Tag Archives: renewable energy

Weekly News Check-In 4/22/22

banner 02

Welcome back.

We’ll jump right in with climate reports, because it turns out that after several years of increasingly urgent, hair-on-fire warnings from the United Nations, scientists, and governments, we in Massachusetts appear to be less concerned than we were before. The pandemic, inflation, and the war in Ukraine to have distracted our attention, and those things have given us too many excuses to delay real action.

So what we have is a mixed bag. The fossil fuel industry has long bankrolled a sophisticated disinformation and denial campaign, and the richest countries in the world continue to finance new development projects. We even have a brand new gas peaker plant under construction in Peabody, MA! But there’s also pushback, like the Massachusetts legislature’s good work on a new, nuts & bolts bill designed to execute the broad goals expressed in the 2021 climate “roadmap” law.

The Biden administration finds itself on both sides of this fence. We reported last week on the discouraging (and transparently political) move to sell more oil and gas leases. On the flip side, Biden is increasing the build-out of renewable energy on public lands, and has restored part of an environmental law that was gutted by the Trump administration, “requiring that climate impacts be considered and local communities have input before federal agencies approve highways, pipelines, and other major projects”. Hopefully this constitutes clear guidance for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which recently made a quavering attempt to consider climate impacts of pipelines, but freaked out when the gas industry expressed displeasure.

Before we move on from the topic of natural gas, let’s consider two articles describing how gas utilities are doubling down on their campaign to preserve their pipeline distribution model at all costs – touting far-fetched, false solutions as a way to continue pushing volatile fuel into homes and businesses. Natural gas is primarily methane – a powerful greenhouse gas – and it leaks from every point along the line from production to end use – sometimes spectacularly.

A primary reason the gas distribution model has no future is that modern heat pumps can replace fossil fuel furnaces and boilers, even in frosty New England. As we electrify building heat, we expect some stubborn gas utility obstruction – and we’re getting plenty of that. Less obvious is resistance coming from HVAC installers, especially considering how much they have to gain as communities convert en masse to new equipment. But change is inevitable.

Even the mundane process of charging electric vehicles is evolving. Soon, the idea of plugging in your EV to do nothing but charge overnight will seem as antiquated as heating with gas. With bi-directional charging, the vehicle’s large battery and stored energy can be available for all sorts of uses, from utility demand management to emergency backup power – all while leaving plenty of juice for driving. This can generate income for the individual or fleet EV owner while adding resiliency and flexibility to the grid.

We’ll close with a look at liquefied natural gas, and how the industry is using the Russian invasion of Ukraine to continue its long fight against controlling toxic emissions at export terminals. Also, read about the biomass industry’s lobbying campaign to keep the fires burning under Europe’s dirtiest “renewable” energy.

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

PEAKING POWER PLANTS

stop Peabody peaker
What to know about a planned natural gas ‘peaker’ plant in Mass
By Miriam Wasser, WBUR
April 08, 2022

This week’s new climate report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is very clear that the world needs to stop building new fossil fuel infrastructure immediately. In fact, to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, countries need to actively decommission a lot of the oil, gas and coal infrastructure that already exists.

Massachusetts also has strong climate laws and has committed to hitting “net zero” emissions by 2050. So why, in 2022, is the state allowing the construction of a new natural gas and diesel-fired power plant in Peabody?

Project opponents say plans for the so-called “peaker” plant are antithetical to the state’s goals, and that the utility group behind the project has not been transparent in their proceedings.

But work on the plant has continued despite the protests, and project managers say the facility will be up and running by 2023.

Whether you’re familiar with this proposed power plant and have questions, or you’re hearing about it for the first time, here’s what you need to know:
» Read article or listen to broadcast    

» More about peakers

DIVESTMENT

advantage oil
Database Shows Rich Governments Funding Fossil Fuels Over Clean Energy
“G20 international public finance is currently blocking a just energy transition, bankrolling 2.5 times more fossil fuels than clean energy.”
By Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams
April 20, 2022

A new online tool launched Wednesday by a U.S.-based advocacy group details how international public finance is continuing to fuel the climate emergency rather than sufficiently funding a just transition to clean energy.

Oil Change International (OCI) unveiled its Public Finance for Energy Database—accessible at energyfinance.org—along with a briefing that lays out key findings, why the group is monitoring public finance for energy, and how these institutions “are uniquely positioned to catalyze a just, transformative, and rapid transition.”

The open-access tool targets development finance institutions (DFIs), export finance agencies (ECAs), and multilateral development banks (MDBs), focusing on Group of 20 (G20) countries, the world’s biggest economies. The website features a data dashboard as well as a policy tracker.

“Public finance shapes our future energy systems,” the briefing states, explaining that these “institutions’ investments total $2.2 trillion a year: an estimated 10% of global financial flows. Worldwide, 693 government-owned or operated banks own assets worth about $38 trillion and if central banks, sovereign wealth funds, pensions, and multilateral banks are also included, this doubles to $73 trillion.”

“The impact of this finance reaches beyond its own scale because public finance has an outsized influence on the decisions private financiers make,” the document adds. “This is because public finance has government-backed credit ratings, is often provided at below-market rates, often has larger research and technical capacity, and signals broader government priorities. All of this helps make a project a less risky and more attractive investment.”

The briefing points out that “G20 international public finance is currently blocking a just energy transition, bankrolling 2.5 times more fossil fuels than clean energy.”
» Read article   
» Access the database

» More about divestment

LEGISLATION

MA Statehouse
Senate passes big climate bill focused on getting to net-zero
By Chris Lisinski, State House News Service, on WBUR
April 15, 2022

Senators took a major step Thursday toward achieving the net-zero emissions target they already set for Massachusetts by approving a policy-heavy bill aimed at expanding the clean energy industry and reining in emissions from the transportation and building sectors.

Nearly 12 hours after they kicked off debate, senators voted 37-3 on legislation (S 2819) that faces an unclear future as negotiators prepare to reconcile it with a smaller-scope bill that cleared the House (H 4515). All three of the chamber’s Republicans, who unsuccessfully pushed an alternative proposal, voted against the final measure.

Along the way, the Senate adopted 45 amendments — including one that calls for attempting to nearly double the amount of offshore wind energy generated for Massachusetts over the next decade-plus — leading to what Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy Committee Chair Sen. Michael Barrett called “a product here that is much better than when we started.”

The legislation, which comes on the heels of a 2021 law committing to reaching net-zero emissions statewide by 2050, would pump $250 million into clean energy expansion, electric vehicle incentives, and electric vehicle charging infrastructure. It would also overhaul the offshore wind procurement process, require greater scrutiny on the future of natural gas, and allow some cities and towns to restrict the use of fossil fuels in new construction.

“Last year’s climate bill was about laying out a plan for tackling this formidable challenge of climate change. This year, in this legislation, we propose to begin to execute on the plan. If you like metaphors, last year was about laying out a roadmap, today we start traveling down the road. That’s why this is all about implementation,” Barrett, a Lexington Democrat, said on the Senate floor. “I am happy beyond measure, I am so happy, that this Senate has the courage to move beyond roadmapping and beyond laying out a template and is in favor of getting to the question of implementation and execution.”
» Read article    

» More about legislation

FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION

providing certainty
FERC must stand strong against industry pressure to weaken climate and environmental justice policies
By Moneen Nasmith, Utility Dive | Opinion
April 20, 2022

[…] Federal law requires FERC to consider a broad range of factors when assessing how gas infrastructure projects, like pipelines and export terminals, impact the public. Gas projects often cause significant harm to the climate and communities. They release methane pollution — a potent greenhouse gas that is a major contributor to the climate crisis — and facilitate the burning of fossil fuels for decades to come. And they degrade air quality and threaten public health, often in low-income communities and communities of color already overburdened with pollution.

But FERC has long overlooked the environmental costs of gas projects while accepting unsubstantiated claims by industry about their alleged benefits. The agency has historically rubberstamped nearly all the gas projects that came before it, without seriously considering whether they are even needed. As a result, these projects have been vulnerable to litigation — and FERC and the pipeline industry keep losing in court.

Most recently, the D.C. Circuit Court ruled in March that FERC failed to adequately assess the greenhouse gas emissions from a compressor station and gas pipeline in Massachusetts. Food & Water Watch and Berkshire Environmental Action team, a community group, filed a lawsuit challenging FERC’s approval of the project without considering climate impacts. The court agreed and ordered FERC to redo its environmental analysis.

To improve its broken review process, FERC recently proposed two common-sense policies to consider adverse effects like greenhouse gas emissions and environmental injustice when it reviews gas projects. The first outlines four factors the agency will consider before approving pipeline projects, including environmental impacts and the interests of environmental justice communities. The second lays out how the agency will quantify and evaluate the impacts from greenhouse gas emissions from a gas project, including pipelines and export terminals. These policies better balance the pros and cons of building new gas projects — something the courts have effectively been directing FERC to do.

Predictably, the fossil fuel industry and their political allies came out in full force to attack the new policies and pressure FERC to weaken and delay implementation of its policies. Gas companies claimed the new policies create uncertainty and will reduce investment in new pipelines and export terminals. But the reality is that the policies will reduce uncertainty for all stakeholders by ensuring that new projects are legally sound.
» Read article   

» More about FERC   

GREENING THE ECONOMY

narrow lakeBiden restores parts of environmental protection law, reverses Trump policy
By Lisa Friedman New York Times, in Boston Globe
April 19, 2022

The Biden administration will announce Tuesday that it is restoring parts of a bedrock environmental law, once again requiring that climate impacts be considered and local communities have input before federal agencies approve highways, pipelines, and other major projects.

The administration plans to resurrect requirements of the 50-year-old National Environmental Policy Act that had been removed by President Donald Trump, who complained that they slowed down the development of mines, road expansions, and similar projects.

The final rule announced Tuesday would require federal agencies to conduct an analysis of the greenhouse gases that could be emitted over the lifetime of a proposed project, as well as how climate change might affect new highways, bridges, and other infrastructure, according to the White House Council on Environmental Quality. The rule would also ensure agencies give communities directly affected by projects a greater role in the approval process.

Brenda Mallory, chairwoman of the council, described the regulation as restoring “basic community safeguards” that the Trump administration had eliminated.

[…] Administration officials said the new rule would not have major immediate impacts since the Biden administration had already been weighing the climate change impacts of proposed projects. But it would force future administrations to abide by the process or undertake a lengthy regulatory process and possibly legal challenges to again undo it.

The National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, was signed into law by President Richard Nixon in 1970, after several environmental disasters including a crude oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara, California, and a series of fires on the heavily polluted Cuyahoga River in Ohio that shocked the nation.

It mandates federal agencies to assess the potential environmental impacts of proposed major federal actions before allowing them to proceed. Agencies are not required to reject projects that might worsen climate change — only to examine and report the impacts.
» Read article    

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

unfocused
As Earth’s temperature rises, Massachusetts residents’ sense of urgency on climate change declines
By Sabrina Shankman and Dharna Noor, Boston Globe
April 19, 2022

Despite increasingly urgent international warnings and an onslaught of catastrophic wildfires and weather linked to global warming, fewer Massachusetts residents see the climate crisis as a very serious concern than they did three years ago, according to a new poll.

It’s not that respondents weren’t aware of the climate threat; a large majority acknowledged that symptoms of the crisis such as increased flooding, extreme heat waves, and more powerful storms are either already happening or very likely within five years, according to the poll, a collaboration of The Boston Globe and The MassINC Polling Group. And more than three quarters called climate change a “very serious” or “serious” concern.”

But with a pandemic and war in Ukraine as a backdrop, fewer than half, 48 percent, ranked climate in the highest category of concern, down from 53 percent in 2019, the last time the poll was taken. Less than half said they would vote along climate lines or take steps such as switching their home heat off fossil fuel.

“Climate change is the kind of issue where people still think they can put it off on the back burner of their minds, especially when they’re dealing with COVID, when they’re dealing with inflation, when they’re dealing with all kinds of other terrible things in the world,” said Richard Parr, research director with The MassINC Polling Group.
» Read article    

gap
G20 Falling Behind, Canada Dead Last in Widening Gap Between Climate Pledges, Climate Action
By Mitchell Beer, The Energy Mix
April 22, 2022

G20 countries are falling behind on the all-important “say-do gap” between their 2030 emission reduction pledges and the climate action they’re actually taking, and Canada shows up dead last among the 10 wealthiest nations in the group, according to the first annual Earth Index released this week by Corporate Knights.

The analysis [pdf] points to some signs of progress, particularly in electricity generation in high-income countries. But it shows slower action in other sectors and warns that middle-income G20 countries are producing three times the emissions of the wealthiest—a trend that will continue without much wider, faster efforts to transfer proven technologies and techniques to the parts of the world that need them.

Corporate Knights CEO Toby Heaps said G20 countries’ climate commitments to date would hold average global warming to 1.8°C, citing an assessment released by the International Energy Agency during last year’s COP 26 climate summit. That outcome would “still be destructive, but it’s a scenario where we can still thrive, species can thrive, and our civilization can thrive,” Heaps told a webinar audience Wednesday.

The problem is the gap, he added, with the latest working group report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change showing warming on a trajectory for 3.2°C.
» Read article   
» Read the Earth Index

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

Zion solar
Biden Admin Wants to Nearly Double Renewable Energy Capacity on Public Lands by 2023

By Olivia Rosane, EcoWatch
April 21, 2022

The Biden administration on Wednesday announced the steps it was taking to increase the amount of renewable energy projects on public lands.

The plans include increasing renewable energy capacity by almost 10,000 megawatts by 2023, which would nearly double existing capacity, The Hill reported.

“The Department of the Interior continues to make significant progress in our efforts to spur a clean energy revolution, strengthen and decarbonize the nation’s economy, and help communities transition to a clean energy future,” Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said in a press release. “The demand for renewable energy has never been greater. The technological advances, increased interest, cost effectiveness, and tremendous economic potential make these projects a promising path for diversifying our national energy portfolio, while at the same time combating climate change and investing in communities.”

The new steps announced by Biden’s Department of the Interior (DOI) Wednesday all advance towards the goal of permitting 25 gigawatts of renewable energy on public lands by 2025 and creating a carbon-free power grid by 2035.
» Read article    

CT green H2 path
CT plans a green hydrogen path, but it has potholes

By Jan Ellen Spiegel, CT Mirror
April 13, 2022

“Green hydrogen” seems to be the climate change solution of the moment — a not-widely-understood substance now talked up by the Biden administration, northeastern governors and Connecticut lawmakers, as well as the few people here who actually know what green hydrogen is.

Among other initiatives, the Biden administration has launched a competition for four hydrogen “hubs” that will share $8 billion in federal funds to develop, well, something. Connecticut is partnering with New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts to come up with a proposal for what one such something might be. Separately, the Connecticut legislature is considering a bill to establish a task force to study green hydrogen’s potential in the state and the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) is planning for a hydrogen component in its new Comprehensive Energy Strategy. The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) includes hydrogen among the mitigation strategies in its final and alarming 6th assessment report released last week.

But the environmental community is, at best, wary of green hydrogen. Some are downright opposed to aspects of making and using it and even more worried about non-green hydrogen. Even green hydrogen’s biggest supporters admit it has limitations and is not a silver bullet for addressing climate change.

“A lot of really important questions come with this policy area,” said Katie Dykes, DEEP’s commissioner. “What is the hydrogen being produced with? What are the emissions associated with the production of the hydrogen? How is it being transported and stored? What are you using it for?

“Those are more questions than answers.”

So what is green hydrogen exactly and is its potential in mitigating climate change worth getting excited about? The answer is complicated.
» Read article    

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

heat pump rebates
Unlikely gatekeepers in the fight against climate change: HVAC contractors
Rebates encourage homeowners to embrace climate-friendly heating systems. Will contractors block or bolster the switch to heat pumps?
By Eve Zuckoff, CAI Public Radio
February 23, 2022

Homeowners looking to replace their heating systems can now receive up to $10,000 to switch from boilers and furnaces to air source heat pumps. The rebates are part of the state’s ambitious plan to lower carbon emissions and address climate change.

But for the state’s plan to work, it needs more than the support of homeowners and environmental activists. It needs your local heating and cooling contractor.

[…] Today, 27 percent of Massachusetts’ total carbon emissions come from heating and water heating in homes and other buildings, according to data from the state. To drastically cut those emissions, state officials want 1 million homes to rely on electric heat pumps, rather than boilers and furnaces, by 2030.

While powerful financial incentives from Mass Save, the state’s energy-efficiency program, are expected to attract homeowners, it’s up to contractors to heed the call. Some say they’re ready.

“I would say nine out of 10 – if not more– of our jobs are heat pump jobs and we’re doing several hundred jobs a year,” said Jared Grier, owner of an HVAC company in Marstons Mills that’s betting hard on the future. It’s called Cape Cod Heat Pumps.

Home heating systems are expensive for most homeowners, but rebates can create a competitive advantage for heat pumps.

Like many contractors, Grier said it’s nearly impossible to estimate the average cost of installing a heat pump system because it involves so many variables, including the size of the home, how insulated it is, and how many units are needed. But the overall cost to install – and operate – a heat pump can be a selling point when compared to other heating systems.

[…] Beyond cost comparisons, some installers say they are pivoting to heat pumps because they’re afraid of what could happen if they don’t.

“You have to embrace it or you get left behind. We can’t afford as a business to be left behind,” said Gary Thompson, sales and installation manager at Murphy’s Services of Yarmouth, which does air conditioning, heating and plumbing. “The boilers and the furnaces – the fossil fuel heating systems – are the dinosaurs. They’re going away.”

Advancing heat pump technology has transformed his sales over the last five years, he said, but many veteran installers remain resistant.

“The contractors – be it time, economics, training – they haven’t embraced it,” he said. “You know, kind of the old adage in this industry: ‘I’ll try anything new as long as my father and grandfather used it first.’”
» Read article    
» See Mass Save heat pump rebates

» More about energy efficiency

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

V2X MOU
Department of Energy looks to integrate Vehicle-to-Everything bi-directional charging into US infrastructure
The US DOE released a Memorandum of Understanding that aims to bring together parties to advance bi-directional charging with cybersecurity as a core component.
By Anne Fischer, PV Magazine
April 21, 2022

The US Department of Energy (DOE) and partners announced the Vehicle-to-Everything (V2X) Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that aims to bring together resources from the DOE, national labs, state and local governments, utilities, and private entities to evaluate the technical and economic aspects of integrating bidirectional charging into the nation’s energy infrastructure.

As the number of electric vehicles (EVs) grows (including larger trucks and buses), their batteries can be used to add support [to] the grid.

A bidirectional EV fleet could serve as both a clean transportation as well as an energy storage asset that sends power back to everything from critical loads and homes to the grid. A bidirectional fleet could also create new revenue opportunities for EV owners or fleets.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) conservatively estimates that 130 million electric vehicles (EVs) will be on the road globally by 2030.  Bidirectional plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) offer an opportunity to support the grid, enhancing security, resilience, and economic vitality.

“The MOU signed today represents a collaborative approach to researching and developing novel technologies that will help unify the clean energy and transportation sectors while getting more American consumers into electric vehicles,” said Deputy Secretary of Energy Dave Turk. “Integrating charging technology that powers vehicles and simultaneously pushes energy back into the electrical grid is a win-win for the future of clean transportation and our energy resilience overall.”
» Read article    

» More about clean transportation

GAS UTILITIES

interchangeable
As N.H. lawmakers and utilities embrace renewable natural gas, environmental groups raise concerns

Environmentalists say renewable natural gas is costly and limited, and that it can be used to justify building and maintaining fossil fuel infrastructure.
By Amanda Gokee, New Hampshire Bulletin, in Energy News Network
April 20, 2022

Buried under a pile of trash in a landfill in northern New Hampshire, apple cores, eggshells, and other bits of discarded food are decomposing. That process generates a greenhouse gas many times more potent than carbon dioxide — a gas the state’s utilities want to capture and use as fuel.

This so-called renewable natural gas comes from other sources, too: livestock operations generating agricultural waste and wastewater treatment plants that handle human waste. Once purified, the gas is “fully interchangeable with conventional natural gas,” according to the U.S. Department of Energy. As of last September, that had resulted in 548 landfill gas projects across the country, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Gas utilities in New Hampshire are looking to use renewable natural gas as a fuel of the future. Lawmakers have broadly supported the efforts, in spite of environmental and cost concerns. Renewable natural gas could cost three times as much as conventional natural gas.

Senate Bill 424 was voted out of two Senate committees with unanimous support and passed the Senate floor on a voice vote in March. The bill left the House Science, Technology, and Energy Committee with five House lawmakers voting against it and 15 in its favor, and it is now up for a vote before the full House with the committee’s recommendation that it pass into law.

[…] Nick Krakoff, a staff attorney for the Conservation Law Foundation, said the guardrails in the bill are too weak to guarantee the promised environmental benefits.

“It gives utilities an opportunity to claim they’re doing something green and environmentally beneficial. But when you pull back the layer, it’s not going to be environmentally beneficial,” Krakoff said.

One specific problem, Krakoff said, is a lack of accounting when it comes to methane leakages, which can occur during processing or transportation and can quickly cancel out the climate benefits associated with renewable natural gas. And the greenhouse gas emissions from transporting the gas must be calculated as well, he said. The bill is currently silent on both. “When you weigh the greenhouse gas impacts, you need to look at the whole picture,” he said.

Krakoff’s larger critique of renewable natural gas is that it’s diverting attention and money from cleaner alternatives, like heat pumps.

The Conservation Law Foundation has written that the gas is both costly and limited; the organization argues that, for those reasons, it will do little to lower emissions but could be used to justify building and maintaining fossil fuel infrastructure.

“It’s just a way of avoiding what really needs to be done to transition to clean energy,” Krakoff said.
» Read article   
» Read CLF’s position on renewable natural gas

first rule of holes
A fossil-free National Grid? Critics call it a pipe dream.
By Bruce Gellerman, WBUR
April 19, 2022


National Grid today released a plan to go fossil-free in order to meet Massachusetts’ 2050 net-zero climate emission targets.

The company’s “clean energy vision” is designed to transform the way the gas utility provides heat throughout its New England territory, while continuing to rely on its vast gas infrastructure.

Currently, most homes and businesses in the region burn natural gas for heat, which National Grid distributes to customers through a network of pipelines. By mid-century, if the company fails to change its business model, the net-zero requirements of the state climate law will essentially put it out of business.

Methane, the main component of natural gas, has a shorter lifespan than carbon dioxide, but is far more effective at trapping heat. Thousands of miles of pipes in Massachusetts leak methane, and are being repaired and replaced at an estimated cost of $20 billion.

The key to National Grid’s plan is using their same pipeline distribution system, but providing a different mix of gas, said Stephen Woerner, regional president of the utility: “We eliminate fossil fuels and we replace them with renewable natural gas and green hydrogen.”

Renewable natural gas — or RNG — is methane produced by decomposing organic matter. The utility plans to capture methane produced on farms, landfills and waste treatment plants and pipe it through its network.  “Green” hydrogen would be produced by offshore wind farms that split water into oxygen and hydrogen, with no carbon emissions. The company envisions a new gas mix including 30% RNG and 20% green hydrogen by 2040, and 80% RNG and 20% green hydrogen by 2050.

One of the environmental groups calling for electrification of the region’s heating system is the Massachusetts-based Conservation Law Foundation. The group also advocates for the use of electric heat pumps and neighborhood geothermal heating, which uses the Earth as a battery to provide heat in winter and cooling in summer.

Caitlin Peale Sloan, vice president of CLF for Massachusetts, called National Grid’s plan “a false solution, just a way for the company to stay in business using their existing network of pipelines to distribute climate-disrupting gas.”

“Any plan that still counts on burning methane is not a decarbonization plan,” Sloan said. She notes that methane, regardless of the source, is still a climate threat.
» Read article    

» More about gas utilities

GAS LEAKS

big cowboy line break
Unregulated gas pipeline causes a huge methane leak in Texas
By Aaron Clark and Naureen Malik, Bloomberg, in The Boston Globe
April 18, 2022

A natural gas pipeline in Texas leaked so much of the super-potent greenhouse gas methane in little more than an hour that by one estimate its climate impact was equivalent to the annual emissions from about 16,000 US cars.

The leak came from a 16-inch (41-centimeter) pipe that’s a tiny part of a vast web of unregulated lines across the US, linking production fields and other sites to bigger transmission lines. Although new federal reporting requirements start next month for so-called gathering lines, the incident highlights the massive climate damage even minor parts of the network can inflict.

Energy Transfer, which operates the line where the leak occurred through its ETC Texas Pipeline unit, said an investigation into the cause of the event last month is ongoing and all appropriate regulatory notifications were made. It called the pipe an “unregulated gathering line.”

The timing of the release and its location appeared to match a plume of methane observed by a European Space Agency satellite that geoanalytics firm Kayrros called the most severe in the US in a year. Bloomberg investigations into methane observed by satellite near energy facilities show the invisible plumes often coincide with routine work and deliberate releases.

Methane is the primary component of natural gas and traps 84 times more heat than carbon dioxide during its first 20 years in the atmosphere. Severely curbing or eliminating releases of the gas from fossil fuel operations is crucial to avoiding the worst of climate change. The International Energy Agency has said oil and gas operators should move beyond emissions intensity goals and adopt a zero-tolerance approach to methane releases.
» Read article    

» More about gas leaks

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Frontline series
‘Frontline’ Review: Why the Climate Changed but We Didn’t
“The Power of Big Oil” examines a dispiriting, well-financed history of denialism and inaction.
By Mike Hale, New York Times
April 18, 2022

PBS’s investigative public-affairs program “Frontline” specializes in reminding us of things we would rather forget. On Tuesday, it begins a three-part dive into climate change, that potential species-killer that has taken a back seat recently to more traditional scourges like disease and war.

Titled “The Power of Big Oil,” the weekly mini-series is focused on climate change denialism as it was practiced and paid for by the fossil fuel industry — particularly Exxon Mobil and Koch Industries — along with its allies in business and, increasingly, politics. By extension, it’s a history, more depressing than revelatory, of why nothing much has been done about an existential crisis we’ve been aware of for at least four decades.

The signposts of our dawning comprehension and alarm are well known, among them the climatologist James Hansen’s 1988 testimony to Congress, the Kyoto and Paris agreements, the documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” and increasingly dire United Nations reports. The response that “Frontline” meticulously charts — a disciplined, coordinated campaign of disinformation and obfuscation that began in industry and was embraced by conservative political groups — is less familiar but was always in plain sight.

Part of the campaign is public, a barrage of talking heads on television and op-eds and advertorials in prominent publications (including The New York Times) that do not absolutely deny global warming but portray it as the night terrors of attention-mongering eggheads. Behind the scenes, the thinly disguised lobbying groups paid for by Big Oil apply pressure on key politicians at key moments — whenever it looks as if the United States might pass legislation affecting their profits.

One lesson the show offers, almost in passing, is the way in which the refusal to accept the reality of climate change prefigured the wider attacks on science — and on knowledge in general — that were to characterize the Trump years and the response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The successful but lonely battle fought by the oil and gas industries is joined wholeheartedly by Republican politicians when they see how climate denialism, and the specter of unemployed miners and drillers, dovetails with their efforts to demonize President Barack Obama and radicalize conservative voters. At that point, the fig leaf of scientific debate is dropped and pure emotion takes over.
» Read article    

KY mountain top
The Decline of Kentucky’s Coal Industry Has Produced Hundreds of Safety and Environmental Violations at Strip Mines
Internal records and emails show that state regulators struggle to keep up with the violations as coal bankruptcies and “zombie” mines proliferate.
By James Bruggers, Inside Climate News
April 18, 2022

As the coal industry has collapsed in Kentucky, companies have racked up a rising number of violations at surface mines, and state regulators have failed to bring a record number of them into compliance, internal documents show.

Enforcement data from 2013 through February, along with recent internal emails, both provided to Inside Climate News by the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet in response to a state open records law request, paint a picture of an industry and its regulators in a state of crisis.

The documents reveal an agency struggling to enforce regulations designed to protect the public and the environment from some of the industry’s most destructive practices amid mining company bankruptcies and an overall industry decline that has also seen the shedding of thousands of coal mining jobs in the state.

Environmental advocates fear lax enforcement could also be happening in other coal mining states, such as West Virginia, Virginia and Pennsylvania, due to similar pressures on the industry and regulators, despite a recent uptick in coal mining. And they are calling on federal regulators to make sure slowed, idled or bankrupt mines are not left to deteriorate.

“This data shows there are a lot of zombie mines out there,” said Mary Varson Cromer, an attorney and deputy director of the Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center Inc., in Whitesburg, Kentucky, using a term that refers to mines that have been idled, sometimes for years, without the required reclamation work on their sites.

[…] “This is completely out of control,” warned Courtney Skaggs, a senior environmental scientist in the Kentucky Department for Natural Resources, in a separate Dec. 15 email to the department’s commissioner, Gordon Slone. “This is going to blow up in someone’s face,” wrote Skaggs, a former acting director of the agency’s Division of Mine Reclamation and Enforcement.
» Read article    

» More about fossil fuel

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

Cheniere
Should EPA Back-Off Pollution Controls to Help LNG Exports Replace Russian Gas in Germany?
Cheniere Energy says the agency’s decision to start enforcing pollution controls on gas turbines is “counterproductive” in light of Russia’s war in Ukraine. Environmentalists strongly disagree.
By James Bruggers, Inside Climate News
April 20, 2022

The nation’s top exporter of liquified natural gas, Cheniere Energy, is using Russia’s war on Ukraine to pressure the Biden administration for a break on regulations aimed at reducing toxic air emissions at its LNG export terminals in Louisiana and Texas.

Environmental advocates are hoping the Biden administration stands firm on its March decision to finally, after nearly two decades, enforce limits on toxic air emissions from certain kinds of gas-powered turbines used in a variety of industrial operations, including the chilling and liquefaction of natural gas at Cheniere’s export terminals on the Gulf Coast for shipment overseas in large tanker vessels.

But Russia’s war in Ukraine has placed enormous counterpressure on the president from the oil and gas industry and its supporters in Congress, Republicans and Democrats alike, who want U.S. LNG exports to replace Russian gas.Before the war, Russia was supplying about 40 percent of the EU’s gas.

Jane Williams, executive director of California Communities Against Toxics, said now is precisely the moment in which Biden should show resolve in the face of Cheniere’s request to relax pollution controls.

“If EPA says, ‘No, you don’t have to comply now, we will give you a waiver for two more years,’ then as soon as they do, every other operator of a stationary turbine will ask for the same thing,” said Williams, who is closely following the issue. In addition to the chillers making LNG, gas powered turbines are commonly used in electricity generation. “We have been trying to get (EPA) to reduce emissions from turbines for 30 years.”

Attorneys at Bracewell, the Houston-based law firm that asked EPA in March for the break on Cheniere’s behalf, say the federal agency has not responded. An EPA spokeswoman said the agency was considering Cheniere’s request.

The next move is Biden’s, and It’s not at all clear how the administration is going to react with the war in Ukraine raging, natural gas prices soaring, gasoline prices at the pump near record highs and the 2022 midterm elections approaching.
» Read article    

» More about LNG

BIOMASS

Drax lobby
Biomass Industry Pushes Back Against Europe’s Plans To Protect Woodlands
Leaked documents show UK power plant Drax is at the heart of lobbying efforts to dilute EU biodiversity rules that could limit its supply of wood.
By Phoebe Cooke, DeSmog Blog
April 12, 2022

A powerful US biomass lobby group is pushing for a raft of changes that would weaken European renewable energy rules geared to better protect biodiversity and tackle climate change, DeSmog can reveal.

Leaked documents shared with DeSmog show that Yorkshire wood-burning power plant Drax is at the heart of the effort to water down EU sustainability criteria.

Campaigners say that the proposed amendments pose an “existential threat” to the company, which in 2021 produced nearly 13 percent of the UK’s renewable electricity through burning wood pellets.

The lobbying by US Industrial Pellet Association (USIPA) comes at a time of intense debate over the future of energy. The European Commission pledged to cut its reliance on Russian gas by two-thirds after President Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. The International Energy Agency has also recommended “maximising” bioenergy – which derives from burning organic material for fuel.

USIPA, whose members include Drax and top pellet producers Granuul and Enviva, sent the document to select MEPs in early March.

In it, the industry group appears to push back strongly against rules that might limit its supply of wood – including opposing the European Commission’s proposal for a no-go area for sourcing biomass from virgin and highly biodiverse  forests.

USIPA also attempts to establish in law that old, or misshapen trees should be used to make pellets, and suggests that companies should still be allowed to harvest wood from countries with national plans for timber and forest management deemed inadequate by the EU.
» 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 3/11/22

banner 14

Welcome back.

In Peabody, just north of Boston, ground is being prepared for a new fossil fuel powered peaking power plant with no defensible economic or technical reason to exist given today’s climate imperatives and renewable energy and storage alternatives. Two respected consulting firms have produced deeply-researched reports illuminating greener alternatives that in all cases cost less and reduce financial, health, and environmental risks. Now, a group of dedicated activists are prepared to begin a hunger strike, seeking to focus public and Baker administration attention on what has become a high stakes effort to stop an outdated and dangerous project from moving forward.

At the same time, the window is closing on any chance for national legislation that salvages the important climate components of President Biden’s stalled Build Back Better bill. Pressure is coming from a radically conservative Supreme Court that seems intent on preventing the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gas emissions, along with the real possibility that Democrats could lose control of one or both houses of Congress in upcoming midterm elections.

Both of those topics are loaded with the green economic transition’s promise to address climate change by cutting fossil fuel use, while simultaneously (finally) righting historic environmental injustices. The horrifying urgency of Russia’s war in Ukraine is driving energy-related decisions today that could push future emissions either up or down.

Some of those decisions involve physical and policy changes to modernize the electric grid. Here in New England, that starts with convincing our grid operator, ISO-NE, to embrace the coming changes and stop protecting the fuel-based status quo of the last century. Meanwhile, we have a story from Virginia about some of the creative ways renewable energy is being deployed.

The Biden administration recently restored California’s special status as a clean transportation leader, overturning the prior administration’s attempt to remove the state’s longstanding ability to set and enforce stringent tailpipe emissions requirements. Looking at aviation, efforts are underway to eventually eliminate emissions altogether in aircraft powered by green hydrogen fuel cells.

We have carried a number of stories about Massachusetts gas utility pilot projects to provide district heating and cooling using heat pumps connected to a network of underground pipes. We have an update, including a useful graphic showing what these ​“geo-grids” or ​“micro geo-districts” might look like.

Wrapping up with a local report, we’re looking at the possible sale and decommissioning of Pittsfield’s waste incinerator, which will benefit the area’s air quality and public health while also posing challenges. We’ll be advocating for policies that reduce packaging materials and divert organic waste to composting facilities.

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

PEAKING POWER PLANTS

fast company
Protestors plan hunger strike over Peabody power plant
By Paul Leighton, Salem News
March 11, 2022

Environmental activists say they plan to go on a hunger strike next week to protest the building of a new oil-and-gas powered plant in Peabody.

In a posting on the Breathe Clean North Shore website, six members of Climate Courage say they will begin the hunger strike on Tuesday and visit the 14 communities that are involved in the planned peaker plant in Peabody.

“We’ve tried everything,” said Joy Gurrie, of Ipswich, one of the planned hunger-strikers. “We’ve marched, protested to officials. This is like a last-ditch effort.”

The $85 million peaker plant — so called because it will run only during peak demand times for electricity — is scheduled to be built on Pulaski Street in Peabody. Fourteen municipal light plants, including those in Peabody and Marblehead, are partnering on the project through the Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company.

The project has been approved by the state and site work has begun on its construction next to the Peabody Municipal Light Plant’s existing Waters River Substation. But residents and environmental advocates continue to fight it.

On Thursday, the Massachusetts Climate Action Network released two reports saying the plant is risky both financially and environmentally. One of the reports said the municipal light plants could provide more power at a lower cost by “buying capacity” from the market, rather than spending $85 million to build a plant. The report estimated that would save $29 million over the first 15 years.

Another report said the plant could end up being “stranded,” or abandoned, before the end of its projected 30-year lifespan due to new laws intended to protect environmental justice communities, which are defined based on income and minority populations. The report also cited the volatility of gas prices as a threat to the plant’s financial future.

Sarah Dooling, executive director of the Massachusetts Climate Action Network, said the project was approved by the state before new rules protecting environmental justice communities were adopted. The plant would be located in an environmental justice neighborhood in Peabody and less than a mile from eight others, according to her organization.

Dooling said the organization has asked the state’s environmental secretary, Kathleen Theoharides, to conduct an environmental review of the project.

“If the Baker administration does not want this plant to be built, it would not be built,” Dooling said.
» Read article 
» Read the Clean Power Coalition’s post on the hunger strike – see how you can support the strikers!
» Read the Strategen Consulting report on market capacity purchases    

» Read the Applied Economics Clinic risk assessment report      

time is short
Peabody Generator Opponents Make Late Plea To Halt Project
Climate advocacy groups released data Thursday they hope will prompt the state to reopen the proposed generator’s approval process.
By Scott Souza, Patch
March 10, 2022

Climate advocacy groups made a late — and perhaps ultimately final — push for the state to reopen the approval process for the proposed 60-megawatt fossil fuel-powered peak capacity generator at Peabody’s Waters River substation on Thursday.

The Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company Project 2015A — which the state Department of Public Utilities approved for $85 million in funding last July after months of appeals and fierce objections from opposition groups and some elected officials — is designed to provide residents in 14 MMWEC communities, including Marblehead and Peabody, with peak-capacity energy at below-market prices in the case of extreme weather conditions.

The MMWEC last spring hit a 30-day “pause” on the project, which moved through the state approval process in relative obscurity for years. The MMWEC and Peabody Municipal Light Plant made some alterations aimed at lowering the emissions impact on the surrounding communities but ultimately got the go-ahead for much of the framework for the original plan the utility said will operate approximately 239 hours per year and be 94 percent more efficient than generators across the state.

But both state and local climate and environmental justice advocates groups have kept up the fight — on Thursday citing more data that the generator threatens to be more expensive for consumers and risks become a “stranded asset” based on recent price trends in the energy industry and improvements in battery storage capacity.

“Gas peakers right now are not the only capacity resource,” said Maria Roumpani, Senior Manager of Strategen, an impact-driven firm whose mission is to decarbonize energy systems. “Resource economics and climate change have progressed significantly over the past five or six years (since the outset of Project 2015A). Today, we’re more aware of environmental impacts and at the same time renewable and storage energy costs have fallen dramatically, which changes a lot of the economics of the peaker.”
» Read article  

» More about peaker plants

LEGISLATION

closing window
The political window is closing on climate change
If Democrats can’t compromise now, they may come away with nothing.
By The Editorial Board, Boston Globe
March 3, 2022

The long-predicted effects of climate change are now hard upon us, and they will only get worse unless we take sweeping action. But it’s not just the atmospheric window that’s closing. The political portal is as well — and not just for this year but for the next several. That means Democrats must move with dispatch to pass the climate provisions of the Build Back Better legislation.

Several coalescing probabilities make congressional action in the next few months the best, and perhaps last, chance for timely action. On Feb. 28, the US Supreme Court heard arguments in a lawsuit intended to block the federal government’s ability to take strong regulatory action to curb greenhouse gas emissions. That was the approach President Obama settled on in the face of Congress’s disinclination to act in a meaningful way on global warming. But Obama’s Clean Power Plan soon ran into legal problems, with the Supreme Court freezing it while a challenge to its legal grounding played out in court. Donald Trump then gutted Obama’s regulatory effort, only to see his own do-little-or-nothing rule thrown out by the US Appeals Court for the District of Columbia Circuit.

The Biden administration has signaled it intends to return to an Obama-like approach by using the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulatory power to crack down on energy-sector emissions, but has yet to detail its plan. Despite the lack of a currently relevant justiciable policy, however, the Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal of the D.C. Appeals Court’s ruling. The fact that the high court opted to hear this case before President Biden has a set of rules in the game suggests that its conservative majority is intent on preemptively closing that regulatory avenue. That would be in keeping with those justices’ clear skepticism about administrative authority based on a broad interpretation of statute. If so, the EPA would see its power to require sector-wide greenhouse-gas reductions severely curtailed.

On the electoral front, meanwhile, the prognosis does not look good for the Democrats in the mid-term elections. Republicans could well end up in control of the House and perhaps the Senate as well. Shortsighted though it is, congressional Republicans, who are both deeply beholden to the fossil-fuel industry and deep into climate denial, feel little compunction to address the climate issue. Should they win control of either branch of Congress in November, it becomes highly unlikely that any meaningful climate measure will pass.
» Read article

» More about legislation

GREENING THE ECONOMY

Raimondi Park
How Air Pollution Across America Reflects Racist Policy From the 1930s
A new study shows how redlining, a Depression-era housing policy, contributed to inequalities that persist decades later in U.S. cities.
By Raymond Zhong and Nadja Popovich, New York Times
March 9, 2022

Urban neighborhoods that were redlined by federal officials in the 1930s tended to have higher levels of harmful air pollution eight decades later, a new study has found, adding to a body of evidence that reveals how racist policies in the past have contributed to inequalities across the United States today.

In the wake of the Great Depression, when the federal government graded neighborhoods in hundreds of cities for real estate investment, Black and immigrant areas were typically outlined in red on maps to denote risky places to lend. Racial discrimination in housing was outlawed in 1968. But the redlining maps entrenched discriminatory practices whose effects reverberate nearly a century later.

To this day, historically redlined neighborhoods are more likely to have high populations of Black, Latino and Asian residents than areas that were favorably assessed at the time.

California’s East Bay is a clear example.

[…]Margaret Gordon has had decades of experience with these inequalities in West Oakland, a historically redlined neighborhood. Many children there suffer from asthma related to traffic and industrial pollution. Residents have long struggled to fend off development projects that make the air even worse.

“Those people don’t have the voting capacity, or the elected officials, or the money to hire the lawyers, to fight this,” said Ms. Gordon, co-director of the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project, an advocacy group.
» Read article  
» Read the study

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

Omsk refinery
As War Rages, A Struggle to Balance Energy Crunch and Climate Crisis
Rising oil prices and increased demand for expanded production come at a time when scientists say nations must sharply cut the use of fossil fuels.
By Brad Plumer, Lisa Friedman and David Gelles, New York Times
March 10, 2022

As the world reels from spikes in oil and gas prices, the fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has laid bare a dilemma: Nations remain extraordinarily dependent on fossil fuels and are struggling to shore up supplies precisely at a moment when scientists say the world must slash its use of oil, gas and coal to avert irrevocable damage to the planet.

While countries could greatly reduce their vulnerability to wild swings in the oil and gas markets by shifting to cleaner sources of energy such as wind or solar power and electric vehicles — which is also the playbook for fighting climate change — that transition will take years.

So, for now, many governments are more urgently focused on alleviating near-term energy shocks, aiming to boost global oil production to replace the millions of barrels per day that Russia has historically exported but which is now being shunned by Western nations.

The two goals aren’t necessarily at odds, officials in the United States and Europe say.

Yet some fear that countries could become so consumed by the immediate energy crisis that they neglect longer-term policies to cut reliance on fossil fuels — a shortsightedness that could set the world up for more oil and gas shocks in the future as well as a dangerously overheated planet.

“In the short term we have to try to prevent this crisis from creating an economic catastrophe,” said Sarah Ladislaw, a managing director at RMI, a nonprofit that works on clean energy issues. “But there are also longer-term steps we need to take to reduce our underlying energy vulnerabilities.” Otherwise, she said, “we’ll end up right back in this situation several years down the road.”
» Read article  

Amazon fire
Amazon is less able to recover from droughts and logging, study finds
By Henry Fountain, New York Times, in Boston Globe
March 7, 2022

The Amazon is losing its ability to recover from disturbances like droughts and land-use changes, scientists reported Monday, adding to concern that the rainforest is approaching a critical threshold beyond which much of it will be replaced by grassland, with vast consequences for biodiversity and climate change.

The scientists said their research did not pinpoint when this threshold, which they described as a tipping point, might be reached.

“But it’s worth reminding ourselves that if it gets to that tipping point, that we commit to losing the Amazon rainforest, then we get a significant feedback to global climate change,” said one of the scientists, Tim Lenton, director of the Global Systems Institute at the University of Exeter in England.

Losing the rainforest could result in up to 90 billion tons of heat-trapping carbon dioxide being put back into the atmosphere, he said, equivalent to several years of global emissions. That would make limiting global warming more difficult.

Among previous studies there has been a large degree of uncertainty as to when such a threshold might be reached. But some research has concluded that deforestation, drying, and other factors could lead to substantial forest destruction in the Amazon by the end of this century.

Carlos Nobre, a senior scientist at the National Institute of Amazonian Research in Brazil and one of the first to sound alarm over the potential loss of the Amazon more than three decades ago, described the new study as “very compelling.”

“It raised my level of anxiety,” said Nobre, who was not involved in the research.

Covering more than 2 million square miles in Brazil and neighboring countries, the Amazon is the world’s largest rainforest, and serves a crucial role in mitigating climate change in most years by taking in more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than it releases. In its diversity of plant and animal species, it is as rich as or richer than anywhere else on the planet. And it pumps so much moisture into the atmosphere that it can affect weather beyond South America.
» Read article  

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

Mr Popular
Analysis: From Gas to Renewables to Efficiency, Putin’s War Has EU Scrambling for Energy Independence
By Mitchell Beer, The Energy Mix
March 7, 2022

With Vladimir Putin’s devastating war in Ukraine now well into its second week, news coverage and commentary are turning to the steps other European countries can take to break their dependence on Russian oil and gas, once and for all.

While the fossil industry tries to spin the war as justification for a new round of exploration and development, and Europe looks to alternate sources of gas for short-term relief, renewable energy and energy efficiency are dominating much of the conversation as a more practical, affordable solution.

Two intertwined issues brought into focus by the invasion of Ukraine are the 40% of European Union gas supply that comes from Russia, and the corresponding US$720 million in daily gas revenue that Russian President Vladimir Putin is using to finance his war. While sanctions and divestment are hitting broad swaths of the Russian economy, “in gas the flow continues unabated and, with European customers now paying even more exorbitant prices, Russia is benefiting from a staggering surge in revenue,” writes British historian and European Institute Director Adam Tooze, citing Bloomberg columnist Javier Blas.

“At the start of the year, Russia was earning $350 million per day from oil and $200 million per day from gas,” Tooze says. “On March 3, 2022, Europe paid $720 million to Russia for gas alone.”

[…]That dependence “has proved the Achilles’ heel of security for Europe and, by extension, the United States,” writes the Washington Post editorial board. “Quite simply, Russia has fossil fuels in abundance and has used this as a geopolitical tool to influence consuming countries such as Germany and Italy, blunting their willingness to take a stand against Mr. Putin’s aggressive policies until it is too late.”
» Read article  

800 MW offshore
House pushes for Massachusetts to become the center of U.S. wind production
By Mike Deehan, WGBH
March 3, 2022

House Speaker Ron Mariano and the Massachusetts House want to supercharge the wind energy industry in the Commonwealth by levying new fees on fossil fuels to invest in cleaner power produced off our shores.

“What oil did for Texas, wind can do for Massachusetts. We have enough wind energy out there that can power every home and every business in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts,” said Franklin Rep. Jeffrey Roy, the House chairman of the Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy Committee and key author of the bill.

Mariano and Roy’s wind bill is seen by Democrats as a key piece of the state’s strategy to meet it’s long-term emissions goals.

Under state law, Massachusetts must by 2030 reduce carbon emissions by 50% from 1990 levels. That target moves to a 75% reduction in emissions by 2040 and 85% of 1990 levels by 2050.

To get there, the state’s electricity supply must shift from being generated by polluting fossil fuels to clean energy sources like wind, solar and hydro energy. After Maine voters rejected a plan by Massachusetts and other northeast states to buy and transport hydropower from Canada, the Bay state was left looking for new ways to increase green power production.

“We happen to be located in the perfect space because the most robust waters in the contiguous United States are 14 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard.,” Roy said.
» Read article  

» More about clean energy    

MODERNIZING THE GRID

future now
The future is now: Doubling down on fossil fuels is not the solution to New England’s energy needs
By Joe Curtatone, Utility Dive | Opinion
March 1, 2022
Joe Curtatone is president of the Northeast Clean Energy Council

Across New England, the second half of January ushered in freezing temperatures and along with it, a reinvigorated debate about the region’s overreliance on fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas. New England has made significant strides in recent decades, retiring most of its coal fleet and moving to a — comparatively — cleaner generating fleet that is now largely dominated by natural gas.

That is why it may surprise you to learn that in late January, the grid mix was, in fact, very dirty with over 25% coming from oil and coal at times, and with the monthly contribution of those dirty sources totaling a staggering 13%. Over the course of an entire year, coal and oil generation is quite small, typically below 1%, as it was in 2021. But in this cold, and with gas prices far higher than in recent years, it was coal and oil to the rescue on the vast majority of days. To be clear, the system was not in an emergency condition. It was just cold.

As we move on from a year that was the hottest in Boston’s history, with New England facing the impacts of climate change at an even more accelerated pace, this is simply untenable. New England states have enacted some of the most aggressive climate laws in the country, and we have made bold and smart bets on making clean energy resources like offshore wind and solar the new backbone of our grid in the future. But as this past January demonstrates, our work to meet those ambitions has only begun.

ISO New England’s CEO was recently quoted as saying, “[t]he clean energy transition is a long journey and we cannot escape the reality that the region will be reliant on much of the existing fleet, and the fuels they utilize, for many years to come”. We fear that framing the problem that way risks becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. By continuing to look to fossil fuel peaking resources as a first resort rather than last, we are ignoring significant opportunities that exist today to bring all available clean resources to solve this problem. Here are some ideas to start.
» Read article  

SEAM study
Grid operators’ ‘seam’ study paves way for renewable expansion

A new study shows how strategically sited transmission projects can unleash a wave of new clean energy generation.
By Jeffrey Tomich, E&E News, in Energy News Network
March 5, 2022

A joint study by two regional grid operators with territories that span a wide swath of the central U.S. reveals how strategically sited transmission projects along their boundaries could enable a wave of new renewable energy generation that may not otherwise get built.

The final study, published yesterday, is a first-of-its-kind collaboration between the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) and Southwest Power Pool (SPP) to help enable more wind and solar development across an area that’s become increasingly challenging for renewable developers because of grid constraints.

The study identified seven transmission projects along the MISO-SPP boundary that would cost $1.65 billion and enable 28 gigawatts of new generation capacity — and perhaps as much as 53 GW — across MISO and SPP combined. The latter estimate, based on modeling by SPP, would roughly double the combined wind and solar capacity that currently exists in the two regions.

“Identifying those projects that can meet the needs of interconnecting generators in both regions for a period of time is huge, it’s very important,” said Natalie McIntire, a technical and policy consultant for the Clean Grid Alliance, a St. Paul, Minn.-based group whose members include renewable developers.

The projects to help unlock the region’s renewable energy potential could accelerate the pace of the transition from fossil fuels in regions of the country long tied to coal.
» Read article  

» More about modernizing the grid

SITING IMPACTS OF RENEWABLES

PV on abandoned coal mines
In Virginia, abandoned coal mines are transformed into solar farms
Six old mining sites owned by the Nature Conservancy will be some of the first utility-scale solar farms in the region — and the nonprofit group hopes the model can be replicated nationwide
By Zoeann Murphy, Washington Post
March 3, 2022

Empty freight cars line the railroad tracks as far as the eye can see from Tim Jennings’s backyard in Dante — a town of less than 600 residents.

“They should open up some more new mines around here,” the 61-year-old former coal miner says, pointing up at the mountains surrounding the valley. “Solar panels — that might work too.”

In southwest Virginia, abandoned coal mines are being transformed into solar installations that will be large enough to contribute renewable energy to the electric grid. Six old mining sites owned by the Nature Conservancy will be some of the first utility-scale solar farms in the region — and the nonprofit group hopes it’s creating a model that can be replicated nationwide.

In 2019, the Nature Conservancy acquired 253,000 acres of forest in the central Appalachian Mountains that it calls the Cumberland Forest Project. It’s one small part of the group’s efforts in the mountain range, which reaches from Alabama to Canada.

“We’ve identified the Appalachians as one of the most important places on Earth for us to do conservation,” says Brad Kreps, the Nature Conservancy’s Clinch Valley program director, who is leading the solar projects. “We put the Appalachians in a very rare company along with the Amazon, the wild lands of Kenya and the forests of Borneo.”

The Cumberland Forest includes several abandoned mine sites scattered around Virginia’s coal fields region. Solar developers partnering with the Nature Conservancy, such as Dominion Energy and Sun Tribe, say the mine sites have vast flat areas exposed to sunlight that are a rarity in the mountains, and the sites offer advantages like being close to transmission lines.
» Read article  

» More about siting impacts of renewables

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

Bay Bridge traffic
Biden Restores California’s Power to Set Stringent Tailpipe Rules
The state is expected to write strict auto pollution standards designed to significantly speed the transition to electric vehicles and influence new federal rules.
By Coral Davenport, New York Times
March 9, 2022

The Biden administration on Wednesday restored California’s legal authority to set auto pollution and mileage rules that are tighter than federal standards, a potent climate policy that had been stripped away by former President Donald J. Trump.

The return of one of California’s most powerful environmental prerogatives could have a significant impact on the type of cars Americans will drive in the coming decade, the amount of gasoline the nation consumes and its ability to reduce the tailpipe emissions that contribute heavily to climate change.

As the most populous state, and with the world’s fifth-largest economy, California has been able to influence automobile makers and set the pace for the rest of the country. Seventeen other states and the District of Columbia have adopted the California rules, turning them into de facto national standards. Twelve other states are following California’s mandate to sell only zero-emissions vehicles after 2035.

With that leverage, California’s actions become pivotal to Mr. Biden’s broader push to accelerate the transition away from gasoline-powered vehicles toward electric vehicles, which require no oil and produce no emissions.
» Read article  

Zero E concept
Fortescue teams up with aero giant Airbus to accelerate green hydrogen planes
By Michael Mazengarb, Renew Economy
March 8, 2022

Fortescue Future Industries says it wants to speed up the development of aircraft fuelled by green hydrogen, as part of a push to decarbonise the aviation industry, forming a new partnership with European aircraft giant Airbus.

The clean energy unit of resources giant Fortescue Metals Group signed the MoU with Airbus on Tuesday to cooperate on the development of zero emissions aircraft, fuelled by hydrogen.

The partnership will see the two companies identify the needs and potential boundaries to the use of green hydrogen as an aircraft fuel, covering government regulation, necessary infrastructure and how to best establish global supply chains.

According to a joint statement, FFI will provide technical expertise on the development of the necessary hydrogen supply chains, and Airbus will focus on assessing the energy needs and fuelling requirements of the aviation industry, as well as the aviation regulatory environment.

Fortescue founder Dr Andrew Forrest said the aviation industry was responsible for a significant proportion of global greenhouse gas emissions, and had so far proven elusive in decarbonisation efforts.

“The time is now for a green revolution in the aviation industry. This exciting collaboration brings together leaders in the aviation industry with leaders in green energy for a pollution-free future,” Forrest said.

Airbus has unveiled a number of zero emissions aircraft concepts and is hoping to launch its first hydrogen-fuelled commercial aircraft by 2035.

The company says that green hydrogen could be used through two key methods for reducing aviation emissions, including as an input in the production of synthetic fuels for use in current aircraft, as well as for direct use in next-generation aircraft using modified turbines and fuel cells.
» Read article  

» More about green transportation

GAS UTILITIES

vertical ground loops
A net-zero future for gas utilities? Switching to underground thermal networks
Three pilot projects in Massachusetts will connect ground-source heat pumps to heat and cool entire neighborhoods.
By Jeff St. John, Canary Media
March 1, 2022

Massachusetts’ major gas utilities, facing the eventual demise of fossil fuels under the state’s decarbonization mandate, are contemplating a new business model: replacing neighborhood gas pipeline networks with pipes that capture and share thermal energy underground.

Over the next year, utilities Eversource, National Grid and Columbia Gas plan to break ground on separate pilot projects testing the viability of making such ​“geo-grids” or ​“micro geo-districts” into in-the-ground realities. If they succeed, the model could be extended to a much broader set of the utilities’ customers — and potentially offer gas utilities in other regions a path toward a carbon-free future.

Nikki Bruno, Eversource’s director of clean technologies, said the utility has hopes to expand well beyond its $10.2 million, three-year pilot project in a lower-income neighborhood in the city of Framingham, Massachusetts.

For that to happen, however, ​“we would have to show an environmental benefit, customer affordability, and technology performance,” she said.

Right now Eversource is busy signing up a mix of residential and commercial customers willing to install heat pumps that can tap into the pipes it will be laying alongside its fossil gas pipelines, Bruno said. Those pipes will carry a water-and-antifreeze mix that circulates through loops in boreholes sunk hundreds of feet into the earth, absorbing underground temperatures that linger at a stable range around 55 degrees Fahrenheit.

As that temperate fluid is brought back to the surface, it can be used by electric-powered heat pumps to generate heat when it’s cold outside or cold when it’s hot outside, whichever is needed, as this Eversource graphic indicates.
» Read article  

» More about gas utilities

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

spinning it
Canada’s ‘petro-provinces’ see opportunity in Russia-Ukraine war
Amid calls to ban Russian oil and gas, environmentalists slam pro-oil ‘opportunism’ in Canada and call for energy transition.
By Jillian Kestler-D’Amours, Al Jazeera
March 8, 2022

As efforts ramp up to broker a ceasefire and bring an end to nearly two weeks of Russian attacks on Ukraine, calls have been growing internationally to ban oil imports from Russia as a way to exert pressure on President Vladimir Putin to end the war.

United States President Joe Biden on Tuesday announced a ban on US imports of Russian oil and gas. It was unclear whether Europe, more energy-dependent on Russia than the US, would follow suit.

That is where Canada’s oil industry lobby groups and pro-oil politicians are now hoping to step in, urging countries to choose what they describe as Canadian “ethical oil” over Russian “conflict oil” reserves.

But environmentalists, rights advocates and other experts have denounced attempts to expand fossil fuel projects in light of the war in Ukraine, saying the conflict should instead hasten a global energy transition to respond to the climate crisis.

“We’re seeing once again the fossil [fuel] lobby seizing upon a crisis with horrific human consequences to promote its destructive agenda and double down on fossil production expansion,” Caroline Brouillette, national policy manager at Climate Action Network Canada, told Al Jazeera. “It’s been absolutely distressing to see some politicians echo this grotesque spin.”
» Read article  

» More about fossil fuels

WASTE INCINERATION

CEP plume
If Pittsfield trash incinerator plant sale goes through it will close, which could mean you’ll pay more for trash disposal
By Larry Parnass, The Berkshire Eagle
March 11, 2022

If approved by a bankruptcy judge, a national company that boasts of capturing “value from waste” will take over and decommission a Pittsfield incinerator that has been a city landmark for two generations.

Filings in U.S. Bankruptcy Court identify Casella Waste Management of Massachusetts as the company poised to pay $1 million to buy the Hubbard Avenue plant, whose smokestacks, visible across the city’s east side, long have concerned environmentalists.

In February, a letter to employees from Richard Fish, Community Eco Power’s president and CEO, confirmed that a prospective new owner intended to dismantle the incinerator, which, in 2021, burned 80,000 tons of trash from Pittsfield and Berkshire County.

In a letter of intent included in a recent bankruptcy court filing, a Casella executive says that if the sale is allowed, it would halt trash incineration in Pittsfield and transform the site into a transfer station. From there, the executive said, trash would be trucked to landfills, possibly including four owned by Casella in New York state.

Closing the incinerator would force Pittsfield and other customers to renegotiate how to dispose of trash, having lost the option to have those costs tempered by the use of waste to generate energy. Casella already holds a contract to collect trash in Pittsfield.
» Read article   

» More about waste incineration

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 2/4/22

banner 07

Welcome back.

We’re opening this week with a story on retiring Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, focusing on his decision in Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. Watt forty years ago when he was a U.S. District Court judge. In that decision, then-judge Breyer “emphasized the importance of fully analyzing the potential risks of projects before “bureaucratic commitment” prevents federal agencies from pumping the brakes on development.” This is widely understood to require robust environmental impact analysis during the approval stage of fossil fuel infrastructure projects, and prior to construction. Think pipelines, compressor stations, power plants, refineries, etc.

Watt has been on the books for four decades and is widely and routinely cited by environmental advocates. It is the law. How then, do we find ourselves with a Federal regulator admitting that the Weymouth compressor station’s environmental permits were based on flawed and shoddy analysis and should never have been granted… but refusing to shut it down? Why are we still seeing peaking power plants permitted for construction at all, but especially in environmental justice neighborhoods? It’s clear that much of the effort, sound and fury of protests and actions boils down to a demand by ordinary people that powerful interests simply comply with the law.

Better late than never, climate considerations are showing up in court rulings much more frequently. With Congress bogged down in partisan trench warfare, numerous states have taken the lead and passed ambitious legislation requiring rapid emissions reduction. California is even phasing out its huge oil and gas extraction sector, and moving toward economic protections for displaced workers.

Justice Breyer can look back with pride on his environmental law legacy, but he might also wonder what would be different today had his Watt ruling been followed enthusiastically in the U.S. – and globally through the example of U.S. leadership. Would we even be discussing a giant carbon capture & storage scheme in the Gulf of Mexico predicated on pumping even more oil? Would Europe have allowed itself to become so dependent on Russian gas pipelines that huge shipments of liquefied natural gas are hailed as a lifeline? Would the U.S., Canada, and Norway still be massively increasing fossil fuel extraction even as they make flimsy promises for emissions reductions and the U.N. declares “code red for humanity”? Would our fossil-dependent grid be in such a creaky state that it can’t accommodate new sources of renewable power?

Looking at clean energy, offshore wind is going gangbusters but turbine size is growing so rapidly that the sector is facing a critical shortage of ships capable of handling the huge towers and blades. Another area seeing rapid advancement in technology is long-duration energy storage, and we’re highlighting Zink8’s zinc-air flow battery in Queens, NY. Closer to home, Massachusetts has updated its energy efficiency program Mass Save, in an attempt to prioritize heat pumps over gas furnaces – but advocates feel much more needs to be done to meet the state’s emissions requirements.

U.S. Postal Service runs a huge fleet of delivery trucks, and it’s in the process of ordering billions of dollars worth of new, gasoline-powered models. Wait, what?! The Biden administration is intervening to make sure these new vehicles are electric.

Meanwhile, our watchdog Senator Elizabeth Warren is leading a group of Democratic lawmakers taking a look at the high energy consumption of cryptocurrency mining. The goal is to understand crypto’s impact on the environment and whether the energy-intensive activities may be impacting utility bills for U.S. customers.

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

JUSTICE STEPHEN BREYER’S ENVIRONMENTAL LAW LEGACY

bureaucratic commitment
Breyer ruling set stage for NEPA climate fights
By Niina H. Farah, E&E News
February 2, 2022

A 40-year-old ruling penned by Stephen Breyer on the timing of environmental reviews has laid the groundwork for a new wave of litigation over the quality of climate analyses for energy projects and oil and gas development.

The decision, which Breyer wrote while he was a judge of the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, is among the Supreme Court justice’s lasting contributions to environmental law. Breyer, 83, announced last week that he plans to retire this summer.

In his 1983 opinion in Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. Watt, Breyer emphasized the importance of fully analyzing the potential risks of projects before “bureaucratic commitment” prevents federal agencies from pumping the brakes on development.

Watt is widely cited by organizations pushing for more thorough National Environmental Policy Act analyses in cases related to coal mining and oil and gas drilling on public lands and waters. The bedrock environmental statute requires federal agencies to take a hard look at the impacts of major actions, such as pipeline permitting and fossil fuel leasing.

“The concept [of bureaucratic commitment] is widely known and widely cited as a reason why comprehensive NEPA evaluation at the earliest stage possible is important,” said Kristen Monsell, oceans programs litigation director at the Center for Biological Diversity.

In Watt, then-1st Circuit Judge Breyer […] emphasized the importance of halting development while the government prepared an environmental impact statement.

“Once large bureaucracies are committed to a course of action, it is difficult to change that course — even if new, or more thorough, NEPA statements are prepared and the agency is told to ‘redecide.’”

The takeaway from Breyer’s opinion is that unless comprehensive analysis occurs at the start of a project, the government tends to favor allowing development to continue, Monsell said.

Setting aside an agency’s action at a later date won’t undo harm that’s already occurred, she said.

“While a new [environmental impact statement] might bring about a new decision, it’s much less likely,” Monsell said of Breyer’s reasoning.

She added: “It’s far easier to influence an initial choice than to change a mind that is already made up.”
» Read article         

PEAKING POWER PLANTS

Mystic Generating Station
Activists urge Massachusetts to take another look at need for peaking plants
Campaigns in Boston and western Massachusetts are taking aim at existing and proposed peakers. Critics say the facilities are bad for the climate and public health, and that cleaner and more economical alternatives now exist.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
February 1, 2022

Activists across Massachusetts are pressuring utilities and regulators to reconsider the need for some of the state’s most rarely used and least efficient fossil fuel power plants.

Campaigns in the Boston suburbs and western Massachusetts are taking aim at existing and proposed peaking power plants. The facilities — often simply called “peakers” — are intended to run only at times when demand for electricity is at its highest.

Utilities and grid managers say peakers are necessary to ensure reliability, especially as more intermittent wind and solar generation is added to the system. Critics, though, say they’re bad for the climate and public health, and that cleaner and more economical alternatives now exist.

“They are low-hanging fruit,” said Logan Malik, clean energy director for the Massachusetts Climate Action Network. “They aren’t in use a whole lot of time, and at the same time, technology is available as we speak, today, to replace these dirty plants with clean, renewable alternatives.”

Massachusetts is home to 23 such plants, according to nonprofit research institute Physicians, Scientists, and Engineers for Healthy Energy. Roughly two-thirds of them burn oil; the remaining plants run on natural gas. More than 90% of the plants are more than 30 years old, and thus more likely to run inefficiently and have higher greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to climate change. Some are so old they are not required to comply with the standards of the 1970 federal Clean Air Act.

Furthermore, they are often located in areas with concentrations of low-income households and residents of color, likely posing additional health risks to populations that are already more vulnerable. When peakers run, it can also raise costs for consumers, as they are generally the most expensive plants to operate.

“There’s just really almost no need for these plants,” said Jane Winn, executive director of the Berkshire Environmental Action Team. “Right now, the ratepayers are paying a hell of a lot of money to keep these plants on standby.”

Environmental advocates also argue that allowing new peaker plants to move forward and renewing permits for existing ones runs counter to the spirit of the state’s new environmental justice laws. The law, adopted last March, makes environmental justice a central principle of the state’s climate action. Among the provisions is a requirement for new projects that might cause air pollution to undergo an assessment of their cumulative environmental impact if they are located near environmental justice communities.

Though the law covers new projects, advocates would like to see the state use its discretion to apply the same standards to plants already built or approved before the new measures were passed.

“We are arguing that, given the new environmental justice parameters in Massachusetts law, it requires an additional further look,” said Mireille Bejjani, energy justice director with Community Action Works, a group fighting a proposed plant in the Boston suburb of Peabody. “We need to understand what this is going to do to the environment and the community.”
» Read article         

South Hadley ELD
Advocacy group brings Peabody gas plant issue to South Hadley health board
By DUSTY CHRISTENSEN, Daily Hampshire Gazette
January 29, 2022

SOUTH HADLEY — A physician-led organization fighting climate change has urged the South Hadley Board of Health to consider asking the state to further scrutinize the construction of a fossil fuel plant north of Boston — a project the town’s electric company has signed a 30-year contract to draw energy from.

On Tuesday, South Hadley’s Board of Health weighed a request from the organization Greater Boston Physicians for Social Responsibility, which called on the board to join health boards in Peabody and Holden in writing to Gov. Charlie Baker to ask for an environmental impact report and health impact assessment of the gas-burning plant that is set to be built in Peabody.

The construction of the “peaker” plant, which is designed to run during times of peak demand during the year, drew protests last month in front of Peabody District Court, where demonstrators held signs calling the investment in non-renewable energy “peak stupidity.” In November, protesters in Holyoke, whose electric company is also invested in the project, held a rally in front of the region’s wholesale power operator, ISO New England, joining organizers in Peabody in calling the operator to move the electrical grid away from fossil fuels.

The matter was an issue of intense debate last year between one elected member of the South Hadley Electric Light Department board, Peter McAvoy, and his fellow commissioners. McAvoy frequently raised his voice during meetings in opposition to SHELD’s use of energy from two nuclear reactors and its participation in the Peabody project, harshly rebuking the rest of the board.
» Read article

» More about peaker plants

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

Rep Stephen LynchLynch urges feds to close Weymouth compressor station
By Chris Lisinski and Michael P. Norton, State House News Service, in The Patriot Ledger
February 3, 2022

Citing emergency shutdowns and recent admissions from federal regulators, U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch is trying to revive efforts to close a natural gas compressor  station in Weymouth.

Lynch on Wednesday called on the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to “immediately terminate operation” of the station, citing environmental and public health concerns that opponents of the project have expressed for years and  pointing to recent shutdowns of the station and new acknowledgements from federal energy infrastructure officials.

“Regrettably, recent emergency events at the Weymouth Compressor Station have more than validated the health and safety concerns that South Shore residents, community safety groups, nonprofit organizations, and local, state and federal officials have expressed for nearly seven years,” Lynch wrote in a letter to Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration Deputy Administrator Tristan Brown. “Between 2020 and 2021, the Weymouth Compressor Station experienced four unplanned emergency shutdowns and multiple blowdown events necessitating the release of natural gas into the atmosphere – all amid the global COVID-19 pandemic.”

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission last month declined to revoke the certificate it issued to energy giant Enbridge, although Chairman Richard Glick said the office previously “erred” in siting the facility near environmental justice communities and “inadequately assessed” its likely impacts on the densely populated area.
» Read article         

» More about the Weymouth compressor

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

offshore rig fireBiden Urged Not to Fight Court Ruling Against Massive Oil and Gas Lease Sale
The administration “should not continue to defend unlawful drilling for oil and gas in public waters,” more than 70 climate groups write in a new letter.
By Jake Johnson, Common Dreams
February 1, 2022

As the fossil fuel industry clamors for an appeal, the Biden administration on Tuesday faced pressure from environmentalists to adhere to a judge’s decision blocking a massive oil and gas lease sale in the Gulf of Mexico, the site of the catastrophic Deepwater Horizon spill.

“We urge you to comply with the court’s ruling and not appeal the court’s decision,” more than 70 climate groups wrote in a letter to President Joe Biden and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland. “The [Department of the Interior] should not continue to defend unlawful drilling for oil and gas in public waters in appellate court given the impacts on our climate, clear violations of federal environmental standards, and public commitments made by President Biden to end the practice.”

“We also strongly urge the Department of the Interior to create a new five-year offshore lease program with no proposed offshore lease sales when the current program expires in June 2022,” the groups added.

Last week, as Common Dreams reported, a federal judge ruled that the Biden administration failed to sufficiently account for the emissions impact of the proposed oil and gas lease sale in the Gulf of Mexico, the largest such sell-off in the nation’s history. The judge blocked the sale and instructed the Biden administration to conduct a fresh environmental review.

John Beard, CEO of the Port Arthur Community Action Network and member of the Build Back Fossil Free Coalition, said in a statement Tuesday that the judge got it “exactly right: every politician, judge, and decisionmaker in the country must consider the devastating damage that fossil fuel pollution does to our communities, our health, and our climate before they rubber-stamp a new pipeline, oil and gas lease, refinery, or chemical facility.”
» Read article         
» Read the letter

Mar del Plata
Protests Erupt in Argentina Over Plan for Offshore Oil Drilling
The Argentine government has subsidized oil and gas drilling for years, and is now shifting its sights offshore. But opposition is growing.
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
February 1, 2022

On January 4, thousands of people took to the streets of Mar del Plata, a coastal city roughly 250 miles south of Buenos Aires, Argentina. They were there to protest the plans by Norwegian oil company Equinor to begin offshore oil exploration later this year.

They held signs that read “the sea is ours!” and “an ocean free of oil,” and they chanted, shouted, and sang. The protests were focused in Mar del Plata, a beach town closest to the offshore blocks, but spread to other cities in the province and around the country.

The protesters oppose offshore drilling because of the risks of an oil spill, which could wreck tourism and interfere with fishing, two important parts of the coastal economy. They also fear that the seismic tests that accompany oil exploration would pose a mortal threat to southern right whales and could harm abundant marine life.

More broadly, protesters are frustrated that Argentine officials continuously promote oil, gas, and mining projects as economic godsends, while ignoring the impacts to communities where they are located.
» Read article         

» More about protests and actions

PIPELINES

Nord Stream 2 politics
How Climate and the Nord Stream 2 Pipeline Undergirds the Ukraine-Russia Standoff
Russia’s $11 billion natural gas conduit to Germany is a by-product of Donald Trump’s pro-Putin foreign policy—and a real headache for President Biden.
By Marianne Lavelle, Inside Climate News
January 30, 2022

As tensions simmer on the Ukraine-Russia border, the Nord Stream 2 pipeline has become an emblem of the energy and climate issues underlying the conflict—even though it has yet to deliver a molecule of natural gas.

Last week, the U.S. State Department vowed that Gazprom’s $11 billion conduit beneath the Baltic Sea to Germany would never open if Russia invades Ukraine. Much of eastern Europe, the environmental movement and even the U.S. oil industry opposed Nord Stream 2 as a tie designed to solidify Russia’s energy hold on Europe, but Russian President Vladimir Putin took advantage of leeway offered by President Donald Trump to push construction through.

Trump’s tacit acquiescence on Nord Stream 2 (often while voicing protest) was one of his only moves counter to the interests of Texas oil and gas producers, who coveted the Europe gas market themselves. But it was right in line with two other Trump impulses: to reject climate policy and to yield to Putin.

Now, the Biden administration is left with the consequences. And although it is attempting to use Nord Stream 2 as a threat, the pipeline also has served as a weapon for Putin—a wedge to divide Germany, and separate Europe’s largest economy from other members of the NATO coalition while he threatens Ukraine.

[In] the short term, at least, Europe remains dependent on natural gas. And Biden’s team  has been scrambling to secure gas and crude oil supplies from the Middle East, North Africa and Asia, so European allies will be less vulnerable to threats from Russia. It’s not the Biden administration’s first effort at diplomacy to ramp up fossil fuel production short-term, despite criticism from progressives that it is counter to his vision for a net-zero carbon future. Others argue that there’s no conflict between Biden’s immediate geopolitical goals and his long-term climate agenda.

“Gas, the green transition and energy security are not either-or issues,” said Richard Morningstar, who served as U.S. ambassador to Azerbaijan under President Barack Obama, and also was a special U.S. envoy on Eurasian energy. “Gas can continue to be important in a responsible way, in the short- to mid-term, but it’s important to double down as quickly as possible on the green transition,” said Morningstar, who is founding chairman of the Atlantic Council’s Global Energy Center. “The quicker the green transition, the less dependence on fossil fuels. And by definition, the less dependence on Russian gas.”
» Read article         

Lake Albert
New Fossil Fuel Project Would Turn Uganda Into Oil-Producing Country
By Olivia Rosane, EcoWatch
February 2, 2022

A new project from French fossil fuel company TotalEnergies and China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) would turn Uganda into an oil-producing country for the first time.

Total announced Tuesday that the companies would spend more than $10 billion to develop oil fields in Uganda and build a pipeline network both within the landlocked country and through Tanzania, which has a coastline.

Accessing the oil would mean building a 1,443-kilometer (approximately 897 mile) heated pipeline from Hoima, Uganda to the Tanzanian port of Tanga on the Indian Ocean, according to 350.org. The so-called East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) would be the largest heated crude-oil pipeline in the world and is vehemently opposed by climate activists.

“The future of East Africa relies on building sustainable, diversified and inclusive economies – not by letting huge multinational corporations like Total extract resources and keep the profit,” 350Africa.org regional director Landry Ninteretse said in a statement reported by 350.org. “The impacts of building the East Africa Oil Pipeline will be devastating for our communities, for wildlife and for the planet.”

In particular, activists are concerned about the pipeline’s potential impact on water resources for millions of people in Tanzania and Uganda, vulnerable ecosystems and the climate crisis. Uganda’s oil reserves amount to 6.5 billion barrels, 1.4 billion of which are actually recoverable, government scientists estimate, according to AllAfrica.

However, despite Tuesday’s announcement, activists argue that the funding for the pipeline is not secure, according to 350.org. Activists are putting pressure on banks not to finance the project, and several major players have agreed. Campaigners say the project is at least $2.5 billion short on necessary funds.

“The people benefitting from this aren’t local communities, they are rich European banks and oil companies like Total,” 350.org France campaigner Isabelle l’Héritier said in a statement reported by 350.org. “Over 260 organisations are urgently trying to convince banks around the world to rule out supporting this disastrous project. Eleven banks, including three French banks, have already pulled out.”

While Total has committed to achieving net zero emissions by 2050, according to its website, the new project shows it is still investing in new fossil fuel extraction.
» Read article         

» More about pipelines

LEGISLATION

fully electric
2021 was a landmark year for energy efficiency legislation in US states
Now comes the hard part.
By Adam Mahoney, Grist
February 3, 2022

Last year was rocky – to say the least. But as the coronavirus pandemic maintained its grasp on American society, the U.S. managed to continue charging on its path of energy efficiency, according to a new report by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, or ACEEE.

The nonprofit research organization’s annual Energy Efficiency Scorecard Progress Report found that in 2021 at least a dozen states passed new clean energy legislation or adopted new energy-saving standards. Notably, the new legislation included incentives for everything from fuel switching and electrification to, encouraging clean heating systems and even strengthening building codes.

Seven states – Massachusetts, Illinois, Colorado, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oregon, and Washington – passed new energy laws that named electrification as a “growing priority.” At least five states, including the District of Columbia, passed laws requiring energy and water use reductions for appliances. California and New York set goals for all new passenger cars and light-duty trucks to be zero-emission by 2035.

Many states have also put laws on the books to ensure “equitable benefits” from their electrification push, the ACEEE found. These measures, primarily focused on transit, include the creation of transit-oriented affordable housing projects and the electrification of public transit fleets. In New York, the state’s ramped up efficiency and building electrification programs have a goal of 40 percent of the benefits reaching “disadvantaged communities.”

While putting these codes and laws on paper are wins, the report argues, implementation is still a huge mountain to climb. States are “adopting promising new laws that can reduce harmful pollution and create thousands of clean energy jobs, but they need to vigilantly implement them,” Berg said. Fighting for electrification, the ACEEE asserts, will help reverse the country’s racial and economic inequalities exacerbated by the pandemic.
» Read article         
» Read the ACEEE report

» More about legislation      

GREENING THE ECONOMY

Signal Hill
Calif. weighs help for oil workers in green future
By Anne C. Mulkern, E&E News
January 31, 2022

California officials are brainstorming how to help oil industry workers as the state moves to phase out fossil fuels and replace gasoline-powered vehicles with electric cars.

Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office and legislators are talking to unions representing industry workers, and a new state Assembly document outlines potential solutions. But it’s a complex quandary, raising questions about whether to guarantee workers their current salaries and benefits as their jobs disappear.

“One of the major hurdles in transitioning existing fossil fuels activities to clean energy ones has been the potentially negative economic consequences to workers and communities,” according to a document from the Assembly Office of Policy and Research obtained by E&E News. “As the state implements its ambitious climate goals, there is an opportunity to assist workers impacted by the transition to a green economy.”

Nearly 112,000 people work in 14 fossil fuel and ancillary industries in California as of 2018, according to a report last year from the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) at University of Massachusetts, Amherst. The total includes oil and gas extraction operations, and support activities, and sectors such as fossil-fuel-based power generation.

What California decides to do about oil industry workers has the potential to ripple beyond the nation’s most populous state, said Catherine Houston, legislative, political and rapid response coordinator with United Steelworkers District 12.That union represents many oil industry workers.

“California typically takes the lead in a lot of these types of things, and we become an example for other states across the nation,” Houston said. “So whatever we do can potentially serve as a federal model.”
» Read article         

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

climate review
Judges Increasingly Demand Climate Analysis in Drilling Decisions
A federal judge this week required the government take climate change into account before approving offshore oil drilling leases. That’s becoming more common.
By Lisa Friedman, New York Times
January 28, 2022

WASHINGTON — A judge’s decision this week to invalidate the largest offshore oil and gas lease sale in the nation’s history, on grounds that the government had failed to take climate change into consideration, shows that regulatory decisions that disregard global warming are increasingly vulnerable to legal challenges, analysts said Friday.

Judge Rudolph Contreras of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia ruled on Thursday that the Biden administration had acted “arbitrarily and capriciously” when it conducted an auction of more than 80 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico. The Interior Department failed to fully analyze the climate effects of the burning of the oil and gas that would be developed from the leases, the judge said.

The ruling is one of a handful over the past year in which a court has required the government to conduct a more robust study of climate change effects before approving fossil fuel development. Analysts said that, cumulatively, the decisions would ensure that future administrations are no longer able to disregard or downplay global warming.

“This would not have been true 10 years ago for climate analysis,” said Richard Lazarus, a professor of environmental law at Harvard University. He said it is “a big win” that courts are forcing government agencies to include “a very robust and holistic analysis of climate” as part of the decision-making when it comes to whether or not to drill on public lands and waters.

Emissions from fossil fuel extraction on public lands and in federal waters account for about 25 percent of the country’s greenhouse gases.
» Read article         

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

ship shortage
Offshore wind’s ship problem is growing
The US is in even deeper water
By Justine Calma, The Verge
February 3, 2022

The short supply of ships capable of deploying giant wind turbines at sea is becoming an even bigger problem as offshore wind ambitions grow. By 2024, demand for wind turbine installation vessels will likely outpace supply, according to a recent analysis by Norwegian firm Rystad Energy. That’s even sooner than a prediction the firm made back in 2020 when it said that the global fleet wouldn’t be enough to meet demand after 2025.

Massive, specialized vessels are required to carry wind turbine components out to sea and install them. With just over 30 of these vessels navigating the world’s seas in 2020, according to Rystad, offshore wind projects already have to vie for time with a limited number of ships. A growth spurt in turbine technology will exacerbate the problem even further.

Taller turbines can reach stronger winds, while longer blades can harness more power. New turbines are the size of skyscrapers, dwarfing previous designs. Between 2010 and today, the amount of wind power turbine can harness, on average, has more than doubled from 3 MW to 6.5 MW. By the end of the decade, more than half of turbines installed globally are projected to be even larger than 8 MW.

That’s quickly making more ships — even those just built this decade — obsolete. Only four of the turbine installation ships in operation are capable of carrying behemoth next-generation turbines, according to Rystad’s 2020 analysis.
» Read article         
» Read Rystad’s 2020 analysis

Gordon van Welie
Grid operator should stop crying wolf

It’s time to step up on climate or get out of the way
By Bradley M. Campbell, CommonWealth Magazine | Opinion
February 3, 2022
Bradley Campbell is president of Conservation Law Foundation.

NEW ENGLAND’S fossil fuel interests and electric grid operator are at it again. Every winter, they issue dire warnings that our region’s power grid won’t be able to handle the stress of another season of extreme weather.

As this week’s CommonWealth story highlights, 2022 is no different. It’s time to call out ISO-New England (our electric grid operator) and fossil fuel companies for this naked attempt to prop up oil and gas at the expense of renewables and state climate policy.

Last week it was the owners of fossil power plants predicting doom. Back in December, it was a coalition of oil and gas dealers who sent a letter to governors of every New England state with their own SOS. Both use the same false narrative predicting the kind of extreme weather that shut down Texas’ electricity and gas systems last February could hit our region this year. The oil dealers took aim at state programs to promote electric heat pumps for home and business heating, demanding they must be “ceased immediately.”

Their solution? Firing up more climate-polluting heating oil and gas of course.

The oil dealers aimed their ire at heat pump programs because transitioning to electric heat is at the center of state strategies to cut climate-damaging emissions. Heating our homes and buildings with electric heat pumps poses a threat, as it means moving away from gas and oil in favor of clean energy sources. The owners of dirty power want to limit clean energy and extend the life of their power plants.

Both pleas have the circularity of a Texas two-step: to avoid risks posed by severe weather, we must burn more fossil fuels. But that severe weather is driven in large part by climate change – which is caused by burning those very fossil fuels.

The misleading messages of fear peddled by oil and gas companies would not be newsworthy or catch the attention of our politicians if not for one critical factor. They echo the anti-clean energy rhetoric of a supposedly credible source: ISO-New England.
» Read article         

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

DPU falls short
With new Mass Save three-year plan, Massachusetts sharpens its best climate-fighting tool
The new 343-page order dramatically expands incentives to decarbonize homes. Yet some fear its fine print could undermine its broad strokes.
By Sabrina Shankman, Boston Globe
February 1, 2022

In a move hailed as a sea change in the state’s climate fight, Massachusetts regulators approved a plan that would dramatically expand incentives for homeowners to invest in electric heat pumps as the state races to shift people off fossil fuels.

On Monday, the Department of Public Utilities approved a major rewriting of the state plan that provides energy efficiency incentives to consumers. Unlike previous versions of the Mass Save plan, the new one centers on curbing global warming by encouraging people to switch from oil or gas to electric heat or renewable sources, and also includes provisions to help make the transition more affordable to people in disadvantaged communities.

Among the $4 billion in new incentives is hundreds of millions of dollars for electric heat pumps, which, for the first time, will be available to gas customers looking to move off of fossil fuels.

The incentives are seen as critical to building momentum for the state’s quest to wean 1 million homes from fossil fuels by 2030, a massive undertaking that had languished because of high costs, anemic incentives, and, in some cases, active discouragement of homeowners looking to electrify their homes. In 2020, the state had converted just 461 homes.

Along with praise for the advances made in the plan came some harsh criticism. A number of climate advocates said it did not go far enough, especially with so little time to meet 2030 goals. Some blamed the DPU for walking back green energy measures, including restoring fossil fuel incentives that even the utilities that run Mass Save had recommended be ended.

“It seems like the DPU has minimized what could have been a transformative plan,” said Cameron Peterson, director of clean energy for the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, and a member of the Massachusetts Energy Efficiency Advisory Council, which oversees the Mass Save program.
» Read article         
» Related: What the new Mass Save rewrite means for you    

Syrian coffee
Making gas unnatural
By Yvonne Abraham, Boston Globe | Opinion
January 29, 2022

Don’t let that slippery word “natural” fool you.

Natural gas is very bad news. It’s lousy for human health, disastrous for the environment, and a massive money pit, sucking away billions we could be spending on trying to head off the worst impacts of climate change.

A study out of Stanford University last week found that gas cooking stoves leak methane not only when they’re in use, but even when they’re turned off: The projected emissions each year from the nation’s 40 million gas cooktops are as harmful to the environment as emissions from 500,000 gasoline-powered cars. Numerous studies have shown that kids living in homes with gas stoves — which emit dangerous gases, including nitrogen oxides — are much more likely to develop asthma.

Gas does damage not just in the homes where it’s used for cooking and heating, but all the way along the supply chain. It is polluting to harvest, associated with respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and poor birth outcomes. It is risky to store and transport, as we saw with the disastrous Merrimack Valley explosions of three years ago. Methane, of which it is largely comprised, is far more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. After transportation emissions, gas is this state’s second-biggest polluter.

We have to kick our habit on this stuff if we’re ever going to attain the ambitious, and absolutely vital, climate goals we’ve set for ourselves in Massachusetts. But so far, despite plenty of good intentions, we’re doing an abysmal job of it.

Instead of transitioning away from gas, utilities are spending billions to rebuild leaking pipelines across the Commonwealth. Obviously, leaks that send tons of methane into the air are dangerous, and we need to plug them, but the state has made it more lucrative for gas companies to replace those lines, greatly extending their life and the life of this damaging energy option, rather than repair them. A report last fall by the advocacy group Gas Leaks Allies found that the cost of replacing those pipelines is headed into Big Dig territory, at $20 billion, and that ratepayers will be on the hook for it. Worse, the system is springing new leaks as quickly as gas companies are plugging the old ones, so they’re essentially treading water says Dorie Seavey, who authored the study.

Meanwhile, legislation mandates that the state be at net zero emissions — that we be essentially done with fossil fuels — by 2050. That means switching to heat pumps, geothermal systems, and electric heat that relies on renewable energy sources. We’ve gotten a slow start so far: An analysis by my colleague Sabrina Shankman found that, though the state has set a target of converting 100,000 households each year from fossil fuels to electricity for heating and cooling, a measly 461 homes converted to heat pumps in 2020. That’s partly because the gas companies, for whom this whole movement away from fossil fuels is a monumental threat, have been discouraging these changeovers.
» Read article         

» More about energy efficiency

LONG-DURATION ENERGY STORAGE

Zinc8 in Queens
New York demonstration project to showcase potential of Zinc8’s long-duration zinc-air battery
By Jason Plautz, Utility Dive
January 26, 2022

Canadian energy storage company Zinc8 Energy Solutions last week announced plans to deploy a 100kW/1.5MWh battery storage system at an apartment building in Queens, New York, to demonstrate the potential of its long-duration zinc-air storage technology.

Zinc8 specializes in a flow battery technology that relies on regenerating zinc particles to store and dispatch energy. The technology has fewer supply chain concerns than lithium-ion batteries, the company said, and is also scalable at a lower cost than other long-duration technologies.

The Queens project — developed in partnership with New York-based combined heat and power developer Digital Energy Corp and real estate company Fresh Meadows Community Apartments — will see Zinc8 deploy a battery capable of at least eight hours of storage at the 32-building housing development. The battery will draw power from on-site solar and the combined heat and power system and deploy it in order to minimize drawing power from the grid at peak times during the day.

Zinc8 President and CEO Ron MacDonald said the Queens project, backed by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), is more “validation” of the value of long-duration storage. Zinc8 has several other demonstration projects in New York, but this behind-the-meter project, MacDonald said, will show that the zinc-air system can work for buildings without the safety concerns that accompany lithium-ion batteries.

“You could safely deploy us in the basement of a downtown high rise or a school or a library,” Macdonald said.

The proprietary flow battery technology uses power from the grid or a renewable source to generate zinc particles, releasing oxygen as a byproduct. Those flow to an electrolyte for storage and are then returned and recombined with oxygen to deliver power. The company says it can deploy at about $250/kWh for eight hours of storage, which drops to about $100/kWh for 30 hours. The system is also scalable without sacrificing power, unlike some other long-duration batteries, MacDonald said.
» Read article         

» More about long-duration energy storage

MODERNIZING THE GRID

West Reading tangle
Overwhelmed by Solar Projects, the Nation’s Largest Grid Operator Seeks a Two-Year Pause on Approvals
“It’s a kink in the system,” says one developer trying to bring solar jobs to coal country. “The planet does not have time for a delay.”
By James Bruggers, Inside Climate News
February 2, 2022

The nation’s largest electric grid operator, PJM Interconnection, is so clogged with requests from energy developers seeking connections to its  regional transmission network in the eastern United States that it is proposing a two-year pause on reviewing more than 1,200 energy projects, most of them solar power.

New projects may have to wait even longer.

The situation can be explained in part by the rapid increase in the economic competitiveness of solar power as state energy policies and corporate sustainability plans drive a booming renewable energy industry. But the logjam threatens to put some solar developers in a financial bind and is raising questions about the feasibility of the Biden administration’s goal of having a carbon-free electricity grid in just 13 years.

“It’s a kink in the system,” said Adam Edelen, a former Kentucky state auditor who runs a company working to bring solar projects and jobs to ailing coal communities in Appalachia, including West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia and Kentucky. “Anyone paying attention would acknowledge that this has a tremendous impact on climate policy and energy policy in the United States.”

The backlog at PJM is a major concern for renewable energy companies and clean energy advocates, even though grid operators are a part of the energy economy that is largely unknown to the public.

“There is broad national consensus, in the leadership from the public and the private sector, that we need to hasten the adoption of renewable energy,” Edelen said. “The planet does not have time for a delay.”
» Read article         

» More about modernizing the grid

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

USPS next gen
Biden officials push to hold up $11.3 billion USPS truck contract, citing climate damage
The Environmental Protection Agency warns Postmaster General Louis DeJoy to halt his plan to replace the aging delivery fleet with thousands of gas-powered vehicles.
By Anna Phillips and Jacob Bogage, Washington Post
February 2, 2022

The Biden administration launched a last-minute push Wednesday to derail the U.S. Postal Service’s plan to spend billions of dollars on a new fleet of gasoline-powered delivery trucks, citing the damage the polluting vehicles could inflict on the climate and Americans’ health.

The dispute over the Postal Service’s plans to spend up to $11.3 billion on as many as 165,000 new delivery trucks over the next decade has major implications for President Biden’s goal of converting all federal cars and trucks to clean power. Postal Service vehicles make up a third of the government’s fleet, and the EPA warned the agency last fall that its environmental analysis of the contract rested on flawed assumptions and missing data.

The EPA and the White House Council on Environmental Quality sent letters to the Postal Service on Wednesday that urge it to reconsider plans to buy mostly gas-powered vehicles and conduct a new, more thorough technical analysis. The EPA also asked the Postal Service to hold a public hearing on its fleet modernization plans, a request the agency had rejected when California regulators made it Jan. 28.

“The Postal Service’s proposal as currently crafted represents a crucial lost opportunity to more rapidly reduce the carbon footprint of one of the largest government fleets in the world,” wrote Vicki Arroyo, the EPA’s associate administrator for policy.
» Read article         

» More about clean transportation

CRYPTOCURRENCY

Liz on the case
Is Crypto Mining Driving Up Power Costs For U.S. Consumers?
By Tsvetana Paraskova, Oil Price
January 28, 2022

A group of Democratic lawmakers, led by Senator Elizabeth Warren, demand that six major cryptocurrency mining companies detail their high energy usage, the possible impact on the environment, and the role in driving up power bills for U.S. consumers.

Riot Blockchain, Marathon Digital Holdings, Stronghold Digital Mining, Bitdeer, Bitfury Group, and Bit Digital were sent letters by the lawmakers, who were concerned about “their extraordinarily high energy usage,” Senator Warren said on Thursday.

In the letters, the lawmakers want written answers from the six crypto mining companies by February 10, 2022, on the amount of energy each of their facilities consume, projected energy use for the next five years, plans to address the climate impact of their increasing operations, and details of their purchasing agreements with electricity providers.

“Bitcoin mining’s power consumption has more than tripled from 2019 to 2021, rivaling the energy consumption of Washington state, and of entire countries like Denmark, Chile, and Argentina,” the statement from the lawmakers says.

“The extraordinarily high energy usage and carbon emissions associated with Bitcoin mining could undermine our hard work to tackle the climate crisis – not to mention the harmful impacts cryptomining has on local environments and electricity prices. We need more information on the operations of these cryptomining companies to understand the full scope of the consequences for our environment and local communities,” Senator Warren said.

Crypto mining globally has drawn a lot of attention in recent months, including from regulators, amid the current energy crisis in Europe and rising energy costs for consumers, including in the United States.
» Read article         

» More about crypto

CARBON CAPTURE AND STORAGE

Gulf CCS
CCS in the Gulf: Climate solution or green washing?
By Heather Richards and Carlos Anchondo, E&E News
January 31, 2022

The Gulf of Mexico may be the largest potential sink for storing carbon dioxide emissions in the world — but getting the greenhouse gas under the seafloor would take a massive effort and cost.

Enter Exxon Mobil Corp.

The oil supermajor, along with other companies, is eyeing the Gulf as a prime spot to deploy carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology, considering the region’s massive potential capacity, its existing oil and gas infrastructure, and its proximity to industrial facilities where the greenhouse gas could be captured, piped and stored underneath the seafloor.

“ExxonMobil believes the greatest opportunity for CO2 storage in the United States is in the Gulf of Mexico,” said Todd Spitler, a spokesperson for Exxon’s Low Carbon Solutions business, in an email.

But momentum for carbon capture in the Gulf hit a potential roadblock last week when a federal judge invalidated the Biden administration’s November oil and gas lease sale over faulty climate reviews, consequently striking a bundle of Exxon leases that observers say were primed for the company’s first Gulf carbon storage efforts.

Exxon declined to comment on the impact of the court case, but the ruling is not expected to quell a rush of industry interest in Gulf carbon storage. However, critics are making accusations of green washing and warning of potential environmental risks, like carbon dioxide leaking into the ocean. The dynamic raises the question: How likely is CCS in the Gulf?

Proponents say very.

Political leaders on Capitol Hill have responded to the industry push by tweaking federal laws to make carbon sequestration in federal waters permissible and taking steps this year to regulate where CO2 can be stored offshore, and how to do it safely.

But carbon storage has its critics, and Exxon’s interest in the Gulf is refueling allegations of green washing.

“CCS is the plan of the oil industry to keep business as usual, while claiming some kind of net-zero alignment or climate action,” said Steven Feit, an attorney with the climate and energy program at the Center for International Environmental Law, which uses law to “protect the environment, promote human rights, and ensure a just and sustainable society.”
» Read article         

» More about CCS

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

talk is cheap
Record Fossil Extraction from Canada, U.S., Norway Despite Fervent Climate Pledges
By The Energy Mix
February 2, 2022


The United States, Norway, and Canada are set to produce more oil this year than ever before, despite solemn pronouncements at last year’s COP 26 climate summit on the urgent need for climate action, Oil Change International asserts in a new analysis.

All three countries “like to see themselves as climate leaders,” Oil Change writes, recalling American president Joe Biden’s commitment to “doing our part,” Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau’s call to “do more, and faster,” and Norwegian PM Jonas Gahr Støre’s urging to “jointly step up our commitments,” in their respective COP 26 speeches.

But those avowals were meant for last year, Oil Change says. “This is a new year, and instead of new commitments to double down on climate action, what do we see?”

According to U.S. Energy Information Administration forecasts, U.S. oil production in 2023 will surpass Donald Trump’s 2019 record for domestic crude production, courtesy of a drilling permit approval rate that surpasses that of Biden’s fossil-championing predecessor. The U.S. “has more oil and gas extraction expansion planned in the next decade than any other country,” Oil Change says.

These national-level fossil expansions come despite the International Energy Agency’s conclusion last May that any new investment in oil and gas will leave efforts to contain global heating below 1.5°C dead in the water. Then in August, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a landmark report urging leaders to halt oil and gas drilling or face heat waves, droughts, flooding, and other weather catastrophes. UN Secretary General António Guterres called the report “a code red for humanity,” but Oil Change says that message seems to have gone over the heads of some.
» Read article

fracking rig Colorado
Living near or downwind of unconventional oil and gas development linked with increased risk of early death
By Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
January 27, 2022

Boston, MA – Elderly people living near or downwind of unconventional oil and gas development (UOGD)—which involves extraction methods including directional (non-vertical) drilling and hydraulic fracturing, or fracking—are at higher risk of early death compared with elderly individuals who don’t live near such operations, according to a large new study from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

The results suggest that airborne contaminants emitted by UOGD and transported downwind are contributing to increased mortality, the researchers wrote.

The study was published on January 27, 2022 in Nature Energy.

“Although UOGD is a major industrial activity in the U.S., very little is known about its public health impacts. Our study is the first to link mortality to UOGD-related air pollutant exposures,” said Petros Koutrakis, professor of environmental sciences and senior author of the study. Added co-author Francesca Dominici, Clarence James Gamble Professor of Biostatistics, Population, and Data Science, “There is an urgent need to understand the causal link between living near or downwind of UOGD and adverse health effects.”
» Read article

» More about fossil fuels

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

Prelude FLNG
Ukraine dispute opens door for Goldboro LNG exports from N.S.
By Kevin Dougherty, iPolitics
January 27, 2022

The dispute between Russia and the West over Ukraine could revive a shelved liquefied natural gas project in Nova Scotia.

Natural Resources Canada confirmed that on Wednesday officials from Canada and Germany met virtually to discuss the project.

These “natural energy allies,” according to Natural Resources Canada, discussed “building a low-emissions energy future with a view to achieving carbon neutrality by 2050.”

Stakeholders from both countries were also in attendance, including representatives of Calgary’s Pieridae Energy Ltd., who presented their revised Goldboro concept to potential German partners.

James Millar, Pieridae’s director of external relations, said in an email that the Alberta company now is looking at a less-costly floating liquefication plant “much smaller project than the original, land-based Goldboro LNG.”

Pieridae announced last June it was putting Goldboro on hold, citing “pandemic-led disruptions” which have “made the current version of the project impractical.”

The floating platform would be moored off Goldboro, north east of Halifax, N.S., where Pieridae owns the land. Natural gas piped in from Alberta would be liquefied aboard the vessel, then loaded on LNG tankers for export.

Royal Dutch Shell pioneered the floating LNG concept with its mammoth 600,000-tonne Prelude FLNG vessel, now in the Indian Ocean, off the north coast of Australia.
» 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 1/21/22

banner 04

Welcome back.

Yesterday, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) met to consider the fate of Canadian energy giant Enbridge’s Weymouth compressor station. Their conclusion boiled down to this: “Gosh, folks, you’re right! We never should have approved such a dangerous, polluting facility right there in your neighborhood…. But we did. Sorry. Nothing to be done. Next!” It was a variation on Governor Charlie Baker’s earlier claim that even if he opposed construction of the compressor, there was nothing he could do about it. Given that level of spinelessness from our Governor and Federal regulators, we’re doubly fortunate to have Alice Arena’s Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station (FRRACS) and their many allies including U.S. Senator Edward Markey and other state and local leaders, continuing to press for closing this climate-busting “mistake”. If you can support FRRACS, please do.

A little farther west, Massachusetts’ largest utility, Eversource, is running its own play to foist unwanted and unnecessary gas infrastructure on Longmeadow and Springfield communities through its proposed pipeline expansion, but the Longmeadow Select Board is unsatisfied with the utility’s answers to some basic questions like, “Who’s going to pay for this?” Meanwhile, cities and towns all over the state would love to cut the use of gas but can’t initiate bans because the Baker administration is months late delivering an updated building code that reflects emissions reduction requirements already on the books. Of course, those same regulations classify electricity produced through waste incineration as renewable….

To round things out, the MA Department of Environmental Protection is providing Boston with twelve new propane-powered school buses, even though the state’s climate legislation calls for a move away from fossil-fueled transportation and electric models are available. Did someone recently change the state motto to Coming up short!?

Now that we’ve aired a load of Massachusetts’ dirty laundy, let’s talk about Georgia, and how the Feds are stepping in because state regulators are on the cusp of accepting utility Georgia Power’s argument that they don’t really need to clean up unlined toxic coal ash storage pits that are in contact with ground water. While in North Dakota, a deal is being done to sell the state’s largest coal plant to investors chasing a scheme to use U.S. government subsidies for carbon capture and storage equipment, and thereby avoid shutting the plant down. So far, CCS has proved far better at wasting money than at removing CO2 from smokestacks.

This has been a bit of a rant, and we’re almost to the positive news. But first have a look at how the Permian Basin frack-fest has turned west Texas into an earthquake zone, and treat yourself to a romp through some of the lawless corners of the cryptocurrency world, where unpermitted gas plants in Alberta power bitcoin mining, and a rogue region of Kosovo compounds an energy crisis while refusing to pay electric bills.

While all of the above was going on, oceans absorbed record amounts of heat, and the divestment movement is expanding its scope beyond banking, insurance, and investments – calling for funds to be pulled from fossil-focused advertising and public relations campaigns.

Hydrogen continues to be a hot topic in the clean energy sector, but we’re seeing some encouraging debate about how it’s sourced and what it should be used for. At the same time, money from the recently-passed bipartisan infrastructure bill is about to be applied to modernizing the grid – making it more resilient and able to bring renewable generation and storage onboard more quickly.

We’ll close with some intriguing news: Chinese battery maker CATL has developed a flexible, modular, battery-swapping scheme for electric vehicles with the potential to lower the cost of EV ownership while dropping road trip recharge times to just a few minutes. It’s disruptive, scalable, and very cool.

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

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

FRACCS and friendsFeds: Regulators ‘should never have approved’ Weymouth compressor, too late to shut it down
“What (FERC) did was morally, ethically and legally wrong on every level, and they just recommitted to that.”
By Jessica Trufant, The Patriot Ledger
January 20, 2022

WEYMOUTH – While several members said regulators shouldn’t have approved the project to begin with, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission says it won’t revoke authorization for the natural gas compressor station in Weymouth.

After reexamining operations and safety at the station following several accidental releases of natural gas, Richard Glick, the commission’s chairman, said regulators “should never have approved” the compressor on the banks of the Fore River, a “heavily populated area with two environmental justice communities and a higher-than-normal level of cancer and asthma due to heavy industrial activity.”

But Glick said the review and findings don’t justify revoking approval for the station, which the commission initially granted in January 2017. The compressor station is owned by Algonquin Gas Transmission, a subsidiary of Spectra Energy, which was later acquired by Enbridge.

“Going forward, the commission needs to pay attention to the impacts of its (decision) and I will push for the those changes,” he said. “I recognize that is cold comfort to the folks who live near the Weymouth compressor station.”

“This is their job. They get to set precedent. They get to say, ‘We went back and looked at this, and we looked into whether (Enbridge) ever needed the compressor in the first place, and the answer is no,’” Arena said. “(The commissioners) can say whatever they want that helps them get through the night, but what (FERC) did was morally, ethically and legally wrong on every level, and they just recommitted to that.”

State regulators also issued several permits for the project despite vehement and organized opposition from local officials and residents. Arena likened the commission’s response on Thursday to that of state regulators and Gov. Charlie Baker.

“They’ve done exactly what Charlie Baker did and said, ‘Our hands our tied. There’s nothing we can do,’ ” she said.

Arena sad the Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station will push forward with its opposition to the project in court. Several rehearing requests are pending in federal court, and the group’s appeal of the waterways permit will soon be heard in Superior Court.
» Blog editor’s note: You can follow and support Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station (FRRACS) through their website or Facebook.
» Read article       
» Watch WBZ-TV news coverage of the reaction to FERC’s decision

» More about the Weymouth compressor

PIPELINES

no expansion
Longmeadow Select Board unsatisfied with Eversource’s pipeline answers
By Sarah Heinonen, The Reminder
January 12, 2022

Longmeadow Select Board Chair Marc Strange read answers provided by Eversource after a December 2021 public hearing on the proposed natural gas pipeline and metering station. The board had requested responses to five questions that the utility company’s representatives were unable to answer during the meeting.

The first question was regarding a 10 percent return on investment that Eversource had stated it would receive from the pipeline project. The board had asked if the return the company would receive was 10 percent of the total capital investment or if it would receive a return annually. After reading Eversource’s response, which cited a Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities docket and stated shareholders would not see a return from the project unless “deemed prudent,” it went on to talk about the relationship between rate base and capital investments and year-long “rate case” proceedings involving the attorney general.

After reading the response, Strange asked, “Does anybody understand what it says?” causing members of the board to chuckle at the legal jargon and industry terminology used.

Select Board Vice Chair Steve Marantz pointed out that Eversource insisted the project will not involve an increase in the amount of gas it moves to customers and questioned how the company can receive a return on its investment without selling more gas.

Select Board member Mark Gold responded that the $40 million investment will be written off in taxes. Fellow Select Board member Thomas Lachiusa agreed, saying, “Eversource will pay less in taxes while increasing their footprint.”

Marantz opined that the cost of the investment will be passed on to ratepayers.
» Read article       

» More about pipelines

DIVESTMENT

climate lies uncovered
450+ Climate Scientists Demand PR Industry Drop Fossil Fuel Clients
“To put it simply, advertising and public relations campaigns for fossil fuels must stop,” states an open letter to ad agencies and major firms.
By Andrea Germanos, Common Dreams
January 19, 2022

In a new letter stressing the need for an “immediate and rapid transition” away from planet-heating fuels, a group of over 450 scientists on Wednesday called on public relations and advertising agencies to no longer work with fossil fuel clients.

“As scientists who study and communicate the realities of climate change,” they wrote, “we are consistently faced with a major and needless challenge: overcoming advertising and PR efforts by fossil fuel companies that seek to obfuscate or downplay our data and the risks posed by the climate crisis.”

“In fact,” the scientists continued, “these misinformation campaigns represent one of the biggest barriers to the government action science shows is necessary to mitigate the ongoing climate emergency. ”

Organized by scientists including Drs. Astrid Caldas, Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, and Michael Mann, along with the Clean Creatives campaign and the Union of Concerned Scientists, the letter is being sent to a number of public relations and advertising agencies including Edelman—the world’s biggest PR firm—and major clients of those companies including Amazon, Microsoft, and North Face.

“If PR and advertising agencies want to be part of climate solutions instead of continuing to exacerbate the climate emergency,” the scientists wrote that those companies “should drop all fossil fuel clients that plan to expand their production of oil and gas, end work with all fossil fuel companies and trade groups that perpetuate climate deception, cease all work that hinders climate legislation, and instead focus on uplifting the true climate solutions that are already available and must be rapidly implemented at scale.”

“To put it simply,” the letter adds, “advertising and public relations campaigns for fossil fuels must stop.”
» Read article       

» More about divestment

CLIMATE

bleached corals
Oceans Absorb Record Heat in 2021
By The Energy Mix
January 16, 2022


The Earth’s oceans yet again absorbed record high levels of heat in 2021 as part of a steady and dangerous 63-year warming trend fueled by human-generated greenhouse gas emissions, concludes a recent study authored by researchers from China, Italy, and the United States.

Published last week in the journal Advances in Atmospheric Sciences, the analysis confirms that the rate at which oceans have been absorbing heat, especially over the last 40 years, would be impossible in the absence of carbon emissions produced by human activity, reports the Washington Post.

The “long-term upward trend” has shown dramatic increases in recent years, with the oceans warming eight times faster since the late 1980s than in the three previous decades, said study co-author John Abraham, a professor of thermal engineering at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota.

“We’ve built up so much greenhouse gas that the oceans have begun to take in an increasing amount of heat, compared to what they previously were,” he told the Post.
» Read article       

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

BayoTech hydrogen generator
New Mexico front and center in nationwide debate over hydrogen
By Kevin Robinson-Avila, Albuquerque Journal
January 17th, 2022

[The] potential wholesale embrace of everything hydrogen is facing a wall of opposition from environmental organizations, which say the governor and local hydrogen supporters are rushing forward to build a new industry that could actually slow New Mexico’s transition to a clean energy economy, and possibly even worsen carbon emissions here. Rather than produce a new, “clean fuel” to help decarbonize things like transportation and residential and commercial heating, environmentalists say full-scale hydrogen production could instead perpetuate mining and consumption of natural gas for 20 years or more at a time when New Mexico and the nation are aggressively working to replace fossil fuels with renewables like solar, wind and backup-battery technology.

That’s because nearly all of today’s hydrogen production uses natural gas in a process that extracts hydrogen molecules from methane, a potent greenhouse gas, with substantial amounts of carbon emitted during operations. Industry and hydrogen supporters say carbon capture and sequestration technology can mitigate nearly all the carbon emissions, but that only intensifies the controversy, because carbon capture must still be proven environmentally and economically effective in commercial projects.

As a result, environmentalists want to halt the hydrogen-promotion bills in this year’s session and instead launch a broad public process to fully evaluate the pros and cons of hydrogen before moving forward. Thirty environmental, clean energy and local community organizations sent a joint statement to New Mexico’s state and federal officials last fall outlining “guiding principles” to better determine whether and how hydrogen development could potentially be used as a supporting tool to combat climate change.

The local controversy reflects growing debate at the national and international levels over the role hydrogen can play as the world works to achieve carbon neutrality by midcentury.
» Read article       

blue is out
Germany’s Massive Boost for Hydrogen Leaves Out Fossil-Derived ‘Blue’ Variety
By The Energy Mix
January 19, 2022

Germany’s new coalition government has unveiled plans to massively accelerate the country’s national hydrogen strategy, while excluding fossil-derived “blue” hydrogen from eligibility for federal subsidies.

“Clean hydrogen is seen as a potential silver bullet to decarbonize industries like steel and chemicals, which cannot fully electrify and need energy-dense fuels to generate high-temperature heat for their industrial processes,” Euractiv reports.

“However, Germany will make no subsidies available for so-called ‘blue hydrogen’, which is created by using fossil gas and sequestering the resulting CO2 emission using carbon and capture (CCS) technology,” the publication adds, citing Patrick Graichen, state secretary to Vice-Chancellor Robert Habeck.

At an event earlier this morning, Clean Energy Wire reports, energy and climate state secretary Patrick Graichen said the country may obtain the “blue” product from Norway for a transitional period. “We will go for green hydrogen in the long term, and whenever we put money on the table, it will be for green hydrogen,” he told a panel discussion on energy cooperation between the two countries, hosted by the Association of German Chambers of Commerce and Industry and German Chambers of Commerce Abroad.

That’s despite concerns from Germany’s oil and gas lobby, the European Commission, and non-profits like the U.S. Clean Air Task Force that “green” hydrogen produced from renewable electricity can’t scale up in time to do its part to reduce emissions.
» Read article       

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

Beverly HS solar array
All around Massachusetts, cities and towns want to go fossil fuel free. Here’s why they can’t.
By Sabrina Shankman, Boston Globe
January 18, 2022

Across Massachusetts, dozens of cities and towns have said they want to outlaw the use of fossil fuels in newly constructed buildings — considered an easy and effective step toward a carbon-free future.

The state’s new climate legislation aimed to do just that, and required the state to come up with a new building code that would allow cities and towns to move ahead.

The Baker administration promised a draft by fall 2021 but failed to deliver. And now some climate-concerned legislators want the administration to answer for it.

“Each additional day of delay means one day less of public discussion,” said Senator Mike Barrett, who cochairs the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, which is scheduled to discuss the delays — and what to do about them — at a hearing Wednesday. “The clock is ticking down, and Baker’s people know it.”

In light of the delay, Wednesday’s hearing will consider legislative action that would allow cities and towns to require new residential and commercial buildings to be “all-electric.”

The exact details of the building code won’t be known until the Baker administration releases it and it goes through a public comment period and a series of five public hearings. It is required to be finalized by December of next year. But the intent, as laid out by the climate law passed last year, is that cities and towns could require new buildings and gut rehabilitations would have net-zero emissions. This likely means a future of heat pumps to deliver heat, solar panels to generate energy, and onsite batteries to store what is produced to get to net zero.

But net zero is not zero, and the climate legislation allows for some wiggle room.

Advocates fear the draft from the Baker administration could ultimately allow for buildings to have fossil fuel hook-ups as long as emissions are offset in another way, like the installation of solar panels. While the offsetting is important for the climate, the continued use of fossil fuels in new buildings would ensure that the required infrastructure remains in place into the future, potentially putting the state’s climate targets at risk.

“The thing we’re really waiting for is to make sure that the code is what it needs to be” said Cameron Peterson, director of clean energy for the Metropolitan Area Planning Council. “The definition I would like to see would have a building that has no combustion in it, but depending on how they write the performance standards, it’s possible that fossil fuel hook-ups could be allowed.”
» Read article       

» More about energy efficiency

MODERNIZING THE GRID

Deepwater Wind
Biden administration announces major new initiatives to clean up the electric grid
Federal agencies announced plans to open up public lands and waters and lay new transmission lines
By Justine Calma, The Verge
January 12, 2022

On Wednesday, the Biden administration announced a slew of new moves to transition the US to renewable energy, with a focus on upgrading the power grid and using public lands and waters to harness solar, wind, and geothermal energy. It’s the administration’s latest effort to clean up the nation’s electricity grid, as Democrats struggle to make headway on key legislation needed to tackle the climate crisis.

The Department of Energy is rolling out a “Building a Better Grid” initiative, which will put federal dollars to work after the recently passed bipartisan infrastructure law allocated $65 billion for grid improvements. Notably, there’s $2.5 billion earmarked for new and improved transmission lines that will be crucial for zipping renewable energy from far-flung solar and wind farms to communities. Another $3 billion will go towards smart grid technologies that aim to make homes more energy efficient and reduce pressure on the grid while balancing the flow of intermittent sources of renewable energy like wind and solar.

There’s also more than $10 billion in grants to states, tribes, and utilities for efforts to harden the grid and help prevent power outages. As the grid ages and extreme weather events are worsened by climate change, blackouts have grown longer in the US, with the average American going more than eight hours without power in 2020 — twice as long as was typical when the federal government started keeping track in 2013. Things could get worse without efforts to rein in greenhouse gas emissions.
» Read article       

» More about modernizing the grid

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

Evogo swap
CATL rolls out one-minute EV battery swapping solution, entire business around it

By Bengt Halvorson, Green Car Reports
January 18, 2022

Battery swapping, once considered a solution that had been outmoded by the capability for faster road-trip charging, is back—with the world’s largest battery supplier CATL onboard and launching an entire business around it.

That business, called Evogo, makes a lot of sense right now that the longtime reduction in battery cell cost has reversed course, largely due to supply constraints. Most EV owners tend to buy the vehicle with the bigger battery so as to eliminate range anxiety, when only 10-20% of the total capacity of the battery is needed for daily use. “They have paid a high sunk cost for a power capacity that is rarely needed,” the company sums.

In terms that customers, automakers, and regulators will all like, it’s a scheme that will allow lower-priced EVs, and more of them.

Evogo, will revolve around “an innovative modular battery swap solution” that uses standardized battery blocks and has “high compatibility with vehicle models.”

That takes the form of a new bar-like battery—nicknamed Choco-SEB and designed around the idea of battery sharing, supporting cell-to-pack technology and an energy density of more than 160 watt-hours per kg, with a volumetric energy density of 325 Wh/L.

CATL says each 26.5-kwh block can enable a driving range of about 200 km (124 miles). And the idea is that you may only need one of these blocks for daily commuting, while three of these will comprise a long-range battery, with customers at battery swaps potentially swapping just one block or all three as needed.Likewise, customers could potentially lease one block with the vehicle but rent additional blocks as needed for a long trip.
» Read article       

detour at best
Boston is getting more propane school buses to combat pollution. They aren’t the cleanest option.
By Taylor Dolven, Boston Globe
January 13, 2022

The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection will spend $350,000 on 12 propane-powered school buses for Boston at a time when the state’s climate plan calls for a rapid shift away from fossil fuels in transportation.

The school buses are part of a $2 million round of Massachusetts grant funding provided by the US Environmental Protection Agency announced this week. The funding aims to cut pollution by getting rid of diesel-powered vehicles. The state said it will spend $740,324 on five electric school buses for Springfield contractor First Student Inc., and the 12 buses bound for Boston will use propane, a fossil fuel.

Governor Charlie Baker praised the funding announcements Tuesday.

“Our administration continues to identify and advance projects that better position the state in combating against the impact of climate change with an equitable approach,” he said in a statement. “The shift to cleaner vehicles will reduce the exposure of our citizens to diesel emissions, improve air quality, and assist us as we work to meet the Commonwealth’s ambitious climate goals.”

Those goals, part of climate legislation signed by Baker last year, are reducing the state’s carbon emissions at least 50 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, 75 percent below those levels by 2040, and getting to “net zero” emissions by 2050. Key to achieving those goals is electrifying most of the transportation sector, according to the state’s own road map.

The majority of Boston’s school bus fleet already runs on propane, but advocates bemoaned the city adding more vehicles powered by fossil fuels rather than moving to electric school buses as some other Massachusetts cities are doing.

“It’s time for the city to step up and be a leader on electric buses,” said Staci Rubin, vice president of environmental justice at the Conservation Law Foundation. “Ideally this would have been the time to get electric buses and figure it out.”

Data from the US Department of Energy Argonne National Laboratory’s transportation fuel calculator tool show that electric school buses far outperform propane school buses in reducing air pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions in Massachusetts. Compared to diesel school buses, propane school buses emit less nitrogen oxides, which contribute to harmful air pollution. Depending on the age and fuel efficiency of the diesel engine, propane buses can provide a slight reduction or a slight increase in greenhouse gases compared to diesel buses.

“It’s a detour at best, a dead end at worst,” said Daniel Sperling, founding director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at University of California Davis.
» Read article       
» Check out the Argonne National Lab’s fuel calculator tool

» More about clean transportation

CRYPTOCURRENCY

questionable value
Bitcoin Creates ‘Regulatory Hornet’s Nest’ as Alberta Orders Third Gas Plant Shutdown
By Jody MacPherson, The Energy Mix
January 18, 2022

A company facing more than C$7 million in penalties for operating two gas-fired power plants in Alberta without approvals has been ordered to shut down a third facility, after the plant in Westlock County was also found to be operating without approvals.

The Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) has also reopened its investigation into the previous two operations, combining it with the new Westlock investigation. At issue is whether the company was generating power for its own use and if the original penalty amount should change with the new information provided by the company.

Energy consumption and environmental concerns with bitcoin mining have surfaced around the world with a number of countries—including China—banning it outright.

China cited environmental concerns and cracked down on bitcoin mining this past summer. In August, an American company announced plans to power up to a million bitcoin “rigs” relocated from China to Alberta.

“It’s a question of what is the highest-value end use of an electron,” said clean energy policy consultant Ed Whittingham, former executive director of the Pembina Institute, in an exclusive interview with The Energy Mix. “Is it to mine a bitcoin? Or is it to help to get to these long-term goals that really balance environmental and social benefit?”

Whittingham said he would like to understand the environmental and social benefits produced by cryptocurrencies like bitcoin “because right now, it seems pretty opaque to me.”
» Read article       

Bitcoin accepted
Panic as Kosovo pulls the plug on its energy-guzzling bitcoin miners
Speculators rush to sell off their kit as Balkan state announces a crypto clampdown to ease electricity crisis
By Daniel Boffey, The Guardian
January 16, 2022

For bitcoin enthusiasts in Kosovo with a breezy attitude to risk, it has been a good week to strike a deal on computer equipment that can create, or “mine”, the cryptocurrency.

From Facebook to Telegram, new posts in the region’s online crypto groups became dominated by dismayed Kosovans attempting to sell off their mining equipment – often at knockdown prices.

“There’s a lot of panic and they’re selling it or trying to move it to neighbouring countries,” said cryptoKapo, a crypto investor and administrator of some of the region’s largest online crypto communities.

The frenetic social media action follows an end-of-year announcement by Kosovo’s government of an immediate, albeit temporary, ban on all crypto mining activity as part of emergency measures to ease a crippling energy crisis.

Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are created or “mined” by high-powered computers that compete to solve complex mathematical puzzles in what is a highly energy-intensive process that rewards people based on the amount of computing power they provide.

The incentive to get into the mining game in Kosovo, one of Europe’s poorest countries, is obvious. The cryptocurrency currently trades at more than £31,500 a bitcoin, while Kosovo has the cheapest energy prices in Europe due in part to more than 90% of the domestic energy production coming from burning the country’s rich reserves of lignite, a low-grade coal, and fuel bills being subsidised by the government.

The largest-scale crypto mining is thought to be taking place in the north of the country, where the Serb-majority population refuse to recognise Kosovo as an independent state and have consequently not paid for electricity for more than two decades.
» Read article       

» More about cryptocurrency

CARBON CAPTURE AND STORAGE

Coal Creek power plant
Sale of North Dakota’s Largest Coal Plant Is Almost Complete. Then Will Come the Hard Part
Minnesota co-op utilities must vote on approval of the plant’s sale. The new owner is betting on carbon capture to extend its life.
By Dan Gearino, Inside Climate News
January 15, 2022

A plan to sell, rather than close, the largest coal-fired power plant in North Dakota is nearly final. The completion of the sale would allow the buyer to move on to the much greater challenge of making the plant financially viable and installing a carbon capture system.

Great River Energy of Minnesota originally planned to close the plant, Coal Creek Station, after years of financial losses, but the company changed course and decided to sell the plant after intense pressure from elected officials in North Dakota. State officials have been zealous in trying to preserve coal jobs, to the point that they helped to arrange the sale and hope to use government subsidies to help retrofit the plant with a carbon capture system.

The efforts by officials to keep the plant open is part of a larger pattern of state and local governments, from Montana to West Virginia, downplaying concerns about the high costs and emissions from burning coal and working to secure a future for coal mines and coal-fired power plants. In some of those places, the coal industry and government leaders are embracing carbon capture, despite warnings from energy analysts that this is a costly investment that is unlikely to be successful at substantially cutting emissions.

Minnesota environmental advocates have opposed the sale every step of the way.

“We need somebody to be held accountable,” said Veda Kanitz, an environmental advocate who also is a customer of one of the co-ops, Dakota Electric Association, that receives power from the plant. “We’re not seeing a true risk-benefit analysis. And I don’t think they’re properly factoring in the climate impacts.”
» Read article       

» More about CCS

ELECTRIC UTILITIES

Plant Scherer
How a Powerful Company Convinced Georgia to Let It Bury Toxic Waste in Groundwater
Documents reveal Georgia Power went to great lengths to advocate for risky waste storage. After a ProPublica investigation exposed this practice, the EPA is trying to block the move.
By Max Blau, ProPublica
January 18, 2020

For the past several years, Georgia Power has gone to great lengths to skirt the federal rule requiring coal-fired power plants to safely dispose of massive amounts of toxic waste they produced.

But previously unreported documents obtained by ProPublica show that the company’s efforts were more extensive than publicly known. Thousands of pages of internal government correspondence and corporate filings show how Georgia Power made an elaborate argument as to why it should be allowed to store waste produced before 2020 in a way that wouldn’t fully protect surrounding communities’ water supplies from contamination — and that would save the company potentially billions of dollars in cleanup costs.

In a series of closed-door meetings with state environmental regulators, the powerful utility even went so far as to challenge the definition of the word “infiltration” in relation to how groundwater can seep into disposal sites holding underground coal ash, according to documents obtained through multiple open records requests.

Earlier this month, Georgia Power was on its way to getting final approval from the state to leave 48 million tons of coal ash buried in unlined ponds — despite evidence that contaminants were leaking out. Georgia is one of three states that regulate how power companies safely dispose of decades worth of coal ash, rather than leaving such oversight to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency itself.

But last week, the EPA made clear that arguments like the ones Georgia Power has been making violate the intent of the coal ash rule, setting up a potential showdown among the federal agency, state regulators and the deep-pocketed power company. In a statement last week, the EPA said that waste disposal sites “cannot be closed with coal ash in contact with groundwater,” in order to ensure that “communities near these facilities have access to safe water for drinking and recreation.”

The EPA’s action follows a joint investigation by Georgia Health News and ProPublica that found Georgia Power has known for decades that the way it disposed of coal ash could be dangerous to neighboring communities.
» Read article       

» More about electric utilities

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Permian Basin gas plant
Texas went big on oil. Earthquakes followed.
Thousands of earthquakes are shaking Texas. What the frack is going on?
By Neel Dhanesha, Vox
January 20, 2022

It’s been a big winter for earthquakes in West Texas. A string of small tremors rocked Midland County on December 15 and 16, followed a week later by a magnitude-4.5 quake, the second-strongest to hit the region in the last decade. Then a magnitude-4.2 quake shook the town of Stanton and another series of small earthquakes hit nearby Reeves County.

That’s an unsettling pattern for a state that, until recently, wasn’t an earthquake state at all. Before 2008, Texans experienced just one or two perceptible earthquakes a year. But Texas now sees hundreds of yearly earthquakes of at least magnitude 2.5, the minimum humans can feel, and thousands of smaller ones.

The reason why is disconcerting: Seismologists say that one of the state’s biggest industries is upsetting a delicate balance deep underground. They blame the oil and gas business — and particularly a technique called wastewater injection — for waking up ancient fault lines, turning a historically stable region into a shaky one, and opening the door to larger earthquakes that Texas might not be ready for.

Early signs of trouble came in 2008, when Dallas-area residents felt a series of small earthquakes that originated in the nearby Fort Worth basin. More earthquakes followed, and a magnitude-4 quake hit a town southwest of Dallas in 2015. No damage was reported, but according to the US Geological Survey, the impact of a magnitude-4 earthquake can include: “Dishes, windows, doors disturbed; walls make cracking sound. Sensation like heavy truck striking building. Standing motor cars rocked noticeably.”

Earthquakes in West Texas increased from a grand total of 19 in 2009 to more than 1,600 in 2017, according to a 2019 study, coinciding neatly with the rise of wastewater injection in the area. Nearly 2,000 earthquakes hit West Texas in 2021, a record high. According to the TexNet, the University of Texas’ earthquake catalog, 17 of those were magnitude 4 or higher.
» Read article       

» More about fossil fuels

WASTE INCINERATION

garbage crane
Trash is a burning question with mixed answers in some Mass. towns
By Hannah Chanatry, WBUR
January 20, 2022

Massachusetts categorizes trash incineration as renewable energy. In fact, it’s almost always one of the leading sources of renewable energy in the region, according to ISO New England’s real-time analysis of energy use, usually beating out solar and wind.

The designation as renewable is a critical problem for the Conservation Law Foundation.

“It’s really just a greenwashing campaign,” said Kirstie Pecci, and environmental attorney with the organization.

Pecci has worked opposing incinerators for a decade. While the idea of energy production sounds good, she said the pollution coming from the facilities is too dangerous for public health and the environment.

“The ash has got dioxin, furans, heavy metals,” she said, “all kinds of [other] nasty chemicals in it as well.” Dioxins are a class of organic pollutants, some of which are highly toxic and are known to cause cancer and reproductive problems.

The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection also identifies nitrogen oxides, which can cause breathing problems and are the primary ingredient in smog, as among the possible emissions from incinerators. Incinerators are required to take  measures to limit emissions below federal and state caps, and conduct continuous and annual monitoring for specific pollutants. Each incinerator is permitted by both MassDEP and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for air quality, water quality, stormwater and spills on site.

The Conservation Law Foundation and other environmental organizations want the state to move to close the incinerators.
» Read article       

» More about waste incineration

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 1/14/22

banner 03

Welcome back.

Soon after Netflix released director Adam McKay’s doomsday thriller Don’t Look Up, the climate activist network started buzzing. For decades, those of us urging action have been frustrated by the vague, “sometime in the future” aspect of global warming’s effects, which has enabled a lot of can-kicking down the road. In this context, the film’s killer comet allegory is brilliant. If civilization’s end were total, certain, and precisely timed, it might finally focus the mind.

Divestment from fossil fuels has been increasingly impactful, to the point that Big Oil & Gas is having some trouble financing expansion projects. An even more direct action is to mount an actual takeover of a corporate polluter, and aggressively reorient it toward sustainability.

Pipeline developers often gain access to agricultural land by promising to bury the structure under fields and then “fully restore” the surface. The pitch to farmers: get some steady income for very little bother. Except that research now confirms that the combination of soil compaction by heavy construction equipment combined with the mixing of topsoil with deeper material, results in years of significantly reduced crop yield.

Of course, a great way to discourage those pipelines is to kick the gas habit. Massachusetts recently established the Commission on Clean Heat, with a mission to develop a pathway to greener buildings. Activists are keeping up the pressure for full electrification and gas hookup bans.

People all over the northern hemisphere who suffered the deadly combination of record temperatures, long brutal heat waves, epic floods, intense drought, and hellish wildfires, probably felt a little let down by recent climate reports that ranked 2021 only the 6th warmest year on record. We found an article that puts it all in perspective – and yes, your pain is real.

This week was full of encouraging news regarding innovations that will speed up a green transition. Battery recycling is developing quickly, roofing materials giant GAF announced a promising solar roof shingle, and Massachusetts startup AeroShield promises to revolutionize energy efficient windows using materials better known for heat-resistant tiles on space shuttles. We also take a closer look at long-duration energy storage using gravity, cranes, and heavy blocks.

On the clean energy downside, current-generation geothermal plants need to be located near relatively near-surface sources of very hot water. This often carries negative environmental and cultural impacts. But new deep-drilling methods may help solve that problem by allowing geothermal facilities to locate almost anywhere.

With huge SUVs increasingly clogging roadways, and with most legacy car manufacturers introducing their first round of EV models on crossover, SUV, and light truck platforms, we were wondering if there’s a future for the basic four-door sedan or hatchback. The answer is yes, and it looks pretty sleek.

We explore why so many states continue to approve new gas power plants, and also expose the plastics industry’s greenwashing efforts behind their big push for federal dollars to improve recycling.

And we close with coal, which is throwing a party that the planet just can’t afford.

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

POPULAR CULTURE

don't look up
Don’t Just Watch: Team Behind ‘Don’t Look Up’ Urges Climate Action
The satirical film, about a comet hurtling toward Earth, is a metaphor for climate change that has broken a Netflix record. Its director hopes it will mobilize the public.
By Cara Buckley, New York Times
January 11, 2022

“Don’t Look Up” is a Hollywood rarity on several fronts. It’s a major film about climate change. It racked up a record number of hours viewed in a single week, according to Netflix. It also unleashed a flood of hot takes, along with — in what may be a first — sniping between reviewers who didn’t like the film and scientists who did.

What remains to be seen is whether the film fulfills a primary aim of its director, Adam McKay, who wants it to be, in his words, “a kick in the pants” that prompts urgent action on climate change.

“I’m under no illusions that one film will be the cure to the climate crisis,” Mr. McKay, whose previous films include “The Big Short” and “Vice,” wrote in an email to the Times. “But if it inspires conversation, critical thinking, and makes people less tolerant of inaction from their leaders, then I’d say we accomplished our goal.”

In “Don’t Look Up,” a planet-killing comet hurtling toward Earth stands in as a metaphor for the climate crisis, with Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence playing distraught scientists scrambling to get politicians to act, and the public to believe them.

After the film premiered in December, climate scientists took to social media and penned opinion essays, saying they felt seen at last. Neil deGrasse Tyson tweeted that it seemed like a documentary. Several admirers likened the film to “A Modest Proposal,” the 18th-century satirical essay by Jonathan Swift.
» Read article  

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

fracker flipped
Leading UK fracking firm taken over by green energy group
Third Energy now has ‘absolutely no interest in fossil gas’ and is targeting renewable energy
By Damian Carrington, The Guardian
January 14, 2022

A high-profile UK fracking company has been taken over by a green energy group and now has an anti-fracking campaigner as a director.

Yorkshire-based Third Energy was at the forefront of efforts to produce fossil gas and intended to use high-pressure fluids to fracture shale rocks under the county. But it was hampered by permit delays and fierce local opposition.

Now the company has been taken over by Wolfland Group, a renewable energy company. It has halted all fossil fuel production from its conventional gas wells and has no plans for further exploration or development. Instead it will focus on green energy, including solar farms, and the use of existing wells for geothermal energy and the burial of captured carbon dioxide emissions.

Steve Mason was a leading figure in the anti-fracking campaign in Yorkshire and is now a director of Wolfland Group. “The current energy crisis has shown that we must be energy independent as a nation and that fossil fuels need to be urgently replaced by clean renewable energy supplies, which will lead to cheaper energy and help us tackle climate change,” he said.

“We believe we’re now a real-life example of walking the talk and turning stranded fossil fuel assets into green energy solutions.”
» Read article              

» More about protests and actions

PIPELINES

keeps on robbing
Pipelines keep robbing the land long after the bulldozers leave
A flurry of new research shows the long-term effects of pipelines on crop yields.
By Jena Brooker, Grist
January 7, 2022

Before it began digging into the earth to bury its two-and-half-foot-wide, 1,172-mile-long pipeline in the ground, Dakota Access, LLC promised to restore the land to its previous condition when construction was finished. The pipeline company signed that pledge in its contracts with landowners stretching from North Dakota to Illinois, and the project was approved by the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission under that condition. But farmers in the path of the pipeline have a different story to tell – one of broken promises and sustained damage to their land.

Now, there’s data to back them up.

Researchers at Iowa State University found that in the two years following construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline corn yields in the 150-foot right-of-way declined by 15 percent.  Soybean yields dropped by 25 percent.

One of the selling points that energy companies often tout is that pipeline infrastructure is seemingly invisible, buried and forgotten over the long run. The new study, published in the journal Soil Use and Management, seems to contradict that claim.

The scientists said the major issue is that soil is compacted by heavy machinery during pipeline construction, and that topsoil and subsoil are mixed together. Taken together, the damage “can discourage root growth and reduce water infiltration in the right-of-way,” Robert Horton, an agronomist at Iowa State and the lead soil physicist on the project, said in a statement. He and his colleagues also found changes in available water and nutrients within the soil.

The findings are important for a number of planned pipelines across the Midwest. In one instance, the planned Midwest Carbon Express would be built on land already used for the Dakota Access pipeline, leaving farmers reeling from double impact on their crops.
» Read article             
» Read the study

» More about pipelines

DIVESTMENT

on the edge
Climate Justice Through Divestment
By Ray Levy Uyeda, Yes! Magazine
January 4, 2022

In recent years, a growing movement to achieve climate justice has connected the root cause of climate change not just with greenhouse gases but also with a more entrenched, insidious foe: capitalism. The United States supports a system that allows a few corporations and people to earn money off climate degradation, mainly through the extraction and proliferation of fossil fuels, such as coal or gas. And the very people who are tasked with regulating these industries, like federal elected officials, continue to choose not to. Time is running out to curb emissions and restore balance to global ecosystems, which is why front-line land defenders and climate activists are going straight to the source of climate chaos: financial firms.

The movement is called “divestment,” and it’s growing both inside and outside financial institutions’ walls. The idea is simple: Pull money, talent, and public approval away from banks and financial institutions that invest in fossil fuel extraction. Most often, this comes in the form of grassroots student-led campaigns at universities and colleges, as was the case with the Harvard students whose protests convinced the president and board of trustees to divest its $42 billion endowment from fossil fuel-related investments.

Divestment first emerged as a strategy in the 1980s in the fight against South African apartheid. Environmental activist and founder of 350.org Bill McKibben was one of the first major U.S. figures to recycle the idea to apply to universities and financial firms, outlining the case for divestment in a 2013 Rolling Stone piece. “The logic went something like this: Most people don’t live near a coal mine [or] oil pipeline, but everyone is near some pot of money—their college endowment, their church pension fund, their local pension fund in their community,” McKibben says. “Those are all sites where you could take effective action about climate change.”
» Read article                      
» Read Bill McKibben’s 2013 Rolling Stone article

» More about divestment

GREENING THE ECONOMY

battery recycler
Inside Clean Energy: Here Come the Battery Recyclers

As battery use skyrockets for EVs and energy storage, a recycling industry is taking shape.
By Dan Gearino, Inside Climate News
January 13, 2022

The battery economy is booming, and with it a recycling industry is bracing itself for a wave of battery waste.

Battery Resourcers of Worcester, Massachusetts, said last week that it is planning to build a plant in Georgia that will be capable of recycling 30,000 metric tons of lithium-ion batteries per year. It will be the largest battery recycling plant in North America when it opens later this year.

But its reign will be brief because Li-Cycle, based in the Toronto area, is building an even larger battery recycling plant near Rochester, New York, that is scheduled to open in 2023. The company said last month that it is modifying its plans in a way that increases the plant’s size, a response to forecasts of high demand for recycling.

To help understand what’s happening, I reached out to Jeff Spangenberger, a researcher at Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois and also director of the ReCell Center, a collaboration between the government and industry to improve battery recycling technologies.

“If the process is good enough, there’s no reason why you can’t make battery materials from the battery materials,” he said.

For him, the development of a battery recycling industry is one of the most important and exciting parts of the transition to clean energy.

It’s important because the growth of electric vehicles and battery storage systems will eventually lead to millions of tons of batteries that are unusable unless they are recycled. And it’s exciting because researchers and entrepreneurs are coming up with cost-effective ways to reuse most of that waste.
» Read article                       

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

locally hotLast Year’s Overall Climate Was Shaped by Warming-Driven Heat Extremes Around the Globe
A quarter of the world’s population experienced a record-warm year in 2021, research shows.
By Bob Berwyn, Inside Climate News
January 14, 2022

Earth’s annual average temperature checkup can mask a lot of the details of the climate record over the previous year, and 2021 showed that deadly heat-related climate extremes happen, even if it’s not a record-warm year.

Global average temperature isn’t always the most important measure, University of Michigan climate scientist Jonathan Overpeck said, after United States federal agencies released the Global State of the Climate report, ranking 2021 as the sixth-warmest year on record for the planet.

“As with politics, it is often what happens locally that matters most, and 2021 was one of the most deadly and destructive years on record because of the unusually warm atmosphere that is becoming the norm,” he said. “Extreme heat waves were exceptional in 2021, including the deadly Pacific Northwest U.S. and Canada heatwave that killed hundreds and also set the stage for fires that wiped out a whole town.”

Last year, the climate “was metaphorically shouting to us to stop the warming, because if we don’t, the warming-related climate and weather extremes will just get worse and worse, deadlier and deadlier,” he said. “Even tornadoes are now thought to strengthen as a result of the warming, and this effect probably also was the reason we had tornadoes in 2021 that reached northward into parts of Minnesota for the first time ever in December.”

The Pacific Northwest heat wave was the most extreme hotspot in a series of heat extremes that together seemed to stretch across the entire northern hemisphere for much of the summer, said Chloe Brimicome, a climate scientist and heat expert at the University of Reading.

“What really stood out for me was this period in summer, in July,” she said. “Everywhere you looked, consecutive records in many countries for temperature were being broken, day on day on day. I don’t think we’d ever really seen that before, or at least we hadn’t heard about it in the same way before.”
» Read article                       

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

roof disrupted
New Nail-On Solar Shingle Could Transform Residential Solar Industry
By The Energy Mix
January 12, 2022

California-based GAF Energy has developed a mass-market shingle that could revolutionize rooftop solar generation.

“What we’ve built is a nailable solar shingle that goes on as fast or faster than a regular shingle, looks great, and generates electricity,” GAF President Martin DeBono told Canary Media.

GAF Energy is a division of Standard Industries and was co-launched with GAF, one of the largest roofing materials companies in the world. With Tesla and other tech companies pushing towards new approaches to rooftop solar, the roofing giant put its foot in the game to “disrupt the roofing industry” before someone else does.

According to DeBono, GAF Energy’s edge comes from approaching the shingles from the perspective of a roofing company, rather than a solar company. Their emphasis on the product’s utility as a roofing material can help rooftop solar move away from the (relatively) clunky panels we’ve come to know and love.

Customer acquisition is typically costly for solar businesses, but because GAF Energy is already embedded in the roofing industry, it’s in a good position to solarize the roofing market, a quarter of which GAF already commands, Canary Media says.

The 45-watt shingles take one to three days to install and measure 60 inches long, 16 inches tall, and less than a quarter-inch deep. The design strings together mono PERC (Passivated Emitter and Rear Cell) solar cells that contain a single crystal of silicon and are coated on the back to reflect back into the panel any light that passes through. At 23% efficiency when using standard industry technology, the product is at the high end of average range for the industry as a whole. The stringed cells are then laminated onto a backsheet made of a common commercial waterproofing membrane, then “encapsulated and topped with glass and a textured material that allows the shingle to be walked on,” writes Canary Media.
» Read article                       

headwinds for gas
Reality Check: US Renewable Energy Portfolios Can Outcompete New Gas Plants
By Laurie Stone, RMI | Blog
January 4, 2022

As coal plants shut down across the United States, there is a pervasive belief that gas is the necessary “bridge” to a low-carbon grid. As of late 2021, utilities and other investors are anticipating investing more than $50 billion in new gas power plants over the next decade. However, currently available renewable energy technologies are often cheaper than gas.

In fact, a recent RMI report found that clean energy portfolios—combinations of renewable energy, efficiency, demand response, and battery storage—are a cheaper option than more than 80 percent of gas plants proposed to enter service by 2030. At least 70 GW of proposed gas plants could be economically avoided with cleaner alternatives, saving $22 billion and 873 million metric tons of CO2 over project lifetimes. This is the equivalent of taking more than 9 million vehicles off the road each year.

Already, more than half of gas plants proposed to come online in the past two years have been canceled before construction began:

For example, in New Mexico, the Public Service Company (PNM) is planning to retire the coal-powered San Juan Generating Station in 2022. To replace capacity, PNM proposed a 280 MW gas plant, the Piñon Energy Center, along with solar and storage projects. However, stakeholders pushed back on the plan, and in July 2020, the commission approved an alternate 100 percent renewable and storage replacement for San Juan based on costs, economic development, and New Mexico energy law.

And in Maryland, the Mattawoman Generating Station—a 990 MW gas plant—was approved in 2015 in a majority-Black community of Prince George’s County. However, due to economics (clean energy portfolios became cheaper than the proposed gas plant in 2018), a federal civil rights complaint, and pipeline cancellations, the project was declared no longer feasible, and was canceled in January 2021.

Replacing all of the proposed power needs with clean, renewable power also has other benefits, based on RMI’s report. It creates 20 percent more job-years, mostly in construction and manufacturing, and would prevent $1.6 billion to $3.7 billion in health impacts each year​ compared with fossil alternatives. And many of these job and health impacts will be found in low-income communities and communities of color.
» Read article                      
» Read the report

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

clean heat now
Commission on Clean Heat eyes road map to cut building emissions
By Colin A. Young, State House News Service, in The Berkshire Eagle
January 14, 2022

The new advisory commission created to help the state meet its carbon reduction requirements by shifting to cleaner buildings and addressing heating fuels that contribute to emissions was sworn in Wednesday and will begin gathering public input on the transition in March.

Gov. Charlie Baker created the Commission on Clean Heat, which his office says is a first-in-the-nation effort, through an executive order last year and gave the panel a Nov. 30 deadline to recommend policies that “seek to sustainably reduce the use of heating fuels and minimize emissions from the building sector while ensuring costs and opportunities arising from such reductions are distributed equitably.”

Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Kathleen Theoharides tapped Undersecretary of Energy and Climate Solutions Judy Chang to serve as her designee and chair of the commission. The commission’s roster also includes William Akley, the president of Eversource’s gas business; Home Builders and Remodelers Association of Massachusetts President Emerson Clauss III; Passive House New England founder Mike Duclos; Dharik Mallapragada, a research scientist working on MIT’s Energy Initiative; Robert Rio, senior vice president of government affairs for Associated Industries of Massachusetts; NAIOP Massachusetts CEO Tamara Small; and Environmental Defense Fund Director of Energy Markets and Regulation Jolette Westbrook.

“Climate leadership over the next decade will require a fundamental transition in how we heat and cool our homes and buildings,” Department of Energy Resources Commissioner Patrick Woodcock said.
» Read article                       

high temp HP
Vattenfall launches high-temperature heat pump solution to replace gas boilers
Developed in partnership with Dutch heating specialist Feenstra, the all-electric heat pump solution will initially be available in the Netherlands. The system’s buffer works as a heat battery that is used to provide heat to radiators and generate hot tap water.
By Emiliano Bellini, PV Magazine
January 7, 2022

Swedish utility Vattenfall and Dutch heating and hot water systems provider Feenstra have launched in the Netherlands a high-temperature heat pump solution for existing single-family homes that is claimed to be an easy replacement for traditional gas central heating boilers.

“The similarities between Dutch and British gas central heating mean these high-temperature heat pumps could be suitable for UK housing in suburban and rural areas,” the two companies said in a joint statement. “They could enable households to swap out their existing gas boilers without needing to go to the additional expense and disruption of changing the rest of their heating system or installing additional insulation at the same time.”

The heat pump is claimed to be able to provide a water temperature of between 60 and 80 degrees Celsius, which means its use doesn’t require the improvement of a house’s insulation, the setting up of underfloor heating or the adaptation of radiators, all of which is necessary when a conventional air heat pumps are utilized.

The system’s buffer works as a heat battery that is used to provide heat to radiators and generate hot tap water.
» Read article                       

» More about energy efficiency

BUILDING MATERIALS

AeroShield
Massachusetts startup sees path to more efficient windows with new material

AeroShield is working to commercialize a clear, lightweight material that, when sandwiched between two panes of glass, produces windows that are more insulating than bulkier, more expensive options.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
January 13, 2022

A new material developed in Massachusetts could someday help make super-efficient windows more affordable for home and business owners.

A Cambridge startup called AeroShield has developed a clear, lightweight material that, when sandwiched between two panes of glass, produces windows that are more insulating than even bulkier, more expensive options.

Early research by the company indicates that windows incorporating its material could cut residential heating and cooling costs by 20%. The first prototypes could be installed in demonstration projects by the end of 2022, and products could hit the wider market in 2023 or 2024.

“We’re really excited by a change we could start in the industry by enabling some better designs and some better products,” said co-founder Elise Strobach.

As the country grapples with the urgent need to lower greenhouse gas emissions, the energy consumption of buildings is a key problem to solve. Fossil fuel combustion in buildings accounted for about 29% of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States in 2018, according to a report from the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, a Virginia-based climate and clean energy nonprofit.

Lowering these emissions will require switching from fossil fuels to electricity wherever possible, generating cleaner electricity on the grid, and reducing overall power usage. And a key strategy for decreasing energy consumption is to create extremely tight building envelopes.

Windows, however, have always posed a challenge to achieving high levels of efficiency: Heat lost or gained through windows is responsible for up to 30% of the energy used to heat or cool a home, the federal Department of Energy estimates.

AeroShield began with research Strobach conducted for her doctorate work at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, searching for ways to better insulate solar panels so they would generate power more efficiently. She looked to silica aerogel which, despite what its name suggests, is not sticky or oozy. It is a very light, highly porous solid glass that is such a good insulator that NASA has used it to protect critical equipment.

First invented in 1931, aerogels are not a new technology. However, silica aerogel has always been a cloudy, pale blue color, too opaque to let sufficient sunlight pass through to solar panels. Strobach’s goal was to figure out how to make the material transparent.

“It’s one of the most insulating materials in the world,” Strobach said. “But it had never been clear.”

Her research succeeded even beyond her original goal. The material she created not only let adequate sunlight pass, but it was also clear enough to see through. Essentially, she explained, her team made nanoparticles of glass and the pores between them smaller than the wavelength of visible light, so, in the final material, the light doesn’t interact with the material.
» Read article                       

» More about building materials

LONG-DURATION ENERGY STORAGE

heavy blocks
Gravity Could Solve Clean Energy’s One Major Drawback
Finding green energy when the winds are calm and the skies are cloudy has been a challenge. Storing it in giant concrete blocks could be the answer.
By Matt Reynolds, Wired
January 4, 2022

Without a way to decarbonize the world’s electricity supply, we’ll never hit net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Electricity production and heat add up to a quarter of all global emissions and, since almost every activity you can imagine requires electricity, cleaning up power grids has huge knock-on effects. If our electricity gets greener, so do our homes, industries, and transport systems. This will become even more critical as more parts of our lives become electrified— particularly heating and transport, which will be difficult to decarbonize in any other way. All of this electrification is expected to double electricity production by 2050 according to the International Atomic Energy Agency. But without an easy way to store large amounts of energy and then release it when we need it, we may never undo our reliance on dirty, polluting, fossil-fuel-fired power stations.

This is where gravity energy storage comes in. Proponents of the technology argue that gravity provides a neat solution to the storage problem. Rather than relying on lithium-ion batteries, which degrade over time and require rare-earth metals that must be dug out of the ground, Piconi and his colleagues say that gravity systems could provide a cheap, plentiful, and long-lasting store of energy that we’re currently overlooking. But to prove it, they’ll need to build an entirely new way of storing electricity, and then convince an industry already going all-in on lithium-ion batteries that the future of storage involves extremely heavy weights falling from great heights.
» Read article                       

» More about long-duration energy storage

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

low Cd
In the shift to electric, the three-box sedan is obsolete: Here’s why

By Bengt Halvorson, Green Car Reports
January 12, 2022

Not everyone who wants an electric vehicle wants an SUV. There’s still life for longer and lower electric cars—especially as highway models that are optimized toward maximizing driving range.

But fewer of them than you might think will be traditional three-box sedans, with a hood, a cabin, and a trunk. And more of them will have swoopy “kammback” rooflines and hatchbacks.

Simply put, if you design a car around lower aerodynamic drag, it will be able to cover more highway miles per kilowatt-hour of stored battery energy—which means a lower cost and a lower environmental footprint for the car. The sedan shape is turbulence-prone behind the rear window, but a softer slope and tapered sides near the rear remedy the issue.

That’s especially critical for entry luxury models, where all the numbers have to stand out versus basic commuter devices and yet keep to a price point. It’s why, with the Mercedes-Benz Vision EQXX, which previews a generation of compact to midsize EVs on the upcoming MMA platform debuting in 2024, Mercedes went all out with aero.

The EQXX concept achieves an excellent 0.17 coefficient of drag—far below that of any current production four-door. And company officials pointed to its aerodynamics as one of the keys to its projected real-world range of 621 miles on a battery pack with less than 100 kwh, perhaps with air-cooling for the battery.
» Read article                       

» More about clean transportation

SITING IMPACTS OF RENEWABLE ENERGY

BLM in hot water
Clean energy goes up against tribal rights and biodiversity in Nevada
A geothermal power plant is the latest battlefield for Biden’s green vision.
By Emily Pontecorvo, Grist
January 7, 2022

The Biden administration is facing critical questions about how to balance the urgency of transitioning to clean energy with other progressive priorities. On Monday, a U.S. district judge halted construction of two geothermal power plants on public land in Nevada. The decision was in response to a lawsuit filed in December by the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental nonprofit, and the Fallon Paiute-Shoshone Tribe, against the Bureau of Land Management, or BLM, for approving the project.

Geothermal power plants pump hot water from deep underground and use it to generate steam to produce clean electricity. The Nevada plants are set to be built on a verdant wetland in the desert called Dixie Meadows. The suit alleges that the project threatens to dry up the hot springs that support the wetland and are of religious and cultural significance to the Fallon Paiute-Shoshone. The ecosystem is also home to the Dixie Valley toad, a species that is not known to exist anywhere else on Earth.

The plaintiffs have reason to be skeptical. The geothermal company behind the Dixie Meadows project, Ormat Technologies, opened a geothermal power plant in 2011 about 40 miles away on another hot springs called Jersey Valley. The springs dried up entirely a few years after the plant began operating.

To date, geothermal power plant development has been limited to areas with known geothermal resources close to the surface of the earth, which are often indicated by natural hot springs. But research underway at the Department of Energy and by private companies to tap into geothermal resources much deeper underground could open up new areas to geothermal development, potentially sparing treasured natural resources like Dixie Meadows.
» Read article                       

» More about siting impacts

ELECTRIC UTILITIES

unused and useless
Unused and useless: States must act to end flawed natural gas power plant buildouts
By Grant Smith, Utility Dive | Guest Opinion
January 11, 2022
Grant Smith is senior energy policy advisor at Environmental Working Group (EWG)

Nothing exemplifies the irrational utility business model more than the billions of dollars companies have wasted on the massive buildout of natural gas capacity over the last decade, ignoring obvious market trends favoring renewables and energy storage.

One great tool to end this financial mismanagement would be enforcing the once prominent “used and useful” standard through which states could mandate that new power plants be completed and providing service before a utility can recover costs from ratepayers. And those generation resources must remain economic, or useful, throughout their lifecycles.

But states have scrapped or severely weakened this requirement across the U.S.

And their approval of new, unnecessary natural gas infrastructure also rests in part on power companies’ misleading claims in their investment plans.
» Read article                       

» More about electric utilities

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

coal was dying
Coal was dying. Then 2021 happened.
The dirtiest fossil fuel is on the rise — and with it, U.S. carbon emissions.
By Shannon Osaka, Grist
January 10, 2022

Coal was supposed to be on its deathbed. For the past seven years, coal use in America has been trending down. Faced with falling natural gas prices and the growth in wind and solar energy, coal plants from Illinois to New Mexico closed their doors. In 2005, coal plants generated 2 trillion kilowatt-hours of American power; by 2020, that number had been cut by more than half. And as coal vanished, replaced by less carbon-intensive natural gas, U.S. greenhouse gas emissions edged down. In 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic cratered carbon dioxide emissions overall, coal use fell by a whopping 19 percent.

Then 2021 happened.

According to a report released Monday by the energy research firm Rhodium Group, coal use rebounded for the first time since 2014, growing 17 percent in 2021. That coincided with a rebound in overall greenhouse gas emissions as the economy slowly recovered from the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, U.S. emissions fell by 10.3 percent, the largest drop since World War II; in 2021, they climbed 6.2 percent — not returning to 2019 emission levels, but perilously close.

That’s bad news for the climate. Over the past decade, most of the United States’ emissions cuts have come from cheap natural gas replacing coal. But last year, rising natural gas prices helped resuscitate the dirtiest fossil fuel. A cold winter and declining supply sent natural gas prices skyrocketing to more than double their 2020 average. In response, utilities leaned more on coal to generate electricity across the country — and emissions climbed.
» Read article                      
» Read the Rhodium Group report

» More about fossil fuels

PLASTICS RECYCLING

single use
Energy Department slammed for funding ‘false’ plastics solutions
Advocates say the agency’s efforts to develop chemical recycling are a “waste of tax dollars.”
By Joseph Winters, Grist
January 14, 2022

The U.S. Department of Energy, or DOE, announced this week that it will invest $13.4 million in research funding to address the plastic industry’s contributions to pollution and climate change. But while the agency cast the investment as an opportunity to address urgent environmental problems while creating an “influx of clean manufacturing jobs for American workers,” environmental advocates said it was the wrong approach.

“It’s a waste of tax dollars,” said Judith Enck, a former regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency and founder of the advocacy group Beyond Plastics. Taking aim at the funding’s focus on “upcycling” and biodegradable plastics, she said the grants perpetuated “false solutions” that would keep the U.S. hooked on single-use plastics and do little to reduce the glut of plastic waste entering the oceans each year.

Enck’s take is a stark departure from the tone set by the DOE’s press release, which says it will contribute up to $2.5 million each to seven plastic-related research projects led by corporations and universities. It cites the need to “build a clean energy economy and ensure the U.S. reaches net-zero carbon emissions by 2050” and includes laudatory quotes from Democratic Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey of Massachusetts.

But environmental advocates say most of the projects set to be funded by the DOE — “infinitely recyclable single-polymer chemistry,” “catalytic deconstruction of plasma treated single-use plastics to value-added chemicals” — are just industry-speak for a process known as “chemical recycling.” This process, which theoretically melts plastic into its constituent molecules so it can be repurposed into new plastic products, has been criticized as an industry pipe dream; due to technological and economic difficulties, most chemical recycling facilities end up just melting used plastic into oil and gas to be burned. One 2020 analysis from the nonprofit Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, or GAIA, found that of the 37 chemical recycling facilities proposed in the U.S. since 2000, only three are operational, and zero specialize in plastic-to-plastic conversion.

According to GAIA, the plastics industry has spent decades researching chemical recycling without much to show for it.
» Read article                      
» Read the GAIA analysis

» More about plastics recycling

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!