Tag Archives: Texas

Weekly News Check-In 3/18/22

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Welcome back.

When an energy company wants to build a new natural gas pipeline, planners typically start by ginning up demand for the fuel it will carry. A classic ploy is to get utilities to place orders for the right to buy the pipeline’s future capacity, a bit of fakery to imply that the infrastructure serves a “public necessity and convenience” that bears little relation to actual predicted energy demand. Once construction begins, the inevitable backlash is usually countered by claims that too much has already been invested and the project is so near completion that stopping it is both nonsensical and futile. The beleaguered Mountain Valley Pipeline is deep into this tactic now, with the help of West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Agency has long played along with that game, facilitating a recent massive build-out of pipeline infrastructure. But the agency has lately lost significant court battles over its permits, and it is finally moving to require consideration of the environmental impact of burning all the fuel a pipeline will carry. BEAT is grateful to Food & Water Watch for their invaluable help in bringing a key lawsuit against Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company, which is partly motivating FERC’s new focus on downstream emissions.

Progress is also coming from activist investors, who are pressuring major corporations to commit to responsible climate lobbying and threatening to take action during shareholder meetings if firms present a green image while working behind the scenes to support business-as-usual pollution. And healthcare workers are organizing to encourage large hospitals to divest from fossil fuels, even as oil-soaked Texas threatens its own (reverse) boycott of financial institutions that refuse to support fossils.

Meanwhile, science keeps finding new sources of greenhouse gas emissions. In the “win” column, the Environmental Protection Agency is phasing out globe-heating refrigerants and cracking down on illegal imports. On the other side, a recent study shows that methane emissions from coal mining are much greater than previously understood. That’s bad because methane is a much more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, and because we are currently looking at a global resurgence in coal production.

Our climate stories cover the increasingly alarming effects of the western megadrought, along with the encouraging news that a federal appeals court blocked a Trump-appointed judge’s order barring the Biden administration from considering the future costs of climate damage in its rulemaking and public projects. At the regional level, New England’s grid operator continues to take heat for policies that favor gas generator plants, while slow-walking modernization efforts.

There’s continuing progress in the effort to make the new green economy more diverse and inclusive, along with sustained pressure to transition faster. And check out some clever innovations in clean energy and energy efficiency. We also dug up some insight into why much of the rest of the world seems to get the most interesting new electric vehicles, while the US market is sometimes bypassed altogether.

We’ll close with a couple stories about mining – a huge issue in obtaining the necessary resources for our clean energy transition. We’re seeing calls to finally reform the General Mining Law of 1872, which President Ulyses S. Grant signed into law and still guides mining on public lands. We’re also keeping a wary eye on the push for deep-seabed mining, an endeavor raising increasing alarm among ocean scientists who deem it too dangerous to allow.

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

PIPELINES

MVP 55 prcnt
Manchin Lying about Mountain Valley Pipeline, Says Landowner

Residents in its path know the true story
By Paula Mann, The Appalachian Chronicle
March 12, 2022

GREENVILLE, W.Va. – Recently, U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin met with the Federal Energy Regulatory Committee (FERC) to discuss recent changes to regulations on pipeline construction, as the Bluefield Daily Telegraph reported. During the hearing and in the article, he spouted false claims that the fracked gas Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) is 95 percent complete, suggesting its completion is inevitable.

I live on the pipeline’s path and I can tell you with certainty that this is not true. Due to legal, financial, and political pressure, the project is only 55 percent complete, according to FERC.

Manchin says we must ramp up natural gas production for the sake of our country’s energy reliability and security. This is completely false. Only a rapid transition to clean energy will secure our energy independence. The climate crisis presents a massive threat to our country’s security – as the Department of Defense has asserted.

Manchin claims the completion of the MVP is for the good of our country. This is impossible because the MVP has negatively impacted rural communities like mine. People have lost vital water sources, both springs and wells, and their roads, fences and topsoil are being washed away from increased flooding along the pipeline route.

Some of the poorest and oldest residents in the state live along the route. That’s no coincidence. MVP targeted our rural communities because they thought we were easy targets. I can assure you, we are not. We have fought this pipeline tirelessly for seven years, and recent court decisions signal that we are winning.

Manchin stated that there were no pipelines to get the Marcellus Shale gas out of north central WV. This statement is also false. The WB Xpress and Mountaineer Xpress are two newly constructed pipelines to move gas out to the East and the West. The Mountain Valley Pipeline isn’t needed.
» Read article     

» More about pipelines

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

activist investors are watching
Investors launch global standard for corporate climate lobbying
By Simon Jessop, Reuters
March 14, 2022

Investors stepped up pressure on corporate climate lobbying on Monday, launching a new 14-point action plan for companies to stick to or risk having their actions put to a shareholder vote.

The Global Standard on Responsible Climate Lobbying urges companies to commit to responsible climate lobbying, disclose the support given to trade groups lobbying on their behalf and take action if it runs counter to the world’s climate goal.

That goal, to cap global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial norms by mid-century, is moving increasingly out of reach, scientists say, with urgent action needed in the short-term to have any hope of reaching it.

Developed by Swedish pension scheme AP7, BNP Paribas Asset Management and the Church of England Pensions Board, the standard is backed by investor groups leading on climate talks with companies whose members manage a collective $130 trillion.

“Time must be called on negative climate lobbying. Investors will no longer tolerate a glaring gap between a company’s words and their actions on climate,” said AP7, Sustainability Strategist Charlotta Dawidowski Sydstrand.

“As active owners we are committed to engaging collectively and individually with companies globally to highlight and improve their climate lobbying accountability and performance and to escalate this stewardship where required.”

In a statement, the investors said that lobbying that sought to delay, dilute or block climate action by governments ran counter to their interests and could result in resolutions being filed at the shareholder meetings of firms that failed to act.
» Read article     

» More about protests and actions

DIVESTMENT

MSK cancer center
Healthcare Workers Call on Hospitals and Medical Institutions to Divest From Fossil Fuels
The global fossil fuel divestment campaign continues to grow, but the healthcare sector has thus far refrained from large-scale divestment. A coalition of health professionals wants to change that.
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
March 14, 2022

A coalition of healthcare professionals and climate finance organizations are calling on hospitals to divest their pension and retirement funds from fossil fuels, citing the severe public health hazards from climate change.

“The research on the severe, ubiquitous and accelerating consequences to public health from climate change is unequivocal,” Dr. Ashley McClure, a primary care physician and co-Executive Director of the California-based nonprofit Climate Health Now, said in a statement. “Just as many leading health organizations have divested from tobacco companies given the unacceptable health harms of their products, our institutions must now invest in alignment with public health and collective safety by urgently divesting our resources from the coal, oil, and gas corporations fueling the climate crisis.”

Around the world, more than 1,500 institutions have announced divestments from fossil fuels with commitments that total more than $40 trillion, according to a database maintained by climate advocacy groups 350.org and Stand.earth. The pledges come from governments, philanthropies, universities, faith-based organizations, and pension funds.

But activists are pressing on a new front, demanding that hospitals and healthcare institutions sever their financial ties with fossil fuels. Named “First, Do No Harm,” the coalition of healthcare professionals and climate finance organizers is calling on medical institutions to exclude oil, gas, and coal from their pensions and retirement funds. They are also asking healthcare workers across the country to join in the effort and pressure their employers to take that step.

“Our sector has to act on this. This is a healthcare issue. Climate policy is health policy. We can no longer ignore the voluminous research that can directly connect serious healthcare threats to fossil fuel air pollution, for example,” Don Lieber, a certified surgical technician at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, told DeSmog.
» Read article     

Texas state boycott
Companies that divest from fossil fuel could face a state boycott in Texas
By Mose Buchelle, NPR
March 15, 2022

As threats from climate change grow, big financial firms are betting on the energy transition. But that’s provoked a conservative backlash, with Texas leading states aiming to boycott such funds.
» Listen to report (4 minutes)     

» More about divestment

FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION

downstream effects
FERC failed to adequately review a gas pipeline project’s effect on carbon emissions: appeals court
By Ethan Howland, Utility Dive
March 14, 2022

FERC in mid-February adopted a new framework for reviewing natural gas infrastructure proposals that includes expanded criteria for deciding whether the facilities are needed and how they could affect people and the environment.

The framework also includes an interim policy for reviewing a project’s potential GHG emissions.

The framework, especially the GHG review criteria, has come under sharp criticism from FERC commissioners James Danly and Mark Christie, some U.S. senators, and the natural gas industry.

In part, the new review criteria are in response to a string of court rulings that found flaws in FERC’s natural gas infrastructure reviews, Glick said on Thursday during the CERAWeek conference. Those cases include Sabal Trail, Birckhead, Vecinos and Spire Pipeline. Courts have recently found other federal agencies failed to adequately review projects such as the Mountain Valley Pipeline and Dakota Access oil pipeline.

“The courts send these projects back to the agencies and what that does is it takes years of additional litigation, years of additional review, and it adds hundreds of millions, sometimes billions of dollars of cost,” Glick said.

FERC is trying to provide a more legally durable approach through the new review framework, according to Glick.

[…] The latest court case — Food & Water Watch and Berkshire Environmental Action Team v. FERC — centered on FERC’s review of Tennessee Gas’ upgrade project in Agawam, Massachusetts. The project included a 2.1-mile stretch of pipeline and a compressor station.

Then-FERC Commissioner Glick partly dissented from the December 2019 decision approving the project, saying the agency didn’t adequately consider the project’s climate-related effects.

Citing the Sabal Trail and Birckhead decisions, the D.C. Circuit on Friday said FERC is required to consider a project’s indirect effects. The court remanded FERC’s decision to the agency and told it to perform a supplemental environmental assessment that must quantify and consider the project’s downstream carbon emissions or explain in detail why it cannot do so.
» Read article     

Route 75 Agawam
Federal regulators to reconsider controversial Springfield compressor station
By Dharna Noor, Boston Globe
March 11, 2022

Federal regulators will have to reconsider their approval of a controversial plan to expand natural gas infrastructure in the Springfield area, a federal court ruled on Friday.

The proposal, put forth by Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company, LLC — a subsidiary of the energy giant Kinder Morgan — aims to build 2.1 miles of new gas pipeline and replace two small compressors with a larger unit at its Agawam site.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission — an independent agency that grants permits to build interstate fuel pipelines and compressor stations — approved the plan in 2019 after conducting a necessary environmental review. But Friday’s decision, from the DC Circuit Court, calls that 2019 review into question.

The ruling came in response to a 2020 lawsuit filed by environmental groups Food and Water Watch and Berkshire Environmental Action Team, which alleged that the commission had ignored precedent requiring regulators to consider all potential greenhouse gas emissions of proposed pipelines.

In their lawsuit, the environmental groups argued that, though regulators assessed the emissions that will come directly from building and operating the new pipeline, they ignored the indirect “downstream” emissions that will come from burning the gas it would bring.

“FERC failed to review the emissions that would result due to more gas being pushed into a local distribution network for combustion by residential and commercial customers,” Adam Carlesco, staff attorney at Food and Water Watch.

Jane Winn, executive director of the Berkshire Environmental Action Team, said the ruling was a “big victory.” But she wished the court would have gone further.

The court’s ruling did not uphold another argument raised in the suit, that FERC should have also considered the greenhouse gas pollution that would come from producing and transporting gas to fill the new pipeline, saying the issue wasn’t adequately fleshed out.

The suit also argued that FERC’s 2019 assessment didn’t adequately consider how the project could worsen air quality in an area already plagued by pollution. But the court found that because none of its members live in close proximity to the proposal, Berkshire Environmental Action Team did not have legal standing to make those claims.

That’s particularly “disappointing,” said Winn, because just last month, FERC announced a new policy to consider projects’ effects on both the climate and environmental justice communities.

“The ruling falls in line with the first half of that policy … but not the second,” she said.
» Read article     

» More about FERC

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY

Ski Dubai
US Blocks Illegal Imports of Climate Damaging Refrigerants With New Rules

The EPA implemented new rules on the gases early this year, but the climate is already seeing its benefits.
By Phil McKenna, Inside Climate News
March 17, 2022

Just weeks after the Environmental Protection Agency began enforcing strict new limits on the production and use of hydrofluorocarbons, potent greenhouse gases commonly used in refrigeration and air conditioning equipment, the agency said it has blocked illegal imports of the harmful chemicals equal to the greenhouse gas emissions from burning 1.2 million barrels of oil.

Starting Jan. 1, U.S. chemical and equipment manufacturers were required to begin phasing down production and consumption of climate-damaging HFCs as mandated by the American Innovation and Manufacturing (AIM) Act, which was enacted in December 2020.

The rule will reduce domestic production and consumption of HFCs by 85 percent over the next 14 years and brings the U.S. into compliance with an international agreement known as the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol. The agreement is expected to prevent up to 0.5 Celsius of climate warming by 2100 through requiring manufacturers to use chemical refrigerants that are less damaging to the climate.

The HFC regulation places strict limits on the volume of HFCs that individual companies can produce or import. A key part of the rule is robust enforcement by an interagency task force that includes the EPA, Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and other agencies to ensure that U.S. companies do not violate the rule by exceeding their limits with additional, illegal imports.

Over the past 10 weeks, the agencies have prevented illegal HFC shipments equivalent to approximately 530,000 metric tons of CO2 emissions, the EPA said in a press release on Tuesday.

“Our task force is already sending the clear message to potential violators that we are fortifying our borders against illegal imports,” said Joe Goffman, principal deputy assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, in a written statement. “Strict enforcement of our HFC allowance program ensures that U.S. efforts to phase down these climate-damaging chemicals are successful.”
» Read article     

» More about EPA

GREENING THE ECONOMY

BEM interns
Massachusetts program seeks to diversify clean energy job opportunities
An internship program that initially attracted mostly “White males from private universities” has been retooled to open doors for people of color.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
March 16, 2022

A Massachusetts agency is expanding a pilot program to recruit students of color for internships with clean energy companies with the goal of laying the groundwork for more diversity and equity within the sector.

[…] Massachusetts has long been considered a leader in solar energy policies and adoption, and was ranked the top state for energy efficiency by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy for nine straight years. Now the state is poised to be the first to deploy large-scale offshore wind with the development of the Cape Wind project.

As these sectors continue to grow, state officials and environmental justice advocates have emphasized the importance of making sure people of color and low-income populations share in the economic gains the industries promise to deliver.

“Getting folks in on the ground level so they are able to rise as the industry grows is of the utmost importance,” said Susannah Hatch, clean energy coalition director for the Environmental League of Massachusetts. “There’s enormous opportunity.”

One of the ways the clean energy center is trying to tackle this problem is by adjusting its flagship clean energy internship program, which launched in 2011, to more actively recruit and engage students of color.

The central program works by matching potential interns with employers through an online database. Interested students submit their information and resumes to the system, then Massachusetts clean energy and water innovation companies can search for and hire interns from this pool. Businesses that hire interns through the program are reimbursed $16 per hour for the students’ work. Many employers pay interns more than the subsidy rate, and they are not allowed to pay less than $15 per hour. Each company can hire two interns through the program; if they want a third, they must choose an applicant who attends a community college.

In its first 10 years, the initiative matched 4,400 students with internships; 880 of these students ended up with part-time or full-time jobs at their host companies. From the beginning, however, the program seemed to attract a narrow demographic, Jacques said.

“When the program first started, it was heavily White males from private universities,” she said.

[…] Then, in 2021, the clean energy center added a new section, known as the Targeted Internship Program, dedicated to recruiting and mentoring interns of color and students from other underrepresented backgrounds. This initiative placed 38 students with employers around the state. The agency hopes last year’s performance was just a start.

“We’re trying again to really grow those numbers,” Jaques said. “We’re trying to make it more innovative and making sure we really are tapping underrepresented communities all across Massachusetts.”
» Read article     

broader break
US Bans Russian Oil But Activists Want Broader Break With Fossil Fuels

Phasing out the consumption of fossil fuels is seen as critical in both the fight against the climate crisis and the violence of petrostates.
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
March 9, 2022

President Biden signed an executive order banning the import of Russian oil and gas on March 8, but activists around the world are calling for a more comprehensive break with fossil fuels, warning against replacing Russian fuels with a new drilling frenzy elsewhere.

[…] “Up until now, Russia has been taking in $500 million a day in oil and gas sales. That’s hundreds of billions every year that Putin can put toward suppressing his people, undermining western democracies, and building his war machine,” Lieutenant General Russel L. Honoré, former commanding general of the U.S. First Army, told reporters during a media briefing. “Putin is weaponizing gas, and calls to increase exports play right into his hands.”

Led by Ukrainian activists, a coalition of more than 465 organizations across 50 countries signed a letter calling on the world to not only reject Russian oil and gas, but to rapidly phase out all fossil fuels.

“Continuing any relationship with Russia means supporting war in Ukraine, killing children, women, and men on the streets of peaceful cities,” Yevheniia Zasiadko, head of climate department at the Center for Environmental Initiatives Ecoaction, said in a statement accompanying the letter. “This is the breaking point, where Europe must completely abandon fossil fuel from Russia, stop all business and support of fossil projects.”

On the same day Biden announced the Russian fossil fuel ban, the European Commission proposed a strategy to slash Europe’s use of Russian gas by two-thirds within a year. The plan calls for more liquefied natural gas (LNG) imports and more gas storage, but also a rapid expansion of renewable energy and energy efficiency.

Europe is seeking to speed up its break with fossil fuels, while using more in the short run, but such a path in the U.S. is much more contested.

Coming off a rough few years with the pandemic, the oil industry now appears poised to capitalize off of the war and the chaos in energy markets. As industry executives gathered in Houston this week for the annual CERAWeek oil industry conference, many were “feeling very good about themselves,” as the New York Times put it. With oil prices soaring, quarterly profits are destined to balloon.
» Read article    
» Read the “Stand with Ukraine” letter

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

Lake Powell 2021
Second-Largest U.S. Reservoir Falls to Historic Lows
By Olivia Rosane, EcoWatch
March 17, 2022

The second-largest reservoir in the U.S. dropped to a historic low on Tuesday as a climate-fueled megadrought continues in the nation’s West.

Lake Powell, which sits on the border of Utah and Arizona, fell below 3,525 feet for the first time since the reservoir was filled more than 50 years ago to create the Glen Canyon Dam, AP News reported. There are now concerns about the dam’s ability to continue generating energy in the near future as the water levels drop faster than anticipated.

“We clearly weren’t sufficiently prepared for the need to move this quickly,” John Fleck, who directs the University of New Mexico’s Water Resources Program, told AP News.

The Western U.S. is in the midst of its worst megadrought in 1,200 years, and the climate crisis has made the drought 42 percent more extreme than it would have been otherwise. So far, most of the concerns surrounding the drought have revolved around the supply of water to California, Nevada and Arizona, AP News explained. However, the situation at Lake Powell reveals that hydroelectric power is now also at risk.

The Glen Canyon Dam provides power to around 5 million customers in Arizona, Colorado, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. Currently, water levels at Lake Powell are 35 feet above the point at which turbines would stop moving, otherwise known as “minimum power pool.”

The 3,525-foot level is considered a “target elevation” for drought contingency plans, according to CNN. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation predicted in early March that the water would fall to that level sometime between March 10 and 16. That the target has ultimately been breached is cause for alarm, experts said.
» Read article     

ExxonMobil refinery
‘Common-Sense Decision’: Court Allows Biden to Weigh Social Cost of Carbon
The decision to block a Trump-appointed judge’s order “puts the government back on track to address and assess climate change,” said one climate advocate.
By Jake Johnson, Common Dreams
March 17, 2022

Environmentalists applauded late Wednesday after a federal appeals court blocked a Trump-appointed judge’s order barring the Biden administration from considering the future costs of climate damage in its rulemaking and public projects.

In March 2021, a coalition of 10 Republican attorneys general sued the Biden administration over a White House directive instructing federal agencies to factor the “social cost of greenhouse gases” into their policymaking decisions, from new pollution regulations to drilling on public lands.

Last month, a federal judge in Louisiana sided with the Republicans, issuing a sweeping injunction prohibiting the Biden administration from factoring the cost of carbon—which it pegged at $51 per ton—into its policy moves. The Trump administration, by contrast, contended that each ton of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere in 2020 would only cause roughly $1 to $7 in economic damages.

The Wednesday ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit stayed the Louisiana judge’s injunction, allowing the Biden administration to continue using the $51-per-ton metric—a figure based on Obama-era assessments that some researchers and climate advocates say don’t account for the full scope of emissions damage.

One recent analysis estimated that the actual social cost of carbon dioxide—from negative health impacts to destroyed homes—is at least 15 times the number adopted by the Biden administration.
» Read article     

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

thing in photo
Australian electrolyser breakthrough promises world’s cheapest green hydrogen
By Sophie Vorrath, Renew Economy
March 16, 2022

An Australian start-up spun out of the University of Wollongong has claimed a major new breakthrough that promises to enable renewable hydrogen production of around $A2.00 per kilogram by the mid-2020s – out-competing fossil fuel-derived hydrogen.

Hysata, launched just last year out of UOW’s Australian Institute for Innovative Materials (AIIM), said on Wednesday that the breakthrough had put the company on a clear path to commercialise the world’s most efficient electrolyser, and to reach giga-scale green hydrogen production by 2025.

As RenewEconomy has previously reported, Hysata was formed to commercialise the promising electrolyser technology developed by a heavy-hitting team at the UOW’s ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science, led by Professor Gerry Swiegers.

[…] In a report published this week in Nature Communications, the team behind Hysata’s “capillary-fed electrolysis” (CFE) cell technology, said they had used it successfully to produce green hydrogen from water at 98% cell energy efficiency – a level well above the International Renewable Energy Agency’s 2050 target.

As the researchers explain, the evolution of electrolysers has been about reducing resistance to increase efficiency. To this end, the team’s CFE cell completely eliminates bubbles – one of the biggest remaining drags on efficiency – making it the highest performing cell globally.

[…] “Our electrolyser will deliver the world’s lowest hydrogen cost, save hydrogen producers billions of dollars in electricity costs, and enable green hydrogen to outcompete fossil fuel-derived hydrogen.

“Our technology will enable hydrogen production of below US$1.50/kg per kilogram by the mid-2020s, meeting Australian and global cost targets much earlier than generally expected. This is critical to making green hydrogen commercially viable and decarbonising hard-to-abate sectors,” [Hysata CEO Paul Barrett] said.
» Read article     

partial rainbow
Could clean energy replace Russian oil?
Fossil fuel interests are calling for more domestic drilling to supplant Russia’s fossil fuels. But climate advocates say there’s a better alternative: Speeding the renewable energy transition.
By Dharna Noor, Boston Globe
March 14, 2022

Minutes after President Biden announced last week that the US will ban imports of Russian oil, the American Petroleum Institute, the nation’s largest oil and gas lobbying organization, issued a statement calling for more domestic drilling and increased gas exports to Europe.

It’s a rallying cry the fossil fuel trade group has been sounding since the day Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine. So have an array of politicians and pundits.

But climate advocates say there’s a better alternative: Speeding the renewable energy transition.

“This is the time to get ourselves unhooked from our volatile fossil-fueled economy,” said Collin Rees, a program manager at climate research and advocacy group Oil Change International.

It’s clear the world needs to rapidly phase out polluting energy. A landmark UN climate report concluded that any delay in global cooperation to cut greenhouse gas emissions “will miss a brief and rapidly closing window to secure a liveable future.”

Increasing drilling, said author and activist Bill McKibben, would move us in the wrong direction: “It only gets us deeper into dependence on fossil fuel.”

Russian fuel comprises just a small portion of the US’s energy mix — only roughly 3 percent of crude imports came from the country last year. Bringing new dirty energy sources online to supplant that, said Rees, makes little sense.

“Instead, we can massively ramp up energy efficiency efforts and massively ramp up renewable energy sources like wind, solar,” he said.

For Europe, which obtains a much larger portion of its fuel from Russia, weaning off Russian energy imports will be harder. But it’s a challenge the EU may soon have to face: Russia is threatening to cut off European gas supplies, and the EU is also weighing cutting imports from Russia by two-thirds this year.
» Read article     

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

Fortum
Microsoft data centres to heat Finnish homes, cutting emissions
By Reuters
March 17, 2022

Finnish utility Fortum (FORTUM.HE) said on Thursday it will use waste heat from two new Microsoft (MSFT.O) data centres to warm homes and businesses in and around the capital Helsinki, while also cutting carbon emissions.

Microsoft simultaneously announced plans for the construction of the data centres, which will be powered by renewable energy, with their location chosen to allow for recycling of heat created from the cooling of computer servers.

District heating is widely used in Finland, pumping hot water through pre-insulated underground pipes, and has traditionally relied on fossil fuel sources.

Fortum operates a system of underground pipes stretching 900 kilometres and serving 250,000 users in the Helsinki metropolitan area. Once completed, the data centres will account for 40% of the system’s heat supplies, the two firms said.

Fortum said its investment for the heat capture side from the data centres was estimated at 200 million euros ($221 million), with expectations this would cut some 400,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions annually.
» Read article     

» More about energy efficiency

MODERNIZING THE GRID

capacity market tilts toward gas
ISO-NE’s market rules biased toward gas plants, renewable energy groups say in FERC complaint
By Ethan Howland, Utility Dive
March 16, 2022

ISO-NE has long warned New England has limited natural gas pipeline capacity, which the grid operator in December said could lead to blackouts under extreme winter conditions.

However, when qualifying resources for its capacity auctions, ISO-NE assumes gas-fired resources will always have fuel supplies and be able to operate, according to the complaint from ACPA and RENEW.

In contrast, the grid operator assesses how much capacity other resource types can reliably deliver, leading renewable resources to have accredited capacity well below their nameplate capacity, Francis Pullaro, RENEW executive director, said Wednesday.

If FERC approves the complaint, pipeline-dependent generators would get a “haircut” on how much capacity they could qualify for in ISO-NE’s capacity auctions, Pullaro said.

[…] The need for reliable operating reserves is especially acute as New England adds more intermittent resources to its power system, according to the complaint.

ISO-NE is starting a stakeholder process to consider changes to its capacity accreditation process by using an “effective load carrying capability” methodology, which could address some of the concerns raised in the complaint, the trade groups said.
» Read article     

smart meter NC
How a smarter grid can prevent blackouts
By Peter Behr, E&E News
March 16, 2022

As the grid strains under the weight of climate change and new sources of demand, one important way to prevent blackouts comes from an unlikely location: your house.

Customers who allow utilities to control heat pumps, water heaters and electric vehicle charging stations would give operators a potent new tool for managing grid systems in extreme weather emergencies, like the Western wildfires, Gulf Coast hurricanes and Texas’ 2021 power crisis, researchers say.

The issue was highlighted in a January report from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory that said customers’ major energy resources, if synchronized with utilities’ control centers, can be “shock absorbers” helping balance power supply and demand in grid emergencies such as California’s 2020 rolling blackouts.

In the past, California customers have responded voluntarily to officials’ pleas for electricity conservation. That won’t be good enough in the future, the new analysis said. And the need for strategic power use will only grow as the amount of customer-owned solar panels, storage batteries and EV charging rises, it added.

“We’ll quickly get to a point where the number of devices and the variability of generation and load will drive a need for better coordination,” said Hayden Reeve, an author of the report and senior technical adviser at PNNL.

Such interactive customer-grid connections require fundamental changes in utility electricity rate policies, according to the lab’s analysis.

Instead of static customer rates that remain the same regardless of changing demand and wholesale power prices, U.S. utilities need “dynamic” rates that vary with demand, rewarding customers with lower costs when they shift energy use to overnight hours, for example, when power is typically cheapest and often cleanest, the researchers said.

But dynamic rates have faced persistent resistance from utilities, regulators and customers in most of the U.S. over more than a decade, government and private think tank studies have found.

[…] The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in its annual review of advanced meter deployment blamed regulators for the slow growth of dynamic rates.
» Read article    
» Read the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory report
» Read the FERC review on advanced metering deployment

» More about modernizing the grid

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

not for US
Here’s a Cool New EV, but You Can’t Have It
The new Volkswagen microbus is the latest electric vehicle set to debut in Europe, but U.S. consumers must wait. Why is that?
By Dan Gearino, Inside Climate News
March 17, 2022

Volkswagen has given the world a first look at the new ID. Buzz, an all-electric van that takes design cues from the classic Volkswagen microbus.

Buyers in Europe can get the new model later this year. But customers in the United States will need to wait until 2024 for a larger version tailored to the U.S. market.

EV buyers in the United States are now used to this, as automakers have introduced some of their most anticipated new models in international markets. Some models take years to arrive in the United States or don’t arrive at all.

I reached out to Brian Moody, executive editor for Autotrader, to try to understand why American buyers need to wait for certain EVs, and what that says about the U.S. car market.

“It could be as simple as wanting to debut [a new model] on your home turf first,” Moody said, about Volkswagen’s plans. The van will initially be assembled in Hannover, Germany.

Among the other possible reasons, U.S. vehicle safety laws are some of the most stringent in the world, Moody said.

Also, EVs are a smaller share of the passenger car market in North America, with 4 percent of new vehicle sales in 2021, than they are in Europe, at 17 percent, and China, at 13 percent, according to EV-Volumes.com (figures include all-electric and hybrid vehicles). The recent surge in gasoline prices should help to boost interest in EVs in all of those places.

Policies play a role. The European Union and China have more policy support for electric vehicles than the United States does, which affects companies’ strategies in each place. The Biden administration’s Build Back Better legislation includes an extension and expansion of incentives for buying EVs, but the proposal has been unable to get the votes it needs to pass the Senate.
» Read article     

Barrett and Roy on TUE
Senate seeks fixed date for bus electrification

Poftak said more money needed to transition more quickly
By Chris Lisinski, Statehouse News Service, in CommonWealth Magazine
March 14, 2022

WARNING THAT the pace of electrification underway for the MBTA’s bus fleet is “too slow for the Legislature,” a top senator is newly forecasting that his chamber plans to make the transportation sector a focus in upcoming climate legislation.

Sen. Michael Barrett, who co-chairs the Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy Committee, told leaders of the Baker administration’s transportation secretariat on Friday that he expects a forthcoming Senate bill will make another pass at requiring the T to transition its bus network to full electrification by a specific date.

MBTA officials are preparing for an all-electric-bus future and rolling more zero-emission vehicles into the fleet, but General Manager Steve Poftak told lawmakers the need for new charging stations and updated maintenance facilities poses a challenge, more so than the actual purchase of non-fossil fuel vehicles.

The T should have a full suite of garages up and ready to handle an electric fleet in roughly the next 15 to 18 years, Poftak said.

“We’d like to do them faster. In order to do them faster, we’re going to need additional money,” he said at a Joint Ways and Means Committee hearing about Gov. Charlie Baker’s $48.5 billion fiscal 2023 state budget. “It’s approximately a $4.5 billion investment in electrified facilities.”

“I don’t think the Legislature is going to wait 15 to 18 years to green the T fleet because we can’t get to our emissions goals, we can’t get 50 percent below 1990 levels in total statewide emissions, if we operate on those kinds of timeframes. It just doesn’t compute,” Barrett replied. “I can appreciate the complexity here, but that is not going to work.”
» Read article     

carbon up
High gas prices have a lot more people searching for electric vehicles
But not everyone can afford to buy a new (or used) EV.
By Chad Small, Grist
March 15, 2022

There’s a war going on in Europe. Gas prices are sky-high. What’s an American to do? Well, search for electric vehicles, apparently.

According to Cars.com, online searches for new and used electric vehicles more than doubled in the roughly two-week period following the Russian invasion of Ukraine. That’s around the same time President Biden announced the U.S. would ban oil and gas imports from Russia, which produces a significant chunk of the world’s fossil fuels. As a result, gas prices across the U.S. have risen sharply, reaching an average of more than $4.30 a gallon, as of last week.

“When gas prices spike, searches immediately go toward more efficient vehicles,” Joe Wiesenfelder, executive editor at Cars.com, told E&E news. ​​

Because they do not run on gasoline like a traditional combustion engine, electric vehicles, or EVs, spare their owners much of the stress associated with skyrocketing oil prices. The cost of charging an EV depends on a few factors, such as the model in question and the location you use to charge your vehicle. According to the Energy Department, a “tank” of electricity for a mid-size EV charged at home comes out to about $16. And, naturally, the benefits of EVs go beyond individual savings: Because electricity can be produced from renewable sources, EVs are appealing to drivers looking to mitigate their carbon footprints.
» Read article     

» More about clean transportation

SITING IMPACTS OF RENEWABLE ENERGY RESOURCES

Lavendar Pit
As the US Rushes After the Minerals for the Energy Transition, a 150-Year-Old Law Allows Mining Companies Free Reign on Public Lands
The Mining Law of 1872 lets miners pay no royalties for the precious minerals they dig from federal land and requires no restraints on their activities.
By Jim Robbins, Inside Climate News
March 13, 2022

[…] In May of 1872, a couple of months after he signed the bill that created Yellowstone National Park, President Ulysses S. Grant signed the General Mining Law of 1872: An Act to Promote the Development of the Mining Resources of the United States. It gave carte blanche to anyone seeking minerals on federal lands, as a way to finish populating the West.

On hundreds of millions of acres owned by U.S. taxpayers, the law transfers gold, silver, copper, uranium, lithium and other metals, in vast amounts, from public ownership to anyone who locates them, pounds four stakes in the ground around their location and files a claim. Foreign firms can stake claims by forming a U.S. subsidiary. Unlike publicly owned oil and gas resources, miners pay no royalties on the metals and minerals they dig from public lands.

Since the law’s passage, the population of the American West has increased almost exponentially and today the lands it applies to are seen as part of the solution to a different challenge—weaning the nation’s economy off of the fossil fuels that drive climate change.

Production of lithium and other minerals critical to electrifying the world’s economy will need to increase by 500 percent to reach clean energy goals by 2050, according to the World Bank. The price of lithium has recently soared to more than $35,000 a ton.

With the Biden administration prioritizing a domestic supply chain of minerals for the energy transition, and federal law giving them away royalty free to mining companies, the U.S. is poised for an unprecedented expansion of digging, which could leave environmental damage at such a large scale it cannot effectively be remediated.

That’s led to a growing clamor for reform of the 1872 law as this new gold rush continues to boom.
» Read article     

» More about siting impacts    

DEEP-SEABED MINING

death license
Deep-sea mining could begin next year. Here’s why ocean experts are calling for a moratorium.
The risks vastly outweigh the potential benefits, they argue.
By Joseph Winters, Grist
March 7, 2022

[…] Deep-sea mining in international waters is currently illegal, and environmental organizations, scientists, and many governments want to keep it that way. They argue that the practice could irreversibly harm one of the planet’s remotest ecosystems, one of the few places on Earth that has largely escaped human disruption.

Now, their calls have become increasingly urgent, as international regulators are expected to begin issuing deep-sea mining permits by the summer of 2023. Activists are trying to enlist everyone from tech companies to United Nations delegates in an all-hands-on-deck push to stop mining companies from exploiting the seabed.

[…] The case for deep-sea mining is simple: As the world transitions away from fossil fuels, increased demand for technologies like electric vehicle batteries and solar panels will require massive quantities of cobalt, manganese, nickel, and other clean-energy metals. Land-based metal reserves are few and far between, and they’re often located near communities that are harmed by mining activities. But there are billions of dollars’ worth of these metals at the bottom of the ocean — far from civilization — and no one is yet taking advantage of them.

Some also argue that, by powering clean-energy technologies and thereby accelerating a shift away from fossil fuels, deep-sea mining will protect the oceans from unabated climate change. Rising CO2 emissions have already caused devastating ocean acidification, deoxygenation, and the decline of marine species populations around the world. Gerard Barron, CEO of the Metals Company, a Canadian firm that is already preparing vessels to begin mining the ocean deep, has argued that deep-sea mineral deposits are “the easiest way to solve climate change.”

However, ocean experts vehemently disagree. The deep sea is one of the planet’s most obscure places, home to tens or even hundreds of thousands of plant and animal species that are still unknown to humans. Scientists argue it would be reckless to disrupt this environment. According to research from the Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology, more than half of marine species in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone — a mineral-rich fracture zone that extends 4,500 miles along the floor of the Pacific Ocean — are dependent on the deep-sea mineral deposits that mining companies have set their sights on. Removing these potato-shaped deposits, which are known as polymetallic nodules, “would trigger a cascade of negative effects on the ecosystem,” the researchers concluded. And recovery would be nearly impossible, given the fact that these nodules take millions of years to develop.

There are other worries, too. Deep-sea mining would kick up debris from the ocean floor, and scientists worry that clouds of sediment could clog marine species’ filtration systems and make it harder for them to see through the water. Sonic disruptions caused by mining could also reverberate far and wide, negatively impacting whales and other species that rely on sound waves to hunt for prey. Meanwhile, fishing industry representatives have highlighted the practice’s risks to commercial fish stocks.

“The threat to biodiversity is really quite concerning,” said Jeffrey Drazen, a professor of oceanography at the University of Hawaii, Manoa. Drazen also warned that seabed mining could potentially exacerbate climate change by disrupting carbon sequestration dynamics in the deep ocean.
» Read article     

» More about deep-seabed mining   

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Merthyr Tydfil mine
Coal Mining Emits More Super-Polluting Methane Than Venting and Flaring From Gas and Oil Wells, a New Study Finds
So much methane is released from coal mining, the Global Energy Monitor says, that it exceeds the carbon dioxide emissions from burning coal at over 1,100 coal-fired power plants in China.
By Phil McKenna, Inside Climate News
March 15, 2022

Methane emissions from coal mines worldwide exceed those from the global oil or gas sectors and are significantly higher than prior estimates by the Environmental Protection Agency and the International Energy Agency, a new Global Energy Monitor report concludes.

“The numbers just aren’t adding up,” Ryan Driskell Tate, the report’s author, said of coal mine methane emission estimates when compared to those in prior reports. “It’s an area that has dodged a lot of scrutiny.”

Coal mining emits 52 million metric tons of methane per year, more than is emitted from either the oil sector, which emits 39 million tons, or the gas industry, which emits 45 million tons, according to the report, published Tuesday.

Methane, the primary component of natural gas, is a potent greenhouse gas and the second leading driver of climate change after carbon dioxide. On a unit-per-unit basis, methane is more than 80 times as powerful at warming the planet as carbon dioxide over its first 20 years in the atmosphere. The gas slowly accumulates in coal seams as organic matter is converted to coal, a process that can take millions of years.

Methane emissions from coal mining worldwide are comparable to the vast carbon dioxide emissions from burning coal at over 1,100 coal-fired power plants in China over the near term, the report concludes. China, the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter, derived more than 60 percent percent of its power in 2020 from burning coal, compared to about 19 percent in the United States.

“We all know that the oil and gas industry emits a lot of methane and that coal plants in China are a major source of CO2 emissions,” said Driskell Tate, the energy monitor’s project manager for its Global Coal Mine Tracker. “The most surprising thing about this report is just realizing that coal mining has a comparable climate impact.”
» Read article    
» Read the Global Energy Monitor report

» More about fossil fuels

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Weekly News Check-In 2/18/22

banner 09

Welcome back.

Lots happening in Massachusetts! We’ve been following an intriguing energy efficiency proposal for over a year – ever since a $10M Eversource pilot project was approved to link a hundred Framingham homes through a shared ground source heat pump system for super-efficient all-electric heating and cooling. Now, with National Grid putting $16M into its own project, the Boston Globe has run a profile of the two women behind this great idea.

Our state pension fund is in step with the fossil fuel divestment movement but taking a slightly different approach – by staying vested and using shareholder activism to change polluters from the inside. The goal is to steer them toward policies in line with the Paris Climate Agreement’s warming target of 1.5C. In oil-soaked Texas, it’s quite a different story: that state’s pension fund is threatening to drop investments in funds that dare to rank climate concerns above those of the fossil fuel industry. Yahoo, pardner….

In its final year, the Baker administration is maintaining opposition to gas hookup bans, even for new homes. This withholds, for now, an effective building sector climate mitigation tool. Meanwhile, the gas industry and its allies are busy churning out misinformation, falsely characterizing building electrification as risky and expensive.

Focusing on the grid, MA Attorney General Maura Healey is adding her voice along with other clean electricity advocates, asking federal regulators to intervene against a recent controversial decision by New England’s grid operator considered detrimental to renewable energy.

Checking in on climate, scientists have confirmed that the southwest is experiencing its worst drought in at least twelve centuries. On top of that, the atmospheric concentration of the powerful greenhouse gas methane is rising at an alarming rate – another warning that we really don’t have any more time to waste. The Biden administration is beginning to open the funding spigot, releasing significant funds from the recent infrastructure bill and applying it toward decarbonizing the economy – especially the thermally intensive heavy industries. Sectors benefiting from these investments include those producing building materials like steel, cement, and even asphalt.

We’re keeping a wary eye on those industrial decarbonization efforts, however, because along with the good stuff, fossil interests managed to include some strikingly shaky business-as-usual distractions. That includes the potential for over-reliance on green hydrogen where electrification could substitute, and most carbon capture and storage projects. While we’re on the subject of false solutions, we’re sharing an article that takes some of the shine off corn-based ethanol as a clean transportation solution.

Readers following international events are aware of the critical role liquefied natural gas is playing as Europe’s backup energy source this winter while an uncomfortably large portion of its pipeline-supplied gas is hostage to Russia’s threats against Ukraine. We found an article that considers LNG’s future prospects.

Landing back home where we started, we’re following an intriguing tip that Pittsfield’s stinky Community Eco Power waste incinerator might have an interested buyer considering near-term decommissioning. More on that later.

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

DIVESTMENT

up there
The Massachusetts pension fund is joining the climate fight
By Sabrina Shankman, Boston Globe
February 17, 2022

The board that oversees the state’s $104.1 billion pension fund voted on Thursday to start using its shareholder power to pressure companies to act on climate change.

The Massachusetts Pension Reserves Investment Management Board, which is chaired by state Treasurer Deborah Goldberg, voted unanimously in support of the new guidelines, which essentially transform the pension fund’s managers into shareholder-activists. It asks them to vote against any directors of companies the fund is invested in if they don’t make a plan for keeping warming to 1.5 degrees celsius, or hitting net-zero emissions by 2050.

The pension fund’s vote is an alternative to fossil fuel divestment, a step that a number of local and institutional funds have taken in recent years, and which the state of Maine moved to do this summer. Instead of pulling money out of any companies involved with the fossil fuel industry, the Massachusetts pension fund will try to transform the business practices of the companies it invests in from the inside, pressuring them to cut emissions and align with the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement.

If a company the fund is invested in fails to deliver a plan aligned with the goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, or it fails to make a plan for achieving net-zero emissions by 2050, the new directive would ask the fund’s directors to vote against the company’s board members. The message: Align yourself with ambitious climate goals, or risk losing your spot on your company’s board.

There is some recent precedent for this kind of action. In May of last year, a small, activist hedge fund managed to unseat at least two Exxon Mobil Corp. board members in an attempt to force the company to align its business with fighting climate change.

In advance of the vote, the union SEIU Local 509 —which represents 20,000 health and human service workers and educators, including 8,000 state workers — wrote in support of the move.

“The extreme heat, dangerous storms, wildfires, floods, droughts and the rest affect all of us, but those with fewer resources and less power are impacted more, and it’s getting worse,” wrote union chair Kathleen Flanagan and president Peter MacKinnon. “We do not want our retirement funds used to further this destruction.”
» Read article         

caved
Facing Texas pushback, BlackRock says it backs fossil fuels
By Ross Kerber, Reuters
February 17, 2022

BOSTON, Feb 17 (Reuters) – At the risk of being dropped from Texas pension funds, BlackRock Inc (BLK.N) has ramped up its message that the world’s largest asset manager is a friend of the oil and gas industries.

As a large and long-term investor in fossil fuel companies, “we want to see these companies succeed and prosper,” BlackRock executives wrote in a letter that a spokesman confirmed was sent at the start of the year to officials, trade groups and others in energy-rich Texas.

“We will continue to invest in and support fossil fuel companies, including Texas fossil fuel companies,” states the memo, signed by Dalia Blass, BlackRock’s head of external affairs, and copied to Mark McCombe, BlackRock’s chief client officer.

Although the message is consistent with its other statements, the emphasis is new after years in which BlackRock has stressed its efforts to take climate change and other environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues into account in its investment and proxy voting decisions.

In Texas, new legislation requires the state’s comptroller, Glenn Hegar, to draw up a list of financial companies that boycott fossil fuels. Those firms could then be barred from state pension funds like the $197 billion Teacher Retirement System of Texas, which has about $2.5 billion with BlackRock.
» Blog editor’s note: Texas is threatening to exclude financial firms that take a pro-climate/anti-fossil position in their portfolios. BlackRock caved. Apparently “divestment” can work both ways.
» Read article         

» More about divestment

GAS BANS

overheadNatural gas infrastructure a climate change sticking point
Baker administration opposes ban on fossil fuel use in new construction
By Bruce Mohl, CommonWealth Magazine
February 15, 2022

AS MASSACHUSETTS SEEKS to transition away from fossil fuels and achieve net zero emissions by 2050, what to do with the state’s existing natural gas infrastructure is becoming a major point of contention.

At a hearing Tuesday of the Senate Committee on Global Warming and Climate Change, several senators pressed Energy and Environment Secretary Kathleen Theoharides on why the Baker administration’s recent building code proposal doesn’t allow communities to experiment with banning fossil fuel infrastructure for heating and cooking in new construction.

Theoharides said the proposal would update two existing building codes and create a new third one. None of the codes would ban fossil fuel infrastructure in new buildings but they would be structured in a way to make it cost effective for builders to embrace electrification.

“What we’ve done through the code is make the case for electrification really strong based on the cost,” she said.

The existing building codes — a base code and a stretch code — would be updated to put downward pressure on greenhouse gas emissions in new buildings. The new opt-in net zero specialized stretch code would require new homes or commercial buildings using gas to achieve greater energy efficiency and also mount solar on the roof and pre-wire the building for electrification.

Theoharides said the administration’s proposal seeks to strike a balance between energy efficiency and cost. She said she opposes an outright ban on fossil fuel infrastructure in new construction even in individual communities that want to do so because such bans could hinder housing construction and because they could leave a smaller pool of customers carrying the financial load for the remaining natural gas system.

“We need to make a transition [away from natural gas], but it needs to be an orderly transition,” she said. “We think we have to do this with a high level of care when we’re transitioning away from a system that still exists all across the state.”

Sen. Cynthia Creem of Newton disagreed. “I think it’s shortsighted,” she said. “You may save money now but in the long run it’s not going to help.”

Sen. Michael Barrett of Lexington said Theoharides was stifling innovation by not allowing communities to experiment with doing away with fossil fuel infrastructure.
» Read article         

gas stove flame
Gas-Backed Front Group Spreads Misinformation About Costs of Electrification
In Colorado, a new industry-backed front group warns that “forced electrification” will increase costs to consumers. The evidence suggests otherwise.
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
February 10, 2022

A group of natural gas companies and utilities in Colorado formed a front group to oppose the state’s push towards electrifying homes and businesses, spreading misinformation about the cost of electric heating while also promoting false solutions to lock in the ongoing use of natural gas.

The group, “Coloradans for Energy Access,” is made up of a coalition of gas companies, real estate interests, utilities, and other energy trade associations, including Atmos Energy, American Public Gas Association, and the Consumer Energy Alliance.

Announcing its formation in an op-ed in the Colorado Sun, Coloradans for Energy Access decried what it calls “forced electrification,” a reference to a growing movement in Colorado and around the country to discourage or prohibit natural gas connections in newly constructed homes and commercial buildings in an effort to slash greenhouse gas emissions.

More than 50 cities, mostly in California, have moved to ban natural gas in new homes and buildings, serving multiple goals at once. Gas stoves emit pollutants like nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and carbon monoxide that can contribute to respiratory illnesses. In addition, a January study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology found that stoves leak gas even when they are turned off, an indication that gas appliances are worse for the climate and human health than previously thought.

In making its pitch for natural gas, Coloradans for Energy Access asserted that “renewable natural gas” is one of the ways that “natural gas supports the energy transition to a lower carbon economy.”

But as DeSmog has previously reported, what the industry calls “renewable natural gas” — methane gas captured from landfills and industrial agriculture and repurposed for consumers to use — can’t fairly be considered a solution. The energy source faces technical, economic, and environmental challenges that prevent it from being a large-scale solution. Despite that, gas utilities around the country are promoting it, a move that critics say is simply a strategy to justify the expansion of gas infrastructure while doing little to address greenhouse gas emissions.

Contrary to the gas industry’s claims, Americans who use heat pumps are likely to spend less on heating compared to those with gas furnaces, according to a recent analysis from RMI, a Colorado-based think tank. And new improvements in heat pump technology mean they can work well even in cold climates.

“In Denver, we found that new single-family homes built with all-electric appliances — including high-efficiency electric heat pumps — have lower annual utility bills than new mixed-fuel single-family homes,” Talor Gruenwald, an associate at RMI, told DeSmog in an email. “So, the claim that ‘natural gas is cheap and electric heat pumps are expensive’ is indeed very misleading.”
» Read article        
» Read the RMI analysis

» More about gas bans

GREENING THE ECONOMY

hot programBiden administration launches industrial decarbonization initiative, targets $9.5B for clean hydrogen
By Ethan Howland, Utility Dive
February 16, 2022

With a goal of having net zero GHG emissions by the middle of the century, the Biden administration is targeting the industrial sector, which produced 23.8% of all carbon emissions in 2020, according to a draft emissions inventory released Tuesday by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The transportation sector was the leading source of GHG emissions in 2020, accounting for 27.1% of all emissions, followed by the power sector at 24.8% of emissions.

Clean hydrogen can play a key role in cutting GHG emissions from hard-to-decarbonize industries such as ammonia and steel, DOE said Tuesday in a request for information about creating regional clean hydrogen hubs.

Based on the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act , DOE issued a request for information to get comments on the $8 billion hydrogen hub initiative, a planned $1 billion clean hydrogen electrolysis program and a $500 million clean hydrogen manufacturing and recycling research program.

Meanwhile, the new interdepartmental Buy Clean task force will recommend potential pilot projects aimed at increasing federal procurement of “clean” construction materials, according to the White House.

The task force will include the departments of Defense, Energy and Transportation, the EPA, the General Services Administration and the White House Office of Management and Budget.
» Read article         

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

Lake Oroville
US west ‘megadrought’ is worst in at least 1,200 years, new study says
Human-caused climate change significant driver of destructive conditions as even drier decades lie ahead, researchers say
By Gabrielle Canon, The Guardian
February 15, 2022

The American west has spent the last two decades in what scientists are now saying is the most extreme megadrought in at least 1,200 years. In a new study, published on Monday, researchers also noted that human-caused climate change is a significant driver of the destructive conditions and offered a grim prognosis: even drier decades lie ahead.

“Anyone who has been paying attention knows that the west has been dry for most of the last couple decades,” says Park Williams, a climate scientist at the University of California, Los Angeles and the study’s lead author. “We now know from these studies that is dry not only from the context of recent memory but in the context of the last millennium.”

Turning up the temperature – the result of human caused warming – has played a big part. Other studies show how the climate crisis “will increasingly enhance the odds of long, widespread and severe megadroughts”, the researchers write. Noting that as the west is now in the midst of the driest 22-year period in knowable history, “this worst-case scenario already appears to be coming to pass”.

Looking at moisture levels in soils, the team of climate scientists from UCLA, Nasa, and Columbia University focused on landscapes from Montana to northern Mexico north to south and from the Pacific Ocean to the Rocky Mountains. They analyzed data collected tree ring patterns that offered clues to soil moisture levels throughout the centuries. Rings that appear closer together show the stunted growth patterns occurring during dry times.

So-called megadroughts, which are characterized by prolonged periods of dryness that span more than two decades, were woven throughout history, the researchers found. Long before human industry, water availability ebbed and flowed naturally. That variability, however, has been intensified by the climate crisis. According to their findings, soil moisture deficits doubled in the last 22 years compared with levels in the 1900s. Human-caused warming accounted for a 42% increase in severity.

Experts and advocates hope it will serve as a call to arms to prepare for a future that is fast approaching. Already, unsustainable systems have started to crack. “We are watching our bank account of water decline,” Williams says, “and we know that eventually we need to slow our expenditures before the account runs out”.
» Read article         

methane rising fast
‘Dangerously Fast’ Methane Increase Suggests Feedback Mechanism May Have Begun
By The Energy Mix
February 14, 2022

Methane concentrations in the atmosphere have risen at a “dangerously fast” rate and now exceed 1,900 parts per billion, prompting some researchers to warn that climate change itself may be driving the increase.

Atmospheric methane levels are now nearly triple pre-industrial levels, a news article in the journal Nature states, citing data released last month by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). “Scientists says the grim milestone underscores the importance of a pledge made at last year’s COP 26 climate summit to curb emissions of methane,” a climate pollutant that Nature cites as at least 28 times more potent than CO2, but is actually 80 to 85 times more damaging over the 20-year span when humanity will be scrambling to get the climate emergency under control.

While the research focused to some degree on methane released through microbial action, Nature says nearly two-thirds of the methane releases between 2007 and 2016 were caused by human activity.

When the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its latest, landmark climate science assessment in August, researchers pointed to rapid, deep methane cuts as the single most important step in stemming the rise of the greenhouse gases that cause climate change. In early November, scientists warned that the 30% reduction pledge at COP 26 fell short of what was needed.

The new research shows the problem getting worse.
» Read article        
» Read the study

» More about climate

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

Schulman and Magavi
These climate activists aren’t just spouting rhetoric; they’re helping wean utilities off fossil fuels
By David Abel, Boston Globe
February 11, 2022

Over the years, they’ve been scoffed at as overly earnest activists or out-of-their-depth dilettantes.

At male-dominated energy conferences, they’ve been ignored, belittled as “gals,” and suffered through endless mansplaining in their areas of hard-fought expertise. Zeyneb Magavi, a 5-foot-1 engineer with a black belt in karate and a degree in physics, was once patted on the head and told she was “nice.” Her business partner, Audrey Schulman, a similarly diminutive novelist, has received condescending praise for “learning so much.”

“It can be exhausting trying to prove ourselves,” Magavi said.

They’re no longer so easily dismissed.

The duo of strong-willed Cambridge women, who joined forces over a common fear of how climate change would affect their children, recently had their once seemingly outlandish ideas for reducing carbon pollution adopted by the region’s largest utilities.

Last month, after years of prodding, state regulators approved a $16 million project that Magavi and Schulman proposed to demonstrate that there’s a financially viable, technically sound way to heat and cool the vast majority of the state’s homes and businesses without fossil fuels. The project uses linked heat pumps and subterranean pipes that can harness steady underground temperatures to heat and cool buildings.

That project, which will be installed by National Grid, follows the state’s approval of a similar geothermal project — also based on their ideas — proposed by Eversource, which plans to spend $10 million starting this year to connect about 100 homes and businesses in Framingham with a network of ground-source heat pumps.

If both projects work — heating and cooling air at reasonable costs — Magavi and Schulman hope the utilities will stop spending hundreds of millions of dollars a year replacing their aging system of gas pipes, and instead direct that money to installing geothermal energy throughout the region. Eventually, they believe, such emissions-free systems could replace the need for gas and oil in most homes.

The plan, Magavi and Schulman say, will also save state residents money in the long run. Every ratepayer dollar spent on investing in the utilities’ thousands of miles of gas pipes, which leak substantial amounts of methane that contributes disproportionately to global warming, will likely saddle future generations with unnecessary debt for what will largely become useless infrastructure as the state moves away from fossil fuels.
» Read article         

» More about energy efficiency

BUILDING MATERIALS

ArcelorMittal
ArcelorMittal, France Invest Billions in Low-Emissions Steel
By Energy News Service
February 11, 2022

Steelmaking giant ArcelorMittal, based in Luxembourg, is decarbonizing its factories in France and has attracted the financial support of the French Government to accomplish a drop of 40 percent a year in ArcelorMittal’s CO2 emissions in France by 2030.

Steel is made from iron ore, a compound of iron, oxygen and other minerals that occurs in nature.

The iron and steel sector directly accounts for 2.6 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide emissions annually, seven percent of the global total from the energy system and more than the emissions from all road freight combined.

ArcelorMittal says the investment puts France’s steelmaking industry on a path aligned with the 2015 Paris Agreement target of keeping global warming of the atmosphere to less than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures.

To decarbonize, ArcelorMittal says the company’s strategy will change the way it produces steel in three ways:

  • – Increasing the recycling of steel: one kilo of steel produced by ArcelorMittal in France will soon contain up to 25 percent recycled steel
  • – Developing an innovative [Direct Reduction of Iron (DRI)] process to make steel without coal, with hydrogen
  • – Capturing residual carbon dioxide (CO2) to store and use

» Read article         

NAPA net zero
Asphalt Industry Outlines Plans to Reach Net Zero Carbon Emissions by 2050
By David Worford, Energy Leader
February 3, 2022

The asphalt industry in the United States plans to improve technology, especially when it comes to recycling materials, and to use all renewable energy in its operations as it aims to move toward net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

The National Asphalt Pavement Association (NAPA) outlined a plan at its recent annual meeting, which also includes working with customers and suppliers to cut Scope 3 emissions as well as developing net zero materials throughout its supply chain. A 21-member Climate Stewardship Task Force has worked over the past year to study the sustainability in the industry and come up with the roadmap toward net zero.

There are nearly 3,500 asphalt plants in the US, according to NAPA. The organization says most of emissions from its mixing production comes from fuel combustion to heat and dry materials and keep asphalt hot.

NAPA says recycled asphalt is the top recycled material in the United States and that the industry reused 87 million tons of it in 2020. It wants to implement a greater use of existing technology such as recycled and warm-mix asphalt while developing and implementing new technologies to reach net zero targets.

Sustainable asphalt production hinges on recycled materials. New sustainable plants in the United Kingdom by Harsco Environmental’s recently relaunched sustainable asphalt company SteelPhalt, for example, can produce asphalt using 95% recycled aggregates.
» Read article        
» Read the NAPA plan

» More about building materials

MODERNIZING THE GRID

AG Healey
State policymakers, candidates and advocates decry controversial energy grid vote
By Sabrina Shankman, Boston Globe
February 11, 2022

In the wake of a controversial decision last week by the region’s energy grid that advocates say discourages wind and solar development, Attorney General Maura Healey and others are sounding an alarm, asking the federal regulator to intervene.

The decision by grid operator ISO-New England would allow the continuation for two years of a rule that Healey and others say hurts the expansion of renewable energy in the region, all at a time when states are racing to cut emissions and switch off of fossil fuels.

“My office remains opposed to this delay and will work to get it reversed,” Healey wrote on Twitter. “We cannot make this process more difficult for clean energy projects at time when our state should be doubling down on its transition.”

The state Executive Office for Energy and Environmental Affairs is also reviewing last week’s vote, according to a spokesman, and will be taking a look at how it may impact the state and regional pursuits of clean energy.

Gubernatorial candidate Danielle Allen issued a statement saying that the decision by the grid was an example of “climate leadership is getting sabotaged at every turn by fossil fuel interests driving decisions behind closed doors” and called on other statewide candidates to join her in asking the federal regulator to step in.
» Read article         

» More about modernizing the grid

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

grain auger
Corn-Based Ethanol May Be Worse For the Climate Than Gasoline, a New Study Finds

Long touted as a renewable fuel emitting 20 percent fewer greenhouse gasses than gasoline, ethanols’ emissions may be 24 percent higher. If verified, one expert said the finding shows ethanol failed spectacularly.
By Georgina Gustin, Inside Climate News
February 16, 2022

Ethanol made from corn grown across millions of acres of American farmland has become the country’s premier renewable fuel, touted as a low-carbon alternative to traditional gasoline and a key component of the country’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

But a new study, published this week, finds that corn-based ethanol may actually be worse for the climate than fossil-based gasoline, and has other environmental downsides.

“We thought and hoped it would be a climate solution and reduce and replace our reliance on gasoline,” said Tyler Lark, a researcher with the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and lead author of the study. “It turns out to be no better for the climate than the gasoline it aims to replace and comes with all kinds of other impacts.”

John Reilly, a co-director emeritus at the MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change and a longtime Department of Agriculture researcher, called the study “impressive work” that will likely trigger yet more debate between environmental groups and the biofuels industry.
» Read article        
» Read the study         

CA leading
California Returns as Climate Leader, With Help From the White House
The Biden administration is restoring the state’s power to set its own limits on tailpipe pollution and is largely adopting the state’s rules regarding heavy trucks.
By Coral Davenport, New York Times
February 15, 2022

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration is preparing strict new limits on pollution from buses, delivery vans, tractor-trailers and other heavy trucks, the first time tailpipe standards have been tightened for the biggest polluters on the road since 2001.

The new federal regulations are drawn from truck pollution rules recently enacted by California and come as the Biden administration is moving to restore that state’s legal authority to set auto emissions limits that are tighter than federal standards, according to two people familiar with the matter, who were not authorized to speak on the record.

The developments represent a revival of California’s influence on the nation’s climate and clean air policies, following four years in which President Donald J. Trump waged legal, political, and, at times, seemingly personal battles with the state. The Trump administration had stripped away California’s authority to institute its own vehicle pollution standards, power that the state had enjoyed for more than 40 years.

Mr. Trump claimed that California’s tougher rules made cars more expensive and less safe.

But now, California is reasserting itself as a leader in policies designed to fight pollution and global warming.

Federal regulators are looking to California for inspiration as they draft new national rules designed to meet President Biden’s pledge that half of all new cars sold in the United States by 2030 will be electric vehicles. Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, has signed an executive order to phase out the sale of new gasoline-powered cars in California by 2035 and is proposing to spend $37 billion next year to cut greenhouse gas emissions from transportation, buildings and the energy sector.
» Read article         

» More about clean transportation

CARBON CAPTURE AND STORAGE

Mountaineer stacks
New federal guidelines could boost carbon capture in the US
The Biden administration says the US will ‘likely’ need controversial carbon capture tech to meet climate goals
By Justine Calma, The Verge
February 15, 2022

On Tuesday, the Biden administration issued new guidelines for federal agencies on how to assess proposals to capture and sequester carbon dioxide pollution. The new guidance lays out steps that could encourage “widespread deployment” of a controversial form of climate tech, as well as the network of pipelines and other infrastructure that come along with it.

The bipartisan infrastructure law passed last fall included more than $12 billion for Carbon Capture, Utilization, and Sequestration (CCUS) projects. The US will likely need such technologies to reach Biden’s climate goals, the new guidelines say. But the technologies, which draw CO2 out of smokestack emissions or the ambient air, are a divisive strategy for slowing climate change. Proponents say CCUS is needed to clean up hard-to-decarbonize industries like cement and steel. Critics, on the other hand, warn that the CCUS projects allow polluters to keep operating and could have negative consequences for nearby communities.

The guidelines issued today by the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) seem to address some of those concerns by telling federal agencies how to conduct thorough environmental reviews of proposed CCUS projects. While CCUS typically refers to technologies that remove CO2 from emissions before they escape power plants or industrial facilities, the White House also lumps emerging “direct air capture” technologies that draw CO2 out of the ambient air into its definition. Both technologies depend on similar infrastructure, including pipelines that move the captured C02 to places where it can be stored underground or used in commercial products.

One of the concerns with devices that remove CO2 emissions from power plants or factories is that those facilities might continue to pump out other pollutants that make the air unhealthy to breathe. The new guidance recommends that the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Agency study how CCUS projects affect pollution other than greenhouse gas emissions and stipulates that projects should avoid adding additional “burdens” on communities.

Another concern is that pipelines carrying captured carbon dioxide can rupture, releasing CO2 in concentrations strong enough to suffocate wildlife and make people sick. The world’s first CO2 pipeline explosion hospitalized dozens of residents of a small Mississippi community in 2020.

Regulatory approvals aside, there are other obstacles that have largely prevented CCUS projects from coming to fruition. So far, the technologies have been too expensive to deploy at scale. According to a December report by the watchdog Government Accountability Office, hundreds of millions of federal dollars have already been spent on projects in the US that ultimately failed.
» Read article         

» More about CCS

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

LNG jetty
Why the LNG ‘gold rush’ could soon turn to dust
Billed as a fuel for the energy transition, LNG demand has boomed this century. Sustained high prices and an accelerating energy transition could change this.
By Nick Ferris, Energy Monitor
February 16, 2022

It was billed as a fuel for the energy transition. An incredibly dense, colourless fossil fuel that can be conveniently transported in ships around the world like crude oil, and which produces around half as much carbon as coal when regasified and burnt. Advocates of liquefied natural gas (LNG) predicted a final fossil fuel ‘gold rush’, with Qatar, the US and Australia leading the charge.

Historically, most LNG was sold to the wealthy but resource-scarce countries of Japan and South Korea via long-term contracts linked to the oil price. In recent years, however, the US led a move towards more flexible, short-term sales, where the price is linked to natural gas trading hubs.

Since the turn of the century, the global LNG market has boomed, with worldwide LNG imports more than trebling between 2000 and 2020. The European market has quadrupled in size, as countries look for a cleaner alternative to coal, and to limit their reliance on gas pipeline imports from Russia.

The LNG industry [has] a response for those who argue that, given the steep decarbonisation required for the world to meet net zero by mid-century, there is no time for gas consumption to grow as a “transition fuel”. This comes in the form of “carbon-neutral LNG”, which companies claim can be achieved either through the purchase of carbon offsets, as French major TotalEnergies claims to have done, or through carbon capture and storage (CCS) of emissions.

At the same time, a growing body of evidence suggests this industry optimism may well be misplaced in the long term. For starters, there are serious doubts around suggestions that LNG can ever be carbon neutral. Analysis shows the offsets purchased by TotalEnergies for its “carbon-neutral LNG” are insufficient to actually cover the fuel’s carbon footprint. Meanwhile, the roll-out of CCS technology has proved both expensive and slow: a further Wood Mackenzie report into LNG and CCS, released in September 2021, highlights how CCS continues to account for less than 1% of annual carbon emissions, despite all the noise that the fossil fuel industry likes to make about it.

If there continue to be doubts over the feasibility of decarbonising LNG, then it is unlikely the fuel will gain much traction as a “transition fuel”, as countries begin to plan in earnest how they will get to net-zero emissions.
» Read article         

FORTUNA
Germany Tries to Loosen Its Ties to Russian Gas Pipelines
An increasingly belligerent Russia, an energy crunch and a new Green minister of economics all add up to a change of direction in Germany’s policy on natural gas.
By Melissa Eddy, New York Times
February  14, 2022

BERLIN — For decades, Germany has been a steadfast consumer of Russian natural gas, a relationship that has seemingly grown closer over the years, surviving Cold War-era tensions, the breakup of the former Soviet Union and even European sanctions against Moscow over its annexation of Crimea. Until this winter.

Since November, the amount of natural gas arriving in Germany from Russia has plunged, driving prices through the roof and draining reserves. These are changes that Gazprom, Russia’s state-controlled energy behemoth, has been regularly pointing out.

“As much as 85 percent of the gas injected in Europe’s underground gas storage facilities last summer is already withdrawn,” Gazprom said on Twitter a couple of weeks ago, adding that “facilities in Germany and France are already two-thirds empty.”

With tensions between the West and Russia over Ukraine — a key transit country for Russian gas — showing few signs of easing, Germany’s new minister for the economy and climate change, Robert Habeck, has begun to raise an issue that was unthinkable just a year or two ago: looking beyond Russia for the country’s natural gas needs.

Now the government is reviving plans for building a terminal for liquefied natural gas, or LNG, on Germany’s northern coast. That proposal, long pushed by Washington, was previously shelved as being too costly. But in recent months, liquefied natural gas, arriving via giant tankers from the United States, Qatar and other locations, has become a vital source of fuel for Europe as supplies piped in from Russia have dwindled.

Europe has more than two dozen LNG terminals, including ones in Poland, the Netherlands and Belgium, but the one proposed for Germany’s coast would be the country’s first.
» Blog editor’s note: This is a fossil energy supply solution that requires massive new investment in (liquefied) natural gas infrastructure, and therefore serves to further entrench the region’s dependence on this planet-cooking fuel. The ultimate solution, and the key to energy security, is rapid transition to renewable energy and storage. This whole mess is an unwelcome diversion from that work and a boon to the LNG industry.
» Read article         

» More about LNG

WASTE INCINERATION

CEP potential buyer
A potential buyer could turn Pittsfield’s waste-to-energy plant into a transfer station. That’s news to city officials
By Felix Carroll, The Berkshire Eagle
February 12, 2022

PITTSFIELD — Community Eco Power may have found a buyer for its waste-to-energy facility on Hubbard Avenue in Pittsfield.

In a letter to employees, the head of the company said the future use of the 5.8-acre Pittsfield facility, with its distinctive billowing smoke, could be as a trash transfer station.

An anonymous source sent the letter to The Eagle. The Eagle was able to verify that Community Eco Power employees had received it. It was sent by Richard Fish, the president and chief operating officer of the North Carolina-based company, which also owns a plant on the banks of the Connecticut River in Agawam.

The Eagle left voicemails on Fish’s cellphone on Saturday. He did not respond.
» Blog editor’s note: This is big news we’ll be watching carefully. BEAT and No Fracked Gas in Mass have been raising the issue of last summer and fall’s substantial increase in highly toxic, chemical-smelling and irritating emissions with City and State officials. After some action from MassDEP, the quality of emissions seems to have improved back to their usual level of odor, but it’s clear how damaged this plant is, and that a change is inevitable. We believe that strong action for waste reduction and City Zero Waste plan is going to be the only sensible means to not only cut emissions for health and climate concerns, but to cut disposal costs for the City. Stay tuned on No Fracked Gas in Mass’ Community Eco Power page.    
» Read article         

» More about waste incineration

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Weekly News Check-In 2/26/21

banner 16

Welcome back.

We’re following two very positive news developments this week. First, a planned seismic survey for oil and gas reserves in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) – a brutal environmental assault  – was cancelled when a contractor missed a deadline for counting polar bears in the affected area. The Biden administration will not give them a second chance.

A couple days later we learned of a definitive vote by the Delaware River Basin Commission to ban fracking throughout the entire Delaware River watershed – a huge, environmentally sensitive region from the Catskills to Delaware Bay. This makes a longstanding moratorium permanent.

Meanwhile, folks in Weymouth continue to fight the compressor station. Now that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has agreed to review the controversial air quality permit, elected officials are pressing for the community’s health concerns to finally be taken seriously.

We’re showcasing another example of businesses retooling to thrive in a greener economy – a family-owned manufacturer in Virginia, now under third-generation leadership, has pivoted away from making coal mining equipment with plans to go big into battery storage.

Of course the climate is a mess, but we even found some good news here. A Maine startup called Running Tide Technologies is experimenting with carbon sequestration through free-floating kelp farms. Lots of practical and environmental questions have to be answered before the plan can be implemented and scaled up, but the core idea is simple and elegant. Our second bit of climate news will warm the hearts of our policy wonk friends: The Biden administration has reset of the social cost of carbon, and expects to raise it even further. This number, used in cost/benefit analysis around climate mitigation investments, was ridiculously undervalued by the Trump administration.

Since clean energy generation was falsely scapegoated during last week’s weather-related Texas grid failure, we’re offering a report on real lessons that can be learned from that disaster. This is also a good opportunity to consider the other side of the equation – demand for that energy – and the imperative to address energy efficiency in buildings.

We recently ran an article about Highland Electric Transportation, the Massachusetts electric school bus provider with an innovative business model that allows cash-strapped school districts to avoid the steep upfront costs associated with purchasing new electric buses. They’re gaining traction now, attracting investors and landing substantial contracts.

We’ve also been closely following the progress of Massachusetts’ landmark climate legislation as it bounces back and forth between the legislature and governor. Various industry groups lobbied heavily against parts of it, and this is reflected in Governor Charlie Baker’s initial veto and subsequent amendments. We offer a report on these industry influences, and where they’re coming from.

On biomass, we show what it takes to feed trees into Britain’s huge Drax power station. All of the bad ideas making Drax possible are alive and well in Governor Baker’s head, as he pursues the pretzel logic of changing Massachusetts’ Renewable Portfolio Standard to support the proposed biomass generating plant in Springfield.

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

 

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

lawmakers push regulators
Lawmakers push regulators to reexamine compressor approval
By Jessica Trufant, The Patriot Ledger
February 24, 2021

Members of Weymouth’s congressional delegation want federal regulators to reconsider their decision to allow the compressor station on the banks of the Fore River to go into service. 

U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch and U.S. Sens. Edward Markey and Elizabeth Warren recently sent a letter to Richard Glick, chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, asking that the commission rescind the in-service authorization issued for the compressor station in September.

“The site is located within a half mile of Quincy Point and Germantown – “environmental justice communities” that suffer persistent environmental health disparities due to socioeconomic and other factors – as well as nearly 1,000 homes, a water treatment plant and a public park,” the legislators wrote in the letter. “An estimated 3,100 children live or go to school within a mile of the site, and more than 13,000 children attend school within three miles of the compressor station.”

Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station, the City of Quincy and other petitioners have also asked the commission to revoke the authorization and reconsider its approval of the project.

“We urge you to review their concerns fully and fairly, and to swiftly move to rehear the approval of the in-service certificate,” the lawmakers wrote in their letter.

The commission last week voted to take a look at several issues associated with the compressor station, including whether the station’s expected air emissions and public safety impacts should prompt commissioners to reexamine the project.

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

Last fall, local, state and federal officials called for a halt of compressor operations when two emergency shutdowns caused hundreds of thousands of cubic feet of natural gas to be released into the air.
» Read article                 

» More about Weymouth compressor station       

 

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

no frack zone
Amid lawsuits, Delaware River Basin Commission makes fracking ban permanent
The formal ban came a month after a federal judge set an October trial date to hear a challenge to the drilling moratorium.
By Andrew Maykuth, Philadelphia Inquirer
February 25, 2021

The Delaware River Basin Commission on Thursday approved a permanent ban on hydraulic fracturing of natural gas wells along the river, doubling down in the face of new legal challenges.

The DRBC’s vote maintains the status quo — it formally affirms a drilling moratorium imposed in 2010 by the commission, the interstate agency that manages water use in the vast Delaware watershed. But environmentalists hailed the frack ban as historic.

The commission said it had the authority to ban fracking in order to control future pollution, protect the public health, and preserve the waters in the Delaware River Basin. For more than debate, environmental activists have rallied substantial public opposition in the basin to pressure the commission to enact the ban.

The formal ban came a month after a federal judge set an October trial date to hear a challenge from landowners to the drilling moratorium, which is now a permanent ban. Pennsylvania Republican lawmakers, along with Damascus Township in Wayne County, also filed a separate federal legal action last month alleging that the moratorium illegally usurps state legislators’ authority to govern natural resources.

Representatives of the governors of four states that are drained by the river — Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and New York, all governed by Democrats — voted in favor of the ban. The fifth commission member, a federal government representative from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, abstained because he said the corps needed additional time to “coordinate” with the new Biden administration.
» Read article                
» See Delaware River Basin map      
» Read Natural Resources Defense Council blog post             

Gavin Newsom sued
Avowed Climate Champion Gavin Newsom Sued for ‘Completely Unacceptable’ Approval of Oil and Gas Projects in California
“Newsom can’t protect our health and climate while giving thousands of illegal permits each year to this dirty and dangerous industry. We need the courts to step in and stop this.”
By Brett Wilkins, Common Dreams
February 24, 2021

Accusing California regulators of “reckless disregard” for public “health and safety,” the environmental advocacy group Center for Biological Diversity on Wednesday sued the administration of Gov. Gavin Newsom for approving thousands of oil and gas drilling and fracking projects without the required environmental review.

The lawsuit (pdf) claims that the California Geologic Energy Management Division (CalGEM) failed to adequately analyze environmental and health risks before issuing fossil fuel extraction permits, as required by law. According to the suit, California regulators approved nearly 2,000 new oil and gas permits without proper environmental review. 

“CalGEM routinely violates its duty to conduct an initial study and further environmental review for any new oil and gas well drilling, well stimulation, or injection permits and approvals,” the suit alleges. “Instead, CalGEM repeatedly and consistently issues permits and approvals for oil and gas drilling, well stimulation, and injection projects without properly disclosing, analyzing, or mitigating the significant environmental impacts of these projects.”

The center noted that “despite Gov. Newsom’s progressive rhetoric on climate change, he has failed to curb California’s dirty and carbon-intensive oil and gas production.”

“His regulators continue to issue thousands of permits without review, and the governor has refused to act on his stated desire to ban fracking,” the group said in a statement.
» Read article                
» Read the Center for Biological Diversity complaint against CalGEM                   

» More about protests and actions              

 

GREENING THE ECONOMY

made in Virginia
This Virginia coal-mining equipment supplier sees a future in clean energy
Under third-generation leadership, a family-owned company has pivoted to energy storage and sees opportunity for other southwest Virginia companies to follow.
By Elizabeth McGowan, Energy News Network
Photo By Lawrence Brothers Inc. / Courtesy
February 22, 2021

When Melanie Lawrence packed her bags for the University of Tennessee in 1998 to major in Spanish and English, she aspired — not at all maliciously — to leave Tazewell County in the dust.

The Virginian flourished in Knoxville.

Her academic aptitude was her ticket to Spain and then Brussels for a graduate degree in international law and relations. She traveled the world — including a year spent aiding refugees on the Ethiopia-Sudan border — practicing humanitarian law. By 2007, she was married to fellow globetrotter Fernando Protti and living in a Washington, D.C., suburb. 

A year later, home called. The family business, which manufactured battery trays for coal-mining equipment, was seeking leadership from the third generation. 

The oldest of four sisters, Protti-Lawrence somewhat surprised herself by saying yes, aware that the wide gap between the nation’s capital and Appalachia isn’t measured in mere mileage.

For the last dozen years, Melanie, president, and Fernando, CEO, have fearlessly focused on diversifying Lawrence Brothers Inc.’s product line beyond less-and-less-relevant coal. Now, just 10% of its business is coal-related, a severe and intentional drop from 95% in 2008.

“If we had stuck solely with coal, we would be out of business,” Protti-Lawrence said. “You can’t strategically plan or grow if you’re relying on one industry. We made an absolute effort to go beyond our wheelhouse.”

That grit and innovation inspired an “aha” energy storage moment for Adam Wells of Appalachian Voices and Vivek Shinde Patil of Ascent Virginia.

Both nonprofit thinkers have been dogged about linking an oft-forgotten slice of their state to the wealth of jobs and knowledge blooming in the booming renewable energy industry. Why couldn’t companies in Tazewell and Buchanan counties pivot to exporting advanced batteries and other components that fuel cars in Asia, light homes in California or store energy generated by wind farms in Europe?
» Read article                 

» More about greening the economy          

 

CLIMATE

Running Tide
Maine Startup Aims To Pull Carbon Out Of The Atmosphere By Growing — And Then Sinking — Kelp Farms
By Fred Bever, Maine Public Radio, on WBUR
February 16, 2021

The fight against climate change has long focused on scaling back humanity’s emissions of planet-warming carbon-dioxide. But a movement is growing to think bigger and find ways to actually pull existing CO2 out of the air and lock it up somewhere safe.

One Maine startup has an innovative approach that’s drawing attention from scientists and investors: grow massive amounts of seaweed and then bury it at the bottom of the deepest sea, where it will sequester carbon for thousands of years.

On a fishing boat a few miles out in the Gulf of Maine, Capt. Rob Odlin and Adam Rich are tossing buoys into the water. Each is tethered to a rope entwined with tiny seeds of kelp, a fast-growing seaweed.

“We’re just fishing for carbon now, and kelp’s the net,” Odlin says.

The project is experimental R&D for a company called Running Tide Technologies, based on the Portland waterfront.

Marty Odlin, the boat captain’s nephew and the CEO of Running Tide, explains the company’s mission.

“Essentially what we have to do is run the oil industry in reverse,” he says.

Odlin wants to mimic the natural processes that turned ancient plants into carbon-storing fossil fuels — and do it in a hurry. He sees individual kelp microfarms floating hundreds of miles offshore, over the deepest parts of the world’s oceans.

The kelp soaks up carbon, via photosynthesis, and grows. After about seven months, the mature blades get too heavy for their biodegradable buoys, and sink.

“The kelp will sink to the ocean bottom in the sediment, and become, essentially, part of the ocean floor,” Odlin says. “That gets you millions of years of sequestration. So that’s when you’re making oil. That’s got to be the ultimate goal.”
» Read article            

baseline restored
How Much Does Climate Change Cost? Biden Expected to Raise Carbon’s Dollar Value
The administration is expected to temporarily increase the “social cost” of carbon, at least to the level set by Obama, but climate-concerned economists say that’s not high enough.
By Marianne Lavelle, InsideClimate News
February 19, 2021

In fact, it calculated that the benefits of action on climate change added up to as little as $1 per ton of carbon dioxide, and it set policy accordingly. Almost any steps to reduce greenhouse gases seemed too costly, given the paltry potential gain for society.

President Joe Biden’s White House is moving forward on a crucial first step toward building back U.S. climate policy and is expected to direct federal agencies to use a figure closer to $52 per ton as their guidance for the so-called “social cost of carbon” number on a temporary basis.

That figure, applied during the Obama administration, is likely to serve as a baseline while the Biden administration works on developing its own metric amid calls by climate-focused economists for a value that is at least twice as high.
» Read article                

» More about climate                 

 

CLEAN ENERGY

Texas crisis debrief
Inside Clean Energy: The Right and Wrong Lessons from the Texas Crisis
The state experienced an “all-of-the-above” failure, and previewed a future of winter peaks in energy demand. The Ted Cruz scandal was also instructive.
By Dan Gearino, InsideClimate News
February 25, 2021

Now that the power is back on in Texas, we are entering a phase with investigations of all the systems that failed.

But some of the biggest lessons are already apparent.

Here are some of the things I learned, or relearned:
» Read article            

» More about clean energy                

 

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

five things about builng emissions
5 Things to Know About Carbon-Free Buildings and Construction
By Stuart Braun, Deutsche Welle, in EcoWatch
February 24, 2021

We spend 90% of our time in the buildings where we live and work, shop and conduct business, in the structures that keep us warm in winter and cool in summer.

But immense energy is required to source and manufacture building materials, to power construction sites, to maintain and renew the built environment. In 2019, building operations and construction activities together accounted for 38% of global energy-related CO2 emissions, the highest level ever recorded.

To ensure that the Paris climate targets are met, the building and construction industry needs to become a climate leader by moving towards net-zero construction. Its CO2 emissions need to be cut in half by 2030 for building stock to be carbon-free by 2050, according to a recent report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

In response, a raft of new net-zero building initiatives are focused on curbing emissions across the whole building lifecycle.

A report released by C40 in October 2019 showed that the construction industry alone could cut emissions from buildings and infrastructure by 44% by 2050. Oslo, Copenhagen and Stockholm have since committed to take a leadership role in creating a global market for low-emission construction materials and zero-emission machinery.

Oslo, for instance, aims to make all city-owned construction machinery and construction sites operate with zero emissions by 2025. Meanwhile, Copenhagen’s bold plan to be climate-neutral by 2025 will draw heavily on its commitment to zero-carbon construction. This will be achieved in part through “fossils- or emission-free construction machinery in construction projects,” said Frank Jensen, mayor of Copenhagen.

With Stockholm also part of a cross-border tender for sustainable procurement of mobile construction machinery, such unified demand is designed to send a signal to the market, according to Victoria Burrows. The end result will be to “create a ripple effect” that will help kickstart the net-zero building transition.
» Read article           
» Read the UN report on building sector emissions        

» More about energy efficiency         

 

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

Highland kickstartHighland Electric Raises $235M, Lands Biggest Electric School Bus Contract in the U.S.
Maryland county taps startup’s all-inclusive EV fleet leasing model to break up-front electrification cost barriers.
By Jeff St. John, GreenTech Media
February 25, 2021

Electric school buses don’t just eliminate the carbon and pollution emissions of their diesel-fueled counterparts, they cost less to fuel and maintain over the long haul. 

Unfortunately for cash-strapped school districts, an electric school bus still costs more than twice as much as a diesel bus today. And that’s not counting the cost of new charging infrastructure, or the risk that those charging costs may drive a district’s electric bills through the roof. 

Highland Electric Transportation says it can remove those barriers to school districts and transit authorities, by taking on the financing and management of an EV school bus fleet in exchange for a fixed annual leasing fee. In the past week, the Hamilton, Mass.-based startup has won two votes of confidence in its business model. 

The first came last week, with the close of a $253 million venture capital investment led by Vision Ridge Partners with participation by previous investors and Fontinalis Partners, the venture fund co-founded by Ford Motor Co. executive chairman Bill Ford.

The second came this week, when Maryland’s Montgomery County Public Schools awarded Highland a contract to supply it with what will be the country’s largest electric school bus fleet. The deal will start with 326 buses to be delivered over the next four years, along with charging systems at five bus depots. 

The cost of that service, $169 million, will be spread out over 16 years, and will fit into the existing budget structures for its existing diesel bus fleet, said Todd Watkins, the district’s transportation director. After seven years of budget neutrality, the contract will end up saving the district money compared to what it could have expected to spend on its existing bus fleet, he said.
» Read article            

» More about clean transportation           

 

LEGISLATIVE NEWS

MA state house dome
Andrew Ahern: ‘Who’s delaying climate action in Massachusetts?’
By Andrew Ahern, Telegram & Gazette | Opinion
February 17, 2021

On Jan. 28, the Massachusetts House and Senate approved a major climate change bill, sending it to Governor Baker for him to sign. The “Next-Generation Roadmap for Massachusetts Climate Policy” would be the first major piece of climate legislation passed into Massachusetts law since the 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act.

That may sound surprising to some. In a state with so many progressive voters and an active climate scene, a 13-year gap on climate action seems counterintuitive. Add the fact that within those 13 years, we’ve seen accelerated global warming and record temperatures, it becomes worse than surprising, but maddening. Why such a delay?

Now, we might have some (definitive) answers. In mid-January, Brown University’s Climate Social Science Network (CSSN) released a report titled “Who’s Delaying Climate Action in Massachusetts? Twelve Findings.” The report, using data from over 1,187 pieces of testimony and over 4,000 lobbying records regarding clean energy, has some pretty remarkable findings.

Of the 12 findings, five discuss lobbying efforts from groups and organizations who actively fight against climate policy and clean energy.

Take our investor owned utilities as an example. In “Finding 3: On lobbying, clean energy advocates are outspent more than 3.5 to 1,” the report finds that trade associations representing real estate, fossil fuels and power generation industries are among the top 10 groups opposing climate and clean energy legislation over a six-year period (2013-2018).

National Grid and Eversource, Massachusetts’ two largest utility companies, opposed 56 and 32 climate and clean energy bills respectively, spending over a combined $3.5 million in lobbying efforts to do so. Others, like ExxonMobil and the American Petroleum Institute add to this, with climate action obstructors outspending climate action advocates 3.5 to 1.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t stop there. The report finds that Eversource and National Grid actively oppose solar energy. While the report notes that both utility companies showed some support for expanding wind energy and hydropower, both were active in opposing solar net-metering, which would allow an expansion of solar energy in the commonwealth.
» Read article           
» Read the Brown University CSSN Research Report, “Who’s Delaying Climate Action in Massachusetts? Twelve Findings”              

» More legislative news                

 

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

ANWR seismic survey dead
Seismic Survey of Alaskan Arctic Refuge Won’t Move Forward
A missed deadline for flights to look for polar bears means the work to locate oil reserves in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is effectively killed.
By Henry Fountain, New York Times
February 22, 2021

An Alaska Native group failed to meet a critical deadline as part of its proposal to conduct a seismic survey in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the Interior Department announced. The failure effectively kills the survey, which would have determined the location of oil and gas reserves in part of the refuge in anticipation of drilling there.

A department spokeswoman, Melissa Schwarz, said that the group, the Kaktovik Iñupiat Corporation, had not undertaken reconnaissance flights to detect polar bear dens in the proposed survey area as a prelude to sending trucks and other survey equipment rolling across the refuge’s coastal plain this winter.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, an Interior Department agency, had required that three flights be conducted before Feb. 13 as part of the corporation’s request for an authorization that would require extensive efforts to avoid the animals during the full seismic survey.

As a result of the missed deadline, Ms. Schwarz said that the corporation had been advised “that their request is no longer actionable, and the Service does not intend to issue or deny the authorization.”

Separately, another Interior agency, the Bureau of Land Management, has been reviewing the corporation’s application for an overall permit to conduct the survey. The decision not to act on the polar bear authorization makes the issuance of the broader permit moot, effectively killing the proposal.

The demise of the seismic survey does not have a direct effect on the oil and gas leases in the refuge that were sold in January, the last-minute culmination of the Trump administration’s efforts to open the area to development. Those leases are currently being reviewed by the Biden White House, which is opposed to drilling there.
» Read article            

gas fights backThe battle over climate change is boiling over on the home front
Municipalities want new buildings to go all electric, spurning gas-fired stoves and heating systems. The gas industry disagrees.
By Steven Mufson, Washington Post
February 23, 2021

A new front has opened in the battle over climate change: The kitchen.

Cities and towns across the country are rewriting local building codes so that new homes and offices would be blocked from using natural gas, a fossil fuel that when burned emits carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. New laws would force builders to install heat pumps instead of gas furnaces and electric kitchen stoves instead of gas burners.

Local leaders say reducing the carbon and methane pollution associated with buildings, the source of 12.3 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, is the only way they can meet their 2050 zero-emission goals to curb climate change.

But the American Gas Association, a trade group, and its members are campaigning in statehouses across the country to prohibit the new local ordinances. Four states last year adopted such laws, and this year similar legislation has been introduced in 12 more.

“Logically the natural gas industry does not want to see its business end, so it’s doing what it can to keep natural gas in the utility grid mix,” said Marta Schantz, senior vice president of the Urban Land Institute’s Greenprint Center for Building Performance. “But long term, if cities are serious about their climate goals, electric buildings are inevitable.”

Most of the gas industry, however, is fighting back.
» Read article   

» More about fossil fuel               

 

BIOMASS

Drax doubles downDrax Purchase Would Implicate the United Kingdom in Loss of Canadian Forests
The operator of the world’s largest wood-burning power station is doubling down on its destructive wood-burning business model.
By Elly Pepper Jennifer Skene Sasha Stashwick, NRDC | Blog
February 25, 2021

Today, Drax—which operates the world’s largest wood-burning power station—released its earnings report, continuing to greenwash with its claims that biomass is a “green” energy source.

But, in reality, Drax is simply doubling down on its destructive wood-burning business model, as evidenced by its recent decision to purchase Pinnacle—Canada’s largest wood pellet manufacturer—to become the world’s third-largest manufacturer of wood pellets.

While the U.K. attempts to burnish its environmental record ahead of hosting the COP 26 and push countries toward protecting at least 30 percent of the planet’s lands and oceans by 2030 (30×30) at the meeting of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), its wholesale support for biomass, including £2 million per day in subsidies to Drax, smacks of hypocrisy.

Here are the top reasons this deal makes absolutely no sense:

It will worsen climate change. Biomass energy is already a climate boondoggle since it creates emissions every step of the way, from the time trees are cut down for biomass in the forest to the smokestack when trees are burned to generate electricity. On the landscape, replacing older trees with saplings after harvest reduces the amount of carbon stored in the regrowing forest (even under the best-case scenario in which trees are replanted and regrow immediately). This is a significant source of emissions, known as foregone carbon sequestration. Biomass harvest in forests also releases carbon from the soil. Next, power plants like Pinnacle’s generate emissions by burning fossil gas (or more wood) to manufacture their pellets from the cut wood. And from there, the carbon footprint only grows, with the transport of wood pellets across the globe and the massive carbon emissions from Drax’s smokestacks. Sadly, under the government’s rules, which categorize biomass as a “renewable energy,” Drax can treat its smokestack emissions as zero. With an accounting flourish, Drax’s roughly 13 million tons of CO2 emissions per year just magically disappear in the ledger. And policymakers get to take credit for delivering “low-carbon electricity.”
» Read article             

» More about biomass       

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Weekly News Check-In 2/19/21

banner 15

Welcome back.

The reason we so frequently lead this newsletter with an update on the Weymouth compressor station is because its very existence – and its location near environmental justice neighborhoods – is a clear local example of activists and policymakers wrestling with entrenched fossil fuel interests for a shot at a livable future. The head referee in this match is the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), now under the chairmanship of Richard Glick and supported by the Biden administration, in a country recommitted to the Paris Climate Agreement. On this new, reality-based playing field, FERC has agreed to have another look at this compressor and its effect on the health and safety of the community that was forced to “host” it. We’ll be watching this next round, with great appreciation to Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station (FRRACS) and others who have mounted unwavering, effective, and courageous resistance for six long years.

More about new developments at FERC.

It’s a new day for pipelines, too, with Dakota Access possibly the highest-profile project at risk. Protests and actions continue despite the pandemic and harsh winter weather. Activists delivered a couple wheelbarrows of coal to the doorstep of New England’s grid operator, saying it’s time to ramp down funding for the Merrimack Generating Station in Bow, NH.

Grey Sail Brewing of Westerly, RI has installed carbon capture equipment on its brewing operation, joining a growing list of micro-breweries greening their businesses by recycling carbon dioxide rather than releasing it to the atmosphere. Brewing is well-suited for this, as the fermentation process releases CO2 that the brewer later adds back into the product – and new equipment is economical for small operators.

We’re using our climate section to highlight new books by Elizabeth Kolbert and Bill Gates. While Gates lays out the climate challenges and opportunities before us, Kolbert describes the truly unsettling series of planet-scale geoengineering hacks that humans might pursue if we fail to lower planet-warming emissions fast enough.

Fox’s Tucker Carlson, Governor Greg Abbott, and a chorus of fossil industry boosters attempted to use the massive Texas grid failure to do a hit job on clean energy – mounting a disinformation campaign to falsely blame a few frozen wind turbines for the disaster that killed dozens and spread hardship across most of that huge state. We’re not having it. The state’s creaky and under-regulated natural gas infrastructure was by far the main culprit. But we did notice that Senator “Flyin’ Ted” Cruze took a break from all that inconvenience and discomfort and bolted his Houston home for a luxury resort in balmy Cancún, Mexico while his constituents shivered in the dark. We’ll remember that.

The home energy storage market is maturing a bit, with new battery chemistries poised to offer safer and more durable alternatives to current-generation devices. We provide a long excerpt from an excellent article that lays it all out. Similarly, the push for improved electric vehicle batteries passed an important milestone.

Freakish weather and the fossil fuel industry ganged up on Texas this past week. We have more info in this section. Also, California is pushing to ban fracking.

While climate and environmental justice advocates push Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker to reject biomass energy and the proposed Palmer Renewable Energy plant in Springfield, a group of over 500 scientists has published a demand to stop considering the burning of trees to be a climate solution. This has been Massachusetts’ (correct) position since 2012, until the Baker administration decided to reverse course – proposing to reinstate energy generated from burning woody biomass to the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard.

We close with two reports that illuminate some of the difficulties with plastics recycling.

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

— The NFGiM Team

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

far from overFederal commission to explore impacts of compressor station
By Jessica Trufant, The Patriot Ledger
February 18, 2021

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will further explore public safety concerns associated with the Weymouth Compressor Station, though it’s unclear what impact that could have on the facility.

The federal commission in September gave the Canadian company that built the compressor station approval to put the facility into service. In response, the Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station, the city of Quincy, and other petitioners requested the commission revoke the authorization and reconsider its approval of the project.

FERC on Thursday voted to take a look at several issues associated with the compressor station, including whether the station’s expected air emissions and public safety impacts should prompt commissioners to reexamine the project.

Members of the citizens group opposed to the compressor station said they are investigating what FERC’s decision on Thursday means for operations of the station.

State Sen. Patrick O’Connor, a Weymouth Republican, said the commission’s decision suggests “the fight is far from over.”

The controversial compressor station is part of Enbridge’s Atlantic Bridge project, which expands the company’s natural gas pipelines from New Jersey into Canada. It has been a point of contention for years among residents of the area, who say it presents serious health and safety problems.
» Read article       
» Read the FERC press release

» More about the Weymouth compressor station

FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION

subject to flooding
How a pipeline-loving agency could be the key to Biden’s climate plan
By Zoya Teirstein, Grist
February 18, 2021

There’s a saying among energy wonks about the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission: It’s never seen a pipeline it didn’t like. But the commission’s new chair could make that adage a thing of the past.

The independent commission known as FERC, pronounced like a kid-friendly version of the popular expletive, was established by Congress in 1977 to regulate the United States’ energy landscape. FERC wields an enormous amount of power, overseeing the nation’s pipelines, natural gas infrastructure, transmission lines, hydroelectric dams, electricity markets, and, by association, the price of renewables and fossil fuels. It’s made up of up to five commissioners — no more than three members of the same party can serve at a time — including one chair, who sets the commission’s agenda.

Historically, the commission has not done a good job of taking climate change and environmental justice into account as it has approved and regulated energy projects across the U.S. “I would put FERC in the basket of agencies that have huge climate relevance, but where climate has generally not been front and center,” Barry Rabe, a professor of public and environmental policy at the University of Michigan, told Grist. A system for accounting for climate impacts isn’t baked into FERC’s structure, he explained. That could change as President Joe Biden executes a “whole of government” approach to tackling climate change.

“One of the most interesting places to do climate policy is at FERC,” Representative Sean Casten, Democrat from Illinois, told Grist in January. “What would it mean to actually change markets to accelerate the deployment of clean energy? Frankly, you can be much more policy smart and much more environmentally ambitious doing that in the context of a FERC hearing than you can doing it through Congress.”
» Read article       

RG priorities
New FERC Chair’s Focus: Environmental Justice and Climate Change Impacts
Glick’s priorities include fair treatment of new technologies and state policies, as well as transmission and interconnection reforms.
By Jeff St. John, GreenTech Media
February 15, 2021

Richard Glick has a long list of priorities for his chairmanship of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. He has already outlined many of them, such as reforming energy market policies that restrict state-supported clean energy resources, expanding transmission capacity and unblocking new grid interconnections, and incorporating climate change impacts into the agency’s decision-making process.

On Thursday, in his first press conference since being elevated to lead FERC last month by President Joe Biden, Glick brought more clarity to some of FERC’s newest initiatives. These include creating a senior-level position to address environmental justice impacts of its decisions, including those involving natural-gas pipeline projects, to ensure they don’t “unfairly impact historically marginalized communities.”

A 2017 ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit has put pressure on FERC to change its approach to accounting for the indirect greenhouse gas emissions impacts of natural-gas pipeline projects under its purview. Glick has since dissented against many of the pipeline decisions from the Republican majority at FERC on the grounds that they have failed to consider the greenhouse gas impacts of the projects in question but has been outvoted as the agency’s sole Democratic member.

FERC’s five-member board will retain a three-Republican majority through at least the first half of 2021, which is when Biden will have an opportunity to nominate a Democrat to replace departing commissioner Neil Chatterjee. Glick noted that this political reality implies that, on the matter of considering greenhouse gas impacts of its pipeline decisions, “no matter what we do, it will require three votes” to succeed.

The role of the newly created environmental justice position will be to examine if projects under FERC review will have significant health or economic impacts on communities, and if so, whether the projects can be moved or the impacts mitigated.
» Read article       

ISO-NE cap mkt FERCed
FERC Revisits Review of Policy Statement on Interstate Natural Gas Pipeline Proposals
By FERC, News Release
February 18, 2021

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) today reopened its review of the 1999 Policy Statement on the Certification of New Interstate Natural Gas Facilities by asking for new information and additional perspectives that would assist the Commission in moving forward with its review. The Commission is looking to build upon the record already established in response to its April 2018 Notice of Inquiry.

“It’s important to recognize that many changes have occurred since our initial inquiry three years ago,” FERC Chairman Rich Glick said. “I look forward to seeing the comments and working with my fellow commissioners to update our review process for reviewing proposed natural gas projects.”

To guide the process and focus on adding to the existing record, the Commission seeks comments on new questions that modify or add to the April 2018 Notice of Inquiry. For example, the Commission requests comments on how it identifies and addresses potential health or environmental effects of its pipeline certification programs, policies and activities on environmental justice communities.
» Read article         
» Download Notice of Inquiry         

» More about FERC

PIPELINES

Bakken oil takeaway
Time To Consider The Worst-Case Scenario For Dakota Access: A Look At Energy Transfer And Phillips 66 Partners
By Seeking Alpha
February 17, 2021

Fresh off their Keystone XL victory, environment activists have placed the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) squarely in their crosshairs. A DAPL shutdown will set a worrisome precedent for midstream infrastructure regulation. It also will put at risk the midstream companies that have the most to lose amid a shutdown, namely, Energy Transfer LP (ET) and Phillips 66 Partners LP (PSXP).

The Biden administration has not specified what action it might take on DAPL. During his campaign, Biden did not publicly endorse any particular move. Vice President Harris, meanwhile, is opposed to the pipeline. She joined 36 Democrats in submitting an amicus brief in May 2020 urging the courts to shut it down.

Recent developments have not been favorable for the pipeline. On Jan. 26, a federal appeals court upheld a lower court’s decision to revoke an environmental permit that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) issued to DAPL before it had performed an Environmental Impact Statement. The court postponed a final ruling on the DAPL until the USACE completes its EIS, likely in late 2021. It allowed the pipeline to operate while the EIS was ongoing.

With the DAPL’s fate now in the hands of the administration, its opponents have become more vocal. On Feb. 5, members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives wrote a letter to Biden urging him to shut the pipeline down.

Then on Feb. 8, dozens of celebrities and activists wrote a letter urging the president to “remedy this historic injustice and direct the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to immediately shut down the illegal Dakota Access Pipeline.”

Clearly, the Biden administration is under immense pressure to shut DAPL down. By contrast, there’s virtually no countervailing pressure from pipeline supporters.
» Read article       

» More about pipelines       

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

strike down coal
Climate Activists Deliver Wheelbarrows of Coal to ISO-NE Headquarters

Call for grid operator to cease funding coal, other fossil fuels in this week’s forward capacity auction
Press release, Nocoalnogas.org
February 8, 2021

Today, thirty climate activists gathered at the ISO-New England headquarters in Holyoke, Ma, to call on the grid operator to cease funding coal and other harmful fossil fuel sources. Some of the crowd wore white tyvek suits, carried buckets of coal, and chanted “Hey Ho ISO, we don’t want no dirty coal!” while walking to the entrance of ISO-NE’s headquarters. The individuals in tyvek suits dumped their buckets of coal into two wheelbarrows that were delivered to the front gate of the building.

ISO-NE will hold its annual forward capacity auction on Monday, February 8th, to determine how much guaranteed funding plants like Merrimack Generating Station in Bow, NH will receive to stay operable through 2025. The results can either limit or expand the speed of our transition from fossil fuels to renewables across the region.

» Read article        

Niger Delta
U.K. High Court Says Nigerians Can Sue Shell in Britain Over Oil Spills
The Dutch energy company has a presence in Britain, and a judge ruled there was “a real issue to be tried.”
By Stanley Reed, New York Times
February 12, 2021

Britain’s Supreme Court said Friday that a group of about 50,000 Nigerian farmers and fishermen could bring a case in London’s High Court against Royal Dutch Shell over years of oil spills in the Niger Delta that have polluted their land, wells and waterways.

The judges said there was the potential that a parent company like Shell, which has its headquarters in the Netherlands but a large British presence, has responsibility for the activities of subsidiaries like the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria, which operates in the delta region.

The court overruled a lower court that had said there was no case to be brought against Shell in Britain. On Friday, the judges said there was “a real issue to be tried.”

The ruling is “a watershed moment in the accountability of multinational companies,” said Daniel Leader, a partner in the British law firm Leigh Day, who led the legal team representing the Nigerian communities.

Mr. Leader added that the judgment would most likely increase the ability of “impoverished communities” to hold powerful companies to account. Indeed, courts in Western countries have recently indicated that they were increasingly open to hearing such cases. Last month, a court in the Netherlands ruled that Shell was liable for pollution in another case involving Nigerian farmers.
» Read article       
» Read about the Netherlands ruling against Shell

» More about protests and actions

GREENING THE ECONOMY

Grey Sail
Carbon capture and brews: Rhode Island brewery puts emissions back into beers

Systems for capturing carbon emissions from brewing operations have become more economical for small brewers during the pandemic.
By Lisa Prevost, Energy News Network
Photo By Grey Sail Brewing / Courtesy
February 15, 2021

After a decade of beer brewing in the beach town of Westerly, Rhode Island, Grey Sail Brewing has grown from a small operation brewing up batches of its signature Flagship Ale to a regional purveyor of more than half a dozen different beers.

Grey Sail is the first craft brewery in Rhode Island, and the second in New England, to install carbon-capturing technology specially designed for microbreweries. Developed by Earthly Labs, based in Austin, Texas, the system captures the waste carbon dioxide, produced during fermentation, enabling it to be used to carbonate and package the beer.

“Brewing is unique in that you generate carbon as a byproduct, but you also consume it too,” Alan Brinton said. “This investment allows us to reap environmental benefits from brewing great beer.”

Standing next to massive stainless steel fermentation tanks, Brinton explains that the yeast used to ferment the beer breaks down the malt sugar and converts it to alcohol and carbon dioxide, or CO2. Whereas before that CO2 would have simply been released into the atmosphere, now it is captured through a piping system, converted to liquid in a refrigerator-sized box, and stored.

Brinton estimates that he’s currently capturing about 2,000 pounds of CO2 monthly; that level will rise when beer production revs up during the warmer months.

Carbon capture technology is not new to the beer industry as a whole, but it hasn’t been affordable or efficient enough for smaller-scale brewers before now, said Chuck Skypeck, technical brewing projects manager for the Brewers Association, a national organization.

The Earthly Labs system, called CiCi — short for carbon capture — is currently operating in about three dozen craft breweries. It’s designed to be affordable, easy to use and deliver economic value to brewers who produce between 5,000 and 20,000 barrels annually. (Grey Sail makes about 10,000 barrels.)

“Annually, each of these brewers can capture the equivalent of the absorption work of 1,500 trees if they use the technology every week,” George said.
» Read article       

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

under a white sky
Interview: Elizabeth Kolbert on why we’ll never stop messing with nature
By Shannon Osaka, Grist
February 8, 2021

In Australia, scientists collect buckets of coral sperm, mixing one species with another in an attempt to create a new “super coral” that can withstand rising temperatures and acidifying seas. In Nevada, scientists nurse a tiny colony of one-inch long “Devil’s Hole pupfish” in an uncomfortably hot, Styrofoam-molded pool. And in Massachusetts, Harvard University scientists research injecting chemicals into the atmosphere to dim the sun’s light — and slow down the runaway pace of global warming.

These are some of the scenes from Elizabeth Kolbert’s new book, Under a White Sky, a global exploration of the ways that humanity is attempting to engineer, fix, or reroute the course of nature in a climate-changed world. (The title refers to one of the consequences of engineering the Earth to better reflect sunlight: Our usual blue sky could turn a pale white.)

Kolbert, a New Yorker staff writer, has been covering the environment for decades: Her first book, Field Notes from a Catastrophe, traced the scientific evidence for global warming from Greenland to Alaska; her second, The Sixth Extinction, followed the growing pace of animal extinctions.

Under a White Sky covers slightly different ground. Humanity is now, Kolbert explains, in the midst of the Anthropocene — a geologic era in which we are the dominant force shaping earth, sea, and sky. Faced with that reality, humans have gotten more creative at using technology to fix the problems that we unwittingly spawned: Stamping out Australia’s cane toad invasion with genetic engineering, for example, or using giant air conditioners to suck carbon dioxide out of air and turn it into rock. As Kolbert notes, tongue-in-cheek: “What could possibly go wrong?”
» Read article       

global seed vault
Bill Gates: A stark and simple message for the world
His new book affirms what climate scientists have been saying for decades. But Bill Gates says it well, all the same.
By Tim Radford, Climate News Network | Book Review
February 15, 2021

Bill Gates − yes, that Bill Gates − has for years been financing studies in geo-engineering: he calls it a “Break Glass in Case of Emergency” kind of tool.

But he also says, in a new book, How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: the Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need, that he has put much more money into the challenge of adapting to and mitigating climate change driven by global heating powered by greenhouse emissions that are a consequence of our dependence on fossil fuels.

The founder of Microsoft, now a philanthropist, says all geo-engineering approaches − to dim the sunlight, perhaps, or make clouds brighter − turn out to be relatively cheap compared with the scale of the problems ahead for the world. All the effects are relatively short-lived, so there might be no long-term impacts.

But the third thing they have in common is that the technical challenges to implementing them would be as nothing compared with the political hurdles such ambitions must face.

There are some very encouraging things about this disarming book, and one of them is that on every page it addresses the messy uncertainties of the real world, rather than an ideal set of solutions.

People who have already thought a lot about the hazards and complexities of global temperature rise might be tempted to dismiss it as Climate Change for Dummies. They’d be wrong.

First, Gates addresses a global audience that includes (for instance) US Republican voters, fewer than one in four of whom understand that climate change is a consequence of what humans have done.

Then Gates writes as an engineer. He starts from the basics and arrives swiftly and by the shortest route at a series of firm conclusions: sophisticated, but still outlined with considerable clarity and a happy trick of pinning big answers to down-to-earth analogies
» Read article       

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

Texas Tucker
Conservatives Are Seriously Accusing Wind Turbines of Killing People in the Texas Blackouts
Tucker Carlson and others are using the deadly storm to attack wind power, but the state’s independent, outdated grid and unreliable natural gas generation are to blame.
By Kate Aronoff, New Republic
February 16, 2021

Within a few hours of grid horror stories percolating out beyond the Lone Star state, outlets like Breitbart and the Wall Street Journal began to publish grisly tales of a green revolution: that an abundance of wind turbines in Texas had been rendered practically useless by a chilly day and posed a danger to state residents. “The windmills failed like the silly fashion accessories they are, and people in Texas died,” said Fox News’ Tucker Carlson. Yet a surprising number of mainstream media outlets also adopted the narrative. Reuters, for example, mentioned offline wind resources in the first lines of its story about the outages—illustrated with a picture showing a field of turbines. “Frozen wind turbines contribute to rolling power blackouts across Texas,” ran CNN’s headline. The New York Times led with it, too.

As of Monday afternoon, 26 of the 34 gigawatts in ERCOT’s grid that had gone offline were from “thermal” sources, meaning gas and coal. The system’s total installed capacity in the system, Power magazine’s Sonal Patel noted, is around 77.2 GW. Wind and solar power, meanwhile, produced near or even above planned capacity, according to energy analyst Jesse Jenkins, as only small amounts of wind and solar are utilized in peaking conditions. Wind turbines did indeed freeze, and did eventually underperform. But so did natural gas infrastructure, and to a far greater degree. That proved to be a much larger problem since it makes up such a huge proportion of the state’s power supply in extreme weather. And frozen power lines and equipment were a far bigger cause of outages than generation shortages.

As Rice University’s Daniel Cohan put it on Twitter, “ERCOT expected to get low capacity factors from wind and solar during winter peak demand. What it didn’t expect is >20 GW of outages from thermal (mostly natural gas) power plants.” Despite these realities, the narrative about the outages thus far has disproportionately focused on turbines underperforming in the cold due to ice on their blades—and barely mentioned failures in the vast majority of the grid powered by fossil fuels.

Events like this are a godsend to fossil fuel interests eager to build more polluting infrastructure. Investor-owned utilities can’t simply raise rates whenever they like. Instead, they have to go to regulators in statewide public service commissions to “rate base” new infrastructure, i.e., pass the cost of things like new polluting “peaker plants” down to customers. Spun the right way, the chaos playing out in Texas could help them make the case for rate hikes and new fossil fuel infrastructure around the country—all the more so if regulators already enjoy a cozy relationship to the power companies they’re supposed to rein in.
» Read article        

VT greenish
As Vermont nears 75% renewable power, advocates question if it’s clean enough
Most of the power being used to satisfy the state’s renewable electricity standard comes from Hydro-Québec as local wind and solar development lag.
By David Thill, Energy News Network
Photo By Sharath G. / Creative Commons
February 15, 2021

On paper, Vermont boasts one of the cleanest electric grids in the country.

About 66% of the state’s electricity came from renewables in 2019, the most recent year for which final numbers are available. The state’s Renewable Energy Standard requires utilities to get to at least 75% renewables by 2032, including wind, solar, biomass and hydropower.

The problem, critics say, is that utilities are meeting a huge portion of their requirements with out-of-state hydropower, which comes with its own set of ethical and ecological strings attached. Counting renewable energy credits, about 44% of the state’s electricity in 2019 was from Hydro-Québec. Another 19.9% came from other hydroelectric sources, and 2.12% from solar.

“My belief is that we should be shifting towards as much in-state production of renewables as possible,” said Steve Crowley, energy chair of the Vermont chapter of the Sierra Club, which doesn’t think the current system is helping promote true clean energy development.

Like other states, Vermont is moving forward on a long-term push to increase building and transit electrification to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in those sectors. The large-scale transformation won’t be truly clean if the electricity doesn’t come from clean sources.

But clean energy advocates like Crowley say the current criteria for meeting the state’s renewable electricity standard allows utilities to lean far too much on out-of-state renewable energy credits, particularly from Hydro-Québec. In 2019, Hydro-Québec accounted for 69% of utilities’ “Tier 1” resources, the largest and broadest category in the state’s renewable standard.

Hydro-Québec has been a source of controversy throughout New England. Critics say the construction of its dam system in Québec has caused large-scale forest flooding. Not only has that destroyed a carbon sink, but it’s also displaced Indigenous communities in the region and been linked to mercury toxicity in the food they eat.
» Read article       

» More about clean energy

ENERGY STORAGE

NMC-LFP-Zn
Will Safer Batteries Finally Take Over the Home Storage Market?
Tesla and LG Chem rule the market with their NMC battery products, but the LFP battery contenders believe their technology’s time has come.
By Julian Spector, GreenTech Media
February 17, 2021

Tesla and LG Chem currently dominate the U.S. home battery market. Both use the lithium nickel-manganese-cobalt oxide (NMC) chemistry favored by the electric vehicle industry. In cars, the goal is to pack as much energy into as little space as possible. That comes with a tradeoff: the potential for cells to heat up and kick off a chain reaction that can end with fire and, in enclosed spaces, explosion.

But the umbrella term “lithium-ion battery” covers a range of chemistries. A vocal cohort of startups has argued for years that homeowners would be better off with less fire-prone varieties. The favorite contender in this category is lithium-iron-phosphate (LFP), which has an established safety record.

“We chose LFP since the beginning because of its safety properties,” said Danny Lu, senior vice president at grid battery company Powin Energy. “It’s much less flammable, and it takes a much higher temperature to reach thermal runaway than NMC does.”

Thermal runaway is the process in which one battery cell fails and heats up enough to kick off failure in a neighboring cell. Pretty soon a whole rack of batteries can be heating up from the inside, causing fires or worse.

That’s a concern for the kinds of large-scale power plants that Powin recently raised $100 million to supply. But large battery plants are designed with special safeguards to prevent thermal runaway from inflicting massive damage, and typically operate remotely, with no staff onsite. Homes with battery packs, by contrast, lack industrial-grade fire safety tools, and are occupied by humans and pets who would be threatened by a fire.

LFP used to be commercially disadvantaged against NMC, because the chemistry cost more and took up more space. Now, costs have fallen into competitive territory and energy density has improved, making converts of some former NMC fans. After years in which the exhortations of LFP aficionados failed to move the market, trends may be shifting in their favor.

In the early days, using LFP would have meant roughly doubling the cost of batteries and taking up extra space for a home installation, said Aric Saunders, EVP for sales and marketing at home battery startup ElectrIQ. ElectrIQ designed its first two product generations around NMC batteries.

Meanwhile, LFP has steadily gained traction with customers.

One of the few companies manufacturing such batteries in the U.S. is SimpliPhi Power, based in the coastal city of Oxnard, Calif. The company got its start supplying Hollywood film productions, and later the military, with off-grid battery power. That required rugged technology that could stand up to heat and wouldn’t endanger cast and crew. Staff tested “every chemistry available” and “every form factor” and decided to produce LFP, Von Burg said.

“You can say that cobalt batteries are more energy-dense, but the truth is you can’t use the energy in the same robust way as you can with LFP,”  Von Burg noted. “There’s a lot in the performance profile that cuts away and erodes the cost benefit.”

There’s also a more nuanced conversation to be had about battery pricing.

Upfront cost can’t be ignored. But LFP batteries deliver more lifetime energy throughput before they wear out, said Adam Gentner, vice president of sonnen, which exclusively sells LFP battery packs for homes. If a customer wants a battery “just for backup power to an out-building,” NMC may be fine for that infrequent use, Gentner said. But if the goal is to safely use the battery every day, to make use of solar power or make money by delivering services to the grid, LFP is the better pick.

“I expect that we’ll begin seeing the balance tip towards LFP in the coming year,” he said.

Some battery experts are looking for alternatives that go beyond LFP. UCSD battery expert Meng said LFP is “a good intermediate solution until we find the ultimate solution for home energy storage,” which would be a battery that lasts 20 years at a radically lower cost.

Entrepreneur Ryan Brown is trying to build nonflammable residential batteries using zinc and water with his Halifax-based startup, Salient Energy. The goal is to get cheaper than any lithium-ion competitors based on the lower costs of zinc as an active ingredient. Unlike other challengers to conventional batteries, this design uses the same roll-to-roll manufacturing techniques that coat electrodes in lithium-ion factories.

“There’s nothing in it that’s toxic; there’s nothing in it that could possibly catch fire,” Brown said.
» Read article       

lender appeal
Colocating energy storage alongside renewables adds to lender appeal
By Edith Hancock, Energy Storage News
February 17, 2021

Colocating battery energy storage systems alongside renewables projects will be ‘critical’ to energy networks in the future, and could help level up debt financing.

That was the take home point from a panel discussion on solar-plus-storage projects during the virtual Solar Finance & Investment Europe conference hosted by Energy-Storage.news publisher Solar Media earlier this month.

Mark Henderson, chief investment officer of UK-based storage and electric vehicle (EV) charging business Gridserve, said the key factor preventing lenders from handing out debt to developers is “down to the revenue streams”.

“The big challenge with adding batteries over the years has been that they have played into a number of markets,” he said, “and those markets are often very shallow.” However, co-locating storage with solar can increase investors’ appetite.

“By having them together, it means that you can elaborate more on the service side, which you can always see spread across the whole project. The gearing on a combined service storage project is certainly better than you’d be getting on a storage-only project.”
» Read article       

» More about energy storage

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

800 solid cycles
VW partner Quantumscape clears another hurdle on road to solid-state battery
By Bridie Schmidt, The Driven
February 18, 2021

Volkswagen-backed Quantumscape, the company that hit the news in December hailing a “major breakthrough” in its quest to commercialise solid-state batteries, says it has cleared another important hurdle.

Solid-state batteries are something of a holy grail for the electric vehicle industry and have the potential to substantially increase driving range and charging speed. But to date, solid-state cell degradation under normal operating conditions (eg temperature) has kept the technology from commercial success.

Having achieved “automotive performance” in a single-layer cell in 2020, Quantumsape says it has now achieved the next step towards overcoming this hurdle, having made a multilayer cell that can cycle 800 times.
» Read article       

» More about clean transportation

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Pike Electric
Texas’ natural gas production just froze under pressure
Texas’ natural gas infrastructure was already vulnerable
By Justine Calma, The Verge
February 17, 2021

Natural gas wells and pipes ill-equipped for cold weather are a big reason why millions of Texans lost power during frigid temperatures this week. As temperatures dropped to record lows across some parts of the state, liquid inside wells, pipes, and valves froze solid.

Ice can block gas flow, clogging pipes. It’s a phenomenon called a “freeze-off” that disrupts gas production across the US every winter. But freeze-offs can have outsized effects in Texas, as we’ve seen this week. The state is a huge natural gas producer — and it doesn’t usually have to deal with such cold weather.

“When we think about what’s been going on in the last week and why it’s turned the market completely on its head is the fact that the freeze offs are occurring in Texas,” says Erika Coombs, director of oil & gas products at research firm BTU Analytics.

Texas relies on natural gas more than any other fuel for its electricity generation. Gas generated nearly half of the state’s electricity in 2019, according to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT). Wind and coal each accounted for about 20 percent of electricity generation that year, while nuclear made up about another 10 percent. While nuclear and wind power have been hampered by the storm, neither frigid nuclear plants nor frozen wind turbines bear the largest share of responsibility for Texas’ power problems.

“It appears that a lot of the generation that has gone offline today has been primarily due to issues on the natural gas system,” Dan Woodfin, senior director of system operations at ERCOT, said during a call with reporters on February 16th, the Texas Tribune reported.

While the frigid cold slashed fuel supplies of all sorts, it also drove up demand for natural gas to heat homes. That “mismatch” is what’s driving these blackouts, says Coombs. There simply hasn’t been enough fuel on hand to power the state’s electricity needs. Natural gas production was pretty much halved in Texas and its gas-rich Permian Basin during the recent cold and stormy weather. It fell from 22.5 billion cubic feet of gas produced per day in December to between 10 to 12 billion cubic feet of gas per day this week, according to estimates from BTU Analytics.
» Read article       

CA to ban fracking
‘No time to waste’: California bill would ban fracking in state by 2027
Proposal is likely to be one of the most contentious fights in the state legislature this year
By The Guardian
February 17, 2021

A new bill introduced in the California state senate on Wednesday would ban all fracking near schools and homes by 1 January 2022 and in the entire state by 2027.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a technique used to extract huge amounts of oil and gas from shale rock deep underground. It involves injecting high-pressure mixtures of water, sand or gravel and chemicals into rock. Environmental groups say the chemicals threaten water supplies and public health.

The bill introduced by the senators Scott Wiener and Monique Limón would halt new fracking permits and the renewal of current ones on 1 January 2022, in addition to banning new oil and gas production within 2,500ft (762 meters) of any home, school, healthcare facility or long-term care institution, such as dormitories or prisons. It would outlaw all fracking in the state by 1 January 2027, along with three other oil extraction methods: acid well stimulation treatments, cyclic steaming and water and steam flooding.

California has been a leader in combating the climate crisis, with a law in place requiring the state use 100% renewable energy by 2045.
» Read article       

» More about fossil fuel

BIOMASS

Baker can stop this
Activists Urge Gov. Baker To Reverse Energy Rules That Boost Biomass
By Paul Tuthill, WAMC
February 17, 2021

Imminent changes to renewable energy regulations in Massachusetts concern opponents of a long-proposed biomass power plant in Springfield.

At a rally Wednesday in front of the Massachusetts state office building in downtown Springfield, activists launched a campaign to try to pressure Gov. Charlie Baker to withdraw proposed changes to renewable energy rules that would incentivize large-scale biomass power plants.

The activists fear the new rules will benefit Palmer Renewable Energy, which for 12 years has pushed to build a 35-megawatt biomass plant at an industrial site in East Springfield.  The project has been the target of public protests and court challenges, where the developer has always prevailed.

An update to the state’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard – the regulatory mandate for using power from renewable sources –is on track to be finalized early this year.

“The governor can stop this, if he chooses to stop it,” said Verne McArthur of the Springfield Climate Justice Coalition.

The 11th hour campaign to get the Baker administration to reverse course on making biomass eligible for renewable energy subsidies will include letter-writing, phone banks, and social media, according to McArthur.

“We have a very well organized campaign and there is a lot of opposition to this around the state,” said McArthur.

Opponents of the Springfield biomass project have long argued that a wood-burning power plant would have a devastating impact on the city that was dubbed “Asthma Capital” in 2019 by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.
» Read article       

Lockerbie burning
500+ Scientists Demand Stop to Tree Burning as Climate Solution
“Companies are shifting fossil energy use to wood, which increases warming, as a substitute for shifting to solar and wind, which would truly decrease warming.”
By Andrea Germanos, Common Dreams
February 12, 2021

A group of over 500 international scientists on Thursday urged world leaders to end policies that prop up the burning of trees for energy because it poses “a double climate problem” that threatens forests’ biodiversity and efforts to stem the planet’s ecological emergency.

The demand came in a letter addressed to European Commission President Urusla Von der Leyen, European Council President Charles Michel, U.S. President Joe Biden, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, and South Korean President Moon Jae-in. The signatories—including renowned botanist Dr. Peter Raven, president emeritus of the Missouri Botanical Garden—reject the assertion that burning biomass is carbon neutral.

Referring to forest “preservation and restoration” as key in meeting the nations’ declared goals of carbon neutrality by 2050, the letter frames the slashing of trees for bioenergy as “misguided.”

“We urge you not to undermine both climate goals and the world’s biodiversity by shifting from burning fossil fuels to burning trees to generate energy,” the group wrote.

The destruction of forests, which are a carbon sink, creates a “carbon debt.” And though regrowing “trees and displacement of fossil fuels may eventually pay off this carbon debt,” the signatories say that “regrowth takes time the world does not have to solve climate change.”

What’s more, burning trees is “carbon-inefficient,” they say. “Overall, for each kilowatt hour of heat or electricity produced, using wood initially is likely to add two to three times as much carbon to the air as using fossil fuels.”

Another issue is that efforts using taxpayer money to sustain biomass burning stymies what are truly renewable energy policies.

“Government subsidies for burning wood create a double climate problem because this false solution is replacing real carbon reductions,” the letter states. “Companies are shifting fossil energy use to wood, which increases warming, as a substitute for shifting to solar and wind, which would truly decrease warming.”

The letter denounces as further troubling proposals to burn palm oil and soybean, which would entail further deforestation to make way for palm and soy crops.
» Read article       

» More about biomass

PLASTICS RECYCLING

plastic greenwash
Chemical Recycling Is No Silver Bullet for Eliminating Plastic Waste
Chemical recycling projects are attracting massive investments but, so far, the ROI is negligible.
By Clare Goldsberry, Plastics Today
February 13, 2021

A paper published last fall in Chemical & Engineering News (CEN) by the American Chemical Society (ACS), “Companies are placing big bets on plastics recycling. Are the odds in their favor?” noted that “chemical recycling is attracting billions in capital spending, but environmentalists don’t think it will solve the plastic waste problem.”

This isn’t news. Consumers and especially anti-plastics activists have lost faith in the plastic industry’s ability to help solve a problem it has been accused of creating, and the slow pace of advanced recycling technologies, aka chemical recycling, hasn’t helped renew confidence that this will be the silver bullet that will rid the world of plastic waste. But attempts continue unabated and the cost of trying is proving to be extremely high.

Even the pace of adoption of various types of plastic, from recyclable traditional plastics such as PET and HDPE to bioplastics, as alternatives to traditional plastics seems extremely slow. The chemical recycling industry also has taken hits, as noted above. For example, the CEN/ACS paper opened by saying that in 2022 “Mondelez International intends to start packaging its Philadelphia brand cream cheese in a tube made from chemically recycled plastics. The packaging maker Berry Global will mold the containers. Petrochemical giant Sabic will supply the polypropylene. And the start-up Plastic Energy will produce feedstock for that polypropylene from postconsumer plastics at a plant it is constructing on Sabic’s site in Geleen, Netherlands.”

We’re not holding our collective breaths.

For at least a decade I’ve written blogs about the many consumer brand owners such as Kraft Heinz, Mondelez, and Nestlé being pressured by anti-plastics activist group As You Sow to find alternatives to single-use plastic packaging as a means to end plastic waste in the environment. Through shareholder proposals, As You Sow keeps applying the pressure, writing about the continued lack of progress these companies are making and the slow pace of adoption of alternative materials, most of which are no “greener” than plastics when you examine their life-cycle analyses. Still, to appease these activist groups, big brand owners keep promising to find the Holy Grail of recycling that will turn mountains of plastic trash into beautifully pure new plastic, or millions of gallons of fuel and other base chemicals from which to make new plastics.
» Read article       

Coke pollution
Coca-Cola Introduces New 100% Recycled Bottle in U.S., But Is It Enough?
By Olivia Rosane, EcoWatch
February 16, 2021

In December 2020, a report found Coca-Cola was the top corporate plastic polluter for the third year in a row, meaning its products were found clogging the most places with the largest amounts of plastic pollution.

The company seems to be aiming to clean up its act somewhat this year with the introduction of a 13.2-ounce bottle made with 100-percent recycled PET (rPET) plastic. The company announced the new bottle’s debut in select U.S. states this February, but environmental organizations said the move was too little, too late.

“In 1990, Coca-Cola and Pepsi announced plans to sell their products in recycled plastic bottles. The Washington Post quoted Greenpeace as ‘unimpressed’ at the time, urging the companies to eliminate single-use plastics altogether,” Greenpeace USA senior plastics campaigner Kate Melge said in a statement emailed to EcoWatch. “Thirty one years later, companies should not still be boasting about transitioning to recycled content. We remain unimpressed.”
» Read article       

» More about plastics recycling

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