Tag Archives: Weymouth compressor

Weekly News Check-In 5/13/22

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Welcome back.

Long-time opponents of the Weymouth Compressor Station celebrated a victory last week when Massachusetts Superior Court Judge Joseph Leighton vacated the facility’s Chapter 91 Waterways permit. The decision sends the permit back to the state Department of Environmental Protection for further review. The compressor is now operating without a full set of permits. Recall that only a few weeks ago, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission admitted that the air quality permit should never have been granted…. Can we just shut it down already?

As momentum builds for natural gas hookup bans, a new gas industry “astroturf” group called ‘Fuelling Canada’ is coordinating a stealth ad campaign targeting first-time home buyers, priming them to think of natural gas as a clean, safe, and desirable fuel for heating and cooking. It’s one arm of the gas industry’s push to build out infrastructure and lock in future use. This relates to another report describing the economic risks associated with continued expansion of fossil fuel development, distribution, and dependence.

Here in Massachusetts, a diverse coalition is proposing to address two big problems at once by doubling the state’s very low deeds excise tax (a real estate transaction tax), bringing us in line with neighboring states. Half of the new revenue would go to affordable housing programs, and the other half would protect neighborhoods, homes, and businesses from the impacts of climate change while also investing in mitigation solutions like energy efficiency.

Climate change is pushing increasingly brutal heat waves, and parts of the world are bumping up against the limits of human survival. Northern India and Pakistan have been so hot already this spring that the health and productivity of workers are significantly impacted. At the same time, the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide exceeded 420 parts per million (ppm) in April for the first time in human history.

Addressing all of the above involves quickly deploying massive clean energy resources. So a Department of Commerce investigation that could lead to retroactive tariffs on certain solar panels imported from Southeast Asia is putting a brake on the U.S. solar industry at a time when business should be booming. We’re also looking at hydropower, and a study showing high methane emissions from some reservoirs.

Producing energy – even green energy – gets messy, but we can always count on good news in the energy efficiency department. This week we’re offering a report describing cold weather heat pumps – widely available today but largely unknown or misunderstood in the U.S.

Energy storage, especially as it relates to electric vehicle batteries, is going to rely on a whole lot of lithium.   We’ve run a number of reports about how environmentally and culturally destructive lithium mining can be, and advocated for doubling down on extraction alternatives such as from geothermal brine at locations like California’s Salton Sea. Researchers at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Washington have produced magnets that can separate lithium and other metals from this sort of brine – a promising step in the right direction.

Meanwhile, the Biden administration announced a $3.16 billion plan to stimulate the production of batteries for electric vehicles in the U.S., an essential step in reducing carbon emissions from transportation.

Two years ago, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey prompted the state to begin mapping a natural gas phaseout. The Department of Public Utilities turned the process over to the gas distribution companies, who (to no one’s surprise) produced recommendations that looked a lot like business as usual and did very little to comply with emissions reduction mandates. AG Healey is calling for the state to toss out those recommendations – time to get serious.

It’s also time to start developing regulations pertaining to pipelines that carry carbon dioxide, in light of ambitious plans for extensive networks serving the future carbon capture and storage industry.

We’ll close with the fossil fuel industry, which is having a moment due to the war in Ukraine and the policy drive to replace Russian oil and gas with hydrocarbons pumped from friendlier regions. Sticking with the longer view that any near-term bump in production must not be allowed to lock in for the future, we’re alarmed by what’s happening. Already, planned increases in fracked oil and gas represent carbon and methane emissions well beyond our global warming budget. And a lot of the Big Oil & Gas decarbonization program appears to be more of an accounting gimmick than anything real. The majors are simply taking highly-polluting production sites off their books by selling to smaller operators who lack their own emissions limits. Related to all this, Canada sees new opportunity for Liquefied Natural Gas sales to Europe, and is reconsidering allowing construction of two Nova Scotia export terminals that seemed doomed just a year ago.

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

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

unnecessary and unwanted
Superior Court judge tosses out waterways permit for Weymouth compressor station
By Jessica Trufant, The Patriot Ledger
May 5, 2022

WEYMOUTH – A Superior Court judge has tossed out one of the state permits granted for the controversial natural gas compressor station in the Fore River Basin.

Judge Joseph Leighton this week vacated the Chapter 91 Waterways permit for the compressor station, sending the permit back to the state Department of Environmental Protection for further review.

The decision boils down to an interpretation of the word “required,” and whether the compressor station is considered an ancillary facility of existing natural gas infrastructure in the basin.

Leighton ruled that regulators incorrectly accepted “required” to mean “suitable,” rather than “necessary,” therefore allowing the siting of the compressor.

“The department’s interpretation was therefore inconsistent with the plain terms of the regulation and an error of law,” he wrote in the decision.

Alice Arena, of the Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station, said the residents are “ecstatic” over the decision.

“It’s very satisfying. The fact the judge concurred is a huge victory in all of this stupidity,” she said.

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

State regulators issued several permits for the project despite vehement and organized opposition from local officials and residents.

Local, state and federal officials have called for a halt of compressor operations since the station opened in the fall of 2020. Several emergency shutdowns since then caused hundreds of thousands of cubic feet of natural gas to be released into the air.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission reexamined operations and safety at the station following the shutdowns. The commission didn’t revoke authorization for the station, but several members said regulators shouldn’t have approved the project to begin with.

Arena said she planned to notify the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission of the Superior Court decision and hopes it will halt operations until Enbridge seeks a new waterways permit.
» Read article   

» More about the Weymouth compressor

NATURAL GAS BANS

astro-Canada
New Gas Industry Astroturf Group ‘Fuelling Canada’ Targets First-Time Homebuyers
‘Fuelling Canada’ is linked to major gas companies that are battling climate regulations.
By Geoff Dembicki, DeSmog Blog
May 10, 2022

In April, the Globe & Mail published an article on its website extolling the virtues of natural gas appliances in people’s houses.

The story, headlined “Why natural gas is the smart choice for your new home,” has the look and feel of actual journalism. It includes statistics about Canada’s “reliable” gas industry, a photo of a young couple cooking on their gas range and quotes from Canadian homebuilders and makers of consumer products—such as grills and fireplaces—that use gas.

It looks explicitly designed to appeal to first-time homebuyers.

But even though natural gas is a major growing source of emissions in the country (Canada is the world’s fourth largest producer of the fossil fuel), the article didn’t once mention climate change, nor the potentially severe health impacts from breathing in gas fumes.

That’s because the article isn’t real journalism, but rather an advertisement paid for by an organization called Fuelling Canada that is linked to some of North America’s top gas companies. It has a small label at the top describing it as “sponsor content.” But otherwise it looks practically identical to news stories from real reporters on the Globe & Mail website.

“That’s what makes these sponsored ads so slimy. For the vast majority of readers who look at stuff very quickly, that nuance is lost on them,” Seth Klein, team lead and director of strategy for an advocacy group called the Climate Emergency Unit, told DeSmog. “The goal of this advertising is to lock us into more decades of using natural gas.”

[…] Fuelling Canada describes itself on its website as “a resource hub for Canadians to learn more about natural gas and its essential role in the Canadian economy.” But it is hardly neutral when it comes to discussing one of the world’s major contributors to global warming.

The organization was created by the Canadian Gas Association, an industry group whose members include gas companies like Enbridge and FortisBC, as well as TC Energy, builder of the Coastal GasLink pipeline, a project that has faced fierce opposition led by hereditary chiefs from the Wet’suwet’en First Nation.

Fuelling Canada wants to create the impression of a national grassroots campaign.

[…] Klein argues it’s not a coincidence that some of the same companies behind Fuelling Canada also belong to an industry alliance that is fighting against municipal rules designed to phase out climate-warming natural gas in homes and buildings and replace them with electric ranges and other cleaner energy sources.

Internal documents describe this “Consortium to Combat Electrification” as a campaign whose mission is to “create effective, customizable marketing materials to fight the electrification/anti-natural gas movement.” The gas industry, one slide explains, is “in for [the] fight of it’s [sic] life.”

The consortium’s members include Enbridge and FortisBC, two of the companies also involved with Fuelling Canada. The major industry players paying for cleverly framed sponsored content promoting natural gas are the very same ones working behind the scenes to stop a shift away from fossil fuels.

“They want to continue to lock in customers in new fossil fuel infrastructure,” Klein said. “And they’re pulling out all the stops.”
» Blog editor’s note: Enbridge operates the Weymouth compressor station as part of its Atlantic Bridge Pipeline.
» Read article  

» More about gas bans

DIVESTMENT

stranded tick-boom
Why our continued use of fossil fuels is creating a financial time bomb
We’re investing in things that will have little value if we move off fossil fuels.
By John Timmer, Ars Technica
May 9, 2022

The numbers are startling.

We know roughly how much more carbon dioxide we can put into the atmosphere before we exceed our climate goals—limiting warming to 1.5° to 2° C above preindustrial temperatures. From that, we can figure out how much more fossil fuel we can burn before we emit that much carbon dioxide. But when you compare those numbers with our known fossil fuel reserves, things get jaw-dropping.

To reach our climate goals, we’ll need to leave a third of the oil, half of the natural gas, and nearly all the coal we’re aware of sitting in the ground, unused.

Yet we have—and are still building—infrastructure that is predicated on burning far more than that: mines, oil and gas wells, refineries, and the distribution networks that get all those products to market; power plants, cars, trains, boats, and airplanes that use the fuels. If we’re to reach our climate goals, some of those things will have to be intentionally shut down and left to sit idle before they can deliver a return on the money they cost to produce.

But it’s not just physical capital that will cause problems if we decide to get serious about addressing climate change. We have workers who are trained to use all of the idled hardware, companies that treat the fuel reserves and hardware as an asset on their balance sheets, and various contracts that dictate that the reserves can be exploited.

Collectively, you can think of all of these things as assets—assets that, if we were to get serious about climate change, would see their value drop to zero. At that point, they’d be termed “stranded assets,” and their stranding has the potential to unleash economic chaos on the world.

[…] The big question is whether these pressures build slowly or suddenly. If assets lose their value slowly, without major strandings, everyone can adjust. Investors can shift to other markets, companies can change their focus, infrastructure can be allowed to deprecate until much of its value is gone. There will undoubtedly be some economic pain, especially if you’re in the fossil fuel business, but there won’t be wholesale economic disruption.

Unfortunately, our climate goals and our continuing emissions are making the probability of this sort of soft landing increasingly remote. “We dragged our feet, and we kind of have to double down,” Rezai told Ars. “If we have to have quicker adjustments, that creates the possibility of more disruptive adjustments, less smooth adjustments.” My conversation with him and Van der Ploeg was filled with talk of the potential for a Minsky moment, in which the value of some assets drops dramatically. For the climate, this could come in response to technology changes or government policy changes.

This sort of sudden collapse will have sweeping effects. People who have livelihoods based on fossil fuel extraction will see their jobs vanish. Governments that rely on taxes and fees from fossil fuel extraction and use may struggle to replace the lost revenue. Companies throughout the economy will take a huge hit. Obviously, this will include lost revenue for fossil fuel companies. But it can also mean that things they treat as assets—from equipment to extraction licenses—will have to be written off as stranded.
» Read article   

» More about divestment

GREENING THE ECONOMY

Putnam Gardens
A strategy for tackling housing, climate crises simultaneously
HERO proposal would double state’s deeds excise tax
By Kimberly Lyle and Joseph Kriesberg, CommonWealth Magazine | Opinion
May 7, 2022

TWO CRISES are bearing down on our state. There’s the critical shortage of affordable housing, which leaves ever more of our neighbors unable to keep a roof over their heads. And there is the climate crisis, which promises more powerful storms, flooding, and deadly heat waves.

These crises demand urgent action. Now, a diverse coalition of housing, environmental, and faith-based organizations has come up with a plan to tackle both at once. The HERO Coalition urges the Massachusetts Legislature to raise the deeds excise tax — paid when real estate changes hands — to a level comparable with other Northeastern states. This could generate as much as $600 million annually for investments in climate and affordable housing.

[…] The HERO Coalition urges the Massachusetts  Legislature to double the deeds excise tax from $4.56 to $9.12 per $1,000 in sales price. This would bring us in line with neighboring states: New Hampshire’s tax is a whopping $15 per $1,000; in New York and Vermont it is $12.50. HERO would generate as much as $600 million in new revenue each year.

Half of the new revenue would go to affordable housing programs — the Affordable Housing Trust Fund and the Housing Stabilization and Preservation Trust Fund — serving both renters and low- and moderate-income homebuyers. The other half would go to the Global Warming Solutions Trust Fund, which would protect neighborhoods, homes, and businesses from the impacts of climate change while also investing in mitigation solutions, like energy efficiency, that will enable us to meet our state’s ambitious climate goals.

Raising the deeds excise tax is an equitable way to generate revenue. It is progressive because the tax is linked to real estate prices, buyers and sellers of high-end homes pay more. And it is affordable for lower-income homebuyers as well. Most families only pay the tax once or twice in their lifetime and it is amortized over the life of their mortgage.
» Read article   

» More about greening the economy  

CLIMATE

too hot
India tries to adapt to extreme heat but is paying a heavy price
Summer hasn’t arrived yet, but early heat waves have brought the country to a standstill
By Gerry Shih and Kasha Patel, Washington Post
May 9, 2022

[…] Typically, heat waves in India affect only part of the country, occur in the summer and only last for a week or so. But a string of early heat waves this spring has been longer and more widespread than any observed before. India experienced its hottest March on record. Northwest and central India followed with their hottest April.

“This probably would be the most severe heat wave in March and April in the entire [recorded] history” of India, said Vimal Mishra, a climate scientist at Indian Institute of Technology Gandhinagar.

Despite the unprecedented heat, fewer people appear to be dying. Heat waves in 2015 and 1998 took thousands of lives, but the India Meteorological Department has reported only a handful of deaths so far.

Across India, extreme heat has forced farmers, construction workers and students to rearrange their lives, showing how daily routines are changing — and work productivity is declining — in countries that are already among the poorest and hottest in the world.

In recent weeks, education officials in nine northern states have cut the length of classes in half so that students can be dismissed by 11 a.m. Some have ended the school year early. Administrators of large government-run rural employment programs mandated that workers digging canals and ditches stop before noon.

These shifts may be small on their own, but taken together they have far-reaching impacts. India loses more than 100 billion hours of labor per year because of extreme heat, the most of any country in the world, according to research published in Nature Communications.

“We’re reaching some of these critical thresholds in Southwest and South Asia, where people can no longer efficiently cool themselves and it’s almost deadly just to be outside, much less work,” said Luke Parsons, one of the paper’s co-authors. “It’s a really major issue in terms of who bears the cost of climate change first.”
» Read article  

new high
Atmospheric CO2 Hits Another All-Time High
By The Energy Mix
May 8, 2022

Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels measured at Hawai’i’s Mauna Loa Observatory breached 420 parts per million (ppm) in April for the first time in human history.

Considered the gold standard for accurate measurements of atmospheric CO2, the new measurements were released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), reports the Independent.

The NOAA data release shows CO2 levels hitting 420.23 ppm in April, eight years after they breached 400 ppm (400.2 ppm) in May, 2013.

Last May, atmospheric CO2 concentrations at Mauna Loa stood at 419.13 ppm. In May 2002, they were 375.93 ppm, and in 1958, the first year scientists began to measure atmospheric CO2 at Mauna Loa, levels stood at 317.51 ppm.

May typically records the highest levels of atmospheric CO2, just before the northern hemisphere’s summer kicks in with an explosion of plant growth that pulls carbon out the atmosphere, causing levels to drop.

Emissions from fossil fuel burning, plus the loss of natural carbon sinks through the destruction of forest, wetlands, and mangroves, now mean that even the lowest seasonal CO2 levels—typically measured in September before the leaves fall—are far too high for climate health.

Last year, September readings at Mauna Loa stood at 413.30, well above the safe limit of 350 ppm long urged by climate scientists.

And CO2 is not the only thing to worry about, the Independent notes.

Atmospheric concentrations of the two other major greenhouse gases, methane and nitrous oxide, are also rising sharply. Methane is about 85 times more potent an atmospheric warming agent than CO2 over a 20-year span; nitrous oxide is 300 times more powerful.

Atmospheric methane levels now stand at 1980.9 parts per billion (ppb), up 340 ppb from the early 1980s, while nitrous oxide just reached 335.2 ppb, up from 316 ppb just 20 years ago.
» Read article   

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

not ideal
Navigating the U.S. Solar Industry’s Spring of Discontent
Solar business owners feel worn down by a federal tariff investigation and the Biden administration’s failure to deliver on policy.
By Dan Gearino, Inside Climate News
May 5, 2022

Troy Van Beek is an optimist by nature, but he sounded dour this week.

His solar business, Ideal Energy in Fairfield, Iowa, is dealing with the blowback from a Department of Commerce investigation that could lead to retroactive tariffs on certain solar panels imported from Southeast Asia.

“We keep getting the rug pulled out from under us,” he said.

[…] The investigation has led to a spike in panel prices in anticipation of potential penalties, which is on top of existing supply chain problems that have made it difficult for solar installers to get the equipment they need.

Van Beek spends much of his time trying to chase down equipment and deciding how much he can pay at a time of volatile prices.

[…] The Commerce Department opened its investigation in response to a February legal filing by Auxin Solar, a small manufacturer in California, that said Chinese companies were circumventing the tariffs imposed in 2018 by the Trump administration. Auxin alleges that Chinese manufacturers avoided tariffs by sending equipment to nearby countries for minor assembly work before delivery to the United States. Since the 2018 tariffs, U.S. panel imports from China plummeted, largely replaced by imports from Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam. Some panel manufacturers have opened plants in the United States, like Jinko Solar of China, which opened in Florida, but the new plants’ output remains small compared to what’s in Asia.

Investigators have a few months to determine if the conduct meets the legal definition of a circumvention of tariffs.

Solar industry groups reacted to the investigation with alarm. The Solar Energy Industries Association said that 24 gigawatts of projects that were projected for 2022 or 2023 would not happen in those years, a decrease of 46 percent compared to the prior forecasts, if the government orders retroactive tariffs. The trade group provided examples of projects that were on hold because of uncertainty about costs that may result from the investigation, and also warned that 100,000 jobs could be lost.

“It’s pretty bad,” said Jenny Chase, lead solar analyst for BloombergNEF, in an email.
» Read article   

hidden emissions
New Research Shows Higher Methane Emissions from Hydropower
By Tara Lohan, The Revelator, in The Energy Mix
May 1, 2022

This month regulators greenlighted a transmission line that would bring power generated from Canadian hydroelectric dams to New York City. New York’s plan to achieve a zero-emissions grid by 2040 depends on hydropower, and it’s not alone.

Globally hydropower is the largest source of renewable energy. In the United States it makes up 7% of electricity generation, and 37 states allow some form of hydropower in their renewable portfolio standards, which establish requirements for the amount renewable energy that must be used for electricity generation.

As U.S. states and countries across the world work to reduce fossil fuels and boost renewables, hydropower is poised to play an even bigger role.

There’s just one problem: A growing body of research published over the past two decades has found that most reservoirs, including those used for hydropower, aren’t emissions-free.

“Hydroelectric reservoirs are a source of biogenic greenhouse gases and in individual cases can reach the same emission rates as thermal power plants,” Swiss researchers found in a 2016 study published in the journal PLoS ONE.

Despite the green reputation of hydropower among policy-makers, some reservoirs emit significant amounts of methane, along with much smaller amounts of nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide.

That’s bad news because we already have a methane problem. This short-lived but potent gas packs 85 times the global warming punch of carbon dioxide over 20 years. If we hope to stave off catastrophic warming, scientists say we need to quickly cut methane. But new data show that despite this warning it’s still increasing at record levels — even with a global pledge signed by 100 countries to slash methane emissions 30% by 2030.

Methane can rise from wetlands and other natural sources, but most emissions come from human-caused sources like oil and gas, landfills, and livestock. We’ve known about the threat from those sources for years, but emissions from reservoirs have largely been either uncounted or undercounted.

In part that’s because tracking emissions from reservoirs is complicated and highly variable. Emissions can change at different times of the year or even day. They’re influenced by how the dam is managed, including fluctuations in the water level, as well as a host of environmental factors like water quality, depth, sediment, surface wind speed, and temperature.

But recent scientific research provides a better framework to undertake this critical accounting. And environmental groups say it’s time for regulators to get busy putting it to work.
» Read article   
» Read the 2016 study

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

snow cap
Heat pumps do work in the cold — Americans just don’t know it yet

These heating/cooling systems have been called the “most overlooked climate solution.” Now they can work in temperatures far below freezing.
By Shannon Osaka, Grist
May 9, 2022

Heat pumps – heating and cooling systems that run entirely on electricity – have been getting a lot of attention recently. They’ve been called the “most overlooked climate solution” and “an answer to heat waves.” And the technology is finally experiencing a global boom in popularity. Last year, 117 million units were installed worldwide, up from 90 million in 2010. As temperatures and greenhouse gas emissions rise, heat pumps, which can be easily powered by renewable energy, promise to provide a pathway to carbon-free home heating. Environmental activist Bill McKibben even suggested sending heat pumps to Europe to help wean the continent off Russian natural gas.

But despite this global surge in popularity, heat pumps in the U.S. are laboring under a misconception that has plagued them for decades: That if the temperature falls to below 30 or even 40 degrees Fahrenheit, their technology simply doesn’t work. “Do heat pumps work in cold weather” is even a trending question on Google.

It’s a narrative that Andy Meyer, a senior program manager for the independent state agency Efficiency Maine, has spent the past decade debunking for residents in one of the U.S.’s coldest states.

“There were two types of people in Maine in 2012,” he said. “Those who didn’t know what heat pumps were — and those who knew they didn’t work in the cold.” But while that concern may have been true years ago, he said, today “it’s not at all true for high-performance heat pumps.”

[…] One of the benefits of installing heat pumps is cost-savings. In Maine, many homes are heated with fuel oil or propane. At current prices, Meyer says, running a heat pump costs half as much as oil and one-third as much as propane. According to Efficiency Maine’s analysis, that can save homeowners up to thousands of dollars in annual energy costs. A 2017 study by CEE similarly found that installing heat pumps in Minnesota could save residents between $349 and $764 per year, compared to heating with a standard electric or propane furnace.

There are some caveats. Lacey Tan, a manager for the carbon-free buildings program at the energy think tank RMI, says there is still a price premium for heat pumps: Some installers aren’t yet comfortable with how they work and try to reduce their risk by increasing up-front costs. In cold climates, some homes may want to have a back-up heating system for extremely frigid days or in the event of a power outage. (In Maine, Meyer says many homeowners use wood stoves as back-up for their heat pumps.)

But many experts believe more and more cold-weather heat pumps will be sold as homeowners learn about the new advances in the technology. Meyer says that Mainers who install heat pumps naturally begin to share their experience with friends and family. “We have over 100,000 salespeople who have already gotten heat pumps,” he said jokingly. “Not bad for a state where they ‘don’t work in the cold.’”
» Read article   

non-condensing
DOE updates water heater rule for first time in two decades
By Miranda Willson, E&E News
May 6, 2022

The Biden administration has unveiled the first new energy efficiency standards in over 20 years for water heaters in commercial buildings, a move it says could slash greenhouse gas emissions and reduce energy costs.

Proposed yesterday by the Department of Energy, the updated standards would save businesses $140 million per year in operating costs and eliminate certain inefficient natural gas-consuming water heaters from the market, according to DOE.

The new standards would reduce carbon emissions by 38 million metric tons between 2026 and 2055, DOE said — an amount equivalent to the annual emissions of about 37 coal-fired power plants, according to an EPA calculator. Natural gas-powered water heaters typically use about 18 percent of the gas consumed in commercial buildings, the department said, citing data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

“Water heating accounts for a considerable share of energy costs and domestic carbon emissions,” Kelly Speakes-Backman, principal deputy assistant secretary for energy efficiency and renewable energy at DOE, said in a press release. “Modernizing commercial water heater technology will slash energy costs for schools, hospitals, and small businesses while removing carbon and methane from our atmosphere.”

If finalized, the proposed rule would go into effect in 2026, resulting in less-efficient water heaters known as “non-condensing” models being effectively eliminated from the market.
» Blog editor’s note: this weak ruling (which still allows businesses to install new, “efficient” natural gas water heaters that will lock in emissions for decades) is opposed by groups representing natural gas utilities. It’s progress, but we need a bigger, faster shift.
» Read article   

» More about energy efficiency

ENERGY STORAGE

nano magnet
In a World Starved for Lithium, Researchers Develop a Method to Get It from Water
National lab uses magnets to extract lithium, potentially helping with shortage of key battery material.
By Dan Gearino, Inside Climate News
May 12, 2022

The world needs vast quantities of lithium to meet demand for lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles and energy storage. And the United States is way behind China in securing a supply of this rare metal.

Catching up in this global race may take some magic, or at least a process that looks like magic.

Researchers at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Washington have produced magnets that can separate lithium and other metals from water. This approach has the potential to allow companies to affordably gather lithium from sources like the brine used in geothermal power systems and the waste water left over from use by industry.

“We believe that this thing can be big,” said Jian Liu, a senior research engineer at the lab.

The lab has developed a magnetic “nanoparticle” that binds to the materials the user is trying to extract from a liquid. Then, as the liquid passes over a magnetic field, the nanoparticle, which is now latched onto the desired material—usually lithium—gets pulled out.

Liu and his team have been developing this system for eight years. The version in the lab looks like a collection of water containers connected by clear plastic tubes and electronic pumps.

[…] The main caveat is that the process has a cost that means it only makes economic sense for use in liquids with higher concentrations of lithium. The lab’s research is working to reduce the costs.
» Read article   

» More about energy storage

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

POTUS at Zero
Biden Announces $3 Billion in Grants for Domestic Electric Vehicle Battery Production
By Cristen Hemingway Jaynes, EcoWatch
May 3, 2022

The Biden administration has announced a $3.16 billion plan to stimulate the production of batteries for electric vehicles (EVs) in the U.S., an essential step in reducing the carbon emissions that are causing global warming.

The money will be made available in the form of grants to encourage the manufacturing of more high-capacity batteries and the sourcing of the raw materials needed to make them. Funded by last year’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the grants will help U.S. companies build new factories and modify old ones so that they can manufacture EV batteries and parts, CNBC reported. There will be an additional $60 million for a battery reuse and recycling program, the Department of Energy said.

“With the demand for electric vehicles (EVs) and stationary storage alone projected to increase the size of the lithium battery market five- to ten-fold by the end of the decade, it is essential that the United States invests in the capacity to accelerate the development of a resilient supply chain for high capacity batteries,” said a grant availability announcement from the U.S. Department of Energy, as the Detroit Free Press reported.

President Joe Biden wants half of all new vehicle sales in the country to be electric by the end of the decade, and has also issued guidelines for all new cars and trucks bought by the federal government to be emissions-free by 2035, reported The New York Times.
» Read article   

» More about clean transportation

GAS UTILITIES

start over
Two years after asking for future of gas investigation, Healey asks state to reject results
By Sabrina Shankman, Boston Globe
May 12, 2022

Attorney General Maura Healey, who two years ago prompted the state to begin mapping the phaseout of natural gas in Massachusetts, is now asking it to scrap the blueprint emerging from the process, saying it favors gas company profits over a healthy climate.

”We should be setting the path for an energy system that is equitable, reliable, and affordable — not one that pumps more money into gas pipelines and props up utility shareholders,” said Healey, who is running for governor.

In a 106-page document filed with the state Department of Public Utilities late last week, Healey also said the agency’s decision-making process should be overhauled to prioritize climate goals over the health of utilities, currently one of its functions.

The filing is the latest salvo in a battle that has raged largely out of sight over the future of the gas industry in Massachusetts. Many climate advocates and the state’s own roadmap to net-zero greenhouse emissions call for radically reducing fossil fuels such as natural gas in favor of electricity supplied by a clean power grid. But when the public utilities department launched what it called an investigation into the future of natural gas in 2020, it gave responsibility for developing the blueprint to the gas utilities themselves.

The proposals now emerging from that process, while they would allow for ramping up electrification, lean heavily on large-scale use of so-called decarbonized gas or renewable natural gas. These include tapping the gas generated by landfills or wastewater treatment plants, for example, or using renewable electricity sources to process hydrogen as a fuel. Utilities have also argued for a “hybrid electrification” system, where homes would have electric heat pumps, but also keep gas as a backup.

But advocates say the industry’s suggestions are problematic since they would allow gas companies to continue using fuels that contribute to global warming simply by replacing what flows through their pipes.

In eight hours of public testimony last week and hundreds of pages of comments submitted in the public utilities department proceeding, advocates, activists, and public officials raised concerns that the gas companies’ proposals overlook certain realities about decarbonized fuels — including high cost, limited supply, and that they may not be as climate-friendly as the utilities are claiming.

”Gas utilities have asked the DPU to approve the spending of ratepayer money on untested and costly technologies to maintain their century-old business plan,” Healey said in response to questions from the Globe.
» Read article  
» For the back story on why the utility-produced plan is so bad, MA Senator Cynthia Creem’s April 4, 2022
“Future of Gas” hearing is a must-watch!

» More about gas utilities

CARBON CAPTURE AND STORAGE

CO2 pipeline regs
Safety advocate warns of a lack of oversight for new CO2 pipelines needed for carbon capture
By Kara Holsopple, The Allegheny Front
April 29, 2022

The federal infrastructure bill has spurred new interest in carbon capture and storage as a way to reduce climate polluting emissions from the air and send them underground.

Bill Caram, the executive director of Pipeline Safety Trust, says there was also an expansion of existing tax credits for carbon capture to decarbonize parts of the economy. But his group has concerns about the current regulation of pipelines that carry carbon dioxide, and the many more CO2 pipelines that would be needed to fulfill some of these visions of the future.

Pipeline Safety Trust recently commissioned a report to assess the state of CO2 pipeline safety regulation, and The Allegheny Front’s Kara Holsopple recently spoke with Caram about it.
» Listen to the conversation, or read the transcript        
» Read the report on CO2 pipeline safety regulations

» More about CCS

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Dacono
US fracking boom could tip world to edge of climate disaster
140bn metric tons of planet-heating gases could be unleashed if fossil fuel extraction plans get green light, analysis shows
By Nina Lakhani and Oliver Milman, The Guardian
May 11, 2022

The fate of the vast quantities of oil and gas lodged under the shale, mud and sandstone of American drilling fields will in large part determine whether the world retains a liveable climate. And the US, the world’s largest extractor of oil, is poised to unleash these fossil fuels in spectacular volumes.

Planned drilling projects across US land and waters will release 140bn metric tons of planet-heating gases if fully realised, an analysis shared with the Guardian has found.

The study, to be published in the Energy Policy journal this month, found emissions from these oil and gas “carbon bomb” projects were four times larger than all of the planet-heating gases expelled globally each year, placing the world on track for disastrous climate change.

The plans include conventional drilling and fracking spanning the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico to the foothills of the Front Range in Colorado and the mountainous Appalachian region. But the heart is the Permian basin, a geological formation 250 miles wide that sits under the mostly flat terrain of west Texas and New Mexico.

One lobe of this formation, known as the Delaware basin, is predicted to emit 27.8bn metric tons of carbon during the lifetime of planned drilling, while another, known as the Midland basin, will potentially unleash 16.6bn tons of emissions.

It means the US, the centre of the world’s addiction to oil and gas, will play an outsized role in the heatwaves, droughts and floods that will impact people around the planet.

Compared with traditional drilling, fracking is linked to higher levels of exposure to toxic air pollutants and poor water quality, as well as unhealthy noise and light pollution. Numerous studies have suggested elevated rates of congenital heart defects, childhood leukaemia, asthma, and premature births in neigbourhoods close to fracking sites, while elderly people living near or downwind are more likely to die prematurely.
» Read article   

Niger Delta flares
Oil Giants Sell Dirty Wells to Buyers With Looser Climate Goals, Study Finds
The transactions can help major oil and gas companies clean up their own production by transferring polluting assets to a different firm, the analysis said.
By Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times
May 10, 2022

When Royal Dutch Shell sold off its stake in the Umuechem oil field in Nigeria last year, it was, on paper, a step forward for the company’s climate ambitions: Shell could clean up its holdings, raise money to invest in cleaner technologies, and move toward its goal of net zero emissions by 2050.

As soon as Shell left, however, the oil field underwent a change so significant it was detected from space: a surge in flaring, or the wasteful burning of excess gas in towering columns of smoke and fire. Flaring emits planet-warming greenhouse gases, as well as soot, into the atmosphere.

Around the world, many of the largest energy companies are expected to sell off more than $100 billion of oil fields and other polluting assets in an effort to cut their emissions and make progress toward their corporate climate goals. However, they frequently sell to buyers that disclose little about their operations, have made few or no pledges to combat climate change, and are committed to ramping up fossil fuel production.

New research to be released Tuesday showed that, of 3,000 oil and gas deals made between 2017 and 2021, more than twice as many involved assets moving from operators with net-zero commitments to those that didn’t, than the reverse. That is raising concerns that the assets will continue to pollute, perhaps even at a greater rate, but away from the public eye.

“You can move your assets to another company, and move the emissions off your own books, but that doesn’t equal any positive impact on the planet if it’s done without any safeguards in place,” said Andrew Baxter, who heads the energy transition team at the Environmental Defense Fund, which performed the analysis.

Transactions like these expose the messy underside of the global energy transition away from fossil fuels, a shift that is imperative to avoid the most catastrophic effects of climate change.
» Read article   
» Read the EDF report on transferred emissions

» More about fossil fuel

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

Goldboro undead
2 stalled LNG projects in Nova Scotia may be on the brink of revival
Renewed signs of interest in Goldboro and Bear Head projects
Frances Willick, CBC News
May 11, 2022

Two proposed liquefied natural gas projects in Nova Scotia that previously stalled are now showing signs of advancing.

Pieridae Energy, the company behind the Goldboro LNG project, is in discussions with the federal government about how to move the project forward.

The proposed LNG terminal in Goldboro, N.S., was previously pitched as a $13-billion land-based facility that would bring in gas from Western Canada and then ship it to Europe. Pieridae shelved the project last summer due to cost pressures and time constraints.

But after Russia — a key supplier of oil and gas to Europe — invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, the federal government approached Pieridae to see if the company could assist with efforts to ramp up energy exports to help wean Europe off Russian resources.

It’s a far cry from the situation a year ago, when Pieridae requested $1 billion from Ottawa to help make the project a reality — funding that did not materialize.

“The world has changed a lot since then,” Pieridae CEO Alfred Sorensen told CBC News Tuesday. “We have to take advantage of all the work we’ve done already and try and see if we can move the project forward very quickly.”

Earlier this year, Pieridae Energy was considering a smaller project with a floating LNG barge where gas would be super-chilled and then transferred onto tankers.

The company is now shifting its attention back to a land-based project because it would be able to produce more gas than a barge-based facility, and the federal government is interested in maximizing output, Sorensen said.

[…] Even with many approvals and permits already in place, Sorensen said gas would not likely flow from a Goldboro facility until January 2027.

[…] Any oil and gas project in Nova Scotia will face opposition from people concerned about its impact on climate change and greenhouse gas reduction targets.
» Read article   

» More about LNG

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Weekly News Check-In 4/29/22

banner 02

Welcome back.

It’s worth considering whether Russia would be pounding Ukraine if it weren’t flush with fossil fuel revenue and emboldened by Europe’s dependence on its gas. A global climate coalition consisting of over five hundred concerned organizations have signed a letter to President Biden, tying fossil fuel dependence to this and other emergencies facing the planet.  It argues for the rapid phaseout of fossils during an accelerated transition to zero-emitting renewable energy sources.

For other climate-relation action, check out the photos from last week’s protest against the Weymouth compressor station – a facility the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission admitted should never have been permitted. Susan Lees of Arlington gets a shout-out for her star turn as a methane molecule!

In a worrying development for the climate, a new report concludes that Covid-19 disruptions to energy markets breathed new life into coal, temporarily reversing the industry’s long decline. China in particular responded by initiating multiple new coal-fired power plants.

All of the above is happening because we’re way behind in building out clean energy. The DoubleGreen Solar Loan program seeks to speed the deployment of residential solar in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, serving lower income folks who have traditionally faced difficulties obtaining the favorable financing that makes these projects possible. Meanwhile, our partners at Massachusetts Climate Action Network are calling out municipal light plants for lagging on the clean energy transition, and the Conservation Law Foundation is challenging New England’s grid operator to modernize more quickly.

Others are stepping up. University of Massachusetts’ flagship Amherst campus just  announced an aggressive program to transition to 100% clean renewable energy within a decade. The plan involves decommissioning a gas-fired power plant, improving building envelopes and heating with district geothermal and heat pumps, and powering it all with solar and battery storage.  On the other side of the country, Washington became the first state to pass an all-electric mandate for new buildings.

Energy storage has advanced considerably in the past decade, and cutting edge research keeps uncovering more possibilities. Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden have shown that energy from sunlight can be captured and stored for up to 18 years, and released as either heat or electricity as needed. It’s still a lab project that won’t be deployed broadly for a while, but for now you get to toss around terms like Molecular Solar Thermal Energy Storage Systems (MOST) and thermoelectric generators.

The U.S. Postal Service is replacing its fleet of mail delivery trucks, and Earthjustice and the Natural Resources Defense Council are suing to stop the current plan for 90% of those new trucks to run on gasoline. Electrifying that fleet is both possible and necessary. Potential carbon savings are massive.

Another warning light is flashing on the carbon capture and storage dashboard, with a trend developing whereby industry offers assurances that sequestering CO2 underground is safe and secure, but wants government to accept long-term liability. Familiar names are involved, like ExxonMobil and BP. We’ve seen this movie before.

Here in Massachusetts, we’re watching to see if the current round of climate legislation successfully addresses the Gas System Enhancement Plan (GSEP), under which gas utilities are spending billions to replace distribution pipelines in a system that largely needs to abandon gas. The utilities earn a guaranteed 10% return on these pipelines, which the utilities are hoping will someday carry other fuels including hydrogen. But counting on a switch to different fuel is considered a risky bet, and ratepayers are going to be left holding the bag if this zombie program is allowed to continue.

Since we opened with an observation about the war in Ukraine, it’s appropriate to end there too. We offer a story explaining why the fossil fuel industry hasn’t stepped in to provide Europe with a substitute near-term fuel source as they attempt to pull back from Russian supplies.

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

Marathon refinery Los Angeles
Global Climate Coalition Tells Biden Ukraine War Is Chance to ‘End the Fossil Fuel Era’
“The violence of fossil fuels must come to an end to save life on Earth,” said one campaigner.
By Andrea Germanos, Common Dreams
April 27, 2022

Over 520 organizations told President Joe Biden on Wednesday to urgently “end the fossil fuel era” and commit to a rapid renewable energy transition rooted in justice and a more peaceful world.

The demand was delivered in a letter that points to a “cascade of emergencies” currently facing humanity including the climate crisis and Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine, which “share the same dangerous thread: dependence on fossil fuels.”

“Russia’s invasion into Ukraine is fueled by their fossil fuel extraction power, and the world’s reliance upon it,” the signatories, including global groups like Climate Action Network International and 350.org, wrote.

The letter declares that “war makes it more apparent that fossil fuel dependence puts people at risk and makes energy systems insecure” and points to fossil fuel extraction and combustion’s wide-ranging adverse impacts from driving the biodiversity crisis to causing deaths worldwide.

In order “to preserve a livable planet,” the letter outlines four broad steps to make an exit from fossil fuels. They include a stop to any new permits or financing for coal, oil, and gas extraction and related infrastructure. The letter puts a 2030 deadline for coal extraction and 2031 deadline for gas extraction by richer nations such as the U.S.

Nuclear must also be phased out, given it’s “an inherently dirty, dangerous, and costly energy source,” the letter asserts.

Economic policy must also advance a fossil fuel exit; that necessitates no further subsidies for the industry but instead a tax on “windfall profits.”

The letter additionally calls for the creation of “an international plan for an equitable phaseout of fossil fuel production and use in line with the 1.5ºC target” of the Paris climate agreement, one that recognizes “the historical responsibility of rich industrialized countries for the climate crisis and the necessity of their leadership, and the different capacity of countries to rapidly transition and diversify their economies.”
» Read article  
» Read the letter    

methane molecule
Photos: Protest targets Weymouth compressor station
Wicked Local
April 23, 2022

» View 18 photos  

» More about protests and actions

CLIMATE

stop nowToo many new coal-fired plants planned for 1.5C climate goal, report concludes
Number of new plants planned fell last year, but coal-generated electricity rose by 9% to record high
By Fiona Harvey, The Guardian
April 26, 2022

The number of coal-fired power plants under development around the world fell last year, but far too much coal is still being burned and too many new coal-fired power plants are planned for the world to stay within safe temperature limits.

Coal use appeared to be in long-term decline before the Covid-19 pandemic, but lockdowns around the world and economic upheaval drove an increase in new coal projects in 2020, particularly in China.

Last year, the total coal power capacity in development fell sharply again, by about 13%, from 525GW to 457GW, a record low for new plants under development, according to a report from Global Energy Monitor published on Tuesday. The number of countries planning new plants also fell, from 41 at the beginning of 2021 to 34 countries.

But these encouraging signs were outweighed by a slowdown in older coal-fired power stations being taken out of service. About 25GW of capacity was taken out – roughly equal to the amount of new capacity commissioned in China – and the amount of electricity generated from coal rose by 9% in 2021 to a record high, more than rebounding from a 4% fall in 2020 when Covid first struck.

The authors of the report concluded that “coal’s last gasp is not yet in sight”, despite countries agreeing at the Cop26 UN climate summit last November to a “phase down” of coal. Last year, the International Energy Agency warned that no new exploration of fossil fuels of any kind could take place if the world was to limit global heating to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.

The continuing use of coal comes despite ever starker warnings from scientists in the latest assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which concluded that the world would far exceed the 1.5C limit without rapid reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
» Read article    

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

double green
Solar lending program offers option to marginalized New England households
Despite favorable incentives for lower-income residents in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, the upfront cost of buying solar panels remains a financial barrier for many potential customers.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
April 28, 2022

A community development nonprofit has launched a new solar lending program in Massachusetts and Rhode Island aimed at making it possible for more homeowners to invest in solar panels.

The DoubleGreen Solar Loan is designed to serve households regularly marginalized by existing financing options by offering lower interest rates, longer loan lengths, transparent terms, and more flexible underwriting standards.

This year, the fund aims to close $10 million in solar loans, with 60% of the funds going to low-income households and homeowners of color. The program works with a network of trusted solar installers to ensure buyers are treated fairly and transparently and not charged hidden fees.

“The average income and the average [credit] score of solar adopters has started to come down, but it’s still predominantly upper-middle class and whiter,” said Andy Posner, founder and chief executive of the Capital Good Fund, the organization offering the new loan program.

Posner launched the Capital Good Fund in 2009, with the mission of providing financial services and education to underserved populations. Today, the fund offers three loan products in nine states. The immigration loan program offers borrowers up to $20,000 to help pay for asylum applications, legal assistance, green card fees, or other related expenses. The impact loan program provides small sums to help cover pressing needs like car repairs or utility bills, helping borrowers avoid turning to predatory payday lenders. The weatherization loan helps homeowners pay for energy-saving measures like insulation, storm windows, and high-efficiency heating equipment.

So far, the organization has loaned $20 million to 10,000 families, with a repayment rate of 95%.

The new DoubleGreen Solar Loan evolved out of the weatherization lending program when borrowers started expressing interest in adding renewable energy to their homes as an additional cost- and carbon-cutting measure.
» Read article    

Seabrook Station
Municipal electric companies slow to incorporate clean energy, often rely on nuclear power
By Sabrina Shankman, Boston Globe
April 27, 2022

As Massachusetts races to wean utilities off fossil fuels in order to hit its climate targets, the municipal light companies that provide electricity to some 50 communities collectively have far less clean energy in their portfolios than the major for-profit utilities.

That’s the upshot of a new report from the Massachusetts Climate Action Network, which found, for example, 33 of the municipal providers had less than 1 percent of clean energy sources such as wind and solar in 2020.

While some communities are far ahead of others, particularly Concord, Belmont, and Wellesley, overall just 2.43 percent of the total energy mix at the 40 municipal light companies assessed in the report are from clean energy.

Known as municipal light plants, the community utilities combined had about 420,000 customers as of 2019, and provide roughly 14 percent of the state’s energy supply, said Logan Malik, lead author of the report and clean energy director for MCAN, a climate advocacy organization.

“We are seeing leaders — when you look at Concord, when you look at Belmont, when you look at Wellesley, those are three great examples,” Malik said. “But at the same time, because of the lack of regulation and because of the lack of support, we’re seeing that it’s not translating in every instance. And that has real implications for the Commonwealth’s transition to a clean and just energy future.”

The report found that despite the slow progress on cleaning their energy mix, many municipal light plants are technically on track to reach emission goals set for them in the state’s most recent climate law passed in 2021, thanks to a special standard that allows them to include nuclear energy in their calculations, while investor-owned utilities like Eversource or National Grid cannot.

Taking that into account, the report found that 38 percent of the energy mix from municipal light plants is considered “non-emitting.” That sizable percentage comes largely from contracts that municipal light plants have held with the Seabrook Station nuclear power plant in New Hampshire and the Millstone Unit 3 power plant in Connecticut, both of which came online more than three decades ago.
» Read article    

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

flagship campus
On Earth Day, UMass Amherst unveils major renewable energy overhaul
By Dharna Noor, Boston Globe
April 22, 2022

The University of Massachusetts Amherst officials on Friday rolled out a big Earth Day pledge, unveiling a plan to reach 100 percent renewable power within about a decade.

“Change begins at home,” the university’s chancellor, Kumble Subbaswamy, said in an interview.

The university system’s 1,500-acre flagship campus — which is responsible for 20 percent of emissions from state government-owned buildings, according to Subbaswamy — has its own power plant, which runs mostly on gas and currently supplies most of the school’s heat and electricity.

UMass Amherst plans to retire that plant in the coming years and convert the campus’s heating infrastructure to geothermal power. The campus will also use heat pumps, as well as heat recovery chillers which provide both heating and cooling.

For electricity, the school will use a combination of renewable power purchased from the grid and battery-stored solar energy generated on campus. It will also upgrade and renovate buildings to ensure they are efficient.

The plan comes as universities across the Commonwealth are increasingly grappling with their contributions to the climate crisis. In 2018, Harvard committed to removing fossil fuels from its grid. In 2019, the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth and Mount Holyoke both pledged to transition to all-renewable power, and last year, Boston University followed suit.

The road map for UMass Amherst’s transition has been in the works since late 2018. It’s based on the work of hundreds of staff and faculty, energy consultants, and students, university officials said.
» Read article    

Seattle condo
Washington State Passes All-Electric Heating Mandate for New Buildings
By Paige Bennett, EcoWatch
April 26, 2022

The first mandate in the U.S. to require all-electric heating has passed in Washington state, where newly constructed buildings will need to install electric heating and hot-water systems. The mandate will go into effect in July 2023.

The mandate passed 11 to 3 in a vote by the State Building Code Council to restrict the use of natural gas in multifamily housing complexes and commercial buildings by requiring installation of electric heat pumps. A similar mandate for smaller residential buildings will be considered within the next few months.

The revised energy code will see that new buildings have heat pumps rather than HVAC systems powered by natural gas. At least 50% of water will also need to be warmed via electric heat pumps, although the remaining amount can be heated through other methods.

Heat pumps are energy-efficient alternatives to furnaces. They work by taking in heat from one area and pumping it into another. For example, in the winter, heat pumps can pull heat from outside, even if the temperature is low, and move it indoors. In warmer months, the opposite happens — the heat pump moves the warm indoor air outside to cool the building’s interior.

[…] Washington’s mandate has exceptions for hospitals, research facilities, and select other buildings, including buildings in cooler parts of the state where winter temperatures can drop well below 0°F.

[…] Heat pumps are considered a sustainable alternative because they can generate three or four times the amount of energy they consume, according to The Conversation. Heat from fossil fuels actually wastes energy, because it needs to convert the energy from one form into another form rather than moving the heat from one place to another. To meet emissions goals by 2030, heat pump use will need to reach one-third of global heating systems.
» Read article    

» More about energy efficiency

ENERGY STORAGE

MOST
Capturing Solar Energy and Converting It to Electricity When Needed – Up to 18 Years Later
By Chalmers University of Technology, in SciTech Daily
April 18, 2022

The researchers behind an energy system that makes it possible to capture solar energy, store it for up to eighteen years, and release it when and where it is needed have now taken the system a step further. After previously demonstrating how the energy can be extracted as heat, they have now succeeded in getting the system to produce electricity, by connecting it to a thermoelectric generator. Eventually, the research – developed at Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden – could lead to self-charging electronic gadgets that use stored solar energy on demand.

“This is a radically new way of generating electricity from solar energy. It means that we can use solar energy to produce electricity regardless of weather, time of day, season, or geographical location. It is a closed system that can operate without causing carbon dioxide emissions,” says research leader Kasper Moth-Poulsen, Professor at the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at Chalmers.

The new technology is based on the solar energy system MOST – Molecular Solar Thermal Energy Storage Systems, developed at Chalmers University of Technology. Very simply, the technology is based on a specially designed molecule that changes shape when it comes into contact with sunlight. The research has already attracted great interest worldwide when it has been presented at earlier stages.

The new study, published in Cell Reports Physical Science in March 2022 and carried out in collaboration with researchers in Shanghai, takes the solar energy system a step further, detailing how it can be combined with a compact thermoelectric generator to convert solar energy into electricity.

[…] The research has great potential for renewable and emissions-free energy production. But a lot of research and development remains before we will be able to charge our technical gadgets or heat our homes with the system’s stored solar energy.
» Read article    

» More about energy storage

MODERNIZING THE GRID

SQ not acceptable
Challenging the status quo on electricity, heating
Conservation Law Foundation officials call for change
By Bruce Mohl, CommonWealth Magazine
April 25, 2022

TWO TOP OFFICIALS with the Conservation Law Foundation say the region’s power grid operator and the state’s utilities are in some ways part of the problem instead of the solution to dealing with climate change.

Greg Cunningham, the vice president and director of CLF’s clean energy and climate change program, and Caitlin Peale Sloan, the vice president for Massachusetts, said on The Codcast that they are concerned the institutions that should be leading the fight against climate change are not doing so.

Cunningham’s focus is on ISO-New England, the region’s power grid operator headed by Gordon van Welie. Van Welie was a guest on The Codcast two weeks ago and his focus was on the vulnerability of the power grid, the potential for rolling blackouts, and the continued need for natural gas as a backup fuel.

“It’s frustrating needless to say for us to sit here in 2022 and hear the litany of problems and concerns repeated over and over again from the entity that was designed to be central around fixing them,” Cunningham said. “Gordon van Welie has a substantial pedestal from which to speak and many people listen when he does. There’s an unfortunate tendency to use fear-mongering and the risk of rolling blackouts and all of the bad things that may happen if we don’t address these issues rather than identifying for us how we’re going to solve these problems.”

ISO-New England hasn’t yet found a way to incorporate the clean energy New England needs into the region’s wholesale electricity markets. Van Welie is trying to buy more time to find a solution by asking the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to approve an extension, with a few tweaks, of the existing, flawed regulatory system. He is facing pushback from Attorney General Maura Healey and others who feel the status quo is not acceptable.
» Read article   

FERC members
FERC unveils transmission plan seen as key for renewables
By Miranda Willson, E&E News
April 22, 2022

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission released a proposal yesterday that could play a pivotal role in modernizing the nation’s power grid and advancing the transition to clean energy.

The commission plan offers some of the most significant federal changes in over a decade to the transmission planning process, which could help speed up the development of high-voltage power lines considered critical for adding more renewable energy to the grid.

Approved in a bipartisan 4-1 vote at the commission’s monthly meeting, the proposed rules seek to address key challenges in the process for planning new transmission projects and for determining how to fairly allocate their costs. Once the commission has reviewed comments on the proposal, it may issue final rules, most likely by the end of the year.

“Today’s proposed rules, if finalized, would facilitate much-needed transmission investment, improving the resilience of the grid, enhancing reliability and reducing power costs,” Chair Richard Glick, who voted in favor of the proposed rules, said during the meeting. “It’s also going to address our nation’s changing resource mix and the changing role of electricity in our society.”

The proposal came during the commission’s first in-person meeting since February of 2020. In addition to advancing reforms on transmission, FERC issued an order focused on reforming wholesale electricity markets in light of changes in the types of energy resources that provide power for the grid.

Staff at the independent agency also released an annual report on natural gas and electricity markets, highlighting last year’s record-high U.S. natural gas exports and the significant volumes of solar, wind and battery storage capacity that came online in 2021.

Under the changes proposed for the transmission planning process, electric utilities that deliver power would be required to identify transmission needs driven by the changing mix of energy resources, with consideration for potential extreme weather events that could affect infrastructure. Transmission developers would be compelled to assess the need for new regional power lines over a 20-year time frame at a minimum.

Transmission developers would also need to “fully consider” advanced tools that could make the flow of power more efficient and potentially reduce overall transmission costs, FERC staff said in a presentation on the proposal.
» Read article    

» More about modernizing the grid

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

faulty analysis
Climate activists sue USPS to block purchase of gas-guzzling trucks
By Jacob Bogage, The Washington Post, in The Boston Globe
April 28, 2022

Two environmental groups are suing the U.S. Postal Service to block its purchase of 148,000 gas-guzzling delivery trucks over the next decade, alleging the agency has vastly underestimated the vehicles’ costs and adverse ecological impact.

The suits brought on by Earthjustice and the Natural Resources Defense Council contend the mail service relied on flawed assumptions and faulty calculations in selecting its “Next Generation Delivery Vehicles.” The contract reached with Oshkosh Defense in February 2021 is worth as much as $11.3 billion.

As a result, the complaints allege, the agency chose a purchase plan for 90 percent of the new fleet to be gasoline-powered, and the trucks’ 8.6 mpg is only incrementally more fuel efficient than the 30-year-old vehicles they’re designed to replace. That leaves 10 percent of the new fleet dedicated to battery power, well below benchmarks set by rivals FedEx, UPS and Amazon. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

Postal officials hoped the truck procurement would go smoothly with policymakers and signal that the mail agency was evolving to meet new business opportunities and joust with its private-sector competitors.

Officials on both sides of the aisle agree that the mail service desperately needs to replace its delivery fleet, but almost immediately upon striking the deal with Oshkosh, environmental groups said the 10-percent pledge for EVs was insufficient and organized labor groups chafed at the company’s decision to move manufacturing away from unionized shops.

The Postal Service began studying the environmental impacts of the vehicles – which federal regulators estimate would emit roughly the same amount of Earth-warming carbon dioxide each year as 4.3 million passenger vehicles – after paying Oshkosh $482 million to begin production. The suits argue the Postal Service conducted its analysis to retroactively justify its procurement decision.
» Read article   

» More about clean transportation

CARBON CAPTURE AND STORAGE

Mountaineer
Proponents Say Storing Captured Carbon Underground Is Safe, But States Are Transferring Long-Term Liability for Such Projects to the Public
As companies propose storing carbon dioxide in depleted oil fields or saline aquifers, some states are putting themselves on the hook for future problems with the projects.
By Nicholas Kusnetz, Inside Climate News
April 26, 2022

As states rush to enact rules and regulations for the underground storage of carbon dioxide, a key question is who will hold long-term responsibility for projects that could require monitoring for decades.

The question is increasingly important, as a host of companies have proposed dozens of projects over the last two years that would pull climate-warming emissions from the smokestacks of ethanol plants, fertilizer factories and fossil-fueled power plants. If the projects move forward, they’ll need to pump millions of tons of captured carbon dioxide deep underground into depleted oil fields or saline aquifers, where the gas would need to be stored permanently.

The energy industry and others insist the practice is safe, but nonetheless some companies, including ExxonMobil and BP, have been seeking protections from long-term liability. And increasingly, state lawmakers are responding by putting governments, rather than industry, on the hook.

At least four states have passed laws over the last year that allow companies to transfer responsibility for carbon storage projects to state governments after the operations are shut down. At least three other states have similar statutes on the books, enacted years earlier.

Now, with the federal government poised to spend billions of dollars to jump start a carbon capture and storage industry, some environmental advocates warn these states are setting a dangerous precedent.

“Statutes that relieve operators of liability without due regard to existing legal principles create an incentive for sloppy management, leaks and public opposition,” said Scott Anderson, senior director of energy transition at the Environmental Defense Fund.

Poorly managed projects could increase the risk of carbon dioxide leaking through natural fissures or old wells and contaminating groundwater or escaping into the atmosphere, Anderson said.
» Read article    

» More about CCS

GAS UTILITIES

morphing GSEP
Spending billions fixing gas system makes no sense

Lawmakers shouldn’t allow utilities to retool to carry new fuels
By Dorie Seavey, CommonWealth Magazine | Opinion
April 26, 2022

Dorie Seavey is a climate economist and author.

TO HAVE ANY CHANCE of averting climate catastrophe, the latest climate science is definitive that we must actively decommission much of our existing fossil fuel infrastructure. Flying in the face of this dire warning, Massachusetts is on course to spend roughly $40 billion recommissioning its gas distribution system. How is this possible?

In 2014, at a time of heightened concern about the threat of explosions from gas leaks and the need to reduce fugitive gas, the Legislature enacted the Gas System Enhancement Plan (GSEP) to encourage the Commonwealth’s six investor-owned gas companies to replace their aging pipes more quickly in exchange for speedier cost recovery paid for by ratepayers.

Since then, GSEP’s original purpose has quietly morphed. Gas companies are now using the plan as an accelerated investment vehicle for making their gas distribution systems biomethane- and hydrogen-ready. With the cooperation of the Department of Public Utilities, their regulator, they are reinvigorating over 90 percent of their asset base and tying it to a nearly 10 percent rate of return through the end of the century.

GSEP’s new purpose is unabashedly acknowledged in gas industry-supported research. The Associated Industries of Massachusetts recently funded a UMass-Lowell study supporting the development of hydrogen in the Commonwealth, including piping and burning it to heat buildings—a false solution for our climate, safety, and public health. The report suggests that “the GSEP timeline could be accelerated” to expedite the introduction of hydrogen since 4,000 miles of mains await GSEP replacement with hydrogen-compatible plastic pipe.

In sharp contrast, GSEP has been a stealth player in the Future of Gas Investigation, a DPU proceeding to examine how gas companies can reconfigure their businesses to help the Commonwealth achieve net-zero emissions. Consultant reports and gas company proposals were filed in March. None describe or assess GSEP’s role in the energy future even though GSEP could not be more foundational to the gas companies’ preferred energy pathways such as “efficient gas equipment” and “hybrid” or “low” electrification. Indeed, these pathways would be non-starters if GSEP disappeared since they require upgraded plastic pipelines ready to deliver fracked natural gas blended with biomethane, synthetic natural gas, or hydrogen.

[…] Legislators should take three crucial steps this session.

First, accurately measure the Commonwealth’s greenhouse gas emissions. Our methane measurements are woefully outdated, accounting for only a fraction of actual leaked gas, and we fail to use a lifecycle approach for measuring greenhouse gases. Accurate measurements will reveal whether gas company business proposals are in fact aligned with our 2050 goals. They will also provide a sound, scientific basis for holding gas companies accountable via targets established both in annual GSEP plans and in the emissions reduction program of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection.

Second, prohibit the use of alternative gases, such as hydrogen and biomethane, for heating residences and businesses. The DPU should not be permitted to greenlight the gas companies’ ill-conceived plans for these gases as they do not meet reasonable standards for safety, health, emissions, and cost.

Third, provide incentives for utility companies to invest in networked ground source heat pumps. We need to shift the substantial financial benefits of GSEP (including asset depreciation past 2050 and cost recovery on an annual basis) from gas pipe replacement to the installation of renewable, non-emitting thermal infrastructure such as GeoGrid water pipes that can heat and cool our buildings.

By correcting the gas companies’ investment calculus, these three legislative actions will lead to a smart, strategic deceleration of investments in fossil fuel infrastructure while opening the door for gas companies to evolve their business models toward non-emitting, renewable thermal energy.

[…] The glaring disconnect between GSEP’s original purpose and its runaway reality must be addressed. To ensure that large investments of ratepayer money actually move us toward our climate goals, the Legislature should replace GSEP with a tailored “gas system transition program” focused on promoting safety, reducing emissions, and using resources wisely during the energy transition.
» Read article    

Zurich district heat
To fight climate change, and now Russia, too, Zurich turns off natural gas
By Dan Charles, NPR
April 20, 2022

European officials are debating whether they can stop buying natural gas imports from Russia. Many say it can’t be done. But the biggest city in Switzerland — Zurich — is already taking ambitious steps to wean itself off gas. It’s shutting down the flow of gas to whole parts of the city.

Zurich started down this path a decade ago to save money and fight climate change. The plan provoked controversy at first. Today, as the city’s residents install alternatives to gas heating, there appears to be broad support for the switch — in part, because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. About half of Switzerland’s natural gas supply comes from Russia.

“Attitudes have changed once again, dramatically,” says Rainer Schöne, a spokesman for Energie 360°, Zurich’s city-owned gas utility. “Today, it’s clear. People want to, and have to, move away from fossil gas.”

Zurich’s experience may offer lessons to other cities around the world that are encouraging residents to switch away from natural gas appliances but are not, so far, shutting down the infrastructure that delivers it.

[…] Some residents of Zurich, especially those in single-family homes, can’t easily connect to the district heating system and have to find alternatives. Ernst Danner is a member of Zurich’s City Parliament from the centrist Evangelical People’s Party. He lives in a single-family home, and he installed an electric heat pump that draws warmth from water circulating through pipes that go deep underground. It cost him just over $40,000 after tax breaks and city subsidies, but it also cut his heating bill in half. Over the lifetime of the system, he says, “I pay a bit more, but it’s not that much more, and it’s more ecological.”

Many of his neighbors, Danner says, have installed less-costly “air-source” heat pumps that draw heat from the air outside. “Those I know are very happy with their heat pumps. It’s very good!” he says.
» Read article or listen to broadcast    

» More about gas utilities

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

holding back
Why U.S. Oil Companies Aren’t Riding to Europe’s Rescue
American energy production has only inched up because executives fear that oil and gas prices won’t stay high.
By Clifford Krauss, New York Times
April 26, 2022

HOUSTON — Oil and gasoline prices are climbing. Energy company profits are surging. President Biden, who came into office promising to reduce the use of fossil fuels, has effectively joined the “drill, baby, drill” chorus. Europe would love to end its dependence on Russia.

Yet most U.S. oil businesses are not eager to capitalize on this moment by pumping more oil.

Production of oil by U.S. energy companies is essentially flat and unlikely to increase substantially for at least another year or two. If Europe stops buying Russian oil and natural gas as some of its leaders have promised, they won’t be able to replace that energy with fuels from the United States anytime soon.

U.S. oil production is up less than 2 percent, to 11.8 million barrels a day, since December and remains well below the record 13.1 million barrels a day set in March 2020 just before the pandemic paralyzed the global economy. Government forecasters predict that American oil production will average just 12 million barrels a day in 2022, and increase by roughly another million in 2023. That would be well short of the nearly four million barrels of oil that Europe imports from Russia every day.

“You had this bombastic, chest-pounding industry touting itself as the reincarnation of the American innovative spirit,” said Jim Krane, an energy expert at Rice University. “And now that they could be leaping into action to pitch in to bring much-needed oil to the world, they are being uncharacteristically cautious.”

The biggest reason oil production isn’t increasing is that U.S. energy companies and Wall Street investors are not sure that prices will stay high long enough for them to make a profit from drilling lots of new wells. Many remember how abruptly and sharply oil prices crashed two years ago, forcing companies to lay off thousands of employees, shut down wells and even seek bankruptcy protection.
» Read article     

» More about fossil fuels

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Weekly News Check-In 2/4/22

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Welcome back.

We’re opening this week with a story on retiring Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, focusing on his decision in Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. Watt forty years ago when he was a U.S. District Court judge. In that decision, then-judge Breyer “emphasized the importance of fully analyzing the potential risks of projects before “bureaucratic commitment” prevents federal agencies from pumping the brakes on development.” This is widely understood to require robust environmental impact analysis during the approval stage of fossil fuel infrastructure projects, and prior to construction. Think pipelines, compressor stations, power plants, refineries, etc.

Watt has been on the books for four decades and is widely and routinely cited by environmental advocates. It is the law. How then, do we find ourselves with a Federal regulator admitting that the Weymouth compressor station’s environmental permits were based on flawed and shoddy analysis and should never have been granted… but refusing to shut it down? Why are we still seeing peaking power plants permitted for construction at all, but especially in environmental justice neighborhoods? It’s clear that much of the effort, sound and fury of protests and actions boils down to a demand by ordinary people that powerful interests simply comply with the law.

Better late than never, climate considerations are showing up in court rulings much more frequently. With Congress bogged down in partisan trench warfare, numerous states have taken the lead and passed ambitious legislation requiring rapid emissions reduction. California is even phasing out its huge oil and gas extraction sector, and moving toward economic protections for displaced workers.

Justice Breyer can look back with pride on his environmental law legacy, but he might also wonder what would be different today had his Watt ruling been followed enthusiastically in the U.S. – and globally through the example of U.S. leadership. Would we even be discussing a giant carbon capture & storage scheme in the Gulf of Mexico predicated on pumping even more oil? Would Europe have allowed itself to become so dependent on Russian gas pipelines that huge shipments of liquefied natural gas are hailed as a lifeline? Would the U.S., Canada, and Norway still be massively increasing fossil fuel extraction even as they make flimsy promises for emissions reductions and the U.N. declares “code red for humanity”? Would our fossil-dependent grid be in such a creaky state that it can’t accommodate new sources of renewable power?

Looking at clean energy, offshore wind is going gangbusters but turbine size is growing so rapidly that the sector is facing a critical shortage of ships capable of handling the huge towers and blades. Another area seeing rapid advancement in technology is long-duration energy storage, and we’re highlighting Zink8’s zinc-air flow battery in Queens, NY. Closer to home, Massachusetts has updated its energy efficiency program Mass Save, in an attempt to prioritize heat pumps over gas furnaces – but advocates feel much more needs to be done to meet the state’s emissions requirements.

U.S. Postal Service runs a huge fleet of delivery trucks, and it’s in the process of ordering billions of dollars worth of new, gasoline-powered models. Wait, what?! The Biden administration is intervening to make sure these new vehicles are electric.

Meanwhile, our watchdog Senator Elizabeth Warren is leading a group of Democratic lawmakers taking a look at the high energy consumption of cryptocurrency mining. The goal is to understand crypto’s impact on the environment and whether the energy-intensive activities may be impacting utility bills for U.S. customers.

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

JUSTICE STEPHEN BREYER’S ENVIRONMENTAL LAW LEGACY

bureaucratic commitment
Breyer ruling set stage for NEPA climate fights
By Niina H. Farah, E&E News
February 2, 2022

A 40-year-old ruling penned by Stephen Breyer on the timing of environmental reviews has laid the groundwork for a new wave of litigation over the quality of climate analyses for energy projects and oil and gas development.

The decision, which Breyer wrote while he was a judge of the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, is among the Supreme Court justice’s lasting contributions to environmental law. Breyer, 83, announced last week that he plans to retire this summer.

In his 1983 opinion in Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. Watt, Breyer emphasized the importance of fully analyzing the potential risks of projects before “bureaucratic commitment” prevents federal agencies from pumping the brakes on development.

Watt is widely cited by organizations pushing for more thorough National Environmental Policy Act analyses in cases related to coal mining and oil and gas drilling on public lands and waters. The bedrock environmental statute requires federal agencies to take a hard look at the impacts of major actions, such as pipeline permitting and fossil fuel leasing.

“The concept [of bureaucratic commitment] is widely known and widely cited as a reason why comprehensive NEPA evaluation at the earliest stage possible is important,” said Kristen Monsell, oceans programs litigation director at the Center for Biological Diversity.

In Watt, then-1st Circuit Judge Breyer […] emphasized the importance of halting development while the government prepared an environmental impact statement.

“Once large bureaucracies are committed to a course of action, it is difficult to change that course — even if new, or more thorough, NEPA statements are prepared and the agency is told to ‘redecide.’”

The takeaway from Breyer’s opinion is that unless comprehensive analysis occurs at the start of a project, the government tends to favor allowing development to continue, Monsell said.

Setting aside an agency’s action at a later date won’t undo harm that’s already occurred, she said.

“While a new [environmental impact statement] might bring about a new decision, it’s much less likely,” Monsell said of Breyer’s reasoning.

She added: “It’s far easier to influence an initial choice than to change a mind that is already made up.”
» Read article         

PEAKING POWER PLANTS

Mystic Generating Station
Activists urge Massachusetts to take another look at need for peaking plants
Campaigns in Boston and western Massachusetts are taking aim at existing and proposed peakers. Critics say the facilities are bad for the climate and public health, and that cleaner and more economical alternatives now exist.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
February 1, 2022

Activists across Massachusetts are pressuring utilities and regulators to reconsider the need for some of the state’s most rarely used and least efficient fossil fuel power plants.

Campaigns in the Boston suburbs and western Massachusetts are taking aim at existing and proposed peaking power plants. The facilities — often simply called “peakers” — are intended to run only at times when demand for electricity is at its highest.

Utilities and grid managers say peakers are necessary to ensure reliability, especially as more intermittent wind and solar generation is added to the system. Critics, though, say they’re bad for the climate and public health, and that cleaner and more economical alternatives now exist.

“They are low-hanging fruit,” said Logan Malik, clean energy director for the Massachusetts Climate Action Network. “They aren’t in use a whole lot of time, and at the same time, technology is available as we speak, today, to replace these dirty plants with clean, renewable alternatives.”

Massachusetts is home to 23 such plants, according to nonprofit research institute Physicians, Scientists, and Engineers for Healthy Energy. Roughly two-thirds of them burn oil; the remaining plants run on natural gas. More than 90% of the plants are more than 30 years old, and thus more likely to run inefficiently and have higher greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to climate change. Some are so old they are not required to comply with the standards of the 1970 federal Clean Air Act.

Furthermore, they are often located in areas with concentrations of low-income households and residents of color, likely posing additional health risks to populations that are already more vulnerable. When peakers run, it can also raise costs for consumers, as they are generally the most expensive plants to operate.

“There’s just really almost no need for these plants,” said Jane Winn, executive director of the Berkshire Environmental Action Team. “Right now, the ratepayers are paying a hell of a lot of money to keep these plants on standby.”

Environmental advocates also argue that allowing new peaker plants to move forward and renewing permits for existing ones runs counter to the spirit of the state’s new environmental justice laws. The law, adopted last March, makes environmental justice a central principle of the state’s climate action. Among the provisions is a requirement for new projects that might cause air pollution to undergo an assessment of their cumulative environmental impact if they are located near environmental justice communities.

Though the law covers new projects, advocates would like to see the state use its discretion to apply the same standards to plants already built or approved before the new measures were passed.

“We are arguing that, given the new environmental justice parameters in Massachusetts law, it requires an additional further look,” said Mireille Bejjani, energy justice director with Community Action Works, a group fighting a proposed plant in the Boston suburb of Peabody. “We need to understand what this is going to do to the environment and the community.”
» Read article         

South Hadley ELD
Advocacy group brings Peabody gas plant issue to South Hadley health board
By DUSTY CHRISTENSEN, Daily Hampshire Gazette
January 29, 2022

SOUTH HADLEY — A physician-led organization fighting climate change has urged the South Hadley Board of Health to consider asking the state to further scrutinize the construction of a fossil fuel plant north of Boston — a project the town’s electric company has signed a 30-year contract to draw energy from.

On Tuesday, South Hadley’s Board of Health weighed a request from the organization Greater Boston Physicians for Social Responsibility, which called on the board to join health boards in Peabody and Holden in writing to Gov. Charlie Baker to ask for an environmental impact report and health impact assessment of the gas-burning plant that is set to be built in Peabody.

The construction of the “peaker” plant, which is designed to run during times of peak demand during the year, drew protests last month in front of Peabody District Court, where demonstrators held signs calling the investment in non-renewable energy “peak stupidity.” In November, protesters in Holyoke, whose electric company is also invested in the project, held a rally in front of the region’s wholesale power operator, ISO New England, joining organizers in Peabody in calling the operator to move the electrical grid away from fossil fuels.

The matter was an issue of intense debate last year between one elected member of the South Hadley Electric Light Department board, Peter McAvoy, and his fellow commissioners. McAvoy frequently raised his voice during meetings in opposition to SHELD’s use of energy from two nuclear reactors and its participation in the Peabody project, harshly rebuking the rest of the board.
» Read article

» More about peaker plants

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

Rep Stephen LynchLynch urges feds to close Weymouth compressor station
By Chris Lisinski and Michael P. Norton, State House News Service, in The Patriot Ledger
February 3, 2022

Citing emergency shutdowns and recent admissions from federal regulators, U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch is trying to revive efforts to close a natural gas compressor  station in Weymouth.

Lynch on Wednesday called on the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to “immediately terminate operation” of the station, citing environmental and public health concerns that opponents of the project have expressed for years and  pointing to recent shutdowns of the station and new acknowledgements from federal energy infrastructure officials.

“Regrettably, recent emergency events at the Weymouth Compressor Station have more than validated the health and safety concerns that South Shore residents, community safety groups, nonprofit organizations, and local, state and federal officials have expressed for nearly seven years,” Lynch wrote in a letter to Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration Deputy Administrator Tristan Brown. “Between 2020 and 2021, the Weymouth Compressor Station experienced four unplanned emergency shutdowns and multiple blowdown events necessitating the release of natural gas into the atmosphere – all amid the global COVID-19 pandemic.”

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission last month declined to revoke the certificate it issued to energy giant Enbridge, although Chairman Richard Glick said the office previously “erred” in siting the facility near environmental justice communities and “inadequately assessed” its likely impacts on the densely populated area.
» Read article         

» More about the Weymouth compressor

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

offshore rig fireBiden Urged Not to Fight Court Ruling Against Massive Oil and Gas Lease Sale
The administration “should not continue to defend unlawful drilling for oil and gas in public waters,” more than 70 climate groups write in a new letter.
By Jake Johnson, Common Dreams
February 1, 2022

As the fossil fuel industry clamors for an appeal, the Biden administration on Tuesday faced pressure from environmentalists to adhere to a judge’s decision blocking a massive oil and gas lease sale in the Gulf of Mexico, the site of the catastrophic Deepwater Horizon spill.

“We urge you to comply with the court’s ruling and not appeal the court’s decision,” more than 70 climate groups wrote in a letter to President Joe Biden and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland. “The [Department of the Interior] should not continue to defend unlawful drilling for oil and gas in public waters in appellate court given the impacts on our climate, clear violations of federal environmental standards, and public commitments made by President Biden to end the practice.”

“We also strongly urge the Department of the Interior to create a new five-year offshore lease program with no proposed offshore lease sales when the current program expires in June 2022,” the groups added.

Last week, as Common Dreams reported, a federal judge ruled that the Biden administration failed to sufficiently account for the emissions impact of the proposed oil and gas lease sale in the Gulf of Mexico, the largest such sell-off in the nation’s history. The judge blocked the sale and instructed the Biden administration to conduct a fresh environmental review.

John Beard, CEO of the Port Arthur Community Action Network and member of the Build Back Fossil Free Coalition, said in a statement Tuesday that the judge got it “exactly right: every politician, judge, and decisionmaker in the country must consider the devastating damage that fossil fuel pollution does to our communities, our health, and our climate before they rubber-stamp a new pipeline, oil and gas lease, refinery, or chemical facility.”
» Read article         
» Read the letter

Mar del Plata
Protests Erupt in Argentina Over Plan for Offshore Oil Drilling
The Argentine government has subsidized oil and gas drilling for years, and is now shifting its sights offshore. But opposition is growing.
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
February 1, 2022

On January 4, thousands of people took to the streets of Mar del Plata, a coastal city roughly 250 miles south of Buenos Aires, Argentina. They were there to protest the plans by Norwegian oil company Equinor to begin offshore oil exploration later this year.

They held signs that read “the sea is ours!” and “an ocean free of oil,” and they chanted, shouted, and sang. The protests were focused in Mar del Plata, a beach town closest to the offshore blocks, but spread to other cities in the province and around the country.

The protesters oppose offshore drilling because of the risks of an oil spill, which could wreck tourism and interfere with fishing, two important parts of the coastal economy. They also fear that the seismic tests that accompany oil exploration would pose a mortal threat to southern right whales and could harm abundant marine life.

More broadly, protesters are frustrated that Argentine officials continuously promote oil, gas, and mining projects as economic godsends, while ignoring the impacts to communities where they are located.
» Read article         

» More about protests and actions

PIPELINES

Nord Stream 2 politics
How Climate and the Nord Stream 2 Pipeline Undergirds the Ukraine-Russia Standoff
Russia’s $11 billion natural gas conduit to Germany is a by-product of Donald Trump’s pro-Putin foreign policy—and a real headache for President Biden.
By Marianne Lavelle, Inside Climate News
January 30, 2022

As tensions simmer on the Ukraine-Russia border, the Nord Stream 2 pipeline has become an emblem of the energy and climate issues underlying the conflict—even though it has yet to deliver a molecule of natural gas.

Last week, the U.S. State Department vowed that Gazprom’s $11 billion conduit beneath the Baltic Sea to Germany would never open if Russia invades Ukraine. Much of eastern Europe, the environmental movement and even the U.S. oil industry opposed Nord Stream 2 as a tie designed to solidify Russia’s energy hold on Europe, but Russian President Vladimir Putin took advantage of leeway offered by President Donald Trump to push construction through.

Trump’s tacit acquiescence on Nord Stream 2 (often while voicing protest) was one of his only moves counter to the interests of Texas oil and gas producers, who coveted the Europe gas market themselves. But it was right in line with two other Trump impulses: to reject climate policy and to yield to Putin.

Now, the Biden administration is left with the consequences. And although it is attempting to use Nord Stream 2 as a threat, the pipeline also has served as a weapon for Putin—a wedge to divide Germany, and separate Europe’s largest economy from other members of the NATO coalition while he threatens Ukraine.

[In] the short term, at least, Europe remains dependent on natural gas. And Biden’s team  has been scrambling to secure gas and crude oil supplies from the Middle East, North Africa and Asia, so European allies will be less vulnerable to threats from Russia. It’s not the Biden administration’s first effort at diplomacy to ramp up fossil fuel production short-term, despite criticism from progressives that it is counter to his vision for a net-zero carbon future. Others argue that there’s no conflict between Biden’s immediate geopolitical goals and his long-term climate agenda.

“Gas, the green transition and energy security are not either-or issues,” said Richard Morningstar, who served as U.S. ambassador to Azerbaijan under President Barack Obama, and also was a special U.S. envoy on Eurasian energy. “Gas can continue to be important in a responsible way, in the short- to mid-term, but it’s important to double down as quickly as possible on the green transition,” said Morningstar, who is founding chairman of the Atlantic Council’s Global Energy Center. “The quicker the green transition, the less dependence on fossil fuels. And by definition, the less dependence on Russian gas.”
» Read article         

Lake Albert
New Fossil Fuel Project Would Turn Uganda Into Oil-Producing Country
By Olivia Rosane, EcoWatch
February 2, 2022

A new project from French fossil fuel company TotalEnergies and China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) would turn Uganda into an oil-producing country for the first time.

Total announced Tuesday that the companies would spend more than $10 billion to develop oil fields in Uganda and build a pipeline network both within the landlocked country and through Tanzania, which has a coastline.

Accessing the oil would mean building a 1,443-kilometer (approximately 897 mile) heated pipeline from Hoima, Uganda to the Tanzanian port of Tanga on the Indian Ocean, according to 350.org. The so-called East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) would be the largest heated crude-oil pipeline in the world and is vehemently opposed by climate activists.

“The future of East Africa relies on building sustainable, diversified and inclusive economies – not by letting huge multinational corporations like Total extract resources and keep the profit,” 350Africa.org regional director Landry Ninteretse said in a statement reported by 350.org. “The impacts of building the East Africa Oil Pipeline will be devastating for our communities, for wildlife and for the planet.”

In particular, activists are concerned about the pipeline’s potential impact on water resources for millions of people in Tanzania and Uganda, vulnerable ecosystems and the climate crisis. Uganda’s oil reserves amount to 6.5 billion barrels, 1.4 billion of which are actually recoverable, government scientists estimate, according to AllAfrica.

However, despite Tuesday’s announcement, activists argue that the funding for the pipeline is not secure, according to 350.org. Activists are putting pressure on banks not to finance the project, and several major players have agreed. Campaigners say the project is at least $2.5 billion short on necessary funds.

“The people benefitting from this aren’t local communities, they are rich European banks and oil companies like Total,” 350.org France campaigner Isabelle l’Héritier said in a statement reported by 350.org. “Over 260 organisations are urgently trying to convince banks around the world to rule out supporting this disastrous project. Eleven banks, including three French banks, have already pulled out.”

While Total has committed to achieving net zero emissions by 2050, according to its website, the new project shows it is still investing in new fossil fuel extraction.
» Read article         

» More about pipelines

LEGISLATION

fully electric
2021 was a landmark year for energy efficiency legislation in US states
Now comes the hard part.
By Adam Mahoney, Grist
February 3, 2022

Last year was rocky – to say the least. But as the coronavirus pandemic maintained its grasp on American society, the U.S. managed to continue charging on its path of energy efficiency, according to a new report by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, or ACEEE.

The nonprofit research organization’s annual Energy Efficiency Scorecard Progress Report found that in 2021 at least a dozen states passed new clean energy legislation or adopted new energy-saving standards. Notably, the new legislation included incentives for everything from fuel switching and electrification to, encouraging clean heating systems and even strengthening building codes.

Seven states – Massachusetts, Illinois, Colorado, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oregon, and Washington – passed new energy laws that named electrification as a “growing priority.” At least five states, including the District of Columbia, passed laws requiring energy and water use reductions for appliances. California and New York set goals for all new passenger cars and light-duty trucks to be zero-emission by 2035.

Many states have also put laws on the books to ensure “equitable benefits” from their electrification push, the ACEEE found. These measures, primarily focused on transit, include the creation of transit-oriented affordable housing projects and the electrification of public transit fleets. In New York, the state’s ramped up efficiency and building electrification programs have a goal of 40 percent of the benefits reaching “disadvantaged communities.”

While putting these codes and laws on paper are wins, the report argues, implementation is still a huge mountain to climb. States are “adopting promising new laws that can reduce harmful pollution and create thousands of clean energy jobs, but they need to vigilantly implement them,” Berg said. Fighting for electrification, the ACEEE asserts, will help reverse the country’s racial and economic inequalities exacerbated by the pandemic.
» Read article         
» Read the ACEEE report

» More about legislation      

GREENING THE ECONOMY

Signal Hill
Calif. weighs help for oil workers in green future
By Anne C. Mulkern, E&E News
January 31, 2022

California officials are brainstorming how to help oil industry workers as the state moves to phase out fossil fuels and replace gasoline-powered vehicles with electric cars.

Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office and legislators are talking to unions representing industry workers, and a new state Assembly document outlines potential solutions. But it’s a complex quandary, raising questions about whether to guarantee workers their current salaries and benefits as their jobs disappear.

“One of the major hurdles in transitioning existing fossil fuels activities to clean energy ones has been the potentially negative economic consequences to workers and communities,” according to a document from the Assembly Office of Policy and Research obtained by E&E News. “As the state implements its ambitious climate goals, there is an opportunity to assist workers impacted by the transition to a green economy.”

Nearly 112,000 people work in 14 fossil fuel and ancillary industries in California as of 2018, according to a report last year from the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) at University of Massachusetts, Amherst. The total includes oil and gas extraction operations, and support activities, and sectors such as fossil-fuel-based power generation.

What California decides to do about oil industry workers has the potential to ripple beyond the nation’s most populous state, said Catherine Houston, legislative, political and rapid response coordinator with United Steelworkers District 12.That union represents many oil industry workers.

“California typically takes the lead in a lot of these types of things, and we become an example for other states across the nation,” Houston said. “So whatever we do can potentially serve as a federal model.”
» Read article         

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

climate review
Judges Increasingly Demand Climate Analysis in Drilling Decisions
A federal judge this week required the government take climate change into account before approving offshore oil drilling leases. That’s becoming more common.
By Lisa Friedman, New York Times
January 28, 2022

WASHINGTON — A judge’s decision this week to invalidate the largest offshore oil and gas lease sale in the nation’s history, on grounds that the government had failed to take climate change into consideration, shows that regulatory decisions that disregard global warming are increasingly vulnerable to legal challenges, analysts said Friday.

Judge Rudolph Contreras of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia ruled on Thursday that the Biden administration had acted “arbitrarily and capriciously” when it conducted an auction of more than 80 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico. The Interior Department failed to fully analyze the climate effects of the burning of the oil and gas that would be developed from the leases, the judge said.

The ruling is one of a handful over the past year in which a court has required the government to conduct a more robust study of climate change effects before approving fossil fuel development. Analysts said that, cumulatively, the decisions would ensure that future administrations are no longer able to disregard or downplay global warming.

“This would not have been true 10 years ago for climate analysis,” said Richard Lazarus, a professor of environmental law at Harvard University. He said it is “a big win” that courts are forcing government agencies to include “a very robust and holistic analysis of climate” as part of the decision-making when it comes to whether or not to drill on public lands and waters.

Emissions from fossil fuel extraction on public lands and in federal waters account for about 25 percent of the country’s greenhouse gases.
» Read article         

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

ship shortage
Offshore wind’s ship problem is growing
The US is in even deeper water
By Justine Calma, The Verge
February 3, 2022

The short supply of ships capable of deploying giant wind turbines at sea is becoming an even bigger problem as offshore wind ambitions grow. By 2024, demand for wind turbine installation vessels will likely outpace supply, according to a recent analysis by Norwegian firm Rystad Energy. That’s even sooner than a prediction the firm made back in 2020 when it said that the global fleet wouldn’t be enough to meet demand after 2025.

Massive, specialized vessels are required to carry wind turbine components out to sea and install them. With just over 30 of these vessels navigating the world’s seas in 2020, according to Rystad, offshore wind projects already have to vie for time with a limited number of ships. A growth spurt in turbine technology will exacerbate the problem even further.

Taller turbines can reach stronger winds, while longer blades can harness more power. New turbines are the size of skyscrapers, dwarfing previous designs. Between 2010 and today, the amount of wind power turbine can harness, on average, has more than doubled from 3 MW to 6.5 MW. By the end of the decade, more than half of turbines installed globally are projected to be even larger than 8 MW.

That’s quickly making more ships — even those just built this decade — obsolete. Only four of the turbine installation ships in operation are capable of carrying behemoth next-generation turbines, according to Rystad’s 2020 analysis.
» Read article         
» Read Rystad’s 2020 analysis

Gordon van Welie
Grid operator should stop crying wolf

It’s time to step up on climate or get out of the way
By Bradley M. Campbell, CommonWealth Magazine | Opinion
February 3, 2022
Bradley Campbell is president of Conservation Law Foundation.

NEW ENGLAND’S fossil fuel interests and electric grid operator are at it again. Every winter, they issue dire warnings that our region’s power grid won’t be able to handle the stress of another season of extreme weather.

As this week’s CommonWealth story highlights, 2022 is no different. It’s time to call out ISO-New England (our electric grid operator) and fossil fuel companies for this naked attempt to prop up oil and gas at the expense of renewables and state climate policy.

Last week it was the owners of fossil power plants predicting doom. Back in December, it was a coalition of oil and gas dealers who sent a letter to governors of every New England state with their own SOS. Both use the same false narrative predicting the kind of extreme weather that shut down Texas’ electricity and gas systems last February could hit our region this year. The oil dealers took aim at state programs to promote electric heat pumps for home and business heating, demanding they must be “ceased immediately.”

Their solution? Firing up more climate-polluting heating oil and gas of course.

The oil dealers aimed their ire at heat pump programs because transitioning to electric heat is at the center of state strategies to cut climate-damaging emissions. Heating our homes and buildings with electric heat pumps poses a threat, as it means moving away from gas and oil in favor of clean energy sources. The owners of dirty power want to limit clean energy and extend the life of their power plants.

Both pleas have the circularity of a Texas two-step: to avoid risks posed by severe weather, we must burn more fossil fuels. But that severe weather is driven in large part by climate change – which is caused by burning those very fossil fuels.

The misleading messages of fear peddled by oil and gas companies would not be newsworthy or catch the attention of our politicians if not for one critical factor. They echo the anti-clean energy rhetoric of a supposedly credible source: ISO-New England.
» Read article         

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

DPU falls short
With new Mass Save three-year plan, Massachusetts sharpens its best climate-fighting tool
The new 343-page order dramatically expands incentives to decarbonize homes. Yet some fear its fine print could undermine its broad strokes.
By Sabrina Shankman, Boston Globe
February 1, 2022

In a move hailed as a sea change in the state’s climate fight, Massachusetts regulators approved a plan that would dramatically expand incentives for homeowners to invest in electric heat pumps as the state races to shift people off fossil fuels.

On Monday, the Department of Public Utilities approved a major rewriting of the state plan that provides energy efficiency incentives to consumers. Unlike previous versions of the Mass Save plan, the new one centers on curbing global warming by encouraging people to switch from oil or gas to electric heat or renewable sources, and also includes provisions to help make the transition more affordable to people in disadvantaged communities.

Among the $4 billion in new incentives is hundreds of millions of dollars for electric heat pumps, which, for the first time, will be available to gas customers looking to move off of fossil fuels.

The incentives are seen as critical to building momentum for the state’s quest to wean 1 million homes from fossil fuels by 2030, a massive undertaking that had languished because of high costs, anemic incentives, and, in some cases, active discouragement of homeowners looking to electrify their homes. In 2020, the state had converted just 461 homes.

Along with praise for the advances made in the plan came some harsh criticism. A number of climate advocates said it did not go far enough, especially with so little time to meet 2030 goals. Some blamed the DPU for walking back green energy measures, including restoring fossil fuel incentives that even the utilities that run Mass Save had recommended be ended.

“It seems like the DPU has minimized what could have been a transformative plan,” said Cameron Peterson, director of clean energy for the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, and a member of the Massachusetts Energy Efficiency Advisory Council, which oversees the Mass Save program.
» Read article         
» Related: What the new Mass Save rewrite means for you    

Syrian coffee
Making gas unnatural
By Yvonne Abraham, Boston Globe | Opinion
January 29, 2022

Don’t let that slippery word “natural” fool you.

Natural gas is very bad news. It’s lousy for human health, disastrous for the environment, and a massive money pit, sucking away billions we could be spending on trying to head off the worst impacts of climate change.

A study out of Stanford University last week found that gas cooking stoves leak methane not only when they’re in use, but even when they’re turned off: The projected emissions each year from the nation’s 40 million gas cooktops are as harmful to the environment as emissions from 500,000 gasoline-powered cars. Numerous studies have shown that kids living in homes with gas stoves — which emit dangerous gases, including nitrogen oxides — are much more likely to develop asthma.

Gas does damage not just in the homes where it’s used for cooking and heating, but all the way along the supply chain. It is polluting to harvest, associated with respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and poor birth outcomes. It is risky to store and transport, as we saw with the disastrous Merrimack Valley explosions of three years ago. Methane, of which it is largely comprised, is far more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. After transportation emissions, gas is this state’s second-biggest polluter.

We have to kick our habit on this stuff if we’re ever going to attain the ambitious, and absolutely vital, climate goals we’ve set for ourselves in Massachusetts. But so far, despite plenty of good intentions, we’re doing an abysmal job of it.

Instead of transitioning away from gas, utilities are spending billions to rebuild leaking pipelines across the Commonwealth. Obviously, leaks that send tons of methane into the air are dangerous, and we need to plug them, but the state has made it more lucrative for gas companies to replace those lines, greatly extending their life and the life of this damaging energy option, rather than repair them. A report last fall by the advocacy group Gas Leaks Allies found that the cost of replacing those pipelines is headed into Big Dig territory, at $20 billion, and that ratepayers will be on the hook for it. Worse, the system is springing new leaks as quickly as gas companies are plugging the old ones, so they’re essentially treading water says Dorie Seavey, who authored the study.

Meanwhile, legislation mandates that the state be at net zero emissions — that we be essentially done with fossil fuels — by 2050. That means switching to heat pumps, geothermal systems, and electric heat that relies on renewable energy sources. We’ve gotten a slow start so far: An analysis by my colleague Sabrina Shankman found that, though the state has set a target of converting 100,000 households each year from fossil fuels to electricity for heating and cooling, a measly 461 homes converted to heat pumps in 2020. That’s partly because the gas companies, for whom this whole movement away from fossil fuels is a monumental threat, have been discouraging these changeovers.
» Read article         

» More about energy efficiency

LONG-DURATION ENERGY STORAGE

Zinc8 in Queens
New York demonstration project to showcase potential of Zinc8’s long-duration zinc-air battery
By Jason Plautz, Utility Dive
January 26, 2022

Canadian energy storage company Zinc8 Energy Solutions last week announced plans to deploy a 100kW/1.5MWh battery storage system at an apartment building in Queens, New York, to demonstrate the potential of its long-duration zinc-air storage technology.

Zinc8 specializes in a flow battery technology that relies on regenerating zinc particles to store and dispatch energy. The technology has fewer supply chain concerns than lithium-ion batteries, the company said, and is also scalable at a lower cost than other long-duration technologies.

The Queens project — developed in partnership with New York-based combined heat and power developer Digital Energy Corp and real estate company Fresh Meadows Community Apartments — will see Zinc8 deploy a battery capable of at least eight hours of storage at the 32-building housing development. The battery will draw power from on-site solar and the combined heat and power system and deploy it in order to minimize drawing power from the grid at peak times during the day.

Zinc8 President and CEO Ron MacDonald said the Queens project, backed by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), is more “validation” of the value of long-duration storage. Zinc8 has several other demonstration projects in New York, but this behind-the-meter project, MacDonald said, will show that the zinc-air system can work for buildings without the safety concerns that accompany lithium-ion batteries.

“You could safely deploy us in the basement of a downtown high rise or a school or a library,” Macdonald said.

The proprietary flow battery technology uses power from the grid or a renewable source to generate zinc particles, releasing oxygen as a byproduct. Those flow to an electrolyte for storage and are then returned and recombined with oxygen to deliver power. The company says it can deploy at about $250/kWh for eight hours of storage, which drops to about $100/kWh for 30 hours. The system is also scalable without sacrificing power, unlike some other long-duration batteries, MacDonald said.
» Read article         

» More about long-duration energy storage

MODERNIZING THE GRID

West Reading tangle
Overwhelmed by Solar Projects, the Nation’s Largest Grid Operator Seeks a Two-Year Pause on Approvals
“It’s a kink in the system,” says one developer trying to bring solar jobs to coal country. “The planet does not have time for a delay.”
By James Bruggers, Inside Climate News
February 2, 2022

The nation’s largest electric grid operator, PJM Interconnection, is so clogged with requests from energy developers seeking connections to its  regional transmission network in the eastern United States that it is proposing a two-year pause on reviewing more than 1,200 energy projects, most of them solar power.

New projects may have to wait even longer.

The situation can be explained in part by the rapid increase in the economic competitiveness of solar power as state energy policies and corporate sustainability plans drive a booming renewable energy industry. But the logjam threatens to put some solar developers in a financial bind and is raising questions about the feasibility of the Biden administration’s goal of having a carbon-free electricity grid in just 13 years.

“It’s a kink in the system,” said Adam Edelen, a former Kentucky state auditor who runs a company working to bring solar projects and jobs to ailing coal communities in Appalachia, including West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia and Kentucky. “Anyone paying attention would acknowledge that this has a tremendous impact on climate policy and energy policy in the United States.”

The backlog at PJM is a major concern for renewable energy companies and clean energy advocates, even though grid operators are a part of the energy economy that is largely unknown to the public.

“There is broad national consensus, in the leadership from the public and the private sector, that we need to hasten the adoption of renewable energy,” Edelen said. “The planet does not have time for a delay.”
» Read article         

» More about modernizing the grid

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

USPS next gen
Biden officials push to hold up $11.3 billion USPS truck contract, citing climate damage
The Environmental Protection Agency warns Postmaster General Louis DeJoy to halt his plan to replace the aging delivery fleet with thousands of gas-powered vehicles.
By Anna Phillips and Jacob Bogage, Washington Post
February 2, 2022

The Biden administration launched a last-minute push Wednesday to derail the U.S. Postal Service’s plan to spend billions of dollars on a new fleet of gasoline-powered delivery trucks, citing the damage the polluting vehicles could inflict on the climate and Americans’ health.

The dispute over the Postal Service’s plans to spend up to $11.3 billion on as many as 165,000 new delivery trucks over the next decade has major implications for President Biden’s goal of converting all federal cars and trucks to clean power. Postal Service vehicles make up a third of the government’s fleet, and the EPA warned the agency last fall that its environmental analysis of the contract rested on flawed assumptions and missing data.

The EPA and the White House Council on Environmental Quality sent letters to the Postal Service on Wednesday that urge it to reconsider plans to buy mostly gas-powered vehicles and conduct a new, more thorough technical analysis. The EPA also asked the Postal Service to hold a public hearing on its fleet modernization plans, a request the agency had rejected when California regulators made it Jan. 28.

“The Postal Service’s proposal as currently crafted represents a crucial lost opportunity to more rapidly reduce the carbon footprint of one of the largest government fleets in the world,” wrote Vicki Arroyo, the EPA’s associate administrator for policy.
» Read article         

» More about clean transportation

CRYPTOCURRENCY

Liz on the case
Is Crypto Mining Driving Up Power Costs For U.S. Consumers?
By Tsvetana Paraskova, Oil Price
January 28, 2022

A group of Democratic lawmakers, led by Senator Elizabeth Warren, demand that six major cryptocurrency mining companies detail their high energy usage, the possible impact on the environment, and the role in driving up power bills for U.S. consumers.

Riot Blockchain, Marathon Digital Holdings, Stronghold Digital Mining, Bitdeer, Bitfury Group, and Bit Digital were sent letters by the lawmakers, who were concerned about “their extraordinarily high energy usage,” Senator Warren said on Thursday.

In the letters, the lawmakers want written answers from the six crypto mining companies by February 10, 2022, on the amount of energy each of their facilities consume, projected energy use for the next five years, plans to address the climate impact of their increasing operations, and details of their purchasing agreements with electricity providers.

“Bitcoin mining’s power consumption has more than tripled from 2019 to 2021, rivaling the energy consumption of Washington state, and of entire countries like Denmark, Chile, and Argentina,” the statement from the lawmakers says.

“The extraordinarily high energy usage and carbon emissions associated with Bitcoin mining could undermine our hard work to tackle the climate crisis – not to mention the harmful impacts cryptomining has on local environments and electricity prices. We need more information on the operations of these cryptomining companies to understand the full scope of the consequences for our environment and local communities,” Senator Warren said.

Crypto mining globally has drawn a lot of attention in recent months, including from regulators, amid the current energy crisis in Europe and rising energy costs for consumers, including in the United States.
» Read article         

» More about crypto

CARBON CAPTURE AND STORAGE

Gulf CCS
CCS in the Gulf: Climate solution or green washing?
By Heather Richards and Carlos Anchondo, E&E News
January 31, 2022

The Gulf of Mexico may be the largest potential sink for storing carbon dioxide emissions in the world — but getting the greenhouse gas under the seafloor would take a massive effort and cost.

Enter Exxon Mobil Corp.

The oil supermajor, along with other companies, is eyeing the Gulf as a prime spot to deploy carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology, considering the region’s massive potential capacity, its existing oil and gas infrastructure, and its proximity to industrial facilities where the greenhouse gas could be captured, piped and stored underneath the seafloor.

“ExxonMobil believes the greatest opportunity for CO2 storage in the United States is in the Gulf of Mexico,” said Todd Spitler, a spokesperson for Exxon’s Low Carbon Solutions business, in an email.

But momentum for carbon capture in the Gulf hit a potential roadblock last week when a federal judge invalidated the Biden administration’s November oil and gas lease sale over faulty climate reviews, consequently striking a bundle of Exxon leases that observers say were primed for the company’s first Gulf carbon storage efforts.

Exxon declined to comment on the impact of the court case, but the ruling is not expected to quell a rush of industry interest in Gulf carbon storage. However, critics are making accusations of green washing and warning of potential environmental risks, like carbon dioxide leaking into the ocean. The dynamic raises the question: How likely is CCS in the Gulf?

Proponents say very.

Political leaders on Capitol Hill have responded to the industry push by tweaking federal laws to make carbon sequestration in federal waters permissible and taking steps this year to regulate where CO2 can be stored offshore, and how to do it safely.

But carbon storage has its critics, and Exxon’s interest in the Gulf is refueling allegations of green washing.

“CCS is the plan of the oil industry to keep business as usual, while claiming some kind of net-zero alignment or climate action,” said Steven Feit, an attorney with the climate and energy program at the Center for International Environmental Law, which uses law to “protect the environment, promote human rights, and ensure a just and sustainable society.”
» Read article         

» More about CCS

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

talk is cheap
Record Fossil Extraction from Canada, U.S., Norway Despite Fervent Climate Pledges
By The Energy Mix
February 2, 2022


The United States, Norway, and Canada are set to produce more oil this year than ever before, despite solemn pronouncements at last year’s COP 26 climate summit on the urgent need for climate action, Oil Change International asserts in a new analysis.

All three countries “like to see themselves as climate leaders,” Oil Change writes, recalling American president Joe Biden’s commitment to “doing our part,” Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau’s call to “do more, and faster,” and Norwegian PM Jonas Gahr Støre’s urging to “jointly step up our commitments,” in their respective COP 26 speeches.

But those avowals were meant for last year, Oil Change says. “This is a new year, and instead of new commitments to double down on climate action, what do we see?”

According to U.S. Energy Information Administration forecasts, U.S. oil production in 2023 will surpass Donald Trump’s 2019 record for domestic crude production, courtesy of a drilling permit approval rate that surpasses that of Biden’s fossil-championing predecessor. The U.S. “has more oil and gas extraction expansion planned in the next decade than any other country,” Oil Change says.

These national-level fossil expansions come despite the International Energy Agency’s conclusion last May that any new investment in oil and gas will leave efforts to contain global heating below 1.5°C dead in the water. Then in August, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a landmark report urging leaders to halt oil and gas drilling or face heat waves, droughts, flooding, and other weather catastrophes. UN Secretary General António Guterres called the report “a code red for humanity,” but Oil Change says that message seems to have gone over the heads of some.
» Read article

fracking rig Colorado
Living near or downwind of unconventional oil and gas development linked with increased risk of early death
By Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
January 27, 2022

Boston, MA – Elderly people living near or downwind of unconventional oil and gas development (UOGD)—which involves extraction methods including directional (non-vertical) drilling and hydraulic fracturing, or fracking—are at higher risk of early death compared with elderly individuals who don’t live near such operations, according to a large new study from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

The results suggest that airborne contaminants emitted by UOGD and transported downwind are contributing to increased mortality, the researchers wrote.

The study was published on January 27, 2022 in Nature Energy.

“Although UOGD is a major industrial activity in the U.S., very little is known about its public health impacts. Our study is the first to link mortality to UOGD-related air pollutant exposures,” said Petros Koutrakis, professor of environmental sciences and senior author of the study. Added co-author Francesca Dominici, Clarence James Gamble Professor of Biostatistics, Population, and Data Science, “There is an urgent need to understand the causal link between living near or downwind of UOGD and adverse health effects.”
» Read article

» More about fossil fuels

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

Prelude FLNG
Ukraine dispute opens door for Goldboro LNG exports from N.S.
By Kevin Dougherty, iPolitics
January 27, 2022

The dispute between Russia and the West over Ukraine could revive a shelved liquefied natural gas project in Nova Scotia.

Natural Resources Canada confirmed that on Wednesday officials from Canada and Germany met virtually to discuss the project.

These “natural energy allies,” according to Natural Resources Canada, discussed “building a low-emissions energy future with a view to achieving carbon neutrality by 2050.”

Stakeholders from both countries were also in attendance, including representatives of Calgary’s Pieridae Energy Ltd., who presented their revised Goldboro concept to potential German partners.

James Millar, Pieridae’s director of external relations, said in an email that the Alberta company now is looking at a less-costly floating liquefication plant “much smaller project than the original, land-based Goldboro LNG.”

Pieridae announced last June it was putting Goldboro on hold, citing “pandemic-led disruptions” which have “made the current version of the project impractical.”

The floating platform would be moored off Goldboro, north east of Halifax, N.S., where Pieridae owns the land. Natural gas piped in from Alberta would be liquefied aboard the vessel, then loaded on LNG tankers for export.

Royal Dutch Shell pioneered the floating LNG concept with its mammoth 600,000-tonne Prelude FLNG vessel, now in the Indian Ocean, off the north coast of Australia.
» Read article        

» More about LNG

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Weekly News Check-In 1/21/22

banner 04

Welcome back.

Yesterday, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) met to consider the fate of Canadian energy giant Enbridge’s Weymouth compressor station. Their conclusion boiled down to this: “Gosh, folks, you’re right! We never should have approved such a dangerous, polluting facility right there in your neighborhood…. But we did. Sorry. Nothing to be done. Next!” It was a variation on Governor Charlie Baker’s earlier claim that even if he opposed construction of the compressor, there was nothing he could do about it. Given that level of spinelessness from our Governor and Federal regulators, we’re doubly fortunate to have Alice Arena’s Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station (FRRACS) and their many allies including U.S. Senator Edward Markey and other state and local leaders, continuing to press for closing this climate-busting “mistake”. If you can support FRRACS, please do.

A little farther west, Massachusetts’ largest utility, Eversource, is running its own play to foist unwanted and unnecessary gas infrastructure on Longmeadow and Springfield communities through its proposed pipeline expansion, but the Longmeadow Select Board is unsatisfied with the utility’s answers to some basic questions like, “Who’s going to pay for this?” Meanwhile, cities and towns all over the state would love to cut the use of gas but can’t initiate bans because the Baker administration is months late delivering an updated building code that reflects emissions reduction requirements already on the books. Of course, those same regulations classify electricity produced through waste incineration as renewable….

To round things out, the MA Department of Environmental Protection is providing Boston with twelve new propane-powered school buses, even though the state’s climate legislation calls for a move away from fossil-fueled transportation and electric models are available. Did someone recently change the state motto to Coming up short!?

Now that we’ve aired a load of Massachusetts’ dirty laundy, let’s talk about Georgia, and how the Feds are stepping in because state regulators are on the cusp of accepting utility Georgia Power’s argument that they don’t really need to clean up unlined toxic coal ash storage pits that are in contact with ground water. While in North Dakota, a deal is being done to sell the state’s largest coal plant to investors chasing a scheme to use U.S. government subsidies for carbon capture and storage equipment, and thereby avoid shutting the plant down. So far, CCS has proved far better at wasting money than at removing CO2 from smokestacks.

This has been a bit of a rant, and we’re almost to the positive news. But first have a look at how the Permian Basin frack-fest has turned west Texas into an earthquake zone, and treat yourself to a romp through some of the lawless corners of the cryptocurrency world, where unpermitted gas plants in Alberta power bitcoin mining, and a rogue region of Kosovo compounds an energy crisis while refusing to pay electric bills.

While all of the above was going on, oceans absorbed record amounts of heat, and the divestment movement is expanding its scope beyond banking, insurance, and investments – calling for funds to be pulled from fossil-focused advertising and public relations campaigns.

Hydrogen continues to be a hot topic in the clean energy sector, but we’re seeing some encouraging debate about how it’s sourced and what it should be used for. At the same time, money from the recently-passed bipartisan infrastructure bill is about to be applied to modernizing the grid – making it more resilient and able to bring renewable generation and storage onboard more quickly.

We’ll close with some intriguing news: Chinese battery maker CATL has developed a flexible, modular, battery-swapping scheme for electric vehicles with the potential to lower the cost of EV ownership while dropping road trip recharge times to just a few minutes. It’s disruptive, scalable, and very cool.

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

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

FRACCS and friendsFeds: Regulators ‘should never have approved’ Weymouth compressor, too late to shut it down
“What (FERC) did was morally, ethically and legally wrong on every level, and they just recommitted to that.”
By Jessica Trufant, The Patriot Ledger
January 20, 2022

WEYMOUTH – While several members said regulators shouldn’t have approved the project to begin with, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission says it won’t revoke authorization for the natural gas compressor station in Weymouth.

After reexamining operations and safety at the station following several accidental releases of natural gas, Richard Glick, the commission’s chairman, said regulators “should never have approved” the compressor on the banks of the Fore River, a “heavily populated area with two environmental justice communities and a higher-than-normal level of cancer and asthma due to heavy industrial activity.”

But Glick said the review and findings don’t justify revoking approval for the station, which the commission initially granted in January 2017. The compressor station is owned by Algonquin Gas Transmission, a subsidiary of Spectra Energy, which was later acquired by Enbridge.

“Going forward, the commission needs to pay attention to the impacts of its (decision) and I will push for the those changes,” he said. “I recognize that is cold comfort to the folks who live near the Weymouth compressor station.”

“This is their job. They get to set precedent. They get to say, ‘We went back and looked at this, and we looked into whether (Enbridge) ever needed the compressor in the first place, and the answer is no,’” Arena said. “(The commissioners) can say whatever they want that helps them get through the night, but what (FERC) did was morally, ethically and legally wrong on every level, and they just recommitted to that.”

State regulators also issued several permits for the project despite vehement and organized opposition from local officials and residents. Arena likened the commission’s response on Thursday to that of state regulators and Gov. Charlie Baker.

“They’ve done exactly what Charlie Baker did and said, ‘Our hands our tied. There’s nothing we can do,’ ” she said.

Arena sad the Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station will push forward with its opposition to the project in court. Several rehearing requests are pending in federal court, and the group’s appeal of the waterways permit will soon be heard in Superior Court.
» Blog editor’s note: You can follow and support Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station (FRRACS) through their website or Facebook.
» Read article       
» Watch WBZ-TV news coverage of the reaction to FERC’s decision

» More about the Weymouth compressor

PIPELINES

no expansion
Longmeadow Select Board unsatisfied with Eversource’s pipeline answers
By Sarah Heinonen, The Reminder
January 12, 2022

Longmeadow Select Board Chair Marc Strange read answers provided by Eversource after a December 2021 public hearing on the proposed natural gas pipeline and metering station. The board had requested responses to five questions that the utility company’s representatives were unable to answer during the meeting.

The first question was regarding a 10 percent return on investment that Eversource had stated it would receive from the pipeline project. The board had asked if the return the company would receive was 10 percent of the total capital investment or if it would receive a return annually. After reading Eversource’s response, which cited a Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities docket and stated shareholders would not see a return from the project unless “deemed prudent,” it went on to talk about the relationship between rate base and capital investments and year-long “rate case” proceedings involving the attorney general.

After reading the response, Strange asked, “Does anybody understand what it says?” causing members of the board to chuckle at the legal jargon and industry terminology used.

Select Board Vice Chair Steve Marantz pointed out that Eversource insisted the project will not involve an increase in the amount of gas it moves to customers and questioned how the company can receive a return on its investment without selling more gas.

Select Board member Mark Gold responded that the $40 million investment will be written off in taxes. Fellow Select Board member Thomas Lachiusa agreed, saying, “Eversource will pay less in taxes while increasing their footprint.”

Marantz opined that the cost of the investment will be passed on to ratepayers.
» Read article       

» More about pipelines

DIVESTMENT

climate lies uncovered
450+ Climate Scientists Demand PR Industry Drop Fossil Fuel Clients
“To put it simply, advertising and public relations campaigns for fossil fuels must stop,” states an open letter to ad agencies and major firms.
By Andrea Germanos, Common Dreams
January 19, 2022

In a new letter stressing the need for an “immediate and rapid transition” away from planet-heating fuels, a group of over 450 scientists on Wednesday called on public relations and advertising agencies to no longer work with fossil fuel clients.

“As scientists who study and communicate the realities of climate change,” they wrote, “we are consistently faced with a major and needless challenge: overcoming advertising and PR efforts by fossil fuel companies that seek to obfuscate or downplay our data and the risks posed by the climate crisis.”

“In fact,” the scientists continued, “these misinformation campaigns represent one of the biggest barriers to the government action science shows is necessary to mitigate the ongoing climate emergency. ”

Organized by scientists including Drs. Astrid Caldas, Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, and Michael Mann, along with the Clean Creatives campaign and the Union of Concerned Scientists, the letter is being sent to a number of public relations and advertising agencies including Edelman—the world’s biggest PR firm—and major clients of those companies including Amazon, Microsoft, and North Face.

“If PR and advertising agencies want to be part of climate solutions instead of continuing to exacerbate the climate emergency,” the scientists wrote that those companies “should drop all fossil fuel clients that plan to expand their production of oil and gas, end work with all fossil fuel companies and trade groups that perpetuate climate deception, cease all work that hinders climate legislation, and instead focus on uplifting the true climate solutions that are already available and must be rapidly implemented at scale.”

“To put it simply,” the letter adds, “advertising and public relations campaigns for fossil fuels must stop.”
» Read article       

» More about divestment

CLIMATE

bleached corals
Oceans Absorb Record Heat in 2021
By The Energy Mix
January 16, 2022


The Earth’s oceans yet again absorbed record high levels of heat in 2021 as part of a steady and dangerous 63-year warming trend fueled by human-generated greenhouse gas emissions, concludes a recent study authored by researchers from China, Italy, and the United States.

Published last week in the journal Advances in Atmospheric Sciences, the analysis confirms that the rate at which oceans have been absorbing heat, especially over the last 40 years, would be impossible in the absence of carbon emissions produced by human activity, reports the Washington Post.

The “long-term upward trend” has shown dramatic increases in recent years, with the oceans warming eight times faster since the late 1980s than in the three previous decades, said study co-author John Abraham, a professor of thermal engineering at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota.

“We’ve built up so much greenhouse gas that the oceans have begun to take in an increasing amount of heat, compared to what they previously were,” he told the Post.
» Read article       

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

BayoTech hydrogen generator
New Mexico front and center in nationwide debate over hydrogen
By Kevin Robinson-Avila, Albuquerque Journal
January 17th, 2022

[The] potential wholesale embrace of everything hydrogen is facing a wall of opposition from environmental organizations, which say the governor and local hydrogen supporters are rushing forward to build a new industry that could actually slow New Mexico’s transition to a clean energy economy, and possibly even worsen carbon emissions here. Rather than produce a new, “clean fuel” to help decarbonize things like transportation and residential and commercial heating, environmentalists say full-scale hydrogen production could instead perpetuate mining and consumption of natural gas for 20 years or more at a time when New Mexico and the nation are aggressively working to replace fossil fuels with renewables like solar, wind and backup-battery technology.

That’s because nearly all of today’s hydrogen production uses natural gas in a process that extracts hydrogen molecules from methane, a potent greenhouse gas, with substantial amounts of carbon emitted during operations. Industry and hydrogen supporters say carbon capture and sequestration technology can mitigate nearly all the carbon emissions, but that only intensifies the controversy, because carbon capture must still be proven environmentally and economically effective in commercial projects.

As a result, environmentalists want to halt the hydrogen-promotion bills in this year’s session and instead launch a broad public process to fully evaluate the pros and cons of hydrogen before moving forward. Thirty environmental, clean energy and local community organizations sent a joint statement to New Mexico’s state and federal officials last fall outlining “guiding principles” to better determine whether and how hydrogen development could potentially be used as a supporting tool to combat climate change.

The local controversy reflects growing debate at the national and international levels over the role hydrogen can play as the world works to achieve carbon neutrality by midcentury.
» Read article       

blue is out
Germany’s Massive Boost for Hydrogen Leaves Out Fossil-Derived ‘Blue’ Variety
By The Energy Mix
January 19, 2022

Germany’s new coalition government has unveiled plans to massively accelerate the country’s national hydrogen strategy, while excluding fossil-derived “blue” hydrogen from eligibility for federal subsidies.

“Clean hydrogen is seen as a potential silver bullet to decarbonize industries like steel and chemicals, which cannot fully electrify and need energy-dense fuels to generate high-temperature heat for their industrial processes,” Euractiv reports.

“However, Germany will make no subsidies available for so-called ‘blue hydrogen’, which is created by using fossil gas and sequestering the resulting CO2 emission using carbon and capture (CCS) technology,” the publication adds, citing Patrick Graichen, state secretary to Vice-Chancellor Robert Habeck.

At an event earlier this morning, Clean Energy Wire reports, energy and climate state secretary Patrick Graichen said the country may obtain the “blue” product from Norway for a transitional period. “We will go for green hydrogen in the long term, and whenever we put money on the table, it will be for green hydrogen,” he told a panel discussion on energy cooperation between the two countries, hosted by the Association of German Chambers of Commerce and Industry and German Chambers of Commerce Abroad.

That’s despite concerns from Germany’s oil and gas lobby, the European Commission, and non-profits like the U.S. Clean Air Task Force that “green” hydrogen produced from renewable electricity can’t scale up in time to do its part to reduce emissions.
» Read article       

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

Beverly HS solar array
All around Massachusetts, cities and towns want to go fossil fuel free. Here’s why they can’t.
By Sabrina Shankman, Boston Globe
January 18, 2022

Across Massachusetts, dozens of cities and towns have said they want to outlaw the use of fossil fuels in newly constructed buildings — considered an easy and effective step toward a carbon-free future.

The state’s new climate legislation aimed to do just that, and required the state to come up with a new building code that would allow cities and towns to move ahead.

The Baker administration promised a draft by fall 2021 but failed to deliver. And now some climate-concerned legislators want the administration to answer for it.

“Each additional day of delay means one day less of public discussion,” said Senator Mike Barrett, who cochairs the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, which is scheduled to discuss the delays — and what to do about them — at a hearing Wednesday. “The clock is ticking down, and Baker’s people know it.”

In light of the delay, Wednesday’s hearing will consider legislative action that would allow cities and towns to require new residential and commercial buildings to be “all-electric.”

The exact details of the building code won’t be known until the Baker administration releases it and it goes through a public comment period and a series of five public hearings. It is required to be finalized by December of next year. But the intent, as laid out by the climate law passed last year, is that cities and towns could require new buildings and gut rehabilitations would have net-zero emissions. This likely means a future of heat pumps to deliver heat, solar panels to generate energy, and onsite batteries to store what is produced to get to net zero.

But net zero is not zero, and the climate legislation allows for some wiggle room.

Advocates fear the draft from the Baker administration could ultimately allow for buildings to have fossil fuel hook-ups as long as emissions are offset in another way, like the installation of solar panels. While the offsetting is important for the climate, the continued use of fossil fuels in new buildings would ensure that the required infrastructure remains in place into the future, potentially putting the state’s climate targets at risk.

“The thing we’re really waiting for is to make sure that the code is what it needs to be” said Cameron Peterson, director of clean energy for the Metropolitan Area Planning Council. “The definition I would like to see would have a building that has no combustion in it, but depending on how they write the performance standards, it’s possible that fossil fuel hook-ups could be allowed.”
» Read article       

» More about energy efficiency

MODERNIZING THE GRID

Deepwater Wind
Biden administration announces major new initiatives to clean up the electric grid
Federal agencies announced plans to open up public lands and waters and lay new transmission lines
By Justine Calma, The Verge
January 12, 2022

On Wednesday, the Biden administration announced a slew of new moves to transition the US to renewable energy, with a focus on upgrading the power grid and using public lands and waters to harness solar, wind, and geothermal energy. It’s the administration’s latest effort to clean up the nation’s electricity grid, as Democrats struggle to make headway on key legislation needed to tackle the climate crisis.

The Department of Energy is rolling out a “Building a Better Grid” initiative, which will put federal dollars to work after the recently passed bipartisan infrastructure law allocated $65 billion for grid improvements. Notably, there’s $2.5 billion earmarked for new and improved transmission lines that will be crucial for zipping renewable energy from far-flung solar and wind farms to communities. Another $3 billion will go towards smart grid technologies that aim to make homes more energy efficient and reduce pressure on the grid while balancing the flow of intermittent sources of renewable energy like wind and solar.

There’s also more than $10 billion in grants to states, tribes, and utilities for efforts to harden the grid and help prevent power outages. As the grid ages and extreme weather events are worsened by climate change, blackouts have grown longer in the US, with the average American going more than eight hours without power in 2020 — twice as long as was typical when the federal government started keeping track in 2013. Things could get worse without efforts to rein in greenhouse gas emissions.
» Read article       

» More about modernizing the grid

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

Evogo swap
CATL rolls out one-minute EV battery swapping solution, entire business around it

By Bengt Halvorson, Green Car Reports
January 18, 2022

Battery swapping, once considered a solution that had been outmoded by the capability for faster road-trip charging, is back—with the world’s largest battery supplier CATL onboard and launching an entire business around it.

That business, called Evogo, makes a lot of sense right now that the longtime reduction in battery cell cost has reversed course, largely due to supply constraints. Most EV owners tend to buy the vehicle with the bigger battery so as to eliminate range anxiety, when only 10-20% of the total capacity of the battery is needed for daily use. “They have paid a high sunk cost for a power capacity that is rarely needed,” the company sums.

In terms that customers, automakers, and regulators will all like, it’s a scheme that will allow lower-priced EVs, and more of them.

Evogo, will revolve around “an innovative modular battery swap solution” that uses standardized battery blocks and has “high compatibility with vehicle models.”

That takes the form of a new bar-like battery—nicknamed Choco-SEB and designed around the idea of battery sharing, supporting cell-to-pack technology and an energy density of more than 160 watt-hours per kg, with a volumetric energy density of 325 Wh/L.

CATL says each 26.5-kwh block can enable a driving range of about 200 km (124 miles). And the idea is that you may only need one of these blocks for daily commuting, while three of these will comprise a long-range battery, with customers at battery swaps potentially swapping just one block or all three as needed.Likewise, customers could potentially lease one block with the vehicle but rent additional blocks as needed for a long trip.
» Read article       

detour at best
Boston is getting more propane school buses to combat pollution. They aren’t the cleanest option.
By Taylor Dolven, Boston Globe
January 13, 2022

The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection will spend $350,000 on 12 propane-powered school buses for Boston at a time when the state’s climate plan calls for a rapid shift away from fossil fuels in transportation.

The school buses are part of a $2 million round of Massachusetts grant funding provided by the US Environmental Protection Agency announced this week. The funding aims to cut pollution by getting rid of diesel-powered vehicles. The state said it will spend $740,324 on five electric school buses for Springfield contractor First Student Inc., and the 12 buses bound for Boston will use propane, a fossil fuel.

Governor Charlie Baker praised the funding announcements Tuesday.

“Our administration continues to identify and advance projects that better position the state in combating against the impact of climate change with an equitable approach,” he said in a statement. “The shift to cleaner vehicles will reduce the exposure of our citizens to diesel emissions, improve air quality, and assist us as we work to meet the Commonwealth’s ambitious climate goals.”

Those goals, part of climate legislation signed by Baker last year, are reducing the state’s carbon emissions at least 50 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, 75 percent below those levels by 2040, and getting to “net zero” emissions by 2050. Key to achieving those goals is electrifying most of the transportation sector, according to the state’s own road map.

The majority of Boston’s school bus fleet already runs on propane, but advocates bemoaned the city adding more vehicles powered by fossil fuels rather than moving to electric school buses as some other Massachusetts cities are doing.

“It’s time for the city to step up and be a leader on electric buses,” said Staci Rubin, vice president of environmental justice at the Conservation Law Foundation. “Ideally this would have been the time to get electric buses and figure it out.”

Data from the US Department of Energy Argonne National Laboratory’s transportation fuel calculator tool show that electric school buses far outperform propane school buses in reducing air pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions in Massachusetts. Compared to diesel school buses, propane school buses emit less nitrogen oxides, which contribute to harmful air pollution. Depending on the age and fuel efficiency of the diesel engine, propane buses can provide a slight reduction or a slight increase in greenhouse gases compared to diesel buses.

“It’s a detour at best, a dead end at worst,” said Daniel Sperling, founding director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at University of California Davis.
» Read article       
» Check out the Argonne National Lab’s fuel calculator tool

» More about clean transportation

CRYPTOCURRENCY

questionable value
Bitcoin Creates ‘Regulatory Hornet’s Nest’ as Alberta Orders Third Gas Plant Shutdown
By Jody MacPherson, The Energy Mix
January 18, 2022

A company facing more than C$7 million in penalties for operating two gas-fired power plants in Alberta without approvals has been ordered to shut down a third facility, after the plant in Westlock County was also found to be operating without approvals.

The Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) has also reopened its investigation into the previous two operations, combining it with the new Westlock investigation. At issue is whether the company was generating power for its own use and if the original penalty amount should change with the new information provided by the company.

Energy consumption and environmental concerns with bitcoin mining have surfaced around the world with a number of countries—including China—banning it outright.

China cited environmental concerns and cracked down on bitcoin mining this past summer. In August, an American company announced plans to power up to a million bitcoin “rigs” relocated from China to Alberta.

“It’s a question of what is the highest-value end use of an electron,” said clean energy policy consultant Ed Whittingham, former executive director of the Pembina Institute, in an exclusive interview with The Energy Mix. “Is it to mine a bitcoin? Or is it to help to get to these long-term goals that really balance environmental and social benefit?”

Whittingham said he would like to understand the environmental and social benefits produced by cryptocurrencies like bitcoin “because right now, it seems pretty opaque to me.”
» Read article       

Bitcoin accepted
Panic as Kosovo pulls the plug on its energy-guzzling bitcoin miners
Speculators rush to sell off their kit as Balkan state announces a crypto clampdown to ease electricity crisis
By Daniel Boffey, The Guardian
January 16, 2022

For bitcoin enthusiasts in Kosovo with a breezy attitude to risk, it has been a good week to strike a deal on computer equipment that can create, or “mine”, the cryptocurrency.

From Facebook to Telegram, new posts in the region’s online crypto groups became dominated by dismayed Kosovans attempting to sell off their mining equipment – often at knockdown prices.

“There’s a lot of panic and they’re selling it or trying to move it to neighbouring countries,” said cryptoKapo, a crypto investor and administrator of some of the region’s largest online crypto communities.

The frenetic social media action follows an end-of-year announcement by Kosovo’s government of an immediate, albeit temporary, ban on all crypto mining activity as part of emergency measures to ease a crippling energy crisis.

Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are created or “mined” by high-powered computers that compete to solve complex mathematical puzzles in what is a highly energy-intensive process that rewards people based on the amount of computing power they provide.

The incentive to get into the mining game in Kosovo, one of Europe’s poorest countries, is obvious. The cryptocurrency currently trades at more than £31,500 a bitcoin, while Kosovo has the cheapest energy prices in Europe due in part to more than 90% of the domestic energy production coming from burning the country’s rich reserves of lignite, a low-grade coal, and fuel bills being subsidised by the government.

The largest-scale crypto mining is thought to be taking place in the north of the country, where the Serb-majority population refuse to recognise Kosovo as an independent state and have consequently not paid for electricity for more than two decades.
» Read article       

» More about cryptocurrency

CARBON CAPTURE AND STORAGE

Coal Creek power plant
Sale of North Dakota’s Largest Coal Plant Is Almost Complete. Then Will Come the Hard Part
Minnesota co-op utilities must vote on approval of the plant’s sale. The new owner is betting on carbon capture to extend its life.
By Dan Gearino, Inside Climate News
January 15, 2022

A plan to sell, rather than close, the largest coal-fired power plant in North Dakota is nearly final. The completion of the sale would allow the buyer to move on to the much greater challenge of making the plant financially viable and installing a carbon capture system.

Great River Energy of Minnesota originally planned to close the plant, Coal Creek Station, after years of financial losses, but the company changed course and decided to sell the plant after intense pressure from elected officials in North Dakota. State officials have been zealous in trying to preserve coal jobs, to the point that they helped to arrange the sale and hope to use government subsidies to help retrofit the plant with a carbon capture system.

The efforts by officials to keep the plant open is part of a larger pattern of state and local governments, from Montana to West Virginia, downplaying concerns about the high costs and emissions from burning coal and working to secure a future for coal mines and coal-fired power plants. In some of those places, the coal industry and government leaders are embracing carbon capture, despite warnings from energy analysts that this is a costly investment that is unlikely to be successful at substantially cutting emissions.

Minnesota environmental advocates have opposed the sale every step of the way.

“We need somebody to be held accountable,” said Veda Kanitz, an environmental advocate who also is a customer of one of the co-ops, Dakota Electric Association, that receives power from the plant. “We’re not seeing a true risk-benefit analysis. And I don’t think they’re properly factoring in the climate impacts.”
» Read article       

» More about CCS

ELECTRIC UTILITIES

Plant Scherer
How a Powerful Company Convinced Georgia to Let It Bury Toxic Waste in Groundwater
Documents reveal Georgia Power went to great lengths to advocate for risky waste storage. After a ProPublica investigation exposed this practice, the EPA is trying to block the move.
By Max Blau, ProPublica
January 18, 2020

For the past several years, Georgia Power has gone to great lengths to skirt the federal rule requiring coal-fired power plants to safely dispose of massive amounts of toxic waste they produced.

But previously unreported documents obtained by ProPublica show that the company’s efforts were more extensive than publicly known. Thousands of pages of internal government correspondence and corporate filings show how Georgia Power made an elaborate argument as to why it should be allowed to store waste produced before 2020 in a way that wouldn’t fully protect surrounding communities’ water supplies from contamination — and that would save the company potentially billions of dollars in cleanup costs.

In a series of closed-door meetings with state environmental regulators, the powerful utility even went so far as to challenge the definition of the word “infiltration” in relation to how groundwater can seep into disposal sites holding underground coal ash, according to documents obtained through multiple open records requests.

Earlier this month, Georgia Power was on its way to getting final approval from the state to leave 48 million tons of coal ash buried in unlined ponds — despite evidence that contaminants were leaking out. Georgia is one of three states that regulate how power companies safely dispose of decades worth of coal ash, rather than leaving such oversight to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency itself.

But last week, the EPA made clear that arguments like the ones Georgia Power has been making violate the intent of the coal ash rule, setting up a potential showdown among the federal agency, state regulators and the deep-pocketed power company. In a statement last week, the EPA said that waste disposal sites “cannot be closed with coal ash in contact with groundwater,” in order to ensure that “communities near these facilities have access to safe water for drinking and recreation.”

The EPA’s action follows a joint investigation by Georgia Health News and ProPublica that found Georgia Power has known for decades that the way it disposed of coal ash could be dangerous to neighboring communities.
» Read article       

» More about electric utilities

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Permian Basin gas plant
Texas went big on oil. Earthquakes followed.
Thousands of earthquakes are shaking Texas. What the frack is going on?
By Neel Dhanesha, Vox
January 20, 2022

It’s been a big winter for earthquakes in West Texas. A string of small tremors rocked Midland County on December 15 and 16, followed a week later by a magnitude-4.5 quake, the second-strongest to hit the region in the last decade. Then a magnitude-4.2 quake shook the town of Stanton and another series of small earthquakes hit nearby Reeves County.

That’s an unsettling pattern for a state that, until recently, wasn’t an earthquake state at all. Before 2008, Texans experienced just one or two perceptible earthquakes a year. But Texas now sees hundreds of yearly earthquakes of at least magnitude 2.5, the minimum humans can feel, and thousands of smaller ones.

The reason why is disconcerting: Seismologists say that one of the state’s biggest industries is upsetting a delicate balance deep underground. They blame the oil and gas business — and particularly a technique called wastewater injection — for waking up ancient fault lines, turning a historically stable region into a shaky one, and opening the door to larger earthquakes that Texas might not be ready for.

Early signs of trouble came in 2008, when Dallas-area residents felt a series of small earthquakes that originated in the nearby Fort Worth basin. More earthquakes followed, and a magnitude-4 quake hit a town southwest of Dallas in 2015. No damage was reported, but according to the US Geological Survey, the impact of a magnitude-4 earthquake can include: “Dishes, windows, doors disturbed; walls make cracking sound. Sensation like heavy truck striking building. Standing motor cars rocked noticeably.”

Earthquakes in West Texas increased from a grand total of 19 in 2009 to more than 1,600 in 2017, according to a 2019 study, coinciding neatly with the rise of wastewater injection in the area. Nearly 2,000 earthquakes hit West Texas in 2021, a record high. According to the TexNet, the University of Texas’ earthquake catalog, 17 of those were magnitude 4 or higher.
» Read article       

» More about fossil fuels

WASTE INCINERATION

garbage crane
Trash is a burning question with mixed answers in some Mass. towns
By Hannah Chanatry, WBUR
January 20, 2022

Massachusetts categorizes trash incineration as renewable energy. In fact, it’s almost always one of the leading sources of renewable energy in the region, according to ISO New England’s real-time analysis of energy use, usually beating out solar and wind.

The designation as renewable is a critical problem for the Conservation Law Foundation.

“It’s really just a greenwashing campaign,” said Kirstie Pecci, and environmental attorney with the organization.

Pecci has worked opposing incinerators for a decade. While the idea of energy production sounds good, she said the pollution coming from the facilities is too dangerous for public health and the environment.

“The ash has got dioxin, furans, heavy metals,” she said, “all kinds of [other] nasty chemicals in it as well.” Dioxins are a class of organic pollutants, some of which are highly toxic and are known to cause cancer and reproductive problems.

The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection also identifies nitrogen oxides, which can cause breathing problems and are the primary ingredient in smog, as among the possible emissions from incinerators. Incinerators are required to take  measures to limit emissions below federal and state caps, and conduct continuous and annual monitoring for specific pollutants. Each incinerator is permitted by both MassDEP and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for air quality, water quality, stormwater and spills on site.

The Conservation Law Foundation and other environmental organizations want the state to move to close the incinerators.
» Read article       

» More about waste incineration

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Weekly News Check-In 12/31/21

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Welcome back.

First, we’d like to acknowledge and thank everyone who traveled with us though this tumultuous year. You kept yourselves up to date on climate and energy issues by reading our newsletters, you contacted legislators, you stood with us in the street, and you supported us with donations. It’s slow, hard work, but we’re making tangible progress and, with you, we’re walking in good company.

A lot of reporting these past couple weeks has been retrospective, so it amounts to a useful overview of 2021’s major themes and sets us up for the coming year. The Weymouth compressor station is fully operational and managed to get though the year without another unplanned gas release. But it’s bad infrastructure in the wrong place, so opposition continues. The proposed peaking power plant in Peabody, MA is a similar old-think dinosaur, and we offer Ben Hillman’s latest video to explain why it shouldn’t be built.

Predictably disappointing results from recently concluded COP26 climate talks underscore the fact that governments have yet to rise to the level of action and commitment that meet the urgent demands of our three inseparable crises: climate, environment, and equity. But we’re seeing an increasingly effective trend in litigation, forcing action in areas where political will and diplomacy have failed. For an example of that political failure at a national level, look no farther than the fact that a single coal-loving Democratic Senator (along with every single Republican) has so far stopped the Build Back Better act, leaving the U.S. without desperately needed tools to drive emissions down. In the absence of Federal leadership, a few states and cities continue to show the way. New York City’s recent $3b pension fund divestment from fossil fuels is worth celebrating.

Greening the economy requires a lot of metals for batteries, and obtaining them requires mining and other forms of extraction and processing. Two stories highlight efforts to reduce environmental and social harms, while our Clean Transportation section shows why we’ll need so many batteries so quickly and also discusses how some battery chemistries are more sustainable than others.

During 2021 our changing climate seemed to force just about everyone on the planet to take precautions, take cover, or run for their lives. It’s difficult to find anyone who still believes it’s someone else’s problem. DeSmog Blog’s Nick Cunningham offers an excellent summary of what just happened and why it matters. Meanwhile we gained ground in clean energy and energy storage, while negative forces persist in hyping false solutions like carbon capture and storage, and some utilities take advantage of disruptions to gouge customers. All this while the fossil fuel industry is having a coal moment, largely resulting from our over-dependence on natural gas as a “bridge fuel”, rather than having invested early enough in renewable energy, storage, and grid modernization. So pandemic disruptions made gas temporarily scarce and expensive, and coal is filling the void.

We’ll close out the year by adding another topic to our watch list: waste incineration, or more broadly the whole suite of waste-to-energy technologies. These facilities are sources of nasty, toxic pollution, but bill themselves as producers of renewable energy. Renewable, that is, as long as humans create a nearly limitless supply of waste while failing to reduce, reuse, recycle, or compost a good percentage of it.

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

— The NFGiM Team

PEAKING POWER PLANTS

stop Peabody peakerOutrage over plan for new dirty power plant in Peabody, MA.
By Ben Hillman, YouTube
December 22, 2021
» Watch video

» More about peaking power plants

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

view from Fore River Bridge
Neighbors dealt another blow in Fore River compressor station fight; court tosses lawsuit
By Jessica Trufant, The Patriot Ledger
December 24, 2021

WEYMOUTH – A state Appeals Court tossed out a lawsuit filed by residents challenging one of the approvals granted for the natural gas compressor station on the banks of the Fore River.

A three-judge panel affirmed a Superior Court judge’s decision that the Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station could not seek judicial review of the approval issued by the state Office of Coastal Zone Management.

The court ruled that the citizens group did not have a right to an agency hearing, and therefore did not have a right to judicial review.

Alice Arena of the anti-compressor group said the town initially filed the appeal and the citizens group intervened. But Arena said the residents were left “out in the ether” when the town dropped its appeal as part of a host community agreement with energy company Enbridge.

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

Arena said several rehearing requests are pending in federal court, and the group’s appeal of the waterways permit will soon be heard in Superior Court.
» Read article             

» More about the Weymouth compressor

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

blue marble head
COP26: Five Key Takeaways on the Rising Tide of Climate Litigation
By L. Delta Merner, Union of Concerned Scientists | Blog
December 22, 2021

Nation-states have been trying for nearly 30 years to address climate change through global diplomacy. Creating mechanisms and processes for making global commitments to address climate change is no easy task and, while a future in which global warming is limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius (1.5° C) above pre-industrial levels is still scientifically possible, the commitments that governments have made so far will not get us there– and not nearly enough is being done to help communities that are suffering from the impacts of climate change today.

I left COP26 more convinced than ever that climate litigation has an important role to play to help ensure the changes we vitally need to prevent worse impacts from climate change.

Before the Paris Agreement was signed in December 2015, the world was on track for 4° C of warming; after the meetings in Scotland and assuming the commitments nations made there are realized, we are on track for a reality closer to 2.4° C of warming.

Unfortunately, 2.4 degrees would be devastating—and it is not aligned with the Paris Agreement, a legally binding international treaty with a stated goal to limit global warming to well below 2, and as close to 1.5 degrees Celsius as possible, compared to pre-industrial levels. So, change is happening and it is incremental, as the process promised.

During the meetings, speakers repeated that the science is clear. It’s clear that we need to limit emissions. It’s clear where the emissions are coming from. Yet, there’s no question something huge is standing in the way of real change. Standing in those meeting rooms, the sheer influence of the fossil fuel industry at the negotiations was also on clear display.

Over the last five years, the courts have made it clear that they have the power to rule on cases related to climate change and that governments and companies have a legal duty to address climate change, which includes reducing emissions and helping communities prepare and adapt to any unavailable impacts. These decisions are being made based on science,  and international and human rights law. The impacts of judicial decisions will continue to grow with new cases and new venues, including increased use of international legal bodies such as the international court of justice.
» Read article          

» More about protests and actions

LEGISLATION

after Manchin
Why the collapse of Biden’s Build Back Better would be a major blow to the climate fight
It would be almost impossible for the US to comply with its greenhouse gas reduction pledges without the $1.75tn package that Manchin refuses to support
By Nina Lakhani, The Guardian
December 22, 2021

The collapse of Joe Biden’s Build Back Better legislation would have disastrous consequences for the global climate crisis, making it almost impossible for the US to comply with its greenhouse gas reduction pledges made under the Paris accords.

The US president’s sweeping economic recovery and social welfare bill is in serious trouble after the Democratic senator Joe Manchin announced his opposition to the $1.75tn spending package that includes the country’s largest ever climate crisis investment.

The shock move by the fossil fuel-friendly West Virginia lawmaker came after a year of record-breaking fires, floods, hurricanes and droughts devastated families across America, and amid warnings that such deadly extreme weather events will intensify unless there is radical action to curb greenhouse gases.

The Build Back Better (BBB) legislation earmarks $555bn to tackle the US’s largest sources of global heating gasses – energy and transportation – through a variety of grants, tax incentives and other policies to boost jobs and technologies in renewable energy, as well as major investments in sustainable vehicles and public transit services.
» Read article             

» More about legislation

DIVESTMENT

divest NY‘Historic’ NYC Pension Fund Fossil Fuel Divestment Heralded as Model for Others
One activist said this is what “every pension fund can and should” do to address the climate crisis.
By Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams
December 22, 2021

In what climate campaigners on Wednesday celebrated as not only a “historic” win but also a model for the rest of the country, New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer and trustees of major public pensions funds announced a $3 billion divestment from fossil fuels.

“We’d like to thank Comptroller Stringer, for his years of public service and his leadership in protecting our pensions and our planet by divesting from fossil fuel investments. Thank you for joining the fight to reduce the money flowing to the world’s most dangerous polluters,” said 350NYC Steering Committee member Dorian Fulvio.

Stand.earth Climate Finance Program director Richard Brooks declared that “once again, New York City is a beacon of progressive climate action.”

“This ahead-of-schedule and unprecedentedly transparent completion of one of the biggest fossil fuel divestments translates words and commitment into real action,” he said. “Every pension fund and investor needs to pay attention: If divestment can be completed in New York, it can and should happen everywhere.”

Stand.earth earlier this month published what it called a “first-of-its-kind” analysis exposing how U.S. public pension funds are “bankrolling the climate crisis.” The advocacy group and fund beneficiaries nationwide responded to the findings by demanding divestment from fossil fuel holdings as well as investment in “just and equitable climate solutions.”

New York City leaders in January 2018 committed to divesting major public pension funds from fossil fuel reserve companies within five years, and have urged others to follow suit.

On Wednesday, Stringer and trustees of the New York City Employees’ Retirement System (NYCERS) and the New York City Board of Education Retirement System (BERS) revealed that those funds “have completed their process of divesting approximately $1.8 billion and $100 million in securities, respectively,” bringing the total for all funds to approximately $3 billion.
» Read article             

» More about divestment

GREENING THE ECONOMY

nickel processing plantCan a Tiny Territory in the South Pacific Power Tesla’s Ambitions?
Nickel is vital to electric car batteries, but extracting it is dirty and destructive. A plant with a turbulent history in New Caledonia is about to become an experiment in sustainable mining.
By Hannah Beech, New York Times
Photographs by Adam Dean

December 30, 2021

GORO, New Caledonia — From the reef-fringed coast of New Caledonia, the Coral Sea stretches into the South Pacific. Slender native pines, listing like whimsical Christmas trees, punctuate the shoreline. The landscape, one of the most biodiverse on the planet, is astonishingly beautiful until the crest of a hill where a different vista unfolds: a gouged red earth pierced by belching smokestacks and giant trucks rumbling across the lunar-like terrain.

This is Goro, the largest nickel mine on a tiny French territory suspended between Australia and Fiji that may hold up to a quarter of the world’s nickel reserves. It also poses a critical test for Tesla, the world’s largest electric vehicle maker, which wants to take control of its supply chain and ensure that the minerals used for its car batteries are mined in an environmentally and socially responsible fashion.

Tesla’s strategy, the largest effort by a Western electric vehicle maker to directly source minerals, could serve as a model for a green industry confronting an uncomfortable paradox. While consumers are attracted to electric vehicles for their clean reputation, the process of harvesting essential ingredients like nickel is dirty, destructive and often politically fraught.

Because of its nickel industry, New Caledonia is one of the world’s largest carbon emitters per capita. And mining, which began soon after New Caledonia was colonized in 1853, is intimately linked to the exploitation of its Indigenous Kanak people. The legacy of more than a century of stolen land and crushed traditions has left Goro’s nickel output at the mercy of frequent labor strikes and political protests.

If done right, the approach by Tesla, which has the capacity to churn out close to a million cars a year, could lead the way in setting global standards for the electric vehicle revolution, in yet another convention-defying move by the company’s enigmatic founder, Elon Musk. It also provides Western car companies a path to begin sidestepping China, which currently dominates the production of electric vehicle batteries.

If done wrong, Goro will serve as a cautionary tale of how difficult it is to achieve true sustainability. “Going green” or “acting local” are nice bumper stickers for a Tesla. Meeting these ideals, however, will require not just cash and innovation but also savvy about one of the most remote places on earth, a scattering of French-ruled islands hovering on the cusp of independence. Some of the world’s biggest nickel miners have tried to profit at Goro — and failed.
» Read article             

SQM Li plant
Chile Rewrites Its Constitution, Confronting Climate Change Head On
Chile has lots of lithium, which is essential to the world’s transition to green energy. But anger over powerful mining interests, a water crisis and inequality has driven Chile to rethink how it defines itself.
By Somini Sengupta, New York Times
Photographs by Marcos Zegers

December 28, 2021

SALAR DE ATACAMA, Chile — Rarely does a country get a chance to lay out its ideals as a nation and write a new constitution for itself. Almost never does the climate and ecological crisis play a central role.

That is, until now, in Chile, where a national reinvention is underway. After months of protests over social and environmental grievances, 155 Chileans have been elected to write a new constitution amid what they have declared a “climate and ecological emergency.”

Their work will not only shape how this country of 19 million is governed. It will also determine the future of a soft, lustrous metal, lithium, lurking in the salt waters beneath this vast ethereal desert beside the Andes Mountains.

Lithium is an essential component of batteries. And as the global economy seeks alternatives to fossil fuels to slow down climate change, lithium demand — and prices — are soaring.

Mining companies in Chile, the world’s second-largest lithium producer after Australia, are keen to increase production, as are politicians who see mining as crucial to national prosperity. They face mounting opposition, though, from Chileans who argue that the country’s very economic model, based on extraction of natural resources, has exacted too high an environmental cost and failed to spread the benefits to all citizens, including its Indigenous people.

And so, it falls to the Constitutional Convention to decide what kind of country Chile wants to be. Convention members will decide many things, including: How should mining be regulated, and what voice should local communities have over mining? Should Chile retain a presidential system? Should nature have rights? How about future generations?

Around the world, nations face similar dilemmas — in the forests of central Africa, in Native American territories in the United States — as they try to tackle the climate crisis without repeating past mistakes. For Chile, the issue now stands to shape the national charter. “We have to assume that human activity causes damage, so how much damage do we want to cause?” said Cristina Dorador Ortiz, a microbiologist who studies the salt flats and is in the Constitutional Convention. “What is enough damage to live well?”

Indeed the questions facing this Convention aren’t Chile’s alone. The world faces the same reckoning as it confronts climate change and biodiversity loss, amid widening social inequities: Does the search for climate fixes require re-examining humanity’s relationship to nature itself?

“We have to face some very complex 21st century problems,” said Maisa Rojas, a climate scientist at the University of Chile. “Our institutions are, in many respects, not ready.”
» Read article             

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

recap 20212021: Year in Review for Climate Change Wins and Losses
As the climate crisis worsens, the calls for more aggressive action grow louder. 2021 saw more business as usual, industry obfuscation and delay, but also some reasons for optimism.
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
December 22, 2021

As 2021 comes to a close, we look back on a year that was full of climate chaos, relentless oil industry propaganda, and frustrating progress on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. But 2021 also saw a significant number of victories against the expansion of the fossil fuel industry in the U.S. and around the world, and some glimmers of hope for climate action.

The year started with a conspiracy-fueled coup plot on the U.S. government by President Trump and his supporters in what was ultimately a failed attempt to stay in power. Two weeks later, President Biden was sworn into office, and he quickly signed a flurry of executive orders that included the cancelation of the Keystone XL pipeline and a pause on new oil and gas leases on federal lands. Those moves signaled an intention to prioritize climate change during the Biden era after years of giveaways to the fossil fuel industry.

But the oil industry and its allies fought hard this year to delay meaningful climate policy, part of a decades-long campaign to protect corporate profits at the expense of people and the planet. Campaigns of misinformation and misleading PR continue to characterize public discourse around energy and climate change, even as those corporate strategies and tactics evolve.

On a hopeful note, renewable energy and electric vehicles made substantial strides, putting the entrenched fossil fuel industry on the defensive. Looking forward, the clean energy transition will continue to progress even absent big federal policy. And strong grassroots movements once again demonstrated their ability to stop major oil and gas pipeline projects around the country, even against steep odds.
» Blog editor’s note: This is an excellent summary and analysis, and well worth reading the whole article!
» Read article             

tornado damage
The Year in Climate Photos
From the president’s desk to protests and disasters around the world, photos showed climate change is always easy to see but sometimes hard to look at.
By Katelyn Weisbrod, Inside Climate News
December 27, 2021
» Blog editor’s note: This is a roundup of Inside Climate News’ biggest stories from the past year. It includes striking photos, and also links to related articles.
» Read article             

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

more offshore wind in NE
Massachusetts taps Vineyard Wind, Mayflower Wind to deliver an additional 1.6 GW
By Iulia Gheorghiu, Utility Dive
December 20, 2021

Massachusetts on Friday announced the selection of two offshore wind projects totaling 1,600 MW of new capacity, bringing the state to 3,200 MW of a 5,600 MW offshore wind procurement goal by 2027.

The state’s third offshore wind procurement awarded two developers that are already working on large-scale projects in the area, Vineyard Wind and Mayflower Wind, doubling the amount of offshore wind secured by the state.

As of Friday, U.S. states have procured over 17,100 MW of offshore wind, nearly double the January total of 9,100 MW, according to the Business Network for Offshore Wind.

Massachusetts is also aiming to build up the supply chain, drawing investments to ports in Salem and Falls River, and supporting the construction of a cable facility at Brayton Point, through the latest contracts.

“Offshore wind is the centerpiece of Massachusetts’ climate goals and our effort to achieve Net Zero emissions in 2050, and this successful procurement will build on our national clean energy leadership and the continued development of a robust offshore wind supply chain in the Commonwealth,” Kathleen Theoharides, secretary of the state’s Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, said in a statement.
» Read article             

Dwight IL
Inside Clean Energy: Here Are 5 States that Took Leaps on Clean Energy Policy in 2021
While federal policy fell short of expectations, many states had high ambitions and delivered results.
By Dan Gearino, Inside Climate News
December 23, 2021

It’s understandable if people are feeling dour during this unseasonably warm December when, once again, the U.S. Congress has failed to pass major climate legislation.

But while the federal government might have failed in pushing through the Build Back Better bill, with its many climate provisions, 2021 has seen some long-awaited successes in the states.

Five states (Illinois, Massachusetts, Oregon, North Carolina and Rhode Island) passed laws requiring a shift to 100 percent carbon-free electricity or net-zero emissions. And Washington State passed a law that takes steps to implement its 2019 and 2020 climate and clean energy laws.

Several other states moved forward, even if they didn’t pass their own versions of “100 percent” laws. Colorado and Maryland are examples of states that are making progress on climate and clean energy through a series of smaller, targeted actions, rather than swinging for the fences on single pieces of legislation.
» Read article             

» More about clean energy

ENERGY STORAGE

graphene material
Australian discovered graphene material could be key to low-cost next-gen batteries
By Michael Mazengarb, Renew Economy
December 22, 2021

Australian researchers have struck a deal to commercialise a new next-generation graphene material they say could unlock cheaper and better performing lithium-ion batteries.

Researchers at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science (ACES), based at the University of Wollongong, say they have discovered a new form of graphene, called ‘Edge Functionalised Graphene’ (EFG), which is both highly conductive and processable for use in a range of electronics.

This includes lithium-ion batteries, with the innovative graphene material promising to improve the efficiency and lower the cost of battery technology used in energy storage devices and electric vehicles.

The research team, which included a collaboration with the Australian National Fabrication Facility – itself based at Melbourne’s Monash University – says the inclusion of graphene material in battery designs could help improve battery lifetimes and charging speeds by improving the conductivity of battery components.
» Read article             
» Caution: Graphene has potential for health and environmental harm

random Tesla photo
Volta bets on space technology for battery storage fire prevention
By Jason Plautz, Utility Dive
December 21, 2021

Energy storage developer Volta Energy Products last week announced a three-year deployment order with San Diego-based KULR Technology Group to apply KULR’s thermal safety solutions — initially designed for space missions — to energy storage.

KULR’s passive propagation resistant (PPR) solution suite — designed to stop lithium-ion battery failures from spiraling out of control without external fire suppression — has been used on NASA missions. The system prevents cell-to-cell thermal runaway and contains any fire and debris inside a battery pack protection, turning the system off to prevent any spread in damage.

The partnership between KULR and Volta parent company Viridi Parente marks the first application of PPR for energy storage and will see Volta deploy up to 1,000 new storage units with the safety technology. Viridi Parente CEO Jon Williams said the “failsafe system” can make energy storage safer and less expensive for a variety of residential and business uses by limiting the need for external fire suppression tools.

Although lithium-ion batteries are the dominant energy storage technology on the market because of their cost and availability of materials, they do carry safety risks. One of the biggest concerns is thermal runaway, where a cell in a lithium-ion battery pack overheats and causes a chain reaction of other overheated cells, resulting in a fire or explosion. While any number of factors can contribute to a cell overheating, experts say that preventing those failures from escalating is key for safety.

“For a pack system to be in someone’s home or a hospital or a daycare center or a university or gas station or even an accountant’s office, that pack has to be failsafe,” Williams said. “When everything fails, will it be safe? Getting there is critically important at a macro level to expand storage for renewables, but on a micro level for Volta, this is the most significant product we will have on the market.”
» Read article             

» More about energy storage

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

NJ diesel truck phaseout
In an East Coast first, New Jersey will phase out diesel trucks
New Jersey joins California, Oregon, and Washington in setting ambitious goals to electrify trucks by 2035.
By María Paula Rubiano A., Grist
December 23, 2021

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection earlier this week adopted a rule to phase out diesel-powered trucks – meaning anything bigger than a delivery van – starting in 2025. Based on California’s Advanced Clean Trucks rule, or ACT, New Jersey’s policy will require between 40 to 75 percent of new truck sales in the state be pollution-free, zero-emission by 2035.

“New Jersey is already experiencing the adverse impacts of climate change, but we have the power and obligation to reduce its worsening in the years ahead by acting now to limit our emissions of climate pollutants,” Shawn LaTourette, the state’s commissioner for the Department of Environmental Protection, said in a press release about the new rule.

Contributing to about 40 percent of New Jersey’s total carbon emissions, the transportation sector is the largest greenhouse gas source in the state. In turn, the almost 423,000 medium and heavy trucks that make up NJ’s fleet represent about 20 percent of vehicles’ greenhouse gas emissions, according to a report from the Natural Resources Defense Council, or NRDC, and Union of Concerned Scientists analyzing the benefits of implementing the rule. These vehicles are also responsible for large quantities of pollutants, including nitrogen oxide and particulate matter, which have been linked to multiple health issues like premature deaths, asthma, pulmonary cancer, and cardiovascular disease.
» Read article             

pretending to think
We ranked 3 types of EV batteries to find the most efficient and sustainable one
Lithium vs sodium vs solid-state batteries
By Ioanna Lykiardopoulou, The Next Web
December 28, 2021

Amidst the booming influx of electric vehicles worldwide, automakers and tech companies have been focusing on optimizing the most vital and expensive part of EVs: the batteries.

They aren’t all alike, and manufacturers use a range of different kinds of batteries. So we’ve decided to select and rank the three most prominent (or promising) battery types: lithium, solid-state, and sodium-ion batteries.

We’ll compare the batteries using four criteria: safety, energy density and charging time, sustainability, and price.

But before we begin, let’s brush up the basics we need to know.

Lithium-ion and solid-state batteries are very much alike. Both types use lithium to produce electrical energy and they have an anode (the battery’s negative terminal), a cathode (the battery’s positive terminal), and an electrolyte, which helps  transfer ions from the cathode to the anode and vice versa.

They primarily differ in the state of the electrolyte: lithium-ion batteries use liquid electrolytes and solid-state batteries use solid electrolytes.

As for sodium-ion batteries, imagine the exact same structure — the only difference is that sodium ions replace lithium ions.

And now that we’ve laid the basis, let’s rank these battery types on our selected criteria:
» Read article             

» More about clean transportation

CARBON CAPTURE AND STORAGE

smells like fertilizer
Scientist: CO2 Pipelines are a ‘scheme’
By Elijah Helton, nwestiowa.com
December 27, 2021

Climate change is the purported catalyst for the multibillion-dollar pipelines set to scuttle across Iowa, but environmental experts say the ag projects smell like fertilizer.

Chris Jones is an environmental engineering researcher at the University of Iowa in Iowa City. He argues that the carbon-capture pipelines — namely the Midwest Carbon Express and the Heartland Greenway — are more economical than ecological.

“This is more of a scheme to make money, and so, if we’re really serious about climate change and we’re going to use public dollars to address that, then we should focus our efforts on long-term strategies that are going to reduce the emissions,” he said.

Jones, like many others opposed to the pipeline, points out that the corporate interests behind the Midwest Carbon Express and Heartland Greenway are the ones poised to profit most off the nominally low-carbon biofuels.

“This is more of a strategy — it’s a lifeboat, if you will — for ethanol, which is now under some threat from electric vehicles emerging in their marketplace,” Jones said. “That’s what’s driving this.”
» Read article             

CO2 removal investors
The cash behind carbon removal: Big Oil, tech and taxpayers
By Corbin Hiar, E&E News
December 17, 2021

After making his mark in the advertising world, Andrew Shebbeare wanted to help the rest of the globe. It was 2018, a few years after the 500-person firm he’d helped found had been bought by the ad industry’s largest agency.

“The question was, where can I make the most difference?” Shebbeare recalled in an interview last week. The audacious answer he eventually settled on: bankrolling startups working to reverse climate change.

Shebbeare and the other United Kingdom-based founders of Counteract Partners Ltd. are part of a wave of investors betting on the world-saving potential of small, privately held carbon dioxide removal companies.

To remove heat-trapping CO2 from the atmosphere, the firms use nature-based approaches, like planting carbon-hungry trees and cover crops, or engineered systems, which can deploy fans, solvents and pipes to trap carbon molecules and inject them underground.

The startups are part of a burgeoning sector attracting billions of dollars from interests as varied as oil major Exxon Mobil Corp., movie star Leonardo DiCaprio and the U.S. government.

Once a theoretical tool to tackle climate change, sucking carbon dioxide from the atmosphere has now become a necessity.

To have a shot at avoiding the collapse of coral reef ecosystems, widespread extreme heat waves and other impacts associated with warming of more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, the world will need to remove more than 5 billion tons of carbon from the air annually by midcentury, according to the most optimistic scenario in the latest United Nations climate report. By comparison, all the world’s forests combined currently offset 7.5 billion tons of CO2 each year, a recent peer-reviewed analysis found.

Then in the latter half of the century, the U.N. data shows billions more tons of yearly carbon removals would be needed — even as emissions fall. The slower emissions decline, the more need there would be for future CO2 removals.
» Read article             

» More about carbon capture and storage

ELECTRIC UTILITIES

Uri post mortem
‘Anecdotal evidence’ points to price gouging during winter storm Uri, NERC official says
Robert Walton, Utility Dive
December 22, 2021

There is “anecdotal evidence” of natural gas price gouging in Texas during February’s winter storm Uri, according to an official with the North American Electric Reliability Corp. (NERC). Millions were left without electricity during the storm as power plants struggled to obtain fuel and freezing temperatures halted some wind production.

Wellhead freeze-offs accounted for a large portion of the gas issues, as well as, to a lesser extent, power outages at compressor stations that move gas through pipelines, NERC Chief Technical Advisor Thomas Coleman said during a presentation on Friday to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT).

Texas regulators are rushing to make grid and market improvements ahead of potential freezing temperatures this winter. On Thursday, the Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUCT) approved changes to the state’s wholesale markets intended to improve reliability when electricity supplies become scarce.

Coleman’s presentation to an ERCOT working group sheds new light on February’s outages across Texas and the U.S Southwest, and raises questions about whether consumers were cheated by gas producers.

A November joint report by NERC and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission concluded that a combination of freezing and fuel issues caused about three-quarters of the unplanned generating unit outages, derates and failures to start in February. Of those, gas-fired units experienced 58% of all generator issues.

Most of the problem came from frozen gas facilities and, to a lesser extent, gas compressor facilities that lost power when electricity companies cut power.
» Read article             
» Read the NERC-FERC joint report

» More about electric utilities

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Coal 2021
Coal isn’t dying yet. 2021 brought a record surge in use.
As much of the world emerged from lockdown, coal stepped in to meet energy needs.
By María Paula Rubiano A., Grist
December 17, 2021

In the span of a year, coal power generation went from a historic drop to an all-time high.

In 2021, global electricity generation from coal increased by nine percent, the highest in history, according to a new report by the International Energy Agency, or IEA. Most of that increase came from power plants in China and India, where the need for electricity jumped by nine and 12 percent, respectively. According to the IEA, Europe saw a 12 percent increase while the U.S. went up by 17 percent – despite nearly a decade of declines in coal power generation in both regions.

“Coal and emissions from coal are stubborn,” said IEA’s executive director Fatih Birol in a press call. “Without strong and immediate actions by governments to tackle coal emissions – in a way that is fair, affordable and secure for those affected – we will have little chance, if any at all, of limiting global warming.”

According to the IEA’s projections, as more economies recover from the pandemic, coal demand will increase, peaking in 2022 and staying elevated until at least 2024.

The IEA says the report should serve as a reality check of government policies, which they say are insufficient to curb coal use and its carbon emissions. The report, Fatih Berol says, “is a worrying sign of how far off track the world is in its efforts to put emissions into decline towards net zero.”
» Read article             
» Read the IEA report

» More about fossil fuels

WASTE INCINERATION

Wheelabrator Saugus
Burned: Why Waste Incineration Is Harmful
By Daniel Rosenberg, Veena Singla, and Darby Hoover, NRDC | Expert Blog
July 19, 2021

Since the Biden administration took office, Congress is considering bills to fund infrastructure, tackle plastic pollution, and combat climate change. While legislative action is welcome, Congress must avoid ideas disguised as environmental advances that actually threaten public health and the environment. One example is the bundle of troubling technologies that all involve waste incineration, such as “waste-to-energy” or many forms of “chemical recycling” (processes frequently used to convert plastics into fuel that is then burned). These technologies are touted as being environmentally beneficial by various industries, but waste incineration—even if it’s masquerading as “chemical recycling”—is a false solution that Congress should firmly reject.

Regardless of what is being burned (mixed municipal solid waste, plastic, outputs from “chemical recycling”), waste incineration creates and/or releases harmful chemicals and pollutants, including:

  • Air pollutants such as particulate matter, which cause lung and heart diseases
  • Heavy metals such as lead and mercury, which cause neurological diseases
  • Toxic chemicals, such as PFAS and dioxins, which cause cancer and other health problems

These chemicals and pollutants enter the air, water and food supply near incinerators and get into people’s bodies when they breathe, drink, and eat contaminants.
» Read article             

» More about waste incineration

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