Tag Archives: small modular reactor

Weekly News Check-In 6/17/22

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Welcome back.

We’ve been seeing how climate-related court actions are playing out both ways. That dynamic was on display this week. First, a coalition of environmental groups sued the Biden administration for failing to consider the harms caused to endangered species from the emissions produced by oil and gas drilling on public lands. The idea is to enlist the Endangered Species Act in the climate fight. On a similar track, a petition from a group of scientists and former public officials calls on the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate emissions under the Toxic Substances Control Act.

In the opposite corner, we’re watching the rapidly-growing roster of lawsuits brought under the Energy Charter Treaty by fossil fuel companies against signatory countries whose climate mitigation policies threaten polluters’ business-as-usual bottom line.

Meanwhile, climate activists building on earlier success in persuading wealthy universities to divest their stocks from fossil fuel companies are now raising awareness of the billions of dollars those same institutions accept from fossil companies for climate research.

All of the above influences how quickly we manage to transition to a green economy. It’s a good place to check in with Johanna Chao Kreilick, President, Union of Concerned Scientists about whether we need new technology to address climate change – and if not, what’s the hold-up? Just to underline the urgency of getting that climate mitigation in gear, we look at new research that uncovered “off the charts” warming in the Arctic, and also a report on the increasingly precarious existence of billions of people who contributed nothing to the atmospheric carbon buildup.

The nuclear power industry has pitched a new generation of small modular reactors (SMRs) as a vital base load component in our clean energy future.  Trouble is, they still produce radioactive waste – potentially lots of it – and the U.S. has never solved the problem of where to put it. In the renewables world, a new peer-reviewed analysis from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has determined that current inflationary pressures will eventually ease up on solar and wind, and the cost trend should return to its previous downward trajectory.

A couple stories out of Boston show how innovations in renewables and energy efficiency can address the needs of a variety of existing buildings. There’s a lot happening in battery storage also, with new avenues being explored because of the high cost and huge demand for lithium – driven largely by the exponential growth of electric vehicles. And for all you EV drivers who are frustrated with the sketchy and sometimes unreliable public charging infrastructure, an update to federal rules could be a game changer.

Looking at the production side, Activists in New York state are backing a bill to increase the role of public-owned power generation. It’s an idea that’s been gaining ground with climate advocates around the country as they grow increasingly frustrated that investor-owned utilities are not moving away from fossil fuels quickly enough.

In the last few years, mitigating methane emissions has become a top priority in our effort to keep total warming below 2 degrees Celsius. So the hunt is on for emissions sources, especially from oil and gas production and distribution activities. Evidence from infrared cameras and satellites is mounting that fossil producers vastly underreport their emissions. Related to this is the recent industry push to extensively build up U.S. liquefied natural gas export capacity. The industry argues that the facilities would support Europe’s energy needs in lieu of Russia’s assault on Ukraine. But actual operations from the proposed facilities won’t begin until well after the crisis is expected to have passed. Emissions from simply operating those facilities – never mind the end-use combustion or leakage of their product – would be astronomical.

We’ll close with another story about plastics recycling that’s more of a problem than a solution. So-called ‘advanced recycling’ uses a high-heat process known as pyrolysis to turn plastic into fuel. In a world where we really need to stop burning stuff, it’s hard to find anything about this ‘solution’ that seems like a good idea. Slick marketing is working to convince you otherwise.

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

monk seal
Can a Law Protecting Endangered Animals Stop New Oil Drilling?
Environmentalists say the government failed to study the threats to endangered species from climate change before issuing oil and gas drilling permits.
By Lisa Friedman, New York Times
June 15, 2022

A coalition of environmental groups sued the Biden administration on Wednesday for failing to consider the harms caused to endangered species from the emissions produced by oil and gas drilling on public lands.

Using a novel legal argument based on the Endangered Species Act, the groups are arguing that oil burned from a well drilled in Wyoming adds to the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that is heating the planet and devastating coral reefs in Florida, polar bears in the Arctic and monk seals in Hawaii.

If the coalition succeeds, more than 3,500 drilling permits issued during the Biden administration could be revoked and future permitting could be far more difficult.

“The science is now unfortunately quite clear that climate change is a catastrophe for the planet in every which way, including for endangered species,” said Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity. It is leading the lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

“We need to stop the autopilot-like approach of fossil fuel leasing on public lands,” he said.
» Read article   
» Read the lawsuit

obscure
Why the energy charter treaty is a threat to the global transition effort

An obscure international trade pact, which has protected investments in the energy sector since the 1990s, is deterring governments from taking decisive action on climate change
By Sam Haddad, Raconteur
June 15, 2022

In April, a report by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that international trade agreements could obstruct government-led decarbonisation projects.

It cited the energy charter treaty (ECT) – a legally binding pact protecting investments in activities such as oil and gas extraction, coal mining and petroleum refining – as the most egregious case, largely because several claims brought under the ECT had been “settled in favour of foreign investors” at the expense of “much-needed climate action”.

The 1994 treaty, which took effect in 1998, has 53 signatories, including the UK and the EU. Its original purpose was to protect western firms that were investing in newly independent former Soviet states, but the ECT’s reach has broadened to include countries such as Cyprus, Jordan and Yemen.

“Its main goal was to promote energy security where investors were unsure about going into new places, because there was a chance of having their assets expropriated or nationalised,” says Rachel Thrasher, a researcher at the Boston University Global Development Policy Center.

Aside from its “neo-colonial historical context”, as Audrey Changoe, trade campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe, puts it, the biggest problem with the treaty is a mechanism called the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) system. This allows energy firms to sue foreign governments privately in courts of arbitration. [emphasis added]

[…] Claims brought under the ISDS can go into billions, which is money that could be used for the green energy transition. After the Dutch government revealed its plans to close all coal-fired power plants in the Netherlands by 2030. German energy firms RWE and Uniper issued lawsuits in 2020 for €1.4bn and €1bn respectively to compensate them for their impending loss of business there.

Changoe notes that governments are “phasing out fossil fuels because of pressure from civil society. Dutch citizens had actually sued their own government in 2015 for failing to protect them from the climate crisis. This is a democratic process that big fossil-fuel companies are seeking to undermine.”
» Read article    

» More about protests and actions

DIVESTMENT

Harvard divest
Universities face mounting pressure to stop taking fossil fuel funds
By Dharna Noor, Boston Globe
June 13, 2022

Climate activists, emboldened by their success in pushing wealthy universities to divest their stocks from fossil fuel companies, are now looking to a new and even thornier target: the billions of dollars universities accept from those companies for climate research.

Some researchers, including academics at the nation’s most prestigious institutes, say fossil fuel money helps them conduct crucial climate research. Having less of it, they say, could actually slow progress in the fight against climate change.

“I don’t see how that’s a win for the climate or MIT or society,” said Christopher Knittel, a professor of applied economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who led the 2016 study Utility of the Future, which focused on decarbonizing the grid — and was sponsored in part by oil and gas firms.

But other leading climate experts, citing evidence of the oil industry’s history of disinformation and scientists’ dire calls to phase out fossil fuels, said institutions must cut these ties. Oil companies fund research, they said, that protects their business models, greenwashes their reputations, and distracts from the urgent need to abandon fossil fuels altogether.

Their effort, dubbed the Fossil Free Research campaign, is gaining traction. In March, 500 academics — including climatologist Michael Mann, creator of the iconic “hockey stick” graph of the past millennium’s global temperature rise; Bill McKibben, perhaps the most prominent fossil fuel divestment advocate; and dozens of Ivy League scholars — called on universities to reject oil and gas funding.

“Academics should not be forced to choose between researching climate solutions and inadvertently aiding corporate greenwashing,” they wrote.
» Read article    

» More about divestment

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY

Morgantown Generating Station
Greenhouse gases must be legally phased out, US scientists argue
A petition calls on the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate emissions under the Toxic Substances Control Act
By Fiona Harvey, The Guardian
June 16, 2022

Greenhouse gas emissions should be subject to legal controls in the US and phased out under the Toxic Substances Control Act, according to a group of scientists and former public officials, in a novel approach to the climate crisis.

“Using the TSCA would be one small step for [the US president] Joe Biden, but potentially a giant leap for humankind – as a first step towards making the polluters pay,” said James Hansen, a former NASA scientist, who is a member of the group alongside Donn Viviani, a retired 35-year veteran of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Their legal submission, filed to the EPA on Thursday, states that greenhouse gas emissions present a danger to the climate and should be regulated as such under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), a law passed in 1976 as part of a suite of environmental regulations in the US.

The TSCA, which was amended in 2016, allows the EPA to place monitoring requirements on companies and enforce strict controls on certain substances. It has been used to restrict chemicals including asbestos, lead in paint, and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).

The law covers substances that pose “an unreasonable risk of injury to health or the environment”. The petitioners believe it can be interpreted to allow for a phase-out of greenhouse gas emissions.

Viviani said: “TSCA is like the ruby slippers [in The Wizard of Oz] – it can do just about anything. It can allow you to put a levy on carbon, and can deal with the legacy of carbon emissions. It has nearly international reach, as the US is the biggest market in the world and could apply these measures to imports too.”
» Read article   
» Summary of the TSCA

» More about EPA

GREENING THE ECONOMY

to the people
Do We Really Need New Technology to Fight Climate Change?
By Johanna Chao Kreilick, President, Union of Concerned Scientists | Blog
June 13, 2022

I was invited to speak at a panel discussion last Wednesday as part of The Economist’s annual Sustainability Week, titled “What technologies are needed to avert a climate disaster?” True to the theme, I was asked about which technological innovations would be necessary to save our planet. I wanted to take this space to share some of my thoughts from the panel—and why I believe this wasn’t exactly the right question to ask.

Technology is where most energy transition conversations remain focused. And yet, technological innovation is not what’s standing in the way of significant and necessary near-term climate progress. We already have so many of the foundational technological building blocks of the clean energy transition at hand: renewables, energy efficiency, energy storage, and pathways to electrifying a vast array of energy end uses. Combined, these technologies have the capacity to get us an overwhelming amount of the way there.

No question, there’s still room for technological innovation—to make existing technologies better, and to push the frontiers of what’s possible to enable the best possible outcomes for climate, for health, for equity, for affordability, for resilience, and for overall quality of life. But we could be making enormous strides right now. And yet, we aren’t. Indeed, in most scenarios today, it is everything but the technology that’s impeding progress.

Overly focusing on technological innovation will miss the basic changes needed to drive the clean energy transition at scale and at pace today, including required breakthroughs on collaboration, collective action, communication, governance, and business model reforms. These pieces are critical to unleashing necessary change—regardless of the technologies at hand—yet are too often overlooked.
» Read article    

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

Barents Sea
‘Off the Scale’: Warmer Arctic Ocean Fueling Climate Feedback Loop Faster Than Previously Known
“This is one of the scariest reports I have ever seen,” said one climate scientist in response to new study.
By Jon Queally, Common Dreams
June 15, 2022

New scientific research published Wednesday shows the waters in the North Barents Sea are warming at a rate that is much more rapid than most climate models have predicted, with worrying implications about feedback loops for the larger Arctic region and far beyond.

Extending between the north coast of Norway and Russia in the eastern Arctic Ocean, the North Barents Sea has been warming at a rate nearly seven times that of the global average, the study shows. The researchers used temperature data over four decades to determine that the trends in the region—the “fastest warming place known on Earth”—should be seen as an “early warning” of what could happen elsewhere.

Published in Scientific Reports, the new findings offer further confirmation that feedback loops in the Arctic are taking hold but could be doing so at a faster rate than previously understood.

“The warming pattern is primarily consistent with reductions in sea ice cover and confirms the general spatial and temporal patterns represented by reanalyses,” states the abstract of the study. “However, our findings suggest even a stronger rate of warming and [sea ice concentration (SIC) and sea surface temperature (SST)] relation than was known in this region until now.”

Researchers behind the study, reports High North News, warn the increased warming is likely to fuel “increases in extreme weather in North America, Europe and Asia.” The scientists say the Barents sea region offers a window into how warming is already impacting the Arctic more broadly and what more rapid warming could look like elsewhere in the future.
» Read article   
» Read the study

Dima Hasao
On Climate Change’s Front Lines, Hard Lives Grow Even Harder
Hundreds of millions of humanity’s most vulnerable live in South Asia, where rising temperatures make it more difficult to address poverty, food insecurity and health challenges.
By Mujib Mashal and Hari Kumar, New York Times
Photographs by Atul Loke
June 14, 2022

FATEHGARH-SAHIB, India — When the unseasonably heavy rains flooded the fields, and then the equally unseasonable heat shriveled the seeds, it didn’t just slash Ranjit Singh’s wheat harvest by nearly half.

It put him, and nearly all the other households in his village in northern India, that much further from financial stability in a country where a majority of people scratch out a living on farms. Like many Indian farmers, Mr. Singh is saddled with enormous debt and wondering how he will repay it, as a warming world makes farming ever more precarious.

For India and other South Asian nations, home to hundreds of millions of humanity’s most vulnerable, a seemingly bottomless well of challenges — poverty, food security, health, governance — has only deepened as the region bakes on the front lines of climate change.

Global warming is no longer a distant prospect that officials with short electoral mandates can choose to look away from. The increasing volatility in weather patterns means a greater risk of disasters and severe economic damage for countries already straining to increase growth and development, and to move past the pandemic’s devastation to lives and livelihoods.

[…] South Asia has always been hot, the monsoons always drenching. And it is far from alone in contending with new weather patterns. But this region, with nearly a quarter of the world’s population, is experiencing such climatic extremes, from untimely heavy rain and floods to scorching temperatures and extended heat waves, that they are increasingly becoming the norm, not the exception.
» Read article    

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

no turns
Smaller reactors may still have a big nuclear waste problem
A new generation of reactors promises a nuclear energy renaissance, but critics say the U.S. needs to figure out what to do about its radioactive garbage.
By Gregory Barber, Grist
June 15, 2022

Lindsay Krall decided to study nuclear waste out of a love for the arcane. Figuring how to bury radioactive atoms isn’t exactly simple — it takes a blend of particle physics, careful geology, and engineering, and a high tolerance for reams of regulations. But the trickiest ingredient of all is time. Nuclear waste from today’s reactors will take thousands of years to become something safer to handle. So any solution can’t require too much stewardship. It’s gotta just work, and keep working for generations. By then, the utility that split those atoms won’t exist, nor will the company that designed the reactor. Who knows? Maybe the United States won’t exist either.

Right now, the United States doesn’t have such a plan. That’s been the case since 2011, when regulators facing stiff local opposition pulled the plug on a decades-long effort to store waste underneath Yucca Mountain in Nevada, stranding $44 billion in federal funds meant for the job. Since then, the nuclear industry has done a good job of storing its waste on a temporary basis, which is part of the reason Congress has shown little interest in working out a solution for future generations. Long-term thinking isn’t their strong suit. “It’s been a complete institutional failure in the US,” Krall says.

But there’s a new type of nuclear on the block: the small modular reactor or SMR. For a long time, the U.S. nuclear industry has been stagnating, in large part because of the tremendous costs of building massive new plants. SMRs, by contrast, are small enough to be built in a factory and then hauled elsewhere to produce power. Advocates hope this will make them more cost-effective than the big reactors of today, offering an affordable, always-on complement to less-predictable renewables like wind and solar. According to some, they should also produce less radioactive waste than their predecessors. A Department of Energy-sponsored report estimated in 2014 that the U.S. nuclear industry would produce 94 percent less fuel waste if big, old reactors were replaced with new smaller ones.

Krall was skeptical about that last part. “SMRs are generally being marketed as a solution — that maybe you don’t need a geological repository for them,” she says. So as a postdoc at Stanford, she and two prominent nuclear experts started digging through the patents, research papers, and license applications of two dozen proposed reactor designs, none of which have been built so far. Thousands of pages of redacted documents, a few public records requests, and a vast appendix full of calculations later, Krall, who is now a scientist with Sweden’s nuclear waste company, got an answer: By many measures, the SMR designs produce not less, but potentially much more waste: more than five times the spent fuel per unit of power, and as much as 35 times for other forms of waste. The research was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences earlier this week.
» Read article   
» Read the research paper

Palmetto Bay
DOE: Here’s where renewable costs are heading
By David Iaconangelo, E&E News
June 14, 2022

Recent challenges facing wind and solar likely won’t sink their longer-term progress in the United States, as industries figure out ways to keep the cost of renewable power on a downward slope, according to a new peer-reviewed analysis from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Three Berkeley Lab researchers assessed how well the wind and solar industries have performed based on the historical prices of renewable electricity, and then used the findings to project how renewables’ levelized costs of energy would decrease through 2050.

The team found that every time utility-scale wind capacity doubles in size, its levelized cost of electricity will decline by 15 percent. For big solar projects, that decline will be even steeper, at 24 percent, according to the analysis published in iScience journal in May.

By 2035, solar could cost as little as $22 per megawatt-hour on average. That’s down from a 2020 average of $34 per MWh. It is also close to what the Energy Department is targeting for solar in 2030 — $20 per MWh, under a goal declared last year.

Wind, for its part, could hit $24 per MWh, down from $32 per MWh two years ago, according to the analysis.

The projection of plunging costs may seem to clash with the recent reality of wind and solar, whose economics have been battered by soaring commodity prices and trade policy pressures. The price of wind turbines rose 9 percent last year, for instance. And the cost of power purchase agreements rose across all of the U.S.’s electricity markets, according to industry analyses (Energywire, May 17).

The solar industry has been particularly vocal about its endangered growth, which it linked to a Commerce Department probe into new import tariffs. Earlier this week, the solar industry said a “substantial amount” of solar had been lost because of the Commerce move, despite a tariff waiver by President Joe Biden to ease pressure on the industry (Energywire, June 8). In April, the president of the Solar Energy Industries Association, Abigail Ross Hopper, said the probe had plunged the industry into its “most serious crisis” in history (Energywire, April 6).

The Berkeley Lab analysis — which was based on nationwide, plant-level data from 1982 through 2020 — did not factor in those recent problems.

Yet the researchers wrote that they expected both renewable industries to adapt and return to slashing costs again, judging from their past track record.
» Read article    

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

Boston steam
How century-old ​‘district energy’ networks can help decarbonize cities
Vicinity Energy aims to convert Boston’s steam network to run on clean electricity, showing how some cities can move toward climate-friendly heating and cooling of buildings.
By Jeff St. John, Canary Media
June 7, 2022

Buildings need to switch from being heated with fossil fuels to being heated with clean electricity to meet the world’s decarbonization goals. That switch can happen one building at a time — or, for city centers and university and corporate campuses that have district energy systems, there’s another option.

One example is the eSteam plan being pursued by Vicinity Energy for the nearly 90-year-old district steam system serving about 65 million square feet of buildings in the cities of Boston and Cambridge, Massachusetts. Over the coming years, Vicinity plans to augment its fossil-gas-fired cogeneration plant in downtown Cambridge with electric-powered boilers and industrial-scale heat pumps.

That could serve as a template for electrifying more of the district heat and cooling systems the Boston-based company owns and operates in cities including Baltimore, Philadelphia and Oklahoma City and college campuses across the U.S. Northeast, Vicinity CEO Bill DiCroce said.

“We can become a converter of electric renewable power to steam, and our customers don’t have to do a damn thing,” he said. The grid power for those electric heating systems will increasingly come from the gigawatts of onshore solar and offshore wind power being built to meet Massachusetts’ clean-energy targets.

[…] Retrofitting hundreds of millions of square feet of buildings with zero-carbon heating is ​“going to be expensive. It’s going to take time to build in that electrical infrastructure,” DiCroce said. Not all cities have a district energy system that could serve as an alternative to that approach, he said. But Boston and Cambridge do, and ​“we’re coming in and saying, ​‘We can take 65 million square feet off your hands really quickly.’”

[…] District energy can also be more resilient during power outages, DiCroce said. Vicinity plans to install molten-salt batteries that can store clean electricity for hours or days at a time to ride through lulls in wind and sun or other electricity supply shortfalls, he said. And while it expects to run its gas-fired power plant less and less as the need for its steam is replaced by electric boilers and heat pumps, that generator will still be available for emergencies, he said.
» Read article    

Edgewood Street
$20 million is in sight for Boston three-decker energy pilot
By Jennifer Smith, WBUR
June 7, 2022

A $20 million pilot to retrofit three-deckers and other multi-family homes for energy efficiency is included in the latest round of federal funding before the Boston City Council.

Earlier this year, Mayor Michelle Wu announced the “nation-leading pilot,” which is bundled in a $206 million package of other affordable housing investments. The funding would come from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), a federal pot of money aimed at assisting states and municipalities in weathering and recovering from the Covid-19 pandemic. ARPA funding has to be obligated by the city by the end of 2024 and spent by the end of 2026.

This proposal takes aim at two of Wu’s priority areas: affordable housing and climate resiliency. Though other retrofit programs exist, like the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center’s triple-decker pilot which pursues high-efficiency electric retrofits of the housing type, this Boston-based pilot is a new enterprise for the city in line with its green goals.

Buildings selected for the pilot would include deed restricted housing, naturally occurring affordable housing, and public housing.

“This particular program would be dedicated funding to address gaps in the available financing for deep energy retrofits of affordable housing and would also have a focus on helping to allow residents to stay in place through that work,” said Joe Backer, senior development officer with the mayor’s Office of Housing in the neighborhood housing development division.

Still in its infancy pending funding, the pilot would explore flexible options to bring “deep energy retrofits” to existing housing stock, targeting income-restricted housing. Given the diversity in housing types, even between three-deckers, officials expect the pilot to involve building-by-building energy assessments.

Deep energy retrofits are holistic approaches to making structures themselves more energy-efficient. So, rather than an individual just swapping out lightbulbs, it may also involve better exterior cladding to make sure the house is well insulated. Certain homes may be modified for different fuel sources, prioritize more efficient heating and cooling, and across the board more efficient appliances.

According to the presentation before the council, the $20 million could fund these retrofits for about 300 housing units.
» Read article    

» More about energy efficiency

ENERGY STORAGE

future of NA-ion
As EVs drive off with Li-Ion supply, the push to stationary storage alternatives accelerates
Once seen as synonymous with renewable batteries, stationary Li-ion faces strong headwinds due to rapidly accelerating demand from the automotive sector as EVs capture the mainstream.
By Randy Selesky, CRO, Enervenue, in PV Magazine
June 16, 2022

Mining and refinement capacity simply cannot keep up. Experts from mining industry prognosticators to Elon Musk foresee a widening chasm between li-ion supply and demand over the next few years. As that gap expands, expect the stationary renewable storage market to adopt emerging technologies more aligned with the needs of the stational market – and expect organizations to diversify well beyond Li-ion to meet energy demands and advance their renewable transformation goals.

Li-ion batteries are particularly suited to electric vehicle (EV) use cases: Li-ion’s energy density is required to make EVs viable. As EV adoption increases over the next decade, so too will Li-ion costs as lithium supply pressures grow in severity. In short, EVs will eat up Li-ion supply out of necessity, while alternatives already better-suited to stationary use cases carve out their own niche.

Such stationary alternatives aren’t just going to be more affordable, they’ll also be matched to their purpose. As a battery technology, Li-ion has been the standard, but it has limits. Li-ion batteries bring comparatively high operating expenses. They supply power for relatively short durations. They struggle in locations with extreme temperatures – which an ever-increasing swath of the world falls into. They’re also limited in their lifespans, and show environmental and safety issues over the long term.

These challenges leave the future open to alternatives more appropriate to stationary applications. While lead-acid and redox flow batteries struggle with many of the same issues as lithium-ion, other technologies aim to improve on where Li-ion falters.

In my view, there are three energy storage technology categories quickly maturing and with a clear potential to lead the stationary energy storage market into the future. [Metal-hydrogen, gravity-assisted, and sodium-ion batteries are all discussed.]
» Read article   

» More about energy storage

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

EV charging only‘A solid floor’: How new rules could remake EV charging
By David Ferris, E&E News
June 13, 2022

The nation’s electric vehicle charging stations — an improvisational curio shop of machines that often don’t work — might become more reliable and easier to use thanks to new government rules.

That is the conclusion of longtime electric vehicle watchers, who cheered the federal guidelines.

Until now, “it’s been mixed, to be polite,” said Dan Bowermaster, the head of EV research at the Electric Power Research Institute. “It’s great that this focus is on how do we as an industry scale up as quickly and as cost-effectively and, you could say, as driver-friendly as possible.”

The new guidelines, proposed late last week, start to dictate how states can spend the $7.5 billion of federal money approved in last year’s bipartisan infrastructure law for electric vehicle charging.

The pot of money is intended to be a jolt that transforms the EV charging effort from scattershot to standardized, the better to deliver electrons to a wave of millions of EVs soon to come from automakers. The stations are essential to replacing the gasoline- and diesel-burning vehicles that form the biggest slice of America’s climate emissions.

Experts say that a side benefit is that the federal government, with its authority and purse, can set ground rules that make the e-fueling experience more trustworthy and consistent, and set a baseline for what drivers and others should expect from a charging station.

“What we’re going to see is cohesion now,” said Nick Nigro, the founder of Atlas Public Policy, an EV advisory group. “This rulemaking is going to build a solid floor on which to build a national charging network.”
» Read article   
» Read the proposed guidelines

» More about clean transportation

ELECTRIC UTILITIES

public power
A push for public power stalled in New York, but activists say they’re just getting started
Advocates say the New York Power Authority is a “sleeping giant” in the energy transition.
By Emily Pontecorvo, Grist
June 10, 2022

On Monday night, more than 200 activists tuned into a “rapid response” Zoom call organized by the New York chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, or DSA. It was a chance to regroup after a rollercoaster week where it looked as though a DSA-authored climate bill might make it through the state legislature.

The bill, called the Build Public Renewables Act, soared through the New York State Senate last Wednesday. After a zealous eleventh-hour push by grassroots organizers to garner support in the Assembly, it appeared to have the 76 “yeas” required to send it to the governor’s desk, and then some. But on Saturday, Carl Heastie, the Democratic speaker of the Assembly, brought the year’s legislative session to a close without ever giving his colleagues a chance to vote on it.

“We need to consider this as the beginning of our movement as opposed to the end,” Zohran Mamdani, a state assembly member from Queens, said on the Monday call.

Supporters of the bill painted it as a climate package that would have sped up the pace at which renewable energy comes online in New York state. But beyond that, it would have opened the door for a larger role for publicly owned power, testing whether giving the government more ownership over the clean energy transition can deliver in ways that the private market hasn’t.

It’s an idea that’s been gaining ground with climate advocates around the country as they grow increasingly frustrated that energy systems are not moving away from fossil fuels quickly enough. They argue that publicly owned power companies, which are not beholden to shareholders and do not have the same profit motive as their private counterparts, can enable a transition that’s faster, more affordable, more worker-friendly, and more accountable to communities.
» Read article    

» More about electric utilities

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

methane monitor
Leak Detection Technology Catches Fossils Underreporting Methane
By Christopher Bonasia, The Energy Mix
June 12, 2022

Regulators around the globe are using monitoring tools, from infrared cameras to satellites, to call out oil and gas companies for methane leaks that are often underreported by fossil producers, with one group of U.S. legislators concluding that fossils are not concerned that the technology could fail—but rather that it might succeed.

In Australia, a new report recently showed that emissions from the country’s coal industry are nearly twice that reported in official estimates, says BBC. Though Australia did not sign on to the highly-touted methane reduction pledge at last year’s COP 26 climate summit, its newly-elected government is promising to take action on the leaks, which will obstruct the country from reaching its climate targets if not addressed.

The report compared the officially reported methane leaks against research compiled by the International Energy Agency (IEA), which used satellites to paint a more accurate picture of the problem, BBC says.

[…] Methane leak monitoring was also the focus of recent hearings before the U.S. House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, after the release of a report compiled by the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA found that fossils are “failing to address super-emitting methane leaks, deflecting the use of methane quantification data, and deploying mitigating methane detection technologies too slowly and too inconsistently,” said Committee Chair Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), at a committee hearing last week investigating methane leaks in the fracking fields of the Permian Basin.

Using internal data from oil and gas companies, the committee found that operators were “failing to design, equip and inform” methane leakage detection programs, and that their response to the problem does not “reflect the latest scientific evidence on methane leaks,” reports CNN.

Although the investigation was meant to evaluate the scale of methane leakage across the entire sector, the committee focused on the Permian because of its “centrality” as a source of oil and gas sector methane emissions, the legislators wrote.

Among the key findings was that, where Methane Leak Detection and Repair (LDAR) strategies are implemented, the scope is too narrow and limited to fully address the scale of the problem, despite the technology’s ability to provide a more rigorous assessment.

One company’s methane management team commented that permanent deployment of LDAR technology would pose “near-term risks”—including that “more frequent awareness of gas emissions and leaks could lead to more action, which could be costly”. That had the committee speculating that expected costs were motivating fossils to dodge more effective monitoring.

“The point is brutally clear,” said the report. “The operator’s technology experts were warning that the technology’s biggest risk was not that it would fail, but rather that it would succeed – and in doing so, would find more methane leaks that the operator would then be responsible for, with all of the accompanying repair costs and reputational risks that might ensue.”
» Read article   
» Read the House science committee report on methane monitoring

» More about fossil fuels

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

Cameron LNG plantEmissions From New U.S. Natural Gas Projects Will Equal 18 Million Cars
A report details the disturbing climate implications of a new LNG push, which gained steam after the invasion of Ukraine.
By Molly Taft, Gizmodo
June 15, 2022

Despite the Biden administration’s vows to fight climate change, the U.S. is currently embarking on a major effort to build out fossil fuel infrastructure following the war in Ukraine—with potentially disastrous climate results.

A report released last week from the Environmental Integrity Project finds that 25 proposed and in-development liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals in the U.S. have the potential to release as much greenhouse gases each year as 18 million gas-powered cars—roughly equivalent to all of the cars in Florida.

“Although there is pressure to hurry up approvals of these LNG projects, government regulators should be careful and thoughtful in considering their significant environmental impacts,” Alexandra Shaykevich, research manager at the Environmental Integrity Project, said in a statement. “A dramatic increase in global dependence on LNG could be risky, from a climate perspective.”

[…] According to numbers that are included in the permits and proposed permits for these facilities, all together, they have the potential to release more than 90 million tons of greenhouse gases a year. [See blog editor’s note, below] That number includes 27.3 million tons from facilities currently under construction, 25.6 million tons from facilities that have gotten permits but haven’t started construction, and 37.7 million tons from facilities awaiting approval.

This 90 million figure is also deceptively low: The greenhouse gas emissions included in permits for these terminals and expansions are just from operating the plants, not from producing the gas or using it. [emphasis added] There are currently just seven terminals that export all of the LNG in the U.S., and those aren’t included in the analysis; together, these facilities are permitted to emit 28.3 million tons of greenhouse gases from their operation each year. (Six of these facilities, according to the report, are currently operating at maximum capacity since the war began.)

[…] Paradoxically, energy experts have pointed out that a mass build-out of LNG infrastructure won’t actually help solve the short-term energy crisis the world is facing—despite sustained messaging from the fossil fuel industry that they’re the only ones who can fix things. Many of the facilities that have been greenlit or proposed since the war started won’t actually be up and running until later this decade. By the time they come online and start exporting gas, Europe, which has been working hard since the war began to cut its natural gas use and increase energy efficiency and renewable use, may not be such an eager customer.
» Blog editor’s note: The report considers emissions of all major greenhouse gases: CO2, Methane, etc, and expresses the total as if it were an equivalent amount of CO2 that would have the same warming effect on climate. Unit: CO2e).
» Read article  
» Read the report

» More about LNG

PLASTICS RECYCLING

plastic bottle
Senate passes bill that would clear the way for plastics-to-fuel plants in R.I.
[Rhode Island] Senate votes 19-14 for legislation for ‘advanced recycling’ facilities using a high-heat process that environmentalists call ‘highly polluting, energy-intensive, unproven’
By Edward Fitzpatrick, Boston Globe
June 7, 2022

PROVIDENCE — In the video, a 7-year-old boy with missing front teeth talks about how much plastic there is in the world, including his plastic toy dinosaurs.

“By the time I’m my Dad’s age, like in 30 years, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish,” he says. “And it makes me feel bad.”

The solution, the boy says, lies in the “advanced recycling” plant where his father works in Ashley, Indiana, a small town best known for a water tower painted with a bright-yellow smiley face.

“I saw plastic getting turned back into oil,” the boy says on a tour of the plant. “It will keep plastic from going into landfills, incinerators, and our oceans, reducing greenhouse gas, which will help us from going extinct like the dinosaurs.”

Senator Frank Lombardo III, a Johnston Democrat, showed the video to the Senate Judiciary Committee in April, saying it simplifies the argument for his bill to clear the way in Rhode Island for “advanced recycling” plants, which use the high-heat process known as pyrolysis to turn plastic into fuel.

The Senate passed the bill on Tuesday by a vote of 19 to 14.

But environmentalists say the Brightmark corporate video does more than simplify the matter – they say the gee-whiz narrative attempts to paint a smiley face on a “toxic industry” that would set back Rhode Island’s progress in addressing climate change and matters of environmental justice.

“This bill is the biggest legislative threat to our environment this year,” said Kevin Budris, staff attorney for the zero waste project at the Conservation Law Foundation’s Rhode Island office. “The Brightmark video shown to the Senate Judiciary Committee was incredibly misleading.”

He said Brightmark does not recycle plastic or manufacture products. Rather, he said, Brightmark uses a two-step pyrolysis process to burn plastic waste. He said 90 percent of the output from its Ashley, Indiana, plant is plastic-derived fuel, most of which it burns onsite, and the other 10 percent is toxic char, which must go to a landfill.
» Read article    

» More about plastics recycling

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