Even as the fossil fuel industry pushes out ever more pipelines, a new report from the climate data nonprofit Global Energy Monitor predicts they’re building what will amount to a trillion dollars worth of stranded pipeline assets worldwide. Meanwhile, we’re watching the strong push to shut down the Dakota Access and stop Enbridge’s Line 5.
In a significant climate action, the Paris administrative court found that France has “failed to do enough to meet its own commitments on the climate crisis and is legally responsible for the ensuing ecological damage.” This decision is impactful, and should put other governments on notice that emissions goals must actually be met.
We offer two reports on greening the economy that highlight some of the damage and inequities caused by the current, fossil-based model. Taken together, these stories underscore the need to address environmental and economic justice during the clean energy transition, while they also debunk industry claims of potential job losses as we move away from fuels.
In legislative news, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker has sent the climate roadmap bill back to the legislature with suggested amendments. Senator Barrett and Representative Golden report that they see some common ground.
Worldwide efforts to mitigate climate change are falling far short of what’s needed. A new study warns that pledges to cut emissions must be scaled up by 80% to keep warming below the dangerous 2°C threshold. Meanwhile, a planned Swedish balloon flight in June has alarmed environmental groups, who think this may be a trial-run for a future planet-cooling geoengineering experiment – releasing reflective particles in the upper atmosphere to mimic the effect of large volcanic eruptions.
Danny Jin, ace reporter for the Berkshire Eagle, posted an excellent article explaining what “peaker” power plants are, and highlighting Berkshire Environmental Action Team’s campaign to replace these polluting plants with clean energy alternatives. We offer a second article in this section describing a new study on achieving carbon-free America by 2050, from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
One of Governor Baker’s amendments to the climate roadmap bill involves energy efficiency requirements for buildings, and a proposed net-zero stretch code that municipalities could opt into. This is a contentious issue, with climate and social activists, architects, building efficiency experts, and many municipal leaders lined up on one side, and building industry trade groups dug in on the other. We’ve spotted a lot of industry-generated misinformation in the press, and offer this well-researched editorial as a helpful explainer.
We’re always happy to post reports on new energy efficient building materials – ones that can be more sustainably sourced, have superior insulating or vapor sealing properties, or carry less embodied carbon from their manufacture. This week, we consider bricks made from mushrooms!
Our energy storage news lines up nicely with BEAT’s campaign to retire polluting fossil peaker power plants. San Fransisco battery storage company Plus Power has won two bids on the ISO-New England electricity capacity market, and will build very large batteries to provide clean power during peak demand periods – eliminating the need for some of those polluting fossil peakers. This is big news because it’s the first win for large-scale battery storage in New England, and shows that clean power is now economically competitive.
The electric vehicle revolution is coming to big rigs, but deployment of these heavy haulers will be slowed by an initial shortage of batteries. Meanwhile, Tesla and others are gearing up a range of products that should be fleet-ready when battery production catches up.
Today, the Washington, D.C. Court of Appeals heard oral arguments from Berkshire Environmental Action Team and Food & Water Watch, who opposed the expansion of a compressor station in Agawam. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approved the project in 2019 without considering the climate impact of emissions from the additional natural gas conveyed by the “improvement”. FERC has new leadership under the Biden administration, and has expressed interest in accounting for upstream/downstream emissions from fossil infrastructure projects. In a related story, FERC is reckoning with the legacy of environmental racism that underpinned so many of its past decisions.
The fossil fuel industry is having difficulty addressing the climate emergency in ways that rise to the actual transformative challenge before them. With few exceptions, most industry efforts look more like rebranding exercises than serious attempts to change the business model. Meanwhile, Big Gas has settled on your gas range as the ideal emotional hook to keep you from disconnecting that pipe.
We’re waiting to see if President Biden’s new EPA Administrator, Michael Regan, will continue his opposition to biomass. In 2019, when he served as head of North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality, he said, “I don’t see a future in wood pellets.” With Governor Baker wobbling on whether to include biomass in the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard – which would green-light construction of the Palmer Renewable Energy biomass generating plant in Springfield – we hope Administrator Regan makes his point loud and clear and soon.
— The NFGiM Team
$1 Trillion in Oil and Gas Pipelines Worldwide Could Become Stranded Assets, New Report Warns
By Sharon Kelly, DeSmog Blog
February 4, 2021
On January 7, 2021, Energy Transfer was notified by its insurer, Westchester Fire Insurance Co. of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, that it had lost a $250,000 surety bond for the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL) — a bond that Iowa, one of the four states it passes through, required the pipeline to maintain.
That loss of insurance coverage comes as the Biden administration and a federal court each must confront a decision about whether to order DAPL to shut down, after a federal appeals court last week upheld a lower court’s finding that the oil pipeline still lacks a completed environmental review. Financial observers have been watching DAPL closely — and a new report warns that DAPL is hardly alone in the oil and gas pipeline industry in facing major financial risks linked to projects’ environmental impacts.
“Dakota Access Pipeline has no federal easement. It’s now losing insurance coverage on the state-level which is a requirement for Iowa’s state permit,” the Indigenous Environmental Network said in a January 29 statement. “It’s time to end this saga and do what’s right.”
Environmentalists predicted that the lost insurance coverage could be difficult for Energy Transfer to replace, particularly given DAPL’s incomplete federal review. “It will be difficult because the bond holder will require the pipeline to comply with all legal requirements,” attorney Carolyn Raffensperger, director of the Science and Health Network, told DeSmog. “If it is operating without a permit, any spill would be a big, big legal problem.”
But as consequential as the DAPL fight — which has raged for roughly a half-decade — might be, Dakota Access is just one of hundreds of pipelines worldwide that a new report finds are at risk of early abandonment because they’re “on a collision course” with climate agreements.
The report, titled “Pipeline Bubble 2021” and published by the climate data nonprofit Global Energy Monitor, warns that pipeline construction projects worldwide have put $1 trillion worth of pipeline investment at risk of being rendered obsolete by the energy transition away from fossil fuels.
» Read article
» Read “Pipeline Bubble 2021” report
Biden administration asks for more time to decide whether to shut down Dakota Access Pipeline
By Rachel Frazin, The Hill
February 9, 2021
The Biden administration is asking for more time to decide the fate of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
In a filing late Monday, the government asked a court to postpone a conference on the status of the pipeline for 58 days while it gets new officials up to speed on the case.
“Department of Justice personnel require time to brief the new administration officials and those officials will need sufficient time to learn the background of and familiarize themselves with this lengthy and detailed litigation,” the government said.
It asked for the Feb. 10 conference to be moved to April 9.
The government’s motion was opposed by Dakota Access LLC, but was not opposed by the tribes who sued over the pipeline.
Last month, a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., ruled that the government should have conducted an environmental impact statement before going forward with the pipeline and vacated easements granted for its construction to cross federally owned land.
However, it did not go as far as a lower court, which had previously ordered the pipeline shut down, leaving that decision up to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE).
The court also left room for additional litigation to potentially shut down the pipeline if the USACE decides against it.
The pipeline, which carries oil from North Dakota to Illinois, has drawn significant opposition from environmentalists and tribes over the years who have cited threats to drinking water and sacred sites. It has spurred massive protests.
» Read article
» Read related article
In pushing for Line 5 shutdown, Bad River Band points to alternative route
The Chippewa tribe in northern Wisconsin says Enbridge could reduce the risk to the Great Lakes by diverting Line 5 oil to another line that runs south to Illinois.
By Patrick Shea, Energy News Network
Photo By U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
February 4, 2021
As legal battles continue over Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline, tribal leaders in Wisconsin say the company is ignoring a safer alternative that’s already in the ground — though the company disagrees.
“The notion that Enbridge is somehow going to be stranded without Line 5 is ludicrous,” said Mike Wiggins, tribal chair for the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, whose reservation on the south shore of Lake Superior is crossed by Line 5.
The 30-inch pipeline originates in Superior, Wisconsin, and carries crude oil 645 miles across Wisconsin and Michigan to Sarnia, Ontario. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer recently ordered Enbridge to shut down the pipeline where it crosses the Straits of Mackinac, citing risk to the Great Lakes.
As the company seeks permits for its proposed reroute south of the reservation, Bad River Band leaders say the company is failing to acknowledge the potential to decommission the 67-year-old pipeline altogether and divert its contents through other routes.
Line 5 is part of a network of Enbridge pipelines called the Lakehead System. As Line 5 cuts east and then south around Lake Michigan, Line 61 runs south from Superior into Illinois before connecting with smaller lines that cross Indiana and Michigan and ultimately reach the same destination: Sarnia, Ontario.
Line 61 is newer and larger — the 42-inch pipeline was completed in 2009 and has already undergone multiple upgrades and expansions. The line carries about 996,000 barrels per day to Pontiac, Illinois — about 75% of its capacity.
“The elephant in the room is that Enbridge has invested heavily in their route from Superior down through Chicago,” Wiggins said, in contrast with Line 5, which he calls “the forgotten pipe.”
The environmental risk posed by the pipeline was highlighted in August 2019 when tribal officials discovered 49 feet of Line 5 unearthed less than 5 miles from Lake Superior. The pipeline itself has contributed to the erosion of a steep bank as an oxbow is forming, according to a February 2020 report from the Bad River Natural Resources Department.
The report also cited major storm events in recent years as a cause for concern, which climatologists project to increase in frequency and severity. “We know that the next massive storm system could potentially shear Enbridge’s pipe right in the Bad River, pumping oil into Lake Superior,” Wiggins said. “We’re concerned every day.”
Shutting down Line 5 and relying exclusively on Line 61 would keep the pipeline far away from the Bad River Reservation, and would reduce the risk of a spill in the Great Lakes or anywhere by retiring Line 5’s aging pipes.
» Read article
PROTESTS AND ACTIONS
Campaigners Claim ‘Historic Win’ as France Found Guilty of Climate Inaction
By Isabella Kaminski, DeSmog Blog
February 3, 2021
The French state has been found guilty of climate inaction in what campaigners have dubbed “the case of the century”.
Today the Paris administrative court concluded France has failed to do enough to meet its own commitments on the climate crisis and is legally responsible for the ensuing ecological damage.
France is the third European country where legal action by campaigners has highlighted significant failings in state action on climate change and forced politicians to act, after the landmark Urgenda case in the Netherlands in 2019 and the Irish Supreme Court’s decision in the national Climate Case last year.
Jean-François Julliard, Executive Director of Greenpeace France – one of the four NGOs bringing the case – described the ruling as a “historic win for climate justice”.
“This decision not only takes into consideration what scientists say and what people want from French public policies, but it should also inspire people all over the world to hold their governments accountable for climate change in their own courts,” she said.
“For governments the writing is on the wall: climate justice doesn’t care about speeches and empty promises, but about facts.”
LAffaire du Siècle (case of the century), as it was described by NGOs was brought by Greenpeace France, together with Oxfam France, the Nicolas Hulot Foundation and Notre Affaire à Tous, in December 2018.
The groups filed a legal complaint, saying France was not on track to meet its then target of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2030 compared to 1990 levels, its minimum commitment as an EU member. Since then, this target has been raised to 55 percent for all EU member states, but it is not yet clear how President Emmanuel Macron will deliver this given France’s track record on cutting emissions.
France’s own High Council on Climate has analysed the country’s progress and found it lacking, with emissions substantially exceeding the first two carbon budgets. France had pledged to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 1.5 percent each year, but they fell by only 0.9 percent from 2018 to 2019. The Climate Change Performance Index also shows France’s climate progress slowing, with limited advances in increasing the share of renewables and in decarbonising transport.
The court judgment ruled that: “Consequently, the state must be regarded as having ignored the first carbon budget and did not carry out the actions that it itself had recognised as being necessary to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”
» Read article
GREENING THE ECONOMY
America’s dirty divide: how environmental racism leaves the vulnerable behind
The health effects caused by decades of systemic racism are staggering. The Guardian is launching a year-long series to investigate
By Frida Garza, The Guardian
February 11, 2021
The climate crisis has forced many people to consider what they would do if the places they call home became unlivable in their lifetimes. But in the US, certain vulnerable communities – especially Black and Indigenous populations – have been fighting for the right to clean, safe, healthy environments for generations.
Decades of systemic racism mean that in the richest country in the world, access to clean air, clean water, and proper sanitation are not a given.
The health effects of these inequalities are staggering. Black Americans are 75% more likely to live in close proximity to oil and gas facilities, which emit toxic air pollutants; as a result, these communities often suffer from higher rates of cancer and asthma. Researchers have found that Black children are twice as likely to develop asthma as their peers.
There has long been a lack of political will to protect the communities most harmed by pollution – and the climate crisis could exacerbate these inequalities, as well as create new ones.
That is why today the Guardian is launching America’s Dirty Divide, a year-long series that will delve into US environmental racism and its history. And we are partnering with Nexus Media, a non-profit news service that focuses on climate change, to produce video documentaries about environmental justice issues.
America’s Dirty Divide will examine environmental justice issues in three areas: pollution and waste; the uneven impacts of a warming planet; and climate events such as hurricanes and flooding, and the often inequitable recovery efforts that follow.
» Read article
Appalachian Fracking Boom Was a Jobs Bust, Finds New Report
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
February 11, 2021
The decade-long fracking boom in Appalachia has not led to significant job growth, and despite the region’s extraordinary levels of natural gas production, the industry’s promise of prosperity has “turned into almost nothing,” according to a new report.
The fracking boom has received broad support from politicians across the aisle in Appalachia due to dreams of enormous job creation, but a report released on February 10 from Pennsylvania-based economic and sustainability think tank, the Ohio River Valley Institute (ORVI), sheds new light on the reality of this hype.
The report looked at how 22 counties across West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Ohio — accounting for 90 percent of the region’s natural gas production — fared during the fracking boom. It found that counties that saw the most drilling ended up with weaker job growth and declining populations compared to other parts of Appalachia and the nation as a whole.
Shale gas production from Appalachia exploded from minimal levels a little over a decade ago, to more than 32 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d) in 2019, or roughly 40 percent of the nation’s total output. During this time, between 2008 and 2019, GDP across these 22 counties grew three times faster than that of the nation as a whole. However, based on a variety of metrics for actual economic prosperity — such as job growth, population growth, and the region’s share of national income — the region fell further behind than the rest of the country.
Between 2008 and 2019, the number of jobs across the U.S. expanded by 10 percent, according to the ORVI report, but in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia, job growth only grew by 4 percent. More glaringly, the 22 gas-producing counties in those three states — ground-zero for the drilling boom — only experienced 1.7 percent job growth.
“What’s really disturbing is that these disappointing results came about at a time when the region’s natural gas industry was operating at full capacity. So it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which the results would be better,” said Sean O’Leary, the report’s author.
» Read article
» Read the report
Baker takes more conciliatory tone on climate change bill
Sends it back with amendments, drops objection on offshore wind
By Bruce Mohl, CommonWealth Magazine
February 7, 2021
GOV. CHARLIE BAKER sent the Legislature’s twice-passed climate change bill back on Sunday with new, compromise language that strikes a more conciliatory tone and dials back some of his earlier objections.
When the Legislature first passed the bill in early January at the end of the last legislative session, the governor could only approve or reject it. He rejected it, raising concerns about its costly emissions target for 2030, its separate emission targets for six industry subsectors, its offshore wind procurements, its support for community energy codes that could deter the production of affordable housing, and the narrowness of its environmental justice provisions.
Lawmakers, irked by the administration’s attitude, responded by passing the same bill again and sending it back to Baker. But administration officials and legislative leaders over the last three weeks also began talking, trying to sort out their differences. “We did try to find areas of common ground,” said Kathleen Theoharides, the governor’s secretary of energy and environmental affairs.
Baker on Sunday returned the bill to the Legislature with an accompanying letter that was much less strident in tone than his earlier veto message. In the letter, Baker withdrew some of his earlier objections and proposed amendments that compromised on others.
The initial reception from legislative leaders was cautious optimism. They indicated they would likely not agree with the governor on everything, but would accept some of his amendments.
Rep. Thomas Golden of Lowell, the House’s point person on the legislation, said the governor’s amendments will get a fair shot. Sen. Michael Barrett of Lexington, the Senate’s point person on the legislation, seemed receptive. He said a number of Baker’s technical amendments improved the bill and welcomed the fact that the critical tone of last session’s veto letter was missing from Sunday’s letter outlining proposed amendments.
Study Warns Emissions Cuts Must Be 80% More Ambitious to Meet Even the Dangerously Inadequate 2°C Target
“And as if 2°C rather than 1.5°C was acceptable,” responded Greta Thunberg, calling the findings further evidence “that our so-called ‘climate targets’ are insufficient.”
By Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams
February 11, 2021
A new study warns that countries’ pledges to reduce planet-heating emissions as part of the global effort to meet the goals of the Paris climate agreement must be dramatically scaled up to align with even the deal’s less ambitious target of keeping temperature rise below 2°C—though preferably 1.5°C—by the end of the century.
A pair of researchers at the University of Washington found that the country-based rate of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions cuts should increase by 80% beyond current nationally determined contributions (NDCs)—the term for each nation’s pledge under the Paris agreement—to meet the 2°C target.
The study, published Tuesday in the journal Communications Earth & Environment, adds to the mountain of evidence that since the Paris agreement—which also has a bolder 1.5°C target—was adopted in late 2015, countries around the world have not done enough to limit human-caused global heating.
“On current trends, the probability of staying below 2°C of warming is only 5%, but if all countries meet their nationally determined contributions and continue to reduce emissions at the same rate after 2030, it rises to 26%,” the study says. “If the USA alone does not meet its nationally determined contribution, it declines to 18%.”
“To have an even chance of staying below 2°C,” the study continues, “the average rate of decline in emissions would need to increase from the 1% per year needed to meet the nationally determined contributions, to 1.8% per year.”
Greta Thunberg of the youth-led climate movement Fridays for Future called the findings further evidence “that our so-called ‘climate targets’ are insufficient.”
» Read article
Balloon test flight plan under fire over solar geoengineering fears
Swedish environmental groups warn test flight could be first step towards the adoption of a potentially “dangerous, unpredictable, and unmanageable” technology
By Patrick Greenfield, The Guardian
February 8, 2021
A proposed scientific balloon flight in northern Sweden has attracted opposition from environmental groups over fears it could lead to the use of solar geoengineering to cool the Earth and combat the climate crisis by mimicking the effect of a large volcanic eruption.
In June, a team of Harvard scientists is planning to launch a high-altitude balloon from Kiruna in Lapland to test whether it can carry equipment for a future small-scale experiment on radiation-reflecting particles in the Earth’s atmosphere.
An independent advisory committee will rule on whether to approve the balloon test flight by 15 February. Swedish environmental groups have written to the government and the Swedish Space Corporation (SSC) to voice their opposition.
In the letters, seen by the Guardian, organisations including the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation, Greenpeace Sweden and Friends of the Earth Sweden said that while the balloon flight scheduled for June does not involve the release of particles, it could be the first step towards the adoption of a potentially “dangerous, unpredictable, and unmanageable” technology.
Stratospheric aerosols are a key component of solar geoengineering technology that some have proposed as a plan B for controlling the Earth’s temperature if the climate crisis makes conditions intolerable and governments do not take sufficient action.
Studies have found that widespread adoption of solar geoengineering could be inexpensive and safer than some fear. But critics argue the consequences of its use are not well understood and stratospheric aerosol injections (SAI) on a large scale could damage the ozone layer, cause heating in the stratosphere and disrupt ecosystems.
» Read article
When power most needed, ‘peaker’ polluters fire up in Berkshires. Should that continue?
By Danny Jin, The Berkshire Eagle
February 7, 2021
When electricity demand peaks, dirtier fuels enter the power grid.
Though they run just a small fraction of the time, “peaker” power plants often fire up on the hottest days of summer or the coldest days of winter. And when they are on, they typically are among the worst polluters.
Local climate advocates have started a push to convert three Berkshire peakers to cleaner alternatives.
The Berkshire Environmental Action Team wants the plants to switch to using renewable energy and battery storage. To make that pitch, it’s seeking to build a coalition that already includes the Berkshire NAACP branch’s environmental justice committee, Masspirg Students, Indivisible Pittsfield and a number of local climate action groups.
“We want to create a large community of opposition to these plants and build this movement together,” said Berkshire Environmental Action Team Executive Director Jane Winn, who said at a recent online presentation that people can sign on to the petition through tinyurl.com/PeakerPetition.
Peakers tend to be located where relatively more people of color and low-income residents live, Winn said. The plants emit greenhouse gases that increase risks for respiratory ailments and contribute to climate change.
Pittsfield Generating, on Merrill Road, runs primarily on natural gas. In 2019, it emitted 39,176.89 metric tons of carbon dioxide and 6.65 metric tons of nitrous oxide while operating just under 6 percent of the time, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
The plant is adjacent to Allendale Elementary School and is near Pittsfield’s Morningside neighborhood, which the state considers an “environmental justice” neighborhood.
Peakers on Doreen Street in Pittsfield and Woodland Road in Lee run on kerosene. While they each run just 0.1 percent of the time, the Doreen Street and Woodland Road plants emitted 152.77 metric tons and 54.03 metric tons of carbon dioxide, respectively, in 2019, according to the EPA.
The Doreen Street site is near Williams and Egremont elementary schools, and Woodland Road borders October Mountain State Forest.
The peakers on Doreen and Woodland once were owned by Essential Power, which was acquired in 2016 by Charlotte, N.C.-based Cogentrix, which includes Doreen in its list of projects but not Woodland.
Cogentrix did not respond to an inquiry regarding the two plants.
Pittsfield Generating is operated by PurEnergy LLC, a subsidiary of NAES and Japanese company Itochu. PurEnergy did not respond to an inquiry.
With Pittsfield Generating’s air permit set to expire this year (Doreen and Woodland are so old that the Clean Air Act does not apply to them), now is the time for the community to reckon with the plant’s impacts, the Berkshire Environmental Action Team said.
Six New York peakers recently began a switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy and storage, and advancements in battery technology might allow more peakers to do so.
» Read article
» Sign petition to shut down Berkshire County’s peaker plants
Carbon-free future is in reach for the US by 2050
America could have a carbon-free future by 2050 with a big switch to wind and solar power, say US government scientists.
By Tim Radford, Climate News Network
February 11, 2021
The US − per head of population perhaps the world’s most prodigal emitter of greenhouse gases − can reverse that and have a carbon-free future within three decades, at a cost of no more than $1 per person per day.
That would mean renewable energy to power all 50 states: giant wind power farms, solar power stations, electric cars, heat pumps and a range of other technological solutions.
The argument has been made before: made repeatedly; and contested too. But this time the reasoning comes not from individual scientists in a handful of US universities, but from an American government research base: the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, with help from the University of San Francisco.
To make the switch more politically feasible, the authors argue, existing power plant could be allowed to live out its economic life; nobody need be asked to scrap a brand new gasoline-driven car for an electric vehicle.
Their study − in the journal AGU Advances − looked at a range of ways to get to net zero carbon emissions, at costs as low as 0.2% of gross domestic product (GDP, the economist’s favourite measure of national wealth), or as high as 1.2%, with about 90% of power generated by wind or solar energy.
“The decarbonisation of the US energy system is fundamentally an infrastructure transformation,” said Margaret Torn, of the Berkeley Lab, one of the authors.
“It means that by 2050 we need to build many gigawatts of wind and solar plants, new transmission lines, a fleet of electric cars and light trucks, millions of heat pumps to replace conventional furnaces and water heaters, and more energy-efficient buildings, while continuing to research and innovate new technologies.”
Will developers block clean energy standards?
State must not allow builders off the hook
By Joan Fitzgerald and Greg Coppola, CommonWealth Magazine | Opinion
February 11, 2021
LATE IN THE last session, the Massachusetts Legislature passed a landmark climate bill targeting zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and mandating several mechanisms to achieve the goal. Gov. Baker vetoed the bill on the ground that it would make construction too expensive, echoing concerns raised by contractors and developers. The Legislature then passed the identical bill in late January and Baker has sent it back with amendments that will let developers off the hook on moving quickly to high-efficiency building standards. Although the language in the bill could use some clarification, these standards should be non-negotiable.
The legislation would require the state to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. This goal would be achieved by increasing energy-efficiency requirements in transportation, buildings, and appliances; and increased reliance on offshore wind and solar power. A key provision would allow cities and towns to adopt net zero codes—meaning that a building is very energy efficient and completely powered by renewable energy produced either on- or off-site. But this aroused the opposition of real estate interests. Both NAIOP (the National Association of Industrial and Office Properties) Massachusetts and the Greater Boston Real Estate Board, came out against the legislation. (On an array of issues, including rent control, the strategy of developers and landlords has been to use state law to block home rule.)
The irony of the veto is that the climate bill builds on existing policies enacted under Baker, though it does add more teeth. The Commonwealth’s current three-year energy efficiency plan, governing measures from 2019-2021includes tax incentives and subsidies for developers for both market-rate and low-income housing to build to passive house standards.
The Massachusetts Clean Energy and Climate Plan for 2030, which is now open for public comment, will be adopted soon. It calls for the Department of Energy Resources to develop a high-performance stretch energy code in 2021 for submission to the Board of Building Review and Standards for cities and towns to adopt in 2022.
Many state and city programs are supporting these policies. The Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, the state economic development agency accelerating the growth of the clean energy sector, has subsidized several successful projects to acquaint developers with the techniques of highly efficient buildings. Currently, Mass Save offers certification and performance incentives to builders and developers of residential buildings of five or more units and offers 50 percent registration reimbursements for certification courses on construction techniques for achieving the passive house standard. Last year, the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development added bonus points into its scoring system for developers in its Low-Income Housing Tax Credit Program if they build projects to passive house standard. Cambridge’s 2015 Net Zero Action Plan provides a 25-year roadmap to achieving a 70 percent reduction in emissions by 2040.
The terminology of green buildings can be confusing for those not engaged in the policy. It all started with Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). Although its various levels of certification prevail in many cities, it is not the standard to get us to net-zero carbon by 2050. For that, cities and states need to move to passive house, net zero emissions, or zero net energy (ZNE), which are complementary standards. Buildings meeting these standards produce significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions and save their owners money on utilities over time.
The passive house standard can reduce the need for heating by up to 90 percent, while increasing construction costs by no more than 3 percent, on average.
Net zero emission standards require buildings to offset any emissions they produce through carbon removal processes, such as investing in forest restoration projects or direct air capture and storage. A zero-net energy building produces enough renewable energy onsite or offsite to equal to the annual energy consumption of the building. These buildings can produce surplus renewable energy that feeds back to regional electrical grid.
Massachusetts developers are finding all three standards cost efficient. In Fall River, the 50,600-square foot Bristol Community College John J. Sbrega Health and Science Building was constructed in 2016 to ZNE standards without impacting its $31.5 million construction budget. The Commonwealth’s largest net-zero emissions building is the 273,000 square foot complex of the King Open and Cambridge Street Upper School in Cambridge. The complex, comprising two school buildings, a library, and two outdoor swimming pools generates 60 percent of its energy onsite from solar and geothermal sources.
These are not just one-off examples. Nationwide, all three standards are becoming more common.
» Read article
ENERGY EFFICIENT BUILDING MATERIALS
One day, your home could be made with mushrooms
Mushrooms bricks could replace concrete
By Justine Calma, The Verge
February 2, 2021
Mushrooms are helping architects and engineers solve one the world’s biggest crises: climate change. These fungi are durable, biodegradable, and are proving to be a good alternative to more polluting materials.
“Our built environment needs these kinds of materials,” says David Benjamin, founding principal architect at the firm The Living. “Different countries have really ambitious climate change goals, and this material could really help jump-start some of that progress.”
Building materials and construction make up about a tenth of global carbon dioxide emissions. That’s way more than the global shipping and aviation industries combined. And the problem is getting worse.
Materials made with mycelium, the fungal network from which mushrooms grow, might be able to help turn that around. They produce far less planet-heating carbon dioxide than traditional materials like cement. An added bonus is that mushrooms are biodegradable, so they leave behind less harmful waste than traditional building materials. Mushrooms can even help with clean-up efforts, feeding off things that might have otherwise ended up in a landfill, like sawdust or agricultural waste.
» Watch video
Plus Power Breaks Open Market for Massive Batteries in New England
Large standalone battery plants had not succeeded in New England’s capacity market. Until now.
By Julian Spector, GreenTech Media
February 11, 2021
Battery plants have established themselves in the sunny Southwest, but this week was the first time they won big in New England.
San Francisco-based developer Plus Power won two bids in the latest capacity auction held by the New England ISO, which operates the transmission grid and competitive power markets in six Northeastern states. That means that these two battery plants offered a compelling enough price to edge out some fossil fuel plants for delivering power on demand. And they did it without any help from federal tax credits because none of them apply to standalone batteries.
Plus Power now needs to build the plants: a 150-megawatt/300-megawatt-hour system near a cranberry bog south of Boston, Massachusetts and a 175-megawatt/350-megawatt-hour battery in Gorham, Maine. The seven-year capacity contracts start in June 2024.
New England has seen a build-out of smaller batteries. Some have been acquired by municipal utilities willing to get out in front of a grid trend. Others are supported by the Massachusetts SMART program, which incentivizes the addition of batteries at distributed solar projects.
But until now, no standalone battery had won in the competitive capacity auctions opened to energy storage by ISO-NE’s implementation of Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Order 841, and no batteries above the 100-megawatt threshold had been built in the region.
“There’s no mandate, there’s no emergency procurement, there’s no grant program,” Plus Power General Manager Brandon Keefe said. In that light, the company’s capacity market wins represent “the market working and storage winning.”
» Read article
2021: When electric trucks trickle in
Political winds and consumer tastes favor a change in how trucks are fueled. The question is whether manufacturers, fleets and infrastructure are ready for the change.
By Jim Stinson, Utility Dive
February 8, 2021
Electric trucks will accelerate on delivery, research and absorption into fleets in 2021, even though experts doubt more than a few Class 8 trucks will be delivered to carriers.
The electric truck is a crucial part of government and fleet plans to help decrease emissions. But implementation in the United States has been slow. In August, Wood Mackenzie estimated just over 2,000 electric trucks were in service at the end of 2019. The research firm said by 2025, the electric truck fleet will grow to 54,000.
The political winds and consumer tastes favor a change in how trucks are fueled. The new administration seems eager to help make the transition, and President Joe Biden campaigned on a promise of net-zero emissions in the U.S. no later than 2050.
Analysts said they don’t believe 2021 will be the year a notable percentage — say, 5% or 10% — of Class 8 trucks become electric, but some predict this will be the year the change begins.
“I think 2020, last year, was the year of commitments,” said Mike Roeth, executive director of the North American Council for Freight Efficiency. “If everybody says they will do what they say will do, this will happen pretty fast.”
Roeth noted the pipeline for new electric trucks is slow in providing what fleets may want. That means what 2021 sees in the implementation of commercial electric vehicles won’t be a flood — more like a trickle. But that will allow fleets to begin gaining experience with electric trucks: How to charge them, and learning the logistics of charging and range limits.
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FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION
Environmental Groups Sue Federal Regulators Over Western Mass. Pipeline Plan
By Miriam Wasser, WBUR
February 12, 2021
Environmental groups are challenging a federal agency’s decision to allow natural gas expansion in central Massachusetts, arguing legal precedent — and a change in regulatory leadership — is on their side.
On Friday, the Washington, D.C. Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments from two groups opposed to the proposed expansion of a compressor station in Agawam, which the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approved in 2019.
The project in question is a proposal from the Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company, LLC — a subsidiary of energy giant Kinder Morgan — to build 2.1 miles of new natural gas pipeline and replace two small compressors with a larger unit at its Agawam site. The company says these upgrades will allow it to deliver more natural gas for distribution in the greater Springfield area, and as such, “alleviate capacity-constrained New England gas markets.”
Opponents of the project, meanwhile, want the panel of appellate judges to nullify the permit issued by FERC, saying the project will contribute to climate change, prolong our dependence of fossil fuels, and harm local residents by increasing pollution in an area already known for poor air quality and pose public safety risks. They also argue that FERC violated federal law and disregarded legal precedent by allowing the project to move forward.
“The National Environmental Policy Act requires FERC to meaningfully evaluate greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel production and transportation projects,” wrote petitioners, Berkshire Environmental Action Team and Food & Water Watch, in court documents.
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FERC Chairman Acts to Ensure Prominent FERC Role for Environmental Justice
February 11, 2021
Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Chairman Richard Glick today announced plans to better incorporate environmental justice and equity concerns into the Commission’s decision-making process by creating a new senior position to coordinate that work.
“I believe that the Commission should more aggressively fulfill its responsibilities to ensure our decisions don’t unfairly impact historically marginalized communities,” Glick said.
Glick said he will have more details about the new environmental justice position at a future date. But he stressed that this will be a cross-cutting position, and that the person who fills the job will be charged with working with the experts in all FERC program offices to integrate environmental justice and equity matters into Commission decisions.
“This position is not just a title,” Glick said. “I intend to do what it takes to empower this new position to ensure that environmental justice and equity concerns finally get the attention they deserve.”
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» Read E&E News background article from 7/31/20
FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY
Oil companies don’t want to be known for oil anymore
By Emily Pontecorvo, Grist
February 12, 2021
In a speech to his board of directors on Monday, Patrick Pouyanné, the CEO of French oil giant Total, announced that the company planned to change its name to TotalEnergies. He said the new name would anchor the company’s transformation into a “broad energy company,” and went on to describe the renewable energy assets Total added to its portfolio over the last year, including a stake in the largest solar developer in the world.
If approved by the company’s investors, Total’s name change would be the latest in a round of oil company makeovers that have accompanied a flurry of climate pledges over the past year. Last February, when BP announced its ambition to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, it said its new purpose was “reimagining energy.” It later claimed it was pivoting from “international oil company” to “integrated energy company.” In December, the CEO of Occidental Petroleum, which also set a net-zero target, said in an interview that it was transitioning toward becoming a “carbon management company,” in reference to its investment in a facility that will suck CO2 out of the air.
Oil companies have been trying to rebrand themselves as cleaner and greener for years. BP famously changed its tagline to Beyond Petroleum in 2000 to advertise its move into solar and wind energy — then it caused the most disastrous oil spill in American history in 2010 and shed many of its renewable energy assets in the aftermath. In 2010, Chevron launched a campaign called “We Agree,” with advertisements that said things like “It’s time oil companies get behind renewable energy,” followed by the words “We agree” in red letters. Then it sold off its renewable energy subsidiary four years later. Exxon has been advertising its research into algae-based fuel since 2009, but over the past decade has only spent around $300 million on said research, or the equivalent of about 1 percent of its capital budget for 2020.
Robert Brulle, a sociologist at Brown University who has studied the industry’s disinformation campaigns for years, told Grist that these greenwashing efforts come in cycles, with companies increasing this kind of promotion in response to political shifts. “By running this sort of campaign, they hope to convince policy makers and the general public that there is no need for legislation,” he said in an email.
Is anything different this time? “It’s certainly a reflection of an enormous amount of pressure on these companies,” said Kathy Mulvey, the climate accountability campaign director at the Union of Concerned Scientists, citing pressure from shareholders, the divestment movement, lawsuits, and the prospect of new policies under the Biden administration.
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» Obtain the Brown University study on fossil fuel corporate greenwashing
How the Fossil Fuel Industry Convinced Americans to Love Gas Stoves
And why they’re scared we might break up with their favorite appliance.
By Rebecca Leber, Mother Jones
February 11, 2021
In early 2020, Wilson Truong posted on the NextDoor social media platform—where users can send messages to a group in their neighborhood—in a Culver City, California, community. Writing as if he were a resident of the Fox Hills neighborhood, Truong warned the group members that their city leaders were considering stronger building codes that would discourage natural gas lines in newly built homes and businesses. In a message with the subject line “Culver City banning gas stoves?” Truong wrote: “First time I heard about it I thought it was bogus, but I received a newsletter from the city about public hearings to discuss it…Will it pass???!!! I used an electric stove but it never cooked as well as a gas stove so I ended up switching back.”
Truong’s post ignited a debate. One neighbor, Chris, defended electric induction stoves. “Easy to clean,” he wrote about the glass stovetop, which uses a magnetic field to heat pans. Another user, Laura, was nearly incoherent in her outrage. “No way,” she wrote, “I am staying with gas. I hope you can too.”
What these commenters didn’t know was that Truong wasn’t their neighbor at all. He was writing in his role as account manager for the public relations firm Imprenta Communications Group. Imprenta’s client was Californians for Balanced Energy Solutions (C4BES), a front group for SoCalGas, the nation’s largest gas utility, working to fend off state initiatives to limit the future use of gas in buildings. C4BES had tasked Imprenta with exploring how social media platforms, including NextDoor, could be used to foment community opposition to electrification.
The NextDoor incident is just one of many examples of the newest front in the gas industry’s war to garner public support for their fuel. As more municipalities have moved to phase gas lines out of new buildings to cut down on methane emissions, gas utilities have gone on the defensive, launching anti-electrification campaigns across the country.
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Will new US EPA head continue his opposition to burning forests for energy?
By Justin Catanoso, Mongabay
February 4, 2021
“I don’t see a future in wood pellets,” Michael S. Regan told me when we spoke late in 2019 while he was serving as head of North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality.
Today, Regan is President Joe Biden’s choice for Environmental Protection Agency administrator; he’s very likely to be confirmed this week by the Senate with bipartisan support. And his words, if put into practice, could have a profound impact on the future of forest biomass — the burning of trees, turned into wood pellets, to make energy on a vast industrial scale — bringing about a major shift in U.S. and potentially international energy policy.
With his administration not even a month old, President Biden is moving swiftly to regain a global leadership role for the United States in climate change mitigation. A portion of that effort could revolve around the U.S. ability to influence international and United Nations policy regarding biomass-for-energy.
Under Donald Trump, biomass burning got favorable treatment. But now, under Biden and Regan, it seems plausible that the nation will follow the lead of current science, which has clearly debunked an earlier mistaken claim of biomass burning’s carbon neutrality.
This is what Michael Regan, 44 and an eastern North Carolina native, said on the topic in a late 2019 interview, long before his EPA appointment (parts of that interview were featured in a series of articles in the Raleigh News & Observer): “I am not shy about saying [that Democratic N.C.] Gov. [Roy] Cooper and I believe in a clean energy, renewable energy future for the state that has the lowest emissions profile,” he said. “That’s going to be driven by technology, business models, new ways of thinking about things. I don’t see a future in wood pellets.”
At the time, Cooper set a goal to reduce North Carolina’s emissions by 70% by 2030 over a 2005 baseline, and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.
Regan added that he saw no role for biomass in North Carolina’s energy future, even though his state is among the nation’s largest producers of wood pellets, exporting some 2.5 million tons annually, mostly to the United Kingdom (UK) and European Union (EU). There the pellets are burned in former coal-fired power stations to make electricity; biomass accounts for nearly 60% of the EU’s “renewable” energy mix.
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RMLD GM O’Brien defends Palmer plant energy purchase
By BOB HOLMES, Daily Times Chronicle
February 9, 2021
READING – For Coleen O’Brien, it was much like a trip to the grocery store. As the Reading Municipal Light Department’s General Manager, she was shopping for renewable energy for the four towns RMLD serves. She had her list, and biomass was on it, right there in RMLD Policy 30.
On this shopping trip last February, she came home with a 20-year commitment to buy power from a wood-burning biomass facility in Springfield. What seemed like a good idea to O’Brien at the time, has gone south fast.
Since entering into the agreement with the Palmer plant, and especially in recent months, the plant and RMLD’s connection to it has been a growing source of controversy. Protest over the proposed plant goes back years, most of it focused on the air pollution it would bring to an area already dealing with asthma brought on by poor air quality.
The purchase wasn’t the only problem. The process was as well because the RMLD Board of Commissioners and the Citizen Advisory Board (CAB) were left out of the decision to buy power from the Palmer plant.
When the Board of Commissioners was informed of the commitment in October, protest followed. That protest has grown recently after the Department of Energy Resources proposed amendments in December that relaxed state regulations. Senators Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren, Attorney General Maura Healey, State Senator Jason Lewis, and the Reading Select Board all have expressed opposition to the plant and asked for a public hearing on the DOER amendments. RMLD is taking heat for supporting the plant by purchasing 25 percent of its energy over a 20-year span.
Wednesday night the Climate Advisory Committee re-stated their opposition to RMLD’s use of power from the Palmer plant. The committee voted to bring their objections to the Reading Select Board at a future meeting.
O’Brien defended her decision Wednesday but pledged to do whatever the Board of Commissioners and the Citizen Advisory Board tells her to do. That means potential changes to RMLD’s energy shopping list, better known as Policy 30.
“I was instructed to keep buying renewable,” said O’Brien. “We were instructed to buy renewable, meet the goals, make sure it meets the renewable criteria. At that time, Palmer met that criteria. That’s why it’s so important going forward that Policy 30 provides us instruction about what they would want the portfolio to look like. What do they want us to buy?”
When it comes to tweaking Policy 30, she’s open for any discussion.
Regarding Palmer, can RMLD walk away from [the] February agreement?
“No, you wouldn’t be able to just back out of it but you could assign it or sell it,” said O’Brien. “Power is traded like a commodity. You would have to look to taking your power commitment and having someone else pick it up.
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