Tag Archives: wave energy

Weekly News Check-In 4/2/21

Welcome back.

We lead with late-breaking news that the Massachusetts DEP just revoked the approval for Palmer Renewable Energy’s controversial biomass generating plant in Springfield. Expect more details next week, but here’s a link to MA-DEP’s letter.  Unfinished business includes the Baker administration’s desire to include biomass in the Renewable Portfolio Standard. We posted a well-considered editorial on the Springfield plant, which ends with a request for calls to Governor Baker, demanding a biomass-free RPS. At this moment, with the permit revoked, your call will be powerfully effective.

On the Weymouth compressor, we’ve chosen to feature an article that’s nearly a year old and doesn’t even mention this project. It does, however, shed considerable light on Pieridae Energy, its shaky finances and shady practices, and its big plans to develop the Goldboro LNG export facility in Nova Scotia. Meanwhile, a Natural Gas Intelligence report predicts that no new U.S. LNG projects will be financed in 2021 due to market headwinds – a potential red flag for Goldboro which is still trying to tie down its own investor commitments. The tangled web surrounding Enbridge, the Atlantic Bridge pipeline, Weymouth compressor, and Goldboro – and the politicians and regulators allowing all this to happen – is something we’re watching closely.

A pipeline we’re covering is Enbridge’s Line 5, under deadline pressure from Michigan’s Governor Whitmer to shut down its ancient section under the Straights of Mackinac. In the several years since Enbridge proposed to lay a replacement section of pipe through a sealed tunnel beneath the lakebed, project costs dramatically increased while prices declined for the fuels that pipeline would transport. Governor Whitmer is holding firm under intense pressure from Canada and industry.

On its face, our divestment story this week is a pessimistic assessment that green investing will fail to achieve positive climate goals. But it’s more of an observation that unfettered capital markets won’t respond to anything but the profit motive. It’s a call for better legislation, like Massachusetts’ new climate law, and firmer regulation of markets as called for by the International Energy Agency’s Fatih Birol, to steer us toward a greener economy. This is an urgent topic, because our continuing failure to slow emissions has so endangered the climate that some scientists believe it’s time to seriously study solar geoengineering – just to be ready to deploy if all else fails.

We found interesting reports about progress toward harnessing ocean wave energy, a serious technical challenge facing proponents of a hydrogen economy, and a cautionary story from Britain from their recent disastrous attempt to promote energy efficient building retrofits through a poorly executed program.

Clean transportation is a mixed bag, with an innovative car-sharing startup bringing electric vehicles to an underserved community in Boston – and a less-happy story warning that public transportation systems all over the world face a desperate financial reality since Covid-19 drove away so many passengers. Public transit is key to decarbonizing the transportation sector, but right now it’s just trying to survive.

One part of President Biden’s proposed infrastructure plan includes spending billions of dollars to cap and clean up many thousands of orphaned oil and gas wells left behind by the fossil fuel industry. It’s a jobs-and-climate program to employ skilled labor and mitigate the massive volume of planet-heating methane currently spewing unchecked into the atmosphere.

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

— The NFGiM Team

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION


Shell Game
Alberta has a huge problem with drill site clean up and dicey deals shifting who pays. Mike Judd had enough, so the cowboy fought and won.
By Andrew Nikiforuk, TheTyee.ca
May 20, 2020

Alberta’s oil patch regulator made history of a sort last week by saying the word no. The reasons it did pitted a crusty cowboy against a wealthy ballet aficionado, and exposed a gambit by one of the world’s oil giants to offload its responsibilities in a way, the ruling said, that would have defied provincial law.

The story says a lot about where the world’s fossil fuel industry finds itself at this precarious moment, as it struggles to balance falling revenues against mounting environmental liabilities.

And it sheds light on how symbiotic government regulators, public pension managers, and energy corporation minnows and whales alike have become in Canada. It’s a tale with a few twists, so settle in.

It starts with a simple fact. In the last five years the Alberta Energy Regulator, which is funded by the industry, has watched cash-rich companies sell or trade off more than 150,000 inactive or uneconomic wells to small firms that didn’t have the financial ability to perform mandated well cleanups.

That’s what changed last week. Under intense public pressure, the regulator finally refused to greenlight one such transaction.
» Blog editor’s note: We’re posting this article here because it exposes the sketchy finances of Pieridae Energy, the company behind the controversial and highly speculative Goldboro LNG export facility in Nova Scotia – and an important destination for fracked natural gas pushed north from the Weymouth compressor station.
» Read article             

» More about the Weymouth compressor station

PIPELINES



Is the Line 5 tunnel a bridge to Michigan’s energy future or a bad deal?
By Kelly House & Bridge Michigan & Lester Graham, Michigan Public Radio
April 1, 2021

As Canadian officials lobbied a Michigan Senate committee in March to keep the Line 5 pipeline open, Sen. Winnie Brinks (D-Grand Rapids) grew frustrated with a conversation that, up to that point, had focused mainly on the immediate economic and safety implications of a possible shutdown.

“We are at a moment of inflection on our energy future,” said Brinks, and will soon have no choice but to stop burning oil and other fossil fuels to power our vehicles and homes. Additional investment in the pipeline, she said, “does not seem to be the most enlightened way to go forward.”

Rocco Rossi, President and CEO of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, which wants the pipeline kept open, was quick to rebut.

“All of us want a lower (greenhouse gas) future,” Rossi said. But the transition away from the petroleum products that Line 5 carries “is not going to be overnight.” In the meantime, he said, pipelines are the safest and cleanest way to move petroleum from the Alberta tar sands in western Canada to facilities in the U.S. and eastern Canada where it’s turned into propane, jet fuel, plastics and fertilizer.

The exchange highlights a sharpening focus on global climate change and economy-wide energy transitions, in a pipeline fight that began with concerns about oil spill risks in a 4-mile-wide strip of water known as the Straits of Mackinac.

Against the backdrop of recent carbon neutrality pledges from Governor Gretchen Whitmer and President Joe Biden, activists have ramped up their arguments that the Canadian oil giant Enbridge Energy is threatening Michigan’s water as well as its climate future.

Enbridge and its supporters have defended Line 5 as a necessary asset in the transition to clean fuels, without which energy consumers in Michigan and elsewhere would suffer.

Now, as a federal judge considers whether Line 5 should shut down in May and state and federal regulators decide whether to let Enbridge replace it with a tunneled pipe deep below the straits that could keep the oil flowing for decades, they’ll grapple with an issue of global significance:

Are pipelines like Line 5 a “bridge to the energy future,” as Enbridge CEO Al Monaco has said, or a climate liability that threatens Michigan’s and the world’s progress toward carbon neutrality?

Enbridge initially planned to spend $500 million on the tunnel project, bringing it online by 2024. But costs and timelines are both in flux, and experts hired by opponents of the pipeline say the project could cost as much as $2 billion and take years longer.

“The writing’s on the wall that fossil fuel investments are not the future,” said Kate Madigan, director of the Michigan Climate Action Network, one of several groups that are urging state and federal decisionmakers to factor climate and energy trends into permitting decisions for the tunnel project. “It’s really quite remarkable that we’re even considering whether to build an oil tunnel, just on economic grounds alone.”
» Read article or listen to broadcast recording

» More about pipelines

DIVESTMENT


Green investing ‘is definitely not going to work’, says ex-BlackRock executive
Tariq Fancy once oversaw the start of the biggest effort to turn Wall Street ‘green’ – but now believes the climate crisis can never be solved by today’s free markets
By Dominic Rushe, The Guardian
March 30, 2021

From his desk in midtown Manhattan Tariq Fancy once oversaw the beginning of arguably the biggest, most ambitious, effort ever to turn Wall Street “green”. Now, as environmentally friendly investing grows at an exponential rate, Fancy has come to a stark conclusion: “This is definitely not going to work.”

As the former chief investment officer for sustainable investing at BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, Fancy was charged with embedding environmental, social and governance (ESG) corporate policies across the investment giant’s portfolio.

Fancy was a leader in a movement that has given many people, including investors, activists and academics, hope that after years of backing polluters, Wall Street was finally stepping up to confront the climate crisis.

“I have looked inside the machine and I can tell you business does not have this,” Tariq told the Guardian. “Not because these are bad people but because they run for-profit machines that will operate exactly as you would expect them to do,” said Fancy.

Investors have a fiduciary duty to maximise returns to their clients and as long as there is money to be made in activities that contribute to global warming, no amount of rhetoric about the need for sustainable investing will change that, he believes.

“In many cases it’s cheaper and easier to market yourself as green rather than do the long tail work of actually improving your sustainability profile. That’s expensive and if there is no penalty from the government, in the form of a carbon tax or anything else, then this market failure is going to persist,” said Fancy, a former investment banker who now leads an initiative to bring affordable digital education to underserved communities worldwide.

The amount of money that poured into sustainable investment through vehicles like exchange traded funds (ETFs) hit record levels last year. It’s a trend Fancy believes could continue for years and still have zero impact on climate change because “there is no connection between the two things”.

He compared the business communities reaction to the coronavirus pandemic to its views on climate change. “Science shows us that Covid-19 is a systemic problem for which we all need to bend down a curve, the infections curve.”

As the crisis escalated business leaders were immediately supportive of government-led initiatives to restrict travel, close venues and shutter the economy. “The Business Roundtable [the US’s most powerful business lobby] said we should make mask-wearing mandatory. They were right about all those things,” he said.

The world needed government to use its extraordinary powers “because if you left it to the free market everything would have been open in the US and we would have lost millions of people, it wouldn’t have been half a million”.

Climate change too is a problem science says is systemic and one where we have to bend down the curve. “The difference is the incubation period. It’s not a few weeks, it’s a few decades. For that they are still saying we should rely on the free market. That’s where I have a problem.”
» Read article             

» More about divestment

LEGISLATION


What You Need To Know About The New Mass. Climate Law
By Miriam Wasser, WBUR
March 26, 2021

Gov. Charlie Baker signed a sweeping climate bill into law on Friday, signaling a new era in Massachusetts’ plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions, build a greener economy and prioritize equity and environmental justice.

The new law, “An Act Creating a Next Generation Roadmap for Massachusetts Climate Policy,” represents the most significant update to climate policy in the Commonwealth since the landmark 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act. And with hundreds of statutory updates and changes, it tackles a lot — everything from solar panels and offshore wind to new building codes and regulatory priorities for state agencies.

Climate and energy policy can be confusing and full of jargon, but here — in simple English — is what you need to know about what’s in the new law:
» Read article or listen to broadcast recording


Baker signs climate change bill into law
Sets state on road to achieving net zero emissions by 2050
By Chris Lisinski, CommonWealth Magazine
March 26, 2021

IT TOOK BASICALLY all of the last legislative session and the first three months of the new one to get major climate policy signed into law, but the real work begins now that Gov. Charlie Baker has put his signature on the law.

After it took a long, winding and sometimes contentious road, the governor on Friday afternoon signed the long-discussed legislation designed to commit Massachusetts to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, establish interim emissions goals between now and the middle of the century, adopt energy efficiency standards for appliances, authorize another 2,400 megawatts of offshore wind power and address needs in environmental justice communities.

“I’m proud to say that climate change has not been, ever, a partisan issue. We know the impacts on our coasts, on our fisheries, on our farms and our communities are real, and demand action, and that’s why we’ve been committed for over a decade to … doing the things we need to do to deal with the issue at hand and to maintain a structure that’s affordable for the people of the commonwealth,” Baker said after signing the bill in the State House library. He added, “This bill puts us on an ambitious path to achieving a cleaner and more livable commonwealth, while also creating economic development opportunities to support the initiatives.”

Baker and the Legislature see eye-to-eye when it comes to the goal of achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, but the details of how the state would get there proved to be a much more complicated conversation. On Friday, Baker said he was glad lawmakers “went back and forth and back and forth and back and forth on this” with his administration before settling on the final language.

The new law requires that greenhouse gas emissions in 2030 be at least 50 percent lower than 1990 emissions, that 2040 emissions be at least 75 percent lower and that 2050 emissions be at least 85 percent below 1990 emissions. In order to actually net out at zero emissions by 2050, the state will have to make up the remainder, up to 15 percent, through strategies like carbon sequestration and carbon banking. The Baker administration has similarly embraced natural climate solutions in its own climate plans.

The law also requires the executive branch to set interim limits for 2025, 2035 and 2045, and to set sublimits for six sectors of the economy — electric power; transportation; commercial and industrial heating and cooling; residential heating and cooling; industrial processes; and natural gas distribution and service — every five years. Each five-year emissions limit “shall be accompanied by publication of a comprehensive, clear and specific roadmap plan to realize said limit,” the law requires.

That work will begin almost immediately. The first interim plan required by the new law, the plan for 2025, must be in place along with the 2025 emissions limit by July 1, 2022. The bill also requires the Department of Public Utilities to consider emissions reductions on an equal footing as its considerations of reliability and affordability within 90 days, that the governor appoint three green building experts to the Board of Building Regulations and Standards, and that the administration establish the first-ever greenhouse gas emissions reduction goal for the home energy efficiency program MassSave.
» Read article              

» More about legislation

GREENING THE ECONOMY


Urgent policies needed to steer countries to net zero, says IEA chief
Economies are gearing up for return to fossil fuel use instead of forging green recovery, warns Fatih Birol
By Fiona Harvey, The Guardian
March 31, 2021

New energy policies are urgently needed to put countries on the path to net zero greenhouse gas emissions, the world’s leading energy economist has warned, as economies are rapidly gearing up for a return to fossil fuel use instead of forging a green recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Most of the world’s biggest economies now have long-term goals of reaching net zero by mid-century, but few have the policies required to meet those goals, said Fatih Birol, the executive director of the International Energy Agency (IEA).

The IEA’s latest figures show global coal use was about 4% higher in the last quarter of 2020 than in the same period in 2019, the clearest indication yet of a potentially disastrous rebound in the use of the dirtiest fossil fuels, following last year’s lockdowns around the world when emissions plummeted.

Birol told the Guardian: “We are not on track for a green recovery, just the opposite. We have seen global emissions higher in December 2020 than in December 2019. As long as countries do not put the right energy policies in place, the economic rebound will see emissions significantly increase in 2021. We will make the job of reaching net zero harder.”

He urged governments to support clean energy and technology such as electric vehicles, and make fossil fuels less economically attractive. “Governments must provide clear signals to investors around the world that investing in dirty energy will mean a greater risk of losing money. This unmistakable signal needs to be given by policymakers to regulators, investors and others,” he said.
Blog editor’s note: this last paragraph reinforces Tariq Fancy’s warning that green investing is ‘not going to work’ (see Divestment). Mr. Fancy’s pessimistic prediction is meant to warn that governments must provide effective regulatory and financial frameworks, rather than allowing free markets to solve the climate problem by themselves.
» Read article              

» More on greening the economy

CLIMATE


Solar Geoengineering Is Worth Studying but Not a Substitute for Cutting Emissions, Study Finds
By James W. Hurrell, Ambuj D Sagar and Marion Hourdequin, EcoWatch
March 30, 2021

A new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine tackles a controversial question: Is solar geoengineering – an approach designed to cool Earth by reflecting sunlight back into space or modifying clouds – a potential tool for countering climate change?

The report, produced by a committee of 16 experts from diverse fields, does not take a position but concludes that the concept should be studied. It calls for creating a multidisciplinary research program, in coordination with other countries and managed by the U.S. Global Change Research Program, that seeks to fill in the many knowledge gaps on this issue.

The study emphasizes that such research is not a substitute for cutting greenhouse gas emissions and should be a minor part of the U.S. response to climate change. It notes that “engineering the climate” would not address the root cause of climate change – greenhouse gas emissions from human activities. And it calls for a research program that draws on physical science, social science and ethics and includes public input.

These perspectives from three members of the study committee underline the complexity of this issue.
» Read article              

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY


The U.S. is finally looking to unlock the potential of wave energy
After decades of false starts, the federal approval of a new testing site off the coast of Oregon could give wave energy a much-needed jolt.
By Ysabelle Kempe, Grist
March 29, 2021

At first glance, waves have the makings of an ideal renewable energy source. They’re predictable, constant, and tremendously powerful. Their energy potential is astonishing — researchers estimate that waves off the coasts of the United States could generate as much as 2.64 trillion kilowatt-hours annually, or the equivalent of 64 percent of the country’s total electricity generation in 2019.

But capturing the immense power radiating across our oceans’ surfaces is no easy feat — wave energy technology is challenging to engineer, start-up costs are high, and testing in open ocean waters is a regulatory nightmare. That’s why wave energy’s trajectory has been a stop-and-go affair plagued by false starts for decades. But things may finally be starting to shift for the industry: The federal government recently approved the first full-scale, utility grid-connected wave energy test site in the U.S.

The Oregon State University-led project, PacWave South, is a 2-square-mile patch of ocean 7 miles off the rugged Oregon coast, where developers and companies can perform large-scale testing of their wave energy technologies. It will cost $80 million and is scheduled to be up and running by 2023. The design includes four testing “berths,” where wave energy devices will be moored to the seafloor and connected to buried cables carrying electricity to an onshore facility. In total, the PacWave South facility will be able to test up to 20 wave energy devices at once.

While wave energy technology is still in the research and development phase, experts see it as a promising newcomer to the renewable energy landscape. In 2019, the global wave energy market was valued at $43.8 million and is expected to more than triple by 2027.
» Read article              


Hydrogen could be the future of energy – but there’s one big road block
Cairney, Hutchinson, Preuss & Chen, in Renew Economy
March 29, 2021

Experts believe hydrogen could be a boon for renewables and a death knell for the burning of fossil fuels, with “green” hydrogen requiring only electricity and water for its manufacture.

As per the 2019 Australian National Hydrogen Strategy, Australia is at full-speed preparing to use hydrogen as a clean, flexible, sustainable, and storable energy source to achieve the decarbonisation promised in the 2015 Paris Agreement.

Australia also has the potential to become a superpower in the global supply of hydrogen fuel, due to our world-leading renewable energy capacity and our existing strong networks of infrastructure for gas transport and storage.

There are clear environmental and economic incentives for Australia to establish a hydrogen economy, however it’s not as simple as changing out one source of energy for hydrogen.

For a large roll-out of hydrogen power and for Australia to lead in this space, there’s one huge hurdle that must be addressed. That hurdle is known as “hydrogen embrittlement.”

When engineering alloys such as steels or nickel-based alloys are exposed to hydrogen-containing environments, their mechanical performance can deteriorate to the point that catastrophic failure occurs. Scientists and engineers have known about hydrogen embrittlement for more than a century, but the problem remains unsolved.
» Read article              

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY


How Britain’s ‘build back better’ plan went very, very wrong
What the U.S. can learn from the U.K.’s disastrous home retrofit program.
By Emily Pontecorvo, Grist
April 1, 2021

Retrofitting homes is a key pillar of Joe Biden’s $2 trillion American Jobs Plan to “build back better” from the COVID-19 recession. The president urged Congress on Wednesday to mobilize $213 billion to “produce, preserve, and retrofit” more than a million homes for affordability and efficiency. In addition to creating jobs, energy efficiency measures like insulating roofs and walls and installing electric heating will save people money on their utility bills and reduce carbon emissions from the nation’s buildings.

But the Biden administration would be wise to look across the pond for a cautionary tale before rolling out any such program too quickly.

Last summer, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s administration unveiled its own “build back better” economic stimulus package, which centered around a $2 billion program to retrofit England’s homes. The program was supposed to fund energy efficiency and clean heat upgrades in 600,000 homes, getting the country closer to net-zero emissions while creating 100,000 jobs, but it was canceled last week after a shambolic six-month run that may have killed more jobs than it spurred.

“When it comes down to improving the energy efficiency of our homes, this is about the worst thing the government could have done,” Andrew McCausland, the director of a British contracting company, told the i, a daily newspaper. “It has destroyed confidence in the building business in taking on this work in the future.”
» Read article              

» More about energy efficiency

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION


This Boston car-sharing service puts low-income drivers in electric vehicles
Good2Go’s small fleet of electric vehicles provides a clean, affordable transportation option in a neighborhood where many households cannot afford to own a car and public transit can be unreliable.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
March 31, 2021

A car-sharing program that combines electric vehicles and income-tiered pricing has launched in one of Boston’s busiest and most diverse neighborhoods.

The Good2Go service, one of the first of its kind in the country, aims to curb carbon emissions while giving low-income Roxbury residents access to reliable, flexible, and affordable transportation. So far the service has deployed four 2019 Nissan Leafs, and dozens of beta testers are using the cars to commute to work, bring their children to school, and run errands.

“We are officially on the road,” said Susan Buchan, director of energy projects at clean energy nonprofit E4TheFuture, which operates the new service.

Like well-known car-sharing services such as Zipcar, Good2Go gives users a chance to rent vehicles at an hourly rate. Drivers pick up the car, go about their business, then return the vehicle to the same spot they picked it up, paying only for the time they used. The goal is to give people the advantages of a personal vehicle, without the costs and logistical difficulties of car ownership.

Good2Go, however, tweaks the established car-sharing model to focus on environmental impact and economic equity. By using electric vehicles, the service could have a direct impact on the air quality in the community. And car-sharing programs have been shown to take as many as six to 14 cars off the road for each vehicle deployed, Buchan said, reducing emissions even before the switch to electric.

The pricing model is income-tiered so low-income customers pay $5 an hour instead of the standard hourly rate of $10. Participants qualify for the reduced rate if they are enrolled in any of 20 public assistance programs, such as Medicaid or veterans benefits. Program operators made such an expansive eligibility list to make it as simple as possible for low-income residents to qualify.
» Read article


Riders Are Abandoning Buses and Trains. That’s a Problem for Climate Change.
Public transit offers a simple way for cities to lower greenhouse gas emissions, but the pandemic has pushed ridership, and revenue, off a cliff in many big systems.
By Somini Sengupta, Geneva Abdul, Manuela Andreoni and Veronica Penney, New York Times
March 25, 2021

On the London Underground, Piccadilly Circus station is nearly vacant on a weekday morning, while the Delhi Metro is ferrying fewer than half of the riders it used to. In Rio, unpaid bus drivers have gone on strike. New York City subway traffic is just a third of what it was before the pandemic.

A year into the coronavirus pandemic, public transit is hanging by a thread in many cities around the world. Riders remain at home or they remain fearful of boarding buses and trains. And without their fares, public transit revenues have fallen off a cliff. In some places, service has been cut. In others, fares have gone up and transit workers are facing the prospect of layoffs.

That’s a disaster for the world’s ability to address that other global crisis: climate change. Public transit offers a relatively simple way for cities to lower their greenhouse gas emissions, not to mention a way to improve air quality, noise and congestion.

In some places, fear of the virus has driven people into cars. In the United States, used car sales have shot up and so have prices of used cars. In India, a company that sells secondhand cars online saw sales swell in 2020 and its own value as a company jump to $1 billion, according to news reports. Elsewhere, bike sales have grown, suggesting that people are pedaling a bit more.

The worry about the future is twofold. If commuters shun public transit for cars as their cities recover from the pandemic, that has huge implications for air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Most importantly, if transit systems continue to lose passenger fare revenues, they will not be able to make the investments necessary to be efficient, safe and attractive to commuters.
» Read article              

» More about clean transportation

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY


Biden Takes Aim at Reducing Emissions of Super-Polluting Methane Gas, With or Without the Republicans
The president wants to put pipefitters and miners to work capping “orphaned” gas wells as part of his forthcoming $3 trillion infrastructure plan.
By Marianne Lavelle, Inside Climate News
March 29, 2021

The first greenhouse gas actions under the Biden administration are likely to be curbs on the climate “super-pollutant” methane, as both Congressional Democrats and the White House readied moves they can make even without help from Republicans.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) pledged Thursday to bring a resolution to the floor in April that would reverse one of the Trump administration’s final climate policy rollbacks, the lifting of requirements for oil and gas companies to monitor and fix methane leaks from wells and other infrastructure.

That problem was also on President Joe Biden’s mind, as he indicated that fixing methane leaks was one of the key jobs-creation items he planned to include in the infrastructure package he is rolling out this week that is estimated to cost $3 trillion. Biden’s focus was on so-called “orphaned” wells, those that have been abandoned by defunct companies.

“We have over 100,000 wellheads that are not kept, leaking methane,” Biden said at his first White House news conference Thursday. “We can put as many pipefitters and miners to work capping those wells at the same price that they were charged to dig those wells.”

Both the Trump rule repeal and the infrastructure plan are measures that could be passed in Congress without any support from Republicans (although Biden has said he is seeking bipartisan support.)

Adding to the momentum for action on methane was the American Petroleum Institute’s climate action proposal unveiled last week. Although most attention was on the API’s first-ever endorsement of a carbon tax or other pricing mechanism, the oil and gas industry’s largest trade group included in its package a call for “direct regulation of methane.”
» Read article              


Appalachian Fracking Faces Financial Risks, Report Warns. Hopes for Petrochemical Plastics Boom ‘Unlikely.’
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
March 26, 2021

Developing new shale gas fields in Appalachia “may not end up being profitable” in the years ahead according to a new report. In addition, the associated petrochemical buildout that the region has pinned its hopes on as the future of natural gas is “unlikely,” the report states.

Natural gas drillers need prices to rise in order to turn a profit and continue expanding, a scenario that appears doubtful, according to the report published by the Stockholm Environment Institute’s US Center (SEI) and the Ohio River Valley Institute (ORVI), a Pennsylvania-based economic and sustainability think tank. Volatile market conditions for plastics are also putting the region’s plans for new petrochemical plants in question.

Given the poor financial results from the industry over the past decade, “gas prices would need to rebound and increase” if the fortunes of Appalachia’s shale industry are to improve, study co-authors, Peter Erickson, climate policy program director at SEI, and Ploy Achakulwisut, a scientist at SEI, wrote in the report.

Appalachia — already suffering from a long drawn out bust in the coal industry — has for much of the past decade seen natural gas prices languish as drillers pumped too much gas out of the ground, which has resulted in persistently low prices. And a renewed price surge appears unlikely as gas faces growing competition from solar and wind.

“Now there are signs that gas itself could get passed up for lower-cost renewables, introducing new risks for communities that rely on gas extraction for employment and tax revenue,” the authors wrote.

Due to liquefied natural gas (LNG) being a powerful and growing source of climate pollution, LNG’s expansion “would need to be — at best — short-lived,” the SEI/ORVI report’s authors state, noting that global decarbonization efforts could displace much of the gas demand that the industry is anticipating.

At the same time, a souring market for petrochemicals — a result of the industry overbuilding capacity and an uncertain plastic consumption outlook in the future — also undercuts the need for developing a major new petrochemical hub in the region. This is much to the disappointment of various business groups, regional politicians, and even the U.S. government who had planned on this being one of the last bastions of hope for the shale gas industry.

“The regional market is way oversupplied. So, you either find some regional use to consume it, or you’re kind of stopped, you hit a brick wall there,” Anne Keller, an independent consultant and former research director for NGLs at consulting firm Wood Mackenzie, told DeSmog.

Keller doesn’t see global decarbonization efforts cutting into gas demand to such an extent that it would hit Appalachian prices for the foreseeable future. “I’m kind of skeptical about that,” she said. Nevertheless, she did agree that the region is suffering from tremendous oversupply of gas, and that petrochemicals do not offer a way out.

The business case for Appalachian petrochemicals was that it had access to a large U.S. market for plastics, there was an abundant and cheap ethane supply, and low logistics costs. “The dynamics of ethylene have changed,” Keller said, referring to the product produced after ethane is “cracked.”

The Atlantic Coast pipeline was cancelled last year due to delays and ballooning costs. Keller said that all eyes are now on the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a pipeline that would carry Appalachian shale gas to the southeast. “That is the big one. It’s critical,” Keller told DeSmog. It is over 90 percent complete but has been hit with legal and regulatory delays and still faces questions about whether it will be finished.

“The view is if that goes through, [the industry will] breathe a sigh of relief for two or three years..but then you’re back to what’s the next tranche of market access,” Keller said. “If it doesn’t go through, you’re going to see a scramble to rethink strategy.”
» Read article              
» Read the SEI-US report

» More about fossil fuels

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS


No U.S. LNG Export FIDs Predicted in 2021, Says Wood Mackenzie
By Caroline Evans, Natural Gas Intelligence
March 31, 2021

No U.S. liquefied natural gas (LNG) projects are expected to be sanctioned this year, marking the second year in a row developers may postpone moving ahead with facilities, according to Wood Mackenzie.

Consultants during a webcast last week said domestic final investment decisions (FID) were unlikely as sponsors struggle to secure long-term contracts

“Generally, we’ve seen a slowdown in the pace of sales contract activity,” said Wood Mackenzie’s Alex Munton, principal analyst for North American LNG. “Pre-FID projects will continue to struggle to secure buyers, given the huge wave of LNG currently under construction globally. For that reason, we see a limited window to project FIDs in the U.S. for the next couple of years.”

Some projects may not survive, he said, noting Annova LNG’s decision to shelve its South Texas development.
» Read article              

» More about LNG

BIOMASS


Biomass a ‘misbegotten’ climate change trend
By Marty Nathan, Daily Hampshire Gazette | Opinion
March 31, 2021

Think globally, act locally. Fairly reliable advice, particularly for tackling massive issues like climate change and social injustice.

It’s a useful approach for the growing number of us who support making a just transition to an economy that no longer is based on burning fossil fuels that emit greenhouse gases.

It is a particularly appropriate lens through which to view the intensifying effort to prevent Palmer “Renewable” Energy from constructing a 42-megawatt biomass electric-generating plant in East Springfield. Its smokestacks must be 200 feet high because of the amount of pollution it will produce, nearly 200 tons per year of a toxic stew that provokes asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, vascular disease, cancer and an increased susceptibility to COVID-19 infection.

Studies have shown that biomass burning produces more particular matter — the damaging pollutant that buries itself deep in the lungs per unit electricity generated — than does coal. And those high smokestacks are not enough to protect the low-income, racially-diverse community in which the plant is being sited, or the city of Springfield itself, from the smoke and fumes.

Let’s get one thing straight: the inefficient burning of woody biomass for electricity is not an answer to the threat of climate change. The carbon dioxide sequestered in trees is released immediately into the atmosphere when burned, in amounts greater per electrical unit produced than from burning coal, the most harmful fossil fuel. Yes, you can plant trees to recapture that carbon, but that process is not effective for decades for wood wastes, to over a century for whole trees, according to the study authorized by our state nine years ago.

The findings of that study forced the state to remove inefficient biomass from the Renewable Portfolio Standard. Scientists knew we don’t have a century, or even decades, to lower our emissions to prevent the worst effects of global warming.

The recent attempts by politicians to reinstate biomass as a clean and green energy option are a shameless attempt at greenwashing.

This is our local challenge and you can act by calling Gov. Baker at 888-870-7770 and Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources Commissioner Patrick Woodcock at 617-626-7332 to tell them that you are opposed to making biomass subject to renewable energy subsidies and opposed to the Palmer plant. It is a false climate solution and is harmful to people in Springfield and the surrounding area. For more information, go to notoxicbiomass.org/.
» Blog editor’s note: MA-DEP just cancelled the Palmer Renewable Energy plant permit, but Palmer can request an adjudicatory hearing. Your calls to Baker and Woodcock are therefore doubly important. Confirm opposition ahead of a potential hearing, and express opposition to biomass subsidies in the Renewable Portfolio Standard.
» Read MA-DEP letter to Palmer’s Victor Gatto
» Read article              

» Read the Manomet study on Biomass Sustainability and Carbon


The ‘Green Energy’ That Might Be Ruining the Planet
The biomass industry is warming up the South’s economy, but many experts worry it’s doing the same to the climate. Will the Biden Administration embrace it, or cut it loose?
By MICHAEL GRUNWALD, Politico
March 26, 2021

Here’s a multibillion-dollar question that could help determine the fate of the global climate: If a tree falls in a forest—and then it’s driven to a mill, where it’s chopped and chipped and compressed into wood pellets, which are then driven to a port and shipped across the ocean to be burned for electricity in European power plants—does it warm the planet?

Most scientists and environmentalists say yes: By definition, clear-cutting trees and combusting their carbon emits greenhouse gases that heat up the earth. But policymakers in the U.S. Congress and governments around the world have declared that no, burning wood for power isn’t a climate threat—it’s actually a green climate solution. In Europe, “biomass power,” as it’s technically called, is now counted and subsidized as zero-emissions renewable energy. As a result, European utilities now import tons of wood from U.S. forests every year—and Europe’s supposedly eco-friendly economy now generates more energy from burning wood than from wind and solar combined.

Biomass power is a fast-growing $50 billion global industry, and it’s not clear whether the climate-conscious administration of President Joe Biden will try to accelerate it, discourage it or ignore it. It’s usually obvious which energy sources will reduce carbon emissions, even when the politics and economics are tricky; everyone agrees that solar and wind are cleaner than coal. But when it comes to power from ground-up trees, there’s still a raging substantive debate about whether it’s a forest-friendly, carbon-neutral alternative to fossil fuels, or an environmental disaster. Even within the Biden administration, senior officials have taken different sides of that debate.

Biden’s answer will be extremely important, because as odd as it sounds during a clean-tech revolution driven by modern innovations like advanced batteries and smart grids, there’s been a resurgence in the old-fashioned technique of burning wood to produce energy. The idea that setting trees on fire could be carbon-neutral sounds even odder to experts who know that biomass emits more carbon than coal at the smokestack, plus the carbon released by logging, processing logs into vitamin-sized pellets and transporting them overseas. And solar panels can produce 100 times as much power per acre as biomass.

Nevertheless, the global transition away from fossil fuels has sparked a boom in the U.S. wood-pellet industry, which has built 23 mills throughout the South over the past decade, and is relentlessly trying to brand itself as a 21st-century green energy business. Its basic argument is that the carbon released while trees are burning shouldn’t count because it’s eventually offset by the carbon absorbed while other trees are growing. That is also currently the official position of the U.S. government, along with many other governments around the world.

The rapid growth of biomass power over the past decade is in part a story about the unintended consequences of the arcane accounting rules that countries use to track their progress toward global climate goals.

It’s complicated, but the United Nations basically set up global reporting rules that were designed to avoid double-counting emissions, and inadvertently ended up making it easy not to count the emissions at all. In theory, countries were allowed to ignore the emissions from burning wood in power plants as long as they counted the emissions from logging the wood in forests. In practice, countries have let their power plants burn wood without counting the emissions anywhere, which has made biomass seem as climate-friendly as wind or solar.
» Read article              

» More about biomass

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Weekly News Check-In 9/25/20

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Welcome back.

Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.
– Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Of the many gifts Justice Ginsburg left us from her long, brilliantly-lived life, this pearl of wisdom is foremost in my thoughts as she lies in state at the U.S. Capitol, and as I edit this week’s newsletter about our collective struggle for a fair and sustainable future. We will keep up the fight, we will keep it classy, and we very much appreciate those who have chosen to join us.

This week we’re forced to acknowledge that Enbridge will have its Weymouth compressor station, despite the long and fierce opposition and lack of any sane rationale for its existence – anywhere but especially in Weymouth. FERC issued its final approval and gas will flow soon. But this natural gas infrastructure asset deserves to be stranded and decommissioned, and resistance will continue until that happens.

We have news of other projects, too, including a link to a petition opposing the East Africa Crude Oil Pipeline proposed by French oil giant Total. This project would slice through 1,400km of critical wildlife habitat and vulnerable human communities from western Uganda to Tanzania’s coast. It would carry crude oil for export, but the stuff is so sludgy it will have to be heated over the entire pipeline length just to keep it flowing. That’s just one example of projects and policies demanding opposition, so it’s good to see that some protests are beginning to move cautiously back into the street.

The divestment movement took a couple steps forward this week. Oil Change International and Rainforest Action Network published a report identifying the banks most directly responsible for financing the disastrous fracking industry. Wells Fargo has been the biggest banker of U.S. frackers since the Paris Climate Agreement was adopted, and JPMorgan Chase is next in line. Pull the plug. Meanwhile, twelve major cities around the globe, including Los Angeles, New Orleans, New York and Pittsburgh, have committed to fossil fuel divestment, pledging to direct their funds to sustainable projects for a green recovery.

Our “Greening the Economy” section includes an interesting pairing: the first article points out the need for carbon pricing as a tool to drive decarbonization at the required pace. The second article explores why both Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. appear to have abandoned carbon pricing as a viable option. The climate can’t wait while we figure this out. Between the expected influence on environmental regulations of a 6-3 conservative majority in the Supreme Court, to the foot-dragging of fossil fuel corporations in reforming their business models, barriers to policy-driven emissions reductions may be hardening.

As usual, there’s better news down at the level of technology advances and state-level initiatives. The rooftop solar industry is applauding a tentative net-metering agreement in South Carolina between advocates and Duke Energy. Their compromise could become a model for net-metering agreements elsewhere. New, long-duration zinc batteries are set to fill a niche in the energy storage market, and California governor Gavin Newsom has ordered that all new cars and passenger trucks sold in that state must be zero-emissions by 2035. In the same week, Tesla announced battery improvements and claims it will eventually offer a $25K EV.

We wrap up with a warning about methane leaking from abandoned gas wells as the fossil fuel industry continues a decline that’s now locked in by increasing investor awareness of risks associated with pipeline infrastructure projects. And since plastics are what we make from an increasing share of the gas and oil pumped out of the ground, our final piece is a Honduran beach postcard.

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

— The NFGiM Team

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

FERC gives final authorization
Weymouth Compressor Station gets OK to startup
By Chris Lisinski/State House News Service, The Patriot Ledger
September 24, 2020

FERC’s final authorization came amid ongoing opposition to the facility from community groups, environmental and public health activists, and many elected officials who represent the region, who argue that the compressor’s proximity to densely populated neighborhoods and the Fore River present significant threats.

Alice Arena, one of the leaders of the Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station organization, said her group was “very disappointed” but “not at all surprised” with FERC’s approval.

“FERC is and has been nothing but a rubber stamp organization for the fossil fuel industry for decades, so this isn’t at all a shock,” Arena said in an interview. “I wouldn’t say we’re feeling defeated. I would say we’re feeling angry. We will continue to try to stop them from operating, and we will do that through the courts, and we will do that by proving the continued damage they will do to our air quality.”

Despite pushback, the project was able to move through its permitting hurdles at the state and federal levels.

In January 2019, when state regulators awarded air quality permits for the project, Gov. Charlie Baker said he “basically had no choice” about granting approval because of federal rules governing the process and the results of a health impact assessment he sought.

The Metropolitan Area Planning Council, which conducted the assessment that forecast no major health impacts from the facility’s operation, later announced its opposition to the compressor on environmental and safety grounds.

Department of Environmental Protection regulators disclosed during an appeal process in May 2019 that the health study was based on incomplete air-quality data, but that did not change the outcome of the challenge.
» Read article        

Dear Mr. MonacoSenators Warren And Markey Call For Shutdown Of Weymouth Compressor
By Chris Lisinski, State House News Service, on WBUR
September 21, 2020

Both of the state’s U.S. senators called Monday for Enbridge to halt operations at its Weymouth compressor station, warning that the facility should not become operational mere weeks after an equipment failure prompted a release of natural gas. In an email, the energy giant said it was moving forward with plans to make sure the plant is “fit for service.”

Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey urged Al Monaco, Enbridge’s president and CEO, to pause all activities at the site near the Fore River while investigating the circumstances surrounding the Sept. 11 emergency shutdown.

The company said that a gasket failure pushed workers to trigger an emergency shutdown system with a volume of 265,000 cubic feet of natural gas, though it has not confirmed exactly how much it released.

“Concerns have been raised that this amount of gas, vented at ground level, could have possibly been ignited by a spark from a passing vehicle and caused a fire or an explosion,” Warren and Markey wrote in a letter. “This incident clearly demonstrates that we must do more to understand the dangers that the Weymouth compressor station poses to public health and safety.”
» Read article       
» Read the letter

» More about the Weymouth compressor station

PIPELINES

Total madness
Nearly One Million People Sign Petition to Stop Total’s East Africa Crude Oil Pipeline ‘Madness’
By Maina Waruru, DeSmog UK
September 21, 2020

Almost a million people have signed a petition to stop a planned crude oil pipeline in East Africa that campaigners say poses serious risks to communities and wildlife along its route.

The East African Crude Oil Pipeline, developed by a consortium led by French company Total, will run for 1,443 kilometres from western Uganda to the Indian Ocean port of Tanga in neighbouring Tanzania. The multimillion dollar pipeline is supported by the two governments and is being developed by China National Offshore Oil Corporation and the London Stock Exchange-listed Tullow Oil, alongside Total.

Avaaz, the campaign group hosting the ‘Stop This Total Madness’ petition, says the pipeline “will rip through some of the most important elephant, lion and chimpanzee reserves on Earth, displace tens of thousands of families, and tip the whole planet closer to full-blown climate catastrophe”.
» Read article       
» Sign the petition

TGP incidents in Agawam
MassDEP, activists differ on impact from Tennessee Gas pipeline incidents in Agawam

By Peter Goonan, MassLive
September 18, 2020

A state environmental agency says two recent incidents during construction of the Tennessee Gas pipeline extension project were “relatively minor” and cleaned up — a view that drew sharp criticism from opponents of the project.

“The two events were relatively minor and quickly addressed,” said Edmund Coletta, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection.

The Columbia Gas Resistance Coalition, which opposes the Agawam pipeline project, said one incident in August involved Tennessee Gas being cited for driving trucks through a wetland area, and the second incident this month involved clay mud seeping up from the drilling operation.
» Read article        

» More about pipelines

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

Fridays are backFridays for Future Climate Strikers Are Back on the Streets
By Ruby Russell and Ajit Niranjan, Deutsche Welle, in EcoWatch
September 25, 2020

Hamstrung by coronavirus lockdowns, frustrated school strikers have spent months staging digital protests against world leaders failing to act urgently on climate change.

Today they are taking to the streets once more.

The Fridays for Futures movement, which started with activist Greta Thunberg skipping school to sit alone outside the Swedish Parliament in 2018, has become a global youth force calling for climate justice. But a surge in support last year was hobbled after coronavirus lockdowns closed schools and kept children at home.

The protest on Friday is the group’s first global action since the pandemic struck and follows meetings between prominent activists and world leaders. Last month, Thunberg and three other climate activists presented German Chancellor Angela Merkel with a letter signed by nearly 125,000 people demanding EU leaders “stop pretending that we can solve the climate and ecological crisis without treating it as a crisis.”

They have called for an immediate halt to investments and subsidies in fossil fuels and, in Germany, pressured the government to bring forward its deadline to phase out coal from 2038 to 2030, and to go carbon-neutral by 2035 instead of 2050.
» Read article        

take climate action now
Facebook suspends environmental groups despite vow to fight misinformation
Facebook blames mistake in system for restrictions on groups including Greenpeace USA
By Oliver Milman, The Guardian
September 22, 2020

Facebook has suspended the accounts of several environmental organizations less than a week after launching an initiative it said would counter a tide of misinformation over climate science on the platform.

Groups such as Greenpeace USA, Climate Hawks Vote and Rainforest Action Network were among those blocked from posting or sending messages on Facebook over the weekend. Activists say hundreds of other individual accounts linked to indigenous, climate and social justice groups were also suspended for an alleged “intellectual property rights violation”.

The suspended people and groups were all involved in a Facebook event from May last year that targeted KKR & Co, a US investment firm that is backing the Coastal GasLink pipeline, a 670km-long gas development being built in northern British Columbia, Canada.

The suspensions, the day before another online action aimed at KKR & Co, has enraged activists who oppose the pipeline for its climate impact and for cutting through the land of the Wetʼsuwetʼen, a First Nations people.
» Read article        

climate lawsuit SpainClimate Lawsuit Filed in Spain Demanding Government Increase Ambition in Confronting Climate Crisis
By Dana Drugmand, Climate in the Courts
September 22, 2019

Environmental organizations have brought a climate change lawsuit against the government of Spain in an effort to compel more ambitious action in addressing the climate emergency.

Greenpeace Spain, Ecologistas en Acción and Oxfam Intermón filed their case before Spain’s Supreme Court on September 15 contending that Spain has failed to take adequate action on climate in violation of the nation’s international obligations and legal duties. It is the first domestic climate lawsuit initiated against the Spanish government.

“To avoid devastating climate change there is only one way: to drastically and rapidly reduce CO2 emissions and accelerate the ecological transition, which requires courageous political and judicial decisions,” Mario Rodríguez, director of Greenpeace Spain, said in a press release.
» Read article       
» Read the press release (Spanish)

Betchatow plant will close
Polish Court Recognizes Climate Damage, Rules Coal Plant Operators Negotiate Closure with Environmental Lawyers

By Dana Drugmand, Climate in the Courts
September 22, 2020

A judge in Poland has ruled that operators of the Bełchatów coal plant – Europe’s single biggest emitter of carbon pollution – must negotiate a settlement with environmental lawyers that brought a lawsuit last year over the coal plant’s destructive environmental and climate impacts.

The ruling, which followed a hearing on Tuesday, Sept. 22 in the District Court of ŁódĽ, could put the Polish coal facility on a path towards closure. Lawyers for the environmental law charity ClientEarth argued that closing the Bełchatów plant’s coal operations is necessary in the face of the climate crisis. The power plant burns 45 million tons of coal every year, equivalent to a ton every second, and has emitted over a billion tons of CO2 over its lifetime. The plant’s annual emissions are roughly equal to the total annual emissions of New Zealand.
» Read article        

» More about protests and actions

DIVESTMENT

fracking fiasco
Fracking Fiasco: New report names Wells Fargo and JPMorgan Chase as main players funding U.S. shale bust
By Oil Change International – press release
September 24, 2020

A new report by Oil Change International and Rainforest Action Network (RAN) shows how major banks have continued pouring money into fracking companies in recent years despite numerous warnings that the sector was financially unsustainable — on top of the well-documented environmental, health and climate impacts of the industry.

Our research reveals that financing for the fracking industry is highly concentrated, with Wells Fargo the biggest banker of U.S. frackers since the Paris Climate Agreement was adopted, and JPMorgan Chase a standout second place. The fracking industry has been hit hard by the pandemic, with dozens of bankruptcies so far this year, but its troubles long predate the coronavirus.

“Banks and asset managers have enabled the oil and gas industry’s destructive boom and bust cycles for generations. Our planet cannot afford another oil boom. We need regulators, shareholders, and the public to force banks to consider the climate impact and demand they stop financing destructive and unstable business activities,” said Rebecca Concepcion Apostol, U.S. Program Director at Oil Change International. “Our collective health continues to be at risk, and we cannot let banks fund another oil boom when this pandemic passes.”

“The fracking sector has become a poster child for the serious problems facing the U.S. oil and gas industry,” said Alison Kirsch, lead researcher for RAN’s climate and energy program. “The disastrous climate consequences of fracking, as well as its horrific community health impacts, are well known, but by continuing to pour billions of dollars into this dying sector, banks are also injecting a real level of systemic risk into the U.S. economy.”
» Read article       
» Read the report

cities pledge to divest
12 major cities pledge fossil fuel divestment
By Kristin Musulin, Utility Dive
September 23, 2020

The mayors of 12 major cities around the globe have pledged to divest from fossil fuel companies in an effort to further support a green and sustainable COVID-19 recovery.

The C40 Cities-backed declaration, unveiled at a virtual Climate Week NYC event on Tuesday, calls on signatories to commit to divesting all city assets and pension funds from fossil fuel companies; increasing financial investments in climate solutions; and advocating for fossil-free finance from other investors.

The signatories include the mayors of Los Angeles, New Orleans, New York and Pittsburgh, along with the leaders of eight international cities including London and Oslo. Details of individual divestment amounts and timelines were not shared. Following this commitment, cities must navigate their specific divestment processes and structures in proposing next steps to pension boards.

A public declaration from a group of leading cities “sends a huge signal to the marketplace,” [New York’s Chief Climate Policy Advisor Dan Zarrilli] said, which is key to leading this charge and effectively pursuing a green recovery.

“It’s absurd how much we as a globe continue to subsidize fossil fuels, and part of the call here is to make sure our green recovery … is pulling those subsidies out” and instead putting investments toward green jobs and clean infrastructure, Zarrilli said.
» Read article        

» More about divestment

GREENING THE ECONOMY

Darwinian challengeWoodMac: Energy Sector Faces ‘Darwinian Challenge’ to Tame Climate Change
The world is on course for 2.8 to 3 degrees Celsius of warming as existing infrastructure weighs heavy and COVID-19 slows progress.
By John Parnell, GreenTech Media
September 24, 2020

The world is on course to sail past the recognized “safe” level of 2 degrees Celsius of warming to as much as 3 degrees Celsius, according to the latest Wood Mackenzie Energy Transition Outlook.

The Paris Agreement aims to limit warming to “well below 2 degrees Celsius” and ideally to limit it 1.5 degrees. Yet just as efforts toward that goal are finally scaling up — via the EU’s amplified climate targets, China’s new carbon-neutral target for 2060, and other examples — the coronavirus pandemic has introduced a massive dose of uncertainty.

“As the world begins to reconstruct its economy, all energy and natural-resources sectors will face a survival of the fittest,” said Prakash Sharma, head of markets and transitions for Asia-Pacific at Wood Mackenzie. “We call it the ‘Darwinian challenge’ because society and investors must evolve and adapt to the changes needed to overcome the twin crises and prepare for the future.”

“While the world is adding renewable power generation capacity and manufacturing electric vehicles, it is still not enough. No efforts have been made to decarbonize the existing infrastructure,” said Sharma, pointing out that huge swaths of existing steel, cement, refining and transportation infrastructure still have decades left in their life cycles.

David Brown, head of markets and transitions for the Americas at Wood Mackenzie, said that the appropriate figure for the task is $100 per metric ton of carbon dioxide equivalent. An EU carbon credit in its Emissions Trading System is currently priced at just shy of €30 ($35).

“We need more policy support than is available today. The EU is the most favorable,” Brown said during a press conference to launch the report, adding that even that support limits access to carbon credits. “Governments need to actually sponsor these projects to get them off the ground.”

Brown alluded to the need for a regulatory overhaul to make the 2-degree pathway a reality. WoodMac reports that the investment levels required, though not guaranteed, appear to be attainable. The technology necessary already exists, even where it has yet to be scaled. All eyes now return to politicians and regulators.
Blog editor’s note: November 3, 2020… Vote early if you can!
» Read article

priced outPriced Out
Both parties used to love the carbon tax. So why are they giving up on it?
By Shannon Osaka, Grist
September 23, 2020

Although carbon dioxide itself doesn’t constitute a direct health threat, fossil fuel use also releases a slurry of toxic chemicals that can lead to asthma, strokes, heart disease, and cancer. According to the World Health Organization, roughly 7 million people around the world die each year from causes linked to air pollution.

Burning fossil fuels, therefore, creates a massive cost that no one is paying for — a “negative externality” in economist-speak. “Allowing people to emit CO2 into the atmosphere for free is similar to allowing people to smoke in a crowded room or dump trash into a national park,” wrote the Nobel prize-winning economist William Nordhaus in 2008. Nicholas Stern, also an economist and the author of an influential 2006 report on global warming, has argued that climate change “is the greatest market failure the world has ever seen.”

To those who spend their days thinking about money and markets, there’s a simple fix: Put a price on carbon to reflect its actual costs to the planet and human health. If fossil fuels are more expensive, the thinking goes, individuals, corporations, and governments will not only use less energy, they’ll also boost wind and solar power, expand public transportation, and take other steps necessary to build a green economy.
» Read article        

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

RBG
How Justice Ginsburg’s Death Could Affect Future Climate Rulings
Legal experts say a sixth conservative Supreme Court judge could imperil current and future emissions regulations
By Jennifer Hijazi, E&E News, in Scientific American
September 22, 2020

If President Trump is able to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the nation’s highest bench, he may stymie climate action for generations to come.

Legal experts say that the addition of a sixth conservative justice to the court could lock in opposition to expansive readings of the Clean Air Act that encompass greenhouse gas emissions or trigger a reexamination of the landmark 2007 climate case Massachusetts v. EPA.

In either case, court watchers say, the outcome doesn’t bode well for the future of climate regulation.

“Climate change is a crisis, and we really need all the tools we can get, and some of them are probably not going to be there,” said Dan Farber, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley.

“If Trump is able to fill this vacancy, there’ll be at least five conservative votes for at least 20 years, and we don’t know what … new doctrines that are not now on the horizon that could really weaken the power of the government to deal with climate change,” he said.

The Trump administration has made environmental deregulation a cornerstone of its agenda for the last four years, rolling out major changes to rules including emissions standards for automobiles and power plants. Green groups have lambasted the changes as violations of federal environmental and administrative law, which require reasoned rulemaking.

But a conservative Supreme Court majority that favors curbing agency powers could limit oversight of emissions without even touching Massachusetts v. EPA, which said the government can regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases as “air pollutants” under the Clean Air Act, said Hana Vizcarra, staff attorney at Harvard Law School’s Environmental & Energy Law Program.

“EPA has been reconsidering their own interpretations of the law in order to limit their own authority,” she said.
» Read article        

big oil reality check
Spoiler alert: Big oil companies are still failing on climate
By Kelly Trout, Oil Change International
September 23, 2020

Over the past year, big oil and gas companies have seen their social license and financial bottom lines face unprecedented threats. With climate disaster after climate disaster devastating communities across the globe and oil markets crashing in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, these companies have faced growing pressure – from frontline communities and Indigenous Peoples, shareholder activists and major investors, policy experts and city leaders – to take responsibility for the climate wreckage they are causing and change course.

In response, major oil and gas companies have released a slew of new commitments outlining their climate “ambitions” and pledges to become “net zero” carbon companies, all signs that the pressure is having an effect. But these oil company pledges and promises cannot be taken at face value.

That’s why today, Oil Change International, in collaboration with 30 other organisations, released a new assessment of the latest climate pledges from BP, Chevron, Eni, Equinor, ExxonMobil, Repsol, Shell, and Total. In the briefing, called Big Oil Reality Check, we focus on how these companies’ plans stack up against the bare minimum of what’s needed to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (°C).

As one might expect from corporations notorious for decades of climate deception, on the whole, these plans use fancy terminology and convoluted metrics to cover up still grossly inadequate levels of action. Granted, some companies are doing more than others (e.g., Exxon and Chevron really are the worst). But being a “leader” among laggards doesn’t cut it when we’re in a climate emergency – a crisis that the oil and gas industry has done the most to cause.
» Read article       
» Download the paper

second-place finishArctic Sea ice melts to second-place finish at annual minimum
By Gloria Dickie, Mongabay
September 21, 2020

After a spring and summer that saw record-breaking heat waves above the Arctic Circle — with 100+ degree Fahrenheit temperatures — the sea ice floating atop the Arctic Ocean reached its annual minimum extent last Wednesday, with 3.74 million square kilometers (1.44 million square miles) of sea ice remaining, coming in a close second to 2012.

In the last decade, Arctic sea ice cover has declined drastically. The record low of 3.41 million square kilometers (1.32 million square miles) reached in 2012 was largely due to an intense late-season cyclone which decimated the residual ice. What worries scientists is that 2020’s sea ice vanishing act followed a similar trajectory, even in the absence of such an extreme weather event. In no other years on record besides 2012 and 2020 has sea ice extent dropped below 4 million square kilometers (1.54 million square miles). To many experts, this indicates the Arctic has entered a new ecological state.

The drastic heating up of the Arctic is significant in itself, but also to the planet. Over the past 30 years, the region has warmed at twice the rate of the rest of the world, with the significant shifts up North not only felt there, but ultimately influencing weather patterns in the lower latitudes, possibly as far south as the equator.

Jennifer Francis studies these connections as a senior scientist at Woodwell Climate Research Center in Massachusetts. Her past research has focused extensively on how Arctic warming impacts the mid-latitudes of North America, primarily through a weakening of the northern jet stream — a high speed, high altitude river of wind that circles the pole.

The temperature difference between the Arctic (cold) and the temperate zone (warm) is one of the primary drivers of the jet stream in the Northern Hemisphere. But as sea ice vanishes and Arctic temperatures increase, the temperature variant between these regions is getting smaller. That means there’s less force driving the winds in the jet stream from west to east. Losing energy, the weakened jet stream starts to swing wildly southward, deviating from its typical polar path into lower latitudes which can cause temperate weather patterns to stall in place — bringing extended bouts of extreme weather, either drought or deluge, heatwaves or even cold periods.
» Read article                  

risky storageThis Oregon forest was supposed to store carbon for 100 years. Now it’s on fire.
By Emily Pontecorvo and Shannon Osaka, Grist
September 18, 2020

As fires ripped through the West this month, displacing families and releasing a thick, choking cloud of smoke that reached all the way to Europe, some scientists began to worry about yet another loss. Thousands of acres of forest, maintained to offset greenhouse gas emissions, might be going up in smoke.

Claudia Herbert, a PhD student at the University of California, Berkeley, who is studying risks to forest carbon offsets, noticed that the Lionshead Fire — which tore through 190,000 acres of forest in Central Oregon and forced a terrifying evacuation of the nearby town of Detroit — appeared to have almost completely engulfed the largest forest dedicated to sequestering carbon dioxide in the state.

The project, owned by the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, spans 24,000 acres. Before the fires, the state of California had issued more than 2.6 million offset credits based on the carbon stored in its trees. That translates to 2.6 million metric tons of carbon dioxide — or the equivalent of driving 560,000 cars around for one year.

California has a cap-and-trade law that limits greenhouse gas emissions from major emitters like power plants. Those companies, however, have a little bit of leeway — in order to meet the law’s requirements, instead of fully reducing their emissions, they can buy “carbon offsets.” Those often take the form of paying a forest manager to boost growth so the trees will suck up, and store, more carbon dioxide over the long term: in theory, at least 100 years. Those offsets are supposed to counterbalance any extra emissions, so the climate is no worse off than before.

Runaway wildfires, however, throw a wrench in that plan — and as climate change intensifies fires around the world, forest carbon offsets are only going to get riskier.
» Read article        

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

net metering agreement
In South Carolina, a Happy Compromise on Net Metering
The agreement between Duke Energy and Sunrun may allow other states to resolve the debate after years of conflict.
By Dan Gearino, InsideClimate News
September 24, 2020

A compromise in South Carolina between advocates of solar power and a utility may offer a blueprint for other states trying to resolve one of the major conflicts in the clean energy transition: the debate over net metering.

Duke Energy has reached an agreement with Sunrun, the rooftop solar company, and Vote Solar, the solar advocacy group, that sets up a process for compensating solar owners for the excess electricity they send back to the grid.

This potential breakthrough in the net metering debate follows years of bitter conflict in the Carolinas and across the country.

Under the plan, solar owners would pay rates that vary depending on the time of day, and would get credits at those same rates for sending excess electricity to the grid. The rates would be highest from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., when electricity demand is high. Rates would be lower during the day and lowest overnight.

The agreement, which is still subject to approval by state regulators, would allow Duke to pay lower rates for solar during the hours when the grid has plenty of electricity, such as in the morning. And by paying higher rates during times of peak demand, Duke would be encouraging solar owners to set up their panels in places that get more sun during the evening.

“This new arrangement not only recognizes the value of solar and the enabling energy grid, but it unlocks additional benefits for all customers by addressing when utilities experience peak demand across their systems in the Carolinas,” said Lon Huber, Duke Energy’s vice president for rate design and strategic solutions, in a statement.
» Read article       
» Read Duke Energy’s announcement

ORPC tide power
Maine company looks to tidal power as renewable energy’s next generation
After years of development, tidal and river energy supporters say the technology is on the cusp of wider commercial deployment, especially if it can win federal support.
By David Thill, Energy News Network
Photo By ORPC / Courtesy
September 23, 2020

With much of New England’s attention on offshore wind, a Maine company hopes to put itself on the map with tidal energy.

Portland, Maine-based Ocean Renewable Power Company recently signed a memorandum of understanding with the city of Eastport on a five-year plan to develop a $10 million microgrid primarily powered by tidal generation.

The project will be an opportunity for the small port city to expand its workforce and build its appeal for younger residents. It’s also an opportunity for ORPC to expand its reach as the company’s leaders try to find a viable market for ocean- and river-based generation in an industry largely dominated by solar and wind.

While tidal and river energy haven’t reached the same level of visibility as other renewable sources, supporters say these and related resources like wave and ocean current energy — collectively called marine and hydrokinetic resources — are at a similar point now to where solar and wind were a decade ago. They say the predictability of tides and currents in places like the Western Passage, the inlet on which Eastport is located, makes these resources promising as governments aim to create a resilient grid.

The federal Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory is also looking at hydrokinetic energy. “Each one of those [resources] has massive amounts of energy distributed at different locations around the country,” said Levi Kilcher, a researcher who focuses on ocean energy at the lab.

“If we’re totally honest, the amount of energy that’s in the tides and in the waves is not as large” as wind or solar, Kilcher said. “We really see the value in sort of diversifying our energy sources.”

Tides are very predictable, he said, and so are other water resources like rivers, waves and the Gulf Stream. “Then couple that with a diversified energy portfolio,” he said. “In my opinion, a more diverse set of energy resources gives you a more resilient energy system.”
» Read article        

» More about clean energy

ENERGY STORAGE

zinc precipitate
Can a Novel Zinc Battery Deliver Clean Multiday Backup Power?
California is testing Canadian startup e-Zinc’s long-duration technology to keep businesses powered through wildfires and outages.
By Julian Spector, GreenTech Media
September 18, 2020

California is looking for ways to keep power flowing to customers amid wildfires without burning fossil fuels. A Canadian storage technology startup thinks it has the solution.

This summer, Toronto-based e-Zinc won a $1.3 million grant from the California Energy Commission to demonstrate its long-duration zinc battery for the commercial and industrial market. As the state’s worst wildfire season on record rages on, the urgency to find new tools for clean backup power has only grown.

The batteries precipitate little bits of zinc out of a solution while charging, using a windshield-wiper-like tool to clear the plate and make room for more charging. This allows for longer-duration storage, while the cheap component costs promise to keep prices low relative to other options on the market.

The CEC grant will help the startup stake a claim on an underserved market, CEO James Larsen said in an interview.

Lithium-ion batteries are good at daily cycling for bill management, but they can’t run long enough to guarantee multiday backup, he noted. Customers looking for economic multiday backup power usually have to turn to fossil fuels, like gas or diesel generators.

“We can do both: We can do the short-duration time-of-use arbitrage and demand-charge reduction and help monetize those opportunities for customers, but we can also provide them up to two days of backup power in the face of an outage,” Larsen said.
» Read article        

» More about energy storage

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

Cal ICE ban by 2035
Newsom calls for California ban on new gas-fueled cars by 2035
By COLBY BERMEL, Politico
September 23, 2020


Gov. Gavin Newsom is calling for California to ban new gasoline-fueled vehicles within 15 years in a bid to combat climate change and make the state the first in the nation to stop sales of cars with internal combustion engines.

The Democratic governor on Wednesday signed an executive order that directs the California Air Resources Board to establish regulations requiring that all new cars and passenger trucks sold in California in 2035 be zero-emission vehicles.

The ban on gas-powered vehicles is likely to face opposition from automakers and Republican leaders in Washington, who have already battled the state over its stricter fuel economy rules. The Trump administration is fighting the state in court over whether it can set stricter emissions standards than the nation as a whole.

While environmentalists embraced his call to ban gas-powered vehicles, some questioned Tuesday why he wasn’t doing more to stop fracking.

Newsom announced he was asking state lawmakers to implement a fracking ban by 2024, but stopped well short of directing his own oil and gas regulators to stop approving fracking permits. Environmentalists have increased their criticism of Newsom on fracking in recent days, especially as the governor has emphasized California’s role in fighting climate change.
» Read article        

Tesla battery tech
How Tesla plans to make batteries cheap enough for a $25,000 car
Tesla’s big “battery day” event, explained.
By Timothy B. Lee, ARS Technica
September 23, 2020

Tesla’s business model depends on continuous improvements in the cost and energy density of batteries. When Tesla was founded in 2003, it was barely possible to build a battery-powered sports car with a six-figure price tag. Over the next 15 years, cheaper and more powerful batteries enabled Tesla to build roomier cars with longer ranges at lower prices.

Tesla expects that progress to continue—and maybe even accelerate—in the next few years. And it isn’t waiting for other companies to come up with better battery designs. In recent years, Tesla has had a large team of engineers re-thinking every aspect of Tesla’s batteries, from the chemistry inside the cells to the way the batteries are incorporated into vehicles.

At a much-touted Tuesday event, Tesla pulled back the curtain on a suite of improvements the company hopes to roll out in the next three years. In total, Tesla says that all of these innovations put together will enable a 56-percent reduction in the per-kWh cost of its batteries.

As a result, Elon Musk said, Tesla will be able to realize a longstanding dream: a truly affordable electric car.

“We’re confident that long-term we can design and manufacture a compelling $25,000 electric vehicle,” Musk said. He added that this would happen “probably about three years from now.” Tesla didn’t provide a name or other details about this planned low-cost Tesla.
» Read article        

Airbus innovatingAirbus reveals plans for zero-emission aircraft fueled by hydrogen
Aviation firm announces three different concepts with aim of taking to the skies by 2035
Jillian Ambrose, The Guardian
September 21, 2020

Airbus has announced plans for the world’s first zero-emission commercial aircraft models that run on hydrogen and could take to the skies by 2035.

The European aersospace company revealed three different aircraft concepts that would be put through their paces to find the most efficient way to travel long distances by plane without producing the greenhouse gas emissions responsible for global heating.

UK holidaymakers and business travellers could fly from London to the Canary Islands, Athens or eastern Europe without producing carbon emissions, should the plans become a commercial reality.

Guillaume Faury, the Airbus chief executive, said the “historic moment for the commercial aviation sector” marks the “most important transition this industry has ever seen”.
» Read article        

» More about clean transportation

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

abandoned gas well
A Dying Industry is Leaving A Deadly Legacy
By Andy Rowell, Oil Change International
September 18, 2020

An important investigation by Bloomberg Green, published yesterday, examined the issue of the shocking state of over three million abandoned oil and gas wells in the United States. Nor is this a problem only linked to America. There are believed to be nearly 30 million abandoned oil and gas wells worldwide.

Many of these wells are leaking methane, the potent greenhouse gas or polluting water courses. As the article states, “if carbon dioxide is a bullet, methane is a bomb.”

We have known for a long while that abandoned wells were a problem, but we still do not know the extent of the problem. Even now. The oil industry may be dying, but it will still pollute us for decades after its death.

One scientist tracking the issue, Mary Kang from Princeton, has been modeling how carbon dioxide and methane leak from old wells. In 2016, Kang published a study of 88 abandoned well sites in Pennsylvania, revealing that 90% of wells investigated leaked methane.

Another scientist working on the issue, Anthony Ingraffea, a Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Cornell who has studied leaks from oil and gas wells for decades, told Bloomberg, “we really don’t have a handle on it yet… We’ve poked millions of holes thousands of feet into Mother Earth to get her goods, and now we are expecting her to forgive us?”
» Read article       
» Read original Bloomberg Green article

risks revealed
As pipeline projects cancel, future falls into question
By James Osborne, Houston Chronicle
September 15, 2020

For years, a small clique of investors has questioned the logic of putting money into oil and gas pipelines that take decades to pay off when climate change policy was pushing the energy sector away from fossil fuels.

Banks and other institutions, however, largely continued to finance the multibillion-dollar projects, confident in projections by oil and gas companies that the so-called energy transition would take time and oil and natural gas would be needed for decades to come.

But a rash of cancellations and delays of new pipelines, largely brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, raises questions of whether those skeptics’ warnings are starting to catch on and the cancellations reflect a newfound wariness among banks to back the projects in view of an uncertain future for fossil fuels.

“No doubt some of these decisions are short-term concerns, but also an understanding there is a long-term risk profile for (pipeline) assets that cost billions of dollars and at best have 10-year shipper commitments,” said Andrew Logan, head of oil and gas at Ceres, a nonprofit advising investors on sustainability. “There’s a lot more exposure for investors than had been understood before.”

The potential impact of tougher climate policies is increasing borrowing costs for oil and gas companies, analysts said, even as low interest rates push down borrowing costs for most industries.

“The environmental pushback is starting to increase the cost of capital for some producers, leading to lower overall production, and that ultimately boomerangs into the (pipeline) space,” said John Coleman, an oil analyst at the research firm Wood Mackenzie. “The big question is how long does that transition take. Right now, the market is pricing in a rapid transition.”
» Read article

» More about fossil fuels

PLASTICS IN THE ENVIRONMENT

trash tsunami
‘Trash Tsunami’ Washes up on Honduran Beaches

By Olivia Rosane, EcoWatch
September 23, 2020

A “trash tsunami” has washed ashore on the beaches of Honduras, endangering both wildlife and the local economy.

The trash is mostly plastic waste, Voice of America reported Tuesday, and it is polluting the typically pristine tropical beaches of Omoa in the country’s north. Honduran officials said Saturday that the refuse was coming from the mouth of the Motagua River in neighboring Guatemala. It poses a problem for the local economy because it depends on the tourism the beaches attract.

“This wave of trash which came from the Motagua River really surprised us, and even though it caused problems, it has not stopped our activities,” Honduran environment official Lilian Rivera said, as Yahoo News reported. “We are committed to cleaning our beaches and keeping them clean, but today we are demanding that authorities in Tegucigalpa take strong actions, actions to find a permanent solution to this problem.”

Tegucigalpa is the capital of Honduras.

The Hondoran government, meanwhile, has demanded action from Guatemala to stem the tide of plastic, according to Voice of America.

But the plastic flowing from Guatemala’s Motagua River is an ongoing problem for the region, as The Intercept reported in 2019. The plastic tide is fed by the fact that Guatemala has few managed landfills or wastewater treatment plants. The plastic then washes out in the Caribbean Sea, home to the biodiverse Mesoamerican reef.
» Read article        

» More about plastics in the environment

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