Tag Archives: Massachusetts

Weekly News Check-In 4/1/22

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Welcome back.

Another youth-led climate organization is making waves, alongside the better-known Extinction Rebellion that has mounted bold non-violent actions against the buildout of fossil fuel infrastructure for the past few years. The group Just Stop Oil demands that the British government agree to halt all new licenses for fossil fuel projects. This is reasonable, and right in line with United Nations and International Energy Agency roadmaps for limiting global warming to levels just below catastrophic. The kids are alright.

Science and common sense aside, industry’s zombie-like, shuffling trudge toward new fossil projects includes persistent pressure for new gas peaking power plants. We’re fighting one in Peabody, MA; this week’s report highlights one on Long Island. Meanwhile, it seems our good-news story from last week about the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s new requirement to consider downstream emissions and environmental justice communities before permitting new natural gas pipelines may have been a tad premature. In a disappointing reversal, FERC chair Richard Glick is walking that back.

With inflation biting into budgets at a time when about one third of American households already have trouble paying their energy bills, it’s fair to ask whether states with ambitious climate goals will make things better or worse from the kitchen-table perspective. We found a new report that concludes “prioritizing investments in energy-cost-burdened populations can help states meet their emissions reductions targets while saving billions of dollars.” It’s a strong economic argument for improving people’s lives while moving quickly to decarbonize. This involves up-front investment, but it makes a whole lot more sense to shovel loads of cash at something expected to pay handsome social and economic dividends – rather than stuffing all those greenbacks into the furnaces and smokestacks tended by the business-as-usual lobby.

Our climate stories draw a line under that. One talks about the dangers of buying into the popular idea that it’s OK to overshoot our global warming target – that we can pull the planet back into the safe zone later. Nope. Now read the second article, featuring young people who refuse to give up in the face of daunting odds. They argue that embracing climate doom can be a cop out that excuses inaction.

Thousands of Canadians are staying engaged – calling for an end to the carbon capture tax credit, a giveaway to industry that relies on unproven and expensive technology, without meaningful return in the form of emissions remediation. Germany appears ready to act, now that the invasion of Ukraine exposed the country’s untenable dependence on Russia’s natural gas. Chancellor Olaf Scholz is doubling down on a clean energy transition. This, along with decisions made in other European capitals will decide the course of the current industry-led race to simply replace all that Russian gas with shipments of liquefied natural gas from North America. It’s worth stepping back from LNG’s breathless promotion of this “solution” to consider that it would lock in lots of new fossil infrastructure and take years to implement – none of which addresses Europe’s urgent energy needs nor the climate’s requirement that we stop doing things like that.

And consider this: every new study of methane emissions from the oil and gas sector seems to conclude that releases of this extra-powerful greenhouse gas are much larger than previously known. Connecticut is on the right track, with its regulators calling for a halt to subsidies for new gas hookups. The argument that gas is cleaner than any other fuel, including coal, is increasingly difficult to defend.

Good news this week includes the fact that we’re getting closer to integrating the batteries in electric vehicles as energy storage units capable of providing grid services. In the not-too-distant electric-mobile future, a utility could peel off a little charge from tens of thousands of parked EVs, greatly reducing the need for larger battery storage units to handle peak demand. And electrified transportation is a broad category, including e-bikes. Massachusetts is finally expected to move forward with regulations allowing them more widespread use and even subsidies for affordability. Forty-six other states have already taken similar measures.

Of course, expanding electric mobility requires mining a host of metals, and the U.S. has concluded its supply chains are far too reliant on foreign (sometimes unstable and/or unfriendly) sources. Lithium, cobalt, and nickel are key metals in EV batteries, and selecting the least environmentally- and culturally-damaging extraction sites is of urgent importance. We offer a report on locations currently under consideration.

Here in Massachusetts, the Baker administration continues its attempt to rewrite the state’s science-based biomass regulations, to allow certain biomass-fueled electricity generators to qualify for lucrative clean energy credits. Scientists, public health professionals, and activists are strenuously opposing that effort.

We’ll wrap up with two stories on the energy demands of cryptocurrency. Bitcoin miners are moving to the oil patch, increasingly running their power-thirsty banks of processors off “waste” gas from drilling operations and using fuzzy math to claim it’s a win for the climate. Meanwhile, others suggest a practical change that could eliminate up to 99% of that energy demand.

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

— The NFGiM Team

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

just stop oil and XR
Environmental protesters block oil terminals across UK
Activists climb on tankers and glue themselves to roads around London, Birmingham and Southampton
By Damien Gayle, The Guardian
April 1, 2022

Hundreds of environmental protesters have blocked seven oil terminals across the country as part of a campaign to paralyse the UK’s fossil fuel infrastructure.

Early on Friday, supporters of Just Stop Oil began blockades at oil refineries around London, Birmingham and Southampton by climbing on top of tankers and gluing themselves to road surfaces.

Shortly after 4am, activists blocked terminals in Purfleet and Grays, Essex, which they said were the biggest in the country. In Tamworth, near Birmingham, a group of more than two dozen protesters had been hoping to disrupt the nearby Kingsbury oil terminal. However, due to police intervention they were able only to block a road leading to the site.

Just Stop Oil has demanded that the government agree to halt all new licences for fossil fuel projects in the UK. They have vowed to continue disrupting the UK’s oil infrastructure until the government agrees.

Louis McKecknie, 21 from Weymouth, who last month zip-tied his neck to a goalpost at Goodison Park, Everton’s football ground, as part of the campaign, said: “I don’t want to be doing this but our genocidal government gives me no choice. They know that oil is funding Putin’s war and pushing millions of people into fuel poverty while energy companies reap billions in profits. They know that to allow more oil and gas extraction in the UK is suicidal and will accelerate global heating.

“It means millions dying of heat stress, losing their homes or having to fight for food. This is the future for my generation, I stop when oil stops.”
» Read article      

» More about protests and actions     

PEAKING POWER PLANTS

no NRG peaker
NRG’s Proposed Astoria Power Plant Slammed as Company Attempts to Revive Plans
By Allie Griffin, Sunnyside Post
March 17, 2022

A large energy company that had its plans to build a power plant in Astoria rejected by the state in October has challenged the decision and in doing so has drawn the ire of local officials and activists.

NRG Energy is seeking the state’s approval to replace its 50-year-old peaker plant on 20th Avenue with a natural gas-fired generator that it says would significantly reduce its carbon footprint at the site.

The company’s application was denied by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation in October and NRG requested an adjudicatory hearing in November.

Elected officials and climate activists, however, remain firmly opposed to the plan. They slammed the plan at a public hearing Tuesday.

State Sen. Michael Gianaris, who has been an outspoken critic of the plan since its inception, called on the Department of Environmental Conservation to uphold its initial denial of the project. The DEC concluded in October that the plan failed to comply with the state’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, a 2019 law that established a mandate to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

“The DEC was right to deny a permit for a destructive, fossil fuel plant in Astoria and should reject their appeal as well,” Gianaris, who championed the law, said. “Our community drew a line in the sand against new fossil fuel infrastructure and won. Let the DEC issue a strong statement that ‘no new fossil fuel plants’ is the policy of New York as we fight the ravages of the climate crisis.”
» Read article      

» More about peakers

FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION

Glick retreats
FERC retreats on gas policies as chair pursues clarity
By Miranda Willson, E&E News
March 25, 2022

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has rolled back sweeping new policies for large natural gas projects, including a framework for assessing how pipelines and other facilities contribute to climate change, weeks after prominent lawmakers panned the changes.

In a decision issued unanimously at the commission’s monthly meeting yesterday, FERC will revert back to its long-standing method for reviewing natural gas pipeline applications — while opening changes announced in February to feedback rather than applying them immediately.

[…] While the policy changes issued in February were intended to update and improve the agency’s approach for siting new gas projects, the commission has concluded that the new guidelines “could benefit from further clarification,” said FERC Chair Richard Glick.

“I’m all for providing further clarity, not only for industry but all stakeholders in our proceedings, including landowners and affected communities,” said Glick, a Democrat who supported the initial changes.

In a pair of orders condemned by the commission’s Republican members, FERC’s Democratic majority voted last month to advance new policies altering the commission’s process for reviewing new natural gas projects.

One of the policies expanded the range of topics included in FERC’s reviews of interstate pipelines, adding new consideration for environmental and social issues.

It explained that the commission would consider four major factors before approving a project: the interests of the developer’s existing customers; the interests of existing pipelines and their customers; environmental interests; and the interests of landowners, environmental justice populations and surrounding communities.

The other policy was an “interim” plan for quantifying natural gas projects’ greenhouse gas emissions. It laid out, for the first time, how the agency would determine whether new projects’ contributions to climate change would be “significant,” and encouraged developers to try to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.
» Read article      

» More about FERC

GREENING THE ECONOMY

pathways to affordable energy
Aligning climate and affordability goals can save states billions

By Arjun Makhijani and Boris Lukanov, Utility Dive | Opinion
March 30, 2022

One in three U.S. households — about 40 million in all — are faced with the persistent, difficult and fundamental challenge of paying their energy bills and paying for other essentials like food, medicine and rent. Utility bills have been rising as have gasoline prices. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and associated sanctions have added sharp volatility to oil prices. Significant increases, even if temporary, can have adverse long-term impacts on low-income households as evidenced by the fact that over one-third of adults cannot readily meet an unexpected expense of $400.

An urgent question posed by climate imperatives is: will the transition away from fossil fuels worsen energy cost burdens or can it be managed in ways that increase energy affordability. Nearly half of all U.S. states have set legal targets to increase the share of clean energy resources and lower greenhouse gas emissions, yet few of these policies address longstanding concerns around energy affordability and energy equity directly. Our recent study, prepared for the Colorado Energy Office by researchers at PSE Healthy Energy and the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, provides the most comprehensive analysis to date of energy cost burdens — a key metric for measuring energy affordability — and outlines strategies to meet state emissions targets while lowering the cost of residential energy for low-and moderate-income households.

Our conclusion: prioritizing investments in energy-cost-burdened populations can help states meet their emissions reductions targets while saving billions of dollars. These savings result from a significant expansion of energy efficiency, electrification, community solar and demand response programs for low- and moderate-income households, lowering the total amount of direct assistance needed to make utility bills affordable for these households over time. The study also shows that an affordability and equity-informed approach more directly addresses long-standing social inequities stemming from the use of fossil fuels, can lower health-damaging air pollution faster, and can accelerate the clean energy transition, thereby benefiting all of society including non-low-income households.
» Read article
» Read the Pathways To Energy Affordability study            

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

overshoot
Can the world overshoot its climate targets — and then fix it later?
Policymakers seem to be banking on it. But irreversible climate impacts could get in the way.
By Emily Pontecorvo, Grist
March 30, 2022

In February, on the eve of the release of a major new report on the effects of climate change by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, several of its authors met with reporters virtually to present their findings. Ecologist Camille Parmesan, a professor at the French National Centre for Scientific Research, was the first to speak.

Scientists are documenting changes that are “much more widespread” and “much more negative,” she said, than anticipated for the 1.09 degrees Celsius of global warming that has occurred to date. “This has opened up a whole new realm of understanding of what the impacts of overshoot might entail.”

It was a critical message that was easy to miss. “Overshoot” is jargon that has not yet made the jump from scientific journals into the public vernacular. It didn’t make it into many headlines.

[…] The topic of overshoot has actually been lingering beneath the surface of public discussion about climate change for years, often implied but rarely mentioned directly. In the broadest sense, overshoot is a future where the world does not cut carbon quickly enough to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre industrial levels — a limit often described as a threshold of dangerous climate change — but then is able to bring the temperature back down later on. A sort of climate boomerang.

Here’s how: After blowing past 1.5 degrees, nations eventually achieve net-zero emissions. This requires not only reducing emissions, but also canceling out any remaining emissions with actions to suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, commonly called carbon removal. At that point, the temperature may have only risen to 1.6 degrees C, or it could have shot past 2 degrees, or 3, or 4 — depending on how long it takes to get to net-zero.

[…] When I reached out to Parmesan to ask about her statement in the press conference, she was eager to talk about overshoot. “It’s so important, and really being downplayed by policymakers,” she wrote.

“I think there’s very much an increased awareness of the need for action,” she told me when we got on the phone. “But then they fool themselves into thinking oh, but if we go over for a few decades, it’ll be okay.
» Read article      

OK Doomer
‘OK Doomer’ and the Climate Advocates Who Say It’s Not Too Late
A growing chorus of young people is focusing on climate solutions. “‘It’s too late’ means ‘I don’t have to do anything, and the responsibility is off me.’”
By Cara Buckley, New York Times
March 22, 2022

Alaina Wood is well aware that, planetarily speaking, things aren’t looking so great. She’s read the dire climate reports, tracked cataclysmic weather events and gone through more than a few dark nights of the soul.

She is also part of a growing cadre of people, many of them young, who are fighting climate doomism, the notion that it’s too late to turn things around. They believe that focusing solely on terrible climate news can sow dread and paralysis, foster inaction, and become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

With the war in Ukraine prompting a push for ramped up production of fossil fuels, they say it’s ever more pressing to concentrate on all the good climate work, especially locally, that is being done. “People are almost tired of hearing how bad it is; the narrative needs to move on to solutions,” said Ms. Wood, 25, a sustainability scientist who communicates much of her climate messaging on TikTok, the most popular social media platform among young Americans. “The science says things are bad. But it’s only going to get worse the longer it takes to act.”

Some climate advocates refer to the stance taken by Ms. Wood and her allies as “OK Doomer,” a riff on “OK Boomer,” the Gen Z rebuttal to condescension from older folks.
» Read article      

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

Olav Scholz
Germany’s New Government Had Big Plans on Climate, Then Russia Invaded Ukraine. What Happens Now?
A new chancellor and his coalition want to enact major clean energy legislation at the same time that the war has scrambled the geopolitics of energy.
By Dan Gearino, Inside Climate News
March 25, 2022

Vladmir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has made Germany’s reliance on Russian oil and gas untenable, and led the center-left government of Chancellor Olaf Scholz to accelerate the transition to clean energy.

This is more than just talk. German leaders are in the early stages of showing the world what an aggressive climate policy looks like in a crisis. Scholz and his cabinet will introduce legislation to require nearly 100 percent renewable electricity by 2035, which would help to meet the existing goal of getting to net-zero emissions by 2045.

“Our goal of achieving climate neutrality in Germany by 2045 is more important than ever,” Scholz said this week in an address to parliament.

Germany’s strategy is in contrast to the United States, where the Biden administration, also elected with ambitious climate plans, has seen that part of its agenda almost completely stalled.

The difference is that Germany—and much of the rest of Europe—have a head start on the United States in making a transition to clean energy, said Nikos Tsafos of the Energy Security and Climate Change Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington-based think tank.

“There is more social and political consensus in favor of decarbonization [in Europe], and the plans and strategies are far more developed,” Tsafos said in an email. “By contrast, climate legislation remains highly politicized in the United States, and the instinct among many is to merely increase oil and gas production.”
» Read article      

» More about clean energy

ENERGY STORAGE

V2G Leaf
EVs: The next grid battery for renewables?
By Peter Behr, E&E News
March 30, 2022

Around noon on Fridays, as a yoga class heats up at a recreation center in Boulder, Colo., electricity flows in from a Nissan Leaf plugged in behind the facility, cutting the city’s utility bill by about $270 a month, or roughly what it costs to lease the car, Boulder official Matthew Lehrman says.

The results of this experiment are making a potent point about the nation’s clean energy future, demonstrating vehicle-to-building power supply for controlling electricity costs and extending the reach of wind and solar power, according to David Slutzky, founder and chief executive of Fermata Energy, developer of the software that manages the power transfer.

EVs — battery-driven and plug-in hybrids — are projected to grow from about 5 percent of the U.S. car market this year to 30 percent or even one-third by 2030, according to a number of estimates, assuming EV costs shrink and charging station numbers grow.

And by 2025, not just the Leaf but nearly all new EVs are expected to come with bidirectional charging capability, Slutzky predicts, equipping them to be backup power sources when not on the road or being recharged overnight.

The potential of the technology has some high-level supporters, including Jigar Shah, head of the Energy Department’s Loan Programs Office, and John Isberg, a vice president of National Grid, which has electricity customers in New York and New England and has drawn on EV battery capacity last summer to cut peak demand in a partnership with Fermata Energy.

Pacific Gas and Electric Co., California’s largest electric utility, and General Motors this month announced plans to test GM vehicles equipped with bidirectional charging to reduce homeowners’ power demands.

And a division of Siemens AG is working with Ford on a custom bidirectional electric vehicle charger for the Ford F-150 Lightning pickup truck, allowing the truck to provide power to homes and, in the future, the grid itself, the companies said.

“Electric Vehicles like most vehicles are parked 96 percent of the time,” Shah said recently on social media. “If they are plugged in at scale they can be a valuable grid resource.”

[…] A report by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in January listed EVs among the primary customer-owned energy resources that could become “shock absorbers” helping grid operators manage large volumes of renewable power and get through grid emergencies.

“Auto manufacturers see this is really appealing. Even though we’re not there yet, the industry is moving toward bidirectional,” said Kyri Baker, an assistant professor on the engineering staff at the University of Colorado, Boulder.
» Read article      
» Read the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory report    

» More about energy storage

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

legal purgatory
Top lawmaker vows movement on e-bike bill long sought by advocates
By Taylor Dolven, Boston Globe
March 30, 2022

Hours after a protest in front of the State House pushing for legislation that would bring electric bicycles, known as e-bikes, out of their legal purgatory, a top lawmaker said the bill is likely to move out of committee by Friday.

Representative William Straus, co-chair of the Legislature’s Transportation Committee, said he’s confident the committee will act on the bill that would regulate the increasingly popular e-bikes as bikes as opposed to motor vehicles, which require a license, and allow them to be ridden on bike paths, by its Friday deadline. This legislation has been considered by state lawmakers before, but never made it all the way to the governor’s desk.

“I’m optimistic that this is [the] time for e-bike classification,” the Mattapoisett Democrat said.

At the rally in front of the State House Wednesday, city officials and advocates from Boston and nearby municipalities pressed for the legislation that would bring Massachusetts in line with 46 other states and Washington, D.C. Advocates say the much needed clarity will encourage more people to replace car trips with e-bike trips, reducing congestion and climate change-causing emissions.

Advocates also want to see a separate bill pass that would allow the Department of Energy Resources to provide rebates on purchases of e-bikes of up to $500 for general consumers and $750 for low- and moderate-income consumers, currently pending before the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy.

“E-bikes . . . provide climate justice, economic justice, and transportation justice,” said Boston Cyclists Union executive director Becca Wolfson. “We need these bills to pass now.”

E-bikes allow people to travel further distances with more ease than a regular bike. The e-bike regulation bill would create a three-class system to categorize them. The system allows municipalities to regulate e-bikes further, based on the classes.
» Read article      

nickel sheets
Russia’s War in Ukraine Reveals a Risk for the EV Future: Price Shocks in Precious Metals
After the nickel market goes haywire, the United States and its allies launch a critical minerals energy security plan, with stockpiling an option.
By Marianne Lavelle, Inside Climate News
March 28, 2022

[…] Russia’s war on Ukraine has roiled global commodities markets—including those for nickel and other metals used in EV batteries—and laid bare how vulnerable the world is to price shocks in the metals essential to the EV future. That volatility comes on top of the pandemic-triggered supply chain woes that have dogged the auto industry for months. President Joe Biden’s pledge to catalyze the electric vehicle transition has been only partly fulfilled, with consumer EV tax credits, much of the money for charging stations and other assistance stalled with the rest of his Build Back Better package in Congress.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), the linchpin for any effort to revive the legislation, this month said he is particularly reluctant to invest in an EV future because of U.S. dependence on imported metals for electric transportation. “I don’t want to have to be standing in line waiting for a battery for my vehicle, because we’re now dependent on a foreign supply chain,” Manchin said at the annual CERAWeek energy conference in Houston.

But last week, automakers, the Biden administration and U.S. trading partners and allies were doubling down on their commitment to vehicle electrification—not only to address climate change but because of concerns about energy insecurity in a world reliant on oil for transportation. Skyrocketing prices at gasoline pumps have made clear that U.S. drivers are not insulated from spikes in the global oil market, even though the United States is producing more oil domestically than ever.

Automakers are embarking on an array of strategies to secure supply of the critical minerals they will need for electric vehicles, including alternative battery chemistries, investment in new processing plants and deals with suppliers. Meanwhile, the United States and the 30 other member nations of the International Energy Agency last week launched a critical minerals security program. That could eventually include steps such as the stockpiling of metals needed for EVs and other renewable energy applications, just as IEA nations have committed since the 1970s to hold strategic stockpiles of oil. The IEA meeting participants also discussed a greater focus on systematic recycling of metals.
» Read article      

» More about clean transportation

SITING IMPACTS OF RENEWABLE ENERGY RESOURCES

FILE PHOTO: An aerial view shows the brine pools of SQM lithium mine on the Atacama salt flat in the Atacama desert of northern Chile

FILE PHOTO: An aerial view shows the brine pools of SQM lithium mine on the Atacama salt flat in the Atacama desert of northern Chile, January 10, 2013. Picture taken January 10, 2013. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado/File Photo

U.S. seeks new lithium sources as demand for clean energy grows
By Patrick Whittle, Associated Press, on PBS Newshour
March 28, 2022

The race is on to produce more lithium in the United States.

The U.S. will need far more lithium to achieve its clean energy goals — and the industry that mines, extracts and processes the chemical element is poised to grow. But it also faces a host of challenges from environmentalists, Indigenous groups and government regulators.

Although lithium reserves are distributed widely across the globe, the U.S. is home to just one active lithium mine, in Nevada. The element is critical to development of rechargeable lithium-ion batteries that are seen as key to reducing climate-changing carbon emissions created by cars and other forms of transportation.

Worldwide demand for lithium was about 350,000 tons (317,517 metric tons) in 2020, but industry estimates project demand will be up to six times greater by 2030. New and potential lithium mining and extracting projects are in various stages of development in states including Maine, North Carolina, California and Nevada.

[…] Expanding domestic lithium production would involve open pit mining or brine extraction, which involves pumping a mineral-rich brine to the surface and processing it. Opponents including the Sierra Club have raised concerns that the projects could harm sacred Indigenous lands and jeopardize fragile ecosystems and wildlife.

But the projects could also benefit the environment in the long run by getting fossil fuel-burning cars off the road, said Glenn Miller, emeritus professor of environmental sciences at the University of Nevada.

[…] The new lithium mining project closest to development is the one proposed for Thacker Pass by Lithium Americas. That northern Nevada mine would make millions of tons of lithium available, but Native American tribes have argued that it’s located on sacred lands and should be stopped.

Construction could start late this year, said Lithium Americas CEO Jonathan Evans, noting that it would be the first lithium project on federal land permitted in six decades.

[…] California’s largest lake, the salty and shrinking Salton Sea, is also primed to host lithium operations. Lithium can be extracted from geothermal brine, and the Salton Sea has been the site of geothermal plants that have pumped brine for decades. Proponents of extracting lithium from the lake said it would require less land and water than other brining operations.

One project, led by EnergySource Minerals, is expected to be operational next year, a spokesperson for the company said. General Motors Corp. is also an investor in another project on the Salton Sea that could start producing lithium by 2024.

Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, envisions that California’s lithium can position the state to become a leader in the production of batteries. He called the state the “Saudi Arabia of lithium” during a January address.
» Blog editor’s note: Lithium extraction projects mentioned in this article include locations in Maine, North Carolina, Nevada, and California.
» Read article      

» More about siting impacts of renewables

CARBON CAPTURE AND STORAGE

Chrystia Freeland
Thousands of Canadians Call on Government to Scrap Carbon Capture Tax Credit
The scheme, said one campaigner, “is being used as a Trojan horse by oil and gas executives to continue, and even expand, fossil fuel production.”
By Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams
March 28, 2022

“Magical thinking isn’t going to solve the climate crisis.”

That’s what Dylan Penner, a climate and social justice campaigner with the Council of Canadians, said in a statement Monday as advocacy organizations revealed that 31,512 people across Canada are calling on the federal government to scrap a proposed carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS) tax credit expected in the upcoming budget.

Referencing The Lord of the Rings, Penner warned that “doubling down on CCUS instead of cutting downstream emissions from fossil fuels extracted in Canada is like trying to wield the One Ring instead of destroying it in Mount Doom. Spoiler warning: that approach doesn’t end well.”

The signatures were collected by the Council of Canadians as well as Environmental Defense, Leadnow, and Stand.earth. Their demands are directed at Canadian Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, who is also minister of finance.

A December 2021 briefing from Environmental Defense points out that “to date, CCUS has a track record of over-promising and under-delivering. The vast majority of projects never get off the ground. The technology remains riddled with problems, unproven at scale, and prohibitively expensive.”
» Read article      
» Read the Environmental Defense briefing on CCUS

» More about CCS

CRYPTOCURRENCY

ND flare
As Oil Giants Turn to Bitcoin Mining, Some Spin Burning Fossil Fuels for Cryptocurrency as a Climate Solution
In a pilot project last year, ExxonMobil used up to 18 million cubic feet of gas per month to mine bitcoin in North Dakota.
By Sharon Kelly, DeSmog Blog
March 31, 2022

Flaring — or the burning of stranded natural gas directly at an oil well — is one of the drilling industry’s most notorious problems, often condemned as a pointlessly polluting waste of billions of dollars and trillions of cubic feet of natural gas.

In early March, oil giant ExxonMobil signed up to meet the World Bank’s “zero routine flaring by 2030” goal (a plan that — when you look just a bit closer — doesn’t entirely eliminate flaring but instead reduces “absolute flaring and methane emissions” by 60 to 70 percent.)

How does ExxonMobil plan to reach that goal? In part, it turns out, by burning stranded natural gas directly at its oil wells — not in towering flares, but down in mobile cryptocurrency mines.

Roughly speaking, crypto miners compete with each other to solve complex puzzles. Those puzzles, designed to require enormous computing power, can be used to help make a given coin more secure. Successful miners are rewarded for their efforts with newly generated coins.

Using the energy-intensive process of crypto mining to fight pollution is the latest in a wave of claimed climate “solutions” whose environmental benefits seem to only appear if you squint at them from very specific angles — like “low carbon” oil, measured not by the oil’s actual carbon content but by how much more carbon was spent to obtain it.

Critics point out that replacing flaring with mining crypto could become a way for fossil fuel producers to spin money directly from energy, polluting the climate without heating people’s homes or transporting people from place to place in the process. “In terms of productive value, I would say there is none,” Jacob Silverman, a staff writer at the New Republic, said in a recent interview. “The main value of cryptocurrency is as a tool for speculation. People are trying to get rich.”

That, of course, includes oil drillers. “This is the best gift the oil and gas industry could’ve gotten,” Adam Ortolf, a crypto mining executive, told CNBC. “They were leaving a lot of hydrocarbons on the table, but now, they’re no longer limited by geography to sell energy.”
» Read article      

proof of stake
Climate groups say a change in coding can reduce bitcoin energy consumption by 99%
A simple switch in the way transactions are verified could reduce bitcoin’s energy-guzzling mining habits
By Dominic Rushe, The Guardian
March 29, 2022

Bitcoin mining already uses as much energy as Sweden, according to some reports, and its booming popularity is revitalizing failing fossil fuel enterprises in the US. But all that could change with a simple switch in the way it is coded, according to a campaign launched on Tuesday.

The campaign, called Change the Code Not the Climate and coordinated by Environmental Working Group, Greenpeace USA and several groups battling bitcoin mining facilities in their communities, is calling on bitcoin to change the way bitcoins are mined in order to tackle its outsized carbon footprint.

The software code that bitcoin uses – known as “proof of work” – requires the use of massive computer arrays to validate and secure transactions. Proof of work is a way of checking that a miner has solved the extremely complex cryptographic puzzles needed to add to the bitcoin ledger.

Rival cryptocurrency etherium is shifting to another system – “proof of stake” – that it believes will reduce its energy use by 99%. In the proof of stake model, miners pledge their coins to verify transactions; adding inaccurate information leads to penalties.

With the value and use of cryptocurrencies rising, the campaign’s organizers argue bitcoin must follow suit or find another, less energy intensive, method. “This is a big problem. In part because of where the industry stands now but also because of our concerns about its growth,” said Michael Brune, campaign director and former executive director of Sierra Club.

The US now leads the world in cryptocurrency mining after China launched a crackdown on mining and trading last May.

“Coal plants which were dormant or slated to be closed are now being revived and solely dedicated to bitcoin mining. Gas plants, which in many cases were increasingly economically uncompetitive, are also now being dedicated to bitcoin mining. We are seeing this all across the country,” said Brune.
» Read article      

» More about crypto

GAS UTILITIES

CT ending expansion
Connecticut regulators move to end subsidies for new natural gas hookups
The Public Utilities Regulatory Authority said a program meant to help Connecticut residents and businesses switch from oil to natural gas has not met targets and no longer aligns with the state’s climate goals.
By Lisa Prevost, Energy News Network
March 25, 2022

Connecticut regulators want to halt a program that incentivizes homeowners and businesses to convert to natural gas as soon as the end of April.

The program, which began in 2014, is authorized through the end of 2023. But in a draft decision issued Wednesday, the state Public Utility Regulatory Authority, known as PURA, called for “an immediate winding down” of the program and said it is “no longer in the best interest of ratepayers.”

PURA has been reviewing the utility-run gas expansion program, which is subsidized by ratepayers, for more than a year. Established under former Gov. Dannel Malloy at a time when natural gas was considerably cheaper than oil, it called for the state’s three natural gas distribution companies to convert 280,000 customers over 10 years.

After eight years of using marketing and incentives to persuade new customers to sign on, the companies have only reached about 32% of their goal. At the same time, average costs per new service and new customer have tripled for Eversource, and doubled for Connecticut Natural Gas and Southern Connecticut Natural Gas, according to PURA.

In their draft decision, regulators cited the companies’ failure to meet their conversion goals and the rising costs as key reasons for ending the program. In addition, they noted, the price differential between oil and gas has lessened considerably since the program’s start.

And finally, regulators concluded that the program no longer furthers the state’s climate goals. They cited Gov. Ned Lamont’s recent executive order on climate, which recognizes that the greenhouse gas emissions from the state’s building sector have increased in recent years, and calls for a cleaner energy strategy that reconsiders the continued expansion of the natural gas network.

While the gas expansion program “was intended to provide benefits to both ratepayers and the environment,” regulators concluded, “the proffered benefits have simply failed to materialize.”

That conclusion echoes a finding by the state Office of Consumer Counsel, which has also called for an end to the program. Ratepayers “are now funding investments that are likely to become stranded assets in light of the state’s climate and clean energy goals,” the consumer advocate said in testimony submitted earlier this year to PURA.
» Read article      

» More about gas utilities

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Loco Hills NM
Methane Leaks in New Mexico Far Exceed Current Estimates, Study Suggests
An analysis found leaks of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, from oil and gas drilling in the Permian Basin were many times higher than government estimates.
By Maggie Astor, New York Times
March 24, 2022

Startlingly large amounts of methane are leaking from wells and pipelines in New Mexico, according to a new analysis of aerial data, suggesting that the oil and gas industry may be contributing more to climate change than was previously known.

The study, by researchers at Stanford University, estimates that oil and gas operations in New Mexico’s Permian Basin are releasing 194 metric tons per hour of methane, a planet-warming gas many times more potent than carbon dioxide. That is more than six times as much as the latest estimate from the Environmental Protection Agency.

The number came as a surprise to Yuanlei Chen and Evan Sherwin, the lead authors of the study, which was published Wednesday in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

“We spent really the past more than two years going backwards and forwards thinking of ways that we might be wrong and talking with other experts in the methane community,” said Dr. Sherwin, a postdoctoral research fellow in energy resources engineering at Stanford. “And at the end of that process, we realized that this was our best estimate of methane emissions in this region and this time, and we had to publish it.”

He and Ms. Chen, a Ph.D. student in energy resources engineering, said they believed their results showed the necessity of surveying a large number of sites in order to accurately measure the environmental impact of oil and gas production.
» Read article       https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/24/climate/methane-leaks-new-mexico.html
» Read the study

» More about fossil fuels

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

blind alley
Europe Scrambles To Accommodate LNG Import Surge
By Tsvetana Paraskova, Oil Price
March 28, 2022

While Europe is set to import an increasing amount of liquefied natural gas (LNG) as part of its efforts to reduce reliance on Russian pipeline gas, the European market is struggling to secure enough floating storage and regasification units (FSRUs) and advance LNG import facilities construction.

“Europe is screaming for FSRUs to get energy in, whatever it costs,” Yngvil Asheim, managing director of Norway-based FSRU owner BW LNG, told the Financial Times.

Last week, the European Union and the United States announced a deal for more U.S. liquefied natural gas exports to the EU as the latter seeks to replace Russian supplies, on which it is dependent. According to the terms of the deal, the United States will deliver at least 15 billion cubic meters of liquefied natural gas to the EU this year more than previously planned, the White House said in a fact sheet.

Europe–unlike the United States–cannot afford to go without Russian gas currently, so the European partners have been reluctant to slap sanctions or impose an embargo of imports of oil and gas from Russia.

The Russian war in Ukraine made Europe rethink its energy strategy, and the European Union has now drafted plans to cut EU demand for Russian gas by two-thirds before the end of 2022 and completely by 2030, to replenish gas stocks for winter and ensure the provision of affordable, secure, and sustainable energy.

However, FSRUs and LNG import terminals currently operating in Europe are not enough, according to analysts who spoke to FT. It will take years for terminals to be built.
» Read article      

toxic export
US plan to provide 15bn cubic meters of natural gas to EU alarms climate groups
The deal is intended to decrease reliance on Russia but will entrench reliance on fossil fuels, environmentalists say
By Oliver Milman, The Guardian
March 25, 2022

A major deal that will see the US ramp up its supply of gas to Europe in an attempt to shift away from Russian fossil fuel imports risks “disaster” for the climate crisis, environmental groups have warned.

Under the agreement, unveiled on Friday, the US will provide an extra 15bn cubic meters of liquified natural gas (LNG) to the European Union this year. This represents about a tenth of the gas the EU now gets from Russia, which provides 40% of the bloc’s total gas supply.

The increased gas exports from the US will escalate further, with the EU aiming to get 50bn cubic meters of gas a year from America and other countries in order to reduce its reliance upon Russia after its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

Joe Biden, who announced the deal during a trip to Brussels, said the increased supply will ensure “families in Europe can get through this winter” while also hampering Vladimir Putin, who has used gas income to “drive his war machine”.

But environmental groups have reacted to the agreement with alarm, arguing that it will help embed years of future gas use at a time when scientists say the world must rapidly phase out the use of fossil fuels to avoid catastrophic climate change.

“We should be rapidly transitioning to affordable clean energy, not doubling down on fossil fuels,” said Kelly Sheehan, senior director of energy campaigns at the Sierra Club. “Reducing reliance on fossil fuels is the only way to stop being vulnerable to the whims of greedy industries and geopolitics.”
» Read article      

» More about LNG

BIOMASS

we breathe what you burn
Opponents torch proposed rules for burning wood to create electricity in Mass.
By Miriam Wasser, WBUR
March 29, 2022

Massachusetts is once again revisiting wood-burning biomass power regulations, and the public, it seems, is not pleased with the plan.

The state’s Department of Energy Resources held a virtual hearing on Tuesday to get feedback on a proposal to change which biomass plants qualify for lucrative renewable energy subsidies, and how the state tracks and verifies the type of wood these plants burn. And for about two hours, the vast majority of speakers implored the department to leave the regulations alone.

“Whether it’s gas, oil or wood, burning stuff for energy emits carbon dioxide and pollutants into the atmosphere, and that has harmful consequences,” said Mireille Bejjani of the nonprofit Community Action Works.

“Biomass is not a climate solution. It’s a climate problem,” said Johannes Epke, an attorney with the Conservation Law Foundation.

“It is frankly beyond my comprehension how Massachusetts can justify allowing biomass electric-generation plants to be incentivized,” said Susan Pike of Montague. “These are incentives that ratepayers contribute to in order to support clean renewable energy development.”

[…] It’s been a while since biomass was in the news, and to really understand what the state is proposing now, you have to understand how these rules came into effect. If you want to dive deep into biomass, check out our explainer from 2020.

[…] In 2019, the Department of Energy Resources under Gov. Charlie Baker proposed “updating” Massachusetts’ strict biomass rules to make it easier for some older and less efficient plants to get clean energy subsidies. While the administration said it would be good for the state’s climate goals, environmental groups like the Conservation Law Foundation and Partnership for Policy Integrity, as well as Attorney General Maura Healey and prominent climate scientists came out against the changes.

[…] As part of last year’s landmark Climate Law, the office of Energy and Environmental Affairs is legally required to conduct a study about the emissions and public health impacts associated with biomass. That study is not expected to be finished until next summer.

The Department of Energy Resources will likely submit its regulatory changes to the Secretary of State before that deadline.

[…] At a hearing last year, Department of Energy Resources Commissioner Patrick Woodcock said that the proposed changes were intended to do two things: “streamline” language between two clean energy programs and help Massachusetts achieve its climate goals. He argued that it will be a while until renewable energies like offshore wind are able to be a sizable part of our energy portfolio, and in the meantime, we have emissions goals that we need to meet. He added that his department’s calculations show that the state will see net greenhouse gas reductions over the next few decades by burning wood instead of natural gas.

Caitlin Peele Sloan, vice president of the Conservation Law Foundation in Massachusetts, disagrees with these assumptions.

The “[Department of Energy Resources] has been trying to weaken these biomass regulations for more than three years now, while evidence grows that burning wood for electricity is massively inefficient and produces untenable amounts of local air pollution and climate-damaging emissions,” she says.

Many environmental groups in Mass., including the Conservation Law Foundation and the Sierra Club, signed a letter earlier this year in support of legislation that would remove woody biomass from the renewable energy subsidy program, effectively rendering the regulations moot. Several speakers during Tuesday’s hearing pushed for lawmakers to pass this legislation.
» Read article      
» Read the CLF and Sierra Club letter

» More about biomass

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Weekly News Check-In 2/18/22

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Welcome back.

Lots happening in Massachusetts! We’ve been following an intriguing energy efficiency proposal for over a year – ever since a $10M Eversource pilot project was approved to link a hundred Framingham homes through a shared ground source heat pump system for super-efficient all-electric heating and cooling. Now, with National Grid putting $16M into its own project, the Boston Globe has run a profile of the two women behind this great idea.

Our state pension fund is in step with the fossil fuel divestment movement but taking a slightly different approach – by staying vested and using shareholder activism to change polluters from the inside. The goal is to steer them toward policies in line with the Paris Climate Agreement’s warming target of 1.5C. In oil-soaked Texas, it’s quite a different story: that state’s pension fund is threatening to drop investments in funds that dare to rank climate concerns above those of the fossil fuel industry. Yahoo, pardner….

In its final year, the Baker administration is maintaining opposition to gas hookup bans, even for new homes. This withholds, for now, an effective building sector climate mitigation tool. Meanwhile, the gas industry and its allies are busy churning out misinformation, falsely characterizing building electrification as risky and expensive.

Focusing on the grid, MA Attorney General Maura Healey is adding her voice along with other clean electricity advocates, asking federal regulators to intervene against a recent controversial decision by New England’s grid operator considered detrimental to renewable energy.

Checking in on climate, scientists have confirmed that the southwest is experiencing its worst drought in at least twelve centuries. On top of that, the atmospheric concentration of the powerful greenhouse gas methane is rising at an alarming rate – another warning that we really don’t have any more time to waste. The Biden administration is beginning to open the funding spigot, releasing significant funds from the recent infrastructure bill and applying it toward decarbonizing the economy – especially the thermally intensive heavy industries. Sectors benefiting from these investments include those producing building materials like steel, cement, and even asphalt.

We’re keeping a wary eye on those industrial decarbonization efforts, however, because along with the good stuff, fossil interests managed to include some strikingly shaky business-as-usual distractions. That includes the potential for over-reliance on green hydrogen where electrification could substitute, and most carbon capture and storage projects. While we’re on the subject of false solutions, we’re sharing an article that takes some of the shine off corn-based ethanol as a clean transportation solution.

Readers following international events are aware of the critical role liquefied natural gas is playing as Europe’s backup energy source this winter while an uncomfortably large portion of its pipeline-supplied gas is hostage to Russia’s threats against Ukraine. We found an article that considers LNG’s future prospects.

Landing back home where we started, we’re following an intriguing tip that Pittsfield’s stinky Community Eco Power waste incinerator might have an interested buyer considering near-term decommissioning. More on that later.

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

DIVESTMENT

up there
The Massachusetts pension fund is joining the climate fight
By Sabrina Shankman, Boston Globe
February 17, 2022

The board that oversees the state’s $104.1 billion pension fund voted on Thursday to start using its shareholder power to pressure companies to act on climate change.

The Massachusetts Pension Reserves Investment Management Board, which is chaired by state Treasurer Deborah Goldberg, voted unanimously in support of the new guidelines, which essentially transform the pension fund’s managers into shareholder-activists. It asks them to vote against any directors of companies the fund is invested in if they don’t make a plan for keeping warming to 1.5 degrees celsius, or hitting net-zero emissions by 2050.

The pension fund’s vote is an alternative to fossil fuel divestment, a step that a number of local and institutional funds have taken in recent years, and which the state of Maine moved to do this summer. Instead of pulling money out of any companies involved with the fossil fuel industry, the Massachusetts pension fund will try to transform the business practices of the companies it invests in from the inside, pressuring them to cut emissions and align with the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement.

If a company the fund is invested in fails to deliver a plan aligned with the goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, or it fails to make a plan for achieving net-zero emissions by 2050, the new directive would ask the fund’s directors to vote against the company’s board members. The message: Align yourself with ambitious climate goals, or risk losing your spot on your company’s board.

There is some recent precedent for this kind of action. In May of last year, a small, activist hedge fund managed to unseat at least two Exxon Mobil Corp. board members in an attempt to force the company to align its business with fighting climate change.

In advance of the vote, the union SEIU Local 509 —which represents 20,000 health and human service workers and educators, including 8,000 state workers — wrote in support of the move.

“The extreme heat, dangerous storms, wildfires, floods, droughts and the rest affect all of us, but those with fewer resources and less power are impacted more, and it’s getting worse,” wrote union chair Kathleen Flanagan and president Peter MacKinnon. “We do not want our retirement funds used to further this destruction.”
» Read article         

caved
Facing Texas pushback, BlackRock says it backs fossil fuels
By Ross Kerber, Reuters
February 17, 2022

BOSTON, Feb 17 (Reuters) – At the risk of being dropped from Texas pension funds, BlackRock Inc (BLK.N) has ramped up its message that the world’s largest asset manager is a friend of the oil and gas industries.

As a large and long-term investor in fossil fuel companies, “we want to see these companies succeed and prosper,” BlackRock executives wrote in a letter that a spokesman confirmed was sent at the start of the year to officials, trade groups and others in energy-rich Texas.

“We will continue to invest in and support fossil fuel companies, including Texas fossil fuel companies,” states the memo, signed by Dalia Blass, BlackRock’s head of external affairs, and copied to Mark McCombe, BlackRock’s chief client officer.

Although the message is consistent with its other statements, the emphasis is new after years in which BlackRock has stressed its efforts to take climate change and other environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues into account in its investment and proxy voting decisions.

In Texas, new legislation requires the state’s comptroller, Glenn Hegar, to draw up a list of financial companies that boycott fossil fuels. Those firms could then be barred from state pension funds like the $197 billion Teacher Retirement System of Texas, which has about $2.5 billion with BlackRock.
» Blog editor’s note: Texas is threatening to exclude financial firms that take a pro-climate/anti-fossil position in their portfolios. BlackRock caved. Apparently “divestment” can work both ways.
» Read article         

» More about divestment

GAS BANS

overheadNatural gas infrastructure a climate change sticking point
Baker administration opposes ban on fossil fuel use in new construction
By Bruce Mohl, CommonWealth Magazine
February 15, 2022

AS MASSACHUSETTS SEEKS to transition away from fossil fuels and achieve net zero emissions by 2050, what to do with the state’s existing natural gas infrastructure is becoming a major point of contention.

At a hearing Tuesday of the Senate Committee on Global Warming and Climate Change, several senators pressed Energy and Environment Secretary Kathleen Theoharides on why the Baker administration’s recent building code proposal doesn’t allow communities to experiment with banning fossil fuel infrastructure for heating and cooking in new construction.

Theoharides said the proposal would update two existing building codes and create a new third one. None of the codes would ban fossil fuel infrastructure in new buildings but they would be structured in a way to make it cost effective for builders to embrace electrification.

“What we’ve done through the code is make the case for electrification really strong based on the cost,” she said.

The existing building codes — a base code and a stretch code — would be updated to put downward pressure on greenhouse gas emissions in new buildings. The new opt-in net zero specialized stretch code would require new homes or commercial buildings using gas to achieve greater energy efficiency and also mount solar on the roof and pre-wire the building for electrification.

Theoharides said the administration’s proposal seeks to strike a balance between energy efficiency and cost. She said she opposes an outright ban on fossil fuel infrastructure in new construction even in individual communities that want to do so because such bans could hinder housing construction and because they could leave a smaller pool of customers carrying the financial load for the remaining natural gas system.

“We need to make a transition [away from natural gas], but it needs to be an orderly transition,” she said. “We think we have to do this with a high level of care when we’re transitioning away from a system that still exists all across the state.”

Sen. Cynthia Creem of Newton disagreed. “I think it’s shortsighted,” she said. “You may save money now but in the long run it’s not going to help.”

Sen. Michael Barrett of Lexington said Theoharides was stifling innovation by not allowing communities to experiment with doing away with fossil fuel infrastructure.
» Read article         

gas stove flame
Gas-Backed Front Group Spreads Misinformation About Costs of Electrification
In Colorado, a new industry-backed front group warns that “forced electrification” will increase costs to consumers. The evidence suggests otherwise.
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
February 10, 2022

A group of natural gas companies and utilities in Colorado formed a front group to oppose the state’s push towards electrifying homes and businesses, spreading misinformation about the cost of electric heating while also promoting false solutions to lock in the ongoing use of natural gas.

The group, “Coloradans for Energy Access,” is made up of a coalition of gas companies, real estate interests, utilities, and other energy trade associations, including Atmos Energy, American Public Gas Association, and the Consumer Energy Alliance.

Announcing its formation in an op-ed in the Colorado Sun, Coloradans for Energy Access decried what it calls “forced electrification,” a reference to a growing movement in Colorado and around the country to discourage or prohibit natural gas connections in newly constructed homes and commercial buildings in an effort to slash greenhouse gas emissions.

More than 50 cities, mostly in California, have moved to ban natural gas in new homes and buildings, serving multiple goals at once. Gas stoves emit pollutants like nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and carbon monoxide that can contribute to respiratory illnesses. In addition, a January study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology found that stoves leak gas even when they are turned off, an indication that gas appliances are worse for the climate and human health than previously thought.

In making its pitch for natural gas, Coloradans for Energy Access asserted that “renewable natural gas” is one of the ways that “natural gas supports the energy transition to a lower carbon economy.”

But as DeSmog has previously reported, what the industry calls “renewable natural gas” — methane gas captured from landfills and industrial agriculture and repurposed for consumers to use — can’t fairly be considered a solution. The energy source faces technical, economic, and environmental challenges that prevent it from being a large-scale solution. Despite that, gas utilities around the country are promoting it, a move that critics say is simply a strategy to justify the expansion of gas infrastructure while doing little to address greenhouse gas emissions.

Contrary to the gas industry’s claims, Americans who use heat pumps are likely to spend less on heating compared to those with gas furnaces, according to a recent analysis from RMI, a Colorado-based think tank. And new improvements in heat pump technology mean they can work well even in cold climates.

“In Denver, we found that new single-family homes built with all-electric appliances — including high-efficiency electric heat pumps — have lower annual utility bills than new mixed-fuel single-family homes,” Talor Gruenwald, an associate at RMI, told DeSmog in an email. “So, the claim that ‘natural gas is cheap and electric heat pumps are expensive’ is indeed very misleading.”
» Read article        
» Read the RMI analysis

» More about gas bans

GREENING THE ECONOMY

hot programBiden administration launches industrial decarbonization initiative, targets $9.5B for clean hydrogen
By Ethan Howland, Utility Dive
February 16, 2022

With a goal of having net zero GHG emissions by the middle of the century, the Biden administration is targeting the industrial sector, which produced 23.8% of all carbon emissions in 2020, according to a draft emissions inventory released Tuesday by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The transportation sector was the leading source of GHG emissions in 2020, accounting for 27.1% of all emissions, followed by the power sector at 24.8% of emissions.

Clean hydrogen can play a key role in cutting GHG emissions from hard-to-decarbonize industries such as ammonia and steel, DOE said Tuesday in a request for information about creating regional clean hydrogen hubs.

Based on the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act , DOE issued a request for information to get comments on the $8 billion hydrogen hub initiative, a planned $1 billion clean hydrogen electrolysis program and a $500 million clean hydrogen manufacturing and recycling research program.

Meanwhile, the new interdepartmental Buy Clean task force will recommend potential pilot projects aimed at increasing federal procurement of “clean” construction materials, according to the White House.

The task force will include the departments of Defense, Energy and Transportation, the EPA, the General Services Administration and the White House Office of Management and Budget.
» Read article         

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

Lake Oroville
US west ‘megadrought’ is worst in at least 1,200 years, new study says
Human-caused climate change significant driver of destructive conditions as even drier decades lie ahead, researchers say
By Gabrielle Canon, The Guardian
February 15, 2022

The American west has spent the last two decades in what scientists are now saying is the most extreme megadrought in at least 1,200 years. In a new study, published on Monday, researchers also noted that human-caused climate change is a significant driver of the destructive conditions and offered a grim prognosis: even drier decades lie ahead.

“Anyone who has been paying attention knows that the west has been dry for most of the last couple decades,” says Park Williams, a climate scientist at the University of California, Los Angeles and the study’s lead author. “We now know from these studies that is dry not only from the context of recent memory but in the context of the last millennium.”

Turning up the temperature – the result of human caused warming – has played a big part. Other studies show how the climate crisis “will increasingly enhance the odds of long, widespread and severe megadroughts”, the researchers write. Noting that as the west is now in the midst of the driest 22-year period in knowable history, “this worst-case scenario already appears to be coming to pass”.

Looking at moisture levels in soils, the team of climate scientists from UCLA, Nasa, and Columbia University focused on landscapes from Montana to northern Mexico north to south and from the Pacific Ocean to the Rocky Mountains. They analyzed data collected tree ring patterns that offered clues to soil moisture levels throughout the centuries. Rings that appear closer together show the stunted growth patterns occurring during dry times.

So-called megadroughts, which are characterized by prolonged periods of dryness that span more than two decades, were woven throughout history, the researchers found. Long before human industry, water availability ebbed and flowed naturally. That variability, however, has been intensified by the climate crisis. According to their findings, soil moisture deficits doubled in the last 22 years compared with levels in the 1900s. Human-caused warming accounted for a 42% increase in severity.

Experts and advocates hope it will serve as a call to arms to prepare for a future that is fast approaching. Already, unsustainable systems have started to crack. “We are watching our bank account of water decline,” Williams says, “and we know that eventually we need to slow our expenditures before the account runs out”.
» Read article         

methane rising fast
‘Dangerously Fast’ Methane Increase Suggests Feedback Mechanism May Have Begun
By The Energy Mix
February 14, 2022

Methane concentrations in the atmosphere have risen at a “dangerously fast” rate and now exceed 1,900 parts per billion, prompting some researchers to warn that climate change itself may be driving the increase.

Atmospheric methane levels are now nearly triple pre-industrial levels, a news article in the journal Nature states, citing data released last month by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). “Scientists says the grim milestone underscores the importance of a pledge made at last year’s COP 26 climate summit to curb emissions of methane,” a climate pollutant that Nature cites as at least 28 times more potent than CO2, but is actually 80 to 85 times more damaging over the 20-year span when humanity will be scrambling to get the climate emergency under control.

While the research focused to some degree on methane released through microbial action, Nature says nearly two-thirds of the methane releases between 2007 and 2016 were caused by human activity.

When the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its latest, landmark climate science assessment in August, researchers pointed to rapid, deep methane cuts as the single most important step in stemming the rise of the greenhouse gases that cause climate change. In early November, scientists warned that the 30% reduction pledge at COP 26 fell short of what was needed.

The new research shows the problem getting worse.
» Read article        
» Read the study

» More about climate

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

Schulman and Magavi
These climate activists aren’t just spouting rhetoric; they’re helping wean utilities off fossil fuels
By David Abel, Boston Globe
February 11, 2022

Over the years, they’ve been scoffed at as overly earnest activists or out-of-their-depth dilettantes.

At male-dominated energy conferences, they’ve been ignored, belittled as “gals,” and suffered through endless mansplaining in their areas of hard-fought expertise. Zeyneb Magavi, a 5-foot-1 engineer with a black belt in karate and a degree in physics, was once patted on the head and told she was “nice.” Her business partner, Audrey Schulman, a similarly diminutive novelist, has received condescending praise for “learning so much.”

“It can be exhausting trying to prove ourselves,” Magavi said.

They’re no longer so easily dismissed.

The duo of strong-willed Cambridge women, who joined forces over a common fear of how climate change would affect their children, recently had their once seemingly outlandish ideas for reducing carbon pollution adopted by the region’s largest utilities.

Last month, after years of prodding, state regulators approved a $16 million project that Magavi and Schulman proposed to demonstrate that there’s a financially viable, technically sound way to heat and cool the vast majority of the state’s homes and businesses without fossil fuels. The project uses linked heat pumps and subterranean pipes that can harness steady underground temperatures to heat and cool buildings.

That project, which will be installed by National Grid, follows the state’s approval of a similar geothermal project — also based on their ideas — proposed by Eversource, which plans to spend $10 million starting this year to connect about 100 homes and businesses in Framingham with a network of ground-source heat pumps.

If both projects work — heating and cooling air at reasonable costs — Magavi and Schulman hope the utilities will stop spending hundreds of millions of dollars a year replacing their aging system of gas pipes, and instead direct that money to installing geothermal energy throughout the region. Eventually, they believe, such emissions-free systems could replace the need for gas and oil in most homes.

The plan, Magavi and Schulman say, will also save state residents money in the long run. Every ratepayer dollar spent on investing in the utilities’ thousands of miles of gas pipes, which leak substantial amounts of methane that contributes disproportionately to global warming, will likely saddle future generations with unnecessary debt for what will largely become useless infrastructure as the state moves away from fossil fuels.
» Read article         

» More about energy efficiency

BUILDING MATERIALS

ArcelorMittal
ArcelorMittal, France Invest Billions in Low-Emissions Steel
By Energy News Service
February 11, 2022

Steelmaking giant ArcelorMittal, based in Luxembourg, is decarbonizing its factories in France and has attracted the financial support of the French Government to accomplish a drop of 40 percent a year in ArcelorMittal’s CO2 emissions in France by 2030.

Steel is made from iron ore, a compound of iron, oxygen and other minerals that occurs in nature.

The iron and steel sector directly accounts for 2.6 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide emissions annually, seven percent of the global total from the energy system and more than the emissions from all road freight combined.

ArcelorMittal says the investment puts France’s steelmaking industry on a path aligned with the 2015 Paris Agreement target of keeping global warming of the atmosphere to less than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures.

To decarbonize, ArcelorMittal says the company’s strategy will change the way it produces steel in three ways:

  • – Increasing the recycling of steel: one kilo of steel produced by ArcelorMittal in France will soon contain up to 25 percent recycled steel
  • – Developing an innovative [Direct Reduction of Iron (DRI)] process to make steel without coal, with hydrogen
  • – Capturing residual carbon dioxide (CO2) to store and use

» Read article         

NAPA net zero
Asphalt Industry Outlines Plans to Reach Net Zero Carbon Emissions by 2050
By David Worford, Energy Leader
February 3, 2022

The asphalt industry in the United States plans to improve technology, especially when it comes to recycling materials, and to use all renewable energy in its operations as it aims to move toward net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

The National Asphalt Pavement Association (NAPA) outlined a plan at its recent annual meeting, which also includes working with customers and suppliers to cut Scope 3 emissions as well as developing net zero materials throughout its supply chain. A 21-member Climate Stewardship Task Force has worked over the past year to study the sustainability in the industry and come up with the roadmap toward net zero.

There are nearly 3,500 asphalt plants in the US, according to NAPA. The organization says most of emissions from its mixing production comes from fuel combustion to heat and dry materials and keep asphalt hot.

NAPA says recycled asphalt is the top recycled material in the United States and that the industry reused 87 million tons of it in 2020. It wants to implement a greater use of existing technology such as recycled and warm-mix asphalt while developing and implementing new technologies to reach net zero targets.

Sustainable asphalt production hinges on recycled materials. New sustainable plants in the United Kingdom by Harsco Environmental’s recently relaunched sustainable asphalt company SteelPhalt, for example, can produce asphalt using 95% recycled aggregates.
» Read article        
» Read the NAPA plan

» More about building materials

MODERNIZING THE GRID

AG Healey
State policymakers, candidates and advocates decry controversial energy grid vote
By Sabrina Shankman, Boston Globe
February 11, 2022

In the wake of a controversial decision last week by the region’s energy grid that advocates say discourages wind and solar development, Attorney General Maura Healey and others are sounding an alarm, asking the federal regulator to intervene.

The decision by grid operator ISO-New England would allow the continuation for two years of a rule that Healey and others say hurts the expansion of renewable energy in the region, all at a time when states are racing to cut emissions and switch off of fossil fuels.

“My office remains opposed to this delay and will work to get it reversed,” Healey wrote on Twitter. “We cannot make this process more difficult for clean energy projects at time when our state should be doubling down on its transition.”

The state Executive Office for Energy and Environmental Affairs is also reviewing last week’s vote, according to a spokesman, and will be taking a look at how it may impact the state and regional pursuits of clean energy.

Gubernatorial candidate Danielle Allen issued a statement saying that the decision by the grid was an example of “climate leadership is getting sabotaged at every turn by fossil fuel interests driving decisions behind closed doors” and called on other statewide candidates to join her in asking the federal regulator to step in.
» Read article         

» More about modernizing the grid

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

grain auger
Corn-Based Ethanol May Be Worse For the Climate Than Gasoline, a New Study Finds

Long touted as a renewable fuel emitting 20 percent fewer greenhouse gasses than gasoline, ethanols’ emissions may be 24 percent higher. If verified, one expert said the finding shows ethanol failed spectacularly.
By Georgina Gustin, Inside Climate News
February 16, 2022

Ethanol made from corn grown across millions of acres of American farmland has become the country’s premier renewable fuel, touted as a low-carbon alternative to traditional gasoline and a key component of the country’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

But a new study, published this week, finds that corn-based ethanol may actually be worse for the climate than fossil-based gasoline, and has other environmental downsides.

“We thought and hoped it would be a climate solution and reduce and replace our reliance on gasoline,” said Tyler Lark, a researcher with the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and lead author of the study. “It turns out to be no better for the climate than the gasoline it aims to replace and comes with all kinds of other impacts.”

John Reilly, a co-director emeritus at the MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change and a longtime Department of Agriculture researcher, called the study “impressive work” that will likely trigger yet more debate between environmental groups and the biofuels industry.
» Read article        
» Read the study         

CA leading
California Returns as Climate Leader, With Help From the White House
The Biden administration is restoring the state’s power to set its own limits on tailpipe pollution and is largely adopting the state’s rules regarding heavy trucks.
By Coral Davenport, New York Times
February 15, 2022

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration is preparing strict new limits on pollution from buses, delivery vans, tractor-trailers and other heavy trucks, the first time tailpipe standards have been tightened for the biggest polluters on the road since 2001.

The new federal regulations are drawn from truck pollution rules recently enacted by California and come as the Biden administration is moving to restore that state’s legal authority to set auto emissions limits that are tighter than federal standards, according to two people familiar with the matter, who were not authorized to speak on the record.

The developments represent a revival of California’s influence on the nation’s climate and clean air policies, following four years in which President Donald J. Trump waged legal, political, and, at times, seemingly personal battles with the state. The Trump administration had stripped away California’s authority to institute its own vehicle pollution standards, power that the state had enjoyed for more than 40 years.

Mr. Trump claimed that California’s tougher rules made cars more expensive and less safe.

But now, California is reasserting itself as a leader in policies designed to fight pollution and global warming.

Federal regulators are looking to California for inspiration as they draft new national rules designed to meet President Biden’s pledge that half of all new cars sold in the United States by 2030 will be electric vehicles. Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, has signed an executive order to phase out the sale of new gasoline-powered cars in California by 2035 and is proposing to spend $37 billion next year to cut greenhouse gas emissions from transportation, buildings and the energy sector.
» Read article         

» More about clean transportation

CARBON CAPTURE AND STORAGE

Mountaineer stacks
New federal guidelines could boost carbon capture in the US
The Biden administration says the US will ‘likely’ need controversial carbon capture tech to meet climate goals
By Justine Calma, The Verge
February 15, 2022

On Tuesday, the Biden administration issued new guidelines for federal agencies on how to assess proposals to capture and sequester carbon dioxide pollution. The new guidance lays out steps that could encourage “widespread deployment” of a controversial form of climate tech, as well as the network of pipelines and other infrastructure that come along with it.

The bipartisan infrastructure law passed last fall included more than $12 billion for Carbon Capture, Utilization, and Sequestration (CCUS) projects. The US will likely need such technologies to reach Biden’s climate goals, the new guidelines say. But the technologies, which draw CO2 out of smokestack emissions or the ambient air, are a divisive strategy for slowing climate change. Proponents say CCUS is needed to clean up hard-to-decarbonize industries like cement and steel. Critics, on the other hand, warn that the CCUS projects allow polluters to keep operating and could have negative consequences for nearby communities.

The guidelines issued today by the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) seem to address some of those concerns by telling federal agencies how to conduct thorough environmental reviews of proposed CCUS projects. While CCUS typically refers to technologies that remove CO2 from emissions before they escape power plants or industrial facilities, the White House also lumps emerging “direct air capture” technologies that draw CO2 out of the ambient air into its definition. Both technologies depend on similar infrastructure, including pipelines that move the captured C02 to places where it can be stored underground or used in commercial products.

One of the concerns with devices that remove CO2 emissions from power plants or factories is that those facilities might continue to pump out other pollutants that make the air unhealthy to breathe. The new guidance recommends that the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Agency study how CCUS projects affect pollution other than greenhouse gas emissions and stipulates that projects should avoid adding additional “burdens” on communities.

Another concern is that pipelines carrying captured carbon dioxide can rupture, releasing CO2 in concentrations strong enough to suffocate wildlife and make people sick. The world’s first CO2 pipeline explosion hospitalized dozens of residents of a small Mississippi community in 2020.

Regulatory approvals aside, there are other obstacles that have largely prevented CCUS projects from coming to fruition. So far, the technologies have been too expensive to deploy at scale. According to a December report by the watchdog Government Accountability Office, hundreds of millions of federal dollars have already been spent on projects in the US that ultimately failed.
» Read article         

» More about CCS

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

LNG jetty
Why the LNG ‘gold rush’ could soon turn to dust
Billed as a fuel for the energy transition, LNG demand has boomed this century. Sustained high prices and an accelerating energy transition could change this.
By Nick Ferris, Energy Monitor
February 16, 2022

It was billed as a fuel for the energy transition. An incredibly dense, colourless fossil fuel that can be conveniently transported in ships around the world like crude oil, and which produces around half as much carbon as coal when regasified and burnt. Advocates of liquefied natural gas (LNG) predicted a final fossil fuel ‘gold rush’, with Qatar, the US and Australia leading the charge.

Historically, most LNG was sold to the wealthy but resource-scarce countries of Japan and South Korea via long-term contracts linked to the oil price. In recent years, however, the US led a move towards more flexible, short-term sales, where the price is linked to natural gas trading hubs.

Since the turn of the century, the global LNG market has boomed, with worldwide LNG imports more than trebling between 2000 and 2020. The European market has quadrupled in size, as countries look for a cleaner alternative to coal, and to limit their reliance on gas pipeline imports from Russia.

The LNG industry [has] a response for those who argue that, given the steep decarbonisation required for the world to meet net zero by mid-century, there is no time for gas consumption to grow as a “transition fuel”. This comes in the form of “carbon-neutral LNG”, which companies claim can be achieved either through the purchase of carbon offsets, as French major TotalEnergies claims to have done, or through carbon capture and storage (CCS) of emissions.

At the same time, a growing body of evidence suggests this industry optimism may well be misplaced in the long term. For starters, there are serious doubts around suggestions that LNG can ever be carbon neutral. Analysis shows the offsets purchased by TotalEnergies for its “carbon-neutral LNG” are insufficient to actually cover the fuel’s carbon footprint. Meanwhile, the roll-out of CCS technology has proved both expensive and slow: a further Wood Mackenzie report into LNG and CCS, released in September 2021, highlights how CCS continues to account for less than 1% of annual carbon emissions, despite all the noise that the fossil fuel industry likes to make about it.

If there continue to be doubts over the feasibility of decarbonising LNG, then it is unlikely the fuel will gain much traction as a “transition fuel”, as countries begin to plan in earnest how they will get to net-zero emissions.
» Read article         

FORTUNA
Germany Tries to Loosen Its Ties to Russian Gas Pipelines
An increasingly belligerent Russia, an energy crunch and a new Green minister of economics all add up to a change of direction in Germany’s policy on natural gas.
By Melissa Eddy, New York Times
February  14, 2022

BERLIN — For decades, Germany has been a steadfast consumer of Russian natural gas, a relationship that has seemingly grown closer over the years, surviving Cold War-era tensions, the breakup of the former Soviet Union and even European sanctions against Moscow over its annexation of Crimea. Until this winter.

Since November, the amount of natural gas arriving in Germany from Russia has plunged, driving prices through the roof and draining reserves. These are changes that Gazprom, Russia’s state-controlled energy behemoth, has been regularly pointing out.

“As much as 85 percent of the gas injected in Europe’s underground gas storage facilities last summer is already withdrawn,” Gazprom said on Twitter a couple of weeks ago, adding that “facilities in Germany and France are already two-thirds empty.”

With tensions between the West and Russia over Ukraine — a key transit country for Russian gas — showing few signs of easing, Germany’s new minister for the economy and climate change, Robert Habeck, has begun to raise an issue that was unthinkable just a year or two ago: looking beyond Russia for the country’s natural gas needs.

Now the government is reviving plans for building a terminal for liquefied natural gas, or LNG, on Germany’s northern coast. That proposal, long pushed by Washington, was previously shelved as being too costly. But in recent months, liquefied natural gas, arriving via giant tankers from the United States, Qatar and other locations, has become a vital source of fuel for Europe as supplies piped in from Russia have dwindled.

Europe has more than two dozen LNG terminals, including ones in Poland, the Netherlands and Belgium, but the one proposed for Germany’s coast would be the country’s first.
» Blog editor’s note: This is a fossil energy supply solution that requires massive new investment in (liquefied) natural gas infrastructure, and therefore serves to further entrench the region’s dependence on this planet-cooking fuel. The ultimate solution, and the key to energy security, is rapid transition to renewable energy and storage. This whole mess is an unwelcome diversion from that work and a boon to the LNG industry.
» Read article         

» More about LNG

WASTE INCINERATION

CEP potential buyer
A potential buyer could turn Pittsfield’s waste-to-energy plant into a transfer station. That’s news to city officials
By Felix Carroll, The Berkshire Eagle
February 12, 2022

PITTSFIELD — Community Eco Power may have found a buyer for its waste-to-energy facility on Hubbard Avenue in Pittsfield.

In a letter to employees, the head of the company said the future use of the 5.8-acre Pittsfield facility, with its distinctive billowing smoke, could be as a trash transfer station.

An anonymous source sent the letter to The Eagle. The Eagle was able to verify that Community Eco Power employees had received it. It was sent by Richard Fish, the president and chief operating officer of the North Carolina-based company, which also owns a plant on the banks of the Connecticut River in Agawam.

The Eagle left voicemails on Fish’s cellphone on Saturday. He did not respond.
» Blog editor’s note: This is big news we’ll be watching carefully. BEAT and No Fracked Gas in Mass have been raising the issue of last summer and fall’s substantial increase in highly toxic, chemical-smelling and irritating emissions with City and State officials. After some action from MassDEP, the quality of emissions seems to have improved back to their usual level of odor, but it’s clear how damaged this plant is, and that a change is inevitable. We believe that strong action for waste reduction and City Zero Waste plan is going to be the only sensible means to not only cut emissions for health and climate concerns, but to cut disposal costs for the City. Stay tuned on No Fracked Gas in Mass’ Community Eco Power page.    
» Read article         

» More about waste incineration

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Weekly News Check-In 12/31/20

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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            

» More about energy storage              

 

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            

» More about clean transportation       

 

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!
» Listen to broadcast          

» More about fracking hazards       

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Weekly News Check-In 12/18/20

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Welcome back.

The Boston Globe published an excellent post mortem this week on the six year fight to stop the Weymouth compressor station. This is an important record of a profound and unfair imbalance of power that resulted in a Enbridge’s dangerous and toxic facility being inappropriately sited in a congested and environmentally burdened neighborhood. It describes a failure of government and its regulators to stand up to industry, even when doing so would protect a vulnerable community and help meet legally binding climate commitments.

Protests and actions are ramping up against Enbridge’s next environmental and cultural assault – the Line 3 tar sands oil pipeline through sensitive northern Minnesota lake country. This threatens critical freshwater resources of indigenous groups, who are now being arrested for putting their bodies in the path of bulldozers.

Meanwhile, Princeton University is in the news for an exhaustive climate plan that offers five very detailed pathways to achieve net zero by 2050. No matter the chosen route, start time is immediate, effort is intense, and significant milestones must be met by 2030.

In a counter-intuitive move, the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center is allowing its highly successful solar loan program to sunset as planned on December 31, seeing no need to renew it now that banks have shown a willingness to finance solar PV installations. However, of 5,700 loans made through the program since its inception, 3,000 of them were to borrowers taking advantage of provisions for low-income customers. That’s more than half of the program’s success stories, and banks do not tend to serve these people.

[Also in this clean energy section is a great technical article on the emissions hazards posed by hydrogen – even “green” hydrogen. It’s the first discussion we’ve seen about high NOx emissions resulting from hydrogen combustion – and the lack of current available technology to deal with this powerful greenhouse gas and health hazard. Keep this in mind as industry floods us with happy images of a green hydrogen future.]

The expiring solar loan program is just one example of Massachusetts resting on its green energy laurels and letting programs slip while other states – particularly California – quicken their pace. Governor Baker, you don’t get to crow about your state’s top national energy efficiency status this year. After a nine year run, bragging rights belong to California’s Governor Newsom.

Toyota is teasing us with the prospect of solid state EV batteries in prototypes within the next year, and in our driveways by around 2025. While the prospect of long range and 10 minute charge time is wildly appealing, we couldn’t help wondering why the company’s president was recently talking down electric vehicle market penetration in a Wall Street Journal interview. Could be he’s hedging a bet on hydrogen fuel cells.

The Environmental Protection Agency, among others, has some serious post-Trump rehabilitation ahead of it, and President-elect Biden has selected environmental lawyer Brenda Mallory to head the White House Council on Environmental Quality. She will be tasked with revamping Trump-era regulations and ensuring that federal agencies stay out of legal trouble by properly studying the full impacts of their decisions. Climate impacts of pipelines and other fossil fuel infrastructure are expected to receive high priority.

In a weird twist, our fossil fuel industry news this week is all about coal. This is a good time to remember that even when a sector is written off as dying, it can still cause massive environmental damage and throw a lot of political weight around. And in the unintended consequences department, the US liquefied natural gas export market could get a boost from stricter methane emissions rules expected from the incoming Biden administration.

We close with the 2020 award for top plastic polluters, with Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Nestlé sharing the victory dumpster for the third year in a row.

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

— The NFGiM Team

 

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

no more toxinsIn Weymouth, a brute lesson in power politics
A Globe investigation finds residents who fought a six-year battle with an energy giant over a controversial gas compressor never had much of a chance, with both the federal and state governments consistently ruling against them
By Mike Stanton, Boston Globe
December 12, 2020

Dr. Regina LaRocque has studied health risks in the Fore River Basin for Greater Boston Physicians for Social Responsibility. She hoped the state’s review would conclude the area was already too unhealthy and polluted to approve a compressor there. Since most compressor stations are in rural areas, state officials said in their final report, they could not find data on compressors “in similarly urban locations.”

So LaRocque, a doctor at Massachusetts General and Harvard Medical School, was “gobsmacked” when the report was released in January 2019 and concluded that emissions from the compressor “are not likely to cause health effects.”

She said the conclusion overlooked data showing the compressor would emit particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, and toxics like benzene and formaldehyde linked to cancer and respiratory, cardiovascular, and neurological diseases. And it ignored the fact that area residents suffer higher rates than normal in Massachusetts of cancer and childhood asthma and were hospitalized more for heart attacks and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

”It was a whitewash,” says LaRocque. “It presented data that was highly concerning then did somersaults to say there would be no health impact.”

Seven days later, Governor Baker approved the air permit.

“It’s probably the most comprehensive analysis within that framework that anybody’s done anywhere around one of these permits, and it passed,” Baker told reporters.

However, earlier drafts of the report, obtained by the Globe through a public records request, urged the state to look more closely at “public health implications.” That was deleted, along with a passage mentioning the potential risk to two poor and minority neighborhoods in Quincy, Germantown and Quincy Point.
» Blog editor’s note: this is a long, comprehensive article, and well worth the time to read the whole thing.
» Read article            
» Read the Physicians for Social Responsibility Report             
» Read the MAPC Health Impact Assessment          

» More about the Weymouth compressor station             

 

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

22 arrested on Line 3
22 protesters arrested at Enbridge pipeline construction site
Construction began two weeks ago on the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline.
By Brooks Johnson, Star Tribune
December 15, 2020

Nearly two dozen protesters were arrested at an Enbridge Line 3 pipeline construction site in Aitkin County near the Mississippi River on Monday after they blocked equipment and refused orders to disperse, Sheriff Dan Guida said.

Indigenous and environmental activists, who have been holding daily protests north of Palisade, Minn., prevented the extraction of a protester who had been camped in a tree for 10 days. Guida said a rope had been tied from the tree across the recently cleared pipeline route and created “an extremely dangerous situation.”

“We got a bucket truck and moved in, and people blocked it,” he said. “We don’t really have a choice. We have to enforce those laws.”

There were 22 arrests made, Guida said, most for misdemeanor trespassing on a posted construction site.

Activists vowed to continue to stand in the way of pipeline construction, which started two weeks ago.

“That Minnesotans are willing to risk arrest shows they’re fighting to protect what they love,” said Brett Benson, spokesman for environmental justice group MN350. “They’re standing up to say it’s time the state actually listen to Indigenous voices and start protecting our climate instead of caving to the interests of a Canadian oil giant.”
» Read article            


line 3 meets water protectors
Opponents of Enbridge’s Line 3 construction make last-ditch effort at river’s edge
While legal challenges continue, protesters aim to stand in the way.
By Brooks Johnson, Star Tribune
December 10, 2020

PALISADE, MINN. – Drumming and singing rose from the snowy banks of the Mississippi River on Wednesday morning while heavy machinery beeped and revved in the distance. A dozen protesters prayed by the river as the state’s largest construction project, the $2.6 billion Enbridge oil pipeline, continued its early stages in rural Aitkin County.

Not far from the road where self-described water protectors have been gathering daily, two protesters remained camped atop trees. They have been there since Friday trying to stay in the way of construction that started last week after Enbridge received the last permit it needed following six years of regulatory review.

Trees have been cleared all around the pair as preparations to lay the 340-mile pipeline continue across northern Minnesota.

“As a company, we recognize the rights of individuals and groups to express their views legally and peacefully. We expect our workers on Line 3 to do the same,” Enbridge said in a statement. “As part of their onboarding, each Line 3 worker goes through extensive training, including cultural awareness.”

Already, about 2,000 workers are expected at job sites along the route this week. More than 4,000 are expected to be working by the end of the month, unions say.

While the specter of the massive Standing Rock protests hangs over the Line 3 project, the crowd along the river north of McGregor has remained small so far. Pipeline opponents are still hoping to stop construction through lawsuits.

A request to have the Minnesota Court of Appeals halt construction while permit challenges are ongoing is expected to be filed in the next week after state regulators declined to grant a stay.

In the meantime, protesters will continue putting their bodies in the way and raising their voices.

“People are doing what they can to prevent what’s going on,” Aubid said. “I do what I need to do in order to protect the waters.”
» Read article             

needs a comb
New Youth Climate Lawsuit Launched Against UK Government on Five Year Anniversary of Paris Agreement
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
December 12, 2020

Three young British citizens and the climate litigation charity Plan B today announced they are taking legal action against the UK government for failing to sufficiently address the climate crisis.

The announcement comes on the five year anniversary of the landmark Paris Agreement — the international accord intended to limit global temperature rise to below 2 degrees Celsius — and the lawsuit is the latest in a cascade of litigation around the world aimed at holding governments and polluters accountable for fuelling climate change.

Today’s action involves serving a formal letter upon British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak as the first step in the litigation process, with a court filing to come likely in early 2021.

The legal action asserts that the UK — the historic birthplace of the fossil-fueled Industrial Revolution — is continuing to finance the climate crisis and has failed to develop an emergency plan to comprehensively and aggressively tackle the crisis. The case alleges violations of human rights protected under British and international law, specifically rights to life and to private and family life. And the case alleges the government has not met its legal obligations to tackle climate change under the UK Climate Change Act of 2008 and the Paris Agreement.

Plan B says that given the UK government’s self-proclaimed position as a “climate leader” and position as host of the international United Nations climate summit (COP26) next year in Glasgow, the failure to develop an emergency plan on climate is an abdication of its duties to its people and the international community. The goal of the lawsuit is a court order forcing the government to develop an emergency plan in accordance with its legal obligations.

“The Government claims to be showing leadership on the basis of an inadequate net zero [emissions] target it is failing to meet,” Plan B said in a press release. “Yet, it has failed to prepare even for the minimum level of climate impact and plans to cut financial support for the most vulnerable communities around the world. It knows the City of London is financing levels of warming that would devastate our society.”
» Read article            
» Read the Plan B press release      

» More about protests and actions       

 

CLIMATE

electric trolley SF
New Report Details How U.S. Can Achieve Net-Zero Emissions by 2050

By Climate Nexus, in EcoWatch
December 16, 2020

A new report from Princeton University released yesterday details five pathways for achieving net zero emissions in the U.S. by 2050, with “priority actions” the U.S. should take before 2030.

A highlight across all pathways is total or near total electrification of energy use across the U.S. economy.

Additional recommendations include building a significant amount of new energy infrastructure, increasing wind and solar generating capacity, expanding the nation’s electric grid, and transitioning homes off natural gas.

The research puts the price tag of this near-term action at $2.5 trillion, but calculates it will create at least half a million jobs and save tens of thousands of lives.

The report also identifies several pitfalls the transition could face, including local opposition to land-use for renewable infrastructure and a lack of public support for electric cars and homes.

“The costs are affordable, the tool kit is there, but the scale of transformation across the country is significant,” said Jesse Jenkins, a Princeton professor and lead author of the report.
» Read article            
» Related articles: New York Times, Washington Post, Axios, Bloomberg
» Read the Princeton University study, Net Zero America             
» Read the October U.N. report, America’s Zero Carbon Action Plan           

worldward
What if net-zero isn’t enough? Inside the push to ‘restore’ the climate.
By Emily Pontecorvo, Grist
December 11, 2020

Disagreements about how to tackle the climate crisis abound, but in 2020, it seemed much of the world finally reached consensus about at least one thing: getting to net-zero by 2050, or sooner. Net-zero is a state where greenhouse gases are no longer accumulating in the atmosphere — any emissions must be counterbalanced by sucking some carbon out of the air — and this year, a tidal wave of governments, businesses, and financial institutions pledged to reach it.

But for a new movement of young activists, the net-zero rhetoric is worrisome. “Hitting net-zero is not enough,” they wrote in a letter published in the Guardian last month. Instead, the group behind the letter, a youth-led organization called Worldward, urges the world to rally around a different goal, one they call “climate restoration.” The letter was co-signed by prominent climate scientists James Hansen and Michael Mann, in addition to writers, artists, and other activists.

“The climate today is not safe,” said Gideon Futerman, the 17-year-old founder and president of Worldward, who lives in a suburb north of London. “Millions of people are suffering and millions more will.” By the time net-zero is achieved, he said, the climate will be considerably more dangerous.
» Read article            

» More about climate               

 

CLEAN ENERGY

solar loan sunset
Massachusetts solar loans program leaves banks with confidence to lend
As the program ends, private solar lending will continue but low-income homeowners may be left behind.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
Photo By Staff Sgt. Aaron Breeden / U.S. Air Force
December 17, 2020

Massachusetts’ lauded solar loan program is drawing to a close this month, leaving behind a more robust solar financing market but also taking away a tool that lenders and installers say has been invaluable in bringing the benefits of solar power to underserved households. 

“It has allowed us to bring solar to people who might not have access to it otherwise,” said Richard Bonney, project developer for solar installer RevoluSun, which completed 141 projects through the program. “That is the biggest area of concern on our end.”

The Mass Solar Loan program was launched in 2015 with two goals: jumpstarting the market for residential solar financing and expanding access to solar for lower-income households.

The clean energy center plans to sunset the program on Dec. 31, as originally authorized.

Without the income-based support of the state program, however, market-based lending programs are unlikely to reach lower-income households on anything like the scale of the Mass Solar Loan. Of 5,700 loans made through the program, 3,000 of them were to borrowers taking advantage of provisions for low-income customers. 

Even as banks and credit unions seem to be stepping up their solar lending, they will not be able to fill all the gaps left by the state program. Nearly 30% of the program’s loans went to applicants with credit scores lower than 720, a level lenders generally consider quite risky. 

And while many homeowners are expected to use home equity loans to finance a solar installation, borrowers who put down smaller down payments or haven’t owned their homes for long might not have enough equity to support a loan. 

Massachusetts’ solar incentive program has provisions targeting low-income households, but does [not] have any tools for helping homeowners get over the initial hurdle of the upfront cost to install a system. 

There is nothing on the horizon to fill that gap, and the administration of Gov. Charlie Baker does not seem to see the value in funding more solar incentives for low-income residents, [Ben Mayer, vice president of marketing and residential sales for SunBug Solar] said.

“It would be funny if it weren’t so aggravating,” he said. “If anything, you should be figuring out how to increase the investment.”
» Read article                     

Intermountain Power project
Hydrogen Hype in the Air
By Lew Milford, Seth Mullendore, and Abbe Ramanan, Clean Energy Group
December 14, 2020

Here’s an energy quiz. Question: do you think this statement is true?

“Unlike fossil fuels, which emit planet-warming carbon dioxide when they’re burned, hydrogen mostly produces water.”

Answer: false.

That statement appeared in a Bloomberg Green article a week or so ago. It reported on future European plans to use hydrogen (H2) as a fuel “in modified gas turbines” to power airplanes. Similar reports have appeared in other reputable energy articles about how hydrogen is the optimal climate solution because its use will not create any air emissions.

What is true is that renewable power like solar or wind can split water into H2 to produce what the reporters claimed – “emissions free” energy. But that requires a complicated and expensive electrolysis process to make H2. That renewably generated “green hydrogen” would then be run through a fuel cell to make electricity. Fuel cells do not produce carbon dioxide (CO2) or other harmful emissions. There are many smart applications for fuel cell-derived power, in cars and heavy vehicles, and in various industrial applications – what an intelligent hydrogen economy might look like in the years to come.

Clean Energy Group (CEG) has been a fervent supporter of green hydrogen and its use in fuel cells. We worked on hydrogen and fuel cells 15 years ago, when they were one of the few cleaner energy options. Then, we did not have the cheaper and more practical alternatives to fossil fuel plants such as renewables and battery storage that we have today.

Back in 2006, CEG wrote that “[h]ydrogen is most efficiently used in fuel cells where it is converted to electricity “electro-chemically” (i.e., without combustion), with only water and oxygen depleted air as exhaust products.”

This is because combustion is where hydrogen goes from “emissions-free” to polluting, the critical distinction seemingly lost in this new debate about using H2 to address climate change.

What happens when H2 is combusted?

Burning H2 does not produce carbon dioxide (CO2)  emissions. That is good news for the climate.

However, hydrogen combustion produces other air emissions. And that scientific fact is the untold story in this aggressive industry plan, one that could turn green H2 into ghastly H2.

The bad news is that H2 combustion can produce dangerously high levels of nitrogen oxide (NOx). Two European studies have found that burning hydrogen-enriched natural gas in an industrial setting can lead to NOx emissions up to six times that of methane (the most common element in natural gas mixes). There are numerous other studies in the scientific literature about the difficulties of controlling NOx emissions from H2 combustion in various industrial applications.
Blog editor’s note: this is an important article, worth the time to read in its entirety. In addition to the documented serious health effects associated with NOx emissions, the pollutants are powerful greenhouse gases – packing approximately 300 times the global warming potential as carbon dioxide.
» Read article            
» Read about the natural gas industry’s hydrogen PR campaign     

» More about clean energy               

 

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

number twoMass. no longer most energy-efficient state
California, with numerous policy initiatives, moves into top spot
By Colin A. Young, Statehouse News Service, in CommonWealth Magazine
December 18, 2020

After nine years at the top of a list that state officials regularly tout, Massachusetts is no longer considered to be the most energy-efficient state in the nation.

California now sits atop the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) rankings and bumped Massachusetts down to second place thanks to the passage of millions of dollars in incentives for high-efficiency heat pump water heaters and an executive order to phase out new gasoline-powered vehicles by 2035.

“In a year dramatically impacted by a global pandemic and associated recession, efforts to advance clean energy goals struggled to maintain momentum amid the loss of 400,000 energy efficiency jobs by the summer and disruptions to countless lives. Despite these challenges, some states continued to successfully prioritize energy efficiency as an important resource to help reduce household and business energy bills, create jobs, and reduce emissions,” the ACEEE wrote in its annual report and scorecard. “First place goes to California, which sets the pace in saving energy on multiple fronts with adoption of net-zero energy building codes, stringent vehicle emissions standards, and industry-leading appliance standards.”

Massachusetts has had at least a share of first place in the ACEEE rankings for the last nine years (California had tied with Massachusetts for number one as recently as 2016) and has been in the top 10 all 14 years that the ACEEE has published its annual state scorecard.

“Generally speaking, the highest-ranking states have all made broad, long-term commitments to energy efficiency, indicated by their staying power at the top of the State Scorecard over the past decade,” lead report author Weston Berg said. “However, it is important to note that retaining one’s spot in the lead pack is no easy task; all of these states must embrace new, cutting-edge strategies and programs to remain at the top.”

Every year since 2015, the Baker administration has celebrated the top billing with a press release, featuring quotes from the governor, lieutenant governor, Energy and Environmental Affairs secretary, Department of Energy Resources commissioners, House speaker, Senate president, House minority leader, Senate minority leader and a House committee chairman.

This year, there was no administration press release, and the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs and Department of Energy Resources declined to make anyone available to discuss the rankings with the News Service on Wednesday.
» Blog editor’s note: you can earn top-dog status on the energy efficiency list, or you can coddle the natural gas industry – but you can’t do both.
» Read article            

» More about energy efficiency          

 

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

solid state Toyota
Toyota EV with solid-state batteries: 10-minute full charge, prototype reportedly due in 2021
By Stephen Edelstein, Green Car Reports
December 13, 2020

 

Toyota hopes to be the first automaker to launch an electric car with solid-state batteries, aiming to unveil a prototype next year, ahead of a production launch relatively soon after that, Nikkei Asia reported Thursday.

The automaker expects electric cars powered by solid-state batteries to have more than twice the range of vehicles using current lithium-ion battery chemistry, with the ability to fully recharge in just 10 minutes, according to the report, which also said Toyota has over 1,000 patents related to solid-state batteries.

While Toyota seems fairly far ahead of other Japanese automakers (Nissan doesn’t plan to start real-world testing of solid-state batteries until 2028, the report said), the country’s automotive suppliers appear to be gearing up for production.

Mitsui Mining and Smelting (also known as Mitsui Kinzoku) will build a pilot facility to make electrolyte for solid-state batteries, the report said. Located at an existing research and development center in Japan’s Saitama Prefecture, the facility will be able to produce “dozens of tons” of solid electrolyte starting next year, enough to fulfill demand for prototypes, according to the report.

The timetable discussed in the report is accelerated from what a top Toyota executive suggested just this summer. In an interview with Automotive News in July, Keiji Kaita, executive vice president of Toyota’s powertrain division, said limited production of solid-state batteries would start in 2025.

This report also suggests that solid-state battery cells could have much-improved energy density. That echoes a Samsung statement from earlier this year, suggesting its solid-state tech could double energy density.
» Blog editor’s note: Is Toyota all in? Read a December 17, 2020 report from Oil Price in which Toyota’s President Akio Toyoda talks down electric vehicles.
» Read article             

» More about clean transportation        

 

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY

Brenda Mallory
Biden Pick to Bolster Legal Odds with Added Climate Review
By Ellen M. Gilmer and Stephen Lee, Bloomberg Law
December 17, 2020

President-elect Joe Biden’s selection of environmental lawyer Brenda Mallory for a top spot in the new administration could help federal agencies improve their litigation record on climate change.

The presumptive nominee to lead the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality will be tasked with revamping Trump-era regulations and ensuring that federal agencies stay out of legal trouble by properly studying the full impacts of their decisions.

If confirmed by the Senate, Mallory will take the helm of CEQ at a time when judges have increasingly faulted federal officials under both the Obama and Trump administrations for failing to fully consider greenhouse gas emissions in their National Environmental Policy Act reviews. NEPA requires agencies to analyze and disclose the impacts of their actions, including approvals of highways, pipelines, and other projects.

CEQ, which oversees NEPA implementation, aimed to sidestep those losses in July by issuing a rule that eliminated a longstanding requirement that officials consider the cumulative impacts of their actions—a part of NEPA reviews that often touches on climate change. The Biden administration is expected to reconsider that move and quickly direct agencies to strengthen their climate analyses.

“Reversing the Trump-era NEPA rollbacks is going to be priority No. 1,” said Western Environmental Law Center lawyer Kyle Tisdel, a frequent foe of federal agencies in NEPA cases.

Next on the list, he said, will be issuing new guidance for how agencies should incorporate climate analysis into their reviews.

The result will be better outcomes in NEPA litigation during the Biden administration, legal experts say.

Agencies and project backers “should already realize that their environmental reviews are more likely to survive judicial scrutiny if they include cumulative impact review and lifecycle greenhouse gas analysis where appropriate,” said Columbia Law School professor Michael Gerrard, who directs the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law.
» Read article           

» More about the EPA           

 

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Hay Point Coal TerminalChina Battles the World’s Biggest Coal Exporter, and Coal Is Losing
China has officially blocked coal imports from Australia after months of vague restrictions. For Australia, the world’s largest coal exporter, the decision is a gut punch.
By Damien Cave, New York Times
December 16, 2020

SYDNEY, Australia — China is forcing Australia to confront what many countries are concluding: The coal era is coming to an end.

China has now officially blocked coal imports from Australia after months of vague restrictions that dramatically slowed trade and stranded huge ships at sea.

For Australia, the world’s largest coal exporter, the decision is a gut punch that eliminates its second-biggest market at a time when many countries are already rethinking their dependence on a filthy fossil fuel that accelerates the devastation of climate change.

While Beijing’s motives are difficult to divine, there are hints of mercantilist protection for local producers and the desire to punish Australia for perceived sins that include demanding an inquiry into the source of the coronavirus. China’s commitment to cut emissions may also allow it to be marginally more selective with its vast purchases.

Whatever the reasoning, the impact is shaping up to be profound for a country that has tied its fate to coal for more than 200 years. Mining policy can still decide elections in Australia and the current conservative government is determined to do the bare minimum on climate change, which has made China’s coal cutback a symbolic, cultural and economic shock.

“A transition has been forced upon us,” said Richie Merzian, the climate and energy program director at the Australia Institute, an independent think tank. “It’s hard to see how things will really pick up from here.”

The realization, if it holds, may take time to sink in.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has ridden Australia’s traditional reliance on fossil fuels into power. He famously held up a hunk of coal in Parliament in 2017, declaring “don’t be scared,” and first became prime minister in an intraparty coup after his predecessor, Malcolm Turnbull, tried to pursue a more aggressive approach to combating climate change.

“Coal-Mo,” as some of his critics call him, dismissed concerns on Wednesday about China’s ban, arguing that there are many other countries still lining up for the product.
» Read article             

Alberta sinking
As oil prices languish, Alberta sees its future in a ‘coal rush’
At least six new or expanded mines could be built as a new conservative provincial government aims to increase coal production for export
By Jeff Gailus, The Guardian
December 15, 2020

With the price of Western Canadian oil languishing around $35 a barrel and Canadian oil sands companies hemorrhaging both workers and money, the province of Alberta sees its future in another fossil fuel: coal.

A “coal rush” in the province could see at least six new or expanded open-pit coal mines built up and down the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains, mostly by Australian companies. Together, these projects could industrialize as much as 1,000 sq km of forests, waterways and grasslands.

Alberta has eight operating coal mines and more than 91bn tonnes of mineable coal, but until recently, Alberta had a restrictive coal-mining policy that’s been in place for 44 years to protect drinking water for millions of people. In 2015 the previous Alberta government announced a plan to eliminate coal-fired electricity by 2030, a goal Canada’s federal government embraced three years later to help fulfill Canada’s greenhouse-gas-reduction commitments to the Paris Agreement.

Canada, along with the United Kingdom, also launched the Powering Past Coal Alliance at the 2017 UN Climate Change Conference to accelerate the phase-out of coal-fired power plants worldwide.

Yet despite the commitment to eliminate coal-fired electricity, the new conservative provincial government has pulled out all the stops to increase coal production for export.

It rescinded the 1976 coal mining policy without public consultation, after spending months wooing Australian coal companies. It also reduced the corporate tax rate from 10 to 8%, axed provincial parks in coal-rich areas, offered 1% royalties (Australia’s is a minimum of seven), and passed legislation to fast-track project approvals.
» Read article             

» More about fossil fuels              

 

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

Biden and gas exportsHow Biden may save U.S. gas exports to Europe
Cleaning up fuel producers’ climate pollution at home could help the industry avoid “a trans-Atlantic green gas war.”
By BEN LEFEBVRE, Politico
Photo: Flared natural gas is burned off Feb. 5, 2015 at the Deadwood natural gas plant in Garden City, Texas. | Spencer Platt/Getty Images
November 27, 2020

President-elect Joe Biden’s plan to crack down on the energy industry’s greenhouse gas pollution could offer a boon for U.S. natural gas producers who want to keep exporting to an increasingly climate-minded Europe.

U.S. gas shipments to Europe have soared since 2016, driven by the American fracking boom and efforts to help the Continent lessen its reliance on Russia. But pressure on European countries to reduce their impact on the climate is threatening to close off opportunities for the U.S. because of the heavy amounts of planet-warming methane released when the gas is produced.

Now, Biden’s promise to reduce those methane emissions could make U.S. gas shipments more palatable to Europe.

Such an outcome would contradict one of President Donald Trump’s closing campaign themes: that electing the former vice president would spell doom for U.S. fossil fuel producers. But it could rankle progressive climate activists who are pushing for Biden to end fracking and stop all U.S. fossil fuel exports.
» Read article             

» More about LNG           

 

PLASTICS IN THE ENVIRONMENT

Coke eco claims prooved fishy
Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Nestlé Are Worst Plastic Polluters of 2020, Have Made ‘Zero Progress,’ New Report Finds
By Tiffany Duong, EcoWatch
December 11, 2020

The top plastic polluters of 2020 have been announced, and Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Nestlé top the list for the third year in a row.

In a new report demanding corporate responsibility for plastic pollution, Break Free From Plastic (BFFP) named the repeat offenders and called them out for what appeared to be negligible progress in curbing the amount of plastic trash they produce despite corporate claims otherwise.

“The title of Top Global Polluters describes the parent companies whose brands were recorded polluting the most places around the world with the greatest amount of plastic waste,” the report’s executive summary noted. “Our 2020 Top Global Polluters remain remarkably consistent with our previous brand audit reports, demonstrating that the same corporations are continuing to pollute the most places with the most single-use plastic.”

The report employs brand audits and global cleanups to collect and count plastic debris from around the world. This year, nearly 15,000 volunteers collected 346,494 pieces of plastic in 55 countries to contribute to the report, a BFFP press release said.

Over 5,000 brands were cataloged this year, but Coca-Cola quickly emerged as the world’s number one plastic polluter. Its beverage bottles were found most frequently, discarded on beaches, rivers, parks and other litter sites in 51 of the 55 nations surveyed, The Guardian reported. The brand was worse than PepsiCo and Nestlé, the next two top offenders, combined.

Plastic pollution is one of the leading environmental problems of the modern-day. Plastics do not disintegrate or disappear, but instead break up into microplastics that get consumed by the tiniest organisms. These toxins bioaccumulate and move their way up the food chain and into our air, food and water.

“The world’s top polluting corporations claim to be working hard to solve plastic pollution, but instead they are continuing to pump out harmful single-use plastic packaging,” Emma Priestland, Break Free From Plastic’s global campaign coordinator, told The Guardian.
» Read article            
» Read related Guardian article 

» More about plastics in the environment            

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