabed, with deep-sea species being particularly vulnerable since they use natural sound to perform functions like detect food, and are not accustomed to anthropogenic noise at a close range. Many deep-sea species are also sessile, which means they wouldn’t be able to evade the noise created by deep-sea mining activities, the report says. Even migratory species like whales, dolphins and turtles could be impacted, even while briefly passing through a mining area to feed or breed, according to the report.
» Read article                      
» Read the report

» More about deep-seabed mining

CARBON CAPTURE AND SEQUESTRATION

SaskPower CCS
Cheap Wind and Solar Should Prompt ‘Rethink’ on Role of CCS, Paper Argues
Oil and gas companies should be asking themselves whether they are investing in “the right kind of CCS”, its lead author said.
By Phoebe Cooke, DeSmog Blog
November 19, 2021

The falling cost of wind and solar power significantly reduces the need for carbon capture and storage technology to tackle climate change, a new paper has argued.

CCS, which removes emissions from the atmosphere and stores them underground, has long been presented as critical to restricting global heating to 1.5C by the end of the century.

But a paper published today by Imperial College London’s Grantham Institute finds that rapidly-falling costs in wind and solar energy could “erode” the value of CCS by up to 96 percent.

The authors suggest that targeted, rather than blanket, deployment of CCS is the best strategy for achieving the Paris Agreement goals.

Neil Grant, a PhD candidate at Imperial College who led the research, said the past decade had “seriously changed the game for CCS”.

“While CCS deployment has stagnated, renewables have surged and their costs have plummeted – and so the picture today is very different to what it was in 2010,” he told DeSmog. “Cheap, abundant renewable energy reduces the value of CCS in all areas.”

“Now that renewable electricity is so cheap, this should cause us to seriously rethink the role of CCS.”

The authors used Integrated Assessment Modelling (IAM) to explore 1.75C and 2C warming scenarios, restricting the biomass potential in the pathways to “try and limit unsustainable biomass consumption”.

They found that the rate of electrification accelerated faster in the absence of bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS), with a faster phase-out of unabated fossil fuels in the power sector.

“Wind and solar play a central role in electrifying end-use sectors and accelerating the phaseout of fossil fuels in the power sector if BECCS is unavailable, with deployment accelerating to provide the necessary clean electricity supply,” the authors note.

The technology has long been touted as an effective means of reducing emissions globally. A special report on CCS by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2018 notes that applying CCS to bioenergy could deliver “negative emissions”, while also highlighting uncertainties around cost and feasibility of the technology.

The Imperial College paper found that the biggest losers to cheap renewables were CCS applied to fossil fuels – used to generate electricity, make hydrogen and to burn in heavy industry such as blast furnaces for steel production.

Grant and co-authors argue that CCS should not be abandoned altogether, but that priority areas for CCS deployment should be to help remove CO2 from the atmosphere, and for capturing CO2 in industry, rather than that applied to fossil fuels.
» Read article                      
» Obtain the paper

» More about CCS

GAS UTILITIES

terminated projects
IEEFA U.S.: Gas-fired power plant cancellations and delays signal investor anxiety, changing economics
Financial concerns are likely to affect other PJM gas projects still in the planning phase
By Dennis Wamsted, IEEFA.org
November 18, 2021

A recent decision to cancel the 1,000-megawatt Beech Hollow combined gas plant in Pennsylvania is the latest warning for investors considering funding new gas-fired power plants in the PJM Interconnection (PJM) region. According to a briefing note by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA), the reason is clear: The economics have changed, prompting three project cancellations this year and calling into question the future of 14 others.

“Low gas prices and high-capacity payments that helped drive a near-doubling of installed combined cycle gas capacity in the last decade have gone away,” said Dennis Wamsted, IEEFA energy analyst and the briefing note’s lead author.

Investors are facing myriad challenges, including:

  • Significant uncertainty about future capacity prices, particularly in light of the sharp drop in the region’s latest power auction.
  • A decade-long downward trend in power prices.
  • Flat regional demand growth.
  • Major projected increases in battery storage and renewable energy generation, including thousands of megawatts from offshore wind capacity.
  • Financial market concerns about climate change and the likelihood of required fossil fuel plant closures by 2050.

IEEFA has identified 17 projects that remain undeveloped, three of which have officially been cancelled this year. More are likely to follow.
» Read article                      
» Read the analysis

» More about gas utilities

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Fort McMurray tar sandsCanada’s Tar Sands: Destruction So Vast and Deep It Challenges the Existence of Land and People
Oil companies have replaced Indigenous people’s traditional lands with mines that cover an area bigger than New York City, stripping away boreal forest and wetlands and rerouting waterways.
By Nicholas Kusnetz, Inside Climate News
November 21, 2021

Oil and gas companies like ExxonMobil and the Canadian giant Suncor have transformed Alberta’s tar sands—also called oil sands—into one of the world’s largest industrial developments. They have built sprawling waste ponds that leach heavy metals into groundwater, and processing plants that spew nitrogen and sulfur oxides into the air, sending a sour stench for miles.

The sands pump out more than 3 million barrels of oil per day, helping make Canada the world’s fourth-largest oil producer and the top exporter of crude to the United States. Their economic benefits are significant: Oil is the nation’s top export, and the mining and energy sector as a whole accounts for nearly a quarter of Alberta’s provincial economy. But the companies’ energy-hungry extraction has also made the oil and gas sector Canada’s largest source of greenhouse gas emissions. And despite the extreme environmental costs, and the growing need for countries to shift away from fossil fuels, the mines continue to expand, digging up nearly 500 Olympic swimming pools-worth of earth every day.

COP26, the global climate conference in Glasgow earlier this month, highlighted the persistent gap between what countries say they will do to cut emissions and what is actually needed to avoid dangerous warming.

Scientists say oil production must begin falling immediately. Canada’s tar sands are among the most climate-polluting sources of oil, and so are an obvious place to begin winding down. The largest oil sands companies have pledged to reduce their emissions, saying they will rely largely on government-subsidized carbon capture projects.

Yet oil companies and the government expect output will climb well into the 2030s. Even a new proposal by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to cap emissions in the oil sector does not include any plan to lower production.
» Read article                      

» More about fossil fuels

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

Energy Progress
Gibbstown Ends, Not with a Bang but with a Whimper?
By Kimberly Ong, NRDC | Expert Blog
November 30, 2021

The future of the Gibbstown liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal is looking bleaker by the day. The project hit two obstacles in the past 4 weeks, and advocates, including NRDC, are wondering whether the construction of this planet-warming, water-polluting, community-endangering fossil fuel project may be dying a slow death.

If built, the Gibbstown LNG terminal would move hazardous liquefied fracked gas from an LNG terminal in Wyalusing Township, Pennsylvania, by truck and rail over 200 miles to an LNG terminal in Gibbstown, New Jersey. The gas would then be sent down the Delaware River on massive shipping vessels for sale overseas.

LNG is primarily composed of methane, a greenhouse gas that is 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 20-year horizon. As U.S. climate envoy John Kerry has noted, cutting methane emissions is “the single fastest strategy that we have to keep a safer, 1.5-degree Centigrade future within reach.” If LNG exports increase as projected, the LNG industry by itself will generate enough greenhouse gas emissions to extinguish all progress we’ve made to lower emissions during the past decade.

LNG is also extraordinarily dangerous to transport by truck and rail. LNG is highly flammable and explosive—consequently, transporting LNG can expose fence-line communities to uncontrollable fires and devastating explosions.

Under the Trump administration, the U.S. Department of Transportation provided New Fortress Energy and its subsidiaries with both the rule and a special permit. But under new leadership, the Department of Transportation has taken a different position on this deadly activity.  Earlier this month, it proposed suspending the Trump-era LNG-by-rail rule, citing uncertainties related to its safe transportation and its potential to accelerate the climate crisis.

And according to Delaware Riverkeeper Network, New Fortress Energy has not applied to renew its special permit, which is set to expire today, November 30.  Without either an LNG-by rail-rule or a special permit, there’s no clear way for New Fortress Energy to ship the LNG by rail.

Without the possibility of shipping LNG by rail, Gibbstown would have to ship all of its LNG by truck—requiring more than 8,000 truck trips per day, running through communities throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

So without a way to ship LNG by rail to the facility, is the Gibbstown LNG terminal dead?

Ask the Department of Transportation to stop not just this project, but any future projects like this one from going forward by restoring its ban on the transportation of LNG by rail.
» Read article                      

Jordan Cove LNG cancelled
Jordan Cove project dies. What it means for FERC, gas
By Niina H. Farah, Miranda Willson, Carlos Anchondo, E&E News
December 2, 2021

The developer of an Oregon liquefied natural gas export terminal told the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for the first time yesterday it would not move forward with the embattled project, putting to rest years of uncertainty for landowners.

Citing challenges in obtaining necessary permits from state agencies as the reason for abandoning the Jordan Cove project, Pembina Pipeline Corp. asked FERC to cancel authorizations for the LNG terminal and associated Pacific Connector pipeline, which would have carried natural gas from Canada to the proposed facility in Coos Bay, Ore.

“Among other considerations, Applicants remain concerned regarding their ability to obtain the necessary state permits in the immediate future in addition to other external obstacles,” Pembina said in its brief to FERC.

The announcement adds to a debate about the role of natural gas at a time of high prices and as industry groups are pressuring the Biden administration to clarify exactly how LNG exports fit into its broader climate agenda. It also may influence FERC’s ongoing review of how it approves gas projects.

Pembina’s move is a win for landowners who have been steadfastly opposing the project for years, said David Bookbinder, chief counsel for the Niskanen Center and attorney for some of the landowners affected by the pipeline. The Niskanen Center and others submitted a brief of their own yesterday, urging FERC to grant Pembina’s request to ax the certificate.

“I can say the landowners are utterly delighted that this chapter of their 15-year nightmare is over and hopefully that will truly be the end of Pembina’s hopes to build this project,” he said.

The company had put the export project on an indefinite hold in April after failing to get key state and federal approvals.
» Read article                      

» More about LNG                

BIOMASS

doubling Drax
Drax is expected to profit from UK energy crisis until 2023
Company’s shares hit seven-year high after revealing plans to invest £3bn despite questions over biomass
By Jillian Ambrose, The Guardian
December 1, 2021

The owner of the Drax power station is expected to profit from Britain’s energy crisis until 2023 and will plough billions into doubling its production of wood pellets for burning by 2030 despite mounting opposition from environmentalists.

The FTSE 250 energy company’s shares hit seven-year highs on Wednesday after it told investors it aimed to invest £3bn by 2030. Part of that investment would be directed towards doubling production and sales of biomass pellets, which Drax uses at its North Yorkshire power plant as an alternative to burning coal.

Its claims that electricity produced in this way is “carbon neutral” is disputed, with green groups saying burning biomass produces emissions that contribute to the climate crisis.

Drax will fund the expansion plans using its own cash as it prepares to profit from record high energy market prices in its long-term contracts over the next two years.

Drax will also be able to hike up the price of the electricity it generates for long-term contracts for 2022 and 2023. In addition, the company will continue to benefit from subsidies worth hundreds of millions of pounds to generate biomass electricity through the government’s renewable energy scheme.

Questions about the method have also been raised within financial circles. The financial services firm Jefferies told its clients in October that bioenergy was “unlikely to make a positive contribution” towards tackling the climate crisis and was “not carbon neutral, in almost all instances”.
» Read article                      

» More about biomass

PLASTICS, HEALTH, AND THE ENVIRONMENT

floating debris
A Commonsense Proposal to Deal With Plastics Pollution: Stop Making So Much Plastic
A report from leading scientists found that the U.S. is the world’s leading generator of plastic waste, at 287 pounds per capita. It’s clogging the oceans, and poisoning plankton and whales.
By James Bruggers, Inside Climate News
December 1, 2021

The United States leads the world in the generation of plastic waste and needs a comprehensive strategy by the end of next year to curb its devastating impacts on ocean health, marine wildlife and communities, a new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine concludes.

A committee of academic experts who wrote the report at the request of Congress described an environmental crisis that will only get worse as plastic production, nearly all from fossil fuels, continues to soar.

In fact, the first of the study’s main recommendations is to stop making so much plastic—especially plastic materials that are not reusable or practically recyclable. It suggested a national cap on virgin plastic production among other strategies, all of which the report concluded will be needed to control pollution from plastics and all of the related health and environmental issues.

“The fundamental problem here is that plastics are accumulating in the natural environment, including the ocean,” Margaret Spring, chief conservation and science officer at Monterey Bay Aquarium in California, who chaired the report committee, said in a telephone interview on Wednesday.

She called plastics “pervasive and persistent environmental contaminants,” creating a problem that is “going to continue unless we change—we have to change. And that’s just the truth.”

The report, made public Wednesday, is historically significant, said Judith Enck, a former Environmental Protection Agency regional administrator and president of Beyond Plastic, an environmental group.

“It is an outstanding report that every member of Congress should read and act on,” Enck said. “It’s timely. It’s transformative and it’s based on science. It will be quoted for years to come.”

A leading industry lobby group for the plastics industry, the American Chemistry Council, agreed in a statement that a national plastics strategy is necessary.
» Read article                      
» Read the report

X-Press Pearl
Nurdles: the worst toxic waste you’ve probably never heard of
Billions of these tiny plastic pellets are floating in the ocean, causing as much damage as oil spills, yet they are still not classified as hazardous
Karen McVeigh, The Guardian
November 29, 2021

When the X-Press Pearl container ship caught fire and sank in the Indian Ocean in May, Sri Lanka was terrified that the vessel’s 350 tonnes of heavy fuel oil would spill into the ocean, causing an environmental disaster for the country’s pristine coral reefs and fishing industry.

Classified by the UN as Sri Lanka’s “worst maritime disaster”, the biggest impact was not caused by the heavy fuel oil. Nor was it the hazardous chemicals on board, which included nitric acid, caustic soda and methanol. The most “significant” harm, according to the UN, came from the spillage of 87 containers full of lentil-sized plastic pellets: nurdles.

Since the disaster, nurdles have been washing up in their billions along hundreds of miles of the country’s coastline, and are expected to make landfall across Indian Ocean coastlines from Indonesia and Malaysia to Somalia. In some places they are up to 2 metres deep. They have been found in the bodies of dead dolphins and the mouths of fish. About 1,680 tonnes of nurdles were released into the ocean. It is the largest plastic spill in history, according to the UN report.

Nurdles, the colloquial term for “pre-production plastic pellets”, are the little-known building block for all our plastic products. The tiny beads can be made of polyethylene, polypropylene, polystyrene, polyvinyl chloride and other plastics. Released into the environment from plastic plants or when shipped around the world as raw material to factories, they will sink or float, depending on the density of the pellets and if they are in freshwater or saltwater.

They are often mistaken for food by seabirds, fish and other wildlife. In the environment, they fragment into nanoparticles whose hazards are more complex. They are the second-largest source of micropollutants in the ocean, by weight, after tyre dust. An astounding 230,000 tonnes of nurdles end up in oceans every year.

“The pellets themselves are a mixture of chemicals – they are fossil fuels,” says Tom Gammage, at the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), an international campaign group. “But they act as toxic sponges. A lot of toxic chemicals – which in the case of Sri Lanka are already in the water – are hydrophobic [repel water], so they gather on the surface of microplastics.

“Pollutants can be a million times more concentrated on the surface of pellets than in the water,” he says. “And we know from lab studies that when a fish eats a pellet, some of those pollutants come loose.”

Yet nurdles, unlike substances such as kerosene, diesel and petrol, are not deemed hazardous under the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO’s) dangerous goods code for safe handling and storage. This is despite the threat to the environment from plastic pellets being known about for three decades, as detailed in a 1993 report from the US government’s Environmental Protection Agency on how the plastics industry could reduce spillages.

Now environmentalists are joining forces with the Sri Lankan government in an attempt to turn the X-Press Pearl disaster into a catalyst for change.
» Read article                      
» Read the UN report
» Read the 1993 EPA report

» More about plastics in the environment

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Weekly News Check-In 12/31/20

banner 07

Welcome back.

We’re bidding good riddance to 2020 and wishing everyone a healthy and bright new year. But to properly send this awful year on its way, we need to focus now and act on the urgent threat that the commercial use of woody biomass represents for both health and climate. The Massachusetts legislature will decide in the next week whether roll back existing science-based restrictions and qualify this dirty, carbon-and-soot emitting energy source for renewable energy credits, opening the door to a huge biomass-fueled electricity generating plant to be built in a Springfield neighborhood already bearing a heavy pollution burden. Senators Markey and Warren, plus the Springfield City Council strongly oppose this plant. Attorney General Maura Healey cautions that science was disregarded and the permitting process appears shoddy and inadequate. Finally, Dr. Marty Nathan’s excellent recent editorial offers a look into the science and politics that brought us to this point – and asks us all to immediately make a few phone calls.

The Weymouth compressor station and Mountain Valley Pipeline have generated news, and another bomb train full of Bakken crude blew up in Washington state, reminding us that the Trump administration blocked efforts to make rail transport of that particularly volatile product a little safer.

Protesters are standing in the way of Enbridge Energy’s Line 3 in northern Minnesota, and some are being arrested. Construction is proceeding, in typical fashion for these projects, even before environmental permits are completed. Meanwhile, it’s been a busy year for climate action in the courts – we found a recap.

Divestment news includes another big win: Lloyd’s, the world’s biggest insurance market, has announced a market-wide policy to stop new insurance coverage for coal, oil sands and Arctic energy projects by January 2022, and to pull out entirely by 2030.

An important component of greening the economy will include addressing the systemic racism baked into existing energy policies. Boston’s WBUR aired a story in September that offers insights into some of the issues and challenges.

Huge methane leaks are accelerating the pace of climate change, and one culprit is a failure of regulatory oversight. Add that to to the sky-high stack in President Biden’s inbox on Day One, along with the many suggestions from every environmental group eager to offer advice (and demands) for quick action.

We’re wrapping up the year with a great run of articles on clean energy, energy efficiency, green building materials, energy storage, and green transportation – including a story on the “rotating sail” – a hundred year old invention that adds supplemental wind power to boost the efficiency of powered ships. It’s been modernized for deployment on today’s fleet.

And we close on the subject of fracking – focusing on the damage it’s done to the communities that host its operations, and more generally to the fossil fuel industry itself. We also offer a recording of acclaimed ecologist and author Sandra Steingraber discussing the 7th annual compendium on the continued physical harms of fracking, assembled by Concerned Health Professionals of New York.

button - BEAT Newsbutton - 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

BIOMASS

biomass ground zero
Mass. Has Strong Rules About Burning Wood For Electricity. In 2021, It Plans To Roll Them Back

By Miriam Wasser, WBUR
December 22, 2020

Just off I-291 in East Springfield is a seemingly unremarkable plot of land. Sandwiched between an electrical switchyard, busy roads and a working class neighborhood, the fenced-in property is mostly barren, aside from some machinery for making asphalt in one corner and a few tall piles of gravel and crushed rock.

But the site, owned by the Palmer Paving Corporation, sits at the center of a long-standing environmental justice fight over a proposed wood-burning, or “biomass,” power plant.

If built, the facility would be the state’s only large-scale biomass plant and would burn about 1,200 tons of wood per day in a city the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America has ranked the “Asthma Capital” of the country. Until now the plant has been on hold because biomass isn’t profitable in Massachusetts. But this could change early next year with new state rules about who qualified for renewable energy subsidies.

Though touted by supporters as “green” and “renewable,” burning wood for electricity is relatively inefficient and releases a lot of planet-warming greenhouse gases — a megawatt of electricity produced by burning wood actually releases more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than a megawatt generated from coal.

Critics of biomass also call it “dirty,” since these facilities regularly emit soot and pollutants like mercury and lead. And a biomass plant like Palmer would have diesel-burning trucks delivering wood every hour, adding to the pollution.

The plant’s developer, the Palmer Renewable Energy company, did not respond to multiple requests for comment, but environmental groups like the Conservation Law Foundation and the Partnership for Policy Integrity (PFPI) say it’s likely the company’s calculation about profitability will soon shift, allowing it to start construction.

That’s because early next year, the Baker administration plans to change how the state awards lucrative renewable energy subsidies.

Under the current rules, a plant like the Palmer facility isn’t eligible for renewable energy credits because it doesn’t meet the state’s efficiency standards. But should the changes go into effect, PFPI policy director Laura Haight estimates that the facility could get $13 million to $15 million a year in subsidies — enough, she says, to make it worth building.
» Read article            

Markey-Warren biomass letterSenators Markey And Warren Call For Pause On Springfield, Massachusetts, Biomass Plant
By Karen Brown, NEPM
December 24, 2020

Massachusetts’ two U.S. senators have asked the state to put a stop to a biomass plant in Springfield, at least until the incoming Biden Administration weighs in on the issue.

The plant was approved by the state almost 10 years ago, though Massachusetts has had strict rules in place that make biomass less profitable. The administration of Governor Charlie Baker is planning to loosen those rules next year.

The industry maintains that biomass, which uses tree waste, is a form of renewable energy. But in a letter to the state Department of Environment Protection (MassDEP), Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey said scientific studies show it releases dangerous pollutants into the air.
» Read article            
» Read the Senators’ letter        

AG letterhead RPS biomass
Letter from Attorney General Maura Healey to Senate Chair Barrett and House Chair Golden

By Attorney General Maura Healey
December 23, 2020

The Commonwealth was prescient in stringently constraining biomass participation in the RPS program, and we should not reverse course now. In this letter, the AGO explains that (1) forest biomass energy production—the burning of woody fuel from forests to generate electricity—will only exacerbate the climate and public health crises facing the Commonwealth; (2) DOER’s Draft Regulations and their complex accompanying analyses, which stakeholders have not had sufficient time to review, raise important substantive and procedural legal concerns; and (3) the Draft Regulations contain numerous provisions that may increase—not decrease—greenhouse gas and other harmful pollutant emissions, and the analyses purporting to support the Draft Regulations appear to overlook important considerations, make unsupported assumptions, reach dubious conclusions, and in any event show the regulations may indeed have troubling emissions impacts.
» Read letter       

Springfield says no biomass subsidies
Springfield City Council passes resolution opposing millions in state subsidies for biomass incineration
   
By Ariana Tourangeau, WWLP, Channel 22
December 22, 2020

The Springfield City Council unanimously passed a resolution Monday night in opposition to state renewable energy subsidies for wood-burning biomass incinerators in Massachusetts.

According to Springfield City Councilor Jesse Lederman, the vote comes in the wake of final draft regulations being proposed by the state Department of Energy Resources that would weaken existing guidelines for taxpayer and ratepayer-funded subsidies in what is known as the Renewable Portfolio Standard.

This would potentially allow millions in state funds to flow to proposed biomass waste incinerating power plants for the first time since 2012. Lederman said that continued pending state legislation would incentivize power from such facilities under the premise that they represent renewable energy production.

Councilors Jesse Lederman, Michael Fenton, Tim Allen, Adam Gomez, Orlando Ramos, Justin Hurst, and Melvin Edwards filed the resolution on Friday after learning of the release of the DOER Regulations, which would weaken the existing state regulations in order to allow biomass plants to qualify.
» Read article            

we breathe what PRE burns
Biomass plant will create a ‘sacrifice zone’ in Springfield (Guest viewpoint)
By Marty Nathan, MassLive
December 23, 2020

Marty Nathan MD is a retired family practitioner who worked at Brightwood Health Center. She is a member of Springfield Climate Justice Coalition. She thanks Partnership for Policy Integrity for informational support.

If I remember correctly, I was reading a piece describing the cancer and other severe chronic diseases suffered by low income people living in Louisiana’s petrochemical refinery district known as Cancer Alley. The writer said, “You can’t have a polluting industry without a sacrifice zone.”

Words to remember, that immediately flashed through my mind when listening to an explanation of the Baker Administration’s new rules classifying “clean” energy sources under the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard program (RPS). Technologies that  qualify get lucrative renewable energy subsidies from ratepayers.

And guess what now qualifies for what $13-15 million per year in ratepayer subsidies? Bingo! Industrial biomass! As in Palmer Renewable Energy (PRE), the company that has been pushing for 12 years to construct a massive 42-megawatt electric-generating wood-burning biomass power plant in a low-income part of East Springfield.

If constructed the PRE plant’s 275-foot smokestack will billow tons of pollutants per year to affect the lungs not just of that neighborhood but of those living and working throughout Springfield, which was named the Asthma Capital of the country for two years running. That smoke will include tiny particles that burrow deep into the lungs. It will carry nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, volatile organic chemicals, and hazardous air pollutants, like  mercury, lead,  and hydrochloric acid. These are the things that make people wheeze and cough and have trouble breathing and predispose them to hospitalization and death from respiratory disease.  Recent studies have shown that low-income communities with high levels of fine particulate air pollution suffer higher fatality rates from Covid-19.

Arise for Social Justice, the Springfield Climate Justice Coalition, and other groups fought this proposal, which the late Michaelann Bewsee described as a “zombie biomass plant,” since it was first proposed in 2008 and keeps springing back to life. The affected community and supporters forced a ground-breaking study by the Commonwealth that showed that biomass is counterproductive to the fight against climate change, that it is not carbon-neutral, and not “renewable” in the time that we have left to prevent catastrophic warming. So industrial biomass burning for electricity production was removed from the Renewable Portfolio Standard in 2012, when the state recognized the damage that such plants could cause.

In April 2019, the permit for the Palmer plant was about to run out when the MA Department of Energy Resources proposed rolling back the RPS regulations so that low-efficiency biomass plants like Palmer would once again be eligible for millions in subsidies. Local officials demanded on behalf of the people of Springfield that a hearing be held in Springfield, ground zero for impact of the changes. Over 200 people attended, demonstrated and spoke almost unanimously against the Administration’s plans to make the Springfield plant qualify as renewable energy. The words environmental racism were used repeatedly. So spoke Springfield. Did the Baker Administration listen?

While waiting for the answer, PRE’s permit from the City expired. All who cared about public health in Springfield and a future on a livable planet heaved a sigh of relief.

Then at the end of July, on the last scheduled day of the 2020 legislative session, the House presented a climate bill that , happily, included new restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions by municipal light plants (publicly-owned utilities such as Holyoke’s). Unhappily, it listed burning biomass as a “non-carbon-emitting” electricity source, making the Palmer biomass plant eligible to sell power under these proposed rules. And, lo, the City proclaimed that the permit for the biomass plant had not expired after all but had been renewed in oral agreement with PRE. It also was revealed that Palmer had raced around the eastern part of the state signing power purchase contracts with as many MLP’s (located generally in richer, whiter communities) as it possibly could, to make the project viable.

The climate legislation remains locked in conference committee despite widespread demands that the biomass language be eliminated.

Two weeks ago, the other shoe dropped. DOER defied science and citizen demands and announced plans to roll back the 2012 regulations to allow low-efficiency, polluting biomass plants to again qualify for subsidies. Why? When asked, several legislators have responded, “There is a whole lot of money behind this.” With Palmer being the only biomass proposal poised to profit from the changes, it wouldn’t take a rocket scientist to guess the source.

So, Springfield is the sacrifice zone for biomass industry profit. Palmer Renewable’s lobbyists have lured the legislature and the Baker Administration into creating a profitable “renewable” niche that defies science and public health. Its plant will make a lot of poor, Black and brown Springfielders sick while it contributes to climate change that will hurt all of us. In the name of fighting climate change.

It doesn’t have to be that way. We still have a few short weeks to stop these dangerous policies from happening. You have a voice, to protect the vulnerable whose lives and breathing are threatened. Learn more here. Make two calls today:

  1. Tell your state legislator to urge the climate conference committee to take language calling biomass power plants “non-carbon emitting” out of the climate bill and ask the TUE Committee to hold a hearing on Baker’s proposed RPS rules.
  2. Call Governor Baker at 888-870-7770 and demand that he stop the DOER from issuing rules that are a giveaway to Palmer biomass while making Springfield residents sick and turning our community into a sacrifice zone.

Blog editor’s note: We printed this commentary in its entirety because it does an excellent job presenting what’s at stake. Please make your voice heard by calling your elected officials as suggested above. This is truly urgent.
» Read article            

» More about biomass       

 

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

regional emergency planRegional emergency plan urged for Weymouth compressor
By Ed Baker, Wicked Local Weymouth
December 29, 2020

A potential major gas leak or explosion at the Fore River Basin’s compressor station might require some North Weymouth residents to evacuate into Quincy.

Weymouth District 1 Councilor Pasacle Burga said a possible evacuation of residents into Quincy illustrates a need for a regional emergency response plan to a potential crisis at the compressor station.

“Quincy is very close to the compressor station,” she said. “That is why we have to be on the same page. They need to be able to handle traffic if people are being evacuated. If you have all those cars going into Quincy, they will have to keep the traffic moving.”

Quincy Mayor Thomas Koch’s chief of staff, Chris Walker, said the city’s emergency management department is developing a permanent response plan to address a potential crisis at the compressor.

“We think we have a pretty good handle on it,” he said. “We are well aware of what is necessary for an emergency response and have been working on it for quite some time.”

Walker said Quincy officials understand Weymouth’s concerns about a potential emergency at the compressor station.

“We are in this together,” he said.

Enbridge Inc. owns the compressor, and it experienced natural gas leaks on Sept. 11, Sept. 30.

According to state and local officials, both seepages collectively released 444,000 cubic feet of natural gas in the air and forced emergency shutdowns of the facility.

The leaks are under investigation by the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.
» Read article      

» More about the Weymouth compressor station         

 

PIPELINES

MVP in Franklin County
Mountain Valley Pipeline faces political, regulatory changes in 2021
By Laurence Hammack, The Roanoke Times
December 27, 2020


The history of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, from the time it was first proposed to its projected completion, will soon span the terms of three U.S. presidents.

So what impact will the incoming administration of Joe Biden — whose views on climate change and clean energy are the polar opposite of President Donald Trump’s — have on the deeply divisive natural gas pipeline?

It’s unlikely that a single action under Biden’s watch would kill the buried pipeline, much of it already in the ground despite legal action from environmental groups that has delayed construction and inflated its cost to about $6 billion.

But with federal agencies headed by Biden appointees and guided by his climate agenda, pipeline opponents say, the risk of a death by a thousand cuts is more likely.

“The developers behind MVP should be seriously weighing whether this project is still viable in a market and political atmosphere that favors clean energy and climate action,” said Lee Francis, deputy director of the Virginia League of Conservation Voters.
» Read article            

MVP attacked again
Environmental groups make another legal attack on Mountain Valley Pipeline
By Laurence Hammack, Roanoke Times
December 22, 2020

In the latest legal strike at the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a coalition of environmental groups is contesting a federal agency’s decision to allow the troubled project to move forward.

At issue is the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s Oct. 9 order that allowed stalled construction of the natural gas pipeline to resume, and extended for another two years its deadline for completion.

An attorney for Appalachian Mountain Advocates, a law firm that represents the seven groups, asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to review FERC’s decision.

Although the two-page petition does not state the grounds for appeal, attorney Benjamin Luckett raised a number of objections in a brief filed last month with FERC that asked the agency to reconsider.

Since FERC initially approved the project in 2017, new information has surfaced that “drastically alters the picture surrounding the pipeline,” Luckett wrote.

Market conditions cited by FERC in finding there was a public need for the gas to be transported by the 303-mile pipeline have changed, he asserted, while construction has harmed the environment more than was anticipated three years ago.

Allowing construction to resume “ignores the extent of sedimentation, number of major slips [or slope failures], extent of blasting, impacts on threatened and endangered species, and numerous other environmental impacts,” Luckett wrote.
» Read article            

» More about pipelines       

 

VIRTUAL PIPELINES

2 inch tread
Another Bomb Train Accident Highlights Regulatory Failures
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
December 23, 2020

A train carrying over 100 cars of volatile Bakken oil derailed in Washington state, causing the evacuation of the town of Custer. At least two of the train cars ruptured and the oil ignited and burned — reminding us once again why these dangerous trains are known as bomb trains. 

Matt Krogh of Stand.earth has been leading efforts to keep these dangerous trains off the tracks for years, so he was well aware of the potential deadly consequences of oil train accidents in populated areas. Krogh could see the smoke from this latest accident from his home in Bellingham, Washington. 

“I think we got lucky today,” Krogh told the Associated Press, echoing the words of others after previous close calls with oil trains — several of which were highlighted in the DeSmog piece Luck Rides the Rails. 

It’s easy to feel lucky after a near miss with an oil train derailment and fire near a populated area because in 2013 an oil train full of Bakken oil derailed and caused catastrophic fires and explosions in the Canadian town of Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, — killing 47 people and destroying much of the downtown area. Downtown Lac-Mégantic has yet to be rebuilt more than seven years later.

The state of Washington is well aware of the dangers the oil trains pose to the public and the environment and have attempted to address this issue with state regulations. Washington has five oil refineries that all are highly dependent on Bakken crude by rail. Crude-by-rail movements in the U.S. and Canada fluctuate significantly based on market conditions, but the Washington refineries are one destination for Bakken oil that maintain consistent demand for the oil, and rail is the only option to get it to Washington — so the risks to Washington residents who live near the train tracks are ever present.

Washington regulators and politicians tried to take the most important safety step by passing a law that limited the volatility of the crude oil being moved by rail through Washington, a move that would greatly reduce the risk of fires and explosions during derailments. A rule proposed at the end of the Obama administration to limit the volatility was officially withdrawn by the Trump administration in May of 2020.
» Read article            
» Read 2016 article “Luck Rides the Rails”      

» More about virtual pipelines                 

 

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

tripod sitter
‘A Tangible Way to Fight for the World I Want to Live In’: Water Protector Arrested After Blockading Line 3 Pipe Yard
“Profits for a few are being privileged over the well-being of all communities near and far, present and future.”
By Kenny Stancil, Common Dreams
December 28, 2020

Water protector Emma Harrison was arrested Monday in Backus, Minnesota after successfully obstructing construction on Enbridge Energy’s Line 3 pipeline project for several hours by ascending a tripod in front of a tar sands pipe yard owned by the Canadian company.

“I’m part of the Line 3 resistance movement because this pipeline embodies everything I believe is wrong with the world,” Harrison said before she engaged in civil disobedience.

As Common Dreams has reported, climate justice and Indigenous rights advocates are opposed to the expansion of the Line 3 pipeline, which would send 760,000 barrels of crude oil every day through northern Minnesota, from Hardisty, Alberta to Superior, Wisconsin—traversing more than 800 wetland habitats, violating Ojubwe treaty rights, and putting current and future generations at risk of polluted water and a despoiled environment.

Since Enbridge began working on the pipeline in late November despite pending lawsuits, opponents have attempted to halt construction through a series of direct actions, including Monday’s blockade. Democratic Gov. Tim Walz has responded “with complete silence,” Line 3 resistance activists said in a statement.

In a New York Times op-ed published Monday morning as people gathered to oppose the Line 3 pipeline, Louise Erdrich—a Minnesota-based novelist and poet as well as a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, a Native American tribe in North Dakota—called the project “a breathtaking betrayal” of tribal communities and the environment. 

“This is not just another pipeline,” Erdrich wrote. She continued:

It is a tar sands climate bomb; if completed, it will facilitate the production of crude oil for decades to come. Tar sands are among the most carbon-intensive fuels on the planet. The state’s environmental impact assessment of the project found the pipeline’s carbon output could be 193 million tons per year.

That’s the equivalent of 50 coal-fired power plants or 38 million vehicles on our roads, according to Jim Doyle, a physicist at Macalester College who helped write a report from the climate action organization MN350 about the pipeline. He observed that the pipeline’s greenhouse gas emissions are greater than the yearly output of the entire state.

If the pipeline is built, Minnesotans could turn off everything in the state, stop traveling, and still not come close to meeting the state’s emission reduction goals. The impact assessment also states that the potential social cost of this pipeline is $287 billion over 30 years.

On top of the project’s massive carbon footprint, “the extraction process for oil sands is deeply destructive,” Erdrich noted. “The water used in processing is left in toxic holding ponds that cumulatively could fill 500,000 Olympic swimming pools.”
» Read article            
» Read the Louise Erdrich op-ed in New York Times         

climate cases 2020
2020 Was a Busy Year for Taking the Climate Fight to the Courts
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
December 21, 2020

This year — with its converging crises, from the coronavirus pandemic to longstanding racial injustice to climate-related disasters — was also a remarkably active time for climate litigation. All around the world, communities, organizations, and especially young people turned to the courts in 2020 in strategic attempts to hold governments and polluting companies accountable for exacerbating the unfolding climate emergency.

In particular, this year saw a notable uptick in climate accountability litigation with multiple new cases filed in the U.S. and internationally.

“This extremely challenging year has made clear that people and the planet must come first,” Kristin Casper, general counsel with Greenpeace International, told DeSmog in an emailed statement. “Many are taking action to make it a reality by bringing their demands for climate justice to the courts.”

“We’re seeing climate litigation spring up all over the world. Advocates in many countries are finding it a very useful tactic,” said Michael Gerrard, environmental law professor at Columbia Law School and founder and faculty director of Columbia’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law.

Over the years there have been more than 1,500 climate-related cases in 37 countries, according to a report on climate litigation trends released this summer. And a new wave of cases in recent years has made it clear that courts are emerging as a critical battleground in the climate fight.

This year was notable for the number of new climate cases brought to the courts. At least 20 new cases were filed around the world against governments and fossil fuel companies.
» Read article            

» More about protests and actions      

 

DIVESTMENT

insure our future
Lloyd’s market to quit fossil fuel insurance by 2030
By Julia Kollewe, The Guardian
December 16, 2020

Lloyd’s, the world’s biggest insurance market, has bowed to pressure from environmental campaigners and set a market-wide policy to stop new insurance cover for coal, oil sands and Arctic energy projects by January 2022, and to pull out of the business altogether by 2030.

In its first environmental, social and governance report, Lloyd’s, which has been criticised for being slow to exit fossil fuel underwriting and investment, said the 90 insurance syndicates that make up the market would phase out all existing insurance policies for fossil fuel projects in 10 years’ time. Less than 5% of the market’s £35bn annual premiums comes from insurance policies in this area.

“We want to align ourselves with the UN sustainability development goals and the principles in the Paris [climate] agreement,” said the Lloyd’s chairman, Bruce Carnegie-Brown.

“A lot of syndicates are already doing some of the things we are setting out here but we are trying to create a more comprehensive framework for the whole market.”

The Lloyd’s market will also end new investments in coal-fired power plants, coalmines, oil sands and Arctic energy exploration by 1 January 2022, and phase out existing investments in companies that derive 30% or more of their revenues from this area by the end of 2025.

Carnegie-Brown defended the 2030 target date for ending fossil fuel insurance. “We want to try to support our customers in the transition and we don’t want to create cliff edges for them,” he said.
» Read article            

» More about divestment            

 

GREENING THE ECONOMY

TCCCBL
How To Create Anti-Racist Energy Policies
By Shalanda H. Baker, WBUR
September 23, 2020

Once you begin to see injustice, you cannot unsee it.

The pandemic has exposed longstanding inequality in our society and revealed how many Americans are one mishap away from losing basic necessities such as food, housing and health care.

The pandemic has also revealed the many burdens communities of color routinely bear as a result of the structure and design of our nation’s energy system. That system disproportionately extracts wealth from the lowest-income Americans, who also tend to live in communities with the poorest air quality and are at a higher risk of the complications of COVID-19. These are the same communities that will be hit first and hardest by climate change.

The time for reckoning with the racialized violence embedded within the current energy system is long overdue. Now is the time to advance anti-racist energy policy. Now is the time for energy justice.

Our system of paying for energy — electricity, natural gas and other fuels — is unfair. The system inequitably burdens people who live in poor and low-income communities, who struggle to pay their utility bills. The poorest families in this country pay far more of their income for energy costs — upwards of 30% — while higher-income families pay about 3% or less. It should come as no surprise that the households paying the highest portion of their income for energy and confronted with difficult decisions about how to pay their utility bills are also disproportionately Black, Latinx and Indigenous. Lower-income families already tend to use less energy.

But the struggle to meet basic energy needs predates the current crisis. A 2015 analysis revealed that 31% of all Americans regularly face some sort of energy insecurity, which includes the lack of ability to pay for energy. This figure jumped to 45% for Latinx respondents and 52% for Black respondents and was still greater for Native American and Indigenous people, who experienced energy insecurity at a rate of 54%. A staggering 75% of Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander respondents experienced energy insecurity, a rate more than twice the national average. Yet white respondents experienced energy insecurity only 28% of the time.

The legacy of environmental racism also means that Black people are more likely to live near coal-fired power plants than other people, and Black, Latinx and Indigenous people routinely absorb more of the toxic byproducts of our fossil-fuel-based energy system. The same communities are less likely to have access to local, clean energy.

During the pandemic, these environmental injustices create a deadlier set of health risks. As researchers at Harvard Chan School of Public Health recently found, long-term exposure to air pollution can increase the risk of dying from COVID-19.
» Read article            

» More about greening the economy        

 

CLIMATE

shortfalls in oversight
Large Methane Leaks Reveal Long-Standing Shortfalls in Oversight
New rollbacks could make controlling fugitive emissions from oil and gas infrastructure even harder
By Chiara Eisner, Scientific American
December 21, 2020

Ever since a father and son managed to draw four whiskey barrels of oil from a hand-dug hole near California’s Kern River 121 years ago, productive oil and gas wells have multiplied like mushrooms across the area. Though such wells are expected to emit minimal amounts of greenhouse gases during the oil-extraction process, scientists from a space-related research group were shocked by the size of the methane plumes they detected when they flew an infrared sensor over Kern County in 2015. Repeating the flights three more times in the next three years confirmed the initial reading: some wells were releasing at least six times more of the potent greenhouse gas into the atmosphere in one day than the Environmental Protection Agency had estimated they should emit in a year.

Karen Jones is one of the scientists at the Aerospace Corporation, the California-based nonprofit organization that conducted the aerial survey. She says she felt mystified by what she calls a lack of action among the oil fields’ operators and regulators as she watched the methane—the second-highest contributor to human-caused warming after carbon dioxide—continuously spew over the years. “The gas coming out of Kern County isn’t supposed to be there,” she says.

Revelations like Aerospace’s, which the nonprofit published in a report this past summer, are becoming more common. For years, oil and gas companies have been required to detect and repair methane leaks in their equipment. But scientists have produced dozens of studies over the past decade that suggest the current methods and technology used by industry to detect leaks—and by regulators to estimate how much methane is emitted—are inadequate to catch the actual scale of the problem.

Nonprofit groups and private satellite companies may soon make high-quality data about methane publicly available and ubiquitous, potentially creating more pressure to address the situation. Action to plug leaks and prevent further air pollution may be stymied in the meantime, though: the Trump administration took numerous steps that could weaken environmental protections, including rules outlining how companies monitor for and locate natural gas leaks in their equipment (methane is the main component of natural gas). Whether they will be reversed when the Biden administration enters the White House, and how long that will take if it happens, remains to be seen.

Scientists say people of color and low-income communities, who already suffer disproportionately from the consequences of air pollution, will continue to bear much of the health brunt of such regulatory rollbacks. And more methane in the atmosphere is also likely to speed up the already accelerating process of global warming.
» Read article            

climate emergency
Groups Provide Biden With Draft Climate Emergency Order to Help Put Out ‘Fire Fanned by Trump’
The president-elect “must take bold action the moment he steps into the Oval Office, without punting to a dysfunctional Congress.”
By Andrea Germanos, Common Dreams
December 16, 2020

President-elect Joe Biden must swiftly move once in office to “avert the climate emergency” with a series of actions to ensure the nation invests in “a just, clean, distributed, and democratic energy system that works for all.”

That’s the demand Wednesday from over 380 groups who’ve sent Biden a draft executive order (pdf) that details how, exercising executive authority, he can rein in greenhouse gas emissions and safeguard the environment while boosting jobs and community wellbeing.

The new effort was convened by organizations including the Center for Biological Diversity and the Indigenous Environmental Network and is backed by a diverse collection of hundreds of state and national groups including Fire Drill Fridays, Breast Cancer Action, the National Family Farm Coalition, and the Sunrise Movement. International organizations including the Center for International Environmental Law and Global Witness are also listed as supporters.

President Donald Trump’s outgoing administration, said Kassie Siegel, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute and one of the key authors of the order, has taken a wrecking ball to the climate—making efforts to address the global crisis even more urgent.
» Read article            
» Read the draft executive order            

» More about climate           

 

CLEAN ENERGY

green hydrogen 2020 recap
2020: The Year of Green Hydrogen in 10 Stories
Green hydrogen exceeded expectations in 2020 with a spate of huge projects, binding deployment targets and a handful of gigafactories.
By John Parnell, GreenTech Media
December 29, 2020

2020 has been notable for the rush of activity in the green hydrogen space.

Using renewable-powered electrolyzers to create low-carbon hydrogen can squeeze emissions out of sectors where direct electrification isn’t going to cut it. Green hydrogen could replace methane to generate heat or power. It could replace high-carbon, or grey, hydrogen in a number of industrial and chemical processes. It could even be used as a fuel in heavy transport.  

As 2020 unfurled and then unraveled, climate change ambition ramped up. ‘Green recovery’ emerged as a favored approach to stoking flagging economies — tackling the unparalleled challenge of climate change to invest our way out of an unrivalled economic test.

Even prior to the coronavirus pandemic, there were clues that green hydrogen might shift up the agenda. Rob Gibson is the whole system and gas supply manager for National Grid Electricity System Operator in the U.K. He has been tracking the contribution of gas, including hydrogen, for the operator’s 2050 Future Energy Scenarios. When the country was working with an 80 percent emissions reduction by 2050, hydrogen had a smaller role in those forecasts.

When the country first set out the net-zero goal in June 2019, that changed, he told GTM in a recent interview. Economies face a much more costly path to decarbonizing the final 10 to 20 percent of their emissions, making hydrogen a cost-effective alternative for reaching 100 percent carbon-free goals. 

It’s a trend now repeating around Europe with other markets not far behind. Wood Mackenzie declared the 2020s the decade of hydrogen. This is how it began.
» Blog editor’s note: The greenest application of green hydrogen involves its use with fuel cells – extracting the energy as electricity without combustion. We advise readers to approach any news concerning big moves into green hydrogen with considerable skepticism. Much of the current hype (and actual momentum) is being financed by the natural gas industry, as a way to continue the business model of providing volatile gas for combustion. This has great potential for negative health and climate impacts, particularly related to high NOx emissions.
» Read article            
 

UK gas boiler ban coming
New gas boilers to be banned in 15 years to meet emissions target (UK)
By Steven Swinford and Emily Gosden, The Times
December 15, 2020

 

New gas boilers will effectively be banned by the mid-2030s and have to be replaced with low-carbon alternatives such as heat pumps and hydrogen boilers, the government has said.

An energy white paper published yesterday said that the country would have to “transition completely away from natural gas boilers” as part of the target to hit net-zero emissions by 2050.

At present about 1.7 million gas boilers are installed every year.

The government will also launch a consultation on whether it is appropriate to end gas grid connections entirely for new homes. The Times has previously reported that gas boilers for new homes could be banned as soon as 2023.
» Read article             

one-spin wonder
New Offshore Wind Turbine Can Power a Home for a Day in Just 7 Seconds
By John Rogers, Senior energy analyst, Union of Concerned Scientists
December 3, 2020

The first large-scale offshore wind farm in the United States may use the largest wind turbine in the world. Here are a few ways to think about what all that might mean.

The developers of the Vineyard Wind project off Massachusetts have just announced that they’ll be using GE wind turbines—specifically, the GE Haliade-X. That turbine recently got a capacity upgrade, from a world-leading 12 megawatts (MW) to a world-leading-by-even-more 13 MW.

Hearing that 312 MWh number got me thinking about how much electricity the average home uses in these parts, and wondering how it compared. So I did the math: At full power, a turbine that size could cover a whole household’s daily electricity needs in under 7 seconds.

Sure, not every day is that windy, you’d lose some energy transmitting it from the turbine to the home, and you’d need storage to use it the other 86,393 seconds of the day. (So I wouldn’t recommend this approach for DIY home power…)

But still: 7 seconds.

The manufacturer itself offers another way to make the comparison between turbine and home: A single spin of the turbine, says GE, “could power a UK household for more than 2 days”. While specifying “UK” is important, because of their lower per-home electricity use, the math still works out to a single spin of the blades generating enough energy for a day for the average home in at least the 10 or 12 most efficient states in the US.
» Read article            

» More about clean energy                                    

 

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

view from ESB
How to slash buildings’ growing greenhouse gas emissions
A new UN report gives a blueprint for greener buildings
By Justine Calma, The Verge
December 16, 2020

Carbon dioxide coming from the buildings where we live and work set a new record in 2019. What’s more, those planet-heating emissions will probably keep rising after the pandemic, the authors of a new UN report warn. The report urges governments to make structures more energy efficient and speed up a transition to renewable energy. Doing that could be a great way to address both the climate crisis and the economic downturn caused by COVID-19.

The building sector was responsible for a whopping 38 percent of carbon dioxide emissions globally in 2019, the report says. For comparison, all the planes, trains, automobiles, and other transportation in the world only pump out about 24 percent of global carbon emissions. Growing prosperity around the world, especially in developing nations that don’t yet have a lot of renewable energy, led to higher-than-normal rise in building sector emissions last year. When economies grow, there’s more construction, larger floor plans for buildings, and more energy-guzzling appliances and electronics filling those spaces.

Air conditioning is one of the biggest worries when it comes to energy-hungry buildings. Economic development in hotter climates comes with a big bump in emissions from air conditioners. Historic heatwaves during 2019, the second hottest year on record, was another reason why that year saw the most building emissions on record, according to the International Energy Agency. “The need for more energy efficient air conditioning is so vital to the future of both emissions [and] the reality of what we’re building,” says Ian Hamilton, lead coordinating author of the new report. “Those lovely, great big glassy towers in hot parts of the world rely so heavily on air conditioning for them to be comfortable, livable.”

Economic prosperity doesn’t need to translate into more planet-heating pollution. About 10 percent of buildings’ environmental footprint comes from their construction and materials. But most of the emissions that buildings are responsible for come from the energy used for heating, cooling, and lighting. Right now, fossil fuels are still a large part of the energy mix — which is what report authors hope to see change.
» Read article            
» Read the UN report          

» More about energy efficiency        

 

ENERGY EFFICIENCY / BUILDING MATERIALS

Earthbag domesA Community of Superadobe Earthbag Domes Empowers Its Residents
Built with earth-based materials, these colorful domes were constructed with the help of local residents looking to revive their local economy.
By Kimberley Mok, Treehugger.com
December 17, 2020

In reducing the carbon footprint of both existing and new buildings, there are a number of possible strategies. One approach is to reduce the size of homes, thus reducing the energy needed to heat and maintain them (which is one reason why smaller homes are gaining popularity). Another is to increase their energy efficiency, as we see being done with Passivhaus / Passive House homes. Yet another tack is to change the kinds of materials we use in constructing more eco-friendly homes, swapping out materials with high embodied carbon (a.k.a. upfront carbon emissions) like concrete and steel for more sustainable materials like wood, cork and bamboo.

There’s yet another weapon to add to the growing arsenal of sustainable materials – but it’s not a new one, rather, it’s something that humans have used for millennia – earth. The soil beneath our feet is actually a great building material, whether it’s rammed, or compressed into modular earth blocks. We’ve seen a number of interesting architectural projects using earth-based materials, be they large or small.

On Iran’s Hormuz Island, these distinctive domes were constructed by Tehran-based firm ZAV Architects, using an innovative method called superadobe. Initially developed as a form of earthbag construction by Iranian-born architect Nader Khalili, the technique involves layering long fabric tubes or bags filled with earth and other organic materials like straw to form a compression structure.

Intended as a project that encourages “community empowerment via urban development,” the domes have been built with the help of local residents, who were trained with the necessary construction skills.
» Read article            

» More about energy efficient building materials           

 

ENERGY STORAGE

energy storage 2020 recap
Greentech Media’s Must-Read Energy Storage Stories of 2020
An attempted shortlist of the major breakthroughs in the energy storage industry’s biggest year ever.
By Julian Spector, GreenTech Media
December 28, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic brought the broader economy to a halt, but the energy storage industry didn’t get the memo.

Instead, developers made this year the biggest ever for battery installations in the U.S. More capacity is going into homes than ever before, helping families make better use of rooftop solar investments and keeping the lights on during outages. Large-scale projects reached new heights, including LS Power’s completion of the largest battery in the world, just in time to help California grapple with its summer power shortage.

Just a few years ago, energy storage was a niche item, something people built in the very few locations where a higher force compelled it. Now, utilities across the country are using batteries to solve numerous grid problems and planning far more for the near future. And the most boisterous of power markets, Texas, has finally broken open for storage developers, with major projects already underway.

Here is an attempt at condensing all of these upheavals and breakthroughs into a list of the crucial energy storage storylines from the year. Think of it as a cheat sheet for all things energy storage in 2020.
» Read article            

ESGC published
US Department of Energy publishes its ‘first comprehensive energy storage strategy’
By Andy Colthorpe, Energy Storage News
December 23, 2020

The US government’s Department of Energy (DoE) has described its just-published Energy Storage Grand Challenge Roadmap as its first comprehensive strategy on energy storage, identifying cost and performance targets to be met in the coming years.

Among other things, it sets out a target for the levelised cost of long-duration energy storage to be reduced by 90% over the next nine years.

The ESGC looks to establish the US as a leader in energy storage and maintain that position; focusing not just on innovative new technologies and research into existing technologies but also on helping them traverse the fabled ‘Valley of Death’ that lies from lab to commercialisation. The Challenge also seeks to enable domestic manufacturing in the sector through secure supply chains.

The overarching goal of the ESGC is to develop and domestically manufacture energy storage technologies capable of meeting all of the needs of the US market by 2030 – a goal which the Department said in a press release is “aggressive but achievable”. The American energy storage industry should also be competitive internationally, including export opportunities, the DoE said.
» Read article            

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CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

H2 evangelist
The Gospel of Hydrogen Power
Mike Strizki powers his house and cars with hydrogen he home-brews. He is using his retirement to evangelize for the planet-saving advantages of hydrogen batteries.
By Roy Furchgott, New York Times
December 28, 2020

In December, the California Fuel Cell Partnership tallied 8,890 electric cars and 48 electric buses running on hydrogen batteries, which are refillable in minutes at any of 42 stations there. On the East Coast, the number of people who own and drive a hydrogen electric car is somewhat lower. In fact, there’s just one. His name is Mike Strizki. He is so devoted to hydrogen fuel-cell energy that he drives a Toyota Mirai even though it requires him to refine hydrogen fuel in his yard himself.

“Yeah, I love it,” Mr. Strizki said of his 2017 Mirai. “This car is powerful, there’s no shifting, plus I’m not carrying all of that weight of the batteries,” he said in a not-so-subtle swipe at the world’s most notable hydrogen naysayer, Elon Musk.

Mr. Strizki favors fuel-cell cars for the same reasons as most proponents. You can make fuel using water and solar power, as he does. The byproduct of making hydrogen is oxygen, and the byproduct of burning it is water. Hydrogen is among the most plentiful elements on earth, so you don’t have to go to adversarial countries or engage in environmentally destructive extraction to get it. The car is as quiet to drive as any other electric, it requires little maintenance, and because it doesn’t carry 1,200 pounds of batteries, it has a performance edge.

Mr. Strizki is using his retirement to evangelize for the planet-saving advantages of hydrogen batteries. He has faced opposition from the electric, oil and battery industries, he said, as well as his sometimes supporter, the Energy Department. Then there is the ghost of the 1937 Hindenburg explosion, which hovers over all things hydrogen. The financial crash of the high-flying hydrogen truck manufacturer Nikola hasn’t advanced his case.

Mr. Strizki’s expertise has made him a cult figure in hydrogen circles, where he has consulted on notable projects for two decades. He has worked on high school science projects as well as a new $150,000-ish hydrogen hypercar that claims to get 1,000 miles per fill-up.

“Hydrogen is in some ways safer than gasoline,” said JoAnn Milliken, director of the New Jersey Fuel Cell Coalition, a volunteer group, who knew Mr. Strizki from her time at the Energy Department. She cited a 2019 study from Sandia National Laboratories that found a hydrogen car to have no more fire hazard than a conventional vehicle.

Ever since Mr. Musk called fuel cells “staggeringly dumb,” there has been a fierce rivalry between lithium-ion and hydrogen backers. Cooler heads see a place for each. Electric is suitable for people with a garage who travel limited distances and can charge overnight. But for long-haul trucks, hydrogen doesn’t add weight or reduce cargo space the way batteries do. Furthermore, hydrogen tanks can be refueled in minutes.
» Blog editor’s note: Mr. Strizki is advocating for hydrogen fuel cells, in which hydrogen does not undergo thermal combustion. That’s a great use of solar-produced green hydrogen. Problems with NOx emissions only occur when you burn it.
» Read article            

Flettner rotor
Rotating Sails Help to Revive Wind-Powered Shipping
A century-old concept, Flettner rotors, gets a fresh look as shippers cut back fuel
By Lynn Freehill-Maye, Scientific American
December 1, 2020

In 1926 a cargo ship called the Buckau crossed the Atlantic sporting what looked like two tall smokestacks. But these towering cylinders were actually drawing power from the wind. Called Flettner rotors, they were a surprising new invention by German engineer Anton Flettner (covered at the time in Scientific American). When the wind was perpendicular to the ship’s course, a motor spun the cylinders so their forward-facing sides turned in the same direction as the wind; this movement made air move faster across the front surface and slower behind, creating a pressure difference and pulling the ship forward. The rotating sails provided a net energy gain—but before they could be widely adopted the Great Depression struck, followed by World War II. Like the electric car, the Flettner rotor would be abandoned for almost a century in favor of burning fossil fuel.

Now, with shippers under renewed pressure to cut both costs and carbon emissions, the concept is getting another shot. In one notable example, the 12,000-gross-ton cargo vessel SC Connector is adding 35-meter Flettner rotors that can tilt to near horizontal when the ship passes under bridges or power lines. The new rotors need electrical power to spin, but manufacturer Norsepower says they can still save up to 20 percent on fuel consumption and cut emissions by 25 percent.
» Read article            

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FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

fracking killing US oil and gas
How The Fracking Revolution Is Killing the U.S. Oil and Gas Industry
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
December 22, 2020

After over a decade of the much-hyped U.S. fracking miracle, the U.S. oil and gas industry is having to deal with years of losses and falling asset values which has dealt the industry a serious financial blow. This is despite the fracking revolution delivering record oil and gas production for the past decade, peaking in 2019.

While the pandemic has hurt the industry, companies have also benefited from excessive bailouts from pandemic relief programs but these bailouts are a stop gap financial band-aid for the struggling industry.

The oil and gas industry has always required huge amounts of money to explore for and produce oil and gas but up until now the industry made returns on those investments

The industry made a huge bet on fracking shale deposits to unleash the oil and gas reserves in that shale. It worked from a production standpoint; the industry produced record amounts of oil and gas. The difference is that, unlike traditional oil and gas production, the cost to produce fracked oil and gas was more than what the market was willing to pay for it.

As a result, the U.S. fracking industry has lost over $300 billion. Fracking was supposed to be the future of the U.S. oil and gas industry — instead it has dealt the industry a major financial blow which has likely sped up the energy transition away from oil and gas towards a lower carbon future.
» Read article            

fracking boom oral historyThe Rise and Fall of a Fracking Boom Town: An Oral History
Rock Springs, Wyoming, sits on vast underground stores of natural gas and shale oil. But what was meant to be a blessing turned into a curse.
By J.J. Anselmi, New Republic
December 21, 2020

It’s always feast or famine in Rock Springs. In the 1970s, this wind-worn mining town in southwest Wyoming was the site of an immense energy boom. Men from across the country moved in to make fast money in coal, oil, gas, or trona (the raw material for soda ash, which in turn is used to make glass, paper, baking soda, and other products). My dad worked at the Jim Bridger power plant for nearly 15 years, first dumping huge trucks of coal ash, then laboring in the warehouse. He met my mom during the ’70s boom.

Then the oil fields dried up. Demand for trona fell sharply, and soon workers were getting laid off at Jim Bridger (thankfully for us, my dad was able to keep his job). As one resident, Tammy Morley, told me, “It seemed to me like the boom left all at once. The town was dead. The oil fields got sucked dry. All the rest just went away.”

I graduated high school in 2004 and tried to go to school in Colorado, but I dropped out. When I came back to Rock Springs in 2005, the hydraulic fracturing boom had begun. The town and its surrounding areas sit on vast underground stores of natural gas and shale oil. And the mad rush to extract this untapped store of energy changed everything.

Suddenly, every hotel was filled with roughnecks from across the country. Rent got much more expensive, and stucco neighborhoods sprouted up like an invasive plant species. Guys with huge work trucks blasted around town. Most of my friends got jobs with Halliburton or one of the other companies doing fracking out in the massive Jonah Field. At the time, we had the biggest Halliburton fracking facility in the country, its arsenal of red trucks and heavy-duty equipment on militaristic display. Schlumberger had its own battery of blue trucks and equipment on the other side of town. 

There was suddenly, too, a lot of money. But this blessing, as so much else in this country, would turn out to be a nightmare in disguise. This is the story of Rock Springs’ last boom, as told by the people who lived through it (some of their names have been changed or withheld to protect their privacy).
» Read article            

» More about fossil fuel             

 

HAZARDS OF FRACKING

harms of fracking - update
Sandra Steingraber, ‘The Harms of Fracking’ Update
Green Radio Hour with Jon Bowermaster, WKNY Radio
December 27, 2020

Join me in conversation with Sandra Steingraber on the eve of the release of the 7th annual compendium on the continued physical harms of fracking, assembled by Concerned Health Professionals of New York. When the first tracking of the harms was published seven years ago, it easily fit in a manila envelope. Today it’s grown to 500 pages and more than 1,900 footnotes. Obviously the harms just keep mounting!
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