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Weekly News Check-In 3/25/22

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Welcome back.

Six devoted climate activists have pressed a hunger strike for more than a week now, protesting approval of the controversial Peabody, MA  peaking power plant. With the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and International Energy Agency clearly calling for no new fossil fuel infrastructure, the hunger strike is a desperate attempt to get the Baker Administration to revisit the plant’s environmental permit. It’s worth noting that opponents of this peaker have proposed readily available, zero-emissions, less-expensive alternatives – and that this information has been ignored in favor of business-as-usual.

On the bright side, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) will finally consider the climate and social justice impacts of proposed gas pipelines, which prompted a typical, frothy backlash from conservative politicians and the fossil fuel lobby. These folks argue that the new rules make it virtually impossible to approve new gas infrastructure projects. Ah… you’re catching on!

That’s a good introduction to the “alternative facts” world of gas utilities and the fossil fuel industry in general, who have twisted the concept of a clean energy transition to the point where it means continuing to drill, pipe, and burn – but a little bit more efficiently and with the magical help of some fuzzy carbon capture fantasy that makes all those emissions just… disappear. To be clear, that’s bunk. And as a new study shows, a just transition would require fossil fuel extraction to end much sooner in developed and robust economies like the U.S. and Canada, so that poorer countries have time to diversify their economies before turning off the hydrocarbon spigot that currently sustains them.

The solution to the climate crisis is maddeningly simple: stop burning stuff. Getting there is a complicated global project requiring will and cooperation, but we have the tools and technologies ready to go. If we all pull in the same direction, we’ll get there.

Of course, one of those global complications is Russia’s unprovoked assault on Ukraine, and the uncomfortable fact that Europe is sustaining Putin’s army through their purchases of Russian oil and gas. The obvious solution is to pull out all the stops and deploy renewable energy generation and storage while rapidly electrifying transportation and home heating. Sure, it can’t be completed overnight, but neither can we replace all that fuel with liquefied natural gas, given the long lead time to build new terminals and ships. How we tackle this problem may well determine whether or not we keep global warming within the 1.5 degree C limit, beyond which there’s general scientific agreement that things get pretty nasty.

Massachusetts is kick starting its green economy with the help of a program that combines worker training with the goal of expanding access to clean transportation into underserved communities. There’s good news in energy efficient home heating, too. A new study shows that ditching your gas furnace or boiler in favor of an electric heat pump is a big win for the climate, whatever the refrigerant or the source of your electricity. That’s useful information for anyone thinking it’s better to wait until new, non-HFC refrigerants are available. Those are coming, but electrifying now is better than doing it later.

This has been a pretty crazy week in the news, so closing with a couple stories on cryptocurrency seems weirdly appropriate. The themes are familiar – an industry’s products are both beneficial and harmful, and it needs to mitigate a massive carbon footprint while trying to figure out its place in the future world. Also familiar: the mix of real and false solutions couched in lots of green messaging. We’ll keep an eye on it.

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

no more CO2
Hunger Strike Tour Opposed To Peabody Generator Hits Home
By Scott Souza, Patch
March 22, 2022

One full week after starting a hunger strike to protest the planned 60-megawatt fossil fuel-powered generator set for construction at the Waters River substation, seven members of the climate group 350 Mass were planning to be at Peabody’s Courthouse Square Tuesday as part of a passionate plea to stop the project.

The event culminates a week of protests asking the state to step in and re-examine the Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company’s Project 2015A to build a gas- and oil-powered generator capable of providing electricity to 14 municipal energy communities – including Marblehead and Peabody – in times of extreme weather or “peak” energy demand.

The generator gained final approval from the state Department of Public Utilities last summer with a state order from Gov. Charlie Baker or action from Secretary of Environmental and Energy Services Kathleen Theoharides to reopen the environmental review process among the few viable options left to halt the impending project.

“The extremity is simply because nothing else seems to make a dent,” Sue Donaldson told Patch of the hunger strike on Tuesday. “It just feels like what else can you do at this point?”

Donaldson said the Peabody generator is the group’s “poster child” to protest greater issues involved with government oversight agencies’ allowance of continued reliance on fossil fuels amid the climate crisis.

“We are all pretty seasoned activists,” Donaldson said. “We have all protested, and rallied, and gotten arrested, and nothing else seems to have slowed people down. We really wanted to do something to highlight the urgency of the whole issue.”

MMWEC representatives have argued that the generator is necessary to ensure the continued delivery of energy in extreme conditions while protecting consumers from the potential price spikes of purchasing that power on the surge market. They have also said the generator is expected to operate about 239 hours a year and that it will be 94 percent more efficient than comparable generators across the state.

But fierce opponents of the project — including the hunger strikers — say that any new use of fossil fuels further endangers the future of the planet.

“Our house is on fire,” 350 Mass member Judith Black, of Marblehead, told Patch. “It’s amazing to me that everyone doesn’t have this at the top of their list of change. Our government has been criminal in its lack of action.
» Read article      

» More about protests and actions

PEAKING POWER PLANTS

no more gas power plants
As hunger strike continues, leaders push for review
By Dustin Luca, Salem News
March 22, 2022

A hunger strike opposing a new oil-and-gas powered “peaker” plant in Peabody has enlisted some legislative muscle as the strike hits its ninth day.

Opponents to the plant and environmental advocates held a protest in front of Peabody District Court Tuesday afternoon, the eighth day of the strike. The event included the support of state Rep. Sally Kerans, D-Danvers, and state Sen. Joan Lovely, D-Salem, who represents several communities in the area.

“I just want to send my best to the six individuals behind us who are putting themselves in harm’s way for a very important, critical issue,” Lovely said, then leaning to a group of protestors wearing black hats emblazoned with “HUNGER STRIKER” in big, white letters. “That’s why we’re here.”

The hunger strike was launched Tuesday, March 15, in opposition of the “Peabody Peaker” plant, an $85 million facility that will only operate during peak demand times to keep the region’s energy needs met. The plant is being sought by the Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company and would touch 14 communities if built.

“We’re in a fight for a clean energy future,” said Kerans. “To that end, these folks are literally putting your health on the line to make the point that, if we don’t transition to clean energy, the changes will come in other ways and will be cataclysmic and irreversible.

“So it isn’t too much to ask those of us who are in state government to use our authority,” Kerans continued. “That’s what we’re encouraging the officials from the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs — to use their authority to revisit this plant.”

Much of the event targeted Kathleen Theoharides, the state’s secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs. It was organized by Breathe Clean North Shore, which is now celebrating an anniversary because of the project.
» Read article      

» More about peakers

PIPELINES

open-cut trench
FERC Says it Will Consider Greenhouse Gas Emissions and ‘Environmental Justice’ Impacts in Approving New Natural Gas Pipelines
Environmentalists applauded the shifts in policy, while one Senate natural gas advocate said the guidelines would make approvals for new pipelines “next to impossible.”
By Zoha Tunio, Inside Climate News
March 21, 2022

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has issued new policy statements saying its approval process for natural gas pipelines and liquified natural gas facilities will take greenhouse gas emissions and “environmental justice” impacts into consideration in determining whether the infrastructure projects are in the public interest.

Although non-binding, the policy statements, issued last month, could significantly change how natural gas pipelines are approved by the commission going forward. Under its new approach, the commission would  be required to determine whether a project is actually needed to meet the energy demands of a given region and whether it is in the public interest, with its benefits outweighing its potential adverse impacts, such as air pollution or threats to groundwater.

Interim guidelines, which have gone into effect but remain open for public comment through April 4 before being finalized, require environmental impact statements for all projects emitting more than 100,000 metric tons of gases every year.

Pipelines and liquified natural gas facilities often release into the atmosphere vast quantities of methane, the main ingredient in natural gas, because of accidents, or during repairs and routine maintenance. Methane is a climate super-pollutant 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period.

While climate advocacy groups have welcomed FERC’s policy statements, opponents argue that they may have damaging impacts on industry’s ability to transport natural gas and export liquified natural gas, which is produced through an energy-intensive process that requires cooling natural gas to -259 degrees Fahrenheit.

U.S. Sen. John Barraso (R-Wyo.), a leading advocate for the natural gas industry, took aim at the new FERC policy during a March 3 Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing.

“These policies are going to make it next to impossible to build any new natural gas infrastructure or upgrade our existing facilities in the United States,” he said.

[…] But Richard Glick, FERC’s chairman, said that the policies came in response to various court decisions in which the commission’s pipeline approvals were vacated because the commission had not sufficiently determined the pipelines were needed by consumers to provide heat and electricity.

Glick said the commission’s approach had evolved into one in which developers’ proposals “were treated as conclusive proof of the need for a proposed project.”
» Read article      

» More about pipelines

GAS UTILITIES

Dorchester Gas
What’s the future of gas in Mass.? Utilities and critics have different visions
By Bruce Gellerman, WBUR
March 18, 2022


New reports from the state’s five investor-owned gas utilities offer roadmaps to the companies’ future — and, in many ways, our own.

[…] In 2020, Attorney General Maura Healey asked the Department of Public Utilities to investigate how the local distribution companies planned to meet the state’s goals while ensuring continued safe and reliable gas service (even as demand declines), and ensure consumers do not pay unnecessary costs.

Technically known as Department of Public Utility Docket 20-80, the utility reports are based on analysis conducted by two independent research consulting firms selected by the local gas distribution companies. The researcher came up with nine pathways the utilities could take to meet Massachusetts’ ambitious emission limits.

The five utility reports are virtually identical. All call for increased energy efficiency measures; expanded use of heat pumps powered electricity generated by renewable solar and wind; and where necessary, using hybrid gas-electric heating systems comprised of electric heat pumps and back-up gas burners.

[…] But critics say the utility roadmaps are based on unproven technologies and warn the companies will spend billions of dollars installing new pipelines that will be obsolete by mid-century, leaving consumers to pay for the stranded assets long after they’re needed.

[…] The utilities hope to stay in the pipeline distribution business by substituting biogas, also known as renewable natural gas, for natural gas currently obtained from drilling and fracking fossil formations in the earth. Biogas is derived from capturing methane released from decomposing organic matter in landfills, farms and waste water treatment plants. Both biogas and natural gas are equally damaging to the climate if emitted into the atmosphere.

Sam Wade, director of public policy with the Renewable Natural Gas Coalition, estimates biogas can replace 20% of fossil gas.

California recently required the state to obtain 12% of its natural gas from biogas but Matt Vespa, a Senior Attorney with EarthJustice in California thinks that is overly optimistic.

“I think they’re pushing what is feasible with that amount,” Vespa said. “There are limited sources of biogas … so this is a niche solution that should be reserved for the most difficult applications that you can’t electrify.”

[…] National Grid and Eversource are also hoping to use a new technology known as networked geothermal energy. Eversource will drill an experimental pilot project in Framingham this summer. National Grid plans to start two projects next year but has not announced the locations.

Network geothermal uses the earth as a battery, tapping the constant 55 degrees Fahrenheit temperature just a few feet below the surface and circulating it to homes and businesses in the area through a network of pipes. The thermal energy would be heated or cooled using electric pumps.

The networked geothermal technology is promoted by Cambridge based HEET, which describes itself as a non-profit climate incubator. Co-executive director Zeyneb Magavi said gas utilities can evolve into “geo-utilities,” delivering a consistent temperature to customers instead of natural gas, and utilize the expertise of their work crews to drill holes and network the necessary pipes.

Without an ambitious project like that, Massachusetts is nowhere near achieving its goal, Magavi warned.

“If we can’t start doing this at a utility scale, street by street, everybody having access at a cost they can afford, I don’t think we’re going to get there,” she said.
» Read article      

» More about gas utilities

GREENING THE ECONOMY

bike mechanic
Massachusetts program funds strategies pairing equity and clean transportation

Accelerating Clean Transportation for All will provide $5 million in grants to 10 projects across the state focused on improving infrastructure for electric transportation for low-income areas and communities of color.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
March 21, 2022

Massachusetts has announced $5 million in grants for pilot projects aimed at connecting disadvantaged populations with clean, electric transportation.

The program, known as Accelerating Clean Transportation for All, will fund 10 projects across the state that are focused on improving infrastructure for electric taxis, increasing adoption of e-bikes, electrifying nonprofit fleets, or educating consumers about electric vehicles.

“The overarching goal of that program is to address clean transportation in areas that are overburdened by greenhouse gasses and also underserved by public transportation,” said Rachel Ackerman, director for transportation programming at the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, the agency administering the grant program.

Environmental justice has been a centerpiece of Massachusetts’ policy since last year, when the state passed ambitious climate legislation that included several provisions for ensuring the clean energy transition benefits low-income residents and communities of color. Accelerating Clean Transportation for All was developed with this goal in mind.

The grant-winning proposals will receive between $152,000 and $1 million to implement their plans. The clean energy center is in the process of finalizing contracts with the grantees, but many projects are expected to launch as early as this summer.
» Read article      

looming challenge
What happens to used solar panels? DOE wants to know
By David Iaconangelo, E&E News
March 21, 2022

The Department of Energy released an action plan last week intended to help the United States launch a comprehensive system for handling and recycling solar panels, which some studies have suggested could make up a tenth of all electronic waste in coming decades.

The Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) announced a new target to bring the cost of recycling solar panels to about $3 per panel by 2030, a threshold that would make the practice economic for the first time.

That follows an earlier DOE goal to try to halve the price of solar power by decade’s end. By 2035, solar could contribute 37 to 42 percent of the grid’s power, in line with the Biden administration’s goal of a carbon-free grid by that year, according to the office, which is part of DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE)

The new recycling target would mean a cost reduction of “more than half,” DOE’s solar researchers estimated. It also would make recycling roughly as economic as sending old panels to landfills, a process that costs roughly $1 to $5 per panel before transportation costs are factored in, according to previous research from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).

“As we accelerate deployment of photovoltaic systems, we must also recognize the pressing need to address end-of-life for the materials in a sustainable way,” said Kelly Speakes-Backman, EERE’s principal deputy assistant secretary, in a statement. “We are committed to ensuring that the recovery, reuse, recycling, and disposal of these systems and their components are accessible, low-cost and have minimal environmental impact.”

To reach the target, the solar office is aiming to fill a knowledge gap about what happens to solar panels after they reach the end of their useful lives.

“Little is known about the actual state and handling of [photovoltaic end-of-life panels],” including the amount of panel waste being generated, how owners go about decommissioning their panels, who handles the waste and how transportation works, DOE’s plan said.

At least one thing is clear, though, for the solar industry: Figuring out how to recycle old panels — or reuse parts like the precious metals often contained in them — is a looming challenge.
» Read article      

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

world on fire
In a World on Fire, Stop Burning Things
The truth is new and counterintuitive: we have the technology necessary to rapidly ditch fossil fuels.
By Bill McKibben, The New Yorker
March 18, 2022

On the last day of February, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued its most dire report yet. The Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres, had, he said, “seen many scientific reports in my time, but nothing like this.” Setting aside diplomatic language, he described the document as “an atlas of human suffering and a damning indictment of failed climate leadership,” and added that “the world’s biggest polluters are guilty of arson of our only home.” Then, just a few hours later, at the opening of a rare emergency special session of the U.N. General Assembly, he catalogued the horrors of Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, and declared, “Enough is enough.” Citing Putin’s declaration of a nuclear alert, the war could, Guterres said, turn into an atomic conflict, “with potentially disastrous implications for us all.”

What unites these two crises is combustion. Burning fossil fuel has driven the temperature of the planet ever higher, melting most of the sea ice in the summer Arctic, bending the jet stream, and slowing the Gulf Stream. And selling fossil fuel has given Putin both the money to equip an army (oil and gas account for sixty per cent of Russia’s export earnings) and the power to intimidate Europe by threatening to turn off its supply. Fossil fuel has been the dominant factor on the planet for centuries, and so far nothing has been able to profoundly alter that. After Putin invaded, the American Petroleum Institute insisted that our best way out of the predicament was to pump more oil. The climate talks in Glasgow last fall, which John Kerry, the U.S. envoy, had called the “last best hope” for the Earth, provided mostly vague promises about going “net-zero by 2050”; it was a festival of obscurantism, euphemism, and greenwashing, which the young climate activist Greta Thunberg summed up as “blah, blah, blah.” Even people trying to pay attention can’t really keep track of what should be the most compelling battle in human history.

So let’s reframe the fight. Along with discussing carbon fees and green-energy tax credits, amid the momentary focus on disabling Russian banks and flattening the ruble, there’s a basic, underlying reality: the era of large-scale combustion has to come to a rapid close. If we understand that as the goal, we might be able to keep score, and be able to finally get somewhere. Last Tuesday, President Biden banned the importation of Russian oil. This year, we may need to compensate for that with American hydrocarbons, but, as a senior Administration official put it,“the only way to eliminate Putin’s and every other producing country’s ability to use oil as an economic weapon is to reduce our dependency on oil.” As we are one of the largest oil-and-gas producers in the world, that is a remarkable statement. It’s a call for an end of fire.
» Read article      

climate sniffles
Thanks to climate change, ticks and allergies are arriving earlier
By Dharna Noor, Boston Globe
March 22, 2022

Is that familiar allergic tickle in your throat showing up earlier in the spring? Does it seem like ticks are spreading across New England earlier, too? If so, it’s not just you — it’s climate change.

Thanks to the quickly warming Gulf of Maine, the region is warming faster than the rest of the world. Since 1900, temperatures in metropolitan Boston have climbed by about 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 degrees Fahrenheit), while temperatures on the rest of the planet rose an average of 1.14 degrees Celsius.

That means we’re seeing shorter winters, earlier blooms, and more pollen. In a study published last week in the journal Nature Communications, scientists from the University of Michigan examined 15 types of pollen from different plants found in the United States and found, in computer simulations, that pollen counts are increasing.

Richard B. Primack, a biology professor at Boston University who focuses on climate change, said the new study’s findings should come as no surprise.

”Plants are responding [to warming temperatures] by flowering earlier,” he said. “So of course, pollen season is coming earlier than it did in the past.”

Another yearly annoyance that’s exacerbated because of climate change: ticks. Milder winters, earlier springs, and wetter conditions are creating a perfect environment for the pests, which carry a host of dangerous diseases, including Lyme disease. They’re breeding, developing, and growing in population earlier in the year, and they’re also spreading northward into areas that used to be too cold for their liking, research shows.

As the climate is changing, a new kind of tick, known as the Lone Star tick, has also spread into New England, said Larry Dapsis, deer tick project coordinator and entomologist for the Cape Cod Cooperative Extension.

“The Lone Star tick has been spreading north steadily,” he said. “It’s a function of climate change: The earth is getting warmer, and we’re seeing plants and animals where we never used to see them before. This is a great example of that.”

Cases of tick-borne Lyme disease have been trending upward for years around the country, especially in the Northeast. Federal data isn’t available on Massachusetts because state officials have altered their reporting methods, which makes it hard to track trends, but EPA numbers show that Maine and Vermont have experienced the largest increases in reported case rates, with New Hampshire close behind.

“The incidence of Lyme disease has really increased dramatically over the last several decades in New England,” Primark said.
» Read article      

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

blank term
There’s a Messaging Battle Right Now Over America’s Energy Future
Climate scientists and fossil fuel executives use the same terms when they talk about an energy transition. But they mean starkly different things.
By David Gelles and Lisa Friedman, New York Times
March 19, 2022

Climate scientists, oil executives, progressives and conservatives all agree on one thing these days: The energy transition is upon us.

The uninhibited burning of fossil fuels for more than a century has already warmed the planet significantly, and cleaner and more sustainable sources of power are urgently needed in order to avoid further catastrophic changes to the environment.

But even as longtime adversaries use the same terminology, calling in unison for an “energy transition,” they are often talking about starkly different scenarios.

According to the scientific consensus, the energy transition requires a rapid phasing out of fossil fuels and the immediate scaling up of cleaner energy sources like wind, solar and nuclear.

But many in the oil and gas business say the energy transition simply means a continued use of fossil fuels, with a greater reliance on natural gas rather than coal, and a hope that new technologies such as carbon capture and sequestration can contain or reduce the amount of greenhouse gasses they produce.

“The term energy transition is interpreted one way by the climate hawks, and in a totally different way by those in the oil and gas industry,” said Anthony Leiserowitz, the director of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication. “It is a very ambiguous term. Like, what does that even mean?”

The phrase has become what is known in linguistics circles as a “floating signifier,” Dr. Leiserowitz said. He called it “a blank term that you can fill with your own preferred definition.”

Efforts to move the world away from fossil fuels have been proceeding in slow motion for years, as nations and corporations advance scattershot efforts to reduce emissions. But the transformation is reaching an inflection point today, with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine prompting climate advocates and the oil and gas industry to advance dueling narratives about what the energy transition is and how it should be carried out.

Climate researchers point out that there is little room for ambiguity. With increasing urgency, a series of major scientific reports has underlined the need to phase out fossil fuels and the damaging effects of planet warming emissions.
» Read article      

listen up
U.N. Chief Warns of ‘Catastrophe’ With Continued Use of Fossil Fuels
António Guterres, the United Nations secretary general, said instead of replacing Russian oil, gas and coal, nations must pivot to clean energy.
By Lisa Friedman, New York Times
March 21, 2022

Countries are “sleepwalking to climate catastrophe” if they continue to rely on fossil fuels, and nations racing to replace Russian oil, gas and coal with their own dirty energy are making matters worse, United Nations Secretary General António Guterres warned on Monday.

The ambitious promises world leaders made last year at a climate summit in Glasgow were “naïve optimism,” Mr. Guterres said. Nations are nowhere near the goal of limiting the average global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius by the end of this century. That’s the threshold beyond which scientists say the likelihood of catastrophic impacts increases significantly. The planet has already warmed an average of 1.1 degrees Celsius.

And the pollution that is dangerously heating the planet is continuing to increase. Global emissions are set to rise by 14 percent in the 2020s, and emissions from coal continue to surge, he said.

“The 1.5 degree goal is on life support. It is in intensive care,” Mr. Guterres said in remarks delivered to a summit The Economist is hosting on sustainability via video address.

“We are sleepwalking to climate catastrophe,” he said. “If we continue with more of the same, we can kiss 1.5 goodbye. Even 2 degrees may be out of reach. And that would be a catastrophe.”

Mr. Guterres’s speech comes as the European Union is trying to find ways to reduce its dependence on Russian oil and gas, and countries like the United States are scrambling to increase fossil fuel production to stabilize energy markets. President Biden and European leaders have said that the short-term needs will not upend their longer-term vision of shifting to wind, solar and other renewable sources that do not produce dangerous greenhouse gas emissions.

But the U.N. secretary general said he fears that strategy endangers the goal of rapid reduction of fossil fuel burning. Keeping the planet at safe levels means slashing emissions worldwide 45 percent by [2030], scientists have said.
» Per 2019 IPCC report on pathway for achieving 1.5C: “In model pathways with no or limited overshoot of 1.5°C, global net anthropogenic CO2 emissions decline by about 45% from 2010 levels by 2030 (40–60% interquartile range), reaching net zero around 2050 (2045–2055 interquartile range).”
» Read article      

appropriate H2 application
How Putin’s war has “turbocharged” green hydrogen, and long term shift from fossils
By Sophie Vorrath, Renew Economy
March 24, 2022

Much has been written about the unintended boost Russia’s invasion of Ukraine might lend to the global shift to renewables, but two new reports from leading market analysts have singled out green hydrogen as a sector that stands to be “turbocharged” as a result of the conflict.

The reports, from Bloomberg New Energy Finance and Rystad Energy, explain that soaring gas prices, driven up by the Russia-Ukraine war, have – as BNEF puts it – “opened a rare opportunity” for renewable electricity to make hydrogen and hydrogen-derived products more cheaply than gas.

BNEF, in a report published at the start of the month, said that since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, European gas prices have jumped to more than six times higher than the value over the same time period in 2021.

Gas import prices in Asia, meanwhile, have charted a nearly five-fold increase over the same period last year, while US gas prices have jumped by 60 per cent.

This has in turn driven up spot prices for ammonia, a gas-derived product primarily used for fertiliser, and those rising “grey ammonia” costs have in turn opened the door for “green” production processes, which rely on renewable electricity to make hydrogen.
» Read article      

TVA poster
Largest Government-Owned Utility in U.S. Backs Gas, Despite White House Climate Commitments
By The Energy Mix
March 20, 2022

America’s biggest federally-owned utility, still under the influence of a Trump-appointed board of directors, is facing a federal investigation after announcing plans to spend more than US$3.5 billion on new gas-fired power plants rather than investing in cheaper renewables.

Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) said its move to replace its oldest coal plants with gas was all about ensuring reliable and cheap power for its nearly 10 million customers from across the southeastern U.S., writes the New York Times.

But TVA has also “gutted its energy efficiency program” and “interfered with the adoption of renewable energy,” said Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ), chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, condemning the move to build expensive fossil fuel projects rather than invest in less expensive, climate-friendly technologies.

Currently the third-largest electricity provider in the United States, TVA plans to add roughly 5,000 MW of gas to an energy mix which is currently composed of 39% nuclear, 26% gas, 19% coal, 11% hydro, and 3% wind and solar.

“As the largest federally-owned utility, TVA should be leading the way on clean energy,” said Pallone, who has opened an investigation into TVA’s pursuit of new gas-powered plants. “It’s going in the wrong direction right now with more gas burning.”

TVA’s decision “sends a terrible message,” University of California, Santa Barbara environmental policy expert Leah C. Stokes told the Times.
» Read article     

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

HVAC tech
The Climate Math of Home Heating Electrification
By Alex Hillbrand Pierre Delforge, NRDC | Expert Blog Post
March 3, 2022

The strong climate case for electrifying homes across America grew even stronger last week.

Researchers from U.C. Davis published a study in Energy Policy showing that a typical U.S. home can cut its heating-related climate pollution by 45 percent to 72 percent by swapping out a gas-fired furnace for an efficient, all-electric heat pump. And it’s true starting today, in every region in the country.

NRDC, a supporter of the study, asked U.C. Davis to look into this question for a couple of reasons. We often hear the concern that the CO2 emissions from generating electricity to power heat pumps make them too dirty today, and that we should wait to electrify – or swap out appliances that use fossil fuels in exchange for efficient electric models that can be powered by clean energy sources – until the grid gets cleaner. Other times we hear that electrifying too soon will exacerbate the impacts of hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants, which cause climate change when leaked from appliances.

The new findings address both of these issues – plus the impact of the switch on fugitive methane emissions – and confirm that the time to act is now. Here are the results, in brief.
» Read article     
» Read the study

» More about energy efficiency

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

USPS trucks
Watchdog Finds Postal Service Could Serve 99% of Routes With Electric Fleet
The report comes as Democrats in Congress are challenging Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s plan to buy new gas-powered delivery trucks despite the global need to transition off of fossil fuels.
By Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams
March 22, 2022

“A gas-guzzling fleet is clearly the wrong choice.”

That’s what Congressman Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) said in response to a new report from the U.S. Postal Service Office of Inspector General (OIG) about how transitioning to electric vehicles (EVs) would impact the USPS.

The OIG analysis, released last week, came as Huffman and other Democrats in Congress are challenging Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s contract with Oshkosh Defense for new mostly gas-powered mail trucks, given climate experts’ warnings about the need to keep fossil fuels in the ground.

“The U.S. Postal Service employs 217,000 delivery vehicles to deliver mail and parcels to more than 135 million addresses. Many of these vehicles are beyond their intended service life and expensive to operate and maintain,” states the report. “The Postal Service is at a critical inflection point for its aging fleet and is preparing to acquire and operate a new generation of delivery vehicles.”

The OIG “identified several clear benefits of adopting electric vehicles into the postal delivery fleet, including improved sustainability and environmental impacts,” the document continues. “Electric vehicles are generally more mechanically reliable than gas-powered vehicles and would require less maintenance. Energy costs will be lower for electric vehicles, as using electricity to power an electric vehicle is cheaper than using gasoline.”

“Our research confirms that electric vehicle technology is generally capable of meeting the Postal Service’s needs,” the analysis adds, pointing out that of the roughly 177,000 USPS routes nationwide, only “around 2,600 of these routes (1.5% of the total) may be poorly suited to electric vehicle deployment.”

Most of the routes that are not well-suited for an EV are longer than the vehicle’s 70-mile range, though the paper notes that some shorter routes “may also experience range limitations if they include hilly terrain, since acceleration up steep slopes can reduce the range of a fully charged battery.”

The document also emphasizes that despite the higher upfront cost of buying new EVs and installing charging infrastructure, “the adoption of electric delivery vehicles could save the Postal Service money in the long term,” particularly for longer routes that are up to 70 miles, because the USPS would save on rapidly rising gas costs.
» Read article      
» Read the Inspector General’s report

BRPC charge plan
Berkshire Planning Commission Preparing for Electric Vehicle Movement
By Brittany Polito, iBerkshires
March 20, 2022

Berkshire Regional Planning Commission is preparing for the statewide and national movement toward electric vehicles.

BRPC Transportation Planner Justin Gilmore presented a Berkshire County Electric Vehicle Charging Station Plan to the commission on Thursday that aims to put charging capabilities in every community.

“The primary purpose of this plan is really just to educate and inform the reader on the current state of electric vehicles and charging station technology and certainly equip municipal officials with the information they need to start making strategic investments around charging station installation,” Gilmore explained.

“And all of this is really coming on the heels of major commitments to address climate change.”

The state’s decarbonization roadmap, which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 85 percent by 2050, outlines steps to require 100 percent zero-emissions light-duty vehicle (LDV) sales by 2035.

This means that after 2035 in the state of Massachusetts, people will no longer be able to buy new internal combustion engine vehicles.

The Massachusetts Clean Energy and Climate Plan published in 2020 aims to increase the number of EVs in the state from about 36,000 to 750,000 by 2030.

“Transportation is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions nationally, at the state level, and locally here in the Berkshires, so this shift towards electrification really represents a critical opportunity to begin decarbonizing the transportation sector,” Gilmore explained.
» Read article      

pain at the pump
Decades of Lobbying Weakened Americans’ Gas Mileage and Turbocharged Pain at the Pump
The oil and automotive industries, as well as the Koch network, undercut efforts to make today’s fleet of vehicles more efficient and less reliant on fossil fuels.
By Sharon Kelly, DeSmog Blog
March 18, 2022

[…] The pain at the pump for American drivers has roots that run deeper than today’s crisis. In recent years, while fracking’s supporters were shouting “drill baby drill” the oil industry began lobbying behind the scenes to undercut programs designed to make vehicles more fuel efficient or less reliant on fossil fuels. Alongside automakers, they helped pave the way for a boom in gas guzzlers that attracted consumers when gas prices were relatively low: In 2021, a stunning 78 percent of new vehicles sold in the United States were SUVs or trucks, according to the Wall Street Journal. American carmakers like Ford, General Motors, and Fiat Chrysler have nearly abandoned making sedans for U.S. drivers altogether.

That was a step in the wrong direction, efficiency advocates say. “We absolutely should be moving to establishing independence from fossil fuels, both for geopolitical and for public health and climate reasons,” said Luke Tonachel, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s (NRDC) clean vehicles and fuels group. “I think our best tool to fight petro-dictators is to shake off the need for the petroleum that is the source of their power.”

The recent bigger-is-better boom is creating big problems for drivers as gas prices soar because once a vehicle is built, keeping up with maintenance and deploying a few tips and tricks are about all your average driver can do to improve a car’s fuel efficiency beyond its design specs. Until today’s cars are retired, American drivers are pretty much stuck with hundreds of millions of vehicles built while gas prices largely hovered between $2 and $3 a gallon.

But while conversations about fuel efficiency are often dominated by debates about whether buyers or sellers should shoulder the blame for the stampede towards SUVs over Priuses, there’s another often-ignored actor in the room.

Federal rules shape the menu of options offered to consumers by requiring automakers to achieve fleet-wide averages on fuel efficiency. A quick look back shows the oil industry’s fingerprints (alongside those of car manufacturers) on gambits to grind down those fuel efficiency standards, leaving everyday Americans more dependent on oil.
» Read article      

» More about clean transportation

CRYPTOCURRENCY

Peter Wall
Bitcoin Miners Want to Recast Themselves as Eco-Friendly
Facing intense criticism, the crypto mining industry is trying to change the view that its energy-guzzling computers are harmful to the climate.
By David Yaffe-Bellany, New York Times
March 22, 2022

Along a dirt-covered road deep in Texas farm country, the cryptocurrency company Argo Blockchain is building a power plant for the internet age: a crypto “mining” site stocked with computers that generate new Bitcoins.

But unlike other Bitcoin mining operations, which consume large quantities of fossil fuels and produce carbon emissions, Argo claims it’s trying to do something environmentally responsible. As Peter Wall, Argo’s chief executive, led a tour of the 126,000-square-foot construction site one morning this month, he pointed to a row of wind turbines a few miles down the road, their white spokes shining in the sunlight.

The new facility, an hour outside Lubbock, would be fueled mostly by wind and solar energy, he declared. “This is Bitcoin mining nirvana,” Mr. Wall said. “You look off into the distance and you’ve got your renewable power.”

Facing criticism from politicians and environmentalists, the cryptocurrency mining industry has embarked on a rebranding effort to challenge the prevailing view that its electricity-guzzling computers are harmful to the climate. All five of the largest publicly traded crypto mining companies say they are building or already operating plants powered by renewable energy, and industry executives have started arguing that demand from crypto miners will create opportunities for wind and solar companies to open facilities of their own.

The effort — partly a public-relations exercise, partly a genuine attempt to make the industry more sustainable — has intensified since last spring, when China began a crackdown on crypto mining, forcing some mining operations to relocate to the United States. A trade group called the Bitcoin Mining Council also formed last year, partly to tackle climate issues, after Elon Musk criticized the industry for using fossil fuels.
» Read article      

trading machine
There is a greener way to mine crypto
It’s worth examining how the many, many “clean” crypto initiatives, currencies, blockchains, and marketplaces for non-fungible tokens actually stack up.
By Nitish Pahwa, Grist
March 22, 2022

Last April, the cryptocurrency world announced its own virtual iteration of the Paris Agreement: the Crypto Climate Accord. The alliance bills itself as “a private sector-led initiative for the entire crypto community focused on decarbonizing the cryptocurrency and blockchain industry in record time.” Its goal is to transition the crypto industry to renewable energy sources in time for the 2025 United Nations climate conference. By 2040, it seeks to “achieve net-zero emissions for the entire crypto industry.”

Why does crypto need its own climate pact? Because it has a massive carbon footprint, one that’s kept growing as interest in cryptocurrencies — not to mention the sheer number of cryptocurrencies — has grown. A 2019 study in the science journal Joule estimated that, at the lowest bounds, Bitcoin’s power consumption emitted about 22 million metric tons of carbon dioxide the previous year. For context, that’s about 10 percent of the global railway sector’s annual emissions — and it’s just for one currency, even if it’s a major one. Such figures are a bad look for the industry’s public image, which is why phrases like “green crypto” and “clean crypto” are suddenly popping up everywhere, fueling efforts like the new climate accord. Crypto’s dirty reputation is an existential problem — so for the sake of both the planet and the industry, it’s worth examining how the many, many “clean” crypto initiatives, currencies, blockchains, and marketplaces for non-fungible tokens, or NFTs, actually stack up.

[…] The Crypto Climate Accord wants to start fueling crypto with renewables as opposed to fossil fuels, but at the moment, that simply isn’t an option. We don’t have enough renewable energy around the world to meet climate goals even without taking crypto into account; running crypto systems will require that major countries have surplus renewable-produced energy. Already, areas with dedicated green power sources for crypto, like the Nordic states, are running low on the surplus power capacity required for digital mining. Bitcoin’s energy use has shot up over the past year, and Scandinavia’s supply of excess power — about 30 terawatt-hours in an average year — is projected to decline as governments redirect it toward the development of fuels like hydrogen, while also exporting clean power to the rest of Europe.

[…] There are also crypto advocates who put forth dubious cases for digital currencies they claim are actually paving the path for clean power. Jack Dorsey’s company Block, back when it was still known as Square, released a white paper claiming Bitcoin mining is necessary to incentivize the scaling of renewable energy, an argument that doesn’t quite hold up to scrutiny or play out in practice. Many green-blockchain advocates tout their purchasing and trading of carbon offsets, but these so-called offsets often only add to carbon emissions; others advertise themselves as “carbon-neutral,” promoting a shaky concept that’s mostly allowed energy firms aiming for “net-zero” emissions to not substantively reduce their carbon footprints.

So there are a lot of “green crypto” initiatives that are easy to dismiss as pure hype. At the same time, there are many digital traders, artists, engineers, and true believers who have been working for years, out of genuine concern, to try to build and scale solutions to crypto’s environmental problem.
» Read article      

» More about crypto

CARBON CAPTURE AND STORAGE

under Illinois
Advocates urge Illinois landowners to prepare for risks from CO2 pipelines

With geology considered ideal for carbon storage, residents worry about increasing proposals to transport and sequester carbon dioxide below farmland.
By Kari Lydersen, Energy News Network
March 15, 2022

A coalition of downstate Illinois environmental groups is warning rural landowners about potential safety and financial hazards from a planned carbon sequestration project in the region.

Illinois’ sandstone geology is considered ideal for below-ground carbon sequestration. Several such projects in the state have been proposed and researched in the past without coming to completion, as carbon capture and sequestration at scale remains an expensive and largely untested technology.

That could change with a Texas company’s proposed Heartland Greenway project, a 1,300-mile pipeline network that would carry carbon dioxide from ethanol plants in five Midwest states to central Illinois, where up to 15 million metric tons would be stored in “pore space” located under thousands of acres of farmland and other rural property.

The risk of damage from the project’s construction and operation has already raised significant opposition in Iowa. At a March 7 webinar, experts and local advocates in downstate Illinois urged landowners there to prepare a similar defense ahead of potential easement or eminent domain disputes.

Illinois is poised to become a “superhighway for CO2 pipelines gathering [carbon dioxide] all over the Midwest,” energy attorney Paul Blackburn said at the webinar, presented by the Coalition to Stop CO2 Pipelines. “Some folks believe these pipelines will stop climate change, but there are arguments about whether that is actually true.”
» Read article      

» More about carbon capture and storage

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

no more production
Here’s the ‘energy transition’ needed to stave off climate catastrophe
And it’s not the one oil executives had in mind.
By Kate Yoder, Grist
March 23, 2022

The world has a 50/50 chance of keeping climate change to relatively safe levels, a new report says — but only if there are drastic cuts to fossil fuel production, effective immediately.

The analysis, from researchers at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research in the United Kingdom, found that limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial temperatures (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) requires more stringent emissions cuts than what any country is currently considering. The report, published Tuesday, is focused on avoiding going past that 1.5-degree threshold — a sort of danger line beyond which the effects of global warming turn from catastrophic to … well, something even worse.

At this point, the Earth has already warmed by 1.1 to 1.2 degrees C (about 2 degrees F). To have decent odds of meeting this 1.5-degree goal, rich countries would have to completely phase out oil and gas production in 12 years, the report said, while poorer countries would have until 2050 to do so, because they bear less responsibility for creating the problem. The authors make clear that there’s no room for new fossil fuel production “of any kind” — no more coal mines, oil wells, or gas terminals.

The report’s vision of the “energy transition,” a phrase some use to describe the world’s path away from fossil fuels, looks radically different from what oil executives have proposed when they use the same term. The oil and gas industry has argued for the continued use of their key products and lowering emissions by capturing and storing the carbon emitted when fossil fuels are burned.
» Read article      
» Read the Tyndall report

Reagan warned about this
How Europe Got Hooked on Russian Gas Despite Reagan’s Warnings
A Soviet-era pipeline, opposed by the president but supported by the oil and gas industry, set up the dependency that today helps fund the Russian assault on Ukraine.
By Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times
March 23, 2022

The language in the C.I.A. memo was unequivocal: The 3,500-mile gas pipeline from Siberia to Germany is a direct threat to the future of Western Europe, it said, creating “serious repercussions” from a dangerous reliance on Russian fuel.

The agency wasn’t briefing President Biden today. It was advising President Reagan more than four decades ago.

The memo was prescient. That Soviet-era pipeline, the subject of a bitter fight during the Reagan administration, marked the start of Europe’s heavy dependence on Russian natural gas to heat homes and fuel industry. However, those gas purchases now help fund Vladimir V. Putin’s war machine in Ukraine, despite worldwide condemnation of the attacks and global efforts to punish Russia financially.

In 1981, Reagan imposed sanctions to try to block the pipeline, a major Soviet initiative designed to carry huge amounts of fuel to America’s critical allies in Europe. But he swiftly faced stiff opposition — not just from the Kremlin and European nations eager for a cheap source of gas, but also from a powerful lobby close to home: oil and gas companies that stood to profit from access to Russia’s gargantuan gas reserves.

In a public-relations and lobbying blitz that played out across newspaper opinion pages, congressional committees and a direct appeal to the White House, industry executives and lobbyists fought the sanctions. “Reagan has absolutely no reason to forbid this business,” Wolfgang Oehme, chairman of an Exxon subsidiary with a stake in the pipeline, said at the time.
» Read article      
» Read the CIA memo

» More about fossil fuel

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

rusty tub
Why the U.S. Can’t Quickly Wean Europe From Russian Gas
The Biden administration’s plan to send more natural gas to Europe will be hampered by the lack of export and import terminals.
By Clifford Krauss, New York Times
March 25, 2022

President Biden announced Friday that the United States would send more natural gas to Europe to help it break its dependence on Russian energy. But that plan will largely be symbolic, at least in the short run, because the United States doesn’t have enough capacity to export more gas and Europe doesn’t have the capacity to import significantly more.

In recent months, American exporters, with President Biden’s encouragement, have already maximized the output of terminals that turn natural gas into a liquid easily shipped on large tankers. And they have diverted shipments originally bound for Asia to Europe.

But energy experts said that building enough terminals on both sides of the Atlantic to significantly expand U.S. exports of liquefied natural gas, or L.N.G., to Europe could take two to five years. That reality is likely to limit the scope of the natural gas supply announcement that Mr. Biden and the European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, announced on Friday.

[…] Friday’s agreement, which calls on the United States to help the European Union secure an additional 15 billion cubic meters of liquefied natural gas this year, could also undermine efforts by Mr. Biden and European officials to combat climate change. Once new export and import terminals are built, they will probably keep operating for several decades, perpetuating the use of a fossil fuel much longer than many environmentalists consider sustainable for the planet’s well-being. [emphasis added]

For now, however, climate concerns appear to be taking a back seat as U.S. and European leaders seek to punish President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia for invading Ukraine by depriving him of billions of dollars in energy sales.
» Read article      

» More about LNG

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Weekly News Check-In 6/25/21

banner 13

Welcome back.

The developers of a proposed gas/oil peaking power plant in Peabody, MA finally presented their project before a public forum on Tuesday. Two hours into what was essentially a sales pitch for this new piece of fossil fuel infrastructure, it was clear that no serious effort had yet been undertaken to develop a non-emitting alternative. We lead with an excellent op-ed from Sarah Dooling, executive director of Massachusetts Climate Action Network (MCAN), in which she lays out the case for a better plan. News from Ireland this week was timely and instructive. It shows how effective battery storage is in providing grid services traditionally handled by fossil peakers, and how batteries are key to rapid deployment of renewable generating capacity.

Elsewhere in Massachusetts, a new tidal turbine design for clean power generation is undergoing tests in the Cape Cod Canal. This includes monitoring effects on marine animals in an attempt to collect data supporting initial observations that fish tend to avoid the spinning blades.

The state’s highly-touted energy efficiency program, Mass Save, could do much more to bring its benefits to underserved communities. And bills making their way through the legislature aim to remake the public utility business model and remove incentives that currently work against decarbonization.

Now that we’ve had time to digest recent news that the Keystone XL pipeline is dead, let’s consider how pivotal it was in tying global heating to fossil fuel dependence in the popular imagination. While protests and actions were already underway, the level of public engagement and the support of key political leaders can be separated into pre- and post-KXL eras.

A number of leading steel manufacturers are attempting to develop zero carbon steel – a critical step toward building a green economy. Swedish joint venture HYBRIT has made significant progress, and moved their process from the lab into pilot phase – one step below full commercialization.

The American west is now in the grip of extreme heat and drought long predicted by climate models. With hundreds of new high-temperature records posted, reservoir water levels at critical lows, and a frightening fire season just beginning, read what climate experts who live there are saying now.

The electric vehicle you drive in the near future may serve as a mini power plant. You’ll have a contract that allows your electric utility to purchase a little of its stored charge to help take the edge off peak demand times. But some auto manufacturers are talking a good game about rolling out electric models while doubling down on their efforts to sell an increasing number of gas-guzzling SUVs in the near term.

As usual, the fossil fuel industry has been up to no good. Stories this week include revelations about massive methane leaks from Europe’s natural gas distribution and storage system, plus a shoot-down of an industry-driven narrative touting oil from offshore drilling as somehow being clean-ish…. And a really scary piece revealing the use of extremely dangerous chemicals in some U.S. refineries located near dense neighborhoods.

We close with news supporting the idea that fortunes may be fading for both liquefied natural gas and biomass, as market forces batter the former and European regulators take aim at the latter.

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

— The NFGiM Team

PEAKING POWER PLANTS

no justification
No justification for proposed Peabody gas plant
Clean energy future doesn’t begin with a ‘dirty’ peaker
By Sarah Dooling, CommonWealth Magazine | Opinion
June 19, 2021
Sarah Dooling is executive director of the Massachusetts Climate Action Network.

THE MASSACHUSETTS Municipal Wholesale Electric Company and the staff at some participating municipal light plants say that building a new, 60-megawatt combined natural gas and oil peaker power plant in Peabody is absolutely necessary.

The proposed peaker plant will run only when energy demand is high – and will cost ratepayers in 14 communities with municipal light plants $85 million to build. The proposal for a dirty peaker plant, initiated in 2015, is disconnected from the recent landmark passage of the Next Generation Roadmap climate change bill and increasing statewide recognition that Massachusetts must transition away from fossil fuels.

In his June 1 op-ed in CommonWealth, Ronald DeCurzio identified two reasons for building the plant: to prevent an energy crisis like the one that occurred in Texas, and to reduce carbon emissions. These issues are important, but constructing a new fossil fuel power plant in 2021 is not the best way to address them.

While Massachusetts infrastructure is not as vulnerable [as Texas] to extreme cold weather events, there are important lessons the Texas energy disaster offers the Commonwealth. First, the climate emergency is here and is affecting our daily lives now. Scientific research attributed the extreme weather event in Texas to climate change. Continuing to rely on fossil fuels for our energy will worsen the climate crisis and contribute to more extreme fluctuations in weather.

Second, other energy options that can operate independently of the utility grid and large distribution systems — such as battery storage — may be more effective than natural gas peaker plants at increasing resilience at the community level. Distributed clean energy systems, particularly solar paired with battery storage, can prevent outages during extreme weather by quickly responding to grid fluctuations and, when an outage does occur, continuing to provide local power by operating like small, self-sufficient grids, powering essential community services until utility service is restored. A National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s recent study identified a primary benefit of battery storage systems as being the avoided costs of a power outage.  Municipal light plants in Massachusetts — including Sterling Municipal Light Plant — experience these benefits first hand.

If municipal light plants and utilities want to prevent a Texas-like crisis, clean technology offers a better solution than continued reliance on peaker plants that run on fossil fuels. By investing in clean technology, the Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company can more effectively achieve its goal of meeting the capacity requirements for municipal light plants while reducing harmful emissions.
» Read article        

step oneOpponents: Power plant changes a start
By Erin Nolan, The Salem News
June 24, 2021

PEABODY — Plans to build a carbon-emitting “peaker plant” in the city have been in the works since 2015, but this past Tuesday night marked the first major community forum about the project.

“I’m glad this event happened,” said Logan Malik, the clean energy director at Massachusetts Climate Action Network. “I think it was high time for something of this sort to take place, but I think the structure was flawed in that it wasn’t conducive to community members providing feedback.”

During the forum, which lasted four and a half hours and was hosted by the Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company (MMWEC) at the Peter A. Torigian Senior Center, Malik and numerous others called for more community meetings to be held in the future.

“MMWEC did answer some questions which is good and we’re grateful for that, but there is very much a feeling that more needs to be done to ensure residents are fully informed,” Malik said. “There needs to be more of these conversations, and we feel strongly that MMWEC should go to every one of the communities investing in this plant and hold a similar meeting.”

The plant, referred to as Project 2015A in public documents, would be owned and operated by MMWEC. Project 2015A was previously approved to be built at Peabody Municipal Light Plant’s Waters River Substation, behind the Pulaski Street Industrial Park, but over the past two months, MMWEC’s plans to build the plant have come under fire by residents, local and state officials, and community groups who say they weren’t informed about the project until recently and are concerned about how the fossil-fuel powered plant could impact the health of the surrounding community.

In a response to the outcry of criticism, MMWEC announced on May 11 they were pausing plans to build the plant. In a statement, MMWEC said the time during which the project is on hold would be used to meet with and seek input from community members, state officials and others in order to address environmental and health concerns and consider alternative energy options.
» Read article              

» More about peaker plants

PIPELINES

KXL requiem
Requiem for a Pipeline: Keystone XL Transformed the Environmental Movement and Shifted the Debate over Energy and Climate
Its beginnings coincided with a booming oil market, but the pipeline also made a perfect target for activists demanding an end to fossil fuels.
By Marianne Lavelle, Inside Climate News
June 20, 2021

It was meant to be an express line from North America’s largest proven oil reserve to its biggest refining center and to deepen the bond between Canada and the United States as petroleum partners.

And it would have stood—or rather, lain—four feet underground, as a 1,700-mile steel monument to humanity’s triumph over the forces that at the time seemed to threaten the future of an oil-driven economy. Conventional oil reservoirs might be running out and alarms might be sounding over the damage that carbon dioxide pollution was doing to the atmosphere, but the Keystone XL pipeline would show America’s determination to carve out ever new oil corridors.

At least, that’s how it looked in 2008, when TransCanada and its partners announced plans to forge a $7 billion link between Alberta’s tar sands and the Texas Gulf Coast. By the time the company now known as TC Energy announced earlier this month that it was giving up the effort to build the pipeline, it was clear that oil could not so easily conquer the realities of the 21st century.

The 13-year fight over Keystone XL transformed the U.S. environmental movement, and dramatically shifted the political center of the American debate over energy and climate change. Instead of trying to get people to care about the future impact of a gas—carbon dioxide—that they couldn’t smell or see, environmentalists began focusing on the connection between climate change and the here-and-now effects of fossil fuel dependence: the takeover of land; the risk to air and water; and the injustice to those in the path of the fossil fuel industry’s plans. President Barack Obama’s presidency was a barometer of this change. Early on, his administration seemed poised to approve Keystone XL. Near the end of his second term, Obama became the first world leader to block a major U.S. oil infrastructure project over climate change.
» Read article              

» More about pipelines

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

held accountable
Judge denies ExxonMobil requests to dismiss AG’s lawsuit

By Jeremy C. Fox, Boston Globe
June 23, 2021

A Superior Court judge on Wednesday denied two requests from ExxonMobil Corp. to dismiss a lawsuit brought by Attorney General Maura Healey alleging that the company deceived Massachusetts consumers and investors about the impact of climate change, court documents show.

Judge Karen F. Green refused to dismiss the case, which alleges ExxonMobil misrepresented important facts about climate change, exaggerated the supposed environmental benefits of some of its products, and downplayed financial risks to the company, according to court filings.

Healey said that Green’s “rulings represent a significant step forward for my office’s work to hold Exxon accountable for lying to Massachusetts consumers about the climate harms of using its fossil fuel products and to Massachusetts investors about the negative impact of climate change on the value of its business.”

“To this day, Exxon is continuing to promote its fossil fuel products to consumers as good for the environment and misleading investors that demand for fossil fuels will remain strong for the foreseeable future,” she said in a statement.
» Read article              

no stopping
‘We will not stop’: pipeline opponents ready for America’s biggest environmental fight
Activists have traveled from all over the US to protest against the construction of Line 3, a giant project that crosses Indigenous land
By Sheila Regan, The Guardian
June 20, 2021

As the sun set, more than a dozen young people carried a wooden bridge toward a narrow section of the Mississippi River. The bridge allowed the group to cross more easily from their camp to where the immense oil pipeline was being built on the other side.

They were cited for trespassing – but they had symbolically laid claim to the marshy landscape.

That same day, Dawn Goodwin’s voice was soft but forceful as she spoke into the camera: “I’m calling on you, Joe Biden, to uphold our treaties, because they are the supreme law of the land.”

Goodwin, an Ojibwe woman and environmental activist, was recording a livestream from a picturesque camp site amid northern Minnesota’s natural beauty – where she and dozens of others had come together to protest the construction of the Line 3 pipeline.

Across the state, along the pipeline’s planned route of construction, activists have traveled from all over the country to do the same: many have locked themselves to construction equipment, and hundreds have been arrested. Goodwin’s preferred method of protest is arguably less physical – she was in the middle of leading a four-day prayer ceremony – but she hoped it would be no less effective to draw attention to the potential harm the pipeline represents.

“We’re done messing around with the process and trusting that the process is going to work, because in the end, it failed us,” she said. “What am I trusting instead? The power of the people, and the creator.”

The proposed Line 3 pipeline – which, if expanded, would move crude oil from Alberta in Canada through Minnesota to Wisconsin – has quickly become the biggest target of US environmental advocates. In addition to attracting protesters from around the country, it’s bringing attention to Biden’s unfulfilled promises so far on the climate crisis, as advocates argue he could step in to stop an expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure but hasn’t. The US already produces more oil than it can use, and is increasing exports of oil and natural gas, despite vowing to cut its own climate pollution.

The ramp-up in protests in Minnesota comes on the heels of a major environment win, with developers canceling the Keystone XL pipeline – something Indigenous activists fought for about a decade. Now, advocates are framing Line 3 as the latest frontier in environmental justice, in part because of the risks it poses to the waterways Indigenous Americans rely on.

“For all of the reasons that Keystone XL was shuttered and more, Line 3 needs to be stopped as well,” said Collin Rees, a senior campaigner for Oil Change International. “There’s an increasing understanding that we can’t continue to expand fossil fuels.”
» Read article              

» More about protests and actions

GREENING THE ECONOMY

HYBRIT
Inside Clean Energy: From Sweden, a Potential Breakthrough for Clean Steel
A Swedish partnership is cheering a milestone in its quest to make steel in a way that sharply reduces emissions.
By Dan Gearino, Inside Climate News
June 24, 2021

In the deluge of breathless announcements of emissions-cutting technologies, I often ask myself some variation on the same question: “Is this a big deal?”

Today, I’m going to tell you about one that looks like a big deal, providing hope that the world can find ways to reduce the carbon footprint of heavy industry.

In Sweden on Monday, the partnership of a steel company, a mining company and an electricity producer announced that it had succeeded in producing a form of iron using a nearly emissions-free process.

The companies have been working for five years on a joint venture called HYBRIT, with the goal of using renewable energy to produce hydrogen, and then using the hydrogen, along with iron ore pellets, to make “sponge iron,” which can be used to make steel. Now, the companies report that they are the first to have used this process to produce sponge iron on a pilot scale, which is a step up from laboratory scale and a sign of progress toward being able to do it on a commercial scale.

“This technological breakthrough is a critical step on the road to fossil-free steel,” said Martin Lindqvist, President and CEO of SSAB, a global steel company based in Sweden and one of the partners behind HYBRIT, in a statement. “The potential cannot be underestimated. It means that we can reach climate goals in Sweden and Finland and contribute to reducing emissions across Europe.”

This follows the opening of the HYBRIT plant last year in Luleå, Sweden, a small city near the Arctic Circle.

Corporations throw out words like “breakthrough” way too often, but this time it may be warranted. The steel industry is responsible for 7 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions, with most of the world’s steel produced by burning coal or natural gas in blast furnaces.

The industry has been able to use electric arc furnaces to make “secondary steel,” which comes from melting down and repurposing scrap steel. But the demand for steel exceeds what can be met using scrap, so companies need to find cleaner ways to make “primary steel” from iron ore. HYBRIT is developing one of the most promising options.
» Read article              

Boston heat islands
Boston’s ‘heat islands’ turn lower-income neighborhoods from hot to insufferable
By David Abel, Boston Globe
June 22, 2021

Three years ago, after city officials repeatedly promised that a traffic project in the heart of their neighborhood would create significantly more green space, they left Jamaica Plain residents with more concrete and asphalt.

In an effort to slow traffic and make Hyde Square’s signature rotary easier to cross, the city widened sidewalks, broadened the circle with new pavers, and created multiple large concrete pedestrian islands. There were no new planters or flowers, though the city did add a small tree.

“It’s profoundly disappointing what the city left,” said Richard Parritz, a neighbor who chairs the design committee of Three Squares, a local nonprofit group that has pressed the city to add more green space to the neighborhood. “This is a health and equity issue. It’s not right.”

As Boston warms from climate change, city officials will have to do more to reduce such redoubts of asphalt and concrete, known as “heat islands,” which exacerbate the rising temperatures that residents will endure in the coming years, environmental advocates say.

By the end of the decade, city temperatures could exceed 90 degrees for over 40 days a year — and by as many as 90 days annually in 2070 — compared with an average of 11 days in 1990, according to city projections. Those increases in temperatures could have serious health consequences, with one major study estimating that heat-related deaths in the coming decades could be more than 50 percent higher than they were a few decades ago.
» Read article              
» Read the study

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

getting real‘Potentially the worst drought in 1,200 years’: scientists on the scorching US heatwave
Researchers had long forewarned of this crisis and now they’re seeing their studies and models become real life
By Maanvi Singh, The Guardian
June 18, 2021

The heatwave gripping the US west is simultaneously breaking hundreds of temperature records, exacerbating a historic drought and priming the landscape for a summer and fall of extreme wildfire.

Salt Lake City hit a record-breaking 107F (42C), while in Texas and California, power grid operators are asking residents to conserve energy to avoid rolling blackouts and outages. And all this before we’ve even reached the hottest part of the summer.

Among the 40 million Americans enduring the triple-digit temperatures are scientists who study droughts and the climate. They’d long forewarned of this crisis, and now they’re living through it. The Guardian spoke with researchers across the west about how they’re coping.
» Read article              

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

tidal turbine researchHarnessing the tides: The future of renewable energy could begin in Cape Cod Canal
By Beth Treffeisen, Cape Cod Times
June 23, 2021

BUZZARDS BAY — Attached to a metal pole, a small tidal turbine resembling a metal rocket ship was placed Tuesday morning under the ripping currents of the Cape Cod Canal.

The tidal turbine could be the start of another form of renewable energy that would be able to provide electricity for decades to come.

“It’s an industry that is well-poised to take off,” said David Duquette, CEO of Littoral Power Systems Inc., based in New Bedford, that provided the model tidal turbine for the demonstration Tuesday. “But it does have some cost constraints, which is why we are looking at things such as saving costs on civil works.”

The tidal turbine, which was not producing electricity, was the first of its kind to be tested on the Bourne Tidal Test Site structure situated next to the railroad bridge near the Buzzards Bay side of the canal. It will be monitored using a camera system to see if it will affect fish and marine wildlife in the area.

“We wanted to spin up something in our backyard here — we’ll do it,” said Duquette before the turbine was launched.

The next generation of the device being tested in the canal will be deployed to Fairbanks, Alaska, where it will be tested in a “mightier” river, Duquette said.

On Monday, two sensors were installed to monitor water conditions and fish behavior. Since video cameras require light to work, which at night would affect fish behavior, an acoustic camera was also deployed.

The model tidal turbine was due to remain in the water for about 48 hours as cameras watch how it affects the environment around it, said John Miller, the New England Marine Renewable Energy Collaborative executive director.

In past experiments, such as in Scotland or in the East River in New York, cameras have found that fish generally avoid the turbines, Miller said.
» Read article              

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

HVAC techEnergy efficiency is a low-hanging fruit to combat climate change. So why can’t everyone get access to it?
By Yvonne Abraham, Boston Globe
June 12, 2021

Environmental justice isn’t only about where power plants get built and which neighborhoods have enough trees.

Sometimes, it’s about something smaller and less visible than that — about the people who are left out, even when we’re making progress.

Today’s Exhibit A: Mass Save, the free program that brings an energy-efficiency expert into your home to help lower your energy costs. Funded by surcharges on our utility bills, Mass Save provides or subsidizes weather stripping and low-energy light bulbs, and offers rebates and loans that can be worth thousands for better insulation or more efficient boilers. It is a thing of beauty, and it has helped make this state a national leader in energy efficiency — the low-hanging fruit of combating climate change. Every dollar spent on the program yields three dollars in savings, and even more valuable emissions reductions for all of us.

Everybody wins. Except they don’t.

Though Mass Save is available to every ratepayer in the Commonwealth, those who live in affluent towns are more likely to take advantage of it: Participation in places like Bolton, Carlisle, and Hingham is up to seven times greater than in Lawrence, Fall River, and New Bedford.

“The program as designed works really well for single-family homeowners who have money to spend to make their homes more efficient, and who speak English,” said Eugenia Gibbons, Boston director of climate policy at Health Care Without Harm. For others, not so much.

It takes time, trust, and money to participate in Mass Save: time to apply for a visit and to meet with a consultant; trust that the energy utility, which administers the program, is really offering you something for free, with no catch; and money to pay your share of the subsidized insulation and boiler bills. All three are in short supply in places where blue collar workers, immigrants, and renters are concentrated. Language barriers widen the gap.
» Read article              
» Read letters responding to this article

» More about energy efficiency

ENERGY STORAGE

grid services supportGrid services support: Battery projects stepping up and supporting the grid
By Bernice Doyle, Current± | Blog post
June 15, 2021
Bernice Doyle is Head of Grid Services, Statkraft.

In May this year the Irish grid dropped below normal operating range (49.9Hz- 50.1Hz) for about 14 minutes. According to our data, it was the longest under-frequency event seen in years. Statkraft’s Kilathmoy and Kelwin-2 battery storage projects immediately stepped up to support the electricity grid, with data showing they provided an initial response to the event in just 180 milliseconds.

Most of the time batteries such as these sit in standby watching the frequency. But, as soon as it sees the frequency drop below the trigger level, it responds automatically. In the blink of an eye, it injects active power to support the grid and stabilise the system. Over the full period of the under-frequency event, the batteries did just what they were designed to do from the initial drop below the 49.8Hz trigger, to the eventual recovery above that level about 12 minutes later.

Solar and wind power plants provide clean renewable energy, but the electricity grid has historically relied on fossil fuel generators to provide stability in the grid. As renewables grow, displacing fossil fuels, we need to find new ways of providing the stability the grid requires. As this under-frequency event shows, battery storage facilities can provide a vital support to the Irish grid and help us to facilitate more and more renewable energy on the system.

Keeping the power grid stable has become more challenging as we get more and more of our energy from wind and solar power. The major challenge is to ensure we maintain a stable frequency and voltage on the grid.

Here in Ireland, we are not using all of the renewable energy that we are producing. The system operators rely on running gas or coal power plants not for energy purposes, but to provide support services to the grid and in doing so they shut down wind power plants that could have supplied electricity, in order to make room for these fossil fuel plants. We aim to increase the share of renewable electricity from the current 40% to 70% by 2030. If we are to achieve that goal, we must support and progress stability solutions for the grid that do not emit CO2.

Battery technology is a very efficient method of delivering zero-carbon frequency support services such as this. In an emergency, batteries can both absorb and deliver power to the grid in milliseconds. However, batteries are not yet deployed to store large amounts of energy in the Irish market. The battery projects deployed in the Irish market to date have reserves for half an hour of operation, but in the future batteries will deliver longer-duration storage, which will be crucial to enabling our 2030 targets.
» Read article              

» More about energy storage

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

V to GYour electric vehicle could become a mini power plant
And that could make the electrical grid work better for everyone.
By Maria Gallucci, Grist
June 21, 2021

In an asphalt lot just north of New York City, yellow school buses are resting their wheels until classes resume in September. But three electric buses at the depot in White Plains, New York, will be working overtime this summer break. Rather than transport students, they’ll mainly serve as a big battery bank, storing power and feeding it to the local utility’s electrical grid when demand is high. Starting this month, Con Edison will use the buses daily to help keep its grid running smoothly during the hot summer months.

The demonstration project is among dozens of so-called “vehicle-to-grid” initiatives underway in the United States and around the world. As bigger vehicles like buses, garbage trucks, delivery vans, and even the Ford F-150 pickup truck ditch their engines and go electric, their batteries represent a potentially enormous source of energy storage and backup power supply. Although the concept was developed in the late 1990s, vehicle-to-grid is gaining traction now as automakers release more electric models, smart charging technologies improve, and millions of new electric vehicles, or EVs, hit the road every year.

Last December, the buses began exporting power to the grid on weekends during six-hour shifts. On June 25, they’ll begin delivering a combined 33.5 kilowatts, or 0.03 megawatts, of power for six hours every day. That amount of power is relatively tiny, but there’s potential to expand. About 8,000 school buses operate in Con Ed’s service area of New York City and neighboring Westchester County, which includes White Plains. If electrified, the bus fleet could collectively supply more than 100 megawatts of power to the grid for short periods — or nearly 1 percent of Con Ed’s peak summer power demand, an amount Ross said makes a “material” difference. That could reduce Con Ed’s reliance on gas-fired power plants and offset the need to upgrade grid equipment.

“Using electric school buses this way on a wider scale would provide significant benefits,” Ross told Grist.

On a broader level, vehicle-to-grid systems could help utilities navigate the transition to cleaner electricity and transportation. As more wind and solar power comes online, the batteries could absorb excess renewable energy and deliver it later, after the wind stops blowing or the sun goes down. And the systems could prevent electric vehicles from overtaxing the grid by managing how and when they charge. Around 550 million battery-powered vehicles are expected to hit the road globally by 2040 — up from 13 million vehicles today — representing a huge boost in power demand, according to the clean energy research firm BloombergNEF.
» Read article              

Yukon fumes
Automakers Tout EV’s but Keep Pushing Gas-Guzzling SUV’s, Report Finds
By The Energy Mix
June 20, 2021

A new report from Environmental Defence Canada finds that pledges from automakers to drive an EV revolution are at odds with their continued hard-sell of fossil-driven SUVs in Canada.

“The car companies are talking a big game, filled with new promises of a cavalcade of electric cars, trucks, and SUVs that’s just around the corner. But Canadians should take these claims with a big grain of salt,” Programs Director Keith Brooks said in a release. He pointed to GM and Ford, with plans to deliver 300,000 EVs by 2026 in North America, while their output of fossil-fuelled SUVs and trucks will hit five million over that period.

And the larger the fossil-burning vehicle, the higher the emissions.

“Transportation is the second-largest source of emissions in Canada, second only to oil and gas extraction. And it’s a sector in which emissions have been steadily rising for decades even while vehicle fuel efficiency has been steadily improving,” said Brooks.

Noting that 80% of passenger vehicles sold today in Canada are SUVs and light trucks (and only 1.6% of them electric), Environmental Defence says that sales activity has added “about 18 million additional tonnes of carbon emissions” to the global atmosphere since 2010.

Meanwhile, automakers’ advertising budgets remain skewed in favour of fossil-fuelled models, the report states. EVs remain very thin on the ground in dealer lots, and automakers still “lobby against climate policy, including any policy that would force them to sell more EVs.”

What’s needed to counteract this “duplicity,” the organization says, is government intervention in the form of “carrot and stick”–style policy to encourage automakers to walk their talk on EVs while making it easier for Canadians to purchase one. Among the report’s recommendations: new taxes on fossil-fuelled vehicles to fund EV purchasing incentives, and “a strict zero-emission vehicle standard to require car companies to sell an increasing percentage of electric cars,” reaching 100% EV sales by 2035 “at the latest.”
» Read article              
» Read the Environmental Defence Canada report

» More about clean transportation

LEGISLATION

sweetheart dealStop sweetheart deals with state utilities
3% revenue increase each year not fair to ratepayers
By Natalie Blais, Joanne Comerford and Daniel Sosland, CommonWealth Magazine
June 24, 2021

Electrifying buildings and appliances that now run on gas, oil, and other fossil fuels will be a key piece of meeting Massachusetts’ climate targets. The region’s investor-owned utilities will be vital partners in making this possible. However, it has recently come to light that Eversource has been quietly funding a campaign to fight against electrification and in support of propping up the gas system, despite the fact that the region must transition away from gas as quickly as possible.

One of the primary reasons utilities like Eversource continue to fight so hard for fossil fuels is because the current utility business model, which has helped deliver reliable energy for almost a century, is no longer compatible with the transformations within the power sector that are necessary to address climate change.

Today, utilities earn income based not on how well they serve residents, but on how expensive it is to run their companies. As expenses for maintaining the grid go up, utilities regularly ask the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities (DPU) for approval to increase customer rates to help cover costs. Regulators usually approve these requests – and as legislators we hear frequently from constituents when they notice these new or increased charges on their electric bills and want to know what they are paying for and why.

Automatically increasing customer rates without requiring real change is not the answer. Massachusetts needs a better deal from its utilities – a real commitment to consumer interests, environmental justice, fighting climate change, and creating a reliable grid powered by clean energy resources.

Under existing state utility regulation, Eversource’s incentives do not serve the interests of the Commonwealth’s residents. Eversource’s own securities filings identify that clean energy alternatives are a risk to its revenues. In other words, the path the Commonwealth is seeking to shift away from fossil fuels is bad for Eversource and its shareholders. This is incongruous with meeting Massachusetts’ ambitious climate goals.

We cannot continue to put the financial health of utility companies on the backs of ratepayers by providing annual revenue increases with little in return for residents or the environment. That’s why we introduced “An Act to Protect Ratepayers” (Bill H.3259/S.2143) and “An Act Promoting Local Energy Investment and Infrastructure Modernization” (Bill H.3261/S.2144). These bills will stop sweetheart deals and ensure broader stakeholder participation in decisions related to modernizing our energy system.
» Read article              

» More about legislation

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

massive methane leaks‘Massive’ Methane Leaks Found Coming From Oil and Gas Sites in Europe
For the first time, researchers in Europe use optical imagery to measure methane leaking from oil and gas infrastructure in seven countries. The data reveals a “pervasive” emissions problem.
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
June 24, 2021

Leaking methane from oil and gas infrastructure is widespread across the European continent, reveals an investigation of more than 150 sites in seven countries. More than 60 percent of the sites analyzed by researchers using state-of-the-art technology were releasing large volumes of methane – a powerful greenhouse gas – into the atmosphere.

This is the first large investigation of methane leakage from oil and gas sites in Europe.

“We’ve all been shocked by just how pervasive methane emissions are across Europe,” James Turitto, who filmed methane emissions for Clean Air Task Force (CATF), said in a statement. CATF is based in Boston but recently launched a European office.

Deploying an optical gas camera that uses infrared radiation to detect the typically invisible methane leaking from oil and gas infrastructure, CATF conducted a months-long investigation of fossil fuel sites in Europe. This type of camera is used widely by the oil and gas industry itself to find and detect leaks.

Images and video of methane leaks have been increasingly commonplace in places like the Permian basin, where environmental group Earthworks has extensively documented rampant methane leaks at drilling sites, drawing attention to a vast source of once-overlooked climate pollution.

But the documentation conducted by Turitto and CATF using an optical camera shows this isn’t confined to the Permian – it’s an international problem. On June 24, CATF released an online library of videos and data of its research, along with a new website.

“It’s clear that industry best practice is being ignored up and down the supply chain. Even as one person with an infrared camera, I’ve been able to find multiple leaks in every country I’ve visited. It begs the question – why aren’t the companies and national regulators doing this already?” Turitto said in a statement.

Turitto visited Austria, Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Poland, and Romania. He documented significant methane leaks at 123 of the 150 sites visited. Overall, more than 60 percent of the surveyed sites had significant concentrations of methane leaking. In some countries, that share stood at more than 90 percent of sites, with Italy and Hungary standing out as particular problems.

Europe is not a large producer of oil and gas, but it is the largest importer of both oil and gas and has an extensive pipeline network and storage facilities. It is at these sites – storage tanks, pipelines, liquefied natural gas import terminals – where methane is leaking in large volumes.
» Read article              

pointing fingers
The weird argument that offshore oil is good for the climate, debunked
Oil companies are blaming each other for climate pollution.
By Rebecca Leber, Vox
June 22, 2021

When President Biden took office in January, a peculiar idea about oil and gas started to make the political rounds: that certain parts of the industry are more environmentally responsible and can actually reduce emissions, compared to other parts of the industry that are worse for the Earth.

“If you want to reduce emissions, the offshore arena is better,” Scott Angelle, who was the top environmental regulator of offshore energy under the Trump administration, told the trade publication Offshore in late January.

Questionable claims about the climate might be expected from a Trump administration official who rolled back oil and gas regulations, but the same argument has also seeped into Democratic politics.

“Gulf of Mexico oil and gas production produces substantially fewer greenhouse gas emissions than oil and gas production in any other region of the world,” Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, testified to the Senate Energy Committee in May.

Documents show that these claims originated with a little-known lobbying group that advocates for offshore oil — and experts told Vox that they’re dubious at best. By focusing on the emissions of oil and gas production, the industry is ignoring the much larger share of pollution that comes from the burning of fossil fuels. This is a clear attempt at greenwashing: Parts of the oil industry are arguing, perversely, that more fossil fuels can help solve the climate crisis.

Yet these tactics also suggest that fossil fuel companies foresee a fight for survival in a shrinking market for oil and gas — and one emerging industry tactic is pointing fingers to claim that a particular source of oil and gas isn’t as dirty as the next person’s.

“They’re falling over themselves” to claim “their oil is cleaner than someone else,” Lorne Stockman, a research analyst at Oil Change International, a nonprofit advocacy group, told Vox.

What’s worrying is that attempts to rebrand some oil and gas as sustainable has gained traction even among prominent Democrats, and could influence an administration that has pledged to slash emissions by half within the decade in the hope of preventing catastrophic climate change.
» Read article              

chemical risk
The Chemical Weapon Next Door
Modified hydrofluoric acid (MHF), used in oil refining, could turn into a flesh-eating vapor cloud if leaked. 400,000 refinery neighbors in LA are at risk.
By Lucy Sherriff, Drilled News
April 16, 2021

The morning of Wednesday, February 18, 2015, had started just like any other day for Summer Spencer. Back then, she was a sixth grader at South High School in Torrance, a coastal city in the South Bay region of Los Angeles County. But at around 9am, Spencer and her classmates were given a ‘shelter in place’ order by their teacher. It was, the now 17-year-old says, pretty exciting at first. “I just figured I might not have to go to my next class.”

Summer’s teachers closed the doors, secured the windows, and pulled the drapes shut. It was only when she went home that day and spoke to her dad, an environmental safety expert, that she realized she, her classmates, and thousands of other Torrance residents, had had a near miss with a chemical so deadly the Department of Homeland Security lists it as a substance of interest for terrorists.

“I told [my dad] all we did was shut the windows and he explained it wouldn’t have been enough to protect the students,” she recalls.

Spencer’s dad explained if the chemical had been released, “thousands of Torrance residents would have died”.

The threat came from the Torrance Refinery, just three miles away from Summer’s school, a 700-acre plot which processes around 155,000 barrels of crude oil every day, and uses hydrofluoric acid (HF)—or “modified hydrofluoric acid” (MHF) as refineries often refer to the substance—to make high octane gasoline. Around 400,000 people live within three miles of the refineries.

On that Wednesday morning, unbeknown to Summer, pent up gases at the refinery, back then owned by Exxon, had triggered an explosion so big that it registered as a 1.7 tremor. A processing unit had burst open, propelling a large piece of equipment into the air, which narrowly avoided hitting a tank that contained more than 50,000-pound of the deadly HF.

“It was a complete surprise. Nobody really knew the danger of the Torrance refinery,” Spencer told Drilled.

Although the 48 US oil refineries that use MHF claim it is safer than HF, both substances are deadly to humans. And in fact scientists say the two substances are virtually identical. When released, both substances travel in a vapor cloud that can reach eight feet in height, penetrating buildings and causing catastrophic eye, bone, deep tissue, lung and nervous system damage. Essentially, as Torrance-based scientist Dr. Sally Hayati put it, the substance can liquefy your organs.
» Read article         

» More about fossil fuels

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

sailing to nowhereGlobal LNG Industry Reeling as its Image as a Climate Solution Shifts to ‘Climate Problem’
Nearly two dozen major LNG projects around the world are struggling to move forward, a new report reveals, as investors grow skittish from poor economics and increasing scrutiny on the industry’s large carbon footprint.
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
June 24, 2021

As recently as 2019, the global market for liquefied natural gas (LNG) looked bright. Analysts saw demand for LNG in Asia rising in both a steady and unrelenting fashion, expanding for years or even decades into the future. The industry gave the greenlight to 71 billion tonnes per annum (mtpa) of new LNG capacity in 2019, an all-time record.

But a lot has changed in the past two years, with “business conditions drastically diminished,” and even “the basic rationale of an industry built around a relatively small number of massive but highly vulnerable facilities” now called into question, according to a new report from Global Energy Monitor.

“LNG was sold to policymakers and to investors as a safe, clean, secure bet,” said Lydia Plante, lead author of the report. “Now all those attributes have turned into liabilities.”

Not only did the pandemic disrupt demand projections, but the positive perception of LNG as a somewhat climate-friendly alternative to coal – a perception assiduously promoted by the industry – has fallen apart. “Most striking is the shift in LNG’s public image from climate solution to climate problem,” the report said.

A December 2020 study from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) found that the climate benefit of LNG compared to coal is only modest at best, and because it is a fossil fuel with a large carbon footprint, it ultimately presents a big threat to the climate.

If the U.S. LNG projects on the drawing board went forward as planned, it would result in 130 to 213 million metric tons of new greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, the equivalent of adding 28 to 45 million cars to the road, and enough to wipe out the 1 percent per year decline in emissions the U.S. achieved over the past decade, according to NRDC.

As a result of the increased scrutiny, along with growing financial risks, major LNG projects are struggling to get off the ground. At least 21 major LNG export terminals representing 265 mtpa have either seen their final investment decision (FID) delayed, or are suffering other serious setbacks. That’s roughly 38 percent of the total capacity under development around the world, with ten of those projects located in North America.
» Read article        
» Read the Global Energy Monitor report
» Read the NRDC study

opposition abounds
Opposition abounds for Nova Scotia’s planned LNG export facility
By Moira Donovan, National Observer
June 22, 2021

For much of the pandemic, Nova Scotia has been closed to the outside world. But a proposed natural gas project in the province — dubbed “the last one standing” by the CEO of the company behind it — is reaching across borders nonetheless.

The Goldboro liquefied natural gas (LNG) export facility, proposed by Calgary-based Pieridae Energy Limited, would see the company exporting 5.2 million tonnes of natural gas annually, mostly for the German utility Uniper, starting in 2025. With many other LNG projects being cancelled, Pieridae CEO Alfred Sorensen has said the Goldboro project looks increasingly like the only one left of its kind in North America (construction on an LNG export facility that will export to Asian markets is underway in B.C., with three others proposed in that province).

As the project approaches the deadline set by Pieridae to decide its fate, it’s facing hurdles, including an as-yet-unsuccessful pitch for nearly $1 billion in federal funding — without which the company has said moving ahead with the project would be “difficult.” Aside from the money, the biggest threat to the project is a pending regulatory decision in Alberta that will determine the viability of its gas supply.

In the interim, Pieridae is being inundated with complaints from communities across North America — from Mi’kmaw groups in Nova Scotia to advocates in Alberta and Massachusetts. They are pushing back against the proposal, citing concerns with everything from the work camps required to construct the facility to the infrastructure required to produce the gas and pipe it to Nova Scotia.

One of Pieridae’s biggest obstacles is in Alberta, where advocates for better management of orphaned oil and gas wells have identified issues with Pieridae’s plan for sourcing the gas that would be exported from the facility.

In 2019, Pieridae made a play to acquire aging sour gas wells and infrastructure in Alberta from Shell to supply the Goldboro LNG facility.

But the transfer of the licences was blocked in May 2020 by the Alberta Energy Regulator, which cited concerns about the division of responsibility (Shell had said it would remain responsible for groundwater contamination, and Pieridae for well cleanup).

The spectre of that transfer has been revived recently after Shell made another bid to sign over the licences to Pieridae, prompting the filing of several dozen statements of concern to the Alberta Energy Regulator.

One of those statements was from the Polluter Pay Federation (PPF). PPF Chair Dwight Popowich — who has seen the effects of orphan wells first-hand after the operator of a well on his land went bankrupt — said the transfer is a clear example of “liability dumping,” whereby oil and gas producers dodge responsibility for well cleanup by selling assets to smaller producers without the resources to manage them in the long term.
» Read article         

» More about LNG

BIOMASS

last resort
EU eyes tighter rules for ‘renewable’ biomass energy – draft
By Kate Abnett, Reuters
June 16, 2021

BRUSSELS, June 16 (Reuters) – The European Union is considering tightening rules on whether wood-burning energy can be classed as renewable and count towards green goals, according to a draft document seen by Reuters on Wednesday.

The aim is to protect delicate ecosystems like old growth forests and stop wood fit for other purposes, like making furniture, from ending up as pellets or chips burned to produce biomass energy.

The draft European Commission proposal to update the EU rules would require biomass-fuelled power and heat plants with a capacity of 5 megawatts (MW) or above to meet sustainability criteria, and provide substantial emissions cuts versus fossil fuels.

Biomass plants with a capacity below 20MW are currently exempt from those requirements.

Renewable sources provide around 20% of EU energy in 2019. More than half of that is biomass, which the EU ranks as having a low carbon footprint since carbon dioxide emissions produced from wood-burning are partly balanced by CO2 absorbed by the trees as they grew.

Environmental groups have criticised that accounting and some said the draft proposal would fail to protect forests.

The draft said biomass-fuelled installations will count as renewable if they produce 70% fewer emissions than fossil fuels. Currently, that applies only to installations that started operating this year.

The draft said national support schemes promoting biomass energy use must follow a “cascading principle” that wood should only be burned for energy as a last resort.
» Read article              

» More about biomass

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Weekly News Check-In 9/4/20

banner 11

Welcome back.

The Army Corps of Engineers is preparing to begin a lengthy environmental review for the Dakota Access Pipeline. Since regulatory agencies failed to enforce this requirement prior to the pipeline’s construction and commission, it is belatedly underway because the courts have threatened to shut the pipeline down. Resistance continues without letup. On the international front, fossil fuel protest recently took the form of an Extinction Rebellion action calling attention to a group of climate-denying libertarian organizations operating from an office building in central London.

While greening the economy necessarily involves sweeping policy initiatives, the stories we offer this week are smaller in scale, and illustrate how local or company-specific programs can produce better jobs and greener products. But the climate isn’t waiting around for humans to get their act together – it’s heating and changing even faster than predicted while the Trump administration pretends it isn’t happening.

We highlight some of the headwinds facing clean energy, including lagging utility adoption of carbon free energy resources worldwide. Closer to home, we feature an interesting podcast describing how the administration quashed a study exploring grid optimization because Trump considered it a threat to the coal industry. This general “keep folks in the dark” strategy to forestall decarbonization even extends to residential energy efficiency. But Portland, Oregon successfully implemented a program to assign homes an energy efficiency score. It’s benefiting home buyers in that city and providing a model for the rest of the country.

We’re tracking innovation this week, including a hybrid energy storage system combining lithium-ion batteries with mechanical energy storage in the form of flywheels. Now operating in the Netherlands, it provides 9MW of frequency stabilizing primary control power to the transmission grid. And satellite technology is coming back to Earth in the form of metal-hydrogen batteries, reformulated by the firm EnerVenue to be affordable while offering decades of cycles without degradation.

We lead our Clean Transportation section with a story from The Guardian about how seriously bad SUVs are for the planet – and consider the climate implications of their phenomenal market penetration worldwide. Electric school buses and delivery trucks are coming soon, but our love affair with SUVs has the capacity to gobble up all progress on transportation emissions.

The Environmental Protection Agency and the fossil fuel industry were both in the news. The EPA for allowing coal plants to dump toxic waste into waterways, and the industry for continuing to demonstrate its decline in spite of the Trump administration’s relentless support.

Our Biomass section has news you can use! Specifically, the first story describes a bill before the Massachusetts house that would classify biomass and trash incineration as “non-carbon” emissions. This, of course, is not true. The article includes a call for action, including contacting representatives and signing a petition. Please consider taking these steps, as failure to amend this bill would result in the construction of a large biomass incinerator in Springfield – a city that already has the worst air quality in Massachusetts – and the most asthma within its population.

We wrap up with a few stories about plastics in the environment and the plastics / fracking connection. Note the hellish photo in the final article (New York Times, captioned “A dump in Nakuru, Kenya….”). I can tell you that a few decades ago those hills were lush and green, and the lake in the background hosted thousands of flamingos. The world should recognize the dignity of the people in that photo, affirm that they deserve a restored environment, and acknowledge that what has been done to them is a crime.

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

— The NFGiM Team

PIPELINES

encroachment
Corps weighs Dakota Access easement options, plans to begin environmental review process
By Amy R. Sisk, Bismarck Tribune
August 31, 2020

The federal agency embroiled in a lawsuit over the Dakota Access Pipeline is evaluating whether to continue allowing the line to pump oil following a court order revoking a key permit, and it plans to begin a lengthy environmental review this week.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers indicated its plans in a court filing Monday. Because U.S. District Court Judge James Boasberg revoked the pipeline’s easement in a July ruling, the pipeline is now considered an “encroachment” on federal property managed by the Corps, the agency wrote in a status report.

While the Corps weighs its options, it’s allowing Energy Transfer to continue operating the pipeline under the terms of that easement. The easement allows the line to cross under the Missouri River just north of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.

The Corps’ general policy “is to require removal of encroachments,” but it can make exceptions, the agency said. The two “most plausible options” involve removing the pipeline or giving it permission to continue using the property through a method such as granting a new easement.

The Corps acknowledged that the latter option would be subject to the National Environmental Policy Act, which is at the heart of the lawsuit filed by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and other tribes over the pipeline. The agency’s procedures state that complying with that law might require an Environmental Impact Statement, which is the lengthy environmental review it plans to begin this week after Boasberg ordered it earlier this year.
» Read article           

» More about pipelines          

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

think again
Former Green Party Spokesperson Arrested at ‘Home of Climate Denying Thinktanks’
By Richard Collett-White, DeSmog UK
September 3, 2020

Four Extinction Rebellion activists were arrested on Wednesday night at the end of a demonstration in Westminster against the influence of “right-wing climate sceptic thinktanks” on the UK’s political system.

The arrestees included former Green Party spokesperson and philosophy professor Rupert Read, who was removed by police after pouring fake blood over the entrance to 55 Tufton Street.

The word “lies” was also spray-painted on the front of the office building.

The central London address is home to several libertarian organisations with a history of opposing environmental regulations and downplaying the threat of climate change, including the Global Warming Policy Foundation and the TaxPayers’ Alliance.

Read said the “few still pretending that the climate and ecological emergency is not an existential threat to civilisation as we know it” were “yesterday’s men”.

The event was organised by Writers Rebel, a subgroup of the environmental activist movement that brought parts of the capital to a standstill last year and is currently staging 10 days of protests. Jessica Townsend, co-founder of Writers Rebel, was another of those arrested, along with two activists who had been perched on top of tripods for the duration of the protest, blocking the road to traffic.

Townsend said in a statement: “the fossil fuel companies, their lobbyists and other climate deniers are putting the welfare of people in the UK in danger, not to mention the billions in the Global South, by using the cynical tactics first used by the tobacco industry.”
» Read article

» More about protests and actions    

GREENING THE ECONOMY

Van Jones
Watt It Takes: Van Jones Reflects on the Origin of Green Jobs
This week on Watt It Takes: Powerhouse CEO Emily Kirsch sits down with green jobs pioneer Van Jones.
By Stephen Lacey, GreenTech Media – podcast
September 3, 2020

Today, Van Jones is best known as a CNN host and author of three best-selling books.

But long before the Green New Deal, Jones was on the front lines of clean energy, trying to bring green jobs to black and brown communities. He helped spearhead the Green Jobs Act of 2007, the first time the country deliberately trained workers for the future clean economy. Later, he went to the White House to become President Obama’s green jobs czar.

In this episode, Jones reveals a little-told backstory of his “nerd” childhood and early life, his transformation at Yale Law School, and the painful time he briefly joined, and then left, the Obama administration.

“I spent a year clinically depressed. I wouldn’t ask anybody to go through what I went through — such a steep rise and then such a steep fall. You go from Oakland to the White House and then the White House to, like, public enemy number one. And at no point do you really feel understood,” said Jones.
» Listen to podcast          

Appalachian solarAppalachian solar effort a reality after backers powered through setbacks
By Elizabeth McGowan, Energy News Network
Photo By Jimmy Davidson / Courtesy / Appalachian Voices
September 2, 2020

Persistence should be Adam Wells’ middle name.

The nonprofit organizer’s vision of embedding solar energy training, jobs and renewable power in his native Appalachia is on the verge of happening after five-plus years of brainstorming, cajoling and striving.

A new initiative announced Wednesday, called Securing Solar for Southwest Virginia, will deliver on Wells’ dogged pursuit of affordable solar power for businesses, nonprofits and local governments in the state’s seven-county historic coalfield region.

Private and public partners involved in the ambitious undertaking plan to install up to 12 megawatts of solar power in the next three years while also creating 15 full-time jobs in solar installation, sales and marketing, entrepreneurship, and small business development.
» Read article          

greening Unilever
Unilever to drop fossil fuels from cleaning products by 2030
By Siddharth Cavale, Reuters
September 1, 2020

Unilever Plc (ULVR.L) said on Wednesday it would invest 1 billion euros to eliminate fossil fuels from its cleaning products by 2030, cutting the carbon emissions created by the chemicals used in making the products.

The household goods conglomerate behind the Omo, Cif, Sunlight and Domestos brands said that, instead of petrochemicals, the products would use constituents created from plants and other biological sources, marine sources such as algae and waste materials.

Chemicals in its cleaning and laundry products make up 46% of its Home Care division’s carbon emissions across their life cycle.

The switch – which Unilever said it is the first company to commit to – will cut those emissions by a fifth.

Surfactants, or de-greasing agents, are the biggest petroleum-derived components, Peter ter Kulve, Unilever’s president of Home Care, told Reuters.

He said the company was working with small biotech companies and chemical makers such as Dow Chemical (DOW.N) to create environment friendly product formulations.

“The writing is on the wall.. the next phase is industry change in chemicals and cleaning agents ….many of these big suppliers still have a lot of capital still locked in the old carbon economy,” he said.
» Read article          

» More about greening the economy 

CLIMATE

energy to spare
How Fast Is the Climate Changing?: It’s a New World, Each and Every Day
By Bill McKibben, New Yorker
September 3, 2020

The struggle over climate change is necessarily political and economic and noisy—if we’re going to get anything done, we’ll have to do it in parliaments and stock exchanges, and quickly.

But, every once in a while, it’s worth stepping back and reminding ourselves what’s actually going on, silently, every hour of every day. And what’s going on is that we’re radically remaking our planet, in the course of a human lifetime. Hell, in the course of a human adolescence.

The sun, our star, pours out energy, which falls on this planet, where the atmosphere traps some of it. Because we’ve thickened that atmosphere by burning coal and gas and oil—in particular, because we’ve increased the amount of carbon dioxide and methane it contains—more of that sun’s energy is trapped around the Earth: about three-fourths of a watt of extra energy per square meter, or slightly less than, say, one of those tiny white Christmas-tree lights. But there are a lot of square meters on our planet—roughly five hundred and ten trillion of them, which is a lot of Christmas-tree lights. It’s the heat equivalent, to switch units rather dramatically, of exploding four Hiroshima-sized bombs each second.
» Read article        

Arctic heating overperforming
Arctic heating races ahead of worst case estimates
Arctic heating is happening far faster than anybody had anticipated. And the ice record suggests this has happened before.
By Tim Radford, Climate News Network
September 2, 2020

An international team of scientists brings bad news about Arctic heating: the polar ocean is warming not only faster than anybody predicted, it is getting hotter at a rate faster than even the worst case climate scenario predictions have so far foreseen.

Such dramatic rises in Arctic temperatures have been recorded before, but only during the last Ice Age. Evidence from the Greenland ice cores suggests that temperatures rose by 10°C or even 12°C, over a period of between 40 years and a century, between 120,000 years and 11,000 years ago.

“We have been clearly underestimating the rate of temperature increases in the atmosphere nearest to the sea level, which has ultimately caused sea ice to disappear faster than we had anticipated,” said Jens Hesselbjerg Christensen, a physicist at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, one of 16 scientists who report in the journal Nature Climate Change on a new analysis of 40 years of data from the Arctic region.

They found that, on average, the Arctic has been warming at the rate of 1°C per decade for the last four decades. Around Norway’s Svalbard archipelago, temperatures rose even faster, at 1.5°C every 10 years.

During the last two centuries, as atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide climbed from an average of around 285 parts per million to more than 400ppm, so the global average temperature of the planet rose: by a fraction more than 1°C.

The latest study is a reminder that temperatures in the Arctic are rising far faster than that. And the news is hardly a shock: within the past few weeks, separate teams of researchers, reporting to other journals, have warned that Greenland – the biggest single reservoir of ice in the northern hemisphere – is melting faster than ever; more alarmingly, its icecap is losing mass at a rate that suggests the loss could become irreversible.
» Read article          
» Obtain the study

laundry list of shame
President Donald Trump’s Climate Change Record Has Been a Boon for Oil Companies, and a Threat to the Planet
Pursuing an unrelenting fossil fuel agenda, Trump has scaled back or eliminated over 150 environment measures, expanded Arctic drilling, and denied climate science.
By VERNON LOEB, MARIANNE LAVELLE, STACY FELDMAN, InsideClimate News
September 1, 2020

In the middle of his 44th month in office, two weeks before the start of the Republican convention in late August, President Trump rolled back Barack Obama’s last major environmental regulation, restricting methane leaks.

The move represented an environmental trifecta of sorts for the president, who had handed the oil and gas industry another gift in his quest for “American energy dominance,” thumbed his nose yet again at climate change and came close to fully dismantling his predecessor’s environment and climate legacy.

It had been a busy four years, and a breakneck 2020, as Trump and the former industry executives and lobbyists he’d placed in control of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of the Interior raced to rollback auto emissions standards, weaken the nation’s most important environmental law, open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling and reject stronger air pollution standards, even as research showed a link between those pollutants and an increased risk of death from Covid-19.
» Read article           

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

coal-fired power capacity
Only one in 10 utility firms prioritise renewable electricity – global study
Vast majority of world’s electricity companies remain heavily invested in fossil fuels
By Jillian Ambrose, The Guardian
August 31, 2020

Only one in 10 of the world’s electric utility companies are prioritising investment in clean renewable energy over growing their capacity of fossil fuel power plants, according to research from the University of Oxford.

The study of more than 3,000 utilities found most remain heavily invested in fossil fuels despite international efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and some are actively expanding their portfolio of polluting power plants.

The majority of the utility companies, many of which are state owned, have made little change to their generation portfolio in recent years.

Only 10% of the companies in the study, published in the research journal Nature Energy, are expanding their renewable energy capacity at a faster rate than their gas- or coal-fired capacity.

Of the companies prioritising renewable energy growth, 60% have not stopped concurrently expanding their fossil fuel portfolio and only 15% of these companies are actively reducing their gas and coal capacity.

Galina Alova, the author of the report, said the research highlighted “a worrying gap between what is needed” to tackle the climate crisis and “what actions are being taken by the utility sector”.
» Read article          
» Obtain the study

quashed supergrid reportWhy Trump’s Energy Department Quashed a Supergrid Report
This week on The Interchange, we dig into an investigation of Trump’s suppression of clean energy.
By Stephen Lacey, GreenTech Media – podcast
August 28, 2020

This week, we discuss how an innocuous grid-modeling project came to be seen as a threat to Trump’s efforts to save coal and then languished inside the Department of Energy.

It’s one of many pieces of research that have been suppressed by the current administration.

What is the study? What does it tell us about the systematic dismantling of government institutions and norms under Trump? What are the implications for a cleaner grid?

Journalist Peter Fairley joins us on this week’s Interchange podcast to talk about his investigation, which was a collaboration between InvestigateWest and The Atlantic.
» Listen to podcast

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

Portland leading
Why Aren’t Home Efficiency Scores Standard in Online Real Estate Listings?
Realtors say such scores are useful for buyers and can open the door to broader conversations about home energy use.
By Justin Gerdes, GreenTech Media
September 2, 2020

Consumers rely on labels and scores to understand the attributes and performance of the products they buy. There are miles-per-gallon ratings for cars, nutrition labels for food and Energy Star ratings for appliances. But when it comes to the energy efficiency of their biggest investment — buying or renting a home — Americans are largely on their own.

Many U.S. consumers take on mortgages without knowing how much energy a home uses, consigning themselves to needlessly high future utility bills. But the right information delivered at the right time can nudge homebuyers to select the more energy-efficient option before closing papers are signed.

Portland, Oregon is the best real-world example in the U.S. to date.

Portland’s Home Energy Score program took effect on January 1, 2018, so it’s had some time to establish itself. Homes are scored on a 10-point scale based on DOE’s Home Energy Score system: homes with a “1” rating use the most energy; homes with a “10” rating use the least.

Scores posted thus far show considerable opportunity to improve the energy efficiency of Portland’s housing stock. By the end of 2019, the average Home Energy Score was 4.6, while 36 percent of homes received an initial score of 3 or below. However, half of the homes could cost-effectively improve to a score of 8 or higher.
» Read article           

» More about energy efficiency   

ENERGY STORAGE

taking a spin
Flywheel-lithium battery hybrid energy storage system joining Dutch grid services markets
Andy Colthorpe, Energy Storage News
September 2, 2020

A hybrid energy storage system combining lithium-ion batteries with mechanical energy storage in the form of flywheels has gone into operation in the Netherlands, from technology providers Leclanché and S4 Energy.

The hybrid system combines 8.8MW / 7.12MWh of lithium-ion batteries with six flywheels adding up to 3MW of power. It will provide 9MW of frequency stabilising primary control power to the transmission grid operated by TenneT and is located in Almelo, a city in the Overijssel province in the east Netherlands.

S4 Energy launched into the frequency containment reserve market using a combination of its KINEXT flywheels and batteries in 2017. According to the company’s project director Dominique Becker Hoff, the flywheel supplies instantaneous power for very short periods of time without losing capacity. The 5,000kg KINEXT flywheel operates at 92% efficiency, storing energy as rotational mass.

The technology is seen as complementary to higher capacity electrochemical battery storage because the flywheels are not prone to degradation. The flywheel component can supply reserve power continuously while the battery only joins in for lengthier variations in frequency, protecting the batteries from degradation and ensuring a longer lifespan for cells.
» Read article          

down to earth
Metal-hydrogen batteries coming down to earth with launch of EnerVenue
By Andy Colthorpe, Energy Storage News
August 28, 2020

Startup technology provider EnerVenue has launched a bid to commercialise a variation of metal-hydrogen batteries of the type used on the International Space Station and Hubble Space Telescope for use in stationary storage applications.

“As an example of metal hydrogen batteries, nickel-hydrogen batteries have proven to be an incredibly powerful energy storage technology – albeit an expensive one – for the aerospace industry over the past 40 years. The performance and longevity of nickel-hydrogen batteries is well-established and second to none. We’re now able to deliver the same performance and durability at a breakthrough competitive price using new low-cost materials,” EnerVenue founder, chief technology advisor and board member Dr Yi Cui – who is a Stanford University professor of materials science, said.

Claimed advantages include the ability to operate at temperatures from -40 degrees Fahrenheit to 140 degrees, 30-year / 30,000+ duty cycle lifespan without battery degradation and a broad charge and discharge range from C/5 to 5C. Claiming that it also does not run the risk of thermal runaway as lithium batteries do, EnerVenue also said that its devices could even beat lithium-ion on CAPEX cost reductions over time too.
» Read article           

» More about energy storage       

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

squashed
How SUVs conquered the world – at the expense of its climate
Exclusive new emissions analysis shows how much more dangerous for the climate SUVs are than smaller vehicles, and how embedded they have become in our lives
By Oliver Milman, The Guardian
September 1, 2020

They are the hulking cars that have conquered the world. Spreading from the heartlands of the US to a new generation of eager buyers in China to dominate even the twisting, narrow streets of Europe, the sports utility vehicle, or SUV, has bludgeoned its way to automobile supremacy with a heady mix of convenience and marketing muscle.

The rise of the SUV as the world’s pre-eminent car has been so rapid that the consequences of this new status – the altered patterns of urban life, air quality, pedestrian safety, where to park the things – are still coming into focus.

But it’s increasingly clear that SUVs’ most profound impact is playing out within the climate crisis, where their surging popularity is producing a vast new source of planet-cooking emissions.

Last year, the International Energy Agency made a finding that stunned even its own researchers. SUVs were the second largest cause of the global rise in carbon dioxide emissions over the past decade, eclipsing all shipping, aviation, heavy industry and even trucks, usually the only vehicles to loom larger than them on the road.
» Read article           

yellow bus planSchool buses should go electric – here’s how
Vehicles offer huge health and economic benefits
By Duncan McIntyre, CommonWealth Magazine – Opinion
August 29, 2020

Deep within Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s Build Back Better plan for creating a more resilient, sustainable economy is a proposal that deserves wider attention. Under the heading of “position[ing] the American auto industry to win in the 21st century,” Biden proposes a goal of all American-made buses being zero-emission by 2030, starting with “converting all 500,000 school buses in the country to zero emissions.” Practically, that means the next generation of yellow school buses would be electric. That is good news for parents, for communities, and for our economy.

Most of the half million school buses in use across the country today, on which each student spends an average of 180 hours annually, are diesel-powered. Diesel exhaust exposes children to toxic pollutants. Poor air quality is responsible for high rates of asthma, cancer, and heart disease. Children are even more vulnerable to air pollutants than adults, and the hardest hit children are those in disadvantaged communities, which have the highest concentrations of air pollution.
» Read article           

electric UPS
Soon, the Kitty Litter Will Come by Electric Truck
With deliveries surging during the pandemic, carriers like UPS and FedEx and companies like Amazon are renewing their push toward electric vehicles.
By Jim Motavalli, New York Times
August 27, 2020

Going back years, you might have been able to spot a truck from the likes of FedEx and UPS, and more recently Amazon, that ran on electricity. But most of these were small, short test runs that left the internal-combustion status quo in place.

Now that battery technology is catching up to ambitions, many companies are making big commitments to electrify the last delivery mile, typically from transportation hub to destination. The momentum means that plugging in the fleet may happen well before another vaunted goal — self-driving — is reached. Success is not guaranteed, though. The companies are eager to buy, but they will need the latest in battery-powered trucks, and a lot of them.

The rush to electrify, prompted by concern about climate change, a chance to offset growing delivery costs, government regulation and big advances in battery technology, is occurring as the coronavirus pandemic has caused a huge spike in package delivery. UPS, for instance, was delivering up to 21.1 million packages a day in the second quarter, a nearly 23 percent jump in average daily U.S. volume from a year earlier. Avery Vise, vice president for trucking at FTR Transportation Intelligence, said big increases in delivery truck orders hadn’t shown up yet, but they’re very likely coming.
» Read article           

» More about clean transportation 

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY

contaminant pass-thru
Trump weakens Obama-era rules on toxic wastewater from coal plants
By Emily Holden, The Guardian
August 31, 2020

The Trump administration is loosening rules for toxic water pollution from coal-fired power plants.

Coal plants generate wastewater when they rinse the filters they use to catch pollutants from smokestacks. That wastewater is discharged into rivers and lakes and often ends up in drinking water.

Obama administration regulations required coal plants to upgrade their wastewater systems to treat arsenic, mercury, and other heavy metals. Electricity companies will now have more time and flexibility to meet those standards. Plants shutting down or switching to natural gas by 2028 will be exempt, according to Bloomberg News.

Steam-based power plants, including coal plants, are the third biggest source of toxic wastewater in the country, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The pollutants they release into the water – either directly or from leaching from ponds where coal ash water is stored – are linked with cancer, heart disease, diabetes and developmental problems for children.
» Read article           

» More on the EPA 

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Hoboken at the forefront
‘At the Forefront of Climate Change,’ Hoboken, New Jersey, Seeks Damages From ExxonMobil
The city joined a long line of state and local litigants alleging Big Oil knew burning fossil fuels caused climate-related problems like sea level rise.
By David Hasemyer, InsideClimate News
September 3, 2020

The city of Hoboken, New Jersey, filed a lawsuit Wednesday seeking damages from ExxonMobil and other major oil and gas companies for misleading the public about the harmful climate-related impacts such as sea level rise they knew would be caused by burning fossil fuels.

The city cast itself as a prime example of an oceanside community “at the forefront of climate change,” as Mayor Ravi Bhalla said in announcing the lawsuit.

Less than five miles from midtown Manhattan in New York City, Hoboken is uniquely vulnerable to sea level rise, according to the lawsuit filed in Hudson County Superior Court. It set forth nuisance, trespass and negligence claims, as well as violations of the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act.
» Read article          
» Read the complaint

corporate humiliation
“Humiliation”: Exxon dumped out Dow Jones Industrial Index after nearly 100 years
Do not underestimate the significance of this moment. Exxon is the oldest member of the influential Index, having joined in 1928.
By Andy Rowell, Oil Change International
September 1, 2020

The once mighty Exxon suffered the corporate humiliation of being booted out the highly influential Dow Jones Industrial Index.

“The last day of August also marked the first day of trading for the newly reconfigured Dow”, reported the Washington Post. “The index, which tracks 30 large publicly traded companies, swapped out three companies.” And one of those was oil giant, ExxonMobil.

The Seeking Alpha investor website calls the move the “ultimate insult” for Exxon. As an article in NPR notes: “The Dow Jones Industrial Average is the classic blue-chip stock index. Exxon Mobil is an iconic blue-chip stock … It reflects just how once-dominant Exxon has diminished.”

But the company’s demise has been a long time coming. The Motley Fool investor website has calculated that Exxon’s stock has lost value over the past 20 years. This compares to an increase of over 130% for the S&P 500.

Such was the size of the company that even seven years ago, Exxon was still the world’s most valuable corporation. But since then, the company’s market value has disintegrated a staggering $267 billion.
» Read article           

patchy performance
Big Oil’s patchy deals record casts shadow over green makeover
As major oil companies prepare to spend billions on renewable energy assets to stay relevant in a low-carbon future, the industry’s patchy track record on takeovers is a red flag for some investors.
By Ron Bousso, Reuters
September 1, 2020

[With] European policymakers cracking down on greenhouse gas emissions, the region’s major oil companies have promised to reinvent themselves as low-carbon power suppliers that would thrive in a world of clean energy.

To hit their goals in time, though, they will almost inevitably have to chase a relatively small pool of renewable energy assets in competition with big utility companies at a time valuations are going through the roof.

And some investors worry that history will repeat itself.

“The majors have been poor capital allocators for the better part of the past 20 years,” said Chris Duncan, an analyst at Brandes Investment Partners which has shares in several European oil firms. “I’m nervous … usually when companies transition to a different market the transition is not a profitable process.”
» Read article          

» More about fossil fuels 

BIOMASS

take action on biomass
MA House Climate Bill Would Promote Biomass Incinerators as “Non-Carbon Emitting Sources”
By Partnership for Policy Integrity
September 3, 2020

In the closing days of July, the Massachusetts House of Representatives rushed through language in its 2050 Climate Roadmap Bill – a broad package of climate proposals – that defines biomass power plants as “non-carbon emitting energy” sources. A conference committee with three members each from the House and Senate will decide the ultimate fate of this legislation this fall. PFPI and environmental justice advocates in Springfield, MA and across the state are urging the conference committee to reject this language.

Specifically, Section 15 of H.4933 creates a new greenhouse gas (GHG) emission standard for municipally owned electric utilities in MA, known as municipal light plants (MLPs). MLPs are exempt from many of the standards that apply to investor-owned utilities, like National Grid and Eversource, so this provision on its surface appears to be a step forward in reducing GHG emissions from the power sector.

The problem, however, lies in the definition of “non-carbon emitting energy.” The House bill defines this term to include both non-emitting energy sources, such as solar, wind, hydro, and nuclear, and biogenic fuels, which emit carbon when combusted, such as landfill gas, anaerobic digestion, and biomass. It also includes any other generation qualifying for MA’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard (RPS), which brings in garbage incineration, and for good measure gives the MA Department of Energy Resources (DOER) unlimited authority to add additional resources. In all, there are four different ways that a woody biomass power plant could qualify as “non-carbon emitting energy” for the purpose of this new MLP procurement standard – even though biomass plants are more polluting than coal.

Take Action for Clean Air and Environmental Justice!

A conference committee has been set up to negotiate the final language of the climate bill, comprised of six members: Senators Michael Barrett, Cynthia Creem, and Patrick O’Connor, and Representatives Tom Golden, Patricia Haddad, and Brad Jones. Whatever comes out of the climate conference committee this fall will be voted on without further opportunity for amendment. It would then go to Governor Baker for his signature.

MA residents can take action by contacting their state legislators and urging them to reach out to their peers on the climate conference committee to oppose language in the House bill that defines biomass energy as “non-carbon emitting,” and by signing this petition to the conference committee chairs, Senator Barrett and Rep. Golden.
» Read article           

biomass burning surges
Are forests the new coal? Global alarm sounds as biomass burning surges
By Justin Catanoso, Mongabay
August 31, 2020

Though current science has shown that burning the world’s forests to make electricity is disastrous for biodiversity, generates more emissions than coal, and isn’t carbon neutral, a UN policy established in the 1997 Kyoto Protocol erroneously counts energy produced from forest biomass as carbon neutral.

As a result, nations pay power companies huge subsidies to burn wood pellets, propelling industry growth. While the industry does utilize tree residue, forests are being cut in the US, Canada, Russia, Eastern Europe and Vietnam to supply pellets to the UK, EU and other nations who can claim the energy creates zero emissions.

So far, the UN has turned a blind eye to closing the climate destabilizing carbon accounting loophole. The Netherlands, which now gets 61% of its renewable energy from biomass, is being urged to wean itself off biomass for energy and heat. If the Dutch do so, advocates hope it could portend closure of Europe’s carbon loophole.

The forest biomass industry is sprawling and spreading globally — rapidly growing in size, scale, revenue, and political influence — even as forest ecologists and climatologists warn that the industry is putting the planet’s temperate and tropical forests at risk, and aggressively lobbying governments against using wood pellets as a “renewable energy” alternative to burning coal.

“We have repeatedly pointed out that… the large-scale substitution of coal by forest biomass [to produce electricity] will accelerate climate warming, and will increase the risks of overshooting Paris [Climate Agreement] targets,” Michael Norton, environmental director of the Science Advisory Council of the European Academies, said in a December 2019 statement issued to European Union countries.

“The reason is simple: when the forest is harvested and used for bioenergy, all the carbon in the biomass enters the atmosphere very quickly, but it will not be reabsorbed by new trees for decades. This is not compatible with the need to tackle the climate crisis urgently,” said Norton.
» Read article          

» More about biomass    

PLASTICS IN THE ENVIRONMENT

nurdle apocalypse
Pollution Scientist Calls Plastic Pellet Spill in the Mississippi River ‘a Nurdle Apocalypse’
By Julie Dermansky, DeSmog Blog
August 28, 2020

Three weeks after a shipping container full of tiny plastic pellets fell into the Mississippi River near New Orleans, cleanup hired by the vessel that lost its cargo stopped shortly after it started as a pair of major storms approached the Gulf Coast. But huge numbers of the pellets, which were made by Dow Chemical and are melted down to manufacture plastic products, still line the river banks in New Orleans and further afield.

After visiting a couple locations along the river banks affected by the spill, Mark Benfield, an oceanographer and plastic pollution expert at Louisiana State University, estimated that nearly 750 million of these lentil-sized plastic pellets, also known as nurdles, could have been lost in the river.

He described the mess as “a nurdle apocalypse.”

The nurdle spill occurred after an incident at the Ports America facility in New Orleans in which four shipping containers were knocked off the container ship CMA CGM Bianca on August 2. Three containers were retrieved, but the fourth, containing 55-pound bags of Dow Chemical polyethylene, fell into the river. It is unclear how many, if any, of the bags of nurdles were recovered.
» Read article           

» More about plastics in the environment    

THE PLASTICS / FRACKING CONNECTION

plastic Mt KenyaOil industry lobbies US to help weaken Kenya’s strong stance on plastic waste
Environmentalists fear changing Kenya’s resolve would lead to all of Africa becoming a plastics dumping ground
By Associated Press, in The Guardian
September 1, 2020

Major oil companies are lobbying the United States to pressure Kenya to change its world-leading stance against plastic waste, according to environmentalists who fear the continent will be used as a dumping ground.

The request from the American Chemistry Council to the Office of the United States Trade Representative came as the US and Kenya negotiate what would be the first US bilateral trade deal with a country in sub-Saharan Africa.

That deal is expected to be a model for others in Africa, and its importance helped lead to the Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta’s White House visit with Donald Trump this year – a rarity for an African leader during this administration.

In 2017 Kenya imposed the world’s strictest ban on the use, manufacturing and import of plastic bags, part of growing efforts around the world to limit a major source of plastic waste. Environmentalists fear Kenya is now under pressure not only to weaken its resolve but to become a key transit point for plastic waste to other African countries.

The 28 April letter from the American Chemistry Council’s director for international trade, Ed Brzytwa, seen by the Associated Press, urges the US and Kenya to prohibit the imposition of domestic limits on “production or consumption of chemicals and plastic” and on their cross-border trade.
» Read article           

plastic Nakuru
Big Oil Is in Trouble. Its Plan: Flood Africa With Plastic.
Faced with plunging profits and a climate crisis that threatens fossil fuels, the industry is demanding a trade deal that weakens Kenya’s rules on plastics and on imports of American trash.
By Hiroko Tabuchi, Michael Corkery and Carlos Mureithi, New York Times
August 30, 2020

Confronting a climate crisis that threatens the fossil fuel industry, oil companies are racing to make more plastic. But they face two problems: Many markets are already awash with plastic, and few countries are willing to be dumping grounds for the world’s plastic waste.

The industry thinks it has found a solution to both problems in Africa.

According to documents reviewed by The New York Times, an industry group representing the world’s largest chemical makers and fossil fuel companies is lobbying to influence United States trade negotiations with Kenya, one of Africa’s biggest economies, to reverse its strict limits on plastics — including a tough plastic-bag ban. It is also pressing for Kenya to continue importing foreign plastic garbage, a practice it has pledged to limit.

The chemistry council’s plastics proposals would “inevitably mean more plastic and chemicals in the environment,” said Griffins Ochieng, executive director for the Centre for Environmental Justice and Development, a nonprofit group based in Nairobi that works on the problem of plastic waste in Kenya. “It’s shocking.”

The plastics proposal reflects an oil industry contemplating its inevitable decline as the world fights climate change. Profits are plunging amid the coronavirus pandemic, and the industry is fearful that climate change will force the world to retreat from burning fossil fuels. Producers are scrambling to find new uses for an oversupply of oil and gas. Wind and solar power are becoming increasingly affordable, and governments are weighing new policies to fight climate change by reducing the burning of fossil fuels.

Pivoting to plastics, the industry has spent more than $200 billion on chemical and manufacturing plants in the United States over the past decade. But the United States already consumes as much as 16 times more plastic than many poor nations, and a backlash against single-use plastics has made it tougher to sell more at home.
» Read article          

» More about the plastics / fracking connection  

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Weekly News Check-In 8/7/20

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Welcome back.

We’re covering a lot of ground, beginning with last week’s announcement that Liberty Utilities has cancelled the controversial Granite Bridge Pipeline project. While the utility’s move allows a continued increase of its natural gas footprint in New Hampshire, the very good news is they’ll proceed without a massive new infrastructure buildout. In other pipeline news, an appeals court decided to allow continued oil flow through the Dakota Access Pipeline. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe will continue its opposition in defense of its vulnerable water resources.

Another notable protest action is underway in Alvin, a small rural California community at the southern tip of the San Joaquin Valley. Already burdened with heavy pollution loads from agriculture and oil extraction, the mostly low-income, Latino residents have joined with other communities to demand reasonable setbacks between populated areas and new drilling rigs – and the pollution that comes from them.

Between the Covid-19 pandemic, the related economic crash, and the urgency to address climate change, financial managers are “having a moment”. Divesting from fossil fuels is an easy call considering the sector’s uncanny ability to destroy capital – but what next? We found a report describing how a major investor group is thinking strategically about investments to achieve the Paris Climate Agreement goals.

The urgency for climate action continues to be underscored by new research. One study finds that global heat-related mortality may eventually equal deaths from all infectious diseases combined. Another study warns that whatever emissions levels we achieve, we should expect real-world climate response to be on the hot side (worst case) of what models predict for those levels.

Better buildings will be a major factor in lowering greenhouse gas emissions. We found two articles on efforts in the northeast to meet the challenge by improving affordable housing. Meanwhile, Massachusetts has taken a legislative step forward in clean energy and achieving net-zero emissions by 2050, while also moving to reduce power plant emissions during peak demand hours. All of which will benefit from continued innovations in energy storage technology.

We spotted a flashing yellow hazard light on the clean transportation speedway, related to the coming huge demand increase for electric vehicle battery materials like lithium and cobalt. We’re seeing a lot of interest in developing deep-sea mining – a new frontier with potentially catastrophic environmental consequences. The European Parliament and at least 80 organizations have called for a 10-year moratorium on deep-sea mining to allow for the study of potential impacts along with management and mitigation methods.

For our friends in Ohio who may be wondering why their state recently gutted its renewable and energy efficiency laws and incentives while simultaneously bailing out several coal and nuclear companies, we found a story that explains the whole sordid affair. It’s one of the worst utility scandals in the country.

While the fossil fuel industry continues to accumulate lawsuits, we see growing recognition among some of the major players that significant portions of their reserves – a primary basis for market valuation – are worthless in the sense that they can never be extracted, sold, and burned. BP leads the pack, along with some of the other European majors – but even Exxon recently admitted that 20% of global oil and gas reserves should be written off. We humbly suggest that number might be on the low side.

Liquefied natural gas is having its own troubles. Once considered a safe investment, the future is looking considerably less certain. In the last six years, 61% of LNG export terminal projects have failed. While many of those failures predated the current pandemic-related demand crash, the future outlook isn’t improving.

The myth of woody biomass as a sustainable, carbon-neutral fuel recently collided with the notoriously clear-eyed analytical thinking of the Dutch. According to a new policy, The Netherlands recognizes that biomass is an indispensable resource in the circular economy, and burning it is “wasteful”. Accordingly, they will rapidly phase out the use of biomass-to-energy plants. The rest of the European Union should follow their lead.

We finish with a story highlighting the challenges associated with recycling plastics, and the lure of the easy fix. While there are still no good solutions to the plastic waste problem, there are definitely bad ones masquerading as “recycling”.

— The NFGiM Team

GRANITE BRIDGE PIPELINE

stop the pipeline and tank
Liberty Utilities nixes Granite Bridge Route 101 pipeline project
By Alex LaCasse, Seacoast Online
July 31, 2020

The utility proposing to construct the controversial Granite Bridge pipeline along Route 101 between Manchester and Exeter is abandoning the project after seeking an alternative plan.

Liberty Utilities filed notice with state Public Utilities Commission Friday afternoon it now intends to enter agreement with the owner of the Concord Lateral pipeline to carry natural gas to its customers in central New Hampshire, ending its pursuit of constructing the Granite Bridge pipeline.

“We’ve been fighting this pipeline for three years,” said Epping resident Joe Perry, who was a driving force behind a 2019 citizens petition opposing Granite Bridge. “It’s a tremendous weight off our shoulders.”
» Read article             

» More about Granite Bridge Pipeline        

OTHER PIPELINES

DAPL undead for now
Appeals Court Halts Dakota Access Pipeline Shutdown Order
By Olivia Rosane, EcoWatch
August 6, 2020

The controversial Dakota Access Pipeline won a reprieve Wednesday when an appeals court canceled a lower court order mandating the pipeline be shut down and emptied of oil while a full environmental impact statement is completed.

The shutdown order, which would have gone into effect Wednesday, marked the first time a major oil pipeline was court ordered to cease operations for environmental reasons. But while its reversal is disappointing for pipeline opponents, Wednesday’s decision was not wholly favorable for the pipeline, either. The court refused to halt the initial order for a new environmental review of the pipeline’s crossing under the Missouri River, where the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe fears it will pollute its drinking water and sacred lands if it leaks.

“We’ve been in this legal battle for four years, and we aren’t giving up this fight,” Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Chairman Mike Faith said in an Earthjustice press release. “As the environmental review process gets underway in the months ahead, we look forward to showing why the Dakota Access Pipeline is too dangerous to operate.”
» Read article             
» Read the Earthjustice press release

» More about pipelines

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

Committee for a Better Arvin
Tired of Wells That Threaten Residents’ Health, a Small California Town Takes on the Oil Industry
The mostly low-income, Latino residents of Arvin have joined with other communities to demand setbacks for wells. Their slogan: “No drilling where we are living.”
By Julia Kane, InsideClimate News
August 3, 2020

In Arvin, a small, agricultural town at the southern tip of the San Joaquin Valley, pollution is a pervasive part of life. Pesticides sprayed on industrial-scale farms, fumes drifting from the region’s ubiquitous oil and gas wells, exhaust from the trucks barrelling down Interstate 5—it all gets trapped in the valley, creating a thick haze. This year the American Lung Association ranked Bakersfield, just 15 miles northwest of Arvin, as the worst metropolitan area in the U.S. in terms of annual particle pollution.

Arvin’s residents, like people in many other parts of California, are especially concerned by the oil and gas wells sprinkled throughout their community. These wells, sometimes drilled and operated in close proximity to neighborhoods, schools, and health care centers, release a toxic mix of hydrogen sulfide, benzene, xylene, hexane and formaldehyde into the air.

Studies have linked living near oil and gas extraction to a wide range of adverse health effects, including increased risk of asthma, respiratory illnesses, preterm birth, low birthweight and cancer—serious fears for the more than two million Californians who live within a quarter-mile of operational oil and gas wells.
» Read article 

» More about protests and actions      

DIVESTMENT

Moscow power plant
Investors launch climate plan to get to net zero emissions by 2050
By Simon Jessop, Reuters
August 5, 2020

An investor group managing more than $16 trillion on Wednesday launched the world’s first step-by-step plan to help pension funds and others align their portfolios with the Paris Agreement on climate change.

Many investors have pledged high-level support to the goals of the 2015 Paris deal, but the “Net Zero Investment Framework” is the first to lay out the steps they need to take to ensure the commitment is backed up by the necessary action.

Specific targets could include increasing the percentage of assets invested in low-carbon passive indexes and ensuring the leaders of investee companies link pay to climate-related targets.

“Countries, cities and companies around the globe are committing to achieve the goal of net zero emissions and investors need to show similar leadership,” said IIGCC Chief Executive Stephanie Pfeifer

“The willingness is there, but until now the investment sector has lacked a framework enabling it to deliver on this ambition.”
» Read article

» More about divestment          

CLIMATE

cool-off
Rising temperatures will cause more deaths than all infectious diseases – study
Poorer, hotter parts of the world will struggle to adapt to unbearable conditions, research finds
Oliver Milman, The Guardian
August 4, 2020

The growing but largely unrecognized death toll from rising global temperatures will come close to eclipsing the current number of deaths from all the infectious diseases combined if planet-heating emissions are not constrained, a major new study has found.

Rising temperatures are set to cause particular devastation in poorer, hotter parts of the world that will struggle to adapt to unbearable conditions that will kill increasing numbers of people, the research has found.

The economic loss from the climate crisis, as well as the cost of adaptation, will be felt around the world, including in wealthy countries.

In a high-emissions scenario where little is done to curb planet-heating gases, global mortality rates will be raised by 73 deaths per 100,000 people by the end of the century. This nearly matches the current death toll from all infectious diseases, including tuberculosis, HIV/Aids, malaria, dengue and yellow fever.
» Read article             
» Obtain the study         

expect the worst
The Worst-Case Scenario for Global Warming Tracks Closely With Actual Emissions
With scientists divided between hope and despair, a new study finds that the model projecting warming of 4.3 degrees Celsius is “actually the best choice.”
By Bob Berwyn, InsideClimate News
August 3, 2020

When scientists in the early 2000s developed a set of standardized scenarios to show how accumulating greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere will affect the climate, they were trying to create a framework for understanding how human decisions will affect the trajectory of global warming.

The scenarios help define the possible effects on climate change—how we can limit the worst impacts by curbing greenhouse gas emissions quickly, or suffer the horrific outcome of unchecked fossil fuel burning.

The scientists probably didn’t think their work would trigger a sometimes polarized discussion in their ranks about the language of climate science, but that’s exactly what happened, and for the last several months, the debate has intensified. Some scientists say the worst-case, high emissions scenario isn’t likely because it overestimates the amount of fossil fuels that will be burned in the next few decades.

But a new study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences argues that the high-end projection for greenhouse gas concentrations is still the most realistic for planning purposes through at least 2050, because it comes closest to capturing the effects “of both historical emissions and anticipated outcomes of current global climate policies, tracking within 1 percent of actual emissions.”
» Read article
» Read the PNAS report

» More about climate     

BETTER BUILDINGS

NY home improvement plan
New York is spending $1 billion to help residents conserve energy — and lower their bills
By Angely Mercado, Grist
August 4, 2020

As summer heat waves converge with a surging pandemic and an impending economic collapse, energy-efficient homes are becoming particularly critical to Americans’ well-being. Millions now face tough choices when it comes to energy usage: The longer they stay home to stay safe from both scorching heat and COVID-19, the higher their utility bills climb.

New York’s state government, for its part, is eyeing a long-term solution to this conundrum. The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority is collaborating with the region’s investor-owned utilities to provide clean and energy-efficient solutions to more than 350,000 low-to-moderate income households throughout the state.

The collaboration aims to more than double the number of lower-income households that have access to services like voluntary electric load reduction, as well as better insulation and air sealing for more efficient cooling and heating, according to an announcement from Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office last week. The initiative will also provide education and community support programs to connect these upgrades to the households most in need.
» Read article

triple-decker design challenge
Getting rid of fossil fuels in buildings
Passive house building too cost effective to resist
By Joan Fitzgerald, CommonWealth Magazine – opinion
August 2, 2020

ATTORNEY GENERAL Maura Healey recently ruled that Brookline’s clean energy bylaw prohibiting installation of oil and gas lines in new and substantially renovated buildings violates state law. It’s true—state preemption law does not allow cities and towns to pass energy requirements stronger than the state’s code. But cities and towns still have substantial leverage. While we work on changing state law, we have other means to get rid of fossil fuels in buildings.

For example, the passive house building standard, promoted by the Commonwealth’s own three-year energy efficiency plan, released in October 2018, is one key element. The plan includes tax incentives and subsidies for developers for both market-rate and low-income housing. Even if energy codes are unchanged, this technology is becoming too cost-effective to resist.

A passive-house building is designed to keep heat in, using super-insulation, triple-pane windows, and similar measures. It consumes about 90 percent less energy for heating and 60 percent less energy overall than a typical building and usually does not require active heating and cooling systems. The buildings also use air exchangers that use the heat produced from lighting, cooking, and other sources to warm incoming cold air.

Dozens of European cities require the passive-house standard for some new construction—particularly in Germany, where it was developed. The passive-house standard is technologically and economically feasible for both new construction and retrofitting existing buildings, even in cold climates. By definition, passive house construction can be fossil-fuel free if it uses electric heating and appliances.

It’s been slow to catch on in the US, but Massachusetts is poised to become a leader—and gearing it to low-income housing. In 2017, the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, the state economic development agency accelerating the growth of the clean energy sector, launched the Passive House Design Challenge to demonstrate that the standard can be employed at little extra cost. In 2019, the Clean Energy Center funded eight projects to the tune of $1.73 million that will build 540 units of affordable passive housing.

Joan Fitzgerald is a professor in the School of Public Policy & Urban Affairs at Northeastern University. Her latest book, Greenovation: Urban Leadership on Climate Change, was published by Oxford University Press in March.
» Read article

» More about better buildings      

CLEAN ENERGY

fundamentally flawed
Massachusetts set to pass landmark clean energy law to reach net-zero by 2050
By David Iaconangelo, E&E News, in Energy News Network
August 6, 2020

Massachusetts is expected to pass clean energy and climate legislation in the coming months that would require the state to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, dividing conservative groups and environmentalists in atypical ways.

The state House and Senate, which are both controlled by Democrats, have yet to agree on final language. But both chambers have passed bills backing the net-zero goal, and Republican Gov. Charlie Baker has declared that his administration is planning to meet it.

If enacted, the law would place Massachusetts among a handful of states requiring a carbon-neutral economy by midcentury.

One environmental group, Environment Massachusetts, has set itself apart from most clean energy organizations in the state by opposing the net-zero bills.

Instead of simply mandating emissions reductions and allowing for energy officials to regulate the technologies involved, the state should create 100% mandates for renewable power, electric cars and other zero-carbon technologies, the group has argued.

“The underlying framework of this bill is fundamentally flawed,” said Ben Hellerstein, the group’s state director, adding that it could “leave Massachusetts dependent on dirty energy for decades to come.”
» Read article

clean peak passes
Massachussets policy to decarbonise grid at times of peak demand gets underway
By Andy Colthorpe, Energy Storage News
August 5, 2020

A “first-in-the-nation” policy called the Clean Peak Standard has been launched in Massachusetts, US, whereby a proportion of electricity used on the grid at times of highest demand must be considered ‘clean’.

Governor Charlie Baker and Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito’s administration announced the launch yesterday of the Standard, with Baker calling it an “innovative approach to create a cleaner and more affordable energy future for residents and businesses across the Commonwealth, while serving as a national role model for making meaningful reductions in greenhouse gas emissions”. The plan was first introduced in 2018, as part of the administration’s Bill H4857, ‘An act to advance clean energy’.
» Read article

float a loan
Floating Offshore Wind on Cusp of Unlocking Big Source of Finance, Experts Say
Non-recourse finance is the largest source of funding for offshore wind, and lenders are becoming more comfortable with floating turbines.
By Jason Deign, GreenTech Media
August 3, 2020

A major source of finance for offshore wind projects may soon open up to the industry’s most important technological frontier: floating turbines.

Non-recourse finance, which allows lenders to be repaid from the profits of a project and have no claim over the assets of the borrower, will likely be available to upcoming floating wind projects as the market reaches an initial stage of maturity, experts say. That would help to lower the cost of projects. Non-recourse lending accounts for the majority of funding flowing to conventional European offshore wind projects today.

So far, no floating projects have secured pure non-recourse finance, “but the market is becoming ready for it,” said Clément Weber, a floating wind expert at renewable energy financial advisory firm Green Giraffe.
» Read article

» More about clean energy     

ENERGY STORAGE

Voltstorage SMART
‘World’s only’ home vanadium battery storage provider Voltstorage nets €6 million funding
By Andy Colthorpe, Energy Storage News
July 31, 2020

Germany company Voltstorage, claiming to be the only developer and maker of home solar energy storage systems using vanadium flow batteries, raised €6 million (US$7.1 million) in July.

Voltstorage claims that its recyclable and non-flammable battery systems, which also enable long cycle life of charging and discharging without degradation of components or electrolyte, can become a “highly demanded ecological alternative to the lithium technology”. Its battery system, called Voltstorage SMART, was launched in 2018 and comes with 1.5kW output and 6.2kWh capacity. At the time of its launch, company founder Jakob Bitner claimed that Voltstorage had been “the first to automate the production process of redox-flow battery cells,” enabling the production of “high-quality battery cells at favourable cost”. The company also claims that around 37% less CO2 is emitted in the production of its systems versus comparable lithium-ion storage.
» Read article

» More about energy storage     

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

step away from the edge
Could Deep Sea Mining Fuel The Electric Vehicle Boom?
By MINING.com
August 3, 2020

The world is hungry for resources to power the green transition. As we increasingly look to solar, wind, geothermal and move towards decarbonization, consumption of minerals such as cobalt, lithium and copper, which underpin them, is set to grow markedly.

One study by the World Bank estimates that to meet this demand, cobalt production will need to grow by 450% from 2018 to 2050, in pursuit of keeping global average temperature rises below 2°C.

The mining of any material can give rise to complex environmental and social impacts. Cobalt, however, has attracted particular attention in recent years over concerns of unsafe working conditions and labour rights abuses associated with its production.

New battery technologies are under development with reduced or zero cobalt content, but it is not yet determined how fast and by how much these technologies and circular economy innovations can decrease overall cobalt demand.

Deep-sea mining has the potential to supply cobalt and other metals free from association with such social strife, and can reduce the raw material cost and carbon footprint of much-needed green technologies.

On the other hand, concerned scientists have highlighted our limited knowledge of the deep-sea and its ecosystems. The potential impact of mining on deep-sea biodiversity, deep-sea habitats and fisheries are still being studied, and some experts have questioned the idea that environmental impacts of mining in the deep-sea can be mitigated in the same way as those on land.

In the face of this uncertainty, the European Parliament, the prime ministers of Fiji, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea and more than 80 organizations have called for a 10-year moratorium on deep-sea mining, until its potential impacts and their management methods are further investigated. [Emphasis added by blog editor.]
» Read article

sit in traffic
Environmental Advocates Call for Ban on SUV Ads
By Jordan Davidson, EcoWatch
August 3, 2020

To meet its climate targets, the UK should ban advertisements for gas-guzzling SUVs, according to a report from a British think tank that wants to make SUVs the new smoking, as the BBC reported.

The UK has set the ambitious target of net zero emissions by 2050, but that will be difficult to achieve if the public’s appetite for large, private cars does not subside.

The report, called Upselling Smoke, from New Weather Institute and climate charity Possible, says that SUV advertising should be compared to tobacco advertising, blaming the vehicles for creating a “more dangerous and toxic urban environment.”
» Read article             
» Read the New Weather Institute report

» More about clean transportation         

ELECTRIC UTILITIES

Ohio scandal explained
The Ohio Utility Scandal, Explained
By Amy Westervelt, Drilled News
August 5, 2020

Leah Stokes, author of Short Circuiting Policy and a political science professor at University of California at Santa Barbara, has been following utilities corruption for years. Back in 2013 Stokes started looking into what utility FirstEnergy was doing in Ohio, so when Ohio Speaker of the House Larry Householder was arrested last month in connection with a utility bribery scandal she knew exactly what had happened. Householder was the architect of a piece of state legislation in Ohio called HB six, which passed in July 2019. That bill essentially gutted Ohio’s renewable and energy efficiency laws and incentives and bailed out several coal and nuclear companies. It turns out it was a bill that was bought and paid for by FirstEnergy.

In this Q&A with the Drilled podcast, Stokes explains the whole sordid tale.
» Read transcript or listen to podcast 

» More about electric utilities        

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Title XVII fraudEnergy Dept. Sued Over Hiding Details of Loan Guarantee for Appalachian Gas Liquids Project
DOE refuses to release documents that could shine light on how a massive petrochemical storage facility would be eligible for a nearly $2 billion loan guarantee under a clean energy program
By Food and Water Watch – press release
August 6, 2020

The national advocacy group Food & Water Watch filed suit against the Department of Energy (DOE) in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia today, charging the agency has refused to comply with a Freedom of Information Act request seeking documents related to a massive loan guarantee for a fossil fuel infrastructure project.

The controversial $1.9 billion loan guarantee was sought by the Appalachian Development Group to support its plan to build a massive ethane gas liquid ‘storage hub’ in Appalachia – a project meant to stabilize feedstock prices for future petrochemical and plastics manufacturing.

The loan guarantee was sought as part of the DOE’s Title XVII program, which requires that eligible projects must meet several criteria, including a provision that facilities must “avoid, reduce or sequester greenhouse gases.” A facility that would store ethane, a plastics feedstock derived from fracked gas, in order to utilize those gas liquids in petrochemical manufacturing would plainly not qualify on those grounds.
» Read press release             
» Read the complaint

oil due for a haircut
Exxon: 20 Percent Of Global Oil And Gas Reserves May Be Wiped Out
By Julianne Geiger, oilprice.com
August 5, 2020

After a grim Q2 season for Big Oil, the world’s third-most valuable energy company is warning that 20% of the world’s oil and gas reserves may no longer be viable, according to Bloomberg.

According to Exxon Mobil, one-fifth of the world’s oil and gas reserves will no longer qualify as “proved reserves” at the end of this year if oil prices fail to recover before then.

A flurry of oil and gas companies have written off billions in oil and gas assets as the value of those assets in the current oil price climate is no longer what it once used to be. Exxon was not among them.

Exxon is currently reviewing its oil and gas assets, the results of which should be available by November.
» Read article

BP greening-ish
BP Reports a Huge Loss and Vows to Increase Renewable Investment
The European oil giant has plans for a future with more electrical generation.
By Stanley Reed, New York Times
August 4, 2020

BP reported a $16.8 billion quarterly loss on Tuesday, and cut its dividend in half — the first reduction since the Deepwater Horizon disaster a decade ago.

But what caught the attention of analysts and, apparently, investors, was the ambitious plan that Bernard Looney, the chief executive, set out for making over the London-based oil giant into a diversified purveyor of cleaner energy within a decade. BP’s share price jumped by more than 7 percent during trading Tuesday.

On a webcast with analysts Mr. Looney described a transformation plan that Stuart Joyner, an analyst at the market research firm Redburn, said in a note to clients was “major, positive, thoughtful and largely unexpected.”
» Read article

end game for oil
We have entered the “end game” for oil — with “permanent demand destruction”
What the industry denied for years, that its assets have become liabilities, has become a reality.
By Andy Rowell, Oil Price International – blog post
Photo by Pete Markham
July 30, 2020

With many countries and regions trying to open up their economies after COVID-19 lockdowns, many in the oil industry had been hoping that as hundreds of millions of people resume as normal a life as possible, demand for oil would pick up to pre-COVID levels.

This is not going to happen. The “old normal” is not coming back. As we have been repeatedly saying for months, we are witnessing the end of the oil age. Even once great giants are now crumbling at their core.

Today, oil giant Shell, a titan of the industry, revealed a net loss of USD 18.3 billion for the second quarter of this year, down from a net profit of USD 3 billion over the same period last year. This means Shell business is down USD 20 billion from last year.

Meanwhile, another titan, French oil company Total, has announced a USD 8 billion write-down on the value of its assets, including USD 7 billion from dirty Canadian tar sands Canadian operations.

The company stated, “Total now considers oil reserves with high production costs that are to be produced more than 20 years in the future to be ‘stranded.’”
» Read article

» More about fossil fuels        

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

LNG carriers
Global LNG terminal survey casts doubt on industry as ‘safe bet’
The failure rate for proposed LNG export terminal projects between 2014 and 2020 is 61 per cent, study says
By Carl Meyer, National Observer – in Terrace Standard
July 7, 2020

A new report is raising questions about the long-term viability of the liquefied natural gas export industry around the world as the Trudeau government continues to signal support for one such project in B.C.

The natural gas industry is facing multiple headwinds, from a collapse in demand due to COVID-19 disruptions, to competition from renewable energy sources, and protests against fossil fuel expansion such as those in support of Wet’suwet’en against the Coastal GasLink pipeline through B.C.

A global survey of LNG terminals released Monday by the San Francisco-based Global Energy Monitor research network outlines the central risk facing the hundreds of billions of dollars in sunk investments in LNG infrastructure: That some of these structures could become underused, or stranded, long before the end of their useful lives.

“LNG was once considered a safe bet for investors,” said research analyst Greig Aitken, one of the report’s five authors. “Suddenly, the industry is beset with problems.”

[The] survey suggests that the reputation of LNG as an “environmentally benign” fuel that is less dirty than coal has been debunked by scientific studies highlighting the serious impact of methane on global warming.

Methane, a greenhouse gas that is the main component of natural gas, is 86 times as powerful as carbon dioxide in trapping heat in the atmosphere over a 20-year period. Scientific studies have connected a rise in global methane levels with the fracking boom, and say this rise in atmospheric methane is undercutting efforts to hold the global temperature rise to 2C above pre-industrial levels.
» Read article

» More about LNG   

BIOMASS

not sustainable
The Dutch have decided: Burning biomass is not sustainable
The Netherlands should phase out the use of biomass for generating electricity as soon as possible, the advisory board of the Dutch government said in a report presented earlier this month.
By Davine Janssen’ EURACTIV.com
July 21, 2020

Biomass is an “indispensable” resource for the circular economy, but burning it is wasteful.

That is the main message of the report issued on 8 July by the Socio-Economic Council (SER), an independent advisory board of the Dutch government consisting of entrepreneurs, employees and independent experts.

In the chemical industry, the building sector and agriculture, biological materials are crucial for the transition to a circular economy, the council writes. But sustainably produced biomass is too scarce to keep using it for the production of heat or electricity, for which other low-carbon and renewable alternatives exist, the report states.

Accordingly, the billions worth of subsidies that were intended for biomass combustion plants should be phased out as well, the advisors say, calling however for measures to preserve “investment security” when designing a phase-out plan.
» Read article            

» More about biomass      

PLASTICS RECYCLING

not recycling
This ‘solution’ to the plastic crisis is really just another way to burn fossil fuels
By Joseph Winters, Grist
August 3, 2020

Amid an escalating plastic pollution crisis that threatens “near permanent contamination of the natural environment,” the fossil fuel and plastics industries say they have a not-so-surprising solution: recycling.

To be more precise, they’re advocating for “chemical” or “advanced” recycling. The American Chemistry Council, an industry lobbying group whose members include ExxonMobil, Dow, and DuPont, has promoted state-level legislation to expand it nationwide. Policymakers have taken note, and bills easing regulations on chemical recycling facilities have already been passed in eight states and introduced in at least five more.

But environmental activists say the word “recycling” is misleading. Rather than repurposing used plastic into new plastic products, most processes that the industry calls “chemical recycling” involve turning plastic into oil and gas to be burned. In a new report criticizing the practice, the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, GAIA, didn’t pull any punches, calling chemical recycling an “industry shell game” that keeps single-use plastics in production, contributes to climate change, and produces toxic chemicals that disproportionately harm marginalized communities.
» Read article           
» Read the GAIA report
» Read the no-burn.org legislative alert (includes legislation introduced in MA)

» More about plastics recycling   

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