Tag Archives: stranded asset

Weekly News Check-In 5/13/22

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Welcome back.

Long-time opponents of the Weymouth Compressor Station celebrated a victory last week when Massachusetts Superior Court Judge Joseph Leighton vacated the facility’s Chapter 91 Waterways permit. The decision sends the permit back to the state Department of Environmental Protection for further review. The compressor is now operating without a full set of permits. Recall that only a few weeks ago, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission admitted that the air quality permit should never have been granted…. Can we just shut it down already?

As momentum builds for natural gas hookup bans, a new gas industry “astroturf” group called ‘Fuelling Canada’ is coordinating a stealth ad campaign targeting first-time home buyers, priming them to think of natural gas as a clean, safe, and desirable fuel for heating and cooking. It’s one arm of the gas industry’s push to build out infrastructure and lock in future use. This relates to another report describing the economic risks associated with continued expansion of fossil fuel development, distribution, and dependence.

Here in Massachusetts, a diverse coalition is proposing to address two big problems at once by doubling the state’s very low deeds excise tax (a real estate transaction tax), bringing us in line with neighboring states. Half of the new revenue would go to affordable housing programs, and the other half would protect neighborhoods, homes, and businesses from the impacts of climate change while also investing in mitigation solutions like energy efficiency.

Climate change is pushing increasingly brutal heat waves, and parts of the world are bumping up against the limits of human survival. Northern India and Pakistan have been so hot already this spring that the health and productivity of workers are significantly impacted. At the same time, the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide exceeded 420 parts per million (ppm) in April for the first time in human history.

Addressing all of the above involves quickly deploying massive clean energy resources. So a Department of Commerce investigation that could lead to retroactive tariffs on certain solar panels imported from Southeast Asia is putting a brake on the U.S. solar industry at a time when business should be booming. We’re also looking at hydropower, and a study showing high methane emissions from some reservoirs.

Producing energy – even green energy – gets messy, but we can always count on good news in the energy efficiency department. This week we’re offering a report describing cold weather heat pumps – widely available today but largely unknown or misunderstood in the U.S.

Energy storage, especially as it relates to electric vehicle batteries, is going to rely on a whole lot of lithium.   We’ve run a number of reports about how environmentally and culturally destructive lithium mining can be, and advocated for doubling down on extraction alternatives such as from geothermal brine at locations like California’s Salton Sea. Researchers at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Washington have produced magnets that can separate lithium and other metals from this sort of brine – a promising step in the right direction.

Meanwhile, the Biden administration announced a $3.16 billion plan to stimulate the production of batteries for electric vehicles in the U.S., an essential step in reducing carbon emissions from transportation.

Two years ago, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey prompted the state to begin mapping a natural gas phaseout. The Department of Public Utilities turned the process over to the gas distribution companies, who (to no one’s surprise) produced recommendations that looked a lot like business as usual and did very little to comply with emissions reduction mandates. AG Healey is calling for the state to toss out those recommendations – time to get serious.

It’s also time to start developing regulations pertaining to pipelines that carry carbon dioxide, in light of ambitious plans for extensive networks serving the future carbon capture and storage industry.

We’ll close with the fossil fuel industry, which is having a moment due to the war in Ukraine and the policy drive to replace Russian oil and gas with hydrocarbons pumped from friendlier regions. Sticking with the longer view that any near-term bump in production must not be allowed to lock in for the future, we’re alarmed by what’s happening. Already, planned increases in fracked oil and gas represent carbon and methane emissions well beyond our global warming budget. And a lot of the Big Oil & Gas decarbonization program appears to be more of an accounting gimmick than anything real. The majors are simply taking highly-polluting production sites off their books by selling to smaller operators who lack their own emissions limits. Related to all this, Canada sees new opportunity for Liquefied Natural Gas sales to Europe, and is reconsidering allowing construction of two Nova Scotia export terminals that seemed doomed just a year ago.

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

— The NFGiM Team

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

unnecessary and unwanted
Superior Court judge tosses out waterways permit for Weymouth compressor station
By Jessica Trufant, The Patriot Ledger
May 5, 2022

WEYMOUTH – A Superior Court judge has tossed out one of the state permits granted for the controversial natural gas compressor station in the Fore River Basin.

Judge Joseph Leighton this week vacated the Chapter 91 Waterways permit for the compressor station, sending the permit back to the state Department of Environmental Protection for further review.

The decision boils down to an interpretation of the word “required,” and whether the compressor station is considered an ancillary facility of existing natural gas infrastructure in the basin.

Leighton ruled that regulators incorrectly accepted “required” to mean “suitable,” rather than “necessary,” therefore allowing the siting of the compressor.

“The department’s interpretation was therefore inconsistent with the plain terms of the regulation and an error of law,” he wrote in the decision.

Alice Arena, of the Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station, said the residents are “ecstatic” over the decision.

“It’s very satisfying. The fact the judge concurred is a huge victory in all of this stupidity,” she said.

The compressor station is part of Enbridge’s Atlantic Bridge project, which expands the company’s natural gas pipelines from New Jersey into Canada. Since the station was proposed in 2015, residents have argued it presents serious health and safety problems.

State regulators issued several permits for the project despite vehement and organized opposition from local officials and residents.

Local, state and federal officials have called for a halt of compressor operations since the station opened in the fall of 2020. Several emergency shutdowns since then caused hundreds of thousands of cubic feet of natural gas to be released into the air.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission reexamined operations and safety at the station following the shutdowns. The commission didn’t revoke authorization for the station, but several members said regulators shouldn’t have approved the project to begin with.

Arena said she planned to notify the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission of the Superior Court decision and hopes it will halt operations until Enbridge seeks a new waterways permit.
» Read article   

» More about the Weymouth compressor

NATURAL GAS BANS

astro-Canada
New Gas Industry Astroturf Group ‘Fuelling Canada’ Targets First-Time Homebuyers
‘Fuelling Canada’ is linked to major gas companies that are battling climate regulations.
By Geoff Dembicki, DeSmog Blog
May 10, 2022

In April, the Globe & Mail published an article on its website extolling the virtues of natural gas appliances in people’s houses.

The story, headlined “Why natural gas is the smart choice for your new home,” has the look and feel of actual journalism. It includes statistics about Canada’s “reliable” gas industry, a photo of a young couple cooking on their gas range and quotes from Canadian homebuilders and makers of consumer products—such as grills and fireplaces—that use gas.

It looks explicitly designed to appeal to first-time homebuyers.

But even though natural gas is a major growing source of emissions in the country (Canada is the world’s fourth largest producer of the fossil fuel), the article didn’t once mention climate change, nor the potentially severe health impacts from breathing in gas fumes.

That’s because the article isn’t real journalism, but rather an advertisement paid for by an organization called Fuelling Canada that is linked to some of North America’s top gas companies. It has a small label at the top describing it as “sponsor content.” But otherwise it looks practically identical to news stories from real reporters on the Globe & Mail website.

“That’s what makes these sponsored ads so slimy. For the vast majority of readers who look at stuff very quickly, that nuance is lost on them,” Seth Klein, team lead and director of strategy for an advocacy group called the Climate Emergency Unit, told DeSmog. “The goal of this advertising is to lock us into more decades of using natural gas.”

[…] Fuelling Canada describes itself on its website as “a resource hub for Canadians to learn more about natural gas and its essential role in the Canadian economy.” But it is hardly neutral when it comes to discussing one of the world’s major contributors to global warming.

The organization was created by the Canadian Gas Association, an industry group whose members include gas companies like Enbridge and FortisBC, as well as TC Energy, builder of the Coastal GasLink pipeline, a project that has faced fierce opposition led by hereditary chiefs from the Wet’suwet’en First Nation.

Fuelling Canada wants to create the impression of a national grassroots campaign.

[…] Klein argues it’s not a coincidence that some of the same companies behind Fuelling Canada also belong to an industry alliance that is fighting against municipal rules designed to phase out climate-warming natural gas in homes and buildings and replace them with electric ranges and other cleaner energy sources.

Internal documents describe this “Consortium to Combat Electrification” as a campaign whose mission is to “create effective, customizable marketing materials to fight the electrification/anti-natural gas movement.” The gas industry, one slide explains, is “in for [the] fight of it’s [sic] life.”

The consortium’s members include Enbridge and FortisBC, two of the companies also involved with Fuelling Canada. The major industry players paying for cleverly framed sponsored content promoting natural gas are the very same ones working behind the scenes to stop a shift away from fossil fuels.

“They want to continue to lock in customers in new fossil fuel infrastructure,” Klein said. “And they’re pulling out all the stops.”
» Blog editor’s note: Enbridge operates the Weymouth compressor station as part of its Atlantic Bridge Pipeline.
» Read article  

» More about gas bans

DIVESTMENT

stranded tick-boom
Why our continued use of fossil fuels is creating a financial time bomb
We’re investing in things that will have little value if we move off fossil fuels.
By John Timmer, Ars Technica
May 9, 2022

The numbers are startling.

We know roughly how much more carbon dioxide we can put into the atmosphere before we exceed our climate goals—limiting warming to 1.5° to 2° C above preindustrial temperatures. From that, we can figure out how much more fossil fuel we can burn before we emit that much carbon dioxide. But when you compare those numbers with our known fossil fuel reserves, things get jaw-dropping.

To reach our climate goals, we’ll need to leave a third of the oil, half of the natural gas, and nearly all the coal we’re aware of sitting in the ground, unused.

Yet we have—and are still building—infrastructure that is predicated on burning far more than that: mines, oil and gas wells, refineries, and the distribution networks that get all those products to market; power plants, cars, trains, boats, and airplanes that use the fuels. If we’re to reach our climate goals, some of those things will have to be intentionally shut down and left to sit idle before they can deliver a return on the money they cost to produce.

But it’s not just physical capital that will cause problems if we decide to get serious about addressing climate change. We have workers who are trained to use all of the idled hardware, companies that treat the fuel reserves and hardware as an asset on their balance sheets, and various contracts that dictate that the reserves can be exploited.

Collectively, you can think of all of these things as assets—assets that, if we were to get serious about climate change, would see their value drop to zero. At that point, they’d be termed “stranded assets,” and their stranding has the potential to unleash economic chaos on the world.

[…] The big question is whether these pressures build slowly or suddenly. If assets lose their value slowly, without major strandings, everyone can adjust. Investors can shift to other markets, companies can change their focus, infrastructure can be allowed to deprecate until much of its value is gone. There will undoubtedly be some economic pain, especially if you’re in the fossil fuel business, but there won’t be wholesale economic disruption.

Unfortunately, our climate goals and our continuing emissions are making the probability of this sort of soft landing increasingly remote. “We dragged our feet, and we kind of have to double down,” Rezai told Ars. “If we have to have quicker adjustments, that creates the possibility of more disruptive adjustments, less smooth adjustments.” My conversation with him and Van der Ploeg was filled with talk of the potential for a Minsky moment, in which the value of some assets drops dramatically. For the climate, this could come in response to technology changes or government policy changes.

This sort of sudden collapse will have sweeping effects. People who have livelihoods based on fossil fuel extraction will see their jobs vanish. Governments that rely on taxes and fees from fossil fuel extraction and use may struggle to replace the lost revenue. Companies throughout the economy will take a huge hit. Obviously, this will include lost revenue for fossil fuel companies. But it can also mean that things they treat as assets—from equipment to extraction licenses—will have to be written off as stranded.
» Read article   

» More about divestment

GREENING THE ECONOMY

Putnam Gardens
A strategy for tackling housing, climate crises simultaneously
HERO proposal would double state’s deeds excise tax
By Kimberly Lyle and Joseph Kriesberg, CommonWealth Magazine | Opinion
May 7, 2022

TWO CRISES are bearing down on our state. There’s the critical shortage of affordable housing, which leaves ever more of our neighbors unable to keep a roof over their heads. And there is the climate crisis, which promises more powerful storms, flooding, and deadly heat waves.

These crises demand urgent action. Now, a diverse coalition of housing, environmental, and faith-based organizations has come up with a plan to tackle both at once. The HERO Coalition urges the Massachusetts Legislature to raise the deeds excise tax — paid when real estate changes hands — to a level comparable with other Northeastern states. This could generate as much as $600 million annually for investments in climate and affordable housing.

[…] The HERO Coalition urges the Massachusetts  Legislature to double the deeds excise tax from $4.56 to $9.12 per $1,000 in sales price. This would bring us in line with neighboring states: New Hampshire’s tax is a whopping $15 per $1,000; in New York and Vermont it is $12.50. HERO would generate as much as $600 million in new revenue each year.

Half of the new revenue would go to affordable housing programs — the Affordable Housing Trust Fund and the Housing Stabilization and Preservation Trust Fund — serving both renters and low- and moderate-income homebuyers. The other half would go to the Global Warming Solutions Trust Fund, which would protect neighborhoods, homes, and businesses from the impacts of climate change while also investing in mitigation solutions, like energy efficiency, that will enable us to meet our state’s ambitious climate goals.

Raising the deeds excise tax is an equitable way to generate revenue. It is progressive because the tax is linked to real estate prices, buyers and sellers of high-end homes pay more. And it is affordable for lower-income homebuyers as well. Most families only pay the tax once or twice in their lifetime and it is amortized over the life of their mortgage.
» Read article   

» More about greening the economy  

CLIMATE

too hot
India tries to adapt to extreme heat but is paying a heavy price
Summer hasn’t arrived yet, but early heat waves have brought the country to a standstill
By Gerry Shih and Kasha Patel, Washington Post
May 9, 2022

[…] Typically, heat waves in India affect only part of the country, occur in the summer and only last for a week or so. But a string of early heat waves this spring has been longer and more widespread than any observed before. India experienced its hottest March on record. Northwest and central India followed with their hottest April.

“This probably would be the most severe heat wave in March and April in the entire [recorded] history” of India, said Vimal Mishra, a climate scientist at Indian Institute of Technology Gandhinagar.

Despite the unprecedented heat, fewer people appear to be dying. Heat waves in 2015 and 1998 took thousands of lives, but the India Meteorological Department has reported only a handful of deaths so far.

Across India, extreme heat has forced farmers, construction workers and students to rearrange their lives, showing how daily routines are changing — and work productivity is declining — in countries that are already among the poorest and hottest in the world.

In recent weeks, education officials in nine northern states have cut the length of classes in half so that students can be dismissed by 11 a.m. Some have ended the school year early. Administrators of large government-run rural employment programs mandated that workers digging canals and ditches stop before noon.

These shifts may be small on their own, but taken together they have far-reaching impacts. India loses more than 100 billion hours of labor per year because of extreme heat, the most of any country in the world, according to research published in Nature Communications.

“We’re reaching some of these critical thresholds in Southwest and South Asia, where people can no longer efficiently cool themselves and it’s almost deadly just to be outside, much less work,” said Luke Parsons, one of the paper’s co-authors. “It’s a really major issue in terms of who bears the cost of climate change first.”
» Read article  

new high
Atmospheric CO2 Hits Another All-Time High
By The Energy Mix
May 8, 2022

Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels measured at Hawai’i’s Mauna Loa Observatory breached 420 parts per million (ppm) in April for the first time in human history.

Considered the gold standard for accurate measurements of atmospheric CO2, the new measurements were released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), reports the Independent.

The NOAA data release shows CO2 levels hitting 420.23 ppm in April, eight years after they breached 400 ppm (400.2 ppm) in May, 2013.

Last May, atmospheric CO2 concentrations at Mauna Loa stood at 419.13 ppm. In May 2002, they were 375.93 ppm, and in 1958, the first year scientists began to measure atmospheric CO2 at Mauna Loa, levels stood at 317.51 ppm.

May typically records the highest levels of atmospheric CO2, just before the northern hemisphere’s summer kicks in with an explosion of plant growth that pulls carbon out the atmosphere, causing levels to drop.

Emissions from fossil fuel burning, plus the loss of natural carbon sinks through the destruction of forest, wetlands, and mangroves, now mean that even the lowest seasonal CO2 levels—typically measured in September before the leaves fall—are far too high for climate health.

Last year, September readings at Mauna Loa stood at 413.30, well above the safe limit of 350 ppm long urged by climate scientists.

And CO2 is not the only thing to worry about, the Independent notes.

Atmospheric concentrations of the two other major greenhouse gases, methane and nitrous oxide, are also rising sharply. Methane is about 85 times more potent an atmospheric warming agent than CO2 over a 20-year span; nitrous oxide is 300 times more powerful.

Atmospheric methane levels now stand at 1980.9 parts per billion (ppb), up 340 ppb from the early 1980s, while nitrous oxide just reached 335.2 ppb, up from 316 ppb just 20 years ago.
» Read article   

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

not ideal
Navigating the U.S. Solar Industry’s Spring of Discontent
Solar business owners feel worn down by a federal tariff investigation and the Biden administration’s failure to deliver on policy.
By Dan Gearino, Inside Climate News
May 5, 2022

Troy Van Beek is an optimist by nature, but he sounded dour this week.

His solar business, Ideal Energy in Fairfield, Iowa, is dealing with the blowback from a Department of Commerce investigation that could lead to retroactive tariffs on certain solar panels imported from Southeast Asia.

“We keep getting the rug pulled out from under us,” he said.

[…] The investigation has led to a spike in panel prices in anticipation of potential penalties, which is on top of existing supply chain problems that have made it difficult for solar installers to get the equipment they need.

Van Beek spends much of his time trying to chase down equipment and deciding how much he can pay at a time of volatile prices.

[…] The Commerce Department opened its investigation in response to a February legal filing by Auxin Solar, a small manufacturer in California, that said Chinese companies were circumventing the tariffs imposed in 2018 by the Trump administration. Auxin alleges that Chinese manufacturers avoided tariffs by sending equipment to nearby countries for minor assembly work before delivery to the United States. Since the 2018 tariffs, U.S. panel imports from China plummeted, largely replaced by imports from Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam. Some panel manufacturers have opened plants in the United States, like Jinko Solar of China, which opened in Florida, but the new plants’ output remains small compared to what’s in Asia.

Investigators have a few months to determine if the conduct meets the legal definition of a circumvention of tariffs.

Solar industry groups reacted to the investigation with alarm. The Solar Energy Industries Association said that 24 gigawatts of projects that were projected for 2022 or 2023 would not happen in those years, a decrease of 46 percent compared to the prior forecasts, if the government orders retroactive tariffs. The trade group provided examples of projects that were on hold because of uncertainty about costs that may result from the investigation, and also warned that 100,000 jobs could be lost.

“It’s pretty bad,” said Jenny Chase, lead solar analyst for BloombergNEF, in an email.
» Read article   

hidden emissions
New Research Shows Higher Methane Emissions from Hydropower
By Tara Lohan, The Revelator, in The Energy Mix
May 1, 2022

This month regulators greenlighted a transmission line that would bring power generated from Canadian hydroelectric dams to New York City. New York’s plan to achieve a zero-emissions grid by 2040 depends on hydropower, and it’s not alone.

Globally hydropower is the largest source of renewable energy. In the United States it makes up 7% of electricity generation, and 37 states allow some form of hydropower in their renewable portfolio standards, which establish requirements for the amount renewable energy that must be used for electricity generation.

As U.S. states and countries across the world work to reduce fossil fuels and boost renewables, hydropower is poised to play an even bigger role.

There’s just one problem: A growing body of research published over the past two decades has found that most reservoirs, including those used for hydropower, aren’t emissions-free.

“Hydroelectric reservoirs are a source of biogenic greenhouse gases and in individual cases can reach the same emission rates as thermal power plants,” Swiss researchers found in a 2016 study published in the journal PLoS ONE.

Despite the green reputation of hydropower among policy-makers, some reservoirs emit significant amounts of methane, along with much smaller amounts of nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide.

That’s bad news because we already have a methane problem. This short-lived but potent gas packs 85 times the global warming punch of carbon dioxide over 20 years. If we hope to stave off catastrophic warming, scientists say we need to quickly cut methane. But new data show that despite this warning it’s still increasing at record levels — even with a global pledge signed by 100 countries to slash methane emissions 30% by 2030.

Methane can rise from wetlands and other natural sources, but most emissions come from human-caused sources like oil and gas, landfills, and livestock. We’ve known about the threat from those sources for years, but emissions from reservoirs have largely been either uncounted or undercounted.

In part that’s because tracking emissions from reservoirs is complicated and highly variable. Emissions can change at different times of the year or even day. They’re influenced by how the dam is managed, including fluctuations in the water level, as well as a host of environmental factors like water quality, depth, sediment, surface wind speed, and temperature.

But recent scientific research provides a better framework to undertake this critical accounting. And environmental groups say it’s time for regulators to get busy putting it to work.
» Read article   
» Read the 2016 study

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

snow cap
Heat pumps do work in the cold — Americans just don’t know it yet

These heating/cooling systems have been called the “most overlooked climate solution.” Now they can work in temperatures far below freezing.
By Shannon Osaka, Grist
May 9, 2022

Heat pumps – heating and cooling systems that run entirely on electricity – have been getting a lot of attention recently. They’ve been called the “most overlooked climate solution” and “an answer to heat waves.” And the technology is finally experiencing a global boom in popularity. Last year, 117 million units were installed worldwide, up from 90 million in 2010. As temperatures and greenhouse gas emissions rise, heat pumps, which can be easily powered by renewable energy, promise to provide a pathway to carbon-free home heating. Environmental activist Bill McKibben even suggested sending heat pumps to Europe to help wean the continent off Russian natural gas.

But despite this global surge in popularity, heat pumps in the U.S. are laboring under a misconception that has plagued them for decades: That if the temperature falls to below 30 or even 40 degrees Fahrenheit, their technology simply doesn’t work. “Do heat pumps work in cold weather” is even a trending question on Google.

It’s a narrative that Andy Meyer, a senior program manager for the independent state agency Efficiency Maine, has spent the past decade debunking for residents in one of the U.S.’s coldest states.

“There were two types of people in Maine in 2012,” he said. “Those who didn’t know what heat pumps were — and those who knew they didn’t work in the cold.” But while that concern may have been true years ago, he said, today “it’s not at all true for high-performance heat pumps.”

[…] One of the benefits of installing heat pumps is cost-savings. In Maine, many homes are heated with fuel oil or propane. At current prices, Meyer says, running a heat pump costs half as much as oil and one-third as much as propane. According to Efficiency Maine’s analysis, that can save homeowners up to thousands of dollars in annual energy costs. A 2017 study by CEE similarly found that installing heat pumps in Minnesota could save residents between $349 and $764 per year, compared to heating with a standard electric or propane furnace.

There are some caveats. Lacey Tan, a manager for the carbon-free buildings program at the energy think tank RMI, says there is still a price premium for heat pumps: Some installers aren’t yet comfortable with how they work and try to reduce their risk by increasing up-front costs. In cold climates, some homes may want to have a back-up heating system for extremely frigid days or in the event of a power outage. (In Maine, Meyer says many homeowners use wood stoves as back-up for their heat pumps.)

But many experts believe more and more cold-weather heat pumps will be sold as homeowners learn about the new advances in the technology. Meyer says that Mainers who install heat pumps naturally begin to share their experience with friends and family. “We have over 100,000 salespeople who have already gotten heat pumps,” he said jokingly. “Not bad for a state where they ‘don’t work in the cold.’”
» Read article   

non-condensing
DOE updates water heater rule for first time in two decades
By Miranda Willson, E&E News
May 6, 2022

The Biden administration has unveiled the first new energy efficiency standards in over 20 years for water heaters in commercial buildings, a move it says could slash greenhouse gas emissions and reduce energy costs.

Proposed yesterday by the Department of Energy, the updated standards would save businesses $140 million per year in operating costs and eliminate certain inefficient natural gas-consuming water heaters from the market, according to DOE.

The new standards would reduce carbon emissions by 38 million metric tons between 2026 and 2055, DOE said — an amount equivalent to the annual emissions of about 37 coal-fired power plants, according to an EPA calculator. Natural gas-powered water heaters typically use about 18 percent of the gas consumed in commercial buildings, the department said, citing data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

“Water heating accounts for a considerable share of energy costs and domestic carbon emissions,” Kelly Speakes-Backman, principal deputy assistant secretary for energy efficiency and renewable energy at DOE, said in a press release. “Modernizing commercial water heater technology will slash energy costs for schools, hospitals, and small businesses while removing carbon and methane from our atmosphere.”

If finalized, the proposed rule would go into effect in 2026, resulting in less-efficient water heaters known as “non-condensing” models being effectively eliminated from the market.
» Blog editor’s note: this weak ruling (which still allows businesses to install new, “efficient” natural gas water heaters that will lock in emissions for decades) is opposed by groups representing natural gas utilities. It’s progress, but we need a bigger, faster shift.
» Read article   

» More about energy efficiency

ENERGY STORAGE

nano magnet
In a World Starved for Lithium, Researchers Develop a Method to Get It from Water
National lab uses magnets to extract lithium, potentially helping with shortage of key battery material.
By Dan Gearino, Inside Climate News
May 12, 2022

The world needs vast quantities of lithium to meet demand for lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles and energy storage. And the United States is way behind China in securing a supply of this rare metal.

Catching up in this global race may take some magic, or at least a process that looks like magic.

Researchers at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Washington have produced magnets that can separate lithium and other metals from water. This approach has the potential to allow companies to affordably gather lithium from sources like the brine used in geothermal power systems and the waste water left over from use by industry.

“We believe that this thing can be big,” said Jian Liu, a senior research engineer at the lab.

The lab has developed a magnetic “nanoparticle” that binds to the materials the user is trying to extract from a liquid. Then, as the liquid passes over a magnetic field, the nanoparticle, which is now latched onto the desired material—usually lithium—gets pulled out.

Liu and his team have been developing this system for eight years. The version in the lab looks like a collection of water containers connected by clear plastic tubes and electronic pumps.

[…] The main caveat is that the process has a cost that means it only makes economic sense for use in liquids with higher concentrations of lithium. The lab’s research is working to reduce the costs.
» Read article   

» More about energy storage

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

POTUS at Zero
Biden Announces $3 Billion in Grants for Domestic Electric Vehicle Battery Production
By Cristen Hemingway Jaynes, EcoWatch
May 3, 2022

The Biden administration has announced a $3.16 billion plan to stimulate the production of batteries for electric vehicles (EVs) in the U.S., an essential step in reducing the carbon emissions that are causing global warming.

The money will be made available in the form of grants to encourage the manufacturing of more high-capacity batteries and the sourcing of the raw materials needed to make them. Funded by last year’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the grants will help U.S. companies build new factories and modify old ones so that they can manufacture EV batteries and parts, CNBC reported. There will be an additional $60 million for a battery reuse and recycling program, the Department of Energy said.

“With the demand for electric vehicles (EVs) and stationary storage alone projected to increase the size of the lithium battery market five- to ten-fold by the end of the decade, it is essential that the United States invests in the capacity to accelerate the development of a resilient supply chain for high capacity batteries,” said a grant availability announcement from the U.S. Department of Energy, as the Detroit Free Press reported.

President Joe Biden wants half of all new vehicle sales in the country to be electric by the end of the decade, and has also issued guidelines for all new cars and trucks bought by the federal government to be emissions-free by 2035, reported The New York Times.
» Read article   

» More about clean transportation

GAS UTILITIES

start over
Two years after asking for future of gas investigation, Healey asks state to reject results
By Sabrina Shankman, Boston Globe
May 12, 2022

Attorney General Maura Healey, who two years ago prompted the state to begin mapping the phaseout of natural gas in Massachusetts, is now asking it to scrap the blueprint emerging from the process, saying it favors gas company profits over a healthy climate.

”We should be setting the path for an energy system that is equitable, reliable, and affordable — not one that pumps more money into gas pipelines and props up utility shareholders,” said Healey, who is running for governor.

In a 106-page document filed with the state Department of Public Utilities late last week, Healey also said the agency’s decision-making process should be overhauled to prioritize climate goals over the health of utilities, currently one of its functions.

The filing is the latest salvo in a battle that has raged largely out of sight over the future of the gas industry in Massachusetts. Many climate advocates and the state’s own roadmap to net-zero greenhouse emissions call for radically reducing fossil fuels such as natural gas in favor of electricity supplied by a clean power grid. But when the public utilities department launched what it called an investigation into the future of natural gas in 2020, it gave responsibility for developing the blueprint to the gas utilities themselves.

The proposals now emerging from that process, while they would allow for ramping up electrification, lean heavily on large-scale use of so-called decarbonized gas or renewable natural gas. These include tapping the gas generated by landfills or wastewater treatment plants, for example, or using renewable electricity sources to process hydrogen as a fuel. Utilities have also argued for a “hybrid electrification” system, where homes would have electric heat pumps, but also keep gas as a backup.

But advocates say the industry’s suggestions are problematic since they would allow gas companies to continue using fuels that contribute to global warming simply by replacing what flows through their pipes.

In eight hours of public testimony last week and hundreds of pages of comments submitted in the public utilities department proceeding, advocates, activists, and public officials raised concerns that the gas companies’ proposals overlook certain realities about decarbonized fuels — including high cost, limited supply, and that they may not be as climate-friendly as the utilities are claiming.

”Gas utilities have asked the DPU to approve the spending of ratepayer money on untested and costly technologies to maintain their century-old business plan,” Healey said in response to questions from the Globe.
» Read article  
» For the back story on why the utility-produced plan is so bad, MA Senator Cynthia Creem’s April 4, 2022
“Future of Gas” hearing is a must-watch!

» More about gas utilities

CARBON CAPTURE AND STORAGE

CO2 pipeline regs
Safety advocate warns of a lack of oversight for new CO2 pipelines needed for carbon capture
By Kara Holsopple, The Allegheny Front
April 29, 2022

The federal infrastructure bill has spurred new interest in carbon capture and storage as a way to reduce climate polluting emissions from the air and send them underground.

Bill Caram, the executive director of Pipeline Safety Trust, says there was also an expansion of existing tax credits for carbon capture to decarbonize parts of the economy. But his group has concerns about the current regulation of pipelines that carry carbon dioxide, and the many more CO2 pipelines that would be needed to fulfill some of these visions of the future.

Pipeline Safety Trust recently commissioned a report to assess the state of CO2 pipeline safety regulation, and The Allegheny Front’s Kara Holsopple recently spoke with Caram about it.
» Listen to the conversation, or read the transcript        
» Read the report on CO2 pipeline safety regulations

» More about CCS

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Dacono
US fracking boom could tip world to edge of climate disaster
140bn metric tons of planet-heating gases could be unleashed if fossil fuel extraction plans get green light, analysis shows
By Nina Lakhani and Oliver Milman, The Guardian
May 11, 2022

The fate of the vast quantities of oil and gas lodged under the shale, mud and sandstone of American drilling fields will in large part determine whether the world retains a liveable climate. And the US, the world’s largest extractor of oil, is poised to unleash these fossil fuels in spectacular volumes.

Planned drilling projects across US land and waters will release 140bn metric tons of planet-heating gases if fully realised, an analysis shared with the Guardian has found.

The study, to be published in the Energy Policy journal this month, found emissions from these oil and gas “carbon bomb” projects were four times larger than all of the planet-heating gases expelled globally each year, placing the world on track for disastrous climate change.

The plans include conventional drilling and fracking spanning the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico to the foothills of the Front Range in Colorado and the mountainous Appalachian region. But the heart is the Permian basin, a geological formation 250 miles wide that sits under the mostly flat terrain of west Texas and New Mexico.

One lobe of this formation, known as the Delaware basin, is predicted to emit 27.8bn metric tons of carbon during the lifetime of planned drilling, while another, known as the Midland basin, will potentially unleash 16.6bn tons of emissions.

It means the US, the centre of the world’s addiction to oil and gas, will play an outsized role in the heatwaves, droughts and floods that will impact people around the planet.

Compared with traditional drilling, fracking is linked to higher levels of exposure to toxic air pollutants and poor water quality, as well as unhealthy noise and light pollution. Numerous studies have suggested elevated rates of congenital heart defects, childhood leukaemia, asthma, and premature births in neigbourhoods close to fracking sites, while elderly people living near or downwind are more likely to die prematurely.
» Read article   

Niger Delta flares
Oil Giants Sell Dirty Wells to Buyers With Looser Climate Goals, Study Finds
The transactions can help major oil and gas companies clean up their own production by transferring polluting assets to a different firm, the analysis said.
By Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times
May 10, 2022

When Royal Dutch Shell sold off its stake in the Umuechem oil field in Nigeria last year, it was, on paper, a step forward for the company’s climate ambitions: Shell could clean up its holdings, raise money to invest in cleaner technologies, and move toward its goal of net zero emissions by 2050.

As soon as Shell left, however, the oil field underwent a change so significant it was detected from space: a surge in flaring, or the wasteful burning of excess gas in towering columns of smoke and fire. Flaring emits planet-warming greenhouse gases, as well as soot, into the atmosphere.

Around the world, many of the largest energy companies are expected to sell off more than $100 billion of oil fields and other polluting assets in an effort to cut their emissions and make progress toward their corporate climate goals. However, they frequently sell to buyers that disclose little about their operations, have made few or no pledges to combat climate change, and are committed to ramping up fossil fuel production.

New research to be released Tuesday showed that, of 3,000 oil and gas deals made between 2017 and 2021, more than twice as many involved assets moving from operators with net-zero commitments to those that didn’t, than the reverse. That is raising concerns that the assets will continue to pollute, perhaps even at a greater rate, but away from the public eye.

“You can move your assets to another company, and move the emissions off your own books, but that doesn’t equal any positive impact on the planet if it’s done without any safeguards in place,” said Andrew Baxter, who heads the energy transition team at the Environmental Defense Fund, which performed the analysis.

Transactions like these expose the messy underside of the global energy transition away from fossil fuels, a shift that is imperative to avoid the most catastrophic effects of climate change.
» Read article   
» Read the EDF report on transferred emissions

» More about fossil fuel

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

Goldboro undead
2 stalled LNG projects in Nova Scotia may be on the brink of revival
Renewed signs of interest in Goldboro and Bear Head projects
Frances Willick, CBC News
May 11, 2022

Two proposed liquefied natural gas projects in Nova Scotia that previously stalled are now showing signs of advancing.

Pieridae Energy, the company behind the Goldboro LNG project, is in discussions with the federal government about how to move the project forward.

The proposed LNG terminal in Goldboro, N.S., was previously pitched as a $13-billion land-based facility that would bring in gas from Western Canada and then ship it to Europe. Pieridae shelved the project last summer due to cost pressures and time constraints.

But after Russia — a key supplier of oil and gas to Europe — invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, the federal government approached Pieridae to see if the company could assist with efforts to ramp up energy exports to help wean Europe off Russian resources.

It’s a far cry from the situation a year ago, when Pieridae requested $1 billion from Ottawa to help make the project a reality — funding that did not materialize.

“The world has changed a lot since then,” Pieridae CEO Alfred Sorensen told CBC News Tuesday. “We have to take advantage of all the work we’ve done already and try and see if we can move the project forward very quickly.”

Earlier this year, Pieridae Energy was considering a smaller project with a floating LNG barge where gas would be super-chilled and then transferred onto tankers.

The company is now shifting its attention back to a land-based project because it would be able to produce more gas than a barge-based facility, and the federal government is interested in maximizing output, Sorensen said.

[…] Even with many approvals and permits already in place, Sorensen said gas would not likely flow from a Goldboro facility until January 2027.

[…] Any oil and gas project in Nova Scotia will face opposition from people concerned about its impact on climate change and greenhouse gas reduction targets.
» Read article   

» More about LNG

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Weekly News Check-In 2/25/22

banner 11

Welcome back.

The invasion of Ukraine is underway, and Russia is deploying access to oil and gas for advantage over that country (and Europe more broadly) just as brutally as missiles, bombs, and bullets. In a perfect world, we would have nearly completed our transition to clean energy by now – possibly avoiding this conflict altogether. In a rational world, this violence would focus and strengthen everyone’s resolve to accelerate the current sluggish pace of change. But we’re human – neither perfect nor even particularly rational – and so this moment presents a boon to the fossil fuel industry. As extraction sharply increases and windfall profits roll in, the continuing rise of global emissions is sowing seeds of future conflicts.

But there’s hopeful news too. Legal actions against fossil fuel polluters and infrastructure are finally forcing regulators to focus on environmental and climate impacts. The broadening divestment movement is calling out corporate conflicts of interest and operating with increasing coordination and sophistication. And cities like Boston are driving opportunities for greening the economy into communities that have previously been left out.

Progress is also happening in energy efficiency, where air-source heat pumps are proving they can keep homes comfortable through frosty New England winters. Advances in energy storage using non-toxic, abundant materials is hastening the day when renewables + storage can entirely support the electric grid. And we’re finding creative ways to deploy solar arrays that provide benefits beyond power generation.

Meanwhile, so-called hard to decarbonize industries like steel and cement could one day use “heat batteries” charged up from wind and solar sources to deliver high-temperature, zero-emissions process heat. This suggests an even greener (and cheaper) solution than using hydrogen for industrial processes.

All those good things are happening because people are paying attention and staying involved. And there’s plenty to do. Pipelines continue to be proposed and permitted, grid operators still resist modernizing, and some of the biggest polluters are pushing false solutions like carbon capture and storage as an excuse to extend their ride on business as usual. Cities attempting to ban gas hookups in new construction are meeting resistance from the gas industry and their Republican enablers. But state utility regulators are – at least in some cases – starting to take a hard look at the need to decarbonize the natural gas distribution system, to the point of paring it back in favor of building electrification.

We’ll close with a look at the effect of plastics in the environment, and check progress on the UN’s global plastics treaty currently being drafted in Nairobi, Kenya. Fiercely opposed by the fossil fuel and chemical industries, the limitation of single-use plastics is hugely popular all over the world.

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

SCOTUS on DAPL
US supreme court rejects Dakota Access pipeline appeal
Pipeline operator sought to overturn 2020 legal victory striking down a key federal permit
By Nina Lakhani, The Guardian
February 22, 2022

The US supreme court has rejected a case by the Dakota Access oil pipeline operator to avoid a legally mandated environmental review, in a major victory for tribes and environmentalists campaigning to permanently shut down the polluting energy project.

Energy Transfer, the pipeline operator, had sought to overturn a legal victory won by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in 2020 that struck down a key federal permit that violated the National Environmental Policy Act (Nepa).

On Tuesday the US supreme court rejected the company’s bid to challenge the 2020 ruling, which required the US army corps of engineers to conduct a comprehensive environmental impact statement (EIS).

As a result, the lower court’s decision remains intact and the army corps must complete a review of the pipeline’s route underneath Lake Oahe, which straddles the border of North Dakota and South Dakota, that complies with Nepa. Indigenous communities rely on the lake, which they consider sacred, for drinking water and food.

The ruling is a huge victory for North Dakota tribes including the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe which rallied support from across the world and sued the US government in a campaign to stop the environmentally risky pipeline being built on tribal lands.

It signals the end of the litigation road for the Texan energy company, but the pipeline, known as DAPL and open since 2017, will continue to operate as the review is carried out.
» Read article      

» More about protests and actions       

PIPELINES

pipe dreams 2022
Global Gas Pipeline Boom Poses Climate, Financial Disaster
“The fact that nearly half-a-trillion dollars of gas pipelines are in development makes no sense economically as many of these projects will become stranded assets as the world transitions to renewables.”
By Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams
February 22, 2022

As campaigners and scientists continue to demand keeping fossil fuels in the ground, an analysis on Tuesday revealed the incredible amount of gas development humanity has planned, despite the climate and financial risks.

The new report—entitled Pipe Dreams 2022: Stranded assets and magical thinking in the proposed global gas pipeline build-out—was authored by a trio of experts at the San Francisco-based Global Energy Monitor (GEM).

“A slowdown in gas pipeline development in 2021 was, unfortunately, more about Covid than a recognition that gas is contributing to the climate crisis,” said report co-author Baird Langenbrunner, a research analyst at GEM, in a statement.

“Looking ahead, the fact that nearly half-a-trillion dollars of gas pipelines are in development makes no sense economically,” he warned, “as many of these projects will become stranded assets as the world transitions to renewable.”

Stranded assets, as Carbon Tracker explains, are “assets that turn out to be worth less than expected as a result of changes associated with the energy transition.”

The GEM report states that “after a Covid-19-related drop in pipeline commissionings in 2021, the gas industry and gas-positive countries led by China, India, Russia, Australia, the United States, and Brazil are pushing ahead with plans to commission tens of thousands of kilometers of gas pipelines in 2022.”

The analysis projects that the planned expansion of the global gas pipeline network—70,889 kilometers (km) or 44,048 miles in construction and another 122,477 km or 76,104 miles in pre-construction development—creates a $485.8 billion stranded asset risk, in addition to jeopardizing the chances of meeting the Paris climate agreement’s goals.
» Read article     
» Read the GEM report

business as usual project
Eversource establishes gas reliability project plan, despite concerns
By Sarah Heinonen and Matt Conway, The Reminder
February 18, 2022

Eversource Energy introduced a gas reliability project during the latter half of 2021, with the proposed structure potentially adding a new point of delivery system in Longmeadow.

The proposed project would also bring the installation of a steel mainline between the new Longmeadow location and the gas line’s existing regulator station in Springfield, as well as upgrades to the existing gas line connected to an Agawam regulator station. As Eversource presents to the central communities involved, the project is already garnering an array of different perspectives.

Springfield’s Sustainability and Environment Committee heard the first Eversource presentation of the project during an Oct. 14 meeting. Eversource Energy’s Community Relations and Economic Development Specialist Joseph Mitchell showcased a presentation detailing, according to Eversource, the project’s necessity, stressing that the proposed point of delivery system will ensure that residents would not experience service outages if one of the points of delivery systems are affected by extreme weather or other disruptions.

“This is a reliability project, not an expansion project. We want to mitigate the risk in the greater Springfield area,” said Mitchell. Before finalizing the new point of delivery system’s plans, Mitchell presented different deviations of the pipeline’s potential route. Eversource’s shortest and preferred route would cost $22.7 million, while the company’s largest route costs $32.7 million.

In the aftermath of the presentation, Chairman of the Sustainability and Environment Committee and City Councilor At-Large Jesse Lederman expressed his perspective on the project by calling for an Independent Cost/Benefit Analysis from the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities (DPU). The councilor explained his concerns as a part of his mission to ensure accountability between public utilities and Springfield.

Lederman cited two major reasons for calling for the independent examination. He expressed concern about investing in gas projects as the nation steadily embraces renewable energy sources while also questioning the viability of the proposed point of delivery system as a necessary addition.

“If we know that the benefit is not really there, then I think you’re going to have a strong case for the DPU to push back on this proposal,” said Lederman in an interview with Reminder Publishing. The councilor shared that the reliability project started as a rumor when Columbia Gas worked with the city before being acquired by Eversource in 2020.
» Read article      

» More about pipelines

DIVESTMENT

Elsevier conflictedRevealed: leading climate research publisher helps fuel oil and gas drilling
Elsevier’s work with fossil fuel companies ‘drags us towards disaster’, climate researcher says
By Amy Westervelt, The Guardian
February 24, 2022

Scientists working with one of the world’s largest climate research publishers say they’re increasingly alarmed that the company works with the fossil fuel industry to help increase oil and gas drilling, the Guardian can reveal.

Elsevier, a Dutch company behind many renowned peer-reviewed scientific journals, including the Lancet and Global Environmental Change, is also one of the top publishers of books aimed at expanding fossil fuel production.

For more than a decade, the company has supported the energy industry’s efforts to optimize oil and gas extraction. It commissions authors, editors and journal advisory board members who are employees at top oil firms. Elsevier also markets some of its research portals and data services directly to the oil and gas industry to help “increase the odds of exploration success”.

Several former and current employees say that for the past year, dozens of workers have spoken out internally and at company-wide town halls to urge Elsevier to reconsider its relationship with the fossil fuel industry.

“When I first started, I heard a lot about the company’s climate commitments,” said a former Elsevier journal editor who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity. “Eventually I just realized it was all marketing, which is really upsetting because Elsevier has published all the research it needs to know exactly what to do if it wants to make a meaningful difference.”

What makes Elsevier’s ties to the fossil fuel industry particularly alarming to its critics is that it is one of a handful of companies that publish peer-reviewed climate research. Scientists and academics say they’re concerned that Elsevier’s conflicting business interests risk undermining their work.
» Read article     

loyalty
The campus divestment movement has a sophisticated new legal strategy
Students at five universities have launched a coordinated legal campaign against fossil fuel investments.
By Emily Pontecorvo, Grist
February 16, 2022

Students and faculty have been asking universities to divest from fossil fuels for more than a decade now. But what started as a campaign to erode the industry’s “social license to operate” is developing more sophisticated arguments about fiduciary duty and prudent investing.

On Wednesday, student divestment activists from Yale, Princeton, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford, and Vanderbilt filed legal complaints with their respective states’ attorney generals’ offices accusing their schools of violating the Uniform Prudent Management of Institutional Funds Act, or UPMIFA. Every state in the U.S. except for Pennsylvania has passed a version of UPMIFA, which establishes investing principles that nonprofit endowment managers must follow. The students hope the coordinated action will not only pressure their own schools into divesting but potentially set a new legal precedent for all institutional investors.

“We didn’t just write this 80-page document to, like, make Yale scared,” said Molly Weiner, a freshman at Yale and organizer with the Yale Endowment Justice Coalition, a campus activist group. “If Attorney General William Tong does decide to open an investigation into fossil fuel investments, that means that in all of Connecticut, there is a clear imperative for pension funds and all other sort of institutional endowments with charitable statuses to divest. And it sets a powerful precedent for other states as well.”

While the law varies slightly by state, UPMIFA generally binds institutional endowment managers to consider the “charitable purpose” of the institution while investing, to invest with “prudence,” and to invest with “loyalty.”
» Read article      

» More about divestment

GREENING THE ECONOMY

Davo Jefferson
Boston will put young people to work as part of city’s Green New Deal
By Dharna Noor, Boston Globe
February 23, 2022

Moving to a new green economy could bring thousands of new jobs to Boston, but right now, that transition isn’t happening fast enough. An upcoming city initiative aims to speed up the process while ensuring new positions go to those who need them most.

The Youth Green Jobs Corps will provide green job training and placement for unemployed and underemployed Boston residents between the ages of 18 and 30, including formerly incarcerated people. Last week, Mayor Wu announced the program will be led by Davo Jefferson, a longtime social justice reform advocate who says he “gets a charge like nothing else” out of helping people find jobs.

“This is my life’s passion, to help folks prepare for opportunities that they may have difficulty preparing for on their own,” he said.

Jefferson has spent the past 20 years helping kids, young adults, and re-entering citizens find work of all kinds, from entry-level finance roles to jobs in warehouses. Bringing those skills to the green economy, he said, “just makes sense.”

“This is an emerging field with tremendous growth potential for livable wage employment,” he said.

Jefferson says the new program will accelerate the transition to an economy that is not only more climate-friendly, but also fairer. Right now, green jobs aren’t equally accessible to people of all backgrounds. Employees of both the National Park Service and the solar industry, for instance, are overwhelmingly white.

“Marginalized communities are always last to get a seat at the table when these types of opportunities are available,” he said. “This will give the people from those communities a chance to get their foot in the door.”
» Read article      

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

Gelsenkirchen coal plant
Climate Fears on Back Burner as Fuel Costs Soar and Russia Crisis Deepens
Energy security has gained prominence while the conflict in Ukraine raises concerns over the possible interruption in the supply of oil and natural gas.
By Patricia Cohen, New York Times
February 23, 2022

It was only three months ago that world leaders met at the Glasgow climate summit and made ambitious pledges to reduce fossil fuel use. The perils of a warming planet are no less calamitous now, but the debate about the critically important transition to renewable energy has taken a back seat to energy security as Russia — Europe’s largest energy supplier — threatens to start a major confrontation with the West over Ukraine while oil prices are climbing toward $100 a barrel.

For more than a decade, policy discussions in Europe and beyond about cutting back on gas, oil and coal emphasized safety and the environment, at the expense of financial and economic considerations, said Lucia van Geuns, a strategic energy adviser at the Hague Center for Strategic Studies. Now, it’s the reverse.

“Gas prices became very high, and all of a sudden security of supply and price became the main subject of public debate,” she said.

The renewed emphasis on energy independence and national security may encourage policymakers to backslide on efforts to decrease the use of fossil fuels that pump deadly greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Already, skyrocketing prices have spurred additional production and consumption of fuels that contribute to global warming. Coal imports to the European Union in January rose more than 56 percent from the previous year.

In Britain, the Coal Authority gave a mine in Wales permission last month to increase output by 40 million tons over the next two decades. In Australia, there are plans to open or expand more coking coal mines. And China, which has traditionally made energy security a priority, has further stepped up its coal production and approved three new billion-dollar coal mines this week.

“Get your rig count up,” Jennifer Granholm, the U.S. energy secretary, said in December, urging American oil producers to raise their output. Shale companies in Oklahoma, Colorado and other states are looking to resurrect drilling that had ceased because there is suddenly money to be made. And this month, Exxon Mobil announced plans to increase spending on new oil wells and other projects.

Ian Goldin, a professor of globalization and development at the University of Oxford, warned that high energy prices could lead to more exploration of traditional fossil fuels. “Governments will want to deprioritize renewables and sustainables, which would be exactly the wrong response,” he said.
» Read article      

western slope fog
Climate change is intensifying Earth’s water cycle at twice the predicted rate, research shows
Rising temperatures pushing much more freshwater towards poles than climate models previously estimated
By Donna Lu, The Guardian
February 23, 2022

Rising global temperatures have shifted at least twice the amount of freshwater from warm regions towards the Earth’s poles than previously thought as the water cycle intensifies, according to new analysis.

Climate change has intensified the global water cycle by up to 7.4% – compared to previous modelling estimates of 2% to 4%, research published in the journal Nature suggests.

The water cycle describes the movement of water on Earth – it evaporates, rises into the atmosphere, cools and condenses into rain or snow and falls again to the surface.

“When we learn about the water cycle, traditionally we think of it as some unchanging process which is constantly filling and refilling our dams, our lakes, and our water sources,” the study’s lead author, Dr Taimoor Sohail of the University of New South Wales, said.

But scientists have long known that rising global temperatures are intensifying the global water cycle, with dry subtropical regions likely to get drier as freshwater moves towards wet regions.

Last August, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s sixth assessment report concluded that climate change will cause long-term changes to the water cycle, resulting in stronger and more frequent droughts and extreme rainfall events.

Sohail said the volume of extra freshwater that had already been pushed to the poles as a result of an intensifying water cycle was far greater than previous climate models suggest.

“Those dire predictions that were laid out in the IPCC will potentially be even more intense,” he said.
» Read article
» Read the study

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

high energy bills
Will rising gas prices hasten the switch to renewables?
The soaring cost of energy is top of mind for consumers worldwide. How will the increase affect climate and energy policy?
By Dave Keating, Energy Monitor
February 21, 2022

Energy prices are soaring, chiefly driven by a sharp increase in the price of natural gas. Few places are feeling this more acutely than Europe, which is heavily reliant on gas imports for both heat and electricity. Natural gas in Europe now costs as much as €150 per megawatt hour (MWh), compared with an average of €49/MWh last year. During a visit to Washington, D.C. earlier this month, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said one way to ride out the storm is to accelerate the energy transition toward renewables – but is there any evidence this is happening in the short term?

The good news, according to a recent report by climate think tank Ember, is gas power generation is being replaced with renewable energy because renewables have become the cheapest form of electricity by far. Last year saw a decline in fossil fuels’ share of electricity production in the EU, from 39% in 2019 to 37% in 2021. Renewable electricity has had an average annual growth of 44 terawatt-hours over the past two years, and more than half of that new wind and solar power replaced gas plants.

The bad news is those renewables were until now going to replace coal instead of gas. From 2011 to 2019, more than 80% of new renewables came at the expense of coal, according to the Ember report. Because there are not yet enough renewables online to replace both, that means the decline in coal is slowing because there are less renewables available to replace it – they are busy replacing gas – and yet coal is much more emissions-intensive than gas.

“The gas crisis has really demonstrated that Europe needs to get serious about renewables deployment,” says Charles Moore from Ember. “Europe has been focused on coal, but not gas. The gas crisis is a big wake-up call. We need to get off both coal and gas by 2035.”
» Read article      

Amsterdam wind farm
US offshore wind auction attracts record-setting bids
The auction marks the US effort to bolster renewable energy development projects – it has lagged behind Europe.
By Al Jazeera
February 23, 2022

The largest ever US sale of offshore wind development rights – for areas off the coasts of New York and New Jersey – attracted record-setting bids on Wednesday from companies seeking to be a part of President Joe Biden’s plan to create a booming new domestic industry.

It is the first offshore wind lease sale under Biden, who has made expansion of offshore wind a cornerstone of his strategy to address global warming and decarbonise the US electricity grid by 2035, all while creating thousands of jobs.

With bidding still under way, the auction was on track to easily top the $405m US offshore wind auction record set in 2018, according to updates posted on the US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s (BOEM) website.

The auction’s scale marks a major step forward for offshore wind power in the United States, which has lagged European nations in developing the technology. Currently, the US has just two small offshore wind facilities, off the coasts of Rhode Island and Virginia, along with two additional commercial-scale projects recently approved for development.

BOEM, which has not held an auction for wind leases since 2018, is offering 488,201 acres (197,568 hectares) in shallow waters between New York’s Long Island and New Jersey, an area known as the New York Bight.
» Read article      

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

Martin HP
Granite Geek: Heat pumps don’t seem like they’d work here but they’re the future of home heating – and air conditioning
By DAVID BROOKS, Concord Monitor
February 21, 2022

Heat pumps are getting attention because one of the main slogans for those trying to reduce future climate change is to “electrify everything.”  Electricity can become clean in ways that fossil fuels can never be and electric motors are usually more efficient than internal-combustion motors – and heat pumps are more efficient than fossil-fuel furnaces, often by a factor of three or four. This is why Massachusetts wants to switch 1 million homes from oil or gas to heat pumps by 2030.

So what is a heat pump? (Terrible name, by the way). Just a machine with the same technology as a refrigerator. It absorbs heat in one place by condensing liquids, pumps that liquid somewhere else and then expands it to release the heat.

Most home heat pumps consist of an outdoor compressor that looks like a ground-mounted air conditioning unit, with tubes that go into the building carrying liquid or vapor, generally ending up in wall-mounted units called mini-splits (another terrible name). Those units blast out warm or cool air.

Cool air? One of their huge advantages is that the heat can be moved from indoors to outdoors or the other way around. In other words, they are simultaneously a furnace and an air conditioner.

As New Hampshire’s summers get hotter this is a big selling point, said Austin Atamian, who owns Atamian Heating in Greenland.

“A lot of people call and say hey, I’ve got baseboard hot-water heat and looking to add A.C. When I let them know they can use this for heat and save money. it’s usually a huge perk,” he said. “Generally people are in search of A.C. and the heat is a bonus.”

And before you ask – yes, modern heat pumps can keep us warm even in mid-winter, although they lose efficiency on the coldest nights and cost more to run. In case you doubt this, consider that they are very popular in Sweden, where winters are at least as gnarly as ours.
» Read article      

» More about energy efficiency

BUILDING MATERIALS

hot product
How a high-tech twist on a 19th-century process could clean up steel and cement making
This startup made a heat battery using old-school materials
By Justine Calma, The Verge
February 22, 2022

Greenhouse gas emissions need to virtually disappear within the next few decades to avoid the worst effects of climate change, and the most difficult emissions to erase could come from industries like steel and cement set to play a big role in new, green infrastructure. Wind turbines, for example, are made mostly of steel — but, at least until now, it’s been almost unheard of to make that steel using renewable energy.

That could start to change if a startup developing a “heat battery” can successfully move from the lab to the real world. It’s what Oakland, California-based Rondo Energy aims to do with $22 million in new funding from Bill Gates’ climate investment fund, Breakthrough Energy Ventures, and utility-backed investment firm Energy Impact Partners.

The heat battery is supposed to be able to supply heavy industry with extreme heat generated by renewable energy, a solution that could help clean up the pesky industrial operations that make up about a third of global greenhouse gas emissions. The company thinks its technology can cut down global emissions by 1 percent over the next decade.

Until recently, a lot of efforts to cut planet-heating carbon dioxide emissions have focused on getting the power sector to run on clean energy and then electrifying other sources of pollution like cars and buildings. But that doesn’t necessarily slash pollution that comes from making many construction materials, chemicals, and fertilizers.

Those industries have been called “hard to decarbonize” because they often rely on coal, oil, or gas to fire up kilns or furnaces to extremely high temperatures. Steelmaking, for instance, conventionally involves heating up coal to about 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit. As a result of this dirty process and steel’s ubiquity in construction, the steel industry alone makes up about 8 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

To change that, Rondo Energy has found a new way to use old tricks. Its battery draws on renewable energy to heat up a sort of brick that’s similar to refractory bricks already used in blast furnaces for steel.

Rondo Energy CEO John O’Donnell describes his company’s battery as a large “insulated shoebox full of brick.” Electricity heats the brick rapidly. As air passes through the array of bricks, it gets superheated — reaching about 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. That heat can be used directly or turned into high-pressure steam often used in manufacturing.

“Because it’s simple and boring, [the technology] can go to a very large scale with economics driving it and attack a big problem,” O’Donnell tells The Verge.
» Read article      

» More about building materials

ENERGY STORAGE

ESS flow battery
We’re going to need a lot more grid storage. New iron batteries could help.
Flow batteries made from iron, salt, and water promise a nontoxic way to store enough clean energy to use when the sun isn’t shining.
By Dawn Stover, MIT Technology Review
February 23, 2022

One of the first things you see when you visit the headquarters of ESS in Wilsonville, Oregon, is an experimental battery module about the size of a toaster. The company’s founders built it in their lab a decade ago to meet a challenge they knew grid operators around the world would soon face—storing electricity at massive scale.

Unlike today’s lithium-ion batteries, ESS’s design largely relies on materials that are cheap, abundant, and nontoxic: iron, salt, and water. Another difference: while makers of lithium-ion batteries aim to make them small enough to fit inside ever shrinking phones and laptops, each version of the iron battery is bigger than the last.

In fact, what ESS is building today hardly resembles a battery at all. At a loading dock on the back side of the ESS facility, employees are assembling devices that fill entire shipping containers. Each one has enough energy storage capacity to power about 34 US houses for 12 hours.

[…]ESS’s key innovation, though, is not the battery’s size—it’s the chemistry and engineering that allow utilities to bank a lot more energy than is economically feasible with grid-connected lithium-ion batteries, which are currently limited to about four hours of storage.

The iron “flow batteries” ESS is building are just one of several energy storage technologies that are suddenly in demand, thanks to the push to decarbonize the electricity sector and stabilize the climate. As the electric grid starts depending more on intermittent solar and wind power rather than fossil fuels, utilities that just a couple of years ago were looking for batteries to store two to four hours of electricity are now asking for systems that can deliver eight hours or more. Longer-lasting batteries will be required so that electricity is available when people need it, rather than when it’s generated—just as ESS’s founders anticipated.
» Read article      

» More about energy storage

SITING IMPACTS OF RENEWABLES

Turlock irrigation canal
In Parched California, a Project Aims to Save Water and Produce Renewable Energy
Plan calls for building solar canopies over canals, and may be the first project of its kind in the United States
By Dan Gearino, Inside Climate News
February 24, 2022

A project near Modesto, California, would have the double benefit of saving water and generating renewable energy.

The Turlock Irrigation District announced this month that it is building solar electricity-generating canopies over portions of the district’s canal system, working in partnership with a Bay Area start-up, Solar AquaGrid.

A series of canopies would cover more than a mile of canals, going online by 2024 with solar panels that would have a capacity of about 5 megawatts. By shading the sun, the structures would reduce evaporation, leaving more water for the district’s customers. And the cost, estimated at $20 million, is being picked up by the state government.

This is the first demonstration project by Solar AquaGrid, a company that sees the potential to install similar canopies over thousands of miles of canals in California and elsewhere.

Jordan Harris, the company’s CEO, told me that the idea for Solar AquaGrid came from him noticing how California canals were often in direct sunlight, while canals in France are often shaded by canopies of trees.
» Read article      

agrivoltaic pilot
Kenya to use solar panels to boost crops by ‘harvesting the sun twice’
Successful trials found growing crops beneath panels – known as agrivoltaics – reduced water loss and resulted in larger plants
By Geoffrey Kamadi, The Guardian
February 22, 2022

Solar panels are not a new way of providing cheap power across much of the African continent, where there is rarely a shortage of sunshine. But growing crops underneath the panels is, and the process has had such promising trials in Kenya that it will be deployed this week in open-field farms.

Known as agrivoltaics, the technique harvests solar energy twice: where panels have traditionally been used to harness the sun’s rays to generate energy, they are also utilised to provide shade for growing crops, helping to retain moisture in the soil and boosting growth.

An initial year-long research collaboration between the University of Sheffield, World Agroforestry and the Kajiado-based Latia Agripreneurship Institute has shown promising results in the semi-arid Kajiado county, a 90-minute drive from the Kenyan capital of Nairobi and this week the full project will be officially launched.

For example, cabbages grown under the 180, 345-watt solar panels have been a third bigger, and healthier, than those grown in control plots with the same amount of fertiliser and water.

Other crops such as aubergine and lettuce have shown similar results. Maize grown under the panels was taller and healthier, according to Judy Wairimu, an agronomist at the institute.

“We wanted to see how crops would perform if grown under these panels,” said Wairimu. But there is another pragmatic reason behind the technology: doubling up the output of the same patch of earth to generate power and cultivate food can go a long way towards helping people with limited land resources, she said.

According to Dr Richard Randle-Boggis, a researcher at the University of Sheffield’s Harvesting the Sun Twice project, the trial initiative will determine the potential of agrivoltaic systems in east Africa.
» Read article      

» More about siting impacts of renewables

MODERNIZING THE GRID

PJM fat market
How PJM’s ‘fat market’ for capacity fuels environmental injustice and consumer expense
By Liz Stanton and Joshua Castigliego, Utility Dive | Opinion
February 24, 2022

A lot of ears perked when Federal Energy Commission Chair Richard Glick called out the “obsession” with increasing power plant revenues in the largest U.S. wholesale power market. It’s not every day the nation’s top energy regulator speaks quite so bluntly, urging an end to the focus on “bolstering uneconomic generation” in the 13-state PJM Interconnection region.

There has been attention before to the ways PJM’s annual market for electric “capacity” – power to meet future demand – overbuys and overpays generation owners. But prior analysis has typically focused on the total megawatts of excess capacity being procured. To get more specific is difficult, given that individual power plant costs are not publicly disclosed. Yet communities and state officials would be well-served with more detail. Which types of units are being paid even though their capacity is expensive and unnecessary? Are there implications for environmental justice communities given the plants’ locations?

To help provide some daylight, our research team used public data on power plants’ size, age, location, plant type and history of use to model the costs of existing and proposed coal and gas units in PJM’s market to buy capacity for 2021/22, which was held in 2018. We also mapped generators in relation to environmental justice communities using the definition of the Department of Environmental Protection in Pennsylvania, the state where PJM is headquartered. This means census tracts in which more than 20% of residents live at or below the federal poverty level, or where more than 30% are people of color.

Region-wide in PJM, we find that the majority of existing fossil fuel units are located directly in or within a mile of an environmental justice community. More than 80% are located within five miles. Zeroing in on just those existing and proposed coal and gas units benefitting from excess capacity procurement in the PJM market, what we term the PJM “fat market,” we estimate that there are 77 uneconomic generating units receiving these excess payments. This is based on modeling plants’ capacity market offer prices and also estimating the market clearing price we might see in a more efficiently-run PJM market, one that’s not overbuying so much.

A third of the 77 units we estimate to be receiving fat market revenues in PJM are proposed gas units, which often rely partly on capacity payments to secure financing. Two-thirds are existing units on the grid today. Significantly, a substantial majority of these 77 “fat market” coal and gas units are located or planned within five miles of an environmental justice community, and nearly half are within a mile. We estimate that, region-wide, customers are paying $4.3 billion for the excess capacity.
» Read article      

» More about modernizing the grid       

CARBON CAPTURE AND STORAGE

Petra Nova scrap heapCarbon capture tech is advancing in the wrong direction
It’s increasingly being paired with fossil fuel power plants
By Justine Calma, The Verge
February 18, 2022

Carbon capture tech that’s often sold as a solution for cutting greenhouse gas emissions from heavy industry — the most difficult sector to decarbonize — is still far off track from accomplishing that, according to a recent analysis by financial services firm ING.

The pipeline of new carbon capture and storage (CCS) projects, which aim to remove CO2 from power plants’ and industrial facilities’ emissions, is growing. But the majority of projects expected to come online this decade don’t tackle industrial pollution. Instead, the biggest growth is expected to be in carbon capture paired with fossil fuel power plants, similar to how the majority of the 40 million metric tons of CCS capacity the world has today is used in natural gas processing.

That outlook doesn’t seem to jive with what some CCS proponents say is the best use case for the technologies. A lot of the recent enthusiasm for the tech has centered on its ability to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from crucial industries like cement, steel, and fertilizer production. To be sure, some advocates would rather see polluting facilities move out of their neighborhoods than outfitted with new climate tech. But industrial pollution makes up about a third of global carbon dioxide emissions, and it’s hard to eliminate because this sort of manufacturing often requires extremely high temperatures that have been difficult to reach using renewable energy.

CCS is rapidly gaining momentum in the US, with support from Republicans and the Biden administration alike. Earlier this week, as part of a broader effort to slash pollution from the industrial sector, the Biden administration announced new federal guidelines for evaluating CCS projects that could encourage “widespread deployment” of the technologies. And in a bid to speed up permitting in Louisiana, Republican Senator Bill Cassidy threatened to block the appointment of Biden’s nominees for Environmental Protection Agency leadership because of the agency’s “delays” in approving his state’s application to regulate wells for captured carbon dioxide.

Despite those efforts, carbon capture as a strategy for tackling climate change is still divisive among environmentalists, in part because it’s been used to extend the reign of dirty power plants. An aging coal plant, for example, might be able to claim some green credentials if it captures some of its carbon emissions — even though other impacts of mining and burning coal, like habitat destruction and air pollution, remain.

What’s more, the CCS projects the US has funded in the past have a checkered track record. Since 2009, the Department of Energy has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in carbon capture initiatives for several coal plants that never came to fruition, largely because of high costs and investors’ cold feet, according to a December report by the Government Accountability Office.
» Read article      

» More about CCS

GAS BANS

red light
Mass. building code draft renews push for local autonomy on natural gas bans

A proposed building code update in Massachusetts would allow an option for continued use of fossil fuels in new construction, prompting cities and towns to renew a push for legal authority to prohibit new natural gas hookups.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
February 21, 2022

Activists and municipal leaders say a bill allowing Massachusetts cities and towns to ban natural gas in new construction and renovations is needed more than ever in light of a new building code proposal.

“The proposal was just disappointing on every level,” said Lisa Cunningham, a climate activist and member of the town of Brookline’s representative town meeting. “They’re allowing the installation of fossil fuels at every single level — they’re driving us in the wrong direction.”

Decarbonizing building operations, which account for 27% of the state’s carbon emissions, is a major component of Massachusetts’ plan for going carbon-neutral by 2050, but there is not yet any unified strategy for achieving this goal.

Some towns have attempted to take direct action by trying to prohibit new fossil fuel infrastructure within their own borders. In 2019, Brookline, an affluent town adjacent to Boston, passed by an overwhelming margin a bylaw banning fossil fuel hookups in new construction and major renovations, the first such measure passed outside California. Inspired by the move, other towns began preparing their own proposals.

In July 2020, however, state Attorney General Maura Healey struck down the measure, saying cities and towns do not have the legal authority to supersede state building energy codes. Brookline, along with the towns of Acton, Arlington, Concord and Lexington, responded by passing home rule petitions — requests that the state legislature grant them a specific power usually reserved by the state, in this case, the authority to enact prohibitions on new fossil fuel infrastructure.

As the movement grew, state Rep. Tami Gouveia and state Sen. Janie Eldridge, who both represent Acton, filed their own legislation that would grant every city and town in Massachusetts the right to adopt a requirement for all-electric construction without petitioning the state legislature.

“It would allow any community to prohibit new fossil fuel infrastructure,” Eldridge said. “It’s an important tool in the toolbox at a time when you’re seeing a lot of new development in Massachusetts.”
» Read article      

preemption laws
Cities tried to cut natural gas from new homes. The GOP and gas lobby preemptively quashed their effort
By Ella Nilsen, CNN
February 17, 2022

In 2019, the city council in Berkeley, California, held a stunning vote: it would ban natural gas hookups in all new building construction to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the city’s impact on the climate crisis.

No gas furnaces in new homes, the council said. No gas stoves or ovens.

Other progressive cities followed suit with similar bans. San Francisco passed its own ban in 2020. New York City became the largest US city to pass a version in 2021, with New York Gov. Kathy Hochul vowing to pass a statewide law that would ban natural gas by 2027.

But other municipalities looking to take similar action are running into a brick wall. Twenty states with GOP-controlled legislatures have passed so-called “preemption laws” that prohibit cities from banning natural gas.

It’s bad news for municipal climate action: Taking natural gas out of the equation and switching to electric appliances is one of the most effective ways cities can tackle the climate crisis and lower their emissions, multiple experts told CNN.

“Natural gas bans are kind of low-hanging fruit,” said Georgetown Law professor Sheila Foster, an environmental law expert. Foster said cities can make a significant impact by moving away from natural gas and toward electricity, especially considering what little federal action there’s been on climate, and the mixed record of states.

The climate stakes are high. Residential and commercial emissions made up 13% of total US emissions in 2019, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. About 80% of those emissions came from the combustion of natural gas, the fuel that heats homes or powers a restaurant’s cooking stoves, and emits planet-warming gases like methane and carbon dioxide in the process.

But clean alternatives exist: Electric heat pumps can heat homes more sustainably than gas furnaces; induction ranges can replace gas stoves. And experts stress that to fully transition to renewable energy sources like solar and wind, homes and businesses need to operate on electricity – not gas.
» Read article      

» More about gas bans

GAS UTILITIES

NARUC panel
Transmission, reliability and gas system decarbonization top of mind for state utility regulators in 2022

By Michelle Solomon and Hadley Tallackson, Utility Dive | Opinion
February 23, 2022

The power and gas system is rapidly changing from meeting relatively predictable customer demand with fossil fuels, to managing increasingly frequent extreme weather while integrating unprecedented amounts of clean energy. State utility regulators are trying to navigate this transition by guiding their electric and gas utilities to reduce emissions while maintaining affordable rates and reliable service.

This tension captured regulators’ attention at the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners’ (NARUC) 2022 Winter Policy Summit last week, manifesting in three imperatives: transmission planning to unlock access to low-cost renewables, holistic approaches to planning for system reliability in the wake of last February’s Winter Storm Uri, and opportunities to reduce emissions from natural gas systems.

[…]In addition to winterization to protect against extreme weather, regulators are looking to address the root cause of climate change through gas system decarbonization, but they must be cautious about proposals that may not prove viable over the long term.

Gas utilities subject to emissions reduction requirements are exploring immediate actions for methane leak reduction through monitoring and pipeline repair. However, many are also eagerly proposing renewable natural gas (RNG) and hydrogen as part of their longer-term decarbonization pathway.

NARUC panelists discussed the potential of near-term uptake of “certified natural gas” with verified low-methane emissions intensity to plug methane hemorrhaging from the gas supply chain. Panelists from the utility Washington Gas and gas producer EQT both highlighted the minimal cost impact of switching to certified natural gas, but regulators should ask their utilities how they will achieve close-to-zero methane emission intensities while exploring larger transition pathways.

However, RNG resource availability has thus far been limited, and widespread RNG reliance may not be scalable. While GTI Energy promoted hydrogen as a fixture of a decarbonized gas system, hydrogen production can still generate sizable emissions depending on the production method. Cost impacts and challenges around scalability, pipeline and end-use appliance compatibility, and safety also require additional regulatory scrutiny before significant investments are approved. Regulators must determine the feasibility and decarbonization potential of these proposals by requesting extensive information on total supply chain emissions and how they compare on cost and emissions bases to other end-use decarbonization strategies like electrification.
» Read article      

» More about gas utilities     

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

seventy percent
BREAKING: Fossils Emit 70% More Methane than Governments Report: IEA Tracker
By Mitchell Beer, The Energy Mix
February 23, 2022

Emissions of climate-busting methane from fossil fuel operations are 70% higher than national governments are reporting, according to the 2022 edition of the Global Methane Tracker released this morning by the International Energy Agency (IEA).

The gap between the reporting and the reality is “massive” and “alarming”, IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol said in a release.

The tracker “shows emissions from oil, gas, and coal are on the rise again, underscoring need for greater transparency, stronger policies, and immediate action,” the IEA writes. “Methane is responsible for around 30% of the rise in global temperatures since the Industrial Revolution, and quick and sustained emission reductions are key to limiting near-term warming and improving air quality.”

Methane is a shorter-lived greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, but it’s 80 to 85 times more potent a warming agent over a 20-year span—the period in which humanity will be scrambling to get the climate emergency under control.

Before and immediately after the groundbreaking science assessment released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change last August, scientists identified methane reductions as the best opportunity to curb greenhouse gas emissions through 2040, and predicted climate catastrophe without immediate action. At last year’s COP 26 climate summit in Glasgow, more than 100 countries congratulated themselves for signing a global methane pledge, though experts quickly warned that their 30% reduction target by 2030 fell short of what’s needed.

Now, the Paris-based IEA says methane emissions from energy production increased nearly 5% in 2021, with almost equal proportions coming from coal, oil, and natural gas operations. The 135 million tonnes from the entire sector, including nine megatonnes from incomplete wood burning and four Mt from inefficient fuel-burning equipment, accounted for 38% of methane emissions resulting from human activities, making energy a slightly less methane-intensive sector than agriculture.

The biggest sources of energy-related methane emissions were China, at 28 Mt, followed by Russia at 18 Mt and the United States at 17 Mt. Satellite measurements in 2021 picked up major methane releases from oilfields in Texas, Turkmenistan, and other parts of Central Asia.
» Read article     
» Read IEA’s Global Methane Tracker 2022

» More about fossil fuels

PLASTICS AND THE ENVIRONMENT

garbage pile
U.N. pact may restrict plastic production. Big Oil aims to stop it
By John Geddie, Valerie Volcovici and Joe Brock, Reuters
February 18, 2022

United Nations member states are set to meet this month in Nairobi to draft the blueprint for a global plastics treaty, a deal that could see countries agree for the first time to reduce the amount of single-use plastics they produce and use.

It’s being touted as the most important environmental pact since the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change.

A global explosion of disposable plastic, which is made from oil and gas, is increasing carbon emissions, despoiling the world’s oceans, harming wildlife and contaminating the food chain. More than 50 countries, including all 27 members of the European Union, are calling for the pact to include measures targeting plastic production.

That’s a problem for big oil and chemical companies. The industry is projected to double plastic output worldwide within two decades.

Publicly, plastic industry groups representing firms like ExxonMobil Corp (XOM.N), Royal Dutch Shell Plc and Dow Inc (DOW.N), have expressed support for a global agreement to tackle this garbage.

Behind the scenes, however, these trade organizations are devising strategies to persuade conference participants to reject any deal that would limit plastic manufacturing, according to emails and company presentations seen by Reuters, as well as interviews with a dozen officials involved in the negotiations.

Leading that effort is the American Chemistry Council (ACC), a powerful group of U.S.-based oil and chemical firms. The Washington-based ACC is attempting to forge a coalition of big businesses to help steer treaty discussions away from production restrictions, according to an Oct. 21 email sent from the trade group to a blind-copied list of recipients.
» Read article      

» More about plastics and the environment

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Weekly News Check-In 2/12/21

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Welcome back.

Even as the fossil fuel industry pushes out ever more pipelines, a new report from the climate data nonprofit Global Energy Monitor predicts they’re building what will amount to a trillion dollars worth of stranded pipeline assets worldwide. Meanwhile, we’re watching the strong push to shut down the Dakota Access and stop Enbridge’s Line 5.

In a significant climate action, the Paris administrative court found that France has “failed to do enough to meet its own commitments on the climate crisis and is legally responsible for the ensuing ecological damage.”  This decision is impactful, and should put other governments on notice that emissions goals must actually be met.

We offer two reports on greening the economy that highlight some of the damage and inequities caused by the current, fossil-based model. Taken together, these stories underscore the need to address environmental and economic justice during the clean energy transition, while they also debunk industry claims of potential job losses as we move away from fuels.

In legislative news, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker has sent the climate roadmap bill back to the legislature with suggested amendments. Senator Barrett and Representative Golden report that they see some common ground.

Worldwide efforts to mitigate climate change are falling far short of what’s needed. A new study warns that pledges to cut emissions must be scaled up by 80% to keep warming below the dangerous 2°C threshold. Meanwhile, a planned Swedish balloon flight in June has alarmed environmental groups, who think this may be a trial-run for a future planet-cooling geoengineering experiment – releasing reflective particles in the upper atmosphere to mimic the effect of large volcanic eruptions.

Danny Jin, ace reporter for the Berkshire Eagle, posted an excellent article explaining what “peaker” power plants are, and highlighting Berkshire Environmental Action Team’s campaign to replace these polluting plants with clean energy alternatives. We offer a second article in this section describing a new study on achieving carbon-free America by 2050, from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

One of Governor Baker’s amendments to the climate roadmap bill involves energy efficiency requirements for buildings, and a proposed net-zero stretch code that municipalities could opt into. This is a contentious issue, with climate and social activists, architects, building efficiency experts, and many municipal leaders lined up on one side, and building industry trade groups dug in on the other. We’ve spotted a lot of industry-generated misinformation in the press, and offer this well-researched editorial as a helpful explainer.

We’re always happy to post reports on new energy efficient building materials – ones that can be more sustainably sourced, have superior insulating or vapor sealing properties, or carry less embodied carbon from their manufacture. This week, we consider bricks made from mushrooms!

Our energy storage news lines up nicely with BEAT’s campaign to retire polluting fossil peaker power plants. San Fransisco battery storage company Plus Power has won two bids on the ISO-New England electricity capacity market, and will build very large batteries to provide clean power during peak demand periods – eliminating the need for some of those polluting fossil peakers. This is big news because it’s the first win for large-scale battery storage in New England, and shows that clean power is now economically competitive.

The electric vehicle revolution is coming to big rigs, but deployment of these heavy haulers will be slowed by an initial shortage of batteries. Meanwhile, Tesla and others are gearing up a range of products that should be fleet-ready when battery production catches up.

Today, the Washington, D.C. Court of Appeals heard oral arguments from Berkshire Environmental Action Team and Food & Water Watch, who opposed the expansion of a compressor station in Agawam. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approved the project in 2019 without considering the climate impact of emissions from the additional natural gas conveyed by the “improvement”. FERC has new leadership under the Biden administration, and has expressed interest in accounting for upstream/downstream emissions from fossil infrastructure projects. In a related story, FERC is reckoning with the legacy of environmental racism that underpinned so many of its past decisions.

The fossil fuel industry is having difficulty addressing the climate emergency in ways that rise to the actual transformative challenge before them. With few exceptions, most industry efforts look more like rebranding exercises than serious attempts to change the business model. Meanwhile, Big Gas has settled on your gas range as the ideal emotional hook to keep you from disconnecting that pipe.

We’re waiting to see if President Biden’s new EPA Administrator, Michael Regan, will continue his opposition to biomass. In 2019, when he served as head of North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality, he said, “I don’t see a future in wood pellets.” With Governor Baker wobbling on whether to include biomass in the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard – which would green-light construction of the Palmer Renewable Energy biomass generating plant in Springfield – we hope Administrator Regan makes his point loud and clear and soon.

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

PIPELINES

DAPL loses surety bond
$1 Trillion in Oil and Gas Pipelines Worldwide Could Become Stranded Assets, New Report Warns
By Sharon Kelly, DeSmog Blog
February 4, 2021

On January 7, 2021, Energy Transfer was notified by its insurer, Westchester Fire Insurance Co. of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, that it had lost a $250,000 surety bond for the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL) — a bond that Iowa, one of the four states it passes through, required the pipeline to maintain.

That loss of insurance coverage comes as the Biden administration and a federal court each must confront a decision about whether to order DAPL to shut down, after a federal appeals court last week upheld a lower court’s finding that the oil pipeline still lacks a completed environmental review. Financial observers have been watching DAPL closely — and a new report warns that DAPL is hardly alone in the oil and gas pipeline industry in facing major financial risks linked to projects’ environmental impacts.

“Dakota Access Pipeline has no federal easement. It’s now losing insurance coverage on the state-level which is a requirement for Iowa’s state permit,” the Indigenous Environmental Network said in a January 29 statement. “It’s time to end this saga and do what’s right.”

Environmentalists predicted that the lost insurance coverage could be difficult for Energy Transfer to replace, particularly given DAPL’s incomplete federal review. “It will be difficult because the bond holder will require the pipeline to comply with all legal requirements,” attorney Carolyn Raffensperger, director of the Science and Health Network, told DeSmog. “If it is operating without a permit, any spill would be a big, big legal problem.”

But as consequential as the DAPL fight — which has raged for roughly a half-decade — might be, Dakota Access is just one of hundreds of pipelines worldwide that a new report finds are at risk of early abandonment because they’re “on a collision course” with climate agreements.

The report, titled “Pipeline Bubble 2021” and published by the climate data nonprofit Global Energy Monitor, warns that pipeline construction projects worldwide have put $1 trillion worth of pipeline investment at risk of being rendered obsolete by the energy transition away from fossil fuels.
» Read article             
» Read “Pipeline Bubble 2021” report 

request for more time
Biden administration asks for more time to decide whether to shut down Dakota Access Pipeline
By Rachel Frazin, The Hill
February 9, 2021

The Biden administration is asking for more time to decide the fate of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

In a filing late Monday, the government asked a court to postpone a conference on the status of the pipeline for 58 days while it gets new officials up to speed on the case.

“Department of Justice personnel require time to brief the new administration officials and those officials will need sufficient time to learn the background of and familiarize themselves with this lengthy and detailed litigation,” the government said.

It asked for the Feb. 10 conference to be moved to April 9.

The government’s motion was opposed by Dakota Access LLC, but was not opposed by the tribes who sued over the pipeline.

Last month, a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., ruled that the government should have conducted an environmental impact statement before going forward with the pipeline and vacated easements granted for its construction to cross federally owned land.

However, it did not go as far as a lower court, which had previously ordered the pipeline shut down, leaving that decision up to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE).

The court also left room for additional litigation to potentially shut down the pipeline if the USACE decides against it.

The pipeline, which carries oil from North Dakota to Illinois, has drawn significant opposition from environmentalists and tribes over the years who have cited threats to drinking water and sacred sites. It has spurred massive protests.
» Read article
» Read related article

select alternate route
In pushing for Line 5 shutdown, Bad River Band points to alternative route
The Chippewa tribe in northern Wisconsin says Enbridge could reduce the risk to the Great Lakes by diverting Line 5 oil to another line that runs south to Illinois.
By Patrick Shea, Energy News Network
Photo By U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
February 4, 2021

As legal battles continue over Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline, tribal leaders in Wisconsin say the company is ignoring a safer alternative that’s already in the ground — though the company disagrees.

“The notion that Enbridge is somehow going to be stranded without Line 5 is ludicrous,” said Mike Wiggins, tribal chair for the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, whose reservation on the south shore of Lake Superior is crossed by Line 5.

The 30-inch pipeline originates in Superior, Wisconsin, and carries crude oil 645 miles across Wisconsin and Michigan to Sarnia, Ontario. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer recently ordered Enbridge to shut down the pipeline where it crosses the Straits of Mackinac, citing risk to the Great Lakes.

As the company seeks permits for its proposed reroute south of the reservation, Bad River Band leaders say the company is failing to acknowledge the potential to decommission the 67-year-old pipeline altogether and divert its contents through other routes.

Line 5 is part of a network of Enbridge pipelines called the Lakehead System. As Line 5 cuts east and then south around Lake Michigan, Line 61 runs south from Superior into Illinois before connecting with smaller lines that cross Indiana and Michigan and ultimately reach the same destination: Sarnia, Ontario.

Line 61 is newer and larger — the 42-inch pipeline was completed in 2009 and has already undergone multiple upgrades and expansions. The line carries about 996,000 barrels per day to Pontiac, Illinois — about 75% of its capacity.

“The elephant in the room is that Enbridge has invested heavily in their route from Superior down through Chicago,” Wiggins said, in contrast with Line 5, which he calls “the forgotten pipe.”

The environmental risk posed by the pipeline was highlighted in August 2019 when tribal officials discovered 49 feet of Line 5 unearthed less than 5 miles from Lake Superior. The pipeline itself has contributed to the erosion of a steep bank as an oxbow is forming, according to a February 2020 report from the Bad River Natural Resources Department.

The report also cited major storm events in recent years as a cause for concern, which climatologists project to increase in frequency and severity. “We know that the next massive storm system could potentially shear Enbridge’s pipe right in the Bad River, pumping oil into Lake Superior,” Wiggins said. “We’re concerned every day.”

Shutting down Line 5 and relying exclusively on Line 61 would keep the pipeline far away from the Bad River Reservation, and would reduce the risk of a spill in the Great Lakes or anywhere by retiring Line 5’s aging pipes.
» Read article               

» More about pipelines

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

France found guilty
Campaigners Claim ‘Historic Win’ as France Found Guilty of Climate Inaction
By Isabella Kaminski, DeSmog Blog
February 3, 2021

The French state has been found guilty of climate inaction in what campaigners have dubbed “the case of the century”.

Today the Paris administrative court concluded France has failed to do enough to meet its own commitments on the climate crisis and is legally responsible for the ensuing ecological damage.

France is the third European country where legal action by campaigners has highlighted significant failings in state action on climate change and forced politicians to act, after the landmark Urgenda case in the Netherlands in 2019 and the Irish Supreme Court’s decision in the national Climate Case last year.

Jean-François Julliard, Executive Director of Greenpeace France – one of the four NGOs bringing the case – described the ruling as a “historic win for climate justice”.

“This decision not only takes into consideration what scientists say and what people want from French public policies, but it should also inspire people all over the world to hold their governments accountable for climate change in their own courts,” she said.

“For governments the writing is on the wall: climate justice doesn’t care about speeches and empty promises, but about facts.”

LAffaire du Siècle (case of the century), as it was described by NGOs was brought by Greenpeace France, together with Oxfam France, the Nicolas Hulot Foundation and Notre Affaire à Tous, in December 2018.

The groups filed a legal complaint, saying France was not on track to meet its then target of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2030 compared to 1990 levels, its minimum commitment as an EU member. Since then, this target has been raised to 55 percent for all EU member states, but it is not yet clear how President Emmanuel Macron will deliver this given France’s track record on cutting emissions.

France’s own High Council on Climate has analysed the country’s progress and found it lacking, with emissions substantially exceeding the first two carbon budgets. France had pledged to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 1.5 percent each year, but they fell by only 0.9 percent from 2018 to 2019. The Climate Change Performance Index also shows France’s climate progress slowing, with limited advances in increasing the share of renewables and in decarbonising transport.

The court judgment ruled that: “Consequently, the state must be regarded as having ignored the first carbon budget and did not carry out the actions that it itself had recognised as being necessary to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”
» Read article               

» More about protests and actions

GREENING THE ECONOMY

dirty divide
America’s dirty divide: how environmental racism leaves the vulnerable behind
The health effects caused by decades of systemic racism are staggering. The Guardian is launching a year-long series to investigate
By Frida Garza, The Guardian
February 11, 2021

The climate crisis has forced many people to consider what they would do if the places they call home became unlivable in their lifetimes. But in the US, certain vulnerable communities – especially Black and Indigenous populations – have been fighting for the right to clean, safe, healthy environments for generations.

Decades of systemic racism mean that in the richest country in the world, access to clean air, clean water, and proper sanitation are not a given.

The health effects of these inequalities are staggering. Black Americans are 75% more likely to live in close proximity to oil and gas facilities, which emit toxic air pollutants; as a result, these communities often suffer from higher rates of cancer and asthma. Researchers have found that Black children are twice as likely to develop asthma as their peers.

There has long been a lack of political will to protect the communities most harmed by pollution – and the climate crisis could exacerbate these inequalities, as well as create new ones.

That is why today the Guardian is launching America’s Dirty Divide, a year-long series that will delve into US environmental racism and its history. And we are partnering with Nexus Media, a non-profit news service that focuses on climate change, to produce video documentaries about environmental justice issues.

America’s Dirty Divide will examine environmental justice issues in three areas: pollution and waste; the uneven impacts of a warming planet; and climate events such as hurricanes and flooding, and the often inequitable recovery efforts that follow.
» Read article               

fracking jobs bust
Appalachian Fracking Boom Was a Jobs Bust, Finds New Report
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
February 11, 2021

The decade-long fracking boom in Appalachia has not led to significant job growth, and despite the region’s extraordinary levels of natural gas production, the industry’s promise of prosperity has “turned into almost nothing,” according to a new report.

The fracking boom has received broad support from politicians across the aisle in Appalachia due to dreams of enormous job creation, but a report released on February 10 from Pennsylvania-based economic and sustainability think tank, the Ohio River Valley Institute (ORVI), sheds new light on the reality of this hype.

The report looked at how 22 counties across West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Ohio — accounting for 90 percent of the region’s natural gas production — fared during the fracking boom. It found that counties that saw the most drilling ended up with weaker job growth and declining populations compared to other parts of Appalachia and the nation as a whole.

Shale gas production from Appalachia exploded from minimal levels a little over a decade ago, to more than 32 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d) in 2019, or roughly 40 percent of the nation’s total output. During this time, between 2008 and 2019, GDP across these 22 counties grew three times faster than that of the nation as a whole. However, based on a variety of metrics for actual economic prosperity — such as job growth, population growth, and the region’s share of national income — the region fell further behind than the rest of the country.

Between 2008 and 2019, the number of jobs across the U.S. expanded by 10 percent, according to the ORVI report, but in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia, job growth only grew by 4 percent. More glaringly, the 22 gas-producing counties in those three states — ground-zero for the drilling boom — only experienced 1.7 percent job growth.

“What’s really disturbing is that these disappointing results came about at a time when the region’s natural gas industry was operating at full capacity. So it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which the results would be better,” said Sean O’Leary, the report’s author.
» Read article           
» Read the report             

» More about greening the economy

LEGISLATIVE NEWS

suggested S9 amendments
Baker takes more conciliatory tone on climate change bill
Sends it back with amendments, drops objection on offshore wind
By Bruce Mohl, CommonWealth Magazine
February 7, 2021

GOV. CHARLIE BAKER sent the Legislature’s twice-passed climate change bill back on Sunday with new, compromise language that strikes a more conciliatory tone and dials back some of his earlier objections.

When the Legislature first passed the bill in early January at the end of the last legislative session, the governor could only approve or reject it. He rejected it, raising concerns about its costly emissions target for 2030, its separate emission targets for six industry subsectors, its offshore wind procurements, its support for community energy codes that could deter the production of affordable housing, and the narrowness of its environmental justice provisions.

Lawmakers, irked by the administration’s attitude, responded by passing the same bill again and sending it back to Baker. But administration officials and legislative leaders over the last three weeks also began talking, trying to sort out their differences. “We did try to find areas of common ground,” said Kathleen Theoharides, the governor’s secretary of energy and environmental affairs.

Baker on Sunday returned the bill to the Legislature with an accompanying letter that was much less strident in tone than his earlier veto message. In the letter, Baker withdrew some of his earlier objections and proposed amendments that compromised on others.

The initial reception from legislative leaders was cautious optimism. They indicated they would likely not agree with the governor on everything, but would accept some of his amendments.

Rep. Thomas Golden of Lowell, the House’s point person on the legislation, said the governor’s amendments will get a fair shot. Sen. Michael Barrett of Lexington, the Senate’s point person on the legislation, seemed receptive. He said a number of Baker’s technical amendments improved the bill and welcomed the fact that the critical tone of last session’s veto letter was missing from Sunday’s letter outlining proposed amendments.

“There will be disagreements there, but I liked the new theme,” Barrett said.
» Read article             
» Read Gov. Baker’s letter and suggested amendments

» More legislative news

CLIMATE

current trends inadequate
Study Warns Emissions Cuts Must Be 80% More Ambitious to Meet Even the Dangerously Inadequate 2°C Target
“And as if 2°C rather than 1.5°C was acceptable,” responded Greta Thunberg, calling the findings further evidence “that our so-called ‘climate targets’ are insufficient.”
By Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams
February 11, 2021

A new study warns that countries’ pledges to reduce planet-heating emissions as part of the global effort to meet the goals of the Paris climate agreement must be dramatically scaled up to align with even the deal’s less ambitious target of keeping temperature rise below 2°C—though preferably 1.5°C—by the end of the century.

A pair of researchers at the University of Washington found that the country-based rate of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions cuts should increase by 80% beyond current nationally determined contributions (NDCs)—the term for each nation’s pledge under the Paris agreement—to meet the 2°C target.

The study, published Tuesday in the journal Communications Earth & Environment, adds to the mountain of evidence that since the Paris agreement—which also has a bolder 1.5°C target—was adopted in late 2015, countries around the world have not done enough to limit human-caused global heating.

“On current trends, the probability of staying below 2°C of warming is only 5%, but if all countries meet their nationally determined contributions and continue to reduce emissions at the same rate after 2030, it rises to 26%,” the study says. “If the USA alone does not meet its nationally determined contribution, it declines to 18%.”

“To have an even chance of staying below 2°C,” the study continues, “the average rate of decline in emissions would need to increase from the 1% per year needed to meet the nationally determined contributions, to 1.8% per year.”

Greta Thunberg of the youth-led climate movement Fridays for Future called the findings further evidence “that our so-called ‘climate targets’ are insufficient.”
» Read article             

trial balloonBalloon test flight plan under fire over solar geoengineering fears
Swedish environmental groups warn test flight could be first step towards the adoption of a potentially “dangerous, unpredictable, and unmanageable” technology
By Patrick Greenfield, The Guardian
February 8, 2021

A proposed scientific balloon flight in northern Sweden has attracted opposition from environmental groups over fears it could lead to the use of solar geoengineering to cool the Earth and combat the climate crisis by mimicking the effect of a large volcanic eruption.

In June, a team of Harvard scientists is planning to launch a high-altitude balloon from Kiruna in Lapland to test whether it can carry equipment for a future small-scale experiment on radiation-reflecting particles in the Earth’s atmosphere.

An independent advisory committee will rule on whether to approve the balloon test flight by 15 February. Swedish environmental groups have written to the government and the Swedish Space Corporation (SSC) to voice their opposition.

In the letters, seen by the Guardian, organisations including the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation, Greenpeace Sweden and Friends of the Earth Sweden said that while the balloon flight scheduled for June does not involve the release of particles, it could be the first step towards the adoption of a potentially “dangerous, unpredictable, and unmanageable” technology.

Stratospheric aerosols are a key component of solar geoengineering technology that some have proposed as a plan B for controlling the Earth’s temperature if the climate crisis makes conditions intolerable and governments do not take sufficient action.

Studies have found that widespread adoption of solar geoengineering could be inexpensive and safer than some fear. But critics argue the consequences of its use are not well understood and stratospheric aerosol injections (SAI) on a large scale could damage the ozone layer, cause heating in the stratosphere and disrupt ecosystems.
» Read article               

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

solar clean peak
When power most needed, ‘peaker’ polluters fire up in Berkshires. Should that continue?
By Danny Jin, The Berkshire Eagle
February 7, 2021

When electricity demand peaks, dirtier fuels enter the power grid.

Though they run just a small fraction of the time, “peaker” power plants often fire up on the hottest days of summer or the coldest days of winter. And when they are on, they typically are among the worst polluters.

Local climate advocates have started a push to convert three Berkshire peakers to cleaner alternatives.

The Berkshire Environmental Action Team wants the plants to switch to using renewable energy and battery storage. To make that pitch, it’s seeking to build a coalition that already includes the Berkshire NAACP branch’s environmental justice committee, Masspirg Students, Indivisible Pittsfield and a number of local climate action groups.

“We want to create a large community of opposition to these plants and build this movement together,” said Berkshire Environmental Action Team Executive Director Jane Winn, who said at a recent online presentation that people can sign on to the petition through tinyurl.com/PeakerPetition.

Peakers tend to be located where relatively more people of color and low-income residents live, Winn said. The plants emit greenhouse gases that increase risks for respiratory ailments and contribute to climate change.

Pittsfield Generating, on Merrill Road, runs primarily on natural gas. In 2019, it emitted 39,176.89 metric tons of carbon dioxide and 6.65 metric tons of nitrous oxide while operating just under 6 percent of the time, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

The plant is adjacent to Allendale Elementary School and is near Pittsfield’s Morningside neighborhood, which the state considers an “environmental justice” neighborhood.

Peakers on Doreen Street in Pittsfield and Woodland Road in Lee run on kerosene. While they each run just 0.1 percent of the time, the Doreen Street and Woodland Road plants emitted 152.77 metric tons and 54.03 metric tons of carbon dioxide, respectively, in 2019, according to the EPA.

The Doreen Street site is near Williams and Egremont elementary schools, and Woodland Road borders October Mountain State Forest.

The peakers on Doreen and Woodland once were owned by Essential Power, which was acquired in 2016 by Charlotte, N.C.-based Cogentrix, which includes Doreen in its list of projects but not Woodland.

Cogentrix did not respond to an inquiry regarding the two plants.

Pittsfield Generating is operated by PurEnergy LLC, a subsidiary of NAES and Japanese company Itochu. PurEnergy did not respond to an inquiry.

With Pittsfield Generating’s air permit set to expire this year (Doreen and Woodland are so old that the Clean Air Act does not apply to them), now is the time for the community to reckon with the plant’s impacts, the Berkshire Environmental Action Team said.

Six New York peakers recently began a switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy and storage, and advancements in battery technology might allow more peakers to do so.
» Read article             
» Sign petition to shut down Berkshire County’s peaker plants

big switch
Carbon-free future is in reach for the US by 2050
America could have a carbon-free future by 2050 with a big switch to wind and solar power, say US government scientists.
By Tim Radford, Climate News Network
February 11, 2021

The US − per head of population perhaps the world’s most prodigal emitter of greenhouse gases − can reverse that and have a carbon-free future within three decades, at a cost of no more than $1 per person per day.

That would mean renewable energy to power all 50 states: giant wind power farms, solar power stations, electric cars, heat pumps and a range of other technological solutions.

The argument has been made before: made repeatedly; and contested too. But this time the reasoning comes not from individual scientists in a handful of US universities, but from an American government research base: the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, with help from the University of San Francisco.

To make the switch more politically feasible, the authors argue, existing power plant could be allowed to live out its economic life; nobody need be asked to scrap a brand new gasoline-driven car for an electric vehicle.

Their study − in the journal AGU Advances − looked at a range of ways to get to net zero carbon emissions, at costs as low as 0.2% of gross domestic product (GDP, the economist’s favourite measure of national wealth), or as high as 1.2%, with about 90% of power generated by wind or solar energy.

“The decarbonisation of the US energy system is fundamentally an infrastructure transformation,” said Margaret Torn, of the Berkeley Lab, one of the authors.

“It means that by 2050 we need to build many gigawatts of wind and solar plants, new transmission lines, a fleet of electric cars and light trucks, millions of heat pumps to replace conventional furnaces and water heaters, and more energy-efficient buildings, while continuing to research and innovate new technologies.”

The economic costs would be almost exclusively capital costs necessitated by the new infrastructure. That is both bad and good.
» Read article             
» Read the study              

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

condos under construction
Will developers block clean energy standards?
State must not allow builders off the hook
By Joan Fitzgerald and Greg Coppola, CommonWealth Magazine | Opinion
February 11, 2021

LATE IN THE last session, the Massachusetts Legislature passed a landmark climate bill targeting zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and mandating several mechanisms to achieve the goal. Gov. Baker vetoed the bill on the ground that it would make construction too expensive, echoing concerns raised by contractors and developers. The Legislature then passed the identical bill in late January and Baker has sent it back with amendments that will let developers off the hook on moving quickly to high-efficiency building standards. Although the language in the bill could use some clarification, these standards should be non-negotiable.

The legislation would require the state to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. This goal would be achieved by increasing energy-efficiency requirements in transportation, buildings, and appliances; and increased reliance on offshore wind and solar power. A key provision would allow cities and towns to adopt net zero codes—meaning that a building is very energy efficient and completely powered by renewable energy produced either on- or off-site. But this aroused the opposition of real estate interests. Both NAIOP (the National Association of Industrial and Office Properties) Massachusetts and the Greater Boston Real Estate Board, came out against the legislation. (On an array of issues, including rent control, the strategy of developers and landlords has been to use state law to block home rule.)

The irony of the veto is that the climate bill builds on existing policies enacted under Baker, though it does add more teeth. The Commonwealth’s current three-year energy efficiency plan, governing measures from 2019-2021includes tax incentives and subsidies for developers for both market-rate and low-income housing to build to passive house standards.

The Massachusetts Clean Energy and Climate Plan for 2030, which is now open for public comment, will be adopted soon. It calls for the Department of Energy Resources to develop a high-performance stretch energy code in 2021 for submission to the Board of Building Review and Standards for cities and towns to adopt in 2022.

Many state and city programs are supporting these policies. The Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, the state economic development agency accelerating the growth of the clean energy sector, has subsidized several successful projects to acquaint developers with the techniques of highly efficient buildings. Currently, Mass Save offers certification and performance incentives to builders and developers of residential buildings of five or more units and offers 50 percent registration reimbursements for certification courses on construction techniques for achieving the passive house standard. Last year, the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development added bonus points into its scoring system for developers in its Low-Income Housing Tax Credit Program if they build projects to passive house standard. Cambridge’s 2015 Net Zero Action Plan provides a 25-year roadmap to achieving a 70 percent reduction in emissions by 2040.

The terminology of green buildings can be confusing for those not engaged in the policy. It all started with Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). Although its various levels of certification prevail in many cities, it is not the standard to get us to net-zero carbon by 2050. For that, cities and states need to move to passive house, net zero emissions, or zero net energy (ZNE), which are complementary standards. Buildings meeting these standards produce significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions and save their owners money on utilities over time.

The passive house standard can reduce the need for heating by up to 90 percent, while increasing construction costs by no more than 3 percent, on average.

Net zero emission standards require buildings to offset any emissions they produce through carbon removal processes, such as investing in forest restoration projects or direct air capture and storage. A zero-net energy building produces enough renewable energy onsite or offsite to equal to the annual energy consumption of the building. These buildings can produce surplus renewable energy that feeds back to regional electrical grid.

Massachusetts developers are finding all three standards cost efficient. In Fall River, the 50,600-square foot Bristol Community College John J. Sbrega Health and Science Building was constructed in 2016 to ZNE standards without impacting its $31.5 million construction budget. The Commonwealth’s largest net-zero emissions building is the 273,000 square foot complex of the King Open and Cambridge Street Upper School in Cambridge. The complex, comprising two school buildings, a library, and two outdoor swimming pools generates 60 percent of its energy onsite from solar and geothermal sources.

These are not just one-off examples. Nationwide, all three standards are becoming more common.
» Read article             

» More about energy efficiency             

ENERGY EFFICIENT BUILDING MATERIALS

mushroom brickOne day, your home could be made with mushrooms
Mushrooms bricks could replace concrete
By Justine Calma, The Verge
February 2, 2021

Mushrooms are helping architects and engineers solve one the world’s biggest crises: climate change. These fungi are durable, biodegradable, and are proving to be a good alternative to more polluting materials.

“Our built environment needs these kinds of materials,” says David Benjamin, founding principal architect at the firm The Living. “Different countries have really ambitious climate change goals, and this material could really help jump-start some of that progress.”

Building materials and construction make up about a tenth of global carbon dioxide emissions. That’s way more than the global shipping and aviation industries combined. And the problem is getting worse.

Materials made with mycelium, the fungal network from which mushrooms grow, might be able to help turn that around. They produce far less planet-heating carbon dioxide than traditional materials like cement. An added bonus is that mushrooms are biodegradable, so they leave behind less harmful waste than traditional building materials. Mushrooms can even help with clean-up efforts, feeding off things that might have otherwise ended up in a landfill, like sawdust or agricultural waste.
» Watch video          

» More about energy efficient building materials

ENERGY STORAGE

NE big storage arrivesPlus Power Breaks Open Market for Massive Batteries in New England
Large standalone battery plants had not succeeded in New England’s capacity market. Until now.
By Julian Spector, GreenTech Media
February 11, 2021

Battery plants have established themselves in the sunny Southwest, but this week was the first time they won big in New England.

San Francisco-based developer Plus Power won two bids in the latest capacity auction held by the New England ISO, which operates the transmission grid and competitive power markets in six Northeastern states. That means that these two battery plants offered a compelling enough price to edge out some fossil fuel plants for delivering power on demand. And they did it without any help from federal tax credits because none of them apply to standalone batteries.

Plus Power now needs to build the plants: a 150-megawatt/300-megawatt-hour system near a cranberry bog south of Boston, Massachusetts and a 175-megawatt/350-megawatt-hour battery in Gorham, Maine. The seven-year capacity contracts start in June 2024.

New England has seen a build-out of smaller batteries. Some have been acquired by municipal utilities willing to get out in front of a grid trend. Others are supported by the Massachusetts SMART program, which incentivizes the addition of batteries at distributed solar projects.

But until now, no standalone battery had won in the competitive capacity auctions opened to energy storage by ISO-NE’s implementation of Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Order 841, and no batteries above the 100-megawatt threshold had been built in the region.

“There’s no mandate, there’s no emergency procurement, there’s no grant program,” Plus Power General Manager Brandon Keefe said. In that light, the company’s capacity market wins represent “the market working and storage winning.”
» Read article             

» More about energy storage

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

e-trucks trickle in
2021: When electric trucks trickle in
Political winds and consumer tastes favor a change in how trucks are fueled. The question is whether manufacturers, fleets and infrastructure are ready for the change.
By Jim Stinson, Utility Dive
February 8, 2021

Electric trucks will accelerate on delivery, research and absorption into fleets in 2021, even though experts doubt more than a few Class 8 trucks will be delivered to carriers.

The electric truck is a crucial part of government and fleet plans to help decrease emissions. But implementation in the United States has been slow. In August, Wood Mackenzie estimated just over 2,000 electric trucks were in service at the end of 2019. The research firm said by 2025, the electric truck fleet will grow to 54,000.

The political winds and consumer tastes favor a change in how trucks are fueled. The new administration seems eager to help make the transition, and President Joe Biden campaigned on a promise of net-zero emissions in the U.S. no later than 2050.

Analysts said they don’t believe 2021 will be the year a notable percentage — say, 5% or 10% — of Class 8 trucks become electric, but some predict this will be the year the change begins.

“I think 2020, last year, was the year of commitments,” said Mike Roeth, executive director of the North American Council for Freight Efficiency. “If everybody says they will do what they say will do, this will happen pretty fast.”

Roeth noted the pipeline for new electric trucks is slow in providing what fleets may want. That means what 2021 sees in the implementation of commercial electric vehicles won’t be a flood — more like a trickle. But that will allow fleets to begin gaining experience with electric trucks: How to charge them, and learning the logistics of charging and range limits.
» Read article       

» More about clean transportation

FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION

FERC in the dock
Environmental Groups Sue Federal Regulators Over Western Mass. Pipeline Plan
By Miriam Wasser, WBUR
February 12, 2021

Environmental groups are challenging a federal agency’s decision to allow natural gas expansion in central Massachusetts, arguing legal precedent — and a change in regulatory leadership — is on their side.

On Friday, the Washington, D.C. Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments from two groups opposed to the proposed expansion of a compressor station in Agawam, which the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approved in 2019.

The project in question is a proposal from the Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company, LLC — a subsidiary of energy giant Kinder Morgan — to build 2.1 miles of new natural gas pipeline and replace two small compressors with a larger unit at its Agawam site. The company says these upgrades will allow it to deliver more natural gas for distribution in the greater Springfield area, and as such, “alleviate capacity-constrained New England gas markets.”

Opponents of the project, meanwhile, want the panel of appellate judges to nullify the permit issued by FERC, saying the project will contribute to climate change,  prolong our dependence of fossil fuels, and harm local residents by increasing pollution in an area already known for poor air quality and pose public safety risks. They also argue that FERC violated federal law and disregarded legal precedent by allowing the project to move forward.

“The National Environmental Policy Act requires FERC to meaningfully evaluate greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel production and transportation projects,” wrote petitioners, Berkshire Environmental Action Team and Food & Water Watch, in court documents.
» Read article       

EJ arrives at FERC
FERC Chairman Acts to Ensure Prominent FERC Role for Environmental Justice
By FERC
February 11, 2021

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Chairman Richard Glick today announced plans to better incorporate environmental justice and equity concerns into the Commission’s decision-making process by creating a new senior position to coordinate that work.

“I believe that the Commission should more aggressively fulfill its responsibilities to ensure our decisions don’t unfairly impact historically marginalized communities,” Glick said.

Glick said he will have more details about the new environmental justice position at a future date. But he stressed that this will be a cross-cutting position, and that the person who fills the job will be charged with working with the experts in all FERC program offices to integrate environmental justice and equity matters into Commission decisions.

“This position is not just a title,” Glick said. “I intend to do what it takes to empower this new position to ensure that environmental justice and equity concerns finally get the attention they deserve.”
» Read article       
» Read E&E News background article from 7/31/20         

» More about FERC

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Total rebrand
Oil companies don’t want to be known for oil anymore
By Emily Pontecorvo, Grist
February 12, 2021

In a speech to his board of directors on Monday, Patrick Pouyanné, the CEO of French oil giant Total, announced that the company planned to change its name to TotalEnergies. He said the new name would anchor the company’s transformation into a “broad energy company,” and went on to describe the renewable energy assets Total added to its portfolio over the last year, including a stake in the largest solar developer in the world.

If approved by the company’s investors, Total’s name change would be the latest in a round of oil company makeovers that have accompanied a flurry of climate pledges over the past year. Last February, when BP announced its ambition to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, it said its new purpose was “reimagining energy.” It later claimed it was pivoting from “international oil company” to “integrated energy company.” In December, the CEO of Occidental Petroleum, which also set a net-zero target, said in an interview that it was transitioning toward becoming a “carbon management company,” in reference to its investment in a facility that will suck CO2 out of the air.

Oil companies have been trying to rebrand themselves as cleaner and greener for years. BP famously changed its tagline to Beyond Petroleum in 2000 to advertise its move into solar and wind energy — then it caused the most disastrous oil spill in American history in 2010 and shed many of its renewable energy assets in the aftermath. In 2010, Chevron launched a campaign called “We Agree,” with advertisements that said things like “It’s time oil companies get behind renewable energy,” followed by the words “We agree” in red letters. Then it sold off its renewable energy subsidiary four years later. Exxon has been advertising its research into algae-based fuel since 2009, but over the past decade has only spent around $300 million on said research, or the equivalent of about 1 percent of its capital budget for 2020.

Robert Brulle, a sociologist at Brown University who has studied the industry’s disinformation campaigns for years, told Grist that these greenwashing efforts come in cycles, with companies increasing this kind of promotion in response to political shifts. “By running this sort of campaign, they hope to convince policy makers and the general public that there is no need for legislation,” he said in an email.

Is anything different this time? “It’s certainly a reflection of an enormous amount of pressure on these companies,” said Kathy Mulvey, the climate accountability campaign director at the Union of Concerned Scientists, citing pressure from shareholders, the divestment movement, lawsuits, and the prospect of new policies under the Biden administration.
» Read article              
» Obtain the Brown University study on fossil fuel corporate greenwashing

breaking up is hard to do
How the Fossil Fuel Industry Convinced Americans to Love Gas Stoves
And why they’re scared we might break up with their favorite appliance.
By Rebecca Leber, Mother Jones
February 11, 2021

In early 2020, Wilson Truong posted on the NextDoor social media platform—where users can send messages to a group in their neighborhood—in a Culver City, California, community. Writing as if he were a resident of the Fox Hills neighborhood, Truong warned the group members that their city leaders were considering stronger building codes that would discourage natural gas lines in newly built homes and businesses. In a message with the subject line “Culver City banning gas stoves?” Truong wrote: “First time I heard about it I thought it was bogus, but I received a newsletter from the city about public hearings to discuss it…Will it pass???!!! I used an electric stove but it never cooked as well as a gas stove so I ended up switching back.”

Truong’s post ignited a debate. One neighbor, Chris, defended electric induction stoves. “Easy to clean,” he wrote about the glass stovetop, which uses a magnetic field to heat pans. Another user, Laura, was nearly incoherent in her outrage. “No way,” she wrote, “I am staying with gas. I hope you can too.”

What these commenters didn’t know was that Truong wasn’t their neighbor at all. He was writing in his role as account manager for the public relations firm Imprenta Communications Group. Imprenta’s client was Californians for Balanced Energy Solutions (C4BES), a front group for SoCalGas, the nation’s largest gas utility, working to fend off state initiatives to limit the future use of gas in buildings. C4BES had tasked Imprenta with exploring how social media platforms, including NextDoor, could be used to foment community opposition to electrification.

The NextDoor incident is just one of many examples of the newest front in the gas industry’s war to garner public support for their fuel. As more municipalities have moved to phase gas lines out of new buildings to cut down on methane emissions, gas utilities have gone on the defensive, launching anti-electrification campaigns across the country.
» Read article       

» More about fossil fuels

BIOMASS

Michael S Regan
Will new US EPA head continue his opposition to burning forests for energy?
By Justin Catanoso, Mongabay
February 4, 2021

“I don’t see a future in wood pellets,” Michael S. Regan told me when we spoke late in 2019 while he was serving as head of North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality.

Today, Regan is President Joe Biden’s choice for Environmental Protection Agency administrator; he’s very likely to be confirmed this week by the Senate with bipartisan support. And his words, if put into practice, could have a profound impact on the future of forest biomass — the burning of trees, turned into wood pellets, to make energy on a vast industrial scale — bringing about a major shift in U.S. and potentially international energy policy.

With his administration not even a month old, President Biden is moving swiftly to regain a global leadership role for the United States in climate change mitigation. A portion of that effort could revolve around the U.S. ability to influence international and United Nations policy regarding biomass-for-energy.

Under Donald Trump, biomass burning got favorable treatment. But now, under Biden and Regan, it seems plausible that the nation will follow the lead of current science, which has clearly debunked an earlier mistaken claim of biomass burning’s carbon neutrality.

This is what Michael Regan, 44 and an eastern North Carolina native, said on the topic in a late 2019 interview, long before his EPA appointment (parts of that interview were featured in a series of articles in the Raleigh News & Observer): “I am not shy about saying [that Democratic N.C.] Gov. [Roy] Cooper and I believe in a clean energy, renewable energy future for the state that has the lowest emissions profile,” he said. “That’s going to be driven by technology, business models, new ways of thinking about things. I don’t see a future in wood pellets.”

At the time, Cooper set a goal to reduce North Carolina’s emissions by 70% by 2030 over a 2005 baseline, and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

Regan added that he saw no role for biomass in North Carolina’s energy future, even though his state is among the nation’s largest producers of wood pellets, exporting some 2.5 million tons annually, mostly to the United Kingdom (UK) and European Union (EU). There the pellets are burned in former coal-fired power stations to make electricity; biomass accounts for nearly 60% of the EU’s “renewable” energy mix.
» Read article             

RMLD GM O’Brien defends Palmer plant energy purchase
By BOB HOLMES, Daily Times Chronicle
February 9, 2021

READING – For Coleen O’Brien, it was much like a trip to the grocery store. As the Reading Municipal Light Department’s General Manager, she was shopping for renewable energy for the four towns RMLD serves. She had her list, and biomass was on it, right there in RMLD Policy 30.

On this shopping trip last February, she came home with a 20-year commitment to buy power from a wood-burning biomass facility in Springfield. What seemed like a good idea to O’Brien at the time, has gone south fast.

Since entering into the agreement with the Palmer plant, and especially in recent months, the plant and RMLD’s connection to it has been a growing source of controversy. Protest over the proposed plant goes back years, most of it focused on the air pollution it would bring to an area already dealing with asthma brought on by poor air quality.

The purchase wasn’t the only problem. The process was as well because the RMLD Board of Commissioners and the Citizen Advisory Board (CAB) were left out of the decision to buy power from the Palmer plant.

When the Board of Commissioners was informed of the commitment in October, protest followed. That protest has grown recently after the Department of Energy Resources proposed amendments in December that relaxed state regulations. Senators Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren, Attorney General Maura Healey, State Senator Jason Lewis, and the Reading Select Board all have expressed opposition to the plant and asked for a public hearing on the DOER amendments. RMLD is taking heat for supporting the plant by purchasing 25 percent of its energy over a 20-year span.

Wednesday night the Climate Advisory Committee re-stated their opposition to RMLD’s use of power from the Palmer plant. The committee voted to bring their objections to the Reading Select Board at a future meeting.

O’Brien defended her decision Wednesday but pledged to do whatever the Board of Commissioners and the Citizen Advisory Board tells her to do. That means potential changes to RMLD’s energy shopping list, better known as Policy 30.

“I was instructed to keep buying renewable,” said O’Brien. “We were instructed to buy renewable, meet the goals, make sure it meets the renewable criteria. At that time, Palmer met that criteria. That’s why it’s so important going forward that Policy 30 provides us instruction about what they would want the portfolio to look like. What do they want us to buy?”

When it comes to tweaking Policy 30, she’s open for any discussion.

Regarding Palmer, can RMLD walk away from [the] February agreement?

“No, you wouldn’t be able to just back out of it but you could assign it or sell it,” said O’Brien. “Power is traded like a commodity. You would have to look to taking your power commitment and having someone else pick it up.
» Read article       
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» More about biomass

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Weekly News Check-In 9/13/19

WNCI-8

Welcome back.

This week we’re tracking reports of concern that Columbia Gas may have failed to properly cap and test abandoned gas lines following the 2018 disaster in Merrimack Valley. Meanwhile, WGBH posted Episode 2 of its riveting “Fire in the Valley” podcast about those events.

On the regional energy scene, Connecticut is working a decarbonization plan that may free it from constraints imposed by grid operator ISO New England. And pipeline opposition won a significant circuit court victory against federal eminent domain taking of state land. This directly affects the PennEast natural gas pipeline in New Jersey, but other states have taken notice.

Climate change related events displaced a record number of people this year. Meanwhile, the astronomical cost of business as usual is becoming apparent. Of course, the other side of cost is revenue, so we can expect to learn of endless ways to monetize some of the carbon dioxide that must be removed from the atmosphere – some helpful, some not.

Getting from proposal to clean energy reality is proving challenging for Massachusetts, even as more developers bid on offshore wind development. And utilities are confronting grid challenges anticipated by rapid adoption of electric vehicles. On the innovation front, we found an interesting article showing how coastal areas and islands recovering from disasters like Hurricane Dorian could soon be helped by microgrids created from fleets of electric boats.

Meanwhile, the fossil fuel industry and liquefied natural gas sector continue to to receive bad news in the form of reports showing that substantial infrastructure assets will be stranded before recapturing their capital costs if the world meets its Paris Climate Accord commitments.

— The NFGiM Team

COLUMBIA GAS / MERRIMACK VALLEY DISASTER

Columbia Gas facing up to $1 million fines for abandoned gas service lines following Merrimack Valley explosions
By Michelle Williams, MassLive
September 12, 2019

The disconnected lines require inspections and potentially additional work to properly cap the lines, Nelson said.

State safety officials set a deadline for the initial phase of quality control work on the lines to be done by Nov. 16.

“The Department expects, however, that the company will prioritize this work and have it completed sooner,” Nelson said.

The state also set several mandates on the repairs, including daily updates on the work completed and leak surveillance of the 4,900 gas lines.
» Read article

Board demands safety report from Columbia Gas
By Jessica Valeriani, Eagle Tribune
September 12, 2019

ANDOVER — The Select Board called upon Columbia Gas representatives at the Monday night meeting to provide a safety presentation before members will vote on additional gas main replacement work the utility is seeking to do.

Columbia Gas wants to replace 2,300 feet of cast iron and bare steel gas main on Hidden Road, Gardner Avenue and Forbes Street. The replacement would keep the main at the same pressure it is now — intermediate — instead of increasing it to a high-pressure main.

Representatives said in seven to 10 years, the utility would come back to upgrade the main to high pressure through the same infrastructure installed now, making it less impactful to the community.
» Read article

Fire in the Valley
Episode 2: ‘I Had Never Gone Toward Explosions Before’
By Sean Corcoran, WGBH podcast
September 9, 2019

When WGBH reporters start making their way to the Merrimack Valley, all they know is that buildings and homes are blowing up and catching fire. When they arrive, they discover smoke-filled streets, frightened residents and entire communities wondering if this is over, and what comes next. Soon, one thing is clear: It’s not safe to go back home tonight, and no one knows when it will be.
» Play podcast

»  More on Columbia Gas / Merrimack Valley

REGIONAL ENERGY

Connecticut 100% carbon-free plan is chance to move beyond ISO-NE gas focus: DEEP chief
By Catherine Morehouse, Utility Dive
September 9, 2019

Connecticut’s 100% carbon-free goal is an opportunity for the state to move beyond grid operator-imposed reliability constraints that favor fossil fuels, Commissioner of the state’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) Katie Dykes told Utility Dive.

Gov. Ned Lamont, D, on Tuesday signed an executive order directing DEEP to produce an analysis on how to get the state to a 100% carbon-free electric grid by 2040. That gives Connecticut the chance to move away from gas-fired plants and toward ancillary services in order to meet regional capacity needs, said Dykes.

“In the absence of states having carbon policies that solve for both emission reduction and reliability, the ISO New England is driving investment in natural gas-fired power plants,” she said. “And so this analysis, it’s intended to help us solve for reliability with zero carbon resources so that we won’t need plants like this going into the future.”
» Read article

» More regional energy news

OTHER PIPELINES

New Jersey wins legal challenge to PennEast natgas pipeline
By Scott DiSavino, Reuters
September 10, 2019

A U.S. appeals court on Tuesday barred PennEast Pipeline Co from using a federal law to seize properties controlled by the state of New Jersey in order to build a proposed $1 billion natural gas pipeline.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit said in its decision that the U.S. Natural Gas Act does not allow companies to condemn state controlled land in federal court because states enjoy sovereign immunity from such actions under the Eleventh Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
» Blog editor’s note: This is a huge victory against federal use of eminent domain and hopefully will set precedent for cases around the country.
» Read article

» More on other pipelines

CLIMATE

climate displaced
Extreme Weather Displaced a Record 7 Million in First Half of 2019
By Somini Sengupta, New York Times
September 12, 2019

Extreme weather events displaced a record seven million people from their homes during the first six months of this year, a figure that put 2019 on pace to be one of the most disastrous years in almost two decades even before Hurricane Dorian battered the Bahamas.

The Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, which compiles data from governments, United Nations humanitarian agencies and media reports, concluded in a report published Thursday that floods, landslides, cyclones and other extreme weather events temporarily displaced more people in the first half of this year than during the same period in any other year.

“In today’s changing climate, mass displacement triggered by extreme weather events is becoming the norm,” the center said in its report, adding that the numbers represent “the highest midyear figure ever reported for displacements associated with disasters.” The center has been publishing annual data since 2003.
» Read article

youth climate strike - March 2019
The Massive Cost of Not Adapting to Climate Change
The world must invest $1.8 trillion by 2030 to prepare for the effects of global warming. A new report said the payoff could be four times that.
By Eric Roston, Bloomberg
September 9, 2019

The Global Commission on Adaptation was formed to help ensure that social and economic systems are hardened to withstand the consequences of climate change. But it was also given the job of publicizing the financial and economic incentives in doing so, namely that there are trillions of dollars to be saved.

In a new report, the 34-member group, led by Microsoft Corp. founder Bill Gates, former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and World Bank Chief Executive Officer Kristalina Georgieva, concluded that $1.8 trillion in investment by 2030 concentrated in five categories—weather warning systems, infrastructure, dry-land farming, mangrove protection and water management—would yield $7.1 trillion in benefits.

Chief among them are avoiding the costs of waiting too long.
» Read article

Pulling CO2 out of the air and using it could be a trillion-dollar business
Meet “carbon capture and utilization,” which puts CO2 to work making valuable products.
By David Roberts, Vox.com
September 4, 2019

Scientists generally estimate that to hold the rise in global average temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius over the preindustrial baseline — a “safe” level of warming — humanity must stabilize the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide at around 350 parts per million.

This year, we reached about 410 ppm. There is already too much CO2 in the atmosphere. At this point, to truly vouchsafe a secure climate for future generations, we don’t just have to reduce emissions; we have to pull some CO2 out of the atmosphere.

Given that global carbon emissions are still rising and there are hundreds of gigatons on the way from existing fossil fuel infrastructure, almost every model used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that shows us reaching a safe climate involves burying gigatons of CO2, so-called “negative emissions.”
» Read article

» More climate articles

CLEAN ENERGY ALTERNATIVES

Offshore wind delays highlight increasing challenge to Massachusetts’ climate goals
By Benjamin Storrow, Climatewire in E&E News
September 10, 2019

Massachusetts has long been one of America’s most successful carbon cutters. The state regularly tops national energy efficiency rankings, helped launch the offshore wind industry in America and is a driving force behind a Northeastern cap-and-trade program for cars.

Greenhouse gases in Massachusetts fell 21% between 1990 and 2016, according to the state’s most recent emissions inventory.

But the Bay State’s carbon-cutting efforts now face a series of hurdles that threaten to undermine its ability to slash emissions further. It plans to rely to a great degree on buying large amounts of clean electricity. Actually building projects to deliver that power is proving a challenge.
» Read article

Latest round of offshore wind bid details released
By Colin A. Young, State House News Service in South Coast Today
September 5, 2019

The state and three utilities on Wednesday released the details of the three pitches they received from developers who want to build wind farms off the coast and deliver clean energy to Massachusetts homes and businesses, and will now use the next two months to select the project that most benefits Massachusetts.

Three companies submitted bids to the state Department of Energy Resources (DOER) and electric distribution companies by the Aug. 23 deadline to be considered for the state’s second procurement of up to 800 megawatts of offshore wind energy. The state and the utilities stripped the bids of confidential or sensitive material and made them public Wednesday.

The state and Eversource, National Grid and Unitil are seeking to procure at least 400 megawatts of power but will consider proposals from 200 megawatts up to 800 megawatts. The procurement is expected to fulfill the second half of the Legislature’s 2016 authorization of 1,600 megawatts of wind power.
» Read article

turbines in desert
The unknown costs of a 100% carbon-free future
State approaches to a 100% carbon-free future vary and while several costs remain unknown, some solutions are emerging.
By Herman K. Trabish, Utility Dive
September 3, 2019

Six states enacted ambitious laws requiring them to be at or near 100% renewables and zero emissions by mid-century.

Opponents claimed mandates in Hawaii, California, Washington, Colorado, New Mexico and New York would drive up electricity rates, but ample evidence in today’s falling renewables prices led to lawmaker approval. Now, utilities and policymakers are trying to determine what the full costs of a high renewables power system will ultimately be.

“There was plenty of opposition from people reluctant to believe the marketplace prices reported by Lazard and Xcel Energy,” Colorado Rep. Chris Hansen, D, co-sponsor of a bill requiring “100% clean energy by 2050, told Utility Dive. “Real world data shows renewables’ costs today make clean energy the lowest cost option. When we get to the 2030s, they will still be cheaper and better for the planet.”​
» Read article

» More clean energy articles

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

EV charging
City grids risk being overwhelmed by EV growth: Report
By Chris Teale, Utility Dive
September 10, 2019

Cities’ increased reliance on electric vehicles (EVs) and electric buses could overwhelm their electric grids and result in outages, warned a new report from the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) and Seattle City Light.

While the report’s analysis is primarily focused on Seattle, it offers lessons for other cities, including that grids must be upgraded if they are to rely more heavily on EVs. The report said utilities should partner with city agencies to support “aggressive electrification commitments” and to ensure they keep up with technological changes.
» Read article

» More clean transportation articles

MICROGRIDS

electric boat
Researchers Propose Floating Microgrids Made up of Electric Boats
By Lisa Cohn, Microgrid Knowledge
September 6, 2019

Electric boats may enable floating microgrids that could serve islands that have historically been powered by fossil fuels, according to a report from researchers at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia.

“Powering small islands with reliable, affordable and green electricity is a big challenge due to their dispersed geographical location with a limited number of consumers and the heavy dependence on fossil fuels,” said the study, “Real-Time Load and Ancillary Support for a Remote Island Power System Using Electric Boats.”

Floating microgrids made up of electric boat motors, renewable energy and controls offer a substitute that will help power an island and provide electricity after disasters.
» Read article

» More microgrid articles

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

compare electricity cost
Renewables, storage poised to undercut natural gas prices, increase stranded assets: RMI
If all proposed gas plants are built, 70% of those investments will be rendered uneconomic by 2035, according to the Rocky Mountain Institute.
By Catherine Morehouse, Utility Dive
September 11, 2019

Carbon-free resources are now cost competitive with new natural gas plants, according to a pair of reports released Monday by the Rocky Mountain Institute.

Wind, solar and storage projects, combined with demand-side management, have reached a “tipping point,” one report finds, meaning they’re now able to compete alongside natural gas on price while providing the same reliability services. But unlike the fluctuating price of fuels, these technologies’ prices are expected to continue dropping, the reports’ authors told Utility Dive.

This reality could leave many natural gas investors and utilities with stranded infrastructure assets, the second RMI report finds, and new gas investments should be made with caution.

This presents a new argument for how federal regulators should approach pipeline approvals, Gillian Giannetti, attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Sustainable FERC Project, told Utility Dive.

FERC approves pipelines based largely on public convenience and necessity under the Natural Gas Act, she said. But the report “really brings into focus the question of need, if need is to build a pipeline to serve a power plant that will be an uneconomic solution basically as soon as it’s finished,” she said.
» Read article 

The next target in the climate-change debate: your gas stove
By Valerie Volcovici and Nichola Groom, Reuters
September 9, 2019

Dozens of cities in liberal-leaning states such as California, Washington, and Massachusetts are studying proposals to ban or limit the use of natural gas in commercial and residential buildings. The movement opens a new front in the fight against climate change that could affect everything from heating systems in skyscrapers to stoves in suburban homes.

Natural gas companies alarmed by the trend are pushing back with ad campaigns and research promoting gas as a superior cooking fuel and an affordable option in a country that has become the world’s top gas producer.

“We are trying to get ahead of it,” said Stuart Saulters, the Director of Government Affairs of the American Public Gas Association. “We think there is a chance this can domino.”
» Read article

» More fossil fuel industry news

LNG NEWS

LNG v Paris Accords
Canada LNG among big oil projects deemed economically unviable under Paris climate pact by study
$50 billion worth of projects could be left ‘deep out of the money’ in lower carbon world
By Ron Bousso, Reuters
September 5, 2019

Major oil companies have approved US$50 billion of projects since last year that will not be economically viable if governments implement the Paris Agreement on climate change, think-tank Carbon Tracker said in a report published on Friday.

The analysis found that investment plans by Royal Dutch Shell, BP and ExxonMobil among other companies will not be compatible with the 2015 Paris Agreement, which aims to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

“Every oil major is betting heavily against a 1.5 degree Celsius world and investing in projects that are contrary to the Paris goals,” said report co-author Andrew Grant, a former natural resources analyst at Barclays.
» Read article

Trump’s hard sell of American LNG
By James Osborne, Houston Chronicle
September 5, 2019

More than 30 liquefied natural gas import terminals are spread across Europe, so many that tankers coming in from Qatar, the United States and other LNG-producing nations are not nearly enough to meet the facilities’ capacity.

Yet announcements of new import terminals in countries such as Germany and Poland keep coming. In part, that reflects the expectation that demand for liquefied natural gas will increase as the continent shifts away from coal and tries to reduce its dependence on gas delivered through Russian pipelines.

But governments in Europe and across the globe also are coming under increasing pressure to buy American LNG from a Trump administration that has shown a willingness to upend longstanding trade norms in the interests of increasing U.S. exports.
» Read article

» More LNG articles

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