Tag Archives: renewable natural gas

Weekly News Check-In 4/22/22

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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

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Weekly News Check-In 7/17/20

banner 04

Welcome back.

Last week’s news was all about pipeline projects scuttled by fierce popular resistance, smart litigation, and economic reality. This week, proponents of big gas/oil and business-as-usual struck back by further slashing environmental regulations in the hope of greasing the skids for future projects. And with the Dakota Access Pipeline held up indefinitely, a lot more volatile crude may soon be moving by rail on trains and track near you – having never effectively addressed all those “bomb train” safety issues.

Some of the biggest banks financing fossil fuel projects are prime targets of the divestment movement. Many are also backing Rocky Mountain Institute’s new Center for Climate-Aligned Finance. The Center’s mission is to guide banks operating in carbon-heavy sectors, with the goal of achieving global net-zero emissions by 2050. Conflict of interest? Environmental organizations will be watching closely.

The Biden campaign released an ambitious plan that aims to green the economy while rescuing it from the Covid-19 collapse. And while the climate reels from unchecked methane emissions – posting another record – scientists are launching a new satellite system supported by artificial intelligence and machine learning to pinpoint and track global carbon emissions in real time. This will allow direct measurement for the first time – and presents an opportunity for effective management and stronger international agreements.

Some good news in clean energy involves the rescue of rooftop solar net metering from an attempt by the shadowy New England Ratepayers Association (NERA) to move policy decisions from State to Federal jurisdiction. And now that natural gas is no longer seriously considered a clean bridge fuel, we’re facing the tricky question of how best to trim back its role in generating power and heating buildings. Massachusetts, New York, and California are leading the way.

Energy storage and clean transportation are increasingly synergistic. Expect to see robust growth in both sectors, with topped-up EVs providing storage services to the grid, and retired EV batteries finding their way into stationary storage installations – especially now that a new generation of lithium-ion batteries is expected to last much longer than a typical vehicle’s life on the road.

The fossil fuel industry is promoting “renewable” natural gas, derived from non-fossil methane sources. We offer an analysis of this niche fuel, and how it’s being used as cover for the continued use of fossil methane. Also a must-read article from the Times, discussing the huge and growing problem of methane leaks from abandoned oil and gas wells, at a time when fracking companies are failing and leaving cleanup costs to taxpayers.

The wood pellet industry is booming, thanks to policies in both Europe and the U.S. that treat woody biomass as a carbon neutral fuel. A new rule from the Environmental Protection Agency may make the problem worse, and that’s bad news for the climate and forests.

We reported last week that plastics industry lobbyists had pounced on the opportunity presented by uncertainty around modes of disease transmission in the early days of the Covid-19 crisis – convincing states to roll back municipal plastic bag bans in the interest of public safety. Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker has now reinstated those bans, since we now understand that Covid-19 transmission from surfaces is a low risk. We close with a report on plastics in the environment – everywhere.

— The NFGiM Team

OTHER PIPELINES

orange is the new stupid
President Trump just made it harder to stop new pipelines
Trump moved to speed up the permitting process for major infrastructure projects
By Justine Calma, The Verge
July 15, 2020

President Trump today gutted the National Environmental Policy Act, a move that many environmental advocates worry will make it harder for people to have a say in how major infrastructure projects would affect them. The new rules speed up permitting for large infrastructure projects like pipelines and highways by truncating the environmental review process.

Environmental reviews are designed to figure out if a project will significantly change the environment around the project in some way. The process can take years and involves scientific studies, intense analysis, and time for the public to comment on the proposals. The new rules, first proposed in January, limit the timeline for environmental reviews to two years — even though the process frequently takes twice as long. The changes would also allow projects that aren’t primarily federally funded to bypass the environmental reviews entirely. The revised rules also permit federal agencies to ignore climate change when making their assessments.

NEPA helped Native American tribes and pipeline opponents secure recent victories. A federal judge decided in March that the US Army Corps of Engineers violated NEPA in granting a permit for the Dakota Access Pipeline, and earlier this month ordered the pipeline to shut down pending an environmental review. Pipeline opponents successfully asserted in 2018 that developers of the Keystone XL pipeline violated NEPA.

While today’s changes won’t affect pipeline decisions that have already been made, environmental advocates and attorneys argue that it will become harder for people to contest a major new infrastructure project in the future.
» Read article          

Return of the Bomb Trains
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
July 12, 2020

On July 6th Reuters published an article on the potential for a resurgence of moving crude oil from the Bakken region of North Dakota across the country by rail, due to a judge’s decision to shut down the Dakota Access Pipeline over permit issues.

July 6th also was the 7th anniversary of the disaster in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec when a train full of Bakken oil from North Dakota derailed and exploded — resulting in 47 fatalities and the destruction of much of downtown Lac-Mégantic.

And while the timing was just coincidence, it is a stark reminder of the dangers of moving Bakken crude (and Canadian crude) oil by rail and the risks that a resurgence of this industry poses to the 25 million people living along the tracks these oil trains traverse.

After the Lac-Mégantic disaster, regulators in Canada and the U.S. worked to put in place new safety regulations to prevent another such disaster from happening. However, as we have documented here on DeSmog and in my book Bomb Trains: How Industry Greed and Regulatory Failure Put the Public at Risk, the oil and rail industries have effectively blocked or forced the repeal of any meaningful safety regulations.

Regulations for modern electronically controlled pneumatic brakes were repealed by the Trump administration. State regulations to require the volatile Bakken oil to be stabilized to remove the natural gas liquids in the crude oil that make it so dangerous were overruled by the Trump administration.

There still are no regulations about rail track wear and replacement even though track failure is a leading cause of train derailments and is suspected of causing the two most recent oil train derailments that resulted in large spills and fires. There still are no regulations on the length of the trains, even though longer trains derail more often and train operators — the men and women driving the trains — say that longer trains are harder to operate.

And the new tank cars that were supposed to be safer have failed in every major oil and ethanol train derailment they have been involved in to date.
» Read article          

» More about pipelines              

DIVESTMENT

RMI bedfellows
JPMorgan, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs back launch of climate finance center
By Dan Ennis, Utility Dive
July 15, 2020

The Rocky Mountain Institute, a clean energy nonprofit, launched the Center for Climate-Aligned Finance on Thursday with financial backing from JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo and Goldman Sachs.

With the goal of cutting carbon emissions to net zero by 2050, the center aims to collaborate with banks to design guidance for working with carbon-heavy sectors such as steel or utilities, and to help banks determine which climate benchmarks and data to follow.

Banks are increasingly seeing the value — not just in optics but in revenue — of environmentally responsible investment.

Paul Bodnar, chair of the center and managing director of the institute, said the Poseidon Principles, which encourage financing of more environmentally friendly shipping vehicles, influenced the center’s creation.

“One sector provides the lifeblood that powers all the others, and that is finance,” he told American Banker.

Climate activists indicated the center is an initiative to watch.

“It could drive real steps toward banks aligning with 1.5°C,” Jason Opeña Disterhoft, senior climate and energy campaigner at Rainforest Action Network, said in a statement emailed to Banking Dive, referring to a goal of limiting global temperature increase. “But it could also be used as an excuse for banks to keep supporting the world’s worst climate polluters.

“The four founding partner banks include three of the top four fossil banks in the world, and together are responsible for more than $700 billion in fossil financing since Paris,” he added. “The four of them bank a clear majority of the companies doing the most to expand oil, gas and coal.”
» Read article           https://www.utilitydive.com/news/jpmorgan-bank-of-america-wells-fargo-goldman-sachs-back-launch-of-climat/581599/

» More about divestment      

GREENING THE ECONOMY

build back better
Biden’s $2 Trillion Climate Plan Promotes Union Jobs, Electric Cars and Carbon-Free Power
The former vice president linked a new green economy with America’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, saying the nation needs to “Build Back Better.”
By Marianne Lavelle, James Bruggers, Ilana Cohen, Judy Fahys, and Dan Gearino, InsideClimate News
July 15, 2020

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden unveiled a $2 trillion clean economy jobs program Tuesday that marked a significant expansion in his plan for tackling climate change, with jobs-creation and environmental justice as its pillars.

With a blue “Build Back Better” placard on his lectern, the former vice president sought to signal that the coronavirus crisis will not displace the imperative to act on climate. Instead, he framed the immediate and long-term crises as linked, requiring the same sort of government intervention: a massive program to ramp up electric vehicles, carbon-free power and energy efficiency throughout the economy.
» Read article          

» More about greening the economy            

CLIMATE

TRACE by COP-26
The entire world’s carbon emissions will finally be trackable in real time
The new Climate TRACE Coalition is assembling the data and running the AI.
By David Roberts, Vox
July 16, 2020

There’s an old truism in the business world: what gets measured gets managed. One of the challenges in managing the greenhouse gas emissions warming the atmosphere is that they aren’t measured very well.

“Currently, most countries do not know where most of their emissions come from,” says Kelly Sims Gallagher, a professor of energy and environmental policy at Tufts University’s Fletcher School. “Even in advanced economies like the United States, emissions are estimated for many sectors.” Without this information “you cannot devise smart and effective policies to mitigate emissions,” she says, and “you cannot track them to see if you are making progress against your goals.”

The lack of good data also complicates international climate negotiations. “It’s frustrating that nearly three decades after countries committed under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to publish national GHG emissions inventories, we still don’t have recent, comprehensive, and consistent inventories for all countries,” says Taryn Fransen of the World Resources Institute.

The ultimate solution to this problem — the killer app, as it were — would be real-time tracking of all global greenhouse gases, verified by objective third parties, and available for free to the public.

When countries began meeting under the UNFCCC in the mid-1990s, that vision was speculative science fiction. It was basically regarded as science fiction when the Paris Agreement was signed in 2015. But science moves quickly — in particular, artificial intelligence, the ability to rapidly integrate multiple data sources, has advanced rapidly in recent years.

Now, a new alliance of climate research groups called the Climate TRACE (Tracking Real-Time Atmospheric Carbon Emissions) Coalition has launched an effort to make the vision a reality, and they’re aiming to have it ready for COP26, the climate meetings in Glasgow, Scotland, in November 2021 (postponed from November 2020). If they pull it off, it could completely change the tenor and direction of international climate talks.
» Read article          

no peak for methane
Global Methane Emissions Reach a Record High
Scientists expect emissions, driven by fossil fuels and agriculture, to continue rising rapidly.
By Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times
July 14, 2020

Global emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, soared to a record high in 2017, the most recent year for which worldwide data are available, researchers said Tuesday.

And they warned that the rise — driven by fossil fuel leaks and agriculture — would most certainly continue despite the economic slowdown from the coronavirus crisis, which is bad news for efforts to limit global warming and its grave effects.

The latest findings, published on Tuesday in two scientific journals, underscore how methane presents a growing threat, even as the world finds some success in reining in carbon dioxide emissions, the most abundant greenhouse gas and the main cause of global warning.

“There’s a hint that we might be able to reach peak carbon dioxide emissions very soon. But we don’t appear to be even close to peak methane,” said Rob Jackson, an earth scientist at Stanford University who heads the Global Carbon Project, which conducted the research. “It isn’t going down in agriculture, it isn’t going down with fossil fuel use.”
» Read article          

number cooker
G.A.O.: Trump Boosts Deregulation by Undervaluing Cost of Climate Change
The Government Accountability Office has found that the Trump administration is undervaluing the cost of climate change to boost its deregulatory efforts.
By Lisa Friedman, New York Times
July 14, 2020

A federal report released on Tuesday found the Trump administration set a rock-bottom price on the damages done by greenhouse gas emissions, enabling the government to justify the costs of repealing or weakening dozens of climate change regulations.

The report by the Government Accountability Office, Congress’s nonpartisan investigative arm, said the Trump administration estimated the harm that global warming will cause future generations to be seven times lower than previous federal estimates. Reducing that metric, known as the “social cost of carbon,” has helped the administration massage cost-benefit analyses, particularly for rules that allow power plants and automobiles to emit more planet-warming carbon dioxide.
» Read article          
» Obtain GAO report          

Maureen Raymo
She’s an Authority on Earth’s Past. Now, Her Focus Is the Planet’s Future.
The climate scientist Maureen Raymo is leading the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia. She has big plans for science, and diversity, too.
By John Schwartz, New York Times
July 10, 2020

Columbia University is taking new steps to make climate change, which has been studied there for decades, an even more prominent part of the school’s mission. And Maureen Raymo is a big part of that.

On July 1, Dr. Raymo, one of the world’s leading oceanographers and climate scientists, became interim director of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. Founded in 1949 and perched on hills overlooking the Hudson River 18 miles north of Manhattan, the observatory has been one of the world’s leading centers of scientific exploration into earth sciences and climate change. It was a Lamont researcher, Wallace Broecker, who brought the term “global warming” to public attention in a landmark 1975 paper.

And while there are more women represented at Lamont today than when Dr. Raymo was a graduate student there in the 1980s, she comes to her leadership position at a time when addressing other issues of diversity and equity in the field, and within the institution, is overdue.

Having experienced discrimination in her own career, she said an important way to address it is to “get into a position where you can change things.” She has dedicated fans among Lamont students, who value not just her scientific prowess but also her attention to social justice issues.
» Read article          

rescue debate
A Rescue Plan for the Planet? Watch Our Debate Here.
A virtual event with eight speakers and one question: Has Covid-19 created a blueprint for combating climate change?
By The New York Times
July 10, 2020

The devastation of Covid-19 has forced swift and startling change around the globe. To combat the coronavirus, governments poured money into rescue programs, companies adapted their goals and production, central banks permitted exceptional stimulus packages and many societies mobilized to shield the most vulnerable.

The New York Times hosted a debate on July 9, 2020, to explore the hard-earned lessons of Covid-19 and how to apply them to climate change. Have these dramatic actions against the coronavirus given us a blueprint for mobilization against climate change? Is this an opportunity for a new path forward that puts accelerated climate solutions at its center?
» Watch debate          

» More about climate               

CLEAN ENERGY

NERA path still open
FERC shuts down petition to upend net metering, McNamee signals issue could return
By Catherine Morehouse, Utility Dive
July 17, 2020

The New England Ratepayers Association’s (NERA) petition was opposed by a wide swath of industry leaders, environmentalists, bipartisan government officials, legal experts and others. In total, almost 50,000 groups and individuals issued comments in opposition, while just 21 supported it.

“NERA’s petition to attack rooftop solar investments and gut energy savings during a health and financial crisis was ill-conceived,” Adam Browning, executive director of Vote Solar, said in a statement. Vote Solar and Solar United Neighbors drove over 20,000 comments in opposition to the petition by the filing deadline.

FERC dismissed the NERA petition on the grounds that the group was unable to point to a particular harm.

Instead, NERA “asked the commission to make certain jurisdictional determinations regarding energy sales from rooftop solar facilities, and other distributed generation located on the customer side of the retail meter,” said Chatterjee. “Declaratory orders to terminate a controversy, or remove uncertainty, are discretionary. We exercise that discretion today and find that the issues presented in the petition do not warrant a generic statement from the commission at this time.”

But NERA saw the commission’s order and the two commissioner’s concurrence statements as a sign the issue could be raised again.

“While we are disappointed by FERC’s decision to dismiss our [p]etition on procedural grounds this issue is far from resolved,” Marc Brown, president of NERA, said in a statement. “FERC demonstrably leaves the door open for NERA to address the concerns raised by the Commissioners in its order.”
» Read article          

scripting the endgameThe Natural Gas Divide
States are confronting the future of gas in buildings — and facing a set of high-stakes questions.
By Emily Pontecorvo, Grist
July 15, 2020

In early June, the attorney general of Massachusetts, Maura Healey, filed a petition with state utility regulators advising them to investigate the future of natural gas in the Commonwealth. Healey described the urgent need to figure out how the gas industry, which helps heat millions of homes throughout freezing Northeastern winters, fits into the state’s plan to zero-out its greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 — especially considering the fuels burned for indoor heating and hot water are responsible for about a third of the state’s carbon footprint.

Eliminating emissions from this sector means venturing into uncharted waters. While many states are rapidly developing wind and solar farms to cut carbon from their electric grids, few are tackling the thornier challenge of reducing the gas burned in buildings. Officials in California and New York, which both have binding economy-wide net-zero emissions laws, have recently come to the same conclusion as Healey: Meeting state climate goals is going to require changes to the way gas utilities are regulated. Earlier this year, both states opened up precisely the kind of investigation that Healey is requesting in Massachusetts.

Natural gas, a fossil fuel, has long been called a “bridge” to a cleaner energy future because burning it has a much lower carbon footprint than burning coal or oil. But research has called that narrative into question by showing that methane leaking across the natural gas supply chain raises its climate impact significantly. Recent developments have called the economics of natural gas into question, too: In early July, the developers of the high-profile Atlantic Coast Pipeline decided to abandon the project after an onslaught of lawsuits made the pipeline too expensive to build.

California, Massachusetts, and New York haven’t decided whether — or to what extent — natural gas can remain in their energy mixes. But the point of these investigations is much larger than those questions. There’s no established roadmap for managing the transition to zero-emissions buildings, and there are serious consequences to getting it wrong — huge cost burdens on residents, mass layoffs and bankruptcies at utilities, and of course, climate disaster.
» Read article          

pushing 2836
Massachusetts lawmakers face pressure to pass 100% renewable bill this session
Gov. Charlie Baker supports a goal of net-zero by 2050, but a growing list of stakeholders say that’s not good enough.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
Photo By Timothy Vollmer, Flickr / Creative Commons
July 15, 2020

As the end of Massachusetts’ state legislative session draws near, activists, municipal officials, businesses, and civic organizations are urging lawmakers to take action on a bill that would require a 100% renewable electricity transition by 2045 — and making plans for next steps if the measure is not passed this year.

“We want to make sure that this year does not go by without strong and decisive action on clean energy at the Statehouse,” said Ben Hellerstein, state director for Environment Massachusetts.

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker in January committed to a goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Many, however, argue that this target will be impossible to hit without stronger measures to accelerate the switch to renewable energy. If current standards are not changed, the transition to clean energy would not be complete until the turn of the next century.

To address this disparity, state Rep. Marjorie Decker and state Rep. Sean Garballey sponsored a bill (H.2836) that calls for all the state’s electricity to be renewably sourced by 2035, and all energy used for transportation and heating to be renewable by 2045.
» Read article          
» Read Bill H.2836

» More about clean energy               

ENERGY STORAGE

energy storage second life
California Awards $10.8M to Reuse EV Batteries in Solar & Microgrid Projects
By Elisa Wood, Microgrid Knowledge
July 15, 2020

The California Energy Commission (CEC) awarded $10.8 million to four projects that will explore repurposing used batteries from electric vehicles (EV), partly to support microgrids.

The awards approved in meetings in June and July stemmed from a solicitation for research and development projects showing how used batteries could cost-effectively integrate solar at small-to-medium commercial buildings.

With a goal of having 5 million zero-emission vehicles on the road by 2030, the commission is looking for ways to give degraded car batteries a second life. Typically, EV batteries are retired when they lose 70 percent to 80 percent of their capacity. However, they can be used for other applications like energy storage.
» Read article          

841 upheld
‘Enormous Step’ for Energy Storage as Court Upholds FERC Order 841, Opening Wholesale Markets
Federal regulators — not utilities and states — get to decide how batteries engage in transmission-scale power markets, the appeals court rules.
By Jeff St. John, GreenTech Media
July 10, 2020

In a victory for the energy storage industry, a federal appeals court has upheld the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s Order 841, clearing the way for transmission grid operators across the country to open their markets to energy storage, including aggregated batteries connected at the distribution grid or behind customers’ meters.

Friday’s court opinion (PDF) declared that FERC has jurisdiction over how energy storage interacts with the interstate transmission markets it regulates, even if those systems are interconnected to the grid under regulations set by the states.

The court also rejected arguments by utility groups and state utility regulators seeking to opt out of allowing energy storage resources (ESRs) to participate under Order 841, which allows for units as small as 100 kilowatts to access wholesale markets.

Instead, the three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit agreed with FERC’s contention that “[k]eeping the gates open to all types of ESRs — regardless of their interconnection points in the electric energy systems — ensures that technological advances in energy storage are fully realized in the marketplace, and efficient energy storage leads to greater competition, thereby reducing wholesale rates.”
» Read article          
» Read the Circuit Court opinion

» More about energy storage             

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

dig this
Next Up for Electrification: Heavy-Duty Trucks and Construction Machinery
Electrified transport is not just about cars anymore, as California’s landmark Advanced Clean Trucks regulation shows.
By Justin Gerdes, GreenTech Media
July 13, 2020

Electric models of work trucks, commercial vehicles, and construction machinery are hitting the market in greater numbers than ever before, and policymakers are growing increasingly optimistic about the sector. The California Air Resources Board (CARB), the state’s powerful air quality regulator, voted last month to require that every new truck sold in the state by 2045 be zero-emission, with truck makers forced to begin the transition in 2024.

Part of the challenge in electrifying transportation is simply getting enough good models on the market to attract customers and foster competition. In that realm, things are advancing: By 2023, there will be 19 all-electric or hydrogen fuel cell versions of heavy-duty trucks in production in North America, up from five Class 8 models available today, according to the Rocky Mountain Institute.

In Europe, meanwhile, there are early signs of progress on electrifying off-road construction equipment, with electric versions of excavators, loads and dumpers now available from a range of manufacturers including Hitachi, Komatsu and Volvo. Oslo launched the world’s first zero-emission construction site last year, and Norway’s capital city has mandated that by 2025 all public construction sites will operate only zero-emission construction machinery.
» Read article        

» More about clean transportation             

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

greenwashing RNG
Report: Push for Renewable Natural Gas Is More Gas Industry ‘Greenwashing’
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
July 14, 2020

“Renewable natural gas,” or RNG, is an alternative gas fuel that comes from landfills, manure, or synthetic processes. That’s opposed to the fossil gas that drillers traditionally pump out of underground reserves in oil and gas fields.

With “renewable” in the name, it may sound like a promising alternative to the fossil-based “natural” gas commonly used for heating and cooking in buildings. According to a new report from Earthjustice and Sierra Club, however, these fuels pitched as “renewable ” and environmentally friendly alternatives to fossil gas amount to a PR campaign meant to distract from efforts to convert the building sector to all electric power.

The report, published July 14, argues that RNG is an example of fossil fuel industry greenwashing and is not a viable solution for simply replacing fossil gas in buildings. According to the report, RNG is touted by gas utilities for the purpose of countering building electrification policies that restrict the use of gas in buildings for uses like heating, hot water, and cooking. Converting buildings to all-electric usage is recognized as a key climate strategy to shift away from fossil fuels, because electricity can be generated from a variety of sources that do not produce globe-warming emissions.
» Read article          
» Read the report

MDC methane leak
Fracking Firms Fail, Rewarding Executives and Raising Climate Fears
Oil and gas companies are hurtling toward bankruptcy, raising fears that wells will be left leaking planet-warming pollutants, with cleanup cost left to taxpayers.
By Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times
July 12, 2020

Oil and gas companies in the United States are hurtling toward bankruptcy at a pace not seen in years, driven under by a global price war and a pandemic that has slashed demand. And in the wake of this economic carnage is a potential environmental disaster — unprofitable wells that will be abandoned or left untended, even as they continue leaking planet-warming pollutants, and a costly bill for taxpayers to clean it all up.

Still, as these businesses collapse, millions of dollars have flowed to executive compensation.

The industry’s decline may be just beginning. Almost 250 oil and gas companies could file for bankruptcy protection by the end of next year, more than the previous five years combined, according to Rystad Energy, an analytics company. Rystad analysts now expect oil demand will begin falling permanently by decade’s end as renewable energy costs decline, energy efficiency improves, and efforts to fight climate change diminish an industry that has spent the past decade drilling thousands of wells, transforming the United States into the biggest oil producer in the world.

The environmental consequences of the industry’s collapse would be severe.
» Read article          

» More about fossil fuels                   

BIOMASS

pellet boom
The Wood Pellet Business is Booming. Scientists Say That’s Not Good for the Climate.
Trump’s EPA is expected to propose a new rule declaring burning biomass to be carbon neutral, as industry looks to expand its domestic markets.
By James Bruggers, InsideClimate News
July 13, 2020

In rural Southern towns from Virginia to Texas, mill workers are churning out wood pellets from nearby forests as fast as European power plants, thousands of miles away, can burn them.

On this side of the Atlantic, new pellet plants are being proposed in South Carolina, Arkansas and other southern states. And Southern coastal shipping ports are expanding along with the pellet industry, vying to increase deliveries to Asia.

While the United States has fallen into a coronavirus-induced recession that dealt a blow to oil, gas, and petrochemical companies, for biomass production across the South, it’s still boom time.

The industry has exploded, driven largely by European climate policies and subsidies that reward burning wood, even as an increasing number of scientists call out what they see as a dangerous carbon accounting loophole that threatens the 2050 goals of the Paris climate agreement.

This month, the Environmental Protection Agency, acting at the direction of the U.S. Congress, is expected to propose securing that loophole with a new rule that details how burning biomass from forests can be considered carbon neutral, at least in the United States.

The industry wants to see regulations that will keep their businesses growing, including expanding U.S. energy markets that now barely exist. But some scientists and environmental groups argue that new EPA rules that are favorable to the industry would put the climate at further risk, along with forest ecosystems across biologically rich landscapes.
» Read article        

» More about biomass              

PLASTIC BAG BANS

reusable bags OK again in MA
Environmental groups hail Baker’s lift on reusable bags, and plastic bag ban suspension
By Heather Bellow, Berkshire Eagle
July 11, 2020

Shoppers once again can bring their own reusable bags to grocery stores and pharmacies and no longer will have the option to use single-use plastic bags in places with municipal bans on them.

Environmental groups are thrilled. They have been wary of what they say is an opportunistic plastics industry that, early on, used the coronavirus pandemic to stoke fear about the safety of reusable bags in an attempt to kill plastic bag bans.

Gov. Charlie Baker on Friday rescinded his March 10 emergency order that temporarily lifted the ban on plastic bags supplied in stores to protect the public and essential workers from infection with the coronavirus, back when there was less certainty about the risk of catching the virus from touching surfaces.
» Read article       

» More about plastic bans             

PLASTICS, HEALTH, AND ENVIRONMENT

serious situation
‘Our life is plasticized’: New research shows microplastics in our food, water, air
By Elizabeth Claire Alberts, Mongabay
July 15, 2020

In 1997, Charles Moore was sailing a catamaran from Hawaii to California when he and his crew got stuck in windless waters in the North Pacific Ocean. As they motored along, searching for a breeze to fill their sails, Moore noticed that the ocean was speckled with “odd bits and flakes,” as he describes it in his book, Plastic Ocean. It was plastic: drinking bottles, fishing nets, and countless pieces of broken-down objects.

“It wasn’t an eureka moment … I didn’t come across a mountain of trash,” Moore told Mongabay. “But there was this feeling of unease that this material had got [as] far from human civilization as it possibly could.”

Moore, credited as the person who discovered what’s now known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, returned to the same spot two years later on a citizen science mission. When he and his crew collected water samples, they found that, along with larger “macroplastics,” the seawater was swirling with tiny plastic particles: microplastics, which are defined as anything smaller than 5 millimeters but bigger than 1 micron, which is 1/1000th of a millimeter. Microplastics can form when larger pieces of plastics break down into small particles, or when tiny, microscopic fibers detach from polyester clothing or synthetic fishing gear. Other microplastics are deliberately manufactured, such as the tiny plastic beads in exfoliating cleaners.

“That’s when we really had the eureka moment,” Moore said. “When we pulled in that first trawl, which was outside of what we thought was going to be the center [of the gyre], and found it was full of plastic. Then we realized, ‘Wow, this is a serious situation.’”

Plastic waste isn’t just leaking into the ocean; it’s also polluting freshwater systems and even raining or snowing down from the sky after getting absorbed into the atmosphere, according to another study led by Steve and Deonie Allen. With microplastics being so ubiquitous, it should come as no surprise that they are also present in the food and water we drink.
» Read article       

» More about plastics in the environment      

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Weekly News Check-In 4/10/20

WNCI-2

Welcome back.

Pipeline protesters in a growing number of states have experienced aggressive moves to criminalize nonviolent direct actions against infrastructure projects. This week, we bring news of a potential doubling down on that disconcerting trend, under the guise of COVID-19 response. Meanwhile, a study by Synapse Energy Economics determined that the planned Transco pipeline carrying fracked natural gas across New Jersey to New York City is unnecessary and unjustified – a now-familiar assessment of gas pipeline projects and a prime motivation for all those protests.

In divestment news, Boulder County in Colorado has become the first in the nation to warn its insurance carrier to drop its fossil fuel investments or lose the Boulder account. This fits with the Insure Our Future campaign, which seeks to apply broad pressure on the insurance industry to divest from fossil fuels.

Our climate section includes coverage of a new study in the journal Nature warning that our planet is dangerously close to major ecosystem collapse from global warming. And while many greenhouse gas emissions have been temporarily reduced by the current economic shock, methane emissions in the Permian Basin appear to be growing at an alarming rate – in part due to relaxed regulatory oversight during the coronavirus crisis.

We found good news on clean energy. Two articles explain how state governments are working singly and together to strategize their transition to 100% renewables. On a smaller scale, we show how residential solar installers are learning how to sell a product online that has long relied on face-to-face interaction. And we end this section with an article that considers how wind power and wildlife can coexist through careful siting.

On the electric power beat, we found a report describing how publicly-traded utilities are grappling with their climate-related risk exposure, and finding that it’s no longer an issue they can ignore.

The fossil fuel industry isn’t letting the pandemic crisis go to waste – unleashing armies of lobbyists to beg a receptive federal government for aid and relief. We found a bright spot in these otherwise dismal reports – turns out that decommissioned coal plants are great sites for clean energy like battery storage, with robust grid-connection infrastructure already in place.

Finally, in the broad intersection where fracking meets the plastics industry, we offer a cautionary report for those in the Ohio River Valley working to develop a new petrochemical hub much like the gulf coast has hosted for decades. That history includes a long and alarming list of fires, explosions, cancers, and violations of environmental regulations.

— The NFGiM Team

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

critical infrastructure designation
How Fossil Fuel Might Use the COVID-19 Pandemic to Criminalize Pipeline Protests
By Amy Westervelt, Drilled News
April 2, 2020

Last week we mentioned the pandemic wish list the American Petroleum Institute sent to President Trump as Congress negotiated the $2 trillion emergency stimulus bill.

The first item on that list, critical infrastructure designations for the entire fossil fuel supply chain, may sound like standard Washington bureaucratese. The wording is significant, though, because it could set up oil and gas companies to tap into a $17 billion pot of COVID-19 relief money targeted at industries deemed essential to national security.

But that’s just the beginning. If the Trump administration grants API, and the industry it represents, this favored designation, it may speed up the criminalization of protest against fossil fuel projects, a trend that’s been underway since long before the coronavirus pandemic.
» Read article      

» More about protests and actions

OTHER PIPELINES

Raritan Bay
No need for natural gas pipeline across Raritan Bay, environmental report says
By Bob Makin, Bridgewater Courier News
April 9, 2020

A natural gas pipeline proposed across Raritan Bay is an oversized, costly answer to a New York problem that does not exist, a report by Synapse Energy Economics, a Massachusetts-based research group, says.

Newark-based Eastern Environmental Law Center recently released the report that says Oklahoma-based natural gas supplier Williams’ proposed Northeast Supply Enhancement of its Transco pipeline is not needed.

The project would transport fracked natural gas through New Jersey from the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania to energy markets in New York City. The report rebuts National Grid’s Long-Term Capacity Report submitted to New York State.

“National Grid has not shown that it faces a supply and demand gap,” the report says. “In fact, National Grid is expected to have a substantial surplus of supply capacity by 2034/35.”
» Read article      

pipeline construction slows
Amid COVID-19 Pandemic, Some Pipeline Projects Push Forward While Others Falter Nationwide
By Sharon Kelly, DeSmog Blog
April 3, 2020

Nationwide, pipeline companies had already trimmed $1.9 billion from their 2020 budgets, according to a March 23 Houston Chronicle report. “Noble Midstream Partners, Rattler Midstream, Targa Resources, EnLink Midstream, Oneok, and Pembina Pipeline made the budget cuts over the past two weeks — representing an overall 30 percent cut in planned capital expenditures for new pipeline and storage projects in 2020,” according to a research note from energy investment firm Simmons Energy, the Chronicle reported. “Canadian pipeline operator Pembina made the largest cut of the six companies, slashing nearly $700 million, or 43 percent, from its nearly $1.6 billion budget.
» Read article      

» More about other pipelines        

DIVESTMENT

Boulder CO ultimatum
Boulder County Wants Insurance Companies To Ditch Their Fossil Fuel Investments
By Grace Hood, Colorado Public Radio
February 14, 2020

Boulder County Commissioners have made the decision to start to move away from insurance companies that invest in oil, gas, coal and other fossil fuels — becoming the first county in the U.S. to do so.

“We can’t be investing in things that are detrimental to our constituents, our community, our planet,” said Boulder County Commissioner Elise Jones.

Right now, local governments spend millions on insurance like worker’s compensation. Those companies, in turn, invest those dollars into portfolios that can include fossil fuels, which contribute to climate change. The country’s 40 largest insurers hold combined investments of over $450 billion in the coal, oil, gas and electric utility sectors, according to an analysis by Ceres.

The proclamation by Boulder County fits into a campaign by environmental groups called Insure Our Future, which asks insurance companies to divest from fossil [fuels].
» Read article
» Read Ceres analysis

» More about divestment        

CLIMATE

collapse
Unchecked Global Warming Could Collapse Whole Ecosystems, Maybe Within 10 Years
A new study shows that as rising heat drives some key species extinct, it will affect other species, as well, in a domino effect.
By Bob Berwyn, InsideClimate News
April 8, 2020

Global warming is about to tear big holes into Earth’s delicate web of life, pushing temperatures beyond the tolerance of thousands of animals at the same time. As some key species go extinct, entire ecosystems like coral reefs and forests will crumble, and some will collapse abruptly, starting as soon as this decade, a new study in the journal Nature warns.

Many scientists see recent climate-related mass die-offs, including the coral bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef and widespread seabird and marine mammal mortality in the Northeastern Pacific linked to a marine heat wave, as warning signs of impending biodiversity collapse, said lead author Alex Pigot, a biodiversity researcher at University College, London. The new study shows that nowhere on Earth will escape the impacts.
» Read article     
» Read the study          

great bleach-out
Great Barrier Reef Is Bleaching Again. It’s Getting More Widespread.
New data shows example after example of overheating and damage along the 1,500-mile natural wonder.
By Damien Cave, New York Times
April 6, 2020

New aerial data from Professor Hughes and other scientists released on Monday shows example after example of overheating and damage along the reef, a 1,500-mile natural wonder. The survey amounts to an updated X-ray for a dying patient, with the markers of illness being the telltale white of coral that has lost its color, visible from the air and in the water.

The mass bleaching indicates that corals are under intense stress from the waters around them, which have been growing increasingly hotter.
» Read article      

Permian emissions rising uncontested
In Texas, Pandemic-driven Deregulation Is Actually Increasing Greenhouse Gas Emissions
By Amy Westervelt, Drilled Podcast Extra
April 3, 2020

Flares are not lit. And so it becomes a vent pipe that vents uncontested hydrocarbons into the atmosphere in huge quantities. The tanks and the tanks are venting. It’s just methane and volatile organic compounds blasting from everywhere.

Texas does have regulations that are supposed to prevent a lot of this, not entirely prevent it, because the system, the oil and gas design is it is designed to vent intentionally. So at this point, they cannot completely stop all of the methane and VRC emissions because they have to have pressure releases. So but we do have regulations in place to lessen that. And unlit flares are not legal. But the problem with regulations is they are words on paper. And in Texas, they’re not enforced. And especially in the Permian Basin, the oversight seems especially lax.
» Access podcast and transcript               

a question of trust
EPA rebukes COVID-19 compliance flexibility backlash; FERC gives regulated entities leeway
By Catherine Morehouse, Utility Dive
April 3, 2020

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency pushed back on Thursday against federal lawmaker complaints that the compliance flexibility it granted power plants and other regulated entities last week gave those facilities license to pollute.

Under the EPA’s modified regulations, power plant operators would need to prove that any compliance violations were tied to COVID-19 related disruptions. Over 22 environmental groups sent a petition to the EPA Wednesday calling for the agency to “at a minimum” promptly inform the public of any pollution compliance violations, including a facility’s failure to report or monitor air or water quality inspections.
» Read article      

fixing concrete
Concrete Solutions That Lower Both Emissions and Air Pollution Air Quality and Climate Change Intertwine in Unexpected Ways. A Concrete Example.
By Kat Kerlin, UC Davis News
March 23, 2020

Concrete production contributes 8 percent of global greenhouse gases, and demand continues to rise as populations and incomes grow. Yet some commonly discussed strategies to reduce the sector’s global GHG emissions could, under some scenarios, increase local air pollution and related health damages, according to a study from the University of California, Davis.

For the study, published today in the journal Nature Climate Change, scientists quantified the costs of climate change impacts and of death and illness from air pollution. They found that concrete production causes about $335 billion per year in damages, a large fraction of the industry value.

The scientists also compared several GHG-reduction strategies to determine which are most likely to lower both global emissions and local air pollution related to concrete production. They found that a variety of available methods could, together, reduce climate and health damage costs by 44 percent.
» Read article     
» Read the report

» More about climate   

CLEAN ENERGY

ORES launched
New York becomes first state to establish renewables siting office in an effort to speed up deployment
By Robert Walton, Utility Dive
April 7, 2020

In an effort to speed the development of large-scale clean energy resources, New York lawmakers authorized the creation of an Office of Renewable Energy Siting (ORES) and took steps to accelerate transmission investment to move carbon-free electricity to load centers.

The new siting rules will ensure renewables projects larger than 25 MW can receive approval within a year. Under the current process, siting for these projects takes two to three years, experts say.

The new office was approved last week as part of New York’s 2020-2021 state budget and will be housed within the Department of State. The budget provides funding for up to 25 full-time ORES employees and officials say further resources will be assessed based on need.
» Read article      

8min solar on track
Oil Companies Are Collapsing, but Wind and Solar Energy Keep Growing
The renewable-energy business is expected to keep growing, though more slowly, in contrast to fossil fuel companies, which have been hammered by low oil and gas prices.
By Ivan Penn, New York Times
April 7, 2020

A few years ago, the kind of double-digit drop in oil and gas prices the world is experiencing now because of the coronavirus pandemic might have increased the use of fossil fuels and hurt renewable energy sources like wind and solar farms.

That is not happening.

In fact, renewable energy sources are set to account for nearly 21 percent of the electricity the United States uses for the first time this year, up from about 18 percent last year and 10 percent in 2010, according to one forecast published last week. And while work on some solar and wind projects has been delayed by the outbreak, industry executives and analysts expect the renewable business to continue growing in 2020 and next year even as oil, gas and coal companies struggle financially or seek bankruptcy protection.
» Read article      

kitchen moves online
Coronavirus is Forcing Home Solar Companies to Sell Virtually. Maybe That’s a Good Thing.
Kitchen table sales are out. Zoom meetings and “social canvassing’ on Facebook are in. Residential solar adjusts to life in a pandemic.
By Julian Spector, Green Tech Media
April 06, 2020

“The kitchen table sale is an integral part of the solar sales process,” said Vikram Aggarwal, founder and CEO of online solar marketplace EnergySage. “Companies really want to get to the kitchen table.”

The loss of that crucial tool foreshadows a tough time for residential solar companies, compounded by broader economic disruption. Some companies are coping by slashing spending; others have chosen layoffs.

A contingent of entrepreneurial, tech-savvy companies is trying a different route: asking how to sell as best they can without in-person meetings. They’ve glimpsed a small shimmer of hope amid the chaos: technology makes it relatively cheap and easy to shift operations online; it’s still possible to close deals this way; and that a digital-centric strategy could be better for business in the long run than the historical dependence on face-to-face sales.
» Read article      

clean energy group launches
100% clean energy group launches, with eyes on coronavirus
By David Iaconangelo, Energywire; Photo: Gerry Machen/Creative Commons
April 3, 2020

State officials representing over a quarter of the country’s power sales announced a new coalition this week centered on 100% carbon-free targets.

The 100% Clean Energy Collaborative, as it’s known, is the first group of state officials to “focus on the specific question of what states need to do to implement” the goals, said Warren Leon, executive director of the Clean Energy States Alliance (CESA), which is acting as a facilitator. CESA’s members are made up largely of state agencies, including the California Energy Commission, which proposed the idea of the collaborative.

One topic for immediate attention, said Leon, will be how states can maintain progress toward targets in spite of the novel coronavirus, which has stressed state budgets, led to layoffs, and canceled or postponed legislative and regulatory sessions.
» Read article      

birds and wind
Analysis: Is It Possible to Have Wind Power While Keeping Birds Safe?
By Gustave Axelson, All About Birds – Cornell
March 31, 2020

“We need to be mindful that generating energy in any manner will impact birds directly or indirectly. Bird mortality from wind turbines may be more obvious than from other sources, but the habitat loss, water contamination, pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions from other energy sources, especially coal, are far more detrimental to birds and other species, including humans,” says Amanda Rodewald, codirector of the Cornell Lab’s Center for Avian Population Studies. “Fortunately, the conservation community has a real opportunity to reduce negative impacts from wind energy by working with industry to properly site turbines and avoid important bird areas.”
» Read article      

» More about clean energy       

ELECTRIC UTILITIES

fossils add investment risk
BlackRock, Morgan Stanley to utilities: Tackle climate-related risks or lose market value
Analyst research shows utilities that address climate-related physical and transition risks earn higher valuations from investors.
By Herman K. Trabish, Utility Dive
April 6, 2020

Financial market data shows utilities that address risks associated with the changing climate see significant benefits, and utilities that do not lose market value.

Analyses from BlackRock, Morgan Stanley and others reflect what the world is learning in the COVID-19 fight: Aggressive action proactively addressing systemic risk produces better outcomes than pretending there is little risk. For utilities, the data shows that addressing climate-related risks with system hardening and emissions reductions attracts investors and shifts stock valuations, while relying on business as usual discourages investors and increases stock price volatility.

Many analysts say utilities that have set climate risk-related goals also remain dangerously invested in fossil assets. Studies show market valuations increase when utilities strengthen their physical systems and begin transitioning to renewables.
» Read article      

» More about electric utilities      

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Mister Lost Cause
Trump Admin Bypasses Congress, Offers Backup Storage to Boost Troubled Oil Industry
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
April 9, 2020

After Congress declined to allocate $3 billion of the recent economic stimulus package to fill the government’s emergency stockpile of oil, the Trump administration has taken its own steps to provide short-term relief to the U.S. petroleum sector.

The Department of Energy announced last week it would be making arrangements to immediately store 30 million barrels of oil in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR), a backup reserve created in the 1970s as a buffer against oil supply disruptions. Now, instead of supply shortages, oil markets are facing what consulting firm Rystad Energy is calling “one of the biggest oil supply gluts the world has ever seen.”

The oversupply problem is only partially a result of current market imbalance and actually has been building long before the coronavirus pandemic forced widespread shutdowns that crashed demand. But the Trump administration is nevertheless using the COVID-19 crisis as a main reason for aiding an ailing petroleum sector, and it is turning to the SPR as a critical tool for helping U.S. oil companies.
» Read article      

ConocoPhillips arctic drill plans
In Alaska’s North, Covid-19 Has Not Stopped the Trump Administration’s Quest to Drill for Oil
The president’s plans for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge may fall flat. But a massive ConocoPhillips project is moving full speed ahead.
By Sabrina Shankman, InsideClimate News
April 8, 2020

Along the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge—the long-fought over stretch of wilderness that President Donald Trump has been working hard to open to drilling—a successful lease sale is looking less and less likely before the end of the year.

But west of the refuge, in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A), the Interior Department is moving ahead with ConocoPhillips’ Willow project. The project is a massive development expected to produce approximately 590 million barrels of oil over its 30-year life, and it could include a central processing facility, up to 250 wells, an airstrip, pipelines and a gravel mine.
» Read article      

oil sands vulnerable
Alberta’s $5.3 Billion Backing of Keystone XL Signals Vulnerability of Canadian Oil
The province’ announcement comes after the private sector has shown little appetite for a pipeline project critical to the country’s tar sands industry.
By Nicholas Kusnetz, InsideClimate News
Apr 6, 2020

Alberta’s recent announcement that it was investing more than $1 billion to build the Keystone XL pipeline gave a boost to a project that has faced more than a decade of delays and uncertainty.

Investment in Canada’s oil sands, a viscous mix of sand and bitumen that lies beneath a vast swath of northern Alberta, has fallen five years in a row. Some analysts and advocates say the challenge is about more than just pipelines. The oil sands, also known as tar sands, are among the world’s more expensive and carbon-polluting sources of oil because they require lots of energy to exploit. New projects require large investments that pay off over decades.

This makes the tar sands one of the more vulnerable sectors of the global oil industry as governments begin cutting greenhouse gas emissions.
» Read article      

Texas oil warThe Oil War in the Permian May Not Have Any Winners
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
April 3, 2020

At the same time a price war is raging in the global oil markets, a regional price war is playing out in the shale fields of Texas. The Texas oil war is between the major oil companies ExxonMobil and Chevron and the many independent shale oil producers.

In an unusual move this week, the CEOs of the shale oil companies Pioneer and Parsley sent a letter to the Texas Railroad Commission, asking the state oil and gas regulator to take an active role in limiting Texas oil production — a move Commissioner Ryan Sitton recently has endorsed.

This request to limit oil production looks like another sign of desperation setting in for independent shale producers, who are feeling squeezed by corporations like Exxon and Chevron reportedly trying to thwart efforts to help the smaller companies.

The Wall Street Journal reported that both of these oil majors oppose any sort of production limits. Their strategy appears to be: Ride out the low prices, watch smaller companies go bankrupt, and then buy up the assets at a big discount.
» Read article      

covid-19 oil lobby
Under Cover of Pandemic, Fossil Fuel Interests Unleash Lobbying Frenzy
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
April 2, 2020

Thousands of Americans are dying, millions have filed for unemployment, and frontline health care workers are risking their lives as the coronavirus pandemic sweeps across the U.S. In the midst of this crisis, the fossil fuel industry, particularly the oil and gas sector, has been actively seeking both financial relief and deregulation or dismantling of environmental protection measures.

In the U.S., the top oil and gas producer in the world, this activity has been particularly pronounced. While the oil and gas sector is struggling amid plummeting prices and demand, the struggle is due to factors far beyond the pandemic, and mostly of the industry’s own making.

Many shale companies had amassed large debts that allowed them to rapidly spend and expand production, for example. And the oil and gas giant ExxonMobil’s stock hit a 10-year low in late January, and a 15-year low by March 5, before the pandemic reached a crisis point in the U.S.

Nevertheless, the Trump administration and Republican lawmakers have looked to use the COVID-19 crisis as an excuse to shore up the petroleum producers. In mid-March, the President announced his intention to buy up crude oil to fill the government’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve, which Democrats and climate advocates slammed as a reckless bailout of Big Oil.
» Read article      

Oregon develops biogas
Under new law, Oregon utilities hope to prove potential of renewable natural gas
The state’s largest gas utility plans to invest $30 million a year in a bid to replace 5% of fossil gas by 2024.
By Lee van der Voo, Energy News Network; Photo: ZehnKatzen / Wikimedia Commons
April 2, 2020

A new law in Oregon is expected to spur more than $30 million in investments in renewable natural gas annually, nudging the state’s market away from fossil fuels toward biogas — a trend experts say will curtail emissions and stifle demand for fracked gas.

The effort stems from policy changes made by Oregon lawmakers last fall that upend restrictions that effectively forced utilities to buy the cheapest natural gas around — the kind sourced from fossil fuels.

Following rulemaking currently underway, utilities will be allowed to reinvest 5% of revenue in the upfront equipment costs of biogas production, chiefly cleaning equipment and new pipe to connect biogas to existing infrastructure. Natural gas utilities can recoup the cost of those investments from ratepayers. Oregon’s largest, NW Natural Gas, plans to invest $30 million annually in a bid to replace 5% of fossil gas with renewable natural gas by 2024. Its executives believe the long-term contracts they aim to ink with suppliers will lure the financing that tips the market.
» Read article      

repurposing coal
Coal-fired power plants finding new uses as data centers, clean energy hubs
Karen Uhlenhuth, Energy News Network
March 23, 2020

As coal-fired power plants become uneconomic and are shut down for good, a new sort of recycling industry is taking shape: the repurposing of those plants.

Utilities across the country are finding ways to redevelop abandoned fossil-fueled sites. In January, Beloit College in Wisconsin began operating a student union and recreation center in a structure where Alliant Energy formerly burned coal to produce power.

On the southern coast of Massachusetts, a former 1,600-megawatt coal plant is being demolished to make way for a logistical port and support center for wind turbines expected to be erected about 35 miles off shore.

And in Independence, Missouri, the city utility recently received two proposals for recycling its Blue Valley Power Plant. The 98-megawatt plant burned coal for about 60 years, until switching to natural gas a few years ago. It is projected to cease its intermittent operations this summer.

One respondent to the city’s request for proposals wants to install 50 MW of battery storage. The other envisions manufacturing biofuel at the site.
» Read article      

» More about the fossil fuel industry        

THE PLASTICS / FRACKING CONNECTION

Mont Belvieu fireworks
For the Ohio River Valley, an Ethane Storage Facility in Texas Is Either a Model or a Cautionary Tale
The massive petrochemical complex in Mont Belvieu outside Houston has a long history of environmental violations, leaks, fires and explosions.
By James Bruggers, InsideClimate News
April 10, 2020

[If] Mont Belvieu—a massive chemical distribution center for what has been a booming Gulf Coast plastics and petrochemical industry—has been a model for those promoting an Appalachian petrochemical renaissance, it also serves as a cautionary tale to those who would rather the Appalachian region reject a boom-or-bust fossil fuel future.

An examination of the chemical plants, pipelines and other gas handling equipment that sit atop the massive stores of natural gas liquids at Mont Belvieu reveals a history of fires, explosions, leaks, excess emissions, fines for air and water pollution violations, and an oversized carbon footprint.
» Read article     

» More about the plastics / fracking connection  

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