Tag Archives: Toyota

Weekly News Check-In 1/22/21

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Welcome back.

“… When day comes, we step out of the shade, aflame and unafraid.
The new dawn blooms as we free it.
For there is always light,
if only we’re brave enough to see it.
If only we’re brave enough to be it.”
— Amanda Gorman, excerpt from “The Hill We Climb”, in The Guardian

What a week! The Biden/Harris administration kicked off by returning science and sanity to the White House. The inauguration was a high-volume Kleenex event for many, and we already see seismic shifts in policy. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is considering allowing opponents of the Weymouth compressor station to argue that the facility doesn’t serve a public need and presents a danger to nearby environmental justice communities. We include a link with this story – please send your own comments to FERC encouraging them to follow through. This is a big break – let’s work it!

The Keystone XL pipeline is dead. Now, opponents of the Dakota Access Pipeline argue it should meet the same fate, for the same reasons. Strangely, Enbridge is attempting to swim against this anti-pipeline tide by refusing to comply with Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s recent order to shut down its aging Line 5 pipelines under the Straits of Mackinac.

It’s beginning to look like Baltimore’s legal action against the fossil fuel industry will become a pivotal Supreme Court case. The high court agreed to hear a narrow issue related to jurisdiction, but then the oil and gas industry pushed it to go further. At stake is whether this and similar suits can be heard in any state court.

This week, Democrat Richard Glick became Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chair. He has a strong and consistent record of opposing FERC’s “rubber stamp” approach to pipeline project approval, is serious about environmental justice (see Weymouth, above), and is committed to the clean energy transition. Although the Commission will remain majority-Republican till June, he may already have enough support to begin to tackle the big issue of transmission reform.

This week’s biggest, most hopeful, and least-surprising climate story is the pending U.S. return to the Paris Climate Agreement. President Biden stated his administration’s intent in a letter signed within hours of his inauguration. Our return becomes official after thirty days.

Clean energy has a new player. A “tidal kite” is generating renewable electricity from the tidal flows in Vestmannasund, a strait in the Faroe Islands. Tethered to the seabed, the kite’s primary innovation is its ability to “fly” a figure 8 pattern in the tidal current, thereby increasing relative velocity through the water and maximizing energy generation from the onboard turbine.

Necessary advances in building energy efficiency are being threatened by the powerful National Association of Home Builders. We found a great article that makes the case for better buildings, and explains how the building trade’s short-sighted obsession with initial construction cost is passing large downstream bills to home owners and renters – while also cooking the planet with excessive greenhouse gas emissions.

Electric vehicles are currently burdened with long charge times – a problem that mostly concerns drivers taking long trips. New battery designs aim to change that, by making a charge-up take about the same time as a fill-up. The trick involves replacing electrode graphite with nanopaticles that allow a higher rate of electron flow. One example of this new lithium-ion battery was developed by the Israeli company StoreDot and manufactured by Eve Energy in China on standard production lines. While it’s not quite ready for commercial scale deployment, it proves the concept and assures a quick-charge future. Other battery manufacturers are pursuing similar designs.

Recall that Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker’s veto of a landmark climate bill was predicated in large part on $6 billion that he insisted the legislature’s aggressive emissions reduction goals would cost the commonwealth. That allowed the governor to claim a point for fiscal responsibility… except that it sort of looks like he just made that number up! Hopefully the bill will be reintroduced quickly. The Governor and Legislature have expressed an eagerness to move forward. Let’s keep it real….

The fossil fuel industry is sorting out its future in light of the Keystone XL pipeline cancellation and the Biden/Harris climate agenda. We found an interesting article that explores how a number of pipeline projects in the U.S. and Canada could ultimately be affected, and how they’re related.

We’ve mentioned FERC several times, and we’ll close with a story on its decision to affirm that energy company Pembina can’t move forward with the highly-contested Jordan Cove liquefied natural gas project without a key clean water permit from the state of Oregon. After years of battle, this federal regulator has given the opposition hope by merely acting… sensibly.

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

— The NFGiM Team

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

glimmer of hopeAfter years of protests, a glimmer of hope for opponents to the Weymouth gas compressor
By David Abel, Boston Globe
January 19, 2021

After years of protests, residents opposing a controversial natural gas compressor station in Weymouth received a glimmer of hope Tuesday that federal regulators might reconsider last fall’s decision to allow the plant to operate.

In a vote by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, a majority of members ruled the panel had improperly denied a request for a hearing on its approval from neighbors and environmental advocates who have long opposed the compressor. The commissioners, one of whom was appointed since the facility won approval in the fall, cited safety and environmental concerns for their action.

The vote comes after the compressor had two emergency shutdowns in September — just days after regulators authorized it to start operating. It has yet to resume operations, and it’s unclear when it will be allowed to do so.

At an online hearing, Commissioner Richard Glick said the FERC must look more closely at the impact of the station on low-income residents who live nearby and “do more than give lip service to environmental justice.”

“That needs to change,” he said.

In a post on Twitter, Glick added that the station “raises serious environmental justice questions, which we need to examine. The communities surrounding the project are regularly subjected to high levels of pollution & residents are concerned emissions from the station will make things worse.”

A new commissioner, Allison Clements, a Democratic appointee, said the commission should “carefully consider how to address health and safety concerns.” The commissioners serve five-year, staggered terms, and no more than three of the five commissioners may be from the same party as the president.

This ruling comes after residents spent six years fighting the $100 million compressor, which they have said presents health and safety risks to the polluted, densely populated Fore River Basin.

The 7,700-horsepower compressor was built by Enbridge, a Canadian pipeline giant, as part of its $600 million Atlantic Bridge project. The compressor, the subject of a Globe investigation last year, seeks to pump 57.5 million cubic feet of gas a day from Weymouth to Maine and Canada.

“This is significant because this is the first time in six years that they have actually considered our concerns about environmental justice, health, and safety,” said Alice Arena, president of Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station.
» Read article        
» Submit comments to FERC

» More about the Weymouth compressor

PIPELINES

worse than crude
After a decade of struggle, Keystone XL may be sold for scrap
By Alexandria Herr, Grist
January 20, 2021

After 12 embattled years of approval, cancellation, and re-approval, Keystone XL may be done for good. President Biden rescinded the permit for the pipeline via executive order on his first day in office, delivering a long-fought victory to anti-pipeline activists.

The current Keystone pipeline carries oil from the Alberta tar sands in Canada to refineries in Louisiana and Texas. The Alberta tar sands are known for being particularly bad for the climate — emissions from oil extracted there are about 14 percent worse, on average, than a typical barrel of oil. The proposed expansion of the northern leg, which would run from Alberta to Steel City, Nebraska, would carry an estimated 830,000 barrels of crude oil a day.

It’s been a complicated decade since the Keystone XL project was first proposed in 2008 by the Canadian oil company TC Energy. President Obama approved the southern leg of the pipeline in 2012, and it was in use by 2013. But in 2015, after an outpouring of grassroots activism, Obama rejected the northern leg. That decision was reversed by President Trump during his early days in office in 2017. The following year, construction was halted when Montana’s U.S. District Judge Brian Morris ruled that the State Department needed to give further consideration to the pipeline’s potential for environmental damage. Then, last June, Trump dissolved Morris’ injunction by issuing a presidential permit, bypassing the State Department entirely. Today, the northern leg of the pipeline is mostly constructed, with some gaps remaining in Nebraska, but it’s not yet ready to pump oil.

Indigenous activists and environmentalists have been fighting the pipeline for much of its history, due to the risks of oil spills, its contribution to climate change, and infringements of treaty rights. Last Thursday, a group of Indigenous women leaders wrote a letter asking Biden to reject a set of pipeline projects, including Keystone XL, Line 3 in Minnesota, and the Dakota Access Pipeline. (Biden has not yet taken a stance on either of these other projects.) In addition to environmental risks, the letter cited the connection between pipeline construction and sexual violence. Company-owned temporary housing for laborers — “man camps” — along pipeline routes have been documented as centers of sexual assault and trafficking of Indigenous women and girls, and fossil fuel extraction and infrastructure is similarly linked to the tragic epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women.

Daniel T’seleie, a K’asho Got’ine Dene activist, told CBC news that he thought Biden’s decision was “largely due to the actions of Indigenous people and non-Indigenous people on the southern side of the border who have really been fighting against this pipeline … and have been making it very clear that this pipeline is not going to get built without their consent.”
» Read article         

DAPL too‘No more broken treaties’: indigenous leaders urge Biden to shut down Dakota Access pipeline
Tribes and environmentalists hail decision to cancel Keystone XL pipeline but call on president to go further
By Nina Lakhani, The Guardian
January 21, 2021

Indigenous leaders and environmentalists are urging Joe Biden to shutdown some of America’s most controversial fossil fuel pipelines, after welcoming his executive order cancelling the Keystone XL (KXL) project.

Activists praised the president’s decision to stop construction of the transnational KXL oil pipeline on his first day in the White House, but they stressed that he must cancel similar polluting fossil fuel projects, including the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL), to stand any chance of meeting his bold climate action goals.

The KXL order was issued on Wednesday as part of the first wave of Biden’s promised environmental justice and climate action policies, which include rejoining the Paris agreement and halting construction of the southern border wall.

Rescinding the Canadian-owned KXL pipeline permit, issued by Donald Trump, fulfills a campaign promise Biden made in May 2020 and comes after more than a decade of organizing and resistance by indigenous activists, landowners and environmental groups.

“The victory ending the KXL pipeline is an act of courage and restorative justice by the Biden administration. It gives tribes and Mother Earth a serious message of hope for future generations as we face the threat of climate change. It aligns Indigenous environmental knowledge with presidential priorities that benefit everyone,” said Faith Spotted Eagle, founder of Brave Heart Society and a member of the Ihanktonwan Dakota nation.

“This is a vindication of 10 years defending our waters and treaty rights from this tar sands carbon bomb. I applaud President Biden for recognizing how dangerous KXL is for our communities and climate and I look forward to similar executive action to stop DAPL and Line 3 based on those very same dangers,” said Dallas Goldtooth, a member of the Mdewakanton Dakota and Dine nations and the Keep It In The Ground campaign organizer for the Indigenous Environmental Network.
» Read article         

sunken hazard
Michigan Pipeline Fight Intensifies as Permit Deadline Nears
Enbridge is defying Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s move to shut down the Line 5 underwater pipeline, which environmentalists and tribes fear could cause an environmental disaster.
By Andrew Blok, Drilled News
January 14, 2021

Under the strong and fickle currents of the Straits of Mackinac, which flow through a four-mile gap between Michigan’s Upper and Lower peninsulas, twin pipelines have transported two million gallons of petroleum products daily for seven decades.

This year they may shut down for good.

In November, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer revoked the 1953 easement allowing the twin pipelines, known as Line 5, to run under the straits, and gave its owner, Enbridge Inc., 180 days to shut them down.

“The continued use of the dual pipelines cannot be reconciled with the public’s rights in the Great Lakes and the State’s duty to protect them,” Whitmer said in a statement.

On Jan. 12, Enbridge announced in a 7-page letter to Whitmer that it would defy her shutdown order, claiming that the governor had overstepped her authority. The Calgary, Alberta-based company has also sued the state in federal district court, arguing that the U.S. government, not Michigan, has regulatory power over pipeline safety.

The moves are the latest twists in a controversial decade for Enbridge in Michigan.

Before 2010, most Michiganders didn’t know Line 5 existed, said Liz Kirkwood, executive director of For Love of Water, a Michigan-based environmental policy non-profit.

But that changed, she said, after the Kalamazoo River spill: a massive leak from Enbridge’s Line 6b that ranks among America’s largest ever inland oil spills. The Environmental Protection Agency estimated that more than one million gallons of oil polluted nearly 40 miles of waterways, injuring wildlife and scarring farmlands. Cleanup and restoration of hundreds of acres of streams and wetlands took four years and cost over $1 billion.

Despite multiple alarms, Enbridge had restarted Line 6b several times in the 17 hours before identifying the leak. According to the terms of a 2017 settlement with the EPA, Enbridge has committed to spending more than $110 million on upgrades and programs to prevent future spills, paying $62 million in civil penalties for Clean Water Act violations, and reimbursing more than $5.4 million in cleanup costs on top of $57.8 million already paid.

In the wake of this disaster, the National Wildlife Federation in 2012 issued a report, titled “Sunken Hazard,” that described how a major leak from Line 5 could spread quickly in the strong currents of the Straits of Mackinac and harm popular outdoor destinations and regional fisheries, including fisheries guaranteed to Native Americans by treaty.
» Read article        

» Read the Enbridge statement

» More about pipelines

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

Baltimore inner harbor
Could Baltimore’s Climate Change Suit Become a Supreme Court Test Case?
The high court agreed to hear a narrow issue related to jurisdiction. But then the oil and gas industry pushed it to go further.
By David Hasemyer, InsideClimate News
January 19, 2021

What began as a narrow jurisdictional question to be argued Tuesday before the U.S. Supreme Court in a climate change lawsuit filed by the city of Baltimore could take on far greater implications if the high court agrees with major oil companies to expand its purview and consider whether federal, rather than state courts, are the appropriate venue for the city’s case and possibly a host of similar lawsuits.

The high court initially agreed to hear a request by the oil and gas industry to review a ruling by the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in which the court affirmed a federal district judge’s decision to allow Baltimore’s lawsuit to be tried in state, rather than federal, court based on a single jurisdiction rule.

The city is seeking damages related to climate-induced extreme weather—stronger hurricanes, greater flooding and sea-level rise—linked to oil and gas consumption that warms the planet. Baltimore’s attorneys argue that state court is the appropriate venue for such monetary awards.

But after the Supreme Court agreed to take on that narrow question, Exxon, Chevron, Shell and other oil companies went further in court filings and are now pressing the court to consider the much larger and consequential question of whether state courts have jurisdiction over these lawsuits at all.

The stakes could be enormous if Baltimore becomes a test case for 23 other city, county and state governments that have filed similar climate change lawsuits seeking damages.
» Read article         

» More about protests and actions

FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION

Chairman Richard Glick
Glick named FERC chair, promises ‘significant progress’ on energy transition
By Catherine Morehouse, Utility Dive
January 21, 2021

Commissioner Richard Glick was named chair of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission by President Joe Biden Thursday morning.

Glick was considered a front runner for the chairmanship as the longest serving Democrat on the commission. He will succeed Chairman James Danly, and the commission is expected to retain its Republican majority until Commissioner Neil Chatterjee’s term is up June 30.

Glick has said publicly that on the electric side he would prioritize transmission reform, reassessing capacity markets, and continuing efforts to lower barriers to clean energy resources in regulated markets. On gas, he believes the commission should rethink how it assesses greenhouse gas emissions and more seriously review environmental justice impacts when approving gas infrastructure.

Glick opposed many of the actions FERC took under Chairmen Chatterjee and Danly, and his long list of dissents and public comments foreshadow a commission more bullish on its role in the power sector’s energy transition.

“I’m honored President Joe Biden has selected me to be [FERC] Chairman,” Glick said in a tweet. “This is an important moment to make significant progress on the transition to a clean energy future. I look forward to working with my colleagues to tackle the many challenges ahead!”

Though Glick will still be running a majority Republican commission, he and Chatterjee have begun to find common ground on some issues in recent months, and many power sector observers think transmission reform will be one critical area Glick may tackle relatively early.
» Read article         

» More about FERC

CLIMATE

climate kick-offBiden returns US to Paris climate accord hours after becoming president
Biden administration rolls out a flurry of executive orders aimed at tackling climate crisis
By Oliver Milman, The Guardian
January 20, 2021

Joe Biden has moved to reinstate the US to the Paris climate agreement just hours after being sworn in as president, as his administration rolls out a cavalcade of executive orders aimed at tackling the climate crisis.

Biden’s executive action, signed in the White House on Wednesday, will see the US rejoin the international effort curb the dangerous heating of the planet, following a 30-day notice period. The world’s second largest emitter of greenhouse gases was withdrawn from the Paris deal under Donald Trump.

Biden is also set to block the Keystone XL pipeline, a bitterly contested project that would bring huge quantities of oil from Canada to the US to be refined, and halt oil and gas drilling at Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, two vast national monuments in Utah, and the Arctic national wildlife refuge wilderness. The Trump administration’s decision to shrink the protected areas of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante will also be reviewed.

The flurry of first-day action on the climate crisis came after Biden, in his inauguration speech, said America needed to respond to a “climate in crisis”. The change in direction from the Trump era was profound and immediate – on the White House website, where all mentions of climate were scrubbed out in 2017, a new list of priorities now puts the climate crisis second only behind the Covid pandemic. Biden has previously warned that climate change poses the “greatest threat” to the country, which was battered by record climate-fueled wildfires, hurricanes and heat last year.

The re-entry to the Paris agreement ends a period where the US became a near-pariah on the international stage with Trump’s refusal to address the unfolding disaster of rising global temperatures. Countries are struggling to meet commitments, made in Paris in 2015, to limit the global temperature increase to 1.5C above the pre-industrial era, with 2020 setting another record for extreme heat.
» Read article         

ccs - if only
Carbon capture and storage won’t work, critics say
Carbon capture and storage, trapping carbon before it enters the atmosphere, sounds neat. But many doubt it can ever work.
By Paul Brown, Climate News Network
January 14, 2021

One of the key technologies that governments hope will help save the planet from dangerous heating, carbon capture and storage, will not work as planned and is a dangerous distraction, a new report says.

Instead of financing a technology they can neither develop in time nor make to work as claimed, governments should concentrate on scaling up proven technologies like renewable energies and energy efficiency, it says.

The report, from Friends of the Earth Scotland and Global Witness, was commissioned by the two groups from researchers at the UK’s Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research.

CCS, as the technology is known, is designed to strip out carbon dioxide from the exhaust gases of industrial processes. These include gas- and coal-fired electricity generating plants, steel-making, and industries including the conversion of natural gas to hydrogen, so that the gas can then be re-classified as a clean fuel.

The CO2 that is removed is converted into a liquid and pumped underground into geological formations that can be sealed for generations to prevent the carbon escaping back into the atmosphere.

It is a complex and expensive process, and many of the schemes proposed in the 1990s have been abandoned as too expensive or too technically difficult.

An overview of the report says: “The technology still faces many barriers, would only start to deliver too late, would have to be deployed on a massive scale at a scarcely credible rate and has a history of over-promising and under-delivering.”

Currently there are only 26 CCS plants operating globally, capturing about 0.1% of the annual global emissions from fossil fuels.

Ironically, 81% of the carbon captured to date has been used to extract more oil from existing wells by pumping the captured carbon into the ground to force more oil out. This means that captured carbon is being used to extract oil that would otherwise have had to be left in the ground.
» Read article         

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

tidal kite
First tidal energy delivered to Faroese electricity grid
By FaroeIslands.fo
January 11, 2021

For the first time ever, homes in the Faroe Islands are being run by electricity harvested from an underwater tidal kite. Renewable electricity is generated from the tidal flows in Vestmannasund, a strait in the Faroe Islands, using Deep Green technology, a unique principle of enhancing the speed of the kite through the water. A rudder steers the kite in a figure of eight trajectory and as it “flies”, water flows through the turbine, producing electricity.

Minesto, a leading marine energy technology company from Sweden, has developed the system in collaboration with Faroese utility company, SEV.

Hákun Djurhuus, CEO of SEV, says: “We are very pleased that the project has reached the point where the Minesto DG100 delivers electricity to the Faroese grid. Although this is still on trial basis, we are confident that tidal energy will play a significant part in the Faroese sustainable electricity generation. Unlike other sustainable sources, tidal energy is predictable, which makes it more stable than, for example, wind power.”

Following successful trials of the DG100 system in Vestmannasund, SEV and Minesto have plans for a large-scale buildout of both microgrids (<250kW) and utility-scale (>1MW) Deep Green systems in the Faroe Islands. The long-term ambition is to make tidal energy a core energy source in the Faroe grid mix. This is part of the islands’ goal of having 100% green electricity production by 2030, including onshore transport and heating.
» Read article & watch video

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

building codes under pressure
What Will Happen to Your Next Home if Builders Get Their Way?
A lobby is trying to block building codes that would help fight climate change.
By Justin Gillis, New York Times | Opinion
January 21, 2021

Just about every new building that goes up in America is governed by construction codes. They protect people from numerous hazards, like moving into firetraps or having their roofs blown off in storms. Increasingly, those codes also protect people from high energy bills — and they protect the planet from the greenhouse gas emissions that go with them.

Yet the National Association of Home Builders, the main trade association and lobby for the home building industry, is now trying to monkey around with the rules meant to protect buyers and ensure that new homes meet the highest standards.

If the group succeeds, the nation could be saddled with millions of houses, stores and offices that waste too much energy and cost people too much money to heat and cool. Weakened construction standards could also leave houses and other buildings more vulnerable to the intensifying climate crisis, from floods to fires to storms. And they will make that crisis worse by pouring excessive greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

State and local governments tend to adopt model codes drawn up every three years at the national level instead of devising their own. The group that puts out the most influential models is the International Code Council. The council is supposed to consider the public interest, broadly defined, in carrying out its work, even as the home building industry participates in drawing up the codes. The builders’ short-term interest is to weaken the codes, which cuts their costs. The interest of home buyers and of society at large is exactly the opposite: Strong building standards, even when they drive up the initial cost of a house, almost always result in lower costs over the long run. That was on vivid display in Miami in 1992.

Building codes must play a critical role as the nation confronts the climate crisis, and the need to cut its emissions drastically. The codes can require better insulation, tighter air sealing, advanced windows and more efficient delivery of hot water, heating and air-conditioning. They can also increase the resilience of buildings in an age of intensifying weather disasters, turning every new building into a climate asset.

That brings us to the new effort to weaken these codes.

Proposals to the council called for sharp cuts in energy use by new buildings in the 2021 code update. Under the council’s procedures, those proposals were put to a vote by state and local governments. Their representatives turned out in record numbers to approve the tighter measures.

The big turnout seems to have caught the builders’ association off guard. Through tortuous committee procedures, it managed to kill some important provisions, including a requirement that new homes come already wired for electric vehicle chargers.

Luckily, most of the other energy provisions survived. As a result, buildings constructed under this year’s model code will be on the order of 10 percent more efficient than under the previous code. This was a big step forward, given that the builders had managed to stall progress for most of the last decade. Compared to the 1980s, buildings going up under the new code will be roughly 50 percent more efficient, showing what kind of progress is possible.

The builders are now trying to upend the voting process that led to the more stringent rules. They are trying to rush through a rewrite of the rules to block future voting by state and local governments. The builders’ lobby wants the energy provisions of the model code put under the control of a small committee, which the builders would likely be able to dominate.

The International Code Council denies that is unduly influenced by the home builders. However, in 2019, The New York Times revealed a secret agreement between the council and the National Association of Home Builders. That agreement — whose existence the council acknowledged only under pressure — gives the builders inordinate power on a key committee that approves residential building codes.

Even now, only a synopsis of the deal is available; the council refuses to release the full text. The council’s board is to consider the proposed rewrite of the rules in a meeting on Thursday.

Given the International Code Council’s influence over the construction of nearly every new building in America, as well as those of some foreign countries, it needs to become a major target of scrutiny and of climate activism.

Change may be on the way. In a letter on Tuesday, the House Energy and Commerce Committee demanded information from the council, including a copy of the secret agreement with the home builders.

That is good news. If the council persists in undermining the public interest, Congress or a coalition of states could potentially turn the job of drawing up building codes over to a new, more objective group. And lawmakers ought to adopt a national policy to govern this situation, mandating steady improvement in the energy efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions of new buildings.

With the climate crisis worsening by the year, America can no longer indulge the stalling tactics of the home builders.
» Read article         

BlocPower CEO Baird
Watt It Takes: BlocPower CEO Donnel Baird Wants to Electrify Buildings for Everyone
This week on Watt It Takes: Donnel Baird talks harnessing his anger over racial inequities and using it to build a clean-energy business model.
By Stephen Lacey, GreenTech Media
January 14, 2021

BlocPower CEO Donnel Baird is on a mission to clean up old, inefficient buildings in America’s cities — and help people who are exposed to the worst pollution.

BlocPower was founded in 2012. It’s raised venture capital from Kapor Capital and Andreessen Horowitz. But that process was not easy for a company with a mostly non-white leadership team. As a Black founder, Donnel was turned down 200 times before any venture firms were willing to back his vision.

“It was really difficult for us raising capital. One of our investors, when I talked to him two or three years ago and said I was struggling to raise capital, he was like, ‘Yeah, man, just hire some white people and send them into the fundraising meetings, and it’ll clear things up,’” explains Donnel.

BlocPower is a Brooklyn, New York startup electrifying and weatherizing buildings in underserved communities — slashing pollution and saving money in the process. This includes housing units, churches and community centers.

And the mission for Donnel isn’t just about hitting milestones for investors. It’s about changing the fabric of underserved communities that are plagued by pollution and energy poverty. That’s because Donnel has lived it himself.

In this episode, Powerhouse CEO Emily Kirsch talks with Donnel about how he channeled his frustration and anger around racial unfairness into a business model for the energy transition.
» Listen to podcast              

» More about energy efficiency

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

fast charge future
Electric car batteries with five-minute charging times produced
Exclusive: first factory production means recharging could soon be as fast as filling up petrol or diesel vehicles
By Damian Carrington, The Guardian
January 19, 2021

Batteries capable of fully charging in five minutes have been produced in a factory for the first time, marking a significant step towards electric cars becoming as fast to charge as filling up petrol or diesel vehicles.

Electric vehicles are a vital part of action to tackle the climate crisis but running out of charge during a journey is a worry for drivers. The new lithium-ion batteries were developed by the Israeli company StoreDot and manufactured by Eve Energy in China on standard production lines.

StoreDot has already demonstrated its “extreme fast-charging” battery in phones, drones and scooters and the 1,000 batteries it has now produced are to showcase its technology to carmakers and other companies. Daimler, BP, Samsung and TDK have all invested in StoreDot, which has raised $130m to date and was named a Bloomberg New Energy Finance Pioneer in 2020.

The batteries can be fully charged in five minutes but this would require much higher-powered chargers than used today. Using available charging infrastructure, StoreDot is aiming to deliver 100 miles of charge to a car battery in five minutes in 2025.

“The number one barrier to the adoption of electric vehicles is no longer cost, it is range anxiety,” said Doron Myersdorf, CEO of StoreDot. “You’re either afraid that you’re going to get stuck on the highway or you’re going to need to sit in a charging station for two hours. But if the experience of the driver is exactly like fuelling [a petrol car], this whole anxiety goes away.”

“A five-minute charging lithium-ion battery was considered to be impossible,” he said. “But we are not releasing a lab prototype, we are releasing engineering samples from a mass production line. This demonstrates it is feasible and it’s commercially ready.”

Existing Li-ion batteries use graphite as one electrode, into which the lithium ions are pushed to store charge. But when these are rapidly charged, the ions get congested and can turn into metal and short circuit the battery.

The StoreDot battery replaces graphite with semiconductor nanoparticles into which ions can pass more quickly and easily. These nanoparticles are currently based on germanium, which is water soluble and easier to handle in manufacturing. But StoreDot’s plan is to use silicon, which is much cheaper, and it expects these prototypes later this year. Myersdorf said the cost would be the same as existing Li-ion batteries.
» Read article         

Toyota greenish
Toyota to Pay a Record Fine for a Decade of Clean Air Act Violations
Toyota’s $180 million settlement with the federal government follows a series of emissions-related scandals in the auto industry.
By Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times
January 14, 2021

Toyota Motor is set to pay a $180 million fine for longstanding violations of the Clean Air Act, the U.S. attorney’s Office in Manhattan announced on Thursday, the largest civil penalty ever levied for a breach of federal emissions-reporting requirements.

From about 2005 to 2015, the global automaker systematically failed to report defects that interfered with how its cars controlled tailpipe emissions, violating standards designed to protect public health and the environment from harmful air pollutants, according to a complaint filed in Manhattan.

Toyota managers and staff in Japan knew about the practice but failed to stop it, and the automaker quite likely sold millions of vehicles with the defects, the attorney’s office said.

“Toyota shut its eyes to the noncompliance,” Audrey Strauss, the acting U.S. attorney, said in a statement. Toyota has agreed not to contest the fine.

Eric Booth, a spokesman for the automaker, said that the company had alerted the authorities as soon as the lapses came to light, and that the delay in reporting “resulted in a negligible emissions impact, if any.”

“Nonetheless, we recognize that some of our reporting protocols fell short of our own high standards, and we are pleased to have resolved this matter,” Mr. Booth added.

Toyota is the world’s second-largest automaker behind Volkswagen, and once built a reputation for clean technology on the back of its best-selling Prius gasoline-electric hybrid passengers cars. But the auto giant’s decision in 2019 to support the Trump administration’s rollback of tailpipe emissions standards — coupled with its relatively slow introduction of fully-electric vehicles — has made it a target of criticism from environmental groups.

Toyota’s more recent lineup of models has been heavy on gas-guzzling sports-utility vehicles, which come with far bigger price tags and have brought far higher profit margins. According to a recent report from the Environmental Protection Agency, Toyota vehicles delivered some of the worst fuel efficiency in the industry, leading to an overall worsening of mileage and pollution from passenger cars and trucks in the United States for the first time in five years.
» Read article         

» More about clean transportation

LEGISLATIVE NEWS

fuzzy math
Questions on Baker’s $6b climate change cost estimate
Barrett, CLF’s Campbell say governor’s veto letter not convincing
By Bruce Mohl, CommonWealth Magazine
January 19, 2021

THE SENATE’S POINT person on climate change legislation said he doesn’t know where Gov. Charlie Baker came up with his estimate that the Legislature’s target for emissions reductions in 2030 would cost state residents an extra $6 billion.

“Boy, would I like to know,” said Sen. Michael Barrett of Lexington. “I have never – and I am familiar with all of the written documents the administration has released on this topic – I had never seen that $6 billion figure until [Thursday]. I wonder if the governor had ever seen the $6 billion figure until [Thursday].”

In his letter vetoing the Legislature’s climate change bill, Baker said the difference between a 45 percent reduction in emissions by 2030 compared to 1990 levels versus a 50 percent reduction was $6 billion in extra costs incurred by Massachusetts residents. “Unfortunately, this higher cost does not materially increase the Commonwealth’s ability to achieve its long-term climate goals,” the letter said.

A spokesman for the Baker administration wasn’t able to produce the analysis yielding the $6 billion figure on Friday but promised more information this week.

Barrett, appearing on The Codcast with Bradley Campbell, the president of the Conservation Law Foundation, said he has asked repeatedly for information on the $6 billion figure and never received it.

“I can’t wait to see the economic study that buttresses that claim because it will be unlike any economic study I’ve ever read,” he said. “These figures to some extent are arbitrary. Neither figure [45 percent or 50 percent] is supported by modeling. Both are judgment calls.”
» Read article        
» Listen to Barrett and Campbell on the CodCast 

» More legislative news

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

NoKXL
Keystone XL Pipeline Canceled. Here’s What It Means for the Future Fight Against Fossil Fuels
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
January 20, 2021

[While] the defeat of Keystone XL is historically momentous, it raises questions about other routes for Canadian tar sands. After sitting on the drawing board for years, Canada’s oil industry has already turned to alternative pipelines, such as Enbridge’s Line 3 replacement through Minnesota and, even more importantly, the Trans Mountain Expansion from Alberta to British Columbia.

“With Line 3 and TMX [Trans Mountain Expansion], Alberta has sufficient capacity to get its oil to market,” Werner Antweiler, a business professor at the University of British Columbia, told DeSmog.

In fact, scrapping Keystone XL arguably makes these other projects more urgent. “For the federal government of Canada, which has a vested interest in the commercial success of TMX, the cancelation of the KXL project may ultimately be good news because it ensures that there is sufficient demand for TMX capacity,” Antweiler said. “This means it is more likely now that TMX will become commercially viable and can be sold back to private investors profitably after construction is complete.”

This at a time when Keystone XL proved to be an expensive gamble. In 2019, Alberta invested $1.1 billion in Keystone XL in order to add momentum to the controversial project, funding its first year of construction. Now the province may end up selling the vast quantities of pipe for scrap, while also hoping to obtain damages from the United States.

Others are less convinced that the cancelation of one project is a boon to another. Even the Trans Mountain Expansion faces uncertainties in a world of energy transition. “Looking back a century ago, as one-by-one carriage manufacturers shut down as car manufacturers expanded production, prospects for the remaining carriage manufacturers didn’t improve,” Tom Green, a Climate Solutions Policy Analyst at the David Suzuki Foundation, told DeSmog.

“Canada can take its cue from Biden: recognize the costly Trans Mountain pipeline isn’t needed or viable, it doesn’t fit with our climate commitments, and instead of throwing ever more money into a pit, government should invest those funds in the energy system of the future,” he said.
» Read article         

Total quits API
Total Quits Fossil Fuel Lobby Group the American Petroleum Institute Over Climate Change
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
January 15, 2021

French oil giant Total announced on Friday that it would not renew its membership to the American Petroleum Institute (API), a stunning blow to the oil industry’s most powerful business lobby. Total pointed to its differences with API over climate policy as its main motivation.

“We are committed to ensuring, in a transparent manner, that the industry associations of which we are a member adopt positions and messages that are aligned with those of the Group in the fight against climate change,” Patrick Pouyanné, Total’s chief executive, said in a statement.

Total cited API’s support for the rolling back of U.S. methane emissions on oil and gas operations, as well as the lobby group’s opposition to subsidies for electric vehicles and its opposition to carbon pricing.

Last year, the French oil company, along with BP and Royal Dutch Shell, cut ties with another oil industry lobby group, the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, which represents oil refiners. BP also withdrew from the Western States Petroleum Association and the Western Energy Alliance, two other powerful lobby groups in the western United States.

However, Total is the first oil major to quit API. The decision highlights the growing divergence between European oil majors, who have announced decisions to begin transitioning towards cleaner energy, and their American counterparts, who appear determined to continue to increase oil and gas production. The withdrawal also reflects the growing pressure for the oil industry to slash greenhouse gas emissions from investors, policymakers, activists and the public amid a worsening climate crisis.
» Read article         

» More about fossil fuels

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

Jordan Cove rallyFeds: Jordan Cove LNG terminal can’t move forward without state water permit
By GILLIAN FLACCUS, Associated Press
January 19, 2021

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Plans for a major West Coast liquified natural gas pipeline and export terminal hit a snag Tuesday with federal regulators after a years-long legal battle that has united tribes, environmentalists and a coalition of residents on Oregon’s rural southern coast against the proposal.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ruled that energy company Pembina could not move forward with the proposal without a key clean water permit from the state of Oregon. The U.S. regulatory agency gave its tentative approval to the pipeline last March as long as it secured the necessary state permits, but the Canadian pipeline company has been unable to do so.

It had appealed to the commission over the state’s clean water permit, arguing that Oregon had waived its authority to issue a clean water certification for the project and therefore its denial of the permit was irrelevant.

But the commission found instead that Pembina had never requested the certification and that the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality “could not have waived its authority to issue certification for a request it never received.”

The ruling was hailed as a major victory by opponents of Jordan Cove, which would be the first such LNG overseas export terminal in the lower 48 states. The proposed 230-mile (370-kilometer) feeder pipeline would begin in Malin, in southwest Oregon, and end at the city of Coos Bay on the rural Oregon coast.

Jordan Cove did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment and it was unclear what next steps the project would take.

Opposition to the pipeline has brought together southern Oregon tribes, environmentalists, anglers and coastal residents since 2006.

“Thousands of southern Oregonians have raised their voices to stop this project for years and will continue to until the threat of Jordan Cove LNG is gone for good,” said Hannah Sohl, executive director of Rogue Climate.
» Read article         

» More about liquefied natural gas

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Weekly News Check-In 12/18/20

banner 06

Welcome back.

The Boston Globe published an excellent post mortem this week on the six year fight to stop the Weymouth compressor station. This is an important record of a profound and unfair imbalance of power that resulted in a Enbridge’s dangerous and toxic facility being inappropriately sited in a congested and environmentally burdened neighborhood. It describes a failure of government and its regulators to stand up to industry, even when doing so would protect a vulnerable community and help meet legally binding climate commitments.

Protests and actions are ramping up against Enbridge’s next environmental and cultural assault – the Line 3 tar sands oil pipeline through sensitive northern Minnesota lake country. This threatens critical freshwater resources of indigenous groups, who are now being arrested for putting their bodies in the path of bulldozers.

Meanwhile, Princeton University is in the news for an exhaustive climate plan that offers five very detailed pathways to achieve net zero by 2050. No matter the chosen route, start time is immediate, effort is intense, and significant milestones must be met by 2030.

In a counter-intuitive move, the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center is allowing its highly successful solar loan program to sunset as planned on December 31, seeing no need to renew it now that banks have shown a willingness to finance solar PV installations. However, of 5,700 loans made through the program since its inception, 3,000 of them were to borrowers taking advantage of provisions for low-income customers. That’s more than half of the program’s success stories, and banks do not tend to serve these people.

[Also in this clean energy section is a great technical article on the emissions hazards posed by hydrogen – even “green” hydrogen. It’s the first discussion we’ve seen about high NOx emissions resulting from hydrogen combustion – and the lack of current available technology to deal with this powerful greenhouse gas and health hazard. Keep this in mind as industry floods us with happy images of a green hydrogen future.]

The expiring solar loan program is just one example of Massachusetts resting on its green energy laurels and letting programs slip while other states – particularly California – quicken their pace. Governor Baker, you don’t get to crow about your state’s top national energy efficiency status this year. After a nine year run, bragging rights belong to California’s Governor Newsom.

Toyota is teasing us with the prospect of solid state EV batteries in prototypes within the next year, and in our driveways by around 2025. While the prospect of long range and 10 minute charge time is wildly appealing, we couldn’t help wondering why the company’s president was recently talking down electric vehicle market penetration in a Wall Street Journal interview. Could be he’s hedging a bet on hydrogen fuel cells.

The Environmental Protection Agency, among others, has some serious post-Trump rehabilitation ahead of it, and President-elect Biden has selected environmental lawyer Brenda Mallory to head the White House Council on Environmental Quality. She will be tasked with revamping Trump-era regulations and ensuring that federal agencies stay out of legal trouble by properly studying the full impacts of their decisions. Climate impacts of pipelines and other fossil fuel infrastructure are expected to receive high priority.

In a weird twist, our fossil fuel industry news this week is all about coal. This is a good time to remember that even when a sector is written off as dying, it can still cause massive environmental damage and throw a lot of political weight around. And in the unintended consequences department, the US liquefied natural gas export market could get a boost from stricter methane emissions rules expected from the incoming Biden administration.

We close with the 2020 award for top plastic polluters, with Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Nestlé sharing the victory dumpster for the third year in a row.

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

— The NFGiM Team

 

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

no more toxinsIn Weymouth, a brute lesson in power politics
A Globe investigation finds residents who fought a six-year battle with an energy giant over a controversial gas compressor never had much of a chance, with both the federal and state governments consistently ruling against them
By Mike Stanton, Boston Globe
December 12, 2020

Dr. Regina LaRocque has studied health risks in the Fore River Basin for Greater Boston Physicians for Social Responsibility. She hoped the state’s review would conclude the area was already too unhealthy and polluted to approve a compressor there. Since most compressor stations are in rural areas, state officials said in their final report, they could not find data on compressors “in similarly urban locations.”

So LaRocque, a doctor at Massachusetts General and Harvard Medical School, was “gobsmacked” when the report was released in January 2019 and concluded that emissions from the compressor “are not likely to cause health effects.”

She said the conclusion overlooked data showing the compressor would emit particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, and toxics like benzene and formaldehyde linked to cancer and respiratory, cardiovascular, and neurological diseases. And it ignored the fact that area residents suffer higher rates than normal in Massachusetts of cancer and childhood asthma and were hospitalized more for heart attacks and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

”It was a whitewash,” says LaRocque. “It presented data that was highly concerning then did somersaults to say there would be no health impact.”

Seven days later, Governor Baker approved the air permit.

“It’s probably the most comprehensive analysis within that framework that anybody’s done anywhere around one of these permits, and it passed,” Baker told reporters.

However, earlier drafts of the report, obtained by the Globe through a public records request, urged the state to look more closely at “public health implications.” That was deleted, along with a passage mentioning the potential risk to two poor and minority neighborhoods in Quincy, Germantown and Quincy Point.
» Blog editor’s note: this is a long, comprehensive article, and well worth the time to read the whole thing.
» Read article            
» Read the Physicians for Social Responsibility Report             
» Read the MAPC Health Impact Assessment          

» More about the Weymouth compressor station             

 

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

22 arrested on Line 3
22 protesters arrested at Enbridge pipeline construction site
Construction began two weeks ago on the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline.
By Brooks Johnson, Star Tribune
December 15, 2020

Nearly two dozen protesters were arrested at an Enbridge Line 3 pipeline construction site in Aitkin County near the Mississippi River on Monday after they blocked equipment and refused orders to disperse, Sheriff Dan Guida said.

Indigenous and environmental activists, who have been holding daily protests north of Palisade, Minn., prevented the extraction of a protester who had been camped in a tree for 10 days. Guida said a rope had been tied from the tree across the recently cleared pipeline route and created “an extremely dangerous situation.”

“We got a bucket truck and moved in, and people blocked it,” he said. “We don’t really have a choice. We have to enforce those laws.”

There were 22 arrests made, Guida said, most for misdemeanor trespassing on a posted construction site.

Activists vowed to continue to stand in the way of pipeline construction, which started two weeks ago.

“That Minnesotans are willing to risk arrest shows they’re fighting to protect what they love,” said Brett Benson, spokesman for environmental justice group MN350. “They’re standing up to say it’s time the state actually listen to Indigenous voices and start protecting our climate instead of caving to the interests of a Canadian oil giant.”
» Read article            


line 3 meets water protectors
Opponents of Enbridge’s Line 3 construction make last-ditch effort at river’s edge
While legal challenges continue, protesters aim to stand in the way.
By Brooks Johnson, Star Tribune
December 10, 2020

PALISADE, MINN. – Drumming and singing rose from the snowy banks of the Mississippi River on Wednesday morning while heavy machinery beeped and revved in the distance. A dozen protesters prayed by the river as the state’s largest construction project, the $2.6 billion Enbridge oil pipeline, continued its early stages in rural Aitkin County.

Not far from the road where self-described water protectors have been gathering daily, two protesters remained camped atop trees. They have been there since Friday trying to stay in the way of construction that started last week after Enbridge received the last permit it needed following six years of regulatory review.

Trees have been cleared all around the pair as preparations to lay the 340-mile pipeline continue across northern Minnesota.

“As a company, we recognize the rights of individuals and groups to express their views legally and peacefully. We expect our workers on Line 3 to do the same,” Enbridge said in a statement. “As part of their onboarding, each Line 3 worker goes through extensive training, including cultural awareness.”

Already, about 2,000 workers are expected at job sites along the route this week. More than 4,000 are expected to be working by the end of the month, unions say.

While the specter of the massive Standing Rock protests hangs over the Line 3 project, the crowd along the river north of McGregor has remained small so far. Pipeline opponents are still hoping to stop construction through lawsuits.

A request to have the Minnesota Court of Appeals halt construction while permit challenges are ongoing is expected to be filed in the next week after state regulators declined to grant a stay.

In the meantime, protesters will continue putting their bodies in the way and raising their voices.

“People are doing what they can to prevent what’s going on,” Aubid said. “I do what I need to do in order to protect the waters.”
» Read article             

needs a comb
New Youth Climate Lawsuit Launched Against UK Government on Five Year Anniversary of Paris Agreement
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
December 12, 2020

Three young British citizens and the climate litigation charity Plan B today announced they are taking legal action against the UK government for failing to sufficiently address the climate crisis.

The announcement comes on the five year anniversary of the landmark Paris Agreement — the international accord intended to limit global temperature rise to below 2 degrees Celsius — and the lawsuit is the latest in a cascade of litigation around the world aimed at holding governments and polluters accountable for fuelling climate change.

Today’s action involves serving a formal letter upon British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak as the first step in the litigation process, with a court filing to come likely in early 2021.

The legal action asserts that the UK — the historic birthplace of the fossil-fueled Industrial Revolution — is continuing to finance the climate crisis and has failed to develop an emergency plan to comprehensively and aggressively tackle the crisis. The case alleges violations of human rights protected under British and international law, specifically rights to life and to private and family life. And the case alleges the government has not met its legal obligations to tackle climate change under the UK Climate Change Act of 2008 and the Paris Agreement.

Plan B says that given the UK government’s self-proclaimed position as a “climate leader” and position as host of the international United Nations climate summit (COP26) next year in Glasgow, the failure to develop an emergency plan on climate is an abdication of its duties to its people and the international community. The goal of the lawsuit is a court order forcing the government to develop an emergency plan in accordance with its legal obligations.

“The Government claims to be showing leadership on the basis of an inadequate net zero [emissions] target it is failing to meet,” Plan B said in a press release. “Yet, it has failed to prepare even for the minimum level of climate impact and plans to cut financial support for the most vulnerable communities around the world. It knows the City of London is financing levels of warming that would devastate our society.”
» Read article            
» Read the Plan B press release      

» More about protests and actions       

 

CLIMATE

electric trolley SF
New Report Details How U.S. Can Achieve Net-Zero Emissions by 2050

By Climate Nexus, in EcoWatch
December 16, 2020

A new report from Princeton University released yesterday details five pathways for achieving net zero emissions in the U.S. by 2050, with “priority actions” the U.S. should take before 2030.

A highlight across all pathways is total or near total electrification of energy use across the U.S. economy.

Additional recommendations include building a significant amount of new energy infrastructure, increasing wind and solar generating capacity, expanding the nation’s electric grid, and transitioning homes off natural gas.

The research puts the price tag of this near-term action at $2.5 trillion, but calculates it will create at least half a million jobs and save tens of thousands of lives.

The report also identifies several pitfalls the transition could face, including local opposition to land-use for renewable infrastructure and a lack of public support for electric cars and homes.

“The costs are affordable, the tool kit is there, but the scale of transformation across the country is significant,” said Jesse Jenkins, a Princeton professor and lead author of the report.
» Read article            
» Related articles: New York Times, Washington Post, Axios, Bloomberg
» Read the Princeton University study, Net Zero America             
» Read the October U.N. report, America’s Zero Carbon Action Plan           

worldward
What if net-zero isn’t enough? Inside the push to ‘restore’ the climate.
By Emily Pontecorvo, Grist
December 11, 2020

Disagreements about how to tackle the climate crisis abound, but in 2020, it seemed much of the world finally reached consensus about at least one thing: getting to net-zero by 2050, or sooner. Net-zero is a state where greenhouse gases are no longer accumulating in the atmosphere — any emissions must be counterbalanced by sucking some carbon out of the air — and this year, a tidal wave of governments, businesses, and financial institutions pledged to reach it.

But for a new movement of young activists, the net-zero rhetoric is worrisome. “Hitting net-zero is not enough,” they wrote in a letter published in the Guardian last month. Instead, the group behind the letter, a youth-led organization called Worldward, urges the world to rally around a different goal, one they call “climate restoration.” The letter was co-signed by prominent climate scientists James Hansen and Michael Mann, in addition to writers, artists, and other activists.

“The climate today is not safe,” said Gideon Futerman, the 17-year-old founder and president of Worldward, who lives in a suburb north of London. “Millions of people are suffering and millions more will.” By the time net-zero is achieved, he said, the climate will be considerably more dangerous.
» Read article            

» More about climate               

 

CLEAN ENERGY

solar loan sunset
Massachusetts solar loans program leaves banks with confidence to lend
As the program ends, private solar lending will continue but low-income homeowners may be left behind.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
Photo By Staff Sgt. Aaron Breeden / U.S. Air Force
December 17, 2020

Massachusetts’ lauded solar loan program is drawing to a close this month, leaving behind a more robust solar financing market but also taking away a tool that lenders and installers say has been invaluable in bringing the benefits of solar power to underserved households. 

“It has allowed us to bring solar to people who might not have access to it otherwise,” said Richard Bonney, project developer for solar installer RevoluSun, which completed 141 projects through the program. “That is the biggest area of concern on our end.”

The Mass Solar Loan program was launched in 2015 with two goals: jumpstarting the market for residential solar financing and expanding access to solar for lower-income households.

The clean energy center plans to sunset the program on Dec. 31, as originally authorized.

Without the income-based support of the state program, however, market-based lending programs are unlikely to reach lower-income households on anything like the scale of the Mass Solar Loan. Of 5,700 loans made through the program, 3,000 of them were to borrowers taking advantage of provisions for low-income customers. 

Even as banks and credit unions seem to be stepping up their solar lending, they will not be able to fill all the gaps left by the state program. Nearly 30% of the program’s loans went to applicants with credit scores lower than 720, a level lenders generally consider quite risky. 

And while many homeowners are expected to use home equity loans to finance a solar installation, borrowers who put down smaller down payments or haven’t owned their homes for long might not have enough equity to support a loan. 

Massachusetts’ solar incentive program has provisions targeting low-income households, but does [not] have any tools for helping homeowners get over the initial hurdle of the upfront cost to install a system. 

There is nothing on the horizon to fill that gap, and the administration of Gov. Charlie Baker does not seem to see the value in funding more solar incentives for low-income residents, [Ben Mayer, vice president of marketing and residential sales for SunBug Solar] said.

“It would be funny if it weren’t so aggravating,” he said. “If anything, you should be figuring out how to increase the investment.”
» Read article                     

Intermountain Power project
Hydrogen Hype in the Air
By Lew Milford, Seth Mullendore, and Abbe Ramanan, Clean Energy Group
December 14, 2020

Here’s an energy quiz. Question: do you think this statement is true?

“Unlike fossil fuels, which emit planet-warming carbon dioxide when they’re burned, hydrogen mostly produces water.”

Answer: false.

That statement appeared in a Bloomberg Green article a week or so ago. It reported on future European plans to use hydrogen (H2) as a fuel “in modified gas turbines” to power airplanes. Similar reports have appeared in other reputable energy articles about how hydrogen is the optimal climate solution because its use will not create any air emissions.

What is true is that renewable power like solar or wind can split water into H2 to produce what the reporters claimed – “emissions free” energy. But that requires a complicated and expensive electrolysis process to make H2. That renewably generated “green hydrogen” would then be run through a fuel cell to make electricity. Fuel cells do not produce carbon dioxide (CO2) or other harmful emissions. There are many smart applications for fuel cell-derived power, in cars and heavy vehicles, and in various industrial applications – what an intelligent hydrogen economy might look like in the years to come.

Clean Energy Group (CEG) has been a fervent supporter of green hydrogen and its use in fuel cells. We worked on hydrogen and fuel cells 15 years ago, when they were one of the few cleaner energy options. Then, we did not have the cheaper and more practical alternatives to fossil fuel plants such as renewables and battery storage that we have today.

Back in 2006, CEG wrote that “[h]ydrogen is most efficiently used in fuel cells where it is converted to electricity “electro-chemically” (i.e., without combustion), with only water and oxygen depleted air as exhaust products.”

This is because combustion is where hydrogen goes from “emissions-free” to polluting, the critical distinction seemingly lost in this new debate about using H2 to address climate change.

What happens when H2 is combusted?

Burning H2 does not produce carbon dioxide (CO2)  emissions. That is good news for the climate.

However, hydrogen combustion produces other air emissions. And that scientific fact is the untold story in this aggressive industry plan, one that could turn green H2 into ghastly H2.

The bad news is that H2 combustion can produce dangerously high levels of nitrogen oxide (NOx). Two European studies have found that burning hydrogen-enriched natural gas in an industrial setting can lead to NOx emissions up to six times that of methane (the most common element in natural gas mixes). There are numerous other studies in the scientific literature about the difficulties of controlling NOx emissions from H2 combustion in various industrial applications.
Blog editor’s note: this is an important article, worth the time to read in its entirety. In addition to the documented serious health effects associated with NOx emissions, the pollutants are powerful greenhouse gases – packing approximately 300 times the global warming potential as carbon dioxide.
» Read article            
» Read about the natural gas industry’s hydrogen PR campaign     

» More about clean energy               

 

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

number twoMass. no longer most energy-efficient state
California, with numerous policy initiatives, moves into top spot
By Colin A. Young, Statehouse News Service, in CommonWealth Magazine
December 18, 2020

After nine years at the top of a list that state officials regularly tout, Massachusetts is no longer considered to be the most energy-efficient state in the nation.

California now sits atop the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) rankings and bumped Massachusetts down to second place thanks to the passage of millions of dollars in incentives for high-efficiency heat pump water heaters and an executive order to phase out new gasoline-powered vehicles by 2035.

“In a year dramatically impacted by a global pandemic and associated recession, efforts to advance clean energy goals struggled to maintain momentum amid the loss of 400,000 energy efficiency jobs by the summer and disruptions to countless lives. Despite these challenges, some states continued to successfully prioritize energy efficiency as an important resource to help reduce household and business energy bills, create jobs, and reduce emissions,” the ACEEE wrote in its annual report and scorecard. “First place goes to California, which sets the pace in saving energy on multiple fronts with adoption of net-zero energy building codes, stringent vehicle emissions standards, and industry-leading appliance standards.”

Massachusetts has had at least a share of first place in the ACEEE rankings for the last nine years (California had tied with Massachusetts for number one as recently as 2016) and has been in the top 10 all 14 years that the ACEEE has published its annual state scorecard.

“Generally speaking, the highest-ranking states have all made broad, long-term commitments to energy efficiency, indicated by their staying power at the top of the State Scorecard over the past decade,” lead report author Weston Berg said. “However, it is important to note that retaining one’s spot in the lead pack is no easy task; all of these states must embrace new, cutting-edge strategies and programs to remain at the top.”

Every year since 2015, the Baker administration has celebrated the top billing with a press release, featuring quotes from the governor, lieutenant governor, Energy and Environmental Affairs secretary, Department of Energy Resources commissioners, House speaker, Senate president, House minority leader, Senate minority leader and a House committee chairman.

This year, there was no administration press release, and the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs and Department of Energy Resources declined to make anyone available to discuss the rankings with the News Service on Wednesday.
» Blog editor’s note: you can earn top-dog status on the energy efficiency list, or you can coddle the natural gas industry – but you can’t do both.
» Read article            

» More about energy efficiency          

 

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

solid state Toyota
Toyota EV with solid-state batteries: 10-minute full charge, prototype reportedly due in 2021
By Stephen Edelstein, Green Car Reports
December 13, 2020

 

Toyota hopes to be the first automaker to launch an electric car with solid-state batteries, aiming to unveil a prototype next year, ahead of a production launch relatively soon after that, Nikkei Asia reported Thursday.

The automaker expects electric cars powered by solid-state batteries to have more than twice the range of vehicles using current lithium-ion battery chemistry, with the ability to fully recharge in just 10 minutes, according to the report, which also said Toyota has over 1,000 patents related to solid-state batteries.

While Toyota seems fairly far ahead of other Japanese automakers (Nissan doesn’t plan to start real-world testing of solid-state batteries until 2028, the report said), the country’s automotive suppliers appear to be gearing up for production.

Mitsui Mining and Smelting (also known as Mitsui Kinzoku) will build a pilot facility to make electrolyte for solid-state batteries, the report said. Located at an existing research and development center in Japan’s Saitama Prefecture, the facility will be able to produce “dozens of tons” of solid electrolyte starting next year, enough to fulfill demand for prototypes, according to the report.

The timetable discussed in the report is accelerated from what a top Toyota executive suggested just this summer. In an interview with Automotive News in July, Keiji Kaita, executive vice president of Toyota’s powertrain division, said limited production of solid-state batteries would start in 2025.

This report also suggests that solid-state battery cells could have much-improved energy density. That echoes a Samsung statement from earlier this year, suggesting its solid-state tech could double energy density.
» Blog editor’s note: Is Toyota all in? Read a December 17, 2020 report from Oil Price in which Toyota’s President Akio Toyoda talks down electric vehicles.
» Read article             

» More about clean transportation        

 

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY

Brenda Mallory
Biden Pick to Bolster Legal Odds with Added Climate Review
By Ellen M. Gilmer and Stephen Lee, Bloomberg Law
December 17, 2020

President-elect Joe Biden’s selection of environmental lawyer Brenda Mallory for a top spot in the new administration could help federal agencies improve their litigation record on climate change.

The presumptive nominee to lead the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality will be tasked with revamping Trump-era regulations and ensuring that federal agencies stay out of legal trouble by properly studying the full impacts of their decisions.

If confirmed by the Senate, Mallory will take the helm of CEQ at a time when judges have increasingly faulted federal officials under both the Obama and Trump administrations for failing to fully consider greenhouse gas emissions in their National Environmental Policy Act reviews. NEPA requires agencies to analyze and disclose the impacts of their actions, including approvals of highways, pipelines, and other projects.

CEQ, which oversees NEPA implementation, aimed to sidestep those losses in July by issuing a rule that eliminated a longstanding requirement that officials consider the cumulative impacts of their actions—a part of NEPA reviews that often touches on climate change. The Biden administration is expected to reconsider that move and quickly direct agencies to strengthen their climate analyses.

“Reversing the Trump-era NEPA rollbacks is going to be priority No. 1,” said Western Environmental Law Center lawyer Kyle Tisdel, a frequent foe of federal agencies in NEPA cases.

Next on the list, he said, will be issuing new guidance for how agencies should incorporate climate analysis into their reviews.

The result will be better outcomes in NEPA litigation during the Biden administration, legal experts say.

Agencies and project backers “should already realize that their environmental reviews are more likely to survive judicial scrutiny if they include cumulative impact review and lifecycle greenhouse gas analysis where appropriate,” said Columbia Law School professor Michael Gerrard, who directs the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law.
» Read article           

» More about the EPA           

 

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Hay Point Coal TerminalChina Battles the World’s Biggest Coal Exporter, and Coal Is Losing
China has officially blocked coal imports from Australia after months of vague restrictions. For Australia, the world’s largest coal exporter, the decision is a gut punch.
By Damien Cave, New York Times
December 16, 2020

SYDNEY, Australia — China is forcing Australia to confront what many countries are concluding: The coal era is coming to an end.

China has now officially blocked coal imports from Australia after months of vague restrictions that dramatically slowed trade and stranded huge ships at sea.

For Australia, the world’s largest coal exporter, the decision is a gut punch that eliminates its second-biggest market at a time when many countries are already rethinking their dependence on a filthy fossil fuel that accelerates the devastation of climate change.

While Beijing’s motives are difficult to divine, there are hints of mercantilist protection for local producers and the desire to punish Australia for perceived sins that include demanding an inquiry into the source of the coronavirus. China’s commitment to cut emissions may also allow it to be marginally more selective with its vast purchases.

Whatever the reasoning, the impact is shaping up to be profound for a country that has tied its fate to coal for more than 200 years. Mining policy can still decide elections in Australia and the current conservative government is determined to do the bare minimum on climate change, which has made China’s coal cutback a symbolic, cultural and economic shock.

“A transition has been forced upon us,” said Richie Merzian, the climate and energy program director at the Australia Institute, an independent think tank. “It’s hard to see how things will really pick up from here.”

The realization, if it holds, may take time to sink in.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has ridden Australia’s traditional reliance on fossil fuels into power. He famously held up a hunk of coal in Parliament in 2017, declaring “don’t be scared,” and first became prime minister in an intraparty coup after his predecessor, Malcolm Turnbull, tried to pursue a more aggressive approach to combating climate change.

“Coal-Mo,” as some of his critics call him, dismissed concerns on Wednesday about China’s ban, arguing that there are many other countries still lining up for the product.
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Alberta sinking
As oil prices languish, Alberta sees its future in a ‘coal rush’
At least six new or expanded mines could be built as a new conservative provincial government aims to increase coal production for export
By Jeff Gailus, The Guardian
December 15, 2020

With the price of Western Canadian oil languishing around $35 a barrel and Canadian oil sands companies hemorrhaging both workers and money, the province of Alberta sees its future in another fossil fuel: coal.

A “coal rush” in the province could see at least six new or expanded open-pit coal mines built up and down the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains, mostly by Australian companies. Together, these projects could industrialize as much as 1,000 sq km of forests, waterways and grasslands.

Alberta has eight operating coal mines and more than 91bn tonnes of mineable coal, but until recently, Alberta had a restrictive coal-mining policy that’s been in place for 44 years to protect drinking water for millions of people. In 2015 the previous Alberta government announced a plan to eliminate coal-fired electricity by 2030, a goal Canada’s federal government embraced three years later to help fulfill Canada’s greenhouse-gas-reduction commitments to the Paris Agreement.

Canada, along with the United Kingdom, also launched the Powering Past Coal Alliance at the 2017 UN Climate Change Conference to accelerate the phase-out of coal-fired power plants worldwide.

Yet despite the commitment to eliminate coal-fired electricity, the new conservative provincial government has pulled out all the stops to increase coal production for export.

It rescinded the 1976 coal mining policy without public consultation, after spending months wooing Australian coal companies. It also reduced the corporate tax rate from 10 to 8%, axed provincial parks in coal-rich areas, offered 1% royalties (Australia’s is a minimum of seven), and passed legislation to fast-track project approvals.
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LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

Biden and gas exportsHow Biden may save U.S. gas exports to Europe
Cleaning up fuel producers’ climate pollution at home could help the industry avoid “a trans-Atlantic green gas war.”
By BEN LEFEBVRE, Politico
Photo: Flared natural gas is burned off Feb. 5, 2015 at the Deadwood natural gas plant in Garden City, Texas. | Spencer Platt/Getty Images
November 27, 2020

President-elect Joe Biden’s plan to crack down on the energy industry’s greenhouse gas pollution could offer a boon for U.S. natural gas producers who want to keep exporting to an increasingly climate-minded Europe.

U.S. gas shipments to Europe have soared since 2016, driven by the American fracking boom and efforts to help the Continent lessen its reliance on Russia. But pressure on European countries to reduce their impact on the climate is threatening to close off opportunities for the U.S. because of the heavy amounts of planet-warming methane released when the gas is produced.

Now, Biden’s promise to reduce those methane emissions could make U.S. gas shipments more palatable to Europe.

Such an outcome would contradict one of President Donald Trump’s closing campaign themes: that electing the former vice president would spell doom for U.S. fossil fuel producers. But it could rankle progressive climate activists who are pushing for Biden to end fracking and stop all U.S. fossil fuel exports.
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PLASTICS IN THE ENVIRONMENT

Coke eco claims prooved fishy
Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Nestlé Are Worst Plastic Polluters of 2020, Have Made ‘Zero Progress,’ New Report Finds
By Tiffany Duong, EcoWatch
December 11, 2020

The top plastic polluters of 2020 have been announced, and Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Nestlé top the list for the third year in a row.

In a new report demanding corporate responsibility for plastic pollution, Break Free From Plastic (BFFP) named the repeat offenders and called them out for what appeared to be negligible progress in curbing the amount of plastic trash they produce despite corporate claims otherwise.

“The title of Top Global Polluters describes the parent companies whose brands were recorded polluting the most places around the world with the greatest amount of plastic waste,” the report’s executive summary noted. “Our 2020 Top Global Polluters remain remarkably consistent with our previous brand audit reports, demonstrating that the same corporations are continuing to pollute the most places with the most single-use plastic.”

The report employs brand audits and global cleanups to collect and count plastic debris from around the world. This year, nearly 15,000 volunteers collected 346,494 pieces of plastic in 55 countries to contribute to the report, a BFFP press release said.

Over 5,000 brands were cataloged this year, but Coca-Cola quickly emerged as the world’s number one plastic polluter. Its beverage bottles were found most frequently, discarded on beaches, rivers, parks and other litter sites in 51 of the 55 nations surveyed, The Guardian reported. The brand was worse than PepsiCo and Nestlé, the next two top offenders, combined.

Plastic pollution is one of the leading environmental problems of the modern-day. Plastics do not disintegrate or disappear, but instead break up into microplastics that get consumed by the tiniest organisms. These toxins bioaccumulate and move their way up the food chain and into our air, food and water.

“The world’s top polluting corporations claim to be working hard to solve plastic pollution, but instead they are continuing to pump out harmful single-use plastic packaging,” Emma Priestland, Break Free From Plastic’s global campaign coordinator, told The Guardian.
» Read article            
» Read related Guardian article 

» More about plastics in the environment            

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