Tag Archives: Thacker Pass

Weekly News Check-In 6/3/22

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Welcome back.

We’re starting off this week by circling back on a story we ran last time – about a group of determined citizens protesting the new peaking power plant currently under construction in Peabody, MA. Thanks again to all our friends who demonstrated and spoke out for state officials to do their jobs – we provide a link to photos. A little closer to home, folks were out on the steps of Springfield City Hall making it clear that Eversource’s proposed Longmeadow-Spfld gas pipeline expansion project is unnecessary and unwanted.

Of course, Eversource is simply following the standard playbook: building pipelines is how utilities traditionally make profits. That model will dominate until regulators put a stop to it, which is exactly what the Ontario Energy Board did recently, when to everyone’s surprise it refused to approve the final phases of a $123.7-million pipeline replacement project in Ottawa proposed by Enbridge Gas. More of that, please! Helpfully, the Biden administration has proposed undoing a Trump-era rule that limited the power of states and Indigenous Tribes to block natural gas pipelines based on their potential to pollute rivers and streams.

For those of us who fondly remember the promise of stepped-up climate action at the Federal level, and were holding out hope that a pared-down Build Back Better bill would somehow rise from the Senate swamp and make it to Biden’s desk… it’s just about time to admit it isn’t going to happen. Memorial Day is gone, and maneuvering for the upcoming midterm elections is going to make passing anything meaningful just about impossible.

That lost opportunity follows a string of others, perhaps the worst of which was the entirety of the Trump presidency in which this country essentially checked out of the climate fight altogether. While some states and cities tried to fill the policy void, the lack of Federal leadership and funding put this country well behind in a race we were already hard-pressed to win. Meanwhile, the United Nations secretary-general is doing all he can to prod world leaders into action, in what must feel like the single most thankless job on the planet.

The Biden administration is pressing ahead with the tools it has, and on Tuesday said it would substantially reduce the cost of building wind and solar energy projects on federal lands. But while those clean resources are getting a boost, California is losing almost half of its hydropower due to extreme drought – forcing its grid to rely more heavily on fossil fuel generating plants through a hot summer.

Wind power is big, and so, increasingly, are the turbines. As these beasts require ever-growing volumes of building materials like steel and concrete, some companies are working to make turbine towers more efficient and more cost-effective by building them with wood.

Proponents of a modernized electric grid often point to the resiliency that distributed sources of generation can offer. The Russian assault on Ukraine has made a good case for that. Recently, a Russian bomb struck a photovoltaic solar power plant in eastern Ukraine, leaving a large crater and lots of destroyed solar panels. But the facility was patched up in a couple of days with only a loss of about 6% of capacity. Imagine the disruption if the same bomb had struck a gas, coal, or nuclear power plant.

Facing a necessary and rapid transition to electric vehicles, the U.S. is pushing hard to develop domestic supply chains for metals critical to building EV batteries. Foremost among those is lithium, and we’re keeping an eye on the social and environmental impacts of all this planned extraction.

There’s a rush to develop carbon capture and storage, too. And the flood of money coming to that sector has been noticed by a public policy firm that represents electric utilities and oil companies. Bracewell LLP recently launched the Capture Action Project to tout technologies that capture carbon from smokestacks as a climate solution, but to us it looks like a way to keep burning fossil fuels through another taxpayer-funded subsidy. And while top environmental ministers from the Group of Seven major industrial countries agreed last Friday to end government financing for international coal-fired power generation and to accelerate the phasing out of unabated coal plants by the year 2035, it’s pretty clear the fossil fuel industry would like to keep the party going for as long as it can.

The rush to send liquefied natural gas to Europe is an example of how the industry leverages short-term crises for rationale to build long-term infrastructure. Even though studies show the U.S. can meet Europe’s needs with the export terminals it has (including two nearing completion), the promoters of other terminals are pitching hard. That has environmental groups urging the Biden administration to reverse a Trump-era rule that allows rail shipments of liquified natural gas (LNG), a super-risky mode of transport that the developers of the proposed Gibbstown, New Jersey LNG export terminal had intended to use in lieu of a pipeline.

Wrapping up, we’re watching a new program in Maine, which encourages proposals for specialized combined heat and power (CHP) biomass generating plants, and claims they will result in meaningful emissions reductions.

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

PEAKING POWER PLANTS

Water Street Bridge
“Do your job;” Protesters call on lawmakers to stop new Peabody peaker power plant
By Caroline Enos, Salem News
May 26, 2022

About 60 demonstrators gathered at the Waters River Bridge in Danvers Thursday afternoon to protest a new “peaker” power plant in Peabody. Their demand: for lawmakers to “do their job.”

“They’re ignoring the law. They’re ignoring our health needs, our climate needs,” said Jerry Halbertstadt, an environmental activist who has lived in Peabody for 15 years. “Everybody here, in one way or another, is aware of how important it is to make a change now.”

Halbertstadt, who is also a member of Breathe Clean North Shore, joined demonstrators in holding signs and flying kites that bore sayings like “No gas” and “Clean Energy Now, No Dirty Peaker” while standing along the bridge.

Some protesters also rode bikes and paddled kayaks with similar messages on their backs or boats.

The 55-megawatt “peaker” plant would be powered by oil and natural gas, and run during peak times of energy use. Construction on the new plant has already started, with developers expecting the $85 million project to be completed by summer 2023.

Protesters said the project’s developers, particularly the Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company (MMWEC), have not been transparent about the project nor provided adequate health and environmental impact reports.

State Rep. Sally Kerans spoke at Thursday’s rally. She said neither herself nor elected officials in her district, including Peabody’s mayor and city council, were aware of the new plant until activists spoke up.

The state’s Department of Public Utilities also did not allow citizen input on the project before it was greenlighted, she said.
» Read article  
» Slide show from event        

» More about peakers

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

Naia at city hall
Demonstrators take to City Hall steps to protest planned Eversource natural gas pipeline through Springfield and Longmeadow
By Patrick Johnson, MassLive
May 31, 2022

SPRINGFIELD — Some 35 opponents of a proposed natural gas pipeline through Springfield and Longmeadow took to the steps of City Hall on Tuesday to call for the project to be scrapped.

With demonstrators holding signs reading “stop the toxic pipeline,” speaker after speaker called the $35 million to $45 million Eversource pipeline unnecessary, potentially dangerous to the environment, and ultimately a cost that Eversource customers will bear.
» Read article   

» More about protests and actions

PIPELINES

Cliff Street Power Plant
Ontario Regulator Refuses New Pipeline, Tells Enbridge to Plan for Lower Gas Demand
By Mitchell Beer, The Energy Mix
May 29, 2022

The Ontario Energy Board sent minor shock waves through the province’s energy regulatory and municipal energy communities earlier this month with its refusal to approve the final phases of a $123.7-million pipeline replacement project in Ottawa proposed by Enbridge Gas.

Several observers said this was the first time the OEB had refused a “leave to construct” application from a gas utility, laying bare an operating model in which the companies’ revenue is based primarily on the kilometres of pipe they can install, rather than the volume of gas their customers actually need.

The OEB’s written order cites plans to reduce fossil gas demand across the City of Ottawa as one of the factors in the decision, along with Enbridge’s failure to show that a pipeline replacement was necessary or the most affordable option available. Major drivers of that reduction include Ottawa’s community energy plan, Energy Evolution, as well as the federal government’s effort to convert its Cliff Street heating and cooling plant from steam to hot water—changes that Enbridge did not factor into its gas demand forecasts.

“Nobody expected them to lose. Zero expectation,” veteran energy regulatory lawyer Jay Shepherd of Shepherd Rubinstein told The Energy Mix.

But “having the city give evidence that everybody is cutting back on their carbon in Ottawa, the OEB was hard pressed,” he added. “If Enbridge had had any other proof that the existing pipeline was failing, they might have won. But when the city goes in and says it won’t be using as much gas anymore, you can’t just ignore it.”

The implications of the decision could reverberate far beyond Ottawa, said Richard Carlson, director of energy policy at the Pollution Probe Foundation, and Gabriela Kapelos, executive director of the Clean Air Partnership.
» Read article   

» More about pipelines

LEGISLATION

missed chance
Democrats and the endless pursuit of climate legislation
Amid overlapping crises, has Congress missed its moment to act?
By Shannon Osaka, Grist
June 1, 2022

Twelve years ago, when Democrats controlled both houses of Congress and the presidency, the country teetered on the edge of passing its first-ever comprehensive climate bill. A triumvirate of senators were negotiating bipartisan legislation that would invest in clean energy, set a price on carbon pollution, and — as a carrot for Republicans — temporarily expand offshore drilling.

Then an oil rig — the Deepwater Horizon — exploded in the Gulf of Mexico. The loose bipartisan coalition collapsed. As President Barack Obama later wrote in his memoir, A Promised Land, “My already slim chances of passing climate legislation before the midterm elections had just gone up in smoke.”

Today, the sense of déjà vu is strong. The first half of 2022 has been stacked with events that have pushed climate change far down the list of priorities. The Biden administration has been caught between the war in Ukraine, surging inflation, the fight over Roe v. Wade, and, horrifically, continued gun violence. A month ago, many Democrats cited the Memorial Day recess as a loose deadline for having a climate reconciliation bill — one that could pass the Senate with only 50 votes — drafted or agreed upon. Any later, and the summer recesses and run-up to midterms could swallow any legislative opportunity. That date has now come and gone. “If you’re paying attention, you should be worried,” Jared Huffman, a Democratic representative from California, told E&E News last week.

It’s both a sluggish and anticlimactic result for a party that, in 2020 and 2021, threw its weight behind climate action. The Build Back Better Act, President Biden’s massive $2 trillion spending framework, passed the House of Representatives last November, with $555 billion in spending for climate and clean energy. The bill would have invested in wind, solar, and geothermal power, offered Americans cash to buy EVs or e-bikes, retrofitted homes to be more energy efficient, and much, much more — but it died in the Senate, when Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia refused to support it.
» Read article  

» More about legislation

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY

water quality effects
Biden’s EPA aims to erase Trump-era rule keeping states from blocking energy projects
Trump restricted states’ power in favor of fossil fuel development but proposed rule would empower local officials to protect water
By Associated Press, in The Guardian
June 2, 2022

The Biden administration on Thursday proposed undoing a Trump-era rule that limited the power of states and Indigenous American tribes to block energy projects like natural gas pipelines based on their potential to pollute rivers and streams.

The Clean Water Act allows states and tribes to review what effect pipelines, dams and other federally regulated projects might have on water quality within their borders.

The Trump administration sought to streamline fossil fuel development and made it harder for local officials to block projects.

The Biden administration’s proposed rule would shift power back to states, tribes and territories.

The administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Michael Regan, said the draft regulation would empower local entities to protect water bodies “while supporting much-needed infrastructure projects that create jobs”.

The Trump-era rule required local regulators to focus reviews on pollution projects might discharge into rivers, streams and wetlands. It also rigidly enforced a one-year deadline for regulators to make permitting decisions. Some states lost authority to block projects based on allegations they missed the deadline.

Now, the EPA says states should have the authority to look beyond pollution discharged into waterways and “holistically evaluate” impacts on local water quality. The proposal would also give local regulators more power to ensure they have the information they need before facing deadline pressure over a permit.

The public will have an opportunity to weigh in on the EPA proposal. The final rule isn’t expected to take effect until spring 2023. The Trump-era rule remains in effect.
» Read article  

» More about EPA

CLIMATE

US falling behind
Trump Policies Sent U.S. Tumbling in a Climate Ranking
The Environmental Performance Index, published every two years by researchers at Yale and Columbia, found only Denmark and Britain on sustainable paths to net-zero emissions by 2050.
By Maggie Astor, New York Times
May 31, 2022

For four years under President Donald J. Trump, the United States all but stopped trying to combat climate change at the federal level. Mr. Trump is no longer in office, but his presidency left the country far behind in a race that was already difficult to win.

A new report from researchers at Yale and Columbia Universities shows that the United States’ environmental performance has tumbled in relation to other countries — a reflection of the fact that, while the United States squandered nearly half a decade, many of its peers moved deliberately.

But, underscoring the profound obstacles to cutting greenhouse gas emissions rapidly enough to prevent the worst effects of climate change, even that movement was insufficient. The report’s sobering bottom line is that, while almost every country has pledged by 2050 to reach net-zero emissions (the point where their activities no longer add greenhouse gases to the atmosphere), almost none are on track to do it.

The report, called the Environmental Performance Index, or E.P.I., found that, based on their trajectories from 2010 through 2019, only Denmark and Britain were on a sustainable path to eliminate emissions by midcentury.

[…] “We think this report’s going to be a wake-up call to a wide range of countries, a number of whom might have imagined themselves to be doing what they needed to do and not many of whom really are,” said Daniel C. Esty, the director of the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy, which produces the E.P.I. every two years.

A United Nations report this year found that there is still time, but not much, for countries to change course and meet their targets. The case of the United States shows how gravely a few years of inaction can fling a country off course, steepening the slope of emissions reductions required to get back on.
» Read article  

EFF Now
UN’s Guterres demands end to ‘suicidal war against nature’
Unless humanity acts now, ‘we will not have a livable planet,’ United Nations secretary-general warns, pleading for world leaders to ‘lead us out of this mess’.
By Al Jazeera
June 2, 2022

The world must cease its “senseless and suicidal war against nature”, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said, singling out developed nations and their gluttonous use of the planet’s resources.

Guterres said if global consumption were at the level of the world’s richest countries, “we would need more than three planet Earths”.

“We know what to do and increasingly we have the tools to do it, but we still lack leadership and cooperation. So today I appeal to leaders in all sectors – lead us out of this mess,” Guterres said on Thursday.

Developed nations must at least double financial support to developing countries so they can adapt and build resilience to climate disruptions that are already happening, the UN chief said.

“The 17 Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement show the way, but we must act on these commitments. Otherwise, they are nothing but hot air – and hot air is killing us.”

Guterres was speaking in Stockholm where he met Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson in advance of a two-day climate and environment conference.

Humanity has less than three years to halt the rise of planet-warming carbon emissions and less than a decade to slash them almost in half, a recent UN report said.

Global emissions are now on track to blow past the 1.5°C warming limit envisioned in the 2015 Paris Agreement and reach 3.2 degrees Celsius (5.76 degrees Fahrenheit) by the century’s end.

“There is one thing that threatens all our progress – the climate crisis. Unless we act now, we will not have a livable planet,” said Guterres.

“We must never let one crisis overshade another. We just have to work harder. And the war in Ukraine has also made it very clear fossil fuel dependency is not only a climate risk, it is also a security risk. And it has to end,” said Andersson.

In recent months, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has published the first two installments in a trilogy of mammoth scientific assessments covering how emissions are heating the planet – and what that means for life on Earth.

Carbon emissions need to drop 43 percent by 2030 and 84 percent by mid-century to meet the Paris goal of 1.5C (2.7F).

Nations must stop burning coal completely and slash oil and gas use by 60 percent and 70 percent, respectively, to keep within the Paris goals, the IPCC said.
» Read article  

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

Victorville CA
U.S. says it will cut costs for clean energy projects on public lands
By Reuters
May 31, 2022

The Biden administration on Tuesday said it would substantially reduce the cost of building wind and solar energy projects on federal lands to help spur renewable energy development and address climate change.

The new policy comes after years of lobbying from clean power developers who argued that lease rates and fees for facilities on federal lands were too high to draw investment.

In a statement, the Department of Interior said rents and fees for solar and wind projects would fall by about 50%.

The administration also said it would boost the number of people processing renewable energy environmental reviews and permit applications through the creation of five coordinating offices in Washington, Arizona, California, Nevada and Utah.

The offices are expected to improve coordination with other federal agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the departments of agriculture, energy and defense.
» Read article  

Hyatt Powerplant
Extreme drought could cost California half its hydroelectric power this summer
Nearly 60 percent of the state is experiencing ‘extreme’ drought or worse
By Justine Calma, The Verge
June 1, 2022

Drought is forecast to slash California’s supply of hydroelectricity in half this summer. That’s bad news for residents’ air quality and utility bills, the US Energy and Information Administration (EIA) said in its forecast. The state will likely lean on more expensive, polluting natural gas to make up for the shortfall in hydropower.

Nearly 60 percent of California is currently coping with “extreme” drought or worse, according to the national drought monitor map. California’s current water woes stem from low levels of snowpack, which quenches the state’s reservoirs when it melts. In early April, when snowpack usually peaks, the water content of the state’s snowpack was 40 percent lower than the normal levels over the past 30 years.

Two of California’s most important water reservoirs, Shasta Lake and Lake Oroville, were already “critically low” by early May. We haven’t even reached the summer, when the weather could become even more punishingly dry and hot and demand for air conditioning places extra stress on the power grid.

Hydroelectricity is a significant source of energy in the US. It typically makes up about 15 percent of California’s electricity generation during “normal water conditions,” according to the EIA. But that’s expected to drop to just 8 percent this summer, the EIA says.

Sometimes California can buy hydropower from other states in the Pacific Northwest. But Washington State and Oregon are also dealing with drought, so gas may have to fill in the gaps. As a result, the EIA says electricity prices in the Western US will likely be 5 percent higher over the next few months. In California, the drought will result in 6 percent higher carbon dioxide emissions in the energy sector.
» Read article  

» More about clean energy

BUILDING MATERIALS

wood turbine tower
Wood Towers Can Cut Costs of Building Taller, More Efficient Wind Turbines
By Paige Bennett, EcoWatch
June 1, 2022

To be as efficient as possible, wind turbines need to be tall. But the taller the wind turbine, the more expensive it is to construct. The towers, typically made of steel or concrete, can be pricey, not to mention the embedded carbon emissions associated with these materials. Now, companies are working to make the towers of wind turbines taller, more efficient and more cost-effective by building them with wood.

Using wood for such a structure seems simple enough, yet many wind turbines are made with tubular steel or concrete, which can become increasingly expensive the taller the tower gets. But as explained by Energy.gov, “Because wind speed increases with height, taller towers enable turbines to capture more energy and generate more electricity. Winds at elevations of 30 meters (roughly 100 feet) or higher are also less turbulent.”

Most wind turbines in the U.S. are about 90 meters tall and are expected to reach an average height of 150 meters by 2035. To make this process more affordable, companies like Modvion and Stora Enso are working to use laminated timber, a material popular in sustainable building construction, for wind turbine construction.

According to Stora Enso, using wood can reduce a wind turbine’s emissions by up to 90%. Modvion has also noted that wood is lightweight, making it easier to transport and quick to assemble, and reduces manufacturing emissions by 25%, as reported by CleanTechnica.

Wood sourcing is also an issue, as deforestation continues to be a major problem for both its emissions and contribution to habitat loss. Modvion noted that it uses Scandinavian spruce for its wood wind turbines, saying this wood “is abundantly available and for which re-growth exceeds logging.” The wood is either Forest Stewardship Council- or Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification Schemes-certified.

According to Modvion, its towers will last as long as other standard wood turbine parts, about 25 to 30 years. While the first commercially produced wood towers are slated for onshore use, the company does plan to make minor adjustments to also manufacture wood wind turbines for offshore use as well.
» Read article  

» More about building materials

MODERNIZING THE GRID

bombed solar farm
Russian missile strikes Ukraine solar farm, solar farm powers on
By Sophie Vorrath, Renew Economy
May 31, 2022

The safety of Ukraine’s many nuclear power plants has been a focus of major concern during the ongoing Russian invasion, but photos and video making the rounds on social media this week show that renewables, too, have come under attack.

The images, some of them shared above, show a solar farm in eastern Ukraine’s Kharkiv region that was struck by a missile over the weekend, leaving hundreds of smashed panels and a massive crater between two module rows.

According to Reuters via the New York Times, the 10MW solar plant is located in Merefa, southwest of Kharkiv.

Video footage of the attack as it happened has been shared on Twitter by Deutsche Welle, which says there were no casualties from that particular attack, although Ukranian officials say Russian bombs killed at least seven civilians in Karkhiv over the past week.

[…] The DW report also notes that power generation from the plant has since been restored. This has not been verified by the plant’s owner.

Whether the solar farm was the intended target of the Russian bomb is difficult to confirm, but Kirill Trokhin, who works in the power generation industry and is based in Kyiv, said on LinkedIn that the minimal “fallout” – so to speak – from the attack on the PV plant offers yet another very good reason to shift to renewables.

“A Russian bomb hits a photovoltaic solar power plant in eastern Ukraine. As we can see, it does not burn, it is not completely destroyed, and the cumulative destruction can be eliminated in a couple of days if spare materials are available,” Trokhin writes on LinkedIn alongside some of the images being shared.

“And if not – the damaged section can be localised in a day, so as not to affect the operation of the survived equipment.

“Judging by the photo, about four strings were destroyed and four more were damaged, approximately. This is about 200 modules. For a 10MW plant, this is approximately 0.6%. Yes, less than a percent.

“This is another reason to focus on distributed renewable generation if the climatic reason is not enough. To destroy it – you need to try very hard.

“Of course, Russians can hit into substations. But all the same, the resumption of work will happen much faster than when the technological equipment of thermal power plants, hydroelectric power plants, or nuclear power plants is destroyed. And single losses are much less.”
» Read article  

gridlock buster
DOE launches grid interconnection initiative to cut ‘gridlock’ hampering clean energy progress
By Ethan Howland, Utility Dive
June 2, 2022

In an effort to spur clean energy development, the U.S. Department of Energy is launching a program to improve the grid interconnection process through a partnership with utilities, grid operators, state and tribal governments, clean energy developers, energy justice organizations and other stakeholders.

The Interconnection Innovation e-Xchange (i2X) initiative will develop solutions for faster, simpler and fairer grid interconnection through better data, roadmap development and technical assistance, the DOE said Tuesday.

While the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission prepares for possible long-term solutions to improve the interconnection process, the DOE initiative may provide near-term relief to the backlog of interconnection requests, according to Jeff Dennis, Advanced Energy Economy managing director and general counsel.
» Read article   

offshore wind at sunset
Feds approve plan to delay scrapping a New England energy rule that harms renewables
By Miriam Wasser, WBUR
May 28, 2022


A controversial rule that makes it harder for renewable energy projects to participate in one of New England’s lucrative electricity markets will remain in place for another two years.

Late Friday night, Federal energy regulators approved a plan from the regional grid operator, ISO New England, to keep the so-called minimum offer price rule — or MOPR (pronounced MOPE-er) — until 2025.

The MOPR dictates a price floor below which new power sources cannot bid in the annual forward capacity market — a sort of futures market for power plants promising to be “on call” and ready to produce electricity when demand spikes.

The grid operator holds this annual on-call auction to lock in the power capacity it thinks the region will need three years in the future. Power generators that won a spot in the 2022 auction, for example, are on stand-by beginning in 2025.

By keeping the MOPR around longer, Melissa Birchard of the Acadia Center says it will be harder for the New England states to meet their decarbonization goals.

“The MOPR has held the region back for a long time and we need to see it go away forever,” she said. “This decision falls short of providing the certainty and speed that the region deserves.”

As WBUR detailed in a recent explainer about the MOPR, most everyone agrees the rule needs to go; the debate has been over when it should happen.
» Read article  
» MOPR debate explained

» More about modernizing the grid

SITING IMPACTS OF RENEWABLE ENERGY RESOURCES

Thacker Pass photo
Powering Electric Cars: the Race to Mine Lithium in America’s Backyard
The experience of one mining company in rural North Carolina suggests the road ahead will be hard to navigate.
By Aime Williams, The Financial Times, in Inside Climate News
May 31, 2022

At his small red brick farmhouse home near the Catawba river in the rural Piedmont region of North Carolina, Brian Harper is caught up in the dilemma facing America’s big push towards a future powered by green energy.

Running in a band beneath the soil close to Harper’s land lies America’s biggest deposit of spodumene ore, a mineral that when processed into lithium is crucial to building rechargeable batteries of the kind used in electric vehicles.

Seeing the business opportunity in this fast-growing area, Piedmont Lithium, a mining company originally incorporated in Australia, began knocking on the doors of the old houses surrounding a roughly 3,000-acre site several years ago, offering to buy up land so that it could start drilling a large pit mine to extract the mineral.

With the International Energy Agency projecting a boom in demand that vastly exceeds planned supply in coming years, Piedmont found no difficulty pledging future sales of lithium to Tesla, America’s poster-child electric car company, even before they secured all of the necessary mining permits.

But while it has successfully bought up some parcels of land, Piedmont Lithium has run into staunch opposition from many of its potential new neighbors, including Harper, who runs a small business making cogs and gears for industrial machinery just a little down the road from the proposed new mine.

[…] As the U.S. attempts to surge ahead in the global race to build batteries that will power the green transition, Washington is encouraging companies such as Piedmont to break ground on more mining projects across the continental United States. But it also wants to ensure state regulators, environmental activists and local communities are not left behind in the rush.

The explosion in the electric vehicle market has set off a “battery arms race,” according to Simon Moores, chief executive of consultancy Benchmark Mineral Intelligence, which specializes in data on lithium ion batteries.

Battery manufacturers will be trying to source the raw minerals needed to make batteries, including cobalt, nickel, graphite and lithium. Yet while scientists are having early success developing batteries that do not need cobalt or nickel to function, there are so far no leads on eliminating lithium. According to Moores, “lithium is the one that terrifies the industry.”

[…] While there is only one operational lithium mine in the U.S. at present, a number of companies are pressing to get mining projects operational. Lithium Americas is planning a mine at Thacker Pass in Northern Nevada, while Australia-based Ioneer USA Corp. also wants to build a large mine in southern Nevada, about 330 miles north of Los Angeles. Several other companies are proposing projects that would extract lithium from geothermal brine, including one at California’s largest lake in Salton Sea.

In Washington, both Democrats and Republican lawmakers have said they would support updating the federal law dated from 1872 that governs mining on American public lands. Lawmakers variously want to boost U.S. mining capacity and insert more robust environmental protections.
» Read article  

» More about siting impacts of renewables

CARBON CAPTURE AND STORAGE

corporate-backed boondoggle
Bracewell launches pro-CCS group ahead of funding explosion
By Carlos Anchondo and Corbin Hiar, E&E News
May 31, 2022

A public policy firm that represents electric utilities and oil companies recently launched a new group to tout technologies that capture carbon from smokestacks as a climate solution.

Bracewell LLP created the Capture Action Project in April as federal officials prepare to spend $8.2 billion on efforts to catch, transport and store carbon dioxide from industrial facilities. It joined a crowded field of groups that are advocating for expanded research, development and deployment of expensive technologies that can filter CO2 from smokestack emissions or suck CO2 from the air.

The unprecedented influx of government support for carbon capture and storage was provided by the bipartisan infrastructure bill President Joe Biden signed into law last year.

[…] Bracewell’s Capture Action Project has sought to undermine some groups that have raised concerns about carbon capture pipelines.

“Recently, a group called Food & Water Watch has been treating those living near potential carbon capture projects to a barrage of adverse arguments, including the unsurprising conclusion that folks would rather not see eminent domain authority used solely for private gain,” CAP staff wrote on the website. The post went on to highlight a February tweet from the environmental organization that said “all pipelines” are disastrous.

“These hardly seem like objective views that people can use to call balls and strikes on projects so important to maintaining energy security and addressing greenhouse gas emissions,” the CAP post said.

A Food & Water Watch representative said Bracewell’s criticism demonstrated that the environmental group’s campaign to “protect Iowa and other states from these dangerous, unneeded carbon capture pipelines is gaining steam.”

“The Capture Action Project expresses an apparent concern for our climate future, but nowhere does it even mention the aggressive shift to clean, renewable energy that will be required to save this planet from deepening climate chaos moving forward,” Emily Wurth, managing director of organizing for Food & Water Watch, said in an email. “We have the solutions to fight climate change — and it doesn’t involve corporate-backed boondoggles like CCS.”

Bracewell’s CCS advocacy group has also targeted the Pipeline Safety Trust. Earlier this year, the safety advocacy group warned that the U.S. is “ill prepared for the increase of CO2 pipeline mileage being driven by federal CCS policy” (Energywire, March 31).
» Read article  

caution CO2
Federal regulators crack down after pipeline caught spewing CO2
The operators of a pipeline that burst in 2020 face nearly $4 million in penalties
By Justine Calma, The Verge
May 27, 2022

Federal regulators are beginning to crack down on a new generation of pipelines that will be crucial for the Biden administration’s plans to capture millions of tons of carbon dioxide to combat climate change.

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) proposed penalties yesterday on the operator of one such pipeline that ruptured in Mississippi, sending at least 45 people to the hospital in 2020. The agency also pledged to craft new rules to prevent similar pipeline failures from happening as the US makes plans to build out a network of pipelines to transport captured CO2.

There are not many of these pipelines (compared to oil and gas pipelines) yet in the US, which are primarily used by the fossil fuel industry so it can shoot CO2 into oil fields to push out hard-to-reach reserves. One of those pipelines ruptured in February 2020, releasing about 30,000 barrels of liquid carbon dioxide that immediately started to vaporize and triggered the evacuation of 200 residents in and around the small town of Satartia, Mississippi. Some of those who weren’t able to leave in time were left convulsing, confused, or unconscious, according to an investigation published last year by HuffPost and the Climate Investigations Center.

Pipelines for CO2 transport the gas at high pressure and at a high enough concentration to make it an asphyxiant. The CO2 in the pipeline that ruptured was also mixed with hydrogen sulfide, but CO2 can still be harmful on its own. About 100 workers a year die from CO2 accidents globally. It’s heavier than air, allowing a plume of it to sink to the ground and blanket a large area. That can also starve vehicles of oxygen it needs to burn fuel, which can strand people trying to evacuate or authorities trying to respond to the crisis.
» Read article  

» More about CCS

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

terminate funding
Key nations agree to halt funding for new fossil fuel projects
By Brady Dennis, The Washington Post, in The Boston Globe
May 27, 2022

Top environmental ministers from the Group of Seven major industrial countries agreed Friday to end government financing for international coal-fired power generation and to accelerate the phasing out of unabated coal plants by the year 2035.

The group said that it would aim to have “predominantly decarbonized electricity sectors by 2035.”

The commitments on the phaseout of coal plants will particularly affect Japan, which relies heavily on coal-fired power plants.

Unabated coal plants include those that have not yet adopted technology for capturing and using carbon dioxide.

The G-7 ministers also said that new road vehicles in their countries would be “predominantly” zero-emissions vehicles by 2030 and that they plan to accelerate cuts in the use of Russian natural gas, which would be replaced by clean power in the long term.

The private sector in the major industrial countries must crank up financing, the ministers said, moving “from billions to trillions.” The group acknowledged the need laid out by the International Energy Agency for the G-7 economies to invest at least $1.3 trillion in renewable energy, tripling investments in clean power and electricity networks between 2021 and 2030.
» Read article  

» More about fossil fuel

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

tanks and pipes
Worried by Ukraine war impacts, environmentalists petition feds to dump LNG by rail
By Susan Phillips, WSKG-NPR
May 24, 2022

STATEIMPACT PENNSYLVANIA – Environmental groups are urging the Biden administration to reverse a Trump-era rule that allows rail shipments of liquified natural gas (LNG). The groups say the war in Ukraine, and the subsequent plans by the White House to increase LNG exports, should not derail the Department of Transportation’s proposal to reinstate limits on LNG-by-rail.

“We cannot let an energy crisis that comes out of Ukraine turn into a blanket thrown over the climate crisis,” said Tracy Carluccio, of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, during a virtual press conference Wednesday. “The climate crisis is the fight of our lives, it’s the fight of our time.”

The Delaware Riverkeeper Network, along with half a dozen other advocacy groups, petitioned the Department of Transportation on Wednesday to follow through on their plan to suspend a Trump-era rule that opened up the nation’s railways to LNG.

While industry advocates say rail transport is safe, a leak of LNG carries risk of explosion. The petition also urges the Biden administration to outright ban any LNG-by-rail due to both safety hazards, and the climate impacts of expanding fossil fuel infrastructure and development.

Carluccio says the groups are against all forms of LNG production and transport, including pipelines. “We leave it in the ground, that’s basically the answer,” Carluccio said. “We’re not going to be able to ever safely move it, process it, or export it.”

Prior to a new Trump administration rule enacted in 2020, LNG rail transport permits faced steep hurdles, and only a few were approved through a “special permit,” including a plan to send LNG via rail across the Delaware River to Gibbstown, New Jersey. But in an effort to encourage natural gas infrastructure and expand LNG transportation beyond pipelines, the Department of Transportation under Trump reversed long-standing practice to allow a regular permitting procedure. No permits have been issued for LNG-by-rail since that 2020 rule change.
» Read article  

» More about LNG

BIOMASS

Maine biomass CHP
Maine plan for wood-fired power plants draws praise and skepticism

Critics characterize the program, which would capture waste heat for industrial use, as a handout to the timber industry and question whether it will result in meaningful emissions reductions.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
June 2, 2022

A new law encouraging the development of wood-fired combined heat and power plants in Maine is drawing praise for its potential to benefit the economy and the environment.

But some climate activists are skeptical, saying questions remain about whether the program will cut carbon emissions as intended.

The legislation, signed by Gov. Janet Mills in April, establishes a program to commission projects that will burn wood to create electricity and also capture the heat produced for use on-site — heat that would go to waste in a conventional power plant.

Proposals for these facilities are expected to come from forestry or forest products businesses that could use their own wood byproducts to fuel the plants, saving them money on heat and electricity costs and providing an extra revenue stream when excess power is sold back into the grid.

[…] “There is significant disagreement on whether it is truly carbon neutral and emission-free,” said Jeff Marks, Maine director and senior policy advocate for environmental nonprofit the Acadia Center.

[…] “It will not be highly efficient — it’s not feasible with a wood fuel,” [Greg Cunningham, director of the clean energy and climate change program at the Conservation Law Foundation] said. “It will not to any extent be a climate solution.”

The law caps the program at a total capacity of 20 megawatts statewide, a tiny fraction of the 3,344 megawatts of generating capacity the state already has. Still, the climate implications of the new law matter, Cunningham said.

“The money available in the state of Maine to fight climate change and invest in clean energy programs is finite,” he said. “When any amount of it is siphoned off for an anti-climate program, it’s problematic.”
» Read article  

» More about biomass

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Weekly News Check-In 4/1/22

banner 17

Welcome back.

Another youth-led climate organization is making waves, alongside the better-known Extinction Rebellion that has mounted bold non-violent actions against the buildout of fossil fuel infrastructure for the past few years. The group Just Stop Oil demands that the British government agree to halt all new licenses for fossil fuel projects. This is reasonable, and right in line with United Nations and International Energy Agency roadmaps for limiting global warming to levels just below catastrophic. The kids are alright.

Science and common sense aside, industry’s zombie-like, shuffling trudge toward new fossil projects includes persistent pressure for new gas peaking power plants. We’re fighting one in Peabody, MA; this week’s report highlights one on Long Island. Meanwhile, it seems our good-news story from last week about the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s new requirement to consider downstream emissions and environmental justice communities before permitting new natural gas pipelines may have been a tad premature. In a disappointing reversal, FERC chair Richard Glick is walking that back.

With inflation biting into budgets at a time when about one third of American households already have trouble paying their energy bills, it’s fair to ask whether states with ambitious climate goals will make things better or worse from the kitchen-table perspective. We found a new report that concludes “prioritizing investments in energy-cost-burdened populations can help states meet their emissions reductions targets while saving billions of dollars.” It’s a strong economic argument for improving people’s lives while moving quickly to decarbonize. This involves up-front investment, but it makes a whole lot more sense to shovel loads of cash at something expected to pay handsome social and economic dividends – rather than stuffing all those greenbacks into the furnaces and smokestacks tended by the business-as-usual lobby.

Our climate stories draw a line under that. One talks about the dangers of buying into the popular idea that it’s OK to overshoot our global warming target – that we can pull the planet back into the safe zone later. Nope. Now read the second article, featuring young people who refuse to give up in the face of daunting odds. They argue that embracing climate doom can be a cop out that excuses inaction.

Thousands of Canadians are staying engaged – calling for an end to the carbon capture tax credit, a giveaway to industry that relies on unproven and expensive technology, without meaningful return in the form of emissions remediation. Germany appears ready to act, now that the invasion of Ukraine exposed the country’s untenable dependence on Russia’s natural gas. Chancellor Olaf Scholz is doubling down on a clean energy transition. This, along with decisions made in other European capitals will decide the course of the current industry-led race to simply replace all that Russian gas with shipments of liquefied natural gas from North America. It’s worth stepping back from LNG’s breathless promotion of this “solution” to consider that it would lock in lots of new fossil infrastructure and take years to implement – none of which addresses Europe’s urgent energy needs nor the climate’s requirement that we stop doing things like that.

And consider this: every new study of methane emissions from the oil and gas sector seems to conclude that releases of this extra-powerful greenhouse gas are much larger than previously known. Connecticut is on the right track, with its regulators calling for a halt to subsidies for new gas hookups. The argument that gas is cleaner than any other fuel, including coal, is increasingly difficult to defend.

Good news this week includes the fact that we’re getting closer to integrating the batteries in electric vehicles as energy storage units capable of providing grid services. In the not-too-distant electric-mobile future, a utility could peel off a little charge from tens of thousands of parked EVs, greatly reducing the need for larger battery storage units to handle peak demand. And electrified transportation is a broad category, including e-bikes. Massachusetts is finally expected to move forward with regulations allowing them more widespread use and even subsidies for affordability. Forty-six other states have already taken similar measures.

Of course, expanding electric mobility requires mining a host of metals, and the U.S. has concluded its supply chains are far too reliant on foreign (sometimes unstable and/or unfriendly) sources. Lithium, cobalt, and nickel are key metals in EV batteries, and selecting the least environmentally- and culturally-damaging extraction sites is of urgent importance. We offer a report on locations currently under consideration.

Here in Massachusetts, the Baker administration continues its attempt to rewrite the state’s science-based biomass regulations, to allow certain biomass-fueled electricity generators to qualify for lucrative clean energy credits. Scientists, public health professionals, and activists are strenuously opposing that effort.

We’ll wrap up with two stories on the energy demands of cryptocurrency. Bitcoin miners are moving to the oil patch, increasingly running their power-thirsty banks of processors off “waste” gas from drilling operations and using fuzzy math to claim it’s a win for the climate. Meanwhile, others suggest a practical change that could eliminate up to 99% of that energy demand.

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

— The NFGiM Team

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

just stop oil and XR
Environmental protesters block oil terminals across UK
Activists climb on tankers and glue themselves to roads around London, Birmingham and Southampton
By Damien Gayle, The Guardian
April 1, 2022

Hundreds of environmental protesters have blocked seven oil terminals across the country as part of a campaign to paralyse the UK’s fossil fuel infrastructure.

Early on Friday, supporters of Just Stop Oil began blockades at oil refineries around London, Birmingham and Southampton by climbing on top of tankers and gluing themselves to road surfaces.

Shortly after 4am, activists blocked terminals in Purfleet and Grays, Essex, which they said were the biggest in the country. In Tamworth, near Birmingham, a group of more than two dozen protesters had been hoping to disrupt the nearby Kingsbury oil terminal. However, due to police intervention they were able only to block a road leading to the site.

Just Stop Oil has demanded that the government agree to halt all new licences for fossil fuel projects in the UK. They have vowed to continue disrupting the UK’s oil infrastructure until the government agrees.

Louis McKecknie, 21 from Weymouth, who last month zip-tied his neck to a goalpost at Goodison Park, Everton’s football ground, as part of the campaign, said: “I don’t want to be doing this but our genocidal government gives me no choice. They know that oil is funding Putin’s war and pushing millions of people into fuel poverty while energy companies reap billions in profits. They know that to allow more oil and gas extraction in the UK is suicidal and will accelerate global heating.

“It means millions dying of heat stress, losing their homes or having to fight for food. This is the future for my generation, I stop when oil stops.”
» Read article      

» More about protests and actions     

PEAKING POWER PLANTS

no NRG peaker
NRG’s Proposed Astoria Power Plant Slammed as Company Attempts to Revive Plans
By Allie Griffin, Sunnyside Post
March 17, 2022

A large energy company that had its plans to build a power plant in Astoria rejected by the state in October has challenged the decision and in doing so has drawn the ire of local officials and activists.

NRG Energy is seeking the state’s approval to replace its 50-year-old peaker plant on 20th Avenue with a natural gas-fired generator that it says would significantly reduce its carbon footprint at the site.

The company’s application was denied by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation in October and NRG requested an adjudicatory hearing in November.

Elected officials and climate activists, however, remain firmly opposed to the plan. They slammed the plan at a public hearing Tuesday.

State Sen. Michael Gianaris, who has been an outspoken critic of the plan since its inception, called on the Department of Environmental Conservation to uphold its initial denial of the project. The DEC concluded in October that the plan failed to comply with the state’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, a 2019 law that established a mandate to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

“The DEC was right to deny a permit for a destructive, fossil fuel plant in Astoria and should reject their appeal as well,” Gianaris, who championed the law, said. “Our community drew a line in the sand against new fossil fuel infrastructure and won. Let the DEC issue a strong statement that ‘no new fossil fuel plants’ is the policy of New York as we fight the ravages of the climate crisis.”
» Read article      

» More about peakers

FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION

Glick retreats
FERC retreats on gas policies as chair pursues clarity
By Miranda Willson, E&E News
March 25, 2022

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has rolled back sweeping new policies for large natural gas projects, including a framework for assessing how pipelines and other facilities contribute to climate change, weeks after prominent lawmakers panned the changes.

In a decision issued unanimously at the commission’s monthly meeting yesterday, FERC will revert back to its long-standing method for reviewing natural gas pipeline applications — while opening changes announced in February to feedback rather than applying them immediately.

[…] While the policy changes issued in February were intended to update and improve the agency’s approach for siting new gas projects, the commission has concluded that the new guidelines “could benefit from further clarification,” said FERC Chair Richard Glick.

“I’m all for providing further clarity, not only for industry but all stakeholders in our proceedings, including landowners and affected communities,” said Glick, a Democrat who supported the initial changes.

In a pair of orders condemned by the commission’s Republican members, FERC’s Democratic majority voted last month to advance new policies altering the commission’s process for reviewing new natural gas projects.

One of the policies expanded the range of topics included in FERC’s reviews of interstate pipelines, adding new consideration for environmental and social issues.

It explained that the commission would consider four major factors before approving a project: the interests of the developer’s existing customers; the interests of existing pipelines and their customers; environmental interests; and the interests of landowners, environmental justice populations and surrounding communities.

The other policy was an “interim” plan for quantifying natural gas projects’ greenhouse gas emissions. It laid out, for the first time, how the agency would determine whether new projects’ contributions to climate change would be “significant,” and encouraged developers to try to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.
» Read article      

» More about FERC

GREENING THE ECONOMY

pathways to affordable energy
Aligning climate and affordability goals can save states billions

By Arjun Makhijani and Boris Lukanov, Utility Dive | Opinion
March 30, 2022

One in three U.S. households — about 40 million in all — are faced with the persistent, difficult and fundamental challenge of paying their energy bills and paying for other essentials like food, medicine and rent. Utility bills have been rising as have gasoline prices. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and associated sanctions have added sharp volatility to oil prices. Significant increases, even if temporary, can have adverse long-term impacts on low-income households as evidenced by the fact that over one-third of adults cannot readily meet an unexpected expense of $400.

An urgent question posed by climate imperatives is: will the transition away from fossil fuels worsen energy cost burdens or can it be managed in ways that increase energy affordability. Nearly half of all U.S. states have set legal targets to increase the share of clean energy resources and lower greenhouse gas emissions, yet few of these policies address longstanding concerns around energy affordability and energy equity directly. Our recent study, prepared for the Colorado Energy Office by researchers at PSE Healthy Energy and the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, provides the most comprehensive analysis to date of energy cost burdens — a key metric for measuring energy affordability — and outlines strategies to meet state emissions targets while lowering the cost of residential energy for low-and moderate-income households.

Our conclusion: prioritizing investments in energy-cost-burdened populations can help states meet their emissions reductions targets while saving billions of dollars. These savings result from a significant expansion of energy efficiency, electrification, community solar and demand response programs for low- and moderate-income households, lowering the total amount of direct assistance needed to make utility bills affordable for these households over time. The study also shows that an affordability and equity-informed approach more directly addresses long-standing social inequities stemming from the use of fossil fuels, can lower health-damaging air pollution faster, and can accelerate the clean energy transition, thereby benefiting all of society including non-low-income households.
» Read article
» Read the Pathways To Energy Affordability study            

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

overshoot
Can the world overshoot its climate targets — and then fix it later?
Policymakers seem to be banking on it. But irreversible climate impacts could get in the way.
By Emily Pontecorvo, Grist
March 30, 2022

In February, on the eve of the release of a major new report on the effects of climate change by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, several of its authors met with reporters virtually to present their findings. Ecologist Camille Parmesan, a professor at the French National Centre for Scientific Research, was the first to speak.

Scientists are documenting changes that are “much more widespread” and “much more negative,” she said, than anticipated for the 1.09 degrees Celsius of global warming that has occurred to date. “This has opened up a whole new realm of understanding of what the impacts of overshoot might entail.”

It was a critical message that was easy to miss. “Overshoot” is jargon that has not yet made the jump from scientific journals into the public vernacular. It didn’t make it into many headlines.

[…] The topic of overshoot has actually been lingering beneath the surface of public discussion about climate change for years, often implied but rarely mentioned directly. In the broadest sense, overshoot is a future where the world does not cut carbon quickly enough to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre industrial levels — a limit often described as a threshold of dangerous climate change — but then is able to bring the temperature back down later on. A sort of climate boomerang.

Here’s how: After blowing past 1.5 degrees, nations eventually achieve net-zero emissions. This requires not only reducing emissions, but also canceling out any remaining emissions with actions to suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, commonly called carbon removal. At that point, the temperature may have only risen to 1.6 degrees C, or it could have shot past 2 degrees, or 3, or 4 — depending on how long it takes to get to net-zero.

[…] When I reached out to Parmesan to ask about her statement in the press conference, she was eager to talk about overshoot. “It’s so important, and really being downplayed by policymakers,” she wrote.

“I think there’s very much an increased awareness of the need for action,” she told me when we got on the phone. “But then they fool themselves into thinking oh, but if we go over for a few decades, it’ll be okay.
» Read article      

OK Doomer
‘OK Doomer’ and the Climate Advocates Who Say It’s Not Too Late
A growing chorus of young people is focusing on climate solutions. “‘It’s too late’ means ‘I don’t have to do anything, and the responsibility is off me.’”
By Cara Buckley, New York Times
March 22, 2022

Alaina Wood is well aware that, planetarily speaking, things aren’t looking so great. She’s read the dire climate reports, tracked cataclysmic weather events and gone through more than a few dark nights of the soul.

She is also part of a growing cadre of people, many of them young, who are fighting climate doomism, the notion that it’s too late to turn things around. They believe that focusing solely on terrible climate news can sow dread and paralysis, foster inaction, and become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

With the war in Ukraine prompting a push for ramped up production of fossil fuels, they say it’s ever more pressing to concentrate on all the good climate work, especially locally, that is being done. “People are almost tired of hearing how bad it is; the narrative needs to move on to solutions,” said Ms. Wood, 25, a sustainability scientist who communicates much of her climate messaging on TikTok, the most popular social media platform among young Americans. “The science says things are bad. But it’s only going to get worse the longer it takes to act.”

Some climate advocates refer to the stance taken by Ms. Wood and her allies as “OK Doomer,” a riff on “OK Boomer,” the Gen Z rebuttal to condescension from older folks.
» Read article      

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

Olav Scholz
Germany’s New Government Had Big Plans on Climate, Then Russia Invaded Ukraine. What Happens Now?
A new chancellor and his coalition want to enact major clean energy legislation at the same time that the war has scrambled the geopolitics of energy.
By Dan Gearino, Inside Climate News
March 25, 2022

Vladmir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has made Germany’s reliance on Russian oil and gas untenable, and led the center-left government of Chancellor Olaf Scholz to accelerate the transition to clean energy.

This is more than just talk. German leaders are in the early stages of showing the world what an aggressive climate policy looks like in a crisis. Scholz and his cabinet will introduce legislation to require nearly 100 percent renewable electricity by 2035, which would help to meet the existing goal of getting to net-zero emissions by 2045.

“Our goal of achieving climate neutrality in Germany by 2045 is more important than ever,” Scholz said this week in an address to parliament.

Germany’s strategy is in contrast to the United States, where the Biden administration, also elected with ambitious climate plans, has seen that part of its agenda almost completely stalled.

The difference is that Germany—and much of the rest of Europe—have a head start on the United States in making a transition to clean energy, said Nikos Tsafos of the Energy Security and Climate Change Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington-based think tank.

“There is more social and political consensus in favor of decarbonization [in Europe], and the plans and strategies are far more developed,” Tsafos said in an email. “By contrast, climate legislation remains highly politicized in the United States, and the instinct among many is to merely increase oil and gas production.”
» Read article      

» More about clean energy

ENERGY STORAGE

V2G Leaf
EVs: The next grid battery for renewables?
By Peter Behr, E&E News
March 30, 2022

Around noon on Fridays, as a yoga class heats up at a recreation center in Boulder, Colo., electricity flows in from a Nissan Leaf plugged in behind the facility, cutting the city’s utility bill by about $270 a month, or roughly what it costs to lease the car, Boulder official Matthew Lehrman says.

The results of this experiment are making a potent point about the nation’s clean energy future, demonstrating vehicle-to-building power supply for controlling electricity costs and extending the reach of wind and solar power, according to David Slutzky, founder and chief executive of Fermata Energy, developer of the software that manages the power transfer.

EVs — battery-driven and plug-in hybrids — are projected to grow from about 5 percent of the U.S. car market this year to 30 percent or even one-third by 2030, according to a number of estimates, assuming EV costs shrink and charging station numbers grow.

And by 2025, not just the Leaf but nearly all new EVs are expected to come with bidirectional charging capability, Slutzky predicts, equipping them to be backup power sources when not on the road or being recharged overnight.

The potential of the technology has some high-level supporters, including Jigar Shah, head of the Energy Department’s Loan Programs Office, and John Isberg, a vice president of National Grid, which has electricity customers in New York and New England and has drawn on EV battery capacity last summer to cut peak demand in a partnership with Fermata Energy.

Pacific Gas and Electric Co., California’s largest electric utility, and General Motors this month announced plans to test GM vehicles equipped with bidirectional charging to reduce homeowners’ power demands.

And a division of Siemens AG is working with Ford on a custom bidirectional electric vehicle charger for the Ford F-150 Lightning pickup truck, allowing the truck to provide power to homes and, in the future, the grid itself, the companies said.

“Electric Vehicles like most vehicles are parked 96 percent of the time,” Shah said recently on social media. “If they are plugged in at scale they can be a valuable grid resource.”

[…] A report by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in January listed EVs among the primary customer-owned energy resources that could become “shock absorbers” helping grid operators manage large volumes of renewable power and get through grid emergencies.

“Auto manufacturers see this is really appealing. Even though we’re not there yet, the industry is moving toward bidirectional,” said Kyri Baker, an assistant professor on the engineering staff at the University of Colorado, Boulder.
» Read article      
» Read the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory report    

» More about energy storage

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

legal purgatory
Top lawmaker vows movement on e-bike bill long sought by advocates
By Taylor Dolven, Boston Globe
March 30, 2022

Hours after a protest in front of the State House pushing for legislation that would bring electric bicycles, known as e-bikes, out of their legal purgatory, a top lawmaker said the bill is likely to move out of committee by Friday.

Representative William Straus, co-chair of the Legislature’s Transportation Committee, said he’s confident the committee will act on the bill that would regulate the increasingly popular e-bikes as bikes as opposed to motor vehicles, which require a license, and allow them to be ridden on bike paths, by its Friday deadline. This legislation has been considered by state lawmakers before, but never made it all the way to the governor’s desk.

“I’m optimistic that this is [the] time for e-bike classification,” the Mattapoisett Democrat said.

At the rally in front of the State House Wednesday, city officials and advocates from Boston and nearby municipalities pressed for the legislation that would bring Massachusetts in line with 46 other states and Washington, D.C. Advocates say the much needed clarity will encourage more people to replace car trips with e-bike trips, reducing congestion and climate change-causing emissions.

Advocates also want to see a separate bill pass that would allow the Department of Energy Resources to provide rebates on purchases of e-bikes of up to $500 for general consumers and $750 for low- and moderate-income consumers, currently pending before the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy.

“E-bikes . . . provide climate justice, economic justice, and transportation justice,” said Boston Cyclists Union executive director Becca Wolfson. “We need these bills to pass now.”

E-bikes allow people to travel further distances with more ease than a regular bike. The e-bike regulation bill would create a three-class system to categorize them. The system allows municipalities to regulate e-bikes further, based on the classes.
» Read article      

nickel sheets
Russia’s War in Ukraine Reveals a Risk for the EV Future: Price Shocks in Precious Metals
After the nickel market goes haywire, the United States and its allies launch a critical minerals energy security plan, with stockpiling an option.
By Marianne Lavelle, Inside Climate News
March 28, 2022

[…] Russia’s war on Ukraine has roiled global commodities markets—including those for nickel and other metals used in EV batteries—and laid bare how vulnerable the world is to price shocks in the metals essential to the EV future. That volatility comes on top of the pandemic-triggered supply chain woes that have dogged the auto industry for months. President Joe Biden’s pledge to catalyze the electric vehicle transition has been only partly fulfilled, with consumer EV tax credits, much of the money for charging stations and other assistance stalled with the rest of his Build Back Better package in Congress.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), the linchpin for any effort to revive the legislation, this month said he is particularly reluctant to invest in an EV future because of U.S. dependence on imported metals for electric transportation. “I don’t want to have to be standing in line waiting for a battery for my vehicle, because we’re now dependent on a foreign supply chain,” Manchin said at the annual CERAWeek energy conference in Houston.

But last week, automakers, the Biden administration and U.S. trading partners and allies were doubling down on their commitment to vehicle electrification—not only to address climate change but because of concerns about energy insecurity in a world reliant on oil for transportation. Skyrocketing prices at gasoline pumps have made clear that U.S. drivers are not insulated from spikes in the global oil market, even though the United States is producing more oil domestically than ever.

Automakers are embarking on an array of strategies to secure supply of the critical minerals they will need for electric vehicles, including alternative battery chemistries, investment in new processing plants and deals with suppliers. Meanwhile, the United States and the 30 other member nations of the International Energy Agency last week launched a critical minerals security program. That could eventually include steps such as the stockpiling of metals needed for EVs and other renewable energy applications, just as IEA nations have committed since the 1970s to hold strategic stockpiles of oil. The IEA meeting participants also discussed a greater focus on systematic recycling of metals.
» Read article      

» More about clean transportation

SITING IMPACTS OF RENEWABLE ENERGY RESOURCES

FILE PHOTO: An aerial view shows the brine pools of SQM lithium mine on the Atacama salt flat in the Atacama desert of northern Chile

FILE PHOTO: An aerial view shows the brine pools of SQM lithium mine on the Atacama salt flat in the Atacama desert of northern Chile, January 10, 2013. Picture taken January 10, 2013. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado/File Photo

U.S. seeks new lithium sources as demand for clean energy grows
By Patrick Whittle, Associated Press, on PBS Newshour
March 28, 2022

The race is on to produce more lithium in the United States.

The U.S. will need far more lithium to achieve its clean energy goals — and the industry that mines, extracts and processes the chemical element is poised to grow. But it also faces a host of challenges from environmentalists, Indigenous groups and government regulators.

Although lithium reserves are distributed widely across the globe, the U.S. is home to just one active lithium mine, in Nevada. The element is critical to development of rechargeable lithium-ion batteries that are seen as key to reducing climate-changing carbon emissions created by cars and other forms of transportation.

Worldwide demand for lithium was about 350,000 tons (317,517 metric tons) in 2020, but industry estimates project demand will be up to six times greater by 2030. New and potential lithium mining and extracting projects are in various stages of development in states including Maine, North Carolina, California and Nevada.

[…] Expanding domestic lithium production would involve open pit mining or brine extraction, which involves pumping a mineral-rich brine to the surface and processing it. Opponents including the Sierra Club have raised concerns that the projects could harm sacred Indigenous lands and jeopardize fragile ecosystems and wildlife.

But the projects could also benefit the environment in the long run by getting fossil fuel-burning cars off the road, said Glenn Miller, emeritus professor of environmental sciences at the University of Nevada.

[…] The new lithium mining project closest to development is the one proposed for Thacker Pass by Lithium Americas. That northern Nevada mine would make millions of tons of lithium available, but Native American tribes have argued that it’s located on sacred lands and should be stopped.

Construction could start late this year, said Lithium Americas CEO Jonathan Evans, noting that it would be the first lithium project on federal land permitted in six decades.

[…] California’s largest lake, the salty and shrinking Salton Sea, is also primed to host lithium operations. Lithium can be extracted from geothermal brine, and the Salton Sea has been the site of geothermal plants that have pumped brine for decades. Proponents of extracting lithium from the lake said it would require less land and water than other brining operations.

One project, led by EnergySource Minerals, is expected to be operational next year, a spokesperson for the company said. General Motors Corp. is also an investor in another project on the Salton Sea that could start producing lithium by 2024.

Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, envisions that California’s lithium can position the state to become a leader in the production of batteries. He called the state the “Saudi Arabia of lithium” during a January address.
» Blog editor’s note: Lithium extraction projects mentioned in this article include locations in Maine, North Carolina, Nevada, and California.
» Read article      

» More about siting impacts of renewables

CARBON CAPTURE AND STORAGE

Chrystia Freeland
Thousands of Canadians Call on Government to Scrap Carbon Capture Tax Credit
The scheme, said one campaigner, “is being used as a Trojan horse by oil and gas executives to continue, and even expand, fossil fuel production.”
By Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams
March 28, 2022

“Magical thinking isn’t going to solve the climate crisis.”

That’s what Dylan Penner, a climate and social justice campaigner with the Council of Canadians, said in a statement Monday as advocacy organizations revealed that 31,512 people across Canada are calling on the federal government to scrap a proposed carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS) tax credit expected in the upcoming budget.

Referencing The Lord of the Rings, Penner warned that “doubling down on CCUS instead of cutting downstream emissions from fossil fuels extracted in Canada is like trying to wield the One Ring instead of destroying it in Mount Doom. Spoiler warning: that approach doesn’t end well.”

The signatures were collected by the Council of Canadians as well as Environmental Defense, Leadnow, and Stand.earth. Their demands are directed at Canadian Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, who is also minister of finance.

A December 2021 briefing from Environmental Defense points out that “to date, CCUS has a track record of over-promising and under-delivering. The vast majority of projects never get off the ground. The technology remains riddled with problems, unproven at scale, and prohibitively expensive.”
» Read article      
» Read the Environmental Defense briefing on CCUS

» More about CCS

CRYPTOCURRENCY

ND flare
As Oil Giants Turn to Bitcoin Mining, Some Spin Burning Fossil Fuels for Cryptocurrency as a Climate Solution
In a pilot project last year, ExxonMobil used up to 18 million cubic feet of gas per month to mine bitcoin in North Dakota.
By Sharon Kelly, DeSmog Blog
March 31, 2022

Flaring — or the burning of stranded natural gas directly at an oil well — is one of the drilling industry’s most notorious problems, often condemned as a pointlessly polluting waste of billions of dollars and trillions of cubic feet of natural gas.

In early March, oil giant ExxonMobil signed up to meet the World Bank’s “zero routine flaring by 2030” goal (a plan that — when you look just a bit closer — doesn’t entirely eliminate flaring but instead reduces “absolute flaring and methane emissions” by 60 to 70 percent.)

How does ExxonMobil plan to reach that goal? In part, it turns out, by burning stranded natural gas directly at its oil wells — not in towering flares, but down in mobile cryptocurrency mines.

Roughly speaking, crypto miners compete with each other to solve complex puzzles. Those puzzles, designed to require enormous computing power, can be used to help make a given coin more secure. Successful miners are rewarded for their efforts with newly generated coins.

Using the energy-intensive process of crypto mining to fight pollution is the latest in a wave of claimed climate “solutions” whose environmental benefits seem to only appear if you squint at them from very specific angles — like “low carbon” oil, measured not by the oil’s actual carbon content but by how much more carbon was spent to obtain it.

Critics point out that replacing flaring with mining crypto could become a way for fossil fuel producers to spin money directly from energy, polluting the climate without heating people’s homes or transporting people from place to place in the process. “In terms of productive value, I would say there is none,” Jacob Silverman, a staff writer at the New Republic, said in a recent interview. “The main value of cryptocurrency is as a tool for speculation. People are trying to get rich.”

That, of course, includes oil drillers. “This is the best gift the oil and gas industry could’ve gotten,” Adam Ortolf, a crypto mining executive, told CNBC. “They were leaving a lot of hydrocarbons on the table, but now, they’re no longer limited by geography to sell energy.”
» Read article      

proof of stake
Climate groups say a change in coding can reduce bitcoin energy consumption by 99%
A simple switch in the way transactions are verified could reduce bitcoin’s energy-guzzling mining habits
By Dominic Rushe, The Guardian
March 29, 2022

Bitcoin mining already uses as much energy as Sweden, according to some reports, and its booming popularity is revitalizing failing fossil fuel enterprises in the US. But all that could change with a simple switch in the way it is coded, according to a campaign launched on Tuesday.

The campaign, called Change the Code Not the Climate and coordinated by Environmental Working Group, Greenpeace USA and several groups battling bitcoin mining facilities in their communities, is calling on bitcoin to change the way bitcoins are mined in order to tackle its outsized carbon footprint.

The software code that bitcoin uses – known as “proof of work” – requires the use of massive computer arrays to validate and secure transactions. Proof of work is a way of checking that a miner has solved the extremely complex cryptographic puzzles needed to add to the bitcoin ledger.

Rival cryptocurrency etherium is shifting to another system – “proof of stake” – that it believes will reduce its energy use by 99%. In the proof of stake model, miners pledge their coins to verify transactions; adding inaccurate information leads to penalties.

With the value and use of cryptocurrencies rising, the campaign’s organizers argue bitcoin must follow suit or find another, less energy intensive, method. “This is a big problem. In part because of where the industry stands now but also because of our concerns about its growth,” said Michael Brune, campaign director and former executive director of Sierra Club.

The US now leads the world in cryptocurrency mining after China launched a crackdown on mining and trading last May.

“Coal plants which were dormant or slated to be closed are now being revived and solely dedicated to bitcoin mining. Gas plants, which in many cases were increasingly economically uncompetitive, are also now being dedicated to bitcoin mining. We are seeing this all across the country,” said Brune.
» Read article      

» More about crypto

GAS UTILITIES

CT ending expansion
Connecticut regulators move to end subsidies for new natural gas hookups
The Public Utilities Regulatory Authority said a program meant to help Connecticut residents and businesses switch from oil to natural gas has not met targets and no longer aligns with the state’s climate goals.
By Lisa Prevost, Energy News Network
March 25, 2022

Connecticut regulators want to halt a program that incentivizes homeowners and businesses to convert to natural gas as soon as the end of April.

The program, which began in 2014, is authorized through the end of 2023. But in a draft decision issued Wednesday, the state Public Utility Regulatory Authority, known as PURA, called for “an immediate winding down” of the program and said it is “no longer in the best interest of ratepayers.”

PURA has been reviewing the utility-run gas expansion program, which is subsidized by ratepayers, for more than a year. Established under former Gov. Dannel Malloy at a time when natural gas was considerably cheaper than oil, it called for the state’s three natural gas distribution companies to convert 280,000 customers over 10 years.

After eight years of using marketing and incentives to persuade new customers to sign on, the companies have only reached about 32% of their goal. At the same time, average costs per new service and new customer have tripled for Eversource, and doubled for Connecticut Natural Gas and Southern Connecticut Natural Gas, according to PURA.

In their draft decision, regulators cited the companies’ failure to meet their conversion goals and the rising costs as key reasons for ending the program. In addition, they noted, the price differential between oil and gas has lessened considerably since the program’s start.

And finally, regulators concluded that the program no longer furthers the state’s climate goals. They cited Gov. Ned Lamont’s recent executive order on climate, which recognizes that the greenhouse gas emissions from the state’s building sector have increased in recent years, and calls for a cleaner energy strategy that reconsiders the continued expansion of the natural gas network.

While the gas expansion program “was intended to provide benefits to both ratepayers and the environment,” regulators concluded, “the proffered benefits have simply failed to materialize.”

That conclusion echoes a finding by the state Office of Consumer Counsel, which has also called for an end to the program. Ratepayers “are now funding investments that are likely to become stranded assets in light of the state’s climate and clean energy goals,” the consumer advocate said in testimony submitted earlier this year to PURA.
» Read article      

» More about gas utilities

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Loco Hills NM
Methane Leaks in New Mexico Far Exceed Current Estimates, Study Suggests
An analysis found leaks of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, from oil and gas drilling in the Permian Basin were many times higher than government estimates.
By Maggie Astor, New York Times
March 24, 2022

Startlingly large amounts of methane are leaking from wells and pipelines in New Mexico, according to a new analysis of aerial data, suggesting that the oil and gas industry may be contributing more to climate change than was previously known.

The study, by researchers at Stanford University, estimates that oil and gas operations in New Mexico’s Permian Basin are releasing 194 metric tons per hour of methane, a planet-warming gas many times more potent than carbon dioxide. That is more than six times as much as the latest estimate from the Environmental Protection Agency.

The number came as a surprise to Yuanlei Chen and Evan Sherwin, the lead authors of the study, which was published Wednesday in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

“We spent really the past more than two years going backwards and forwards thinking of ways that we might be wrong and talking with other experts in the methane community,” said Dr. Sherwin, a postdoctoral research fellow in energy resources engineering at Stanford. “And at the end of that process, we realized that this was our best estimate of methane emissions in this region and this time, and we had to publish it.”

He and Ms. Chen, a Ph.D. student in energy resources engineering, said they believed their results showed the necessity of surveying a large number of sites in order to accurately measure the environmental impact of oil and gas production.
» Read article       https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/24/climate/methane-leaks-new-mexico.html
» Read the study

» More about fossil fuels

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

blind alley
Europe Scrambles To Accommodate LNG Import Surge
By Tsvetana Paraskova, Oil Price
March 28, 2022

While Europe is set to import an increasing amount of liquefied natural gas (LNG) as part of its efforts to reduce reliance on Russian pipeline gas, the European market is struggling to secure enough floating storage and regasification units (FSRUs) and advance LNG import facilities construction.

“Europe is screaming for FSRUs to get energy in, whatever it costs,” Yngvil Asheim, managing director of Norway-based FSRU owner BW LNG, told the Financial Times.

Last week, the European Union and the United States announced a deal for more U.S. liquefied natural gas exports to the EU as the latter seeks to replace Russian supplies, on which it is dependent. According to the terms of the deal, the United States will deliver at least 15 billion cubic meters of liquefied natural gas to the EU this year more than previously planned, the White House said in a fact sheet.

Europe–unlike the United States–cannot afford to go without Russian gas currently, so the European partners have been reluctant to slap sanctions or impose an embargo of imports of oil and gas from Russia.

The Russian war in Ukraine made Europe rethink its energy strategy, and the European Union has now drafted plans to cut EU demand for Russian gas by two-thirds before the end of 2022 and completely by 2030, to replenish gas stocks for winter and ensure the provision of affordable, secure, and sustainable energy.

However, FSRUs and LNG import terminals currently operating in Europe are not enough, according to analysts who spoke to FT. It will take years for terminals to be built.
» Read article      

toxic export
US plan to provide 15bn cubic meters of natural gas to EU alarms climate groups
The deal is intended to decrease reliance on Russia but will entrench reliance on fossil fuels, environmentalists say
By Oliver Milman, The Guardian
March 25, 2022

A major deal that will see the US ramp up its supply of gas to Europe in an attempt to shift away from Russian fossil fuel imports risks “disaster” for the climate crisis, environmental groups have warned.

Under the agreement, unveiled on Friday, the US will provide an extra 15bn cubic meters of liquified natural gas (LNG) to the European Union this year. This represents about a tenth of the gas the EU now gets from Russia, which provides 40% of the bloc’s total gas supply.

The increased gas exports from the US will escalate further, with the EU aiming to get 50bn cubic meters of gas a year from America and other countries in order to reduce its reliance upon Russia after its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

Joe Biden, who announced the deal during a trip to Brussels, said the increased supply will ensure “families in Europe can get through this winter” while also hampering Vladimir Putin, who has used gas income to “drive his war machine”.

But environmental groups have reacted to the agreement with alarm, arguing that it will help embed years of future gas use at a time when scientists say the world must rapidly phase out the use of fossil fuels to avoid catastrophic climate change.

“We should be rapidly transitioning to affordable clean energy, not doubling down on fossil fuels,” said Kelly Sheehan, senior director of energy campaigns at the Sierra Club. “Reducing reliance on fossil fuels is the only way to stop being vulnerable to the whims of greedy industries and geopolitics.”
» Read article      

» More about LNG

BIOMASS

we breathe what you burn
Opponents torch proposed rules for burning wood to create electricity in Mass.
By Miriam Wasser, WBUR
March 29, 2022

Massachusetts is once again revisiting wood-burning biomass power regulations, and the public, it seems, is not pleased with the plan.

The state’s Department of Energy Resources held a virtual hearing on Tuesday to get feedback on a proposal to change which biomass plants qualify for lucrative renewable energy subsidies, and how the state tracks and verifies the type of wood these plants burn. And for about two hours, the vast majority of speakers implored the department to leave the regulations alone.

“Whether it’s gas, oil or wood, burning stuff for energy emits carbon dioxide and pollutants into the atmosphere, and that has harmful consequences,” said Mireille Bejjani of the nonprofit Community Action Works.

“Biomass is not a climate solution. It’s a climate problem,” said Johannes Epke, an attorney with the Conservation Law Foundation.

“It is frankly beyond my comprehension how Massachusetts can justify allowing biomass electric-generation plants to be incentivized,” said Susan Pike of Montague. “These are incentives that ratepayers contribute to in order to support clean renewable energy development.”

[…] It’s been a while since biomass was in the news, and to really understand what the state is proposing now, you have to understand how these rules came into effect. If you want to dive deep into biomass, check out our explainer from 2020.

[…] In 2019, the Department of Energy Resources under Gov. Charlie Baker proposed “updating” Massachusetts’ strict biomass rules to make it easier for some older and less efficient plants to get clean energy subsidies. While the administration said it would be good for the state’s climate goals, environmental groups like the Conservation Law Foundation and Partnership for Policy Integrity, as well as Attorney General Maura Healey and prominent climate scientists came out against the changes.

[…] As part of last year’s landmark Climate Law, the office of Energy and Environmental Affairs is legally required to conduct a study about the emissions and public health impacts associated with biomass. That study is not expected to be finished until next summer.

The Department of Energy Resources will likely submit its regulatory changes to the Secretary of State before that deadline.

[…] At a hearing last year, Department of Energy Resources Commissioner Patrick Woodcock said that the proposed changes were intended to do two things: “streamline” language between two clean energy programs and help Massachusetts achieve its climate goals. He argued that it will be a while until renewable energies like offshore wind are able to be a sizable part of our energy portfolio, and in the meantime, we have emissions goals that we need to meet. He added that his department’s calculations show that the state will see net greenhouse gas reductions over the next few decades by burning wood instead of natural gas.

Caitlin Peele Sloan, vice president of the Conservation Law Foundation in Massachusetts, disagrees with these assumptions.

The “[Department of Energy Resources] has been trying to weaken these biomass regulations for more than three years now, while evidence grows that burning wood for electricity is massively inefficient and produces untenable amounts of local air pollution and climate-damaging emissions,” she says.

Many environmental groups in Mass., including the Conservation Law Foundation and the Sierra Club, signed a letter earlier this year in support of legislation that would remove woody biomass from the renewable energy subsidy program, effectively rendering the regulations moot. Several speakers during Tuesday’s hearing pushed for lawmakers to pass this legislation.
» Read article      
» Read the CLF and Sierra Club letter

» More about biomass

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Weekly News Check-In 11/12/21

banner 15

Welcome back.

As we prepare to post this newsletter, COP26 climate negotiations are wrapping up in Glasgow. A New York Times headline reads, “Negotiators Race to Reach Climate Deal as Activists Demand Action”, which pretty well describes the disconnect between what world leaders appear willing or able to deliver vs what the crisis demands. Even this summit’s so-called achievements are suspect. Consider the questionable merits of the celebrated 40+ country agreement to phase out coal, or marvel at the European Union’s unyielding grip on the fiction that biomass is a climate solution.

At this moment, negotiators are patting themselves on the back for having the courage to include, in the agreement’s second draft, a mere mention of fossil fuels – something conspicuously absent from Paris and all other COPXX agreements to date. Even this most timid nip at the hand that feeds so many governments and politicians may vanish from the final agreement.

You can treat yourself to a refresher on fossil fuel industry influence by noting how many rich countries plan to keep developing, extracting, consuming, and exporting coal, oil, and gas at carbon-budget-busting rates. Or consider how natural gas utilities in politically conservative states are imposing steep cancellation fees on customers trying to plug the pipe and electrify their homes. The industry hypes carbon capture & sequestration as their white knight – justification for continuation of business as usual. But it remains a sketchy, expensive, and vastly underperforming technology with no clear path to success.

Fortunately, climate activists are not letting any of this slide, and we have updates on protests and actions from Glasgow and Springfield. There were many more, and they will continue to resist pollution, injustice, and inequality while holding focus on the existential nature of climate change.

The choice between a sustainable future and the carbon economy seemed present in all of this week’s reports. Examples include developments in the Mass Save energy efficiency program, which can’t seem to rid itself of incentives to purchase new gas appliances. Efforts to modernize the grid are hostage to legislation jeopardized by the whims of Joe Manchin, a West Virginia coal baron Senator.

Most of this week’s good news is packed into our clean energy, energy storage, and clean transportation sections.

We’ll leave you to consider our ballooning demand for lithium to power a surge of new electric vehicles. Developers currently have their sights on a huge deposit in Nevada’s Thacker Pass – a place protected by treaty agreement with Indigenous people who want no part of a lithium mine. Lithium exists in abundance in other, less-sensitive places, like the toxic Salton Sea in California. Even the green economy presents choices that result in either benefit or harm. It’s up to us to nudge policy, and policy makers, in the right direction.

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

— The NFGiM Team

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

people united
Tens of Thousands Throng Streets of Glasgow Demanding Climate Justice
Indigenous groups led the march amid criticism that they have been side-lined from the official COP26 summit.
By Adam Barnett and Rich Collett-White, DeSmog Blog
November 6, 2021

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND — Thousands of protestors marched through Glasgow today to demand action from world leaders and polluting companies, as the COP26 UN climate summit moves into its second week.

Indigenous groups were front and centre of the demonstration, with one protestor calling them the “first true climate leaders”.

Organisers say over 100,000 people joined the protests, with 300 other demonstrations taking place around the world.

Marchers progressed from Kelvingrove Park in the west of the city through to Glasgow Green in the east, where they heard speakers from across the climate movement.

Among them was Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, Marshall Islands Climate Envoy to the United Nations and a member of the Pacific Climate Warriors group, who said:

“The physical existence of our islands is what’s at stake. That’s why I flew all the way here, for over 18 hours, in order to make sure our message gets here.”

“My message is this: we as a people are not going anywhere. We survived three eras of colonialism. We survived over 60 nuclear weapons detonated in our islands through the US nuclear weapons testing programme. We will survive climate change. We refuse to leave. We refuse to go anywhere, and our sovereignty is not up for debate,” she said.

Asad Rehman, a spokesperson for the COP26 Coalition, which coordinated the protests, said:

“Many thousands of people took to the streets today on every continent demanding that governments move from climate inaction to climate justice. We won’t tolerate warm words and long-term targets anymore, we want action now.

“Today the people who have been locked out of this climate summit had their voices heard – and those voices will be ringing in the ears of world leaders as we enter the second week of negotiations.”
» Read article              

LPAG
Activists protest Eversource’s planned Springfield pipeline
By DUSTY CHRISTENSEN, Daily Hampshire Gazette
November 4, 2021

SPRINGFIELD — Speaking in front of a crowd gathered in front of City Hall on Thursday, local climate justice activist Naia Tenerowicz spoke forcefully about the impacts of climate change on younger generations.

When contemplating the future, previous generations thought about flying cars and other technological marvels, Tenerowicz said, while younger generations think merely of salvaging “dreams of a livable future.”

“I am not willing to fund the destruction of my future,” Tenerowicz said. “I am not going to stand aside as Eversource fuels the fire that is burning my dreams.”

Tenerowicz was one of around two dozen activists from the Springfield Climate Justice Coalition and other groups gathered in front of City Hall for a press conference, expressing their opposition to Eversource’s planned construction of a gas pipeline from Longmeadow into downtown Springfield. The pipeline would be a significant expansion of the region’s fossil fuel infrastructure after state lawmakers passed a climate law earlier this year that requires the state to halve its carbon emissions by the end of the decade and become carbon neutral by 2050.

“Make no mistake, this is a major expansion project,” said Zulma Rivera, an organizer with Neighbor 2 Neighbor.
» Read article              

» More about protests and actions

CLIMATE

coal terminal
COP26 cop-out? Indonesia’s clean energy pledge keeps coal front and center
By Hans Nicholas Jong, Mongabay
November 10, 2021

JAKARTA — Indonesia has signed another seemingly landmark pledge at the COP26 climate summit underway in Glasgow, this time to phase out its use of coal, the dominant source in its energy mix, by the 2040s.

But as with the first pledge it made at COP26 — to end deforestation by 2030, which it then immediately backpedaled from — the details of the coal pledge suggest no actual intent on moving away from the highly polluting fossil fuel in real terms, activists say.

The headline figure that Indonesia is touting under this new agreement on a clean energy transition, signed Nov. 4 by 23 countries, is the retirement of 9.2 gigawatts of coal-fired power plants by 2030. This represents a quarter of its total generating capacity from coal, and is more ambitious than its initial plan to decommission 1.1 GW of coal power by 2030.

But such a reduction is meaningless when the country is building or planning to build 13.8 GW of new coal plants during this same period, says Adila Isfandiari, a senior climate and energy researcher at Greenpeace Indonesia.

“So it’s useless if we decommission 9.2 gigawatts of coal but then build 13.8 gigawatts of new coal,” Adila told Mongabay. “We won’t be able to increase the capacity of renewable because the space [for new energy] has already been occupied by these new coal plants.”
» Read article              

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

hybrid solar-hydro
Thailand switches on 45MW floating solar plant, plans for 15 more
By Joshua S Hill, Renew Economy
November 11, 2021

One of the world’s largest hybrid floating solar arrays has officially begun commercial operation on a hydropower dam in the east of Thailand, with plans for 15 more such projects to come, totalling 2,725MW across the country.

The Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) said this week that the 45MW Hydro-Floating Solar Hybrid Project at Sirindhorn Dam began had been switched on at the end of October atop Sirindhorn Dam in Thailand’s Ubon Ratchatani Province.

It is billed as a “hybrid” project as it can not only produce electricity from solar panels during the day but also hydropower from the existing dam.
» Read article              

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

failure to focus
Utilities defend energy efficiency plan
Face criticism for subsidizing natural gas heating systems
By Colin A. Young, CommonWealth Magazine
November 9, 2021

GETTING MORE people to adopt electric heat sources in place of fossil fuel-powered sources is a crucial part of the effort to meet the state’s new climate targets, but senators said Monday that the latest three-year plan for the Mass Save program isn’t ambitious enough to truly drive that change.

Utility executives on Monday walked lawmakers on the Senate Committee on Global Warming and Climate Change through what they see as “a significant pivot and expansion” of their energy efficiency program, detailing how Mass Save is prepared to more closely align its mission with the state’s new law requiring that greenhouse gas emissions in 2030 be at least 50 percent lower than 1990 emissions and that Massachusetts achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Energy officials have said that in order to reduce emissions fast enough to comply with the new net-zero emissions climate law, the state will have to retrofit about 1 million homes in the next decade, or about 100,000 homes each year. Fewer than 500 homes actually made that shift in 2020 and the plan that Mass Save administrators presented to senators on Monday would still fall short of that target.

Sens. Cynthia Creem of Newton and Marc Pacheco of Taunton each raised concerns with the decision of Mass Save to retain incentives for people switching from one fossil fuel-powered heating source to another more efficient fossil fuel-based source, arguing that it is counterproductive to the goal of compelling the adoption of electric heat sources.

“That’s not heading us towards where the goal is in terms of decarbonization. We end up subsidizing a fossil fuel system, now you’re talking about another 10 years at that home, at a minimum, where we’re having a new HVAC system or heating system subsidized to do exactly the opposite of what our end goal is, and that’s to move to a system statewide that is fossil fuel-free,” Pacheco said.
» Read article                      

TVB Glasgow
Iomart shows vibrational cooling system from Katrick Technology at COP26 Glasgow
Encouraging results from tests of vibrational cooling at Glasgow data center
By Peter Judge, Data Center Dynamics
November 4, 2021

Scottish colocation provider Iomart has tested a novel heat pump system at its Glasgow data center, and presented the results to an event during the COP26 climate change conference in the city.

The thermal vibration bell (TVB) from Scottish startup Katrick Technologies uses a “bi-fluid” to derive mechanical energy from the data center’s waste heat, which drives the cooling system. Iomart has tested a 120kW capacity TVB at its Glasgow data center, and has shown the results at an event at the Iomart data center today, attended by members of the UK and Scottish Parliaments.

Katrick says the TVB can be used for any data centers, and the company also produces wind panels, which can harness wind power on a smaller and more effective scale than large turbines.

Iomart, which has committed to using renewable energy in its UK data centers, installed the TVB at its Glasgow data center in October 2021, and the initial results are promising, says Iomart CEO Reece Donovan: “Initial results have been very pleasing. We think we can save up to 70 percent of our cooling costs, and 25 percent of our overall energy usage. Data centers are a huge consumer of power globally. And it’s down to us to play a much more active role in achieving a greener future for the tech industry,”
» Read article              

» More about energy efficiency

ENERGY STORAGE

LDS united
‘We are uniting’: Long-duration energy storage competitors join forces at COP26
By John Engel, Renewable Energy World
November 11, 2021

Normally competitors in the quest to deploy long-duration energy storage, and replace fossil fuels with dispatchable clean energy at all hours of the day, 24 companies joined forces at the COP26 United Nations climate summit to form the Long Duration Energy Storage Council.

ESS, Form Energy, and Ambri are among the founding members of the council, which aims to provide guidance to governments and grid operators on the path to deploying 85-140 TWh of long-duration energy storage globally by 2040.

“ESS commends the formation of the LDES Council and is proud to be a founding member of an organization committed to global decarbonization,” sad ESS CEO Eric Dresselhuys, who is attending COP26 in Glasgow this week. “As an industry, we are uniting to provide our expertise and experience to accelerate energy sector transformation with long-duration energy storage as a key enabler of clean, reliable power grids.”

Mechanical, electrochemical, chemical, and thermal long-duration energy storage technologies are all represented by the LDESC, as well as equipment manufacturers, low-carbon energy system integrators, industrial customers, and capital providers.

The LDESC will release a strategic report on long-duration energy storage technologies on Nov. 23. The report will detail how $1.5-3 trillion investment in long-duration energy storage can eliminate 1.5-2.3 Gt of CO2 produced annually from fossil fuels.

Long-duration energy storage — five hours or more — is a crucial piece in the world’s transition away from polluting fossil fuels toward renewable energy resources.
» Read article              

BES photo
On Batteries, Minerals, the Circular Economy, and Finite Supply
By Shelley Robbins, Clean Energy Group, in Renewable Energy World
November 4, 2021


As the fossil fuel industry rages against the dying of the gas light, they continue to work to plant doubt about an economy centered around solar and wind paired with battery storage. Since it is hard to cast doubt on the abundance of sun and wind, they instead target battery storage and the components that make up much of today’s lithium-ion batteries.

The fossil industry rhetoric – that there isn’t enough lithium and cobalt available to supply a dramatic increase in battery production for electric vehicles and stationary battery storage – simply isn’t accurate. Energy strategist Kingsmill Bond with Carbon Tracker has blown up the myth that minerals are constrained by simply running the numbers. His projections are even conservative in that they assume battery components won’t change, when of course they will. Battery developers are actively and effectively working to replace challenging raw materials such as cobalt in batteries while simultaneously working to improve the safety and business ethics of the supply chain.

But the news gets better. EV batteries can be repurposed as stationary batteries. An EV battery is designed and sized to dispatch a lot of power, very quickly, and we are all grateful for that when we hit the accelerator to merge into traffic on a highway. When these batteries reach 80 percent capacity and begin to lose their ability to do this, they can be repurposed for less demanding stationary uses, such as being paired with solar PV in both residential settings and at grid scale. McKinsey estimates that repurposed EV batteries could supply 200 gigawatt-hours of grid storage by 2030 and will cost 30 percent to 70 percent less than new batteries by 2025.

Once a battery has done all it can do, minerals and valuable components can be recovered and recycled. There are now approximately 100 companies worldwide that are recycling lithium-ion batteries, including Li-Cycle in New York and Redwood Materials in Nevada. American car manufacturers Tesla, Ford and GM all have contracts and commitments with battery recycling companies. A battery and its valuable mineral components are not single use. They keep going and going and going.
» Read article

» More about energy storage

MODERNIZING THE GRID

Biden in Glasgow
Democrats’ infrastructure bills don’t go far enough on cleaning up the power grid
A clean grid is the linchpin of any plan to tackle climate change
By Justine Calma, The Verge
November 3, 2021

On a call Tuesday morning, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi rallied Democrats to pass two ambitious bills at the heart of President Biden’s agenda, aiming for a final house vote later this week. But the climate provisions of the $1.75 trillion budget reconciliation bill that progressives want to pass alongside a bipartisan infrastructure bill are newly uncertain after Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) pushed to further delay the vote during a surprise press conference on Monday.

It’s the latest twist in a long struggle for Congress to pass meaningful legislation in support of the ambitious climate goals President Biden set on entering office. The reconciliation framework released last week puts $555 billion into clean energy, the first major effort to meet the Biden administration’s goal of a power grid running entirely on carbon-free electricity by 2035. But while this bill and the companion infrastructure bill do a lot to speed the growth of clean energy in the US, experts say these two bills won’t get Democrats all the way there.

“Is it going to be enough? No,” says Leah Stokes, an associate professor of political science at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “This is a really good down payment on the progress that we need.”

The bulk of climate funds in the White House’s framework for the reconciliation bill are for $320 billion in tax incentives for clean energy technologies. Existing tax incentives for wind and solar energy projects give people and utilities some relief from federal income taxes. A key change in this bill is that it would offer direct pay as an alternative. That gives utilities more incentive to build out renewable energy projects since they don’t have a lot of federal tax liability, according to Stokes. There are also new tax credits for batteries and energy storage, microgrid controllers, and other carbon-cutting technologies. The bill also gives home and building owners rebates for electrification projects.
» Read article              

» More about modernizing the grid

SITING IMPACTS OF RENEWABLES

Thacker Pass protest camp
Plans To Dig the Biggest Lithium Mine in the US Face Mounting Opposition
Resistance to Lithium America’s plans to dig an element critical to the energy transition at Nevada’s Thacker Pass shows that “clean” energy could face the same challenges as fossil fuels.
By Cayte Bosler, Inside Climate News
November 7, 2021

HUMBOLDT COUNTY, Nevada—Deep below the tangled roots of the old-growth sagebrush of Thacker Pass, in an extinct super-volcano, lies one of the world’s largest deposits of lithium—a key element for the transition to clean energy. But above ground, a cluster of tents has risen in the Northern Nevada desert where, for eight months, environmental and tribal activists are protesting plans to mine it for “green” technologies.

“We are not leaving until this project is canceled,” said Max Wilbert, of the Protect Thacker Pass campaign. “If need be, this will come down to direct action. We mean to put ourselves in between the machines and this place.”

Plans to dig for the element known as “white gold” have encountered a surge of resistance from tribes, ranchers, residents and activists who say they believe the repercussions of the mine will outweigh the lithium’s contributions to the nation’s transition to less-polluting energy sources than fossil fuels.

The opponents view lithium extraction as the latest gold rush, and fear that the desperation to abate the climate crisis is driving a race into avoidable environmental degradation. The flawed assumption behind the “clean energy transition,” they argue, is that it can maintain levels of consumption that are inherently unsustainable.

“We want people to understand that ‘clean energy’ is not clean,” Wilbert said. “We’re here because our allegiance is to the land. It’s not to cars. It’s not to high-energy, modern lifestyle. It’s to this place.”
» Read article              

» More about siting impacts

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

image - solid power
Solid-State Batteries Are Coming! Solid-State Batteries Are Coming!
Two new announcements this week suggest the dawn of the solid-state battery era is getting closer.
By Steve Hanley, Clean Technica
October 29, 2021

Solid-state — what does that even mean? For older people, it takes us back to the days when transistors replaced vacuum tubes, a development that led inexorably to the digital revolution. Today, it refers to the “stuff” that goes between the anode and the cathode of a battery cell. That “stuff” is where the electrical charge is stored and while various manufacturers have their own recipe for “stuff,” virtually all of it contains volatile solvents that make it into a semi-liquid paste similar in appearance and texture to fig jam.

That paste contains lithium, which under some circumstances can form sharp spikes of metal called dendrites. Those spikes can cause a short circuit inside a cell which then leads to overheating. If the cell gets hot enough, the paste ignites, which makes the nearby cells overheat and ignite and before you know it, you have a full scale “thermal runaway event,” which is a polite way of saying a really, really big fire.

Solid-state technology eliminates that semi-liquid paste and replaces it with a solid substance (there are dozens, if not hundreds, of ideas about what that substance should be), but the benefit is no dendrites and no fires. Improvements in energy density and battery life are also expected from solid-state technology.

There are a lot of trade secrets involved and lots of money on the table for the winners of the solid-state sweepstakes. The buzz about solid-state batteries is always that they will be here soon, but how soon is soon? Over and over, the year 2025 is mentioned. That’s no guarantee that you will be able to buy a car with solid-state batteries by then, but it seems to be the expectation in the industry that they will be available by then.

2025 is not that far away. No matter how you look at it, the EV revolution is about to accelerate. That’s good news for us and good news for the planet.
» Read article              

» More about clean transportation

CARBON CAPTURE AND SEQUESTRATION

CCS shortfallAustralia’s only working carbon capture and storage project fails to meet target
Chevron says it failed to meet Western Australia’s target of capturing at least 80% of the CO2 that would otherwise be released at its Gorgon LNG project
By Graham Readfearn, The Guardian
November 11, 2021

Australia’s only working carbon capture and storage project in Western Australia has failed to meet its target to lock away greenhouse gases from a major gas processing plant.

Chevron, an America-based multinational oil and gas company, was given a target by the WA government to capture at least 80% of the CO2 that would otherwise be released at its Gorgon LNG project.

But the company has said it fell short of the target by 5.23Mt and will buy the equivalent amount in carbon credits while also investing $40m in unspecified “low carbon energy projects” in the state.

Based on today’s prices for carbon offsets – which analysts say are rising – Chevron would have to pay between $78m and $194m.

Chevron announced last month it made more than $8bn profit in the most recent financial quarter.

The Morrison government is prioritising CCS technology as a way to lower emissions, even though its impact after decades of promises and about $4bn in Australian taxpayer cash has been marginal.

Environmental campaigners said the shortfall in emissions reductions at Gorgon showed CCS should not be relied on as justification for allowing fossil fuel production to increase.
» Read article              
» More from
Reuters: “Gorgon CCS was designed to inject up to 4 million tonnes a year of CO2. Since starting injecting CO2 in August 2019, three years later than scheduled, it has injected a total of about 5.5 million tonnes of CO2-equivalent.” [A little over half what it’s designed to capture]

» More about CCS

GAS UTILITIES

natgas pump
Utility Company in Oklahoma May Charge $1,400 Fee to Switch From Gas to Electric
By Paige Bennett, EcoWatch
November 9, 2021

A utility company in Oklahoma could start collecting a $1,400 “exit fee” for customers who switch from gas service to electric. If approved, the new fees could set a precedent for fossil fuel companies and discourage customers from switching to electric heating and stoves.

Oklahoma proposed the new exit fees as part of a larger plan for Oklahoma Natural Gas, the state’s largest utility company, to sell off its debt. The debt comes from a historic cold snap in February 2021, which caused fuel costs to sharply increase.

The exit fee solely targets clients switching to electric and could be approved by December. If so, the fees would go into effect in June 2022. The proposal is currently under review by a judge at the Oklahoma Corporation Commission.

Environmentalists warn that this move would prevent customers from transitioning to zero-carbon energy sources, as the cost to switch would increase exponentially. The precedent is already set, though, as officials in Texas and Kansas are now considering similar proposals.

“Exit fees are just one more example of barriers being put in place to make it more difficult for customers to electrify their homes and cut greenhouse gases,” Charlie Spatz, a researcher who tracks preemption laws at the Energy and Policy Institute, told HuffPost. “As gas prices rise and consumers are more concerned about their carbon footprints, this exit fee could become a serious financial hurdle locking customers into the gas system.”

The move to enact exit fees comes after Oklahoma banned new gas hookups in buildings, following a similar decision in Berkeley, California that requires new buildings to have electricity rather than gas. Meanwhile, over 20 states under conservative leadership have made laws to ban such bans on gas. The exit fees are another strategy to keep fossil fuels in power, despite the fact that buildings (including operations and construction) are responsible for nearly 40% of carbon emissions in the U.S.
» Read article              

» More about gas utilities

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

FF5
New report exposes five wealthy countries whose fossil fuel production threatens chance at 1.5ºC
The Fossil Fuelled 5 examines five wealthy nations — the United States, Canada, Norway, Australia, and United Kingdom — with a widening gap between their rhetoric on climate action and their plans to expand the production of fossil fuels
By Collin Rees, Oil Change International
November 12, 2021

GLASGOW — After two weeks of talks, pledges and meetings in Glasgow, a scathing report has cut through the rhetoric of five wealthy nations, including the COP Hosts, by reviewing their plans to expand the production of the primary cause of climate change – fossil fuels.

The report, coined The Fossil Fuelled 5, finds that the gap between climate rhetoric and reality is dangerously wide, with wealthy nations — the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Norway and Australia — planning to approve and subsidise new fossil fuel projects which undermines their recent claims of leadership in addressing the climate crisis.

The report that analysed recent government announcements and the latest data on fossil fuel production found that:

  • There is an alarming gap between what the Fossil Fuelled 5 are pledging to do to reduce their domestic emissions and their plans to expand fossil fuel production, undermining efforts to curtail global emissions and ignoring their responsibility to phase out fossil fuels, rapidly and justly.
  • Coal, oil and gas production must fall globally by 69%, 31% and 28% respectively between now and 2030 to keep the 1.5ºC target alive. However, the projections suggest that the Fossil Fuelled 5 will reduce coal production by only 30%, and actually increase oil and gas production by 33% and 27%, respectively. As wealthy nations, the Fossil Fuelled 5 should be leading this transition away from fossil fuels.
  • Despite their net zero targets and climate pledges these five nations alone have provided over $150 billion in public support for the fossil fuel production and consumption during the COVID-19 pandemic. This level of support to fossil fuel production is more than the entire G7 put towards clean energy as part of the pandemic recovery ($147 billion).

The report released today on the final day of COP26, led by Freddie Daley from the University of Sussex, synthesises the most recent government emissions pledges and compares them to the fossil fuel production plans in the coming decade, as well as other factors such as fossil fuel subsidies. They show that several of the world’s wealthiest nations “are doubling down on fossil fuel production” which will “have disastrous impacts for all life on our planet, but especially those communities in the Global South who have done the least to create this crisis and have the fewest resources to adapt to its impacts.”
» Read article              
» Read the report

» More about fossil fuels

BIOMASS
EU protect forests
COP26: E.U. is committed to forest biomass burning to cut fossil fuel use
By Justin Catanoso, Mongabay
November 10, 2021

GLASGOW, Scotland — In the view of Frans Timmermans, the European Union’s point man for U.N. climate summit negotiations at COP26, it is more achievable, and economical, for the 27 E.U. member nations to heavily subsidize the burning of wood pellets to make energy, than it is to invest in truly renewable energy solutions such as wind and solar now.

That’s the case even though the burning of woody biomass and the wood pellet supply chain releases carbon emissions greater than the burning of coal per kilowatt hour produced, according to current science.

So, in the meantime, forest biomass will be burned in Europe, and though it is counted as “carbon neutral” according to E.U. and U.N. rules, it will continue to add significant carbon to the atmosphere at a time when humanity and Earth most need emission cuts.

Aside from meeting energy demands, a key incentive to burning wood are U.N.-tolerated national policies that do not require countries to count wood pellet carbon emissions at the smokestack, thus claiming carbon reductions that exist only on paper, while undermining the legitimacy of the ambitious carbon-reduction pledges they’re making here in Glasgow. Not to mention the addition of all that wood-derived carbon to the atmosphere and the impacts it will have on heatwaves, droughts and other extreme weather.

This commitment to biomass burning comes as more than 100 nations signed the Glasgow Declaration on Forest and Land Use last week, pledging to end deforestation by 2030, while leaving the door open to logging on which the wood pellet industry depends.
» Read article              

» More about biomass

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Weekly News Check-In 3/19/21

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Welcome back.

Cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline was a positive move for the planet. But in the near term, it will force more tar sands oil into virtual pipelines – rail cars that have been implicated in horrific “train bomb” incidents involving massive destruction and mass casualties. Recent experiments prove that this oil can be transported economically without the explosive volatile constituents that make these trains so dangerous. Fast-track implementation of this transport method would extend direct benefits from the pipeline cancellation down to everyone living or working near train tracks.

Now that the Biden administration’s energy policies are coming into focus, a coalition of more than 430 environmental organizations spanning 53 countries is pressing for a rapid cut-off of all fossil fuel subsidies. The confirmation of Representative Deb Haaland (D-NM) as the Interior Department’s first Native American Secretary sends a powerful signal, and indicates the administration’s seriousness about greening the economy. More locally, activists in Massachusetts are celebrating passage of truly landmark climate legislation, which now appears likely to receive Governor Charlie Baker’s signature.

As wealthy countries distribute Covid-19 vaccines, economic activity is resuming and oil consumption is rebounding toward pre-pandemic highs. Climate watchers expected this, and caution that we’re a long way from addressing the profound changes required at all levels of society to address global warming.

We’re always on the lookout for bird-safe wind power at an appropriate scale for residential use. Spanish startup Vortex Bladeless is proposing more than we bargained for! Maybe News Check-In readers can suggest finishing touches that would show the neighbors you’re really living the clean energy lifestyle.

Energy storage is getting some good attention in New York, with utility Con Edison moving to take advantage of virtual power plant services of batteries in homes and commercial buildings. This is a non-wires solution, where the utility incentivizes ownership of batteries in parts of the grid where extra power is needed during peak usage periods. In a complementary development, large stationary batteries, especially when associated with wind and solar power, have reached an economic point where they out-compete fossil fueled peaking power plants.

Of course batteries are also key to getting everyone into electric vehicles. We lead this section with a side trip into the new age of sailing ships, and follow that with a dose of reality about those vehicle batteries. Two articles consider consequences of sourcing all the lithium, nickel, and cobalt required to whisk all these people and things around without burning fuel.

All these new electric vehicles, wind turbines, and green buildings are – at least for now – going to need a lot of steel. But it’s a notoriously carbon-intensive material, and that has the industry taking a hard look at the possibility of creating a zero-carbon product. It’s technically possible, but the capital investment is daunting.

Regardless of how fast humanity reduces its emissions, we’ve already reached such a crisis point that climate scientists argue for some amount of carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) to avoid the worst effects of global warming. This can be a tricky subject, because the fossil fuel industry dangles the promise of carbon capture from smokestacks to greenwash a version of the future where business-as-usual continues without consequences. We’ll be bringing you CCS news as we find it, and will attempt to call out the propaganda.

While the Biden administration has already paused new oil and gas leases on federal land, legal experts are examining the feasibility of canceling some existing leases. This is in line with the “keep it in the ground” strategy, a reality that the fossil fuel industry appears to be grudgingly acknowledging through record write-downs of the value of their reserves. Another threat to the industry is a broad-based call for Biden to halt liquefied natural gas exports. We found a report that explores that issue, and considers the complicating factors – which unfortunately seem to rely heavily on the “natural gas as a bridge fuel” argument, when maybe we should be diverting some of this LNG build-out investment into the clean energy infrastructure that will achieve real climate goals.

We close with another clarification of the environmental threat that proposed Palmer Renewable Energy biomass generating plant poses to the environmental justice communities in Springfield. Also, a check-in on a newly-implemented international agreement that aims to curb the dumping of waste plastic into developing countries ill-equipped to safely process it.

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

VIRTUAL PIPELINES

bomb train alternativeAnalysis: Canceled Keystone XL Pipeline Driving Major Safety Changes in Canadian Oil-by-Rail
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
March 12, 2021

The Biden administration’s cancellation of the Keystone XL (KXL) pipeline in January appears to be driving a revolutionary improvement in Canadian oil-by-rail safety that could protect the public from what have become known as “bomb trains.”

Without the KXL pipeline to help transport tar sands bitumen from Alberta to refineries in the United States, Canadian oil producers are turning to trains. And using a new technology to help make it more affordable — and less flammable.

When tar sands bitumen is mined and processed, it results in a thick, tarry substance which industry material safety data sheets note is a “low fire hazard” and “must be heated before ignition will occur.”

To ship tar sands oil by pipeline, however, the raw bitumen must be diluted with a light volatile petroleum product called condensate, which turns it into a “highly flammable” product, according to material data safety sheets. “This product,” the safety sheets state, “will easily ignite in the presence of heat sources, sparks, or flames.” This volatility is what causes devastating fires and explosions to happen so easily when oil trains derail.

Traditionally, the industry has chosen to pump this volatile diluted bitumen, or dilbit, into rail tank cars when shipping it by rail. But now the oil-by-rail industry is exploring a way to transport a form of bitumen that no longer easily ignites like the dilbit.

To do this, they’re investing in new technology that removes the flammable component of the diluted bitumen mixture before putting it into rail tank cars. The process is expected to make rail transport as affordable as sending bitumen via pipeline.

The first commercial application of this technology is being marketed as DRUbit and is a collaboration between Gibson Energy and US Development Group LLC that expects to begin operations in the second half of 2021. ConocoPhillips Canada has contracted to move 50,000 barrels per day and rail companies CP and Kansas City Southern will transport the product from Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast.

DRUbit is a form of tar sands that is non-flammable and likely will not create large spills in derailments because raw or less-diluted bitumen doesn’t easily flow when exposed to air temperatures — effectively removing the risks to the public and environment from Canadian crude-by-rail transportation.
» Read article                

» More about virtual pipelines

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

end all fossil subsidies430+ Groups From 6 Continents Demand Biden End All US Subsidies for Global Fossil Fuel Projects
“We have to stop subsidizing fossil fuel companies at the expense of our climate.”
By Jake Johnson, Common Dreams
March 18, 2021

A coalition of more than 430 environmental organizations spanning 53 countries Thursday called on the Biden administration to quickly cut off all U.S. public financing for fossil fuel projects overseas and work with governments around the world to bring about an end to taxpayer subsidies for the dirty energy sources driving the global climate emergency.

“We urge the Biden administration to act swiftly to end new financing for all parts of the fossil fuel supply chain (including for gas), stop new U.S. fossil fuel support within 90 days across all government institutions, and work with other nations to end fossil fuel financing,” reads a letter (pdf) sent to top Biden administration officials, including Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, and Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm.

Signed by 432 groups from six continents—including Africa, Asia, and South America—comes weeks after U.S. President Joe Biden delivered a speech at the White House condemning “handouts to Big Oil” and vowing to work with Congress to eliminate subsidies to the fossil fuel industry in the U.S.

“Governments can’t claim to be serious about climate change if they pump billions of dollars into the most polluting industries every year,” said Alex Doukas of Oil Change International, one of the signatories. “If President Biden is serious about zeroing out emissions by mid-century or earlier, the U.S. must end its billions of dollars in support for oil, gas, and coal projects around the world.”

Arguing that U.S. action to end public funding of fossil fuel infrastructure could spur other nations to follow suit, the new letter urges Biden to follow through on his initial steps toward launching a “whole-of-government” approach to tackling the climate crisis. The groups point to Biden’s January executive order directing federal officials to craft a plan aimed at “promoting the flow of capital toward climate-aligned investments and away from high-carbon investments.”
» Read article                
» Read the coalition letter to the Biden administration

» More about protests and actions

GREENING THE ECONOMY

Deb Haaland confirmedDeb Haaland Confirmed As 1st Native American Interior Secretary
By Nathan Rott, NPR
March 15, 2021

Deb Haaland, a member of New Mexico’s Laguna Pueblo, has become the first Native American Cabinet secretary in U.S. history.

The Senate voted 51-40 Monday to confirm the Democratic congresswoman to lead the Interior Department, an agency that will play a crucial role in the Biden administration’s ambitious efforts to combat climate change and conserve nature.

Her confirmation is as symbolic as it is historic. For much of its history, the Interior Department was used as a tool of oppression against America’s Indigenous peoples. In addition to managing the country’s public lands, endangered species and natural resources, the department is also responsible for the government-to-government relations between the U.S. and Native American tribes.

“Indian country has shouted from the valleys, from the mountaintops, that it’s time. It’s overdue,” Sandia Pueblo tribal member Stephine Poston told NPR after Haaland was nominated.

As a congresswoman, Haaland was a frequent critic of the Trump administration’s deregulatory agenda and supported limits on fossil fuel development on public lands. She opposes hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. She was also one of the first lawmakers to support the Green New Deal, which calls for drastic action to address climate change and economic inequality.
» Read article                

stealth carbon bombI Tried to Buy a Climate-Friendly Refrigerator. What I Got Was a Carbon Bomb.
Most refrigerators in the U.S. are still cooled by climate “super-pollutants” called hydrofluorocarbons. I’d been promised my new fridge wouldn’t be…
By Phil McKenna, Inside Climate News
March 11, 2021

As a climate reporter covering “super-pollutants”—greenhouse gases thousands of times worse for the climate than carbon dioxide—I thought I knew enough to avoid buying a refrigerator that would cook the planet. Turns out, I was wrong.

Nearly all refrigerators in use in the United States today use chemical refrigerants that are some of the most potent greenhouse gases on the planet. Yet, a growing number of manufacturers now offer new models with an alternative refrigerant that has little to no climate impact.

But none of the major appliance makers advertise which fridges are climate-friendly, and which are carbon bombs. In some cases, it seems they themselves don’t know which is which.

It didn’t have to be this way. In 1993, a German appliance manufacturer started selling an HFC-free refrigerator whose very name—“Greenfreeze”—touted its use of a climate-friendly refrigerant. More than 1 billion HFC-free refrigerators have now been sold worldwide, including units sold overseas by U.S. manufacturers, at a time when climate-friendly refrigerators are just becoming available in the United States.

A recent Inside Climate News investigation found the decades-long delay in the use of climate-friendly refrigerants in America has been driven largely by the U.S. chemical industry, which manufactures HFCs. HFCs are multi-billion dollar products that would likely be replaced by less expensive and more efficient climate-friendly alternatives if standards put forth by Underwriters Laboratories didn’t until recently limit their use, likely at the behest of chemical companies. Underwriters Laboratories, now known as “UL,” is a private company that provides independent safety certifications for thousands of consumer products.

When GE first submitted its application to EPA in 2008 to use only small amounts of isobutane as a refrigerator coolant, Honeywell International, one of the leading HFC manufacturers, opposed the rule change. The company claimed that isobutane is “highly flammable and explosive even in small amounts,” a claim that has not been substantiated by the more than 1 billion isobutane refrigerators in safe operation worldwide. The agency finally granted the request in 2011.

When I asked Julie Wood at GE Appliances why the company wasn’t now advertising the environmental benefit of its climate-friendly refrigerator models, she said she didn’t think there would be much interest.

“At the end of the day, there is just low consumer awareness,” Wood said.
» Read article                
» Visit EIA’s HFC-free refrigerator buyer’s guide

» More about greening the economy

LEGISLATION

Kathleen Theoharides EEA Secretary
Baker administration ‘very pleased’ with climate change bill
With few options, top aide embraces Legislature’s amended proposal
By Bruce Mohl, CommonWealth Magazine
March 18, 2021

WITH BOTH BRANCHES of the Legislature approving climate change legislation by veto-proof majorities, the Baker administration on Thursday declared victory and signaled that the governor will sign the bill into law.

“The governor and I are very pleased the Legislature adopted the vast majority of our amendments,” said Katie Theoharides, the governor’s secretary of energy and environmental affairs.

She said she couldn’t definitively say the governor will sign the bill until it actually reaches his desk and he can see it in its final form, but she signaled that was likely. “We are very pleased by the inclusion of key amendments as well as technical changes,” she said.

Baker has little running room on the climate change bill. His only options are to sign the bill into law or veto it, and vetoing it would trigger overrides in the overwhelmingly Democratic Legislature that could hurt him politically.

Baker “reluctantly” vetoed the climate change legislation passed by the Legislature at the end of the last session, saying he was boxed in by the calendar, which allowed him to only veto it or sign it into law because the bill reached his desk after the Legislature had adjourned. The Legislature responded by passing the exact same bill again in the current session; Baker sent it back in February with a series of amendments.

Between the original veto message and the filing of the amendments, Baker’s tone changed dramatically. In the veto message, Baker was defiant and dismissive, insisting the Legislature’s goal of reducing emissions in 2030 50 percent below 1990 levels was too radical and would end up unnecessarily costing Massachusetts residents an extra $6 billion. He also objected to binding interim emission goals for six industry subsectors and raised questions about a proposed municipal energy code and a series of other provisions.

When he sent the bill back with amendments in February, Baker dropped his objections to some provisions and sought to compromise on others. On the 50 percent emissions reduction goal, for example, Baker suggested a target of somewhere between 45 and 50 percent with the administration setting the final goal. He also urged that goals for industry subsectors be used as planning tools rather than binding requirements.

The Senate passed a revised bill on Monday by a 39-1 margin and the House passed it 146-13 on Thursday. Sen. Michael Barrett of Lexington, the Senate’s point person on climate change, said the bill reflected a number of technical changes sought by the governor but didn’t budge on the major provisions in the Legislature’s original bill.
» Read article                

» More about legislation

CLIMATE

wrong direction
As Oil Demand Rebounds, Nations Will Need to Make Big Changes to Meet Paris Goals, Report Says
Covid-19 decreased oil demand by almost 9 percent last year, according to the International Energy Agency. But it could surpass pre-pandemic levels within a few years.
By Nicholas Kusnetz, Inside Climate News
March 18, 2021

Global oil demand is expected to grow steadily over the next five years and quickly surge past pre-pandemic levels, a path that could put climate goals out of reach, according to the International Energy Agency.

In a report released Wednesday, the agency said that while the pandemic will have lasting effects on the world’s oil consumption, governments have to act immediately to set the global energy system on a more sustainable path.

Oil demand needs to fall by about 3 million barrels per day below 2019 levels by the middle of the decade to meet the goals of the Paris climate agreement, the report said. But on the current trajectory, consumption is instead set to increase by 3.5 million barrels per day.

“Achieving an orderly transition away from oil is essential to meet climate goals, but it will require major policy changes from governments, as well as accelerated behavioral changes,” said Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director. “Without that, global oil demand is set to increase every year between now and 2026.”

While Covid-19 sent oil demand plummeting last year by nearly 9 percent, the report said demand is set to surpass pre-pandemic levels by 2023. Nearly all that growth will come from developing and emerging economies, particularly in Asia, and the bulk will come not from transportation but from petrochemicals used to make plastics.

The agency, made up of 30 member countries including the United States, stressed that the future is not preordained. But the report also underscored the huge policy and other changes that will be needed—including faster adoption of electric vehicles and a doubling of plastics recycling rates—to meet the Paris Agreement goal of limiting warming to well below 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius).
» Read article                
» Read the International Energy Agency report

beach erosion UK
World’s coastal cities face risk from land and sea
As the tides rise ever higher, the world’s coastal cities carry on sinking. It’s a recipe for civic catastrophe.
By Tim Radford, Climate News Network
March 15, 2021

Citizens of many of the world’s coastal cities have even more to fear from rising tides. As ocean levels swell, in response to rising temperatures and melting glaciers, the land on which those cities are built is sinking.

This means that although, worldwide, oceans are now 2.6mm higher every year in response to climate change, many citizens of some of the world’s great delta cities face the risk of an average sea level rise of up to almost 10mm a year. Both the rising waters and the sinking city streets are ultimately a consequence of human actions.

Humans have not only burned fossil fuels to alter the planet’s atmosphere and raise global temperatures, they have also pumped water from the ground below the cities. They have raised massive structures on riverine sediments; they have pumped oil and gas from offshore, and they have dammed rivers to slow the flow of new sediments.

And because of such steps, some of the world’s great cities have been steadily going downhill. Tokyo in Japan has subsided by four metres in the course of the 20th century. Shanghai in China, Bangkok in Thailand, New Orleans in the US and Djakarta on the island of Java in Indonesia have all sunk by between two and three metres in the last 100 years.

Now a new study in the journal Nature Climate Change has found that 58% of the world’s coastal citizens live on soil and bedrock that is collapsing beneath their feet. Fewer than 1% are settled on terrain that is uplifting. Most are exposed to possible relative sea level rises of between 7.8mm and 9.9mm a year.
» Read article                
» Read the Nature Climate Change study            

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

skybrator
Good vibrations: bladeless turbines could bring wind power to your home
‘Skybrators’ generate clean energy without environmental impact of large windfarms, say green pioneers
By Jillian Ambrose, The Guardian
March 16, 2021

The giant windfarms that line hills and coastlines are not the only way to harness the power of the wind, say green energy pioneers who plan to reinvent wind power by forgoing the need for turbine towers, blades – and even wind.

“We are not against traditional windfarms,” says David Yáñez, the inventor of Vortex Bladeless. His six-person startup, based just outside Madrid, has pioneered a turbine design that can harness energy from winds without the sweeping white blades considered synonymous with wind power.

The design recently won the approval of Norway’s state energy company, Equinor, which named Vortex on a list of the 10 most exciting startups in the energy sector. Equinor will also offer the startup development support through its tech accelerator programme.

The bladeless turbines stand at 3 metres high, a curve-topped cylinder fixed vertically with an elastic rod. To the untrained eye it appears to waggle back and forth, not unlike a car dashboard toy. In reality, it is designed to oscillate within the wind range and generate electricity from the vibration.

It has already raised eyebrows on the forum site Reddit, where the turbine was likened to a giant vibrating sex toy, or “skybrator”. The unmistakably phallic design attracted more than 94,000 ratings and 3,500 comments on the site. The top rated comment suggested a similar device might be found in your mother’s dresser drawer. It received 20,000 positive ratings from Reddit users.
» Read article                

» More about clean energy

ENERGY STORAGE

powerwall VPP
New York utility Con Edison recognises value of home energy storage with new virtual power plant
By Andy Colthorpe, Energy Storage News
March 17, 2021

The CEO of US virtual power plant provider Swell Energy has said that New York utility company Con Edison has been “very progressive” in recognising the value that aggregated home battery systems paired with solar can offer.

Swell Energy’s Suleman Khan was among a handful of staff that launched what later became known as Tesla Energy in 2015. Having taken responsibility at Tesla for pricing up the company’s Powerwall residential storage product, he now heads up a company that takes storage systems including Powerwalls and aggregates them into virtual power plants by combining their capacity and capabilities.

Swell Energy currently has under contract 300MWh of virtual power plant agreements in territories including Hawaii and California, having raised US$450 million in project financing, which Khan said represents about 14,000 homes’ worth of battery storage. The company’s business model is essentially based around selling homeowners batteries with or without solar at a discounted price, after agreeing local capacity contracts with utilities that help them reduce aggregate load in specific areas, the “surgical value of behind-the-meter storage” as he calls it.

“We ended up, from the business development standpoint approaching utilities and saying: ‘look, here’s your customer base, here’s your aggregate load. If you were to add storage to this portion of the customer base, you would really take your aggregate load down in periods where you want it to be down.’ We show them precisely how certain loads can be taken down on certain circuits in a surgical manner, as opposed to just a massive battery farm in the middle of the desert.”
» Read article               

» More about energy storage

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

Oceanbird
New age of sail looks to slash massive maritime carbon emissions
By Andrew Willner, Mongabay
March 15, 2021

Despite the present dominance of fossil-fueled cargo ships, it’s well understood by industry insiders that the current maritime logistics system is both aging and fragile.

Fossil fuel transport today is up against a grim carbon reality: if ocean shipping were a country, it would be the sixth-largest carbon emitter, releasing more CO2 annually than Germany. International shipping accounts for about 2.2% of all global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the U.N. International Maritime Organization’s most recent data.

This annual surge of atmospheric carbon released by ocean going ships not only worsens climate change — one of nine scientifically defined planetary boundaries (PBs) we now risk overshooting — it also contributes to ocean acidification (a second planetary boundary) which is beginning to seriously impact biodiversity (a third PB). And add to that significant chemical pollution (a fourth planetary boundary) that is emitted from ship smokestacks.

All of these planetary boundaries interrelate and influence one another (negatively and positively): for example, reducing black carbon (or soot), the fine particulate matter emitted from fossil fueled oceangoing vessels could slow global warming somewhat, buying time to implement further steps to reduce carbon emissions.

Another problem with today’s vessels: when cargo ships dock, they use auxiliary engines that generate SOx, NOx, CO2 and particulate discharges, while also creating noxious noise and vibrations. (Innovators are already solving this problem with cold ironing, providing shoreside electrical power to ship berths, allowing main and auxiliary engines to be shut down.)

Today’s cargo industry is plagued not only by environmental issues, but by a difficult logistical and economic problem: its current fleet of fossil-fueled container ships are mostly behemoths — with immense carrying capacities. However, the “overcapacity” of these giant ships leaves them without the nimbleness to adapt to unexpected shifts in global supply and demand; the world’s ports and specialized markets could likely be better served, say experts, by smaller, far more fuel-efficient cargo ships.

The current sea cargo system — reliant upon high-priced carbon-based fuels and unstable energy markets; interwoven inextricably into long-distance, globalized world trade; and designed for just-in-time delivery that requires precisely scheduled shipments — is increasingly vulnerable to the vagaries of fossil fuel shortages, price shocks and surges, as well as geopolitical conflict and volatility in the Middle East, Venezuela and elsewhere.
» Read article                

Thacker Pass
The Battle of Thacker Pass
Electric cars require a lot of lithium. A showdown in Nevada shows that getting it won’t be easy.
By Maddie Stone, Grist
March 12, 2021

When Edward Bartell first learned that a lithium mine might be moving into his remote corner of northern Nevada, the longtime cattle rancher wasn’t upset.

“I was actually kind of excited about it,” Bartell said. He knew that lithium is a key metal used in batteries for electric vehicles and the power grid, and he knew the United States is going to need a lot of it to transition off fossil fuels.

But as Bartell started learning more about the proposed Thacker Pass mine — which would be the second, and by far the largest, lithium mine in the United States — he grew increasingly worried about its impacts on his ranching business and nearby ecosystems. In spite of the numerous concerns Bartell and others raised during a comment period in which the government solicited opinions about the proposed mine project from members of the public, Thacker Pass received speedy review and was approved by the Bureau of Land Management, or BLM, on January 15, the Trump administration’s final Friday in office. Construction of mining facilities and “pre-stripping” to expose lithium-rich ores could begin later this year.

Bartell is now suing the federal government to try to stop that from happening.
» Read article                

perilous pathway
Will the Race for Electric Vehicles Endanger the Earth’s Most Sensitive Ecosystem?
Materials needed to make the batteries for electric cars and other clean technology is driving interest in deep-seabed mining, and scientists fear the cost to the ocean will be steep.
By Tara Lohan, The Revelator
March 10, 2021

From 2010 to 2019 the number of EVs on the road rose from 17,000 to 7.2 million. And that number could jump to 250 million by 2030, according to an estimate from the International Energy Agency.

The growing demand for electric vehicles is good news for limiting climate emissions from the transportation sector, but EVs still come with environmental costs. Of particular concern is the materials needed to make the ever-important batteries, some of which are already projected to be in short supply.

“Climate change is our greatest and most pressing challenge, but there are some perilous pathways to be aware of as we build out the infrastructure that gets us to a new low-carbon paradigm,” says Douglas McCauley, a professor and director of the Benioff Ocean Initiative at the University of California Santa Barbara.

One of those perilous pathways, he says, is mining the seafloor to extract minerals like cobalt and nickel that are widely used for EV batteries. Extraction of these materials has thus far been limited to land, but international regulations for mining the deep seabed far offshore are in development.

“There’s alignment on the need to go as fast as we can with low-carbon infrastructure to beat climate change and electrification will play a big part in that,” he says. “But the idea that we need to mine the oceans in order to do that is, I think, a very false dichotomy.”

As pressure mounts to claim terrestrial minerals, commercial interest is growing to extract resources from the deep seabed, where there’s an abundance of metals like copper, cobalt, nickel, manganese, lead and lithium. Investors already expect profits: One deep-sea mining company recently announced a plan to go public after merging with an investment group, creating a corporation with an expected $2.9 billion market value.

But along with that focus comes increased warnings about the damage such extraction could do to ocean health, and whether the sacrifice is even necessary.

McCauley hopes that a combination of advances will help take the pressure off sensitive ecosystems and that we don’t rush into mining the seabed for short-term enrichment when better alternatives are on the horizon.

“One of my greatest fears is that we may start ocean mining because it’s profitable for just a handful of years, and then we nail it with the next gen battery or we get good at doing low-cost e-waste recycling,” he says. “And then we’ve done irreversible damage in the oceans for three years of profit.”
» Read article         

» More about clean transportation

BUILDING MATERIALS

sheets of steel
How to Clean Up Steel? Bacteria, Hydrogen and a Lot of Cash.
With climate concerns growing, steel companies face an inevitable crunch. ArcelorMittal sees solutions, but the costs are likely to run into tens of billions of dollars in Europe alone.
By Stanley Reed, New York Times
March 17, 2021

Few materials are more essential than steel, yet steel mills are among the leading polluters. They burn coke, a derivative of coal, and belch millions of tons of greenhouse gases. Roughly two tons of carbon dioxide rises into the atmosphere for every ton of steel made using blast furnaces.

With climate concerns growing, a crunch appears inevitable for these companies. Carbon taxes are rising, and investors are wary of putting their money into businesses that could be regulated out of existence.

None of this has been lost on the giant steel maker ArcelorMittal.

The company is spending 325 million euros (about $390 million) on pilot programs that include making steel with hydrogen and using bacteria to turn carbon dioxide into useful chemicals. The amount is less than 1 percent of the company’s 2020 revenue. But [Aditya Mittal, 44, who recently succeeded his father as chief executive], who had been ArcelorMittal’s chief financial officer, said the company had greater technical resources and global scale than most rivals and was well positioned to lead the cleanup.

“We can now imagine that it is possible to make steel without carbon emissions,” he said.

But the future costs of converting a string of blast furnaces into climate-friendly operations are likely to run into tens of billions in Europe alone, the company says.

In recent years, the oil and gas industry has come under pressure from governments embracing increasingly ambitious climate goals. One result is greatly expanded investments in renewable energy. Now, many see the regulatory focus turning to the steel industry and other heavy polluters.
» Read article                

» More about building materials

CARBON CAPTURE & SEQUESTRATION

LCO2 carrier
Two European companies are mapping a future service for direct air capture to sequestration of CO2
By Jonathan Shieber, Tech Crunch
March 9, 2021

The Swiss-based, venture capital-backed, direct air capture technology developer Climeworks is partnering with a joint venture between the government of Norway and massive European energy companies to map the pathway for a business that could provide not only the direct capture of carbon dioxide emissions from air, but the underground sequestration and storage of those emissions.

The deal could pave the way for a new business that would offer carbon capture and sequestration services to commercial enterprises around the world, if the joint venture between Climeworks and the newly formed Northern Lights company is successful. It would mean the realization of a full-chain carbon dioxide removal service that the two companies called a necessary component of the efforts to reverse global climate change.

Northern Lights was incorporated in March as a joint venture between Equinor, Shell and Total to provide processing, transportation and underground sequestration services for captured carbon dioxide emissions. The business is one of the lynchpins in the Norwegian government’s efforts to capture and store carbon emissions safely underground under a plan called The Longship Project.

“There is growing awareness of the need to build capacity to remove CO2 from the atmosphere to achieve net zero by 2050. We are enthusiastic about this collaboration with Climeworks. Combined with safe and permanent storage, direct air capture has the potential to get the carbon cycle back in balance,” said Børre Jacobsen, the managing director of Northern Lights, in a statement.
» Read article                
» Read about the Longship Project

Carbfix
This Icelandic Startup Is Turning Carbon Dioxide Into Stone
By Savannah Hasty, EcoWatch
March 14, 2021

Carbon emissions are the leading cause forcing the climate crisis today. These emissions account for more than 60% of man-made global warming, as well as other conditions related to climate crisis such as ocean acidification and weather pattern disruptions. However, a new solution to these impending carbon catastrophes has been discovered by Icelandic startup Carbfix, which is turning carbon dioxide into stone.

Carbfix offers a plan for reaching Paris agreement goals for limiting anthropogenic warming using a process known as carbon capture and storage (CCS). The project, founded in 2007 by Reykjavik Energy and several research institutions (now owned by Reykjavik Energy), aims to capture CO2 from industrial sites, dissolve it in water, and then inject it into the ground where it turns to rock. The process only takes two years, effectively accelerating the process of natural carbon storage to meet increasing carbon emissions throughout the developed world.

Carbfix’s proprietary technology “captures” the carbon dioxide from an industrial facility before it enters the atmosphere, effectively bringing the facility’s emissions to zero. They are also partnering with a Swiss company, Climeworks, to perform what is called carbon capture, which withdraws the CO2 from surrounding air. This can reduce a company’s net carbon footprint, as well as negate previously unaddressed carbon emissions.
» Read article            

» More about carbon capture and sequestration

PEAKING POWER PLANTS

summer surgesReport: These rarely used, dirty power plants could be cheaply replaced by batteries
By Rachel Ramirez, Grist
June 11, 2020

As air conditioning units begin to hum with summer’s arrival, electricity use surges. Across the U.S., that demand is met by more than 1,000 so-called peaker power plants, which typically only run during infrequent periods of peak energy demand. They tend to be expensive, inefficient, and disproportionately located in low-income neighborhoods of color, where they emit large amounts of carbon dioxide and harmful pollutants.

For all these reasons, environmental advocates consider peaker plants a high priority for retirement and replacement. A sweeping analysis released last month by researchers at the nonprofit Physicians, Scientists, and Engineers for Health Energy (PSE) studied nine states to identify which peaker plants have the greatest potential to be replaced by clean energy alternatives, based on their operational features and the characteristics of local electricity grids, as well as the health, environmental, and equity benefits of retiring the plants. All of these factors combined present unique opportunities to replace some of the electricity sector’s most polluting facilities in Arizona, California, Florida, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, and New York.

The feasibility of these opportunities is largely the result of recent breakthroughs in energy storage, particularly battery storage. Energy storage is essentially any system used to store electricity generated at one point in time for use at another time. The most familiar type of energy storage is battery storage, in which the electricity generated by a solar panel system during the day, for example, could be stored and then later supplied once the sun sets.

“Energy storage is now competitive with peaker power plants,” said Elena Krieger, PSE’s director of research. “We’re sort of at that economic turning point where that’s the opportunity, but ideally that could set a precedent for how we think about adopting clean energy across the grid as a whole — so that we bring on these clean resources and not only reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but prioritize health, prioritize resilience, and prioritize equitable access.”
» Read article               
» Read report – The Fossil Fuel End Game (March 2021)  

» Read report – Dirty Energy, Big Money (May 2020)
» Join BEAT’s Put Peakers in the Past coalition! 

» More about peakers

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Kern County pumpjack
Keeping It All In the Ground?
Exploring legal options for congressional and executive actions to terminate existing fossil fuel leases on federal lands.
By Eric Biber, Legal Planet
March 11, 2021

The Biden Administration has set aggressive goals for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from the United States.  And a necessary component for any long-term plan to address greenhouse gas emissions from the United States is reducing and ultimately eliminating the emissions from fossil fuels produced on federal lands.

Why is this such a critical issue? Almost half of the coal mined in the United States, about a quarter of the oil, and around one-sixth of the natural gas is produced from leasing federal lands to private parties for coal, oil, and gas development.  Without addressing federal fossil fuel leasing, the United States would not be able to meet the commitment of the Paris Accord to reduce greenhouse gas emissions enough to avoid more than two degrees Celsius in global temperature increases.

The Biden transition team indicated that they were looking at ending new fossil fuel leasing on federal lands – particularly coal – to help meet climate goals. On Biden’s first day in office, the administration set a 60-day pause on leasing and permitting, and there is talk of a full moratorium. But that just addresses new leases. What about the existing leases on federal lands, which already lock in substantial emissions and under current leasing systems could produce for decades to come?

Addressing those leases may be crucial for the new Administration.  To help answer this open question, we undertook a comprehensive assessment of the legal capacity of the federal government to end existing fossil fuel leases.

Of course, just because something can be legally done doesn’t mean it should be.  For example, there is a fair amount of uncertainty about whether unilateral efforts by a single nation to restrict the production of fossil fuels will significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, since those unilateral reductions may be offset by imports from other producers around the world, or by substituting one fossil fuel for another.  However, our initial review suggests that it is plausible that termination of coal leasing on federal lands in the United States would lead to significant emissions reductions – in part because the global market for coal is not nearly as robust as for oil, and in part because there are good lower-carbon or carbon-free substitutes for many uses of coal (e.g., renewable energy to produce electricity).
» Read article                
» Read the legal assessment

welcome to Colorado
Energy companies have left Colorado with billions of dollars in oil and gas cleanup
As the state tries to reform its relationship to drilling, an expensive task awaits: plugging nearly 60,000 oil and gas wells.
By Nick Bowlin / High Country News, reprinted in Energy News Network
March 12, 2021

When an oil or gas well reaches the end of its lifespan, it must be plugged. If it isn’t, the well might leak toxic chemicals into groundwater and spew methane, carbon dioxide and other pollutants into the atmosphere for years on end.

But plugging a well is no simple task: Cement must be pumped down into it to block the opening, and the tubes connecting it to tanks or pipelines must be removed, along with all the other onsite equipment. Then the top of the well has to be chopped off near the surface and plugged again, and the area around the rig must be cleaned up.

There are nearly 60,000 unplugged wells in Colorado in need of this treatment — each costing $140,000 on average, according to the Carbon Tracker, a climate think tank, in a new report that analyzes oil and gas permitting data. Plugging this many wells will cost a lot — more than $8 billion, the report found.

Companies that drill wells in Colorado are legally required to pay for plugging them. They do so in the form of bonds, which the state can call on to pay for the plugging. But as it stands today, Colorado has only about $185 million from industry — just 2% of the estimated cleanup bill, according to the new study. The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) assumes an average cost of $82,500 per well — lower than the Carbon Tracker’s figure, which factors in issues like well depth. But even using the state’s more conservative number, the overall cleanup would cost nearly $5 billion, of which the money currently available from energy companies would cover less than 5%.

This situation is the product of more than 150 years of energy extraction. Now, with the oil and gas industry looking less robust every year and reeling in the wake of the pandemic, the state of Colorado and its people could be on the hook for billions in cleanup costs. Meanwhile, unplugged wells persist as environmental hazards. This spring, Colorado will try to tackle the problem; state energy regulators have been tasked with reforming the policies governing well cleanup and financial commitments from industry.
» Read article               

» More about fossil fuels

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

Cove Point 2014Biden faces climate clash over LNG
By Lesley Clark and Carlos Anchondo, E&E News
March 8, 2021

The Biden administration has yet to fully delineate its position on liquefied natural gas, prompting cautious optimism from industry but spurring pushback from groups that want to phase out the fuel.

In an interview Friday, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm acknowledged DOE’s legal responsibility to review proposed LNG export facilities and suggested that could move in step with things like curbing flaring and leaks from gas pipelines (see related story).

LNG shipments are often bound for “countries that would otherwise be using very carbon-intensive fuels,” Granholm said, adding that “it does have the impact of reducing internationally carbon emissions.”

“However, I will say there is an opportunity here, as well, to really start to deploy some [carbon capture, use and storage] technologies with respect to natural gas in the Gulf [of Mexico] and other places that we are siting these facilities for that we are obligated to do under the law,” Granholm said.

The comments highlight a dilemma the Biden administration is facing on LNG: How will the fuel coexist with aggressive climate targets without infuriating a core of the Democratic base? President Biden has vowed to tackle climate change by transitioning to a net-zero-emissions economy by 2050.

It’s currently unclear how Biden might differ on the issue from the previous two administrations. President Obama got many LNG export projects off the ground, and both Trump administration Energy secretaries were enthusiastic supporters. Former Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s DOE dubbed it “freedom gas” at one point, boasting that it provided U.S. allies with a cleaner source of energy.

Biden officials have, however, made comments that mirror those from industry and some analysts about the role LNG exports can play in offsetting the continued growth of coal, particularly in China and Southeast Asia.
» Read article                

» More about LNG

BIOMASS

biomass facts for VicDespite his claims, science is not on Vic Gatto’s side
Proponent of biomass power plant is making up ‘facts’
By Mary S. Booth, CommonWealth Magazine | Opinion
March 18, 2021

VIC GATTO has been a tireless campaigner for the 42-megawatt biomass power plant in East Springfield that his company wants to build over widespread community opposition. But in his effort to ostensibly dispel “public misinformation” about the proposed Palmer Renewable Energy plant (“Biomass Plant COO Says Science is on His Side,” Feb. 27, 2021), he is simply blowing more smoke.

We’ll grant Gatto’s complaint that the permitting process, which began in 2008, has been lengthy, complex, and litigious. This is testament to how bitterly contested this proposal has been from the beginning. But just because this plant has a permit does not make it benign.

Let’s look at the facts. According to its 2011 operating permit from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, the Palmer biomass plant will burn nearly a ton of green wood chips per minute around the clock, requiring a smokestack more than 20 stories high to help disperse the pollution.

Even with “state of the art” pollution controls, the plant will emit more than 200 tons of harmful air pollutants each year, including fine particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, volatile organic chemicals, and heavy metals such as mercury and lead. And that’s assuming the plant, once built, is able to comply with its permit restrictions. Around the country, the performance of biomass plants has been less than stellar, with frequent cases of air and water permit violations, fires, and other environmental hazards.

Gatto’s dismissive comments about the “very slight” air quality impacts of his project are particularly insensitive to the legitimate concerns of the Springfield community. The air permit allows the Palmer biomass plant to release more than 33 tons of fine particulate pollution per year, and emissions from increased truck traffic and “fugitive” emissions from wood chip and ash storage at the site will add to the ground-level air pollution burden. Since the plant was proposed, we’ve learned more about the cumulative impacts of air pollution, which include asthma, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, low birth weight, dementia, and now, increased impacts and deaths from COVID-19.

These impacts are likely to be particularly acute in an overburdened environmental justice community like Springfield, where state environmental health tracking data show that residents already suffer from disproportionately high rates of asthma and heart attack hospitalizations, poor air quality, and inadequate access to health care.  Attorney General Maura Healey’s office has written that “the proposed biomass facility in Springfield would jeopardize the health of an environmental community already deemed the nation’s ‘asthma capital.’”

In addition to denying the health risks, Gatto continues to make unsubstantiated claims about the climate benefits of his project, claiming that a state-sponsored study concludes that burning “waste” wood such as tree trimmings will result in less greenhouse gas pollution compared to chipping it and “allowing it to decompose to methane on the ground.”

We could not find this statement anywhere in the studies Gatto cited — probably because it’s not what the science says.  Burning a ton of green wood releases about a ton of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere instantaneously. That same ton of wood, if left to decompose on the forest floor, would gradually emit carbon dioxide over a span of 10-25 years, returning some of the carbon to the soil and forest ecosystem. Methane — a potent climate-warming gas — is only created when oxygen is not available. In reality, a much more likely source of methane from rotting wood will be the 30-foot high, 5,000-ton wood chip fuel pile at the plant.
» Read article          

» More about biomass         

PLASTICS RECYCLING

trash pickers
Countries Tried to Curb Trade in Plastic Waste. The U.S. Is Shipping More.
Data shows that American exporters continue to ship plastic waste overseas, often to poorer countries, even though most of the world has agreed to not accept it.
By Hiroko Tabuchi and Michael Corkery, New York Times
March 12, 2021

When more than 180 nations agreed last year to place strict limits on exports of plastic waste from richer countries to poorer ones, the move was seen as a major victory in the fight against plastic pollution.

But new trade data for January, the first month that the agreement took effect, shows that American exports of plastic scrap to poorer countries have barely changed, and overall scrap plastics exports rose, which environmental watchdog groups say is evidence that exporters are ignoring the new rules.

The American companies seem to be relying on a remarkable interpretation of the new rules: Even though it’s now illegal for most countries to accept all but the purest forms of plastic scrap from the United States, there’s nothing that prevents the United States from sending the waste. The main reason: the United States is one of the few countries in the world that didn’t ratify the global ban.

“This is our first hard evidence that nobody seems to be paying attention to the international law,” said Jim Puckett, executive director of the Basel Action Network, a nonprofit group that lobbies against the plastic waste trade. “As soon as the shipments get on the high seas, it’s considered illegal trafficking. And the rest of the world has to deal with it.”

The scrap industry says that many of the exports are quite likely compliant with the new rules and that the increase in January reflects growing global demand for plastic to recycle, and use as inputs for new products. Recent history, however, shows that a large amount of plastic scrap exported from the United States does not get recycled but ends up as waste, a reality that was the impetus for the new rules.

The new rules were adopted in 2019 by most of the world’s countries, although the United States isn’t among them, under a framework known as the Basel Convention. Underlying the change was the need to stem the flow of waste from America, and other wealthier nations, to poorer ones.

Though many American communities dutifully collect plastic for recycling, much of the scrap has been sent overseas, where it frequently ends up in landfills, or in rivers, streams and the ocean. China, which once accepted the bulk of that waste, in 2018 banned all plastic scrap shipments, declaring that it no longer wanted to be the “world’s garbage dump.”
» Read article               

» More about plastics recycling

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