Tag Archives: National Association of Home Builders

Weekly News Check-In 3/5/21

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Welcome back.

This week’s most timely story involves a ham-handed power grab by the building and natural gas industries – forcing a rule change at the International Code Council to deprive thousands of municipal officials of voting rights in future updates to the energy efficiency building code. This mass disenfranchisement appears to be special-interest blowback following the successful 2019 voting round, when record-breaking voter participation resulted in the first significant improvement of base building codes in a decade. The development is particularly unfortunate given recent reports showing that global emissions are still rising while country-level commitments for greenhouse gas reductions are running far below levels necessary to address the climate emergency. Building emissions are a significant part of the problem – especially from the combustion of natural gas for heating, domestic hot water, and cooking.

It’s been 30 years since the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history, when a burst pipeline spewed 1.7 million gallons of crude oil onto Minnesota’s frozen Prairie River. This pipeline is now Enbridge’s Line 3, and the project to replace and reroute it through sensitive wetland habitat is fiercely opposed by local indigenous people, who demand enforcement of Tribal treaties they feel should protect them from this environmental threat.

Another active protest campaign includes opposition to the Formosa Plastics project, a major expansion of the petrochemical industry in Louisiana’s St. James Parish, known as Cancer Alley. Industry abuse of this mostly Black environmental justice community has drawn a sharply critical report from the United Nations Human Rights Council.

We’ve posted a number of reports touting plans and pilot ventures aimed at transitioning coal country into a greener economic model. So far, the efforts have primarily been at the individual, local, and state levels, and disparities are exposing the need for a more coordinated federal program.

As usual, the news gets better when we look at developments in zero-emission technologies. Agricultural land hosting large solar arrays can remain productive by using flocks of sheep to control vegetation, and it’s catching on. Energy storage is looking beyond lithium, especially in the long-duration markets. Thermal storage and non-toxic iron flow batteries are two promising technologies ready to offer grid-scale services. And clean transportation is all about rapidly expanding easily accessible EV charging stations, plus an announcement that Volvo cars and SUVs will be 100% electric by 2030 – five years ahead of rival carmakers’ most aggressive goals.

The news always gets more sobering when we turn our attention back to the fossil fuel industry. A new pilot study shows disturbing health impacts for people living near fracking operations, even while the natural gas industry mounts an all-out effort to block increasingly popular efforts to ban gas hookups in new buildings. Industry leaders seem unable to visualize a business plan that doesn’t involve drilling, piping, and burning planet-cooking toxins. Consequently, they react to any zero-emissions transition plan as an existential threat. Hence today’s lead stories on the assault on energy efficient building codes….

We’ll close by checking in on Massachusetts’ biomass problem, including an opinion article from one of Reading Municipal Light Department’s five elected commissioners explaining how demand for Palmer Renewable Energy’s biomass-generated electricity is far less than it appears.

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PIPELINES

thirty years later
30 years later, echoes of largest inland oil spill remain in Line 3 fight
By Dan Kraker and Kirsti Marohn, Minnesota Public Radio
March 3, 2021

Thirty years ago Wednesday, on March 3, 1991, the Line 3 oil pipeline ruptured in Grand Rapids, Minn., spilling 1.7 million gallons of crude oil onto the frozen Prairie River.

It’s still the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history.

Because the river was covered with ice, crews were able to keep the oil from reaching the Mississippi, 2 miles away.

“There would be people on the ice, squeegeeing oil on top of the ice, which was weird, everything was weird, it was like some kind of gross landscape,” Scott Hall, a reporter for Grand Rapids public radio station KAXE, told MPR News in 2018 for an episode of its Rivers of Oil podcast, which dove deep into the impacts of the spill.

“And so they had hoses going down, and just sucking as much oil as they could out into these tanker trucks.”

The Lakehead Pipeline Co. owned Line 3, which was built in the 1960s to carry oil from Canada, at the time of the spill. And the company that succeeded Lakehead, Enbridge Energy, is now replacing that same Line 3 with a new pipeline along a different route across the state.

Construction on the new line began in earnest in December. But Native American tribes and environmental groups continue to fight the $4 billion project, on the ground and in court.
» Read article          
» Oil and Water: The Line 3 Debate – full coverage    

Seamus O'ReganLine 5 ‘very different’ from Keystone XL and Canada will fight hard for it: O’Regan
‘The operation of Line 5 is non-negotiable,’ said natural resources minister
By James McCarten, CBC
March 4, 2021

The federal government won’t let Michigan shut down the Line 5 pipeline, Canada’s natural resources minister said Thursday as he dismissed opposition comparisons to the thwarted Keystone XL project.

Seamus O’Regan sounded almost combative as he vowed to defend the 1,000-kilometre line, which bridges an environmentally sensitive part of the Great Lakes to link Wisconsin with refineries in Sarnia, Ont.

“We are fighting for Line 5 on every front and we are confident in that fight,” O’Regan told a special House of Commons committee on the relationship between Canada and the United States.

The Enbridge Inc. pipeline carries an estimated 540,000 barrels of oil and natural gas liquids daily, and is vital to the energy and employment needs of Ontario, Alberta and Quebec, as well as northern U.S. states, he added. 

“We are fighting on a diplomatic front, and we are preparing to invoke whatever measures we need to in order to make sure that Line 5 remains operational,” he said. “The operation of Line 5 is non-negotiable.”

In November, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ordered Line 5 to be shut down by May, accusing Calgary-based Enbridge of violating the terms of the deal that allows the line to traverse the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac. 

The straits, which link Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, boast powerful, rapidly changing currents that experts have said make the area the worst possible place for an oil spill in the Great Lakes.

Pipeline opponents in the U.S. — many of the same voices who helped make TC Energy’s proposed Keystone XL expansion an environmental rallying point over the last decade — have vowed to see it shut down. 

Enbridge, which has plans to fortify the underwater segment of the line by routing it through a tunnel under the lake bed, is fighting Whitmer’s order in court.
» Read article          

» More about pipelines         

 

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

Sunshine Casino
UN Human Rights Experts Condemn Expanding Petrochemical Industry in Louisiana’s Cancer Alley as ‘Environmental Racism’
By Julie Dermansky, DeSmog Blog
March 3, 2021

Human rights experts appointed by the United Nations Human Rights Council issued a statement on March 2 raising concerns about the further industrialization of Louisiana’s “Cancer Alley.” This largely Black-populated stretch of the Mississippi River between New Orleans and Baton Rouge is lined with more than a hundred refineries and petrochemical plants. The experts said additional petrochemical development in this region, which U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data shows has some of the country’s highest cancer risks from air pollution, constitutes “environmental racism” that “must end.”

“This form of environmental racism poses serious and disproportionate threats to the enjoyment of several human rights of its largely African American residents, including the right to equality and non-discrimination, the right to life, the right to health, right to an adequate standard of living and cultural rights,” the experts said.

The statement calls for U.S. officials to reconsider allowing FG LA LLC, a subsidiary of Formosa Plastics Group, to build its proposed “Sunshine Project” in St. James Parish, in the middle of the region. That development, one of several new petrochemical projects slated for the region, would be a massive complex. Its 14 units would produce two types of plastic and the petrochemical ethylene glycol, which is used to make polyester fabrics and antifreeze.

It is a development that Sharon Lavigne, founder of the faith-based grassroots organization RISE St. James, has been trying to stop ever since learning in 2018 that the company planned to build its complex less than two miles from her home.

If built, “Formosa Plastics’ petrochemical complex alone will more than double the cancer risks in St. James Parish affecting disproportionately African American residents,” the human rights experts wrote. Their statement also took government regulators to task for their role. “Federal environmental regulations have failed to protect people residing in ‘Cancer Alley,’” they said, calling for the U.S. Government “to deliver environmental justice in communities all across America, starting with St. James Parish,” by stopping the Formosa Plastics project.
» Read article          
» Read the UN statement        

» More about protests and actions         

 

GREENING THE ECONOMY

without a map
As coal dies, the US has no plan to help the communities left behind
By Emily Pontecorvo, Grist
March 3, 2021

Here are two tales of the energy transition unfolding in coal country, USA.

In late 2019, Pacificorp, an electric utility that operates in six Western states, told Wyoming regulators it wanted to shut down several of its coal-fired power plants early and replace them with wind and solar power and battery storage. It said this plan would save customers hundreds of millions of dollars on their electric bills and promised to work with local leaders on transition plans for workers and communities affected by the closures.

Wyoming, a state whose economy relies significantly on coal mining and coal power, went on the defensive. State lawmakers had already passed a law requiring coal plant owners to search for a buyer before being allowed to close a plant. Now, with support from the governor, regulators ordered an unprecedented investigation to scrutinize Pacificorp’s analysis and conclusions. Ultimately they determined the plan was deficient — that the company had not adequately considered allowing the coal plants to stay open or installing technology to capture the plants’ carbon emissions.

One rectangle down on the U.S. map, in Colorado, 2019 was the year a new state law passed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 90 percent by 2050. In parallel, Colorado established an Office of Just Transition to help the workers and communities affected by now-inevitable coal mine and power plant closures. To comply with that timeline, the state’s two largest electric utilities recently submitted plans, not unlike Pacificorp’s, to retire several coal plants early and replace them with renewables and batteries.

While Colorado regulators have not yet approved the plans, they’ll likely be concerned with whether the utilities will phase out coal fast enough. Meanwhile, the Office of Just Transition has released a plan to help coal communities adapt to the looming changes in their economies and has already begun outreach efforts.

These two examples represent a larger trend in the West: While policies and proposals in some states (like Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona) acknowledge the writing on the wall for the coal industry, others (like Wyoming and, to a lesser extent, Montana) are protecting it for dear life. A new study by researchers at Montana State University examines this chasm and connects it to the absence of cohesive national energy transition policy.
» Read article          
» Read the Montana State University study       

» More about greening the economy       

 

CLIMATE

back on trend
New IEA Data Shows World on Path to Resume ‘Carbon-Intensive Business-as-Usual’
By Andrea Germanos, Common Dreams, in DeSmog UK
March 2, 2021

Following warnings that the coronavirus-triggered drop in planet-warming emissions would be short-lived without structural changes, the International Energy Agency released data Tuesday showing that global CO2 emissions from the energy sector were 2 percent higher in December 2020 compared to the same month the previous year.

The Paris-based agency said the figures reflect a lack of concrete action by global governments to follow through on pledges to meet net zero emissions by 2050 and predicted 2021 emissions would continue the upward trend barring sufficiently bold action.

“The rebound in global carbon emissions toward the end of last year is a stark warning that not enough is being done to accelerate clean energy transitions worldwide. If governments don’t move quickly with the right energy policies, this could put at risk the world’s historic opportunity to make 2019 the definitive peak in global emissions,” said IEA executive director Fatih Birol.

Birol further warned that the figures “show we are returning to carbon-intensive business-as-usual.”

“This year is pivotal for international climate action,” he added, “but these latest numbers are a sharp reminder of the immense challenge we face in rapidly transforming the global energy system.”

While emissions in the U.S. dropped 10 percent in 2020 overall, the downward trend began moving back up after a low point in spring. The nation capped off 2020 with December emissions being nearly the same as those in December 2019.

In India, an increase in emissions began in September with the loosening of Covid-19-related restrictions. China’s emissions began climbing upward in April, and its emissions for the year overall increased by 0.8 percent.

The global shutdowns brought about by the pandemic resulted in a historic drop in global emissions, which climate activists said should be no substitute for real climate action and scientists said would ultimately do little to rein in global temperature increase.

Stressing that there’s “no time to lose” to address atmospheric concentrations of CO2, WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said in November: “We breached the global threshold of 400 parts per million in 2015. And just four years later, we crossed 410 ppm. Such a rate of increase has never been seen in the history of our records.”

“The lockdown-related fall in emissions is just a tiny blip on the long-term graph,” said Taalas. “We need a sustained flattening of the curve.”
» Read article          

global inaction
Global Action Is ‘Very Far’ From What’s Needed to Avert Climate Chaos
New climate pledges submitted to the United Nations would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by less than 1 percent, the world body announced.
By Somini Sengupta, New York Times
February 26, 2021

The global scientific consensus is clear: Emissions of planet-warming gases must be cut by nearly half by 2030 if the world is to have a good shot at averting the worst climate catastrophes.

The global political response has been underwhelming so far.

New climate targets submitted by countries to the United Nations would reduce emissions by less than 1 percent, according to the latest tally, made public Friday by the world body.

The head of the United Nations climate agency, Patricia Espinosa, said the figures compiled by her office showed that “current levels of climate ambition are very far from putting us on a pathway that will meet our Paris Agreement goals.”

The figures offer a reality check on the many promises coming from world capitals and company boardrooms that leaders are taking climate change seriously.

The United Nations secretary general, António Guterres, called the report “a red alert.”

The tally was all the more damning because fewer than half of all countries submitted fresh targets to the United Nations. The Paris climate accord, designed to limit an increase in global temperatures, had urged them to do so by the end of 2020.
» Read article          

weakening ocean currents
Climate Change is Weakening the Ocean Currents That Shape Weather on Both Sides of the Atlantic
The change in the main ocean heat pump could bring more heat waves to Europe, increase sea level rise in North America and force fish to move farther north.
By Bob Berwyn, InsideClimate News
February 25, 2021

Since the end of the last ice age, a swirling system of ocean-spanning currents has churned consistently in the Atlantic, distributing heat energy along the ocean surface from the tropics toward the poles, with heavy, cold water slowly flowing back toward the equator along the bottom of the sea.

Collectively known as the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, the currents played a key role in shaping the climate of eastern North America and Western Europe, and thus the development of civilizations there. But in the 20th century, the circulation has weakened more than at any other time during at least the last 1,000 years, new research shows.

Together with other studies showing that global warming is driving the weakening, the new findings suggest that the circulation will lose even more strength in the decades ahead. That could cause heat and cold extremes in Europe and rapid sea level rise along the East Coast of the United States. As it weakens, pools of warm water form. That can lead to ocean heat waves, with increasing evidence that overheating oceans are linked with droughts and heat waves on nearby land areas.

The overturning circulation loops like a 10,000-mile conveyor belt through the North and South  Atlantic, connecting polar regions. It brings cold water up from the deep, sends warmer water across the surface and then drops it back down thousands of miles away as it cools.
» Read article          

» More about climate            

 

CLEAN ENERGY

sheep and shade
Connecticut solar developers enlist sheep to cut grass and ease tensions

Several projects before the state’s siting board propose integrating sheep grazing with photovoltaic installations.
By Lisa Prevost, Energy News Network
Photo By Antalexion / Creative Commons
March 3, 2021

It wasn’t your usual Connecticut Siting Council hearing. 

The petition before the regulators last week concerned a proposed 4.99-megawatt solar project on a tobacco farm in East Windsor. But many of the councilors’ questions for developer Greenskies Clean Energy had little to do with the technicalities of solar. 

Robert Hannon wanted to know how manure would be handled. John Morissette asked about the level of animal noise. And Chair Robert Silvestri wondered if the site would be safe from coyotes and other predators. 

The answers were vague, as this is the first time Greenskies has proposed using sheep to control vegetation on a solar site. 

The siting council is likely to become more savvy about the particulars in coming months as another Connecticut solar developer, Verogy, has proposed using sheep at three projects pending in East Windsor, Southington and Bristol. 

The proposals reflect the growing interest throughout the region in what’s called agrivoltaics — the practice of combining agricultural uses and renewable energy production on the same parcel of land.

The idea is that “we essentially utilize the sheep for vegetation maintenance, and it allows the property to continue in an agricultural use,” said Gina Wolfman, a senior project developer for Greenskies. 

And instead of revenues being paid out to landscaping services, “they are directed to the farming community,” said Bryan Fitzgerald, a co-founder of and director of development at Verogy.

That can help ease tensions around the use of prime farmland for large-scale solar arrays.
» Read article          

» More about clean energy            

 

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

now previewing
Code council approves plan to limit city, state input despite pushback

The International Code Council’s decision to limit direct influence by state and local government officials left some critics speculating about the potential to create an alternative to the organization’s widely used model codes.
By Alex Ruppenthal, Energy News Network
March 5, 2021

The nonprofit responsible for developing model building energy codes used by cities and states nationwide finalized a controversial plan Thursday to strip voting rights from thousands of public sector members — a move clean energy advocates fear will slow progress in achieving more efficient buildings and reducing emissions that fuel climate change. 

The decision, which critics say was made to appease the interests of industry groups representing homebuilders and natural gas utilities, came during a Wednesday meeting of the International Code Council’s board of directors. Unlike with its previous meeting in January, the board did not stream Wednesday’s meeting for the public to view. 

The change to the code-setting process was set in motion last fall when groups including the National Association of Home Builders and Leading Builders of America cried foul over the latest code development cycle, during which state and local government officials voted in record numbers, resulting in the code’s biggest efficiency gains in at least a decade. 

In response to the record voting turnout, industry groups alleged voting irregularities and “improper use of voting guides” that had been distributed by efficiency advocates. (The Code Council conducted a review of the voting process and found no evidence of irregularities.) Industry representatives also said the process needed to change because energy codes were getting more complex, requiring a higher level of expertise among voting members. 

“This is a classic case of changing the rules in the middle of the game,” said Lauren Urbanek, a senior energy policy advocate with the Natural Resources Defense Council, in a statement following the ICC’s announcement. “It’s extremely troubling that the ICC Board unnecessarily voted to strip the power from local government officials on the very codes they oversee, after they voted overwhelmingly to make our homes and other buildings more energy efficient and avoid harmful pollution from burning fossil fuels inside them.”
» Read article          

code voter supprssion
Cities voted for green building codes. Now developers want to end voting.
By Alexander C. Kaufman, Grist
March 1, 2021

Kim Havey had a problem. Minneapolis was generating more and more of its electricity from renewables, dropping climate-warming pollution from power to record lows. But emissions from natural gas, which is used to heat buildings and stovetops, were climbing ― overtaking power plants as the city’s top source of carbon pollution in 2017.

Nearly three-quarters of Minneapolis’ emissions came from buildings, and the city was undergoing a construction boom to accommodate a population growing faster than at any point since the 1950s. So Havey, the city’s sustainability director, helped craft new rules mandating more efficient standards for all those new buildings.

But there was a hurdle. Buildings over 50,000 square feet ― medical offices, corporate headquarters, apartment buildings ― fell under state jurisdiction. And Minnesota, like most states, used the International Code Council’s model national energy code as its standard. The ICC ― which, as one newspaper once put it, like the World Series, primarily concerns the U.S. ― is a nonprofit consortium of construction industry groups, architects and local government officials that creates the standard building codes used in towns and cities in all 50 states.

Then Havey learned that as a government official responsible for buildings and energy codes in his city, he could register to vote on the ICC’s next round of energy codes in November 2019. He wasn’t alone in this endeavor. The slow progress in reducing emissions from buildings and a decade of virtually unchanged ICC codes were frustrating officials across the U.S., and hundreds applied that year to vote in a process that takes place every three years.

By the time votes were tallied, this army of Leslie Knopes had won an overwhelming victory. The ballots went 3 to 1 in favor of mandates to ratchet up energy efficiency and require new homes and buildings to include wiring to hook up electric vehicle chargers and electric appliances.

But the triumph was short-lived. The building industry groups that have long wielded dominance over policy at the ICC soon began challenging not only the approved measures, which they called costly and unrealistic, but the members’ right to vote at all.

The National Association of Home Builders, whose influence over the ICC has drawn scrutiny from Congress, demanded the organization reconsider the eligibility of dozens of city departments that cast ballots in 2019. Havey and his entire department were among them.
» Read article          

» More about energy efficiency        

 

ENERGY STORAGE

heat batteries
Aalborg CSP Can Retrofit Coal Plants into Thermal Energy Storage
By Susan Kraemer, SolarPACES
February 28, 2021

Researchers at DLR, and NREL, and the Bill Gates-funded start-up Malta have been investigating converting coal plants into grid-scale thermal energy storage for curtailed intermittent renewable energy, as low-cost heat “batteries.”

Conversion would repurpose most of a coal plant’s assets. Instead of burning coal for the heat, tanks of molten salts would be heated electrically by surplus PV and wind on the grid to “charge” the storage, which could then be “discharged” back to the grid on demand using the former coal plant’s existing power generation and transmission assets.

Now Denmark’s Aalborg CSP A/S has taken a first step to commercialization. Their Integrated Energy System (IES) department, led by Executive Vice President Peter Badstue Jensen now offers their retrofitting of coal plants into thermal energy storage commercially.

The firm’s wide experience in the design and development of complex solar thermal energy and storage systems includes technologies supplying district heating and solar thermal plants operating globally. These include the world’s first seawater desalination solar greenhouse in Australia and seasonal thermal energy storage in Tibet that covers 90% of Langkazi’s annual heating requirement.
» Read article          

ESS all-iron configurable
‘All-iron’ flow battery maker ESS Inc launches ‘configurable’ megawatt-scale product
By Andy Colthorpe, Energy Storage News
February 15, 2021

ESS Inc, the US-headquartered manufacturer of a flow battery using iron and saltwater electrolytes, has launched a new range of energy storage systems starting at 3MW power capacity and promising 6-16 hours discharge duration.

The company announced the launch of the ESS Inc Energy Center last week, a containerised utility-scale energy storage product aimed at serving front-of-the-meter use cases as well as larger commercial and industrial (C&I) site applications. Based on ESS Inc’s second generation of flow battery modules, the solution is designed to support large-scale renewable energy projects, serve transmission and distribution (T&D) applications and supply peaking energy capacity to replace peaker gas plants.

While other companies in the flow battery space have mostly focused on vanadium or zinc-bromine electrolyte, ESS Inc has been bullish on the potential for its ‘all-iron’ flow battery. It has a claimed 25-year expected lifetime without performance degradation and the company claims it is safe: in a 2018 interview CEO Craig Evans told Energy-Storage.news that a report from a fire marshall on the battery chemistry “was [just] three sentences long on how the fire marshal should handle our battery in case of an event”. Meanwhile the battery’s contents are non-toxic and are not made using rare-earth materials or hazardous chemicals, the company claimed. 

In that 2018 interview Evans had conceded that lithium-ion batteries had the big head start on manufacturing scale and cost reduction on newer battery technologies like his company’s, but that technical advantages such as the ESS Inc flow battery’s operating temperature of 50°C — meaning it doesn’t need HVAC solutions to be deployed in hot environments — and ever-cheaper renewable energy could offer market opportunities.
» Read article          

» More about energy storage            

 

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

streetlight powerKansas City plans curbside charging for electric vehicles on streetlights
The federally funded pilot project could become a model for other cities looking to close gaps in charging infrastructure.
By Karen Uhlenhuth, Energy News Network
Photo By Vitaly Vlasov / Creative Commons
March 4, 2021

Kansas City plans to piggyback electric vehicle charging on existing streetlights as a way to improve access in areas currently lacking charging options.

The federally funded pilot project is being led by the nonprofit Metropolitan Energy Center, whose partners include the city and utility Evergy. They hope to install chargers on 30 to 60 streetlights before the end of the year.

Kansas City is a leader when it comes to charging stations — a recent Rocky Mountain Institute analysis ranked it as the region’s top city for electric vehicle infrastructure. But that infrastructure isn’t spread evenly across the city. 

“There are places in the city that don’t have the same access to EV charging as other places,” said Miriam Bouallegue, the energy center’s sustainable transportation project manager. “We’re just trying to fill in some holes.”

As envisioned, the light poles would be equipped with one charger each. Customers would pay for each kilowatt-hour of power, although a rate will have to be established by state utility regulators.

Much of the work so far has involved trying to identify the best locations to install the charging stations. Generally, planners want to locate them near “points of interest” such as stores, apartment buildings, schools and churches. They collaborated with the Missouri University of Science and Technology to map those sites and found about 300 lights that met the criteria.
» Read article          

EV charge station push6 Utilities to Build EV-Charging Network Across 16 States
By Climate Nexus, EcoWatch
March 4, 2021

Six major U.S. electricity utilities will collaborate to build a massive EV charging network across 16 states, they announced Tuesday.

Transportation is the country’s largest source of greenhouse gas pollution, and electrifying the sector is a major opportunity to reduce those emissions through increased efficiency and renewable-generated electricity. Utilities stand to benefit from massively-increased electricity demand driven by widespread EV adoption, but range anxiety — the fear of running out of battery power without being able to reach a convenient charging station — is a barrier to many customers who might purchase (or consider purchasing) an EV.

The newly-formed Electric Highway Coalition — made up of American Electric Power, Dominion Energy, Duke Energy, Entergy, Southern Company, and the Tennessee Valley Authority — is seeking to ameliorate those concerns by creating a network of charging stations from Texas to Indiana to Virginia to Florida. The announcement follows a similar initiative by major midwest utilities last year.
» Read article          

all-electric Volvo
Volvo says it will stop selling gasoline-powered cars by 2030.
By Jack Ewing, New York Times
March 2, 2021

Volvo Cars said it would convert its entire lineup to battery power by 2030, phasing out internal combustion engine vehicles faster than other automakers like General Motors.

Volvo, based in Sweden and owned by Geely Holding of China, has been ahead of larger rivals in converting to electric power. In 2019, all the models it sold were either hybrids or ran solely on batteries.

By 2030, Volvo will “phase out any car in its global portfolio with an internal combustion engine, including hybrids,” the company said in a statement on Tuesday.

Hybrids have better fuel economy than conventional vehicles, but they may not be much better for the climate or for urban air quality if drivers do not use the electric capabilities.

G.M.’s promise to sell only emission-free vehicles, which it made in January, does not take effect until 2035.

Volvo acknowledged that it was responding in part to pressure from governments, many of which have announced bans on internal combustion engines in coming years.

The company said its decision was based “on the expectation that legislation as well as a rapid expansion of accessible high quality charging infrastructure will accelerate consumer acceptance of fully electric cars.”
» Read article          

» More about clean transportation             

 

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

protect our earth
Fractured: The body burden of living near fracking
EHN.org scientific investigation finds western Pennsylvania families near fracking are exposed to harmful chemicals, and regulations fail to protect communities’ mental, physical, and social health.
By EHN Staff, Environmental Health News
March 1, 2021

It’s been 12 years since fracking reshaped the American energy landscape and much of the Pennsylvania countryside.

And despite years of damning studies and shocking headlines about the industry’s impact—primarily on the state’s poor and rural families—people that live amongst wellpads remain in the dark about what this proximity is doing to their health and the health of their families. A two-year investigation by EHN set out to close some of those gaps by measuring chemical exposures in residents’ air, water, and bodies.

In the summer of 2019, we collected air, water, and urine samples from five nonsmoking southwestern Pennsylvania households. All of the households included at least one child. Three households were in Washington County within two miles of numerous fracking wells, pipelines, and compressor stations. Two households were in Westmoreland County, at least five miles away from the nearest active fracking well.

Over a 9-week period we collected a total of 59 urine samples, 39 air samples, and 13 water samples. Scientists at the University of Missouri analyzed the samples using the best available technology to look for 40 of the chemicals most commonly found in emissions from fracking sites (based on other air and water monitoring studies).

This was a small pilot study, so we aren’t able to draw any sweeping scientific conclusions from our findings. Instead, we hope our findings will provide a snapshot of environmental exposures in southwestern Pennsylvania families and help pave the way for additional research.

We found chemicals like benzene and butylcyclohexane in drinking water and air samples, and breakdown products for chemicals like ethylbenzene, styrene, and toluene in the bodies of children living near fracking wells at levels up to 91 times as high as the average American and substantially higher than levels seen in the average adult cigarette smoker.

The chemicals we found in the air and water—and inside of people’s bodies—are linked to a wide range of harmful health impacts, from skin and respiratory irritation to organ damage and increased cancer risk.

But these stories are about more than a list of hard-to-pronounce chemicals. They’re about a single father on disability who fears these exposures are causing his son’s illness but can’t afford to move; a family that did move to escape a school surrounded by well pads, but found themselves living next to a new set of wells and still being exposed; and quiet rural lifestyles once defined by idyllic farms, rolling hills, and fresh air now overwhelmed by heavy truck traffic, heavy industry, and communities at odds over whether to protest that loss or try and cash in by leasing their mineral rights.
» Read article          

banning the gas ban
A Texas city had a bold new climate plan – until a gas company got involved
The fossil fuel industry is using the same playbook to fight city climate plans around the country
By Emily Holden for Floodlight, Amal Ahmed for the Texas Observer and Brendan Gibbons for San Antonio Report, in The Guardian
March 1, 2021

When the city of Austin drafted a plan to shift away from fossil fuels, the local gas company was fast on the scene to try to scale back the ambition of the effort.

Like many cities across the US, the rapidly expanding and gentrifying Texas city is looking to shrink its climate footprint. So its initial plan was to virtually eliminate gas use in new buildings by 2030 and existing ones by 2040. Homes and businesses would have to run on electricity and stop using gas for heat, hot water and stoves.

The proposal, an existential threat to the gas industry, quickly caught the attention of Texas Gas Service. The company drafted line-by-line revisions to weaken the plan, asked customers to oppose it and escalated its concerns to top city officials.

In its suggested edits, the company struck references to “electrification”, and replaced them with “decarbonization”– a policy that wouldn’t rule out gas. It replaced “electric vehicles” with “alternative fuel vehicles”, which could run on compressed natural gas. It offered to help the city to plant more trees to absorb climate pollution and to explore technologies to pull carbon dioxide out of the air – both of which might help it to keep burning gas.

Those proposed revisions were shared with Floodlight, the Texas Observer and San Antonio Report, by the Climate Investigations Center, which obtained them through public records of communications between city officials and the company.

The moves have so far proven a success for Texas Gas. The most recently published draft of the climate plan gives the company much more time to sell gas to existing customers, and it allows it to offset climate emissions instead of eliminating them. The city, however, is revisiting the plan after a backlash to the industry-secured changes.
» Read article          

» More about fossil fuels         

 

BIOMASS

gift to biomass
Baker’s $175m regulatory gift to biomass
Few municipal light plants actually wanted project
By David Talbot, CommonWealth Magazine | Opinion
February 20, 2021

THE BAKER ADMINISTRATION and much of the Legislature is trying hard to give the developer of a controversial proposed wood-fired “biomass” power plant in Springfield everything it wants—especially a regulatory change that could give the plant $175 million in additional cash from Massachusetts electric ratepayers over 20 years.

To those wondering why Beacon Hill is doing so much—despite opposition on emissions and environmental justice grounds from the Springfield City Council, the Massachusetts attorney general’s office, both of our US senators, and five state senators who filed an anti-biomass bill Friday – the answer often comes back that this is what the Commonwealth’s 41 municipal light plants want.

As the story goes, these local electric utilities, anticipating new standards, sought biomass electricity as part of a broader way to meet those standards.

But the actual decisions made by these century-old entities suggest otherwise. When the power contracts for the unbuilt Springfield facility were offered to municipal light plants in late 2019 and early 2020, only eight signed up—and for a total of only 75 percent of the plant’s output—based on information contained in contracts signed in February of 2020.

Low as these numbers are, they overstate the interest. By far the biggest tranche, 25 percent, was taken by the Reading Municipal Light Department, where I am one of five elected commissioners. But the Reading deal was signed at the management level; when our board later learned of this, we voted to examine all options with respect to the contract’s disposition.

In other words, we started looking for exits.

Our board-voted signal meant just seven municipal light plants truly wanted just half of the plant’s output, according to those contracts signed in February 2020.  And though those other local boards were no doubt better informed than ours, it’s not clear how much they knew about the controversy.

If Beacon Hill’s efforts are not answering demands from local municipal electric utilities, the question begging more investigation is why our elected leaders want to shovel so much money to just one developer (no other such plants are currently proposed in Massachusetts) to build a facility wanted by so few.

The developer, Palmer Renewable Energy, first got permits for the plant more than a decade ago. The company prevailed over certain legal challenges – but still needed more than electricity sales at market rates to make a business case to build the $150 million plant. Gov. Charlie Baker and Patrick Woodcock, Baker’s commissioner of the Department of Energy Resources, stepped in to help.

Woodcock, formerly the top energy official under Gov. Paul LePage in Maine, set about gutting the rules for wood-fired biomass plants in the Bay State. The existing ones, in something called the Renewable Portfolio Standard, were stringent. Under them, electricity from the Palmer plant – which would burn 1,200 tons of wood chips per day, hauled in by tractor-trailers potentially from five states—could not be called “renewable.” Only far more efficient versions could do so.

The proposed Baker/Woodcock rewrite puts this giant wood-burning plant on the same “renewable” footing as a fleet of offshore wind turbines or an array of solar panels. And this meant the developer could also sell something called “Class 1 renewable energy certificates,” which is a form of subsidy.
» Read article           

MA-AGO letterhead
Comments on Draft Regulations Amending Renewable Portfolio Standard Class I and II Regulations, 225 C.M.R. §§ 14.00 et seq.and15.00 et seq.( H.5169)

MA OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL, Maura Healey
December 23, 2020

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

» More about biomass               

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Weekly News Check-In 1/22/21

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Welcome back.

“… When day comes, we step out of the shade, aflame and unafraid.
The new dawn blooms as we free it.
For there is always light,
if only we’re brave enough to see it.
If only we’re brave enough to be it.”
— Amanda Gorman, excerpt from “The Hill We Climb”, in The Guardian

What a week! The Biden/Harris administration kicked off by returning science and sanity to the White House. The inauguration was a high-volume Kleenex event for many, and we already see seismic shifts in policy. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is considering allowing opponents of the Weymouth compressor station to argue that the facility doesn’t serve a public need and presents a danger to nearby environmental justice communities. We include a link with this story – please send your own comments to FERC encouraging them to follow through. This is a big break – let’s work it!

The Keystone XL pipeline is dead. Now, opponents of the Dakota Access Pipeline argue it should meet the same fate, for the same reasons. Strangely, Enbridge is attempting to swim against this anti-pipeline tide by refusing to comply with Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s recent order to shut down its aging Line 5 pipelines under the Straits of Mackinac.

It’s beginning to look like Baltimore’s legal action against the fossil fuel industry will become a pivotal Supreme Court case. The high court agreed to hear a narrow issue related to jurisdiction, but then the oil and gas industry pushed it to go further. At stake is whether this and similar suits can be heard in any state court.

This week, Democrat Richard Glick became Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chair. He has a strong and consistent record of opposing FERC’s “rubber stamp” approach to pipeline project approval, is serious about environmental justice (see Weymouth, above), and is committed to the clean energy transition. Although the Commission will remain majority-Republican till June, he may already have enough support to begin to tackle the big issue of transmission reform.

This week’s biggest, most hopeful, and least-surprising climate story is the pending U.S. return to the Paris Climate Agreement. President Biden stated his administration’s intent in a letter signed within hours of his inauguration. Our return becomes official after thirty days.

Clean energy has a new player. A “tidal kite” is generating renewable electricity from the tidal flows in Vestmannasund, a strait in the Faroe Islands. Tethered to the seabed, the kite’s primary innovation is its ability to “fly” a figure 8 pattern in the tidal current, thereby increasing relative velocity through the water and maximizing energy generation from the onboard turbine.

Necessary advances in building energy efficiency are being threatened by the powerful National Association of Home Builders. We found a great article that makes the case for better buildings, and explains how the building trade’s short-sighted obsession with initial construction cost is passing large downstream bills to home owners and renters – while also cooking the planet with excessive greenhouse gas emissions.

Electric vehicles are currently burdened with long charge times – a problem that mostly concerns drivers taking long trips. New battery designs aim to change that, by making a charge-up take about the same time as a fill-up. The trick involves replacing electrode graphite with nanopaticles that allow a higher rate of electron flow. One example of this new lithium-ion battery was developed by the Israeli company StoreDot and manufactured by Eve Energy in China on standard production lines. While it’s not quite ready for commercial scale deployment, it proves the concept and assures a quick-charge future. Other battery manufacturers are pursuing similar designs.

Recall that Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker’s veto of a landmark climate bill was predicated in large part on $6 billion that he insisted the legislature’s aggressive emissions reduction goals would cost the commonwealth. That allowed the governor to claim a point for fiscal responsibility… except that it sort of looks like he just made that number up! Hopefully the bill will be reintroduced quickly. The Governor and Legislature have expressed an eagerness to move forward. Let’s keep it real….

The fossil fuel industry is sorting out its future in light of the Keystone XL pipeline cancellation and the Biden/Harris climate agenda. We found an interesting article that explores how a number of pipeline projects in the U.S. and Canada could ultimately be affected, and how they’re related.

We’ve mentioned FERC several times, and we’ll close with a story on its decision to affirm that energy company Pembina can’t move forward with the highly-contested Jordan Cove liquefied natural gas project without a key clean water permit from the state of Oregon. After years of battle, this federal regulator has given the opposition hope by merely acting… sensibly.

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

— The NFGiM Team

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

glimmer of hopeAfter years of protests, a glimmer of hope for opponents to the Weymouth gas compressor
By David Abel, Boston Globe
January 19, 2021

After years of protests, residents opposing a controversial natural gas compressor station in Weymouth received a glimmer of hope Tuesday that federal regulators might reconsider last fall’s decision to allow the plant to operate.

In a vote by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, a majority of members ruled the panel had improperly denied a request for a hearing on its approval from neighbors and environmental advocates who have long opposed the compressor. The commissioners, one of whom was appointed since the facility won approval in the fall, cited safety and environmental concerns for their action.

The vote comes after the compressor had two emergency shutdowns in September — just days after regulators authorized it to start operating. It has yet to resume operations, and it’s unclear when it will be allowed to do so.

At an online hearing, Commissioner Richard Glick said the FERC must look more closely at the impact of the station on low-income residents who live nearby and “do more than give lip service to environmental justice.”

“That needs to change,” he said.

In a post on Twitter, Glick added that the station “raises serious environmental justice questions, which we need to examine. The communities surrounding the project are regularly subjected to high levels of pollution & residents are concerned emissions from the station will make things worse.”

A new commissioner, Allison Clements, a Democratic appointee, said the commission should “carefully consider how to address health and safety concerns.” The commissioners serve five-year, staggered terms, and no more than three of the five commissioners may be from the same party as the president.

This ruling comes after residents spent six years fighting the $100 million compressor, which they have said presents health and safety risks to the polluted, densely populated Fore River Basin.

The 7,700-horsepower compressor was built by Enbridge, a Canadian pipeline giant, as part of its $600 million Atlantic Bridge project. The compressor, the subject of a Globe investigation last year, seeks to pump 57.5 million cubic feet of gas a day from Weymouth to Maine and Canada.

“This is significant because this is the first time in six years that they have actually considered our concerns about environmental justice, health, and safety,” said Alice Arena, president of Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station.
» Read article        
» Submit comments to FERC

» More about the Weymouth compressor

PIPELINES

worse than crude
After a decade of struggle, Keystone XL may be sold for scrap
By Alexandria Herr, Grist
January 20, 2021

After 12 embattled years of approval, cancellation, and re-approval, Keystone XL may be done for good. President Biden rescinded the permit for the pipeline via executive order on his first day in office, delivering a long-fought victory to anti-pipeline activists.

The current Keystone pipeline carries oil from the Alberta tar sands in Canada to refineries in Louisiana and Texas. The Alberta tar sands are known for being particularly bad for the climate — emissions from oil extracted there are about 14 percent worse, on average, than a typical barrel of oil. The proposed expansion of the northern leg, which would run from Alberta to Steel City, Nebraska, would carry an estimated 830,000 barrels of crude oil a day.

It’s been a complicated decade since the Keystone XL project was first proposed in 2008 by the Canadian oil company TC Energy. President Obama approved the southern leg of the pipeline in 2012, and it was in use by 2013. But in 2015, after an outpouring of grassroots activism, Obama rejected the northern leg. That decision was reversed by President Trump during his early days in office in 2017. The following year, construction was halted when Montana’s U.S. District Judge Brian Morris ruled that the State Department needed to give further consideration to the pipeline’s potential for environmental damage. Then, last June, Trump dissolved Morris’ injunction by issuing a presidential permit, bypassing the State Department entirely. Today, the northern leg of the pipeline is mostly constructed, with some gaps remaining in Nebraska, but it’s not yet ready to pump oil.

Indigenous activists and environmentalists have been fighting the pipeline for much of its history, due to the risks of oil spills, its contribution to climate change, and infringements of treaty rights. Last Thursday, a group of Indigenous women leaders wrote a letter asking Biden to reject a set of pipeline projects, including Keystone XL, Line 3 in Minnesota, and the Dakota Access Pipeline. (Biden has not yet taken a stance on either of these other projects.) In addition to environmental risks, the letter cited the connection between pipeline construction and sexual violence. Company-owned temporary housing for laborers — “man camps” — along pipeline routes have been documented as centers of sexual assault and trafficking of Indigenous women and girls, and fossil fuel extraction and infrastructure is similarly linked to the tragic epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women.

Daniel T’seleie, a K’asho Got’ine Dene activist, told CBC news that he thought Biden’s decision was “largely due to the actions of Indigenous people and non-Indigenous people on the southern side of the border who have really been fighting against this pipeline … and have been making it very clear that this pipeline is not going to get built without their consent.”
» Read article         

DAPL too‘No more broken treaties’: indigenous leaders urge Biden to shut down Dakota Access pipeline
Tribes and environmentalists hail decision to cancel Keystone XL pipeline but call on president to go further
By Nina Lakhani, The Guardian
January 21, 2021

Indigenous leaders and environmentalists are urging Joe Biden to shutdown some of America’s most controversial fossil fuel pipelines, after welcoming his executive order cancelling the Keystone XL (KXL) project.

Activists praised the president’s decision to stop construction of the transnational KXL oil pipeline on his first day in the White House, but they stressed that he must cancel similar polluting fossil fuel projects, including the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL), to stand any chance of meeting his bold climate action goals.

The KXL order was issued on Wednesday as part of the first wave of Biden’s promised environmental justice and climate action policies, which include rejoining the Paris agreement and halting construction of the southern border wall.

Rescinding the Canadian-owned KXL pipeline permit, issued by Donald Trump, fulfills a campaign promise Biden made in May 2020 and comes after more than a decade of organizing and resistance by indigenous activists, landowners and environmental groups.

“The victory ending the KXL pipeline is an act of courage and restorative justice by the Biden administration. It gives tribes and Mother Earth a serious message of hope for future generations as we face the threat of climate change. It aligns Indigenous environmental knowledge with presidential priorities that benefit everyone,” said Faith Spotted Eagle, founder of Brave Heart Society and a member of the Ihanktonwan Dakota nation.

“This is a vindication of 10 years defending our waters and treaty rights from this tar sands carbon bomb. I applaud President Biden for recognizing how dangerous KXL is for our communities and climate and I look forward to similar executive action to stop DAPL and Line 3 based on those very same dangers,” said Dallas Goldtooth, a member of the Mdewakanton Dakota and Dine nations and the Keep It In The Ground campaign organizer for the Indigenous Environmental Network.
» Read article         

sunken hazard
Michigan Pipeline Fight Intensifies as Permit Deadline Nears
Enbridge is defying Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s move to shut down the Line 5 underwater pipeline, which environmentalists and tribes fear could cause an environmental disaster.
By Andrew Blok, Drilled News
January 14, 2021

Under the strong and fickle currents of the Straits of Mackinac, which flow through a four-mile gap between Michigan’s Upper and Lower peninsulas, twin pipelines have transported two million gallons of petroleum products daily for seven decades.

This year they may shut down for good.

In November, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer revoked the 1953 easement allowing the twin pipelines, known as Line 5, to run under the straits, and gave its owner, Enbridge Inc., 180 days to shut them down.

“The continued use of the dual pipelines cannot be reconciled with the public’s rights in the Great Lakes and the State’s duty to protect them,” Whitmer said in a statement.

On Jan. 12, Enbridge announced in a 7-page letter to Whitmer that it would defy her shutdown order, claiming that the governor had overstepped her authority. The Calgary, Alberta-based company has also sued the state in federal district court, arguing that the U.S. government, not Michigan, has regulatory power over pipeline safety.

The moves are the latest twists in a controversial decade for Enbridge in Michigan.

Before 2010, most Michiganders didn’t know Line 5 existed, said Liz Kirkwood, executive director of For Love of Water, a Michigan-based environmental policy non-profit.

But that changed, she said, after the Kalamazoo River spill: a massive leak from Enbridge’s Line 6b that ranks among America’s largest ever inland oil spills. The Environmental Protection Agency estimated that more than one million gallons of oil polluted nearly 40 miles of waterways, injuring wildlife and scarring farmlands. Cleanup and restoration of hundreds of acres of streams and wetlands took four years and cost over $1 billion.

Despite multiple alarms, Enbridge had restarted Line 6b several times in the 17 hours before identifying the leak. According to the terms of a 2017 settlement with the EPA, Enbridge has committed to spending more than $110 million on upgrades and programs to prevent future spills, paying $62 million in civil penalties for Clean Water Act violations, and reimbursing more than $5.4 million in cleanup costs on top of $57.8 million already paid.

In the wake of this disaster, the National Wildlife Federation in 2012 issued a report, titled “Sunken Hazard,” that described how a major leak from Line 5 could spread quickly in the strong currents of the Straits of Mackinac and harm popular outdoor destinations and regional fisheries, including fisheries guaranteed to Native Americans by treaty.
» Read article        

» Read the Enbridge statement

» More about pipelines

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

Baltimore inner harbor
Could Baltimore’s Climate Change Suit Become a Supreme Court Test Case?
The high court agreed to hear a narrow issue related to jurisdiction. But then the oil and gas industry pushed it to go further.
By David Hasemyer, InsideClimate News
January 19, 2021

What began as a narrow jurisdictional question to be argued Tuesday before the U.S. Supreme Court in a climate change lawsuit filed by the city of Baltimore could take on far greater implications if the high court agrees with major oil companies to expand its purview and consider whether federal, rather than state courts, are the appropriate venue for the city’s case and possibly a host of similar lawsuits.

The high court initially agreed to hear a request by the oil and gas industry to review a ruling by the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in which the court affirmed a federal district judge’s decision to allow Baltimore’s lawsuit to be tried in state, rather than federal, court based on a single jurisdiction rule.

The city is seeking damages related to climate-induced extreme weather—stronger hurricanes, greater flooding and sea-level rise—linked to oil and gas consumption that warms the planet. Baltimore’s attorneys argue that state court is the appropriate venue for such monetary awards.

But after the Supreme Court agreed to take on that narrow question, Exxon, Chevron, Shell and other oil companies went further in court filings and are now pressing the court to consider the much larger and consequential question of whether state courts have jurisdiction over these lawsuits at all.

The stakes could be enormous if Baltimore becomes a test case for 23 other city, county and state governments that have filed similar climate change lawsuits seeking damages.
» Read article         

» More about protests and actions

FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION

Chairman Richard Glick
Glick named FERC chair, promises ‘significant progress’ on energy transition
By Catherine Morehouse, Utility Dive
January 21, 2021

Commissioner Richard Glick was named chair of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission by President Joe Biden Thursday morning.

Glick was considered a front runner for the chairmanship as the longest serving Democrat on the commission. He will succeed Chairman James Danly, and the commission is expected to retain its Republican majority until Commissioner Neil Chatterjee’s term is up June 30.

Glick has said publicly that on the electric side he would prioritize transmission reform, reassessing capacity markets, and continuing efforts to lower barriers to clean energy resources in regulated markets. On gas, he believes the commission should rethink how it assesses greenhouse gas emissions and more seriously review environmental justice impacts when approving gas infrastructure.

Glick opposed many of the actions FERC took under Chairmen Chatterjee and Danly, and his long list of dissents and public comments foreshadow a commission more bullish on its role in the power sector’s energy transition.

“I’m honored President Joe Biden has selected me to be [FERC] Chairman,” Glick said in a tweet. “This is an important moment to make significant progress on the transition to a clean energy future. I look forward to working with my colleagues to tackle the many challenges ahead!”

Though Glick will still be running a majority Republican commission, he and Chatterjee have begun to find common ground on some issues in recent months, and many power sector observers think transmission reform will be one critical area Glick may tackle relatively early.
» Read article         

» More about FERC

CLIMATE

climate kick-offBiden returns US to Paris climate accord hours after becoming president
Biden administration rolls out a flurry of executive orders aimed at tackling climate crisis
By Oliver Milman, The Guardian
January 20, 2021

Joe Biden has moved to reinstate the US to the Paris climate agreement just hours after being sworn in as president, as his administration rolls out a cavalcade of executive orders aimed at tackling the climate crisis.

Biden’s executive action, signed in the White House on Wednesday, will see the US rejoin the international effort curb the dangerous heating of the planet, following a 30-day notice period. The world’s second largest emitter of greenhouse gases was withdrawn from the Paris deal under Donald Trump.

Biden is also set to block the Keystone XL pipeline, a bitterly contested project that would bring huge quantities of oil from Canada to the US to be refined, and halt oil and gas drilling at Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, two vast national monuments in Utah, and the Arctic national wildlife refuge wilderness. The Trump administration’s decision to shrink the protected areas of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante will also be reviewed.

The flurry of first-day action on the climate crisis came after Biden, in his inauguration speech, said America needed to respond to a “climate in crisis”. The change in direction from the Trump era was profound and immediate – on the White House website, where all mentions of climate were scrubbed out in 2017, a new list of priorities now puts the climate crisis second only behind the Covid pandemic. Biden has previously warned that climate change poses the “greatest threat” to the country, which was battered by record climate-fueled wildfires, hurricanes and heat last year.

The re-entry to the Paris agreement ends a period where the US became a near-pariah on the international stage with Trump’s refusal to address the unfolding disaster of rising global temperatures. Countries are struggling to meet commitments, made in Paris in 2015, to limit the global temperature increase to 1.5C above the pre-industrial era, with 2020 setting another record for extreme heat.
» Read article         

ccs - if only
Carbon capture and storage won’t work, critics say
Carbon capture and storage, trapping carbon before it enters the atmosphere, sounds neat. But many doubt it can ever work.
By Paul Brown, Climate News Network
January 14, 2021

One of the key technologies that governments hope will help save the planet from dangerous heating, carbon capture and storage, will not work as planned and is a dangerous distraction, a new report says.

Instead of financing a technology they can neither develop in time nor make to work as claimed, governments should concentrate on scaling up proven technologies like renewable energies and energy efficiency, it says.

The report, from Friends of the Earth Scotland and Global Witness, was commissioned by the two groups from researchers at the UK’s Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research.

CCS, as the technology is known, is designed to strip out carbon dioxide from the exhaust gases of industrial processes. These include gas- and coal-fired electricity generating plants, steel-making, and industries including the conversion of natural gas to hydrogen, so that the gas can then be re-classified as a clean fuel.

The CO2 that is removed is converted into a liquid and pumped underground into geological formations that can be sealed for generations to prevent the carbon escaping back into the atmosphere.

It is a complex and expensive process, and many of the schemes proposed in the 1990s have been abandoned as too expensive or too technically difficult.

An overview of the report says: “The technology still faces many barriers, would only start to deliver too late, would have to be deployed on a massive scale at a scarcely credible rate and has a history of over-promising and under-delivering.”

Currently there are only 26 CCS plants operating globally, capturing about 0.1% of the annual global emissions from fossil fuels.

Ironically, 81% of the carbon captured to date has been used to extract more oil from existing wells by pumping the captured carbon into the ground to force more oil out. This means that captured carbon is being used to extract oil that would otherwise have had to be left in the ground.
» Read article         

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

tidal kite
First tidal energy delivered to Faroese electricity grid
By FaroeIslands.fo
January 11, 2021

For the first time ever, homes in the Faroe Islands are being run by electricity harvested from an underwater tidal kite. Renewable electricity is generated from the tidal flows in Vestmannasund, a strait in the Faroe Islands, using Deep Green technology, a unique principle of enhancing the speed of the kite through the water. A rudder steers the kite in a figure of eight trajectory and as it “flies”, water flows through the turbine, producing electricity.

Minesto, a leading marine energy technology company from Sweden, has developed the system in collaboration with Faroese utility company, SEV.

Hákun Djurhuus, CEO of SEV, says: “We are very pleased that the project has reached the point where the Minesto DG100 delivers electricity to the Faroese grid. Although this is still on trial basis, we are confident that tidal energy will play a significant part in the Faroese sustainable electricity generation. Unlike other sustainable sources, tidal energy is predictable, which makes it more stable than, for example, wind power.”

Following successful trials of the DG100 system in Vestmannasund, SEV and Minesto have plans for a large-scale buildout of both microgrids (<250kW) and utility-scale (>1MW) Deep Green systems in the Faroe Islands. The long-term ambition is to make tidal energy a core energy source in the Faroe grid mix. This is part of the islands’ goal of having 100% green electricity production by 2030, including onshore transport and heating.
» Read article & watch video

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

building codes under pressure
What Will Happen to Your Next Home if Builders Get Their Way?
A lobby is trying to block building codes that would help fight climate change.
By Justin Gillis, New York Times | Opinion
January 21, 2021

Just about every new building that goes up in America is governed by construction codes. They protect people from numerous hazards, like moving into firetraps or having their roofs blown off in storms. Increasingly, those codes also protect people from high energy bills — and they protect the planet from the greenhouse gas emissions that go with them.

Yet the National Association of Home Builders, the main trade association and lobby for the home building industry, is now trying to monkey around with the rules meant to protect buyers and ensure that new homes meet the highest standards.

If the group succeeds, the nation could be saddled with millions of houses, stores and offices that waste too much energy and cost people too much money to heat and cool. Weakened construction standards could also leave houses and other buildings more vulnerable to the intensifying climate crisis, from floods to fires to storms. And they will make that crisis worse by pouring excessive greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

State and local governments tend to adopt model codes drawn up every three years at the national level instead of devising their own. The group that puts out the most influential models is the International Code Council. The council is supposed to consider the public interest, broadly defined, in carrying out its work, even as the home building industry participates in drawing up the codes. The builders’ short-term interest is to weaken the codes, which cuts their costs. The interest of home buyers and of society at large is exactly the opposite: Strong building standards, even when they drive up the initial cost of a house, almost always result in lower costs over the long run. That was on vivid display in Miami in 1992.

Building codes must play a critical role as the nation confronts the climate crisis, and the need to cut its emissions drastically. The codes can require better insulation, tighter air sealing, advanced windows and more efficient delivery of hot water, heating and air-conditioning. They can also increase the resilience of buildings in an age of intensifying weather disasters, turning every new building into a climate asset.

That brings us to the new effort to weaken these codes.

Proposals to the council called for sharp cuts in energy use by new buildings in the 2021 code update. Under the council’s procedures, those proposals were put to a vote by state and local governments. Their representatives turned out in record numbers to approve the tighter measures.

The big turnout seems to have caught the builders’ association off guard. Through tortuous committee procedures, it managed to kill some important provisions, including a requirement that new homes come already wired for electric vehicle chargers.

Luckily, most of the other energy provisions survived. As a result, buildings constructed under this year’s model code will be on the order of 10 percent more efficient than under the previous code. This was a big step forward, given that the builders had managed to stall progress for most of the last decade. Compared to the 1980s, buildings going up under the new code will be roughly 50 percent more efficient, showing what kind of progress is possible.

The builders are now trying to upend the voting process that led to the more stringent rules. They are trying to rush through a rewrite of the rules to block future voting by state and local governments. The builders’ lobby wants the energy provisions of the model code put under the control of a small committee, which the builders would likely be able to dominate.

The International Code Council denies that is unduly influenced by the home builders. However, in 2019, The New York Times revealed a secret agreement between the council and the National Association of Home Builders. That agreement — whose existence the council acknowledged only under pressure — gives the builders inordinate power on a key committee that approves residential building codes.

Even now, only a synopsis of the deal is available; the council refuses to release the full text. The council’s board is to consider the proposed rewrite of the rules in a meeting on Thursday.

Given the International Code Council’s influence over the construction of nearly every new building in America, as well as those of some foreign countries, it needs to become a major target of scrutiny and of climate activism.

Change may be on the way. In a letter on Tuesday, the House Energy and Commerce Committee demanded information from the council, including a copy of the secret agreement with the home builders.

That is good news. If the council persists in undermining the public interest, Congress or a coalition of states could potentially turn the job of drawing up building codes over to a new, more objective group. And lawmakers ought to adopt a national policy to govern this situation, mandating steady improvement in the energy efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions of new buildings.

With the climate crisis worsening by the year, America can no longer indulge the stalling tactics of the home builders.
» Read article         

BlocPower CEO Baird
Watt It Takes: BlocPower CEO Donnel Baird Wants to Electrify Buildings for Everyone
This week on Watt It Takes: Donnel Baird talks harnessing his anger over racial inequities and using it to build a clean-energy business model.
By Stephen Lacey, GreenTech Media
January 14, 2021

BlocPower CEO Donnel Baird is on a mission to clean up old, inefficient buildings in America’s cities — and help people who are exposed to the worst pollution.

BlocPower was founded in 2012. It’s raised venture capital from Kapor Capital and Andreessen Horowitz. But that process was not easy for a company with a mostly non-white leadership team. As a Black founder, Donnel was turned down 200 times before any venture firms were willing to back his vision.

“It was really difficult for us raising capital. One of our investors, when I talked to him two or three years ago and said I was struggling to raise capital, he was like, ‘Yeah, man, just hire some white people and send them into the fundraising meetings, and it’ll clear things up,’” explains Donnel.

BlocPower is a Brooklyn, New York startup electrifying and weatherizing buildings in underserved communities — slashing pollution and saving money in the process. This includes housing units, churches and community centers.

And the mission for Donnel isn’t just about hitting milestones for investors. It’s about changing the fabric of underserved communities that are plagued by pollution and energy poverty. That’s because Donnel has lived it himself.

In this episode, Powerhouse CEO Emily Kirsch talks with Donnel about how he channeled his frustration and anger around racial unfairness into a business model for the energy transition.
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CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

fast charge future
Electric car batteries with five-minute charging times produced
Exclusive: first factory production means recharging could soon be as fast as filling up petrol or diesel vehicles
By Damian Carrington, The Guardian
January 19, 2021

Batteries capable of fully charging in five minutes have been produced in a factory for the first time, marking a significant step towards electric cars becoming as fast to charge as filling up petrol or diesel vehicles.

Electric vehicles are a vital part of action to tackle the climate crisis but running out of charge during a journey is a worry for drivers. The new lithium-ion batteries were developed by the Israeli company StoreDot and manufactured by Eve Energy in China on standard production lines.

StoreDot has already demonstrated its “extreme fast-charging” battery in phones, drones and scooters and the 1,000 batteries it has now produced are to showcase its technology to carmakers and other companies. Daimler, BP, Samsung and TDK have all invested in StoreDot, which has raised $130m to date and was named a Bloomberg New Energy Finance Pioneer in 2020.

The batteries can be fully charged in five minutes but this would require much higher-powered chargers than used today. Using available charging infrastructure, StoreDot is aiming to deliver 100 miles of charge to a car battery in five minutes in 2025.

“The number one barrier to the adoption of electric vehicles is no longer cost, it is range anxiety,” said Doron Myersdorf, CEO of StoreDot. “You’re either afraid that you’re going to get stuck on the highway or you’re going to need to sit in a charging station for two hours. But if the experience of the driver is exactly like fuelling [a petrol car], this whole anxiety goes away.”

“A five-minute charging lithium-ion battery was considered to be impossible,” he said. “But we are not releasing a lab prototype, we are releasing engineering samples from a mass production line. This demonstrates it is feasible and it’s commercially ready.”

Existing Li-ion batteries use graphite as one electrode, into which the lithium ions are pushed to store charge. But when these are rapidly charged, the ions get congested and can turn into metal and short circuit the battery.

The StoreDot battery replaces graphite with semiconductor nanoparticles into which ions can pass more quickly and easily. These nanoparticles are currently based on germanium, which is water soluble and easier to handle in manufacturing. But StoreDot’s plan is to use silicon, which is much cheaper, and it expects these prototypes later this year. Myersdorf said the cost would be the same as existing Li-ion batteries.
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Toyota greenish
Toyota to Pay a Record Fine for a Decade of Clean Air Act Violations
Toyota’s $180 million settlement with the federal government follows a series of emissions-related scandals in the auto industry.
By Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times
January 14, 2021

Toyota Motor is set to pay a $180 million fine for longstanding violations of the Clean Air Act, the U.S. attorney’s Office in Manhattan announced on Thursday, the largest civil penalty ever levied for a breach of federal emissions-reporting requirements.

From about 2005 to 2015, the global automaker systematically failed to report defects that interfered with how its cars controlled tailpipe emissions, violating standards designed to protect public health and the environment from harmful air pollutants, according to a complaint filed in Manhattan.

Toyota managers and staff in Japan knew about the practice but failed to stop it, and the automaker quite likely sold millions of vehicles with the defects, the attorney’s office said.

“Toyota shut its eyes to the noncompliance,” Audrey Strauss, the acting U.S. attorney, said in a statement. Toyota has agreed not to contest the fine.

Eric Booth, a spokesman for the automaker, said that the company had alerted the authorities as soon as the lapses came to light, and that the delay in reporting “resulted in a negligible emissions impact, if any.”

“Nonetheless, we recognize that some of our reporting protocols fell short of our own high standards, and we are pleased to have resolved this matter,” Mr. Booth added.

Toyota is the world’s second-largest automaker behind Volkswagen, and once built a reputation for clean technology on the back of its best-selling Prius gasoline-electric hybrid passengers cars. But the auto giant’s decision in 2019 to support the Trump administration’s rollback of tailpipe emissions standards — coupled with its relatively slow introduction of fully-electric vehicles — has made it a target of criticism from environmental groups.

Toyota’s more recent lineup of models has been heavy on gas-guzzling sports-utility vehicles, which come with far bigger price tags and have brought far higher profit margins. According to a recent report from the Environmental Protection Agency, Toyota vehicles delivered some of the worst fuel efficiency in the industry, leading to an overall worsening of mileage and pollution from passenger cars and trucks in the United States for the first time in five years.
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LEGISLATIVE NEWS

fuzzy math
Questions on Baker’s $6b climate change cost estimate
Barrett, CLF’s Campbell say governor’s veto letter not convincing
By Bruce Mohl, CommonWealth Magazine
January 19, 2021

THE SENATE’S POINT person on climate change legislation said he doesn’t know where Gov. Charlie Baker came up with his estimate that the Legislature’s target for emissions reductions in 2030 would cost state residents an extra $6 billion.

“Boy, would I like to know,” said Sen. Michael Barrett of Lexington. “I have never – and I am familiar with all of the written documents the administration has released on this topic – I had never seen that $6 billion figure until [Thursday]. I wonder if the governor had ever seen the $6 billion figure until [Thursday].”

In his letter vetoing the Legislature’s climate change bill, Baker said the difference between a 45 percent reduction in emissions by 2030 compared to 1990 levels versus a 50 percent reduction was $6 billion in extra costs incurred by Massachusetts residents. “Unfortunately, this higher cost does not materially increase the Commonwealth’s ability to achieve its long-term climate goals,” the letter said.

A spokesman for the Baker administration wasn’t able to produce the analysis yielding the $6 billion figure on Friday but promised more information this week.

Barrett, appearing on The Codcast with Bradley Campbell, the president of the Conservation Law Foundation, said he has asked repeatedly for information on the $6 billion figure and never received it.

“I can’t wait to see the economic study that buttresses that claim because it will be unlike any economic study I’ve ever read,” he said. “These figures to some extent are arbitrary. Neither figure [45 percent or 50 percent] is supported by modeling. Both are judgment calls.”
» Read article        
» Listen to Barrett and Campbell on the CodCast 

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FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

NoKXL
Keystone XL Pipeline Canceled. Here’s What It Means for the Future Fight Against Fossil Fuels
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
January 20, 2021

[While] the defeat of Keystone XL is historically momentous, it raises questions about other routes for Canadian tar sands. After sitting on the drawing board for years, Canada’s oil industry has already turned to alternative pipelines, such as Enbridge’s Line 3 replacement through Minnesota and, even more importantly, the Trans Mountain Expansion from Alberta to British Columbia.

“With Line 3 and TMX [Trans Mountain Expansion], Alberta has sufficient capacity to get its oil to market,” Werner Antweiler, a business professor at the University of British Columbia, told DeSmog.

In fact, scrapping Keystone XL arguably makes these other projects more urgent. “For the federal government of Canada, which has a vested interest in the commercial success of TMX, the cancelation of the KXL project may ultimately be good news because it ensures that there is sufficient demand for TMX capacity,” Antweiler said. “This means it is more likely now that TMX will become commercially viable and can be sold back to private investors profitably after construction is complete.”

This at a time when Keystone XL proved to be an expensive gamble. In 2019, Alberta invested $1.1 billion in Keystone XL in order to add momentum to the controversial project, funding its first year of construction. Now the province may end up selling the vast quantities of pipe for scrap, while also hoping to obtain damages from the United States.

Others are less convinced that the cancelation of one project is a boon to another. Even the Trans Mountain Expansion faces uncertainties in a world of energy transition. “Looking back a century ago, as one-by-one carriage manufacturers shut down as car manufacturers expanded production, prospects for the remaining carriage manufacturers didn’t improve,” Tom Green, a Climate Solutions Policy Analyst at the David Suzuki Foundation, told DeSmog.

“Canada can take its cue from Biden: recognize the costly Trans Mountain pipeline isn’t needed or viable, it doesn’t fit with our climate commitments, and instead of throwing ever more money into a pit, government should invest those funds in the energy system of the future,” he said.
» Read article         

Total quits API
Total Quits Fossil Fuel Lobby Group the American Petroleum Institute Over Climate Change
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
January 15, 2021

French oil giant Total announced on Friday that it would not renew its membership to the American Petroleum Institute (API), a stunning blow to the oil industry’s most powerful business lobby. Total pointed to its differences with API over climate policy as its main motivation.

“We are committed to ensuring, in a transparent manner, that the industry associations of which we are a member adopt positions and messages that are aligned with those of the Group in the fight against climate change,” Patrick Pouyanné, Total’s chief executive, said in a statement.

Total cited API’s support for the rolling back of U.S. methane emissions on oil and gas operations, as well as the lobby group’s opposition to subsidies for electric vehicles and its opposition to carbon pricing.

Last year, the French oil company, along with BP and Royal Dutch Shell, cut ties with another oil industry lobby group, the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, which represents oil refiners. BP also withdrew from the Western States Petroleum Association and the Western Energy Alliance, two other powerful lobby groups in the western United States.

However, Total is the first oil major to quit API. The decision highlights the growing divergence between European oil majors, who have announced decisions to begin transitioning towards cleaner energy, and their American counterparts, who appear determined to continue to increase oil and gas production. The withdrawal also reflects the growing pressure for the oil industry to slash greenhouse gas emissions from investors, policymakers, activists and the public amid a worsening climate crisis.
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LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

Jordan Cove rallyFeds: Jordan Cove LNG terminal can’t move forward without state water permit
By GILLIAN FLACCUS, Associated Press
January 19, 2021

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Plans for a major West Coast liquified natural gas pipeline and export terminal hit a snag Tuesday with federal regulators after a years-long legal battle that has united tribes, environmentalists and a coalition of residents on Oregon’s rural southern coast against the proposal.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ruled that energy company Pembina could not move forward with the proposal without a key clean water permit from the state of Oregon. The U.S. regulatory agency gave its tentative approval to the pipeline last March as long as it secured the necessary state permits, but the Canadian pipeline company has been unable to do so.

It had appealed to the commission over the state’s clean water permit, arguing that Oregon had waived its authority to issue a clean water certification for the project and therefore its denial of the permit was irrelevant.

But the commission found instead that Pembina had never requested the certification and that the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality “could not have waived its authority to issue certification for a request it never received.”

The ruling was hailed as a major victory by opponents of Jordan Cove, which would be the first such LNG overseas export terminal in the lower 48 states. The proposed 230-mile (370-kilometer) feeder pipeline would begin in Malin, in southwest Oregon, and end at the city of Coos Bay on the rural Oregon coast.

Jordan Cove did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment and it was unclear what next steps the project would take.

Opposition to the pipeline has brought together southern Oregon tribes, environmentalists, anglers and coastal residents since 2006.

“Thousands of southern Oregonians have raised their voices to stop this project for years and will continue to until the threat of Jordan Cove LNG is gone for good,” said Hannah Sohl, executive director of Rogue Climate.
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