Tag Archives: single-use plastic

Weekly News Check-In 6/24/22

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Welcome back.

We’re kicking off this week with a fabulously informative article by DeSmog Blog’s Stella Levantesi, who takes us through the rapidly-evolving climate disinformation and propaganda campaigns coming at us from the fossil fuel industry and public relations firms that support them. This is an article worth reading in its entirety.

Once you digest that, you’ll spot industry fingerprints all over the place. Start with the financial industry’s claims of greening up their investment portfolios. Ask yourself who’s behind state-level campaigns to punish funds that wish to divest from fossils. Natural Gas utilities lean heavily on this deceptive toolkit. Sabrina Shankman’s excellent Boston Globe article pulls the curtain back on strategies discussed at a recent gas industry conference, aimed at perpetuating business as usual. Take a peek inside this article too – the slides showing industry projections of future gas use are jaw-dropping.

We can add the U.S. Supreme Court to the list of institutions working against climate action, with a decision expected soon that could severely limit the federal government’s authority to reduce carbon dioxide from power plants. It’s part of a concerted conservative effort to delay climate action by hobbling regulators and protecting polluting industries.

Even our Clean Energy section includes a spot on emerging natural gas power plant technology being positioned as a demonstration of that fuel’s rightful place in our energy future. Sounds great till you think about it. (The section is redeemed by an article about promising developments in tidal power off Scotland’s Orkney Island.)

Interestingly, the steel industry – generally held up as an example of a legitimate application for fossil fuels at least until clean hydrogen becomes a viable alternative – may go all-electric sooner than expected. Boston Metal, a company that spun out a decade ago from MIT, has developed a way to use electricity to separate iron from its ore, making steel without releasing carbon dioxide. This creates a path to cleaning up one of the world’s worst industries for greenhouse gas emissions.

Sophisticated disinformation and propaganda strategies are a direct response to the solid science-based imperative to disrupt the fossil business model, the onset of alternative technologies, and strong public support for change. Protesters who gathered this week in Longmeadow, MA to voice opposition to a proposed Eversource natural gas pipeline are one example. Folks argue that the logical outcome of greening the economy will be to cut reliance and demand for all kinds of fuel. That includes gasoline – so cities are starting to ban construction of new gas stations.  We have some catching up to do… a recent report on sustainable cities puts Europe and Canada well ahead of the U.S. in key metrics like energy efficiency and air quality.

Maine scores some points for being on the right track. Its utility regulators have approved the state’s latest three-year energy efficiency plan, a set of programs and incentives that should make it easier for low-income and rural residents to weatherize their homes and access electric vehicle chargers, while building on the state’s already nation-leading heat pump incentives.

Energy storage is critical to a net-zero emissions future, and lots of it needs to come online quickly to accommodate all the wind and solar generation we’re building. We found an article by an expert in the field, who explains how it works and what’s missing to make it all come together. Related to that, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission recently proposed requiring transmission providers to adopt “first-ready, first-served” interconnection requirements in an effort to bring proposed renewable generation and energy storage projects online more quickly – key requirements for a clean, modern grid.

Before we leave the technology topics, we’ll take a look at how the growing popularity of e-bikes is shaping clean transportation. Many states have noticed, and are passing laws to incentivize their use.

We’ll end where we started, but with a focus shift to the fossil fuel-related plastics industry. You can see where industry lobbying has the most influence by comparing different approaches to bans of single-use plastics. Two articles contrast Virginia’s recent reversal of a planned plastics phase-out, with Canada’s new regulations banning the manufacturing and import of a number of “harmful” single-use plastics. We also look at plastics in the environment – specifically the tiny plastic packets known as sachets. They’ve allowed companies to tap millions of low-income customers in the developing world but also unleashed a global pollution crisis.

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PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

Longmeadow pipeline protest
Protesters gather over proposed Eversource pipeline extension
By Matt Sottile and Ryan Trowbridge, Western Mass News
June 21, 2022

LONGMEADOW, MA (WGGB/WSHM) – There was a large gathering on Tuesday in Longmeadow as people voiced their opposition to a proposed Eversource natural gas pipeline.

State environmental protection officials were at Longmeadow Country Club and they were greeted by neighbors, as well as a number of elected officials, who have been strongly opposed to this proposal for years and are continuing to fight it.

“I will be very angry and upset and I will do everything I can to fight it for as long as I can,” said Vicki Deal from Longmeadow.

Deal is one of the Longmeadow residents who has been fighting a proposed Eversource natural gas pipeline for years. The planned route is from Longmeadow Country Club to West Columbus Avenue in Springfield and would serve 58,000 customers.

“It’s terrifying. They shouldn’t be allowed to build it. It’s not needed,” said Jane Winn with the Berkshire Environmental Action Team.

On Tuesday, officials from the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act visited the site and answered questions from the large group of protestors about environmental and health concerns.

“This is a good part of the process. It’s a robust conversation and we’re listening,” said Eversource spokesperson Priscilla Ress.

Ress told Western Mass News the current pipeline is over 70 years old and there’s no backup system currently in place.

“We evaluated the entire system for safety and this is a project that rose right to the top. This is a priority for us,” Ress added.

State Senator Eric Lesser, a candidate for lieutenant governor, was also in attendance and said he’s drawing up formal opposition to the project.

“I would much rather see us investing in alternative forms of energy, whether that’s wind weather, that’s solar…ways we can power homes and provide energy to people and a renewable way,” Lesser explained.

Another point of concern is placing a pipeline in a residential neighborhood after natural gas explosions in the Merrimack Valley killed an 18-year-old and injured 22 others in 2018.

“We’ve already seen what happens in the Merrimack Valley when their nice little station doesn’t correctly assess what the pressure is…There’s obviously a lot of anger at an unnecessary project that’s being proposed,” Winn added.
» Read article    

» More about protests and actions

DIVESTMENT

stop funding climate death
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Wall Street’s Climate Promises
Within three months of the IEA’s announcement, Citi, Chase, Bank of America, and Morgan Stanley helped facilitate $36 billion in financing to the corporations most rapidly opening new oil and gas fields, including Exxon-Mobil, Aramco, and BP.
By Alec Connon, Common Dreams
June 17, 2022

You could be forgiven for thinking that Wall Street has experienced a climate epiphany. Bank of America brags about its environmental credentials; Citigroup’s new CEO announces on her first day that achieving net-zero emissions is a top priority. The onslaught has convinced many in even the left-leaning media that Wall Street will lead the way to a better, greener version of capitalism.

Unfortunately, if you look beyond the green veneer, you’ll find a different story. In 2021, JPMorgan Chase provided $61.7 billion in financing to the fossil fuel industry, Citigroup loaned $15.1 billion to the corporations most rapidly expanding their oil and gas operations, Wells Fargo and Bank of America provided the fracking industry with $12.9 billion.

In May 2021, the IEA, the world’s most respected energy modeler, announced that to have a fifty percent chance of limiting global warming to 1.5°C, there can be no new oil and gas fields developed. Yet, within three months of the IEA’s announcement, Citi, Chase, Bank of America, and Morgan Stanley helped facilitate $36 billion in financing to the corporations most rapidly opening new oil and gas fields, including Exxon-Mobil, Aramco, and BP.

But let’s pause here. Maybe we’re being unfair. Leading climate scientist, James Hansen, may have testified to Congress in 1988 that global warming required urgent action, but banks have only recently promised to act on climate. Maybe we shouldn’t judge them on what they did last year, but on what they say they’re going to do in the years ahead. Fortunately, as the largest banks have all now set 2030 climate targets, we’re able to do that. Unfortunately, this is where banks’ climate pledges turn from bad to ugly.

Four of the largest US banks—Chase, Bank of America, Morgan Stanley, and Goldman Sachs—have set 2030 climate targets for the fossil fuel sector using a metric known as “carbon intensity,” pledging they will achieve anywhere between a fifteen percent and twenty-nine percent reduction in the “carbon intensity” of the oil and gas firms they finance.

The thing to know here is that reductions in “carbon intensity” and reductions in “actual greenhouse gas emissions” are not the same thing.
» Read article    

empire strikes back
West Virginia may boycott 6 finance firms over fossil-fuel lending stance
By Robin Bradley, Utility Dive
June 16, 2022

The West Virginia State Treasury is slated to blacklist six of the nation’s largest financial firms from accessing state contracts, in view of perceived lending discrimination against the fossil-fuel industry.

State Treasurer Riley Moore alerted BlackRock, Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs and U.S. Bank they would be placed on West Virginia’s restricted financial institution list within 45 days, according to letters sent Friday and seen by Politico.

The firms have 30 days to provide the treasury with proof they have not turned their back on the coal, oil and natural gas industries.

As the second-largest producer of coal and the fifth-largest producer of energy overall in the country, West Virginia is pushing back against an emerging trend among financial institutions to slash fossil-fuel funding to assuage activist investors concerned about environmental, social and governance issues.

Moore announced in November he formed a 15-state coalition, with each member assessing whether financial institutions were boycotting their state’s traditional energy industry. The group represents more than $600 billion in public assets under management.

“I’m proud to continue to stand with my colleagues against these attacks on our states’ coal, oil and natural gas industries,” Moore said in the press release at the time. “These industries — which are engaged in perfectly legal activities — provide jobs, paychecks and benefits to thousands of hard-working families in our states and we will not stand idly by and allow our peoples’ livelihoods to be destroyed to advance a radical social agenda.”
» Read article    

» More about divestment

GREENING THE ECONOMY

the bag
Cities are banning new gas stations. More should join them

Gas stations are environmental liabilities and hugely expensive to remediate. Electric cars are making gas stations obsolete
By Nathan Taft, The Guardian | Opinion
June 21, 2022
Nathan Taft is the digital and communications lead for Stand.earth’s Safe Cities initiative

Whether or not we’ve all realized it, the era of gasoline-powered cars is rapidly winding to a close – and with it, gas stations and the pollution they bring to communities.

People are tired of being forced to pay obscene amounts of money for fuel every time there’s an international incident. Meanwhile, the cost of battery tech is just 10% of what it was a decade ago, and is expected to continue dropping as the decade wears on. And just this month the Biden administration announced its plan for making EV charging stations accessible across the US.

Climate change concerns have led to governments in California, Canada and the EU mandating an end to new gas car sales by 2035, while other places are going even further and implementing sales bans as soon as 2030 or even 2025. Car companies like GM, Mazda, Volvo and others see the writing on the wall and are following suit by setting dates for when their last gasoline vehicles will be sold.

And now, local governments are taking action as well.

In 2021, Petaluma in California became the first city in the world to prohibit new gas stations. Since then, at least four more cities have prohibited new gas stations permanently and at least six more (including Los Angeles, the city of cars!) are developing policies now. Much as in 2019, when Berkeley kicked a wave of cities passing building electrification policies, the movement to stop new gas stations has arrived – and local elected officials everywhere would be wise to take notice.
» Read article   

way to be
Europe Outshines North America in New Sustainable Cities Ranking
By The Energy Mix
June 19, 2022

When it comes to sustainable cities, Scandinavia is knocking it out of the park, according to the world’s first-ever crowdsourced urban sustainability index, with Stockholm scoring highest and Oslo, Copenhagen, and Lahti, Finland close behind on a list of 50 high- and middle-income cities.

Developed by Toronto-based Corporate Knights, the 2022 Sustainable Cities Index responds to the urgent need to boost cities’ sustainability amid rising urban populations. The index is seeded with publicly-sourced data on 12 key indicators like per capita greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and consumption emissions, air quality, climate change resilience, water access, and vehicle dependency, among others.

Vancouver and Toronto rank eighth and ninth, and Canadian cities are generally the highest-scoring North American cities on the index, Corporate Knights finds. But seven of the top ten cities are in the United Kingdom and Europe, a result “attributable to sustainability leadership,” the report states. Tokyo ranks seventh, first among cities in Asia and Oceania, and well ahead of San Francisco and New York City, which place sixteenth and nineteenth on the index as the most sustainable cities in the United States.

While cities with smaller populations tend to score higher, the fact that London ranks fifth with a population of eight million, and Tokyo comes in seventh with its population of 13 million, shows that megacities can be highly sustainable.

Dhaka, Bangladesh, ranks at the top of the list of cities with low per capita emissions, with Scope 1 emissions of 0.5 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per capita, while Houston does far worse at 8.5 tonnes. Cities like São Paulo fare very well against places like Canberra on consumption-based GHG emissions (5 and 22 tonnes CO2e per capita, respectively), confirming a clear correlation between wealth and high per capita emissions.

Corporate Knights cites air quality as an important indicator, with fine particulate matter (PM2.5) pollution from cars and industries “the single biggest threat to human health”. Only Canada demonstrates “consistently acceptable” indicators for urban air quality, while Dhaka and cities in China show up worst in the category.
» Read article    

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

hemmed in
Republican Drive to Tilt Courts Against Climate Action Reaches a Crucial Moment
A Supreme Court environmental case being decided this month is the product of a coordinated, multiyear strategy by Republican attorneys general and conservative allies.
By Coral Davenport, New York Times
June 19, 2022

Within days, the conservative majority on the Supreme Court is expected to hand down a decision that could severely limit the federal government’s authority to reduce carbon dioxide from power plants — pollution that is dangerously heating the planet.

But it’s only a start.

The case, West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency, is the product of a coordinated, multiyear strategy by Republican attorneys general, conservative legal activists and their funders, several with ties to the oil and coal industries, to use the judicial system to rewrite environmental law, weakening the executive branch’s ability to tackle global warming.

Coming up through the federal courts are more climate cases, some featuring novel legal arguments, each carefully selected for its potential to block the government’s ability to regulate industries and businesses that produce greenhouse gases.

“The West Virginia vs. E.P.A. case is unusual, but it’s emblematic of the bigger picture. A.G.s are willing to use these unusual strategies more,” said Paul Nolette, a professor of political science at Marquette University who has studied state attorneys general. “And the strategies are becoming more and more sophisticated.”

The plaintiffs want to hem in what they call the administrative state, the E.P.A. and other federal agencies that set rules and regulations that affect the American economy. That should be the role of Congress, which is more accountable to voters, said Jeff Landry, the Louisiana attorney general and one of the leaders of the Republican group bringing the lawsuits.

But Congress has barely addressed the issue of climate change. Instead, for decades it has delegated authority to the agencies because it lacks the expertise possessed by the specialists who write complicated rules and regulations and who can respond quickly to changing science, particularly when Capitol Hill is gridlocked.

[…] At least two of the cases feature an unusual approach that demonstrates the aggressive nature of the legal campaign. In those suits, the plaintiffs are challenging regulations or policies that don’t yet exist. They want to pre-empt efforts by President Biden to deliver on his promise to pivot the country away from fossil fuels, while at the same time aiming to prevent a future president from trying anything similar.
» Read article    

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

supercritical
Can Natural Gas Be Used to Create Power With Fewer Emissions?
One company says it has the technology. And though investors looking for cleaner power generation are lining up, some environmentalists are skeptical.
By John Schwartz, New York Times
June 21, 2022

[…] Most electrical plants boil water by burning coal or natural gas, or through nuclear fission; the resulting steam then spins a turbine. The burning of those fossil fuels yields greenhouse gases, the primary culprits in climate change. Scientists warn that if we cannot stop those emissions, increasingly dire disasters lie ahead.

Renewable energy (like solar, wind and geothermal power) has grown tremendously as its price has dropped. But many experts suggest that the grid will still need electricity sources that can be started up quickly — what the trade calls “dispatchable” power — to fill gaps in the supply of sunshine and wind. And while some researchers have suggested that the electric grid can be built completely on renewable energy and storage, Professor Jenks said, “I think fossil will continue to be in our energy system in the near future.” And so “you need a host of solutions for us to be able to keep moving on the path we need to go now. We don’t yet know what the silver bullet is — and I doubt we’ll ever find a silver bullet,” she said.

That’s where fans of NET Power say the company can make a difference: its technology burns natural gas without causing the biggest problems fossil fuels typically do. It combusts a combination of natural gas and oxygen inside a circulating stream of high-temperature carbon dioxide under tremendous pressure. The resulting carbon dioxide drives the turbine in a form known as a supercritical fluid.

In other power plants, capturing carbon dioxide means adding separate equipment that draws considerable energy. NET Power’s system captures the carbon dioxide it creates as part of its cycle, not as an add-on. The excess carbon dioxide can then be drawn off and stored underground or used in other industrial processes. The plant’s operations produce none of the health-damaging particulates, or the smog-producing gases like oxides of nitrogen and sodium, that coal plants spew.

Its only other byproduct? Water.

With commercial success, NET Power believes it will meaningfully reduce global carbon emissions, said Ron DeGregorio, the company’s chief executive. Many potential customers could still opt for coal power, but “bring this credibly to market, and this changes the world.”

[…A] project proposed in Louisiana would use NET Power’s technology to produce various products, including hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen. Known as G2 Net-Zero, it would also include an export terminal for liquefied natural gas, or L.N.G. Charles E. Roemer IV, the company’s chairman, said that while many L.N.G. export terminals were planned or under construction in coastal Louisiana, building a cleaner alternative could create a new paradigm.

The technology has spawned criticisms, particularly of its reliance on methane infrastructure and of the present-day limitations of carbon storage. Many environmentalists oppose L.N.G. terminals, in large part because they extend the use of fossil fuels; the Sierra Club recently targeted those planned for Cameron, in Southwest Louisiana, including G2 Net-Zero, arguing that they will cause grave environmental damage to the area.

“As long as a power plant is being powered by methane gas, it will continue to harm our climate and communities,” said Jeremy Fisher, senior adviser for strategic research and development for the Sierra Club. “This technology would do nothing to protect families living with pollution from fracking wells or next to dangerous gas pipelines, and it would continue to allow for the massive — and often undercounted — amount of climate-warming methane leaked from wellheads, pipelines and plants.”
» Blog editor’s note: This technology may have a place, for now, in providing power to applications that are hard to decarbonize. The danger is the gas industry wants to promote it for widespread use – a way to keep us hooked up to the gas pipeline.
» Read article    

Orbital 02
Heat wave: how Orkney is leading a tidal power revolution
Strong tides make conditions in the Scottish islands ideal, but can the UK grasp the opportunity to become a leader in the sector?
By Eve Livingston, The Guardian
June 18, 2022

On a small passenger boat about 10 miles north of Kirkwall, Orkney, at the point where the Atlantic Ocean meets the North Sea, an immense yellow structure heaves into view. This is the world’s most powerful tidal stream energy generator, Orbital Marine Power’s O2. Its shadow quickly dwarfs the tiny vessel.

Today, the generator’s turbines are raised above sea level for maintenance. It is difficult to comprehend the O2’s scale until a worker appears, a tiny stick figure against the hulking turbine.

Orkney, chosen as the European Marine Energy Centre’s (Emec) headquarters for its combination of strong tides and waves as well as connection to the energy grid, has become a hub for tidal power innovation. Alongside Scottish company Orbital, Spain-based Magallanes is also testing at Emec and US company Aquantis has just signed up to a six-month demo programme.

Tidal power, while not yet widely commercialised, is seen by many as the next frontier in global renewables. It’s the only renewable power source that comes from the moon’s pull on the Earth. “Unlike other renewables which rely on, for instance, the sun or the wind, tidal resources are predictable and continuous,” says Prof AbuBakr Bahaj, head of the energy and climate change division at the University of Southampton.

Harnessing power from the waves can be done in three ways: tidal barrages, in which turbines are attached to a dam-like wall; tidal lagoons, where a body of water is enclosed by a barrage-like barrier; and tidal stream, where turbines are placed directly into fast-flowing bodies of water.

Only tidal barrages are used commercially – most notably at Lake Sihwa in South Korea and La Rance in northern France – but it is tidal stream technology that is being tested in Orkney. Tidal stream is cheaper to build and has less of an environmental impact than barrages, which alter tidal flow and can affect marine life and birds.

Tidal stream power alone could provide 11% of the UK’s current electricity needs, according to 2021 research from Plymouth University.
» Read article    

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

sloppy install
Maine energy efficiency plan puts priority on equity, electrification

As the state increasingly feels the strain of rising energy prices, the $300 million plan includes commitments to helping low-income and rural residents weatherize homes and access electric vehicle chargers.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
June 17, 2022

Maine’s utility regulators have approved the state’s latest three-year energy efficiency plan, a set of programs and incentives that environmental and community advocates say will make it easier for low-income and rural residents to weatherize their homes and access electric vehicle chargers.

The plan substantially increases funding for programs serving low- and moderate-income households, continues efforts to expand electric vehicle charging infrastructure into more sparsely populated areas, and builds upon the state’s already nation-leading heat pump incentives. In total, the plan calls for spending just under $300 million over three years and projects a lifetime benefit totaling $1.5 billion for the state, in addition to the environmental gains it is expected to produce.

“We think that these benefits extend beyond the economic savings to include really important progress with carbon reductions and improving our energy independence, which has never been more important,” said Michael Stoddard, executive director of the Efficiency Maine Trust, the quasi-governmental agency that administers the bulk of the state’s efficiency programs.

Efficiency Maine puts out a new plan every three years, outlining its intended goals, spending, and programs. The newly approved plan, called Triennial Plan V, covers the years 2023 to 2025 and has been widely praised.

“This is a wonderful plan,” said Jeff Marks, Maine director for climate and energy nonprofit the Acadia Center. “This gets at a lot of the priorities in Maine.”
» Blog editor’s note: photo shows the ugliest heat pump installation job I’ve ever seen. Why it was selected is a mystery….
» Read article   
» Read the plan

» More about energy efficiency

ENERGY STORAGE

storage graphic
‘All hands on deck’ for the energy storage industry
By Kelly Sarber, CEO of Strategic Management Group, in Utility Dive
June 21, 2022

Energy storage technology may be the singular, most important component in our nation’s transition away from fossil fuels to renewable energy, since utility-scale, battery systems provide the flexibility to absorb, store and deploy energy at locations where and when the power is most needed. Energy storage is crucial to replacing America’s fleet of polluting, fossil fuel plants because they integrate the increasing amounts of wind, solar and hydropower being transmitted hundreds of miles without jeopardizing grid reliability — sometimes the wind isn’t blowing or the sun isn’t shining where and when the power is most needed.

For example, in New York City alone, there are plans to construct more than 9,000 MW of offshore wind projects that will connect to land, replacing more than 8,000 MW of an aging fleet of natural gas plants while adding more electrification capacity for vehicles. These goals cannot be accomplished without deploying utility-scale storage to connect new, intermittent offshore wind power that will take years to develop. More importantly, energy storage projects need to be constructed and operational before these new, planned renewable energy resources come online, making sure intermittent resources are balanced against demand.

Unfortunately, and like every segment of our nation’s economy, the energy storage industry is reeling from unforeseen costs and supply chain delays, facing uncertain, external risks and market-based obstacles that must be acknowledged and addressed if we are to stay on track to aggressively fight climate change by investing and constructing energy storage projects that support dual goals of renewable energy and grid resiliency.

Utility-scale, battery systems operating today are quickly proving themselves to be a reliable and resilient workhorse for grid support in locations where projects have come online. California leads the nation in deploying energy storage because the state’s climate change policies are complemented by market incentives that reward grid resiliency, reliability, resource adequacy, voltage support and energy islanding. In most other states, energy markets do not compensate developers of energy storage with the same benefit-based approach — policies that need to be immediately remedied if they hope to attract similar investment.
» Read article    

» More about energy storage

BUILDING MATERIALS

hot stuffThe race to produce green steel
The steel industry is testing new technologies that don’t rely on fossil fuels.
By Marcello Rossi, Ars Technica
June 19, 2022

In the city of Woburn, Massachusetts, a suburb just north of Boston, a cadre of engineers and scientists in white coats inspected an orderly stack of brick-sized, gunmetal-gray steel ingots on a desk inside a neon-illuminated lab space.

What they were looking at was a batch of steel created using an innovative manufacturing method, one that Boston Metal, a company that spun out a decade ago from MIT, hopes will dramatically reshape the way the alloy has been made for centuries. By using electricity to separate iron from its ore, the firm claims it can make steel without releasing carbon dioxide, offering a path to cleaning up one of the world’s worst industries for greenhouse gas emissions.

An essential input for engineering and construction, steel is one of the most popular industrial materials in the world, with more than 2 billion tons produced annually. This abundance, however, comes at a steep price for the environment. Steelmaking accounts for 7 to 11 percent of global greenhouse-gas emissions, making it one of the largest industrial sources of atmospheric pollution. And because production could rise by a third by 2050, this environmental burden could grow.

[…] Facing escalating pressure from governments and investors to reduce emissions, a number of steelmakers—including both major producers and startups—are experimenting with low-carbon technologies that use hydrogen or electricity instead of traditional carbon-intensive manufacturing. Some of these efforts are nearing commercial reality.

[…] Modern steelmaking involves several production stages. Most commonly, iron ore is crushed and turned into sinter (a rough solid) or pellets. Separately, coal is baked and converted into coke. The ore and coke are then mixed with limestone and fed into a large blast furnace where a flow of extremely hot air is introduced from the bottom. Under high temperatures, the coke burns and the mixture produces liquid iron, known as pig iron or blast-furnace iron. The molten material then goes into an oxygen furnace, where it’s blasted with pure oxygen through a water-cooled lance, which forces off carbon to leave crude steel as a final product.

This method, first patented by English engineer Henry Bessemer in the 1850s, produces carbon-dioxide emissions in different ways. First, the chemical reactions in the blast furnace result in emissions, as carbon trapped in coke and limestone binds with oxygen in the air to create carbon dioxide as a byproduct. In addition, fossil fuels are typically burned to heat the blast furnace and to power sintering and pelletizing plants, as well as coke ovens, emitting carbon dioxide in the process.

[…] Electricity can also be used to reduce iron ore. Boston Metal, for example, has developed a process called molten oxide electrolysis, in which a current moves through a cell containing iron ore. As electricity travels between both ends of the cell and heats up the ore, oxygen bubbles up (and can be collected), while iron ore is reduced into liquid iron that pools at the bottom of the cell and is periodically tapped. The purified iron is then mixed with carbon and other ingredients.

“What we do is basically swapping carbon for electricity as a reducing agent,” explained Adam Rauwerdink, the company’s senior vice president of business development. “This allows us to make very high-quality steel using way less energy and in fewer steps than conventional steelmaking.” As long as power comes from fossil-free sources, he added, the process generates no carbon emissions.

He said the company, which currently runs three pilot lines at its Woburn facility, is working to bring its laboratory concept to the market, using $50 million raised last year from an investor group including Breakthrough Energy Ventures, backed by Bill Gates, and the German carmaker BMW. A commercial-scale demonstration plant is expected to be up and running by 2025.
» Read article     

» More about building materials

MODERNIZING THE GRID

jammed
FERC proposes ‘first-ready, first-served’ interconnection rules to help spur new generation, storage
The federal agency also proposed extreme weather grid reliability requirements and reports from transmission providers on extreme weather assessments.
By Ethan Howland, Utility Dive
June 17, 2022

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Thursday proposed requiring transmission providers to adopt “first-ready, first-served” interconnection requirements in an effort to bring proposed generation and energy storage projects online more quickly.

“Our [interconnection] queues are clogged, it takes forever to get new generation through,” FERC Chairman Richard Glick said during the commission’s monthly open meeting, noting the delays potentially hurt grid reliability and prevent lower-cost energy from reaching consumers.

There are about 8,100 proposed generation and storage projects in interconnection queues across the United States, totaling about 1,000 GW and 400 GW, respectively, Glick said. Regional transmission organizations and other transmission providers are studying what grid upgrades are needed to safely connect those projects to the grid and how much the upgrades would cost.

The review process takes about 3.7 years to complete, on average, and about three-quarters of the projects drop out before finishing it, Glick said.

FERC aims to help remove the interconnection logjam by adopting tactics already used by some grid operators: studying interconnection requests in groups, or clusters, instead of one by one, and imposing requirements, such as larger financial commitments, that aim to weed out speculative projects that have little chance of being built.
» Read article    

» More about modernizing the grid

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

pedego
E-bike Sales and Sharing are Booming. But Can They Help Take Cars off the Road?
E-bikes, already taking off during the pandemic, are getting a big boost from states that hope they will reduce driving, energy consumption and emissions.
By James Pothen, Inside Climate News
June 23, 2022

Talk to Kiran Herbert and you might start to think that e-bikes cure cancer. She’s not just a writer and content manager at the bicycle advocacy group PeopleForBikes. She is a self-proclaimed e-bike evangelist on a mission to see electric bicycles spread across her home state of Colorado, then across the country and around the world.

[…] She has reason to be so giddy. Next week, the state of Colorado is set to release $12 million for e-bike ownership and rideshare programs. The funding comes as part of Colorado State Senate Bill 22-193, which was signed into law on June 2 and is among a host of state and local measures across the country that identify e-bikes as an essential tool for getting people to drive less, which will reduce emissions from transportation.

“I will say the Colorado bill…has a lot of people excited because it’s showcasing what’s possible,” said Herbert. “Because they have done all these pilot [programs], there’s just a lot of proof that this works and they’re pretty much going all-in on e-bikes, which is really exciting. And I think, honestly, that’s the strategy this country needs.”

Colorado is joining California, Connecticut and Vermont among states with statewide e-bike incentive programs, in addition to many local governments with programs, according to a database maintained by Portland State University in partnership with PeopleForBikes. Massachusetts may soon join them, with a bill making its way through the legislature that would provide rebates to consumers buying e-bikes.

Electric bicycles have been around for over a hundred years. But recent technological advances, including the development of lighter batteries, have helped make them easier to ride. And then, the Covid-19 pandemic lockdowns pushed more people to ride, share and buy bikes.

[…] So e-bikes are popular. But are they good for the environment? Evangelists like Kiran Herbert say that they can replace a large number of car rides in cities. An e-bike uses less energy than a gas-powered or electric-powered car, so as people start to use e-bikes instead of their cars, they will save money as well as reduce emissions, and may even get rid of their automobiles completely.

There is some evidence to suggest this is true. For example, a 2020 study in Norway found that car owners who purchase an e-bike will drive less.
» Read article   
» Read the Massachusetts E-bike bill

» More about clean transportation

GAS UTILITIES

fenced in
As gas companies plan for a climate future, their vision: more gas
By Sabrina Shankman, Boston Globe
June 16, 2022

Up on the fourth floor of Westin Copley Place this week, hundreds of natural gas representatives mingled among glossy posters and tables littered with branded baseball hats and Oreos. Among the niceties and exchanges of business cards it became quickly clear — the climate crisis is very much on people’s minds. Another thing became clear, too. The solution, as they see it, is more gas.

“Additional natural gas pipelines are the answer to many of the questions we face today,” Amy Andryszak, chief executive of the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America, told a panel audience Tuesday.

It was the 27th annual gathering of the Northeast LDC Gas Forum — nicknamed the “Best Deal-Making Conference” in the industry, according to the organizers, and seemingly as good a place as any to get the gas industry’s view of the climate crisis as it is lived every day in the executive suites, field sites, and maintenance trucks of the scores of companies that operate in New England.

Elsewhere in the world, on this very day, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres issued the latest of his increasingly desperate pleas for world action, saying that the planet is headed toward climate chaos and that “new funding for fossil fuel exploration and production infrastructure is delusional.”

But the message on the convention floor was that the outside world just doesn’t understand.

In panels and presentations, industry representatives told the story of an industry in the cross-hairs, trying to solve the climate problem but getting interference from overly ambitious regulators, activist shareholders who want to see them slash emissions, and climate advocates and policy makers pushing to get off of fossil fuels.

[…] Nowhere was the tension felt by the industry more clear than in the framing of a panel called “Electrification — Not So Fast!”

Electrification — a plan for powering most vehicles and homes with energy from a clean electrical grid — is the path to net zero that clean energy advocates and many policy makers in Massachusetts and around the world generally agree is the best and most cost-effective. But the gas industry is pushing back hard, proposing its own scenarios, which generally involve expanding gas production and gas infrastructure, eventually replacing what flows through pipes with something less carbon-intensive.

A problem with those plans, many experts say, is that low-carbon and zero-carbon fuels are still new technologies that are expected to be low in supply, meaning they will need to be conserved for the parts of the economy that are the hardest to electrify, like steel production or heavy-duty transportation.

At this panel, though, and at others throughout the conference, the message was to find a way to replace at least a portion of what flows through the pipes, while growing the footprint of natural gas infrastructure.
» Read article

» More about gas utilities

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

reflecting on climate denial
Climate Deniers and the Language of Climate Obstruction
From narratives about fossil fuels as a solution to climate advocates as out of touch with reality, here’s how the fossil fuel industry and its allies are weaponizing words to delay climate action.
By Stella Levantesi, DeSmog Blog
June 16, 2022

On a recent episode of the Fox Business show “Mornings with Maria,” American Petroleum Institute CEO and President, Mike Sommers, said that “the most important environmental movement in the world is the American oil and gas industry.”

“A super absurd example of oil and gas companies appropriating and weaponizing the language of climate advocates for their own greenwashing,” commented author and climate activist Genevieve Guenther on Twitter.

Sommers’ statement may be, in fact, one of the most literal examples of how fossil fuel companies are using language to perpetuate their climate denial and fend off action. And because public perception and awareness of the climate crisis are, at least in part, driven by how we talk about it, the fossil fuel industry has used language “to create smoke and mirrors and false impressions around what they’re really doing,” said Christine Arena, author, expert on climate disinformation, and former Executive Vice President at the PR firm Edelman. Arena was one of six employees to resign in 2015 following revelations of the firm’s greenwashing work with fossil fuel lobbies and associations.

PR firms — or “the enablers,” as Arena calls them — have played a key role in exploiting communication and manipulating language to their advantage, all while working on behalf of the fossil fuel industry and using a tobacco industry playbook. Ultimately, they’ve been using it to obstruct climate action, a longtime goal of the oil, gas, and coal industries. “If we take a step back and ask ourselves, why has meaningful action to avert the climate crisis proven to be so difficult? It is at least in part because of communications and because of the language coming from the fossil fuel industry,” said Arena.

Today, the fossil fuel industry and its allies are “appropriating and weaponizing” language from climate advocates, usually in ways that are much less obvious than Sommers’ recent comment.

“The industry is repeating the same phrases it’s hearing from the climate movement to use for their own advertising purposes. They are commandeering the language of sustainability and of the climate movement,” Arena said of fossil fuel companies, adding that they are doing so “to create a false perception that they’re on our side.”

[…] From fossil fuel solutionism to adaptation-only narratives, these climate obstruction tactics commandeer language in an attempt to undermine one of the most urgent and far-reaching challenges of our day. And the momentum behind such deceptive language is only building.

“We are on a dangerous trajectory,” Arena said. “I would say broadly that climate disinformation and greenwashing are getting much worse, and today we have many more examples to point to than we even did back when the industry was trying to deny climate change altogether.”

Understanding how opponents of climate action employ these discourses of delay is essential to recognizing climate disinformation and misinformation, Arena said, and ultimately to disrupting it. “We have to redouble our efforts to hold these companies and their enablers accountable.”
» Read article    

» More about fossil fuels   

PLASTICS BANS

fails the sniff testVirginia governor rolls back plastics phase-out, seeking to court recycling
An executive order this spring by Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin trumpeted efforts to boost recycling, but it also eliminated a commitment by his predecessor to phase out single-use plastics at state agencies and universities.
By Elizabeth McGowan, Energy News Network
June 21, 2022

At first whiff, Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s executive order centered on curbing food waste and boosting recycling across Virginia might pass an environmentalist’s sniff test.

Scratch a bit deeper, however, and that same nose detects a less-than-pleasant odor.

Conservationists have no quibble with order No. 17’s initiative to keep leftovers out of landfills by doubling down on composting efforts statewide.

Where they smell greenwashing is in the section that cancels an initiative by the previous administration to eliminate single-use plastics. Instead, the new order urges state agencies, parks, colleges and universities to encourage recycling of the ubiquitous plastics.

“I would love to be positive about this,” said Tim Cywinski, spokesperson for the Virginia chapter of the Sierra Club. “Youngkin easily could’ve written an order that didn’t get rid of the plastics phase-out.

“But every time he does something that seems good, he does something else and goes two steps backward.”

What’s the harm in backtracking on plastics? The Sierra Club is among those claiming it’s an invitation for companies with questionable claims about recycling plastic into fuel or feedstock for more plastic to move into the state.

In fact, Youngkin’s early April order does just that. The state Department of Environmental Quality is required to lead research on a report due next spring that outlines how Virginia can attract entities that specialize in post-consumer recycled products.

That order refers to those businesses as “clean technology companies.”

The American Chemistry Council has lobbied for years to locate plastic recyclers in Virginia, according to the Sierra Club.

“This is investing in something that is just going to pollute again,” said Connor Kish, Sierra’s legislative and political director. “What is clear is that Gov. Youngkin’s executive order undoes a lot of good work.”
» Read article   
» Read Governor Youngkin’s executive order

collecting bottles
Canada announces ban on single-use plastics in ‘historic step’
New regulations will prohibit sale and import of ‘harmful’ plastics, with some time for businesses to adjust.
By Al Jazeera
June 20, 2022

The government of Canada announced that it will ban the manufacturing and import of a number of “harmful” single-use plastics, with several new regulations coming into place in December.

The new rules, announced Monday, will apply to checkout bags, utensils, food-service products with plastic that is difficult to recycle, ring carriers, stir sticks, and straws with some exceptions, the government announced in a release.

“Our government is all in when it comes to reducing plastic pollution …That’s why we’re announcing today that our government is delivering on its commitment to ban harmful single-use plastics,” said environment minister Steven Guilbeault in a press conference Monday.

“This is a historic step towards beating plastic pollution and keeping our communities, lands and oceans clean.”

The sale of such items will be prohibited starting in December 2023, a buffer period meant to give businesses time to adjust to the changes and wind down their existing supplies.

The government will also ban the export of six plastics by the end of 2025.

The federal government listed plastics as toxic under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act last year, which paved the way for regulations to ban some. However, a consortium of plastics producers is suing the government over the toxic designation in a case expected to be heard later this year.
» Read article    

» More about plastics bans

PLASTICS, HEALTH, AND THE ENVIRONMENT

surf sachet
Explainer: Plastic sachets: As big brands cashed in, a waste crisis spiraled
By John Geddie and Joe Brock, Reuters
June 22, 2022

Tiny plastic packets known as sachets have allowed companies to tap millions of low-income customers in the developing world but also unleashed a global pollution crisis.

A Reuters investigation has found that London-listed Unilever plc (ULVR.L), a pioneer in selling sachets, has privately fought to derail bans on the problematic packaging despite saying publicly it wants to “get rid of” them.

Here’s what you need to know about sachets.

While commonly associated with ketchup or cosmetic samples in wealthy countries, sachets are widely used in emerging markets to sell inexpensive micro-portions of everyday products, from laundry detergent to seasoning and snacks.

These palm-sized pouches tend to be made up of multiple layers of plastic and aluminum foil, melded together using adhesives, according to Mark Shaw, technical sales manager at UK-based packaging firm Parkside Flexibles.

A typical sachet will have an inner plastic layer that makes an airtight seal around the product, a foil layer that provides an additional barrier against moisture and heat – an important factor in tropical climates – and an outer plastic layer that provides flexibility and can be printed on, he said.

[…] Proponents say sachets give low-income consumers access to high-quality, safe products. Critics say companies charge the poor a premium because products sold this way are more expensive by volume than bigger packages.

They also have created a massive environmental problem. Often sold in countries without proper waste collection, these single-use sachets end up as litter, clogging waterways and harming wildlife.

And even in countries with waste infrastructure, the complex design and small size of these packets makes them virtually impossible to recycle in a cost-effective way. It’s easier to bury or burn them.
» Read article    

» More about plastics in the environment

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Weekly News Check-In 6/10/22

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Welcome back.

A case that took six years to move through the courts finally concluded this week when the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that the U.S. Department of the Interior must analyze the climate impacts of oil and gas leasing on 4 million acres of federal land spanning five states before drilling can commence. This comes after the oil and gas industry failed to strike down three separate settlements arising out of lawsuits brought against the DoI by U.S. conservation groups.

In a surprising twist, Massachusetts may become the first state to pass legislation reversing a national trend in which states open their electricity markets to competition. But studies show that retail electric suppliers have generally offered plans that turn out to be more expensive for consumers than default rates from utilities.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s first-ever senior counsel for environmental justice and equity, Montina Cole, has stated that the commission can “absolutely” improve its assessments of natural gas projects to better account for environmental justice issues. We’re looking forward to seeing how this translates into action. FERC recently declared that the Weymouth compressor station should never have been permitted, but then declined to actually do anything about this unhealthy and dangerous facility located within an environmental justice community.

On a related topic, we offer an interview with one of the authors of a new paper arguing that policies focused only on greenhouse gas emissions will be less successful than a broader approach that tackles inequality and climate change together. Turns out that climate change increases inequality – something we already knew – but inequality also makes climate change worse and more difficult to address.

In climate news, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere just surpassed anything seen on Earth in the past four million years. There’s also new research saying we have greater than a 50% chance of locking in global warming of more than 1.5°C unless greenhouse gas emissions can be dramatically reduced before 2025.

That certainly lays down a challenge, so we’re happy to report that the Biden Administration this week took executive action, invoking the Defense Production Act to build up domestic production of all sorts of clean energy products including solar panels, electric transformers, heat pumps, insulation and hydrogen-related equipment. At the same time, we found a cautionary article about hydrogen, calling attention to several chemical pathways by which it could become another powerful greenhouse gas if leaked into the atmosphere. The message: limit hydrogen to applications for which there are no alternatives, and stop hyping it as the answer to all-things-energy.

The European Commission is responding to Russian energy blackmail associated with its war in Ukraine by proposing to end sales of fossil fuel boilers by 2029. That will boost the energy efficiency of building heat by encouraging a more rapid adoption of heat pumps and district geothermal networks, but experts are saying the timeline should be more ambitious.

Out west, Wyoming is preparing to bump coal off its position as the state’s top energy revenue earner, through grid modernization in the form of two major high-voltage transmission lines connecting itself to several other states in the West. The Gateway South and TransWest Express transmission lines will allow a major expansion of wind energy development.

The road to clean transportation isn’t always smooth. Two Massachusetts state senators are calling out the Baker administration for broken electric vehicle chargers along the Mass Turnpike – two of six having been inoperable for over a year. But in the ‘win’ column, Colorado-based Solid Power just took a major step toward realization of its solid state EV battery with completion of its pilot production line. This is necessary to prove production capability at commercial scale, and also allows the long testing and safety certification process to begin.

We have a couple of articles on how some electric utilities have worked behind the scenes to undermine progress toward clean energy, and even to promote climate denial. But regulations are changing to make that harder. In others cases, courts are coming for the worst offenders in the same way they’re going after fossil fuel producers who internally acknowledge climate risk while telling a different story to investors and the public.

We’ve known for a long time about health risks associated with natural gas infrastructure, but it’s difficult to monitor how pollutants move through the air at the local level. A recent innovative study in a heavily fracked Ohio county showed that regional air quality monitors failed to capture short-term neighborhood-level variations in pollution that affect people’s health. But low-cost local monitors revealed the true story.

Wrapping up the energy news, a huge spike in the cost of fossil fuels is driving worldwide inflation. Natural gas futures hit a 13-year high ahead of what traders expect to be a very hot summer. This sort of price volatility is a risk associated with energy derived from fuels traded on global commodity markets. Renewable energy and energy storage are technology-based and therefore tend to experience price reductions over time.

The last word goes to another fossil-derived product: single-use plastics, which the Biden administration just committed to phasing out in all U.S. public lands including national parks. Once fully implemented, it will cut 80,000 tons from the Department of the Interior’s annual waste stream.

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

climate impactsJudge: U.S. Must Conduct Climate Review Of Leases Before Drilling Can Commence
By Julianne Geiger, Oil Price
June 3, 2022

The U.S. Department of the Interior must analyze the climate impacts of oil and gas leasing on 4 million acres of federal land spanning five states before drilling can commence, a legal settlement reached this week concluded, according to Reuters.

The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruling comes after oil and gas industry groups failed to succeed with their motion to strike down three separate settlements arising out of lawsuits brought against the DoI by U.S. conservation groups.

This week’s settlement is just the latest in the six-years-long saga that started when conservation groups WELC and WildEarth Guardians sued the Department of the Interior over millions of federal acres that were leased to oil and gas companies in Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming.

Years ago—well before the Biden Administration took office, U.S. District Court Judge Rudolph Contreras blocked drilling permits and required the DoI to do a more thorough environmental analysis that included GHG emissions. Today confirms that ruling despite oil and gas industry challenges.

The Biden Administration must now conduct a more thorough environmental review of those leases. For Biden, this is a precarious position indeed, particularly in the runup to mid-term elections. On the one hand, the U.S. President has taken heavy criticism for his energy policies in the wake of record-high gasoline prices. On the other, he has taken heavy criticism from his green supporters for his failure to live up to some of his anti-fossil fuel campaign promises.
» Read article       

» More about protests and actions

LEGISLATION

Wikimedia MA Statehouse
Massachusetts lawmakers consider ending retail electric choice for residential customers
By Iulia Gheorghiu, Utility Dive
June 8, 2022

At least 18 states have opened up their electricity markets to competition. Arizona backed away from plans to allow retail choice in the early 2000s in the face of the Western energy crisis, but no states have reversed course so far after allowing it, retail choice advocates say. Massachusetts, which opened its retail electricity market to competition in 1998, could be the first, after studies and support from the Office of the Attorney General showed retail electric supplier offers as generally being more expensive than the default utility supply offer.

The state legislature has considered this issue in the House of Representatives since 2018, as the AG reported higher costs for customers who left municipal or investor-owned utility service. Healey’s testimony on S. 2150 last summer noted that arrears increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, saying that residents were being charged more by electric suppliers in nearly every community examined.

“I know it is a big deal for us to call for the banning of an industry,” Healey told the state Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, but “this industry has overcharged Massachusetts customers for far too long.”

However, the 2021 study is “riddled with inaccurate results,” creating an unrealistic picture for state legislator support of eliminating retail choice for residential customers, Christopher Ercoli, president of the Retail Energy Advancement League, said in an interview with Utility Dive.

According to REAL, retail suppliers lock rates in at the beginning of a contract, so many retail energy customers in Massachusetts that are locked into rates from last fall are currently saving money as energy prices are currently increasing in the country and internationally.
» Read article      

» More about legislation

FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION

Montina Cole
FERC’s EJ counsel says agency can bolster gas oversight
By Miranda Willson, E&E News
June 2, 2022

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission can “absolutely” improve its assessments of natural gas projects to better account for environmental justice issues, according to the agency’s first-ever senior counsel for environmental justice and equity.

One year into her role at FERC, Montina Cole joined a webinar yesterday to discuss how the commission is becoming more responsive to historically disadvantaged communities affected by its decisions and policies — something that environmental justice advocates say has long been overlooked.

Cole said FERC is planning to build staff capacity focused on justice and equity in natural gas proceedings, as well as hold a public workshop on environmental justice issues “that are arising in the gas facility review process.” A FERC spokesperson said the timing on the public workshop has not been determined.

“I’m very, very optimistic and looking forward to ways that we can improve [gas permitting],” Cole said during the webinar, hosted by the Wires Group, a trade association for the electric transmission industry.

[…] Earlier this year, FERC proposed changes to its guidelines for assessing new natural gas pipelines, calling for “robust consideration” of projects’ effects on environmental justice communities as part of a costs and benefit analysis. In its updated permitting policy, the majority of commissioners said that FERC would try to more accurately identify disadvantaged communities. They also said the commission would consider a new pipeline’s cumulative impacts — meaning the total burdens or benefits that affected communities could experience from the facility and other infrastructure in the area.

Critics, however, said the new policy went too far on environmental and landowner issues and would make it difficult and expensive for new gas projects to get built. In March, FERC turned the proposal and another, related policy into “drafts,” open to further consideration and revisions (Energywire, March 25).

While Cole did not directly address that controversy, she said she is reviewing the commission’s “key regulations and guidance” for the siting of new natural gas projects. That effort will include consideration of projects’ cumulative impacts and the “thresholds” currently used by FERC to identify environmental justice communities, Cole said.
» Read article       

» More about FERC

GREENING THE ECONOMY

GND climate case
Q&A: The Causal Relationship Between Inequality and Climate Change
DeSmog interviewed an author of a new paper that says that policies focused only on greenhouse gas emissions will be less successful than a broader approach that tackles inequality and climate change together.
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
June 3, 2022

Climate change has worsened global inequality, with poorer countries less able to withstand and adapt to climate change’s effects. It also has worsened inequality within countries between the rich and the poor: The impacts of drought, floods, hurricanes, and extreme heat are disproportionately felt by low-income communities and communities of color.

But new research suggests the reverse is also true: Not only is climate change contributing to greater inequality, but inequality is also fueling climate change. A new peer-reviewed paper by Fergus Green and Noel Healy, published in One Earth, analyzes the various ways in which inequality contributes to more greenhouse gas emissions while simultaneously making climate action even more difficult to pursue. The paper also asserts that climate policies that only focus on cutting greenhouse gas emissions, while ignoring inequality, will prove less effective at addressing the climate crisis compared to a much broader movement — like the Green New Deal — that attacks both inequality and climate change at the same time.

DeSmog spoke with one of the authors, Fergus Green, a lecturer in political theory and public policy at University College London, about the new research. The following conversation was edited for brevity and clarity.
» Read article      
» Read the paper

Welcome to Ithaca
Inside Ithaca’s plan to electrify 6,000 buildings and grow a regional green workforce using private equity funds

The city has mustered $105 million in private funds to support low-cost loans for businesses and residents to install heat pumps.
By Robert Walton, Utility Dive
June 2, 2022

Ithaca, New York, made headlines last year when its city council voted to fully decarbonize. Achieving the 2030 goal will require grid decarbonization, electrifying transportation and rolling out heat pumps to the city’s 6,000 aging commercial and residential buildings.

Ithaca is known for its progressive politics — in the 90s the city pioneered a time-based currency to inspire local spending, for example. But the decarbonization plan is among its most ambitious efforts, according to Director of Sustainability Luis Aguirre-Torres.

“When I came to Ithaca last year … my job was to craft a plan to decarbonize in eight years. I told the mayor, ‘You’re nuts. This is very difficult to achieve,’” said Aguirre-Torres, who took the job in April 2021.

Ithaca’s plan is “innovative,” Building Decarbonization Coalition Executive Director Panama Bartholomy said, and is an example of the kind of work many cities are now exploring.

“It’s encouraging to see a city take a wholesale approach to buildings instead of trying to adopt policies that are more reactive,” Bartholomy said. “Every major city in the United States right now is trying to figure out the right model for how to do this.”

Installing heat pumps and making other efficiency improvements makes financial sense for some buildings: the energy savings will pay for the improvements. Other projects may be close, or simply not pencil out. Either way, the savings accrue slowly. So in order to get all buildings decarbonized, the city aggregated blocks of buildings to manage project risk, and then securitized the project to attract private capital.

“The numbers work for some [buildings], they don’t work for some. But in the end, as a whole, it works for the investor,” Aguirre-Torres said. The program is essentially a way of covering the upfront costs of making building improvements and turning it into “electrification as a service,” he explained, resulting in long-term leasing or long-term lending at a low interest.
» Read article       

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

future on fire
“Limited time:” World will lock in 1.5°C warming by 2025 without big emissions cuts
By Michael Mazengarb, Renew Economy
June 7, 2022

The world faces a greater than 50 per cent chance of locking in global warming of more than 1.5°C  unless greenhouse gas emissions can be dramatically reduced before 2025, new research suggests.

In a new paper published in the journal Nature Climate Change, researchers from the University of Washington, Seattle, warn that the world needs an ‘abrupt cessation’ of greenhouse gas emissions to prevent locking in global warming above safe levels.

The research also confirm that net zero targets by 2050 are insufficient to cap average global warming  below 2°C, and that does not include like feedback loops that will accelerate temperature rises.

“Gobal warming is projected to exceed 1.5°C within decades and 2°C by mid-century in all but the lowest emission scenarios, the paper says. “That is, there is limited time and allowable carbon dioxide emissions (a remaining carbon budget) before these temperature thresholds are exceeded.”

The research, led by oceanography researcher Michele Dvorak, used geophysical modelling that finds the world already has a 42 per cent chance of exceeding 1.5°C of global warming – even if further greenhouse gas emissions were immediately ceased.

The probability of breaching this and higher temperature levels will increase year-on-year, the research shows, until the world achieves a status of zero net emissions.
» Read article       

Mauna Loa ABO
Carbon Dioxide Levels Are Highest in Human History
Humans pumped 36 billion tons of the planet-warming gas into the atmosphere in 2021, more than in any previous year. It comes from burning oil, gas and coal.
By Henry Fountain, New York Times
June 3, 2022

The amount of planet-warming carbon dioxide in the atmosphere broke a record in May, continuing its relentless climb, scientists said Friday. It is now 50 percent higher than the preindustrial average, before humans began the widespread burning of oil, gas and coal in the late 19th century.

There is more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere now than at any time in at least 4 million years, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officials said.

The concentration of the gas reached nearly 421 parts per million in May, the peak for the year, as power plants, vehicles, farms and other sources around the world continued to pump huge amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Emissions totaled 36.3 billion tons in 2021, the highest level in history.

As the amount of carbon dioxide increases, the planet keeps warming, with effects like increased flooding, more extreme heat, drought and worsening wildfires that are already being experienced by millions of people worldwide. Average global temperatures are now about 1.1 degrees Celsius, or 2 degrees Fahrenheit, higher than in preindustrial times.

Growing carbon dioxide levels are more evidence that countries have made little progress toward the goal set in Paris in 2015 of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. That’s the threshold beyond which scientists say the likelihood of catastrophic effects of climate change increases significantly.
» Read article       

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

DPA invoked
Biden invokes Defense Production Act to boost domestic manufacturing in clean energy, grid sectors
By Ethan Howland, Utility Dive
June 7, 2022

The U.S. Department of Energy aims to build up domestic production of solar panels, electric transformers, heat pumps, insulation and hydrogen-related equipment under the Defense Production Act, or DPA, determinations issued Monday by the White House.

The DOE could support those sectors through commitments to buy clean energy products from U.S. manufacturers; direct investments in facilities; and aid for clean energy installations in homes, military sites and businesses, Charisma Troiano, department press secretary, said in an email.

The Biden administration’s move to use its executive power is a “game changer” that will establish and bolster a manufacturing base to support the renewable energy transition, according to Jean Su, energy justice program director at the Center for Biological Diversity.

The DPA, which President Joe Biden has invoked to spur COVID-19 vaccine and electric battery production, allows the White House to coordinate with industry to obtain supplies that are deemed to be in the interest of national defense, according to Su.

The White House issued similar DPA determinations for the solar, hydrogen, heat pump, insulation and grid equipment sectors.

“Ensuring a robust, resilient, and sustainable domestic industrial base to meet the requirements of the clean energy economy is essential to our national security, a resilient energy sector, and the preservation of domestic critical infrastructure,” Biden said in the findings.

The Center for Biological Diversity in February urged Biden to use his executive powers, including through the DPA, to tackle climate change.
» Read article       

H2 pathways
Hydrogen Leaks Could Make Climate Change Worse, Scientists Warn
By The Energy Mix
June 5, 2022

As the world invests billions in hydrogen fuel systems, scientists are urging vigilance against leakage, since its release into open air can trigger chemical reactions that significantly warm the atmosphere.

Widely seen as one of the only ways to decarbonize sectors that aren’t easily electrified (like heavy industry and aviation), hydrogen has much to recommend it as a clean fuel—unless it leaks into the air, where three chemical pathways can transform it into an indirect greenhouse gas with 33 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide over 20 years, writes Bloomberg.

The first pathway involves hydrogen’s tendency to react with atmospheric hydroxyl (OH), an element which also reacts with methane in a manner that helps remove this dangerous greenhouse gas from the atmosphere. The more hydrogen that leaks into the atmosphere, the less hydroxyl will be available to neutralize the warming effects of methane, which is about 85 times more powerful a warming agent than CO2 over a 20-year span.

The second pathway is hydrogen’s involvement, near ground level, in a chemical chain reaction that produces ozone, another potent greenhouse gas.

Finally, leaked hydrogen that makes it into the stratosphere produces more water vapour, “which has the overall effect of trapping more thermal energy in the atmosphere.”

Most leaked hydrogen would not escape into the air, but would rather be absorbed by microbes in the soil. But any hydrogen that does get airborne can wreak climate havoc, at least in the short term.

And it’s the short term that matters, given the speed with which global temperatures are rising, say climate scientists with the U.S. Environmental Defense Fund (EDF).

“The potency is a lot stronger than people realize,” EDF climate scientist Ilissa Ocko told Bloomberg. “We’re putting this on everyone’s radar now, not to say ‘no’ to hydrogen, but to think about how we deploy it.”
» Read article       

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

  

Meissen rooftops
Ditching gas boilers for heat pumps will take EU “well beyond next winter”
To quit Russian gas, the European Commission now wants to end sales of fossil fuel boilers by 2029. Some experts are pinning new hopes on geothermal heat pumps.
By Nour Ghantous, Energy Monitor
June 3, 2022

As part of its REPowerEU proposal to end Russian fossil fuel imports, the European Commission announced an increase in its energy efficiency target for 2030 from 9% to 13% on 18 May 2022. Part of achieving this ambition will be to double the roll-out of heat pumps, with a view to banning gas boilers by 2029, and integrating geothermal and solar thermal energy in modernised district and communal heating systems.

The move is a win for energy efficiency campaigners who argue that the best way to reduce energy imports is to reduce our energy demands in the first place. “A structural reduction of energy demand must be at the core of any strategy to increase EU energy security,” said Arianna Vitali Roscini, secretary-general of the Coalition for Energy Savings, in a statement about the plans. She suggests that the Commission’s inclusion of energy efficiency targets in its proposal will ensure long-term solutions to the energy crisis: “REPowerEU [proposes] measures that go well beyond next winter only.”

The general response in the EU energy sphere has been a sigh of relief at seeing more robust energy efficiency policies proposed, but no festivities just yet as some argue the plans still fall short of necessary ambition.

“We are very happy to see a phase-out date [for gas boilers] but we are not happy with the date itself,” says Davide Sabbadin, senior policy officer for climate and circular economy at the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), a network of environmental NGOs.
» Read article       

cut by half
St. Paul school is latest to conclude geothermal is ‘the way to go’
Space constraints, energy savings and the long-term return on investment convinced St. Paul Public Schools to install a ground-source geothermal heat pump system at a high school that until now hasn’t had a cooling system.
By Frank Jossi, Energy News Network
June 7, 2022

[…] In St. Paul, only about a third of public schools have air conditioning — a growing liability as heat waves become more common, resulting in potentially distracting or dangerous temperatures in classrooms. The district also has a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from its buildings by 45% by 2030.

Johnson High School, in the Payne-Phalen neighborhood on the city’s East Side, is among the sites that have lacked cooling options. Its 1961 facade and interior were refreshed a few years ago but its HVAC system is decades old.

Space constraints limited the school’s options. While geothermal systems can require a large underground footprint, relatively little equipment is installed above ground, which along with financial aspects made it a good option.

“Geothermal seemed the way to go,” said Henry Jerome, facilities project manager.

The school district hired a local firm, TKDA, to consult on the project. Over the spring, the district hired a contractor to bore 160 wells 305 feet deep into the school’s baseball field. A liquid glycol mixture will run through buried pipes, transferring heat between the ground and the school’s heat pump.

The school won’t be able to entirely depend on geothermal during the coldest stretches of winter. A high-efficiency condensing boiler and two steam boilers will remain in operation when temperatures drop below freezing, but the school expects to cut natural gas consumption by more than half.

[…] Geothermal can cost more upfront than conventional heating and cooling systems and require enough land for well drilling. But the economics can appeal to schools, governments, and other building owners with long-term outlooks. After installation, the systems require a relatively small amount of electricity to operate.

Peter Lindstrom, a manager for Minnesota’s Clean Energy Resource Teams, specializes in helping public sector organizations with clean energy projects. He said geothermal is getting more attention recently as public schools and other institutions aim to reduce emissions and energy costs. Other Minnesota schools that have installed geothermal systems include Pelham, Onamia, and Watertown-Mayer Schools. And it may not be the last in St. Paul.
» Read article    

» More about energy efficiency

MODERNIZING THE GRID

Seven Mile Hill
Greenlit powerlines forecast Wyoming wind energy boom

Developers are poised to double Wyoming’s wind energy capacity, replacing coal as the state’s top source of electrical generation.
By Dustin Bleizeffer, WyoFile, in Energy News Network
June 3, 2022

Having recently cleared key legal and permitting hurdles, developers are slated to begin construction of two major high-voltage transmission lines connecting Wyoming to several states in the West. When completed, the Gateway South and TransWest Express transmission lines will open the door to a major expansion of wind energy development in the Cowboy State, industry officials say.

“The TransWest Express project opens the ability for Wyoming wholesale electricity supplies to reach new markets, like southern California, Arizona and Nevada, that the state is not directly serving today,” Power Company of Wyoming Communications Director Kara Choquette said.

The $3 billion, 732-mile long TransWest Express transmission line will transport electricity from Power Company of Wyoming’s Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Energy Project in south-central Wyoming, as well as other potential new wind energy facilities. Situated in Carbon County, the project’s 900 wind turbines with a total capacity of 3,000 megawatts will be the largest onshore wind energy facility in the United States.
» Read article       

» More about modernizing the grid

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

EVstop
Senators blast Baker administration over broken EV chargers on Mass. Pike
By Aaron Pressman, Boston Globe
June 7, 2022

Two state senators are taking the Baker administration to task for broken electric vehicle chargers along the Massachusetts Turnpike.

As the Globe reported in April, two of the six chargers installed at rest stops along the 138-mile highway — in Natick and the westbound Charlton stop — have been out of service for over a year. EVgo, the company that operated the chargers, withdrew all six charger locations from its listings and said it could not repair the problems on its own.

On Monday, in a letter to Secretary of Transportation Jamey Tesler, state senators Cynthia Creem and Michael Barrett demanded that the broken chargers be fixed by July 1 and asked for information about who was responsible for their operation and maintenance.

“The continued inoperability of these chargers hampers the Commonwealth’s ability to reach its EV goals, not only because it makes it more difficult for EV drivers to travel across the Commonwealth, but also because it feeds into an inaccurate yet prevalent narrative that EVs are not reliable for long-distance travel,” the pair wrote to Tesler.

MassDOT did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“We would like to see the broken EV chargers on the Pike returned to operation by no later than July 1 of this year, ahead of the busiest periods of summer travel,” the senators added. “We would also like to know that there is a plan in place to ensure that future issues with chargers are resolved immediately.”

The chargers were first installed in 2017. Matthew Beaton, then-secretary of energy and environmental affairs, said they would give “consumers confidence that they will have access to charging stations on long trips, a commonly cited hurdle in transitioning to zero emission vehicles.”
» Read article       

Solid Power pilot line
Solid-state batteries for EVs move a step closer to production
Solid Power wants to give cells to BMW and Ford for testing later this year.
By Jonathan M. Gitlin, Ars Technica
June 6, 2022

Solid Power, a Colorado-based battery developer, moved one step closer to producing solid-state batteries for electric vehicles on Monday. The company has completed an automated “EV cell pilot line” with the capacity to make around 15,000 cells per year, which will be used first by Solid Power and then by its OEM partners for testing.

“The installation of this EV cell pilot line will allow us to produce EV-scale cells suitable for initiating the formal automotive qualification process. Over the coming quarters, we will work to bring the EV cell pilot line up to its full operational capability and look forward to delivering EV-scale all-solid-state cells to our partners later this year,” said Solid Power CEO Doug Campbell.

Solid-state batteries differ from the lithium-ion batteries currently used in EVs in that they replace the liquid electrolyte with a solid layer between the anode and cathode. It’s an attractive technology for multiple reasons: Solid-state cells should have a higher energy density, they should be able to charge more quickly, and they should be safer, as they’re nonflammable (which should further reduce the pack density and weight, as it will need less-robust protection).

It’s one of those technologies that to a very casual observer is perennially five years away, but in Europe there are already operational Mercedes-Benz eCitaro buses with solid-state packs.
» Read article       

» More about clean transportation  

ELECTRIC UTILITIES

under the radar
Meet the group lobbying against climate regulations — using your utility bill
The federal government is considering a rule change that would make it harder for utility companies to recover trade association dues.
By Nick Tabor, Grist
June 7, 2022

A typical electricity bill leaves the customer with the sense that she knows exactly what she’s paying for. It might show how many kilowatts of power her household has used, the costs of generating that electricity and delivering it, and the amount that goes to taxes. But these bills can hide as much as they reveal: They don’t indicate how much of the customer’s money is being used to build new power plants, for example, or to pay the CEO’s salary. They also don’t show how much of the bill goes toward political activity — things like lobbying expenses, or litigation against pollution controls.

Most U.S. utility bills also fail to specify that they’re collecting dues payments for trade associations. These organizations try to shape laws in electric and gas companies’ favor, in addition to more quotidian functions like coordinating regulatory compliance. On any given billing statement, these charges may only add up to pennies. By collecting them from tens of millions of households, however, trade associations have built up enormous budgets that translate to powerful political operations.

The Edison Electric Institute, an association that counts all of the country’s investor-owned electric utilities as its members, is the power industry’s main representative before Congress. With an annual budget of over $90 million, Edison is perhaps the largest beneficiary of the dues-collection baked into utility bills. In recent years, it’s attracted attention for its national campaign against rooftop solar panels, and for its role in the legal fight against the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan.

Within the next year or two, however, this financial model could come to an end. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, the top government agency overseeing the utility industry, is considering a rule change that would make it harder for companies to recover these costs. While utilities are already nominally barred from passing lobbying costs along to their customers, consumer advocates and environmental groups argue that much trade association activity that isn’t technically “lobbying” under the IRS’s definition is still political in nature — and that households are being unfairly charged for it.
» Read article       

Plant Scherer
Warned of ‘massive’ climate-led extinction, Southern Company funded crisis denial ads

The Georgia-based utility spent at least $62.1 million running campaigns to deceive the public about climate change, new research has found.
By Geoff Dembicki, The Guardian
June 8, 2022

In 1980, a report circulated to a division of one of the biggest coal-burning utilities in the U.S. warned that “fossil fuel combustion” was rapidly warming the atmosphere and could cause a “massive extinction of plant and animal species” along with a “5 to 6-meter rise in sea level” across the world.

Several years later an official at the utility co-chaired a conference where scientific researchers fretted that “as we continue to exploit the vast deposits of fossil fuels” it could cause “disruptive climate changes.”

Not only did Southern Company fail to adjust its business model towards cleaner energy sources, it began paying for print advertisements saying climate change was not real. “Who told you the earth was warming,” asks one ad from 1991.

Major oil and gas producers are now being sued in more than 20 U.S. jurisdictions for running campaigns to deceive the public about climate change while internally acknowledging the risks of burning fossil fuels. And the new report suggests that coal-burning electric utilities like Southern Company, which were also warned about climate change for decades, could be sued next.

The Georgia-based utility made its multimillion-dollar payments between 1993 and 2004, according to the Energy and Policy Institute’s analysis of corporate filings. It was a crucial period when aggressive U.S. action to combat the climate crisis could have potentially made the emergency less intense than it is now.
» Read article       

» More about electric utilities

HEALTH RISKS – NATURAL GAS INFRASTRUCTURE

Yuri Gorby
In Ohio, researchers find EPA data doesn’t tell the whole story on fracking pollution

Scientists working with community organizations established a network of local-level air monitors, finding details that regional monitors can miss.
By Kathiann M. Kowalski, Energy News Network
June 8, 2022

A recent study in a heavily fracked Ohio county found that regional air quality monitors failed to capture variations in pollution at the local level, spotlighting the need to address gaps in data on fossil fuel emissions.

Existing Environmental Protection Agency monitors track broad regional trends in air quality. But they don’t reflect differences from place to place within an area. And their reporting often misses short-term spikes that can affect human health, said lead study author Garima Raheja at Columbia University.

“Health is not a broad regional effect,” Raheja said. Health impacts from pollution often depend on more local conditions and can vary “day to day, hour to hour,” she noted.

[…] The team developed a grassroots, community-based network of low-cost air monitoring stations. Each monitoring station used PurpleAir monitors. The monitors cost a couple hundred dollars each, compared to up to $100,000 or more for equipment at the regional EPA air monitoring stations, Raheja said.

The equipment measures levels of fine particulate matter, or PM. Corrected data from PurpleAir monitors correlate strongly with those from reference-grade monitors, studies have found. Tweaks to the monitors also let the network track levels of volatile organic compounds, or VOCs. And community members kept logs about physical symptoms or things they noticed in the area.

Additionally, the researchers made an inventory of all pollution emissions already permitted for the area. The data let them model how pollution could travel in the area.

“We wanted to show what people are actually experiencing,” Raheja said. “And we wanted to show some examples of plumes from different sources.”

General trends in emissions levels were similar for the EPA monitoring stations and the local monitors. However, there were substantial variations in the emissions levels recorded by the two types of stations. Those results showed that exposure to pollutants varies throughout the study area.

The results also showed multiple cases when spikes in certain emissions tracked closely with log entries about residents’ health symptoms or other events in the area, such as pipeline pigging or compressor station blowdowns.
» Read article     
» Read the study

» More about gas infrastructure health risks

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

blistering
Natural Gas Futures Hit 13-Year High As Traders Expect “Blistering Hot Summer”
By Tom Kool, Oil Price
June 6, 2022

On Monday, Henry Hub natural gas futures were up nearly 10% at a 13-year high.

At 5:00pm EST, Henry Hub prices for July contracts sat at $9.368, up 9.91%. August contracts were at $9.350, up 9.87%.

A key reason for the sudden surge is heat, with temperatures expected to rise significantly in the middle part of this month, with production declining and demand threatening to exceed supply.

Natural Gas Intelligence (NGI) quoted EBW analyst Eli Rubin as saying in a note to clients that a “blistering hot summer” is first and foremost among fears. Rubin said the increasing demand for natural gas for cooling in the coming weeks “could ignite another substantial rally in Nymex futures into mid-summer”.

Texas, in particular, is expected to see demand for natural gas soar to a historical record this week–even before the hottest part of summer sets in.

Also driving natural gas futures upward is rising demand, declining production, and soaring exports of liquefied natural gas (LNG) from the U.S. Gulf coast, diverting domestic supplies.
» Read article       

» More about fossil fuel

PLASTICS BANS

ban single use
US government to ban single-use plastic in national parks
Biden officials make announcement on World Oceans Day in effort to stem huge tide of pollution from plastic bottles and packaging
By Oliver Milman, The Guardian
June 8, 2022

The Biden administration is to phase out single-use plastic products on US public lands, including the vast network of American national parks, in an attempt to stem the huge tide of plastic pollution that now extends to almost every corner of the world.

The US Department of the Interior will halt the sale of single-use plastics in national parks, wildlife refuges and other public lands, though not entirely until 2032, with a reduction planned in the meantime. The government will look to identify environmentally preferable alternatives to plastic bottles, packaging and other products, such as compostable materials.

Previously, national parks were able to ban the sale of plastic water bottles but this was stopped by Donald Trump when he was president. The Trump administration echoed the sentiments of the bottled water industry in preventing the ban.

The new plastics ban will eventually span 480m acres of federal land, a size about four times larger than Spain, and will cut the 80,000 tons of waste the Department of the Interior creates each year.

“The interior department has an obligation to play a leading role in reducing the impact of plastic waste on our ecosystems and our climate,” said Deb Haaland, the secretary of the interior.

Plastic pollution is now widespread across the US and the rest of the world, with trillions of tiny pieces of plastic found in the oceans, where much of the waste ends up. Plastics are so pervasive they have been found in the lungs of people and in freshly fallen snow in Antarctica.

The growing production of cheap, disposable plastics has been exacerbated by a falling recycling rate, which has dipped to about 5% in the US following some countries’ refusal to take shipments of American waste.
» Read article      

» More about plastics bans

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Weekly News Check-In 5/20/22

banner 04

Welcome back.

Just about every Friday, we publish this newsletter with links to a host of great articles that discuss current important climate and energy issues. There’s often a pattern – science jacking up the alarm level, industry spinning the message, and politics gridlocked between competing interests. While each issue can feel like another trip through the spin cycle, we’ve been at this a few years now and can definitely see positive progress – invariably driven by people who have chosen to engage, to work with others who haven’t given up, who are determined to take whatever action they can to meet the climate crisis. So we’re leading today’s issue with one person’s account of how getting involved, getting active, makes her feel hopeful.

Now that we’re fired up and ready to go… let’s jump right in with an observation that the Federal Reserve has yet to see a role for itself in addressing the financial risks associated with climate change. Even though these hazards are well documented and increasingly urgent, Fed Chair Jerome Powell recently said, “Today, climate change is not something that we directly consider in setting monetary policy.” Pension funds are an example of an investment that responds to monetary policies. Ones that still hold a lot of fossil fuel securities are directly exposed to climate risks. But some of these funds are resisting divestment efforts by circulating misinformation that exaggerates the expected costs associated with eliminating fossils from portfolios. This is a replay of tactics previously deployed when resisting calls to dump tobacco and firearms.

Financial risks mentioned above come in two main flavors: the risk to life, property, and business from extreme weather events and other climate-related disasters, and the risk of stranded assets, typically associated with fossil fuel infrastructure that has to be retired earlier than expected. A new scientific study draws a line under the stranded asset issue, concluding that approximately 40% of all existing fossil fuel production sites must be retired early for us to hang on to a 50-50 chance of achieving the Paris Climate Agreement goal of limiting heating to 1.5C.

Last among this week’s finance-related news is consideration of the effectiveness of purchasing carbon offsets as a way to green up air travel. Bottom line: not much. But with time and better regulation, the carbon offset market is expected to improve. For now, buy them if they make you feel better. Fly less if you can.

We’ll close out this section with a couple of excellent articles describing how the same technical loophole that allows European biomass plants to claim their energy is carbon neutral (and to devastate forests in the U.S. southeast), is being used to grow the biomass energy industry in Japan and South Korea – with similar pollution and deforestation consequences. Also, a heads up on the next industry-driven false solution for the single-use plastics problem: “advanced recycling“.

On the positive side, floating offshore wind turbines have come a long way in the past five years. Now, the first commercial deployment is happening off Scotland and strong industry growth is expected to follow. We also found a podcast about the new documentary “Empowered”, focused on the long and checkered history of energy production in Somerset on Mount Hope Bay, near Fall River, MA. Long-serving state representative Patricia Haddad is central to the story.

Across the pond, Norway is seeing the commercial launch of the Hydrovolt battery recycling plant. It’s Europe’s largest facility for recycling electric vehicle and stationary energy storage batteries. Between its initial capacity and plans for growth, it is expected to handle all of Norway’s end-of-life battery market.

On the topic of batteries, it’s certain that long-duration energy storage will involve (among other technologies) some form of flow batteries. We offer a great basic primer on what these are and how they’re being used. And right on queue, a new report by researchers at MIT finds that with today’s available methods, it’s technologically and financially feasible to use energy storage systems to almost completely eliminate the need for fossil fuels to operate regional power grids.

Let’s make it happen.

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

involved
When You Can’t Read Anymore About Climate, Take Action
By Meredith Rose, Yes! | Opinion
May 18, 2022
Meredith Rose has taught composition and literature at San Francisco City College. Her short stories have been published in a handful of literary magazines. With her life partner, she is raising two teenaged kids in Pasadena, CA.

What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done? It might have been something reckless or impulsive, adventurous, or just plain stupid. Here’s mine: I joined a group that works on creating solutions to climate change. Nuts, right? Who does stuff like that when the headlines remind us daily of our impending doom? Well, I did, and I’m learning that it’s not so crazy after all. I admit that when I simply recycled toilet paper rolls and bought LED lights, life was easier. Joining an organization and showing up was definitely out of my comfort zone, let alone actually meeting with my congresswoman. But it seems that every summer where I live in Southern California, the thermometer tops 100 degrees for days on end, and I’m pretty uncomfortable then too.

Now, I’m doing something, along with thousands of others, and together, we’re making a difference. I see it in the laws proposed in Congress and in state legislatures as well. By getting involved, I’ve also met a range of people who haven’t given up, who are determined to take whatever action they can to meet this crisis.

For years, the mainstream media told me who really cared about The Environment: latte-drinking, Volvo-driving elites, or else wild-haired, amoral, eco-terrorists. When I attended my local chapter meeting of Citizens’ Climate Lobby, I met folks who (possibly) drank lattes and (occasionally) had some hairs out of place, but who for the most part were passionate, clear-eyed, and determined. The more involved I got, the more inspired I became. I signed up to staff an info table at a local library event. With me was Rob, a scientist from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and then the head of the local chapter. He knew all the facts backward and forward, but when he talked to people, he spoke from the heart. He encouraged me when, for the first time ever, I talked to total strangers about climate change, and he thanked me for my efforts when my shift was over. I had wanted this scientist to tell me that everything was going to be OK, that the powers that be would figure it out in time, but he never did. Instead, he showed me that every contact with another person—listening first and then responding—was the key to addressing our challenge.
» Read article   

» More about protests and actions

DIVESTMENT

suspense
As California Considers Dropping Fossil Fuels from Major Pension Funds, New Report Calls Out ‘Misinformation’ on Costs
CalPERS and CalSTRS, which oppose fossil fuel divestment legislation, have “wildly exaggerated” divestment costs, according to Fossil Free California’s latest report.
By Sharon Kelly, DeSmog Blog
May 13, 2022

A newly published report by Fossil Free California finds California’s pension fund managers are circulating divestment “misinformation” by exaggerating the costs involved in shedding their fossil fuel investments in documents prepared for state lawmakers.

California lawmakers are currently considering Senate Bill 1173 (SB-1173), California’s Fossil Fuel Divestment Act, which would require the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS), to stop investing in fossil fuels before the decade is out. The move would impact billions of dollars currently invested in oil, gas, or coal on behalf of California’s teachers, firefighters, and other public employees.

The report titled “Hyperbole in the Hearings” found that the pension “funds have wildly exaggerated losses from past divestments” like those involving tobacco, firearms, and some forms of coal. It concludes that CalPERS and CalSTRS estimates for costs associated with fossil fuel divestment are also exaggerated.

Extraordinary sums of money, invested on behalf of California’s public employees and teachers, are on the line. The two pension funds have estimated holdings of $7.4 billion and $4.1 billion respectively in fossil fuel investments that would need to be divested if the law went into effect.

Before it’s enacted, SB-1173 has to survive what California lawmakers call “suspense,” where the fiscal impacts of the law are considered — and it’s become known in the state as the place where bills “are killed without public debate.” That’s because debate between lawmakers during the suspense process is done behind closed doors and there’s no public vote when a bill is killed “on the suspense file.”
» Read article   

» More about divestment

GREENING THE ECONOMY

Northvolt operational
Northvolt’s battery recycling plant Hydrovolt commences operations in Norway
By Cameron Murray, Energy Storage News
May 17, 2022

Commercial operations have begun at the Hydrovolt battery recycling plant in Norway, a joint venture (JV) between Norwegian materials processing company Hydro and Sweden-headquartered lithium battery manufacturing startup Northvolt.

The facility in Fredrikstad, southern Norway, has been under construction since February last year and its JV partners have invested NOK120 million (US$13.94 million) into the project while another NOK43.5 million was put in by Norwegian government enterprise Enova.

It is Europe’s largest electric vehicle battery (EV) recycling plant with the capacity to process approximately 10,900 tonnes (12,000 tons) of battery packs per year, equating to around 25,000 EV batteries. The batteries will be supplied by Batteriretur, a Norwegian company that collects batteries for recycling.

That is sufficient to recycle the entire end-of-life battery market in Norway, Hydrovolt said. CEO Frederik Andresen told Energy-Storage.news when construction started that, although it was EV-focused, the facility is also capable of recycling batteries from stationary energy storage systems (ESS).

Hydrovolt has a long-term aim of increasing its recycling capacity in Europe to 63,500 tonnes of battery packs by 2025 and 272,000 tonnes by 2030.

The Fredrikstad facility can recover and isolate some 95% of the materials in batteries including plastics, copper, aluminium and black mass, a compound containing nickel, manganese, cobalt and lithium. The recovered aluminium will be delivered to Hydro for recirculation into commercial grade aluminium products.
» Read article   

high pressure
Gas is a dangerous distraction for Africa
Arguments for gas exploration and gas-fired power infrastructure in Africa are robbing us of vital time to switch to clean energy.
By Vanessa Nakate, Al Jazeera | Opinion
May 16, 2022
Vanessa Nakate, 25, is a climate activist from Uganda and founder of the Africa-based Rise Up Movement.

At the start of this century, when much of the developed world woke up to the dangers of smoking, Big Tobacco turned to Africa to seek out new profits.

To this day, in my country, Uganda, and many others, foreign tobacco companies work to undermine regulations designed to protect people against the industry – they even market cigarettes to schoolchildren in some African countries.

Now, the same is happening in the context of the global fight against climate change.

As the world finally begins to wake up to the climate emergency, major oil and gas companies from Europe and North America are increasingly losing their licence to operate there, so they are turning to Africa to try and secure at least a few more years of extraction and profit.

Despite United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres recently warning that investing in new fossil fuel infrastructure is “moral and economic madness”, leaders in Africa are being persuaded that extracting more gas is a prerequisite for the continent’s development.

It is true, at least in the short term, that encouraging people to use gas rather than wood fuel to cook is crucial to prevent indoor air pollution. We need to invest in local storage and bottling plants for cooking gas. However, such measures do not require new gas-fired power infrastructure and exploration. These are two completely separate issues.

Arguments for gas exploration and gas-fired power infrastructure in Africa are robbing us of vital time to switch to clean energy.

Decades of fossil fuel development in Africa have failed to bring prosperity and reduce energy poverty. African countries whose economies rely on the production and export of fossil fuels suffer slower rates of economic growth – sometimes up to three times slower – than those with more diverse economies. In Mozambique, where foreign companies have built a $20bn offshore natural gas field and onshore liquefied natural gas facility, 70 percent of the country still lives without access to electricity. The gas is not for local people.
» Read article   

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

hands off
The Fed Is Neglecting Its Duty on Climate Change
Global warming is introducing unprecedented risk into the financial system. The Fed has the power to limit that risk. Instead, Jerome Powell is sitting on his hands.
By Aaron Regunber, The New Republic | Opinion
May 19, 2022
Aaron Regunberg is a longtime progressive organizer, former Rhode Island state representative, and law student.

In early May, the United States Federal Reserve ordered the largest interest rate hike in over 20 years. This week, Fed Chair Jerome Powell declared he “won’t hesitate” to go even further, calling action on inflation an “unconditional need.”

This urgency to maintain price stability highlights a disturbing contrast at the heart of U.S. monetary policy: As the Fed goes all out to curb inflation, it continues to ignore a far more profound threat to our economic and financial stability—climate change.

By the year 2100, according to one study, the high-end cost of unchecked climate change could be $551 trillion. That’s more money than currently exists on earth. Yet just last year, Powell told a panel of his global colleagues, “Today, climate change is not something that we directly consider in setting monetary policy.”

Such a head-in-the-sand approach to climate is simply not compatible with a livable future, given the critical role that fossil fuel finance plays in driving this crisis. A recent report found that the world’s 60 largest banks invested $4.6 trillion in fossil fuels in the six years since the adoption of the Paris Agreement, with four U.S. banks—JPMorgan Chase, Citi, Wells Fargo, and Bank of America—together accounting for one-quarter of all fossil fuel financing. The Fed has the power and the responsibility to rein in these disastrous investment patterns, both to insulate our financial system from the contagious collapse of a dead-end fossil fuel industry and to protect the U.S. economy from the ravages of climate change.

Thus far, however, the Fed has failed to take any meaningful action on climate. This contrasts sharply with its peer institutions around the world. The European Central Bank has announced policies that make green assets eligible for purchase or discount. The Bank of England is actively exploring climate-related capital requirements and has committed to reducing the carbon intensity of its corporate bond purchasing program. The People’s Bank of China and the Bank of Japan have launched dedicated lending facilities to offer discounted funding for clean energy—and the list goes on.

The Fed, alone, has refused to acknowledge that climate requires an active central bank response, with opponents arguing that such actions exceed the statutory limits placed upon the Fed by Congress. This argument both misreads the Fed’s legislative mandates and underestimates the profound havoc that climate devastation will wreak on our financial system. In truth, the Fed’s legislative directives not only allow it to take steps to prevent and mitigate climate change, they actually require the Fed to do so.
» Read article   

» More about climate change

CLEAN ENERGY

Hywind Scotland
Floating offshore wind prepares to go commercial
The recent ScotWind offshore wind leasing round heralds a step change for floating offshore wind as a vital renewable technology for energy transition and energy security. Costs are starting to come down but other hurdles remain.
By Jocelyn Timperley, Energy Monitor
May 16, 2022

Back in 2017, the world’s first floating offshore wind farm, a 30MW demonstration project, was installed off the east coast of Scotland.

Five years on, the UK is targeting 5GW of floating offshore wind by 2030, which is equal to half its current total offshore wind capacity. In the recent ScotWind offshore wind leasing round – the world’s first fully commercial leasing round to support large-scale floating wind – the technology was awarded 14.5GW out of a total 25GW. The Crown Estate is planning a further 4GW of leasing for floating wind in the Celtic Sea.

Five years ago floating offshore wind was seen as potentially interesting and able to play a role in the UK’s renewable energy mix, says Rhys Wyn Jones, director of RenewableUK Cymru, the Wales branch of trade association RenewableUK. “It is now seen as absolutely central to offshore renewables’ contribution to the energy transition between now and 2050. We are on the cusp, and I think ScotWind puts rocket boosters underneath floating wind.”

[…] Floating wind offers several advantages over conventional fixed-bottom offshore wind, the most obvious of which is that floating turbines can be located in seabed depths of several hundred metres, compared with a maximum of around 65m for fixed-bottom. This allows far more flexibility in where it is put. Offshore wind can already access higher wind speeds than onshore, but this allows floating wind to take advantage of the very best spots.

“The fact that you can operate floating wind in much deeper waters gives you access to a far larger resource,” says Wyn Jones. “Stronger winds out in deeper waters have a huge benefit.”
» Read article   

Empowered
Rep. Haddad is star of energy documentary
‘Empowered’ places Somerset’s struggles in historical context
By Bruce Mohl, CommonWealth Magazine
May 16, 2022

REP. PATRICIA HADDAD of Somerset, long a powerful figure in the Massachusetts House, is now also the star of a new documentary written, directed, and produced by California-based filmmaker Kiki Goshay about America’s love affair with energy.

The documentary’s strength is the long look it takes at the country’s haphazard energy evolution from one president to the next, and from one crisis to the next. The story is told using Haddad and Somerset as the laboratory where those twists and turns play out – often with devastating personal and environmental consequences.

“It is a microcosm of all of America,” Goshay says of Somerset on The Codcast.

Somerset is a small community located on Mount Hope Bay across from Fall River. Electricity has long been its chief export, but the fuel used to produce the power has changed with the times. At Brayton Point, the power plant started with coal, shifted to oil when that fuel was cheap and plentiful, and then reverted to coal with the formation of OPEC and the run-up in oil prices in the 1970s.

Then came the environmental movement and the discovery that the Brayton Point plant was polluting the air and killing off the fish in the bay. That led to expensive scrubbers and cooling towers, which made the plant too costly to operate when cheap fracked natural gas came along. The plant was torn down and the cooling towers were imploded in April 2019, paving the way for a turn to offshore wind that has taken far longer than planned with the foot-dragging of the Trump administration finally giving way to the full-speed-ahead approach of the Biden administration.

[…] Goshay said she felt she needed to push ahead with the project for personal reasons as she watched the country fail to wake up to the dangers of climate change. She interviewed scientists, entrepreneurs, and policymakers like Haddad and came away far more optimistic about the nation’s future.

“I called [the documentary series] ‘Empowered’ because it’s exactly how I felt personally,” she said. “When I did this deep dive and met all of these people over the course of two years, I felt this excitement for the future for the first time. I really thought, wow, things are going to be better in five years and even better than that in 10 years because I met the people that are doing the work and I realized we have the tools.”
» Read article or listen to The Codcast

» More about clean energy

ENERGY STORAGE

flow battery graphic
Inside Clean Energy: Flow Batteries Could Be a Big Part of Our Energy Storage Future. So What’s a Flow Battery?
A battery project uses a technology that could be vital for meeting the need for long-duration energy storage.
By Dan Gearino, Inside Climate News
May 19, 2022

A clean energy development this week in the San Diego area isn’t much to look at. Workers will deliver four white shipping containers that house battery storage systems. Soon after, workers will hook up the containers so they can store electricity from a nearby solar array.

The part that I care about is the “flow battery” technology inside those shipping containers, developed by ESS Tech Inc., an Oregon startup. Flow batteries have the potential to be an important part of the energy transition because they can provide electricity storage that runs for much longer than the typical four hours of the dominant technology, lithium-ion batteries.

So what is a flow battery? A key design element is the use of two external tanks that contain electrolyte fluids that get pumped through the battery as it charges and discharges.

The duration of the battery, which is how long it can run before recharging, increases based on the size of the tanks. Think of this as the battery equivalent of one of those novelty baseball helmets that hold two cans of soda. If you switch out cans of soda for two-liter bottles, you can drink a lot more.

“For the whole machine, what you need to do is add more liquid rather than adding many, many more batteries,” said Jun Liu, a University of Washington professor and a fellow at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. He also is director of the federal government’s Battery500 Consortium, which develops next-generation batteries for electric vehicles.

In contrast to flow batteries, lithium-ion batteries and most other batteries are self-contained, with less flexibility in their design, he said.

[…] And one of ESS’ selling points to investors and customers is that it doesn’t rely on rare metals like lithium or vanadium at all. The main ingredients of its fluid are iron, salt and water.
» Read article   

fuel storage tanks
More energy storage is needed to support wind and solar power, MIT study finds
By David Abel, Boston Globe
May 16, 2022

A new report released Monday by researchers at MIT finds that it’s technologically and financially feasible to use energy storage systems, such as massive batteries or hydroelectricity, to almost completely eliminate the need for fossil fuels to operate regional power grids.

Such systems are becoming in greater demand in New England, and beyond, as more renewable energy powers homes and businesses and they require ways to keep the lights on when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing.

“Our study finds that energy storage can help [renewable energy]-dominated electricity systems balance electricity supply and demand while maintaining reliability in a cost-effective manner,” said Robert Armstrong, director of the MIT Energy Initiative, which commissioned the three-year study.

The authors of the report estimated that the costs of transforming power grids in the Northeast, Southeast, and Texas will range between 21 percent and 36 percent higher than if nothing was done to promote storage-backed renewable energy. The costs will be higher in the Northeast, where there are greater energy demands in the winter.

But they described those costs as “relatively modest” and noted there would be many hours when the costs of electricity would be near zero. That means future power grids are more likely to enable the low-cost charging of increased numbers of electrical vehicles and homes with electrical heating systems. They will be able to be charged when prices dip.

“These cost increases are relatively modest compared to the costs of not doing anything, and especially compared to the costs of climate change, which is an existential threat,” said Dharik Mallapragada, one of the authors of the report.
» Read article   
» Read the MIT report

» More about energy storage

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

guilt money
Do Airline Climate Offsets Really Work? Here’s the Good News, and the Bad.
Carbon credits could eventually play an important role in fighting climate change, but right now a few dollars’ worth won’t change much.
By Maggie Astor, New York Times
May 18, 2022

Carbon offset programs have become ubiquitous. You’ve probably seen them as check-box options when booking flights: Click here to upgrade to a premium seat. Click here to cancel your greenhouse gas emissions.

It’s an appealing proposition — the promise that, for a trivial amount of money, you can go about your business with no climate guilt. But if it sounds too good to be true, that’s because, at least for now, it is.

The New York Times asked readers this spring to submit their questions about climate change, and several asked about carbon offsets. How do they work? Do they work at all, or, as one reader put it, “is it just guilt money?”

The idea of carbon offsets, sometimes called carbon credits or climate credits, is simple. We know human activity releases tens of billions of tons of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases every year. We also know it is possible to remove or sequester carbon from the atmosphere by, for example, planting trees.

Offsets seek to compensate for emissions in one place — for example, from passenger airplanes — by funding emission reductions or carbon removal somewhere else, like forests.

Some experts see them as an essential tool to limit environmental damage, at least in the short to medium term, until the world can make a full transition to renewable energy. Governments including California, the European Union and Australia are relying on them to meet their national goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

At some point, carbon offset programs will have to become more transparent and effective, said Bruce M. Usher, a professor of professional practice at Columbia Business School and the former chief executive of EcoSecurities Group, which has designed emissions-reduction projects in developing countries.

Scientists are clear that the world needs to reach net-zero emissions — the point where we either stop pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, or fully counteract the gases that we do produce — by 2050 to avoid the worst effects of climate change, and “it’s virtually impossible to get to zero” without offsets, he said.

But that doesn’t mean offsets work today, and Professor Usher’s advice to people right now is hardly a ringing endorsement. “If you wish to because it aligns with your values, sure, you should buy carbon credits,” he said. “But don’t be under the illusion that, for every credit you buy, it’s absolutely 100 percent reducing emissions by an equal amount.”

Many offset projects do not even come close to 100 percent of the benefits they promise.
» Read article   

» More about clean transportation

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

early retirement
Shut down fossil fuel production sites early to avoid climate chaos, says study
Nearly half existing facilities will need to close prematurely to limit heating to 1.5C, scientists say
By Damian Carrington, The Guardian
May 17, 2022

Nearly half of existing fossil fuel production sites need to be shut down early if global heating is to be limited to 1.5C, the internationally agreed goal for avoiding climate catastrophe, according to a new scientific study.

The assessment goes beyond the call by the International Energy Agency in 2021 to stop all new fossil fuel development to avoid the worst impacts of global heating, a statement seen as radical at the time.

The new research reaches its starker conclusion by not assuming that new technologies will be able to suck huge amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere to compensate for the burning of coal, oil and gas. Experts said relying on such technologies was a risky gamble.

The Guardian revealed last week that 195 oil and gas “carbon bombs” are planned by the industry. This means projects that would each produce at least 1bn tonnes of CO2. Together, these carbon bombs alone would drive global heating beyond the 1.5C limit. But the dozen biggest oil companies are on track to spend $103m (£81m) a day until 2030 on climate-busting schemes.

Greg Muttitt, at the International Institute for Sustainable Development, was one of the leaders of the new research and said: “Halting new extraction projects is a necessary step, but still not enough to stay within our rapidly dwindling carbon budget. Some existing fossil fuel licences and production will need to be revoked and phased out early. Governments need to start tackling head-on how to do this in a fair and equitable way, which will require overcoming opposition from fossil fuel interests.”

Kelly Trout, at Oil Change International, the other lead author of the work, said: “Our study reinforces that building new fossil fuel infrastructure is not a viable response to Russia’s war on Ukraine. The world has already tapped too much oil and gas.” The researchers said governments should accelerate the introduction of renewable energy and efficiency measures instead.
» Read article   

fenceline benzene
US oil refineries spewing cancer-causing benzene into communities, report finds
Analysis shows alarming level of benzene at fence-line of facilities in Texas, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, Indiana and US Virgin Islands
By Aliya Uteuova, The Guardian
May 14, 2022

A dozen US oil refineries last year exceeded the federal limit on average benzene emissions.

Among the 12 refineries that emitted above the maximum level for benzene, five were in Texas, four in Louisiana, and one each in Pennsylvania, Indiana and the US Virgin Islands, a new analysis by the Environmental Integrity Project revealed on Thursday.

Benzene is a known carcinogen that is highly toxic and volatile when exposed to air. Much of the excess emissions come through leaks from valves, tanks, pumps and other means that are hard to detect.

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates 6.1 million people in the US live within three miles of a refinery, with low-income people and people of color represented at rates nearly twice that of the general population.

Out of 129 operable oil refineries in 2021, 118 reported benzene concentration registered at or near the site, otherwise known as the fence-line.

Nearly half of these refineries released benzene levels above 3 micrograms per cubic meter, which the Environmental Integrity Project defines as a long-term potential health threat.
» Read article   
» Read the EIP analysis

» More about fossil fuels

BIOMASS

ramping up
Missing the emissions for the trees: Biomass burning booms in East Asia [Part 1 of 2]
By Justin Catanoso, Mongabay
May 11, 2022

The European Union and the United Kingdom are ramping up controversial wood burning to generate energy and heat as they follow legal mandates to phase out coal. But this practice is leaving smokestack carbon emissions uncounted and the atmosphere in arguably worse shape.

Now, on the other side of the world, two industrial Asian giants are following Europe’s lead, though with less media scrutiny to date.

Japan and South Korea, the world’s third- and 10th-largest economies, have been increasingly relying on burning wood for energy since 2012, taking advantage of a United Nations-tolerated loophole that enables them, like the EU and the U.K., to allow emissions from biomass burning to be counted as carbon neutral, putting it in the same category as renewables such as solar and wind energy.

The result may be an undercounting of their actual greenhouse gas emissions, allowing them to meet their Paris Agreement goals — at least on paper. Both Japan and South Korea pledged in 2020 to reach net zero emissions by 2050; the EU and the U.K. have the same goal.

Western and Eastern biomass usage is creating a surging demand for wood pellets, putting even more pressure on native forests in the southeastern United States, western Canada, and Eastern Europe. Experts say this demand could lead to similar logging in Southeast Asia, especially Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia.

The Environmental Paper Network, a global coalition of forest advocates that tracks biomass usage, estimates that demand for pellets in Japan will rise to 9 million metric tons annually by 2027, up from 0.5 million metric tons in 2017.

[…] In South Korea, government subsidies for further biomass development have been so heavy that they are reducing investment in renewables such as wind and solar, according to a report by Seoul-based NGO Solutions For Our Climate (SFOC).

Meanwhile, “proposed Japanese demand for wood pellets would require the use of all the forests in Virginia,” Tim Searchinger, an expert on biomass for the World Resources Institute, told environmentalists in Japan during a recent presentation to forest advocates. More ominously for forests, his research indicates that “to provide 2% of global primary energy from wood requires doubling global commercial wood harvest.” Searchinger based the 2% prediction on current rising demand forecasts.

This trend comes even as nations proclaim the value in keeping forests intact. In November of last year, more than 100 nations agreed at the U.N. climate summit in Glasgow to reduce global deforestation as a primary climate-mitigation strategy. But the nonbinding pledge left plenty of room for commercial logging, which feeds wood-pellet manufacture, to continue unabated.
» Read article   

chipster
As biomass burning surges in Japan and South Korea, where will Asia get its wood? [Part 2 of 2]
By Annelise Giseburt, Mongabay
May 19, 2022

Under the guise of “carbon neutral” energy, Japan and South Korea’s appetite for woody biomass for electricity generation has increased exponentially over the past decade and continues to grow. The two nations’ biomass subsidies are spurring an increase in the production of wood for burning in Southeast Asia and North America, putting pressure on forests in those regions.

Burning woody biomass for electricity takes stored CO2 out of trees and puts it back into the atmosphere. However, United Nations carbon accounting rules define burning woody biomass as carbon neutral because newly planted trees absorb CO2. As a result, neither Japan nor South Korea counts that CO2 among its emissions, despite the fact that numerous studies have challenged industry claims of biomass burning’s carbon neutrality.

In 2021, Japan and South Korea imported a combined 6 million metric tons of wood pellets, according to data compiled by the nonprofits Biomass Industry Society Network (BIN) and Solutions for Our Climate (SFOC). They both also import palm kernel shells, a byproduct of palm oil production. A smaller percentage of both countries’ biomass fuel, including wood chips, is sourced domestically.

Encouraged by generous subsidies and the long-standing carbon accounting loophole, wood pellet demand in Japan and South Korea is expected to rival that of the United Kingdom and European Union by 2027. The EU currently supplies 60% of its supposedly renewable energy through biomass.

Although Asian woody biomass sourcing is just one production demand being made on the world’s forestry industry (wood for pulp, paper and construction are others), experts warn that a surge in biomass production could lead to increased deforestation — for a fuel that, no matter what the carbon accounting rules say, emits higher levels of CO2 at the smokestack than even coal and large amounts of particulate air pollution.
» Read article   

» More about biomass

PLASTICS RECYCLING

Berawa Beach
Exxon doubles down on ‘advanced recycling’ claims that yield few results
The petroleum company is under investigation for misleading the public while exacerbating the global plastic pollution crisis
By Amy Westervelt, The Guardian
May 11, 2022

Accused of misleading the public for decades on the promise of plastic recycling, oil and chemical companies are pushing a new idea: “advanced recycling”. Environmental advocates, however, say it’s more of the same old greenwash and litigators hope holding companies accountable for past lies might prevent the spread of a new one.

In late April, California attorney general Rob Bonta launched an investigation into ExxonMobil for its role in exacerbating the global plastic pollution crisis. Bonta says he was partly inspired by a 2020 investigation from NPR and Frontline that showed how companies like ExxonMobil, Chevron, Dow and Dupont were aware of the inefficacy of plastic recycling, yet they still strategized marketing campaigns that told a different story to the public.

For oil companies, those campaigns often included removing themselves from the story altogether. Even some climate advocates forget that plastic, which is made from either petroleum or ethane (a byproduct of fracking), is very much part of the climate crisis. Bonta says his investigation started with ExxonMobil because they’ve been a leader, in the plastics industry and in the messaging around recycling. A report out last year from the Mindaroo Foundation found that just 100 companies produce 90% of the world’s plastic pollution. It pinpointed ExxonMobil as the top producer in the world of single-use plastic.
» Read article   

» More about plastics recycling   

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Weekly News Check-In 7/30/21

banner 18

Welcome back.

We’ll cover a lot of ground in this newsletter, but first kick back and enjoy Ben Hillman’s wonderful short video explaining the problem with our highly-polluting peaking power plants, and what we’re doing here in Berkshire County to clean them up.  We also offer an excellent new report that details the considerable environmental and financial advantages of replacing Peabody’s planned gas/oil peaker with battery storage.

Enbridge Line 3 protesters who received heavy-handed treatment from law enforcement have won a restraining order against the Hubbard County (MN) Sheriff’s department. A little farther north, the divestment movement chalked a win as Canada’s Trans Mountain Pipeline lost its principal insurer.

Meanwhile, Massachusetts climate activists and state legislators are not resting on their laurels since passing landmark climate legislation. We’re seeing a welcome push for modifications to the law that will kick off early and substantial action, and put the state on the right path to achieve its emission reduction obligations on schedule.

The transition away from coal and natural gas will affect the communities that currently rely on those industries. We found stories of two plans to manage that change while protecting workers – addressing both the Appalachian fracklands and coal country.

In Climate, we report that Earth’s vital signs are worsening, and also that the recently-concluded G-20 summit meeting of the world’s wealthiest nations failed to reach agreement on a rapid phase-out of coal… a failure that must now be corrected at the November COP26 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Scotland.

A large tidal turbine has begun sending power to the UK grid from from a high-flow channel off Scotland’s Orkney Islands. Long eclipsed by wind and solar, this clean energy technology is just starting to hit its stride. Energy efficiency will get a big boost if Massachusetts passes the Better Buildings Act, designed to raise the bar for commercial buildings. And a story from Holyoke drives home the urgent need to make those efficiency improvements in our built environment. Form Energy’s newly revealed iron-air battery technology continues to sparkle in the energy storage news, based on its potential to profoundly influence all of the above.

Last week we called out General Motors for corporate disregard of some distressed EV owners. Now it’s time for a look at Toyota’s hypocrisy. The one-time leader in electric vehicle technology made a bad bet on hydrogen fuel cells, and is now actively attempting to delay the EV transition timeline in an apparent effort to allow it to catch up. Meanwhile, heavy trucks could pull power from overhead cables along highways, allowing them to carry just enough battery for off-highway travel. The concept would increase both range and cargo capacity – a double win.

We found contrasting stories from opposite corners of the country. Ironically – considering that Florida will be the first state erased from the map by rising seas – its climate-denying governor and legislature just forced Tampa and other localities to scrap plans to reduce dependence on fossil fuels. Northwest Washington’s Whatcom County, meanwhile, enacted a law that prohibits new fossil fuel infrastructure and strictly limits expansion of existing facilities.

Today, Massachusetts’ Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy (TUE), held an oversight hearing to consider revised rules for biomass in the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard. We are grateful to Senators Adam Hinds and Jo Comerford, among others, for presenting clear, science-based arguments against placing this dirty and destructive fuel in the same renewable energy class with wind and solar.

And we finish with welcome news that Canada declared plastics an environmental toxin, opening a path for badly needed regulation of single-use packaging and recycling.

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

PPPP
VIDEO: The Pittsfield peaker plant problem
By Ben Hillman, in Berkshire Edge
July 28, 2021
» Blog editor’s note: Special thanks to Ben Hillman for producing this outstanding and informative video in support of our Put Peakers in the Past campaign!

» Watch video           

step oneReport: Battery storage could be viable alternative
By Erin Nolan, The Salem News
July 29, 2021

Battery storage powered by renewable energy resources could be a viable alternative to the proposed 55-megawatt natural gas-fired “peaker” plant in Peabody, according to a report by Strategen Consulting.

The report, which was prepared on behalf of the Massachusetts Climate Action Network (MCAN) and the Clean Energy Group, states battery storage would be preferable to the proposed plant from both financial and environmental standpoints.

“This assessment once again illustrates that battery storage is a cheaper and cleaner alternative to polluting fossil-fuel peaker plants,” said Clean Energy Group Vice President Seth Mullendore in a statement. “We’ve seen the same result in our work with environmental justice advocates across the country, from California to Kentucky and New York to Louisiana. Battery storage and renewable generation is the clear path forward, not locking communities and the climate into decades of additional devastating emissions.”

Previously, both MMWEC and PMLP officials stated during public meetings that batteries are not a feasible replacement for the proposed plant— referred to as Project 2015A in public documents. The officials explained that batteries are expensive, require more space than is available on PMLP’s property, and would fail to provide adequate reliability to the electric grid.

In the report, however, Strategen argues that despite these claims, battery storage would actually be a far more economic option.

“When accounting for capital, fuel, and operations and maintenance costs, as well as for the expected energy and ancillary services revenue, the net cost of batteries is projected to be significantly lower than that of Project 2015A,” according to a press release from MCAN and the Clean Energy Group.
» Read article              
» Read the Strategen report                

» More about peaker plants

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

roadblock
Judge Grants Restraining Order Against Minnesota County Sheriff in Line 3 Fight
By Karen Savage, Drilled News
July 23, 2021

A judge on Friday granted a temporary restraining order prohibiting the Hubbard County Sheriff’s Office from blocking vehicular access to Namewag Camp, an Indigenous woman and two-spirit-led camp opposing Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline.

In the order Hubbard County District Court Judge Jane M. Austad ordered the sheriff’s office to stop “barricading, obstructing, or otherwise interfering with access to the property” and prohibited deputies from stopping vehicles, issuing citations, or arresting or threatening to arrest individuals for driving on the driveway.

Winona LaDuke, Tara Houska, and two additional plaintiffs filed a lawsuit last week alleging that the Hubbard County Sheriff’s Office had illegally conducted a 2-day  blockade of the camp driveway and was continuing to illegally issue citations to Indigenous water protectors and their allies for using the driveway.
» Read article               

» More about protests and actions

DIVESTMENT

TMP under pressure
Trans Mountain Pipeline Loses Lead Insurer as Zurich Steps Away
By The Energy Mix
July 24, 2020

Mammoth global insurance company Zurich has decided to abandon its role as principal insurer for the Trans Mountain pipeline when its coverage expires August 31.

The pipeline’s annual liability insurance contract filed with the Canada Energy Regulator April 30 “had shown Zurich was the lead insurer for the pipeline,” Reuters reports. “Zurich was the sole insurer for the first US$8 million of potential insurance payouts, and the company provided a total of US$300 million in cover with other insurers, the 2019-20 energy regulatory filing showed.”

“If you needed proof that petitions, emails, and calls work—this is it,” enthused Stand.earth, one of 32 groups urging Trans Mountain’s 26 insurers to abandon the project by August 31. “This project is never getting built.”

Two insurance companies, Munich Re and Talanx, had already decided to abandon the controversial pipeline.

The energy regulatory filing listed Lloyd’s of London, Chubb Ltd., Liberty Mutual, and a unit of the Munich Re group as other insurers backing the pipeline. Munich Re has “said it would review the contract given its new underwriting guideline on oil sands, which have a higher carbon footprint than conventional oil,” Reuters says.

A Trans Mountain spokesperson told the news agency the company still has enough insurance to operate and continue expanding the pipeline. “There remains adequate capacity in the market to meet Trans Mountain’s insurance needs and our renewal,” she said in an emailed statement.
» Read article               

» More about divestment

LEGISLATION

call for action
Climate advocates seek ‘action’ legislation to move beyond road map bill
By Danny Jin, Berkshire Eagle
July 26, 2021

The Massachusetts climate plan that became law in March, climate advocates say, was a step in the right direction.

That bill set a target for the state to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. While setting the target was a positive development, climate leaders say, the state also needs to take the necessary actions to meet it.

“The centerpiece of that bill was setting goals and directing the administration to come up with a plan to meet those goals,” said Ben Hellerstein, state director for Environment Massachusetts. “In my view, goals are good and plans are good. But, goals and plans are not sufficient. We need action, too.”

The road map bill directs the governor’s office to set interim emissions limits for every five-year increment through 2050. It requires the 2030 limit to be at least 50 percent below 1990 levels, the 2040 limit to be at least 75 percent below 1990 levels and the 2050 limit to be at least 85 percent below 1990 levels. Beyond those requirements, control over the five-year plans falls entirely to Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Kathleen Theoharides, in the administration of Gov. Charlie Baker.

“While the road map bill set up a bunch of emissions targets for the state to reach, it leaves it pretty open how we’re going to get there,” said Jacob Stern, deputy director of Sierra Club Massachusetts. “It basically leaves it nearly entirely up to the governor to figure out what happens in between.”

The 100 Percent Clean Act would set the state on a path for 100 percent clean electricity by 2035 through requirements it would set for both investor-owned and municipal utilities.

It also would place a focus on less-scrutinized emissions from buildings and transportation. To achieve 100 percent clean heating by 2045, it would require new houses and small commercial buildings to use clean heating by 2025 and would apply that requirement to all new buildings after 2030. And to reach 100 percent clean transportation by 2045, transit authorities would have to transition to zero-emission buses, and only zero-emission cars would be sold in the state after 2035.

Although some observers, including the Baker administration, have expressed concerns that specific requirements or restrictions could inhibit economic activity, climate groups see a clean energy transition as an economic opportunity rather than an impediment.
» Read article               

» More about legislation

GREENING THE ECONOMY

Fracking Richland
Advocates say energy efficiency — not gas — offers Appalachia best economic prospects

Analyses suggest investment in the energy efficiency sector could let a larger share of money stay in communities vs. natural gas operations.
By Kathiann M. Kowalski, Energy News Network
July 23, 2021

Investment in energy efficiency should be part of a transition plan to improve the quality of life for counties in Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania that have had lots of natural gas activity, according to new reports from the Ohio River Valley Institute.

The reports also shed light on why the overall quality of life has lagged in seven counties that have produced the lion’s share of Ohio’s fracked gas, even as their gross domestic product has risen.

“When you do energy efficiency — not just in homes, but in businesses, workplaces, schools and other public buildings — you are also contributing to an improved quality of life,” said Sean O’Leary, lead author of the two reports released Wednesday.

First, energy efficiency work on heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and doors and windows tends to be labor-intensive, O’Leary said. “For each dollar that goes into them, they generate about three to four times as many jobs as a dollar spent or earned in natural gas.”

“These are businesses that are done by local contractors,” O’Leary continued. “When you spend money with them, the money stays in the local economy. They hire local workers, and it has a multiplier effect.”

“The third thing is that these kinds of investments have an annuity value,” O’Leary said. “That is, they cause savings on utility bills.” That translates into a lower drain on residents’ personal incomes. And, “the savings go on for decades.”
» Read article              
» Read the Ohio River Valley Institute reports

coal community funds
Biden Administration Earmarks Funds For Coal Communities
By Tsvetana Paraskova, Oil Price
July 23, 2021

The Biden Administration is committing $300 million to invest in the economic development of coal and coal power plant-affected communities as part of a $3-billion funding for investment in America’s communities, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo said.

“We believe that this $300 million investment in coal communities is the largest economic development that EDA has ever made in coal communities.  And we know that it will enable these communities to recover, diversify their economies, and grow,” Secretary Raimondo said at a White House briefing on Thursday.

The applications for funding went live late on Thursday on the Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) website.

Investing in America’s Communities is a funding opportunity to invest the $3 billion that EDA received from President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan Act to help communities across the country build back better.

The investment in coal communities “will ensure that they have the resources to recover from the pandemic and will help create new jobs and opportunities, including through the development or expansion of a new industry sector,” EDA said.

“Coal and power plant communities have been hard hit by the energy transition – and these pandemic relief funds are just the beginning of the Biden Administration’s efforts to support economic and community revitalization efforts in these parts of the country,” U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm said.

Secretary Granholm and the Biden Administration target the U.S. to get to 100 percent clean electricity by 2035.
» Read article               

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

Chubut wildfires
Scientists who Issued ‘Climate Emergency’ Declaration in 2019 Now say Earth’s Vital Signs are Worsening
A rapid and urgent phaseout of fossil fuels is needed, scientists warn, in order to avoid crossing dangerous climate tipping points.
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
July 27, 2021

From devastating wildfires to rising methane emissions, Earth’s vital signs are continuing to deteriorate, scientists warn. An urgent global phaseout of fossil fuels is needed, they say, reiterating calls for “transformative change,” which is “needed now more than ever to protect life on Earth and remain within as many planetary boundaries as possible.”

The warning comes roughly a year and a half after a global coalition of 11,000 climate scientists declared a climate emergency, warning that global action was needed to avoid “untold suffering due to the climate crisis.” The new paper examining Earth’s vital signs, published in the journal BioScience, is authored by some of the same scientists who helped spearhead the climate emergency declaration.

“There is growing evidence we are getting close to or have already gone beyond tipping points associated with important parts of the Earth system, including warm-water coral reefs, the Amazon rainforest and the West Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets,” William Ripple, a professor of ecology at Oregon State University (OSU) and one of the paper’s lead authors, said in a statement.

The team of researchers and scientists, collaborating from Massachusetts in the U.S., Australia, the U.K., France, the Netherlands, Bangladesh, and Germany, took stock of 31 variables that collectively offer a gauge for the planet’s health. Many of those metrics have worsened since the group originally declared a climate emergency in 2019.

Both methane and carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere have reached new record highs, the study reveals. Sea ice has dramatically shrunk, and so too has the ice mass in Greenland and Antarctica. Wildfires in the U.S. are burning more acreage. And deforestation in the Amazon is occurring at its fastest rate in 12 years.

Ruminant livestock — cows, sheep and goats — now exceed 4 billion, and their total mass exceeds that of humans and wild animals combined. Cows in particular are huge contributors to climate change due methane emissions released from belching, and deforestation resulting from clearing land for livestock.

The global pandemic offered only a modest and brief respite from some of these trends, the scientists note, such as a short drop in the use of fossil fuels as the world went into lockdown, but a quick rebound in oil and gas consumption demonstrates that the world remains stuck on a dangerous track.
» Read article              
» Read the Earth vital signs paper

G20 fails coal phaseoutG20 Fails on Coal Phaseout, Delays Decisions on Climate Finance, Fossil Subsidies
By Mitchell Beer, The Energy Mix
July 25, 2021

Environment and energy ministers from the world’s 20 wealthiest countries have failed to agree on a 2025 coal phaseout, made no progress on international climate finance, and refused to set a deadline to end fossil fuel subsidies, just 100 days before high-stakes negotiations get under way at this year’s UN climate conference, COP 26, in Glasgow.

At their summit meeting in Naples, the G20 ministers agreed they would all submit new Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to speed up their greenhouse reductions by 2030. And “G7 nations as well as Mexico and South Korea supported a more ambitious plan to phase out the use of unabated coal power by 2025, which was opposed by nations including Russia, India, Saudi Arabia, and China,” the Brisbane Times reports.

But in the end, “observers from climate groups saw the failure to agree on a rapid phaseout of coal as a setback to the prospects of reaching an agreement to keep global warming to as close to 1.5°C as possible” during the COP 26 negotiations in November.

“A minority of G20 ministers continue to sit on the wrong side of history by promoting the expansion of fossil fuels,” said Eddy Pérez, international climate diplomacy manager at Climate Action Network-Canada. “It’s now up to leaders to make the G20 responsive to the devastating climate emergency ahead of COP 26.”

“Our common house is on fire, and the world’s biggest countries need to come together to put it out,” said E3G senior associate Alden Meyer. “While Italy’s leadership secured some agreement from G20 climate and energy ministers on the scale of the problem and the need for action, there are still deep divisions on the way forward.”
» Read article               

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

tidal turbine
World’s most powerful tidal turbine begins exporting power to grid
By Joshua S Hill, Renew Economy
July 29, 2021

The world’s most powerful tidal turbine, built by Scottish tidal stream turbine manufacturer Orbital Marine Power, has begun exporting power to the UK grid, delivering an important milestone for the tidal marine industry.

The 2MW O2 tidal turbine is located at the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) at Scotland’s Orkney islands, anchored in the Fall of Warness tidal test site.

Measuring in at 74-metres and benefiting from some of the strongest tidal currents in the world, the O2 tidal turbine is expected to run for the next 15 years, generating enough electricity to meet the annual demand of around 2,000 homes.

“This is a major milestone for the O2 and I would like to commend the whole team at Orbital and our supply chain for delivering this pioneering renewable energy project safely and successfully,” said Andrew Scott, Orbital CEO.

“Our vision is that this project is the trigger to the harnessing of tidal stream resources around the world to play a role in tackling climate change whilst creating a new, low-carbon industrial sector.”

Tidal power has been one of the junior renewable energy technologies for a while now, showing tremendous potential but falling prey to the success of more established technologies like wind and solar, which has attracted most of the available investment capital needed to scale up.
» Read article               

Silver State
Solar plus storage in Nevada to “fill the gap” left by retiring coal
By Joshua S Hill, Renew Economy
July 28, 2021

United States’ renewable energy developers Avangrid Renewables and Primergy Solar have announced they will work together to deliver a 600MW portfolio of solar-plus-storage projects in Nevada, designed to “fill the gap left by retiring coal generation”.

Avangrid Renewables, the renewable energy subsidiary of American energy company Avangrid, confirmed a sale agreement last week with

Solar developer Primergy Solar, owned by Quinbrook Infrastructure Partners, will buy the 250MW Iron Point Solar Project and the 350MW Hot Pot Solar Project from Avangrid, both of which will be co-located with battery storage.

The Iron Point project will be paired with 4-hour 200MW of battery storage, and Hot Pot will be paired with 4-hour 280MW of battery storage.

“Our vision has always been to develop projects with clean, renewable sources of power to fill the gap left by retiring coal generation,” said Alejandro de Hoz, president and CEO of Avangrid Renewables.

“What makes this project unique is its location in northern Nevada where there hasn’t been significant solar development activity. These projects will contribute substantially to transitioning the Silver State to a low-carbon energy future.”
» Read article               

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

Boston MAMassachusetts considers higher efficiency bar for large commercial buildings
The Better Buildings Act would phase in energy efficiency requirements for large commercial buildings. The standards would be developed by state officials and vary depending on the type of building.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
July 28, 2021

A bill pending in the Massachusetts Legislature could make the state one of the first to require all large commercial buildings to meet energy use performance standards, a measure that could slash their emissions more than 80% by 2040, supporters say.

The Better Buildings Act would mandate energy use reporting from large commercial buildings. Buildings that fail to meet performance standards would be required to reduce emissions or pay a fee to the state. Only Washington and Colorado have similar statewide rules in place, though several cities and towns throughout the country have adopted such measures.

“There’s no way for us to meet our climate goals as a state without tackling emissions from our buildings,” said Ben Hellerstein, state director of Environment Massachusetts. “And we haven’t really grappled yet with what we need to do to get all of our existing building stock off fossil fuels.”

As Massachusetts attempts to reach its goal of going carbon-neutral by 2050, emissions from existing buildings are likely to be one of the thorniest challenges. Heating and hot water for commercial and residential buildings account for about 27% of the state’s carbon emissions, and electricity generation contributes another 17%.

Massachusetts has some of the country’s oldest building stock, much of which is fitted with oil-burning heating systems, drafty windows, and meager insulation. There is widespread acknowledgment that cutting emissions in existing buildings will require extensive upgrades and retrofits, often at significant cost to owners.
» Read article               

empower your world
Holyoke natural gas moratorium stays in place; capacity remains top issue
By Dennis Hohenberger, MassLive
July 28, 2021

HOLYOKE — With no end to its natural gas moratorium in sight, Holyoke Gas & Electric is “aggressively” pursuing energy alternatives to stay ahead of demand.

James Lavelle, HG&E’s general manager, provided an update on the moratorium to the City Council’s Development and Government Relations Committee on Monday. Councilor at Large Rebecca Lisi previously filed orders seeking to understand the suspension and the utility’s renewable energy portfolio.

HG&E imposed the moratorium on new commercial and residential natural gas services in 2019 because of capacity limitations.

“It’s a top priority to do everything we can to lift the moratorium,” Lavelle said. “The best solution would be for us to get access to more natural gas supply to the city to be able to lift that.” But Lavelle told the committee he does not foresee an “imminent solution.”

“We have a moratorium because there isn’t enough gas supply to meet the demand on a peak winter day safely,” he said.

The current pipeline capacity is around 12,000 dekatherms a winter day, while HG&E’s system demands 20,000 dekatherms. The goal is to increase capacity by 5,000 dekatherms on peak days.

One dekatherm equals 1,000 cubic feet of natural gas, and is about what an average home uses on a cold winter day.

“The solution again is getting more capacity either in a pipeline or some other way,” Lavelle said. “You’re talking about 5,000 homes converting to electrification, which we’re pushing, but it’s going to take a long time to get that number.”
» Blog editor’s note: Holyoke is experiencing the real-world effects of a restricted natural gas supply while electrical conversion and energy efficiency upgrades have proceeded too slowly to make up the difference. This should be a warning to policymakers – and recognized as an opportunity.
» Read article               

» More about energy efficiency

ENERGY STORAGE

focus on Form
Form Energy’s $20/kWh, 100-hour iron-air battery could be a ‘substantial breakthrough’
By Jason Plautz, Utility Dive
July 26, 2021

Somerville, Massachusetts-based startup Form Energy on Thursday announced the chemistry for an iron-air-exchange battery that could offer long-duration storage at a price of less than $20/kWh.

The technology relies on thousands of small iron pellets which rust when exposed to oxygen, then revert back to iron when oxygen is removed. That process can power a battery that Form claims can deliver electricity for 100 hours.

Form also announced a $200 million Series D funding round led by an investment from the innovation fund of steelmaker ArcelorMittal, one of the world’s leading iron ore producers. ArcelorMittal will also non-exclusively supply iron materials developed jointly with Form for use in the batteries.

Mateo Jaramillo, Form CEO and co-founder, said he doesn’t consider the company’s technology to be long-duration storage, instead preferring the term “multi-day storage.” The capacity of the Form battery to dispatch energy for 100 hours, he said, “puts it in a different category” than the broad definition of long-duration storage, generally defined as systems with at least 10 hours of duration.

Jaramillo, who previously led Tesla’s energy storage arm, said he considers the Form Energy technology as “complementary, not in competition” with shorter-duration lithium-ion batteries.

That balance, experts say, will be essential to transition the grid to renewable energy. While lithium-ion batteries can store energy for hours and distribute it throughout the day, a 100% renewable grid will need larger storage systems to tackle the day-to-day or seasonal variability in renewable production. While there are a variety of long-duration technologies on the market, the high cost and infrastructure difficulties have limited widespread penetration.
» Read article               

» More about energy storage                

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

bad bet on H2
Toyota Led on Clean Cars. Now Critics Say It Works to Delay Them.
The auto giant bet on hydrogen power, but as the world moves toward electric the company is fighting climate regulations in an apparent effort to buy time.
By Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times
July 25, 2021

The Toyota Prius hybrid was a milestone in the history of clean cars, attracting millions of buyers worldwide who could do their part for the environment while saving money on gasoline.

But in recent months, Toyota, one of the world’s largest automakers, has quietly become the industry’s strongest voice opposing an all-out transition to electric vehicles — which proponents say is critical to fighting climate change.

Last month, Chris Reynolds, a senior executive who oversees government affairs for the company, traveled to Washington for closed-door meetings with congressional staff members and outlined Toyota’s opposition to an aggressive transition to all-electric cars. He argued that gas-electric hybrids like the Prius and hydrogen-powered cars should play a bigger role, according to four people familiar with the talks.

Behind that position is a business quandary: Even as other automakers have embraced electric cars, Toyota bet its future on the development of hydrogen fuel cells — a costlier technology that has fallen far behind electric batteries — with greater use of hybrids in the near term. That means a rapid shift from gasoline to electric on the roads could be devastating for the company’s market share and bottom line.

The recent push in Washington follows Toyota’s worldwide efforts — in markets including the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union and Australia — to oppose stricter car emissions standards or fight electric vehicle mandates. For example, executives at Toyota’s Indian subsidiary publicly criticized India’s target for 100 percent electric vehicle sales by 2030, saying it was not practical.

Together with other automakers, Toyota also sided with the Trump administration in a battle with California over the Clean Air Act and sued Mexico over fuel efficiency rules. In Japan, Toyota officials argued against carbon taxes.

“Toyota has gone from a leading position to an industry laggard” in clean-car policy even as other automakers push ahead with ambitious electric vehicle plans, said Danny Magill, an analyst at InfluenceMap, a London-based think tank that tracks corporate climate lobbying. InfluenceMap gives Toyota a “D-” grade, the worst among automakers, saying it exerts policy influence to undermine public climate goals.
» Read article               

electric motorwayUK government backs scheme for motorway cables to power lorries
E-highway study given £2m to draw up plans for overhead electric cables on motorway near Scunthorpe
By Jasper Jolly, The Guardian
July 27, 2021

The government will fund the design of a scheme to install overhead electric cables to power electric lorries on a motorway near Scunthorpe, as part of a series of studies on how to decarbonise road freight.

The electric road system – or e-highway – study, backed with £2m of funding, will draw up plans to install overhead cables on a 20km (12.4 miles) stretch of the M180 near Scunthorpe, in Lincolnshire. If the designs are accepted and building work is funded the trucks could be on the road by 2024.

Road freight is one of the hardest parts of the economy to decarbonise, because no technology exists yet on a large scale that is capable of powering long-haul lorries with zero direct exhaust emissions.

New diesel and petrol lorries will be banned in Britain by 2040 as part of plans to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2050. That has given lorry companies little time to develop and commercialise technology that will be crucial to the functioning of the economy. While cars can rely on lithium ion batteries, the weight of a battery required to power a fully laden truck over long distances has prompted trucking companies to look for alternatives.

The e-highway study is one of several options that will be funded, along with a study of hydrogen fuel cell trucks and battery electric lorries, the Department for Transport said on Tuesday.

On the e-highway, lorries fitted with rigs called pantographs – similar to those used by trains and trams – would be able to tap into the electricity supply to power electric motors. Lorries would also have a smaller battery to power them over the first and last legs of the journey off the motorway.
» Read article               

» More about clean transportation

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Dunkin FL
A Florida city wanted to move away from fossil fuels. The state just made sure it couldn’t.
The story behind Florida’s new laws that strip cities of their ability to fight climate change.
By Emily Pontecorvo & Brendan Rivers, Grist
July 29, 2021

In January, Tampa was set to become the 12th city in Florida to set a climate goal to transition to 100 percent clean energy. But that was before the natural gas industry and Republican state lawmakers got involved. 

Tampa City Councilman Joseph Citro had worked for months with environmental groups and local businesses on a non-binding resolution — more of a North Star for the city than a mandatory policy. As part of its clean energy goal, the resolution supported a ban on new fossil fuel infrastructure including pipelines, compressor stations, and power plants.

No state-level policies in Florida require reducing planet-heating emissions, and some federal and state lawmakers deny the science of human-caused climate change. So it’s been up to cities and towns to do what they can, like buying electric school buses and powering municipal buildings with renewable energy. Increasingly, local governments are ramping up their ambitions. 

But around the country, the gas industry has aggressively lobbied against local climate policies while simultaneously trying to get state legislatures to strip cities of their ability to restrict fossil fuels.

That fight was about to come to Florida. Just as Citro was finessing the final language on his city resolution, Republican state Senator Travis Hutson of Palm Coast introduced bills that would make Citro’s Tampa proposal illegal. Hutson wanted to prohibit cities from passing any policies aimed at regulating energy infrastructure or fuel sources.

Lawmakers approved Hutson’s bills, and Republican Governor Ron DeSantis signed them in June. Florida law now prohibits local governments from taking “any action that restricts or prohibits” energy sources used by utilities. (It also voids any such existing local policies, except in cities that own their utilities, like Jacksonville, Orlando, and Tallahassee.) And it prevents local officials from banning gas stations or requiring gas stations to install electric vehicle chargers.
» Read article              

derailed
An Oil Industry Hub in Washington State Bans New Fossil Fuel Development
The plan brings together local stakeholders, including the oil industry, labor unions and environmental groups.
By Marianne Lavelle, Inside Climate News
July 29, 2021

Eight years ago, Whatcom County, on the northwest coast of Washington State, seemed destined to become the gateway through which North America’s expanding fossil fuel industry would connect with the hungry energy markets of Asia.

The BP and Phillips 66 refineries in Ferndale, Washington—about 100 miles north of Seattle—were building new receiving facilities for oil trains to deliver crude from the Bakken shale fields of North Dakota. Tar sands oil from Canada also was coming in, with plans looming to expand pipeline capacity. And, most significantly, the nation’s largest coal export terminal was set to be built just to the south in Bellingham, expected to unload 15 coal trains weekly that would rumble into the county from Wyoming’s Powder River Basin.

But the massive coal proposal would prove to be the undoing of the vision of Whatcom County as a fossil fuel export mecca. The plan produced a ferocious backlash, killing the project in 2016 and sparking a local political upheaval that culminated on Tuesday night.

At its weekly meeting, the Whatcom County Council voted to approve an overhaul of local land-use policies, allowing existing refineries to expand but prohibiting new refineries, transshipment facilities, coal plants, piers or wharfs in its coastal industrial zone. The new rules also require a public review of the environmental impact of any significant expansion at existing refineries and other facilities, including any increase in greenhouse gas emissions. The moves were spearheaded by council members who had won their seats since 2013, and were driven to get into local politics by the coal terminal controversy. Environmental advocates, who worked for a decade to defeat plans for more carbon-polluting industry on the northwest coast, say it is the first time a local government in the United States has utilized land use law to impose such a broad, permanent ban on fossil fuel development.
» Read article               

» More about fossil fuel

BIOMASS

Senator Comerford
Dear Jo with Sen. Jo Comerford: What gets defined as renewable energy?
By JO COMERFORD, Daily Hampshire Gazette | Column
July 27, 2021

This week, our air turned hazy as winds blew in wildfire smoke from the west coast, a stark reminder that when it comes to climate change, we’re all in this together.

On Friday, I’ve been invited to testify at an oversight hearing of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy (TUE). The subject? Biomass, or the burning of natural material like wood at a large scale to generate energy.

The Department of Energy Resources (DOER) has issued updated draft regulations for the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS). The RPS mandates that electricity suppliers in Massachusetts get a certain percentage of the energy they provide to customers from renewable sources. When the RPS began, suppliers were required to get just 1% of their energy from renewables. This year, suppliers are required to get 18 percent of their energy from “Class 1 renewable resources.” That requirement will now increase by 3% per year thanks to the legislature’s passage of omnibus climate legislation earlier this session, ensuring that at least 40% of our energy will come from renewable resources by 2030.

(And, yes. I still maintain that we should be on a path to 100% renewable energy, given the climate crisis.)

So what’s the catch? In this case, it hinges on what gets defined as a renewable resource.

Biomass should not be considered a Class 1 renewable resource, like solar or wind. It doesn’t matter where the facility is sited, the science still says, “No.” A biomass plant located more than five miles away from an environmental justice community is not any “greener” than a biomass plant in Springfield. Location of the facility has never been a factor in RPS Class 1 eligibility, and only the most environmentally friendly sources should be included in this most strict Class 1 category.

In May of this year, dozens of national climate and public health organizations released A Declaration on Climate Change and Health, calling on President Biden and Congress to “heed the clear scientific evidence and take steps now to dramatically reduce pollution that drives climate change and harms health.” In a short list focused on “equitable climate action and pollution cleanup,” these groups called for “measures to secure dramatic reductions in carbon emissions from power plants, including rapid phaseout of power plants that burn fossil fuels, biomass, and waste-for-energy.”
» Read article               

chips and pellets
Biomass critics press lawmakers for more stringent regulations
By SCOTT MERZBACH, Daily Hampshire Gazette
July 26, 2021

Local groups focused on environmental policy are trying to keep pressure on state officials to strengthen rules surrounding biomass energy, even after a controversial biomass plant in Springfield was canceled in the spring.

“We are hopeful that substantive legislation, including explicitly forbidding subsidies for woody biomass power plants, will emerge from this legislative session,” says Martha Hanner, a member of the League of Women Voters in Amherst.

Several area organizations recently signed onto a letter written by the Partnership for Policy Integrity in Pelham and sent to the Legislature’s Joint Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy Committee, calling for hearings on the revised Renewable Portfolio Standards issued by the Department of  Energy Resources.

Both the League of Women Voters chapters in Northampton and Amherst are among 86 organizations supporting the letter that is going to state Sen. Michael J. Barrett and state Rep. Jeffrey N. Roy. The letter expresses appreciation that the current regulations have the highest standards and now include an environmental justice provision, which would prohibit any wood-burning power plant built in or within five miles of an environmental justice community.

The groups are concerned, though, that new standards dramatically weaken some health and environmental protections in the current regulations.

“Ultimately the best solution may be to pass laws specifically excluding woody biomass from the state’s clean energy subsidy programs and providing broader protections for environmental justice communities,” they write.
» Read article               

» More about biomass

PLASTICS, HEALTH, AND THE ENVIRONMENT

captured gannet
Canada Declares Plastics Toxic, Paving the Way for Restrictions
“I think the days of waiting for recycling to work are over,” notes one environmentalist.
By Marc Fawcett-Atkinson, National Observer, reproduced in Mother Jones
May 14, 2021


Plastic is now considered toxic under Canada’s primary environmental law—the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA)—the Trudeau government announced Wednesday.

The decision, which comes despite months of lobbying by Canada’s $28 billion plastics industry, paves the way for a proposed ban on some single-use items. A series by Canada’s National Observer earlier this year cataloged the sustained push by the plastics and food industries to disassociate plastics from anything to do with the word “toxic.”

However, the government held firm, which now clears the way for other measures to reduce plastic waste proposed by the government last fall. “This is the critical step,” said Ashley Wallis, plastics campaigner for Oceana Canada. “It’s the key that unlocks so many possibilities to help us actually address the plastic pollution crisis.”

About 3.3 million metric tons of plastic is discarded in Canada each year, and less than 10 percent—about 305,000 metric tons—is recycled. The remainder goes to landfills, incineration, or leaks into rivers, lakes and oceans, according to a 2019 study commissioned by Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC).

The industry is also poised to drive continued oil and gas extraction, with some petrochemical companies expecting it to account for up to 90 percent of their future growth, according to a 2020 report by the Carbon Tracker Initiative.

A 2020 government science assessment found ample evidence that plastic harms the environment, choking seabirds, cetaceans and other wildlife. The findings form the basis of the government’s decision, as substances can be considered toxic under CEPA if they harm the environment and biodiversity, human health, or both.

In October 2020, ECCC released a proposal to deal with the problem. Under the proposed rules, Canada will ban six single-use plastic items, like straws and six-pack rings, create incentives for companies to use recycled plastic, and force plastic producers to pay for recycling.
» Read article               

» More about plastics and the environment

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