Tag Archives: transmission

Weekly News Check-In 5/27/22

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Welcome back.

We’re leading this week with an appreciative nod to individuals whose personal actions or protests either clarify an issue or make real change happen. However it’s done, it takes courage and for that we are grateful and inspired. We have articles about a senior safety consultant who quit working with Shell over what she calls the oil giant’s “extreme harms” to the environment. Also, take a look at the winners of this year’s prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize.

In that same spirit, lots of our friends were out on the Water Street Bridge between Peabody and Danvers yesterday, in a “mass action” demonstration to further their opposition to a new gas/oil peaker plant being built off Peabody’s Pulaski Street. Ironically, the permits allowing the plant’s construction could not have been granted under current law.

While we’re talking about effective activism, keep in mind that it’s not always employed for the planet’s benefit…. In the U.S., Republican lawmakers and their allies have launched a campaign to try to rein in and punish companies that dare to divest from fossil fuels. This information lands at about the same time as a new study showing just how invested many of us are through pension and other funds, and to what extent these assets are at risk in a crash-the-economy sort of way.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Agency is also feeling this “opposing forces” dynamic. Last year, the head of the FERC delivered a message to the energy industry saying FERC’s Office of Enforcement would ensure energy and power companies comply with the agency’s rules. The number of investigations and the size of fines has since picked up considerably. But gas pipeline developers are striking back, bringing legal action through conservative-leaning courts that seek to undermine FERC’s core ability to regulate industry.

Meanwhile, UN secretary general António Guterres addressed thousands of graduates at Seton Hall University in New York state, telling them not to take up careers with the “climate wreckers” – companies that drive the extraction of fossil fuels. It’s a serious message, since building a green economy is a project we largely left to these young people. That, and a mountain of student debt….

Recent climate research clarifies the scope and scale of our global decarbonization effort. We now have a better understanding of the urgency surrounding elimination of potent, short-term warming drivers like methane and other pollutants. Researchers describe it as having to “win the sprint to slow warming in the near term by tackling the short-lived climate pollutants, so that we can stay in the race to win the marathon against CO2.” Without effective action against those short-term gases, a reduction in CO2 emissions would actually make warming worse for a while. Some related good news: Geneva, Switzerland-based International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) recently voted unanimously to approve a proposed update to a household appliance safety standard which will allow air conditioners and heat pumps used around the world to use new hydrocarbon refrigerants that have a negligible climate impact.

In clean energy, researchers have shown that double-sided panels help offset the effects of snow on ground-mounted solar arrays, mostly due to the snow’s reflective nature. And in clean transportation, the race to bring solid state batteries to the next generation of electric vehicles is running hot among all the major auto manufacturers – but nobody’s quite cracked it yet.

We’ll wrap up this optimistic section with a note that New England’s grid operator, ISO-NE, recently published a study that lays out four possible frameworks for how the grid operator might integrate clean energy into the grid. It’s long-overdue, but a step in the right direction.

Let’s turn to a report that details the PR and lobbying blitz from fossil fuel companies in the early days of the Russian invasion that aimed to benefit oil and gas interests while offering little for the current crisis. According to Faye Holder, program manager for InfluenceMap. “The sector has quickly mobilized around the war in Ukraine and high gas prices to promote the need for more ‘American-made energy,’ often relying on potentially misleading or questionable claims.”

Not wanting to miss an opportunity, Canada’s top energy official said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government is open to accelerating a liquefied natural gas project that could start supplying Europe in as soon as three years. See “misleading or questionable claims”, above.

Last week, we ran a couple articles that described the worrisome growth of the biomass industry in Japan and South Korea. Europe has been the other big proponent, but now it seems like the EU is finally ready to stop subsidizing this polluting, destructive, false climate solution. Big decision coming in September – we’ll be watching.

And circling back to South Korea, it’s made some progress with plastics recycling programs. This article offers an interesting description of what an organized society can accomplish through highly focused education and enforcement mechanisms. But it’s also a reminder that really, folks, the answer is to use much less plastic to begin with!

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

Shell consultant
Shell consultant quits, accusing firm of ‘extreme harms’ to environment
Caroline Dennett tells staff in video she made decision because of ‘double-talk on climate’
By Alex Lawson, The Guardian
May 23, 2022

A senior safety consultant has quit working with Shell after 11 years, accusing the fossil fuel producer in a bombshell public video of causing “extreme harms” to the environment.

Caroline Dennett claimed Shell had a “disregard for climate change risks” and urged others in the oil and gas industry to “walk away while there’s still time”.

The executive, who works for the independent agency Clout, ended her working relationship with Shell in an open letter to its executives and 1,400 employees. In an accompanying video, posted on LinkedIn, she said she had quit because of Shell’s “double-talk on climate”.

Dennett accused the oil and gas firm of “operating beyond the design limits of our planetary systems” and “not putting environmental safety before production”.

She said: “Shell’s stated safety ambition is to ‘do no harm’ – ‘Goal Zero’, they call it – and it sounds honourable but they are completely failing on it.

“They know that continued oil and gas extraction causes extreme harms, to our climate, to our environment and to people. And whatever they say, Shell is simply not winding down on fossil fuels.”

Dennett told the Guardian she “could not marry these conflicts with my conscience”, adding: “I could not carry that any longer, and I’m ready to deal with the consequences.”
» Read article     
» Watch Ms. Dennett’s resignation video

Goldman Price 2022
Meet the 2022 Goldman Environmental Prize Winners
By Olivia Rosane, EcoWatch
May 25, 2022

A teenage girl in California who shut down a toxic oil-drilling site; a Nigerian lawyer who got long-overdue justice for communities devastated by two Shell pipeline spills; two Indigenous Ecuadorians who protected their ancestral lands from gold mining. These are just some of the inspiring winners of this year’s so-called “Green Nobel Prize.”

The Goldman Environmental Foundation today announced the seven 2022 winners of its annual Goldman Environmental Prize, which is the highest honor one can receive for participating in grassroots environmental activism.

“While the many challenges before us can feel daunting, and at times make us lose faith, these seven leaders give us a reason for hope and remind us what can be accomplished in the face of adversity,” Goldman Environmental Foundation vice president Jennifer Goldman Wallis said in a press release. “The Prize winners show us that nature has the amazing capability to regenerate if given the opportunity. Let us all feel inspired to channel their victories into regenerating our own spirit and act to protect our planet for future generations.”
» Read article    

» More about protests and actions

PEAKING POWER PLANTS

peaker throws
‘We’re not giving up:’ Protestors, neighbors rally near Peabody peaker plant site
By Hadley Barndollar, USA TODAY NETWORK, in Milford Daily News
May 26, 2022

PEABODY — Jerry Halberstadt has asthma, and lives about a mile from a new fossil fuel-fired peaking power plant that’s being built.

He’s very conscious of air quality because of his diagnosis, he said. “This stuff can stop me in my tracks. There’s an impact from the burning of fossil fuels.”

But more than anything, Halberstadt worries for his three grandchildren, and “the nastiness that awaits them.”

In a “mass action” demonstration with speakers, bikers, kayakers and even kites, protestors converged on the Water Street bridge between Peabody and Danvers on Thursday to further their opposition to a new peaker plant being built off Peabody’s Pulaksi Street, where two power plants already exist on a riverfront site.

The new plant, which has received all necessary approvals from the state and been green-lighted for construction, would be located within an environmental justice neighborhood, a state designation given to areas where residents are historically vulnerable to environmental hazards.

State laws passed since the Peabody plant’s permitting process aim to vet projects as such and protect these very communities from fallout. Protestors on Thursday indicated they’re ramping up efforts to stop the plant.

[…] The situation in Peabody has taken center stage for climate activists in Massachusetts, which by law is now required to cut its emissions in half by 2030, and then reach net zero by 2050. Opponents feel building a natural gas and oil-fired power plant at this stage in the game is completely contradictory to those efforts.

Judith Black, a Marblehead resident and member of 350 Mass, said the peaker “flies in the face of environmental justice goals and our climate roadmap bill.”
» Read article     

» More about peaker plants

DIVESTMENT

woke in Glasgow
How an Organized Republican Effort Punishes Companies for Climate Action
Legislators and their allies are running an aggressive campaign that uses public money and the law to pressure businesses they say are pushing “woke” causes.
By David Gelles and Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times
May 27, 2022

In West Virginia, the state treasurer has pulled money from BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, because the Wall Street firm has flagged climate change as an economic risk.

In Texas, a new law bars the state’s retirement and investment funds from doing business with companies that the state comptroller says are boycotting fossil fuels. Conservative lawmakers in 15 other states are promoting similar legislation.

And officials in Utah and Idaho have assailed a major ratings agency for considering environmental risks and other factors, in addition to the balance sheet, when assessing states’ creditworthiness.

Across the country, Republican lawmakers and their allies have launched a campaign to try to rein in what they see as activist companies trying to reduce the greenhouse gases that are dangerously heating the planet.

“We’re an energy state, and energy accounts for hundreds of millions of dollars of tax revenue for us,” said Riley Moore, the West Virginia state treasurer. “All of our jobs come from coal and gas. I mean, this is who we are. This is part of our way of life here in the state. And they’re telling us that these industries are bad.”

“We have an existential threat here,” Mr. Moore said. “We have to fight back.”

In doing so, Mr. Moore and others have pushed climate change from the scientific realm into the political battles already raging over topics like voting rights, abortion and L.G.B.T.Q. issues. In recent months, conservatives have moved beyond tough words and used legislative and financial leverage to pressure the private sector to drop climate action and any other causes they label as “woke.”

“There is a coordinated effort to chill corporate engagement on these issues,” said Daniella Ballou-Aares, chief executive of the Leadership Now Project, a nonprofit organization that wants corporations to address threats to democracy. “And it is an effective campaign. Companies are starting to go into hiding.”

The pushback has been spearheaded by a group of Republican state officials that has reached out to financial organizations, facilitated media appearances and threatened to punish companies that, among other things, divest from fossil fuels.
» Read article    

assets at risk
People in US and UK face huge financial hit if fossil fuels lose value, study shows
Strong climate action could wipe $756bn from individuals’ pension funds and other investments in rich countries
By Damian Carrington, The Guardian
May 26, 2022

Individuals in rich countries face huge financial losses if climate action slashes the value of fossil fuel assets, a study shows, despite many oil and gas fields being in other countries.

The researchers estimated that existing oil and gas projects worth $1.4tn (£1.1tn) would lose their value if the world moved decisively to cut carbon emissions and limit global heating to 2C. By tracking many thousands of projects through 1.8m companies to their ultimate owners, the team found most of the losses would be borne by individual people through their pensions, investment funds and share holdings.

The analysis also found that financial institutions have $681bn of these potentially worthless assets on their balance sheets, more than the estimated $250-500bn of mispriced sub-prime housing assets that triggered the 2007-08 financial crisis.

The researchers did not predict if or when these fossil fuel “stranded assets” would cause a financial crash, but said the size of the number was worrying. The US and UK are by far the countries with the biggest potential stranded assets in their financial sectors.

Overall, the study calculated that individuals own 54% of the $1.4tn oil and gas assets at risk – $756bn. Three-quarters of these people are in the 38 developed countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) group. Governments and corporate creditors carry the balance.

But the proportion is much higher in the US and UK, where individuals own 86% and 75% of the potentially stranded assets respectively. In contrast, 80% of those assets in China are owned by the government.

“It is pretty obvious now that the fossil fuel companies are doing things that are not compatible with mitigating climate change,” said Dr Gregor Semieniuk, at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, US, who led the research. The Guardian recently revealed that oil and gas companies are planning scores of vast “carbon bomb” projects that would shatter internationally agreed climate targets.

“I did not imagine that individual people would ultimately end up with so much of the risk,” said Semieniuk. “This is particularly relevant for countries like the US and UK, which show up as very major losers. That is where I think the losses really get spread around society.”
» Read article    
» Read the study

» More about divestment

FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION

FERC under Glick
FERC enforcement ramp-up spurs pipeline wars
By Miranda Willson andMike Soraghan, E&E News
May 25, 2022

Last year, the head of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission delivered a message to the energy industry: “The cop is back on the street.”

Chair Richard Glick was referring to FERC’s Office of Enforcement, which seeks to ensure energy and power companies comply with the independent agency’s rules. Last fiscal year, the office opened 12 new investigations compared to six the previous year.

The uptick in cases includes a new focus on energy infrastructure, including the country’s pipelines — and how companies handle their construction and operation. The bottom line, Glick said, is that pipeline companies must abide by the conditions in the permits that FERC issues.

“The message is you’ve got to live up to your commitments,” Glick told reporters in December. “If you don’t do that, we’re going to come down on you, because that’s our role.”

But as the agency seeks to penalize pipelines for permit violations — including pursuing record-setting fines — developers are hitting back with legal challenges that, if successful, could chip away at the commission’s enforcement powers. That in turn could make it more difficult to penalize companies for spills, groundwater contamination and failure to restore the land they trench through to build the lines.

Since Congress boosted FERC’s enforcement authority in 2005, the Office of Enforcement has not typically gone after pipeline violations, focusing more on wrongdoing in energy and power markets. But that has recently begun to change, some legal experts said.

Glick’s leadership has undoubtedly spurred FERC to increase oversight on pipelines, said Carolyn Elefant, a former FERC attorney who now represents landowners affected by pipelines. Before the Democrat was tapped by President Joe Biden to serve as FERC chair last January, “pipeline stuff was completely below the radar,” she said.

Now, FERC is accusing two multibillion-dollar pipeline developers of failing to abide by the conditions and standards they agreed to when they were granted permits. In one case, the enforcement office is proposing its biggest-ever fines in a pipeline construction case.

Increased enforcement from FERC may send a message to the natural gas industry that the agency is prepared to hold developers accountable for the terms and conditions included in their permits, said Carrie Mobley, an associate at the law firm McGuireWoods LLP.
» Blog editor’s note: This good news is tempered by the fact that the gas industry and conservative judges are moving to dampen FERC’s regulatory powers. Stay tuned.
» Read article      

Glick at ACP
FERC’s Glick says he’s ‘bullish’ on energy storage, aims to prioritize regulations for hybrid projects
By Iulia Gheorghiu, Utility Dive
May 18, 2022

Amid other regulatory priorities, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chair Richard Glick would have the agency look into energy storage participation in wholesale markets via hybrid projects with wind and solar, he said on Tuesday during the CLEANPOWER 2022 conference in San Antonio, Texas.

He noted that while FERC requires grid operators to facilitate storage participation in wholesale markets, the effort does not address the role of co-located storage with other generation. Glick, and other speakers at the conference, credited FERC for having “knocked down some of the barriers” for storage and distributed resource participation.

“Storage provides really an enormous amount of potential benefits that we’re not fully utilizing,” he told attendees. “We need to address the variability [on the grid] and where we need more flexible generation resources.”

Already there are a number of dockets open at FERC that are tangential to the role of energy storage, including a requirement for plans from regional transmission organizations, or RTOs, to contend with increasing power variability as more intermittent resources are connected to the grid.

“A couple of weeks ago, we issued an order requiring the RTOs around the country to report to us what their plans are for addressing … additional variability on the system. I’m very bullish about storage’s ability to play a great role in that,” Glick said.

Currently, energy storage plays a larger role in California than in other wholesale markets, as the independent system operator deals with a lot of high variability on the grid due to the large amounts of solar power, experts on an energy storage panel said at CLEANPOWER on Tuesday.

In order for energy storage to increase its participation in other wholesale markets, there needs to be a greater recognition of the resource’s resiliency capacities, experts said at the conference.
» Read article      

» More about FERC

GREENING THE ECONOMY

tackling a fire
Do not work for ‘climate wreckers’, UN head tells graduates
António Guterres says young people should tackle climate crisis by using talent to deliver a renewable future
By Damian Carrington, The Guardian
May 24, 2022

The UN secretary general has told new university graduates not to take up careers with the “climate wreckers” – companies that drive the extraction of fossil fuels.

António Guterres addressed thousands of graduates at Seton Hall University in New York state on Tuesday. “You must be the generation that succeeds in addressing the planetary emergency of climate change,” he said. “Despite mountains of evidence of looming climate catastrophe, we still see mountains of funding for coal and fossil fuels that are killing our planet.

“But we know investing in fossil fuels is a dead end – no amount of greenwashing or spin can change that. So we must put them on notice: accountability is coming for those who liquidate our future.”

He added: “You hold the cards. Your talent is in demand from multinational companies and big financial institutions. You will have plenty of opportunities to choose from. My message to you is simple: don’t work for climate wreckers. Use your talents to drive us towards a renewable future.”

Guterres has become increasingly outspoken on the climate crisis in recent months, telling world leaders in April: “Our addiction to fossil fuels is killing us.”

He has also recently attacked companies and governments whose climate actions do not match their words: “Simply put, they are lying and the results will be catastrophic. Investing in new fossil fuels infrastructure is moral and economic madness.”

The Guardian recently revealed that the 12 largest oil and gas companies were planning to spend $103m a day to 2030 on projects that cannot go ahead if global temperature rise is to be kept well below 2C, as agreed by the world’s governments.
» Read article      

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

Hebei smokestacks
New Study Says World Must Cut Short-Lived Climate Pollutants as Well as Carbon Dioxide to Meet Paris Agreement Goals
Cutting only CO2 emissions, but failing to rein in methane, HFCs and soot, will speed global warming in the coming decades and only slow it later this century.
By Phil McKenna, Inside Climate News
May 23, 2022

Climate policies that rely on decarbonization alone are not enough to hold atmospheric warming below 2 degrees Celsius and, rather than curbing climate change, would fuel additional warming in the near term, a study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences concludes. The study found that limiting warming in coming decades as well as longer term requires policies that focus not only on reducing emissions of carbon dioxide, but also of “short-lived climate pollutants”—greenhouse gases including methane and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs)—along with black carbon, or soot.

“We’re simultaneously in two races to avert climate catastrophe,” said Gabrielle Dreyfus, chief scientist for the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development and lead author of the study.  “We have to win the sprint to slow warming in the near term by tackling the short-lived climate pollutants, so that we can stay in the race to win the marathon against CO2.”

The study used climate models to assess how the planet would respond if countries addressed climate change solely through decarbonization efforts—namely transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energy—without reining in methane and other short-lived but potent climate pollutants.

The authors found that decarbonization-only efforts would actually result in increased warming over the near term. This is because burning fossil fuels emits both carbon dioxide and sulfates. Unlike carbon dioxide, which warms the planet and remains in the atmosphere for centuries, sulfate particles reflect sunlight back into space but only remain in the atmosphere for several days, so they have a powerful, but short-lived cooling effect.

The continual release of sulfates through the ongoing burning of fossil fuels currently offsets roughly half a degree of warming that the planet would otherwise experience from the carbon dioxide emissions of fossil fuel combustion, Dreyfus said. Transitioning to renewable energy will quickly remove the short-term curb on warming provided by sulfate emissions, and the planet will continue to heat up for a couple of decades before the longer-term cooling from cutting carbon dioxide emissions takes hold, she added.

If, however, emissions of methane, HFCs, soot and nitrous oxide occur at the same time as decarbonization, both near-term and long-term warming can be reduced, Dreyfus said.
» Read article    
» Read the study

Williston flare
Greenhouse Gases Trapped Nearly 50% More Heat Last Year Than in 1990: NOAA
“Getting hot in here,” said one climate campaigner. “Gotta get congressmen and senators to do more midday outdoor events in their dark suits.”
By Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams
May 23, 2022

An annual assessment released Monday by a U.S. agency underscored the need to dramatically cut planet-warming pollution with a notable revelation about heat-trapping gases over the past three decades.

Greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution from human activities trapped 49% more heat in the atmosphere in 2021 than in 1990, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

NOAA announced that finding in its update of the Annual Greenhouse Gas Index (AGGI), which converts the warming influence of carbon dioxide—or CO2, the most common GHG—as well as methane, nitrous oxide, chlorofluorocarbons, and 16 other chemicals into one number that can be compared to previous years, as the agency explained in a statement.

“The AGGI tells us the rate at which we are driving global warming,” said Ariel Stein, acting director of NOAA’s Global Monitoring Laboratory (GML).

“Our measurements show the primary gases responsible for climate change continue rising rapidly, even as the damage caused by climate change becomes more and more clear,” she added. “The scientific conclusion that humans are responsible for their increase is irrefutable.”

Echoing other experts and reports—including recent publications from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)—NOAA scientists on Monday urged humanity to reduce GHGs.
» Read article      

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

aerial view
Think Solar Panels Don’t Work in Snow? New Research Says Otherwise
Double-sided panels help offset the effects of snow on solar arrays.
By Dan Gearino, Inside Climate News
May 26, 2022

Skeptics of renewable energy often claim—usually with an eye roll—that solar power doesn’t work well in snowy climates.

When most solar panels were stationary and one-sided, this idea carried some weight. But now, most panels move on an axis to follow the sun throughout the day, and an increasing share of panels have silicon on the front and back, making solar more effective even in places with regular snowfall.

Here’s the latest: A recent paper led by researchers at Western University in London, Ontario shows that the use of “bifacial” photovoltaic panels—solar panels that take in sunlight from both sides—produces substantially more electricity during winter compared to using one-sided panels, based on data from a solar array that has both kinds of panels.

“I was surprised how striking the results were,” said Joshua Pearce, an electrical engineering professor at Western University and co-author of the paper. “There is no question now that bifacial modules are the way to go for ground-mounted PV systems in the north.”

The paper, published in the journal Renewable Energy, shows that double-sided panels can take in substantial amounts of energy from light reflected off of the snowy ground at times when the front of the panel is most likely to be partially covered by snow, as described in PV Magazine.

The researchers went to a solar array in Escanaba, a town in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. They mounted cameras to observe snow cover, pyranometers to measure levels of solar radiation and also gathered electricity generation data from the system’s operator.

During the cold-weather months of November 2020 to March 2021, the one-sided panels experienced a snow-related energy loss of 33 percent, while the two-sided panels had a loss of 16 percent. The study period included 30 days in which there was snowfall.

Most of the gains for the two-sided panels were because of the reason the researchers expected, which is that sunlight reflected off of the snowy ground and hit the back side of the panels.
» Read article     
» Obtain the study

wind test center
As blades get longer, Charlestown testing center seeks to expand
Wind turbine technology moving faster than expected
By Shira Schoenberg, CommonWealth Magazine
May 22, 2022

WHEN THE WIND Technology Testing Center in Charlestown was built in 2011, the longest wind turbine blades in the world were around 65 meters long, or 215 feet. So the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center constructed the blade testing building to be 90 meters long, around 300 feet – about the size of a football field.

“We built this assuming that blades were going to get larger, and so 85 to 90 meters seemed like a reasonable length to expect at the time,” said Robert FitzPatrick, director of government affairs for the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center. At that length, the testing center was the largest of its kind in North America.

Fast forward a decade, and General Electric wanted to test its newest blade – a 107-meter-long behemoth that will be used in its Vineyard Wind project off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard. The testing center had to cut part of the blade off to fit it in the building. While blades can be tested without the tip, it is not ideal, and engineers need to account for the adjusted weight.

Massachusetts Clean Energy Center CEO Jennifer Daloisio said the facility was built with the knowledge that it would eventually have to be expanded, but the technology advanced faster than expected. “Essentially, the facility needs to be almost doubled in length and doubled in height to accommodate the wind blades of both the current and the future projects,” Daloisio said.

The Massachusetts Clean Energy Center is working on plans to expand the center, lengthening it to be able to accommodate 140 or 150-meter blades. The center would grow from around 300 feet long to 500 feet long, while nearly doubling the height in the new section, from 85 feet to 155 feet tall. The expansion would not let the center test more blades – it would keep the same three testing stations – but it would adapt the center to the size of the more modern turbines.
» Read article      

» More about clean energy   

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

Folkestone service
International Commission Votes to Allow Use of More Climate-Friendly Refrigerants in AC and Heat Pumps
The new guidelines could save the equivalent of billions of metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions by 2050, but the U.S. could prove slow to adopt them.
By Phil McKenna, Inside Climate News
May 22, 2022

A secretive vote in the arcane and Byzantine world of international safety standards late last month may lead to a dramatic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from home heating and cooling systems in the coming years.

In a closed-door process that concluded on April 29, two dozen technical experts from around the world voted unanimously to approve a proposed update to a household appliance safety standard set by the Geneva, Switzerland-based International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC).

The IEC sets safety standards for thousands of household appliances. The international standard serves as a guideline for country-specific safety standards such as UL, formerly Underwriters Laboratories, safety standard in the U.S. Details about the subcommittees that shape the safety standards are typically kept confidential. IEC declined to provide additional information about the vote, including the names of individual country representatives who approved the update.

The update, a draft copy of which IEC shared with Inside Climate News and which IEC plans to publish next month, could help solve a significant climate problem that has long bedeviled manufacturers of air conditioners and high efficiency electric heating systems known as heat pumps, which wanted to use more climate-friendly refrigerants but were prevented from doing so.

The vast majority of air conditioners and heat pumps used around the world today rely on hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), synthetic chemical refrigerants that, when leaked into the atmosphere, are highly potent greenhouse gases. The approved safety standard update will allow appliance manufacturers to instead use hydrocarbon refrigerants that have a negligible climate impact.

[…] Most air conditioners and heat pumps in the United States today rely on HFC-410a, a chemical refrigerant that is 4,260 times as potent as carbon dioxide at warming the atmosphere over a 20-year period.
» Read article     

» More about energy efficiency     

 

MODERNIZING THE GRID

overdue but welcome
Study lays out options for New England grid operator to help cut emissions
Critics say the regional grid operator has been slow to respond to states’ emission reduction goals, and that reforms are needed to help emerging clean energy resources compete in its electricity markets.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
May 23, 2022

The regional electric grid operator for New England is beginning to study how it could play a new role in cutting power sector emissions.

ISO New England oversees the electric grid for the six-state region, coordinating the real-time flow of electricity as well as operating longer-term markets to make sure an adequate supply of generation is being built.

Traditionally, as with other regional grid operators, its top concerns have been reliability and affordability: making sure it always has enough power to keep the lights on at the lowest possible price.

In recent years, though, many states have adopted a third priority: reducing emissions. Critics say grid operators have been slow to respond, and that their policies have become barriers to states’ climate goals by prioritizing conventional power plants over emerging clean energy resources.

ISO-NE’s recent Pathways study, released in February, lays out four possible frameworks for how the grid operator might integrate clean energy into the grid. They include continuing the status quo, creating a new clean energy market, implementing carbon pricing, and a hybrid scenario.

Advocates say the report is a pivotal — if long overdue — step toward decarbonizing the region’s power supply.

“To date, the ISO’s market designs have been holding back the region,” said Melissa Birchard, director of clean energy and grid reform at environmental advocacy group the Acadia Center. “This study is a first step to changing that.”
» Read article    
» Read the Pathways study

transmission is expensive
‘More, more, more’: Biden’s clean grid hinges on power lines
By Peter Behr, E&E News
May 23, 2022

With its signature climate legislation roadblocked in Congress, the Biden administration is seeking an unprecedented expansion of high-voltage electric lines to open new paths to wind and solar energy.

“We obviously need more, more, more transmission to run on 100 percent clean energy … and handle all the buildings and the cars and the trucks that we’re working to electrify,” Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said in February.

For example, 80,000 megawatts of new wind farms could be built on open lands in Montana, Wyoming and the Dakotas, the Energy Systems Integration Group (ESIG) noted at a DOE webinar in March. But today, there’s only enough existing high-voltage transmission to export one-tenth of that amount, according to ESIG, a nonprofit organization of grid experts.

The gap highlights a major challenge for President Joe Biden’s goal to decarbonize the grid by 2035. In response, DOE has started to roll out a range of proposals under its $16 billion Building a Better Grid initiative announced in January, hoping to break through layers of obstacles to transmission.

In an interview with E&E News, Patricia Hoffman, principal deputy assistant secretary for DOE’s Office of Electricity, described a two-track strategy: Decisions beginning this year offer financial backing to help get “shovel ready” power line projects under construction quickly, and a multiyear planning operation seeks state officials’ support for new interregional power lines connecting large wind and solar regions with population centers.

DOE invited suggestions this month on how to structure the shorter-term initiative. It will contract to purchase up to half the electricity on new power lines up to a total commitment of $2.5 billion, aiming to get previously announced projects across the starting line to construction.

“We hope that we can expand the program in 2023 with some of the other authorities we have,” Hoffman said. DOE would resell the power to utilities, replenishing the funding pool, under the plan.
» Read article      

» More about modernizing the grid

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

scale issue
Inside the race for a car battery that charges fast — and won’t catch fire
Amid rising gas prices and climate change, car giants are in a fierce contest to perfect the solid-state battery, long viewed as a ‘holy grail’ for electric vehicles
By Pranshu Verma, Washington Post
May 18, 2022

In September, Toyota offered the world a glimpse into the company’s future. In an 11-second YouTube video, it displayed a modern four-door car cruising down a test track. The most important upgrade was the tagline emblazoned on the car’s right side: “Powered By All-Solid-State Battery.”

In recent years, car giants such as Toyota, Ford and Volkswagen have been trying to overcome the shortcomings of batteries that power electric vehicles by racing to produce a next-generation battery . Many companies are rallying around solid-state batteries, which do not contain liquid electrolytes and can charge quicker, last longer and be less prone to catching fire than the lithium-ion batteries currently in use, according to battery experts. Automakers have poured millions into perfecting the technology by the latter half of the decade.

The contest comes at a crucial time. Gas prices have skyrocketed, and climate change has accelerated efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions, increasing demand for electric vehicles. This has led to shortages of many minerals used in current electric-vehicle batteries, amid ethical concerns as they’re often mined by adults and children in backbreaking conditions with little protection.

But experts and carmakers say getting the new batteries to market is an extremely challenging task.

“It’s the technology of the future,” said Eric D. Wachsman, director of the Maryland Energy Innovation Institute. “The question is: How soon is that future going to be here?”
» Read article     

» More about clean transportation

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

stand with Ukraine
Oil and Gas Industry Seized on War in Ukraine to Water Down Climate Policy, Report Shows
A new report details the PR and lobbying blitz from fossil fuel companies in the early days of the Russian invasion that aimed at benefiting oil and gas interests, while offering little for the current crisis.
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
May 24, 2022

While Russia dropped missiles on Kyiv and laid siege to the port of Mariupol in late February, the oil and gas industry took advantage of the war in Ukraine to spread misinformation about the causes of the energy crisis in order to apply political pressure and pursue a longstanding wish list of policy changes, according to new research.

Energy prices soared in the aftermath of the Russian invasion. In response, the oil and gas industry waged a concerted influence campaign that blamed the Biden administration’s climate policies for undermining American energy independence and for causing a spike in prices, according to a report from InfluenceMap, a corporate watchdog group. Across an array of platforms, the industry and its allies framed more drilling and looser regulation as a solution to these problems, and advocated for policies that had tenuous connections to the global energy crisis but were nonetheless favorable to the fossil fuel industry.

“The U.S. oil and gas sector has consistently argued for policies that allow for new or increased fossil fuel exploration, and against policies that would reduce demand. But what’s changed in recent months is the intensity of that message,” said Faye Holder, program manager for InfluenceMap. “The sector has quickly mobilized around the war in Ukraine and high gas prices to promote the need for more ‘American-made energy,’ often relying on potentially misleading or questionable claims.”

DeSmog previously reported on oil executives’ and lobbyists’ PR blitz in the days following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a move which sought to take advantage of the crisis to secure largely unrelated policy victories. But InfluenceMap’s new study offers a deeper and more comprehensive examination of how the industry attempted to influence public opinion.
» Read article      

pumps at work
U.S. Can’t Drill Its Way to Energy Security, Jenkins Warns
By The Energy Mix
May 19, 2022

The war in Ukraine is increasing gasoline prices in America despite the country’s status as the world’s largest oil producer, demonstrating why the United States “cannot drill its way to energy security” and should instead invest in renewables, writes Princeton University energy specialist Jesse Jenkins.

“Oil, coal and, increasingly, natural gas are globally traded commodities, which leaves the U.S. economy dangerously exposed to the vagaries and volatility of energy prices. The decisions of a single autocrat on the other side of the world can send the cost of filling the tank in Des Moines or Denver soaring,” writes Jenkins, an assistant professor of energy systems engineering and policy at Princeton University and leader of the REPEAT Project.

Drilling for more oil could have strengthened the country’s energy security the last time Americans were paying this much for gas, back in 2008. At that time, the U.S. imported more than half of its oil, while renewable energy sources were much more costly and supplied less than 2% of the country’s electricity.

But the energy landscape has fundamentally changed since then, after national oil and gas production outpaced consumption and the cost of renewable energy and lithium-ion batteries plunged.

But while he agrees the U.S. should continue to export oil and gas to European allies to help “starve the Kremlin war effort,” Jenkins says the country’s energy security depends on developing a new approach that expands renewable energy infrastructure. The energy provisions in the now-stalled Build Back Better bill would reduce U.S. consumption of oil by nearly 500 million barrels and natural gas by two trillion cubic feet per year, for combined annual savings of about US$70 billion for American homes and businesses.

Those reductions would also make the U.S. economy far more energy secure and help the country meet its national emissions-reduction targets.
» Read article     

» More about fossil fuels

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

Jonathan Wilkinson
Energy Chief Says Canada Could Send Gas to Europe Within 3 Years
Trudeau minister eyes conversion of existing Repsol facility. But nation currently lacks export terminal on Atlantic coast.
By Brian Platt, Bloomberg
May 26, 2022

Canada’s top energy official said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government is open to accelerating a liquefied natural gas project that could start supplying Europe in as soon as three years.

Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson told Bloomberg News the fastest way to help “our European friends” would be for Spain’s Repsol SA to convert an existing LNG import facility in New Brunswick, on Canada’s Atlantic coast, into an export terminal.

“A lot of existing infrastructure is there,” Wilkinson said Wednesday in a telephone interview from Berlin, ahead of a Group of Seven energy ministers meeting. If Repsol decided to convert the terminal, “you likely could have a facility that would be producing within three to four years,” he said.

[…] Wilkinson said Canada would be looking for two things in any new LNG facility: that it use a low-emission process for gas and that it be capable of transitioning to exporting hydrogen later on.
» Read article     

» More about LNG

BIOMASS

whole trees
EU Parliament’s Environment Committee urges scale back of biomass burning
By Justin Catanoso, Mongabay
May 18, 2022

In a surprising and unprecedented vote this week, the European Parliament’s Environment Committee recommended the scaling back of the EU’s existing subsidies incentivizing the burning of wood pellets, replacing coal for heat and energy. The committee also urged the European Union to reduce how much it counts forest biomass toward the continent’s renewable energy goals.

Forest advocates are viewing the move with both hope and skepticism.

If approved and written into policy in September as part of the EU’s revised Renewable Energy Directive (RED), the recommendations would be the first steps of any kind toward slowing the accelerating use of biomass burning over the past 12 years, which scientists have long argued adds to carbon emissions, damages forests, and diminishes biodiversity.

“We are relieved to see a majority of the Environment Committee opt for a biomass limitation for energy and heat,” Fenna Swart of The Netherlands’ Clean Air Committee told Mongabay. “But there are still significant gaps in the law that the European Parliament must close during the plenary vote in September. Otherwise, compliance will backfire at the expense of forests, as is now happening on a large scale.”

The committee put forward four recommendations cautiously cheered by forest advocates like Swart — forest biomass opponents who have generated widespread public opposition to the practice across Europe, but who have yet to see any policy reform. The committee recommended that:

  • A definition for primary woody biomass, or biomass sourced directly from whole trees, be added to RED for the first time, with the intention of protecting intact forests. Exemptions would include forests affected by fire, pests and disease.
  • Primary woody biomass no longer qualify as counting toward member states’ renewable energy targets. Currently, biomass accounts for 60% of the EU’s renewable energy portfolio, far more than zero-carbon wind and solar.
  • Primary woody biomass no longer receive subsidies under RED, with certain exemptions.
  • Where whole trees are harvested, they should first be used for long-lasting wood products and only burned for energy as wood pellets if no other usage options exist.

Wood-pellet industry representatives, who are only accustomed to government support, were not happy with the recommendations.
» Read article     

» More about biomass

PLASTICS RECYCLING

waste management
In South Korea, an Emphasis on Recycling Yields Results
Ambitious goals, messaging and enforcement put the nation at the top of the sustainability pack, serving as a model as the World Economic Forum pushes to end plastic waste.
By David Belcher, New York Times
May 21, 2022

[…] South Korea, which is the size of Portugal, but with a population of nearly 52 million — while surrounded by water on three sides and a hostile neighbor to the north — is like much of the rest of the planet: under pressure to better utilize existing resources, and to do so before it is too late.

That sense of urgency, and a United Nations effort to reach an international agreement by 2024 to eliminate plastic waste, may well be on many minds at the Davos summit this year as the ecological fallout from the pandemic becomes clear.

“One of the things the pandemic revealed was a rise in the use of plastic for food deliveries and a sense of safety with extra packaging all over the world,” said Kristin Hughes, the director of resource circularity at the World Economic Forum. “Recycling was put on hold in many countries. It wasn’t deemed as essential.”

Now that the crisis phase of the pandemic has passed, she said, it’s time to switch direction. “We need to move away from the take-use-dispose approach,” she said.

The challenge of consumption and disposal is evident across South Korea. A train ride through this country reveals patches of crammed houses, businesses and farms. There’s little room for landfills. In fact, one of the largest in the country, which absorbs much of the waste from Seoul and its 10 million residents, is expected to be full by 2025.

South Korea is also a major manufacturer, exporting electronics, cars and appliances at breakneck speed, which keeps it hovering in or near the top 10 countries for G.D.P. This has created the need for factories and shipyards, in an already crowded nation that has scant room to accommodate them.

So recycling bins and food waste canisters are ubiquitous, and 32-gallon food-recycling containers line the curbs of Seoul much the way cars pack the roads in the capital’s notorious traffic.

At the Recycling Management factory on a recent afternoon, dozens of workers in protective gear stood alongside jolting conveyor belts, sorting and positioning thousands of plastic bottles and sending them on to their second or third life.
» Read article      

» More about plastics recycling

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Weekly News Check-In 10/1/21

banner 07

Welcome back.

Last Friday, we saw the first Friday for the Future global climate strike since the COVID-19 pandemic locked down many large street-level protests. With upcoming COP26 climate talks, it was time to get back out there. We also offer an in-depth article on Greta Thunberg, whose solitary school climate strike sparked the Friday for the Future movement and inspired a huge wave of youth activism.

And activism is effective. We learned this week of another major natural gas pipeline cancellation. The 36″ diameter PennEast Pipeline was intended to carry fracked gas from Pennsylvania, 115 miles to an interconnection near Pennington, NJ. In spite of federal backing (including a favorable US Supreme Court ruling), New Jersey, having faced years of citizen resistance,  refused a key environmental permit. Case closed.

Meanwhile, operators of the infamous Dakota Access oil pipeline have asked the Supreme Court to exempt them from completing the environmental review – due March, 2022 – that could determine whether that pipeline can continue operating. Claiming the requirement places an undue burden on developers of large infrastructure projects, they stake out the astounding position that anything is OK as long as it’s big.

Greening the economy is going to require a lot of mineral extraction, so we’re posting articles that illuminate the pros and cons of this necessary extraction. California’s horribly toxic Salton Sea and surrounding communities are an existing environmental disaster that could benefit from lithium extraction – if it’s done right. On the other hand, the prospect of deep seabed mining is alarming under any conditions, with huge potential to harm the marine ecosystem and climate.

The climate and biodiversity crises are closely related. So we selected articles this week covering the reluctance of wealthy nations to properly address climate change, along with why it’s in everyone’s best interest to reverse the over-development and over-exploitation of nature that’s fueling an unprecedented wave of extinctions.

There’s good news in clean energy, where studies and also practical experience show that a rapid shift to renewables saves money and increases grid resiliency. Standing between those facts and actual broad U.S. implementation, of course, is a phalanx of fossil industry and utility lobbyists and the legislators of both parties who depend on their money.

Massachusetts recently completed its Whole-Home Heat Pump Pilot program, aimed at showing how air-source heat pumps can provide 100% of a home’s heating and cooling needs without a backup fossil-powered furnace or boiler. Results across a variety of building types were successful and reveal a market ready for further expansion. Unfortunately, New Hampshire has taken a step backward by joining 19 other states with legislation prohibiting municipalities from requiring electric appliances in new construction.

In spite of New Hampshire Governor Chris Sunun’s head-in-the-sand refusal to face the future, we are rapidly approaching a time when fully-electric buildings and electric vehicles will be the norm. That requires a lot more electric transmission capacity, and some of those lines might be buried along existing rail corridors. An experiment is underway to bring 2,100 MW of renewable power from upper Midwest sources to eastern markets this way – avoiding the lengthy and difficult permitting process for stringing high power lines overhead.

Recent battery fires in Chevy Bolts (and some other brands) have caused concern among would-be car buyers considering electric vehicles. Researchers in Singapore recently showed a significant reduction in lithium-ion battery fire hazard by adding an “anti-short” layer of material applied to the separator between the anode and cathode of each cell. The next step is to see if this feature can be integrated into EV batteries without adversely affecting range, performance, or price. This takes time – don’t expect to see it in the upcoming model year.

The fossil fuel industry would like all of the above to just go away, and for us to leave them in peace. Nope. We’ll close out with an investigation of Senator Joe Manchin’s coal industry income, with the oil patch’s habit of sticking taxpayers with the cost of cleaning up old wells, and with satellite evidence of dozens of leaks and spills in the Gulf of Mexico following Hurricane Ida.

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

FFF climate strike
A Friday for the Future: The Global Climate Strike May Help the Youth Movement Rebound From the Pandemic
2019’s protests were unprecedented, driven by passion. The pandemic dampened activism and showed the importance of mass events in spurring political change. Is a comeback at hand?
By Bob Berwyn, Delger Erdenesanaa, Inside Climate News
September 24, 2021

The first global Fridays For Future climate strike of 2021 will help show if the youth climate movement can rebuild momentum while parts of the world still grapple with the coronavirus pandemic. At least 1,300 protests are planned around the world on Friday, including about 300 in the United States.

The movement that was sparked by Greta Thunberg’s solitary school strike and vigil at the Swedish parliament in 2018 quickly grew into a social juggernaut that measurably shifted public concern about climate, according to researchers with the Institute for Protest and Movement Research, a global online academic forum.

Over the next years, attending local strikes became a gateway to sustained political organizing around climate change. Lorena Sosa, an 18-year-old college student from Orlando, Florida and an organizer with the youth climate group This Is Zero Hour, said she was well aware of climate change before 2019, but didn’t know what she could do to help solve the problem.

“For the longest time I had this huge stress about the impact we were having on the environment,” Sosa said. News headlines about deforestation in the Amazon rainforest and the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline left her feeling powerless, she said. But in September 2019, Sosa heard about a protest happening in her city as part of a global day of climate strikes organized by the Fridays for Future movement.

The Fridays For Future model of mass climate marches was a key factor in moving the political and social needle in Europe, but never became as widespread in the United States. Even so, the 2019 Fridays for Future protests were important because they kept the spotlight on the climate issue, said Mélanie Meunier, a researcher at the University of Strasbourg, France and author of a February 2021 study on youth climate activism in the United States.

“There are still people who don’t even want to hear about climate change, but they can’t ignore it when thousands of people are marching in the streets, so it increased awareness at a very basic level,” she said.

In the United States, youth climate activism has been most effectively expressed at the political level by the Sunrise Movement, she said. By focusing youth activism through a political lens, the Sunrise Movement achieved measurable results, arguably helping Joe Biden win key electoral states in the 2020 election, she said.
» Read article                      

transformative
The transformation of Greta Thunberg
By Simon Hattenstone, The Guardian
Portraits by Marcus Ohlsson
September 25, 2021

Three years ago Greta Tintin Eleonora Ernman Thunberg was an unknown 15-year-old terrified that we were destroying the planet and furious that adults were letting it happen. Her fury was particularly directed at those with power. She decided to take unilateral action, and tweeted her plan. “We kids most often don’t do what you tell us to do. We do as you do. And since you grownups don’t give a damn about my future, I won’t either. My name is Greta and I’m in ninth grade. And I am school striking for the climate until election day.” She didn’t expect anyone to take notice. Thunberg had spent her short lifetime not being noticed. She was small, rarely spoke and described herself as “that girl in the back who never said anything”.

Thunberg spent the first day sitting cross-legged on her own outside the Swedish parliament alongside a sign made from wood scrap that read “Skolstrejk för klimatet” (“School strike for climate”). Although she was striking, she still treated it as a regular school day – she rode to the Riksdag on her bike, took out her books and studied till the end of the school day. The next week a few others joined her – fellow students, teachers and parents – and her campaign began to attract media interest. In September 2018 she began a regular Friday strike, calling it Fridays for Future, encouraging other students to join her. By March 2019, her protest had spread to more than 70 countries. On 20 September 2019, 4 million people joined a school strike across 161 countries – the largest climate demonstration in history.

Within a year, Thunberg had become one of the most famous people on Earth. Since then she has been nominated twice for the Nobel peace prize, addressed the UN and been thanked by the pope. Liberal world leaders suck up to her to show their people they take the climate crisis seriously, rightwing populist leaders mock her to show that they don’t.
» Read article                      

» More about protests and actions

PIPELINES

protesting penneast
PennEast cancels natural gas pipeline project; cites lack of environmental permits from N.J.
By Susan Phillips, WHYY
September 27, 2021

In an astounding turnaround after years of battling New Jersey over permits to build a natural gas pipeline from Northeast Pennsylvania to Mercer County, PennEast has canceled its 116-mile project.

The move comes just three months after the U.S. Supreme Court sided with PennEast over the state of New Jersey, which had attempted to block the pipeline company from seizing state-controlled land for the project. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, had granted the company eminent domain to seize land from uncooperative landowners, including the state of New Jersey.

PennEast spokeswoman Pat Kornick issued a statement Monday morning, citing the continued lack of support from the Garden State in acquiring environmental permits.

The pipeline would have shipped Marcellus Shale gas from Luzerne County across the Delaware River to Mercer County to provide what the company said was much-needed, affordable natural gas to residents. Opponents said it would harm acres of forest, wetlands, and waterways; pose a danger from potential explosions; and represented an outmoded fossil fuel infrastructure project at a time when climate change was increasingly tied to extreme weather events.
» Read article                      

NO DAPL we are one
Dakota Access pipeline asks U.S. Supreme Court to scrap environmental study order
By Devika Krishna Kumar, Reuters
September 21, 2021

Dakota Access on Monday asked the U.S. Supreme Court to revisit whether the largest pipeline out of the North Dakota oil basin requires additional environmental review.

The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia revoked a key environmental permit for the pipeline last year and ordered an additional environmental study. read more

The pipeline entered service in 2017 following months of protests by environmentalists, Native American tribes and their supporters. Opponents said its construction destroyed sacred artifacts and posed a threat to Lake Oahe, a critical drinking supply, and the greater Missouri River.

Energy Transfer (ET.N), which operates the 570,000 barrel-per-day (bpd) pipeline out of the Bakken shale basin, has said its pipeline is safe.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was expected to complete its review of the pipeline in March 2022.

The pipeline’s operators said in their petition additional review is unnecessary and that it would impose burdens for other large infrastructure projects.
» Blog editor’s note: Pipeline developers and operators should, in fact, bear the burden of showing any project’s necessity and also thoroughly describing potential environmental impacts. To claim otherwise is outrageous.
» Read article                      

» More about pipelines

GREENING THE ECONOMY

Salton Sea lithium
In search of ‘Lithium Valley’: why energy companies see riches in the California desert
Firms say what’s underneath the Salton Sea could fuel a green-energy boom. But struggling residents have heard such claims before
By Aaron Miguel Cantú, The Guardian
September 27, 2021

Standing atop a pockmarked red mesa, Rod Colwell looks out at an expanse of water that resembles a thin blue strip on the horizon. The Salton Sea, California’s largest lake, has come and gone at least five times in the last 1,300 years, most recently in 1905, when floodwaters from the Colorado River refilled its basin.

A mid-century resort destination, the lake has since become an environmental disaster zone. Its waters, long fed by pesticide-laden runoff from nearby farms, have been steadily evaporating, exposing a dusty shoreline that kicks up lung-damaging silt into the surrounding communities of the Imperial Valley, where rates of asthma are alarmingly high.

But as disastrous as the disappearing Salton Sea is, powerful people believe that a vast reserve of lithium locked beneath it and the surrounding area holds the key to flipping the region’s fortunes.

Global demand for lithium, a metal vital for the batteries in electric cars and computer electronics, is projected to grow by 40 times in the next 20 years as renewable technologies become more ubiquitous. The earth deep below the southern Salton Sea is rich in hot, mineral-abundant brine that contains some of the world’s largest deposits of lithium, and Colwell and others envision a “Lithium Valley” that would establish California as a global production hub and employ thousands of workers for generations to come.
» Read article         
» Read related article covering environmental and environmental justice issues.     

manganese nodules
Critics Question the Climate Crisis Benefits of Deep Seabed Mining
As the world starts to seriously entertain the possibility of commercially mining the deep sea for valuable metals, it’s worth taking a closer look at the claims used to justify its potentially long-lived impacts.
By Marta Montojo and Ian Urbina, DeSmog Blog
September 18, 2021

While commercial mining of the deep seafloor is not yet happening, momentum is building and the world is now seriously entertaining the possibility. The targets of these companies are potato-sized rocks that scientists call polymetallic nodules. Sitting on the ocean floor, these prized clusters can take more than three million years to form. They are valuable because they are rich in manganese, copper, nickel, and cobalt that are claimed to be essential for electrifying transport and decarbonizing the economy amid the green technological revolution that has emerged to counter the climate crisis.

To vacuum up these treasured chunks requires industrial extraction by massive excavators. Typically 30 times the weight of regular bulldozers, these machines are lifted by cranes over the sides of ships, then dropped miles underwater where they drive along the seafloor, suctioning up the rocks, crushing them and sending a slurry of crushed nodules and seabed sediments from 4,000-6,000 meters depth through a series of pipes to the vessel above. After separating out the minerals onboard the ship, the processed waters, sediment and mining ‘fines’ (small particles of the ground up nodule ore) are piped overboard, to depths as yet unclear.

But a growing number of marine biologists, ocean conservationists, government regulators and environmentally-conscious companies are sounding the alarm about a variety of environmental, food security, financial, and biodiversity concerns associated with seabed mining.

These critics worry whether the ships doing this mining will dump back into the sea the huge amounts of toxic-waste and sediments produced by grinding up and pumping the rocks to the surface, impacting larger fish further up the food chain such as tunas and contaminating the global seafood supply chain.

They also worry that the mining may be counterproductive in relation to climate change because it may in fact diminish the ocean floor’s distinct carbon sequestration capacity. Their concern is that in stirring up the ocean floor, the mining companies will release carbon into the environment, undercutting some of the very benefits intended by switching to electric cars, wind turbines and long-life batteries.

“By impacting on natural processes that store carbon, deep sea mining could even make climate change worse by releasing carbon stored in deep sea sediments or disrupting the processes which help ‘scavenge’ carbon and deliver it to those sediments,” Greenpeace stated in a recent report.
» Read article                     
» Read the Greenpeace report

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

Henan rescue workers
‘Verge of the abyss’: Climate change to dominate UNGA talks
Forcing wealthy nations to honour UN climate pledges will ‘be a stretch’, British PM Boris Johnson admitted on Sunday.
By Aljazeera
September 20, 2021

Pressure is building on world leaders to rapidly ratchet up efforts to fight global climate change, a topic expected to top the agenda at the United Nations General Assembly.

Leaders will hear pleas to make deeper cuts in emissions of heat-trapping gases and give poorer countries more money to develop cleaner energy and adapt to the worsening impacts of ever-increasing climate change.

“I’m not desperate, but I’m tremendously worried,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said told the Associated Press ahead of this week’s GA meetings. “We are on the verge of the abyss and we cannot afford a step in the wrong direction.”

On Monday, Guterres and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson host a closed-door session with 35 to 40 world leaders to get countries to do more leading up to crucial COP26 climate negotiations in Scotland in six weeks. Those negotiations are designed to be the next step after the 2015 Paris climate agreement.
» Read article                     

IBW-stuffed
What Covid and the ivory-billed woodpecker being declared extinct have in common
Habitat loss and climate change are causing species to die out, which in turn endangers the humans they leave behind.
By Dr. Alexis Drutchas, attending physician at Massachusetts General Hospital in the Division of Palliative Care, in NBC News / Think
September 29, 2021

For too long, we have treated the natural world as an infinite commodity. In the wake of unchecked human population growth and consumption, we’ve destroyed natural habitats for the sake of creating housing in cities and suburbs, and for vast commercial farms that produce agriculture and livestock. This habitat erosion decimates wild animal populations and renders surviving animals homeless — both of which ultimately endanger humans, as well.

In the most recent example, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed removing 23 more animals and plants from the endangered species list Wednesday — because they’re extinct. Included on this list is the ivory-billed woodpecker, which spanned from coastal North Carolina to East Texas before logging and slaughter for private collectors and hat-makers dwindled the population. Hawaii had a total of eight birds listed as extinct, including the Kaua’i ’o’o, which is known to have a beautiful flute-like call, because invasive species and warming temperatures allowed mosquitoes carrying diseases to access elevations they were once unable to reach.

Habitat loss and climate change are burning the candle at both ends, leading to the tragedy of extinction while also increasing the amount of contact between humans, livestock and the animals that do remain. These complex dynamics then fuel animal-borne infections — in the form of viruses like Covid-19. With fewer barriers between us and animals, viruses can more easily jump the species barrier to become zoonoses, a term for animal-to-human infectious diseases that will inevitably become more familiar to everyone in the years to come.
» Read article                      

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

rapid shift
Rapid Shift to Clean Energy Could Save ‘Trillions.’ But Corporate-Backed Groups Are Fighting the Transition in US Budget Bill
Wind, solar, and batteries are already the cheapest source of electricity and an aggressive shift to clean energy makes more economic sense than a slow one, according to a new study. However, an enormous lobbying effort is underway to block climate policy in the $3.5 trillion budget bill under consideration.
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
September 23, 2021

A slow transition away from fossil fuels would be “more expensive” than a rapid shift to renewable energy, according to a new study, a conclusion that stands in sharp contrast to fossil fuel industry talking points aimed at heading off aggressive climate policy currently being shaped in Congress.

An accelerated clean energy transition would lead to “net savings of many trillions of dollars,” a calculation that does not even take into account the damages from unchecked climate chaos, the recently released study from Oxford University found. On economics alone, the logic of a rapid shift to renewable energy is obvious and necessary.

“The belief that the green energy transition will be expensive has been a major driver of the ineffective response to climate change for the last forty years,” the researchers write. “This pessimism is at odds with past technological cost-improvement trends, and risks locking humanity into an expensive and dangerous energy future.”

The authors note that outdated thinking on renewable energy — that it comes with tradeoffs like higher electricity prices, for instance — has long dominated policy discussions. Echoes of this idea can be found today in mounting attacks by a network of lobbyists and think tanks on the climate provisions in the Democrats’ $3.5 trillion budget package.

But that line of argument has been inaccurate for years, and the Oxford study says it is now decisively wrong. “Our analysis suggests that such trade-offs are unlikely to exist: a greener, healthier and safer global energy system is also likely to be cheaper,” they write [original emphasis].

The U.S. has a chance to solidify an accelerated track towards cleaner energy. The Democrats in Congress are working on legislation that would push the U.S. electricity system to roughly 80 percent carbon-free power by 2030, a definition that includes hydro and nuclear power, up from around 40 percent today.

The so-called Clean Electricity Payment Program (CEPP) is complex, but it essentially rewards utilities that move quickly to add renewable energy to their portfolios with each passing year, while imposing fees on laggards who move slowly.
» Read article                     
» Read the Oxford University study

after the blackout
Five years after blackout, South Australia now only state with zero supply shortfalls
By Giles Parkinson, Renew Economy
September 28, 2021

South Australia’s Liberal government has celebrated the fifth anniversary of the controversial state-wide blackout by claiming that the state is now leading the country – both in terms of renewables, but also in the lack of any supply shortfalls.

“Five years ago South Australia was plunged into a statewide blackout that put lives at risk, inflicted immense damaged our economy and made us the laughing stock of the nation,” state energy minister Dan van Holst Pellekaan said in a statement.

“Today South Australia has the best performing electricity grid in the nation as the Marshall government’s energy policies have strengthened what was a fragile, unstable and highly vulnerable electricity network.”

The state-wide blackout, triggered by massive storms that tore down multiple transmission towers and three transmission links, quickly became a political football and an ideological battleground between parties pro-renewables, and those against.

It amplified the “when the wind don’t blow and the sun don’t shine” meme, but far from putting a stop to renewables, it ensured that more work was done to underpin the massive rollout of large scale wind and solar that followed.

In the past 12 months, South Australia boasts of a world-leading share of wind and solar of 62 per cent (up from 48 per cent at time of blackout).

That has been led by a world-leading share of rooftop solar that earlier this week reached 84 per cent of state demand, and could reach 100 per cent in the next month or so. That is unheard of in a gigawatt scale grid.

The state also boasts new resources, including three big batteries – at Hornsdale (then the world’s largest), Lake Bonney and Dalrymple North – several large scale “virtual power plants,” and new synchronous condensers that (along with the batteries) can provide the critical grid services once delivered by coal and gas.
» What is a synchronous condenser?        
» Read article                      

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

outdoor unit
MassCEC Pilot Showcases Success of Whole Home Heat Pumps
By Meg Howard, Program Director, MA Clean Energy Center
September 13, 2021

Heat pumps can serve as a whole-home heating and cooling solution in Massachusetts. That was the primary takeaway of MassCEC’s Whole-Home Heat Pump Pilot, which ran from May 2019 through June 2021. And whole-home heat pumps will be fundamental to the Commonwealth meeting our goal of one million households using high-efficiency electric heating systems by 2030.

Whole-home heat pumps are essentially heat pumps that serve 100% of a building’s heating needs. While heat pumps are increasingly common in Massachusetts, many are supplementary to fossil fuel heating systems in homes. However, as the state increasingly electrifies its buildings, more and more will rely on heat pumps for all of their heating needs.

Whole-home heat pumps offer many benefits. First, they deliver a comprehensive heating and cooling solution that serves the whole house, increasing comfort and convenience. Second, they do not require homeowners to maintain and operate two separate heating systems. This eliminates the need to maintain fossil fuel pipes or tanks and keeps the homeowner from needing to maintain and potentially replace a second heating system in their home. And last, whole-home heat pumps deliver superior emissions reductions and will continue to get cleaner as the state’s electricity transitions toward being carbon free.

MassCEC’s pilot worked to demonstrate that whole-home heat pump systems offer a high-performance solution today and that the market is ready for significant expansion going forward.
» Read article                      

NH Capitol
New Hampshire gas law handcuffs local government on climate-friendly construction
The Granite State is the latest of 20 states that have barred local governments from requiring electric heating and appliances in new construction, one of the easiest and cheapest ways for cities to curb climate emissions, advocates say.
By Lisa Prevost, Energy News Network
September 27, 2021

New Hampshire is the latest state to adopt a law that prohibits any type of restriction on new natural gas hookups, a fossil fuel industry-driven legislative effort that now extends across 20 states.

The law (SB 86) is unlikely to have any immediate impact in New Hampshire, as no towns were actually considering such restrictions. But environmental groups predict that, over time, these laws will make it harder and more expensive for states and cities across the country to meet their climate targets, while also helping to lock in new emissions for decades.

“These laws make it impossible for cities and towns to do one of the cheapest and easiest actions that they could do to fight climate change — cut carbon out of new buildings,” said Alejandra Mejia Cunningham, a building decarbonization advocate for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “They’re sending towns back to the drawing table and forcing them into other options that are more expensive and won’t really get them to their 2050 climate goals.”

Cities across the country are considering ordinances and incentives to ensure the electrification of new homes and buildings as a way of reducing building emissions. The trend is furthest along in California, where about 50 municipalities have adopted building codes to reduce their reliance on gas, according to the Sierra Club.

A dire alert from the United Nations last month warned that the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report shows the world needs to phase out fossil fuels immediately to avert catastrophic climate change. That includes natural gas, which emits fewer carbon emissions than coal when burned but enough to threaten Paris agreement targets with continued use.

But pro-gas groups are pushing back on electrification efforts, framing the issue as a matter of consumer choice. In New Hampshire, after Republican Gov. Chris Sununu signed the ban prohibition into law late last month, he immediately drew praise from the Consumer Energy Alliance, an advocacy group whose members include the American Gas Association and the American Public Gas Association.
» Read article                      

» More about energy efficiency

MODERNIZING THE GRID

small but soo green
PPL makes ‘small’ investment to gain insight into ‘innovative’ $2.5B SOO Green transmission project
By Robert Walton, Utility Dive
September 27, 2021

New transmission is widely considered a key to bringing more renewables to major power markets and accelerating the energy transition, but large projects can take years to win regulatory and siting approvals. SOO Green’s co-location approach aims to speed that process by undergrounding high voltage lines along existing rail corridors.

PPL’s investment “will enable us to gain greater insight into an innovative approach to building large transmission projects that may avoid some of the traditional barriers to siting, permitting and construction as we work to advance the clean energy transition,” utility spokesman Ryan Hill said in an email.

Along with PPL, the project is owned by Siemens Energy, Jingoli Power and investment funds managed by Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners.

Hill said the company’s position is “small” and “the investment is not considered material.” PPL’s Pennsylvania and Kentucky utilities are not involved with the SOO Green project, he said, meaning ratepayers will not foot the bill for the company’s involvement. “Our investment in SOO Green is being made through a separate subsidiary,” he said.

The SOO Green project aims to enable delivery of 2,100 MW of renewable energy from the upper Midwest to eastern markets. The project will use a 525 kV underground cable and Siemens’ modern Voltage Sourced Converter technology.
» Read article                      

» More about modernizing the grid

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

Bolt EV 2018
Researchers propose fire-preventing “anti-short layer” for EV batteries

By Stephen Edelstein, Green Car Reports
September 29, 2021

Researchers at Nanyang Technological University Singapore (NTU Singapore) have proposed a new way to prevent fires in lithium-ion batteries.

As reported by photovoltaics industry trade journal PV Magazine, the researchers have tested a so-called “anti-short layer,” which is an extra layer of material on the separator between the cathode and anode in lithium-ion cells.

This layer blocks the dendrites that are a main cause of EV battery fires, the researchers claim. Dendrites are caused by manufacturing flaws or damage to the cells, and can grow across the gap between a cathode and anode, causing short circuits.

Such problems have led to a recall of Chevrolet Bolt EV and EUV electric cars after several reported fires. General Motors has stopped production and has said it will replace battery cells and modules in 2017-2019 Bolt EVs, but it’s possible newer models may get replacements as well.

The anti-short layer doesn’t stop dendrites from forming, but does prevent them from reaching from one electrode to the other, researchers claim. It was allegedly tested on more than 50 lithium-ion cells in different configurations, with no short circuits in charging even after batteries exceeded their expected lifecycles.

The layer is made from a material commonly used in battery manufacturing, and would increase battery production costs by around 5%, according to the researchers. NTU Singapore’s spinoff NTUitive will reportedly work to commercialize this technology, but it’s worth noting that promising research doesn’t automatically translate to a commercially-viable product.
» Read article                      

rich Corinthian leather
Building a More Sustainable Car, From Headlamp to Tailpipe
Vehicle makers shy away from traditional materials that are hard to recycle, like leather and plastics, and look to repurpose alternatives that still convey quality.
By Eric A. Taub, New York Times
September 9, 2021

In the 1970s, Chrysler’s TV commercials played up its vehicles’ “rich Corinthian leather.” That meaningless phrase, dreamed up by marketers and cooed by the actor Ricardo Montalbán, became emblematic of what defined a luxury vehicle.

Fifty years later, those words have been replaced by elements that are creating a new concept of automotive luxury: recycled PET bottles, coffee grounds and tree fiber.

“The definition of a premium automobile is changing,” said Rüdiger Recknagel, Audi’s chief environmental officer. “It’s now who’s using the best materials with the least environmental impact.”

As companies around the world turn their attention to reducing the effect their products have on the environment, carmakers are turning away from traditional materials that are hard to recycle, such as leather and plastics, and looking to alternatives that continue to convey quality. In manufacturing as well, they have moved to recycled components in an effort to use fewer resources and cut down on emissions.

Recycled materials make up 29 percent of a BMW vehicle, said Patrick Hudde, BMW’s vice president for sustainability supply chain. The company obtains 20 percent of its plastics from recycled materials, as well as 50 percent of its aluminum and 25 percent of its steel.

At Audi, the Mission: Zero program hopes to achieve a 30 percent reduction of vehicle-specific carbon dioxide emissions by 2025 compared with 2015, and to achieve carbon neutrality across its entire network by 2050; that includes suppliers, manufacturing, logistics and dealer operations.

General Motors expects to have 50 percent sustainable content by weight in its vehicles by 2030, said Jennifer Widrick, the company’s director of global color and trim. The company defines sustainable materials “as those that do not deplete nonrenewable resources or disrupt the environment or key natural resource systems.”

And Volvo, the Swedish manufacturer, predicts that by 2025, 25 percent of its plastics will be bio-based or from recycled materials. In addition, it’s looking to reduce its carbon footprint by 40 percent in four years, compared with 2018, and to achieve climate-neutral manufacturing at that time.
» Read article                      

» More about clean transportation

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Coal Joe
Joe Manchin, America’s climate decider-in-chief, is a coal baron
The pivotal Democratic senator owns millions of dollars in coal stocks. Shouldn’t he recuse himself from US climate talks?
By Mark Hertsgaard, The Guardian
September 30, 2021

Joe Manchin has never been this famous. People around the world now know that the West Virginia Democrat is the essential 50th vote in the US Senate that president Joe Biden needs to pass his agenda into law. That includes Biden’s climate agenda. Which doesn’t bode well for defusing the climate emergency, given Manchin’s longstanding opposition to ambitious climate action.

It turns out that the Senator wielding this awesome power – America’s climate decider-in-chief, one might call him – has a massive climate conflict of interest. Joe Manchin, investigative journalism has revealed, is a modern-day coal baron.

Financial records detailed by reporter Alex Kotch for the Center for Media and Democracy and published in the Guardian show that Manchin makes roughly half a million dollars a year in dividends from millions of dollars of coal company stock he owns. The stock is held in Enersystems, Inc, a company Manchin started in 1988 and later gave to his son, Joseph, to run.

Coal has been the primary driver of global warming since coal began fueling the Industrial Revolution in Great Britain 250 years ago. Today, the science is clear: coal must be phased out, starting immediately and around the world, to keep the 1.5C target within reach.

Scientists estimate that 90% of today’s coal reserves must be left in the ground. No new coal-fired power plants should be built. Existing plants should quickly shift to solar and wind, augmented by reducing electricity demand with better energy efficiency in buildings and machinery (which also saves money and produces more jobs).

This is not a vision that gladdens a coal baron’s heart. The idea of eliminating fossil fuels is “very, very disturbing”, Manchin said in July when specifics of Biden’s climate agenda surfaced. Behind the scenes, Manchin reportedly has objected to Biden’s plan to penalize electric utilities that don’t quit coal as fast as science dictates.
» Read article                      

old wells
Will taxpayers bear the cost of cleaning up America’s abandoned oil wells?
Policy experts warn new proposals to plug abandoned oil and gas wells amount to huge subsidy for the fossil fuel industry
By Leanna First-Arai, The Guardian
September 21, 2021

Oil and gas companies have a century-old bad habit of drilling wells and ditching them. And while Congress finally has a plan to plug some abandoned wells, new proposals effectively pass the fossil fuel industry’s cleanup costs on to taxpayers and may even enable more drilling.

Concerned parties seem to agree on the scale of the crisis: millions of wells sit untended across the US, leaking toxins that pose public health problems along with the potent greenhouse gas methane, which contributes to the climate emergency.

But powerful special interests have carved out a presence in federal well-plugging efforts – one of the most bipartisan corners of Joe Biden’s $1tn infrastructure bill, which is due for a vote later this month. Instead of requiring fossil fuel companies to cover the actual cost of drilling and cleanup, policy experts say the proposal is an additional multibillion-dollar subsidy for the industry most responsible for driving the climate crisis.

“People on the surface think that this is a good environmental thing … but the devil is in the details,” said Megan Milliken Biven, a consultant and former program analyst with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. “This is a bill for the bosses.”
» Read article                      

slick image
After Hurricane Ida, Oil Infrastructure Springs Dozens of Leaks
By Blacki Migliozzi and Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times
September 26, 2021

When Hurricane Ida barreled into the Louisiana coast with near 150 mile-per-hour winds on Aug. 30, it left a trail of destruction. The storm also triggered the most oil spills detected from space after a weather event in the Gulf of Mexico since the federal government started using satellites to track spills and leaks a decade ago.

In the two weeks after Ida, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued a total of 55 spill reports, including a spill near a fragile nature reserve. It underscores the frailty of the region’s offshore oil and gas infrastructure to intensifying storms fueled by climate change.

“That’s unprecedented, based on our 10 year record,” said Ellen Ramirez, who oversees NOAA’s round-the-clock satellite detection of marine pollution, including oil spills. “Ida has had the most significant impact to offshore drilling” since the program began, she said.

Using satellite imagery, NOAA typically reports about 250 to 300 spills a year in American waters, including the Atlantic, Pacific and the Gulf of Mexico, a pace of about 25 spills a month. In the two weeks before Ida, NOAA spotted just five potential oil slicks in the Gulf. The program, the National Environmental Satellite and Data Information Service, uses satellite technology to detect important but hard-to-see events, like methane leaks, signs of deforestation and others, that affect the climate and environment.”
» Read article                      

» More about fossil fuels

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Weekly News Check-In 8/28/20

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Welcome back.

The Department of Public Utilities held public hearings on the pending purchase of Columbia Gas of Massachusetts by Eversource. This follows the disastrous series of fires and explosions in the Merrimack Valley two years ago. Many commenters shared a skepticism that transfer of corporate ownership would result in any public safety improvement. And as a growing list of communities push back against Big Gas, the first half of 2020 resulted in more pipelines being scrapped than were put into service.

In fossil fuel divestment news, a large Nordic hedge fund dumped its stock in some of the world’s foremost oil and mining companies – calling out those firms’ lobbying efforts against climate action.

On Tuesday, U.S. Senate Democrats published a plan for achieving a net-zero energy economy – offering a more general outline than the much more detailed work recently published by the House. Of course, any transformation of this magnitude displaces workers from mothballed industries. We’re keeping an eye on coal country where the upheaval is already underway, and where public support for a green future depends on jobs.

This week’s climate news features three separate studies, including a surprising revelation of global ice lost in recent decades, expanding tropical and arid climate zones, and techniques for optimizing carbon sequestration in natural forest systems.

The shear volume of reporting on clean energy makes it difficult to understand and prioritize the trends. We found an article that highlights the five most important technologies driving the energy transition. New York City has an immediate opportunity to apply some of these technologies as it grapples with plans to replace aging oil-burning “peaker” power plants. Meanwhile, New Hampshire is looking at ways for utilities to compensate operators of battery storage facilities for the services they provide the grid.

Not exactly green, but better than status quo is this week’s theme for clean transportation. We looked at aviation and heavy shipping and found news about cleaner, lower-carbon fuels being developed for both sectors.

The Environmental Protection Agency under President Trump has become a polluter’s best friend. The non-profit EcoWatch reports ten ways life has become more hazardous as a result.

The Guardian published an important report this week, detailing how the natural gas industry is working against climate action in a desperate and coordinated bid to uphold the fiction that it is a clean, low-emission “bridge fuel”. Meanwhile, in a not-so-subtle indicator of Big Oil’s declining power, the Dow Jones Industrial Average kicked ExxonMobil off the index – replacing it with Salesforce.com.

We wrap up with two stories from the liquefied natural gas beat. DeSmog Blog makes a case that the industry’s economics just don’t add up, so LNG can’t be profitably exported – especially to China. But it can be used to move natural gas domestically where pipelines aren’t available. If the Trump administration has its way, this highly concentrated and volatile fuel will soon be rumbling along in cryogenic train cars on a rail line near you.

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

— The NFGiM Team

COLUMBIA GAS INCIDENT / EVERSOURCE PURCHASE

EverColumbia
Not everyone happy about Columbia Gas deal
By Bill Kirk, Eagle-Tribune
August 25, 2020

Different company, same end result?

That pretty much sums up the fears of some Merrimack Valley residents who testified in front of the Department of Public Utilities during a Zoom public hearing Tuesday night to get input on the proposed buyout of Columbia Gas of Massachusetts by Eversource Energy.

“It feels like more of the same thing with a different name,” said Lawrence resident Justin Termini, who lived through the Sept. 13, 2018 gas explosions, fires and evacuations that left one dead and dozens injured. “I don’t feel safe. I’m disappointed in the whole idea. We want to feel safe and not get hurt again.”

The deal, prompted by the 2018 calamity, was crafted by the Massachusetts Attorney General with the cooperation of NiSource — the parent company of Columbia Gas — and Eversource, which currently has gas customers throughout Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Connecticut.

This deal will double the number of its customers, as Eversource will take over all Columbia Gas customers in three regions of the state — Brockton, Springfield and Lawrence — if the deal is approved by the DPU.
» Read article          

» More about the Columbia Gas disaster     

PIPELINES

H1 2020 scap
More Gas Pipelines Scrapped Than Put In Service In H1 2020
By Charles Kennedy, oilprice.com
August 24, 2020

Some 5 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d) of new pipeline capacity was placed into service in the United States in the first half this year, but an estimated 8.7 Bcf/d of pipeline projects have been canceled so far in 2020, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) said on Monday.
» Read article          

» More about pipelines            

DIVESTMENT

holding us backMajor investment firm dumps Exxon, Chevron and Rio Tinto stock
Storebrand says corporate lobbying to undermine climate solutions is ‘unacceptable’
By Jillian Ambrose, The Guardian
August 24, 2020

A Nordic hedge fund worth more than $90bn (£68.6bn) has dumped its stocks in some of the world’s biggest oil companies and miners responsible for lobbying against climate action.

Storebrand, a Norwegian asset manager, divested from miner Rio Tinto as well as US oil giants ExxonMobil and Chevron as part of a new climate policy targeting companies that use their political clout to block green policies.

The investor is one of many major financial institutions divesting from polluting industries, but is understood to be the first to dump shares in companies which use their influence to slow the pace of climate action.

Jan Erik Saugestad, the chief executive of Storebrand, said corporate lobbying activity designed to undermine solutions to “the greatest risks facing humanity” is “simply unacceptable”.
» Read article          

» More about divestment        

GREENING THE ECONOMY

Sen Dem plan
US law makers must ‘use every proven tool’ to create net zero economy
By Liam Stoker, PVTech
August 26, 2020

The US federal government must use every tool available, and do so at an unprecedented scale, if it is to sufficiently tackle the climate crisis and stimulate a clean economy.

The benefits of doing so, a new report published by the Senate Democrats claimed, would pose multiple benefits for US citizens, ranging from public health benefits to enormous job creation.

Yesterday (25 August 2020) the Senate Democrats published the report, dubbed ‘The Case for Climate Action’, which provides detailed recommendations on how the country could establish a clean economy for the good of its people.

The document claims that the federal government must “use every proven tool at its disposal”, and at a scale not seen before, in order to accelerate the decarbonisation of the US’ power supply. Included within these tools are;

  • Direct spending and financing of new build renewable generation
  • Investments in transmission to increase the effectiveness of the grid across the entire US
  • Ramp up the use of market mechanisms such as a federal clean energy standard or carbon price to scale-up clean technologies over fossil fuels
  • Predictable, technology-neutral tax incentives focused on reducing emissions
  • Increased R&D spending aimed at reducing the cost of associated technologies

The benefits of doing so, the senate democrats have argued, would be plentiful and extensive, ranging from reducing emissions, allowing consumers to save money on energy bills, improving health and wellbeing and creating sustainable jobs for US citizens in the wake of COVID-19.

Amongst specific recommendations included within the report is policy to make the adoption of solar, energy efficiency retrofits and electric vehicles more accessible to US citizens. Senate Democrats point to institutions created by the US government in the 1930s, which increased home ownership by making available more affordable mortgages. Similar institutions could and should be created today for this purpose.
» Read article 
» Read ‘The Case for Climate Action’

reclamation opportunities
Survival is anything but certain for coal country

Coal country is not without options. But coal’s long legacy of hope, promises and failure has instilled a political inertia that won’t soon be overcome.
By Dustin Bleizeffer and Mason Adams, Energy News Network
Photo By Dustin Bleizeffer / WyoFile
August 25, 2020

Perhaps the biggest factor when it comes to efforts to transition, for both Wyoming and Appalachia, is whether voters will continue to endorse efforts to save coal or help coal-dependent communities move beyond it.

States actively seeking coal transition strategies, such as Colorado, are looking toward securitization. It’s a refinancing tool that can help reduce the ratepayer impact of retiring coal units early. Portions of savings from securitization go toward renewable energy and community development projects, which can in turn attract additional funds from the federal government.

Grassroots nonprofit groups such as the Powder River Basin Resource Council (which hosted a series of four webinars this summer focusing on communities in transition), Appalachian Voices and others have generated a font of ideas for assisting communities in transition from coal.

In late June, a range of local, tribal and labor leaders from coal communities across America endorsed the National Economic Transition (NET) Platform, developed through a process led by the Just Transition Fund. (The Just Transition Fund also provided a grant to fund this series.) The platform outlines principles and processes, but largely leaves specific details to be developed by local communities.

Coalfield communities “literally fueled the growth of the nation,” said Peter Hille, president of the community economic development nonprofit Mountain Association in eastern Kentucky. “There is a debt to be paid. Justice demands we bring new investment to these places: to build a new economy, to revitalize communities and to educate people of all ages to be ready.”
» Read article          

» More about greening the economy      

CLIMATE

mushing for miraclesEarth has lost 28 trillion tonnes of ice in less than 30 years
‘Stunned’ scientists say there is little doubt global heating is to blame for the loss
By Robin McKie, The Guardian
August 23, 2020

A total of 28 trillion tonnes of ice have disappeared from the surface of the Earth since 1994. That is the stunning conclusion of UK scientists who have analysed satellite surveys of the planet’s poles, mountains and glaciers to measure how much ice coverage lost because of global heating triggered by rising greenhouse gas emissions.

The scientists – based at Leeds and Edinburgh universities and University College London – describe the level of ice loss as “staggering” and warn that their analysis indicates that sea level rises, triggered by melting glaciers and ice sheets, could reach a metre by the end of the century.

“To put that in context, every centimetre of sea level rise means about a million people will be displaced from their low-lying homelands,” said Professor Andy Shepherd, director of Leeds University’s Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling.

The scientists also warn that the melting of ice in these quantities is now seriously reducing the planet’s ability to reflect solar radiation back into space. White ice is disappearing and the dark sea or soil exposed beneath it is absorbing more and more heat, further increasing the warming of the planet.

In addition, cold fresh water pouring from melting glaciers and ice sheets is causing major disruptions to the biological health of Arctic and Antarctic waters, while loss of glaciers in mountain ranges threatens to wipe out sources of fresh water on which local communities depend.
» Read article          
» Read the study

parched zones expanding
Hotter oceans make the tropics expand polewards
The tropical climate zones are not just warmer, they now cover more of the planet. Blame it on steadily hotter oceans.
By Tim Radford, Climate News Network
August 27, 2020

The tropics are on the march and US and German scientists think they know why: hotter oceans have taken control.

The parched, arid fringes of the hot, moist conditions that nourish the equatorial forest band around the middle of the globe are moving, unevenly, further north and south in response to climate change.

And the role of the ocean is made even more dramatic in the southern hemisphere: because the ocean south of the equator is so much bigger than in the north, the southward shift of the parched zone is even more pronounced.

Across the globe, things don’t look good for places like California, which has already suffered some of its worst droughts and fires on record, and  Australia, where drought and fire if possible have been even worse.

In the past century or so, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have risen from what was once a stable average of 285 parts per million to more than 400 ppm, and global average temperatures are now at least 1°C higher than they have been for most of human history.

Now a new study in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres offers an answer. The expansion of the tropics has been driven by ocean warming.
» Read article         
» Read the study

faster recovery
Restoring forests can reduce greenhouse gases
In a way, money does grow on trees. So it could pay to help nature restore forests and reduce greenhouse gases.
By Tim Radford, Climate News Network
August 21, 2020

European and US scientists think they may have settled a complex argument about how to restore a natural forest so that it absorbs more carbon. Don’t just leave nature to regenerate in the way she knows best. Get into the woodland and manage, and plant.

It will cost more money, but it will sequester more carbon: potentially enough to make economic good sense.

Researchers from 13 universities and research institutions report in the journal Science that they carefully mapped and then studied a stretch of tropical forest in Sabah, in Malaysian Borneo: a forest that had been heavily logged more than 30 years ago, and converted to plantation, and then finally protected from further damage. The mapping techniques recorded where, and how much, above-ground carbon was concentrated, across thousands of hectares.

The researchers report that those reaches of forest left to regenerate without human help recovered by as much as 2.9 tonnes of above-ground carbon per hectare each year. But those areas of forest that were helped a little, by what the scientists call “active restoration”, did even better.

Humans entered the regenerating forests and cut back the lianas – the climbing plants that flourish in degraded forests and compete with saplings – to help seedlings flourish. They also weeded where appropriate and enriched the mix of new plants with native seedlings.

Where this happened, the forest recovered 50% faster and carbon storage above-ground per hectare was measured at between 2.9 tonnes per hectare and 4.4 tonnes.

The lesson to be drawn is that where a natural forest may be thought fully restored after 60 years, active restoration could make it happen in 40 years.
» Read article    
» Read the report

» More about climate   

CLEAN ENERGY

five key technologies5 technologies propelling the energy transition
By Utility Dive Editors – series
August. 24, 2020

As states continue efforts to pursue clean energy targets, new technologies are emerging to help usher sweeping changes.

Utility Dive spoke with a wide array of experts to identify five key technologies that will propel the power sector’s transformation: green hydrogen, distributed energy aggregation, transmission development, fine-tuning wind and solar power, and power sector digitization.

This series is focused on technologies that could strengthen the grid, increasing reliability and making clean energy more affordable and available. Such developments are crucial to deploying higher levels of renewable energy onto the grid.
» Read article        

low hanging fruit
New York City’s hottest new energy fight
By Alexander C. Kaufman, Huffpost, in Grist
August 23, 2020

NRG Energy has quietly revived plans to replace its 50-year-old oil-burning generators with new gas-fired units, part of a $1.5 billion makeover the utility giant says will allow it to comply with state pollution rules while meeting electricity demand.

But the new cadre of climate-change hard-liners who unseated incumbents in this summer’s primary wants to upend that. The group of more than half a dozen campaigned for the New York State Legislature on platforms that included shutting down fossil fuel generation and bringing private utilities under government control.

“This is what it means to live out your belief in the Green New Deal,” said Zohran Mamdani as he squinted through the fence on a sunny recent Saturday morning. The 28-year-old democratic socialist unseated 10-year incumbent Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas in the Democratic primary for the 36th Assembly District last month.

New York City’s roughly 15 “peaker” plants — which produce extra generating capacity when the city’s demand eclipses the regular supply, like during a heatwave — are aging, and they run primarily on oil and gas. As the city looks to shrink its output of planet-heating gases, the plants seem like low-hanging fruit.
» Read article           

» More about clean energy      

ENERGY STORAGE

Concord capitol
New Hampshire looks for ways to pay battery owners for benefits they provide
A new state law asks regulators to investigate options for compensating energy storage projects for avoided distribution and transmission costs.
By David Thill, Energy News Network
Photo By Alexis Horatius  / Wikimedia Commons
August 24, 2020

A well-placed battery has the potential to ease electric grid congestion, bolster resilience, and even postpone costly utility equipment upgrades.

Owners of energy storage systems are rarely compensated for all of that value, though, because most states simply haven’t calculated what it’s worth.

New Hampshire regulators will take a step toward fixing that problem as a new state law calls for them to study how energy storage projects might be made whole for the benefits they provide to the state’s electric grid.
» Read article           

» More about energy storage          

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

small steps
Sustainable aviation fuels could soon take flight
The Midwest is ready for takeoff as a leader in cleaner aviation, thanks to researchers in Ohio and elsewhere and a cleantech startup in Illinois.
By Kathiann M. Kowalski, Energy News Network
Photo by sigmama / Flickr / Creative Commons
August 28, 2020

Presentations at the American Chemical Society’s Fall 2020 conference last week outlined various approaches to developing sustainable aviation fuels and ways to reduce costs and time for approvals. So, even if rules for aircraft engines include a business-as-usual approach, the fuel they burn could have lower lifecycle emissions, compared to the current use of all fossil fuels.

“In most cases, the reductions come from the fact that our carbon molecules [are] pulled from the atmosphere by plants, or from other circular economy sources, instead of continuing to pull carbon molecules from the ground,” said research engineer Derek Vardon at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado.

Vardon’s report at the American Chemical Society conference noted that while direct exhaust emissions would be generally comparable to those from regular jet fuel, the lifecycle emissions of greenhouse gases would be lower. Much of that could come from preventing emissions that would otherwise result from biogas feedstocks. Sustainable fuels would also avoid a chunk of emissions from fossil fuel extraction and production. And emissions of sulfur dioxide and other pollutants would be lower.
» Read article          

dirty fuelHydrogen Is Cleaning Up One Of The World’s Dirtiest Industries
By Haley Zaremba, Oilprice
August 27, 2020

“If all the ships on Earth were a single country, that country would be the sixth-largest polluter in the world.” This jaw-dropping fact comes from an NPR report from late last year. The shipping industry, by way of its massive scale and its dirty fuel, ranks just behind Japan in its pollution levels. But the shipping sector’s open approach to change makes it pretty unique.

Last year, Oilprice reported on what was then the most promising approach to provide the worldwide shipping industry with a meaner, greener fleet. This would be the implementation of hydrogen fuel cells, a technology that has already been around for decades. Experiments with hydrogen-powered yachts were already underway, and one poll showed that the industry as a whole largely favored the implementation and adoption of hydrogen fuel cells within the next five years.

But the industry has not put all its eggs in one basket. Just this week the Maritime Executive reported on a brand new green shipping fuel option that South Korea is bringing to the table. “A new cooperation of South Korean companies is being formed to develop bio heavy fuel as an alternative for the shipping industry to meet its goal for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions,” wrote the Executive in its Monday report.

This marine biofuel would be created from biomass including “animal and plant oils, along with the production [residues] from the more common biodiesel fuel.” This reuse, reduce, recycle approach to shipping fuel would make for a much more eco-friendly shipping industry. As HMM has already found the materials as well as tested them out, all that’s left is bringing a product to market. “The partners will work together on R&D efforts to further establish standards for bio heavy oil and to commercialize the fuel through the development of a supply system,” reported the Executive. “If proven successful, the partners believe bio heavy fuel could become an alternative to the current fuels used in the shipping industry.”
» Read article          

» More about clean transportation         

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY

toxic wake
Trump’s Toxic Wake: 10 Ways the EPA Has Made Life More Hazardous
By Melanie Benesh, Legislative Attorney with Environmental Working Group, in EcoWatch
August 23, 2020

From the beginning, the Trump administration has aggressively slashed environmental regulations. A New York Times analysis identified 100 environmental protections that have been reversed or are in the process of getting rolled back. The administration’s record on chemical safety has been especially hazardous for the health of Americans, especially children.

One year into President Trump’s term, EWG detailed how the Trump administration has stacked the Environmental Protection Agency with industry lawyers and lobbyists, undermined worker safety and cooked the books on chemical safety assessments. Midway through his second year, we reported how the EPA reversed a ban on a brain-damaging pesticide, delayed chemical bans and killed a rule to protect kids from toxic PCBs in schools. Last year, we reported that the EPA had rescinded safety rules at chemical plants, rubber-stamped untested new chemicals and silenced researchers.

As Trump’s first term nears its end, things are even worse. Here are 10 more ways the Trump administration has continued to make life more toxic for Americans.
» Read article           

» More about the EPA   

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Mentone flare
Revealed: how the gas industry is waging war against climate action
In a nationwide blitz, gas companies and their allies fight climate efforts that they consider an existential threat to their business
By Emily Holden, The Guardian
August 20, 2020

When progressive Seattle decided last year to wipe out its climate pollution within the decade, the city council vote in favor was unsurprisingly unanimous, and the easiest first step on that path was clear.

About one-third of the city’s climate footprint comes from buildings, in large part from burning “natural” gas for heating and cooking. Gas is a fossil fuel that releases carbon dioxide and far more potent methane into the atmosphere and heats the planet. It is plentiful and cheap, and it’s also a huge and increasing part of America’s climate challenge.

So, a city councilman drafted legislation to stop the problem from growing by banning gas hookups in new buildings. Suddenly, the first step didn’t look so easy.

“From there, we just ran into a wall of opposition,” said Alec Connon, a campaigner with the climate group 350 Seattle.

Local plumbers and pipe fitters warned of job losses. Realtors complained their clients would still want gas fireplaces. Building owners feared utility bills could soar.

The effort died. The ban wasn’t politically tenable, it seemed.

But internal records obtained by the Guardian show the measure’s defeat and the “wall of opposition” that advocates experienced were part of a sophisticated pushback plan from Seattle’s gas supplier, Puget Sound Energy.

Seattle’s story isn’t unique. In fact, it’s representative of a nationwide blitz by gas companies and their allies to beat back climate action they consider an existential threat to their business, according to emails, meeting agendas and public records reviewed by the Guardian.

The documents show the multibillion-dollar gas industry has built crucial local coalitions and hired high-powered operatives to torpedo cities’ anti-gas policies – sometimes assisted by money those same cities have paid into gas trade associations.
» Read article           

veggie oil refinery
Crude oil or cooking oil? For some U.S. refiners, it’s now a choice
By Stephanie Kelly and Laura Sanicola, Reuters
August 27, 2020

A slump in demand for gasoline since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic has several refining companies accelerating their plans to retrofit facilities to produce so-called renewable diesel made from, among other things, used cooking oil from fast-food restaurants.

The shift helps, they say, because it allows them to tap into lucrative federal and state incentives for production of low carbon fuels at a time when slumping fuel demand has squeezed profit margins for conventional fuels like gasoline.

Renewable diesel fuel burns cleaner than conventional diesel and can run without blending. Refiners can produce it by converting gasoline-making units to hydrotreaters that can process soybean oil or used cooking grease.
» Read article          

replaced by Salesforce on djia
An Oil Giant’s Wall Street Fall: The World is Sending the Industry Signals, but is Exxon Listening?
The company, which dropped off the Dow this week, has remained defiant as the oil market has plummeted and its competitors have begun to shift gears.
By Nicholas Kusnetz, InsideClimate News
August 26, 2020

In case anyone doubted the existential threats bearing down on the oil industry, Wall Street delivered another sign that oil and gas companies are in deep trouble this week, with the announcement that ExxonMobil was falling off the Dow Jones Industrial Average stock index. While the decisive blow might have come from the novel coronavirus, which has sent oil demand plummeting, it’s becoming harder to dispute that the industry may be in irreversible decline, as governments accelerate efforts to tackle climate change and move away from fossil fuels.

The companies included in the Dow Jones index are meant to represent the might of American commerce, and Exxon and its predecessor Standard Oil of New Jersey had held a secure place on the list since 1928, the longest run of any company.

On Monday, however, the keeper of the list announced Exxon would be replaced by Salesforce.com, the software company, as part of a shakeup prompted by a stock split by Apple. It’s hard to imagine a more symbolic end to Exxon’s tenure.
» Read article          

» More about fossil fuels

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

biz model blowupU.S. LNG Industry’s Business Model Doesn’t Work
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
August 25, 2020

In mid-July, Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette signed an order authorizing the export of liquefied natural gas, or LNG, from a proposed $10 billion terminal and gas pipline project in Oregon. The news release accompanying Brouillette’s order hailed the approval as having “profound economic, energy security, and environmental implications, both at home and abroad.”

Although the project, known as the Jordan Cove LNG terminal, has struggled to obtain state permits and faces vocal opposition from tribes and others, this consistent Trump administration refrain has not changed. The Obama administration made similar claims about natural gas production and energy security, jobs, and the environment, when it oversaw a rapid expansion of the LNG export industry.

President Obama and President Trump were on the same page about LNG exports. They also share something else in common: They were both dead wrong.

The LNG export industry is an economic disaster and is also a climate disaster, factors that are both contributing to its downward spiral. And while the Department of Energy has talked about exporting “freedom gas” to American allies to improve energy security, when the largest potential customer is China and current headlines highlight a potential new U.S.-China cold war, that isn’t a very credible argument, either.

Just two weeks after Brouillette signed his order, and toured the Jordan Cove site in Coos Bay, the project appears to be dead in the water because the economics don’t work.
» Read article           

LNG by rail challenged
Environmental groups, states sue feds over LNG by rail
Federal regulation on transporting liquefied natural gas by rail goes into effect Monday
By Joanna Marsh, FreightWaves
August 24, 2020

Environmental groups, 14 states and the District of Columbia are suing federal agencies over regulation allowing the transport of liquefied natural gas (LNG) via rail.

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) in June authorized the bulk transportation of LNG by rail, and the rule was expected to take effect Monday, a month after it was published in the Federal Register.

The rule, which was made in consultation with the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), allows for the bulk transportation of LNG using DOT-113 tank cars with enhanced outer tank requirements and additional operational controls.

But the states and the environmental groups argue that the rule violates the Administrative Procedure Act, the Hazardous Materials Transportation Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.

U.S. House Democrats have also criticized federal agencies for moving along with LNG-by-rail regulations, saying more reviews on the safety and operational practices to haul LNG via rail need to be conducted.

The environmental groups that filed the lawsuit before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit last Tuesday include the Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, Clean Air Council, Delaware Riverkeeper Network, Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida and Mountain Watershed Association.

The states bringing the lawsuit before the federal court are Maryland, New York, California, Delaware, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington and the District of Columbia.

The Trump administration has been eager to export LNG. PHMSA and FRA have said previously that the regulation is the result of President Trump’s executive order recognizing the growing role of the U.S. as a producer of LNG in both domestic and international markets.
» Read article          

» More about LNG       

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