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Weekly News Check-In 2/11/22

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Welcome back.

This week’s news is full of evidence that protests and legal actions against fossil fuel expansion projects have been successful. On the heels of the Bureau of Land Management’s court-directed cancellation of lease sales for oil and gas development in the Gulf of Mexico, the Biden administration is taking a fresh look at Conoco-Phillips’ sketchy ‘Willow’ development proposal for Alaska’s North Slope. Meanwhile the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has been invalidating Mountain Valley Pipeline permits granted after shoddy, rubber-stamp reviews during the Trump administration. Industry is not pleased with all this, and has fought back against protesters who take non-violent direct action to delay and draw attention to these projects. Their boots-on-the-ground efforts support and often drive the legal mechanisms that ultimately enforce environmental protection. Applying political influence, Big Oil & Gas has encouraged 36 states to criminalize many forms of peaceful resistance. These new felony charges are sending good people to prison, but they aren’t stifling opposition.

The divestment movement is also holding strong. French energy giant TotalEnergies is reportedly having trouble lining up the money it needs to despoil large areas of Uganda and Tanzania by way of its proposed Lake Albert oil fields development and related East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP). A significant number of potential investors and insurers are now guided by internal climate-related policies, and have lost their appetite for fossil profits.

Pumping the bellows on these headwinds for big polluters is an increasing awareness that our reliance on natural gas has made methane pollution an urgent climate threat – and an opportunity. At every step from extraction and transport, to local distribution networks with their stubbornly pervasive gas leaks, methane’s powerful warming effect is finally understood as a primary threat to holding global warming within manageable limits. Quickly ramping down natural gas production and use can deliver huge benefits, but that entails rapidly electrifying buildings and replacing fossil fuel electricity generation with renewables. It’s a suite of changes requiring grid modernization, a process hampered by its own technical and regulatory speed bumps.

Gas utilities are taking tentative steps to explore roles beyond their current business model. Some recognize they’ll need to change or be left behind.

Our Greening the Economy section considers how to prioritize decarbonization, including consideration of the military’s fuel habit. Then we focus on the possible, and look at some of the rapidly developing technologies taking us there. Clean energy is seeing some breakthroughs in solar panel recycling, and a number of college campuses are building geothermal district heating systems to reduce emissions. Even industrial sectors like cement manufacturing, currently considered hard to decarbonize, may have an all-electric future because of advances in ultra-high-temperature thermal storage.

We know that long-duration energy storage plays a critical role in retiring fossil fuel generating plants, but how we do it has huge environmental and social justice implications. We offer three articles featuring exciting emerging technologies that promise to solve a number of problems that lithium batteries can’t.

Lithium-ion batteries are a mature product, having years of service in phones, laptops, and electric vehicles. This allowed them to gain early dominance in the short-term energy storage market. Lately, a few developers have found they can use these batteries to provide longer-duration power by simply increasing their numbers – so the typical four-hour limit can stretch to eight. But lithium is not abundant and mining it can disrupt sensitive areas. As such, we prefer that it be reserved for mobile applications where its light weight and high energy density make it difficult to substitute. For large stationary applications, it looks like iron-air and iron flow batteries, gravity storage, and high-temperature thermal storage (among others), will soon displace lithium with greener, cheaper, more durable, and longer-duration alternatives.

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

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

North Slope pipelines
The Biden Administration Rethinks its Approach to Drilling on Public Lands in Alaska, Soliciting Further Review
The Bureau of Land Management is inviting public input on ConocoPhillips’ Willow project on the North Slope, following a court reversal on leases it approved last year in the Gulf of Mexico.
By Nicholas Kusnetz, Inside Climate News
February 4, 2022

The Biden administration will give the public a new opportunity to weigh in on a major oil project proposed in the Alaskan Arctic, handing a victory to environmental groups that have opposed the development.

In an announcement late Thursday, the Bureau of Land Management said it would solicit comments about the Willow project, which would pump about 590 million barrels of oil over 30 years from a rapidly-warming ecosystem on Alaska’s North Slope.

The ConocoPhillips project was approved in the final months of the Trump administration, but its future was thrown into doubt after a federal court in Alaska vacated the approval last year and sent the project back to the BLM for further environmental review. The Biden administration initially supported the project by defending it in court, but then declined to appeal last year’s ruling.

Climate advocates had called on the BLM to open a public “scoping period” as part of the court-ordered review of Willow, and they said Thursday’s announcement was a sign that the Biden administration may be taking their concerns seriously.

“The agency is going to start from the very beginning to assess the project,” said Layla Hughes, an attorney with Earthjustice, an environmental law nonprofit that represented Indigenous and climate advocates in one of two lawsuits challenging the project that led to last year’s court ruling.

Hughes and other advocates had described Willow as a major test for the Biden administration’s climate policy, and had expressed concern that the BLM was conducting a narrow review in response to the court ruling, rather than taking a broader look at environmental and climate impacts. Advocates argue that such a review would show that the project should not proceed at all, given the urgency of limiting global warming and protecting a melting Arctic.

With Thursday’s announcement, Hughes said, “the agency is basically signaling its intent to meaningfully assess the project. Whether or not it does, we’ll have to see.”
» Read article      

protest felony charges
‘They criminalize us’: how felony charges are weaponized against pipeline protesters
Thirty-six states have passed laws that criminalize protesting on ‘critical infrastructure’ including pipelines. In Minnesota, at least 66 felony theft charges against Line 3 protesters remain open
Alexandria Herr, The Guardian
February 10, 2022

Last summer Sabine Von Mering, a professor of German at Brandeis University, drove more than 1,500 miles from Boston to Minneapolis to protest against the replacement of the Line 3 oil pipeline that stretches from Canada’s tar sands down to Minnesota.

Along with another protester, she locked herself to a semi-truck in the middle of a roadway, according to a filed court brief, as a means of peaceful resistance. But when she was arrested, she was charged with a serious crime: felony theft, which carries up to five years in prison.

Legal advocates say that in Minnesota the elevated charges are a novel tactic to challenge protest actions against pipeline construction. They see them as furthering evidence of close ties between Minnesota’s government and the fossil fuel industry. It follows reporting by the Guardian that the Canadian pipeline company Enbridge, which is building Line 3, reimbursed Minnesota’s police department $2.4m for time spent arresting protesters and on equipment including ballistic helmets. Experts say the reimbursement strategy for arrests is a new technique in both Minnesota and across the US, and there’s concern it can be replicated.

“I do a lot of representation for people in political protests and I’ve never seen anything like that,” said Jordan Kushner, a defense attorney representing clients charged in relation to Line 3 protests.

Two of Kushner’s clients were charged with felony “aiding attempted suicide” charges for crawling inside a pipe. The charge is for someone who “intentionally advises, encourages, or assists another who attempts but fails to take the other’s own life”, according to Minnesota law and carries up to a seven-year sentence. Authorities alleged that the protesters were endangering their lives by remaining inside the pipeline.

“To put it charitably, it’s a very creative use of this law,” said Kushner.
» Read article      

» More about protests and actions

PIPELINES

MVP taking fire
Another blow to the Mountain Valley Pipeline
It’s Monday, February 7, and a federal court is dealing blow after blow to a natural gas pipeline.
By Emily Pontecorvo, Grist
February 7, 2022

The Mountain Valley Pipeline, a 303-mile pipeline that would deliver natural gas from the shale fields of northern West Virginia to southern Virginia, is mostly built. But a federal court has indicated in the last few weeks that it shouldn’t be, siding with communities and environmental groups that have been fighting the project from the start.

On Thursday, the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals invalidated the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Endangered Species Act authorization for the pipeline, which was granted under the Trump administration. The court found that the agency’s assessment of impacts to two endangered fish species, the Roanoke logperch and candy darter, was flawed, and that the agency had failed to consider the impact of climate change in its analysis.

That blow follows two others the previous week, when the same court rejected permits that had been issued for the pipeline by the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management for stream crossings in the Jefferson National Forest. This was the second time the court rejected the agencies’ permits for inadequately assessing the potential erosion and sediment disturbance caused by the pipeline. Throughout its development, the Mountain Valley Pipeline, or MVP, has been plagued by permitting battles that have delayed the project by four years and almost doubled its cost.

“Three more key federal agencies have been sent back to the drawing board after failing to analyze MVP’s harmful impacts,” said Kelly Sheehan, the senior director of energy campaigns for the Sierra Club, in a statement. Sheehan blamed the Trump administration’s “rushed, shoddy permitting” and urged the Biden administration to re-evaluate, and ultimately cancel, the whole project.
» Read article      

Highwater Ethanol
Carbon dioxide pipelines planned for Minnesota fall into regulatory black hole
Two multibillion-dollar pipelines would ship CO2 produced by ethanol plants to other states for underground storage.
By Mike Hughlett, Star Tribune
February 5, 2022

Two of the largest carbon dioxide pipelines in the world are slated to cross Minnesota, transporting the climate-poisoning gas for burial deep underground — yet also falling into a regulatory black hole.

CO2 is considered a hazardous pipeline fluid under federal law and in some states, including Iowa, but not Minnesota.

The pipelines — one of which would be more expensive than the Enbridge pipeline project across northern Minnesota — would primarily ship CO2 captured at ethanol plants across the Midwest.

Transporting and storing CO2 has never been done on this scale. Carbon-capture technology is still in a nascent stage. And a 2020 pipeline mishap in Mississippi caused an evacuation and dozens of injuries.

“CO2 is a hazardous material that can lead to absolutely disastrous ruptures,” said Bill Caram, executive director of the Pipeline Safety Trust, a Washington state-based group. While CO2 isn’t explosive like natural gas, it’s an asphyxiant that can be fatal in large doses.

Right now, the CO2 pipelines don’t require approval from the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC). But the PUC in December opened a proceeding on whether it should change state regulations to deem CO2 pipelines as hazardous. The Minnesota Departments of Transportation, Agriculture, Commerce and Natural Resources (DNR) all favor such a change.

“A developing body of research has raised concerns about the safety and environmental effects of pipelines transporting CO2,” the DNR said in a PUC filing Monday. “Leaks or breaks in a pipeline can cause CO2 to accumulate in low-lying areas [including basements of area residences and buildings], thereby displacing oxygen.”
» Read article      

» More about pipelines

GAS LEAKS

Parker and Salem
Communities of color get more gas leaks, slower repairs, says study
By Barbara Moran, WBUR
February 4, 2022

People of color, lower-income households, and people with limited English skills across Massachusetts are more exposed to gas leaks — especially more hazardous gas leaks — than the general population, according to a new study. Those same communities also experience longer waits to get the leaks fixed.

“There is a disparity. It’s consistent. It’s across the state. That’s a civil rights issue to begin with,” said study co-author Marcos Luna, a professor of geography and sustainability at Salem State University. “This is not acceptable.”

Study co-author Dominic Nicholas built the database used in the study. Nichols, a program director for the Cambridge-based nonprofit Home Energy Efficiency Team (HEET), had taken the natural gas utilities’ records of gas leaks, geocoded them, and made the data publicly available.

“With this large data set finally being geocoded and really high quality, it allowed us to explore the problem at different geographic scales, which was a breakthrough, I think, for this work,” Nicholas said.

Researchers examined how frequently gas leaks of different grades occurred by community, the ages of the leaks and how quickly they were repaired.

The research revealed that gas leaks don’t affect everyone in the state equally; rather, race, ethnicity, English language ability, and income are the leading indicators of exposure to leaks. While there was some variation across the state — for instance, income disparity was a larger factor than racial disparity in the Berkshires — the overall findings held true even in areas of the state with denser populations and more gas pipelines, and areas with older gas infrastructure.

About half of households in Massachusetts use natural gas for heat. Gas leaks create fire hazards, degrade air quality, kill trees and contribute to climate change.

Recent research has found that natural gas infrastructure in eastern Massachusetts emits methane — a potent greenhouse gas — at about six times higher than state estimates, and leaks have not decreased over the past eight years, despite state efforts to fix them.
» Read article     
» Read the study

» More about gas leaks

DIVESTMENT

TotalEnergies
Total’s East Africa Pipeline ‘Struggling’ To Find Financiers
The companies leading the project are “staying quiet on the crucial question of where the money will come from”, activists say.
By Maina Waruru, DeSmog Blog
February 7, 2022

Total’s “incredibly risky” crude oil pipeline may still lack the financial backing it requires, campaigners have claimed, as the controversial project moves one step closer to completion.

Once finished, the 1,443km-long East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) could transport up to 216,000 barrels a day from the Lake Albert region in landlocked Uganda to Tanga in Tanzania, with the first oil expected in 2025.

However, a coalition of environmental and human rights groups opposing the pipeline, Stop EACOP, says the announcement is thin on detail and the project is not yet assured.

The final investment decision was a “show of progress”, said Ryan Brightwell, a campaigner at non-profit BankTrack, but companies were “staying quiet on the crucial question of where the money will come from for their incredibly risky pipeline plans”.

A number of financial institutions have already distanced themselves from the project after the coalition briefed financiers about the risks last year.

The pipeline forms one part of the Ugandan oil development, which also includes the country’s first planned oil refinery, and two oil fields — Tilenga and Kingfisher.

In a statement responding to the final investment decision, the coalition noted that 11 international banks and three insurance companies have already declined to finance the project.

The final investment decision comes nine months after the International Energy Agency (IEA) warned there can be no more new oil and gas investments if the world is to limit temperature rise to 1.5C.

Brightwell, of BankTrack, warned that crackdowns on peaceful protesters in Uganda, as well as risks to “communities, nature, water and the climate”, were harming the project’s image. “No wonder the project is struggling to find financiers unscrupulous and reckless enough to back it,” he said.
» Read article     
» Read the StopEACOP statement

» More about divestment

GREENING THE ECONOMY

heavy lifter
Should the Defense Dept. be exempt from cutting greenhouse gas emissions?
The department is not actually off the hook, nor should it be.
By Sharon E. Burke, Boston Globe | Opinion
February 10, 2022

President Biden recently directed all federal agencies to cut greenhouse gas emissions. There’s just one problem, according to a new letter from 28 members of Congress: The single largest source of greenhouse gases in the federal government, the Department of Defense, is off the hook. The signatories to the letter, led by Senator Ed Markey, want the president to live up to his pledges on climate change by denying the Pentagon an exemption for military emissions.

The senator has a point. With the exception of nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and submarines, US armed forces depend on petroleum, chewing through around 90 million barrels a year.

At the same time, it’s not a realistic request. Imagine this scenario: President Vladimir Putin of Russia invades Ukraine, then begins amassing troops on Estonia’s border. NATO members agree to send troops to protect their ally, but Biden has to decline because flying C-130s full of soldiers to Eastern Europe would violate greenhouse gas targets.

No US president is going to agree to constrain military options in this way in order to cut greenhouse gases. Fortunately, there are better ways to advance climate policy, including at the Department of Defense.

No one actually knows the size of the defense sector’s carbon footprint (the Biden administration is taking bold steps to fix that, with accounting for the entire defense supply chain), but the Department of Defense itself emitted around 55 million metric tons of greenhouse gases in 2019. That’s significant for a single institution, but it adds up to less than 1 percent of America’s overall greenhouse gas footprint, which totaled about 6.6 billion metric tons in 2019.

In other words, if Biden were to completely eliminate the entire military tomorrow, it would barely make a dent in US greenhouse gas emissions. The largest American contributors to global climate change are all in the civilian economy — industry, agriculture and land use, electricity, transportation, and buildings. Even with better accounting of the defense sector, the main contributors will probably still be things like petrochemicals, power plants, and personal vehicles (an Abrams tank may get lousy gas mileage, but there are less than 5,000 of them, and they don’t travel very many miles in a normal workweek). A focus on the military would be a distraction from more important climate action priorities.

Still, the Defense Department is not actually off the hook, nor should it be. Most large corporations in the United States are taking environmental, social, and governance considerations seriously as both good business and responsible stewardship, and the Defense Department must also do so. Biden’s new executive order will accelerate the department’s ESG investments, including the electrification of almost 180,000 passenger vehicles and light-duty trucks, following in the footsteps of companies such as Amazon. It will also provide an additional push for clean electricity.
» Read article      

big shoes
‘Carbon footprint gap’ between rich and poor expanding, study finds
Researchers say cutting carbon footprint of world’s wealthiest may be fastest way to reach net zero
By Helena Horton, The Guardian
February 4, 2022

Wealthy people have disproportionately large carbon footprints and the percentage of the world’s emissions they are responsible for is growing, a study has found.

In 2010, the most affluent 10% of households emitted 34% of global CO2, while the 50% of the global population in lower income brackets accounted for just 15%. By 2015, the richest 10% were responsible for 49% of emissions against 7% produced by the poorest half of the world’s population.

Aimee Ambrose, a professor of energy policy at Sheffield Hallam University and author of the study published in the journal Science Direct, says cutting the carbon footprint of the wealthiest might be the fastest way to reach net zero.

In terms of energy demand in the UK, the least wealthy half of the population accounts for less than 20% of final demand, less than the top 5% consumes. While their homes may be more energy-efficient, high consumers are likely to have more space to heat. They also own and use more luxury items and gadgets.
» Read article      

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

flaring pit flames
To Counter Global Warming, Focus Far More on Methane, a New Study Recommends
Scientists at Stanford have concluded that the EPA has radically undervalued the climate impact of methane, a “short-lived climate pollutant,” by focusing on a 100-year metric for quantifying global warming.
By Phil McKenna, Inside Climate News
February 9, 2022

The Environmental Protection Agency is drastically undervaluing the potency of methane as a greenhouse gas when the agency compares methane’s climate impact to that of carbon dioxide, a new study concludes.

The EPA’s climate accounting for methane is “arbitrary and unjustified” and three times too low to meet the goals set in the Paris climate agreement, the research report, published Wednesday in the journal Environmental Research Letters, found.

The report proposes a new method of accounting that places greater emphasis on the potential for cuts in methane and other short-lived greenhouse gasses to help limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

“If you want to keep the world from passing the 1.5 degrees C threshold, you’ll want to pay more attention to methane than we have so far,” said Rob Jackson, an earth system science professor at Stanford University and a co-author of the study.

Over a 100-year period, methane is 28 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas. However, over a 20-year period, a yardstick that climate scientists have previously suggested would be a more appropriate timeframe, methane is 81 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

“It’s a huge swing in how much we value methane, and therefore how many of our resources go towards mitigating it,” Abernethy said.

However, the use of either time frame remains largely arbitrary.

To determine a “justified” time frame, the Stanford researchers took the Paris climate goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius as a starting point, and then calculated the most appropriate time frame to meet that goal.
» Read article     
» Read the study

Watford City flare
Seen From Space: Huge Methane Leaks
A European satellite reveals sites in the United States, Russia, Central Asia and elsewhere that are “ultra emitters” of methane. That could help fight climate change.
By Henry Fountain, New York Times
February 4, 2022

If the world is going to make a dent in emissions of methane, a potent planet-warming gas, targeting the largest emitters would likely be the most cost-effective. But there’s a basic problem: How to find them.

A new study has shown one way. Using data from a European satellite, researchers have identified sites around the world where large amounts of methane are pouring into the air. Most of these “ultra emitters” are part of the petroleum industry, and are in major oil and gas producing basins in the United States, Russia, Central Asia and other regions.

“We were not surprised to see leaks,” said Thomas Lauvaux, a researcher at the Laboratory for Sciences of Climate and Environment near Paris and lead author of the study, published in Science. “But these were giant leaks. It’s quite a systemic problem.”

Among gases released through human activities, methane is more potent in its effect on warming than carbon dioxide, although emissions of it are lower and it breaks down in the atmosphere sooner. Over 20 years it can result in 80 times the warming of the same amount of CO2.

Because of this, reducing methane emissions has increasingly been seen as a way to more rapidly limit global warming this century.

“If you do anything to mitigate methane emissions, you will see the impact more quickly,” said Felix Vogel, a research scientist with Environment and Climate Change Canada in Toronto who was not involved in the study.

Among the nearly 400 million tons of human-linked methane emissions every year, oil and gas production is estimated to account for about one-third. And unlike carbon dioxide, which is released when fossil fuels are deliberately burned for energy, much of the methane from oil and gas is either intentionally released or accidentally leaked from wells, pipelines and production facilities.
» Read article      

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

PV panel close-up
Inside Clean Energy: Recycling Solar Panels Is a Big Challenge, but Here’s Some Recent Progress

German researchers have made solar cells from 100 percent recycled silicon.
By Dan Gearino, Inside Climate News
February 10, 2022

German researchers said this week that they have taken silicon from discarded solar panels and recycled it for use in new ones.

This is a positive step for dealing with the coming mountain of waste from solar power, but it’s just one part of dealing with a complicated challenge.

The Fraunhofer Center for Silicon Photovoltaics CSP in Freiburg, Germany, said that its researchers were part of a team that produced solar cells from 100 percent recycled silicon. Cells are the little squares, usually blue, that you see arranged in a tile pattern on solar panels. They are the parts that capture the sun’s energy to convert it to electricity, and silicon is their essential material.

To get an idea of the significance of this announcement, I reached out to Meng Tao of Arizona State University, a leading authority on developing systems to recycle solar components.

“I applaud their progress,” he said about the work at the Fraunhofer Center.

And then he explained why recycling silicon is only a small part of dealing with solar power waste.

Most of the weight in a solar panel, about 75 percent, is glass, Tao said. Next is aluminum, with 10 percent; wiring in a junction box, at 5 percent; and silicon, with just 3.5 percent. Panels also contain small amounts of lead, which is one reason that they need to stay out of landfills. (The percentages are approximate and can vary depending on variations in the technology and manufacturer of the panels.)

So, silicon is an important material, and being able to recycle it is a step forward, but researchers need to find cost-effective ways to recycle all the parts in a solar panel.

Today, most recyclers that work with solar panels are breaking them apart to reuse the aluminum and the wiring, but there is a limited market for the other components, Tao said.

Researchers have been looking for uses for glass from solar panels and found solutions like making a material that can be mixed with concrete.

But the ultimate goal for solar recycling is to make the process circular, which means old solar components could be processed to be used in new solar components, Tao said. That hasn’t happened yet with glass.

The desire for a circular economy around solar panels is one reason why the announcement from the Fraunhofer lab is so encouraging.
» Read article      

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

Carleton College
Colleges see untapped potential in geothermal district energy systems

Minnesota’s Carleton College is among a growing list of schools investing in the centuries-old technology as part of a path to eliminating greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 or sooner.
By Frank Jossi, Energy News Network
February 7, 2022

A small but growing list of U.S. colleges and universities are dusting off a centuries-old technology to help meet their ambitious climate goals.

Carleton College, a small, private liberal arts college in Northfield, Minnesota, is the latest to trade fossil-fueled steam heat for geothermal district energy as it aims to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 or sooner.

Completed last summer, the $41 million project is Minnesota’s first geothermal district energy system and one of only about two dozen nationwide. They vary in design but typically consist of a network of pipes and heat pumps that tap into steady, subterranean temperatures to heat and cool buildings on the surface.

Most U.S. geothermal district energy systems were built more than 30 years ago amid rising oil and gas prices in the 1970s and 1980s, but the technology is seeing a resurgence today on college campuses as schools look for tools to help them follow through on climate commitments.

“I think it is one of the only scalable solutions for creating a low-carbon campus,” said Lindsey Olsen, an associate vice president and senior mechanical engineer for Salas O’Brien. The California-based engineering and facility planning firm has worked with Carleton College and others on geothermal projects.

Geothermal energy has been used for district heating for over a century in the United States. In Europe, the systems date back to ancient Rome. The oldest still in operation was installed at Chaudes Aigues in France in 1330.

Adoption has been significant in Europe —  France, Germany and Iceland are the leaders — but a market has never fully developed in the United States. A 2021 report by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory cited the availability of cheap natural gas, a lack of government incentives, and steep upfront costs as key factors. The U.S. geothermal district heating sector has been “relatively stagnant since the 1980s, with only four new installations over the past two decades,” the report said.

One emerging exception is higher education. “University and college campuses are currently leading the charge in pursuit of low-carbon district energy options as a result of aggressive greenhouse gas emission reduction goals (often 100%) within the next 15 to 30 years,” the report says.
» Read article      

» More about energy efficiency

BUILDING MATERIALS

electric cementRenewables for cement? Gates-backed startup eyes ‘missing link’
By David Iaconangelo, E&E News
February 8, 2022

A Bill Gates-backed startup is betting that renewables can serve as the foundation for low-carbon cement and be more than a clean resource for cars, buildings and power generation.

The company is Oakland, Calif.-based Rondo Energy Inc., which says it has figured out a way to turn wind and solar power into a source of intense heat and store it for the production of glass, cement and other common manufactured goods.

Many of those goods depend on fossil fuels to create the kinds of ultra-high temperatures necessary for production. Rondo’s plan, if successful, would prove a number of innovation experts wrong. It also highlights the race among emerging clean technologies for the future of heavy industry.

“This is the missing link for a very fast and profitable elimination of scope 1 emissions from industry,” John O’Donnell, Rondo’s chief executive, said in an interview yesterday about his company’s technology.

Rondo’s “thermal battery,” as the company describes the heat system, could provide a zero-carbon way to deliver heat reaching over 1,200 degrees Celsius, according to the company.

It said this morning it had raised $22 million in an initial funding round from two influential climate technology investors: Breakthrough Energy Ventures, a fund fronted by billionaire Gates, and Energy Impact Partners, whose $1 billion sustainable energy fund counts over a dozen large utilities as contributors.

O’Donnell said Rondo will use the money to start producing its thermal battery at scale, starting with hundreds of megawatt-hours’ worth of heat this year and hitting gigawatt-hour scale in 2023.

Scaling up the technology isn’t likely to be a cakewalk, not least of all because of the difficulty of selling clean heat at a low enough price to compete with fossil fuels — and convincing manufacturers to adopt the invention.

But new backing is notable because it suggests that some of the innovation world’s most prominent technical experts — such as those who work for Breakthrough and EIP — consider renewable electricity to be a strong option for decarbonizing heavy industry.
» Read article      

» More about building materials

LONG-DURATION ENERGY STORAGE

Grist video - ESS flow battery
This iron and water battery could power a more renewable grid
By Jesse Nichols, Grist
February 10, 2022

Grist reporter Jesse Nichols traveled to a factory in Oregon, that’s building a new type of battery.

Sitting in a row outside of the factory, these giant batteries are the size of freight containers. Powered by vats of iron and saltwater, they’re called iron flow batteries. And they’re part of a wave of cleantech inventions designed to store energy from the sun and the wind, and solve a problem that has stumped the energy world for more than 150 years.

The problem is described in a Scientific American article from 1861.

“One of the great forces nature furnished to man without any expense, and in limitless abundance, is the power of the wind,” the article says. “Its great unsteadiness, however, is causing it to be rapidly superseded for such purposes by steam and other constant powers.”

To unlock the potential of wind and solar power, you need some kind of energy storage device. That could be batteries, hydrogen, or the device proposed in the Scientific American article.

When it was windy, the device would crank these heavy iron balls up this marble chute. Then, when the wind stopped blowing, they could release the balls to get energy when they needed it.

Unsurprisingly, wind energy did not take off. And fossil-fuels dominated.
» Blog editor’s note: This video provides a great non-technical explanation of what a “flow battery” is. Also, don’t dismiss the original “heavy iron balls” concept of energy storage! See its 21st century update here.
» Watch 7 minute video              

Rondo heat battery
Renewable energy heat batteries for industrial applications gain funding
Startup Rondo Energy closed a $22 million Series A funding round to decarbonize industrial processes with equipment that converts solar and wind energy into thermal energy.
By Ryan Kennedy, PV Magazine
February 8, 2022

Rondo Energy announced the closing of a $22 million Series A funding round to support its technology, a renewable energy heat battery aimed at reducing the carbon impact of industrial processes. The funding round was led by Breakthrough Energy Ventures and Energy Impact Partners.

It is estimated about one third of global emissions can be attributed to heavy industry. And about 40% of that, or 10% of global emissions, comes from high-temperature industrial products like cement and steel.

The Rondo heat battery offers a zero emissions source of industrial heat, storing solar and wind energy at temperatures over 1200°C. The company said it plans to begin manufacturing and delivering systems to customers later this year.

“We believe the Rondo Heat Battery will prove critical to closing stubborn emissions gaps,” said Carmichael Roberts, Breakthrough Energy Ventures. “The cost of renewable energy has been steadily falling, but it hasn’t been an option for industries that require high temperature process heat since there was no way to efficiently convert renewable electricity to high temperature thermal energy. Rondo enables companies in industries such as cement, fuels, food and water desalination to reduce their emissions while also leveraging the falling costs of renewables.”

The system is designed to pull energy from solar, wind, and the energy grid, charging the battery intermittently, but delivering continuous heat. Rondo said the battery bricks are made of safe, widely available materials.
» Read article      

ENDURING thermal energy storage
NREL Results Support Cheap Long Duration Energy Storage in Hot Sand
By Susan Kraemer, SolarPACES
February 8, 2022

There aren’t many novel clean energy technologies that could also directly remove fossil energy plants. The US National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has created one.

Long duration storage at grid scale is crucial to meeting climate targets. Solar PV and wind have the momentum to be a big part of the new energy economy, but only if we can add enough energy storage to make these intermittent sources dispatchable on demand at lower cost and over longer durations and for many more cycles than batteries.

The world needs a long duration energy storage technology as cheap as pumped hydro, but without the environmental and location challenges.

To this end, three years ago the US Department of Energy (DOE) Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy  ARPA-E  “DAYS” program funded NREL to advance long duration (100 hour) thermal energy storage charged by surplus electricity from PV or wind.

Thermal energy storage is a fully tested technology in commercial CSP [concentrated solar power] plants, but using a liquid; molten salts. However, increasingly, particle storage is being researched as a more efficient storage medium than molten salts which have a working range between 290°C and 560°C – due to the much higher temperature differential of 300°C and 1000°C in particles of sand.

“We’ve studied particle-based thermal energy storage since 2011, initially for concentrating solar power,” said Zhiwen Ma, the NREL project lead. “Now it has been extended – to standalone particle thermal energy storage and industrial process heat, and heating and cooling in buildings – for even broader decarbonization, by replacing coal and natural gas.

The team partnered with GE to integrate the storage with a gas turbine power cycle.“The point of it was to try to use commercial systems as much as possible in terms of power cycles since they have a hundred years of development there’s a lot of expertise already there,” said Colorado School of Mines Ph.D. student and NREL collaborator Jeffrey Gifford.

To charge this thermal battery, surplus power from the grid would heat sand in silos. The sand particles would heat air – a gas which is predominantly nitrogen – to drive a commercially available gas turbine. Air is a much more environmentally friendly gas than natural gas and when heated by the stored sand particles it can drive the same hot gas turbine used in gas power plants today with no modifications. The air would be heated by silica sand particles from the Midwest stored in 90 meter tall silos – about the height of today’s industrial silos.

“We wanted to generate a thermal energy storage system that could integrate with what already exists,” Giffords said. “Just like how we can turn on natural gas power plants today when we need them – that’s the role of our long duration energy storage system – to be able to shape wind and solar for them to be dispatchable.”
» Read article      

» More about long-duration energy storage

SITING IMPACTS OF RENEWABLES

EnergySource geothermal station
Where Is There More Lithium to Power Cars and Phones? Beneath a California Lake.
The U.S. race to secure a material known as ‘white gold’ turns to the Salton Sea, where energy companies hope to extract lithium from a geothermal reservoir
By Alistair MacDonald and Jim Carlton, Wall Street Journal
February 8, 2022

CALIPATRIA, Calif.—In the U.S. hunt for lithium, an essential component of the batteries that power electric vehicles and cellphones, one big untapped source might be bubbling under a giant lake in Southern California.

The U.S. currently imports almost all of its lithium, but research shows large reserves in underground geothermal brines—a scalding hot soup of minerals, metals and saltwater. The catch: Extracting lithium from such a source at commercial scale is untested.

At California’s Salton Sea, three companies, including one owned by Warren Buffett’s conglomerate Berkshire Hathaway Inc., are pushing ahead with plans to do just that. Those efforts are backed by money from governments eager to secure supplies of critical minerals that are key to several modern technologies. Prices of lithium recently rose at their fastest pace in years as supply-chain bottlenecks mounted and demand from electric-vehicle makers such as Tesla Inc. intensified.

The plans could turn this southeastern corner of California into one of the largest producers of what some call “white gold” at a time when most of that material comes from Australia, Chile and China. The geothermal reservoir under the Salton Sea area is capable of producing 600,000 metric tons a year of lithium carbonate, according to estimates from the California Energy Commission. That level of output would surpass last year’s global production.

This push for lithium could also produce thousands of jobs in an area that sorely needs them. Imperial County, where the lake resides, has a population of 180,000 and is dependent on a volatile and low-wage farming industry. Unemployment was 14.7% in December, compared with 6.5% for the state. The county’s 20% poverty rate is the fourth-highest among California’s 58 counties.

“If it is what we hope, it would lift this entire valley off of what we have been living with,” said Imperial County Supervisor Ryan Kelley.
» Read article      

Swedish accent
New study probes impact of blackened wind turbine blades
By Joshua S Hill, Renew Economy
February 7, 2022

Swedish power company Vattenfall has announced plans to embark on further research into whether painting one of the three blades on a wind turbine black can help to reduce the number of bird collisions, with a new three-year study.

Despite stories spread by some media outlets and across social media platforms, wind turbines have been shown to be much less likely to kill birds compared to other man-made obstacles and threats, including coal-fired power plants, as one prime example.

Nevertheless, Vattenfall is seeking to mitigate the impact wind turbines can have on bird populations through a new study in the Dutch seaport of Eemshaven.

Vattenfall will paint a single turbine blade black on seven wind turbines in an effort to determine whether this method can reduce the risk of birds colliding with turbine blades.

In a study already underway through the compiling of a baseline measurement through 2022, the seven turbine blades will be painted black in early 2023 and be monitored for two years through to the end of 2024.

The study will also assess aviation safety and the impact of the painted blades on the landscape.

The three-year assessment will follow the results of an existing study partly financed by Vattenfall on the island of Smøla in Norway which found that painting one wind turbine blade can result in 70% fewer collisions.

“That has to do with the way birds perceive the moving rotor of a wind turbine,” said Jesper Kyed Larsen, environmental expert at Vattenfall.

“When a bird comes close to the rotating blades, the three individual blades can ‘merge’ into a smear and birds may no longer perceive it an object to avoid. One black blade interrupts the pattern, making the blending of the blades into a single image less likely.”

Put another way, the researchers – who published their findings in the journal Ecology and Evolution in mid-2020 – concluded that “Provision of ‘passive’ visual cues may enhance the visibility of the rotor blades enabling birds to take evasive action in due time.”

Further, not only was the annual fatality rate significantly reduced at the turbines with a painted blade by over 70%, relative to the neighboring control … turbines” but, for some birds – notably the white-tailed eagle – the black turbine blade seemed to ensure no fatalities whatsoever.
» Read article      

» More about siting impacts

MODERNIZING THE GRID

bidding floor upheld
A decision made behind closed doors may set clean energy back by two years
By Sabrina Shankman, Boston Globe
February 5, 2022

At a time when New England should be racing to bring as much clean energy online as possible to green its electricity supply, the grid moved this past week to effectively discourage major wind and solar projects for at least another two years.

Like other regional power suppliers, New England’s grid operator has been asked by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to remove or change a mechanism that makes it harder for clean energy projects to enter the competitive market. But after months of saying it supported such a measure, ISO-New England reversed its stance last week and aligned with a proposal from the natural gas industry that would slow-walk any such change.

“It’s another example of not meeting the moment to usher in the clean energy transition,” said Jeremy McDiarmid, of the Northeast Clean Energy Council. “It is an example of the system not being equipped to change as fast as we need it to.”

In Massachusetts, as in other states in the region, the clock is ticking to green the electrical grid. The climate legislation passed last year requires that the state halve its emissions by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050. To do so, the state is expecting a million homeowners to switch off fossil fuels and 750,000 vehicle owners to go electric by the end of the decade. But with those increased electricity demands, a crucial piece of the state’s equation is ensuring that the grid makes a rapid switch off fossil fuels and onto renewables.

The mechanism that was voted on — called a minimum offer price rule — limits what energy projects can bid into what’s known as the forward capacity market. Developers with successful bids are able to procure financing three years in advance, helping ensure that projects have the needed funds to be developed or expanded, and that the grid will have enough energy available in the future.

The minimum offer price rule was created to help insulate fossil fuel power plants from having to compete against renewables that cost less due to state programs and subsidies that exist to help foster clean energy development. It created a floor below which a developer cannot bid, meaning that those less expensive energy supplies, like large-scale offshore wind or solar, aren’t able to compete.

The fear from regulators and the fossil fuel industry was that without such a rule, fossil fuel plants could be forced offline before adequate clean energy was ready to fill the void on the grid, creating reliability problems. The effect has been that fossil fuel-fired power plants have been able to secure bids around the region, despite increasingly ambitious climate plans from the New England states that would indicate otherwise.
» Read article      

» More about modernizing the grid

GAS UTILITIES

HP water heater test
Vermont gas utility has a new service: helping to electrify your home

Vermont Gas Systems announced that it would begin selling, leasing, installing and servicing electric heat pump water heaters for customers in a move that it expects to be neutral to its bottom line.
By David Thill, Energy News Network
February 7, 2022

A Vermont natural gas utility is expanding into a new and unexpected line of business: helping customers switch to electric appliances.

Vermont Gas Systems (VGS) announced in December that it would begin selling, leasing, installing and servicing electric heat pump water heaters for customers in and around its service territory in the northwest part of the state.

The move comes as Vermont’s 2020 climate law raises existential questions about the future of fossil fuels in the state. Achieving a mandatory 80% reduction (from 1990 levels) in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 will all but require a reduction in natural gas sales.

“By offering this, VGS is helping Vermont achieve the climate action goals established by the Global Warming Solutions Act,” said Ashley Wainer, the company’s vice president of customer and energy innovation.

The company’s motivations aren’t entirely altruistic either. In a filing to state regulators in November, VGS explained that its “behind-the-meter” installation and maintenance services are an important source of revenue, expected to bring in about $1,175,000 in net revenue for the 2022 fiscal year.

“These services are a profitable part of VGS’s overall business, and the associated revenue reduces our [cost of service] and therefore reduces customers’ rates,” the company wrote.
» Read article      

» More about gas utilities

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Cuero flare
The end of natural gas has to start with its name
The oil and gas industry didn’t invent the name. But it invented the myth of a clean fuel.
By Rebecca Leber, Vox
February 10, 2022

Locals in the town of Fredonia, New York, noticed in the early 19th century how gas would sometimes bubble up in a creek and catch fire when lit. This wasn’t much more than a curiosity until 1821, when a businessman captured and sold it for fuel to Fredonia shops. This “inflammable air,” as one newspaper called it, was cheap to transport relative to the other lighting fuels of the day — whale oil for candles and gas produced from coal. From the start, “nature’s gas,” as it was nicknamed, was celebrated as the healthy and virtually inexhaustible miracle fuel of the future.

A big part of the early appeal was how much cleaner gas seemed than coal. In the 19th century, people could see and smell the particulate matter, sulfur, and nitrogen leaving a trail of smoggy air in cities. By comparison, natural gas is almost entirely made up of methane, a colorless, odorless gas that produces far fewer of these pollutants when burned.

What no one knew back then was that methane is pollution, too — just a different kind. A large body of scientific research now shows that gas, when it’s produced and when it’s consumed, poses a danger to human health and to the climate.

In the 19th century, this ignorance was understandable, but today most people still don’t appreciate how insidious gas fuel is. When the climate communications group Climate Nexus conducted a poll of 4,600 registered US voters last fall, 77 percent had a favorable view of natural gas, far higher than when asked about their views on methane. Less than a third were able to link that natural gas is primarily methane. In the same poll, a majority incorrectly answered that they think methane pollution is declining or staying about the same. Other surveys show similar results.

The reason for the disconnect is embedded in the very name, “natural gas.” The word “natural” tends to bias Americans to view whatever it is affixed to as healthy, clean, and environmentally friendly. Natural foods, natural immunity, and natural births are among the many buzzwords of the moment.

“The idea that we ought to do what’s natural, we ought to use what’s natural, and we ought to consume what’s natural is one of the most powerful and commonplace shortcuts we have,” said Alan Levinovitz, a religion professor who wrote Natural: How Faith in Nature’s Goodness Leads to Harmful Facts, Unjust Laws, and Flawed Science. “The term influences people’s attitudes toward natural gas. People are going to be more likely to see natural gas as better than it is; they’re more likely to see it as safer.”
» Read article      

FF hot seat
‘Big Oil’ board members face hot seat over climate ‘deception’
Oil industry insiders to appear before US Congress as some of the most powerful companies in the world face a reckoning for the climate crisis.
By Jack Losh, Aljazeera
February 7, 2022

In 1977, an internal memo at Exxon, the United States oil giant, made clear that carbon emissions from its product were causing climate change. But not only that – time was running out to act.

“CO2 release most likely source of inadvertent climate modification,” said the shorthand document. “5-10 yr time window to get necessary information.”

But over the coming years, rather than dropping fossil fuels to avert the dangers outlined in its own research, Exxon and other oil corporations chose a different path. The industry orchestrated a systematic campaign of disinformation to dupe the public, impede political action, and protect profits.

“Emphasize the uncertainty in scientific conclusions regarding the potential enhanced Greenhouse effect,” said an Exxon paper in 1988, one of many published in the America Misled report on the fossil fuel industry.

“Stress environmentally sound adaptive efforts,” said another internal memo the following year. “Victory will be achieved when average citizens ‘understand’ (recognize) uncertainties in climate science,” added one more in 1998.

Against this decades-long backdrop of deception and denial, oil industry insiders will appear before the US Congress as some of the most powerful energy companies in the world face a reckoning for their role in creating – and attempting to cover up – the climate crisis.

Board members at BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil, and Shell will be questioned under oath by a House panel on Tuesday. The aim is to illuminate the industry’s contribution to humanity’s worst existential threat – and how, at the same time, it spread disinformation to cast doubt over the catastrophic impact of burning its products.

Although the hearings cannot bring criminal prosecutions, experts see them as a crucial means of shifting public opinion. And that could spur consumers to shun carbon-based fuels and encourage investors to strip big polluters of capital, while empowering environmental activists and lawyers to take on powerful industrial interests.
» Read article      

» More about fossil fuels

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Weekly News Check-In 12/10/21

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Welcome back.

Less than two weeks before the year’s longest night, we’re providing the modest public service of leading this newsletter with a bit of good news to boost everyone’s spirits – a short article describing a few things that went pretty well for the planet this past year. Additionally, our own “Put Peakers in the Past” campaign to transition Berkshire County’s three peaking power plants to clean renewables and battery storage took a positive step with a well-attended and well-reported public hearing on the Pittsfield Generating power plant’s air quality permit renewal application. We thank state Senator Adam Hinds, Pittsfield’s state Representative Tricia Farley-Bouvier, and others for their interest, attendance, constructive and informed comments, and support.

Meanwhile, fossil fuel interests keep exploring for new oil and gas deposits – a disruptive process that carries considerable environmental risk. Protesters in South Africa are attempting to prevent Shell from carrying out dangerous seismic blast testing off the ecologically sensitive Wild Coast. And banks keep funding those efforts, even though the divestment movement is growing more effective. But heads up – look for more conservative-leaning states to start passing legislation based on model language provided by Koch-funded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). These bills seek to make it illegal for banks to divest from fossil fuels – calling it a form of discrimination.

While advances in technology and market forces are driving the world toward a greener economy, moving quickly and efficiently toward that future requires considerable coordination. And that demands better, easier access to massive amounts of energy data that the International Energy Agency (IEA) collects and holds.

On the climate front, scientists have recently identified nitrous oxide as one constituent released from melting permafrost in Siberia. The findings are preliminary but potentially important. Nitrous oxide is a climate super-pollutant with global warming potential about 300 times greater than carbon dioxide.

The Baker administration is picking up the pieces from two recent setbacks related to Massachusetts’ clean energy transition plan. Voters in Maine recently chose to stop a major electricity transmission project that would have brought hydro electric power from Quebec. And the regional Transportation Climate Initiative, intended to cut transportation sector emissions, just collapsed. We looked in on Damage Control.

Since we mentioned hydro power, let’s expand the view. Well-documented environmental and justice issues regarding Quebec hydro (which Massachusetts is trying to access) are also playing out in other hydro electricity projects around the world. For example, existing and planned dam projects in the tropics are directly impacting vulnerable tiger and jaguar populations, driving both cats closer to extinction.

Electric vehicle road trips are about to get easier, now that a group of utilities have formed the National Electric Highway Coalition with the mission to greatly expand the number of fast charging station along major routes throughout the US.

Back at home, that stuff you just received from an online order spent time in a huge warehouse on its way to your door. Warehouses are booming, and now we see a growing urgency to transition them away from natural gas heat. Also in this section, we hear from Chef Jon Kung about why he prefers his induction stovetop over gas.

Wrapping up, we get some perspective on the carbon capture and storage boondoggle and the ambitious (wasteful, crazy?) scheme to lay thousands of miles of high-pressure, hazardous liquid CO2 pipelines across the upper mid-West at taxpayer expense. All while the fossil fuel industry is blaming recent market volatility on the transition to renewable energy.

And because we started with good news, we’ll end with a bit more: British Columbia’s only liquefied natural gas project is in trouble, and things aren’t looking good for its planned expansion or for other Canadian (or US?) LNG export terminals.

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

 

GOOD NEWS

monarchs
5 Good Things That Happened for the Planet in 2021
By Linnea Harris, EcoWatch
December 9, 2021

It wasn’t all bad. Here’s some of the good news from this year.

  • Environmental Rights Amendment Passes in New York
  • Monarch Populations Are Bouncing Back
  • Protections Restored to Three Public Lands
  • The Fossil Fuel Divestment Movement Grows
  • More People Are Going Plant-Based

» Read article                     

 

PEAKING POWER PLANTS

DEP do your job
Politicians and activists frustrated with DEP rules that allow business as usual for local ‘peaker’ plant
By Meg Britton-Mehlisch, The Berkshire Eagle
December 7, 2021

PITTSFIELD — Public testimony from residents and environmentalists during a Tuesday night virtual hearing equally reprimanded the operators of a local ”peaker plant” and the state’s Department of Environmental Protection for what they considered out of touch and overly lax emissions regulations.

“It appears the DEP regulations have not been designed to protect the environment by making sure that these higher polluting facilities be the first to close or transition to clean energy,” Jane Winn, the founding executive director of the Berkshire Environmental Action Team, said.

At issue is the air operating permit for Pittsfield Generating Company’s power plant on Merrill Road. These permits, which are issued by the state’s DEP, are reviewed every five years to ensure that the facility is still meeting all state and federal rules around record keeping, facility monitoring and emission limits.

For more than a year, activists from groups like BEAT have waged a public information campaign to educate the public about the health risks that follow “peaker” plants and potential green energy alternatives.

When activists joined with local politicians and residents Tuesday night, they asked the DEP to do two things: deny the permit to the facility or issue a provisional permit that would require the facility switch from natural gas and oil to solar power and battery storage.

The hearing continued for almost an hour despite persistent Zoom bombings that blasted pornographic sounds and racist slurs into the hearing.

Much of the comments during the hearing centered on the space current emission limits give power plants to continue “business as usual” despite Gov. Charlie Baker signing a roadmap for the state to achieve net zero emission by 2050 into law in March. The law would have the state reduce greenhouse gas emissions by half by 2030.

“This is the moment when we need to be acting as robustly as possible in redirecting our use of peaker plants and making sure that we’re doing everything we can to reduce our emission and standing up for environmental justice communities,” Hinds said.

“It starts right here, one permit at a time, one plant at a time, one community at a time,” he added.

Farley-Bouvier joined Hinds and Mark in asking the department to let them know what the department needed to incorporate the state’s new direction into permitting processes for facilities like Pittsfield Generating.

“If your response is ‘But the regulations say that we have to do it this way,’ then please let Representative Mark and Senator Hinds and I know what has to be changed in the regulations,” Farley-Bouvier said. “It would be our job to change the regulations to line up with the 2050 roadmap.”
» Read article             
» Watch recorded public hearing (Zoom bombs edited out…)                           

look ahead PittsfieldLook Ahead, Pittsfield: What you should know about the local ‘peaker’ plant permit on the line this week
By Meg Britton-Mehlisch, The Berkshire Eagle
December 5, 2021

PITTSFIELD — The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection will hold a hearing Tuesday over a local power plant’s request for the renewal of its operating permit. The hearing is pretty typical stuff for the plant, Pittsfield Generating Company, which has its permit reviewed every five years. But this year, local environmental activists hope this hearing is anything but rote for the plant.

For months, a coalition of environmental activists led by the Berkshire Environmental Action Team has pushed for the closure of the plant or for a redesign that would swap the plant’s use of fossil fuels for clean energy alternatives. That push has gained support from both the Pittsfield Board of Health and local state representatives.

What is a peaker plant? As far as peaker plants go, the Pittsfield Generating plant is pretty typical. The plant is 31 years old and runs on fracked natural gas and oil — a design that’s normal for peaker plants across the state. But that design is the plant’s biggest sticking point with environmentalists.

Last year, the plant produced 3.2 tons of nitrogen oxides and 19,152 tons of carbon dioxide — down 55 percent from the 7.3 tons of nitrogen oxides and 42,321 tons of carbon dioxide the plant produced in 2019 according to data from the Environmental Protection Agency.

Earlier this year, The Eagle’s Danny Jin covered the bevy of potential public health impacts that can come from living in the shadow of these peaker plants. The pollution put out by peaker plants can increase the risk of developing asthma, impair lung function and lower heart health.

What do the opponents want? BEAT has put out a series of talking points to prepare their members for the public comment section of the hearing on Tuesday. In the document, BEAT argues that the state’s Department of Environmental Protection should implement a regulation system to enforce its emissions limits, and that such a system should have been created back in 2016 when emission limits were set.

The main request from the group is to deny the permit for the plant. The group believes that the most environmentally conscious solution is to replace the plant with a battery system powered by clean energy, like solar power. If the DEP decides to grant the permit, BEAT is asking that “it should only be provisional for 1 year on the agreement that [Pittsfield Generating] come up with a transition plan” to a greener energy system within two years.
» Read article                     

» More about peaker plants               

 

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

snoek
‘We Won’t Stop Fighting,’ Vow South African Activists After Judge OKs Shell Seismic Blasting at Sea
“We must do everything we can to undo the destructive colonial legacy of extractivism, until we live in a world where people and the planet come before the profits of toxic fossil fuel companies.”
By Brett Wilkins, Common Dreams
December 6, 2021

South African activists on Monday vowed to keep fighting after a court ruling allowing fossil fuel giant Shell to proceed with massive underwater explosions off the ecologically sensitive Wild Coast, a move environmentalists say would cause “irreparable harm” to marine life.

“We won’t stop fighting,” tweeted Greenpeace Africa following Sunday’s nationwide protests. “Shell must immediately stop oil and gas exploration off S.A.’s Wild Coast.”

Demonstrators from more than 30 organizations—including 350.org, Clean Seas, Extinction Rebellion, The Green Connection, Greenpeace Africa, Oceans Not Oil, and Sea The Bigger Picture—turned out for over 70 protests nationwide, according to The Cape Argus.

At Surfers Corner at Muizenberg Beach in Cape Town, activists carried a giant marionette of a snoek, a snake mackerel found in area waters, and held placards with slogans including “Stop killing our coast” and “To hell with Shell.”

“The purpose of this protest is to send a message to Shell bosses and shareholders to stop the company from carrying out the seismic survey on the Wild Coast,” the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA) said in a statement.

In seismic surveys, barrages of powerful sonic pulses are blasted into the ocean floor with airguns; the reflected sound waves are then analyzed to map the seabed for potential oil and gas reserves. The blasts reach more than 250 decibels and kill, injure, and terrorize marine life.

Reinford Sinegugu Zukulu, director of the advocacy group Sustaining the Wild Coast, told the court that the blasting would occur every 10 seconds for five months, would be “louder than a jet plane taking off,” and would be heard underwater for more than 60 miles.

Elaine Mills, a representative of Greenpeace volunteers in Cape Town, told The Cape Argus that the potential destruction “is beyond belief. Really, it’s unimaginable.”

“The harm that [the blasting] can do to marine life is permanent hearing loss, organ rupture as dolphins and whales breach too fast to escape the auditory onslaught, and beach strandings,” she added.
» Read article                     

» More about protests and actions            

 

DIVESTMENT

pledges schmedges
Banks Continue To Fund Fossil Fuels Despite Climate Pledges
By Tsvetana Paraskova, Oil Price
December 6, 2021

Despite investor and societal pressure, banks worldwide continue to lend money and underwrite bonds issued by oil, gas, and coal companies, with bond deals in fossil fuels arranged by banks at nearly $250 billion in 2021, Bloomberg data showed on Monday.

JP Morgan financed the largest volume of loans and bonds combined so far this year, followed by Wells Fargo, Citi, RBC, and Mitsubishi UFJ, data as of December 3 compiled by Bloomberg showed.

Wells Fargo has been the biggest lender to the fossil fuel industry this year, with most of its exposure to the sector going to loans for companies.

While environment-conscious investors push for Wall Street banks—and all banks globally as a matter of fact—to shun fossil fuels, major banks say that by continuing to finance oil and gas, they help the sector invest in low-carbon energy solutions that would help decarbonize the global energy system.

“It is really important that our clients take steps to innovate and decarbonize, but we also need to bring capital to the table for the commercialization of those solutions,” Marisa Buchanan, Global Head of Sustainability at JPMorgan Chase & Co, told Bloomberg.

In May this year, UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ said that banks should finance low-carbon climate-resilient projects, not big fossil fuel infrastructure that is not even cost-effective anymore.
» Read article                     

» More about divestment              

 

LEGISLATION

alarming ALEC model
‘Alarming’: ALEC’s New Model Bill Would Penalize Banks for Divesting From Fossil Fuels
One critic called the proposal, which describes green investment policies as a form of “energy discrimination,” a “desperate attempt by fossil fuel companies and their lobbyists to maintain their profits.”
By Kenny Stancil, Common Dreams
December 8, 2021

Progressives are sounding the alarm about a recently launched right-wing campaign that seeks to preempt green investment policies throughout the United States by portraying the financial sector’s potential turn toward clean energy as discriminatory—and introducing legislation that would punish banks and asset managers for divesting from fossil fuels.

The Koch-funded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which consistently pumps out reactionary bills mostly for state-level Republicans, held its States and Nation Policy Summit last week in San Diego.

In an email obtained and first reported by Alex Kotch of the Center for Media and Democracy, Jason Isaac, director of the Koch-funded Texas Public Policy Foundation, wrote that “this morning at the ALEC Committee meetings you’ll have the opportunity to push back against woke financial institutions that are colluding against American energy producers.”

The “model policy” in question is the so-called “Energy Discrimination Elimination Act.” In his email, Isaac claimed that “major banks and investment firms are colluding to deny lending and investment in fossil fuel companies, using their market power to force companies to make ‘green’ investments. This model bill proposes a strategy in which states use their collective economic purchasing power to counter the rise of politically motivated and discriminatory investing practices.”

ALEC’s Energy, Environment, and Agriculture Task Force voted unanimously to champion the proposal, a version of which Texas’ far-right Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law in June.
» Read article                     

» More about legislation                

 

GREENING THE ECONOMY

IEA paywall
Energy watchdog urged to give free access to government data
Open letter calls on IEA to help researchers by removing paywalls from global energy datasets
By Jillian Ambrose, The Guardian
December 10, 2021

The International Energy Agency is facing calls to make the national energy data it collects from governments publicly available.

This would aid independent research, which in turn could help to accelerate the global transition to low-carbon energy.

More than 30 international academics have written to the global energy watchdog to call for it to drop its paywalls for national energy datasets, which are collected using public funds, to avoid making climate action “more costly and less effective”.

The IEA publishes a number of influential reports on global energy systems, based in large part on the national energy data provided by the governments that it counts among its members. However, much of the data that underpins these reports is inaccessible to independent researchers.

The academics said that putting datasets behind paywalls makes it more difficult for independent energy system analysts, and the interested public, to investigate and better understand the path to net zero.

Instead, the “high-quality data” required to create effective and low-cost pathways to net zero societies should be available under suitable open licences, according to the academics.
» Read article                     

» More about greening the economy               

 

CLIMATE

permafrost NOx
New Study Shows Siberian Permafrost Releasing Climate Super-Pollutant Nitrous Oxide
By Mitchell Beer, The Energy Mix
December 8, 2021

A permafrost region in East Siberia has emerged as a previously unknown source of nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas that carries nearly 300 times the warming potential of carbon dioxide over a 100-year span, a team of researchers from the University of Eastern Finland reported yesterday in the journal Nature Communications.

While annual nitrous oxides releases due to human activity have increased 30% by 1980, and alarmed scientists have been paying attention, nitrous emissions from permafrost would be a largely new twist in the effort to get greenhouse gases and the resulting climate emergency under control.

“The nitrous oxide emissions from thawing permafrost represent a poorly known, but potentially globally significant positive feedback to climate change,” the university writes in a release. “Overall, the consequences of nitrogen release from permafrost for Arctic ecosystems have been insufficiently studied and remain poorly understood.”

What’s known is that “rapid Arctic warming and associated permafrost thaw are threatening the large carbon and nitrogen reservoirs of northern permafrost soils, accumulated under cold conditions where the decomposition rate of soil organic matter (SOM) is low,” concludes the science team led by post-doctoral researcher Maija Marushchak. As the permafrost thaws, those pools are decomposing.

While “the fate of soil nitrogen liberated upon permafrost thaw is poorly studied and more complex” than carbon release, the scientists add, “there is evidence that part of liberated nitrogen may be emitted to the atmosphere as nitrogenous gases.”
» Read article                     

» More about climate                    

 

CLEAN ENERGY

heavy machinery
Two crucial pillars of the state’s plan to cut carbon emissions have crumbled. Where does it go from here?
By David Abel, Boston Globe
December 7, 2021

A year ago, the Baker administration released a detailed road map to effectively eliminate the state’s carbon emissions by the middle of the century.

Now, just weeks after a United Nations summit in Scotland underscored the need for urgent action to address climate change, crucial pillars of those plans have collapsed.

The ambitious cap-and-invest pact known as the Transportation Climate Initiative, or TCI, promised to cut transportation emissions — the region’s largest source of greenhouse gases — by at least 25 percent over the next decade.

A separate initiative, the New England Clean Energy Connect project, sought to build a $1 billion transmission line in Maine to deliver large amounts of hydropower from Quebec to Massachusetts, which would help to significantly reduce the region’s reliance on fossil fuels.

But, in what some have compared to a “one-two punch,” Maine voters rejected the transmission line, and a few weeks later, the pact to reduce transportation emissions was abandoned.

Without those projects, the Baker administration lacks a clear path to meeting its obligations under the state’s new climate law, which requires officials to cut emissions 50 percent below 1990 levels by the end of the decade and effectively eliminate them by 2050.

“This work to hit climate goals is not for the faint of heart,” said Kathleen Theoharides, the state’s secretary of energy and environmental affairs, in an interview. “It was always going to be difficult to get there. We’re talking about rebuilding an entire economy, and infrastructure and society, around clean energy.”
» Read article                     

KT explains
Kathleen Theoharides, Mass. secretary of energy and environmental affairs, sizes up state’s climate goals
By David Abel, Boston Globe
December 7, 2021

After attending last month’s climate summit in Glasgow, Kathleen Theoharides, the state’s secretary of energy and environmental affairs, returned home to find that crucial pillars of the Baker administration’s plan to address climate change had collapsed. Maine voters rejected plans to build a vital transmission line through their state to bring large amounts of hydropower to New England. A few weeks later, Governor Charlie Baker announced he was withdrawing his support for a pact with other East Coast states to reduce transportation emissions. In an interview with Globe environmental reporter David Abel, Theoharides discussed how the administration plans to respond. The interview has been edited and condensed.
» Read interview                     

» More about clean energy            

 

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

warehouse nation
As warehouses take off, they need to kick natural gas
Warehouses have become the king of commercial real estate
By Justine Calma, The Verge
December 3, 2021

Warehouses are increasingly dominating the commercial building landscape in the US, which could have ramifications for efforts to tackle climate change. According to data recently released by the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), warehouses and storage units have become the most common commercial buildings in the country — outpacing offices. That has the potential to cause greenhouse gas emissions to climb or tumble, and it largely hinges on whether warehouses can ditch natural gas.

Compared to office buildings, warehouses that store everything from food to clothes tend to rely more heavily on gas heating systems because upfront costs of those systems are cheap, and they’re easy to install, an expert tells The Verge. Even though warehouses typically use less energy than offices, there’s a risk that their reliance on gas could increase the share of emissions coming from commercial buildings, which are already responsible for 16 percent of the country’s greenhouse gas pollution. For the Biden administration to reach its goal of halving America’s planet-heating carbon pollution compared to 2005 levels by 2030, it’ll have to work to clean up warehouse operations.

“If the building sector itself has moved, that means our strategy has to be adapted,” says Bing Liu, building subsector leader at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. “If you look at space heating energy use, because [warehouses use] less efficient technologies, it’s actually concerning.”
» Read article                     

Jon Kung
A TikTok food star on why gas stoves are overrated
As the natural gas industry tries to defend its turf, chefs are touting the benefits of induction cooking.
By Rebecca Leber, Vox
December 9, 2021

The American stovetop is increasingly a battleground in a war over the fate of the 70 million buildings powered by natural gas.

On one side of the stove wars is the natural gas utility industry, which has tried to thwart cities considering phasing out gas in buildings. One of its PR strategies has been to hire influencers to tout what they love about cooking with gas to generate public opposition to city efforts.

On the other side are climate and public health advocates who point to years of mounting scientific evidence on what combusting methane in a kitchen does to one’s health. Even the relatively small amount of gas burned by the stove has an outsized effect on indoor health because it releases nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide, two pollutants known to increase risks of respiratory and cardiovascular disease. Dozens of cities in California have passed stronger building codes that encourage new construction to be powered by electricity instead of natural gas pipelines. New York City and Eugene, Oregon, may be the next cities to adopt these ordinances.

As more cities move to electricity, what will replace gas stoves? Instead of the electric coiled stoves Americans have learned to hate, there is a newer technology that many chefs prefer: induction.
» Blog editor’s note: watch the short video embedded in this article, where Jon Kung explains and demonstrates induction cooking.
» Read article                     

» More about energy efficiency          

 

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

charging network
Power companies commit to building nationwide EV charging network

They announced a new coalition today
By Justine Calma, The Verge
December 7, 2021

Over 50 utilities across the US have come together to speed up the build-out of electric vehicle charging stations along the nation’s highways. The new National Electric Highway Coalition was announced today by the Edison Electric Institute (EEI), an association of investor-owned power companies.

Together, the companies aim to “fill charging infrastructure gaps along major travel corridors,” according to a fact sheet. Each utility that’s a member of the coalition must commit “in good faith” to create an EV fast charging network across its service territory “using any approach they see fit” by the end of 2023. The US will need more than 100,000 fast charging ports for the 22 million electric vehicles expected to traverse American roadways by 2030, according to the EEI.

For now, the roughly 1.8 million electric vehicles registered in the US can juice up at just 46,000 public charging stations in the country. Just around 5,600 of those, according to the Department of Energy, are DC fast charging stations that can get an EV battery to 80 percent charged in under an under hour. Easier access to faster charging stations, in particular, could help drive greater EV adoption among wary customers.
» Read article                    
» Read the National Electric Highway Coalition fact sheet           

» More about clean transportation               

 

SITING IMPACTS OF RENEWABLES

jaguar
Tigers, jaguars under threat from tropical hydropower projects: Study
By Carolyn Cowan, Mongabay
December 9, 2021

The flooding of land for hydroelectric dams has affected more than one-fifth of the world’s tigers (Panthera tigris) and one in two hundred jaguars (Panthera onca), according to the findings of a new study published Dec. 9 in the journal Communications Biology.

Seen by some as a low-carbon solution to global energy needs, large-scale hydropower projects are increasingly prevalent in the tropics, where untapped power potential overlaps with biodiverse landscapes. In recent years, scientists and Indigenous rights groups have criticized many such schemes for failing to fully consider impacts on biodiversity, freshwater connectivity and local communities.

The results of the new study highlight “just how significant the environmental impacts of hydropower can be,” Luke Gibson, a tropical biologist at the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, China, and a co-author of the new study, told Mongabay in an email.

Gibson and his colleague, Ana Filipa Palmeirim, used published data on the population density and global distribution of tigers and jaguars to calculate the area of habitat lost and the number of individuals affected by existing and planned hydropower reservoirs.

They found that 13,750 square kilometers (5,300 square miles) of tiger habitat and 25,397 km2 (9,800 mi2) of jaguar habitat have been flooded to create hydroelectric reservoirs. A total of 729 tigers, or 20% of the global population, have been displaced by dams, whereas 915 jaguars, or 0.5% of the global population, have been affected.

“There is simply no science which shows what happens to tigers or jaguars when their habitats are flooded by hydropower reservoirs,” Gibson said. Displaced cats might attempt to survive in suboptimal, unoccupied habitat, or they might move into good quality but occupied habitat where they are likely to experience aggressive territorial encounters. In either scenario, according to Gibson, the chances of survival are very low.

The findings are bad news for the struggling big cats. Both species are suffering population declines due to habitat loss, poaching, shifting prey patterns and the effects of climate change.
» Read article                    
» Read the study                 

» More about siting impacts           

 

CARBON CAPTURE & STORAGE

CCS 101
The Future of Fossil Fuels Hinges on Two Huge Midwestern Pipeline Fights
CCS is the fossil-fuel industry’s last-gasp attempt to prevent the U.S. and the world from abandoning fossil energy in favor of cheaper, cleaner solar power.
By Peter Montague, Common Dreams | Opinion
December 9, 2021

The future of the fossil fuel industry depends on an expensive Rube Goldberg technology called carbon capture and storage (CCS), intended to capture billions of tons of hazardous waste carbon dioxide (CO2) from smokestacks and bury it deep underground where optimistic experts say it will remain forever. Pessimistic experts say it won’t work. 

The goal is to continue burning fossil fuels for the next 50 years but keep the resulting CO2 out of the atmosphere where it heats the planet, intensifying storms, floods, droughts, heat waves, wildfires, crop failures, ocean acidification, and rising sea levels. CCS is the fossil-fuel industry’s last-gasp attempt to prevent the U.S. and the world from abandoning fossil energy in favor of cheaper, cleaner solar power.

Back in 2005, a handful of industrialized nations (the so-called G8) agreed to develop CCS technology and since then the U.S. government has worked hard to make it happen but with little success so far.  

Adding carbon-capture filters onto a smokestack is expensive and the CCS filters themselves use about 20 percent of a power plant’s energy output—thereby producing more pollution per unit of electricity, including smog-producing nitrogen, sulfur, and fine particles (PM2.5).  This pollution falls disproportionately on communities of color or low income, so CCS is an environmental justice abuse. And every dollar spent on CCS is a dollar that cannot be spent on renewable energy.

There is no market for billions of tons of hazardous waste CO2.  Cue Uncle Sam.  The federal government has spent more than $9 billion taxpayer dollars since 2010 to help coal and oil companies get CCS off the ground.

To burnish the green credentials of CCS, two major projects are getting underway now in the Midwest, to capture CO2 from dozens of refineries that turn corn into ethanol alcohol, which gets mixed into gasoline. 

The climate credentials of the corn-ethanol industry are shaky. In 2008, a Princeton University research group calculated that a gallon of corn-ethanol releases more CO2 than a gallon of gasoline because forests and grasslands are plowed to plant corn, releasing CO2 from soil. Since then, other studies have tried to refute those Princeton results by claiming land-use changes from corn-ethanol must be ignored because they are too hard to measure.  It’s a crucial issue that remains contested. 

Now a tremendous fight is brewing in the Midwest as two major CO2 pipeline projects seek permission to install over 3000 miles of pipe to carry a total of 27 million tons of liquid hazardous waste CO2 per year across privately-owned farmland, with many land owners saying “No.”  There’s already talk of court battles to stop both projects.
» Read article                     

» More about CCS                  

 

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

not actually the reason
Oil companies blame clean energy transition for market volatility
Representatives at industry gathering in Houston launch attack on the speed of transition to clean energy
By Jillian Ambrose, The Guardian
December 7, 2021

Leaders of the world’s biggest oil companies have used an industry gathering in Houston to launch an attack on the speed of transition to clean energy, claiming a badly managed process could lead to “insecurity, rampant inflation and social unrest”.

Executives from oil companies including Saudi Aramco, the world’s biggest oil producer, and US oil giants ExxonMobil and Chevron publicly described the shift towards clean energy alternatives as “deeply flawed”. They called for fossil fuels to remain part of the energy mix for years to come despite global efforts for an urgent response to the climate crisis.

Saudi Aramco’s chief executive, Amin Nasser, told delegates at the World Petroleum Congress in Houston, Texas, that adapting to cleaner fuels “overnight” could trigger uncontrolled economic inflation.

“I understand that publicly admitting that oil and gas will play an essential and significant role during the transition and beyond will be hard for some,” he said. “But admitting this reality will be far easier than dealing with energy insecurity, rampant inflation and social unrest as the prices become intolerably high, and seeing net zero commitments by countries start to unravel.

“The world is facing an ever more chaotic energy transition centred on highly unrealistic scenarios and assumptions about the future of energy.”

Anders Opedal, the boss of Equinor, Norway’s state oil company, said: “The volatility in commodity prices and the impact on business and people illustrates the risks we face in an imbalanced transition.”

Global oil and gas prices have surged in recent months since the original Covid-19 lockdown, which stifled economies around the world in 2020. Energy experts and economists have argued that the global energy market surge – which has triggered blackouts, higher bills and the shutdown of factories in some countries – should encourage policymakers to accelerate the move away from volatile fossil fuels.
» Read article                 

stop Cambo
Shell U-turn on Cambo could mean end for big North Sea oil projects
Industry sources say Siccar Point will struggle to find new partner to take on Shell’s 30% stake in oilfield
By Jillian Ambrose, The Guardian
December 3, 2021

Shell’s decision to back out of plans to develop the Cambo oilfield could sound the “death knell” for new large-scale North Sea projects, industry figures say, as the UK’s tougher climate agenda prompts oil companies to retreat from the ageing oil basin.

Sources said Shell’s project partner, the private equity-backed Siccar Point, would struggle to find another partner to take on Shell’s 30% stake in the new oilfield, which has provoked outrage among green campaigners.

Shell’s retreat has cast doubt over the future of a project that could yield hundreds of millions of barrels of oil, and sources say it raises fresh doubts over the North Sea’s future large-scale oil projects too.

“This is a turning point,” said one industry source, who asked not to be named. “Companies will be thinking: if Shell can’t do it, can we? I just don’t see any truly large-scale projects being sanctioned in the North Sea any more. There will still be small developments around existing fields. But this is a death knell for major new projects in the UK.”

The Guardian understands that Shell scrapped the Cambo project after the government made clear it would need to meet certain “climate concessions” to win its approval. The company said publicly that the “economic case for investment” was not strong.

Shell’s withdrawal comes weeks after the company was left disappointed by a UK regulator’s “unexpected” decision to decline its application to develop a separate North Sea project at the Jackdaw field.

“It’s a bit embarrassing for Shell so soon after announcing it would relocate its headquarters to London from the Netherlands,” the source added.
» Read article                     

» More about fossil fuels               

 

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

financial albatross
LNG Canada On Track to Become ‘Financial Albatross’, Analysts Warn
By The Energy Mix
November 25, 2021

British Columbia’s only confirmed liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal may be on its way to becoming a “financial albatross”, according to a new analysis released Wednesday, even as a developer continues to tout a second LNG project in Howe Sound, just north of Vancouver.

The LNG Canada megaproject was approved with lavish provincial subsidies in 2018, producing a massive emissions gap in the province’s climate plan. Now under construction, it’s the intended terminus for the Coastal GasLink pipeline that has become a trigger for militarized raids on unceded Indigenous land and a railway blockade in the weeks leading up to COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020.

Now, a report by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) says the first phase of LNG Canada “could be the last liquefied natural gas project built in British Columbia” given changing market conditions, project delays, rising costs, and policy shifts.

“Over the last three years, market shifts and policy changes have tested LNG Canada’s long-term economic viability,” said lead author Omar Mawji, IEEFA’s energy finance Canada analyst. “This project could become a financial albatross for its sponsor investors, and it stands as a warning to other natural gas producers” involved with natural gas fracking projects in the Montney Basin in northeastern B.C.

That isn’t a good look for Phase 2 of the LNG Canada venture, or for other LNG projects that B.C. Premier John Horgan and his Liberal Party predecessor, Christy Clark, have been desperately promoting for years.

“If the project sponsors assessed the energy landscape today instead of 2018, they would likely have been far more cautious in deciding whether to move forward with Phase 1,” Mawji said in an IEEFA release. “The conditions do not bode well for other LNG projects in Canada.”
» Read article                     

» More about LNG                   

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Weekly News Check-In 6/4/21

banner 09

Welcome back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— The NFGiM Team

 

PEAKING POWER PLANTS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about peaker plants               

 

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about the Weymouth compressor station         

 

GRANITE BRIDGE PIPELINE

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

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

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

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

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

» More about the Granite Bridge pipeline project       

 

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about protests and actions                

 

DIVESTMENT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about divestment                

 

GREENING THE ECONOMY

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about greening the economy            

 

CLIMATE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about climate              

 

CLEAN ENERGY

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

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

Can this be done reliably and with existing technologies?

Yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about clean energy           

 

MODERNIZING THE GRID

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about modernizing the electric grid          

 

ENERGY STORAGE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about energy storage           

 

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about clean transportation             

 

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about fossil fuels              

 

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about LNG                       

 

BIOMASS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about biomass            

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Weekly News Check-In 8/21/20

banner 09

Welcome back.

Natural gas positions its brand as both clean and safe. That’s pretty effective marketing, but (climate issues aside) those claims get wobbly under evidence of health and safety burdens borne by communities all along the line from extraction to the blue-flame point of use. Gas can hurt you, slowly or quickly. Activists continue to draw attention to the fact that pollution and safety risks disproportionately affect the poor and people of color, and that any real progress must be founded on climate justice. Even as some major pipeline projects continue to move toward completion in these changing times, opposition intensifies.

Transition to a more equitable, green economy requires changes within stakeholder groups. In Gloucester, MA, a state grant program is helping the fishing community explore ways to work with and benefit from the coming offshore wind industry.

This week’s climate news includes new evidence of unabated global temperature rise, a tipping point passed for Greenland’s ice sheets, and a description of the recent “derecho” wind storm that flattened crops and buildings from Nebraska to Indiana.

The clean energy press has buzzed lately about a carbon free, renewable energy source well-suited to certain industrial processes and heavy transport. We offer more insight into what the green hydrogen industry will look like, and when it might arrive. Meanwhile, five major automakers struck a blow for clean transportation by rejecting the Trump administration’s lax national emissions standards and committing to comply with California’s stricter requirements.

Interest in public ownership of electric utilities continues to gain momentum in Maine, with the Covid-19 pandemic unexpectedly providing arguments for the greater resiliency of customer-focused community ownership compared to the corporate model with management beholden to distant shareholders. A companion essay suggests an advocacy role for the Department of Public Utilities.

New Jersey may soon become the next state to sue the fossil fuel industry for climate-related damages. And we found what may be the perfect example of why this industry won’t quit till it’s forced to. ConocoPhillips could soon lay chiller pipes beneath its roads and drilling pads in Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve to re-freeze permafrost melting from climate change. The company’s sagging infrastructure is slowing efforts to extract more climate-changing fuel.

The Trump administration recently finalized a rule allowing liquefied natural gas (LNG) to be transported by rail. Deeming public safety considerations woefully inadequate, environmental advocates sued. Also from the Department of Bad Ideas, we found reporting from Japan calling for the development of “energy forests” to support their growing biomass-to-electricity industry. The article is interesting (and suspect) for its total failure to acknowledge current climate science. Closer to home, the Springfield City Council voted against the state’s plan to subsidize the planned biomass power plant as part of its new climate legislation.

We close with alarming news that there appears to be much more plastic in the marine environment than previously thought – with micro fibers and particles even turning up in human organ tissue. Plastic will comprise a distinct and permanent worldwide geological layer marking the Anthropocene era.

— The NFGiM Team

NATURAL GAS HEALTH RISKS

gas flare preemies
The Risk of Preterm Birth Rises Near Gas Flaring, Reflecting Deep-rooted Environmental Injustices in Rural America
By Jill Johnston, University of Southern California and Lara Cushing, University of California, Los Angeles, in DeSmog Blog
August 20, 2020

Through the southern reaches of Texas, communities are scattered across a flat landscape of dry brush lands, ranches and agricultural fields. This large rural region near the U.S.-Mexico border is known for its persistent poverty. Over 25 percent of the families here live in poverty, and many lack access to basic services like water, sewer and primary health care.

This is also home to the Eagle Ford shale, where domestic oil and gas production has boomed. The Eagle Ford is widely considered the most profitable U.S. shale play, producing more than 1.2 million barrels of oil daily in 2019, up from fewer than 350,000 barrels per day just a decade earlier.

The rapid production growth here has not led to substantial shared economic benefits at the local level, however.

Low-income communities and communities of color here bear the brunt of the energy industry’s pollution, our research shows. And we now know those risks also extend to the unborn. Our latest study documents how women living near gas flaring sites have significantly higher risks of giving birth prematurely than others, and that this risk falls mainly on Latina women.
» Read article         
» Read the study

» More about nat-gas health risks

WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG?

Baltimore explosion captured
Baltimore gas explosion: Morgan State student found dead among rubble; BGE says no leaks found
By Wilborn P. Nobles III and Justin Fenton, Baltimore Sun
August 11, 2020

A second victim, a 20-year-old Morgan State University student, was found early Tuesday in the rubble of a gas explosion in Northwest Baltimore as BGE said the blast wasn’t caused by one of its gas mains.

Workers continued to investigate and clean up the scene of the explosion that also killed one woman and seriously injured at least seven other people. It ripped Monday through several row houses in the Reisterstown Station neighborhood in Northwest Baltimore, displacing 30 people.

As officials continued to assess the cause of the blast — a process that could take months — BGE said that it found no leaks in an inspection Monday of the homes’ gas mains, and that company data indicated “some type of issue beyond the BGE meter on customer-owned equipment.” Investigators were analyzing the new information, BGE said.
» Read article          

» More about what can go wrong            

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

Citgo sign makeover
Climate activists hang banner on Boston’s iconic Citgo sign
By the Gloucester Daily Times
August 11, 2020

Members of an activist group hung a banner that read [“CLIMATE JUSTICE NOW”] on the iconic Citgo sign near Boston’s Fenway Park, leading to eight arrests, police said.

The group unfurled the banner Monday evening as the Red Sox began their game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Fenway. A spokesman for the group, Extinction Rebellion Boston, told The Boston Globe that it was hoping to bring attention to environmental issues.

“We think the ultimate values of the city of Boston would say climate justice is more important than fossil fuel profits,” Matthew Kearney said. “We’re giving the Citgo sign a makeover — just temporary, of course — an update to the Boston skyline that matches the values of the city.”
» Read article          

» More about protests and actions           

PIPELINES

tiny house warriors
Canada’s Trans Mountain Pipeline Inches Forward, But Opposition Intensifies
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
August 14, 2020

In 2018, a group of Secwepemc and Ktunaxa people built six small houses on wheels and positioned them along the pipeline route to block construction near the community of Blue River in British Columbia. The immediate aim was to prevent the pipeline from moving forward, but the broader goal of the “Tiny House Warriors” was to assert authority over unceded traditional land, where Indigenous title has not been given up or acquired by the Crown in Canada.

“That’s what Tiny House Warriors is. It’s where we face off with the colonial government and their assumption of jurisdiction and authority over our Secwepemc territorial authority and jurisdiction,” said Kanahus Manuel, an Indigenous activist who is Secwepemc and Ktunaxa and a leader of Tiny House Warriors.

In an interview with DeSmog, Manuel described a pattern of harassment and intimidation from industry, oil and gas workers, police, and the state. The determination of Manuel and other Indigenous groups to assert their rights over unceded land has been met with stiff, and sometimes violent, opposition.
» Read article          

» More about pipelines           

GREENING THE ECONOMY

Gloucester recruiting
In Massachusetts, offshore wind opens up job training, economic opportunities
Efforts are underway to train locals for the state’s burgeoning new industry.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
Photo By Robert Laliberte  / Flickr / Creative Commons
August 17, 2020

In a northern Massachusetts fishing town, an advocacy group that has opposed an offshore wind farm is opening up to economic opportunities the project could provide.

As part of a $1.3 million state grant program, a partnership between fishing advocacy group the Gloucester Fishermen’s Wives Association and the Northeast Maritime Institute will enroll commercial fishermen in a certification course that will qualify them to transport people and supplies to wind turbine sites for the Vineyard Wind project. Gloucester has traditionally been a major New England fishing port, but the industry has been hard hit by declining fish stocks and regulations designed to prevent overfishing.

Though the program has not started actively recruiting participants yet, word of mouth has raised some interest and there are already five names on the waiting list, said Angela Sanfilippo, president of the organization.

The Gloucester group has spoken out against Vineyard Wind from the start, but recognizes offshore wind is likely to be a reality. The group wants to help the fishermen it serves adapt to whatever comes next, Sanfilippo said.
» Read article         

» More about greening the economy         

CLIMATE

state of climate 2019Annual planetary temperature continues to rise
More than 500 scientists from 61 countries have again measured the annual planetary temperature. The diagnosis is not good.
By Tim Radford, Climate News Network
August 17, 2020

Despite global promises to act on climate change, the Earth continues to warm. The annual planetary temperature confirms that the last 10 years were on average 0.2°C warmer than the first 10 years of this century. And each decade since 1980 has been warmer than the decade that preceded it.

The year 2019 was also one of the three warmest years since formal temperature records began in the 19th century. The only warmer years – in some datasets but not all – were 2016 and 2015. And all the years since 2013 have been warmer than all other years in the last 170.

The link with fossil fuel combustion remains unequivocal: carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere increased by 2.5 parts per million (ppm) in 2019 alone. These now stand at 409 ppm. The global average for most of human history has hovered around 285 ppm.

Two more greenhouse gases – nitrous oxide and methane, both of them more short-lived – also increased measurably.

The study, in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, is a sobering chronicle of the impact of climate change in the decade 2010-2019 and the year 2019 itself. It is the 30th such report, it is signed by 528 experts from 61 countries, and it is a catalogue of unwelcome records achieved and uncomfortable extremes surpassed.
» Read article         
» Read State of the Climate in 2019 Report               

ice out Greenland
Going, Going … Gone: Greenland’s Melting Ice Sheet Passed a Point of No Return in the Early 2000s
A new study finds that the accelerating retreat and thinning of Greenland’s glaciers that began 20 year ago is speeding the ice sheet toward total meltdown.
By Bob Berwyn, InsideClimate News
August 15, 2020

The Greenland Ice Sheet managed to withstand the warming brought by the first 150 years of the industrial age, with enough snow piling up each winter to balance the ice lost to spring and summer melting. But, according to a new study, that all changed 20 years ago.

Starting in 2000, Greenland’s glaciers suddenly began moving faster, their snouts rapidly retreating and thinning where they flow into the sea. Between 2000 and 2005, that acceleration led to an all-but irreversible “step-increase” of ice loss, scientists concluded in the new research, published this week in the journal Nature Communications Earth & Environment.

If the climate were to stop warming today, or even cool a little, Greenland’s ice will continue to melt, said Ohio State University Earth scientist Ian Howat, co-author of the research paper. “Glacier retreat has knocked the dynamics of the whole ice sheet into a constant state of loss,” he said. “Even if we were to stabilize at current temperatures, the ice will continue to disintegrate more quickly than if we hadn’t messed with the climate to begin with.”
» Read article        

derecho skylineExtreme weather just devastated 10m acres in the midwest. Expect more of this
Unless we contain carbon, our food supply will be under threat. By 2050, US corn yields could decline by 30%
By Art Cullen, The Guardian
August 17, 2020

I know a stiff wind. They call this place Storm Lake, after all. But until recently most Iowans had never heard of a “derecho”. They have now. Last Monday, a derecho tore 770 miles from Nebraska to Indiana and left a path of destruction up to 50 miles wide over 10m acres of prime cropland. It blew 113 miles per hour at the Quad Cities on the Mississippi River.

Grain bins were crumpled like aluminum foil. Three hundred thousand people remained without power in Iowa and Illinois on Friday. Cedar Rapids and Iowa City were devastated.

The corn lay flat.

Iowa’s maize yield may be cut in half. A little napkin ciphering tells me the Tall Corn State will lose $6bn from crop damage alone.

We should get used to it. Extreme weather is the new normal. Last year, the villages of Hamburg and Pacific Junction, Iowa, were washed down the Missouri River from epic floods that scoured tens of thousands of acres. This year, the Great Plains are burning up from drought. Western Iowa was steeped in severe drought when those straight-line winds barreled through the weak stalks.
» Read article             

» More about climate         

CLEAN ENERGY

wait for it
As Europe’s Green Hydrogen Excitement Grows, Profits Look a Long Way Off
Utilities and power generators are lining up to invest in green hydrogen projects, but executives say profits could be a decade away.
By John Parnell, GreenTech Media
August 18, 2020

Green hydrogen is the talk of the power sector these days, but it will be at least a decade before it becomes a major line item on the books of European utilities and generators, executives say.

Gigawatt-scale green hydrogen projects have sprung up on three continents recently, including the world’s largest plan so far, a 4-gigawatt plant in Saudi Arabia. Governments are rushing to publish coherent strategies as they compete to build hydrogen hubs.

The European Union is sending strong long-term signals for green hydrogen with a dual electrolyzer target: The EU wants 40 gigawatts of electrolyzers installed within its own borders by 2030 and another 40 gigawatts in nearby nations to export into the EU — with North Africa one potential candidate given its proximity to Southern Europe and vast solar resources.

A range of European utilities, oil majors and gas infrastructure firms are increasingly focused on the hydrogen opportunity ahead. But various power-sector executives have added a dose of reality to expectations that green hydrogen will drive serious revenue or profits anytime this decade.
» Read article          

propelling the transition
Propelling the transition: Green hydrogen could be the final piece in a zero-emissions future
For the many things renewables and batteries don’t do, green hydrogen can be the zero-GHG alternative.
By Herman K. Trabish, Utility Dive
August 17, 2020

Renewables-generated electricity and battery energy storage can eliminate most power system greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, especially in the near term.

But fueling heavy-duty vehicles, serving the unique needs of steel, chemical and other industries, heating aging buildings, and storing large amounts of energy for long durations are major challenges electricity cannot readily meet. Hydrogen extracted from water with renewables-generated electricity by an electrolyzer could be the best GHG-free alternative, analysts told Utility Dive.

“The best way of doing long duration, massive volume storage is by transforming electrons into molecules with an electrolyzer,” ITM Power CEO Graham Cooley, who is building the world’s first GW-scale electrolyzer plant, told Utility Dive. “Green hydrogen molecules can replace the fossil-generated hydrogen used today.”

In Europe, renewables over-generation is “already driving economies of scale in electrolyzer manufacturing” that are “driving down electrolyzer capital costs,” said Renewable Hydrogen Alliance Executive Director Ken Dragoon. “The 10 million tons of hydrogen produced annually in the U.S., mostly with natural gas, can be replaced with green hydrogen because, like natural gas, it can be ramped, stored and delivered on demand.”

Economic sectors like chemical and industrial manufacturing, air travel, ocean shipping, and long distance, heavy duty transport will likely require some synthetic fuel, like green hydrogen, to eliminate GHGs, Dragoon said. And green hydrogen may be the most affordable and flexible long duration storage option for any of those applications, he added.
» Read article          

» More about clean energy        

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

auto tailpipe deal with CA
Defying Trump, 5 Automakers Lock In a Deal on Greenhouse Gas Pollution
The five — Ford, Honda, BMW, Volkswagen and Volvo — sealed a binding agreement with California to follow the state’s stricter tailpipe emissions rules.
By Coral Davenport, New York Times
August 17, 2020

California on Monday finalized a legal settlement with five of the world’s largest automakers that binds them to comply with its stringent state-level fuel efficiency standards that would cut down on climate-warming tailpipe emissions.

Monday’s agreement adds legal teeth to a deal that California and four of the companies outlined in principle last summer, and it comes as a rejection of President Trump’s new, looser federal rules on fuel economy, which would allow more pollution into the atmosphere.

Mr. Trump was blindsided last summer when the companies — Ford, Honda, BMW and Volkswagen — announced that they had reached a secret deal with California to comply with that state’s standards, even as the Trump administration was working to roll back Obama-era rules on fuel economy. A fifth company, Volvo, said in March that it intended to join the agreement and is part of the legal settlement that was finalized on Monday.
» Read article          

» More about clean transportation            

ELECTRIC UTILITIES

push to munis
In Maine, pandemic hasn’t stopped push for a publicly owned electric grid

While lawmakers disagree on the likely costs and benefits, one proponent says COVID-19 has made the case for a state-owned utility even stronger.
By Tom Perkins, Energy News Network
Photo By Creative Commons   
August 20, 2020

A wave of campaigns seeking to set up publicly owned electric utilities seemed to be picking up steam heading into 2020, fueled by frustration over investor-owned utilities’ rates, service, and slow transition to renewables.

Then the pandemic hit. Its economic fallout cast uncertainty on the efforts, but proponents say the campaigns will move forward, and the pandemic only underscores the need for change.

“For cities setting out on their municipalization efforts now, the pandemic may well be the first setback, but I do not believe it is enough to derail a campaign altogether,” said Maria McCoy, an energy democracy research associate with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit think tank that favors community-controlled utilities.

Publicly owned utilities are better positioned to weather an economic storm because they don’t need to generate huge profits for investors, McCoy added, and she and others say the proposals are more urgent than ever because they’re job creators that would provide much-needed economic stimuli.
» Read article          

» More about electric utilities             

MA DEPT OF PUBLIC UTILITIES

electric blue background
Thoughts on the advocacy of regulators
They all advocate – the real question is for whom?
By Joel Wool, CommonWealth Magazine – opinion
August 15, 2020

Responsible utility regulators could take a cue or two from the “brazen” social justice advocacy of members of the [Cannabis Control Commission (CCC)], by standing up for ratepayers, defending workers, and promoting clean energy rather than penalizing it. Instead, the MA DPU has actively opposed efforts toward social and economic equity, rejecting energy efficiency incentives intended to bridge socioeconomic divides and throwing up roadblocks to solar access. It has approved ratepayer funding for interstate gas facilities and effectively denied its obligations to combat climate change. It has enabled a form of regulatory capture, as regulated utilities seek ratepayer dollars for membership to trade associations that lobby against clean energy and for fossil fuel interests.
» Read article         

» More about MA DPU               

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

NJ eyeing legal action
New Jersey Should Sue Fossil Fuel Companies Over Climate Costs, Panel Says
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
August 19, 2020

Advocates for holding fossil fuel companies accountable in court for the substantial costs of climate change are urging New Jersey to sue oil majors like ExxonMobil, as over a dozen municipal and state governments have done over the past three years.

A month after a New Jersey senate committee passed a resolution calling on the state to take this kind of legal action, New Jersey’s Monmouth University hosted a virtual panel discussion on Wednesday, August 19 titled “Accountability for Climate Change Harms in New Jersey: Scientific, Legal and Policy Perspectives.” The discussion was intended to outline the case for New Jersey to file a climate accountability lawsuit ahead of the full state senate voting on the resolution, which could come later this month.

New Jersey Democratic State Senator Joseph Cryan, one of the lead sponsors of Senate Resolution 57, said during his opening remarks Wednesday that he is hopeful the resolution will pass the full state senate this month. The resolution specifically calls on New Jersey’s governor and attorney general “to pursue legal action against fossil fuel companies for damages caused by climate change.”
» Read article         

CP irony
The irony: ConocoPhillips hopes to freeze thawing permafrost to drill more oil
By Shannon Osaka, Grist
August 19, 2020

Living on a heating planet always comes with some ironies. For one thing, the people who are most to blame for global warming (the rich and powerful) are also shielded from its worst effects. Meanwhile, airlines push fossil-fuel burning tourist flights to see Antarctica’s melting ice, and cruise companies hype energy-intensive trips to see polar bears in the Arctic before they’re gone.

The latest plan by ConocoPhillips may top them all. The Houston-based energy giant plans to produce 590 million barrels of oil from a massive drilling project in Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve. But climate change is melting the ground in the reserve so fast that the company may be forced to use chilling devices to keep the ground beneath roads and drilling pads frozen.

Yes, you read that right: An oil company is prepared to freeze melting permafrost in order to keep extracting oil. And it just so happens that ConocoPhillips is ranked 21st among the 100 companies responsible for most of humanity’s carbon emissions over the past several decades.
» Read article         

EU big oil turning
Europe’s Big Oil Companies Are Turning Electric
Under pressure from governments and investors, industry leaders like BP and Shell are accelerating their production of cleaner energy.
By Stanley Reed, New York Times
August 17, 2020

This may turn out to be the year that oil giants, especially in Europe, started looking more like electric companies.

Late last month, Royal Dutch Shell won a deal to build a vast wind farm off the coast of the Netherlands. Earlier in the year, France’s Total, which owns a battery maker, agreed to make several large investments in solar power in Spain and a wind farm off Scotland. Total also bought an electric and natural gas utility in Spain and is joining Shell and BP in expanding its electric vehicle charging business.

At the same time, the companies are ditching plans to drill more wells as they chop back capital budgets. Shell recently said it would delay new fields in the Gulf of Mexico and in the North Sea, while BP has promised not to hunt for oil in any new countries.

Prodded by governments and investors to address climate change concerns about their products, Europe’s oil companies are accelerating their production of cleaner energy — usually electricity, sometimes hydrogen — and promoting natural gas, which they argue can be a cleaner transition fuel from coal and oil to renewables.
» Read article          

» More about fossil fuels               

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

LNG train bomb suit
Environmental Groups Sue Trump Admin to Stop LNG Trains
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
August 19, 2020

Nonprofit environmental law firm Earthjustice has filed a lawsuit on behalf of a coalition of environmental groups against the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), challenging a recently finalized Trump administration rule to allow the transportation of liquefied natural gas (LNG) by rail.

“It would only take 22 tank cars to hold the equivalent energy of the Hiroshima bomb,” Jordan Luebkemann, an Earthjustice attorney, said in a statement. “It’s unbelievably reckless to discard the critical, long-standing safety measures we have in place to protect the public from this dangerous cargo.

As DeSmog has reported, the Trump administration has fast-tracked rolling out the rule to allow LNG-by-rail without requiring any new safety regulations beyond a slightly thicker tank shell for the rail cars.

The potential consequences of an accident involving a train carrying LNG could be far greater than the already catastrophic and deadly accidents that have resulted from the rail industry moving large amounts of volatile crude oil and ethanol in recent years.
» Read article          

» More about LNG           

BIOMASS

bad advice in Japan
Japan eyes “energy forests” for woody biomass power generation
By KYODO NEWS
August 19, 2020

As part of efforts to shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy, the Japanese government is considering securing “energy forests” for the specific purpose of growing sources for woody biomass power generation, officials said Wednesday.

Greater dependence on woody biomass is believed to help mitigate climate change as the growing of forests absorbs carbon dioxide through photosynthesis and the use of renewable wood raw materials, as a replacement for fossil fuel products, reduces the volume of new CO2 that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere.

At present, Japan uses biomass fuel derived from the thinning of forests and from branches removed in preparing lumber for building materials. Exclusively using a forest to grow woody biomass fuel is expected to cut labor and silviculture costs by one-third as the work of thinning forests will become unnecessary, the officials said.
Blog editor’s note: This article, lacking a named author, appears to be an unscreened list of biomass-to-energy industry talking points. Even the biomass-dependent Europeans know its “sustainability” is a charade.
» Read article    

Spfld biomass not clean renewable
Springfield City Hall opposes biomass incinerator part of state climate bill
By Sy Becker, WWLP Channel 22
August 13, 2020

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – The Springfield City Council is set against the state subsidizing a Biomass incinerator as part of a state climate bill, the legislature’s considering.

Ten city councilors agree with fellow councilor Jesse Lederman the state should listen to the results of a hearing attended by hundreds at Springfield’s Duggan Middle School.

There, they shot down a proposal for the state to subsidize a Biomass plant in Springfield.
» Read article          

» More about biomass             

PLASTICS IN THE ENVIRONMENT

northern fulmar
Oceans’ plastic tide may be far larger than thought
Artificial fibres now go everywhere. The oceans’ plastic tide may reach their whole depth, entering marine life and people.
By Tim Radford, Climate News Network
August 20, 2020

The world’s seas could be home to a vast reservoir of hitherto unidentified pollution, the growing burden of the oceans’ plastic tide.

Up to 21 million tonnes of tiny and invisible plastic fibres could be floating in the first 200 metres of the Atlantic Ocean alone. And as British research exposed the scale of the problem, American chemists revealed that for the first time they had found microplastic fibres incorporated within human organ tissues.

A day or two later Dutch scientists demonstrated that plastic waste wasn’t simply a passive hazard to marine life: experiments showed that polluting plastic released chemicals into the stomachs of seabirds.

But first, the global problem. Oceanographers have known for decades that plastic waste had found its way into the sea: floating on the surface, it has reached the beaches of the remote Antarctic, been sampled in Arctic waters, been identified in the sediments on the sea floor and been ingested by marine creatures, from the smallest to the whale family.

Ominously, researchers warn that the sheer mass of plastic waste could multiply threefold in the decades to come. And, unlike all other forms of human pollution, plastic waste is here to stay, one day to form a permanent geological layer that will mark the Anthropocene era.
» Read article         
» Read the study

scraping the neuston
Could a Solution to Marine Plastic Waste Threaten One of the Ocean’s Most Mysterious Ecosystems?
By Deutsche Welle, EcoWatch
August 15, 2020

The neuston, from the Greek word for swimming, refers to a group of animals, plants and microorganisms that spend all or large parts of their life floating in the top few centimeters of the ocean.

It’s a mysterious world that even experts still know little about. But recently, it has been the source of tensions between a project trying to clean up the sea by skimming plastic trash off its surface, and marine biologists who say this could destroy the neuston.

“Plastic could outweigh fish in the oceans by 2050. To us, that future is unacceptable,” The Ocean Cleanup declares on its website.

But Rebecca Helm, a marine biologist at the University of North Carolina, and one of the few scientists to study this ecosystem, fears that The Ocean Cleanup’s proposal to remove 90% of the plastic trash from the water could also virtually wipe out the neuston.

One focus of Helm’s studies is where these organisms congregate. “There are places that are very, very concentrated and areas of little concentration, and we’re trying to figure out why,” says Helm.

One factor is that the neuston floats with ocean currents, and Helm worries that it might collect in the exact same spots as marine plastic pollution. “Our initial data show that regions with high concentrations of plastic are also regions with high concentrations of life.”
» Read article         

» More about plastics in the environment           

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Weekly News Check-In 7/3/20

banner 02

Welcome back.

There’s continued interest in the recent arrest of two environmental activists in Louisiana on felony terrorism charges for their non-violent action delivering a box of “nurdles” to a plastics industry lobbyist. It’s hard to know whether to laugh or cry.

We’re happy to report that the Holleran family has been compensated by the Williams Companies for hundreds of trees cut on their Pennsylvania farm to make way for a pipeline that was never built. The Constitution Pipeline was recently scrapped when New York refused to permit it. As a side note, we’re pretty sure Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker could use a similar argument to stop the Weymouth compressor.

Future cases like the Holleran family’s tree loss may have been averted by a recent DC Circuit Court ruling that found the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) can no longer continue its use of “tolling orders” to indefinitely delay hearing landowner complaints, even while trees are cleared and pipelines are built across their properties.

This week, Democrats in the House of Representatives passed a sweeping and serious new climate proposal, including measures for greening the economy in the post-pandemic recovery. The Trump administration and Senate Republicans declared the bill dead on arrival. You can express your opinion of that by voting on or before Tuesday, November 3, 2020…. Meanwhile, the need for transformative action is especially acute in coal country. A gradual contraction of that mining economy has recently morphed into freefall – with relief and a new economic model desperately needed.

Some of us have noticed recently that the latest generation of climate models occasionally predicts substantially more warming than prior models did. We found an interesting article exploring that anomaly, and revealing the devilish complexities around cloud effects. We also have a fascinating story of coal-driven climate change from 250 million years ago, plus encouraging news indicating that the Heartland Institute – a major force in climate denial – appears to be losing influence.

Electricity will not entirely replace fuels in the foreseeable future because some processes and modes of transport are just too energy intensive. Hydrogen is a strong alternative candidate, but it’s currently produced using fossil fuels. “Green” hydrogen is coming – our Clean Energy section offers a primer.

Energy efficiency upgrades, especially in commercial and industrial sectors, are among the most cost-effective ways to reduce emissions. That is not necessarily true for existing low-income housing, but taken as a component of redressing social injustice, it’s a compelling program that deserves high priority. Another priority is greening the transportation sector. It’s at once the largest greenhouse gas emitter and Big Oil’s best customer. We’re seeing both progress and push-back.

We wrap up with a few articles about the fossil fuel industry. It’s a gutter tour through financial collapse, attempted influence against green legislation, and a tightening circle of litigation calling out years of fraud.

— The NFGiM Team

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

outrage after terror charges
Outrage after “Cancer Alley” activists face terrorism charges for anti-plastics stunt
By Andy Rowell, Oil Change International
June 29, 2020

For decades, those on the frontline of the environmental justice struggle have faced legal intimidation and harassment for speaking out against chronic pollution in “Cancer Alley,” an 85-mile stretch of oil, gas, and petrochemical facilities along the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, Louisiana.

According to the Times-Picayune, “[Anne] Rolfes was booked with terrorizing, a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison. [Kate] McIntosh was booked with principal to terrorizing.” Each was released after posting a USD 5,000 bond.

So what had they done to deserve a felony terrorism charge and potentially face years in prison?

Over six months ago, in December, they left a highly symbolic sealed box containing plastic pellet waste on the doorstep of a local oil and gas lobbyist to highlight the issue of chronic pollution in the region, which is home to some of the most impoverished and vulnerable communities in the United States.

In that sense [the charges] are SLAPPs — Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation. We know legal intimidation is getting worse in the US.

Indeed, as Earther points out: “In the past four years, 21 states have introduced criminal penalties for demonstrating near oil and gas infrastructure with many of those laws mirroring text drafted by the industry-backed American Legislative Exchange Council. In 2019, the federal government proposed legislation that would prescribe up to two decades in prison for ‘inhibiting the operation’ of pipelines — or even just ‘conspiring’ to do so. But even by those standards, these charges seem utterly gratuitous.”
» Read article         

» More about protests and actions

PIPELINES

no eminent domain for corporate gain
Family that lost hundreds of trees to failed pipeline project settles with company, gets land back
Constitution pipeline builder cut 558 trees to make way for line that never got built
By Susan Phillips, NPR – State Impact
July 3, 2020

A Northeastern Pennsylvania family who watched as work crews, accompanied by armed federal marshals, destroyed their budding maple tree farm to make way for the failed Constitution Pipeline has settled with the company Williams for an undisclosed amount. A federal court has also vacated the eminent domain taking of about five acres, reversing an order it made more than five years ago.

“We’re really glad that it’s ended,” said Catherine Holleran, co-owner of the 23-acre property that has been in the family for 50 years. “We’ve gotten our land returned to us. That was our main objective right from the first.”

The Constitution Pipeline project would have carried Marcellus Shale gas  from Pennsylvania to New York state. Though the project received federal approval and the necessary permits from Pennsylvania regulators, New York blocked the pipeline by not issuing permits. Williams dropped the project in February.
» Read article     

» More about other pipelines             

FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION

tolling orders in the dock
DC Circuit: FERC can’t indefinitely delay action on gas pipeline challenges
By Iulia Gheorghiu, Utility Dive
Updated July 1, 2020

The District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 10-1 on Tuesday that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission lacks authority to postpone rehearing decisions on natural gas projects through the issuance of tolling orders. The practice has delayed parties that oppose FERC rulings from challenging those decisions in court.

FERC Commissioner Richard Glick called the decision a “resounding victory” for landowners impacted by FERC’s pipeline orders. “It is important that these parties can go to court before a company can take their land & build a pipeline affecting their communities,” he said in a tweet.

Tolling orders are an accessible tool for FERC to delay judgement on rehearing requests when more time is needed to consider arguments regarding the legality of the commission’s actions. FERC attorney Robert Kennedy said tolling orders are “generally entered almost as a matter of routine.”

Petitioners argued that pipeline projects have been completed while opponents were unable to litigate because a tolling order was in place.

“This case is exceptionally important because it brings to light a habitual practice by [FERC] that raises serious questions of fairness, due process and legality. And the commission’s defense in no way addressed how [a FERC order] can be final for some but not for others,” NRDC’s Giannetti told Utility Dive.
 » Read article         

fifty k to twenty
NERA counters broad opposition to FERC net metering petition, reveals utility-linked member
By Catherine Morehouse, Utility Dive
July 2, 2020

Lawyers representing the New England Ratepayers Association (NERA) on Tuesday filed their response to the almost 50,000 comments opposing the group’s petition to federal regulators to effectively upend net metering policies nationwide.

NERA has generated significant attention in the power sector with its April petition asking FERC to declare “exclusive” jurisdiction over behind-the-meter energy generation.

Bipartisan groups of state legislators, regulators, attorneys general, governors and other officials filed almost 100 comments in opposition. Advocacy groups, legal experts and academics filed over 500 comments, while almost 50,000 individuals also commented on the filing, all in opposition to the proposal.

Meanwhile, just 21 groups filed in support, 15 of which echoed comments written out by the Heartland Institute.

Net metering compensates customers who have rooftop solar or some other form of behind-the-meter resource for the energy it provides to the grid. Opponents of the practice say it can overcompensate distributed resource customers, leaving remaining customers to absorb the additional costs. The focus of the petition, however, is not on the merits of net metering, but whether FERC should have jurisdiction over those sales.
» Read article         
» Read the NERA filing with FERC          

» More about FERC

GREENING THE ECONOMY

Democrat climate plan
Democrats to unveil bold new climate plan to phase out emissions by 2050
By Emily Holden, The Guardian
June 29, 2020

House Democrats will unveil an aggressive climate crisis “action plan” on Tuesday to nearly eliminate US emissions by 2050, according to summary documents reviewed by the Guardian.

The net-zero emissions goal is what United Nations leaders and the scientific community say the world must achieve to avoid the worst of rising temperatures, and it’s what the Democratic presidential nominee, Joe Biden, says he would pursue if he were to win the White House in November.

The more than 538-page report will include hundreds of policy recommendations focused on 12 key pillars, according to a separate outline.

Modeling on a subset of those recommendations by the firm Energy Innovation showed they would cut net US greenhouse gas emissions by 37% below 2010 levels in 2030, and 88% below 2010 levels in 2050, according to the report outline. The remaining 12% of emissions cuts would have to come from hard-to-decarbonize sectors, including heavy-duty truck transportation, industry and agriculture.

The proposal outline recommends a clean energy standard for net-zero electricity by 2040 and net-zero new buildings by 2030. It calls for only zero-emitting new vehicles to be sold by 2035, and it advocates for doubling funding for public transit.
» Read article         

slippery slope for coal country
A Call for Massive Reinvestment Aims to Reverse Coal Country’s Rapid Decline
The plan targets devastated communities from Virginia to Arizona. “There is a debt to be paid,” said one proponent.
By James Bruggers, InsideClimate News
June 30, 2020

The global coronavirus that’s put tens of millions of Americans out of work and plunged the nation into a recession is speeding an ongoing transition away from coal.

With devastation in communities left behind, 80 local, regional and national organizations on Monday rolled out a National Economic Transition Platform to support struggling coal mining cities and towns, some facing severe poverty, in Appalachia, the Illinois Basin, Montana, Wyoming, Arizona and elsewhere.

Although it comes just four months before the presidential election in November, the platform doesn’t mention the Green New Deal, the proposed massive shift in federal spending to create jobs and hasten a transition to clean energy that’s divided Republicans and Democrats.

But Heidi Binko, executive director of the Just Transition Fund, which drafted by the plan with a wide range of partners, including labor unions, community organizations, business groups and environmental and tribal nonprofits, said it could be used as a template for part of the Green New Deal or any other legislative initiatives aimed at helping coal communities.
» Read article             

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

running hot
Are New Extreme Global Warming Projections Correct?
By Jeff Berardelli, Yale Climate Connections, in EcoWatch
July 2, 2020

For the past year, some of the most up-to-date computer models from the world’s top climate modeling groups have been “running hot” – projecting that global warming may be even more extreme than earlier thought. Data from some of the model runs has been confounding scientists because it challenges decades of consistent projections.

“It is concerning, as it increases the risk of more severe climate change impacts,” explains Dr. Andrew Gettelman, a cloud microphysics scientist from the National Center for Atmospheric Research, in Boulder, Colorado.

As a result, there’s been a real urgency to answer this important question in climate science: Are there processes in some new models that need correcting, or is this enhanced warming a real threat?
» Read article         

Siberian Traps
Ancient coal fires led to prehistoric extinctions
Did eruptions set ancient coal fires burning? Global heating happened 250 million years ago, just as it is happening now.
By Tim Radford, Climate News Network
June 29, 2020

Geologists have linked one of the planet’s most devastating events to the burning of fossil fuels, as ancient coal fires set in train a global extinction wave.

Emissions from the fires on a massive scale can be connected to catastrophic events that extinguished most of life on Earth – and this time, humans were not to blame.

It all happened more than 250 million years ago, at the close of the  Permian period. And this time the match that lit the flame was [a] massive but slow volcanic eruption in what is now Siberia, a burning that continued for two million years.
» Read article

heartland twilight
Hard Times in the Climate Denial Business for the Heartland Institute
Shorter Conference, Fake Sponsor, Low Attendance, and a Lot of Gray Haired Men
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
July 29, 2019

Last week, the Heartland Institute was again trumpeting climate science denial at its 13th “International Conference on Climate Change” at the Trump Hotel in Washington, D.C. But by a number of measures, the Chicago-based free market think tank’s science denial doesn’t exactly seem to be a growing — or cohesive — movement at this point.

That’s even with more media coverage than five years ago, and with friends in high places. In early 2017, following the election of President Trump, attendees of the Heartland Institute conference were clearly excited to have a climate denier in the White House. Frontline reported that the mood at the conference was “jubilant.”

Even last year, the organization was projecting an air of optimism. Former Congressman Tim Huelskamp was still Heartland president and confidently declaring victory for the climate denial movement.

“It took a while, but we think we’ve won the battle — Al Gore was wrong,” Huelskamp said.

So, how are things going for Heartland these days?
» Read article         

fading winters
Fading Winters, Hotter Summers Make the Northeast America’s Fastest Warming Region
Connecticut’s average temperature has risen 2 degrees Celsius since the late 19th century, double the average for the Lower 48 states.
By Abby Weiss, InsideClimate News
June 27, 2020

Connecticut is one of the fastest-warming states, in the fastest warming region, in the contiguous United States. An analysis last year by The Washington Post found that neighboring Rhode Island was the first state among the lower 48 whose average annual temperature had warmed more than 2 degrees Celsius since 1895. New Jersey was second, the Post found, followed by Connecticut, Maine and Massachusetts.

The Post analysis also found that the New York City area, including Long Island and suburban counties in New Jersey, New York and Connecticut, was among about half a dozen hot spots nationally where warming has already exceeded 2 degrees. The others are the greater Los Angeles area, the high desert in Oregon, the Western Rocky Mountains, an area from Montana to Minnesota along the Canadian border and the Northeast Shore of Lake Michigan.

Climate scientists don’t fully understand why Connecticut and the other Northeast states have warmed so dramatically, but they offer an array of explanations, from warm winters that produce less snow and ice (and thus reflect less heat back into space) to warming ocean temperatures and  changes in both the jet stream and the Gulf Stream.
» Read article           

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

green hydrogen explained
So, What Exactly Is Green Hydrogen?
For a colorless gas, hydrogen gets described in very colorful terms. A new GTM series helps explain the weird and wonderful world of clean energy.
By Jason Deign, GreenTech Media
June 29, 2020

According to the nomenclature used by market research firm Wood Mackenzie, most of the gas that is already widely used as an industrial chemical is either brown, if it’s made through the gasification of coal or lignite; or gray, if it is made through steam methane reformation, which typically uses natural gas as the feedstock. Neither of these processes is exactly carbon-friendly.

A purportedly cleaner option is known as blue hydrogen, where the gas is produced by steam methane reformation but the emissions are curtailed using carbon capture and storage. This process could roughly halve the amount of carbon produced, but it’s still far from emissions-free.

Green hydrogen, in contrast, could almost eliminate emissions by using renewable energy — increasingly abundant and often generated at less-than-ideal times — to power the electrolysis of water.

A more recent addition to the hydrogen-production palette is turquoise. This is produced by breaking methane down into hydrogen and solid carbon using a process called pyrolysis. Turquoise hydrogen might seem relatively low in terms of emissions because the carbon can either be buried or used for industrial processes such as steelmaking or battery manufacturing, so it doesn’t escape into the atmosphere.

However, recent research shows turquoise hydrogen is actually likely to be no more carbon-free than the blue variety, owing to emissions from the natural-gas supplies and process heat required.
» Read article         

looking ahead
‘Simple’ or a ‘band-aid’? ISO-NE leans toward Eversource/National Grid $49M solution for Mystic plant replacement
New England’s grid operator chose the lowest-cost proposal, but one developer says that doesn’t make it the most effective or efficient.
By Robert Walton, Utility Dive
July 2, 2020

ISO New England in June identified National Grid and Eversource’s “Ready Path Solution” as the most cost-effective way to address transmission reliability issues following the planned retirement of the Mystic Generating Station in 2024.

The $49 million project is inexpensive and relatively simple compared to 35 other proposals, which carried price tags up to $745 million.

The ISO is expected to issue a final decision July 17 and is accepting comments through today. At least one competing developer is unhappy with the grid operator’s initial determination: Officials at Anbaric Development Partners say the Ready Path approach is a “band-aid” that will not address the region’s longer-term energy needs.

According to Anbaric, its project would eliminate the need for $620 million in near-term system upgrades the ISO will need to address to incorporate offshore wind being procured by the region.
» Read article          

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

low income EE
Utility efficiency programs offer model to merge climate, racial justice solutions
Many states require utilities to help low-income customers conserve energy despite higher costs and barriers.
By Kari Lydersen, Energy News Network
Photo By Dennis Schroeder / NREL
July 2, 2020

As urgency grows to simultaneously address climate change and racial justice through proposals like the Green New Deal, low-income energy efficiency programs provide a potential example of how to merge the priorities.

The time is right to bolster such programs since the pandemic’s economic effects mean more households will likely need assistance with energy bills, advocates say.

Studies — including a recent one by Lawrence Berkeley Livermore National Laboratory — show that dollar for dollar, the biggest efficiency gains can be made by investing in commercial and industrial energy conservation, while efficiency programs targeting low-income customers are among the least cost-effective.

However, many consumer groups, utilities, researchers and other stakeholders agree: The benefits provided by helping low-income customers are wide-ranging, and especially important to advance racial equity and protect vulnerable people in times like these.
» Read article          

» More about energy efficiency       

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

not for the US market
Europe’s Demand for Electric Cars May Get a Jolt From COVID-19 Response

Stimulus packages, falling costs and rising environmental awareness may rev Europe’s EV market quicker than expected, analysts say.
By John Parnell, GreenTech Media
July 3, 2020

Far from depressing the market, the response to the COVID-19 outbreak looks set to accelerate the uptake of electric vehicles across Europe.

The combined market share of EVs and plug-in hybrids jumped 6.8 percent in the first quarter of the year, faster than the 2.5 percent growth seen in the same quarter last year, according to sales figures from the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (ACEA).

And that was before big pandemic-recovery stimulus plans began targeting the EV market. In contrast, total sales of new passenger plunged 41.5 percent between mid-March and the end of May, according to the ACEA.

But in the U.K., where monthly data is available from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, battery electric vehicles are performing well. In May, new petrol and diesel registrations were down around 90 percent compared to the same time last year. BEVs were up 21.5 percent. A tax break for corporate buyers that started in April won’t have hurt.

“In the very short term, we have seen that EV uptake rates have been immune to the drop-off in new car sales,” John Murray, head of EV research at the consultancy Delta-EE, said in an interview.
Blog editor’s note: Sadly, the VW ID-3 featured in the photo will not be available in the U.S., because Americans no longer buy enough small cars to justify the marketing and U.S.-specific design expenses.
» Read article          

house green transport bill
Oil Industry and Allies Look to Pump Brakes on Democrats’ Plans to Move Transportation Off Petroleum
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
July 2, 2020

This week Congressional Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives put forward policies, including passing a $1.5 trillion infrastructure bill on July 1, aimed at cleaning up the number one source of carbon pollution in America — the transportation sector. The oil and gas industry and its supporters quickly weighed in, framing “the critical role” of the industry in addressing climate pollution and in some cases outright attacking these plans’ efforts to move away from petroleum-powered transport.

It is the first time a body in Congress has set a deadline for selling 100 percent zero-emission vehicles, which include electric or fuel cell cars. Over a dozen countries have already set timetables for phasing out conventional petroleum-powered vehicles.

The chances that the infrastructure package and many other policies outlined in the Democrats’ climate plan will become law under the Republican-controlled Senate and President Donald Trump are very slim to none. According to The Hill, Trump slammed the infrastructure package as “full of wasteful ‘Green New Deal’ initiatives” and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) called it “nonsense.” Both Trump and McConnell receive sizable campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry, according to OpenSecrets.org.

Oil industry trade associations and front groups funded by the oil and gas industry are already coming out against the Democrats’ climate plan and infrastructure package.
» Read article          

barnstorm buzz
The largest electric plane ever to fly
As electric planes pass another milestone, Future Planet asks how long will it be before they are ready for everyday aviation? And just how far can they go?
By Chris Baraniuk, BBC / Future Planet
June 17, 2020

At a large airfield surrounded by farmland in central Washington State, an electric aeroplane recently made history. It is the biggest commercial plane ever to take off and fly powered by electricity alone. For 30 minutes on 28 May, it soared above Grant County International Airport as crowds of onlookers clapped and cheered.

The biggest electric plane ever, huh? Well, it was a modified Cessna Caravan 208B – which can take a maximum of nine passengers. And the test aircraft only had a seat installed for the pilot.

It’s a far cry from the 200-300-seater jet that takes you on weekend city breaks or work trips, never mind the huge double-decker planes that cross continents. But the “eCaravan” test flight was a success. The two companies behind it, AeroTEC and magniX, which supplied the electric motor, are chuffed with the results. Roei Ganzarski, chief executive of magniX, pointed out in a statement that the price of flying the Cessna clocked in at a mere $6 (£4.80). Had they used conventional engine fuel, the 30-minute flight would have cost $300-400 (£240-320).
» Read article          

» More about clean transportation

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

over-hyped gas
“Gas is over-supplied, over-hyped, and out of time”
By Andy Rowell, Oil Change International
July 2, 2020

For years, Big Oil denied there was a problem with climate change and carried on drilling, deliberately creating doubt over the science. They could have acted decades ago, but they did not.

As our climate crisis intensified, the industry shifted its public relations strategy and started touting natural gas as a so-called “clean” bridge fuel, a stepping stone if you like, from dirty oil to renewables. There were major flaws in that argument, that gas is neither green nor clean, as OCI and others have repeatedly pointed out.

The other blatantly obvious flaw that climate activists pointed out was that the climate emergency was so urgent that we did not have time to carry on the fossil fuel age in any shape or form, whether oil or gas, and we should be investing in renewables now.

Two weeks ago, there was what I termed an “historic moment” when BP slashed up to USD 17.5 billion off the value of its assets after lowering its longer term price assumptions in the wake of COVID-19. In the words of the Financial Times, BP “expects” the pandemic “to hasten the shift away from fossil fuels.” BP’s assets were essentially stranded.

Whereas BP’s write-offs were largely in dirty heavy oil and offshore, what will be sending shocks waves through the industry is that Shell’s write-downs are in gas.
» Read article          

shell too
BP and Shell Write-Off Billions in Assets, Citing Covid-19 and Climate Change
The moves were seen as a possible turning point as plummeting demand makes big oil companies admit they’re not worth what they used to be.
By Nicholas Kusnetz, InsideClimate News
July 2, 2020

Two of the world’s largest energy companies have sent their strongest signals yet that the coronavirus pandemic may accelerate a global transition away from oil, and that billions of dollars invested in fossil fuel assets could go to waste.

This week, Royal Dutch Shell said it would slash the value of its oil and gas assets by up to $22  billion amid a crash in oil prices. The announcement came two weeks after a similar declaration by BP, saying it would reduce the value of its assets by up to $17.5 billion. Both companies said the accounting moves were a response not only to the coronavirus-driven recession, but also to global efforts to tackle climate change.

Some analysts say the global oil and gas industry is undergoing a fundamental transformation and is finally being forced to reckon with a future of dwindling demand for its products.
» Read article          

Senator Barrett
Fossil Fuel Lobby Is Targeting the State Senate’s Climate Bill
Mike Barrett represents the towns of Bedford, Carlisle, Chelmsford, Concord, Lincoln, Waltham, Weston, large parts of Lexington and Sudbury
By State Senator Mike Barrett, Patch
June 29, 2020

On Thursday, June 25, an organization named the Mass Coalition for Sustainable Energy criticized Massachusetts State Senate climate legislation now pending before the House of Representatives. In response, State Senators Mike Barrett and Jason Lewis issued the following statement.

In January of this year, the Massachusetts State Senate passed An Act Setting Next-Generation Climate Policy, now pending before the House of Representatives. The Senate’s approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions is radical not in its ideology but in its seriousness; we’re determined to get emissions down across the Massachusetts economy, transportation and buildings included.

We should add that the senators who wrote the legislation sat down with a good many commercial interests, listened to what they had to say, and made changes. At the time of the bill’s final passage — with the votes of both Democrats and Republicans, and with only two dissents in the 40-member Senate — its seriousness of purpose seemed to impress the business community without unsettling it.

But that was then. With the onset of COVID-19, conservative elements are eager to exploit an opening. Two years ago, an investigative report in the Huffington Post blasted the then-new Mass Coalition for Sustainable Energy as a “front for gas interests,” identifying, as major funders of the group, Eversource, National Grid, and Enbridge, the pipeline conglomerate behind the natural gas compressor station project in Weymouth.

Last week the Coalition surfaced anew, patching together a limp critique of Next-Gen that seems less about the bill and more about the Coalition’s longer-range objective, which is to keep fossil fuels at the heart of Massachusetts energy policy.
» Read article           

Joe Camel meets Don Fuego
Oil and gas coloring books teach kids safety, fossil fuel dependence
By Kate Yoder, Grist
June 29, 2020

It’s finally summer: The time of year when your kids run through the sprinklers, munch on watermelon, and whip out their crayons to scribble in coloring book pages of fracking wells and gas pipes. Wait, what?

Last week, Puget Sound Energy, the Seattle-area utility, shared an odd activity on Twitter: “Color your way through Natural Gas Town and learn how natural gas provides energy to your neighborhood!” The tweet, later deleted, linked to an online coloring page showing a detailed map of how natural gas lines run underneath your yard and into your home. The image is from Energy Safe Kids, a national program that teaches children safety tips — like how to sniff out a gas leak and avoid pummeling natural gas meters with water balloons.

The Energy Safe Kids site includes an interactive coloring page for the friendly gas flame named “Don Fuego,” a video game called “Gas Dash” in which your character hurdles gas meters and fire extinguishers while riding a bike, and a word search that challenges you to find “butane,” “pilot light,” and “cogeneration.”
» Read article

arrival of the reckoning
Fracking pioneer Chesapeake files for bankruptcy protection
By CATHY BUSSEWITZ and TALI ARBEL, Associated Press
June 28, 2020, Associated Press

Chesapeake Energy, a shale drilling pioneer that helped to turn the United States into a global energy powerhouse, has filed for bankruptcy protection.

The Oklahoma City-based company said Sunday that it was a necessary decision given its debt. Its debt load is currently nearing $9 billion. It has entered a plan with lenders to cut $7 billion of its debt and said it will continue to operate as usual during the bankruptcy process.

The oil and gas company was a leader in the fracking boom, using unconventional techniques to extract oil and gas from the ground, a method that has come under scrutiny because of its environmental impact.

Other wildcatters followed in Chesapeake’s path, racking up huge debts to find oil and gas in fields spanning New Mexico, Texas, the Dakotas and Pennsylvania. A reckoning is now coming due with those massive debts needing to be serviced by Chesapeake and those that followed its path.
» Read article           

we sued - DC
Both Minnesota and D.C. sue Big Oil for “campaign of deception” over climate change
By Andy Rowell, Oil Change International
June 25, 2020

Big Oil’s decades-old campaign to deny, deceive, and delay action on climate change has been thrust into the spotlight again after both Attorney Generals for Minnesota and the District of Columbia (D.C.) launched legal action against the industry within twenty-four hours of each other.

First yesterday, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison filed the suit against Exxon, the American Petroleum Institute (API), and three Koch Industries for pushing climate denial for decades.

The 84 page document did not mince its words, arguing, “that the economic devastation and public-health impacts from climate change” in Minnesota “were caused, in large part, by a campaign of deception that Defendants orchestrated and executed with disturbing success.”

Dating back decades, instead of warning Minnesota about the risks of climate change, the “Defendants realized massive profits through largely unabated and expanded extraction, production, promotion, marketing, and sale of their fossil-fuel products.”

The suit cited scientific evidence dating back to the fifties and sixties. “By 1965, Defendants and their predecessors-in-interest were aware that the scientific community had found that fossil-fuel products, if used profligately, would cause global warming by the end of the century, and that such global warming would have wide-ranging and costly consequences,” the suit said.

Instead of acting responsibly, the companies repeated the playbook of the tobacco industry and funded “fraudulent scientific research” in order to create uncertainty.

And instead of acting in the public interest, and investing in alternatives to fossil fuels, the Defendants just carried on drilling for oil and gas, making extreme profits.
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