Tag Archives: methane

Weekly News Check-In 4/8/22

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Welcome back.

The big news this week involved release of the United Nations’ third recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report – this one focused on steps necessary to get through this OK. The imperatives are clear and non-negotiable: immediately stop developing new fossil fuel resources and infrastructure; rapidly decrease emissions; rapidly transition power generation, transportation, building heat, and as much of industry as possible to zero-emissions.

It’s a comprehensive piece of work that assesses our current situation and clearly describes the very narrow pathway remaining after our decades of procrastination. Limiting global heating to 1.5 degrees C above pre-industrial levels is not a randomly-selected number. It represents science’s best understanding of a boundary beyond which the warming world will trigger multiple tipping points. Once there, we’ll all be strapped in for a wild one-way ride into a decidedly less hospitable new reality.

How did the fossil fuel industry and their government enablers react? By approving or funding two massive new offshore oil developments and doubling down on an accelerated buildout of liquefied natural gas capacity. All this has alarmed scientists to the point of taking to the streets – even getting themselves arrested in non-violent actions. These are people who traditionally prefer to avoid the fray – reasoning that their work should speak for itself, providing a solid foundation for the programs of rational policymakers.

But our unevenly-regulated economic system has proven much better at generating corporate profits than at steering society toward sustainability. A perfect example is the vast area of Midwest farmland devoted to producing corn for ethanol biofuel while the world faces a looming food shortage. Another puzzle is why the New England grid operator believes it’s still too early to accelerate the integration of renewable energy and storage – exactly what the IPCC report identified as critical, urgent priorities.

Progress for now remains concentrated at the state level. The Massachusetts Senate just released an ambitious new bill aimed, in part, to clarify for gas utilities that their current business model of piping fuel to flames has no future.

We have a couple bits of good news from the housing sector, where property managers are finding ways to achieve deep energy retrofits in existing multifamily residential units. This is a maddeningly complex problem, especially in already-occupied buildings – so the lessons being learned now will make future efforts easier. More Federal funds are also coming online for low-income residential energy efficiency projects.  Clean transportation also took a step in the right direction, with a number of major automakers backing the EPA’s tough new emissions standards and opposing a lawsuit brought by Texas and fifteen other states.

Wrapping up, we’ll leave you with one last scary thing. Microplastics are now so ubiquitous in the environment that almost all of us are hosting little bits of them deep in our lungs, in other organs, and even in our bloodstreams. We’re imposing this same body burden on every other creature, just as we’re dragging them all with us through a changing climate. Stay engaged – that’s how we’ll make things better.

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

really happening
Climate scientists are desperate: we’re crying, begging and getting arrested
On Wednesday, I was arrested for locking myself onto an entrance to the JP Morgan Chase building in downtown LA. I can’t stand by – and nor should you
By Peter Kalmus, The Guardian | Opinion
April 6, 2022

“Climate activists are sometimes depicted as dangerous radicals, but the truly dangerous radicals are the countries that are increasing the production of fossil fuels.” – United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres

I’m a climate scientist and a desperate father. How can I plead any harder? What will it take? What can my colleagues and I do to stop this catastrophe unfolding now all around us with such excruciating clarity?

On Wednesday, I was arrested for locking myself to an entrance to the JP Morgan Chase building in downtown Los Angeles with colleagues and supporters. Our action in LA is part of an international campaign organized by a loosely knit group of concerned scientists called Scientist Rebellion, involving more than 1,200 scientists in 26 countries and supported by local climate groups. Our day of action follows the IPCC Working Group 3 report released Monday, which details the harrowing gap between where society is heading and where we need to go. Our movement is growing fast.

We chose JP Morgan Chase because out of all the investment banks in the world, JP Morgan Chase funds the most new fossil fuel projects. As the new IPCC report explains, emissions from current and planned fossil energy infrastructure are already more than twice the amount that would push the planet over 1.5°C of global heating, a level of heating that will bring much more intense heat, fire, storms, flooding, and drought than the present 1.2°C.

Even limiting heating to below 2°C, a level of heating that in my opinion could threaten civilization as we know it, would require emissions to peak before 2025. As UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said in the press conference on Monday: “Investing in new fossil fuel infrastructure is moral and economic madness.” And yet, this is precisely what President Biden, most other world leaders, and major banks are doing. It’s no exaggeration to say that Chase and other banks are contributing to murder and neocide through their fossil fuel finance.

Earth breakdown is much worse than most people realize. The science indicates that as fossil fuels continue to heat our planet, everything we love is at risk. For me, one of the most horrific aspects of all this is the juxtaposition of present-day and near-future climate disasters with the “business as usual” occurring all around me. It’s so surreal that I often find myself reviewing the science to make sure it’s really happening, a sort of scientific nightmare arm-pinch. Yes, it’s really happening.
» Read article       

climate revolution
‘Climate Revolution’: Scientists Launch Global Civil Disobedience Campaign
“Scientist Rebellion will be on the streets between April 4th and 9th, acting like our house is on fire,” said organizers. “Because it is.”
By Julia Conley, Common Dreams
April 4, 2022

Scientists from around the world on Monday mobilized to demand a “Climate Revolution,” holding rallies and staging acts of civil disobedience with the goal of making the planetary emergency “impossible to ignore.”

With a kick-off timed to coincide with Monday’s release of the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), researchers across the globe this week will participate in the Scientist Rebellion, staging strikes and occupations at universities, research institutes, and scientific journals to demand that the community speak out forcefully against continued fossil fuel emissions to highlight “the urgency and injustice of the climate and ecological crisis.”

“We have not made the changes necessary to limit warming to 1.5°C, rendering this goal effectively impossible,” said Dr. Rose Abramoff, an American climate scientist, referring to the goal set by the Paris climate agreement in 2015. “We need to both understand the consequences of our inaction as well as limit fossil fuel emissions as much and as quickly as possible.”

For scientists, Abramoff added, “it is no longer sufficient to do our research and expect others to read our publications and understand the severity and urgency of the climate crisis.”

One neuroscientist named Jonathan posted a video on social media explaining why he is taking part in the Scientist Rebellion.

“With our civilization poised to crumble under the weight of climate disaster in a matter of decades, the incremental advance of understanding is pointless,” he said. “In short, there’s no worthy reason for me to be doing this work if I’m not also pushing for climate action.”

The Scientist Rebellion is poised to be the largest-ever civil disobedience campaign led by scientists, with experts risking arrest in at least 25 countries on every continent in the world.
» Read article       

» More about protests and actions

LEGISLATION

prescriptive
Senate unveils sweeping climate bill
By Sabrina Shankman, Boston Globe
April 7, 2022

The state Senate on Thursday unveiled a sweeping climate bill that would pour money into development of clean energy, set mandates for government agencies, and allow some cities and towns to ban gas in new construction.

Unlike the broad strokes of past climate legislation that focused on setting strict targets for slashing emissions, Thursday’s proposal delves into granular details of state programs and agencies perceived as acting too slow on the climate.

[…] Lawmakers said the bill must take urgent priority.

[…] The bill focuses on three aspects of the state’s response to climate change: the transition to clean energy on the electrical grid, the massive work of weaning homes from fossil fuel heat, and dramatically reducing emissions from the state’s 4.3 million cars.

It now faces steep challenges as it goes to debate in the Senate and a potentially difficult reconciliation with the House version of the bill — with a tight deadline of July 31 for having a bill on the governor’s desk.

[…] A spokesperson for the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs said only that the Baker administration will carefully review anything that reaches the governor’s desk.

The Senate bill is in some ways a rebuke of the Baker administration on critical parts of the state’s effort on climate, said Senator Cynthia Creem. She cited problems with programs aimed at urging homeowners to switch to clean heat and that pay gas companies to continue to lay new pipe.

“We’re seeing that unless we move quickly, we’re not going to meet the emissions required, and the agencies aren’t taking the quick approach that they need to take,” she said.

That led to the creation of a bill that is in many ways prescriptive — calling for specific policy and programmatic steps.

In addition to providing $100 million to the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center to support investment in the clean energy industry and innovation, the bill would allow for the growth of so-called agro-solar, in which solar panels are placed at agricultural farms.
» Read article      

» More about legislation

GREENING THE ECONOMY

aerial view
As Russia’s War In Ukraine Disrupts Food Production, Experts Question the Expanding Use of Cropland for Biofuels
With the planet facing the related crises of climate change and hunger, should land be used to grow food, like corn for ethanol?
By Georgina Gustin, Inside Climate News
April 5, 2022

In the six weeks since Russia invaded Ukraine, the conflict has not only sent energy prices soaring, but has disrupted food production, pushing costs upward and stoking fears of global food shortages.

The United Nations has warned of surging food insecurity in countries that depend on wheat from Ukraine, a critical and major breadbasket. Many of them were already teetering on the edge of hunger before the crisis.

As these effects of the conflict ripple across the globe, the world is seeing how energy and food markets are crucially linked. Just a couple of examples:

Farmers everywhere are scrambling to buy fertilizer, which has become exorbitantly expensive and scarce as prices for natural gas to make it have shot up. And vegetable growers in the U.K. say that energy prices are so high they can’t afford to heat their greenhouses, meaning less fresh produce in coming months.

Meanwhile, the Biden administration is considering expanding the use of ethanol, made from corn, in an attempt to lower fuel prices—but at the risk of raising food prices.

“Food and energy markets are going through the roof at the moment,” said Tim Benton, director of the Environment and Society Programme at Chatham House, the U.K.-based think tank, in a recent call with reporters. “The key question for those of us who are interested in sustainability is whether nature will be sacrificed in order to boost food production or whether climate will be sacrificed in order to boost energy production.”
» Read article      

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

elephant
IPCC: We can tackle climate change if big oil gets out of the way
Experts say criticism of oil and gas’s ‘climate-blocking activities’ cut from final draft, reflective of industry’s power and influence
By Amy Westervelt, The Guardian
April 5, 2022

The fossil fuel industry and its influence over policy was the major elephant in the room looming over the release of the third and final report, out this week, from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the world’s leading climate authority. The major source of contention: how do you talk about mitigating climate change without confronting the fossil fuel industry? “It’s like Star Wars without Darth Vader,” says environmental sociologist Robert Brulle, of Brown University.

The first two reports, both released over the last year, highlighted the physical science on climate effects and countries’ vulnerability to further warming. But this third report deals more with the potential solutions, which have been a focal point of controversy in recent years for both the fossil fuel industry and the governments of oil-rich nations.

Social scientists were successful in pushing for more of their research to be included in the IPCC’s reports, with chapters that touch on everything from debunking claims that less developed countries need fossil fuels to help tackle poverty to a rundown of efforts to block climate policy. The report made one thing abundantly clear: the technologies and policies necessary to adequately address climate change exist, and the only real obstacles are politics and fossil fuel interests.

The role of the fossil fuel industry is highlighted throughout the report’s nearly 3,000 pages, but researchers note it was mysteriously absent from the “Summary for Policymakers” – traditionally the first part of the report that’s released and often attracts the most media attention. An earlier draft of the summary leaked to the Guardian, however, described the fossil fuel industry and others invested in a high-carbon economy as “vested interests” that have actively worked against climate policy, noting: “Factors limiting ambitious transformation include structural barriers, an incremental rather than systemic approach, lack of coordination, inertia, lock-in to infrastructure and assets, and lock-in as a consequence of vested interests, regulatory inertia, and lack of technological capabilities and human resources.”

Brulle, whose research is cited multiple times in the report, was dismayed to see the cut. “The scientists clearly did their job and provided ample material on climate obstruction activities in the report,” he says. “The political process of creating the Summary for Policymakers ended up editing all of this information out.”
» Read article       

Sycamore Canyon flames
‘A file of shame’: Major UN climate report shows world is on track for catastrophic levels of warming
By Dharna Noor, Boston Globe
April 4, 2022

The world is on track to usher in a devastating level of global warming, warns a major report from the world’s leading climate scientists.

“It is a file of shame, cataloguing the empty pledges that put us firmly on track towards an unlivable world,” UN Secretary General António Guterres said of the study in a statement.

To avert the worst consequences of the climate crisis, the analysis from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says, leaders must make radical, immediate changes. That includes rapidly phasing out the use of fossil fuels.

The world has already warmed by roughly 1.1 degrees Celsius since the industrial revolution, chiefly due to the burning of coal, oil, or gas. The more ambitious goals of the Paris Agreement aim to limit warming to 1.5 degrees; crossing that threshold would exacerbate hunger, conflict, and drought globally, destroy at least 70 percent of coral reefs, and put millions at risk of being swallowed by rising seas.

The world has only a 38 percent chance of achieving that goal, the new report says.

The report is the third of three crucial documents from the UN body released over the past eight months. While the first two studies examined the causes and effects of the climate crisis, Monday’s report focuses on what the world can do to fight it.

UN scientists have long warned that expanding fossil fuel infrastructure will make the 1.5-degree target unattainable. But the new report, released Monday, goes even further, showing that even continuing to operate existing infrastructure until the end of their lifespans would put that target out of reach.

“We cannot keep warming below catastrophic levels without first and foremost accelerating the shift away from all fossil fuels, beginning immediately,” said Nikki Reisch, climate and energy Program Director at the Center for International Environmental Law, in a statement.
» Read article       

wrong way
Methane emissions surged by a record amount in 2021, NOAA says
By Emma Newburger, CNBC
April 7, 2022

Global emissions of methane, the second-biggest contributor to human-caused climate change after carbon dioxide, surged by a record amount in 2021, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said on Thursday.

Methane, a key component of natural gas, is 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide but doesn’t last as long in the atmosphere before it breaks down. Major contributors to methane emissions include oil and gas extraction, landfills and wastewater, and farming of livestock.

“Our data show that global emissions continue to move in the wrong direction at a rapid pace,” Rick Spinrad, the NOAA administrator, said in a statement. “The evidence is consistent, alarming and undeniable.”

The report comes after more than 100 countries joined a coalition to cut 30% of methane gas emissions by 2030 from 2020 levels. The Global Methane Pledge of 2021 includes six of the world’s 10 biggest methane emitters — the U.S., Brazil, Indonesia, Nigeria, Pakistan and Mexico. China, Russia, India and Iran did not join the pledge.

Last year, a landmark United Nations report declared that drastically slashing methane is necessary to avoid the worst outcomes of global warming. The report said if the world could cut methane emissions by up to 45% through 2030, it would prevent 255,000 premature deaths and 775,000 asthma-related hospital visits on an annual basis.

Kassie Siegel, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute, said reducing methane is a relatively cheap and easy way to achieve significant climate benefits.
» Read article      

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

now or never
Now or never: IPCC says wind and solar key to halving emissions by 2030
By Michael Mazengarb, Renew Economy
April 5, 2022

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has backed the continued expansion of the use of wind and solar energy to do the heavy lifting in achieving rapid and necessary reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions – while also delivering some of the cheapest new supplies of energy.

The central role that renewable energy technologies will play in keeping global warming within safe limits has been detailed in the latest working group report of the IPCC, published on Tuesday.

The IPCC has warned “immediate and deep emissions reductions” are necessary across all sectors of the global economy to stem rising greenhouse gas levels, and keep a global warming limit of 1.5 degrees within reach.

According to the IPCC, wind and solar technologies can deliver the most extensive potential cuts to greenhouse gas emissions by replacing fossil fuels in the global energy system, dwarfing the potential contribution of more costly technologies like carbon capture and storage.

“Large contributions with costs less than US$20 per tonne CO2 come from solar and wind energy, energy efficiency improvements, reduced conversion of natural ecosystems and methane emissions reductions,” the report says.

The IPCC said the dramatic reductions in the cost of wind, solar and battery storage technologies over the last decade meant they were already commercially viable and would be the key to decarbonising most of the world’s energy systems.
» Read article       

Ocean Rebellion theatrical act
IPCC Report Release Delayed as Rich Nations Sought to Weaken Fossil Fuel Phaseout
“I hope Working Group III has the courage to actually call for the elimination of fossil fuels production and use within a Paris agreement compliant timeline,” said one scientist.
By Kenny Stancil, Common Dreams
April 4, 2022

The publication of the third and final part of the United Nations’ latest comprehensive climate assessment, originally scheduled for early Monday morning, was postponed by several hours after a contentious weekend of negotiations in which wealthy governments attempted to weaken statements about green financing for low-income nations and fossil fuel-producing countries objected to unequivocal language about the need to quickly ditch coal, oil, and gas.

The landmark report by Working Group III of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)—written by dozens of climate scientists from around the world who synthesized the past eight years of relevant research—is expected to call for a rapid global phaseout of fossil fuels to avoid the planetary emergency’s most dire consequences.

However, a roughly 40-page “summary for policymakers”—a key reference point for governments—was edited with input from U.N. member states. Although it was expected to be finalized on Friday and published early Monday morning, diplomats continued to debate the contents of the document for hours after their Sunday deadline, pushing its release back by several hours.

“One issue is the fundamental, underlying declaration that the world has to get off fossil fuels as quickly as possible,” an unnamed source told CNN on Monday, declining to identify specific nations. “[These objections are] coming from countries with economic interests, from countries that are prioritizing that above what is clearly a global imperative.”

“Scientists want to send the extra-clear message that what needs to happen next is to get off fossil fuels to cut emissions as quickly as possible in this decade,” the source added.
» Read article    

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

for rent
Massachusetts apartment retrofit offers model for multifamily energy savings

The owners of a Fall River apartment complex spent two years tightening building envelopes, replacing heating and cooling systems, and installing rooftop solar panels. Now, they hope to replicate the success elsewhere.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
April 5, 2022

A Massachusetts apartment complex has nearly completed an extensive and challenging clean energy overhaul, a process that planners say helped create a playbook for tackling difficult multifamily retrofits.

The owners of the South Winds Apartment Community in Fall River, a small city on the Rhode Island border, spent two years developing and executing a plan to tighten the envelopes of the complex’s 39 buildings, replace climate control systems with heat pumps, and install solar panels on every available rooftop. The changes are expected to avoid more than 3,800 tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year — equivalent to taking 750 cars off the road — and cut energy costs by 80%.

And the project is just the beginning for Taurus Investment Holdings, the real estate firm that owns the development.

“It all started with South Winds — it’s our flagship project where we really learned how to implement our process,” said Chris Gray, chief technology officer for RENU Communities, a subsidiary of Taurus that executes energy retrofits at the firm’s properties. “We have since undertaken numerous other properties and we have about 3,000 apartment units in our pipeline.”

[…] BlueWave Solar of Boston was brought in to install solar panels on every available roof, a process that presented so many obstacles that it wasn’t clear it could even be done at first.

[…] It was a major investment of time, [Alan Robertson, managing director of solar development at BlueWave] said, but the effort has set a precedent that he hopes will pave the way for more ambitious apartment projects in the future.

“There are a ton of multifamily complexes that were set up similar to this that I think a lot of developers just shy away from,” Robertson said. “Now we have an approved project with the [Department of Energy Resources] that can be a playbook for others.”

Figuring it all out despite the challenges was important to Taurus for reasons both ethical and financial, Gray said. Two of the company founders are from Germany and brought a European-style energy-conscious ethos to the business from the beginning. That mindset has continued to this day.

At the same time, Gray said, it is clear that reducing energy use now will save money in the long run. Already RENU has started work on two more apartment complex retrofits, one in Phoenix, Arizona, and another in Orlando, Florida. More such projects are expected to follow.

“We think this is going to be a requirement of real estate owners going forward,” Gray said, “so we’re trying to get ahead of the curve.”
» Read article    

insulation installer
Biden administration lines up $3 billion so low-income families can retrofit their homes
The move will affect nearly a half million households and lower greenhouse gas emissions
By Julia Kane, Grist
April 1, 2022

Low-income families will be able to lower their utility bills with $3.16 billion in funding for home retrofits made available by the Biden administration on Wednesday. The move will also help the U.S. reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The funding, approved as part of the infrastructure bill that Congress passed last year, will flow to states, tribes, and territories through the federal Weatherization Assistance Program, or WAP.

The surge in federal dollars means that the program will be able to retrofit about 450,000 homes by installing insulation, sealing leaks, upgrading appliances to more energy-efficient models, and replacing fossil fuel-powered heating systems with cleaner, electric options. That’s a significant increase; in recent years, the program has retrofitted about 38,000 homes annually.

The boost to WAP comes amidst an embargo on Russian oil, soaring energy prices, and rising inflation — circumstances strikingly similar to those when WAP was created in the 1970s. Congress authorized WAP in 1976, just a few years after the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries imposed an oil embargo against the U.S., causing energy prices to spike and inflation to climb. Lawmakers reasoned that one way to achieve energy independence was to reduce energy demand by making buildings more efficient.
» Read article       

CCHPs
Three More Manufacturers Added to Cold Climate Heat Pump Technology Challenge
DOE created the challenge to accelerate deployment of cold climate heat pump (CCHP) technologies.
By Logan Caswell, HPAC
February 18, 2022

After successfully launching the Cold Climate Heat Pump Technology Challenge this past May, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has added three new manufacturers to the initiative, launched in partnership with Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

[…] The nine HVAC manufacturers, in partnering with DOE, NRCan, and the EPA, along with States and other efficiency program and utility stakeholders, will demonstrate the performance of prototypical products and launch field demonstrations and pilot programs to accelerate adoption. Commercialization of products could come as early as 2024.

The next generation of cold climate heat pumps developed under this challenge will have:

  • Increased performance at cold temperatures
  • Increased heating capacity at lower ambient temperatures
  • More efficiency across broader range of operating conditions
  • Demand flexibility (advanced controls to adjust usage on demand)

The DOE initially launched the Cold Climate Heat Pump Challenge as part of its Initiative for Better Energy, Emissions, and Equity (E3 Initiative). The E3 Initiative advances the research, development, and national deployment of clean heating and cooling systems that include heat pumps, advanced water heaters, low-to-no global warming potential refrigerants, and smarter HVAC diagnostic tools in residential and commercial buildings.
» Read article     
» Read about the DOE’s Residential Cold-Climate Heat Pump Technology Challenge

» More about energy efficiency

ENERGY STORAGE

storage graphic
Lithium-ion roadblocks drive development of US-based alternatives for grid battery storage
By Elizabeth McCarthy, Utility Dive
April 5, 2022

There is a growing focus on emerging battery technologies that use domestic minerals and elements because supply chain constraints are impeding lithium-ion battery storage. According to university, government and industry officials, alternate battery chemistries must and can become cost-competitive.

To help meet growing decarbonization goals, preferred alternatives to lithium-ion need to be long-duration, with at least 10 hours of output, and have minimal or low toxicity, experts agreed at an April 1 session of MIT’s 2022 Energy Conference.

Emerging grid storage technologies in the running include sodium and iron-air batteries, ones using stacks of retired electric vehicle car batteries with considerable life remaining, and those reusing metals from recycled EV batteries.
» Read article       

» More about energy storage

MODERNIZING THE GRID

outdated
Grid operator urges slower transition on renewables
Seeks approval from FERC for 2-year extension of pricing rule
By Bruce Mohl, CommonWealth Magazine
April 5, 2022

THE NEW ENGLAND power grid operator filed a proposal with federal regulators on Monday seeking more time to come up with a system for incorporating clean energy into the region’s electricity markets.

The grid operator, known as ISO-New England, asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for permission to put off until 2025 plans to do away with a 2013 pricing rule intended to prevent subsidized clean energy projects from unfairly squeezing other power generators (most of whom burn fossil fuels) out of the market. ISO-New England had previously planned to do away with the pricing rule next year.

In a statement accompanying the filing, ISO-New England said a longer transition period is warranted because it “will create less risk to the region than an immediate market change could evoke.”

Environmental advocates are opposing the move. “This decision throws an unnecessary lifeline to gas generators that could otherwise be priced out of the market by cost-effective clean energy,” said Melissa Birchard, senior regulatory attorney at Acadia Center.

The arcane issue is attracting attention because it is another example of the tension between those eager to abandon fossil fuels in a bid to deal with climate change and those wary of doing so too quickly out of fear of market disruptions.

ISO-New England oversees the region’s wholesale markets for electricity. In one of those markets, the forward capacity market, ISO-New England forecasts how much electricity the region will need three years in the future and then encourages power generators to bid to supply it. Power plant operators use the promise of this future revenue to build, maintain, and operate their plants.

The forward capacity market is under stress because states like Massachusetts, operating outside the market, have ordered utilities to purchase offshore wind and hydroelectricity, with their ratepayers picking up the cost of the projects.

The challenge for ISO-New England is how to incorporate these ratepayer-subsidized renewable energy projects into the forward capacity market without undermining it. Letting the renewable energy projects into the market could squeeze out other generators needed for the system’s future reliability. Keeping the renewable energy projects out of the market could mean the market may be procuring more power than it actually needs.

[…] Officials at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission have been pressuring ISO New England to do away with its minimum offer price rule. Their chief complaint is that the rule is too broad, applying to all new resources and not just those resources capable of manipulating market prices.

“The minimum offer price rule appears to act as a barrier to competition, insulating incumbent generators from having to compete with certain new resources that may be able to provide capacity at lower cost,” said FERC commissioners Richard Glick and Allison Clements in a filing in January.

Now FERC will have to decide whether to grant more time to ISO-New England to do away with the minimum price rule or demand swifter action.
» Read article    

» More about modernizing the grid

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

commutersMajor automakers back tough U.S. vehicle emissions rules in court battle
By David Shepardson, Reuters
March 30, 2022

Major U.S. and foreign automakers on Wednesday backed the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) new tougher vehicle emissions regulations in a court challenge brought by some states and ethanol groups.

Texas and 15 other states have challenged the EPA’s vehicle emissions rules that reverse a rollback of tailpipe rules issued under former President Donald Trump.

The Alliance for Automotive Innovation, representing nearly all major automakers, said in a court filing the EPA rule “will challenge the industry” but provides automakers with “critically important flexibilities.”

Automakers, the group added, want to ensure “critical regulatory provisions supporting electric vehicle technology are maintained.”

The states are joined by some corn and soybean growers associations, the American Fuel And Petrochemical Manufacturers and others. Corn growers, a Valero Energy subsidiary and other ethanol producers said the new EPA rules revising emission requirements through 2026 “effectively mandate the production and sale of electric cars rather than cars powered by internal combustion engines.”
» Read article       

» More about clean transportation

GAS UTILITIES

LNG FSRU
Natural gas investments fuel climate concerns
By Colin A. Young State House News Service
April 4, 2022

BOSTON, Mass. (SHNS)–The tensions between what some key lawmakers would like to see Massachusetts do enroute to achieving net-zero carbon emissions and the proposals in a utility-driven report on the role natural gas could play in decarbonization were on full display Monday at the Senate Committee on Global Warming and Climate Change.

Unhappy with the process and the strategies described in the recently-filed Future of Gas report, chairwoman Sen. Cynthia Creem said the Legislature “may have to intervene” in the Baker administration’s study of the future of natural gas as Massachusetts strives to get to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. “In my view, reaching net-zero emission requires that the future of gas is largely a future without gas,” Creem, the Senate’s majority leader and chairwoman of the committee, said.

Monday’s hearing revolved around the Future of Gas report, which utility companies put together with consultants as part of a Department of Public Utilities exploration of how natural gas fits into Massachusetts’ energy future and whether the resource might help or hinder the state’s emissions reduction efforts.

State law requires that Massachusetts reduce its emissions by 25 percent by 2020 (preliminary estimates show a 28.6 percent reduction), by 50 percent by 2030, by 75 percent by 2040 and by at least 85 percent by 2050, with tag-along policies to get the state to net-zero emissions by the middle of the century. All reductions are calculated against the baseline of 1990 emissions levels. “However, Massachusetts is currently doubling down on natural gas through the Gas System Enhancement Plan program, known as the GSEP program,” Creem said. “Under GSEP, ratepayers will pay $20 billion over the next few decades to replace gas pipelines that are inconsistent with our climate mandates.”

A number of people invited to testify Monday echoed Creem’s argument, that ratepayers are going to be on the hook for new gas infrastructure that could become obsolete in the coming decades and that gas utilities are using the GSEP program meant to remedy gas leaks to instead prepare their systems to handle newer fuels like renewable hydrogen or biogas in an attempt to stay in business through a transition away from natural gas. “There’s a stark binary facing us right now,” Caitlin Peale Sloan, vice president at the Conservation Law Foundation, said during Monday’s hearing. “Are we going to start to ramp down gas utility infrastructure and invest the billions left to be spent under GSEP into sustainable solutions with low ongoing costs and operating costs? Or are we going to plow ahead and put billions more into the gas system?”
» Read article       

» More about gas utilities

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Equinor graphic
Ottawa Issues ‘Slap in the Face’ to Climate Science, Approves Bay du Nord Offshore Oil Megaproject
By Mitchell Beer, The Energy Mix
April 6, 2022

[…] In the weeks leading up to Wednesday’s announcement, voices in Newfoundland and Labrador stressed the economic gains that Equinor has promised if the project goes ahead, in a province facing dire hardship. Without Bay du Nord, “Newfoundland and Labrador is going to suffer for a long, long time,” Brigus, Newfoundland Mayor Shears Mercer told CP. “We’re broke. The province is broke.”

But mid-way through a week that had already seen the IPCC report and the Bay du Nord decision, the reaction through the day Wednesday ranged from rage to tears.

“For the first time in my life I had to choke down tears talking to a journalist about the Canadian government approving the Bay du Nord project. Doubling down on new fossil production while it could not be clearer this is the wrong thing to do is nothing else than heartbreaking,” tweeted Caroline Brouillette, national climate policy manager at Climate Action Network-Canada.

“It hurts to see the work of so many people inside and outside of government undermined by expanding fossil fuel infrastructure, yet again,” Brouillette added. “Moments like these show how inadequate our governments’ (even the most ‘progressive’ ones) response to the crisis are. How unwilling @JustinTrudeau is to be honest with Canadians about the need to plan for a future climate and economy that is safe and sustainable.”

Trudeau “is doubling down on the myth that Canada can be a climate leader while continuing to produce and export vast amounts of climate-destroying fossil fuels,” she added in a release. “The longer our leaders postpone being honest with Canadians about the incompatibility of increased oil production and a climate- and jobs-safe future, the rougher the awakening will be. Today’s decision is a failure of courage.”

“The Government of Canada’s decision to approve a new billion-barrel mega-oil project is a slap in the face to climate scientists, communities across Canada, and the world impacted by the climate crisis,” said Julia Levin, senior climate and energy program manager at Environmental Defence Canada. “The planet is on fire and the science is crystal clear. Approving Bay du Nord is another leap towards an unlivable future. The decision is tantamount to denying that climate change is real and threatens our very existence.”
» Read article       

Baytown refinery
ExxonMobil Announces $10 Billion Oil Investment the Same Day IPCC Signals End for Fossil Fuels
The oil giant’s massive plan to drill in Guyana’s waters comes as the UN Secretary General warns of fossil fuels as a “blight on investment portfolios.”
By Sharon Kelly, DeSmog Blog
April 5, 2022

“Investing in new fossil fuel infrastructure is moral and economic madness,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres said as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released part of its latest report on Monday. This scientific summary, focused on how the world can cut greenhouse gas emissions, warns of the extraordinary harm to all of humanity caused by fossil fuels and the need for a rapid energy transition away from oil, gas, and coal, calling for meaningful changes over the next three years. “Such investments will soon be stranded assets, a blot on the landscape, and a blight on investment portfolios.”

That same day, oil giant ExxonMobil made an announcement of its own: a $10 billion final investment decision for an oil and gas development project in the South American nation of Guyana that the company said would allow it to add a quarter of a million barrels of oil a day to its production in 2025.

The IPCC’s call to action was urgent. “We are on a fast track to climate disaster,” Guterres said, reciting a list of consequences that have become all too familiar over the past few years — and warning of worse to come. “Major cities under water. Unprecedented heatwaves. Terrifying storms. Widespread water shortages. The extinction of a million species of plants and animals. This is not fiction or exaggeration. It is what science tells us will result from our current energy policies.”

The IPCC’s report marked the end of an era for fossil fuel producers, some observers said, establishing that, as The Guardian put it, the world has seen “a century of rising emissions [that] must end before 2025 to keep global heating under 1.5C, beyond which severe impacts will increase further, hurting billions of people.”

The disconnect between the two announcements, suggesting two markedly different trajectories for 2025, seems all the more glaring given that ExxonMobil itself has been an active participant in the IPCC “since its inception in 1988,” as the company wrote in a 2021 report. Exxon’s announcement that it plans to continue to pour billions of dollars into nonetheless expanding fossil fuel production — not just in Guyana but around the world — sends a strong message about the direction the company plans to steer, despite the warnings flowing from the IPCC, with consequences for us all.
» Read article     

» More about fossil fuels

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

recoil
How the Recoil From Russian Gas Is Scrambling World Markets
Europe wants 50 billion cubic meters of additional natural gas, but supplies are tight. Prices will rise and other regions might have to do with less.
By Stanley Reed, New York Times
April 4, 2022

Just months ago, Germany’s plans to build a terminal for receiving shiploads of liquefied natural gas were in disarray. Would-be developers were not convinced customers would make enough use of a facility that can cost billions of dollars. And concerns about climate change undermined the future of a fossil fuel like natural gas.

Perceptions have changed. After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the Kremlin’s threats to sever fuel supplies, the government in Berlin has decided it needs these massive facilities — as many as four of them — to wean the country off Russian gas and act as a lifeline in case Moscow turns off the taps. The cost to the taxpayer now seems to be a secondary consideration.

Most of the gas that Europe buys from Russia to power its electrical utilities is delivered through pipelines, over land or under the sea. Liquefied natural gas provides another way to move gas great distances when pipelines are not an option. Natural gas is chilled to a liquid and loaded on special tankers. It can then be transported to any port with equipment to turn it back into a gas and pump it into the power grid.

“We are aiming to build L.N.G. terminals in Germany,” Robert Habeck, the country’s economy minister, recently said before talks with potential gas suppliers. Mr. Habeck is a politician from the environmentalist Greens but is finding, somewhat to his dismay, that Germany needs the fossil fuel.

[…] Europe’s scramble raises the prospect of a global battle over supplies in a market that analysts say has little slack. Asia, not Europe, is usually the prime destination for liquefied natural gas. China, Japan and South Korea were the leading buyers last year.

The additional gas that Europe is targeting would add around 10 percent to global demand, creating a tug of war with other countries for fuel. That prospect could mean that gas prices that have touched record levels in recent months will remain high, prolonging misery for consumers and squeezing industry.
» Read article       

» More about LNG

PLASTICS, HEALTH, AND THE ENVIRONMENT

microplastic body burden
Microplastics found deep in lungs of living people for first time
Particles discovered in tissue of 11 out of 13 patients undergoing surgery, with polypropylene and PET most common
By Damian Carrington, The Guardian
April 6, 2022

Microplastic pollution has been discovered lodged deep in the lungs of living people for the first time. The particles were found in almost all the samples analysed.

The scientists said microplastic pollution was now ubiquitous across the planet, making human exposure unavoidable and meaning “there is an increasing concern regarding the hazards” to health.

Samples were taken from tissue removed from 13 patients undergoing surgery and microplastics were found in 11 cases. The most common particles were polypropylene, used in plastic packaging and pipes, and PET, used in bottles. Two previous studies had found microplastics at similarly high rates in lung tissue taken during autopsies.

People were already known to breathe in the tiny particles, as well as consuming them via food and water. Workers exposed to high levels of microplastics are also known to have developed disease.

Microplastics were detected in human blood for the first time in March, showing the particles can travel around the body and may lodge in organs. The impact on health is as yet unknown. But researchers are concerned as microplastics cause damage to human cells in the laboratory and air pollution particles are already known to enter the body and cause millions of early deaths a year.

“We did not expect to find the highest number of particles in the lower regions of the lungs, or particles of the sizes we found,” said Laura Sadofsky at Hull York medical school in the UK,a senior author of the study. “It is surprising as the airways are smaller in the lower parts of the lungs and we would have expected particles of these sizes to be filtered out or trapped before getting this deep.”
» Blog editor’s note: This article is human-centered, but keep in mind that the negative health effects of microplastics in lungs, other organs, and blood apply equally to every other creature. Aside from the fact that one species has no right to poison every other species, we’re messing with a complex web of life that ultimately sustains us.
» Read article       

» More about plastics, health, and the environment

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Weekly News Check-In 4/1/22

banner 17

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 2/25/22

banner 11

Welcome back.

The invasion of Ukraine is underway, and Russia is deploying access to oil and gas for advantage over that country (and Europe more broadly) just as brutally as missiles, bombs, and bullets. In a perfect world, we would have nearly completed our transition to clean energy by now – possibly avoiding this conflict altogether. In a rational world, this violence would focus and strengthen everyone’s resolve to accelerate the current sluggish pace of change. But we’re human – neither perfect nor even particularly rational – and so this moment presents a boon to the fossil fuel industry. As extraction sharply increases and windfall profits roll in, the continuing rise of global emissions is sowing seeds of future conflicts.

But there’s hopeful news too. Legal actions against fossil fuel polluters and infrastructure are finally forcing regulators to focus on environmental and climate impacts. The broadening divestment movement is calling out corporate conflicts of interest and operating with increasing coordination and sophistication. And cities like Boston are driving opportunities for greening the economy into communities that have previously been left out.

Progress is also happening in energy efficiency, where air-source heat pumps are proving they can keep homes comfortable through frosty New England winters. Advances in energy storage using non-toxic, abundant materials is hastening the day when renewables + storage can entirely support the electric grid. And we’re finding creative ways to deploy solar arrays that provide benefits beyond power generation.

Meanwhile, so-called hard to decarbonize industries like steel and cement could one day use “heat batteries” charged up from wind and solar sources to deliver high-temperature, zero-emissions process heat. This suggests an even greener (and cheaper) solution than using hydrogen for industrial processes.

All those good things are happening because people are paying attention and staying involved. And there’s plenty to do. Pipelines continue to be proposed and permitted, grid operators still resist modernizing, and some of the biggest polluters are pushing false solutions like carbon capture and storage as an excuse to extend their ride on business as usual. Cities attempting to ban gas hookups in new construction are meeting resistance from the gas industry and their Republican enablers. But state utility regulators are – at least in some cases – starting to take a hard look at the need to decarbonize the natural gas distribution system, to the point of paring it back in favor of building electrification.

We’ll close with a look at the effect of plastics in the environment, and check progress on the UN’s global plastics treaty currently being drafted in Nairobi, Kenya. Fiercely opposed by the fossil fuel and chemical industries, the limitation of single-use plastics is hugely popular all over the world.

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

SCOTUS on DAPL
US supreme court rejects Dakota Access pipeline appeal
Pipeline operator sought to overturn 2020 legal victory striking down a key federal permit
By Nina Lakhani, The Guardian
February 22, 2022

The US supreme court has rejected a case by the Dakota Access oil pipeline operator to avoid a legally mandated environmental review, in a major victory for tribes and environmentalists campaigning to permanently shut down the polluting energy project.

Energy Transfer, the pipeline operator, had sought to overturn a legal victory won by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in 2020 that struck down a key federal permit that violated the National Environmental Policy Act (Nepa).

On Tuesday the US supreme court rejected the company’s bid to challenge the 2020 ruling, which required the US army corps of engineers to conduct a comprehensive environmental impact statement (EIS).

As a result, the lower court’s decision remains intact and the army corps must complete a review of the pipeline’s route underneath Lake Oahe, which straddles the border of North Dakota and South Dakota, that complies with Nepa. Indigenous communities rely on the lake, which they consider sacred, for drinking water and food.

The ruling is a huge victory for North Dakota tribes including the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe which rallied support from across the world and sued the US government in a campaign to stop the environmentally risky pipeline being built on tribal lands.

It signals the end of the litigation road for the Texan energy company, but the pipeline, known as DAPL and open since 2017, will continue to operate as the review is carried out.
» Read article      

» More about protests and actions       

PIPELINES

pipe dreams 2022
Global Gas Pipeline Boom Poses Climate, Financial Disaster
“The fact that nearly half-a-trillion dollars of gas pipelines are in development makes no sense economically as many of these projects will become stranded assets as the world transitions to renewables.”
By Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams
February 22, 2022

As campaigners and scientists continue to demand keeping fossil fuels in the ground, an analysis on Tuesday revealed the incredible amount of gas development humanity has planned, despite the climate and financial risks.

The new report—entitled Pipe Dreams 2022: Stranded assets and magical thinking in the proposed global gas pipeline build-out—was authored by a trio of experts at the San Francisco-based Global Energy Monitor (GEM).

“A slowdown in gas pipeline development in 2021 was, unfortunately, more about Covid than a recognition that gas is contributing to the climate crisis,” said report co-author Baird Langenbrunner, a research analyst at GEM, in a statement.

“Looking ahead, the fact that nearly half-a-trillion dollars of gas pipelines are in development makes no sense economically,” he warned, “as many of these projects will become stranded assets as the world transitions to renewable.”

Stranded assets, as Carbon Tracker explains, are “assets that turn out to be worth less than expected as a result of changes associated with the energy transition.”

The GEM report states that “after a Covid-19-related drop in pipeline commissionings in 2021, the gas industry and gas-positive countries led by China, India, Russia, Australia, the United States, and Brazil are pushing ahead with plans to commission tens of thousands of kilometers of gas pipelines in 2022.”

The analysis projects that the planned expansion of the global gas pipeline network—70,889 kilometers (km) or 44,048 miles in construction and another 122,477 km or 76,104 miles in pre-construction development—creates a $485.8 billion stranded asset risk, in addition to jeopardizing the chances of meeting the Paris climate agreement’s goals.
» Read article     
» Read the GEM report

business as usual project
Eversource establishes gas reliability project plan, despite concerns
By Sarah Heinonen and Matt Conway, The Reminder
February 18, 2022

Eversource Energy introduced a gas reliability project during the latter half of 2021, with the proposed structure potentially adding a new point of delivery system in Longmeadow.

The proposed project would also bring the installation of a steel mainline between the new Longmeadow location and the gas line’s existing regulator station in Springfield, as well as upgrades to the existing gas line connected to an Agawam regulator station. As Eversource presents to the central communities involved, the project is already garnering an array of different perspectives.

Springfield’s Sustainability and Environment Committee heard the first Eversource presentation of the project during an Oct. 14 meeting. Eversource Energy’s Community Relations and Economic Development Specialist Joseph Mitchell showcased a presentation detailing, according to Eversource, the project’s necessity, stressing that the proposed point of delivery system will ensure that residents would not experience service outages if one of the points of delivery systems are affected by extreme weather or other disruptions.

“This is a reliability project, not an expansion project. We want to mitigate the risk in the greater Springfield area,” said Mitchell. Before finalizing the new point of delivery system’s plans, Mitchell presented different deviations of the pipeline’s potential route. Eversource’s shortest and preferred route would cost $22.7 million, while the company’s largest route costs $32.7 million.

In the aftermath of the presentation, Chairman of the Sustainability and Environment Committee and City Councilor At-Large Jesse Lederman expressed his perspective on the project by calling for an Independent Cost/Benefit Analysis from the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities (DPU). The councilor explained his concerns as a part of his mission to ensure accountability between public utilities and Springfield.

Lederman cited two major reasons for calling for the independent examination. He expressed concern about investing in gas projects as the nation steadily embraces renewable energy sources while also questioning the viability of the proposed point of delivery system as a necessary addition.

“If we know that the benefit is not really there, then I think you’re going to have a strong case for the DPU to push back on this proposal,” said Lederman in an interview with Reminder Publishing. The councilor shared that the reliability project started as a rumor when Columbia Gas worked with the city before being acquired by Eversource in 2020.
» Read article      

» More about pipelines

DIVESTMENT

Elsevier conflictedRevealed: leading climate research publisher helps fuel oil and gas drilling
Elsevier’s work with fossil fuel companies ‘drags us towards disaster’, climate researcher says
By Amy Westervelt, The Guardian
February 24, 2022

Scientists working with one of the world’s largest climate research publishers say they’re increasingly alarmed that the company works with the fossil fuel industry to help increase oil and gas drilling, the Guardian can reveal.

Elsevier, a Dutch company behind many renowned peer-reviewed scientific journals, including the Lancet and Global Environmental Change, is also one of the top publishers of books aimed at expanding fossil fuel production.

For more than a decade, the company has supported the energy industry’s efforts to optimize oil and gas extraction. It commissions authors, editors and journal advisory board members who are employees at top oil firms. Elsevier also markets some of its research portals and data services directly to the oil and gas industry to help “increase the odds of exploration success”.

Several former and current employees say that for the past year, dozens of workers have spoken out internally and at company-wide town halls to urge Elsevier to reconsider its relationship with the fossil fuel industry.

“When I first started, I heard a lot about the company’s climate commitments,” said a former Elsevier journal editor who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity. “Eventually I just realized it was all marketing, which is really upsetting because Elsevier has published all the research it needs to know exactly what to do if it wants to make a meaningful difference.”

What makes Elsevier’s ties to the fossil fuel industry particularly alarming to its critics is that it is one of a handful of companies that publish peer-reviewed climate research. Scientists and academics say they’re concerned that Elsevier’s conflicting business interests risk undermining their work.
» Read article     

loyalty
The campus divestment movement has a sophisticated new legal strategy
Students at five universities have launched a coordinated legal campaign against fossil fuel investments.
By Emily Pontecorvo, Grist
February 16, 2022

Students and faculty have been asking universities to divest from fossil fuels for more than a decade now. But what started as a campaign to erode the industry’s “social license to operate” is developing more sophisticated arguments about fiduciary duty and prudent investing.

On Wednesday, student divestment activists from Yale, Princeton, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford, and Vanderbilt filed legal complaints with their respective states’ attorney generals’ offices accusing their schools of violating the Uniform Prudent Management of Institutional Funds Act, or UPMIFA. Every state in the U.S. except for Pennsylvania has passed a version of UPMIFA, which establishes investing principles that nonprofit endowment managers must follow. The students hope the coordinated action will not only pressure their own schools into divesting but potentially set a new legal precedent for all institutional investors.

“We didn’t just write this 80-page document to, like, make Yale scared,” said Molly Weiner, a freshman at Yale and organizer with the Yale Endowment Justice Coalition, a campus activist group. “If Attorney General William Tong does decide to open an investigation into fossil fuel investments, that means that in all of Connecticut, there is a clear imperative for pension funds and all other sort of institutional endowments with charitable statuses to divest. And it sets a powerful precedent for other states as well.”

While the law varies slightly by state, UPMIFA generally binds institutional endowment managers to consider the “charitable purpose” of the institution while investing, to invest with “prudence,” and to invest with “loyalty.”
» Read article      

» More about divestment

GREENING THE ECONOMY

Davo Jefferson
Boston will put young people to work as part of city’s Green New Deal
By Dharna Noor, Boston Globe
February 23, 2022

Moving to a new green economy could bring thousands of new jobs to Boston, but right now, that transition isn’t happening fast enough. An upcoming city initiative aims to speed up the process while ensuring new positions go to those who need them most.

The Youth Green Jobs Corps will provide green job training and placement for unemployed and underemployed Boston residents between the ages of 18 and 30, including formerly incarcerated people. Last week, Mayor Wu announced the program will be led by Davo Jefferson, a longtime social justice reform advocate who says he “gets a charge like nothing else” out of helping people find jobs.

“This is my life’s passion, to help folks prepare for opportunities that they may have difficulty preparing for on their own,” he said.

Jefferson has spent the past 20 years helping kids, young adults, and re-entering citizens find work of all kinds, from entry-level finance roles to jobs in warehouses. Bringing those skills to the green economy, he said, “just makes sense.”

“This is an emerging field with tremendous growth potential for livable wage employment,” he said.

Jefferson says the new program will accelerate the transition to an economy that is not only more climate-friendly, but also fairer. Right now, green jobs aren’t equally accessible to people of all backgrounds. Employees of both the National Park Service and the solar industry, for instance, are overwhelmingly white.

“Marginalized communities are always last to get a seat at the table when these types of opportunities are available,” he said. “This will give the people from those communities a chance to get their foot in the door.”
» Read article      

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

Gelsenkirchen coal plant
Climate Fears on Back Burner as Fuel Costs Soar and Russia Crisis Deepens
Energy security has gained prominence while the conflict in Ukraine raises concerns over the possible interruption in the supply of oil and natural gas.
By Patricia Cohen, New York Times
February 23, 2022

It was only three months ago that world leaders met at the Glasgow climate summit and made ambitious pledges to reduce fossil fuel use. The perils of a warming planet are no less calamitous now, but the debate about the critically important transition to renewable energy has taken a back seat to energy security as Russia — Europe’s largest energy supplier — threatens to start a major confrontation with the West over Ukraine while oil prices are climbing toward $100 a barrel.

For more than a decade, policy discussions in Europe and beyond about cutting back on gas, oil and coal emphasized safety and the environment, at the expense of financial and economic considerations, said Lucia van Geuns, a strategic energy adviser at the Hague Center for Strategic Studies. Now, it’s the reverse.

“Gas prices became very high, and all of a sudden security of supply and price became the main subject of public debate,” she said.

The renewed emphasis on energy independence and national security may encourage policymakers to backslide on efforts to decrease the use of fossil fuels that pump deadly greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Already, skyrocketing prices have spurred additional production and consumption of fuels that contribute to global warming. Coal imports to the European Union in January rose more than 56 percent from the previous year.

In Britain, the Coal Authority gave a mine in Wales permission last month to increase output by 40 million tons over the next two decades. In Australia, there are plans to open or expand more coking coal mines. And China, which has traditionally made energy security a priority, has further stepped up its coal production and approved three new billion-dollar coal mines this week.

“Get your rig count up,” Jennifer Granholm, the U.S. energy secretary, said in December, urging American oil producers to raise their output. Shale companies in Oklahoma, Colorado and other states are looking to resurrect drilling that had ceased because there is suddenly money to be made. And this month, Exxon Mobil announced plans to increase spending on new oil wells and other projects.

Ian Goldin, a professor of globalization and development at the University of Oxford, warned that high energy prices could lead to more exploration of traditional fossil fuels. “Governments will want to deprioritize renewables and sustainables, which would be exactly the wrong response,” he said.
» Read article      

western slope fog
Climate change is intensifying Earth’s water cycle at twice the predicted rate, research shows
Rising temperatures pushing much more freshwater towards poles than climate models previously estimated
By Donna Lu, The Guardian
February 23, 2022

Rising global temperatures have shifted at least twice the amount of freshwater from warm regions towards the Earth’s poles than previously thought as the water cycle intensifies, according to new analysis.

Climate change has intensified the global water cycle by up to 7.4% – compared to previous modelling estimates of 2% to 4%, research published in the journal Nature suggests.

The water cycle describes the movement of water on Earth – it evaporates, rises into the atmosphere, cools and condenses into rain or snow and falls again to the surface.

“When we learn about the water cycle, traditionally we think of it as some unchanging process which is constantly filling and refilling our dams, our lakes, and our water sources,” the study’s lead author, Dr Taimoor Sohail of the University of New South Wales, said.

But scientists have long known that rising global temperatures are intensifying the global water cycle, with dry subtropical regions likely to get drier as freshwater moves towards wet regions.

Last August, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s sixth assessment report concluded that climate change will cause long-term changes to the water cycle, resulting in stronger and more frequent droughts and extreme rainfall events.

Sohail said the volume of extra freshwater that had already been pushed to the poles as a result of an intensifying water cycle was far greater than previous climate models suggest.

“Those dire predictions that were laid out in the IPCC will potentially be even more intense,” he said.
» Read article
» Read the study

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

high energy bills
Will rising gas prices hasten the switch to renewables?
The soaring cost of energy is top of mind for consumers worldwide. How will the increase affect climate and energy policy?
By Dave Keating, Energy Monitor
February 21, 2022

Energy prices are soaring, chiefly driven by a sharp increase in the price of natural gas. Few places are feeling this more acutely than Europe, which is heavily reliant on gas imports for both heat and electricity. Natural gas in Europe now costs as much as €150 per megawatt hour (MWh), compared with an average of €49/MWh last year. During a visit to Washington, D.C. earlier this month, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said one way to ride out the storm is to accelerate the energy transition toward renewables – but is there any evidence this is happening in the short term?

The good news, according to a recent report by climate think tank Ember, is gas power generation is being replaced with renewable energy because renewables have become the cheapest form of electricity by far. Last year saw a decline in fossil fuels’ share of electricity production in the EU, from 39% in 2019 to 37% in 2021. Renewable electricity has had an average annual growth of 44 terawatt-hours over the past two years, and more than half of that new wind and solar power replaced gas plants.

The bad news is those renewables were until now going to replace coal instead of gas. From 2011 to 2019, more than 80% of new renewables came at the expense of coal, according to the Ember report. Because there are not yet enough renewables online to replace both, that means the decline in coal is slowing because there are less renewables available to replace it – they are busy replacing gas – and yet coal is much more emissions-intensive than gas.

“The gas crisis has really demonstrated that Europe needs to get serious about renewables deployment,” says Charles Moore from Ember. “Europe has been focused on coal, but not gas. The gas crisis is a big wake-up call. We need to get off both coal and gas by 2035.”
» Read article      

Amsterdam wind farm
US offshore wind auction attracts record-setting bids
The auction marks the US effort to bolster renewable energy development projects – it has lagged behind Europe.
By Al Jazeera
February 23, 2022

The largest ever US sale of offshore wind development rights – for areas off the coasts of New York and New Jersey – attracted record-setting bids on Wednesday from companies seeking to be a part of President Joe Biden’s plan to create a booming new domestic industry.

It is the first offshore wind lease sale under Biden, who has made expansion of offshore wind a cornerstone of his strategy to address global warming and decarbonise the US electricity grid by 2035, all while creating thousands of jobs.

With bidding still under way, the auction was on track to easily top the $405m US offshore wind auction record set in 2018, according to updates posted on the US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s (BOEM) website.

The auction’s scale marks a major step forward for offshore wind power in the United States, which has lagged European nations in developing the technology. Currently, the US has just two small offshore wind facilities, off the coasts of Rhode Island and Virginia, along with two additional commercial-scale projects recently approved for development.

BOEM, which has not held an auction for wind leases since 2018, is offering 488,201 acres (197,568 hectares) in shallow waters between New York’s Long Island and New Jersey, an area known as the New York Bight.
» Read article      

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

Martin HP
Granite Geek: Heat pumps don’t seem like they’d work here but they’re the future of home heating – and air conditioning
By DAVID BROOKS, Concord Monitor
February 21, 2022

Heat pumps are getting attention because one of the main slogans for those trying to reduce future climate change is to “electrify everything.”  Electricity can become clean in ways that fossil fuels can never be and electric motors are usually more efficient than internal-combustion motors – and heat pumps are more efficient than fossil-fuel furnaces, often by a factor of three or four. This is why Massachusetts wants to switch 1 million homes from oil or gas to heat pumps by 2030.

So what is a heat pump? (Terrible name, by the way). Just a machine with the same technology as a refrigerator. It absorbs heat in one place by condensing liquids, pumps that liquid somewhere else and then expands it to release the heat.

Most home heat pumps consist of an outdoor compressor that looks like a ground-mounted air conditioning unit, with tubes that go into the building carrying liquid or vapor, generally ending up in wall-mounted units called mini-splits (another terrible name). Those units blast out warm or cool air.

Cool air? One of their huge advantages is that the heat can be moved from indoors to outdoors or the other way around. In other words, they are simultaneously a furnace and an air conditioner.

As New Hampshire’s summers get hotter this is a big selling point, said Austin Atamian, who owns Atamian Heating in Greenland.

“A lot of people call and say hey, I’ve got baseboard hot-water heat and looking to add A.C. When I let them know they can use this for heat and save money. it’s usually a huge perk,” he said. “Generally people are in search of A.C. and the heat is a bonus.”

And before you ask – yes, modern heat pumps can keep us warm even in mid-winter, although they lose efficiency on the coldest nights and cost more to run. In case you doubt this, consider that they are very popular in Sweden, where winters are at least as gnarly as ours.
» Read article      

» More about energy efficiency

BUILDING MATERIALS

hot product
How a high-tech twist on a 19th-century process could clean up steel and cement making
This startup made a heat battery using old-school materials
By Justine Calma, The Verge
February 22, 2022

Greenhouse gas emissions need to virtually disappear within the next few decades to avoid the worst effects of climate change, and the most difficult emissions to erase could come from industries like steel and cement set to play a big role in new, green infrastructure. Wind turbines, for example, are made mostly of steel — but, at least until now, it’s been almost unheard of to make that steel using renewable energy.

That could start to change if a startup developing a “heat battery” can successfully move from the lab to the real world. It’s what Oakland, California-based Rondo Energy aims to do with $22 million in new funding from Bill Gates’ climate investment fund, Breakthrough Energy Ventures, and utility-backed investment firm Energy Impact Partners.

The heat battery is supposed to be able to supply heavy industry with extreme heat generated by renewable energy, a solution that could help clean up the pesky industrial operations that make up about a third of global greenhouse gas emissions. The company thinks its technology can cut down global emissions by 1 percent over the next decade.

Until recently, a lot of efforts to cut planet-heating carbon dioxide emissions have focused on getting the power sector to run on clean energy and then electrifying other sources of pollution like cars and buildings. But that doesn’t necessarily slash pollution that comes from making many construction materials, chemicals, and fertilizers.

Those industries have been called “hard to decarbonize” because they often rely on coal, oil, or gas to fire up kilns or furnaces to extremely high temperatures. Steelmaking, for instance, conventionally involves heating up coal to about 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit. As a result of this dirty process and steel’s ubiquity in construction, the steel industry alone makes up about 8 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

To change that, Rondo Energy has found a new way to use old tricks. Its battery draws on renewable energy to heat up a sort of brick that’s similar to refractory bricks already used in blast furnaces for steel.

Rondo Energy CEO John O’Donnell describes his company’s battery as a large “insulated shoebox full of brick.” Electricity heats the brick rapidly. As air passes through the array of bricks, it gets superheated — reaching about 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. That heat can be used directly or turned into high-pressure steam often used in manufacturing.

“Because it’s simple and boring, [the technology] can go to a very large scale with economics driving it and attack a big problem,” O’Donnell tells The Verge.
» Read article      

» More about building materials

ENERGY STORAGE

ESS flow battery
We’re going to need a lot more grid storage. New iron batteries could help.
Flow batteries made from iron, salt, and water promise a nontoxic way to store enough clean energy to use when the sun isn’t shining.
By Dawn Stover, MIT Technology Review
February 23, 2022

One of the first things you see when you visit the headquarters of ESS in Wilsonville, Oregon, is an experimental battery module about the size of a toaster. The company’s founders built it in their lab a decade ago to meet a challenge they knew grid operators around the world would soon face—storing electricity at massive scale.

Unlike today’s lithium-ion batteries, ESS’s design largely relies on materials that are cheap, abundant, and nontoxic: iron, salt, and water. Another difference: while makers of lithium-ion batteries aim to make them small enough to fit inside ever shrinking phones and laptops, each version of the iron battery is bigger than the last.

In fact, what ESS is building today hardly resembles a battery at all. At a loading dock on the back side of the ESS facility, employees are assembling devices that fill entire shipping containers. Each one has enough energy storage capacity to power about 34 US houses for 12 hours.

[…]ESS’s key innovation, though, is not the battery’s size—it’s the chemistry and engineering that allow utilities to bank a lot more energy than is economically feasible with grid-connected lithium-ion batteries, which are currently limited to about four hours of storage.

The iron “flow batteries” ESS is building are just one of several energy storage technologies that are suddenly in demand, thanks to the push to decarbonize the electricity sector and stabilize the climate. As the electric grid starts depending more on intermittent solar and wind power rather than fossil fuels, utilities that just a couple of years ago were looking for batteries to store two to four hours of electricity are now asking for systems that can deliver eight hours or more. Longer-lasting batteries will be required so that electricity is available when people need it, rather than when it’s generated—just as ESS’s founders anticipated.
» Read article      

» More about energy storage

SITING IMPACTS OF RENEWABLES

Turlock irrigation canal
In Parched California, a Project Aims to Save Water and Produce Renewable Energy
Plan calls for building solar canopies over canals, and may be the first project of its kind in the United States
By Dan Gearino, Inside Climate News
February 24, 2022

A project near Modesto, California, would have the double benefit of saving water and generating renewable energy.

The Turlock Irrigation District announced this month that it is building solar electricity-generating canopies over portions of the district’s canal system, working in partnership with a Bay Area start-up, Solar AquaGrid.

A series of canopies would cover more than a mile of canals, going online by 2024 with solar panels that would have a capacity of about 5 megawatts. By shading the sun, the structures would reduce evaporation, leaving more water for the district’s customers. And the cost, estimated at $20 million, is being picked up by the state government.

This is the first demonstration project by Solar AquaGrid, a company that sees the potential to install similar canopies over thousands of miles of canals in California and elsewhere.

Jordan Harris, the company’s CEO, told me that the idea for Solar AquaGrid came from him noticing how California canals were often in direct sunlight, while canals in France are often shaded by canopies of trees.
» Read article      

agrivoltaic pilot
Kenya to use solar panels to boost crops by ‘harvesting the sun twice’
Successful trials found growing crops beneath panels – known as agrivoltaics – reduced water loss and resulted in larger plants
By Geoffrey Kamadi, The Guardian
February 22, 2022

Solar panels are not a new way of providing cheap power across much of the African continent, where there is rarely a shortage of sunshine. But growing crops underneath the panels is, and the process has had such promising trials in Kenya that it will be deployed this week in open-field farms.

Known as agrivoltaics, the technique harvests solar energy twice: where panels have traditionally been used to harness the sun’s rays to generate energy, they are also utilised to provide shade for growing crops, helping to retain moisture in the soil and boosting growth.

An initial year-long research collaboration between the University of Sheffield, World Agroforestry and the Kajiado-based Latia Agripreneurship Institute has shown promising results in the semi-arid Kajiado county, a 90-minute drive from the Kenyan capital of Nairobi and this week the full project will be officially launched.

For example, cabbages grown under the 180, 345-watt solar panels have been a third bigger, and healthier, than those grown in control plots with the same amount of fertiliser and water.

Other crops such as aubergine and lettuce have shown similar results. Maize grown under the panels was taller and healthier, according to Judy Wairimu, an agronomist at the institute.

“We wanted to see how crops would perform if grown under these panels,” said Wairimu. But there is another pragmatic reason behind the technology: doubling up the output of the same patch of earth to generate power and cultivate food can go a long way towards helping people with limited land resources, she said.

According to Dr Richard Randle-Boggis, a researcher at the University of Sheffield’s Harvesting the Sun Twice project, the trial initiative will determine the potential of agrivoltaic systems in east Africa.
» Read article      

» More about siting impacts of renewables

MODERNIZING THE GRID

PJM fat market
How PJM’s ‘fat market’ for capacity fuels environmental injustice and consumer expense
By Liz Stanton and Joshua Castigliego, Utility Dive | Opinion
February 24, 2022

A lot of ears perked when Federal Energy Commission Chair Richard Glick called out the “obsession” with increasing power plant revenues in the largest U.S. wholesale power market. It’s not every day the nation’s top energy regulator speaks quite so bluntly, urging an end to the focus on “bolstering uneconomic generation” in the 13-state PJM Interconnection region.

There has been attention before to the ways PJM’s annual market for electric “capacity” – power to meet future demand – overbuys and overpays generation owners. But prior analysis has typically focused on the total megawatts of excess capacity being procured. To get more specific is difficult, given that individual power plant costs are not publicly disclosed. Yet communities and state officials would be well-served with more detail. Which types of units are being paid even though their capacity is expensive and unnecessary? Are there implications for environmental justice communities given the plants’ locations?

To help provide some daylight, our research team used public data on power plants’ size, age, location, plant type and history of use to model the costs of existing and proposed coal and gas units in PJM’s market to buy capacity for 2021/22, which was held in 2018. We also mapped generators in relation to environmental justice communities using the definition of the Department of Environmental Protection in Pennsylvania, the state where PJM is headquartered. This means census tracts in which more than 20% of residents live at or below the federal poverty level, or where more than 30% are people of color.

Region-wide in PJM, we find that the majority of existing fossil fuel units are located directly in or within a mile of an environmental justice community. More than 80% are located within five miles. Zeroing in on just those existing and proposed coal and gas units benefitting from excess capacity procurement in the PJM market, what we term the PJM “fat market,” we estimate that there are 77 uneconomic generating units receiving these excess payments. This is based on modeling plants’ capacity market offer prices and also estimating the market clearing price we might see in a more efficiently-run PJM market, one that’s not overbuying so much.

A third of the 77 units we estimate to be receiving fat market revenues in PJM are proposed gas units, which often rely partly on capacity payments to secure financing. Two-thirds are existing units on the grid today. Significantly, a substantial majority of these 77 “fat market” coal and gas units are located or planned within five miles of an environmental justice community, and nearly half are within a mile. We estimate that, region-wide, customers are paying $4.3 billion for the excess capacity.
» Read article      

» More about modernizing the grid       

CARBON CAPTURE AND STORAGE

Petra Nova scrap heapCarbon capture tech is advancing in the wrong direction
It’s increasingly being paired with fossil fuel power plants
By Justine Calma, The Verge
February 18, 2022

Carbon capture tech that’s often sold as a solution for cutting greenhouse gas emissions from heavy industry — the most difficult sector to decarbonize — is still far off track from accomplishing that, according to a recent analysis by financial services firm ING.

The pipeline of new carbon capture and storage (CCS) projects, which aim to remove CO2 from power plants’ and industrial facilities’ emissions, is growing. But the majority of projects expected to come online this decade don’t tackle industrial pollution. Instead, the biggest growth is expected to be in carbon capture paired with fossil fuel power plants, similar to how the majority of the 40 million metric tons of CCS capacity the world has today is used in natural gas processing.

That outlook doesn’t seem to jive with what some CCS proponents say is the best use case for the technologies. A lot of the recent enthusiasm for the tech has centered on its ability to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from crucial industries like cement, steel, and fertilizer production. To be sure, some advocates would rather see polluting facilities move out of their neighborhoods than outfitted with new climate tech. But industrial pollution makes up about a third of global carbon dioxide emissions, and it’s hard to eliminate because this sort of manufacturing often requires extremely high temperatures that have been difficult to reach using renewable energy.

CCS is rapidly gaining momentum in the US, with support from Republicans and the Biden administration alike. Earlier this week, as part of a broader effort to slash pollution from the industrial sector, the Biden administration announced new federal guidelines for evaluating CCS projects that could encourage “widespread deployment” of the technologies. And in a bid to speed up permitting in Louisiana, Republican Senator Bill Cassidy threatened to block the appointment of Biden’s nominees for Environmental Protection Agency leadership because of the agency’s “delays” in approving his state’s application to regulate wells for captured carbon dioxide.

Despite those efforts, carbon capture as a strategy for tackling climate change is still divisive among environmentalists, in part because it’s been used to extend the reign of dirty power plants. An aging coal plant, for example, might be able to claim some green credentials if it captures some of its carbon emissions — even though other impacts of mining and burning coal, like habitat destruction and air pollution, remain.

What’s more, the CCS projects the US has funded in the past have a checkered track record. Since 2009, the Department of Energy has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in carbon capture initiatives for several coal plants that never came to fruition, largely because of high costs and investors’ cold feet, according to a December report by the Government Accountability Office.
» Read article      

» More about CCS

GAS BANS

red light
Mass. building code draft renews push for local autonomy on natural gas bans

A proposed building code update in Massachusetts would allow an option for continued use of fossil fuels in new construction, prompting cities and towns to renew a push for legal authority to prohibit new natural gas hookups.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
February 21, 2022

Activists and municipal leaders say a bill allowing Massachusetts cities and towns to ban natural gas in new construction and renovations is needed more than ever in light of a new building code proposal.

“The proposal was just disappointing on every level,” said Lisa Cunningham, a climate activist and member of the town of Brookline’s representative town meeting. “They’re allowing the installation of fossil fuels at every single level — they’re driving us in the wrong direction.”

Decarbonizing building operations, which account for 27% of the state’s carbon emissions, is a major component of Massachusetts’ plan for going carbon-neutral by 2050, but there is not yet any unified strategy for achieving this goal.

Some towns have attempted to take direct action by trying to prohibit new fossil fuel infrastructure within their own borders. In 2019, Brookline, an affluent town adjacent to Boston, passed by an overwhelming margin a bylaw banning fossil fuel hookups in new construction and major renovations, the first such measure passed outside California. Inspired by the move, other towns began preparing their own proposals.

In July 2020, however, state Attorney General Maura Healey struck down the measure, saying cities and towns do not have the legal authority to supersede state building energy codes. Brookline, along with the towns of Acton, Arlington, Concord and Lexington, responded by passing home rule petitions — requests that the state legislature grant them a specific power usually reserved by the state, in this case, the authority to enact prohibitions on new fossil fuel infrastructure.

As the movement grew, state Rep. Tami Gouveia and state Sen. Janie Eldridge, who both represent Acton, filed their own legislation that would grant every city and town in Massachusetts the right to adopt a requirement for all-electric construction without petitioning the state legislature.

“It would allow any community to prohibit new fossil fuel infrastructure,” Eldridge said. “It’s an important tool in the toolbox at a time when you’re seeing a lot of new development in Massachusetts.”
» Read article      

preemption laws
Cities tried to cut natural gas from new homes. The GOP and gas lobby preemptively quashed their effort
By Ella Nilsen, CNN
February 17, 2022

In 2019, the city council in Berkeley, California, held a stunning vote: it would ban natural gas hookups in all new building construction to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the city’s impact on the climate crisis.

No gas furnaces in new homes, the council said. No gas stoves or ovens.

Other progressive cities followed suit with similar bans. San Francisco passed its own ban in 2020. New York City became the largest US city to pass a version in 2021, with New York Gov. Kathy Hochul vowing to pass a statewide law that would ban natural gas by 2027.

But other municipalities looking to take similar action are running into a brick wall. Twenty states with GOP-controlled legislatures have passed so-called “preemption laws” that prohibit cities from banning natural gas.

It’s bad news for municipal climate action: Taking natural gas out of the equation and switching to electric appliances is one of the most effective ways cities can tackle the climate crisis and lower their emissions, multiple experts told CNN.

“Natural gas bans are kind of low-hanging fruit,” said Georgetown Law professor Sheila Foster, an environmental law expert. Foster said cities can make a significant impact by moving away from natural gas and toward electricity, especially considering what little federal action there’s been on climate, and the mixed record of states.

The climate stakes are high. Residential and commercial emissions made up 13% of total US emissions in 2019, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. About 80% of those emissions came from the combustion of natural gas, the fuel that heats homes or powers a restaurant’s cooking stoves, and emits planet-warming gases like methane and carbon dioxide in the process.

But clean alternatives exist: Electric heat pumps can heat homes more sustainably than gas furnaces; induction ranges can replace gas stoves. And experts stress that to fully transition to renewable energy sources like solar and wind, homes and businesses need to operate on electricity – not gas.
» Read article      

» More about gas bans

GAS UTILITIES

NARUC panel
Transmission, reliability and gas system decarbonization top of mind for state utility regulators in 2022

By Michelle Solomon and Hadley Tallackson, Utility Dive | Opinion
February 23, 2022

The power and gas system is rapidly changing from meeting relatively predictable customer demand with fossil fuels, to managing increasingly frequent extreme weather while integrating unprecedented amounts of clean energy. State utility regulators are trying to navigate this transition by guiding their electric and gas utilities to reduce emissions while maintaining affordable rates and reliable service.

This tension captured regulators’ attention at the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners’ (NARUC) 2022 Winter Policy Summit last week, manifesting in three imperatives: transmission planning to unlock access to low-cost renewables, holistic approaches to planning for system reliability in the wake of last February’s Winter Storm Uri, and opportunities to reduce emissions from natural gas systems.

[…]In addition to winterization to protect against extreme weather, regulators are looking to address the root cause of climate change through gas system decarbonization, but they must be cautious about proposals that may not prove viable over the long term.

Gas utilities subject to emissions reduction requirements are exploring immediate actions for methane leak reduction through monitoring and pipeline repair. However, many are also eagerly proposing renewable natural gas (RNG) and hydrogen as part of their longer-term decarbonization pathway.

NARUC panelists discussed the potential of near-term uptake of “certified natural gas” with verified low-methane emissions intensity to plug methane hemorrhaging from the gas supply chain. Panelists from the utility Washington Gas and gas producer EQT both highlighted the minimal cost impact of switching to certified natural gas, but regulators should ask their utilities how they will achieve close-to-zero methane emission intensities while exploring larger transition pathways.

However, RNG resource availability has thus far been limited, and widespread RNG reliance may not be scalable. While GTI Energy promoted hydrogen as a fixture of a decarbonized gas system, hydrogen production can still generate sizable emissions depending on the production method. Cost impacts and challenges around scalability, pipeline and end-use appliance compatibility, and safety also require additional regulatory scrutiny before significant investments are approved. Regulators must determine the feasibility and decarbonization potential of these proposals by requesting extensive information on total supply chain emissions and how they compare on cost and emissions bases to other end-use decarbonization strategies like electrification.
» Read article      

» More about gas utilities     

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

seventy percent
BREAKING: Fossils Emit 70% More Methane than Governments Report: IEA Tracker
By Mitchell Beer, The Energy Mix
February 23, 2022

Emissions of climate-busting methane from fossil fuel operations are 70% higher than national governments are reporting, according to the 2022 edition of the Global Methane Tracker released this morning by the International Energy Agency (IEA).

The gap between the reporting and the reality is “massive” and “alarming”, IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol said in a release.

The tracker “shows emissions from oil, gas, and coal are on the rise again, underscoring need for greater transparency, stronger policies, and immediate action,” the IEA writes. “Methane is responsible for around 30% of the rise in global temperatures since the Industrial Revolution, and quick and sustained emission reductions are key to limiting near-term warming and improving air quality.”

Methane is a shorter-lived greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, but it’s 80 to 85 times more potent a warming agent over a 20-year span—the period in which humanity will be scrambling to get the climate emergency under control.

Before and immediately after the groundbreaking science assessment released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change last August, scientists identified methane reductions as the best opportunity to curb greenhouse gas emissions through 2040, and predicted climate catastrophe without immediate action. At last year’s COP 26 climate summit in Glasgow, more than 100 countries congratulated themselves for signing a global methane pledge, though experts quickly warned that their 30% reduction target by 2030 fell short of what’s needed.

Now, the Paris-based IEA says methane emissions from energy production increased nearly 5% in 2021, with almost equal proportions coming from coal, oil, and natural gas operations. The 135 million tonnes from the entire sector, including nine megatonnes from incomplete wood burning and four Mt from inefficient fuel-burning equipment, accounted for 38% of methane emissions resulting from human activities, making energy a slightly less methane-intensive sector than agriculture.

The biggest sources of energy-related methane emissions were China, at 28 Mt, followed by Russia at 18 Mt and the United States at 17 Mt. Satellite measurements in 2021 picked up major methane releases from oilfields in Texas, Turkmenistan, and other parts of Central Asia.
» Read article     
» Read IEA’s Global Methane Tracker 2022

» More about fossil fuels

PLASTICS AND THE ENVIRONMENT

garbage pile
U.N. pact may restrict plastic production. Big Oil aims to stop it
By John Geddie, Valerie Volcovici and Joe Brock, Reuters
February 18, 2022

United Nations member states are set to meet this month in Nairobi to draft the blueprint for a global plastics treaty, a deal that could see countries agree for the first time to reduce the amount of single-use plastics they produce and use.

It’s being touted as the most important environmental pact since the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change.

A global explosion of disposable plastic, which is made from oil and gas, is increasing carbon emissions, despoiling the world’s oceans, harming wildlife and contaminating the food chain. More than 50 countries, including all 27 members of the European Union, are calling for the pact to include measures targeting plastic production.

That’s a problem for big oil and chemical companies. The industry is projected to double plastic output worldwide within two decades.

Publicly, plastic industry groups representing firms like ExxonMobil Corp (XOM.N), Royal Dutch Shell Plc and Dow Inc (DOW.N), have expressed support for a global agreement to tackle this garbage.

Behind the scenes, however, these trade organizations are devising strategies to persuade conference participants to reject any deal that would limit plastic manufacturing, according to emails and company presentations seen by Reuters, as well as interviews with a dozen officials involved in the negotiations.

Leading that effort is the American Chemistry Council (ACC), a powerful group of U.S.-based oil and chemical firms. The Washington-based ACC is attempting to forge a coalition of big businesses to help steer treaty discussions away from production restrictions, according to an Oct. 21 email sent from the trade group to a blind-copied list of recipients.
» Read article      

» More about plastics and the environment

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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 2/11/22

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Welcome back.

This week’s news is full of evidence that protests and legal actions against fossil fuel expansion projects have been successful. On the heels of the Bureau of Land Management’s court-directed cancellation of lease sales for oil and gas development in the Gulf of Mexico, the Biden administration is taking a fresh look at Conoco-Phillips’ sketchy ‘Willow’ development proposal for Alaska’s North Slope. Meanwhile the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has been invalidating Mountain Valley Pipeline permits granted after shoddy, rubber-stamp reviews during the Trump administration. Industry is not pleased with all this, and has fought back against protesters who take non-violent direct action to delay and draw attention to these projects. Their boots-on-the-ground efforts support and often drive the legal mechanisms that ultimately enforce environmental protection. Applying political influence, Big Oil & Gas has encouraged 36 states to criminalize many forms of peaceful resistance. These new felony charges are sending good people to prison, but they aren’t stifling opposition.

The divestment movement is also holding strong. French energy giant TotalEnergies is reportedly having trouble lining up the money it needs to despoil large areas of Uganda and Tanzania by way of its proposed Lake Albert oil fields development and related East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP). A significant number of potential investors and insurers are now guided by internal climate-related policies, and have lost their appetite for fossil profits.

Pumping the bellows on these headwinds for big polluters is an increasing awareness that our reliance on natural gas has made methane pollution an urgent climate threat – and an opportunity. At every step from extraction and transport, to local distribution networks with their stubbornly pervasive gas leaks, methane’s powerful warming effect is finally understood as a primary threat to holding global warming within manageable limits. Quickly ramping down natural gas production and use can deliver huge benefits, but that entails rapidly electrifying buildings and replacing fossil fuel electricity generation with renewables. It’s a suite of changes requiring grid modernization, a process hampered by its own technical and regulatory speed bumps.

Gas utilities are taking tentative steps to explore roles beyond their current business model. Some recognize they’ll need to change or be left behind.

Our Greening the Economy section considers how to prioritize decarbonization, including consideration of the military’s fuel habit. Then we focus on the possible, and look at some of the rapidly developing technologies taking us there. Clean energy is seeing some breakthroughs in solar panel recycling, and a number of college campuses are building geothermal district heating systems to reduce emissions. Even industrial sectors like cement manufacturing, currently considered hard to decarbonize, may have an all-electric future because of advances in ultra-high-temperature thermal storage.

We know that long-duration energy storage plays a critical role in retiring fossil fuel generating plants, but how we do it has huge environmental and social justice implications. We offer three articles featuring exciting emerging technologies that promise to solve a number of problems that lithium batteries can’t.

Lithium-ion batteries are a mature product, having years of service in phones, laptops, and electric vehicles. This allowed them to gain early dominance in the short-term energy storage market. Lately, a few developers have found they can use these batteries to provide longer-duration power by simply increasing their numbers – so the typical four-hour limit can stretch to eight. But lithium is not abundant and mining it can disrupt sensitive areas. As such, we prefer that it be reserved for mobile applications where its light weight and high energy density make it difficult to substitute. For large stationary applications, it looks like iron-air and iron flow batteries, gravity storage, and high-temperature thermal storage (among others), will soon displace lithium with greener, cheaper, more durable, and longer-duration alternatives.

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

North Slope pipelines
The Biden Administration Rethinks its Approach to Drilling on Public Lands in Alaska, Soliciting Further Review
The Bureau of Land Management is inviting public input on ConocoPhillips’ Willow project on the North Slope, following a court reversal on leases it approved last year in the Gulf of Mexico.
By Nicholas Kusnetz, Inside Climate News
February 4, 2022

The Biden administration will give the public a new opportunity to weigh in on a major oil project proposed in the Alaskan Arctic, handing a victory to environmental groups that have opposed the development.

In an announcement late Thursday, the Bureau of Land Management said it would solicit comments about the Willow project, which would pump about 590 million barrels of oil over 30 years from a rapidly-warming ecosystem on Alaska’s North Slope.

The ConocoPhillips project was approved in the final months of the Trump administration, but its future was thrown into doubt after a federal court in Alaska vacated the approval last year and sent the project back to the BLM for further environmental review. The Biden administration initially supported the project by defending it in court, but then declined to appeal last year’s ruling.

Climate advocates had called on the BLM to open a public “scoping period” as part of the court-ordered review of Willow, and they said Thursday’s announcement was a sign that the Biden administration may be taking their concerns seriously.

“The agency is going to start from the very beginning to assess the project,” said Layla Hughes, an attorney with Earthjustice, an environmental law nonprofit that represented Indigenous and climate advocates in one of two lawsuits challenging the project that led to last year’s court ruling.

Hughes and other advocates had described Willow as a major test for the Biden administration’s climate policy, and had expressed concern that the BLM was conducting a narrow review in response to the court ruling, rather than taking a broader look at environmental and climate impacts. Advocates argue that such a review would show that the project should not proceed at all, given the urgency of limiting global warming and protecting a melting Arctic.

With Thursday’s announcement, Hughes said, “the agency is basically signaling its intent to meaningfully assess the project. Whether or not it does, we’ll have to see.”
» Read article      

protest felony charges
‘They criminalize us’: how felony charges are weaponized against pipeline protesters
Thirty-six states have passed laws that criminalize protesting on ‘critical infrastructure’ including pipelines. In Minnesota, at least 66 felony theft charges against Line 3 protesters remain open
Alexandria Herr, The Guardian
February 10, 2022

Last summer Sabine Von Mering, a professor of German at Brandeis University, drove more than 1,500 miles from Boston to Minneapolis to protest against the replacement of the Line 3 oil pipeline that stretches from Canada’s tar sands down to Minnesota.

Along with another protester, she locked herself to a semi-truck in the middle of a roadway, according to a filed court brief, as a means of peaceful resistance. But when she was arrested, she was charged with a serious crime: felony theft, which carries up to five years in prison.

Legal advocates say that in Minnesota the elevated charges are a novel tactic to challenge protest actions against pipeline construction. They see them as furthering evidence of close ties between Minnesota’s government and the fossil fuel industry. It follows reporting by the Guardian that the Canadian pipeline company Enbridge, which is building Line 3, reimbursed Minnesota’s police department $2.4m for time spent arresting protesters and on equipment including ballistic helmets. Experts say the reimbursement strategy for arrests is a new technique in both Minnesota and across the US, and there’s concern it can be replicated.

“I do a lot of representation for people in political protests and I’ve never seen anything like that,” said Jordan Kushner, a defense attorney representing clients charged in relation to Line 3 protests.

Two of Kushner’s clients were charged with felony “aiding attempted suicide” charges for crawling inside a pipe. The charge is for someone who “intentionally advises, encourages, or assists another who attempts but fails to take the other’s own life”, according to Minnesota law and carries up to a seven-year sentence. Authorities alleged that the protesters were endangering their lives by remaining inside the pipeline.

“To put it charitably, it’s a very creative use of this law,” said Kushner.
» Read article      

» More about protests and actions

PIPELINES

MVP taking fire
Another blow to the Mountain Valley Pipeline
It’s Monday, February 7, and a federal court is dealing blow after blow to a natural gas pipeline.
By Emily Pontecorvo, Grist
February 7, 2022

The Mountain Valley Pipeline, a 303-mile pipeline that would deliver natural gas from the shale fields of northern West Virginia to southern Virginia, is mostly built. But a federal court has indicated in the last few weeks that it shouldn’t be, siding with communities and environmental groups that have been fighting the project from the start.

On Thursday, the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals invalidated the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Endangered Species Act authorization for the pipeline, which was granted under the Trump administration. The court found that the agency’s assessment of impacts to two endangered fish species, the Roanoke logperch and candy darter, was flawed, and that the agency had failed to consider the impact of climate change in its analysis.

That blow follows two others the previous week, when the same court rejected permits that had been issued for the pipeline by the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management for stream crossings in the Jefferson National Forest. This was the second time the court rejected the agencies’ permits for inadequately assessing the potential erosion and sediment disturbance caused by the pipeline. Throughout its development, the Mountain Valley Pipeline, or MVP, has been plagued by permitting battles that have delayed the project by four years and almost doubled its cost.

“Three more key federal agencies have been sent back to the drawing board after failing to analyze MVP’s harmful impacts,” said Kelly Sheehan, the senior director of energy campaigns for the Sierra Club, in a statement. Sheehan blamed the Trump administration’s “rushed, shoddy permitting” and urged the Biden administration to re-evaluate, and ultimately cancel, the whole project.
» Read article      

Highwater Ethanol
Carbon dioxide pipelines planned for Minnesota fall into regulatory black hole
Two multibillion-dollar pipelines would ship CO2 produced by ethanol plants to other states for underground storage.
By Mike Hughlett, Star Tribune
February 5, 2022

Two of the largest carbon dioxide pipelines in the world are slated to cross Minnesota, transporting the climate-poisoning gas for burial deep underground — yet also falling into a regulatory black hole.

CO2 is considered a hazardous pipeline fluid under federal law and in some states, including Iowa, but not Minnesota.

The pipelines — one of which would be more expensive than the Enbridge pipeline project across northern Minnesota — would primarily ship CO2 captured at ethanol plants across the Midwest.

Transporting and storing CO2 has never been done on this scale. Carbon-capture technology is still in a nascent stage. And a 2020 pipeline mishap in Mississippi caused an evacuation and dozens of injuries.

“CO2 is a hazardous material that can lead to absolutely disastrous ruptures,” said Bill Caram, executive director of the Pipeline Safety Trust, a Washington state-based group. While CO2 isn’t explosive like natural gas, it’s an asphyxiant that can be fatal in large doses.

Right now, the CO2 pipelines don’t require approval from the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC). But the PUC in December opened a proceeding on whether it should change state regulations to deem CO2 pipelines as hazardous. The Minnesota Departments of Transportation, Agriculture, Commerce and Natural Resources (DNR) all favor such a change.

“A developing body of research has raised concerns about the safety and environmental effects of pipelines transporting CO2,” the DNR said in a PUC filing Monday. “Leaks or breaks in a pipeline can cause CO2 to accumulate in low-lying areas [including basements of area residences and buildings], thereby displacing oxygen.”
» Read article      

» More about pipelines

GAS LEAKS

Parker and Salem
Communities of color get more gas leaks, slower repairs, says study
By Barbara Moran, WBUR
February 4, 2022

People of color, lower-income households, and people with limited English skills across Massachusetts are more exposed to gas leaks — especially more hazardous gas leaks — than the general population, according to a new study. Those same communities also experience longer waits to get the leaks fixed.

“There is a disparity. It’s consistent. It’s across the state. That’s a civil rights issue to begin with,” said study co-author Marcos Luna, a professor of geography and sustainability at Salem State University. “This is not acceptable.”

Study co-author Dominic Nicholas built the database used in the study. Nichols, a program director for the Cambridge-based nonprofit Home Energy Efficiency Team (HEET), had taken the natural gas utilities’ records of gas leaks, geocoded them, and made the data publicly available.

“With this large data set finally being geocoded and really high quality, it allowed us to explore the problem at different geographic scales, which was a breakthrough, I think, for this work,” Nicholas said.

Researchers examined how frequently gas leaks of different grades occurred by community, the ages of the leaks and how quickly they were repaired.

The research revealed that gas leaks don’t affect everyone in the state equally; rather, race, ethnicity, English language ability, and income are the leading indicators of exposure to leaks. While there was some variation across the state — for instance, income disparity was a larger factor than racial disparity in the Berkshires — the overall findings held true even in areas of the state with denser populations and more gas pipelines, and areas with older gas infrastructure.

About half of households in Massachusetts use natural gas for heat. Gas leaks create fire hazards, degrade air quality, kill trees and contribute to climate change.

Recent research has found that natural gas infrastructure in eastern Massachusetts emits methane — a potent greenhouse gas — at about six times higher than state estimates, and leaks have not decreased over the past eight years, despite state efforts to fix them.
» Read article     
» Read the study

» More about gas leaks

DIVESTMENT

TotalEnergies
Total’s East Africa Pipeline ‘Struggling’ To Find Financiers
The companies leading the project are “staying quiet on the crucial question of where the money will come from”, activists say.
By Maina Waruru, DeSmog Blog
February 7, 2022

Total’s “incredibly risky” crude oil pipeline may still lack the financial backing it requires, campaigners have claimed, as the controversial project moves one step closer to completion.

Once finished, the 1,443km-long East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) could transport up to 216,000 barrels a day from the Lake Albert region in landlocked Uganda to Tanga in Tanzania, with the first oil expected in 2025.

However, a coalition of environmental and human rights groups opposing the pipeline, Stop EACOP, says the announcement is thin on detail and the project is not yet assured.

The final investment decision was a “show of progress”, said Ryan Brightwell, a campaigner at non-profit BankTrack, but companies were “staying quiet on the crucial question of where the money will come from for their incredibly risky pipeline plans”.

A number of financial institutions have already distanced themselves from the project after the coalition briefed financiers about the risks last year.

The pipeline forms one part of the Ugandan oil development, which also includes the country’s first planned oil refinery, and two oil fields — Tilenga and Kingfisher.

In a statement responding to the final investment decision, the coalition noted that 11 international banks and three insurance companies have already declined to finance the project.

The final investment decision comes nine months after the International Energy Agency (IEA) warned there can be no more new oil and gas investments if the world is to limit temperature rise to 1.5C.

Brightwell, of BankTrack, warned that crackdowns on peaceful protesters in Uganda, as well as risks to “communities, nature, water and the climate”, were harming the project’s image. “No wonder the project is struggling to find financiers unscrupulous and reckless enough to back it,” he said.
» Read article     
» Read the StopEACOP statement

» More about divestment

GREENING THE ECONOMY

heavy lifter
Should the Defense Dept. be exempt from cutting greenhouse gas emissions?
The department is not actually off the hook, nor should it be.
By Sharon E. Burke, Boston Globe | Opinion
February 10, 2022

President Biden recently directed all federal agencies to cut greenhouse gas emissions. There’s just one problem, according to a new letter from 28 members of Congress: The single largest source of greenhouse gases in the federal government, the Department of Defense, is off the hook. The signatories to the letter, led by Senator Ed Markey, want the president to live up to his pledges on climate change by denying the Pentagon an exemption for military emissions.

The senator has a point. With the exception of nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and submarines, US armed forces depend on petroleum, chewing through around 90 million barrels a year.

At the same time, it’s not a realistic request. Imagine this scenario: President Vladimir Putin of Russia invades Ukraine, then begins amassing troops on Estonia’s border. NATO members agree to send troops to protect their ally, but Biden has to decline because flying C-130s full of soldiers to Eastern Europe would violate greenhouse gas targets.

No US president is going to agree to constrain military options in this way in order to cut greenhouse gases. Fortunately, there are better ways to advance climate policy, including at the Department of Defense.

No one actually knows the size of the defense sector’s carbon footprint (the Biden administration is taking bold steps to fix that, with accounting for the entire defense supply chain), but the Department of Defense itself emitted around 55 million metric tons of greenhouse gases in 2019. That’s significant for a single institution, but it adds up to less than 1 percent of America’s overall greenhouse gas footprint, which totaled about 6.6 billion metric tons in 2019.

In other words, if Biden were to completely eliminate the entire military tomorrow, it would barely make a dent in US greenhouse gas emissions. The largest American contributors to global climate change are all in the civilian economy — industry, agriculture and land use, electricity, transportation, and buildings. Even with better accounting of the defense sector, the main contributors will probably still be things like petrochemicals, power plants, and personal vehicles (an Abrams tank may get lousy gas mileage, but there are less than 5,000 of them, and they don’t travel very many miles in a normal workweek). A focus on the military would be a distraction from more important climate action priorities.

Still, the Defense Department is not actually off the hook, nor should it be. Most large corporations in the United States are taking environmental, social, and governance considerations seriously as both good business and responsible stewardship, and the Defense Department must also do so. Biden’s new executive order will accelerate the department’s ESG investments, including the electrification of almost 180,000 passenger vehicles and light-duty trucks, following in the footsteps of companies such as Amazon. It will also provide an additional push for clean electricity.
» Read article      

big shoes
‘Carbon footprint gap’ between rich and poor expanding, study finds
Researchers say cutting carbon footprint of world’s wealthiest may be fastest way to reach net zero
By Helena Horton, The Guardian
February 4, 2022

Wealthy people have disproportionately large carbon footprints and the percentage of the world’s emissions they are responsible for is growing, a study has found.

In 2010, the most affluent 10% of households emitted 34% of global CO2, while the 50% of the global population in lower income brackets accounted for just 15%. By 2015, the richest 10% were responsible for 49% of emissions against 7% produced by the poorest half of the world’s population.

Aimee Ambrose, a professor of energy policy at Sheffield Hallam University and author of the study published in the journal Science Direct, says cutting the carbon footprint of the wealthiest might be the fastest way to reach net zero.

In terms of energy demand in the UK, the least wealthy half of the population accounts for less than 20% of final demand, less than the top 5% consumes. While their homes may be more energy-efficient, high consumers are likely to have more space to heat. They also own and use more luxury items and gadgets.
» Read article      

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

flaring pit flames
To Counter Global Warming, Focus Far More on Methane, a New Study Recommends
Scientists at Stanford have concluded that the EPA has radically undervalued the climate impact of methane, a “short-lived climate pollutant,” by focusing on a 100-year metric for quantifying global warming.
By Phil McKenna, Inside Climate News
February 9, 2022

The Environmental Protection Agency is drastically undervaluing the potency of methane as a greenhouse gas when the agency compares methane’s climate impact to that of carbon dioxide, a new study concludes.

The EPA’s climate accounting for methane is “arbitrary and unjustified” and three times too low to meet the goals set in the Paris climate agreement, the research report, published Wednesday in the journal Environmental Research Letters, found.

The report proposes a new method of accounting that places greater emphasis on the potential for cuts in methane and other short-lived greenhouse gasses to help limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

“If you want to keep the world from passing the 1.5 degrees C threshold, you’ll want to pay more attention to methane than we have so far,” said Rob Jackson, an earth system science professor at Stanford University and a co-author of the study.

Over a 100-year period, methane is 28 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas. However, over a 20-year period, a yardstick that climate scientists have previously suggested would be a more appropriate timeframe, methane is 81 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

“It’s a huge swing in how much we value methane, and therefore how many of our resources go towards mitigating it,” Abernethy said.

However, the use of either time frame remains largely arbitrary.

To determine a “justified” time frame, the Stanford researchers took the Paris climate goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius as a starting point, and then calculated the most appropriate time frame to meet that goal.
» Read article     
» Read the study

Watford City flare
Seen From Space: Huge Methane Leaks
A European satellite reveals sites in the United States, Russia, Central Asia and elsewhere that are “ultra emitters” of methane. That could help fight climate change.
By Henry Fountain, New York Times
February 4, 2022

If the world is going to make a dent in emissions of methane, a potent planet-warming gas, targeting the largest emitters would likely be the most cost-effective. But there’s a basic problem: How to find them.

A new study has shown one way. Using data from a European satellite, researchers have identified sites around the world where large amounts of methane are pouring into the air. Most of these “ultra emitters” are part of the petroleum industry, and are in major oil and gas producing basins in the United States, Russia, Central Asia and other regions.

“We were not surprised to see leaks,” said Thomas Lauvaux, a researcher at the Laboratory for Sciences of Climate and Environment near Paris and lead author of the study, published in Science. “But these were giant leaks. It’s quite a systemic problem.”

Among gases released through human activities, methane is more potent in its effect on warming than carbon dioxide, although emissions of it are lower and it breaks down in the atmosphere sooner. Over 20 years it can result in 80 times the warming of the same amount of CO2.

Because of this, reducing methane emissions has increasingly been seen as a way to more rapidly limit global warming this century.

“If you do anything to mitigate methane emissions, you will see the impact more quickly,” said Felix Vogel, a research scientist with Environment and Climate Change Canada in Toronto who was not involved in the study.

Among the nearly 400 million tons of human-linked methane emissions every year, oil and gas production is estimated to account for about one-third. And unlike carbon dioxide, which is released when fossil fuels are deliberately burned for energy, much of the methane from oil and gas is either intentionally released or accidentally leaked from wells, pipelines and production facilities.
» Read article      

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

PV panel close-up
Inside Clean Energy: Recycling Solar Panels Is a Big Challenge, but Here’s Some Recent Progress

German researchers have made solar cells from 100 percent recycled silicon.
By Dan Gearino, Inside Climate News
February 10, 2022

German researchers said this week that they have taken silicon from discarded solar panels and recycled it for use in new ones.

This is a positive step for dealing with the coming mountain of waste from solar power, but it’s just one part of dealing with a complicated challenge.

The Fraunhofer Center for Silicon Photovoltaics CSP in Freiburg, Germany, said that its researchers were part of a team that produced solar cells from 100 percent recycled silicon. Cells are the little squares, usually blue, that you see arranged in a tile pattern on solar panels. They are the parts that capture the sun’s energy to convert it to electricity, and silicon is their essential material.

To get an idea of the significance of this announcement, I reached out to Meng Tao of Arizona State University, a leading authority on developing systems to recycle solar components.

“I applaud their progress,” he said about the work at the Fraunhofer Center.

And then he explained why recycling silicon is only a small part of dealing with solar power waste.

Most of the weight in a solar panel, about 75 percent, is glass, Tao said. Next is aluminum, with 10 percent; wiring in a junction box, at 5 percent; and silicon, with just 3.5 percent. Panels also contain small amounts of lead, which is one reason that they need to stay out of landfills. (The percentages are approximate and can vary depending on variations in the technology and manufacturer of the panels.)

So, silicon is an important material, and being able to recycle it is a step forward, but researchers need to find cost-effective ways to recycle all the parts in a solar panel.

Today, most recyclers that work with solar panels are breaking them apart to reuse the aluminum and the wiring, but there is a limited market for the other components, Tao said.

Researchers have been looking for uses for glass from solar panels and found solutions like making a material that can be mixed with concrete.

But the ultimate goal for solar recycling is to make the process circular, which means old solar components could be processed to be used in new solar components, Tao said. That hasn’t happened yet with glass.

The desire for a circular economy around solar panels is one reason why the announcement from the Fraunhofer lab is so encouraging.
» Read article      

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

Carleton College
Colleges see untapped potential in geothermal district energy systems

Minnesota’s Carleton College is among a growing list of schools investing in the centuries-old technology as part of a path to eliminating greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 or sooner.
By Frank Jossi, Energy News Network
February 7, 2022

A small but growing list of U.S. colleges and universities are dusting off a centuries-old technology to help meet their ambitious climate goals.

Carleton College, a small, private liberal arts college in Northfield, Minnesota, is the latest to trade fossil-fueled steam heat for geothermal district energy as it aims to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 or sooner.

Completed last summer, the $41 million project is Minnesota’s first geothermal district energy system and one of only about two dozen nationwide. They vary in design but typically consist of a network of pipes and heat pumps that tap into steady, subterranean temperatures to heat and cool buildings on the surface.

Most U.S. geothermal district energy systems were built more than 30 years ago amid rising oil and gas prices in the 1970s and 1980s, but the technology is seeing a resurgence today on college campuses as schools look for tools to help them follow through on climate commitments.

“I think it is one of the only scalable solutions for creating a low-carbon campus,” said Lindsey Olsen, an associate vice president and senior mechanical engineer for Salas O’Brien. The California-based engineering and facility planning firm has worked with Carleton College and others on geothermal projects.

Geothermal energy has been used for district heating for over a century in the United States. In Europe, the systems date back to ancient Rome. The oldest still in operation was installed at Chaudes Aigues in France in 1330.

Adoption has been significant in Europe —  France, Germany and Iceland are the leaders — but a market has never fully developed in the United States. A 2021 report by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory cited the availability of cheap natural gas, a lack of government incentives, and steep upfront costs as key factors. The U.S. geothermal district heating sector has been “relatively stagnant since the 1980s, with only four new installations over the past two decades,” the report said.

One emerging exception is higher education. “University and college campuses are currently leading the charge in pursuit of low-carbon district energy options as a result of aggressive greenhouse gas emission reduction goals (often 100%) within the next 15 to 30 years,” the report says.
» Read article      

» More about energy efficiency

BUILDING MATERIALS

electric cementRenewables for cement? Gates-backed startup eyes ‘missing link’
By David Iaconangelo, E&E News
February 8, 2022

A Bill Gates-backed startup is betting that renewables can serve as the foundation for low-carbon cement and be more than a clean resource for cars, buildings and power generation.

The company is Oakland, Calif.-based Rondo Energy Inc., which says it has figured out a way to turn wind and solar power into a source of intense heat and store it for the production of glass, cement and other common manufactured goods.

Many of those goods depend on fossil fuels to create the kinds of ultra-high temperatures necessary for production. Rondo’s plan, if successful, would prove a number of innovation experts wrong. It also highlights the race among emerging clean technologies for the future of heavy industry.

“This is the missing link for a very fast and profitable elimination of scope 1 emissions from industry,” John O’Donnell, Rondo’s chief executive, said in an interview yesterday about his company’s technology.

Rondo’s “thermal battery,” as the company describes the heat system, could provide a zero-carbon way to deliver heat reaching over 1,200 degrees Celsius, according to the company.

It said this morning it had raised $22 million in an initial funding round from two influential climate technology investors: Breakthrough Energy Ventures, a fund fronted by billionaire Gates, and Energy Impact Partners, whose $1 billion sustainable energy fund counts over a dozen large utilities as contributors.

O’Donnell said Rondo will use the money to start producing its thermal battery at scale, starting with hundreds of megawatt-hours’ worth of heat this year and hitting gigawatt-hour scale in 2023.

Scaling up the technology isn’t likely to be a cakewalk, not least of all because of the difficulty of selling clean heat at a low enough price to compete with fossil fuels — and convincing manufacturers to adopt the invention.

But new backing is notable because it suggests that some of the innovation world’s most prominent technical experts — such as those who work for Breakthrough and EIP — consider renewable electricity to be a strong option for decarbonizing heavy industry.
» Read article      

» More about building materials

LONG-DURATION ENERGY STORAGE

Grist video - ESS flow battery
This iron and water battery could power a more renewable grid
By Jesse Nichols, Grist
February 10, 2022

Grist reporter Jesse Nichols traveled to a factory in Oregon, that’s building a new type of battery.

Sitting in a row outside of the factory, these giant batteries are the size of freight containers. Powered by vats of iron and saltwater, they’re called iron flow batteries. And they’re part of a wave of cleantech inventions designed to store energy from the sun and the wind, and solve a problem that has stumped the energy world for more than 150 years.

The problem is described in a Scientific American article from 1861.

“One of the great forces nature furnished to man without any expense, and in limitless abundance, is the power of the wind,” the article says. “Its great unsteadiness, however, is causing it to be rapidly superseded for such purposes by steam and other constant powers.”

To unlock the potential of wind and solar power, you need some kind of energy storage device. That could be batteries, hydrogen, or the device proposed in the Scientific American article.

When it was windy, the device would crank these heavy iron balls up this marble chute. Then, when the wind stopped blowing, they could release the balls to get energy when they needed it.

Unsurprisingly, wind energy did not take off. And fossil-fuels dominated.
» Blog editor’s note: This video provides a great non-technical explanation of what a “flow battery” is. Also, don’t dismiss the original “heavy iron balls” concept of energy storage! See its 21st century update here.
» Watch 7 minute video              

Rondo heat battery
Renewable energy heat batteries for industrial applications gain funding
Startup Rondo Energy closed a $22 million Series A funding round to decarbonize industrial processes with equipment that converts solar and wind energy into thermal energy.
By Ryan Kennedy, PV Magazine
February 8, 2022

Rondo Energy announced the closing of a $22 million Series A funding round to support its technology, a renewable energy heat battery aimed at reducing the carbon impact of industrial processes. The funding round was led by Breakthrough Energy Ventures and Energy Impact Partners.

It is estimated about one third of global emissions can be attributed to heavy industry. And about 40% of that, or 10% of global emissions, comes from high-temperature industrial products like cement and steel.

The Rondo heat battery offers a zero emissions source of industrial heat, storing solar and wind energy at temperatures over 1200°C. The company said it plans to begin manufacturing and delivering systems to customers later this year.

“We believe the Rondo Heat Battery will prove critical to closing stubborn emissions gaps,” said Carmichael Roberts, Breakthrough Energy Ventures. “The cost of renewable energy has been steadily falling, but it hasn’t been an option for industries that require high temperature process heat since there was no way to efficiently convert renewable electricity to high temperature thermal energy. Rondo enables companies in industries such as cement, fuels, food and water desalination to reduce their emissions while also leveraging the falling costs of renewables.”

The system is designed to pull energy from solar, wind, and the energy grid, charging the battery intermittently, but delivering continuous heat. Rondo said the battery bricks are made of safe, widely available materials.
» Read article      

ENDURING thermal energy storage
NREL Results Support Cheap Long Duration Energy Storage in Hot Sand
By Susan Kraemer, SolarPACES
February 8, 2022

There aren’t many novel clean energy technologies that could also directly remove fossil energy plants. The US National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has created one.

Long duration storage at grid scale is crucial to meeting climate targets. Solar PV and wind have the momentum to be a big part of the new energy economy, but only if we can add enough energy storage to make these intermittent sources dispatchable on demand at lower cost and over longer durations and for many more cycles than batteries.

The world needs a long duration energy storage technology as cheap as pumped hydro, but without the environmental and location challenges.

To this end, three years ago the US Department of Energy (DOE) Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy  ARPA-E  “DAYS” program funded NREL to advance long duration (100 hour) thermal energy storage charged by surplus electricity from PV or wind.

Thermal energy storage is a fully tested technology in commercial CSP [concentrated solar power] plants, but using a liquid; molten salts. However, increasingly, particle storage is being researched as a more efficient storage medium than molten salts which have a working range between 290°C and 560°C – due to the much higher temperature differential of 300°C and 1000°C in particles of sand.

“We’ve studied particle-based thermal energy storage since 2011, initially for concentrating solar power,” said Zhiwen Ma, the NREL project lead. “Now it has been extended – to standalone particle thermal energy storage and industrial process heat, and heating and cooling in buildings – for even broader decarbonization, by replacing coal and natural gas.

The team partnered with GE to integrate the storage with a gas turbine power cycle.“The point of it was to try to use commercial systems as much as possible in terms of power cycles since they have a hundred years of development there’s a lot of expertise already there,” said Colorado School of Mines Ph.D. student and NREL collaborator Jeffrey Gifford.

To charge this thermal battery, surplus power from the grid would heat sand in silos. The sand particles would heat air – a gas which is predominantly nitrogen – to drive a commercially available gas turbine. Air is a much more environmentally friendly gas than natural gas and when heated by the stored sand particles it can drive the same hot gas turbine used in gas power plants today with no modifications. The air would be heated by silica sand particles from the Midwest stored in 90 meter tall silos – about the height of today’s industrial silos.

“We wanted to generate a thermal energy storage system that could integrate with what already exists,” Giffords said. “Just like how we can turn on natural gas power plants today when we need them – that’s the role of our long duration energy storage system – to be able to shape wind and solar for them to be dispatchable.”
» Read article      

» More about long-duration energy storage

SITING IMPACTS OF RENEWABLES

EnergySource geothermal station
Where Is There More Lithium to Power Cars and Phones? Beneath a California Lake.
The U.S. race to secure a material known as ‘white gold’ turns to the Salton Sea, where energy companies hope to extract lithium from a geothermal reservoir
By Alistair MacDonald and Jim Carlton, Wall Street Journal
February 8, 2022

CALIPATRIA, Calif.—In the U.S. hunt for lithium, an essential component of the batteries that power electric vehicles and cellphones, one big untapped source might be bubbling under a giant lake in Southern California.

The U.S. currently imports almost all of its lithium, but research shows large reserves in underground geothermal brines—a scalding hot soup of minerals, metals and saltwater. The catch: Extracting lithium from such a source at commercial scale is untested.

At California’s Salton Sea, three companies, including one owned by Warren Buffett’s conglomerate Berkshire Hathaway Inc., are pushing ahead with plans to do just that. Those efforts are backed by money from governments eager to secure supplies of critical minerals that are key to several modern technologies. Prices of lithium recently rose at their fastest pace in years as supply-chain bottlenecks mounted and demand from electric-vehicle makers such as Tesla Inc. intensified.

The plans could turn this southeastern corner of California into one of the largest producers of what some call “white gold” at a time when most of that material comes from Australia, Chile and China. The geothermal reservoir under the Salton Sea area is capable of producing 600,000 metric tons a year of lithium carbonate, according to estimates from the California Energy Commission. That level of output would surpass last year’s global production.

This push for lithium could also produce thousands of jobs in an area that sorely needs them. Imperial County, where the lake resides, has a population of 180,000 and is dependent on a volatile and low-wage farming industry. Unemployment was 14.7% in December, compared with 6.5% for the state. The county’s 20% poverty rate is the fourth-highest among California’s 58 counties.

“If it is what we hope, it would lift this entire valley off of what we have been living with,” said Imperial County Supervisor Ryan Kelley.
» Read article      

Swedish accent
New study probes impact of blackened wind turbine blades
By Joshua S Hill, Renew Economy
February 7, 2022

Swedish power company Vattenfall has announced plans to embark on further research into whether painting one of the three blades on a wind turbine black can help to reduce the number of bird collisions, with a new three-year study.

Despite stories spread by some media outlets and across social media platforms, wind turbines have been shown to be much less likely to kill birds compared to other man-made obstacles and threats, including coal-fired power plants, as one prime example.

Nevertheless, Vattenfall is seeking to mitigate the impact wind turbines can have on bird populations through a new study in the Dutch seaport of Eemshaven.

Vattenfall will paint a single turbine blade black on seven wind turbines in an effort to determine whether this method can reduce the risk of birds colliding with turbine blades.

In a study already underway through the compiling of a baseline measurement through 2022, the seven turbine blades will be painted black in early 2023 and be monitored for two years through to the end of 2024.

The study will also assess aviation safety and the impact of the painted blades on the landscape.

The three-year assessment will follow the results of an existing study partly financed by Vattenfall on the island of Smøla in Norway which found that painting one wind turbine blade can result in 70% fewer collisions.

“That has to do with the way birds perceive the moving rotor of a wind turbine,” said Jesper Kyed Larsen, environmental expert at Vattenfall.

“When a bird comes close to the rotating blades, the three individual blades can ‘merge’ into a smear and birds may no longer perceive it an object to avoid. One black blade interrupts the pattern, making the blending of the blades into a single image less likely.”

Put another way, the researchers – who published their findings in the journal Ecology and Evolution in mid-2020 – concluded that “Provision of ‘passive’ visual cues may enhance the visibility of the rotor blades enabling birds to take evasive action in due time.”

Further, not only was the annual fatality rate significantly reduced at the turbines with a painted blade by over 70%, relative to the neighboring control … turbines” but, for some birds – notably the white-tailed eagle – the black turbine blade seemed to ensure no fatalities whatsoever.
» Read article      

» More about siting impacts

MODERNIZING THE GRID

bidding floor upheld
A decision made behind closed doors may set clean energy back by two years
By Sabrina Shankman, Boston Globe
February 5, 2022

At a time when New England should be racing to bring as much clean energy online as possible to green its electricity supply, the grid moved this past week to effectively discourage major wind and solar projects for at least another two years.

Like other regional power suppliers, New England’s grid operator has been asked by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to remove or change a mechanism that makes it harder for clean energy projects to enter the competitive market. But after months of saying it supported such a measure, ISO-New England reversed its stance last week and aligned with a proposal from the natural gas industry that would slow-walk any such change.

“It’s another example of not meeting the moment to usher in the clean energy transition,” said Jeremy McDiarmid, of the Northeast Clean Energy Council. “It is an example of the system not being equipped to change as fast as we need it to.”

In Massachusetts, as in other states in the region, the clock is ticking to green the electrical grid. The climate legislation passed last year requires that the state halve its emissions by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050. To do so, the state is expecting a million homeowners to switch off fossil fuels and 750,000 vehicle owners to go electric by the end of the decade. But with those increased electricity demands, a crucial piece of the state’s equation is ensuring that the grid makes a rapid switch off fossil fuels and onto renewables.

The mechanism that was voted on — called a minimum offer price rule — limits what energy projects can bid into what’s known as the forward capacity market. Developers with successful bids are able to procure financing three years in advance, helping ensure that projects have the needed funds to be developed or expanded, and that the grid will have enough energy available in the future.

The minimum offer price rule was created to help insulate fossil fuel power plants from having to compete against renewables that cost less due to state programs and subsidies that exist to help foster clean energy development. It created a floor below which a developer cannot bid, meaning that those less expensive energy supplies, like large-scale offshore wind or solar, aren’t able to compete.

The fear from regulators and the fossil fuel industry was that without such a rule, fossil fuel plants could be forced offline before adequate clean energy was ready to fill the void on the grid, creating reliability problems. The effect has been that fossil fuel-fired power plants have been able to secure bids around the region, despite increasingly ambitious climate plans from the New England states that would indicate otherwise.
» Read article      

» More about modernizing the grid

GAS UTILITIES

HP water heater test
Vermont gas utility has a new service: helping to electrify your home

Vermont Gas Systems announced that it would begin selling, leasing, installing and servicing electric heat pump water heaters for customers in a move that it expects to be neutral to its bottom line.
By David Thill, Energy News Network
February 7, 2022

A Vermont natural gas utility is expanding into a new and unexpected line of business: helping customers switch to electric appliances.

Vermont Gas Systems (VGS) announced in December that it would begin selling, leasing, installing and servicing electric heat pump water heaters for customers in and around its service territory in the northwest part of the state.

The move comes as Vermont’s 2020 climate law raises existential questions about the future of fossil fuels in the state. Achieving a mandatory 80% reduction (from 1990 levels) in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 will all but require a reduction in natural gas sales.

“By offering this, VGS is helping Vermont achieve the climate action goals established by the Global Warming Solutions Act,” said Ashley Wainer, the company’s vice president of customer and energy innovation.

The company’s motivations aren’t entirely altruistic either. In a filing to state regulators in November, VGS explained that its “behind-the-meter” installation and maintenance services are an important source of revenue, expected to bring in about $1,175,000 in net revenue for the 2022 fiscal year.

“These services are a profitable part of VGS’s overall business, and the associated revenue reduces our [cost of service] and therefore reduces customers’ rates,” the company wrote.
» Read article      

» More about gas utilities

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Cuero flare
The end of natural gas has to start with its name
The oil and gas industry didn’t invent the name. But it invented the myth of a clean fuel.
By Rebecca Leber, Vox
February 10, 2022

Locals in the town of Fredonia, New York, noticed in the early 19th century how gas would sometimes bubble up in a creek and catch fire when lit. This wasn’t much more than a curiosity until 1821, when a businessman captured and sold it for fuel to Fredonia shops. This “inflammable air,” as one newspaper called it, was cheap to transport relative to the other lighting fuels of the day — whale oil for candles and gas produced from coal. From the start, “nature’s gas,” as it was nicknamed, was celebrated as the healthy and virtually inexhaustible miracle fuel of the future.

A big part of the early appeal was how much cleaner gas seemed than coal. In the 19th century, people could see and smell the particulate matter, sulfur, and nitrogen leaving a trail of smoggy air in cities. By comparison, natural gas is almost entirely made up of methane, a colorless, odorless gas that produces far fewer of these pollutants when burned.

What no one knew back then was that methane is pollution, too — just a different kind. A large body of scientific research now shows that gas, when it’s produced and when it’s consumed, poses a danger to human health and to the climate.

In the 19th century, this ignorance was understandable, but today most people still don’t appreciate how insidious gas fuel is. When the climate communications group Climate Nexus conducted a poll of 4,600 registered US voters last fall, 77 percent had a favorable view of natural gas, far higher than when asked about their views on methane. Less than a third were able to link that natural gas is primarily methane. In the same poll, a majority incorrectly answered that they think methane pollution is declining or staying about the same. Other surveys show similar results.

The reason for the disconnect is embedded in the very name, “natural gas.” The word “natural” tends to bias Americans to view whatever it is affixed to as healthy, clean, and environmentally friendly. Natural foods, natural immunity, and natural births are among the many buzzwords of the moment.

“The idea that we ought to do what’s natural, we ought to use what’s natural, and we ought to consume what’s natural is one of the most powerful and commonplace shortcuts we have,” said Alan Levinovitz, a religion professor who wrote Natural: How Faith in Nature’s Goodness Leads to Harmful Facts, Unjust Laws, and Flawed Science. “The term influences people’s attitudes toward natural gas. People are going to be more likely to see natural gas as better than it is; they’re more likely to see it as safer.”
» Read article      

FF hot seat
‘Big Oil’ board members face hot seat over climate ‘deception’
Oil industry insiders to appear before US Congress as some of the most powerful companies in the world face a reckoning for the climate crisis.
By Jack Losh, Aljazeera
February 7, 2022

In 1977, an internal memo at Exxon, the United States oil giant, made clear that carbon emissions from its product were causing climate change. But not only that – time was running out to act.

“CO2 release most likely source of inadvertent climate modification,” said the shorthand document. “5-10 yr time window to get necessary information.”

But over the coming years, rather than dropping fossil fuels to avert the dangers outlined in its own research, Exxon and other oil corporations chose a different path. The industry orchestrated a systematic campaign of disinformation to dupe the public, impede political action, and protect profits.

“Emphasize the uncertainty in scientific conclusions regarding the potential enhanced Greenhouse effect,” said an Exxon paper in 1988, one of many published in the America Misled report on the fossil fuel industry.

“Stress environmentally sound adaptive efforts,” said another internal memo the following year. “Victory will be achieved when average citizens ‘understand’ (recognize) uncertainties in climate science,” added one more in 1998.

Against this decades-long backdrop of deception and denial, oil industry insiders will appear before the US Congress as some of the most powerful energy companies in the world face a reckoning for their role in creating – and attempting to cover up – the climate crisis.

Board members at BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil, and Shell will be questioned under oath by a House panel on Tuesday. The aim is to illuminate the industry’s contribution to humanity’s worst existential threat – and how, at the same time, it spread disinformation to cast doubt over the catastrophic impact of burning its products.

Although the hearings cannot bring criminal prosecutions, experts see them as a crucial means of shifting public opinion. And that could spur consumers to shun carbon-based fuels and encourage investors to strip big polluters of capital, while empowering environmental activists and lawyers to take on powerful industrial interests.
» Read article      

» More about fossil fuels

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