Tag Archives: Paris Agreement

Weekly News Check-In 10/29/21

banner 13

Welcome back.

The news leading up to the COP26 climate talks has amped up tensions and highlighted what’s at stake. If you’re paying attention, you’re likely in for a rough couple of weeks. So start here, be hopeful, and know that you’re in good company.

We recently reported that Massachusetts is rethinking programs that incentivize conversion from oil-burning appliances to natural gas. Now Connecticut is looking at the same problem – and reconsidering whether the resulting expansion of gas distribution pipelines is good policy. And now a Massachusetts study shows that a massive effort to plug leaky pipes hasn’t actually resulted in a reduction of the Boston area’s high methane emissions.

Our friend Bill McKibben offers an encouraging assessment of the divestment movement, and employees at top consulting firm McKinsey are pushing back against the firm’s willingness to sell services to some of the world’s worst polluters. Another example of people staying alert and calling “foul” when necessary includes a group of progressive Senators and Representatives who warn that subsidies for fossil fuel-derived “blue” hydrogen have no place in the “Build Back Better” climate legislation.

We have four articles that pretty neatly summarize the state of climate mitigation as we head into COP26. China is leading a massive resurgence of coal extraction and consumption due to critical energy and electricity shortages related to the pandemic and economic recovery. Meanwhile, corporate pledges to achieve net zero emissions generally amount to empty promises about doing better later. And while some top Biden administration officials cling to the concept that natural gas is a bridge fuel, the United Nations warns that planet cooking emissions are still climbing and the world’s decarbonization efforts are far off track.

A group of climate scientists recommends establishing a carbon price of at least $100/tonne right away to achieve global net zero emissions by 2050. This is much more aggressive than the International Monetary Fund’s recommendation to float it up to $75/tonne by the end of the decade. Given the climate’s proven track record of reaching destructive extremes faster than models predict, maybe someone should remove the decaffeinated coffee from IMF offices….

Voters in Maine will decide a ballot initiative seeking to block a new electric transmission corridor connecting Quebec hydro power to energy thirsty markets in eastern Massachusetts. It’s a story that highlights how destructive and divisive the development and transmission of even “clean” energy can be. Siting impacts of renewables extend well beyond areas of human habitation. A new study shows how electromagnetic fields from underwater transmission cables serving offshore wind turbines can negatively affect marine animals.

A sensible way to minimize the need for massive transmission infrastructure is to maximize local, distributed clean energy generation. Once you do that, microgrids can serve a range of localities while enhancing overall grid resilience.

While a number of large retailers are pushing the ocean freight industry toward faster development of zero carbon shipping, electric vehicle batteries continue their remarkable development as engineers search for safe, non-toxic battery chemistries made from abundant and sustainable materials. Up next… sodium-ion?

We offer appreciation and respect this week to New York Governor Kathy Hochul, whose administration cancelled plans for two gas peaking power plants. Her decision in both cases rested on the fact that emissions reductions required by New York’s climate law can’t be met if gas generator plants continue to be built. Also, the plants aren’t actually needed. Governor Charlie Baker, if you’re up for a similar act of leadership, the folks in Peabody have a peaker for you.

We’ll close with a quick run through fossil fuel industry news, including Big Oil CEOs being grilled in Congressional testimony. It wasn’t quite a Big Tobacco moment, but they looked silly. And a spike in natural gas prices has North American liquefied natural gas exporters chasing profits.

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

START HERE…

scary time
A Crisis Is a Scary Time. You Are Not Alone.
The Energy Mix


We know there’s a path to bringing the climate emergency under control. But getting there will take time. It won’t be easy. And there will be many tough moments along the way.

It’s natural to feel scared or overwhelmed by day-to-day climate news, or by the enormity of what we have to get done over the next several years. It’s also true that the only way to guarantee that we lose this battle of our lifetimes is to assume it’s already lost.

Here are some great resources to help you sit with life in the midst of a climate emergency… and when you’re ready, to do something about it.
» Blog editor’s note: this newsletter puts difficult topics in front of readers every week. We appreciate your willingness to engage, but we understand that everyone has their limits. Check out this great list of supportive communities and resources from Canadian website The Energy Mix.
» Access web page here          

PIPELINES

gas meter
Amid debate over natural gas, Connecticut ratepayers are subsidizing new connections

State regulators are exploring ways to modify a program that was designed to convert oil heating customers to natural gas. Consumer and clean energy groups say the program should be scrapped altogether.
By Lisa Prevost, Energy News Network
October 25, 2021

A program designed to expand Connecticut’s natural gas distribution network is coming under scrutiny due to soaring costs and declining demand.

The program, which is subsidized by ratepayers, offers incentives for homeowners to switch from oil to gas heat. It was established under legislation passed in 2013 when gas was cheaper and less was known about its climate impacts. Regulatory officials are now exploring ways to modify the program while environmental advocates call for it to be eliminated altogether.

The idea of natural gas as a cleaner alternative “has been thoroughly debunked as we’ve learned just how damaging methane is to the climate,” said Shannon Laun, a Connecticut staff attorney for the Conservation Law Foundation. “It’s now clear that we should not be converting people from oil to gas; we should be converting people to electric heat pumps, which are far more efficient.”
» Read article               

» More about pipelines

GAS LEAKS

six times higherEmissions Of Climate-Changing Methane Are 6 Times Higher In Boston Than State Estimates, Study Finds
By Craig LeMoult, WGBH
October 25, 2021

A new study says the amount of methane being released from the natural gas system into Boston’s atmosphere is six times higher than estimates used by the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas that warms the climate 80 times more than carbon dioxide in its first 20 years in the atmosphere. And despite laws mandating utility companies repair leaky natural gas pipelines, the research indicates methane emissions did not decrease between 2012 and 2020.

The study, conducted by scientists at Harvard University and Boston University, was published Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The scientists used a different approach to measure methane than the traditional method — and one that they say is more accurate. Methane emissions from natural gas infrastructure are usually measured in what the researchers call a “bottom-up” approach.

“They add up what they think the loss is from each compressor station, each mile of pipe, each appliance, your heater in your house,” said research scientist Maryann Sargent of Harvard University.

But, she said, studies have shown that just 7% of serious leaks emit half of the overall gas emissions to the atmosphere.

“So if these accounting methods that the state uses don’t find enough of those big emitters, they can be significantly undercounting the emissions,” Sargent said.

For their study, the Harvard and B.U. researchers used a “top-down” approach by measuring methane in the atmosphere.

“This is a lot better in terms of methane because you can’t miss any sources,” Sargent said. “Everything is going to get mixed together in the atmosphere.”

The researchers installed sensors on the top of buildings at Boston University and in Copley Square. They then compared those recorded emissions to results from three spots outside the city: at Harvard Forest in Petersham, in Mashpee, and at a site in Canaan, New Hampshire. The sensors ran continuously from September 2012 to May 2020.

“We found that the emissions were about six times higher than the emissions number the state is currently using,” Sargent said.

The study also found no change in emissions over the eight years of the study, despite state laws passed in 2014 and 2018 requiring gas companies to repair pipeline leaks in a timely manner.

“The goal of those laws was to reduce emissions from these pipelines, and we haven’t seen any impact of that when you look at the atmosphere,” Sargent said.

As soon as a leak is repaired, another one seems to emerge, said Lucy Hutyra, a professor of earth and the environment at Boston University, and one of the study’s authors.

“It’s a bit of a game of whack-a-mole,” Hutrya said. “They’re certainly getting them, but they just keep coming.”
» Read article               
» Read the study

» More about gas leaks

DIVESTMENT

tapped out
This Movement Is Taking Money Away From Fossil Fuels, and It’s Working
By Bill McKibben, New York Times | Opinion
October 26, 2021

I remember the night in the autumn of 2012 when the first institution in the U.S. publicly committed to divest from fossil fuel. I was with a group of other climate activists in a big theater in Portland, Maine, halfway through a month long road show with rallies in cities across the country, and the president of tiny Unity College in the state’s rural interior announced to the crowd that his trustees had just voted to rid their endowment of coal, gas and oil stocks. We cheered like crazy.

On Tuesday, a little less than a week before the start of the United Nations climate conference in Glasgow, activists announced that the fossil fuel divestment campaign has reached new heights. Endowments, portfolios and pension funds worth just shy of $40 trillion have now committed to full or partial abstinence from coal, gas and oil stocks. For comparison’s sake, that’s larger than the gross domestic product of the United States and China combined.

And by this point, divestment has spread way beyond colleges and universities. Enormous pension funds serving New York City and state employees have announced that they will sell stocks; earlier this year, the Maine legislature ordered the state’s retirement fund to divest; and just last month, Quebec’s big pension fund joined the tide. We’ve seen entire religious groups — the Episcopalians, the Unitarian Universalists, the U.S. Lutherans — join in the call; the Pope has become an outspoken proponent (and many high-profile Catholic institutions have announced they will divest). Mayors of big cities have pledged their support, including Los Angeles, New York, Berlin and London. And an entire country, even: Ireland has announced it will divest its public funds.

And some of the most historically important investors in the world have joined in too: A Rockefeller charity, the heirs to the first great oil fortune, divested early. Just last week, the Ford Foundation got in on the action, adding a great automotive fortune to the tally. This month also saw the first big bank — France’s Banque Postale — announce that it would stop lending to fossil fuel companies before the decade was out.

Since most people don’t have oil wells or coal mines in their backyards, divestment is a way to let a lot of people in on the climate fight, because they have a link to a pension fund, mutual fund, endowment or other pot of money. When we began the divestment campaign, our immediate goal was, as we put it, to “take away the social license” of Big Oil: It was a vehicle to let people know the essential truth about the fossil fuel industry, which is that its oil, gas and coal reserves held five times as much carbon as scientists said we could safely burn. Later this week, the heads of the big oil companies will testify before Congress about whether their companies misled the public about global warming and sought to stymie action on the problem.

Early divestment adopters have been handsomely rewarded; over the last five years, the market has gone up at an annual rate of 16 percent, but the oil and gas sector has fallen at an annual rate of 3 percent. Now many investors are putting their money into clean energy, where returns have risen by an annual rate of 22 percent over the same period. And one other sweet result: It was largely alumni of college divestment fights who formed the Sunrise Movement, a group of young climate activists, and championed the proposed Green New Deal; this has been a training ground for activists around the world.

The battle to wind down the fossil fuel industry proceeds on two tracks: the political (where this week may or may not see action on big climate legislation from Congress) and the financial. Those tracks cross regularly — the influence of money in politics is clear on energy legislation — and when we can weaken the biggest opponents of climate action, everything gets easier. Divestment has helped rub much of the shine off what was once the planet’s dominant industry. If money talks, $40 trillion makes a lot of noise.
» Read article               

Eskom coal plant
At McKinsey, Widespread Furor Over Work With Planet’s Biggest Polluters
A letter signed by more than 1,100 employees has called for change at the consulting firm, which has advised at least 43 of the 100 most environmentally damaging companies.
By Michael Forsythe and Walt Bogdanich, New York Times
October 27, 2021

As world leaders prepare to meet in Glasgow next week to address the devastating impact of wildfires, floods and extreme weather caused by rising greenhouse gases, a revolt has been brewing inside the world’s most influential consulting firm, McKinsey & Company, over its support of the planet’s biggest polluters.

More than 1,100 employees and counting have signed an open letter to the firm’s top partners, urging them to disclose how much carbon their clients spew into the atmosphere. “The climate crisis is the defining issue of our generation,” wrote the letter’s authors, nearly a dozen McKinsey consultants. “Our positive impact in other realms will mean nothing if we do not act as our clients alter the earth irrevocably.”

Several of the authors have resigned since the letter, which has never before been reported, came out last spring — with one sending out a widely shared email that cited McKinsey’s continued work with fossil fuel companies as a primary reason for his departure.

McKinsey publicly says that it is “committed to protecting the planet” and that it has helped its clients on environmental issues for more than a decade. On Oct. 15 it held a Climate Action Day, updating employees on progress toward its goal of having a net-zero carbon footprint by 2030. Yet McKinsey’s own carbon footprint is minuscule compared with that of many of the companies it advises.

Until now, McKinsey has largely escaped scrutiny of its business with oil, gas and coal companies because it closely guards the identity of its clients. But internal documents reviewed by The New York Times, interviews with four former McKinsey employees and publicly available records such as lawsuits shed new light on the extraordinary scope of that work.

Among the 100 biggest corporate polluters over the past half-century, McKinsey has advised at least 43 in recent years, including BP, Exxon Mobil, Gazprom and Saudi Aramco, generating hundreds of millions of dollars in fees for the firm.

Across the world, from China to the United States, McKinsey’s work with these companies is often not focused on reducing their environmental impact, but rather on cutting costs, boosting productivity and increasing profits.
» Read article               

» More about divestment

LEGISLATION

no blue H2
Merkley, Warren and Markey sound alarm over ‘dirty’ hydrogen provision in climate deal
By Alexander Bolton, The Hill
October 27, 2021

A trio of Democratic senators are sounding an alarm over what they say is an effort to add language to the budget reconciliation bill that would create new incentives for hydrogen produced from fossil fuels, which they fear would undercut the broader goals of climate legislation.

“As policymakers, we must be attentive to the reality that not all hydrogen is clean and reject efforts to further subsidize dirty hydrogen in the Build Back Better Act,” Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.) wrote in a letter to Democratic leaders released Wednesday afternoon.

They argued that while hydrogen has been touted as a “zero-emission” alternative energy source, “recent peer reviewed science has found that fossil fuel-based hydrogen might have greater greenhouse gas impacts than traditional fossil fuels.”

The lawmakers acknowledged that hydrogen might someday be an important source of clean energy but asserted the technology isn’t ready yet.

“There’s just one problem: Current hydrogen production is not at all ‘clean.’ In fact, 94 percent of hydrogen produced in the [United States] comes from fossil fuels,” the lawmakers wrote in the letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.).

A group of House progressives also signed the letter, including Reps. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.) and Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.).

They noted that so-called green hydrogen, which is made by splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen molecules and is therefore considered 100 percent renewable, accounts for less than 0.02 percent of global hydrogen production.

They warned that blue hydrogen, which is produced from splitting natural gas into hydrogen and carbon dioxide, pollutes the atmosphere as much as or more than traditional fossil fuels.
» Read article               

» More about legislation

CLIMATE

checking his truck
China Hurries to Burn More Coal, Putting Climate Goals at Risk
Faced with electricity shortages, the country is racing to expand mining despite risks to the environment, miner safety and the economy.
By Keith Bradsher, New York Times
October 28, 2021

Desperate to meet its electricity needs, China is opening up new coal production exceeding what all of Western Europe mines in a year, at a tremendous cost to the global effort to fight climate change.

The campaign has unleashed a flurry of activity in China’s coal country. Idled mines are restarting. Cottage-sized yellow backhoes are clearing and widening roads past terraced cornfields. Long columns of bright red freight trucks are converging on the region to haul the extra cargo.

China’s push will carry a high cost. Burning coal, already the world’s single biggest cause of human-driven climate change, will increase China’s emissions and toxic air pollution. It will endanger the lives of coal miners. And it could impose a long-term cost on the Chinese economy, even while helping short-term growth.

World leaders are gathering next week in Glasgow to discuss ways to halt climate change. But China’s extra coal by itself would increase humanity’s output of planet-warming carbon dioxide by a full percentage point, said Jan Ivar Korsbakken, a senior researcher at the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research in Oslo.

“The timing is horrible, coming right before the climate summit,” he said. “Let’s hope it’s just a temporary measure to mitigate the current energy crisis.”

Beijing’s leaders are determined to provide ample coal this winter to power China’s factories and heat its homes. Widespread electricity shortages, caused partly by coal shortages, nearly paralyzed many industrial cities three weeks ago.

China is expanding mines to produce 220 million metric tons a year of extra coal, a nearly 6 percent rise from last year. China already digs up and burns more coal than the rest of the world combined.

The effort is infused with patriotism. “Guarantee the supply” has become a national slogan, appearing frequently now in state media and official statements and even on red banners on the front of coal trucks.
» Read article               

the big con
Report Examines ‘Net Zero’ Climate Strategies, Finds Corporate Plans Lacking in Lead up to COP26
A “Net Zero” carbon emissions approach, the keystone of many government and corporate strategies on climate change, is a pollute now, pay later strategy, a new report argues.
By Sharon Kelly, DeSmog Blog
October 26, 2021

On Sunday, COP26, the 26th United Nations climate change summit, will kick off in Glasgow, Scotland, in what John Kerry, the U.S. special envoy on climate, has called humanity’s “last best chance” to curb the climate catastrophe. Already, politicians and major corporations, including oil and gas producers, are hard at work promoting the idea that the 2015 Paris Agreement’s goals can be met if the financial world coalesces around “net-zero” climate initiatives.

But talk about “net zero” has been met with skepticism by many of those on the frontlines of climate change and those advocating on their behalf. A report issued today by advocacy groups Corporate Accountability, Corporate Europe Observatory, Global Forest Coalition, and Friends of the Earth International takes a look at climate strategies marketed by a half-dozen major polluters and finds that the plans come up lacking because of their heavy reliance on “net zero” strategies that presume that the institutions can continue emitting greenhouse gases as long as they are someday actively removed from the atmosphere.

BP and Microsoft, for example, have said they aim to reach “net zero” by 2050 and 2030, respectively, the report notes. But BP still plans to spend $71 billion in the coming years on fossil fuel extraction and to promote hydrogen fuel made from natural gas, a fossil fuel, as part of an “energy transition,” the report finds, while Microsoft has continued to sell artificial intelligence products used in oil exploration and production to companies like ExxonMobil, and the tech giant’s plans to reduce its own emissions depend heavily on carbon “offsets.”

A recent Wall Street Journal investigation found that, while the market for carbon offsets is forecast to see rapid growth and reach over $1 billion this year, the “offsets” themselves can vary widely in their quality and effectiveness at actually reducing pollution. “The market needs clearer definitions and standards,” Microsoft’s 2021 carbon-removal report admits, according to the Journal.

The report also calls into question plans by a company called Drax, one of the largest sources of CO2 emissions in Europe, to eventually capture up to 16 million tons of CO2 annually using Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS). “So far, Drax, in partnership with C-Capture, is struggling to capture 1/100th of the emissions it was expected to by the UK government,” the report says, “and is then releasing them directly into the atmosphere.”

It’s a pollute now, pay later strategy, the report’s authors say.
» Read article               
» Read the report

Jennifer Granholm
Ahead of COP26, Top Biden Appointees Pushing Natural Gas Are Undermining His Climate Credibility
The Biden administration’s commitment to natural gas, also known as fossil gas, isn’t a commitment to reaching net-zero by 2050, says a researcher at Global Witness; it’s a promise to the oil and gas industry that they’re still in control. As a major climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, approaches, the Biden administration must urgently change course on fossil gas.
By Sal Christ, DeSmog Blog | Opinion
October 25, 2021

Biden’s administration was expected to be a marked departure from that of his predecessor when it came to climate change, energy, and environmental policy. Prior to her confirmation as Energy Secretary, Granholm was positioned as a fresh foil for her predecessors, who each used their position to push for the expansion of natural gas and other fossil fuels. Granholm’s track record as governor of Michigan led credence to the idea that she would push the U.S. instead toward green technologies and renewable energy sources such as wind and solar.

She further promoted herself as an ardent supporter of “clean energy,” a “low carbon economy,” and a “zero-carbon future” in an op-ed published by The Detroit News just two months before Biden nominated her for the top energy job in the country.

But Granholm’s actions have so far failed to align with a “zero-carbon future.”

During her confirmation hearings in the Senate, she made it clear that fossil gas — particularly liquefied natural gas (LNG) — should have a place in the energy transition, saying that “I believe U.S. LNG exports can have an important role to play in reducing international consumption of fuels that have greater contribution to greenhouse gas emissions.”

As if natural gas, which is primarily methane — the second most abundant greenhouse gas behind carbon dioxide and a major contributor to climate change — isn’t bad for the climate. Granholm’s line that gas is cleaner ignores the fact that depending on how much methane is leaked, fossil gas can be as bad for the climate as coal. That yarn also sets the stage for preserving and expanding the global market for U.S. LNG – thus creating more long-term gas lock-in, which is really carbon lock-in, which undermines the goals of a “zero-carbon future” and gives industry what it wants: posterity.
» Read article             

Staudinger coal plant
Greenhouse Gas Concentrations in Atmosphere Reached Record Highs Last Year: UN Warns World Is ‘Way Off Track’
By Deutsche Welle, in EcoWatch
October 25, 2021

Greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere reached record levels in the atmosphere in 2020 despite a temporary decline in new emissions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the United Nations said on Monday.

The news contained in the Greenhouse Gas Bulletin of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) comes as world leaders prepare to attend the United Nations climate change conference, or COP26. The summit will aim to coordinate global efforts to combat global warming caused by human-made emissions.

“The ‘Greenhouse Gas Bulletin’ contains a stark, scientific message for climate change negotiators at COP26,” said WMO chief Petteri Taalas.

“At the current rate of increase in greenhouse gas concentrations, we will see a temperature increase by the end of this century far in excess of the Paris Agreement targets of 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius [2.7 to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit] above pre-industrial levels,” he said. “We are way off track.”
» Read article               

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

price hike
Carbon needs to cost at least $100/tonne now to reach net zero by 2050: Reuters poll
By Prerana Bhat, Reuters
October 25, 2021

Setting the global average price of carbon per tonne significantly higher at $100 or more is necessary right away to incentivise net zero emissions by 2050, according to a Reuters poll of climate economists.

Carbon pricing has come to the forefront of policy measures seen as ways to reduce emissions to a level consistent with the Paris Agreement target of less than 1.5-2 degrees Celsius of warming.

The G20 group of large economies recognized carbon pricing for the first time as a possible tool at a meeting in Venice in Italy this year.

A higher price for carbon is seen as essential to fund the transition to net zero emissions by 2050, which is estimated to cost $44 trillion or 2%-3% of annual global GDP.

The International Monetary Fund has recommended a global average carbon price of $75 per tonne by the end of the decade.

But that figure should be at least $100, and right away, to reach net zero emissions by 2050, according to the median view of about 30 climate economists from around the world polled from Sept. 16 to Oct. 20 ahead of the COP26 summit in Glasgow.

That is significantly higher than where most countries who set the price currently have it, including among high carbon emitters.
» Read article               

timeline
Why developing countries say net-zero is ‘against climate justice’
Without faster decarbonization and more funding, rich nations risk losing the developing world’s trust.
By Emily Pontecorvo, Grist
October 25, 2021

In less than a week, world leaders will convene in Glasgow for the most important climate conference of the year, the United Nations’ COP26. One of the biggest questions of the conference is whether developed countries like the U.S. will finally cough up the rest of the money they promised to poorer nations a decade ago to help them cut emissions and adapt to climate change. But as the conference draws near, the paucity of funding isn’t the only thing drawing the ire of developing countries and breeding distrust.

Last week, a coalition of 24 developing nations that work together on international negotiations issued a statement criticizing rich countries for proselytizing a universal goal of net-zero by 2050. “This new ‘goal’ which is being advanced runs counter to the Paris Agreement and is anti-equity and against climate justice,” the statement from the ministers of the Like-Minded Developing Countries (LMDC) Ministerial said.

The LMDC argued that its member countries should not be forced onto the same timeline to cut emissions as the industrialized world when they have done little to contribute to historic emissions and may want to use fossil fuels in their own economic development, as wealthier nations have.

This argument is not new. The recognition that different countries have different responsibilities for and capabilities to address climate change is at the heart of the U.N. negotiation process. It was also embedded in the 2015 Paris Agreement, which says that emissions should peak sooner in developed countries than elsewhere. And yet rich countries have delayed taking action to cut their own emissions for more than a decade, and now are demanding that the whole world commit to net-zero.
» Read article               

» More about clean energy

SITING IMPACTS OF RENEWABLE ENERGY

color beam
Avangrid, NextEra duke it out over a 145-mile transmission line in the Maine woods
Why have power companies spent nearly $100 million to sway voters on a ballot initiative in this sparsely populated state? Follow the money.
By Ethan Howland, Utility Dive
October 26, 2021

Five power companies — Avangrid, Hydro-Québec, NextEra Energy Resources, Calpine and Vistra — have spent $96.3 million trying to convince Mainers how to vote next week on a ballot initiative that seeks to kill the New England Clean Energy Connect (NECEC) project, a power line designed to provide Massachusetts utilities with carbon-free electricity from Canada.

The outcome of the Nov. 2 vote will create winners and losers among those companies, while also potentially affecting the options New England states will have for cutting their carbon emissions.

The success of the NECEC line has financial implications for the energy companies fighting over the ballot measure.

Avangrid, a utility company based in Orange, Connecticut, views the NECEC project as a key investment, according to a September investor presentation. The investment would equal nearly 10% of the $10.9 billion ratebase of its eight Northeast utilities.

Generators in New England, like NextEra, stand to lose income if the NECEC project comes online. In New England, NextEra owns 2,285 MW, Calpine has 2,028 MW and Vistra owns 3,361 MW. Combined, the companies own about a quarter of the generating capacity in ISO New England’s (ISO-NE) markets.

The NECEC project will generally reduce energy and capacity prices in ISO-NE, ESAI Power’s Kleinbub said.

“Reduced energy prices and capacity prices will mean a hit to any generator,” he said.

Like most New England states, Maine has aggressive carbon reduction goals. Under state law, Maine intends to get 80% of its electricity from renewable resources by 2030 and to have only renewable energy by the middle of the century.

Maine needs to add about 850 MW of renewable energy by 2030 to meet its near-term goal, according to a report written for Maine Gov. Janet Mills’, D, energy office. The main challenge in meeting the renewable energy goal is the need for new transmission lines, especially to deliver power from Maine’s wind-rich western and northern regions, consulting firms Energy and Environmental Economics and The Applied Economics Clinic said in the report.

The need for new transmission lines could be even higher if Maine successfully electrifies and decarbonizes its transportation and building sectors, according to Competitive Energy Services (CES), a Portland, Maine-based company.
» Read article               

range of consequences
Mesmerised brown crabs ‘attracted to’ undersea cables
Research in Scotland shows animals freeze near the electromagnetic field with implications for metabolism and migration
By PA Media, in The Guardian
October 10, 2021

Underwater power cables mesmerise brown crabs and cause biological changes that could affect their migration habits, scientists have discovered.

The cables for offshore renewable energy emit an electromagnetic field that attracts the crabs and causes them to stay where they are.

A study of about 60 brown crabs at the St Abbs marine station in the Scottish Borders found that higher levels of electromagnetism caused cellular changes in the crabs, affecting their blood cells.

Alastair Lyndon, an associate professor at Heriot-Watt University’s centre for marine biology and diversity, said: “Underwater cables emit an electromagnetic field. When it’s at a strength of 500 microteslas and above, which is about 5% of the strength of a fridge door magnet, the crabs seem to be attracted to it and just sit still.

“That’s not a problem in itself. But if they’re not moving, they’re not foraging for food or seeking a mate. The change in activity levels also leads to changes in sugar metabolism – they store more sugar and produce less lactate, just like humans.”

The team warned that changes in the species’ behaviour could hit fishing markets, as the crabs are the UK’s second most valuable crustacean catch and the most valuable inshore catch.

A number of offshore wind farms are installed or planned around Scotland’s coast, requiring extensive underwater cabling, and researchers said further work is needed to ensure they do not destabilise Scotland’s brown crab population.

Lyndon said: “Male brown crabs migrate up the east coast of Scotland. If miles of underwater cabling prove too difficult to resist, they’ll stay put.
» Read article               

» More about siting impacts

MICROGRIDS

disconnected
Whole towns to be taken off the grid and powered by stand-alone renewables
By Sophie Vorrath, Renew Economy
October 23, 2021

Western Australia is calling for proposals to help develop the state’s first “disconnected microgrids” – isolated, self-supported networks powering small towns that operate independently from the rest of the grid, and comprise at least 90% renewables.

The idea is to take whole towns off the grid – saving money from having to upgrade ageing poles and wires that are vulnerable to winds, storms and bushfires.

It is part of Western Power’s long mooted “modular grid” and is effectively the end of the old hub and spoke model built around large centralised generation that dominated Australia’s power system for decades.

It has already been estimated that tens of thousands of remote and regional customers – individuals and communities – could be served with cheaper, cleaner and more reliable power by having renewables-based micro-grids, rather than relying on power sent from centralised generators hundreds of kilometres away.
» Read article               

» More about microgrids

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

thick smog
Giant retailers pledge to leave fossil-fueled ships behind
Amazon and Ikea are among the biggest maritime polluters
By Justine Calma, The Verge
October 20, 2021

Major retailers, including Amazon and Ikea, are beginning to clean up their shipping pollution. A group of companies pledged yesterday that by 2040, they’ll only contract ships using zero-carbon fuels to move their goods. Both Ikea and Amazon were among the 15 companies responsible for the most maritime import pollution in 2019, according to one recent analysis.

Joining Amazon and Ikea in the commitment are Unilever, Michelin, and clothing retailer Inditex, which owns Zara and other brands. German retailer Tchibo, Patagonia, sports gear company Brooks Running, and FrogBikes are part of the deal, too.

The aim is to leave behind heavy fuel oil in favor of alternatives that don’t release planet-heating carbon dioxide emissions. But there will still be plenty of hurdles ahead to rein in shipping pollution.

“This will be a catalyzing force and a game-changer for the industry to really push for the decarbonization of the sector,” says Kendra Ulrich, shipping campaigns director at the environmental nonprofit Stand.earth, which was one of the authors of the 2019 import pollution report.

Before arriving at our doorsteps or on store shelves, nearly all the goods we buy are moved by ship around the world. As a result, the maritime shipping industry is responsible for about 3 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. The sector also produces between 10 to 15 percent of sulfur oxide and nitrous oxide emissions, pollutants linked to respiratory problems and other health risks.

Environmental activists, portside communities, and workers have demanded for years that Amazon and other big-box brands cut down their pollution. Now, they’re starting to see some progress from companies in the form of environmental pledges.
» Read article               

Na-ion
Sodium-ion Batteries Bring EV Costs Down and Push Safety Up
By Auto Dealer Today
September 16, 2021

Battery technology is in a period of rapid advancement as the world moves toward cleaner energy and electric vehicles (EVs). EV battery startups are jockeying for position as companies invest billions in the industry.

Contemporary Amperex Technology Co., or CATL, of China is the world’s largest battery manufacturer. The company unveiled its latest innovation in July — a sodium-ion battery. In August, China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology reported plans to drive the “development, standardization and commercialization of this type of power-pack, providing a cheaper, faster-charging and safe alternative to the current crop on offer, which continue to be plagued by a host of problems, not least, faulty units catching fire,” Bloomberg reported.

In contrast, the materials for sodium-based batteries are readily available as the earth’s reserves of sodium are dispersed at a content level of around 2.5% to 3%. That figure is 300 times more than lithium, report Jefferies Group LLC analysts.

With plentiful materials that are widely distributed, Bloomberg writes that “the power packs could cost almost 30% to 50% less than the cheapest electric car battery options currently available. In addition, the price of sodium is less sensitive to market gyrations compared with lithium, increasingly a sentiment gauge for the world’s green ambitions.”

Sodium-ion batteries have a lower energy density, but they operate better at cooler temperatures and have longer life spans. CATL’s sodium-ion offering will have an energy density of 160 Watt-hour per kilogram and will take 15 minutes to reach 80% of its charge. “That’s on par with batteries currently on the market, ranging from 140 Wh/kg to 180 and 240 in the highest end type (that has proven to be combustible at times),” reports the Bloomberg article.
» Read article               

» More about clean transportation

PEAKING POWER PLANTS

plant permits deniedNew York denies gas plant permits in first-ever decision citing climate law
By MARIE J. FRENCH, Politico
October 27, 2021

Gov. Kathy Hochul’s administration has made a landmark move to deny permits for two natural gas plants seeking to repower, citing the state’s climate law.

The Department of Environmental Conservation denied permits for NRG’s Astoria plant and the Danskammer plant in Orange County. Both plants were seeking to repower with more efficient natural gas units than their previous operations. The decisions were embraced by environmentalists who have been pushing for years to block the fossil fuel projects.

Developers of both projects argued they’d be more efficient than many older plants, reducing overall emissions from the power sector in the near term. They proposed potentially running on hydrogen in the future or renewable natural gas. But the DEC said those plans were speculative.

“Both [plants] would be inconsistent with New York’s nation-leading climate law, and are not justified or needed for grid reliability. We must shift to a renewable future,” wrote DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos on Twitter announcing the decision and tagging the ongoing global climate summit.

The decisions are the first regarding air permits to directly cite the state’s climate law. Former Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration rejected a water quality permit for a gas pipeline serving Long Island in a decision that partly cited the climate law.

New York has mandated a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of 40 percent from 1990 levels by 2030 and 85 percent, with the remainder offset, by 2050. The law also requires all electricity to be from emissions-free sources by 2040, largely ruling out the combustion of fuels that emit carbon dioxide.

“This is a very positive and necessary step the state has taken,” said Liz Moran with Earthjustice. “We have to stop permitting new fossil fuel plants.”
» Read article               

» More about peaker plants

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

production gap
World Fossil Production Still Far Beyond 1.5°C Limit, UN Agency Warns
By Mitchell Beer, The Energy Mix
October 20, 2021

Canada shows up as the world’s fourth-biggest oil and gas producer, and global fossil fuel production in 2030 will still be more than double the amount that would match a 1.5°C climate pathway, according to the 2021 Production Gap Report due to be released this morning by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

The study of more than 15 major fossil-producing countries, including Canada, found that key governments are planning to extract 240% more coal, 57% more oil, and 71% more natural gas at the end of this decade than would be consistent with the 1.5°C target in the Paris climate agreement, UNEP says, in an initial release distributed earlier this week.

Despite increasing urgency and insistent demands for faster, deeper carbon cuts, “the size of the production gap has remained largely unchanged compared to our prior assessments,” the release states.

The UN agency points to the decades between 2020 and 2040 as the prime time for expanded natural gas production. Gas is increasingly extracted through hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a process that releases large volumes of methane—a climate super-pollutant that is about 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide over the 20-year span when humanity will be scrambling to get climate change under control.

The country profiles for Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Germany, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Norway, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, and the United States “show that most of these governments continue to provide significant policy support for fossil fuel production,” UNEP adds.
» Read article               

pants on fireBig Oil CEOs just lied before Congress. It’s time they’re held accountable
The top oil executives claim they never approved a disinformation campaign. That is simply not true
By Jamie Henn, The Guardian
October 29, 2021

For the first time ever, the executives from four major oil companies and two of the industry’s most powerful front groups testified before Congress about their decades-long effort to spread climate disinformation and block legislation that would reduce US dependence on fossil fuels.

Republicans vehemently opposed the premise of Thursday’s House oversight hearing. Yet within the first round of GOP questioning, led by one of the industry’s staunchest defenders, ranking committee member James Comer of Kentucky, the executives inadvertently proved why they were summoned to testify under oath in the first place.

Comer asked each oil executive if they had “ever approved a disinformation campaign”. Then, one after another, the heads of Exxon, Chevron, Shell and BP all repeated that no, they had never approved any such effort.

Here’s the problem: that’s a lie.

There can be no doubt that Exxon, Chevron, Shell and BP have all engaged in false advertising, aka disinformation campaigns, during the tenure of their current CEOs. In fact, one could argue that the vast majority of the industry’s advertising fits this definition.

Take Exxon. For years, Exxon has been spending millions of dollars to run ads about its investments in algae fuel, even though it has spent very little on the actual research and has no plan to bring the product to market. The company hopes to create a “net impression” among consumers that Exxon is in the business of climate solutions, when it’s really still in the business of climate destruction. It’s textbook false advertising – which is one reason Exxon is being taken to court for this disinformation.

Or look at Chevron. In the 2020 ad “Butterfly,” Chevron highlighted its commitment to carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) as a climate solution. According to the New York Times, however, Chevron is only spending “pocket change” on these technologies as it “doubles down” on oil and gas production. Worse yet: the technology Chevron is touting doesn’t actually work. Chevron’s largest CCS project in Australia has been “a disaster from the beginning” and is now just venting CO2 into the atmosphere.

Shell provides a company-wide example. Over the last year, Shell has touted its new net zero commitment as evidence that the company is committed to climate action. Company documents, however, say, “Shell’s operating plans and budgets do not reflect Shell’s Net-Zero Emissions target.” Translation: our advertising is false.

Finally, BP. The company that once tried to rebrand itself “Beyond Petroleum”, faced legal complaints in 2019 about running false advertising in the UK that misled the public about the company’s commitment to renewable energy.
» Read article               

» More about fossil fuels

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

bridge of fuelU.S. natgas jumps near 12% on cooler forecasts, short covering
By Reuters
October 25, 2021

U.S. natural gas futures soared almost 12% to a near three-week high on Monday on expectations liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports will rise and forecasts calling for cooler weather and higher heating demand over the next two weeks than previously expected.

“Today’s upward move is likely the beginning of tremendous volatility into November final settlement on Wednesday,” said Eli Rubin, senior energy analyst at EBW Analytics Group, noting the combination of the colder forecasts and rising LNG exports triggered “short-covering that amplified the move higher.”

This month has already seen record volatility with futures soaring to their highest close since 2008 on Oct. 6 before collapsing 25% by the middle of last week.

But no matter how high U.S. futures have climbed, global gas was still trading about six times over U.S. prices, keeping demand for U.S. LNG exports strong as utilities around the world scramble to refill stockpiles ahead of the winter heating season and meet current energy shortfalls causing power blackouts in China.
» Read article               

» More about LNG

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.


» Learn more about Pipeline projects
» Learn more about other proposed energy infrastructure
» Sign up for the NFGiM Newsletter for events, news and actions you can take
» DONATE to help keep our efforts going!

Weekly News Check-In 6/4/21

banner 09

Welcome back.

Plans for a new peaking power plant in Peabody are on hold while the developer and stakeholders explore the feasibility of greener alternatives. Pressure is building to make this exploration more public.

We have recently noticed a development in gas industry messaging – applied both to the Peabody peaker and Weymouth compressor station – that these facilities actually reduce overall fossil fuel consumption because they backstop intermittent energy sources like solar and wind. According to this narrative, readily availability gas-generated power allows the rapid and extensive integration of clean energy onto the grid. That’s true, but we now have reliable, non-emitting alternatives that accomplish the same result, often at lower cost.

So we consider this nothing more than pro-gas propaganda, and suspect that the consistency of the messaging results from gas industry coordination. Expect to see more of it. Meanwhile, the International Energy Agency (IEA) just released its flagship report stating that the climate can’t handle any new fossil fuel infrastructure. It is unequivocal – stop now. Not “soon”, and not once we’ve crossed some fantastical, conceptual “bridge”.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) just published a report describing this clean energy transition in great detail. The report places much higher importance on the development of demand side flexibility in conjunction with battery storage, in preference to the current model that underpins capacity with fossil fuel generation.

That overview sets the stage for a lot of recent news. In New Hampshire, Liberty Utilities failed to get approval to build its Granite Bridge pipeline, and is now seeking other ways to increase sales of natural gas. Protests and actions continue worldwide, pushing back against continued efforts to add fossil fuel infrastructure. This includes risky activism in Uganda in opposition to the East African Crude Oil Pipeline, and a big win as a Dutch court told Shell to cut its carbon emissions far more aggressively than currently planned. In related developments, a new financial disclosure rule in Switzerland requires large Swiss banks and insurance companies to disclose risks associated with climate change.

This all follows a very bad couple of weeks for the fossil fuel industry, when a combination of court rulings and climate-centered investors generated multiple “End of Oil” headlines. One exception is the Biden administration’s unfortunate approval of a major new Alaska oil drilling project. Contending for a new benchmark in the “absurd” category, ConocoPhillips will install chillers in the soggy permafrost which otherwise is too melty to support drilling rigs. That permafrost, of course, is melting because we have already burned too much fossil fuel and warmed the planet to dangerous levels. The chillers will re-freeze enough of that ground to allow the extraction, transport, and combustion of lots of oil for thirty more years.

Our Greening the Economy, Energy Storage, and Clean Transportation sections are all related this week. They grapple with environmental issues surrounding lithium – the primary component in electric vehicle and most grid-scale storage batteries. Articles explore greener sources and alternative technologies that could reduce the impact. We also launched a new section, Modernizing the Grid, to cover what promises to be a critical and complex project.

Wrapping up, we offer an opinion on how to eliminate recently approved rail transportation of liquefied natural gas, along with a view from North Carolina of the biomass pellet industry’s toll on health and the environment.

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

 

PEAKING POWER PLANTS

exploring batteries
Could batteries replace a proposed peaker plant in Massachusetts?   

As a municipal power supplier pauses plans to build a natural gas peaker plant, advocates are urging its backers to consider battery storage instead, but questions remain about whether it’s practical for the site.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
June 2, 2021

Environmental activists and local residents in Massachusetts are urging the group behind a planned natural gas power plant to consider whether battery storage could do the job with fewer climate concerns. 

“It’s six years since this project was proposed,” said Susan Smoller, a resident of Peabody, where the plant would be sited. “We have different alternatives available to us now and we should at least talk about it before we commit.”

The organization developing the plant announced last month that it will pause its plans for at least 30 days to address community concerns and reevaluate possible alternatives, but some involved are still skeptical that storage could be a viable solution. 

The proposed plant is a project of the Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company (MMWEC), a nonprofit that helps municipal utilities procure power supply and advocates for their interests. The 55-megawatt facility would be a so-called “peaker plant,” intended to run only at times of peak demand, estimated at no more than 250 hours per year.

Opponents of the plant are concerned about the additional greenhouse gas emissions as well as the potential for ground-level pollution in an area that is already exposed to high levels of ozone. They also worry that laws and regulations will make the burning of fossil fuels obsolete, leaving consumers on the hook for an $85 million plant that isn’t even used. 

“I don’t want to be paying for an outmoded dirty peaker plant 25 years from now when it’s not even legal to run them,” Smoller said. 

Resistance to the proposed plant has picked up in recent months, as stakeholders have learned more about the plan and started speaking up. In May, a group of 87 health care professionals sent MMWEC a letter opposing the plan. 

In the face of this growing opposition, MMWEC decided to take what it called the “unusual step” of putting a hold on its plans to take “another look at whether advancements in technology make a different approach possible today.” 

Experts say that, in general, battery storage is a viable alternative for plants that only run when demand is highest. Batteries could charge up during times of lower demand, when the power supply is generally from cleaner sources, and then discharge at times of high demand, displacing the energy from peaker plants, which is generally dirtier and more expensive. A study by nonprofit research institute Physicians, Scientists, and Engineers for Healthy Energy found that two-thirds of Massachusetts peaker plants burn primarily oil, a high-emissions fuel. 

As more renewable energy is added to the grid, the power charging the batteries will get yet cleaner, amplifying the impact.

“It’s not a matter of, ‘Can it do it?’ It’s doing it,” said Jason Burwen, interim chief executive of the Energy Storage Association. “The question is the specifics.”
» Read article               

» More about peaker plants               

 

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

no compressor stationThe Weymouth Compressor Station
By Joseph Winters, The Harvard Political Review
May 24, 2021

On Oct. 1, 2020, residents of Weymouth, Massachusetts, gathered on the Fore River Bridge for a socially-distanced rally. Wearing masks and waving hand-drawn posters, they were protesting a natural gas compressor station that had been built in their community by the Canadian oil company Enbridge.

“Shut it down!” their signs read. “Stop Enbridge. Enough is enough.”

It was supposed to be day one of the compressor station’s operation. Despite six years of fierce opposition from community groups, elected officials, and environmental organizations, Enbridge had finally secured the suite of permits necessary to build and operate a natural gas compressor station — a facility needed to keep gas flowing north through the company’s pipelines — in the town of Weymouth, just a few miles south of Boston.

But things had not gone according to plan. Earlier that month, on Sept. 11, a system failure had forced workers to vent 169,000 standard cubic feet of natural gas and 35 pounds of volatile organic compounds from the compressor station, releasing it into the surrounding community. Some of those compounds included toxic chemicals known to cause cancer, damage to the liver and central nervous system, and more. 

Then, on the morning of Sept. 30, just one day before the compressor station was scheduled to begin operating, a roaring sound emanated from the facility, signaling another “unplanned release” of natural gas — a mechanical failure that automatically triggered the compressor station’s emergency shutdown system and vented more gas into the neighborhood.

Rep. Stephen Lynch alerted residents of the September 30 shutdown later that day. “These accidents endangered the lives of local residents,” he said in a tweet, “and are indicative of a much larger threat that the Weymouth Compressor Station poses to Weymouth, Quincy, Abington, and Braintree residents.”

Within hours, a federal agency issued a stay on the compressor’s operation until a safety investigation could be completed. 

So on Oct. 1, as the Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station (FRRACS) gathered on the Fore River Bridge, the compressor station had already been shut down — albeit temporarily. They continued with the demonstration anyway, folding the station’s system failures into their suite of objections to the project, alongside issues of safety, pollution, and environmental justice.

“2 system failures in one month!” one demonstrator’s sign read. “What the FRRACS is going on?”

Besides the long-term health consequences of industrial pollution, FRRACS and its allies have argued that the compressor station imposes an unacceptable risk of disaster onto the community. “They’re trying to plant a bomb in our neighborhood,” one resident said at a public hearing before the station was built.

The possibility of a catastrophic accident is neither negligible nor unprecedented. Most significantly, compressor malfunctions can cause highly flammable natural gas — including significant amounts of methane — to accumulate inside the facilities, raising the risk of a massive fire or explosion. That exact scenario unfolded in December 2020 when a Morris Township, Pennsylvania, compressor station caught fire, burning for more than two hours and causing a temporary evacuation.

Over the past few years, similar explosions have rocked Armada Township, Michigan; West Union, West Virginia; and Ward County, Texas, where a particularly bad explosion in 2018 claimed a man’s life. One report compiled for New York reported 11 more recent accidents at compressor stations across the country, from Utah to New Jersey.

The natural gas pipelines feeding into the compressor station may pose an even scarier safety threat. According to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), pipelines have caused more than 11,000 accidents since 1996, leading to more than $6 billion in damages and killing nearly 400 people.
» Read article            

force majeureWeymouth Compressor Shuts Down Again — For Fourth Time In Less Than A Year
By Miriam Wasser, WBUR
May 21, 2021


The Weymouth Natural Gas Compressor Station is shut down for the fourth time since it began operating last year.

A spokesperson for Enbridge, the company that owns and operates the compressor, said in a statement that the company is “performing maintenance work” and anticipates “safely returning the compressor station to service shortly.” He said the maintenance work was “on a piece of equipment which helps reduce compressor unit emissions”, but he did not say whether it was planned in advance.

On Thursday night, Enbridge posted a notice that the compressor station had “experienced an outage” and in a separate notice declared a “force majeure.” Loosely translated as an “act of God,” a force majeure usually means the shutdown occurred for reasons out of the company’s control.

“It is standard practice to declare a Force Majeure when a compressor station becomes unavailable for service,” the spokesperson said in an email. “In this case, we identified maintenance work to be performed and notified our customers that the Weymouth Compressor Station would be unavailable while the work was performed.”

However, Katy Eiseman, a lawyer and president of the advocacy group The Pipe Line Awareness Network for the Northeast says “routine maintenance is not what I think of as a justifiable reason to claim force majeure,” though she says she’d have to review Enbridge’s customer contracts to be sure.

James Coleman, an energy law professor at Southern Methodist University agrees, noting that “a force majeure usually has to be something [that is not] within the control of the provider.”

State law requires Enbridge to report any gas releases that exceed 10,000 standard cubic feet. According to Enbridge, “there was minimal venting … well below reporting requirements” associated with this latest shutdown.

But for Sen. Ed Markey, a long-time opponent of the compressor station, this most recent shutdown is a cause for concern.

“Whether an act of God or a failure of man, the Weymouth Compressor Station’s fourth shutdown in a matter of months is a sign that it should not be operating now or ever,” the senator said in a statement. “It’s dangerous, unnecessary, and a clear and present threat to public safety.”

Markey said he’s asked the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to look into this most recent outage at the compressor.
» Read article               

» More about the Weymouth compressor station         

 

GRANITE BRIDGE PIPELINE

new Liberty
Liberty Utilities angles for 20-year natural gas contract
By Amanda Gokee, SentinalSource
May 17, 2021

Last year, Liberty Utilities withdrew what had turned into a very contentious proposal to construct a large, expensive pipeline called the Granite Bridge Project. Critics said it was too big, too expensive, and that it would harm the environment. It led to protests and drew fierce opposition from climate-change activists who oppose building new fossil fuel infrastructure.

In the wake of that failed proposal, Liberty has put forward another project that is now being considered by the Public Utilities Commission — a 20-year agreement to increase its natural gas capacity in the state by about 20 to 25 percent through a purchase agreement with Tennessee Gas Pipeline.

The company says it needs to increase its capacity in order to meet customer demand. The new proposal was put forward in January, and it has been proceeding quietly ever since, with none of the dramatic opposition that Granite Bridge garnered. But some environmental advocates still oppose the 20-year contract as an unacceptable option in the face of climate change.

“This is a major step in the wrong direction,” said Nick Krakoff, a staff attorney at the Conservation Law Foundation. The foundation is one of the parties involved in the docket at the utilities commission.
» Read article               

» More about the Granite Bridge pipeline project       

 

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

Stop EACOP
Despite Risks, Climate Activists Lead Fight Against Oil Giant’s Drilling Projects in Uganda
“We cannot drink oil. This is why we cannot accept the construction of the East African Crude Oil Pipeline.”
By Brett Wilkins, Common Dreams
May 28, 2021

Climate campaigners in Africa and around the world on Friday continued demonstrations against Total, with activists accusing the French oil giant of ecocide, human rights violations, and greenwashing in connection with fossil fuel projects in Uganda. 

On the 145th week of Fridays for Future climate strike protests, members of the movement in Uganda global allies drew attention to the harmful effects of fossil fuel development on the environment, ecosystems, communities, and livelihoods. 

Friday’s actions followed protests at Total petrol stations in Benin, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Togo, and Uganda on Tuesday—celebrated each year as Africa Day—against the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP), now under construction, and the Mozambique Liquefied Natural Gas project.

“Total’s fossil fuel developments pose grave risks to protected environments, water sources, and wetlands in the Great Lakes and East Africa regions,” said Andre Moliro, an activist from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, during Tuesday’s pan-African protests.

“Communities have been raising concerns on the impact of oil extraction on Lake Albert fisheries and the disastrous consequences of an oil spill in Lake Victoria, that would affect millions of people that rely on the two lakes for their livelihoods, watersheds for drinking water, and food production,” he added.
» Read article               

celebration at The Hague
‘Historic victory’: court tells Shell to slash emissions on Big Oil’s day of climate pain
Group to appeal verdict in Dutch court that activists claim has major implications as trio of supermajors face emissions scrutiny
By Andrew Lee, Recharge News
May 26, 2021

A court in the Netherlands on Wednesday told Shell to cut its carbon emissions far more aggressively than currently planned, in what climate activists claimed as a landmark ruling with implications for fossil fuel groups globally.

The Shell ruling came on a turbulent day for the world’s oil giants, with fellow supermajors ExxonMobil and Chevron also under pressure over their decarbonisation plans.

A Dutch judge ordered Shell to reduce CO2 emissions by 45% by 2030 against 2019 levels, after hearing a case brought by Friends of the Earth and other groups, plus 17,000 Netherlands citizens.

The Anglo-Dutch group has so far committed to a carbon intensity reduction of its products of 20% by 2030 and 45% by 2035, compared to 2016 levels, as part of a 2050 net zero push.

But the court said those goals were “insufficiently concrete and full of conditions” as it ordered the far tougher action it said would bring the ambitions into line with the Paris climate agreement.

Although the judgment is open to appeal – which Shell indicated it would – Friends of the Earth labelled it a “historic victory” for climate action that has “enormous consequences for Shell and other big polluters globally” and should embolden other campaigners elsewhere.

Rachel Kennerley, climate campaigner at Friends of the Earth England, Wales and Northern Ireland said: “This ruling confirms what we already knew, that global polluters cannot continue their devastating operations because the costs are too high, and they have been that way for too long.

“Today an historic line has been drawn, no more spin, no more greenwashing, big oil is over. The future is in clean renewables.”

The International Energy Agency earlier in May recommended that no more new fossil project investments should be made in order to keep the world on a path to net zero.

Analysts were divided over the implications of the Shell judgment for the global fossil sector.

Liz Hypes, senior environment and climate change analyst for Verisk Maplecroft, a global risk and strategic consulting firm, believes the judgement could pave the way for legal action against energy companies.

“This case could mean open-season on heavy-emitters in the oil and gas industry, and it is not a stretch to envisage activists – or even unhappy investors – bringing similar cases against others in the industry and, potentially, their financial backers.

“While cases like this have to date been largely limited to the US and Europe, we’ve seen a rising trend outside of these countries of climate lawsuits ruling in the claimants’ favour.”

Hypes added: “What this signifies to investors and climate activists is that taking companies to court is an increasingly successful means of triggering climate action and, because of this, the number of climate cases faces carbon-heavy corporates will grow. It shows that the risks of inaction – or of what consumers, investors and the public see as ‘not enough’ action – is mounting.”

“It’s no longer a brand image issue for companies – they are facing genuine legal risks from which the repercussions may be significant and it’s triggering a real discussion about what is their fiduciary duty during the climate crisis.”
» Read article               

» More about protests and actions                

 

DIVESTMENT

finma
Swiss watchdog FINMA requires banks, insurers to disclose climate risks
By Reuters
May 31, 2021

ZURICH (Reuters) -Large Swiss banks and insurance companies will have to provide qualitative and quantitative information about risks they face from climate change, Swiss financial watchdog FINMA said on Monday as it released an amended publication here on disclosure.

FINMA’s updated circular on the new obligations, to take effect on July 1, follows similar moves by the European Central Bank, which last year announced plans to ask lenders in the 19-country currency union to disclose their climate-related risks.

The Swiss watchdog said it is fulfilling its strategic goal of contributing to sustainable development of the Swiss financial centre, by laying out how it will supervise banks and insurers on climate-related financial risk.

FINMA said it crafted the disclosure requirement after talking with industry representatives, academics, NGOs and the federal government last year. The watchdog has previously said the risks such as natural catastrophes are substantial for the sector and merited new disclosure standards.

“Banks and insurance companies are required to inform the public adequately about their risks,” FINMA said in a statement. “These also include the consequences of climate change, which could pose significant financial risks for financial institutions in the longer term.”

Credit Suisse has been in the crosshairs of climate activists, including protesters who blocked access to its Zurich headquarters over complaints of its financing of fossil fuel-related projects. Reinsurer Swiss Re said in April the global economy could lose nearly a fifth of economic output by 2050 should the world fail to check climate change.
» Read article               

» More about divestment                

 

GREENING THE ECONOMY

cleaning up
The plan to turn coal country into a rare earth powerhouse
With plans for a Made-in-America renewable energy transformation, Biden administration ramps up efforts to extract rare earth minerals from coal waste.
By Maddie Stone, Grist
May 26, 2021

At an abandoned coal mine just outside the city of Gillette, Wyoming, construction crews are getting ready to break ground on a 10,000-square-foot building that will house state-of-the-art laboratories and manufacturing plants. Among the projects at the facility, known as the Wyoming Innovation Center, will be a pilot plant that aims to takes coal ash — the sooty, toxic waste left behind after coal is burned for energy — and use it to extract rare earths, elements that play an essential role in everything from cell phones and LED screens to wind turbines and electric cars. 

The pilot plant in Wyoming is a critical pillar of an emerging effort led by the Department of Energy, or DOE, to convert the toxic legacy of coal mining in the United States into something of value. Similar pilot plants and research projects are also underway in states including West Virginia, North Dakota, Utah, and Kentucky. If these projects are successful, the Biden administration hopes that places like Gillette will go from being the powerhouses of the fossil fuel era to the foundation of a new domestic supply chain that will build tomorrow’s energy systems.

In an April report on revitalizing fossil fuel communities, administration officials wrote that coal country is “well-positioned” to become a leader in harvesting critical materials from the waste left behind by coal mining and coal power generation. Several days later, the DOE awarded a total of $19 million to 13 different research groups that plan to assess exactly how much rare earth material is contained in coal and coal waste, as well as explore ways to extract it. 

“We have these resources that are otherwise a problem,” said Sarma Pisupati, the director of the Center for Critical Minerals at Penn State University and one of the grant recipients. “We can use those resources to extract valuable minerals for our independence.”

Those minerals would come at a critical moment. The rare earth elements neodymium and dysprosium, in particular, are essential to the powerful magnets used in offshore wind turbines and electric vehicle motors. A recent report by the International Energy Agency projected that by 2040, the clean energy sector’s demand for these minerals could be three to seven times greater than it is today.
» Read article               

» More about greening the economy            

 

CLIMATE

IEA gets on board
IT’S THE END OF OIL: Blockbuster IEA Report Urges No New Fossil Development
By Mitchell Beer, The Energy Mix
May 19, 2021

No new investment in oil, gas, or coal development, a massive increase in renewable energy adoption, speedy global phaseouts for new natural gas boilers and internal combustion vehicles, and a sharp focus on short-term action are key elements of a blockbuster Net Zero by 2050 report released Tuesday morning by the International Energy Agency (IEA).

The more than 400 sectoral and technological targets in the report would be big news from any source. They’re particularly significant from the IEA, an agency that has received scathing criticism in the past for overstating the future importance of fossil fuels, consistently underestimating the uptake of renewable energy, and failing to align its “gold standard” energy projections with the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement. For years, the agency’s projections have been used to justify hundreds of billions of dollars in high-carbon investments, allowing multinational fossil companies to sustain the fantasy that demand for their product will increase through 2040 or beyond.

“Beyond projects already committed as of 2021, there are no new oil and gas fields approved for development in our pathway, and no new coal mines or mine extensions are required,” the IEA writes. “The unwavering policy focus on climate change in the net-zero pathway results in a sharp decline in fossil fuel demand, meaning that the focus for oil and gas producers switches entirely to output—and emissions reductions—from the operation of existing assets.”

“It’s not a model result,” analyst Dave Jones of the clean energy think tank Ember told Bloomberg Green. “It’s a call to action.”

“Big Oil and Gas has just lost a very powerful shield!” wrote Oil Change International Senior Campaigner David Tong.

By 2040, the IEA sees all coal- and oil-fired power plants phased out unless their emissions are abated by some form of carbon capture. Between 2020 and 2050, oil demand falls 75%, to 24 million barrels per day, gas demand falls 55%, and remaining oil production becomes “increasingly concentrated in a small number of low-cost producers.” OPEC nations provide 52% of a “much-reduced global oil supply” in 2050 and see their per capita income from fossil production decline 75% by the 2030s.

“This is a huge shift from the IEA and highly consequential, given its scenarios are seen as a guide to the future, steering trillions of dollars in energy investment,” Kelly Trout, interim director of Oil Change’s energy transitions and futures program, wrote in an email. “Oil and gas companies, investors, and IEA member states that have been using IEA scenarios to justify their choices and also say they’re committed to 1.5°C are in a tight spot. Will they follow the IEA’s guidance and stop licencing or financing new fossil fuel extraction, or be exposed as hypocrites?”
» Read article            
» Read the IEA report                 

» More about climate              

 

CLEAN ENERGY

electrification futures study
Inside Clean Energy: Yes, We Can Electrify Almost Everything. Here’s What That Looks Like.
National lab wraps up groundbreaking project on electrifying the economy.
By Dan Gearino, Inside Climate News
June 3, 2021

Many scenarios for averting the worst effects of climate change involve electrifying just about everything that now runs on fossil fuels, and shifting to an electricity system that runs mostly on wind and solar.

Can this be done reliably and with existing technologies?

Yes.

That’s one of the main findings of the Electrification Futures Study, an ambitious project of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory that started four years ago and has now issued its final report.

The transformation to a highly electrified economy is an opportunity for consumers and businesses because of the potential for cost-savings and for developing and selling new generations of products, said Ella Zhou, a senior modeling engineer at NREL and a co-author of the report.

“This offers useful information literally for everyone, because electricity touches all of our lives,” she said.

In a sign of changing times and shifting control in Washington, the report’s introduction mentions “decarbonization” and “climate change mitigation” in its first sentence, something that would have been almost unthinkable from a national laboratory during the Trump administration. 

Zhou didn’t comment about the partisan shift, but she did note how much the conversation about the transition to clean energy had changed since the project started in 2017. The idea of electrifying the economy is much closer to the mainstream now than it was then, she said, as is the broad understanding that a shift to renewable energy can save money, compared to using fossil fuels.
» Read article            
» Read NREL’s final report, Electrification Futures Study                  

where it goes
Where Wind and Solar Power Need to Grow for America to Meet Its Goals
By Veronica Penney, New York Times
May 28, 2021

President Biden has promised to sharply reduce America’s planet-warming carbon emissions, which means changes to the country’s energy system may reshape landscapes and coastlines around the country. 

The United States is now aiming to bring emissions down to net-zero by 2050, meaning the country would eliminate as much greenhouse gas as it emits. To reach that goal, Americans will need to get a lot more of their energy from renewable sources like wind and solar farms.

One of the most recent studies on the subject, Princeton University’s Net-Zero America Report, charted five pathways to net-zero, and all of them required the United States to exceed the current pace of building for solar panels and wind turbines.

But what will all that energy infrastructure look like, and where could it go? Here’s a look at the factors and forces that will determine where renewable energy projects could be built.
» Read article           
» Read the Princeton University report         

» More about clean energy           

 

MODERNIZING THE GRID

TOU rates for Maine
Advocates say Maine needs to expand time-of-use rates to hit climate goals

As more drivers switch to electric cars and buildings convert to heat pumps, changing customer behavior with new rate designs could be key to preventing expensive and polluting new investments in the state’s power grid.
By David Thill, Energy News Network
May 27, 2021

Maine clean energy advocates say it’s time to revisit and ramp up time-of-use rates, and the state’s major utilities and several other stakeholders agree. 

Meeting the state’s climate goals could add significant load to the state’s grid as drivers switch to electric cars and buildings abandon fossil fuels for heating. 

Unless some customers can be persuaded to put off drying clothes, running dishwashers or charging vehicles until nighttime, that new demand could force expensive upgrades to the system and make it harder to eliminate fossil fuels. 

That’s where time-of-use rates come into play. Unlike traditional flat rates, time-of-use rates charge customers different prices at different times of the day. Often this means customers pay a relatively expensive rate during the busiest hours of the day and less expensive rates during off-peak hours.

State legislation introduced this year, as well as a recent report on the future of Maine’s electric grid, called on state regulators to investigate how to roll out time-of-use rates on a broader scale than what’s currently offered.

A time-of-use rate needs to be structured so it actually encourages customers to shift their electricity use off-peak, said David Littell, a former Maine utilities commissioner who was part of the stakeholder group.

That requires establishing a sufficient difference between what customers are charged off-peak and on-peak, he said. The peak window also has to be reasonably timed: He found in previous research that, based on hundreds of rate pilots and operational rates, customers were more likely to sign up for time-varying rates when the peak windows were only three hours, as opposed to eight to 14 hours.

Littell and others in the stakeholder report also said time-of-use rates should include all aspects of customers’ bills, including supply and capacity.

“Most of what I’m seeing across the country right now is that if a utility is talking about doing a time-of-use rate, they prefer to start with the supply cost,” he said. That’s something utilities can easily do themselves, structuring the rate based on what it costs to deliver energy to customers.

Capacity would be harder, since utilities don’t have jurisdiction over the line items on customers’ bills for the energy itself. In deregulated utility markets like Maine, the energy is provided by suppliers separate from utilities, at a rate called the standard offer. Suppliers would have to implement their own time-of-use rates. But without making it mandatory for them to do that — something the commission could do — they’re not likely to take that path, Littell said, since it’s far easier to stick with the status quo.

In a small market like Maine, suppliers have less incentive to pursue the education and effort necessary to change their rate design without the guarantee that they’ll make money on it. “If it’s not mandated, it’s not going to happen at the standard offer level, full stop,” said Tom Welch, a former Maine utilities commission chair who also contributed to the recent grid modernization report.

Protections will also be necessary for low-income customers who end up paying more under the new rate than they currently pay, but Welch said that’s easily addressed, for example, with refunds for groups of customers that are unable to respond to the price signals.
» Read report            

» More about modernizing the electric grid          

 

ENERGY STORAGE

CO2 battery system
‘CO2 battery’ technology getting megawatt-scale demonstrator in Italy
By Andy Colthorpe, Energy Storage News
May 27, 2021

A 2.5MW / 4MWh demonstration system using novel energy storage technology based on a “carbon dioxide battery” has begun construction in Sardinia, Italy.

The CO2 battery technology has been developed by Energy Dome, a Milan-headquartered company founded by technologist and entrepreneur Claudio Spadacini and incorporated two years ago. The battery can offer long durations of storage between three to 16+ hours, can be built using off-the-shelf components used in other industries and uses a closed loop thermodynamic process which can enable a high round-trip efficiency, the company claims. It also suffers “little or no degradation” over an anticipated lifetime of more than 25 years.

The battery charges by drawing CO2 from a dome where it is kept, condensing it into a liquid at ambient temperature, while heat created by the compression process is stored in thermal energy storage systems. It then discharges by evaporating and expanding the CO2 back into a gas by heating it using the thermal storage systems. The gas is driven through a turbine to inject power into the grid and then pushed back into the dome, ready to be used for the next charging cycle.

On its website, the company compares the technology as being potentially lower cost than compressed air energy storage (CAES) or liquid air energy storage (LAES), which might be considered competing energy storage technologies. This is because unlike CAES which requires very large underground sealed vessels such as salt caverns to store a large volume of air, or LAES which requires equipment to cool air until it liquifies, the liquid phase CO2 can be stored at ambient temperature, the company said.

Energy Dome also said in a press release this week that its solution could also overcome the limitations of lithium-ion, posing no fire risk, manufacturable without rare earth materials and also even has better performance and lower capital cost. The demonstrator in Sardinia is expected to be launched early next year.
» Read article           

Power Podcast 89
The Benefits of Flow Batteries Over Lithium Ion
By Aaron Larson, Power Magazine
May 27, 2021

Lithium-ion (Li-ion) is the most commonly talked about battery storage technology on the market these days, and for good reason. Li-ion batteries have a high energy density, and they are the preferred option when mobility is a concern, such as for cell phones, laptop computers, and electric vehicles. But there are different energy storage technologies that make more sense in other use cases. For example, iron flow batteries may be a better option for utility-scale power grid storage.

An iron flow battery is built with three pretty simple ingredients: iron, salt, and water. “A flow battery has a tank with an electrolyte—think of it as salt water to be simple—and it puts it through a process that allows it to store energy in the iron, and then discharge that energy over an extended period of time,” Eric Dresselhuys, CEO of ESS Inc., a manufacturer of iron flow batteries for commercial and utility-scale energy storage applications, explained as a guest on The POWER Podcast.

Iron flow batteries have an advantage over utility-scale Li-ion storage systems in the following areas:

  • Longer duration. Up to 12 hours versus a typical duration of no more than 4 hours for large-scale Li-ion systems.
  • Increased safety. Iron flow batteries are non-flammable, non-toxic, and have no explosion risk. The same is not true for Li-ion.
  • Longer asset life. Iron flow batteries offer unlimited cycle life and no capacity degradation over a 25-year operating life. Li-ion batteries typically provide about 7,000 cycles and a 7- to 10-year lifespan.
  • Less concern with ambient temperatures. Iron flow batteries can operate in ambient conditions from –10C to 60C (14F to 140F) without the need for heating or air conditioning. Ventilation systems are almost always required for utility-scale Li-ion systems.
  • Lower levelized cost of storage. Because iron flow batteries offer a 25-year life, have a capital expense cost similar to Li-ion, and operating expenses that are much lower than Li-on, the cost of ownership can be up to 40% less.

“People have been really interested in flow batteries for a lot of reasons, but the most common one that you’ll hear about is the long duration,” said Dresselhuys.
» Listen to podcast            

» More about energy storage           

 

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

briny water
The Lithium Gold Rush: Inside the Race to Power Electric Vehicles
A race is on to produce lithium in the United States, but competing projects are taking very different approaches to extracting the vital raw material. Some might not be very green.
By Ivan Penn and Eric Lipton, New York Times
May 6, 2021

Atop a long-dormant volcano in northern Nevada, workers are preparing to start blasting and digging out a giant pit that will serve as the first new large-scale lithium mine in the United States in more than a decade — a new domestic supply of an essential ingredient in electric car batteries and renewable energy.

The mine, constructed on leased federal lands, could help address the near total reliance by the United States on foreign sources of lithium.

But the project, known as Lithium Americas, has drawn protests from members of a Native American tribe, ranchers and environmental groups because it is expected to use billions of gallons of precious ground water, potentially contaminating some of it for 300 years, while leaving behind a giant mound of waste.

“Blowing up a mountain isn’t green, no matter how much marketing spin people put on it,” said Max Wilbert, who has been living in a tent on the proposed mine site while two lawsuits seeking to block the project wend their way through federal courts.

The fight over the Nevada mine is emblematic of a fundamental tension surfacing around the world: Electric cars and renewable energy may not be as green as they appear. Production of raw materials like lithium, cobalt and nickel that are essential to these technologies are often ruinous to land, water, wildlife and people.

That environmental toll has often been overlooked in part because there is a race underway among the United States, China, Europe and other major powers. Echoing past contests and wars over gold and oil, governments are fighting for supremacy over minerals that could help countries achieve economic and technological dominance for decades to come.
» Read article               

bunker fuel
Tasked to Fight Climate Change, a Secretive U.N. Agency Does the Opposite
Behind closed doors, shipbuilders and miners can speak on behalf of governments while regulating an industry that pollutes as much as all of America’s coal plants.
By Matt Apuzzo and Sarah Hurtes, New York Times
June 3, 2021

LONDON — During a contentious meeting over proposed climate regulations last fall, a Saudi diplomat to the obscure but powerful International Maritime Organization switched on his microphone to make an angry complaint: One of his colleagues was revealing the proceedings on Twitter as they happened.

It was a breach of the secrecy at the heart of the I.M.O., a clubby United Nations agency on the banks of the Thames that regulates international shipping and is charged with reducing emissions in an industry that burns an oil so thick it might otherwise be turned into asphalt. Shipping produces as much carbon dioxide as all of America’s coal plants combined.

Internal documents, recordings and dozens of interviews reveal what has gone on for years behind closed doors: The organization has repeatedly delayed and watered down climate regulations, even as emissions from commercial shipping continue to rise, a trend that threatens to undermine the goals of the 2016 Paris climate accord.

One reason for the lack of progress is that the I.M.O. is a regulatory body that is run in concert with the industry it regulates. Shipbuilders, oil companies, miners, chemical manufacturers and others with huge financial stakes in commercial shipping are among the delegates appointed by many member nations. They sometimes even speak on behalf of governments, knowing that public records are sparse, and that even when the organization allows journalists into its meetings, it typically prohibits them from quoting people by name.

An agency lawyer underscored that point last fall in addressing the Saudi complaint. “This is a private meeting,” warned the lawyer, Frederick J. Kenney.

Next week, the organization is scheduled to enact its first greenhouse gas rules since Paris — regulations that do not cut emissions, have no enforcement mechanism and leave key details shrouded in secrecy. No additional proposals are far along in the rule-making process, meaning additional regulations are likely five years or more away.
» Read article               

» More about clean transportation             

 

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

methane emissions analysis
Here Are America’s Top Methane Emitters. Some Will Surprise You.
Oil and gas giants are selling off their most-polluting operations to small private companies. Most manage to escape public scrutiny.
By Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times
June 2, 2021

As the world’s oil and gas giants face increasing pressure to reduce their fossil fuel emissions, small, privately held drilling companies are becoming the country’s biggest emitters of greenhouse gases, often by buying up the industry’s high-polluting assets.

According to a startling new analysis of the latest emissions data disclosed to the Environmental Protection Agency, five of the industry’s top ten emitters of methane, a particularly potent planet-warming gas, are little-known oil and gas producers, some backed by obscure investment firms, whose environmental footprints are wildly large relative to their production.

In some cases, the companies are buying up high-polluting assets directly from the largest oil and gas corporations, like ConocoPhillips and BP; in other cases, private equity firms acquire risky oil and gas properties, develop them, and sell them quickly for maximum profits.

The largest emitter, Hilcorp Energy, reported almost 50 percent more methane emissions from its operations than the nation’s largest fossil fuel producer, Exxon Mobil, despite pumping far less oil and gas. Four other relatively unknown companies — Terra Energy Partners, Flywheel Energy, Blackbeard Operating and Scout Energy — each reported emitting more of the gas than many industry heavyweights.

These companies have largely escaped public scrutiny, even as they have become major polluters.

“It’s amazing how the small operators manage to constitute a very large part of the problem,” said Andrew Logan, senior director of oil and gas at Ceres, a nonprofit investor network that commissioned the study together with the Clean Air Task Force, an environmental group. “There’s just no pressure on them to do things better. And being a clean operator, unfortunately, isn’t a priority in this business model.”
» Read article              
» Read the Benchmarking Methane analysis           

ExxonMobil Chicago
Engine No. 1’s Big Win Over Exxon Shows Activist Hedge Funds Joining Fight Against Climate Change
“We can’t recall another time that an energy company’s shareholder has been so effective and forceful in showing how a company’s failure to take on climate change has eroded shareholder value.”
By Mark DesJardine, DeSmog Blog | Opinion
May 27, 2021

One of the most expensive Wall Street shareholder battles on record could signal a big shift in how hedge funds and other investors view sustainability.

Exxon Mobil Corp. has been fending off a so-called proxy fight from a hedge fund known as Engine No. 1, which blames the energy giant’s poor performance in recent years on its failure to transition to a “decarbonizing world.” In a May 26, 2021 vote, Exxon shareholders approved at least two of the four board members Engine No. 1 nominated, dealing a major blow to the oil company. The vote is ongoing, and more of the hedge fund’s nominees may also soon be appointed.

While its focus has been on shareholder value, Engine No. 1 says it was also doing this to save the planet from the ravages of climate change. It has been pushing for a commitment from Exxon to carbon neutrality by 2050.

As business sustainability scholars, we can’t recall another time that an energy company’s shareholder – particularly a hedge fund – has been so effective and forceful in showing how a company’s failure to take on climate change has eroded shareholder value. That’s why we believe this vote marks a turning point for investors, who are well placed to nudge companies toward more sustainable business practices.
» Read article               

Conoco misstep
Biden officials condemned for backing Trump-era Alaska drilling project
DoJ says decision to approve project in northern Alaska was ‘reasonable and consistent’ and should be allowed to go ahead
By Oliver Milman, The Guardian
May 27, 2021

Joe Biden’s administration is facing an onslaught of criticism from environmentalists after opting to defend the approval of a massive oil and gas drilling project in the frigid northern reaches of Alaska.

In a briefing filed in federal court on Wednesday, the US Department of Justice said the Trump-era decision to allow the project in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska’s north slope was “reasonable and consistent” with the law and should be allowed to go ahead.

This stance means the Biden administration is contesting a lawsuit brought by environmental groups aimed at halting the drilling due to concerns over the impact upon wildlife and planet-heating emissions. The US president has paused all new drilling leases on public land but is allowing this Alaska lease, approved under Trump, to go ahead.

The project, known as Willow, is being overseen by the oil company ConocoPhillips and is designed to extract more than 100,000 barrels of oil a day for the next 30 years. Environmentalists say allowing the project is at odds with Biden’s vow to combat the climate crisis and drastically reduce US emissions.

“It’s incredibly disappointing to see the Biden administration defending this environmentally disastrous project,” said Kristen Monsell, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the groups that have sued to stop the drilling. “President Biden promised climate action and our climate can’t afford more huge new oil-drilling projects.”

The Arctic is heating up at three times the rate of the rest of the planet and ConocoPhillips will have to resort to Kafkaesque interventions to be able to drill for oil in an environment being destroyed by the burning of that fuel. The company plans to install “chillers’ into the Alaskan permafrost, which is rapidly melting due to global heating, to ensure it is stable enough to host drilling equipment.

Monsell said the attempts to refreeze the thawing permafrost in order to extract more fossil fuel “highlights the ridiculousness of drilling in the Arctic”. Kirsten Miller, acting executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League, said Willow “is the poster child for the type of massive fossil fuel development that must be avoided today if we’re to avoid the worst climate impacts down the road”.
» Read article               

Nat and Gus
How natural gas propaganda made it into elementary classrooms in deep blue America
The incident is the latest example of fossil fuel interests attempting to influence science education in public classrooms.
By Ysabelle Kempe, Grist
May 19, 2021


Gleb Bahmutov found something strange in his nine-year-old son’s backpack earlier this month. The longer he ruminated on what he discovered, the angrier he got. 

The afternoon started off like most, with the 41-year-old software engineer picking his son up from John M. Tobin Montessori School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. But when his son opened his backpack, Bahmutov caught a glimpse of two children’s activity books emblazoned with the logo of Eversource, an energy utility that serves more than 4.3 million customers across New England. The booklets, one of which was titled “Natural Gas: Your Invisible Friend,” include natural gas safety tips and portray the fuel as an ideal, clean way to cook food, power vehicles, and heat and cool buildings. Bhamutov immediately noticed one gaping hole in the information provided in the booklets: They didn’t once mention that burning natural gas emits greenhouse gases and contributes to climate change.

“To come home and find books aimed at children touting how great gas is and how clean it is, that it’s the cleanest fuel possible, that’s just wrong,” Bahmutov told Grist. “It’s unacceptable.”

The activity books caused concern among parents in the climate-conscious city of Cambridge and prompted apologies from both Eversource and the school district. While the utility claimed it was attempting to promote natural gas safety — a particularly salient issue in Massachusetts, which experienced a series of pipeline explosions north of Boston in 2018 — the incident is the latest example of fossil fuel interests attempting to influence science education in public classrooms. 

Cambridge Public Schools’ Chief Strategy Officer Lyndsay Pinkus told Grist that the booklets were mistakenly distributed to students. Any materials provided by outside organizations are typically reviewed by the deputy superintendent’s office, Pinkus explained, but a new staff member did not follow this procedure with the Eversource materials. “It really was an innocent mistake by a new staff member,” she said. In an email to parents, Tobin Principal Jaime Frost stressed that the booklets are not part of the curriculum and the school does not support the messaging. She wrote that the same booklets were sent to all Cambridge Public Schools two years ago, but were caught before being distributed. 

Eversource’s media relations manager, William Hinkle, wrote in an email that the booklets were created to raise awareness about natural gas safety at home, but acknowledged that the material could be improved. “Moving forward, we will work to include climate change information in future educational materials, as well as continue to provide important natural gas safety tips,” Hinkle told Grist. He said that there are various versions of the book for different grade levels that date back to 2011, and the material undergoes periodic updates.

While Hinkle said the books are provided to schools in Massachusetts or Connecticut upon request, Pinkus from Cambridge Public Schools was adamant that nobody in the district requested them. “There’s no way anybody currently or in any recent history would have requested anything even remotely close to this,” she said. Eversource did not respond for comment on this point.
» Read article               

» More about fossil fuels              

 

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

derailedRailroaded by the Gas Industry
How the Biden administration could use insurance requirements to halt LNG by rail.
By Eric de Place, Sightline Institute
March 22, 2021

It’s been less than three months since the Northwest dodged a bullet. On December 22, 2020, another oil train derailed and exploded into flames, this one just outside Bellingham, Washington. The crash spilled 29,000 gallons of crude oil that burned for eight hours while emergency crews hustled to evacuate neighbors and clean up the site before the oil contaminated groundwater. Yet as alarming as oil train derailments are, they may be only an appetizer for a much more destructive main course: trains loaded with highly explosive liquefied natural gas (LNG).

During the Obama years, federal regulators granted railroads in Alaska and Florida limited permission to haul small quantities of LNG on specific routes. Although the move garnered little public attention, it was seen by industry observers as the start of a slippery slope toward broader approval of a cargo that was, until 2015, considered too dangerous for railroads to handle. (DeSmog provides an excellent account of the serious risks of LNG rail transport.) As predicted, in 2020, the Trump administration enacted a new rule allowing rail shipments of LNG, despite criticisms that it lacks safeguards.

The Trump administration’s decision was a win for the gas industry that has found itself increasingly stymied by opposition to building new pipelines. It was also a victory for the rail companies that have for years lobbied for permission to carry LNG, including Union Pacific and BNSF, the dominant railways in Oregon and Washington that have been responsible for several hazardous derailments in the past decade. One of the worst was Union Pacific’s eleven-car derailment in Mosier, Oregon that resulted in a fiery explosion and an oil spill along the Columbia River in 2016. BNSF is responsible for its own oil train conflagrations too, including two North Dakota explosions in 2013 and 2015 that prompted towns to evacuate, a derailment in Illinois in 2015, and the recent explosion in Whatcom County, Washington.

LNG is far more dangerous than crude oil. In fact, experts calculate that it would take only twenty-two tank cars loaded with LNG to hold the energy equivalent of an atomic bomb. That’s not hyperbole. Even a single LNG rail car igniting could level buildings to deadly effect. It’s no wonder, then, that fifteen state attorneys general, including those in Oregon and Washington, have challenged the Trump administration’s approval of LNG trains, stating that it puts people’s lives at risk.

The risk is real, and federal accident statistics bear it out. Trains derailed no fewer than sixty-two times in Oregon and Washington in 2020, including at least fourteen derailments that were carrying hazardous materials. (These statistics almost certainly undercount derailments, a flaw that becomes clear when one realizes that they do not include the fiery oil train derailment in Custer, Washington in late December.)

What’s less understood than the risk to lives and property is the staggering risk to taxpayers. It’s a risk that could prove to be the endeavor’s Achilles’ heel, and it could give the Biden administration a commonsense way to halt LNG rail transport. As it happens, railroads are severely underinsured for many hazardous substance shipments, especially in urban areas, so simply requiring them to carry insurance proportional to the risk would almost certainly render the entire venture uneconomical.
» Read article               

» More about LNG                       

 

BIOMASS

Enviva promo
Communities of Color in Eastern North Carolina Want Wood Pellet Byproducts Out of Their Neighborhoods—And Their Lungs
By Caryl Espinoza Jaen and Ellie Heffernan, INDY week
May 27, 2021

Belinda Joyner describes her home of Northampton County as a dumping ground for undesirable uses—hog farms, landfills. Northampton was also slated to host the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s compressor station before the project was canceled. 

When Joyner stood at a podium in the North Carolina legislative building on Wednesday, she was most concerned about wood pellet facilities. 

“We have other states that have taken into consideration the cumulative impact, the health impact, on these communities and they’re saying no to these companies that are coming,” Joyner said. “You know what? North Carolina has become a cesspool, because everything that everyone else doesn’t want, we don’t have the laws to protect us.” 

Joyner was one of many speakers at a press conference and rally to draw attention to what they say is Governor Roy Cooper’s inattention to deforestation and pollution by the wood pellet industry. North Carolina residents, community leaders, and activists gathered to discuss how the state’s poorest communities are impacted by wood pellet companies such as Enviva Biomass. Speakers addressed their criticisms of environmental policies issued by Gov. Cooper and state government agencies.

The wood pellet industry, which is the third major contributor to rising carbon emissions in the state, is responsible for 60,000 acres of wood loss annually, according to rally organizers. In just seven years, Enviva Biomass logged enough acres to release 28 million tons of carbon dioxide. 

North Carolina is the biggest producer of wood pellets in the United States, and the industry receives $7.1 million in subsidies annually, said Emily Zucchino, the director of community engagement at the environmental advocacy nonprofit Dogwood Alliance. The United States sold 7.2 billion kilograms of  wood pellets with a value of $981 million last year, according to U.S. Census Bureau trade data. A bulk of these exports are burned for fuel in European power stations. 

“Yet the counties with these industries remain the poorest,” said Zucchino. “This use of taxpayer dollars does not advance the state or support long-term jobs at rural communities.”
» Read article               

» More about biomass            

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.


» Learn more about Pipeline projects
» Learn more about other proposed energy infrastructure
» Sign up for the NFGiM Newsletter for events, news and actions you can take
» DONATE to help keep our efforts going!

Weekly News Check-In 11/6/20

banner 01

Welcome back.

The town of Weymouth dropped its fight against the Enbridge compressor station in return for a few concessions. Activists who fought the project for years were not pleased. We include a letter from Alice Arena of Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station (FRRACS), to Weymouth Mayor Robert Hedlund.

We also found recent updates on Eversource Pioneer Valley pipelines and the Connecticut Expansion Pipeline.

Pipeline protesters have faced an increasingly hostile legal landscape in the last few years. To absolutely no one’s surprise, it turns out that state legislators who backed these draconian laws received substantial campaign funding from the oil and gas industry.

Financing continues to flow away from the fossil energy sector. The Association of European Development Finance Institutions (EDFI) just announced that all of its financing would align with Paris Climate Agreement goals as early as 2022.

Major climate news includes the Unites States withdrawal from the Paris Agreement. This was expected, and concludes a long formal process set in motion by the Trump administration a year ago. Joe Biden has pledged to rejoin that agreement “on day one”, if elected. As I write, votes are still being counted but a Biden victory appears likely.

We have news about local elections that are affecting the energy mix on the grid, as many communities vote to adopt community choice aggregation plans with substantial percentages of emissions-free energy.

Massachusetts’ new ConnectedSollutions program, which provides payments to customer-owned battery storage systems that discharge when called upon by utilities to help manage energy demand on the grid, has opened up an exciting new marker for storage sited in affordable housing units. This takes us one step closer to ending reliance on highly polluting peaker power plants.

Clean transportation is also benefiting from fresh thinking, particularly with a Massachusetts start-up that has found a way to finance electric school buses in districts where budgets can’t handle the hefty up-front price tag.

In a surprise shake-up, President Trump abruptly demoted Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Chairman Neil Chatterjee and replaced him with ultra-conservative James Danly. While we regularly criticize FERC policy on this page, we acknowledge that some recent moves made good sense and earned praise from clean energy advocates. Chatterjee was right to guide the Commission through those important steps. He understood the risk, and this obvious retribution from Trump has left him without regrets. Well done, sir.

Finally, peak oil is behind us and the fossil fuel industry is officially circling the drain. That said, we can’t lose sight of the fact that it’s still huge and powerful, and has the capacity to thoroughly cook the planet unless its conversion or dismantling is properly managed.

We close with a new report on plastics in the environment, confirming that the U.S. leads the world in waste – discarded both at home and shipped for “recycling” abroad where it may be mishandled and find its way into oceans.

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

— The NFGiM Team

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

Hedlund gives up
Weymouth, Enbridge strike deal worth up to $38 million
By Jessica Trufant, The Patriot Ledger
October 30, 2020

WEYMOUTH —Some residents and local officials say they’re disappointed that Mayor Robert Hedlund’s administration has struck an agreement with the gas company that owns the newly constructed natural gas compressor station, a deal that will provide the town with $10 million upfront and potentially $28 million in tax revenue over the next 35 years.

Hedlund said his administration and representatives from Enbridge, the energy company that owns the compressor station, have reached a host community agreement that covers a range of issues, from the property tax structure for the site to addressing coastal erosion and the ongoing hazardous waste cleanup.

Hedlund said the town has been more aggressive than any other community in fighting such a project, but officials also needed to face the reality of the situation and protect the town’s interests by entering a host agreement.

“The clock has run out on us, and we have a fully permitted facility that we know is going to start up very soon,” he said.

The controversial compressor station is part of Enbridge’s Atlantic Bridge project, which will expand the company’s natural gas pipelines from New Jersey into Canada. It has been a point of contention for years among neighbors and some local, state and federal officials who say it presents serious health and safety risks and has no benefit for the residents of Weymouth, Quincy, Braintree, Hingham and surrounding communities.

Alice Arena, leader of the Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station, said the agreement will not cover the loss of security, safety, health, environment, and property value resulting from the compressor station.
» Read article          
» Read FRRACS letter to Mayor Hedlund        

» More about the Weymouth compressor station              

EVERSOURCE PIONEER VALLEY (COLUMBIA GAS)

pipeline - Eversource
Activist group urges Eversource CEO to scrap plans for regional natural gas pipeline
By Peter Goonan, MassLive
Photo by Don Treeger / The Republican
October 28, 2020

SPRINGFIELD — An activist group has urged Eversource to abandon a long-planned natural gas pipeline project in the region, saying such an expansion is “unwarranted” and counter to energy conservation efforts.

The group, the Columbia Gas Resistance Campaign, addressed the letter this week to Eversource Chief Executive Officer James Judge. It was signed by 92 community organizations and 12 state and local politicians, the campaign said.

Eversource said Wednesday that it is reviewing all projects following its recent purchase of Columbia Gas of Massachusetts for $1.1 billion.

On Oct. 13, while celebrating the purchase, Eversource gas operations president William Akley said improvement projects have environmental benefits and the gas system while in place, needs to be “safe and reliable.”

The Resistance Campaign’s letter said, in part: “As Eversource embarks on its new venture in Western Massachusetts, and indeed in all three service areas, we ask that you regard this moment as an opportunity to switch from a path involving harmful gas and fossil fuel development to a business plan that embraces green energy, stopping the steamroller of climate change that is now consuming communities across the globe.”

Columbia Gas had pursued pipeline projects with Tennessee Gas Pipeline and its owner, Kinder Morgan, for a pipeline loop project in Agawam, Longmeadow and Springfield. The project is designed to improve the horsepower at an Agawam compressor station; build a 12-inch diameter, create a two-mile pipeline loop in Agawam, and provide a new 16-inch line to Springfield’s South End via a new meter station in Longmeadow, officials said.

The Resistance Campaign welcomed Eversource as the successor company, but asked for a meeting “to discuss transitioning from fossil fuels toward energy conservation project and non-combustible clean energy sources.”

“With Eversource’s participation, we are confident that we can create an energy future where wind and solar sources heat and cool our homes and businesses, while powering our grid and transportation systems,” the campaign said.

In a statement, Eversource spokesman Reid Lamberty said the company will “collaborate and work with municipal and community leaders, organizations, and other stakeholders.”

“We are continuing our thorough review of all projects we assumed with our acquisition of Columbia Gas of Massachusetts,” Lamberty said. “We look forward to discussions with the community — especially around methane leaks from aging pipes, reliability and safety issues, and how we meet community expectations and needs.”

Lamberty said he has no further comment on the group’s letter.

The Resistance Campaign said that if Eversource is committed to its public plan to be carbon neutral by 2030, the planned expansion of the gas pipeline system is counter to that goal.

The coalition urged the company to begin reducing natural gas distribution services, actively pursue non-combustible clean options like geothermal district heating and electric pump technologies.

In addition, the coalition raised concerns about the safety of gas fuel, citing the Merrimack Valley explosions. Gas company officials have defended the new pipeline project as a step toward alleviating gas leaks.
» Read article           

» More about Eversource Energy

CONNECTICUT EXPANSION PIPELINE

CT expansion project map
Tennessee Gas and contractor to pay $800,000 in penalties, repairs over controversial natural gas project in Otis State Forest
By Jeanette DeForge, MassLive
November 2, 2020

Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company and its contractor which installed a controversial natural gas line through Otis State Forest will pay a total of $800,000 in fines and to make repairs after damaging an ecologically-important vernal pool, failing to protect wetlands and damaging the roadway during the construction.

Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company and its contractor Henkels & McCoy, Inc. will make about $300,000 in penalties and payments to the Massachusetts Natural Resource Damages Trust and will spend about $500,000 to repave part of Cold Spring Road, in Sandisfield, according to the agreement between the company and its contractor Henkels & McCoy Inc. and Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey.

The damage was done in 2017 while the company was installing a four-mile line through Otis State Forest as part of a 14-mile pipe extension that cut through New York and Connecticut. The work drew multiple protests and led to more than a dozen arrests for civil disobedience.

Under the claim, Tennessee Gas was accused of failing to maintain erosion and sediment controls causing soil and sediment to run into more than 630 square feet of wetlands. It was also accused of excavating and filling portions of a vernal pool and shutting down a required pump temporarily degrading water quality in Spectacle Pond Brook, the Attorney General’s office said in announcing the settlement.

In a second location, the companies were also accused of dumping 15,000 gallons of contaminated pipeline test water directly onto the ground adjacent to Tennessee Gas’ pipeline compressor station in Agawam, the announcement said.

“Tennessee Gas repeatedly assured the state and Sandisfield residents that water quality and wetlands would be protected during pipeline construction, but they failed to make that happen,” Healey said in writing.
» Read article           
» Read AG Healey’s statement      

» More about the CT Expansion pipeline         

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

muzzling dissentState Backers of Anti-Protest Bills Received Campaign Funding from Oil and Gas Industry, Report Finds
By Sharon Kelly, DeSmog Blot
October 31, 2020

Politicians responsible for drafting laws criminalizing pipeline protests in Louisiana, West Virginia, and Minnesota did so after receiving significant funding from the fossil fuel industry, according to a new report by the Institute for Policy Studies, a progressive think tank based in Washington, D.C.

The major pipelines studied in the report disproportionately impact historically disenfranchised communities who, in turn find themselves potentially targeted by the protest criminalization measures, often framed as efforts to protect “critical infrastructure,” the report details.

“Under the premise of protecting infrastructure projects,” the Institute wrote, “these laws mandate harsh charges and penalties for exercising constitutional rights to freely assemble and to protest.”

The past decade has seen a glut of new pipeline construction in the U.S. More than 80,000 miles of major new pipelines, like interstate gas transmission lines and oil pipelines, have been built across the U.S., federal data shows — enough to crisscross the country from the coast to coast roughly 30 times. That’s not including over 400,000 miles of smaller gas distribution and service pipes laid across the nation during that time.

These new projects have often been dogged by controversy, both due to local opposition and because the climate crisis has spurred a needed transition away from the fossil fuels that would be carried in those pipes.

In the face of that opposition, 13 states have passed laws since 2017 designed to criminalize protests specifically related to oil and gas projects. At least three states — Kentucky, South Dakota, and West Virginia — have pushed forward on their “critical infrastructure” protest criminalization bills since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

The report from the Institute for Policy Studies focuses on critical infrastructure laws passed or introduced in Louisiana, Minnesota, and West Virginia, three states where controversies over major pipeline projects have simmered. It follows the flow of money from the backers of major pipeline projects underway in each state to local politicians.
» Read article          
» Read the IPS report

» More about protests and actions             

DIVESTMENT

clean development
Exclusive: European Development Finance group to exit fossil fuel investments by 2030
By Nina Chestney, Kate Abnett, Simon Jessop, Reuters
November 5, 2020

The Association of European Development Finance Institutions (EDFI), whose 15 government-owned members invest across emerging and frontier markets, also said it would align all new lending to the Paris Agreement on climate change by 2022.

It would also ensure that all investment portfolios achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 at the latest.

“As taxpayer-funded organisations, we are committed to promoting green growth, climate adaptation and resilience, nature-based solutions, access to green energy and a just transition to a low-carbon economy,” EDFI Chief Executive Søren Peter Andreasen told Reuters in a statement.

Development Finance Institutions refer to state-backed lenders such as CDC Group in Britain, Norfund in Norway and Proparco in France, which provide financing in areas like infrastructure and healthcare to help boost economic development, often in low- and middle-income countries.
» Read article           

» More about divestment              

CLIMATE

smugUS Now Officially Out of the Paris Climate Agreement
By Olivia Rosane, EcoWatch, in DeSmog Blog
November 4, 2020

The U.S. has officially left the Paris climate agreement.

However, the permanence of its departure hangs on the still-uncertain outcome of Tuesday’s U.S. presidential election. While President Donald Trump made the decision to withdraw the U.S. from the agreement, his rival former Vice President Joe Biden has promised to rejoin “on day one,” as NPR pointed out. Either way, the U.S. withdrawal has hurt trust in the country’s ability to follow through on climate diplomacy initiated by one administration when another takes power.

The landmark 2015 agreement was designed to limit the global warming causing the climate crisis to well below two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and ideally to limit it to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The U.S. is currently responsible for around 15 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, but it is historically the country that has contributed the most emissions to the atmosphere, NPR pointed out. Under the Paris agreement, the U.S. had pledged to reduce emissions around 25 percent by 2025 compared to 2005 levels, but it is now only on track to reduce them by 17 percent.

This is partly due to Trump administration environmental policies like the rollback of Obama-era emissions controls on power plants and vehicles. Emissions rose during the first two years of Trump’s presidency but have declined in 2020 because of the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The U.S. withdrawal has also affected a global fund intended to help poorer countries on the frontlines of the climate crisis adapt to rising seas and temperatures. The U.S. had originally committed to supplying $3 billion, but the Trump administration withdrew two-thirds of that amount..

Trump first formally announced his intention to withdraw from the Paris agreement in 2017, arguing that it would harm U.S. jobs, The New York Times reported. His administration formally began the withdrawal process Nov. 4, 2019, the earliest date possible under UN rules. That process then took a year, which is why the U.S. is officially out today. If Biden wins and rejoins the agreement on Jan. 20, the reversal would be effective 30 days later.
» Read article           

Greta illustration
Greta Thunberg Hears Your Excuses. She Is Not Impressed.
By David Marchese, New York Times
Photo illustration by Bráulio Amado
October 30, 2020

Greta Thunberg has become so firmly entrenched as an icon — perhaps the icon — of ecological activism that it’s hard to believe it has been only two years since she first went on school strike to draw attention to the climate crisis. In that short time, Thunberg, a 17-year-old Swede, has become a figure of international standing, able to meet with sympathetic world leaders and rattle the unsympathetic. Her compelling clarity about the scale of the crisis and moral indignation at the inadequate political response have been hugely influential in shifting public opinion. An estimated four million people participated in the September 2019 global climate strikes that she helped inspire. “There’s this false image that I’m an angry, depressed teenager,” says Thunberg, whose rapid rise is the subject of “I Am Greta,” a new documentary on Hulu. “But why would I be depressed when I’m trying to do my best to change things?”

What do you see as the stakes for the U.S. presidential election? Is it a make-or-break ecological choice? We can’t predict what will happen. Maybe if Trump wins that will be the spark that makes people angry enough to start protesting and really demanding things for the climate crisis. I think we can safely say that if Trump wins it would threaten many things. But I’m not saying that Joe Biden is good or his policies are close to being enough. They are not.
» Read article           

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

voting for community choice
Local elections are changing America’s energy mix, one city at a time
Renewable energy just won in a few local elections
By Justine Calma, The Verge
November 4, 2020

Local races can go a long way toward changing how Americans get their electricity. After yesterday’s election, both the city of Columbus, Ohio, and township of East Brunswick, New Jersey, are projected to pass measures that allow their local governments, instead of utilities, to decide where residents’ power comes from.

These “community choice” programs are boosting the growth of cheap renewable energy and are already prying loose investor-owned utilities’ tight grip on energy markets in places like California. More and more of these programs are popping up in states where they’re allowed, and they’re expected to grow beyond those borders in the future.

“We’ve seen a big grassroots push for state and national action on climate. In the meantime, cities and communities have sought out creative ways to make change from the ground up where possible,” Kate Konschnik, director of the Climate & Energy Program at the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University, wrote to The Verge in an email. “Cities are also stepping up to demand cleaner and more locally sourced electricity, for themselves and for their residents.”

The measures that voters cast their ballots for in Columbus and East Brunswick yesterday allow local governments to decide what energy mix is available for their residents and use their collective purchasing power to bargain for cheaper rates. Utilities will still be in charge of getting that power to people but will no longer be calling the shots when it comes to deciding how much of that energy comes from renewables versus fossil fuels in places that have adopted community choice measures.
» Read article           

» More about clean energy                   

ENERGY STORAGE

battery storage in AH
Battery Storage is Coming to Affordable Housing Thanks to Efficiency Program

By Seth Mullendore, Clean Energy Group, and Christina McPike, WinnCompanies
October 19, 2020

Developing affordable housing is challenging, and incorporating energy efficiency and renewables into affordable housing development is even more challenging. Nevertheless, some affordable housing providers have continually been at the forefront of advancements in the clean energy space, improving the energy efficiency of their properties and, increasingly, incorporating solar PV and other clean energy technologies

But, to-date, few have found success in adopting energy storage to cut costs and increase energy resilience. Now, a new utility program in Massachusetts has dramatically changed the economic landscape for battery storage in the state and created a pathway to deliver the benefits of storage to affordable housing providers and residents.

In 2019, Massachusetts became the first state in the nation to establish a program within its energy efficiency plan for customer-sited, behind-the-meter battery storage. The Commonwealth had already recognized peak demand reduction as a valuable new form of energy efficiency; now, with analysis and technical support from Clean Energy Group, an incentive program has been developed to support customer batteries as a demand-reducing efficiency measure. The program, called ConnectedSolutions, provides payments to customer-owned battery storage systems that discharge when called upon by utilities to help manage energy demand on the grid. This new value stream for storage is a game-changer for behind-the-meter batteries, providing a reliable source of revenue backed by contractual utility payments.

For several years, Clean Energy Group has been working with affordable housing developers in the Greater Boston area, helping them to assess the economic feasibility of solar paired with storage at their properties. Again and again, we found that, while the economic case was often promising, affordable housing properties just didn’t have the types of spiky demand profiles that make for a strong financial case to install battery storage, especially not for the large battery systems needed to deliver significant backup power during emergencies. And properties outside Eversource service territory had an even tougher time making the economics of storage work without grants or other incentives, due to lower demand charge rates.

ConnectedSolutions has changed all that. Now, the customer’s pattern of electricity use doesn’t matter, and their demand charge rate is irrelevant. Customers simply sign a contract with their utility, and receive payments based on their battery’s response to a utility signal. ConnectedSolutions allows all customers to economically install battery storage, and it guarantees that these behind-the-meter batteries are used to benefit the entire grid, generating cost savings for all ratepayers. As more customers sign up for the program, the shift from site-specific to systemwide peak demand reduction could transform thousands of residential and commercial electricity customers into a flexible, grid-responsive energy asset, providing grid-scale services currently being met—at great cost—by fossil-fueled assets, such as peaker power plants.
» Read article           

» More about energy storage        

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

no money downStart-up bets on new model for putting electric school buses on the road
Highland Electric Transportation has partnered with a Massachusetts city to provide electric school buses without the upfront costs or maintenance hassles.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
Photo By David Sokol / USA Today Network
November 2, 2020

A Massachusetts company that aims to transform the electric school bus market has rolled out its first vehicle as part of the city of Beverly’s plan to convert its entire fleet to electric power.

“We’re excited that it’s finally in our hands,” said Beverly mayor Michael Cahill. “We have a good feeling about it.”

Beverly’s new bus is just the fourth electric school bus to be put into service in Massachusetts; the other three were part of a state-funded pilot program in 2016 and 2017.

Some 9,000 school buses are on the road across Massachusetts. Many cities and towns have started looking for ways to cut emissions from their school bus fleets, both to lower greenhouse gas emissions and to reduce the exhaust fumes students are exposed to on a daily basis. In Beverly, more than 45% of the city’s emissions come from transportation, so the city’s fleet of 22 school buses is a logical place to look for carbon reductions, Cahill said.

The rollout of Beverly’s new bus is a collaboration between the city and Highland Electric Transportation, a local start-up founded in 2018 by renewable energy industry veteran Duncan McIntyre. In his previous work, McIntyre helped develop solar power purchase agreements, a model in which a company builds, owns, and operates a solar installation on a customer’s property and the property owner agrees to buy the energy generated.

As electric vehicle technology evolved, McIntyre spotted an opportunity to apply the same concept to the school bus industry.

Though prices vary, electric school buses can cost more than $300,000, roughly three times the cost of a comparable diesel vehicle. Charging infrastructure can add another 15% to 30% to the final price tag. Highland, therefore, plans to partner with school districts that are interested in using electric school buses but unable to afford these high upfront costs. The company will buy and own the buses and charging infrastructure. Customer school districts will pay a monthly fee for the use of the buses and chargers, as well as ongoing maintenance.
» Read article          

take off 2035
Airbus Hopes to Be Flying Hydrogen-Powered Jetliners With Zero Carbon Emissions by 2035
The company says it is studying three designs for commercial air travel, but a host of complex problems remain related to producing “clean” hydrogen fuel.
By Leto Sapunar, InsideClimate News
October 27, 2020

The aerospace giant Airbus hopes to put a hydrogen-powered commercial airliner in the sky that will release zero carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere. But not until 2035.

While 15 years might seem like a long time for research and development given the urgent need to reduce carbon emissions under the Paris climate agreement, processing and storing “clean hydrogen” requires solving an array of complex technical challenges. Three early design concepts the company is studying would run off of hydrogen and oxygen fuel and have no carbon exhaust. But that doesn’t mean they won’t affect the climate at all.

“I will let you in on a little secret, they are not zero emission,” Amanda Simpson, vice president for research and technology for Airbus Americas, said.

Burning hydrogen produces water, which comes out of the engines as a vapor that, especially at high altitudes, acts as a greenhouse gas.

Recent studies have shown that contrails—the white streaks of condensed water that follow jets across the sky—have a significant climate impact. Still, these hydrogen-powered designs could significantly limit the total warming that airlines cause by reducing or eliminating the carbon dioxide they emit. Airlines accounted for more than 2 percent of global CO2 emissions in 2018, with the total contribution of contrails and the various pollutants from commercial aviation driving about 5 percent of warming globally.

Up to this point, industry attempts at zero carbon flight have been smaller proof-of-concept designs, like short range electric planes that don’t scale up practically for larger passenger flights.

Simpson said she thinks hydrogen power is going to be “as clean as we can get,” so the development of a plane that runs on it is an important step in decarbonizing the aerospace industry.
» Read article          

» More about clean transportation             

FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION

totally worth it Chatterjee
‘Totally worth it’: Chatterjee speculates DER order, carbon pricing are behind Trump ousting him
By Catherine Morehouse, Utility Dive
November 6, 2020

“I knew when I moved forward with Order 2222, convening the tech conference on carbon pricing, and ultimately moved forward with a proposed policy statement, that there was the risk of blowback,” he said in an interview Friday morning. FERC announced Thursday evening that President Donald Trump had replaced him as chairman with Commissioner James Danly, a more conservative presence on the commission, though Chatterjee will remain on the commission. “I knew that, [but] went forward anyway, because I thought it was the right thing to do. I don’t know for certain that that is the reason that the action was taken … but if it was, I’m actually quite proud of it. And it would have been totally worth it.”

Some analysts saw Chatterjee’s moves in recent months as a signal that he was moving to more Democrat-focused priorities, though the former chairman, who plans to remain for the rest of his term as commissioner until June 2021, says these policies were totally consistent with his market-based approach to the energy transition.

Chatterjee maintains his actions received broad support across the political spectrum, adding that relatively few Republicans opposed recent FERC actions.
» Read article           

Mr TemporaryTrump Replaces FERC Chairman Neil Chatterjee with Commissioner James Danly
Surprise switch at federal agency that’s passed market regulations opposed by states pursuing clean energy policies.
By Jeff St. John, GreenTech Media
November 6, 2020

President Donald Trump has replaced Neil Chatterjee, the Republican chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, with James Danly, another Republican who has taken a more conservative approach to federal energy policy at an agency that’s taken fire from clean energy advocates for using its regulatory power to impose restrictions on state-subsidized clean energy.

Thursday’s surprise announcement comes as Trump is trailing Democrat Joe Biden in the electoral votes needed to win the U.S. presidential election, with several key states yet to complete their vote tallies.

A Thursday report from the Washington Examiner quoted Chatterjee as speculating whether his abrupt replacement was due to his decision to issue a policy statement in September affirming FERC’s willingness to consider proposals for the country’s interstate grid operators to integrate carbon pricing into the wholesale energy markets they manage.

“I have obviously been out there promoting a conservative market-based approach to carbon mitigation and sending signals the commission is open to considering a carbon price, and perhaps that led to this,” Chatterjee was quoted as saying.

The Trump administration has restricted federal agencies from sharing information on the global warming impacts of human-caused carbon emissions. Danly issued a partial dissent to FERC’s carbon pricing policy statement, calling it “unnecessary and unwise.”

Danly also voted against last month’s Order 2222, which orders the country’s grid operators to allow aggregated distributed energy resources such as batteries, electric vehicles and demand response to participate in their wholesale energy, capacity and ancillary services markets. His no vote was overridden by Chatterjee and Richard Glick, FERC’s sole Democratic commissioner.
» Read article          

» More about FERC                

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

peak oil in rearview
On the horizon: the end of oil and the beginnings of a low-carbon planet
With demand and share prices dropping, Europe’s fossil fuel producers recognise that peak oil is probably now behind them
By The Guardian
November 1, 2020

A year ago, only the most ardent climate optimists believed that the world’s appetite for oil might reach its peak in the next decade. Today, a growing number of voices within the fossil fuel industry believe this milestone may have already been passed. While the global gaze has been on Covid-19 as it ripped through the world’s largest economies and most vulnerable people, the virus has quietly dealt a mortal blow to oil demand too.

Energy economists claim with increasing certainty that the world may never require as much oil as it did last year. Even as economies slowly emerge from the financial fallout of the pandemic, the shift towards cleaner energy has gained pace. A sharp plunge in fossil fuel use will be followed in quick succession by a renewable energy revolution, which will occur at unprecedented pace. The tipping point for oil demand may have come and gone, and major oil companies are taking note.

Royal Dutch Shell told investors last week that the oil giant will probably never again produce as much oil as it did in the year before coronavirus hit. It is on a mission to overhaul a business steeped in more than a century of oil production and embrace clean energy alternatives. But the admission that its own oil production may have already reached its peak is less of a climate target than an acknowledgment of an inevitable and inexorable march towards a low-carbon future.
» Read article          

Billings Refinery
Exxon Flags Possible $30B Writedown After Third Straight Loss
By Tsvetana Paraskova, Oil Price
October 30, 2020

ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM) warned on Friday that it could write down North American natural gas assets with a carrying value of up to US$30 billion as it reported its third consecutive loss this year amid low oil demand and oil prices.

Exxon is currently re-assessing its portfolio to decide which assets with the highest potential to create value should be developed, the U.S. supermajor said in its Q3 earnings release.

“Depending on the outcome of the planning process, including in particular any significant future changes to the corporation’s current development plans for its dry gas portfolio, long-lived assets with carrying values of approximately $25 billion to $30 billion could be at risk for significant impairment,” Exxon said, flagging the possibility of major writedowns.

Unlike other major oil corporations, Exxon hasn’t yet adjusted the value of its assets during the pandemic. In fact, Exxon hasn’t been doing much of that over the past decade at all.

Even Chevron took impairment charges in Q2 due to a lower commodity price outlook and write-offs in its Venezuela operations due to the U.S. sanctions.

Exxon expects to complete the re-assessment of its portfolio this quarter, so possible writedowns could be announced early next year.
» Read article          

» More about fossil fuel                 

PLASTICS IN THE ENVIRONMENT

number oneU.S. Leads the World in Plastic Waste, New Study Finds
By Olivia Rosane, EcoWatch
November 3, 2020

The U.S. is the No. 1 generator of plastic waste in the world and as high as the No. 3 generator of ocean plastic waste.

That’s the finding of a new study published in Science Advances last Friday that sought to paint a more accurate picture of the U.S. contribution to the plastic crisis. While previous studies had suggested that Asian countries were responsible for the bulk of ocean plastics, the new study upends this assumption by taking into account the plastic that the U.S. ships abroad.

“For years, so much of the plastic we have put into the blue bin has been exported for recycling to countries that struggle to manage their own waste, let alone the vast amounts delivered from the United States,” lead author and Sea Education Association professor of oceanography Dr. Kara Lavender Law said in a press release emailed to EcoWatch. “And when you consider how much of our plastic waste isn’t actually recyclable because it is low-value, contaminated or difficult to process, it’s not surprising that a lot of it ends up polluting the environment.”

It has long been known that the U.S. produces lots and lots of plastic, but the assumption was that this plastic was being effectively managed. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, (EPA), for example, reports that 75.4 percent of plastic waste is landfilled, 15.3 percent is incinerated and 9.3 percent is recycled, which suggests that all U.S. plastic is accounted for. But this does not take into account illegal littering or what happens once plastic is collected for recycling, the study authors pointed out. A 2010 study ranked the U.S. 20th in terms of its overall contribution to ocean plastic pollution. But that study also did not consider the plastic that the U.S. exported to developing countries.

The new analysis concluded that the U.S. generated around 42 million metric tons of plastic in 2016. Of the U.S. plastic collected for recycling, more than half of it was shipped abroad, and 88 percent of that was to countries that struggle to adequately recycle. Further, 15 to 25 percent of it was contaminated or poor quality plastic that would be extremely difficult to recycle anyway. These figures mean that the U.S. is polluting coasts in foreign countries with as much as one million tons of plastic.
» Read article              
» Read the study             

» More about plastics in the environment                 

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.


» Learn more about Pipeline projects
» Learn more about other proposed energy infrastructure
» Sign up for the NFGiM Newsletter for events, news and actions you can take
» DONATE to help keep our efforts going!