Tag Archives: Weymouth compressor

Weekly News Check-In 7/2/21

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Welcome back.

Peaking power plants were a hot topic this week, with efforts underway far and wide to replace these heavy polluters with green technologies like battery storage. We lead off with ace reporter Danny Jin’s excellent Berkshire Eagle article about campaigns close to home. Also a citizen’s letter clearly lays out the issues surrounding Peabody’s proposed gas plant, and a success story: how a battery project replaced a planned gas peaker in Oxnard, CA.

Activists occupied the Waltham, MA office of Canadian energy giant Enbridge, calling for cancellation of the Weymouth compressor station and Line 3 pipeline currently under construction across northern Minnesota.  Meanwhile, an unprecedented number of legal actions against the oil and gas industry are proceeding through the courts. And on the legislative front, Congress voted to repeal Trump’s free pass on the powerful greenhouse gas methane, resetting emissions limits to levels previously established by the Obama administration.

Our section on greening the economy focuses on the needs of communities dependent on the fossil industry, as they transition toward sustainability. We also found an uplifting story from Ohio, where an electric vehicle car-sharing program is key to lifting marginalized people out of poverty.

Our friends in the Pacific Northwest just experienced a horrible week, and the deadly heat wave had climate change’s fingerprints all over it. Of course, news about long-duration battery storage, modernizing the grid, and electrifying the transportation sector all mention great tools for fighting back – but the fossil fuel industry remains focused on selling as much planet-cooking product as possible before their party’s over. Two reports underscore the industry’s push for profit, and their liberal use of influence and deception.

We’ll wrap with news you can use about avoiding plastic food and beverage containers – including what these do to your health and the environment. But first, we’re popping a cork to celebrate what appears to be the collapse of plans for the Goldboro liquefied natural gas export facility in Nova Scotia, and hoping its demise sufficiently shakes the foundations of the Weymouth compressor station to topple that project too.

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

— The NFGiM Team

PEAKING POWER PLANTS

PG file photo
As Pittsfield power plant seeks permit renewal, environmental groups call for clean-energy transition
By Danny Jin, The Berkshire Eagle
July 1, 2021

PITTSFIELD — With the air-quality permit for a Merrill Road power plant set to expire in October, several local groups want the plant’s owner to consider switching to cleaner alternatives.

Maryland-based private equity firm Hull Street Energy owns the plant at 235 Merrill Road and has filed for a renewal of its permit. But, a coalition of the Berkshire Environmental Action Team and 20 other local groups is concerned about pollution from the gas-fired plant, which sits next to Allendale Elementary School and is within a mile of Pittsfield’s Morningside neighborhood.

A “peaker” power plant, Pittsfield Generating, typically runs only a few days a year, during the highest points of electricity demand. The plant ran just 5 percent of the time in 2019 and 2 percent of the time in 2020, according to research group Synapse Energy.

But, the approximately 19,000 tons of carbon dioxide and 3 tons of nitrous oxide emitted in 2020 have local climate groups and others worried about negative health effects. They want Hull Street Energy, which declined to comment to The Eagle, to consider clean-energy alternatives such as batteries, which store energy to be released when demand is high.

“They’re moving ahead with that permit, and we would like them to reconsider,” Rosemary Wessel, director of BEAT’s No Fracked Gas in Mass initiative, said of Hull Street Energy. “We would like them to meet with us and talk about transitioning to clean energy. Folks will be concerned that this plant will be continuing to operate and polluting the air that residents breathe.”

Four elected officials signed on to a June 2 letter that the coalition sent to Hull Street Energy, but Wessel said the company has yet to respond. State Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield; state Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru; state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield; and state Rep. William “Smitty” Pignatelli, D-Lenox, signed the letter. (There are no peaker plants in the district represented by state Rep. John Barrett III, D-North Adams.)

Meanwhile, coalition leaders and elected officials have had “wonderfully cooperative” communications, Wessel said, with Cogentrix Energy, the owner of two other local peakers. Wessel said she sees the conversations with Cogentrix, which owns a peaker on Doreen Street in Pittsfield and one on Woodland Road in Lee, as a model for the coalition to pursue with Hull Street Energy.
» Read article

The Salem News
Letter: Few real answers on peaker plant
From Carol Hautau, Salem, in The Salem News
June 28, 2021

At last Monday’s community forum (“Opponents: Power plant changes a start,” June 24), the Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company (MMWEC) presented Project 2015A, a plan to build a gas- and oil-fired peaker plant in Peabody.

The meeting did nothing to dispel the feeling that MMWEC and the Peabody Municipal Light Plant have kept this project below the radar to avoid public scrutiny. The panelists took pains to spell out how they met the letter of the law about public notice and supplied the audience with a numbing amount of technical information, which silenced discussion and did not inform or respond to concerns. Long, complex jargon-filled speeches (forward capacity market, hedge discounts) seemed intended to convince those present that the panelists and the entities they represented were the only ones who could be depended on to make the right decision for the communities involved.

The real question of the day — why construct a fossil fuel-burning energy plant in this age of climate disruption — was not addressed adequately. Wind, solar, wave and tidal energy may be intermittent sources today, but battery technology will soon solve that problem. Rather than finding a green solution to their energy reliability needs, the Project 2015A crew held up the hypothetical conversion of this new fossil-fuel plant to green hydrogen, a highly explosive, difficult to transport fuel barely out of its developmental diapers. Green hydrogen sounds an awful lot like “clean coal”— a concept that is thoroughly discredited.
» Read article              

Saticoy
142 Tesla Megapacks power on to create giant new battery, replacing gas peaker plant in California
By Fred Lambert, Electrek
June 30, 2021

A new 142-Tesla Megapack project has been turned on in California’s Ventura County to create a giant new battery that is replacing a gas peaker plant.

The project is called the Saticoy battery storage system, and it came about when the local community in Oxnard fought against having a new gas-powered peaker plant to help respond to the energy demand during peak times.

Instead, they settled on a proposal from Arevon Asset Management (Arevon), a renewable energy company, to deploy a massive 100 megawatt/400 megawatt-hour battery system to help power the peak energy demand.

The community was about to get a polluting [262MW] gas power plant near the beach, and instead, they now have one of the largest energy storage sites in US, and it was deployed in just nine months.

They are using 142 Tesla Megapacks, the automaker’s largest energy storage solution (pictured above).

Carmen Ramirez, Ventura County District 5 Supervisor, commented on the project:

“Saying no to a gas peaker plant and yes to battery-stored energy has provided our community with a nonpolluting power plant, increased our tax base, and created good jobs and ultimately better health for the people. This project is truly a testament to Oxnard’s determination and resilience to modernize and better our community.”

The Tesla Megapacks receive electricity from Southern California Edison (SCE) under the terms of a 20-year purchase and sale agreement.
» Blog editor’s note: According to a 2017 article in the Los Angeles Times, the gas power plant this battery system replaced was intended to be sized at 262MW (inserted into article, above).
» Read article              

» More about peaker plants

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

Enbridge occupied
3 Environmental Activists Arrested After Occupying Waltham Energy Company Offices Overnight
By Miriam Wasser, WBUR
June 30, 2021

After more than 24 hours of occupying the Waltham offices of Canadian energy giant Enbridge, three environmental activists were arrested Wednesday afternoon by Waltham police.

“We are here because the Line 3 [pipline in Minnesota] needs to be stopped,” protester Samie Hayward said to officers shortly before being taken into custody. “And we are here in solidarity with [those fighting] the Weymouth Compressor.”

The protest began at around 11:30 a.m. Tuesday when more than 60 activists walked into the office building that houses Enbridge’s Northeast U.S. headquarters. Some played musical instruments while others sang or chanted slogans like “we are the protectors.” Many held signs that read “Stop Enbridge. Stop Line 3” and “Enbridge Profits from Environmental Injustice.”

The protestors, who said they were affiliated with the local activist group Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station (FRRACS) and standing in solidarity with the Indigenous-led Giniw Collective in Minnesota, accused Enbridge of “committing crimes against humanity” and perpetrating climate change by constructing and operating controversial fossil fuel projects like the Weymouth Compressor and the Line 3 oil pipeline.

“I’m really alarmed about climate change and how poorly as a society we are dealing with it, and I’m here because there are companies like Enbridge that have been given social license to continue doing what they’re doing,” said one of the protesters, Jeff Gang.

“They’ve built this compressor in Weymouth, which is dangerous and a disaster for the climate, as well as being deeply unjust for the people who live around it. And now they’re trying to build the pipeline, Line 3, cutting through historically Indigenous lands and continuing the circle of genocide that’s been perpetrated on Indigenous people.”

After approximately 20 minutes of chanting and singing in the office Tuesday, Waltham police arrived on the scene and told the protesters they were trespassing. Most of the activists left the building, but several stayed — and 13 spent the night.

Equipped with a list of demands, they repeatedly told officers that they wouldn’t leave until those demands were met. At one point, protester Wen Stephenson picked up a bullhorn and read the list out loud:

  1. That the Hubbard County Sheriff’s Department immediately cease its dangerous blockade of Anishinaabe peoples’ privately-owned #StopLine3 camp and release all arrested protesters.
  2. The immediate halt to Line 3 Pipeline construction and drilling near the headwaters of the Mississippi River.
  3. The shutdown of Enbridge’s Natural Gas Compressor Station in Weymouth, Mass.
  4. The shutdown of Enbridge’s West Roxbury Lateral gas pipeline in Boston, Mass.
  5. The shutdown of the Enbridge-supplied Alton Gas project threatening Mi’kmaq land and water in Nova Scotia.

In an email, Enbridge spokesman Max Bergeron wrote: “As a company, we recognize the rights of individuals and groups to express their views legally and peacefully. We don’t tolerate illegal activities of any kind including trespassing, vandalism, or other mischief.”
» Read article              

Big Oil in the dock
Big oil and gas kept a dirty secret for decades. Now they may pay the price
Via an unprecedented wave of lawsuits, America’s petroleum giants face a reckoning for the devastation caused by fossil fuels
By Chris McGreal, The Guardian
June 30, 2021

After a century of wielding extraordinary economic and political power, America’s petroleum giants face a reckoning for driving the greatest existential threat of our lifetimes.

An unprecedented wave of lawsuits, filed by cities and states across the US, aim to hold the oil and gas industry to account for the environmental devastation caused by fossil fuels – and covering up what they knew along the way.

Coastal cities struggling to keep rising sea levels at bay, midwestern states watching “mega-rains” destroy crops and homes, and fishing communities losing catches to warming waters, are now demanding the oil conglomerates pay damages and take urgent action to reduce further harm from burning fossil fuels.

But, even more strikingly, the nearly two dozen lawsuits are underpinned by accusations that the industry severely aggravated the environmental crisis with a decades-long campaign of lies and deceit to suppress warnings from their own scientists about the impact of fossil fuels on the climate and dupe the American public.

The environmentalist Bill McKibben once characterized the fossil fuel industry’s behavior as “the most consequential cover-up in US history”. And now for the first time in decades, the lawsuits chart a path toward public accountability that climate activists say has the potential to rival big tobacco’s downfall after it concealed the real dangers of smoking.

“We are at an inflection point,” said Daniel Farber, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley and director of the Center for Law, Energy, and the Environment.

“Things have to get worse for the oil companies,” he added. “Even if they’ve got a pretty good chance of winning the litigation in places, the discovery of pretty clearcut wrong doing – that they knew their product was bad and they were lying to the public – really weakens the industry’s ability to resist legislation and settlements.”
» Read article              

» More about protests and actions

LEGISLATION

repeal the repeal
Congress Votes To Restore Regulations On Climate-Warming Methane Emissions
Reducing greenhouse gases, means tackling pollution from the oil and gas industry
By Jeff Brady, NPR
June 25, 2021

WASHINGTON, D.C. (NPR) — Both houses of Congress have taken a step toward more vigorously regulating climate-warming methane leaks from the oil and gas industry, a move supporters say is key to achieving President Biden’s ambitious climate goals.

On Friday, House lawmakers voted to reverse a Trump rollback by passing resolutions under the Congressional Review Act, which gives them the ability to undo agency rules passed in the last months of the previous administration. The Senate approved the measure in April.

“What we’re voting on today is the legislative equivalent of a double negative. This is the repeal of a repeal,” Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, said at a press conference before the April vote.

Biden is expected to sign the resolutions, which would reverse an Environmental Protection Agency methane rule finalized last year and leave in place a stricter 2016 EPA rule, finalized during the Obama administration.

Methane is the main ingredient in natural gas. When released before it burns, it’s a far more potent greenhouse gas than even carbon dioxide. But it does not linger in the atmosphere nearly as long. That means eliminating leaks now could have an immediate effect on global warming.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said in April that methane and carbon dioxide “continued their unrelenting rise in 2020 despite the economic slowdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic response.”

The oil and gas industry is the largest source of human-caused methane emissions. A recent study by the Environmental Defense Fund found that cutting methane emissions now could slow the rate of global warming by as much as 30%.
» Read article              

» More about legislation

GREENING THE ECONOMY

attitude
As the US Pursues Clean Energy and the Climate Goals of the Paris Agreement, Communities Dependent on the Fossil Fuel Economy Look for a Just Transition
A new report identifies areas from Appalachia to Alaska that will need help to keep their employment, wages and tax bases from falling steeply as coal, oil and gas are phased out.
By Judy Fahys, Inside Climate News
June 28, 2021

Perhaps the proudest achievement of Michael Kourianos’ first term as mayor of Price, Utah was helping to make the local university hub the state’s first to run entirely on clean energy. It’s a curious position for the son, brother and grandchild of coal miners who’s worked in local coal-fired power plants for 42 years.

Kourianos sees big changes on the horizon brought by shifts in world energy markets and customer demands, as well as in politics. The mines and plants that powered a bustling economy here in Carbon County and neighboring Emery County for generations are gone or winding down, and Kourianos is hoping to win reelection so he can keep stoking the entrepreneurial energy and partnerships that are moving his community forward.

“That freight train is coming at us,” he said. “You look at all the other communities that were around during the early times of coal, they’re not around.

“That’s my fear,” he said. “That’s my driving force.”

New research from Resources for the Future points out that hundreds of areas like central Utah are facing painful hardships because of the clean-energy transformation that will be necessary if the United States hopes to reach the Paris agreement’s goals to slow climate change. Lost jobs and wages, a shrinking population and an erosion of the tax base that supports roads, schools and community services—they’re all costs of the economic shift that will be paid by those whose hard work fueled American prosperity for so long.

“If we can address those challenges by helping communities diversify, helping people find new economic growth drivers and new economic opportunities, that might lessen some of the opposition to moving forward with the ambitious climate policy that we need,” said the report’s author, Daniel Raimi, who is also a lecturer at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan.
» Read article              
» Read the report: Mapping the US Energy Economy to Inform Transition Planning

Place to Recover
Electric car-share program helps underserved and unemployed Ohioans

“No car, no job. No job, no car.” The car-share program is part of a larger effort in Lorain County, Ohio, using a Paradox Prize grant to address the dilemma.
By Kathiann M. Kowalski, Energy News Network
July 1, 2021

Most drivers of electric vehicles don’t experience homelessness or the urgency of finding a job after addiction, prison or other problems. Yet those are precisely the people whom an innovative car-sharing program in Ohio aims to help.

Place to Recover Training and Resource Center in Sheffield Township and Catholic Charities’ St. Elizabeth Center in Lorain are now sharing an electric Chevrolet Bolt to help their clients. Funding comes from part of a $100,000 Paradox Prize grant to those and other organizations in Lorain County.

Representatives of the programs spoke at Green Energy Ohio’s 2021 Electric Vehicle Tour in Oberlin on June 8.

“This electric car-share program has really benefited marginalized populations who otherwise would not be able to access employment or resources to help them get employment, like getting to the doctor and getting to interviews and getting training,” said Wendy Caldwell, chief executive officer at Place to Recover. The organization helps people reentering society after incarceration, substance abuse treatment or other circumstances.

Just a couple of miles away, St. Elizabeth Center provides overnight shelter for adult men, as well as daily hot meals and other social services for people in need. The Catholic Charities facility uses the car to get clients to doctor’s appointments, legal appointments, meetings with social services, housing interviews and other places.

“I can’t emphasize enough how important that is to these people, how meaningful it is,” said Matthew Peters, an emergency services coordinator for Catholic Charities. “How much hope it gives them to know that there’s a network and a community of people around them who are bright and motivated and empathetic and concerned and making this possible!”
» Read article              

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

Oregon cooling center
Global Warming Cauldron Boils Over in the Northwest in One of the Most Intense Heat Waves on Record Worldwide
As residents prepare for even more temperature records to fall in the heat dome forecast to persist for days, scientists see a heavy climate change fingerprint.
By Judy Fahys, Bob Berwyn, Inside Climate News
June 29, 2021

The latest in a seemingly endless series of heat waves around the world hit the Pacific Northwest last weekend and will continue through the week, showing that even regions with cool coastlines and lush forests cannot avoid the blistering extremes of global warming.

Temperatures across most of Oregon and Washington spiked 20 to 30 degrees Celsius above normal, with even hotter conditions expected through Tuesday driving concerns about impacts to human health, infrastructure and ecosystems.

In a Twitter thread over the weekend, Ben Noll, a meteorologist with the New Zealand National Institute of Water & Atmospheric Research, reported that Portland, Oregon would be hotter than 99.9 percent of the rest of the planet on Sunday. “The only places expected to be hotter: Africa’s Sahara Desert, Persian Gulf, California’s deserts,” he tweeted.

The intensity of the heat wave, measured by how far temperatures are spiking above normal, is among the greatest ever measured globally. The extremes are on par with a 2003 European heat wave that killed about 70,000 people, and a 2013 heat wave in Australia, when meteorologists added new shades of dark purple to their maps to show unprecedented temperatures.

And the more extreme the temperature records, climate scientists said, the more obvious the fingerprint of global warming will be on the heat wave. But even among climate scientists, the biggest concern was the immediate impacts of the record shattering temperatures.

“I shudder to think what the mortality rate will be from this event,” said Phil Mote, a climate scientist with the College of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences at Oregon State University. Research shows that early season heat waves like this one are deadlier than those happening later in the year because people haven’t acclimatized yet, he added.

Local weather service offices warned people to cool themselves with a reminder that heat was the leading cause of weather-related fatalities between 1991 and 2020. But experts and officials warned that people in the region, where there are fewer people with air conditioning than without it, are ill-equipped to protect themselves from persistent triple-digit temperatures.
» Read article              

» More about climate

ENERGY STORAGE

ESS interview
Why a seasoned energy executive sees a bright future in long-duration energy storage from ESS
Executive interview with Eric Dresselhuys, CEO of ESS Inc.
By Jennifer Runyon, Energy Storage World (sponsored content)
June 29, 2021

When Eric Dresselhuys got a call from the board of directors at ESS earlier this spring asking him to come on as Chief Executive Officer of the company that provides an Iron Flow Battery (IFB) for long-duration storage, he didn’t hesitate.

“It was a pretty easy yes,” he said in an interview.

Dresselhuys isn’t new to the energy space. In fact, he was creating technology that electric utilities could use to make their grids smarter before the words “smart grid” were well known. In 2002, he founded Silver Spring Networks, which combined IoT with big data for smart grids. In 2013 Silver Spring went public and in 2018 it was acquired by Itron.

Dresselhuys sees great growth for long-duration storage, which he defines as energy storage technology that can take energy, most likely produced by renewable sources like wind and solar, and store it for a very long time, well beyond the understood and accepted maximum of four hours that lithium-ion technology is used for.

“We’re talking about electrifying everything. We want to take the carbon out of not just the power system but the economy. And by the way, we have to do that cost effectively and with no toxicity,” he said.

We won’t be able to achieve those goals without cost-effective, safe long-duration storage, he said.

Indeed, a world powered by upwards of 25-30% wind and solar still needs electricity 24 hours a day. Further, many clean energy advocates point to a scenario in which we overbuild vast amounts of wind and solar power generating facilities — because their cost to build is so low — and then store the power so it can be used later. A good way to store gigawatts of excess energy safely and reliably is through flow batteries like the systems ESS manufactures.
» Read article              

» More about energy storage

MODERNIZING THE GRID

turbines and sky
US grid needs overhaul to keep up with renewable revolution, says GE exec, Sen. Heinrich
By Scott Voorhis, Utility Dive
June 22, 2021

As power companies and startups alike roll out new solar and wind projects, the U.S. needs new investment in its electric grid to keep up with the changing sector, said participants in the “Energy Forward: Reinvent the Grid” discussion.

Over the last century, industry and government’s focus when it came to the electric grid was ensuring stability, said Colin Parris, senior vice president and chief technology officer at General Electric’s GE Digital.

But renewable sources like wind and solar are by their very nature “dynamic,” he said, noting the flow depends, to some extent, on the weather:

“The sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow,” Parris said.

The challenge is adding renewable sources while maintaining stability. That means building new lines that connect to renewable sources, some of which like offshore wind farms may be in remote locations. It also means developing AI capabilities “to forecast problems” and “real-time capabilities to control the flow of electricity,” Parris said.

The transition, Parris said, is akin to going from a one-lane road to a “multilane highway.”

Karen Wayland, CEO of the GridWise Alliance, which consists of major utilities as well as companies including IBM and GE, offered a similar assessment.

“The grid has to be able to accommodate all of that new load — you have to make sure you know where the load needs [are], and you also have to have a much more flexible grid that can respond to varying loads,” she said.

To that end, Wayland, who was an aide to former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and a former U.S. Energy Department official, said she hopes to see at least $50 billion to address grid issues in the final infrastructure package.
» Read article              

» More about modernizing the grid

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

Cap Cod auto emissions
As car-centric Cape Cod tries to cut emissions, transportation is a challenge
The Massachusetts region’s unique geography and seasonality — and decades of car-centric development — present a challenge for local leaders trying to reduce climate emissions, more than 55% of which comes from transportation.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
June 28, 2021

As Cape Cod launches its first strategic plan to slash its greenhouse gas output, the need to rein in transportation emissions is emerging as a substantial challenge for the sprawling, car-centric region.

In April, the Cape Cod Commission regional planning authority released a draft climate action plan that finds transportation is responsible for more than 55% of greenhouse gas emissions in the region. That’s significantly higher than the statewide average of 42%. While the report recommends efforts to increase electric vehicle adoption, strengthen public transit, and shape land-use policies to reduce sprawl, the current development patterns and highly seasonal nature of the economy pose significant obstacles.

“It’s obviously a big challenge,” said Steven Tupper, transportation program manager for the commission. “We have a unique seasonality and a unique geography.”

Cape Cod, a 15-town region covering nearly 400 square miles in southeastern Massachusetts, is an iconic tourist area notable for its beaches and as the summer destination for the Kennedy family. Roughly 213,000 people live on the Cape year-round, according to the United States Census Bureau, but that number nearly triples during the summer as vacationers and second-homeowners flock to the region.

The heavy reliance on cars on Cape Cod has its roots in the historical development of the region. Until the late 1800s, Cape residents were largely clustered into small harborside villages that sprung up around maritime industries. The transformation into a tourist destination began around the turn of the century and accelerated from 1950 on. Neighborhoods full of detached homes with spacious yards began filling in space between formerly isolated village centers.

Today, the result is a spread-out population that is dependent on cars to reach doctor’s appointments, shop for groceries, or visit friends.

“There’s going to be, without question, the need for automobiles in this region,” Tupper said.
» Read article              

cobalt alternative
Altered Microstructure Improves Organic-Based, Solid State Lithium EV Battery
Ethanol Solvent Boosts Battery Energy Density, A Step Toward Better EVs Of The Future
By Nicole Johnson, University of Houston
June 17, 2021

Only 2% of vehicles are electrified to date, but that is projected to reach 30% in 2030. A key toward improving the commercialization of electric vehicles (EVs) is to heighten their gravimetric energy density – measured in watt hours per kilogram – using safer, easily recyclable materials that are abundant. Lithium-metal in anodes are considered the “holy grail” for improving energy density in EV batteries compared to incumbent options like graphite at 240 Wh/kg in the race to reach more competitive energy density at 500 Wh/kg.

Yan Yao, Cullen Professor of electrical and computer engineering at the Cullen College of Engineering at the University of Houston, and UH post doctorate Jibo Zhang are taking on this challenge with Rice University colleagues. In a paper published June 17 in Joule, Zhang, Yao and team demonstrate a two-fold improvement in energy density for organic-based, solid state lithium batteries by using a solvent-assisted process to alter the electrode microstructure. Zhaoyang Chen, Fang Hao, Yanliang Liang of UH, Qing Ai, Tanguy Terlier, Hua Guo and Jun Lou of Rice University co-authored the paper.

“We are developing low-cost, earth-abundant, cobalt-free organic-based cathode materials for a solid-state battery that will no longer require scarce transition metals found in mines,” said Yao. “This research is a step forward in increasing EV battery energy density using this more sustainable alternative.” Yao is also Principal Investigator with the Texas Center for Superconductivity at UH (TcSUH).

Any battery includes an anode, also known as negative electrode, and a cathode, also known as positive electrode, that are separated in a battery by a porous membrane. Lithium ions flow through an ionic conductor – an electrolyte, which allows for the charging and discharging of electrons that generates electricity for, say, a vehicle.

Electrolytes are usually liquid, but that is not necessary – they can also be solid, a relatively new concept. This novelty, combined with a lithium-metal anode, can prevent short-circuiting, improve energy density and enable faster charging.

Cathodes typically determine the capacity and voltage of a battery and are subsequently the most expensive part of batteries due to usage of scarce materials like cobalt – set to reach a 65,000-ton deficit in 2030. Cobalt-based cathodes are almost exclusively used in solid-state batteries due to their excellent performance; only recently have organic compound-based lithium batteries (OBEM-Li) emerged as a more abundant, cleaner alternative that is more easily recycled.
» Read article              
» Obtain the published paper

» More about clean transportation

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

taking care of business
In Video, Exxon Lobbyist Describes Efforts to Undercut Climate Action
On the tape, made in a Greenpeace sting, he described working with “shadow groups” to fight climate science, and detailed efforts to weaken President Biden’s proposals to burn less oil.
By Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times
June 30, 2021

The veteran oil-industry lobbyist was told he was meeting with a recruiter. But the video call, which was secretly recorded, was part of an elaborate sting operation by an individual working for the environmental group Greenpeace UK.

During the call, Keith McCoy, a senior director of federal relations for Exxon Mobil, described how the oil and gas giant targeted a number of influential United States senators in an effort to weaken climate action in President Biden’s flagship infrastructure plan. That plan now contains few of the ambitious ideas initially proposed by Mr. Biden to cut the burning of fossil fuels, the main driver of climate change.

Mr. McCoy also said on the recording that Exxon’s support for a tax on carbon dioxide was “a great talking point” for the oil company, but that he believes the tax will never happen. He also said that the company has in the past aggressively fought climate science through “shadow groups.”

On the video call recorded by Greenpeace, Mr. McCoy defended the company’s efforts to mislead the public on climate change, even as the company’s own scientists were recognizing greenhouse gas emissions as a risk to the planet. “Did we aggressively fight against some of the science? Yes. Did we hide our science? Absolutely not,” Mr. McCoy said. “Did we join some of these shadow groups to work against some of the early efforts? Yes, that’s true.”

Mr. McCoy didn’t identify the groups. Exxon Mobil has spent millions of dollars funding conservative groups that challenge established climate science. “But there’s nothing illegal about that,” he said. “We were looking out for our investments. We were looking out for our shareholders.”
» Read article               

problematic
Fossil Fuel Companies Are Promoting ‘Lower Carbon,’ ‘Responsibly Sourced’ Oil and Gas
The oil and gas industry is looking to capitalize off an increasingly-popular socially responsible investing wave that emphasizes the environment.
By Sharon Kelly, DeSmog Blog
April 26, 2021

This month, EQT, the nation’s largest natural gas producer, plans to launch a pilot project that will certify it to start selling not just natural gas, but something it calls “responsibly sourced natural gas.”

EQT’s move comes on the heels of a similar announcement from Chesapeake Energy, one of the pioneers of fracking which recently emerged from bankruptcy. Both EQT and Chesapeake will seek certification from outside providers, including a business called Project Canary, which touts its ability to collect data on methane emissions and pollutants from oil and gas wells and offers a certification it calls TrustWell™.

“There is a generation of Millennials around the globe who have written off fossil fuels,” Chris Romer, co-founder of Project Canary, told the oil and gas industry trade publication Rigzone this month. “We need to address the brand problem.”

But it’s difficult to pin down what “responsibly sourced” gas means, in part because of a growing number of competing certification programs that all offer their own definitions. When it comes to Project Canary in particular, the company says its standards are high — and that there’s not enough gas from its most “responsibly sourced” wells to meet demand from buyers.

These latest branding efforts arrive amid a broad ESG investment wave that emphasizes the ways businesses approach environmental, societal, and corporate governance issues. Industry advisors are increasingly offering up new ideas about how oil and gas companies can use the language of ESG to market their fossil fuel as different from the competition’s.
» Read article              

» More about fossil fuels

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

dead on arrivalThe Goldboro LNG plant scheme has collapsed
By Tim Bousquet, The Halifax Examiner
July 2, 2021

“While Pieridae has made tremendous progress in advancing the Goldboro LNG Project, as of June 30, 2021, we have not been able to meet all of the key conditions necessary to make a final investment decision. Following consultation with our Board, we have made the decision to move Goldboro LNG in a new direction.” (Alfred Sorensen, Chief Executive Officer, Pieridae Energy.)

To be clear, Pieridae has not made “tremendous progress” progress towards developing the plant: not one shovelful of dirt has been turned, and so far as I can see, the company hasn’t gotten a penny in actual investment money towards its $14 billion (yes, billion with a B) goal, although it did enter a preposterous $206 million loan scheme; as Joan Baxter reported in April:

Pieridae financed the purchase of Shell’s aging assets at three sour gas fields in Waterton, Jumping Pound, and Caroline, with a loan of $206 million from Third Eye Capital and private placement.

One of Pieridae’s directors, Mark Horrox, is a principal of Third Eye Capital, and a director of one of its portfolio companies, Erikson National Energy, which bought about 14% of Pieridae in the private placement, a $20 million investment that is now worth just a bit more than half that.

While the parties to the loan disclosed an interest rate of 15%, the fine print in the audited statements states that Pieridae has an obligation to Third Eye Capital — namely a fee of $50 million if it does not agree to purchase some “certain petroleum and natural gas properties from Third Eye.”

As the Examiner has reported extensively, Sorensen has been going hat-in-hand to the Canadian government, asking for nearly $1 billion in financing from the Canadian public. Evidently, the federal government said “no dice,” and the entire Goldboro scheme has crumbled.

Dead On Arrival.

What about the “strategic alternatives that could make an LNG Project more compatible with the current environment”? The technical term for this comment is “bullshit.”
» Read article               

our-company
Pieridae Evaluating Goldboro LNG Strategic Alternatives
By Pieridae Energy Limited, Yahoo Finance
July 2, 2021

CALGARY, Alberta (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Pieridae Energy Limited (“Pieridae” or the “Company”) (PEA.TO) today released the following statement from Chief Executive Officer Alfred Sorensen with respect to a future path for the Company’s Goldboro LNG Project:

‘While Pieridae has made tremendous progress in advancing the Goldboro LNG Project, as of June 30, 2021, we have not been able to meet all of the key conditions necessary to make a final investment decision. Following consultation with our Board, we have made the decision to move Goldboro LNG in a new direction. The Project’s fundamentals remain strong: robust LNG demand from Europe and high global LNG prices, Indigenous participation, a net-zero emissions pathway forward, and support from jurisdictions across Canada. This speaks to our ongoing efforts to find a partner to take advantage of these opportunities.

That said, it became apparent that cost pressures and time constraints due to COVID-19 have made building the current version of the LNG Project impractical.

We will now assess options and analyze strategic alternatives that could make an LNG Project more compatible with the current environment. [emphasis added – see story above…] In addition, the Company will continue its work to further optimize the operation and development of our extensive Foothills resources and midstream assets, including our carbon capture and sequestration and blue power development.’
» Read statement              

» More about liquefied natural gas

PLASTICS, HEALTH, AND THE ENVIRONMENT

plastic snackHere’s What Happens When You Eat From Plastic Containers
By Darlena Cunha, EcoWatch
July 1, 2021

Drinking water is supposed to be good for you, but what happens when you diligently carry that disposable water bottle around all day, to remind yourself to take a sip? With that sip, you take in an undue amount of plastic, according to recent research. And that’s not all.

Takeout cartons, shelf-stable wrapping, those water bottles, even canned goods can be the culprit. And while no one likes the idea of consuming plastic, most of us still shrug and throw that container in the microwave.

4 Reasons Not to Eat or Drink From Plastic Containers:

  1. The plastic transfers from the containers to your food.

Humans ingest at least 74,000 particles of microplastic a year, according to research in The Journal of Food Science. A lot of this comes from our takeout containers. In fact, we could be ingesting more than 200 particles a week, just from our plastic food storage units.

  1. Microplastics are bad for you.

We’re ingesting plastics, so what? They don’t just make their way through our system and out of our bodies. They can stay with us.

Scientists have found that microplastics can cross the hardy membrane that protects the brain from foreign bodies in the bloodstream, at least in animals. They are carcinogenic to humans.

  1. There is no such thing as safe plastic.

It’s not just the phthalates. Plastics contain multitudes of chemicals, including bisphenols A, S and F (BPAs, BPSs, and BPFs), and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).

Chemicals like these have been linked to cancers, weakened immune systems, organ problems, and developmental delays in kids. Bisphenols specifically (particularly BPA) have been identified as endocrine-disrupting and linked to obesity. Research also shows that BPAs make it more difficult for women to conceive and increase the risk of miscarriages.

  1. These containers are bad for the environment.

We are literally filling our world with plastic garbage. Since plastic came into common use in the 1950s, we have produced more than 8 billion tons of it. Only 10 percent of that, at most, has been recycled.
» Read article              

» More about plastics, health & environment

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Weekly News Check-In 6/4/21

banner 09

Welcome back.

Plans for a new peaking power plant in Peabody are on hold while the developer and stakeholders explore the feasibility of greener alternatives. Pressure is building to make this exploration more public.

We have recently noticed a development in gas industry messaging – applied both to the Peabody peaker and Weymouth compressor station – that these facilities actually reduce overall fossil fuel consumption because they backstop intermittent energy sources like solar and wind. According to this narrative, readily availability gas-generated power allows the rapid and extensive integration of clean energy onto the grid. That’s true, but we now have reliable, non-emitting alternatives that accomplish the same result, often at lower cost.

So we consider this nothing more than pro-gas propaganda, and suspect that the consistency of the messaging results from gas industry coordination. Expect to see more of it. Meanwhile, the International Energy Agency (IEA) just released its flagship report stating that the climate can’t handle any new fossil fuel infrastructure. It is unequivocal – stop now. Not “soon”, and not once we’ve crossed some fantastical, conceptual “bridge”.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) just published a report describing this clean energy transition in great detail. The report places much higher importance on the development of demand side flexibility in conjunction with battery storage, in preference to the current model that underpins capacity with fossil fuel generation.

That overview sets the stage for a lot of recent news. In New Hampshire, Liberty Utilities failed to get approval to build its Granite Bridge pipeline, and is now seeking other ways to increase sales of natural gas. Protests and actions continue worldwide, pushing back against continued efforts to add fossil fuel infrastructure. This includes risky activism in Uganda in opposition to the East African Crude Oil Pipeline, and a big win as a Dutch court told Shell to cut its carbon emissions far more aggressively than currently planned. In related developments, a new financial disclosure rule in Switzerland requires large Swiss banks and insurance companies to disclose risks associated with climate change.

This all follows a very bad couple of weeks for the fossil fuel industry, when a combination of court rulings and climate-centered investors generated multiple “End of Oil” headlines. One exception is the Biden administration’s unfortunate approval of a major new Alaska oil drilling project. Contending for a new benchmark in the “absurd” category, ConocoPhillips will install chillers in the soggy permafrost which otherwise is too melty to support drilling rigs. That permafrost, of course, is melting because we have already burned too much fossil fuel and warmed the planet to dangerous levels. The chillers will re-freeze enough of that ground to allow the extraction, transport, and combustion of lots of oil for thirty more years.

Our Greening the Economy, Energy Storage, and Clean Transportation sections are all related this week. They grapple with environmental issues surrounding lithium – the primary component in electric vehicle and most grid-scale storage batteries. Articles explore greener sources and alternative technologies that could reduce the impact. We also launched a new section, Modernizing the Grid, to cover what promises to be a critical and complex project.

Wrapping up, we offer an opinion on how to eliminate recently approved rail transportation of liquefied natural gas, along with a view from North Carolina of the biomass pellet industry’s toll on health and the environment.

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

— The NFGiM Team

 

PEAKING POWER PLANTS

exploring batteries
Could batteries replace a proposed peaker plant in Massachusetts?   

As a municipal power supplier pauses plans to build a natural gas peaker plant, advocates are urging its backers to consider battery storage instead, but questions remain about whether it’s practical for the site.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
June 2, 2021

Environmental activists and local residents in Massachusetts are urging the group behind a planned natural gas power plant to consider whether battery storage could do the job with fewer climate concerns. 

“It’s six years since this project was proposed,” said Susan Smoller, a resident of Peabody, where the plant would be sited. “We have different alternatives available to us now and we should at least talk about it before we commit.”

The organization developing the plant announced last month that it will pause its plans for at least 30 days to address community concerns and reevaluate possible alternatives, but some involved are still skeptical that storage could be a viable solution. 

The proposed plant is a project of the Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company (MMWEC), a nonprofit that helps municipal utilities procure power supply and advocates for their interests. The 55-megawatt facility would be a so-called “peaker plant,” intended to run only at times of peak demand, estimated at no more than 250 hours per year.

Opponents of the plant are concerned about the additional greenhouse gas emissions as well as the potential for ground-level pollution in an area that is already exposed to high levels of ozone. They also worry that laws and regulations will make the burning of fossil fuels obsolete, leaving consumers on the hook for an $85 million plant that isn’t even used. 

“I don’t want to be paying for an outmoded dirty peaker plant 25 years from now when it’s not even legal to run them,” Smoller said. 

Resistance to the proposed plant has picked up in recent months, as stakeholders have learned more about the plan and started speaking up. In May, a group of 87 health care professionals sent MMWEC a letter opposing the plan. 

In the face of this growing opposition, MMWEC decided to take what it called the “unusual step” of putting a hold on its plans to take “another look at whether advancements in technology make a different approach possible today.” 

Experts say that, in general, battery storage is a viable alternative for plants that only run when demand is highest. Batteries could charge up during times of lower demand, when the power supply is generally from cleaner sources, and then discharge at times of high demand, displacing the energy from peaker plants, which is generally dirtier and more expensive. A study by nonprofit research institute Physicians, Scientists, and Engineers for Healthy Energy found that two-thirds of Massachusetts peaker plants burn primarily oil, a high-emissions fuel. 

As more renewable energy is added to the grid, the power charging the batteries will get yet cleaner, amplifying the impact.

“It’s not a matter of, ‘Can it do it?’ It’s doing it,” said Jason Burwen, interim chief executive of the Energy Storage Association. “The question is the specifics.”
» Read article               

» More about peaker plants               

 

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

no compressor stationThe Weymouth Compressor Station
By Joseph Winters, The Harvard Political Review
May 24, 2021

On Oct. 1, 2020, residents of Weymouth, Massachusetts, gathered on the Fore River Bridge for a socially-distanced rally. Wearing masks and waving hand-drawn posters, they were protesting a natural gas compressor station that had been built in their community by the Canadian oil company Enbridge.

“Shut it down!” their signs read. “Stop Enbridge. Enough is enough.”

It was supposed to be day one of the compressor station’s operation. Despite six years of fierce opposition from community groups, elected officials, and environmental organizations, Enbridge had finally secured the suite of permits necessary to build and operate a natural gas compressor station — a facility needed to keep gas flowing north through the company’s pipelines — in the town of Weymouth, just a few miles south of Boston.

But things had not gone according to plan. Earlier that month, on Sept. 11, a system failure had forced workers to vent 169,000 standard cubic feet of natural gas and 35 pounds of volatile organic compounds from the compressor station, releasing it into the surrounding community. Some of those compounds included toxic chemicals known to cause cancer, damage to the liver and central nervous system, and more. 

Then, on the morning of Sept. 30, just one day before the compressor station was scheduled to begin operating, a roaring sound emanated from the facility, signaling another “unplanned release” of natural gas — a mechanical failure that automatically triggered the compressor station’s emergency shutdown system and vented more gas into the neighborhood.

Rep. Stephen Lynch alerted residents of the September 30 shutdown later that day. “These accidents endangered the lives of local residents,” he said in a tweet, “and are indicative of a much larger threat that the Weymouth Compressor Station poses to Weymouth, Quincy, Abington, and Braintree residents.”

Within hours, a federal agency issued a stay on the compressor’s operation until a safety investigation could be completed. 

So on Oct. 1, as the Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station (FRRACS) gathered on the Fore River Bridge, the compressor station had already been shut down — albeit temporarily. They continued with the demonstration anyway, folding the station’s system failures into their suite of objections to the project, alongside issues of safety, pollution, and environmental justice.

“2 system failures in one month!” one demonstrator’s sign read. “What the FRRACS is going on?”

Besides the long-term health consequences of industrial pollution, FRRACS and its allies have argued that the compressor station imposes an unacceptable risk of disaster onto the community. “They’re trying to plant a bomb in our neighborhood,” one resident said at a public hearing before the station was built.

The possibility of a catastrophic accident is neither negligible nor unprecedented. Most significantly, compressor malfunctions can cause highly flammable natural gas — including significant amounts of methane — to accumulate inside the facilities, raising the risk of a massive fire or explosion. That exact scenario unfolded in December 2020 when a Morris Township, Pennsylvania, compressor station caught fire, burning for more than two hours and causing a temporary evacuation.

Over the past few years, similar explosions have rocked Armada Township, Michigan; West Union, West Virginia; and Ward County, Texas, where a particularly bad explosion in 2018 claimed a man’s life. One report compiled for New York reported 11 more recent accidents at compressor stations across the country, from Utah to New Jersey.

The natural gas pipelines feeding into the compressor station may pose an even scarier safety threat. According to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), pipelines have caused more than 11,000 accidents since 1996, leading to more than $6 billion in damages and killing nearly 400 people.
» Read article            

force majeureWeymouth Compressor Shuts Down Again — For Fourth Time In Less Than A Year
By Miriam Wasser, WBUR
May 21, 2021


The Weymouth Natural Gas Compressor Station is shut down for the fourth time since it began operating last year.

A spokesperson for Enbridge, the company that owns and operates the compressor, said in a statement that the company is “performing maintenance work” and anticipates “safely returning the compressor station to service shortly.” He said the maintenance work was “on a piece of equipment which helps reduce compressor unit emissions”, but he did not say whether it was planned in advance.

On Thursday night, Enbridge posted a notice that the compressor station had “experienced an outage” and in a separate notice declared a “force majeure.” Loosely translated as an “act of God,” a force majeure usually means the shutdown occurred for reasons out of the company’s control.

“It is standard practice to declare a Force Majeure when a compressor station becomes unavailable for service,” the spokesperson said in an email. “In this case, we identified maintenance work to be performed and notified our customers that the Weymouth Compressor Station would be unavailable while the work was performed.”

However, Katy Eiseman, a lawyer and president of the advocacy group The Pipe Line Awareness Network for the Northeast says “routine maintenance is not what I think of as a justifiable reason to claim force majeure,” though she says she’d have to review Enbridge’s customer contracts to be sure.

James Coleman, an energy law professor at Southern Methodist University agrees, noting that “a force majeure usually has to be something [that is not] within the control of the provider.”

State law requires Enbridge to report any gas releases that exceed 10,000 standard cubic feet. According to Enbridge, “there was minimal venting … well below reporting requirements” associated with this latest shutdown.

But for Sen. Ed Markey, a long-time opponent of the compressor station, this most recent shutdown is a cause for concern.

“Whether an act of God or a failure of man, the Weymouth Compressor Station’s fourth shutdown in a matter of months is a sign that it should not be operating now or ever,” the senator said in a statement. “It’s dangerous, unnecessary, and a clear and present threat to public safety.”

Markey said he’s asked the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to look into this most recent outage at the compressor.
» Read article               

» More about the Weymouth compressor station         

 

GRANITE BRIDGE PIPELINE

new Liberty
Liberty Utilities angles for 20-year natural gas contract
By Amanda Gokee, SentinalSource
May 17, 2021

Last year, Liberty Utilities withdrew what had turned into a very contentious proposal to construct a large, expensive pipeline called the Granite Bridge Project. Critics said it was too big, too expensive, and that it would harm the environment. It led to protests and drew fierce opposition from climate-change activists who oppose building new fossil fuel infrastructure.

In the wake of that failed proposal, Liberty has put forward another project that is now being considered by the Public Utilities Commission — a 20-year agreement to increase its natural gas capacity in the state by about 20 to 25 percent through a purchase agreement with Tennessee Gas Pipeline.

The company says it needs to increase its capacity in order to meet customer demand. The new proposal was put forward in January, and it has been proceeding quietly ever since, with none of the dramatic opposition that Granite Bridge garnered. But some environmental advocates still oppose the 20-year contract as an unacceptable option in the face of climate change.

“This is a major step in the wrong direction,” said Nick Krakoff, a staff attorney at the Conservation Law Foundation. The foundation is one of the parties involved in the docket at the utilities commission.
» Read article               

» More about the Granite Bridge pipeline project       

 

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

Stop EACOP
Despite Risks, Climate Activists Lead Fight Against Oil Giant’s Drilling Projects in Uganda
“We cannot drink oil. This is why we cannot accept the construction of the East African Crude Oil Pipeline.”
By Brett Wilkins, Common Dreams
May 28, 2021

Climate campaigners in Africa and around the world on Friday continued demonstrations against Total, with activists accusing the French oil giant of ecocide, human rights violations, and greenwashing in connection with fossil fuel projects in Uganda. 

On the 145th week of Fridays for Future climate strike protests, members of the movement in Uganda global allies drew attention to the harmful effects of fossil fuel development on the environment, ecosystems, communities, and livelihoods. 

Friday’s actions followed protests at Total petrol stations in Benin, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Togo, and Uganda on Tuesday—celebrated each year as Africa Day—against the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP), now under construction, and the Mozambique Liquefied Natural Gas project.

“Total’s fossil fuel developments pose grave risks to protected environments, water sources, and wetlands in the Great Lakes and East Africa regions,” said Andre Moliro, an activist from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, during Tuesday’s pan-African protests.

“Communities have been raising concerns on the impact of oil extraction on Lake Albert fisheries and the disastrous consequences of an oil spill in Lake Victoria, that would affect millions of people that rely on the two lakes for their livelihoods, watersheds for drinking water, and food production,” he added.
» Read article               

celebration at The Hague
‘Historic victory’: court tells Shell to slash emissions on Big Oil’s day of climate pain
Group to appeal verdict in Dutch court that activists claim has major implications as trio of supermajors face emissions scrutiny
By Andrew Lee, Recharge News
May 26, 2021

A court in the Netherlands on Wednesday told Shell to cut its carbon emissions far more aggressively than currently planned, in what climate activists claimed as a landmark ruling with implications for fossil fuel groups globally.

The Shell ruling came on a turbulent day for the world’s oil giants, with fellow supermajors ExxonMobil and Chevron also under pressure over their decarbonisation plans.

A Dutch judge ordered Shell to reduce CO2 emissions by 45% by 2030 against 2019 levels, after hearing a case brought by Friends of the Earth and other groups, plus 17,000 Netherlands citizens.

The Anglo-Dutch group has so far committed to a carbon intensity reduction of its products of 20% by 2030 and 45% by 2035, compared to 2016 levels, as part of a 2050 net zero push.

But the court said those goals were “insufficiently concrete and full of conditions” as it ordered the far tougher action it said would bring the ambitions into line with the Paris climate agreement.

Although the judgment is open to appeal – which Shell indicated it would – Friends of the Earth labelled it a “historic victory” for climate action that has “enormous consequences for Shell and other big polluters globally” and should embolden other campaigners elsewhere.

Rachel Kennerley, climate campaigner at Friends of the Earth England, Wales and Northern Ireland said: “This ruling confirms what we already knew, that global polluters cannot continue their devastating operations because the costs are too high, and they have been that way for too long.

“Today an historic line has been drawn, no more spin, no more greenwashing, big oil is over. The future is in clean renewables.”

The International Energy Agency earlier in May recommended that no more new fossil project investments should be made in order to keep the world on a path to net zero.

Analysts were divided over the implications of the Shell judgment for the global fossil sector.

Liz Hypes, senior environment and climate change analyst for Verisk Maplecroft, a global risk and strategic consulting firm, believes the judgement could pave the way for legal action against energy companies.

“This case could mean open-season on heavy-emitters in the oil and gas industry, and it is not a stretch to envisage activists – or even unhappy investors – bringing similar cases against others in the industry and, potentially, their financial backers.

“While cases like this have to date been largely limited to the US and Europe, we’ve seen a rising trend outside of these countries of climate lawsuits ruling in the claimants’ favour.”

Hypes added: “What this signifies to investors and climate activists is that taking companies to court is an increasingly successful means of triggering climate action and, because of this, the number of climate cases faces carbon-heavy corporates will grow. It shows that the risks of inaction – or of what consumers, investors and the public see as ‘not enough’ action – is mounting.”

“It’s no longer a brand image issue for companies – they are facing genuine legal risks from which the repercussions may be significant and it’s triggering a real discussion about what is their fiduciary duty during the climate crisis.”
» Read article               

» More about protests and actions                

 

DIVESTMENT

finma
Swiss watchdog FINMA requires banks, insurers to disclose climate risks
By Reuters
May 31, 2021

ZURICH (Reuters) -Large Swiss banks and insurance companies will have to provide qualitative and quantitative information about risks they face from climate change, Swiss financial watchdog FINMA said on Monday as it released an amended publication here on disclosure.

FINMA’s updated circular on the new obligations, to take effect on July 1, follows similar moves by the European Central Bank, which last year announced plans to ask lenders in the 19-country currency union to disclose their climate-related risks.

The Swiss watchdog said it is fulfilling its strategic goal of contributing to sustainable development of the Swiss financial centre, by laying out how it will supervise banks and insurers on climate-related financial risk.

FINMA said it crafted the disclosure requirement after talking with industry representatives, academics, NGOs and the federal government last year. The watchdog has previously said the risks such as natural catastrophes are substantial for the sector and merited new disclosure standards.

“Banks and insurance companies are required to inform the public adequately about their risks,” FINMA said in a statement. “These also include the consequences of climate change, which could pose significant financial risks for financial institutions in the longer term.”

Credit Suisse has been in the crosshairs of climate activists, including protesters who blocked access to its Zurich headquarters over complaints of its financing of fossil fuel-related projects. Reinsurer Swiss Re said in April the global economy could lose nearly a fifth of economic output by 2050 should the world fail to check climate change.
» Read article               

» More about divestment                

 

GREENING THE ECONOMY

cleaning up
The plan to turn coal country into a rare earth powerhouse
With plans for a Made-in-America renewable energy transformation, Biden administration ramps up efforts to extract rare earth minerals from coal waste.
By Maddie Stone, Grist
May 26, 2021

At an abandoned coal mine just outside the city of Gillette, Wyoming, construction crews are getting ready to break ground on a 10,000-square-foot building that will house state-of-the-art laboratories and manufacturing plants. Among the projects at the facility, known as the Wyoming Innovation Center, will be a pilot plant that aims to takes coal ash — the sooty, toxic waste left behind after coal is burned for energy — and use it to extract rare earths, elements that play an essential role in everything from cell phones and LED screens to wind turbines and electric cars. 

The pilot plant in Wyoming is a critical pillar of an emerging effort led by the Department of Energy, or DOE, to convert the toxic legacy of coal mining in the United States into something of value. Similar pilot plants and research projects are also underway in states including West Virginia, North Dakota, Utah, and Kentucky. If these projects are successful, the Biden administration hopes that places like Gillette will go from being the powerhouses of the fossil fuel era to the foundation of a new domestic supply chain that will build tomorrow’s energy systems.

In an April report on revitalizing fossil fuel communities, administration officials wrote that coal country is “well-positioned” to become a leader in harvesting critical materials from the waste left behind by coal mining and coal power generation. Several days later, the DOE awarded a total of $19 million to 13 different research groups that plan to assess exactly how much rare earth material is contained in coal and coal waste, as well as explore ways to extract it. 

“We have these resources that are otherwise a problem,” said Sarma Pisupati, the director of the Center for Critical Minerals at Penn State University and one of the grant recipients. “We can use those resources to extract valuable minerals for our independence.”

Those minerals would come at a critical moment. The rare earth elements neodymium and dysprosium, in particular, are essential to the powerful magnets used in offshore wind turbines and electric vehicle motors. A recent report by the International Energy Agency projected that by 2040, the clean energy sector’s demand for these minerals could be three to seven times greater than it is today.
» Read article               

» More about greening the economy            

 

CLIMATE

IEA gets on board
IT’S THE END OF OIL: Blockbuster IEA Report Urges No New Fossil Development
By Mitchell Beer, The Energy Mix
May 19, 2021

No new investment in oil, gas, or coal development, a massive increase in renewable energy adoption, speedy global phaseouts for new natural gas boilers and internal combustion vehicles, and a sharp focus on short-term action are key elements of a blockbuster Net Zero by 2050 report released Tuesday morning by the International Energy Agency (IEA).

The more than 400 sectoral and technological targets in the report would be big news from any source. They’re particularly significant from the IEA, an agency that has received scathing criticism in the past for overstating the future importance of fossil fuels, consistently underestimating the uptake of renewable energy, and failing to align its “gold standard” energy projections with the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement. For years, the agency’s projections have been used to justify hundreds of billions of dollars in high-carbon investments, allowing multinational fossil companies to sustain the fantasy that demand for their product will increase through 2040 or beyond.

“Beyond projects already committed as of 2021, there are no new oil and gas fields approved for development in our pathway, and no new coal mines or mine extensions are required,” the IEA writes. “The unwavering policy focus on climate change in the net-zero pathway results in a sharp decline in fossil fuel demand, meaning that the focus for oil and gas producers switches entirely to output—and emissions reductions—from the operation of existing assets.”

“It’s not a model result,” analyst Dave Jones of the clean energy think tank Ember told Bloomberg Green. “It’s a call to action.”

“Big Oil and Gas has just lost a very powerful shield!” wrote Oil Change International Senior Campaigner David Tong.

By 2040, the IEA sees all coal- and oil-fired power plants phased out unless their emissions are abated by some form of carbon capture. Between 2020 and 2050, oil demand falls 75%, to 24 million barrels per day, gas demand falls 55%, and remaining oil production becomes “increasingly concentrated in a small number of low-cost producers.” OPEC nations provide 52% of a “much-reduced global oil supply” in 2050 and see their per capita income from fossil production decline 75% by the 2030s.

“This is a huge shift from the IEA and highly consequential, given its scenarios are seen as a guide to the future, steering trillions of dollars in energy investment,” Kelly Trout, interim director of Oil Change’s energy transitions and futures program, wrote in an email. “Oil and gas companies, investors, and IEA member states that have been using IEA scenarios to justify their choices and also say they’re committed to 1.5°C are in a tight spot. Will they follow the IEA’s guidance and stop licencing or financing new fossil fuel extraction, or be exposed as hypocrites?”
» Read article            
» Read the IEA report                 

» More about climate              

 

CLEAN ENERGY

electrification futures study
Inside Clean Energy: Yes, We Can Electrify Almost Everything. Here’s What That Looks Like.
National lab wraps up groundbreaking project on electrifying the economy.
By Dan Gearino, Inside Climate News
June 3, 2021

Many scenarios for averting the worst effects of climate change involve electrifying just about everything that now runs on fossil fuels, and shifting to an electricity system that runs mostly on wind and solar.

Can this be done reliably and with existing technologies?

Yes.

That’s one of the main findings of the Electrification Futures Study, an ambitious project of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory that started four years ago and has now issued its final report.

The transformation to a highly electrified economy is an opportunity for consumers and businesses because of the potential for cost-savings and for developing and selling new generations of products, said Ella Zhou, a senior modeling engineer at NREL and a co-author of the report.

“This offers useful information literally for everyone, because electricity touches all of our lives,” she said.

In a sign of changing times and shifting control in Washington, the report’s introduction mentions “decarbonization” and “climate change mitigation” in its first sentence, something that would have been almost unthinkable from a national laboratory during the Trump administration. 

Zhou didn’t comment about the partisan shift, but she did note how much the conversation about the transition to clean energy had changed since the project started in 2017. The idea of electrifying the economy is much closer to the mainstream now than it was then, she said, as is the broad understanding that a shift to renewable energy can save money, compared to using fossil fuels.
» Read article            
» Read NREL’s final report, Electrification Futures Study                  

where it goes
Where Wind and Solar Power Need to Grow for America to Meet Its Goals
By Veronica Penney, New York Times
May 28, 2021

President Biden has promised to sharply reduce America’s planet-warming carbon emissions, which means changes to the country’s energy system may reshape landscapes and coastlines around the country. 

The United States is now aiming to bring emissions down to net-zero by 2050, meaning the country would eliminate as much greenhouse gas as it emits. To reach that goal, Americans will need to get a lot more of their energy from renewable sources like wind and solar farms.

One of the most recent studies on the subject, Princeton University’s Net-Zero America Report, charted five pathways to net-zero, and all of them required the United States to exceed the current pace of building for solar panels and wind turbines.

But what will all that energy infrastructure look like, and where could it go? Here’s a look at the factors and forces that will determine where renewable energy projects could be built.
» Read article           
» Read the Princeton University report         

» More about clean energy           

 

MODERNIZING THE GRID

TOU rates for Maine
Advocates say Maine needs to expand time-of-use rates to hit climate goals

As more drivers switch to electric cars and buildings convert to heat pumps, changing customer behavior with new rate designs could be key to preventing expensive and polluting new investments in the state’s power grid.
By David Thill, Energy News Network
May 27, 2021

Maine clean energy advocates say it’s time to revisit and ramp up time-of-use rates, and the state’s major utilities and several other stakeholders agree. 

Meeting the state’s climate goals could add significant load to the state’s grid as drivers switch to electric cars and buildings abandon fossil fuels for heating. 

Unless some customers can be persuaded to put off drying clothes, running dishwashers or charging vehicles until nighttime, that new demand could force expensive upgrades to the system and make it harder to eliminate fossil fuels. 

That’s where time-of-use rates come into play. Unlike traditional flat rates, time-of-use rates charge customers different prices at different times of the day. Often this means customers pay a relatively expensive rate during the busiest hours of the day and less expensive rates during off-peak hours.

State legislation introduced this year, as well as a recent report on the future of Maine’s electric grid, called on state regulators to investigate how to roll out time-of-use rates on a broader scale than what’s currently offered.

A time-of-use rate needs to be structured so it actually encourages customers to shift their electricity use off-peak, said David Littell, a former Maine utilities commissioner who was part of the stakeholder group.

That requires establishing a sufficient difference between what customers are charged off-peak and on-peak, he said. The peak window also has to be reasonably timed: He found in previous research that, based on hundreds of rate pilots and operational rates, customers were more likely to sign up for time-varying rates when the peak windows were only three hours, as opposed to eight to 14 hours.

Littell and others in the stakeholder report also said time-of-use rates should include all aspects of customers’ bills, including supply and capacity.

“Most of what I’m seeing across the country right now is that if a utility is talking about doing a time-of-use rate, they prefer to start with the supply cost,” he said. That’s something utilities can easily do themselves, structuring the rate based on what it costs to deliver energy to customers.

Capacity would be harder, since utilities don’t have jurisdiction over the line items on customers’ bills for the energy itself. In deregulated utility markets like Maine, the energy is provided by suppliers separate from utilities, at a rate called the standard offer. Suppliers would have to implement their own time-of-use rates. But without making it mandatory for them to do that — something the commission could do — they’re not likely to take that path, Littell said, since it’s far easier to stick with the status quo.

In a small market like Maine, suppliers have less incentive to pursue the education and effort necessary to change their rate design without the guarantee that they’ll make money on it. “If it’s not mandated, it’s not going to happen at the standard offer level, full stop,” said Tom Welch, a former Maine utilities commission chair who also contributed to the recent grid modernization report.

Protections will also be necessary for low-income customers who end up paying more under the new rate than they currently pay, but Welch said that’s easily addressed, for example, with refunds for groups of customers that are unable to respond to the price signals.
» Read report            

» More about modernizing the electric grid          

 

ENERGY STORAGE

CO2 battery system
‘CO2 battery’ technology getting megawatt-scale demonstrator in Italy
By Andy Colthorpe, Energy Storage News
May 27, 2021

A 2.5MW / 4MWh demonstration system using novel energy storage technology based on a “carbon dioxide battery” has begun construction in Sardinia, Italy.

The CO2 battery technology has been developed by Energy Dome, a Milan-headquartered company founded by technologist and entrepreneur Claudio Spadacini and incorporated two years ago. The battery can offer long durations of storage between three to 16+ hours, can be built using off-the-shelf components used in other industries and uses a closed loop thermodynamic process which can enable a high round-trip efficiency, the company claims. It also suffers “little or no degradation” over an anticipated lifetime of more than 25 years.

The battery charges by drawing CO2 from a dome where it is kept, condensing it into a liquid at ambient temperature, while heat created by the compression process is stored in thermal energy storage systems. It then discharges by evaporating and expanding the CO2 back into a gas by heating it using the thermal storage systems. The gas is driven through a turbine to inject power into the grid and then pushed back into the dome, ready to be used for the next charging cycle.

On its website, the company compares the technology as being potentially lower cost than compressed air energy storage (CAES) or liquid air energy storage (LAES), which might be considered competing energy storage technologies. This is because unlike CAES which requires very large underground sealed vessels such as salt caverns to store a large volume of air, or LAES which requires equipment to cool air until it liquifies, the liquid phase CO2 can be stored at ambient temperature, the company said.

Energy Dome also said in a press release this week that its solution could also overcome the limitations of lithium-ion, posing no fire risk, manufacturable without rare earth materials and also even has better performance and lower capital cost. The demonstrator in Sardinia is expected to be launched early next year.
» Read article           

Power Podcast 89
The Benefits of Flow Batteries Over Lithium Ion
By Aaron Larson, Power Magazine
May 27, 2021

Lithium-ion (Li-ion) is the most commonly talked about battery storage technology on the market these days, and for good reason. Li-ion batteries have a high energy density, and they are the preferred option when mobility is a concern, such as for cell phones, laptop computers, and electric vehicles. But there are different energy storage technologies that make more sense in other use cases. For example, iron flow batteries may be a better option for utility-scale power grid storage.

An iron flow battery is built with three pretty simple ingredients: iron, salt, and water. “A flow battery has a tank with an electrolyte—think of it as salt water to be simple—and it puts it through a process that allows it to store energy in the iron, and then discharge that energy over an extended period of time,” Eric Dresselhuys, CEO of ESS Inc., a manufacturer of iron flow batteries for commercial and utility-scale energy storage applications, explained as a guest on The POWER Podcast.

Iron flow batteries have an advantage over utility-scale Li-ion storage systems in the following areas:

  • Longer duration. Up to 12 hours versus a typical duration of no more than 4 hours for large-scale Li-ion systems.
  • Increased safety. Iron flow batteries are non-flammable, non-toxic, and have no explosion risk. The same is not true for Li-ion.
  • Longer asset life. Iron flow batteries offer unlimited cycle life and no capacity degradation over a 25-year operating life. Li-ion batteries typically provide about 7,000 cycles and a 7- to 10-year lifespan.
  • Less concern with ambient temperatures. Iron flow batteries can operate in ambient conditions from –10C to 60C (14F to 140F) without the need for heating or air conditioning. Ventilation systems are almost always required for utility-scale Li-ion systems.
  • Lower levelized cost of storage. Because iron flow batteries offer a 25-year life, have a capital expense cost similar to Li-ion, and operating expenses that are much lower than Li-on, the cost of ownership can be up to 40% less.

“People have been really interested in flow batteries for a lot of reasons, but the most common one that you’ll hear about is the long duration,” said Dresselhuys.
» Listen to podcast            

» More about energy storage           

 

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

briny water
The Lithium Gold Rush: Inside the Race to Power Electric Vehicles
A race is on to produce lithium in the United States, but competing projects are taking very different approaches to extracting the vital raw material. Some might not be very green.
By Ivan Penn and Eric Lipton, New York Times
May 6, 2021

Atop a long-dormant volcano in northern Nevada, workers are preparing to start blasting and digging out a giant pit that will serve as the first new large-scale lithium mine in the United States in more than a decade — a new domestic supply of an essential ingredient in electric car batteries and renewable energy.

The mine, constructed on leased federal lands, could help address the near total reliance by the United States on foreign sources of lithium.

But the project, known as Lithium Americas, has drawn protests from members of a Native American tribe, ranchers and environmental groups because it is expected to use billions of gallons of precious ground water, potentially contaminating some of it for 300 years, while leaving behind a giant mound of waste.

“Blowing up a mountain isn’t green, no matter how much marketing spin people put on it,” said Max Wilbert, who has been living in a tent on the proposed mine site while two lawsuits seeking to block the project wend their way through federal courts.

The fight over the Nevada mine is emblematic of a fundamental tension surfacing around the world: Electric cars and renewable energy may not be as green as they appear. Production of raw materials like lithium, cobalt and nickel that are essential to these technologies are often ruinous to land, water, wildlife and people.

That environmental toll has often been overlooked in part because there is a race underway among the United States, China, Europe and other major powers. Echoing past contests and wars over gold and oil, governments are fighting for supremacy over minerals that could help countries achieve economic and technological dominance for decades to come.
» Read article               

bunker fuel
Tasked to Fight Climate Change, a Secretive U.N. Agency Does the Opposite
Behind closed doors, shipbuilders and miners can speak on behalf of governments while regulating an industry that pollutes as much as all of America’s coal plants.
By Matt Apuzzo and Sarah Hurtes, New York Times
June 3, 2021

LONDON — During a contentious meeting over proposed climate regulations last fall, a Saudi diplomat to the obscure but powerful International Maritime Organization switched on his microphone to make an angry complaint: One of his colleagues was revealing the proceedings on Twitter as they happened.

It was a breach of the secrecy at the heart of the I.M.O., a clubby United Nations agency on the banks of the Thames that regulates international shipping and is charged with reducing emissions in an industry that burns an oil so thick it might otherwise be turned into asphalt. Shipping produces as much carbon dioxide as all of America’s coal plants combined.

Internal documents, recordings and dozens of interviews reveal what has gone on for years behind closed doors: The organization has repeatedly delayed and watered down climate regulations, even as emissions from commercial shipping continue to rise, a trend that threatens to undermine the goals of the 2016 Paris climate accord.

One reason for the lack of progress is that the I.M.O. is a regulatory body that is run in concert with the industry it regulates. Shipbuilders, oil companies, miners, chemical manufacturers and others with huge financial stakes in commercial shipping are among the delegates appointed by many member nations. They sometimes even speak on behalf of governments, knowing that public records are sparse, and that even when the organization allows journalists into its meetings, it typically prohibits them from quoting people by name.

An agency lawyer underscored that point last fall in addressing the Saudi complaint. “This is a private meeting,” warned the lawyer, Frederick J. Kenney.

Next week, the organization is scheduled to enact its first greenhouse gas rules since Paris — regulations that do not cut emissions, have no enforcement mechanism and leave key details shrouded in secrecy. No additional proposals are far along in the rule-making process, meaning additional regulations are likely five years or more away.
» Read article               

» More about clean transportation             

 

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

methane emissions analysis
Here Are America’s Top Methane Emitters. Some Will Surprise You.
Oil and gas giants are selling off their most-polluting operations to small private companies. Most manage to escape public scrutiny.
By Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times
June 2, 2021

As the world’s oil and gas giants face increasing pressure to reduce their fossil fuel emissions, small, privately held drilling companies are becoming the country’s biggest emitters of greenhouse gases, often by buying up the industry’s high-polluting assets.

According to a startling new analysis of the latest emissions data disclosed to the Environmental Protection Agency, five of the industry’s top ten emitters of methane, a particularly potent planet-warming gas, are little-known oil and gas producers, some backed by obscure investment firms, whose environmental footprints are wildly large relative to their production.

In some cases, the companies are buying up high-polluting assets directly from the largest oil and gas corporations, like ConocoPhillips and BP; in other cases, private equity firms acquire risky oil and gas properties, develop them, and sell them quickly for maximum profits.

The largest emitter, Hilcorp Energy, reported almost 50 percent more methane emissions from its operations than the nation’s largest fossil fuel producer, Exxon Mobil, despite pumping far less oil and gas. Four other relatively unknown companies — Terra Energy Partners, Flywheel Energy, Blackbeard Operating and Scout Energy — each reported emitting more of the gas than many industry heavyweights.

These companies have largely escaped public scrutiny, even as they have become major polluters.

“It’s amazing how the small operators manage to constitute a very large part of the problem,” said Andrew Logan, senior director of oil and gas at Ceres, a nonprofit investor network that commissioned the study together with the Clean Air Task Force, an environmental group. “There’s just no pressure on them to do things better. And being a clean operator, unfortunately, isn’t a priority in this business model.”
» Read article              
» Read the Benchmarking Methane analysis           

ExxonMobil Chicago
Engine No. 1’s Big Win Over Exxon Shows Activist Hedge Funds Joining Fight Against Climate Change
“We can’t recall another time that an energy company’s shareholder has been so effective and forceful in showing how a company’s failure to take on climate change has eroded shareholder value.”
By Mark DesJardine, DeSmog Blog | Opinion
May 27, 2021

One of the most expensive Wall Street shareholder battles on record could signal a big shift in how hedge funds and other investors view sustainability.

Exxon Mobil Corp. has been fending off a so-called proxy fight from a hedge fund known as Engine No. 1, which blames the energy giant’s poor performance in recent years on its failure to transition to a “decarbonizing world.” In a May 26, 2021 vote, Exxon shareholders approved at least two of the four board members Engine No. 1 nominated, dealing a major blow to the oil company. The vote is ongoing, and more of the hedge fund’s nominees may also soon be appointed.

While its focus has been on shareholder value, Engine No. 1 says it was also doing this to save the planet from the ravages of climate change. It has been pushing for a commitment from Exxon to carbon neutrality by 2050.

As business sustainability scholars, we can’t recall another time that an energy company’s shareholder – particularly a hedge fund – has been so effective and forceful in showing how a company’s failure to take on climate change has eroded shareholder value. That’s why we believe this vote marks a turning point for investors, who are well placed to nudge companies toward more sustainable business practices.
» Read article               

Conoco misstep
Biden officials condemned for backing Trump-era Alaska drilling project
DoJ says decision to approve project in northern Alaska was ‘reasonable and consistent’ and should be allowed to go ahead
By Oliver Milman, The Guardian
May 27, 2021

Joe Biden’s administration is facing an onslaught of criticism from environmentalists after opting to defend the approval of a massive oil and gas drilling project in the frigid northern reaches of Alaska.

In a briefing filed in federal court on Wednesday, the US Department of Justice said the Trump-era decision to allow the project in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska’s north slope was “reasonable and consistent” with the law and should be allowed to go ahead.

This stance means the Biden administration is contesting a lawsuit brought by environmental groups aimed at halting the drilling due to concerns over the impact upon wildlife and planet-heating emissions. The US president has paused all new drilling leases on public land but is allowing this Alaska lease, approved under Trump, to go ahead.

The project, known as Willow, is being overseen by the oil company ConocoPhillips and is designed to extract more than 100,000 barrels of oil a day for the next 30 years. Environmentalists say allowing the project is at odds with Biden’s vow to combat the climate crisis and drastically reduce US emissions.

“It’s incredibly disappointing to see the Biden administration defending this environmentally disastrous project,” said Kristen Monsell, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the groups that have sued to stop the drilling. “President Biden promised climate action and our climate can’t afford more huge new oil-drilling projects.”

The Arctic is heating up at three times the rate of the rest of the planet and ConocoPhillips will have to resort to Kafkaesque interventions to be able to drill for oil in an environment being destroyed by the burning of that fuel. The company plans to install “chillers’ into the Alaskan permafrost, which is rapidly melting due to global heating, to ensure it is stable enough to host drilling equipment.

Monsell said the attempts to refreeze the thawing permafrost in order to extract more fossil fuel “highlights the ridiculousness of drilling in the Arctic”. Kirsten Miller, acting executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League, said Willow “is the poster child for the type of massive fossil fuel development that must be avoided today if we’re to avoid the worst climate impacts down the road”.
» Read article               

Nat and Gus
How natural gas propaganda made it into elementary classrooms in deep blue America
The incident is the latest example of fossil fuel interests attempting to influence science education in public classrooms.
By Ysabelle Kempe, Grist
May 19, 2021


Gleb Bahmutov found something strange in his nine-year-old son’s backpack earlier this month. The longer he ruminated on what he discovered, the angrier he got. 

The afternoon started off like most, with the 41-year-old software engineer picking his son up from John M. Tobin Montessori School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. But when his son opened his backpack, Bahmutov caught a glimpse of two children’s activity books emblazoned with the logo of Eversource, an energy utility that serves more than 4.3 million customers across New England. The booklets, one of which was titled “Natural Gas: Your Invisible Friend,” include natural gas safety tips and portray the fuel as an ideal, clean way to cook food, power vehicles, and heat and cool buildings. Bhamutov immediately noticed one gaping hole in the information provided in the booklets: They didn’t once mention that burning natural gas emits greenhouse gases and contributes to climate change.

“To come home and find books aimed at children touting how great gas is and how clean it is, that it’s the cleanest fuel possible, that’s just wrong,” Bahmutov told Grist. “It’s unacceptable.”

The activity books caused concern among parents in the climate-conscious city of Cambridge and prompted apologies from both Eversource and the school district. While the utility claimed it was attempting to promote natural gas safety — a particularly salient issue in Massachusetts, which experienced a series of pipeline explosions north of Boston in 2018 — the incident is the latest example of fossil fuel interests attempting to influence science education in public classrooms. 

Cambridge Public Schools’ Chief Strategy Officer Lyndsay Pinkus told Grist that the booklets were mistakenly distributed to students. Any materials provided by outside organizations are typically reviewed by the deputy superintendent’s office, Pinkus explained, but a new staff member did not follow this procedure with the Eversource materials. “It really was an innocent mistake by a new staff member,” she said. In an email to parents, Tobin Principal Jaime Frost stressed that the booklets are not part of the curriculum and the school does not support the messaging. She wrote that the same booklets were sent to all Cambridge Public Schools two years ago, but were caught before being distributed. 

Eversource’s media relations manager, William Hinkle, wrote in an email that the booklets were created to raise awareness about natural gas safety at home, but acknowledged that the material could be improved. “Moving forward, we will work to include climate change information in future educational materials, as well as continue to provide important natural gas safety tips,” Hinkle told Grist. He said that there are various versions of the book for different grade levels that date back to 2011, and the material undergoes periodic updates.

While Hinkle said the books are provided to schools in Massachusetts or Connecticut upon request, Pinkus from Cambridge Public Schools was adamant that nobody in the district requested them. “There’s no way anybody currently or in any recent history would have requested anything even remotely close to this,” she said. Eversource did not respond for comment on this point.
» Read article               

» More about fossil fuels              

 

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

derailedRailroaded by the Gas Industry
How the Biden administration could use insurance requirements to halt LNG by rail.
By Eric de Place, Sightline Institute
March 22, 2021

It’s been less than three months since the Northwest dodged a bullet. On December 22, 2020, another oil train derailed and exploded into flames, this one just outside Bellingham, Washington. The crash spilled 29,000 gallons of crude oil that burned for eight hours while emergency crews hustled to evacuate neighbors and clean up the site before the oil contaminated groundwater. Yet as alarming as oil train derailments are, they may be only an appetizer for a much more destructive main course: trains loaded with highly explosive liquefied natural gas (LNG).

During the Obama years, federal regulators granted railroads in Alaska and Florida limited permission to haul small quantities of LNG on specific routes. Although the move garnered little public attention, it was seen by industry observers as the start of a slippery slope toward broader approval of a cargo that was, until 2015, considered too dangerous for railroads to handle. (DeSmog provides an excellent account of the serious risks of LNG rail transport.) As predicted, in 2020, the Trump administration enacted a new rule allowing rail shipments of LNG, despite criticisms that it lacks safeguards.

The Trump administration’s decision was a win for the gas industry that has found itself increasingly stymied by opposition to building new pipelines. It was also a victory for the rail companies that have for years lobbied for permission to carry LNG, including Union Pacific and BNSF, the dominant railways in Oregon and Washington that have been responsible for several hazardous derailments in the past decade. One of the worst was Union Pacific’s eleven-car derailment in Mosier, Oregon that resulted in a fiery explosion and an oil spill along the Columbia River in 2016. BNSF is responsible for its own oil train conflagrations too, including two North Dakota explosions in 2013 and 2015 that prompted towns to evacuate, a derailment in Illinois in 2015, and the recent explosion in Whatcom County, Washington.

LNG is far more dangerous than crude oil. In fact, experts calculate that it would take only twenty-two tank cars loaded with LNG to hold the energy equivalent of an atomic bomb. That’s not hyperbole. Even a single LNG rail car igniting could level buildings to deadly effect. It’s no wonder, then, that fifteen state attorneys general, including those in Oregon and Washington, have challenged the Trump administration’s approval of LNG trains, stating that it puts people’s lives at risk.

The risk is real, and federal accident statistics bear it out. Trains derailed no fewer than sixty-two times in Oregon and Washington in 2020, including at least fourteen derailments that were carrying hazardous materials. (These statistics almost certainly undercount derailments, a flaw that becomes clear when one realizes that they do not include the fiery oil train derailment in Custer, Washington in late December.)

What’s less understood than the risk to lives and property is the staggering risk to taxpayers. It’s a risk that could prove to be the endeavor’s Achilles’ heel, and it could give the Biden administration a commonsense way to halt LNG rail transport. As it happens, railroads are severely underinsured for many hazardous substance shipments, especially in urban areas, so simply requiring them to carry insurance proportional to the risk would almost certainly render the entire venture uneconomical.
» Read article               

» More about LNG                       

 

BIOMASS

Enviva promo
Communities of Color in Eastern North Carolina Want Wood Pellet Byproducts Out of Their Neighborhoods—And Their Lungs
By Caryl Espinoza Jaen and Ellie Heffernan, INDY week
May 27, 2021

Belinda Joyner describes her home of Northampton County as a dumping ground for undesirable uses—hog farms, landfills. Northampton was also slated to host the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s compressor station before the project was canceled. 

When Joyner stood at a podium in the North Carolina legislative building on Wednesday, she was most concerned about wood pellet facilities. 

“We have other states that have taken into consideration the cumulative impact, the health impact, on these communities and they’re saying no to these companies that are coming,” Joyner said. “You know what? North Carolina has become a cesspool, because everything that everyone else doesn’t want, we don’t have the laws to protect us.” 

Joyner was one of many speakers at a press conference and rally to draw attention to what they say is Governor Roy Cooper’s inattention to deforestation and pollution by the wood pellet industry. North Carolina residents, community leaders, and activists gathered to discuss how the state’s poorest communities are impacted by wood pellet companies such as Enviva Biomass. Speakers addressed their criticisms of environmental policies issued by Gov. Cooper and state government agencies.

The wood pellet industry, which is the third major contributor to rising carbon emissions in the state, is responsible for 60,000 acres of wood loss annually, according to rally organizers. In just seven years, Enviva Biomass logged enough acres to release 28 million tons of carbon dioxide. 

North Carolina is the biggest producer of wood pellets in the United States, and the industry receives $7.1 million in subsidies annually, said Emily Zucchino, the director of community engagement at the environmental advocacy nonprofit Dogwood Alliance. The United States sold 7.2 billion kilograms of  wood pellets with a value of $981 million last year, according to U.S. Census Bureau trade data. A bulk of these exports are burned for fuel in European power stations. 

“Yet the counties with these industries remain the poorest,” said Zucchino. “This use of taxpayer dollars does not advance the state or support long-term jobs at rural communities.”
» Read article               

» More about biomass            

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Weekly News Check-In 4/30/21

Welcome back.

First, a quick note that the Weymouth compressor station is attempting another startup, following three emergency shut-downs with large natural gas releases – all within the first eight months of operation. Efforts continue to shutter the facility permanently. A story with similar plot lines is gathering momentum a little farther north, where six-year-old plans to build a nat-gas peaking power plant at Peabody Municipal Light Plant’s Waters River electrical substation is finally getting a public hearing – and an earful from folks who complain that plans have progressed without appropriate public disclosure and comment. If constructed, the plant would be instantly obsolete relative to battery storage, a liability against Massachusetts’ aggressive emissions reduction goals, and a potentially expensive stranded asset on Peabody MLP’s books.

Other New England nat-gas infrastructure projects are attracting protests, with considerable activity focused on the proposed Killingly, CT generating plant.

Democratic leaders in 16 states and the District of Columbia have moved to support Michigan’s Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s fight to shut down Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline where it crosses the environmentally-sensitive Straits of Mackinac. They submitted an amicus brief in U.S. district court, arguing that jurisdiction in this case belongs at the state – not federal – level. 

In support of the fossil fuel divestment movement, we posted a story aimed at college students, describing how to get your institution to commit. And a related article reporting that student divestment organizers from all eight Ivy League colleges have joined forces to define timelines and acceptable levels of divestment.

Some fossil fuel workers are already finding good jobs in the green economy. Oil workers from the Gulf coast are applying their specialized skills to the booming offshore wind energy sector, set to employ thousands.

An upcoming UN climate report will stress the critical importance of quickly reigning in methane emissions. While methane enters the atmosphere from many sources – both natural and industrial – the oil and gas industry is a major emitter that can significantly reduce its methane emissions by implementing better practices. To that end, the fossil fuel industry may welcome the recent U.S. Senate vote to reinstate methane rules dropped by the Trump administration. Now legitimate operators can’t be undercut by those who reduce costs by allowing excessive emissions during extraction and transport.

It’s easy to sign up for a clean energy plan from electricity suppliers who simply buy enough renewable energy credits to cover their needs. But the electrons powering their customers’ appliances may still be produced in local fossil fuel plants. It’s much harder to commit to sourcing “24/7 clean electricity”, which requires the use of actual renewable energy electrons – and the Biden administration just put the federal government on course to do that.

We have updates on energy storage technologies, and we take the long view on clean transportation, looking at the future of carbon-free ships and electric aircraft, including an important article from last year describing the engineering breakthrough that opens the path to reliable, affordable, solid-state EV batteries.

This week’s wrap-up includes a helpful piece explaining how woody biomass sourced from American forests became the “zero-emissions” fuel of choice in European power plants. And early research indicates that bacteria might be useful in removing some microplastics from the aquatic environment.

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

— The NFGiM Team

 

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

Compressor station coming back online after April 6 shutdown
By Jessica Trufant, The Patriot Ledger
April 27, 2021

WEYMOUTH — The energy company that owns the natural gas compressor station on the banks of the Fore River plans to start the facility back up, several weeks after the third unplanned gas release at the site since September. 

Enbridge, the Canadian-based energy company that built the compressor station, notified the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection this week that it may vent gas from the facility between April 29 and May 5 while it brings it back into service.

Enbridge spokesman Max Bergeron said in an email that the process will take a few days and involve ” controlled venting of natural gas through a stack specifically designed” for venting.

“We are planning to use advanced specialized equipment to minimize the volume of natural gas vented into the atmosphere,” he said. “In order to ensure awareness, we have notified state and local officials of these activities. We are proceeding with public health and safety as our priority.”

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.

On April 6, the compressor unit had an issue and shut off to prevent equipment damage, Bergeron said. The facility then vented natural gas, which Enbridge was required to report to MassDEP. Bergeron said Enbridge has [resolved] the issue.
» Read article                 

» More about the Weymouth compressor          

PEAKING POWER PLANTS


Residents, officials speak out against plant
By Erin Nolan, The Salem News
April 27, 2021

PEABODY — For Mireille Bejjani, the Department of Public Utilities hearing on Monday morning felt like the first time Peabody and other North Shore residents could voice their concerns about plans to build a 60-megawatt gas-powered plant in the city.

“A lot of folks said this morning this process has been marked by a lack of transparency and public engagement,” said Bejjani, a community organizer for Community Action Works, a nonprofit that works with communities to prevent and clean up pollution. The group has been holding community meetings to educate people about the proposal. 

“This hearing, while there were members of the public able to attend and speak, that does not correct all those years where the public wasn’t included,” Bejjani said, “and there is a lot more work to be done in order to make this a fully transparent process.”

At the hearing, more than 20 people — including several local and state officials — spoke against Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company’s years-old plan to build a gas peaking power plant at the Peabody Municipal Light Plant’s Waters River substation, behind the Pulaski Street industrial park.
» Read article                 

» More about peaking power plants          

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS


As New England Wind Power Grows, Local Activists Try To Halt Natural Gas Projects
By J.D. Allen & Patrick Skahill, NHPR
April 21, 2021

The fight against fossil fuel expansion in New England has a new front in Killingly, Connecticut. Climate activists want the state to reject a proposed natural gas plant there, which is tied to the company behind a controversial pipeline development currently underway in Minnesota and a recently completed natural gas line in New England.

Connecticut’s activists say construction of new climate-warming infrastructure like this is out of step with the clean energy goals of most New England’s governors and President Joe Biden.

This month, a group of climate activists went door-to-door to banks in New Haven, Connecticut, to tell management to divest from energy projects that contribute to greenhouse gas pollution.

Melinda Tuhus, a long-time climate activist, and the group made stops at TD Bank, Bank of America, Chase and Wells Fargo, all banks that have provided financial support to the energy company Enbridge, which is currently working to upgrade a 1,000-mile pipeline and have it carry tar sands oil from Canada across Indigenous land in Minnesota to a crude oil transportation hub on Lake Superior.

“People haven’t been sitting down — doing incredibly creative, courageous and non-violent civil disobedience and halting construction for various periods of time,” Tuhus said.

To activists, the danger — in addition to the destruction of tribal territory — is that the breakdown of sands oil into gasoline releases up to three times the carbon emissions of crude oil.
» Read article                 

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PIPELINES


17 state leaders join Michigan’s plea for state sovereignty in Line 5 battle
By Beth LeBlanc, The Detroit News
April 23, 2021

Democratic leaders in 16 states and the District of Columbia have taken Michigan’s side in its fight to have a state court, not a federal judge, decide whether the state has the authority to shutter Enbridge’s Line 5 oil pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac.

The states submitted an amicus brief earlier this month, arguing that federal courts don’t have the jurisdiction to rule on disputes over state property rights even if the pipeline alleged to be in violation of those property rights is federally regulated.

Attorney General Dana Nessel asked Ingham County Circuit Court last year to uphold Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s revocation of Enbridge’s easement in the Straits of Mackinac as well as her order to shutter the pipeline by May 12. 

But Enbridge removed Nessel’s case to federal court, where the Canadian oil giant also sued to stop the closure on the premise that regulation of the pipeline is exclusive to federal authorities, namely the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

Nessel has asked U.S. District Judge Janet Neff to send the case back to Ingham County Circuit Court. She was joined Friday by 15 attorneys general and two governors who also believe a state court should decide the issue. 

“Despite federal safety regulations for pipelines, states are free to exercise their public trust powers to determine whether and where pipelines may cross their sovereign lands,” the states said in their filing. 

In a Friday statement, Whitmer said Enbridge’s argument that Michigan has no further say in the pipeline’s regulation after signing the 1953 easement is “absurd and antidemocratic.”

“I’m thrilled to have the support of so many other governors and attorneys general who recognize the important rights states have over the location of pipelines within their boundaries,” Whitmer said.
» Read article                 

» More about pipelines           

 

DIVESTMENT


How to get your university to divest from fossil fuels
By Siobhan Neela-Stock, Mashable
April 28, 2021

University of Michigan students know a little something about how difficult it can be to get a resistant administration to stop investing in fossil fuels.

Even convincing the school to greenlight a committee to just explore the issue was a hair-pulling hassle. In 2015, a group of University of Michigan law students tried to do just that but “basically got the middle finger from the university,” says Jonathan Morris, a University of Michigan Ph.D. student who has long been involved in divestment efforts.

It took years of demonstrating, building coalitions, and hard work, but this year that middle finger turned into a hard-won handshake. The University of Michigan has committed to discontinue its investments in fossil fuel companies and approved $140 million in renewable energy investments. 

The University of Michigan isn’t the only one to cave to student demands. Universities are divesting billions from fossil fuels because of student action. The groups behind those campaigns, which stretch across the globe from the U.S. to the UK to Australia, give similar advice if you want to encourage your university to divest too: Keep applying pressure and don’t give up.

Over half of the UK’s more than 150 universities have made some sort of divestment commitment. In the U.S., which has roughly 4,000 colleges and universities, about 60 have done the same, according to data compiled by Fossil Free, a divestment tracking project by environmental advocacy group 350.org. 

Many schools argue they won’t divest because they have a responsibility to increase income from their donations, and they are working to find climate change solutions via university research versus withholding their pocketbooks, the Associated Press reported. Some also generally contend that as investors in fossil fuel companies they can develop stakeholder sway over energy company decisions.

But J. Clarke of People & Planet, a social and environmental justice group that works with students to get UK universities to divest, sees a different motivation. 

“I think the biggest reason why universities don’t want to divest is the biggest reason why students do,” says Clarke. “It’s a political statement…  [Universities] don’t want to be seen as taking a side.”
» Read article                


All eight Ivy League student governments sign resolution calling for fossil fuel divestment
By Elizabeth Meisenzahl and Delaney Parks, The Daily Pennsylvanian
April 28, 2021

All eight Ivy League student body presidents signed a joint resolution authored by Penn’s Student Sustainability Association calling for each school to fully divest from fossil fuels.

The resolution, which also contains contributions from Penn’s Undergraduate Assembly, considers full divestment to be an end to new investments by Fiscal Year 2021, and complete divestment by Fiscal Year 2025. The resolution defines divestment as no investments in any of the top 200 fossil fuel companies; in companies that extract, process, transmit, or refine coal, oil, or gas; or in any utilities whose primary business function it is to burn fossil fuels for electricity.         

University spokesperson Stephen MacCarthy did not respond to a request for comment on whether Penn’s administration is aware of the resolution or if it plans to act on it. 

College junior and SSAP Co-Chair Vyshnavi Kosigishroff said Penn’s 2020 announcement not to invest in coal and tar sands, as well as its recent commitment to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions from endowment investments by 2050, are misleading and insufficient.                

“SSAP, generally speaking, considers this announcement [of divestment by 2050] to be a lot of greenwashing, not really a commitment to anything, and really unambitious. [It] continues the narrative of Penn being really far behind our peer institutions,” Kosigishroff said.

Climate activists from SSAP and Fossil Free Penn criticized Penn’s plan for continuing to invest in fossil fuels. Penn’s plan for net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 puts it on the same timeline as that of the oil company BP.    
» Read article                

» More about divestment        

 

GREENING THE ECONOMY


Gulf Coast Oil Workers Are Building America’s Offshore Wind Industry
More than a decade after the Deepwater Horizon disaster, Gulf Coast oil workers are transitioning into offshore wind.
By Sara Sneath, Drilled News
April 20, 2021

“The biggest misconception about transitioning from offshore drilling to offshore wind is the idea that oil platforms can be reused to hold wind turbines,” Louisiana state Representative Joseph Orgeron said in a recent phone interview. Offshore platforms in the Gulf of Mexico weren’t designed to handle that sort of load. The weight distribution of an offshore wind turbine is like trying to mount a “pumpkin on a pole,” Orgeron said. 

To function, the vertical base needs to be stout enough to handle the movement of the blades spinning and the face rotating directions with the wind. 

But while offshore drilling platforms don’t quite work as offshore wind platforms, what can be repurposed are the workers and building techniques that have supported offshore oil drilling. A single offshore wind farm could employ more than 4,000 people during construction and 150 people long-term, according to a 2020 analysis by the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, a national laboratory of the U.S. Department of Energy.

Rep. Orgeron didn’t start out considering the engineering difficulties of renewable energy. He grew up in the bayous of Louisiana, the homebase for his family’s business of offshore oilfield service vessels. When the oil work started to dry up, he realized that offshore wind could help his family’s company, Montco Offshore Inc, stay afloat. 

“I was fully enamored by offshore wind,” he said. “They’ll need offshore energy production expertise to do those buildouts. The people of South Louisiana would be prime to facilitate that.”

Montco was one of several Louisiana-based companies that helped build the first U.S. offshore wind farm, off the coast of Rhode Island. But exporting Louisiana knowledge gleaned from offshore drilling was just the first step. Next, Orgeron wants to see wind farms built in the Gulf of Mexico. Louisiana’s governor supports the idea. Gov. John Bel Edwards asked the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to develop a plan for renewable energy production in the Gulf.

“This is not some ‘pie in the sky’ promise of economic opportunity,” Edwards said last November. “We already have an emerging offshore wind energy industry, and Louisiana’s offshore oil and gas industry has played a key role in the early development of U.S. offshore wind energy in the Atlantic Ocean.”
» Read article                 


The six ‘critical actions’ that every nation must take to reach net zero
Major report sets out practical pathways to hit carbon neutrality, including a ten-times-faster renewables build-out and ‘clear plans’ to phase out natural gas
By Leigh Collins, Recharge News
April 26, 2021

The global pace of the renewables build-out needs to increase by a factor of between five and seven by 2030 and by a factor of ten by the mid-2030s if the world is to reach net zero emissions by mid-century, says a new study by influential climate business think-tank Energy Transitions Commission* (ETC).

Power sectors in developed nations should reach near-total decarbonisation by the mid-2030s, with the use of coal eliminated “almost immediately” and clear plans to phase out unabated natural gas, according to the ETC report, Making Clean Electrification Possible: 30 Years to Electrify the Global Economy.

It adds that developing economies should commit to net-zero goals for 2060 and achieve full decarbonisation of their electricity sectors by the mid-2040s, phasing out existing coal plants in the 2030s and early 2040s.

Low-income countries, meanwhile, should aim to massively expand clean electricity provision without ever relying on fossil fuels for power generation.

The report also explains that there must be massive investment in transmission and distribution, the electrification of transport, heating and heavy industry, and the build-up of clean hydrogen — mainly green H2 produced from renewable energy with a small proportion of blue H2 derived from natural gas with CCS — to help decarbonise hard-to-abate sectors such as steel, shipping and aviation.

This entire energy transition will require trillions of dollars of investment, but will ultimately pay for itself, “if managed effectively”, the study says.

“These feasible objectives will only be met if countries take strong action in the 2020s, setting out both what needs to be achieved by 2030 and how they will achieve it,” it explains.
» Read article                
» Read the ETC report            

» More about greening the economy           

 

CLIMATE


Halting the Vast Release of Methane Is Critical for Climate, U.N. Says
A major United Nations report will declare that slashing emissions of methane, the main component of natural gas, is far more vital than previously thought.
By Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times
April 24, 2021

A landmark United Nations report is expected to declare that reducing emissions of methane, the main component of natural gas, will need to play a far more vital role in warding off the worst effects of climate change.

The global methane assessment, compiled by an international team of scientists, reflects a growing recognition that the world needs to start reining in planet-warming emissions more rapidly, and that abating methane, a particularly potent greenhouse gas, will be critical in the short term.

It follows new data that showed that both carbon dioxide and methane levels in the atmosphere reached record highs last year, even as the coronavirus pandemic brought much of the global economy to a halt. The report also comes as a growing body of scientific evidence has shown that releases of methane from oil and gas production, one of the biggest sources of methane linked to human activity, may be larger than earlier estimates.

The report, a detailed summary of which was reviewed by The New York Times, singles out the fossil fuel industry as holding the greatest potential to cut its methane emissions at little or no cost. It also says that — unless there is significant deployment of unproven technologies capable of pulling greenhouse gases out of the air — expanding the use of natural gas is incompatible with keeping global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, a goal of the international Paris Agreement.

The reason methane would be particularly valuable in the short-term fight against climate change: While methane is an extremely potent greenhouse gas, it is also relatively short-lived, lasting just a decade or so in the atmosphere before breaking down. That means cutting new methane emissions today, and starting to reduce methane concentrations in the atmosphere, could more quickly help the world meet its midcentury targets for fighting global warming.

By contrast, carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, lasts for hundreds of years in the atmosphere. So while it remains critical to keep reducing carbon emissions, which make up the bulk of our greenhouse gas emissions, it would take until the second half of the century to see the climate effects.
» Read article                    

» More about climate             

 

CLEAN ENERGY


Why the federal government is buying into the promise of 24/7 clean power
How “24/7 clean electricity” could drive a whole new era of energy use.
By Shannon Osaka, Grist
April 21, 2021

Over the past decade, hundreds of cities, companies, and states have started buying renewable energy to power their Wi-Fi routers, run their refrigerators, and otherwise keep the lights on. The Empire State Building, for instance, is powered entirely by wind energy; the small city of Burlington, Vermont is run entirely on biomass, wind, solar, and hydropower; and the tech giant Google has been powering its data centers and office buildings with renewables since 2017. 

Or have they? Plenty of cities and companies are aiming to run on 100 percent clean energy, but it’s not exactly what it sounds like. The truth is that for the past several years, they’ve been trying to cut carbon emissions on what could be termed “Easy” mode. Yes, they buy enough renewable energy to run on clean power all the time, but that energy isn’t necessarily what’s providing the power for their air conditioners and microwaves at any given point in time. 

Now, however, some are pushing governments and companies to switch from “Easy” to “Hard.” They want to deploy something called “24/7 clean energy” — a goal that could drive a whole new phase of clean energy use. And they’ve just convinced the Biden administration to bring it to every single federal building in the United States.

[Michael Terrell, the director of energy at Google] says the benefit of 24/7 goals is that they guarantee clean power be available on the grid where the company or building operates (as opposed to thousands of miles away in Iowa) and they can boost demand for clean energy that isn’t wind or solar. In the long run, because solar and wind aren’t available all the time, electricity grids are going to need to be outfitted with “firm” power sources that can kick in at any time. That will push developers to build big batteries, nuclear reactors, geothermal plants pulling heat from under the Earth’s surface, or even natural gas plants with carbon capture capabilities. 

“When you’re thinking about sourcing energy in every location on a 24/7 basis, it really motivates you to think even more about how to get the electricity grids to carbon-free faster,” Terrell said.
» Read article                   


A battle to get more clean energy into New England’s electric grid is underway. Here’s what you need to know.
By Jan Ellen Spiegel, The CT Mirror
April 26, 2021

In January 2020, Katie Dykes, commissioner of Connecticut’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection — speaking to environmental advocates attending the Connecticut League of Conservation Voters annual environmental summit — leveled this broadside at the independent system operator that runs the six-state New England electricity grid and the federal authorities that govern it:

“Because of the lack of leadership on carbon at the ISO-New England, we are at the mercy of a regional capacity market that’s driving investment in more natural gas and fossil fuel power plants that we don’t want and that we don’t need,” she said. “This is forcing us to take a serious look at the costs and benefits of participating in the ISO-New England markets.”

It was widely misunderstood.

“People interpreted that as physically leaving the grid,” Dykes said a year later. “Ratepayers have gotten a lot of benefits of more reliable and affordable power by participating in a regional grid.”

What she had been talking about was a market paradigm the ISO uses to purchase power for the grid. Not much more than a year later, she is still talking about it. And with nothing short of evangelical zeal and little deference to a potentially paralyzing pandemic, Dykes has commandeered the other five New England states, the ISO, system stakeholders and more than a little national interest into a bona fide effort to figure out how to increase renewable power, decrease the use of fossil fuels and lower costs — or at least not let them go through the roof — and keep everyone on civil terms with each other.

In Connecticut, the ISO’s rules could make it difficult for the state to meet its greenhouse gas emissions goals and Gov. Ned Lamont’s executive order to have a 100% clean electric grid by 2040. And it makes the clean energy the state has already approved for development even more expensive.

The proposed Killingly natural gas plant has become the poster child for the failures of the existing system. The ISO has approved it through the [Forward Capacity Market], while those concerned about climate change — including Gov. Lamont — say it’s the wrong choice and unnecessary
» Read article                 

» More about clean energy              

 

ENERGY STORAGE


ESS Inc’s all-iron flow battery will add long-duration storage to microgrid in Patagonia, Chile
By Andy Colthorpe, Energy Storage News
April 28, 2021

ESS Inc, currently the only maker in the world of a commercially available flow battery using iron electrolytes, will deploy an energy storage system with more than six hours duration to a microgrid in Chile.

The company’s flow battery will be integrated with renewable energy in the microgrid, to help a local utility reduce its reliance on diesel generators in the unspoiled Patagonia plateau which extends across southern Argentina into Chile. ESS Inc will install a 300kW / 2MWh version of its recently-launched Energy Warehouse battery energy storage system (BESS) for the utility, Edelaysen.

Edalaysen’s grid is served by run-of-the-river hydroelectric turbines, but these vary seasonally in output and are not sufficient to meet customer demand all year round, so diesel is called into action several times a year. ESS Inc claimed that its battery’s installation as part of the renewable microgrid will enable Edelaysen, a subsidiary of Chilean utility group GRUPO SAESA, to cut three-quarters of the diesel generator use it currently runs. Work is already underway on the project and is expected to be completed later this year, with the battery storage system expected to last 25 years in operation.

“Our analysis showed that if they used lithium-ion batteries, Edelaysen could only shut down their diesel gensets for about three months per year. Instead, our long-duration iron flow storage system will reduce the need to run them by three times as much – the equivalent of nine months a year. That’s a huge reduction in emissions, noise and cost,” ESS Inc CEO Eric Dresselhuys — who joined the northwest US-headquartered company earlier this month — said.

ESS Inc has long argued that its systems pose far less fire risk than lithium-ion batteries but that the iron solution used for electrolyte is cheaper than the vanadium used by rival flow battery companies. Even if the electrolyte were to leak, the company has said that third-party safety research showed the contents of the battery to be basically fertiliser.
» Read article                   


GE, others see hybrid storage as ‘the future’ of grid reliability but face technology, optimization challenges
By Jason Plautz, Utility Dive
April 26, 2021

As utilities rapidly expand their renewable energy offerings, hybrid solar and storage solutions are a key technology for maintaining grid reliability, speakers said at an annual Energy Storage Association Conference last week. “Hybrids are the future,” said Mike Bowman, chief technology officer for GE’s renewable hybrids arm, adding that they’re a “natural progression” for the grid. 

The hybrid systems, which co-locate generators and batteries on the same site, have the advantage of reducing transmission and sharing on installation costs and permitting. They can also offer greater dispatch flexibility for grid operators.

However, hybrid systems are hampered by the constantly-evolving technology, the high up-front cost of the systems and uncertainty about integration into the larger grid. “Interconnection rules and tying interconnection to optimize hybrid … is something the industry is struggling with right now,” said Evan Bierman, director of energy storage product management and renewable integration for EDF Renewables.
» Read article                    

» More about energy storage           

 

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION


Shipping Looks to Hydrogen as It Seeks to Ditch Bunker Fuel
Discord within oil-reliant industry over how to power the workhorses of global trade in the net zero era.
By Harry Dempsey, Financial Times, in Inside Climate News
April 28, 2021

The Compagnie Belge Maritime du Congo launched its first steam-powered ship, the SS Leopold, on its maiden trip from Antwerp to Congo in 1895. Today CMB, the colonial-era group’s successor, carries commuters between the Belgian city and nearby Kruibeke on a ferry fueled by hydrogen.

“This is the fourth energy revolution in shipping—from rowing our boats to sails to steam engine to diesel engine and we have to change it once more,” said Alex Saverys, CMB chief executive and scion of one of Belgium’s oldest shipping families.

Shipping produces about 3 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and without action its contribution is likely to rise for decades as global trade grows. The International Maritime Organization, the UN agency that regulates the global industry, wants to at least halve its impact by 2050.

Many industry figures are pinning their hopes on blue or green hydrogen—produced using natural gas with carbon capture or renewable electricity and whose only byproduct when combusted is water—to help steer away from polluting bunker fuel.

“There is no question whether hydrogen will be the energy carrier of shipping in 2050,” said Lasse Kristoffersen, chief executive of Norway’s Torvald Klaveness. “The question is, how do you produce it and which form do you use it as a carrier?”

Hydrogen has low energy density compared with heavy fuel oil. Storing it in its liquid form below minus 253 degrees Celsius requires heavy cryogenic tanks that take up precious space, rendering it unfeasible for large cargo ships.

“With the current state of technology, we cannot use hydrogen to fuel our vessels,” said Morten Bo Christiansen, head of decarbonization at AP Moller-Maersk, MSC’s larger rival.

However, the industry has grown increasingly optimistic about using ammonia, a compound of hydrogen and nitrogen, to fuel the workhorses of global trade without belching out greenhouse gases.

Though foul-smelling and toxic, ammonia is easy to liquify, is already transported worldwide at scale and has nearly twice the energy density of liquid hydrogen.
» Read article                   


Battery Breakthrough Gives Boost to Electric Flight and Long-Range Electric Cars
New battery technology developed at Berkeley Lab could give flight to electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft and supercharge safe, long-range electric cars
By Theresa Duque, Berkeley Lab News Center
July 20, 2020

In the pursuit of a rechargeable battery that can power electric vehicles (EVs) for hundreds of miles on a single charge, scientists have endeavored to replace the graphite anodes currently used in EV batteries with lithium metal anodes.

But while lithium metal extends an EV’s driving range by 30–50%, it also shortens the battery’s useful life due to lithium dendrites, tiny treelike defects that form on the lithium anode over the course of many charge and discharge cycles. What’s worse, dendrites short-circuit the cells in the battery if they make contact with the cathode.

For decades, researchers assumed that hard, solid electrolytes, such as those made from ceramics, would work best to prevent dendrites from working their way through the cell. But the problem with that approach, many found, is that it didn’t stop dendrites from forming or “nucleating” in the first place, like tiny cracks in a car windshield that eventually spread.

Now, researchers at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), in collaboration with Carnegie Mellon University, have reported in the journal Nature Materials a new class of soft, solid electrolytes – made from both polymers and ceramics – that suppress dendrites in that early nucleation stage, before they can propagate and cause the battery to fail.
» Blog editor’s note: this is an article, but I’m including it because it describes a key engineering breakthrough that opened a pathway to much better (and more sustainable) EV batteries in the near future.
» Read article                 


Bye Aerospace announces eFlyer 800 eight-seater electric aircraft
By Ben Coxworth, New Atlas
April 22, 2021

Colorado-based electric aviation startup Bye Aerospace is currently best known for its two-seater eFlyer 2 aircraft. That may soon change, though, as the company has now unveiled a planned battery-powered eight-seater.

Named the eFlyer 800, the turboprop class airplane will be able to seat a maximum of seven passengers, along with one or two pilots in front.

Thrust will be provided by two wing-mounted ENGINeUS electric motors, manufactured by project partner Safran Electrical & Power. These will be powered by quad-redundant lithium battery packs, for an estimated range of 500 nautical miles per charge (575 miles/926 km). The plane will have a rate of climb of 3,400 feet (1,036 m) per minute, and a ceiling of 35,000 feet (10,668 m).
» Read article                 

» More about clean transportation               

 

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY


US Senate votes to reinstate methane rules loosened by Trump
Congressional Democrats move to reinstate regulations designed to limit potent greenhouse gas emissions from oil and gas fields
By Associated Press, in The Guardian
April 29, 2021

Congressional Democrats are moving to reinstate regulations designed to limit potent greenhouse gas emissions from oil and gas fields, as part of a broader effort by the Biden administration to tackle climate change.

The Senate approved a resolution Wednesday that would undo an environmental rollback by Donald Trump that relaxed requirements of a 2016 Obama administration rule targeting methane emissions from oil and gas drilling.

The resolution was approved, 52-42. Three Republican senators – Susan Collins of Maine, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Rob Portman of Ohio – joined Democrats to approve the measure, which only needed a simple majority under Senate rules.

The legislation now goes to the Democratic-controlled House, where it is expected to win approval.

The EPA approved the looser methane rule last year. The agency’s former administrator, Andrew Wheeler, declared the change would “strengthen and promote American energy” while saving companies tens of millions of dollars a year in compliance requirements.

Democrats and environmentalists called it one of the Trump administration’s most egregious actions to deregulate US businesses. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming, packing a stronger punch in the short term than even carbon dioxide.
» Read article                 


California takes steps to ban fracking by 2024 and will halt oil extraction by 2045
Executive order is a reversal for Governor Gavin Newsom, who faced pressure from environmental groups for previously resisting a ban
By Maanvi Singh, The Guardian
April 23, 2021

California’s governor has moved to ban new fracking permits by 2024 and halt all oil extraction by 2045.

California, the most populous US state, produces the third largest amount of oil in the country. It would be the first state to end all extraction.

Gavin Newsom’s executive order, issued on Friday, paves the way for the state to stop issuing new fracking permits within the next few years, giving California’s Department of Conservation, which regulates the oil and gas industry, until 2024 to draft a mandate. The order also directs the California Air Resources Board to evaluate how to enact a ban on all extraction over the next 25 years.

The agency will study the environmental and health benefits of ending oil extraction, and determine how to mitigate the effect on local economies.

“The climate crisis is real, and we continue to see the signs every day,” Newsom said in a statement. “I’ve made it clear I don’t see a role for fracking in that future and, similarly, believe that California needs to move beyond oil.”

The order is a bold reversal for Newsom, who had initially resisted calls to enact a narrower ban on new fracking permits, arguing he lacked the authority. Fracking only accounts for about 1.5% of the state’s oil production. The controversial extraction method gets fuel out of the ground by using water and chemicals to crack open geological formations and stimulate them to release gas or oil, with the risk of causing earthquakes, water contamination and disastrous spills.

Research has found that fracking and other types of extraction are dangerous for the people who live near drilling sites – causing higher rates of asthma and cancer, as well as preterm births.

“We’re very excited about this order,” Dan Ress, a staff attorney at The Center on Race, Poverty, and the Environment told the Guardian. “This is a big, bold step.”

Newsom’s announcement comes as he faces a likely recall election, and pressure from environmental groups who in recent months questioned his lukewarm support for broader legislation that would have banned fracking.

A bill that would have imposed tough restrictions on oil and gas failed to attract the five votes it needed to pass through the California senate’s natural resources committee last week. The legislation would have not only banned new fracking permits but also required a 2,500-foot buffer zone between drilling sites and schools, playgrounds and residences.
» Read article                    

» More about fossil fuel                

 

BIOMASS


Paris climate agreement overlooks wood pellet loophole
“This rule that was designed to prevent you from counting carbon twice has effectively become a rule in which no carbon is counted at all.”
By Cameron Oglesby, Environmental Health News
April 26, 2021

With the U.S. back in the Paris Agreement, and with governments across the country evaluating how they can cut carbon emissions, a question remains about one contentious “carbon neutral” energy source: wood pellets.

Wood pellets are burned as a form of biomass energy, or bioenergy, and are touted as a “carbon neutral” energy source in the global transition away from fossil fuels. It became an energy staple for European countries in 2009 when the European Union set goals to cut carbon emissions by 20 percent of 1990 levels by the year 2020. In 2019, the EU accounted for approximately 75 percent of global wood pellet consumption.

A 2012 study projected that by 2020 about 60 percent of the EU’s renewable energy would come from burning wood pellets as a carbon neutral alternative to coal. And data released by the EU at the end of 2020 indicates that they were set to meet this 20 percent goal while on track to reduce emissions by 37 percent by 2030.

But this latest report did not directly mention the use of wood pellets in the EU, primarily for residential heating, in its energy budget. This exclusion is emblematic of a flawed carbon accounting system for wood pellets that is leaving a chunk of emissions uncounted, and experts say the Paris Agreement will only create more missed emissions from the biomass sector.

Producers harvest about 4.9 million metric tons of wood annually from the biodiverse forests of the Southeast U.S. These felled trees release carbon when cut and their end-use is as a fuel, which makes for tricky climate accounting.

“The way that emissions in general are reported at the national level as well as to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is by energy use and land use. Unfortunately, bioenergy falls into both categories,” Rita Frost, campaigns director for the Southeastern forest protection nonprofit the Dogwood Alliance, told EHN. “We created accounting rules that said for bioenergy purposes, we’re going to count the carbon emissions when you cut down the tree, so you don’t have to count it when it goes out of the smokestack.”

When a forest is cut down in North Carolina to make wood pellets, the carbon is supposed to be counted by the U.S. in their annual climate reports as a carbon sink loss. Forests, especially old growth forests like those found in the Southeast U.S., are an important source of carbon removal from the atmosphere, so when a forest is cut down, the emissions are, in theory, counted as a land use emission.

The emissions from wood pellets are not counted in the energy sector, “to do so would erroneously double count the climate impact of wood pellets in both the land sector and the energy sector,” wrote a representative from the largest biomass supplier in the world, Enviva Biomass, in an email to EHN.

However, because of the way forests are classified in the U.S., these emissions aren’t counted in either the land or energy sectors, Frost said.

“If you clear-cut a forest, as long as you don’t turn the land into a parking lot or a tobacco farm, that land is still accounted for as forest,” she said. “So this rule that was designed to prevent you from counting carbon twice has effectively become a rule in which no carbon is counted at all, and biomass looks like it’s carbon neutral.”
» Read article                   

» More about biomass              

 

PLASTICS IN THE ENVIRONMENT


Scientists find way to remove polluting microplastics with bacteria
Sticky property of bacteria used to create microbe nets that can capture microplastics in water to form a recyclable blob
By Sofia Quaglia, The Guardian
April 28, 2021

Microbiologists have devised a sustainable way to remove polluting microplastics from the environment – and they want to use bacteria to do the job.

Bacteria naturally tend to group together and stick to surfaces, and this creates an adhesive substance called “biofilm” – we see it every morning when brushing our teeth and getting rid of dental plaque, for example. Researchers at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) want to use this sticky bacteria property and create tape-like microbe nets that can capture microplastics in polluted water to form an easily disposable and recyclable blob.

Although these findings, presented on Wednesday at the Microbiology Society’s annual conference, are still preliminary, this invention could pave the way for sustainably lowering plastic pollution levels in the long run by simply using something found in nature.

“It is imperative to develop effective solutions that trap, collect, and even recycle these microplastics to stop the ‘plastification’ of our natural environments,” said Sylvia Lang Liu, microbiology researcher at PolyU and lead researcher on this project.

Microplastics are the plastic fragments, usually smaller than 5mm, which are accidentally released into the environment during production and breakdown of, for example, grocery bags or water bottles – or during everyday activities such as washing synthetic clothes such as nylon or using personal care products with scrubbing microbeads in them.

Although they are tiny, the risk they post to the environment is huge. Microplastics are not easily biodegradable, so they stick around for long periods of time and they also absorb and accumulate toxic chemicals. They disperse into wastewater and into the oceans, endangering marine animals who end up eating them and eventually trickling into the food chain and harming human health too. Microplastics had been found in more than 114 aquatic species in 2018, according to the International Maritime Organization, and they have been found in salt, lettuce, apples, and more.
» Read article                   

» More about plastics in the environment              

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Weekly News Check-In 4/16/21

Welcome back.

Two related sets of gears seem to be turning in opposite directions. The Weymouth compressor station’s most recent unplanned massive release of natural gas (3rd in 8 months!) has increased the possibility that its operating permit will be revoked on safety and environmental justice grounds. At the same time, Pieridae Energy is approaching an end-of-June final investment decision on the controversial Goldboro LNG export facility in Nova Scotia. The project appears to depend on fracked natural gas piped from Pennsylvania via the now-imperiled Weymouth compressor.

We’re taking another look at Berkshire Environmental Action Team’s campaign to shut down inefficient and polluting peaking power plants, and also include a story on a new Australian study that finds battery storage to be 30% cheaper than gas peakers – and better suited to the task.

More states are adopting industry-promoted legislation criminalizing nonviolent direct actions, especially those taken against pipelines. This sets up a situation where energy companies can take land, clear trees, dig trenches, and cause significant environmental damage even before completing the permitting process – but aggrieved land owners, indigenous Tribe members, and environmentalists can’t stand in their way without risking serious jail time. That’s wrong – and this week’s climate articles drive home the point that we have very little time left to shake off our dependence on fossil fuels.

We’re remembering John Topping, a Republican climate activist and former Environmental Protection Agency official who grew frustrated with the Reagan administration’s failure to take climate change seriously. An early advocate for climate action, he left the EPA to found the Climate Institute, which he directed until his death on March 9th, at age 77. He had a legitimate claim on being in the battle early with his organization’s simple URL: “climate.org”.

The promise of affordable, grid-scale, long-term battery storage is a little closer to reality now that two projects using flow batteries with zinc-air chemistry have advanced to the demonstration phase in New York and Colorado. Zinc is abundant, non-toxic, and non-flammable; air is pretty much everywhere. That last point is also driving development of carbon capture and sequestration systems based on direct air capture. This technology, still in its infancy, may eventually be useful in drawing down some of the excess atmospheric CO2 – but its success very much depends on how quickly we stop adding to the supply.

A look at clean transportation reveals both good and bad news this week. On the up side, battery prices are dropping quickly and that should drive total conversion to all-electric new car sales by 2035 based on purchase price advantage alone. But converting the heavy truck fleet is another story, because the charging infrastructure to support big rigs is considerably more expensive than auto and light truck EV chargers.

The fossil fuel industry is absorbing a federal court order reversing the Trump administration’s attempt to open the Arctic Ocean and much of the eastern seaboard to drilling. It’s also waiting to see if the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s new emphasis on climate and environmental justice means an end to new pipelines.

We close with a fascinating and insightful article from Grist, exploring how it happened that the Delaware River Basin’s recent fracking ban was implemented by the same group of officials who green-lighted a liquefied natural gas export terminal in Gibbstown, NJ. If built, that facility will depend on the extremely risky business of shipping LNG by rail from fracking fields in Pennsylvania, through vulnerable communities throughout the Delaware River Basin.

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

— The NFGiM Team

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION


Will a Recent Emergency Methane Release Be the Third Strike for Weymouth’s New Natural Gas Compressor?

Nearby residents, environmentalists and energy executives are all asking whether this time, FERC actually pulls the facility’s permit in this closely watched environmental justice case.
By Phil McKenna, Inside Climate News
April 16, 2021

For the third time in less than a year, the operators of a new natural gas compressor shoe-horned into an environmental justice community near Boston have vented an emergency release of natural gas into surrounding neighborhoods.

The unplanned venting came as federal regulators, including a Trump appointee, had already moved to consider a possible re-assessment of the facility’s permit out of safety concerns related to the first two unplanned releases.

The sudden release of large volumes of natural gas poses a potential explosion hazard. Methane, the primary component of natural gas, is also a potent greenhouse gas, 86 times more effective at warming the planet than carbon dioxide over the near-term. The venting of natural gas also contributes to ground level ozone, which causes more than 100,000 premature deaths globally each year, and releases volatile organic compounds like benzene and toluene, some of which have been found to be carcinogenic.

If the permit for the compressor—the linchpin of a pipeline network that ships hydraulically fractured gas from Pennsylvania to Canada—is revoked, it could have wide-ranging implications for the natural gas industry regionally and nationwide.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, a little known yet powerful federal entity that oversees new natural gas infrastructure in the U.S., has only rarely rescinded a permit once it has been issued.

The key question everyone from community and environmental advocates in small town Massachusetts to fossil fuel executives in Calgary and Houston are now asking is whether this might be an instance when the  commission actually takes a permit away.
» Blog editor’s note: Bechtel Corp plans to deliver a fixed-price proposal to build the Goldboro LNG plant by the end of May, and developer Pieridae Energy said on Thursday 4/15 it continues to work toward making a final investment decision (FID) by June 30 (Reuters). Fracked gas, shipped north through the Weymouth compressor station, plays a significant role in Pieridae’s plans.
» Read article        

» More about the Weymouth compressor station

PEAKING POWER PLANTS


Local Environmentalists Demand Cleaner Berkshires Power Plants
By Brittany Polito, iBerkshires
April 11, 2021

Local environmentalists are taking a stand against air pollution from power plants that are hardly used.

A Berkshire Environmental Action Team campaign “Put Peakers in the Past” is demanding that the three peaking power plants located in Berkshire County revert to only renewable and clean alternatives. “Peaking” plants are used to meet periods of high energy demand.

The decades-old plants at Pittsfield Generating Co. on Merrill Road, the Eversource substation on Doreen Street and the EP Energy plant on Woodland Road in Lee run off fossil fuels such as natural gas, oil, and kerosene. Pittsfield Generating is a co-generating plant that also provides steam energy.

Rosemary Wessel, program director for BEAT’s “No Fracked Gas in Mass” campaign, said this sparks concern from environmentalists because the fuels emit excess nitrogen oxides and contribute to the region’ s greenhouse gas emissions.

Pittsfield Generating Co. reportedly accounts for over 15 percent of Pittsfield’s stationary emissions despite only running for a few days out of the year.

“We started last year when we were looking into emissions for the city of Pittsfield and found out that the Pittsfield Generating only runs about 5 percent of the time but it makes 15 percent of the stationary emissions for Pittsfield every year,” Wessel said.

“So even though these plants don’t run often, they only run when there’s a peak demand on the grid when the regular power plants are starting to max out, they tend to be older plants and they’re very inefficient and put out a tremendous amount of pollution for the number of megawatts they generate.”

Most peaker plants in the state run 5 percent of the time or less, she added, but the Doreen Street and Lee plants run less than 1 percent of the time, which makes the total emissions numbers alarming to the group.

“Very little run time, still substantial pollution, ” Wessel said.

The campaign’s first actions are obtaining signatures on their virtual petition and talking to plant owners and see if they already have plans to switch over to clean energy solutions. Wessel said that they haven’t heard back from the plant owners yet and are hoping to get legislators involved to facilitate that communication.

She cited the state’s climate change legislation to reduce gas emissions that was signed by Gov. Charlie Baker last month. This bill codifies into law the Baker-Polito administration’s commitment to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 and furthers the state’s efforts to combat climate change and protect vulnerable communities.

“The state, of course, just signed the next-generation climate bill, which means we’ re going to be going for net zero very quickly, so these plants are facing, sort of a change or die kind of situation,” Wessel explained. “And we’re interested in finding out if they’re planning to retire, or if they have plans to change to clean energy, or how they’re going to deal with the fact that they’ re not going to be able to burn fossil fuels for very much longer. ”

Alternatives to peakers include demand response or  “peak-shaving” in which customers avoid energy use during peak demand, grid storage that uses solar plus storage to produce and store clean energy to use by the grid, and Mass Save’s  “Connected Solutions” program that allows electric customers to use battery storage alternatives to replace power plants.
» Read article              
» Read about the Put Peakers in the Past campaign
» Sign the Petition to Shut Down Berkshire County’s Peaking Power Plants


Battery storage 30% cheaper than new gas peaker plants, Australian study finds
By Andy Colthorpe, Energy Storage News
April 12, 2021

Battery storage can be a significantly cheaper and more effective technology than natural gas in providing peaking capacity, according to a new study released by the Clean Energy Council, the industry group which represents Australia’s clean energy sector.

Grids around the world rely on open cycle gas turbine (OCGT) technology at times when demand for electricity is at its highest. OCGTs often only run for a few hours at a time and a few times per year but are among the most polluting assets in the grid operator’s toolkit for balancing energy supply with demand.

While OCGTs were state-of-the-art decades ago, offering the ability to start generating power within 15 minutes of starting up, lithium-ion battery energy storage can respond to grid signals in fractions of a second and can be charged with renewable energy sources like solar and wind.

The authors of CEC’s new paper, ‘Battery storage: the new, clean peaker,’ found that a 250MW, four-hour (1,000MWh) battery system in New South Wales would be a cheaper option for meeting peak demand than a 250MW new-build OCGT from both levelised cost of energy (LCOE) and levelised cost of capacity (LCOC) perspectives.

The National Electricity Market (NEM), which covers six Australian states including New South Wales, generally sees peaker plants called into use for about three or four hours each night from 6pm as solar production tails off and evening demand goes up.

Batteries can cover this period, CEC said, and even before factoring in the falling cost of charging the batteries with solar and wind energy resources that continue to get cheaper as well as the falling costs and rising efficiencies of the batteries themselves, neither the economic rationale or necessity to build new gas plants exists anymore in Australia.
» Read article              
» Download report, Battery Storage: The New, Clean Peaker

» More about peakers

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS


Driven by Industry, More States Are Passing Tough Laws Aimed at Pipeline Protesters
Bills to increase penalties for “impeding” the operations of a pipeline or power plant—in many cases elevating the offense to a felony—are pending in at least six states and have been enacted in 14 others.
By Nicholas Kusnetz, Inside Climate News
April 12, 2021

When Nancy Beaulieu’s Ojibwe ancestors signed a series of treaties with the federal government in the 19th century, one of the goals was to protect the land, she said. So she sees it as not just her right but her duty to protest the building of a major oil pipeline underway in northern Minnesota.

As an organizer for the state chapter of 350.org, Beaulieu has helped lead a campaign against the replacement and expansion of Line 3, which carries oil from Canada’s tar sands to the United States. Advocates say more than 200 protesters have been arrested as part of the campaign, and Beaulieu said she intends to be arrested herself as construction continues this spring.

But a bill currently pending in the state legislature threatens her right to do so, by increasing the penalties for trespassing on pipelines and other energy infrastructure.

“These are our own lands in some areas, ceded lands. We never gave up the right to hunt, fish and travel. So just because we don’t hold title doesn’t mean we cannot protect. That’s what treaties are all about, is that responsibility,” she said. The Minnesota bill would impose a felony offense carrying up to five years in prison for anyone who enters a pipeline construction site with “intent to disrupt” operations.

“They’re violating our treaties again,” she said. “They’re denying us our voice.”

The legislation is just one of a growing number of such bills, backed by the oil and gas industry, that are pending in at least six states and have been enacted in 14 others over the last four years, according to the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law. While the details vary state by state, the legislation in many cases imposes felony charges for trespassing and “impeding” the operation of pipelines, power plants and other “critical infrastructure.”

The bills emerged in 2017 after a pair of stinging losses for the pipeline industry. Activists had used civil disobedience and mass arrests to draw attention to the Keystone XL and Dakota Access projects, and the Obama administration eventually blocked both. States’ critical infrastructure legislation raised the stakes for protesters by increasing penalties for acts like blocking access to a construction site, in many cases converting the offenses from misdemeanors to felonies.

Some of the laws include clauses allowing prosecutors to seek 10 times the original fines for any groups found to be “conspirators.” Those bills have prompted concerns on the part of civil liberties advocates and leaders of groups like the Sierra Club, who fear they could be roped into trials and face steep fines for having joined with broader coalitions that include an element of civil disobedience.
» Read article              

» More about protests and actions

CLIMATE


Decade of inaction means it’s too late to cap global warming at 1.5 °C
By Michael Mazengarb, Renew Economy
April 15, 2021

Leading Australian climate scientists are calling for Australia to dramatically upgrade its climate policies in the light of new research that shows a decade of inaction means it may be too late to try and limit  average global warming to just 1.5°C.

A review of recent climate science findings published by the Climate Council reveals a growing scientific consensus that the world is already on track to warm by more than 1.5°C, and that only an ‘overshoot and drawdown’ trajectory, requiring the extensive use of carbon capture and storage, will allow temperatures to be stabilised at that level.

It may still be possible to limit average global warming to just 2°C above pre-industrial levels, but a rapid ramp-up of decarbonisation efforts will be required by all countries to meet the target. In Australia, that would translate into reaching 100 per cent renewables, or close to it, by 2030, and a 75 per cent economy-wide emissions reduction target by the same date.

In 2015 in Paris, countries agreed to limit global warming to 2°C, and ideally just 1.5°C. But Climate scientist and Climate Council member professor Will Steffen says it is becoming clear that global warming of at least 1.5 degrees is already inevitable.

“Talking to a lot of my colleagues, particularly in Europe, it’s just become clear to all of us behind the scenes that we’re not going to cap temperature rise at 1.5 [degrees],” Steffen said.

“Talking with my colleagues, I think the best we can do is well below [2 degrees], which is exactly what our report says. It’s not one piece of information. It is a synthesis of a wide range of observations.”
» Read article            


Methane Emissions Spiked in 2020. Scientists Fear Feedback Loops
NOAA announced the biggest annual increase in methane ever recorded.
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
April 12, 2021

Preliminary data shows that methane emissions jumped in 2020 by the largest amount since systematic record-keeping began decades ago. And despite a dip in polluting activities due to the pandemic, concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere rose to its highest level in 3.6 million years.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said that global methane concentrations shot up by 14.67 parts per billion (ppb) in 2020, the largest annual increase ever recorded, and a sharp increase from the 9.74 ppb rise in 2019. The data is an ominous sign that the world is badly off track in terms of reaching its climate goals.

“Human activity is driving climate change,” Colm Sweeney, assistant deputy director of the Global Monitoring Lab, a division within NOAA, said in a statement. The Global Monitoring Laboratory makes highly accurate measurements of methane, carbon dioxide, and nitrous oxide from four baseline observatories in Hawaii, Alaska, American Samoa, and the South Pole.

“If we want to mitigate the worst impacts, it’s going to take a deliberate focus on reducing fossil fuels emissions to near zero — and even then we’ll need to look for ways to further remove greenhouse gasses from the atmosphere,” Sweeney said.

The data that NOAA released this month is preliminary and attributing the precise source of increased methane pollution is difficult. The data suggests that a large portion of the methane comes from fossil fuels, such as drilling, flaring, and other sources of methane leaks. But in a worrying sign, researchers think that some of the increase came from “biogenic” sources, such as methane leaking from wetlands or melting permafrost.

“That would, in a sense, be much worse as that sort of feedback — under which warming begets more warming — both is something we can’t easily control and would make our limits on greenhouse gas emissions to meet a given target even stricter,” Drew Shindell, professor of Earth science at Duke University and a former scientist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, told DeSmog, commenting on the new study. “So in that sense it would’ve been preferable in many ways if these were from fossil fuels, but the jury is still out on that.”
» Read article              


Scientists Warn 4°C World Would Unleash ‘Unimaginable Amounts of Water’ as Ice Shelves Collapse
By Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams, in EcoWatch
April 11, 2021

A new study is shedding light on just how much ice could be lost around Antarctica if the international community fails to urgently rein in planet-heating emissions, bolstering arguments for bolder climate policies.

The study, published Thursday in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, found that over a third of the area of all Antarctic ice shelves — including 67% of area on the Antarctic Peninsula — could be at risk of collapsing if global temperatures soar to 4°C above pre-industrial levels.

An ice shelf, as NASA explains, “is a thick, floating slab of ice that forms where a glacier or ice flows down a coastline.” They are found only in Antarctica, Greenland, Canada, and the Russian Arctic—and play a key role in limiting sea level rise.

“Ice shelves are important buffers preventing glaciers on land from flowing freely into the ocean and contributing to sea level rise,” explained Ella Gilbert, the study’s lead author, in a statement. “When they collapse, it’s like a giant cork being removed from a bottle, allowing unimaginable amounts of water from glaciers to pour into the sea.”

“We know that when melted ice accumulates on the surface of ice shelves, it can make them fracture and collapse spectacularly,” added Gilbert, a research scientist at the University of Reading. “Previous research has given us the bigger picture in terms of predicting Antarctic ice shelf decline, but our new study uses the latest modelling techniques to fill in the finer detail and provide more precise projections.”

Gilbert and co-author Christoph Kittel of Belgium’s University of Liège conclude that limiting global temperature rise to 2°C rather than 4°C would cut the area at risk in half.

“At 1.5°C, just 14% of Antarctica’s ice shelf area would be at risk,” Gilbert noted in The Conversation.

While the 2015 Paris climate agreement aims to keep temperature rise “well below” 2°C, with a more ambitious 1.5°C target, current emissions reduction plans are dramatically out of line with both goals, according to a United Nations analysis.

Gilbert said Thursday that the findings of their new study “highlight the importance of limiting global temperature increases as set out in the Paris agreement if we are to avoid the worst consequences of climate change, including sea level rise.”
» Read article              
» Read the study

» More about climate

ENERGY STORAGE


Progress in US initiatives to demonstrate and investigate long-duration energy storage tech

By Andy Colthorpe, Energy Storage News
April 12, 2021

A zinc-air energy storage system (ZESS) offering 10 hours of storage is being trialled in a New York Power Authority (NYPA) project, while a US Department of Defense-funded investigation into flow batteries has moved into a physical validation and evaluation phase in Colorado.

Zinc8 Energy Solutions won a contract with public power organisation NYPA in January 2020 to demonstrate its patented zinc-air battery technology through the utility’s competitive Innovation Challenge programme, which was hosted in partnership with the Tandon School of Engineering at New York University.

NYPA will contribute to the costs of installing the technology solution in a project which aims to demonstrate the use cases for long-duration storage and how it can help integrate larger shares of renewable energy onto the state’s electric grid network.

“Best known for its industrial use in galvanising steel, zinc is abundant and inexpensive, and without any geopolitical complications as we have a significant North American supply. Zinc utilises the only battery chemistry that uses earth-abundant, recyclable materials with chemistry that is robust and safe.

“Unlike lithium-ion technology, which requires new stacks in order to scale, zinc batteries are able to decouple the linkage between energy and power. This means that scaling the zinc battery technology can be accomplished by simply increasing the size of the energy storage tank and quantity of the recharged zinc particles,” [Ron MacDonald, CEO of Zinc8] wrote.

“Zinc-air batteries use oxygen from the atmosphere to extract power from zinc, making zinc-air battery production costs the lowest of all rechargeable batteries. Zinc-air batteries are non-flammable and non-toxic with a longer lifetime as compared to other batteries.”
» Read article              

» More about energy storage

CARBON CAPTURE & SEQUESTRATION


How direct air capture works (and why it’s important)
Climeworks operates multiple direct air capture plants around the world and is currently building the world’s largest climate-positive direct air capture plant in Iceland.
By Grist
April 15, 2021

In January 2021, eight shipping container-sized boxes were assembled in Hellisheiði, Iceland, next to the third-largest geothermal power station in the world. Twelve giant fans mounted on the outside of each box will start spinning later this year.

The facility, called Orca, is intended to suck approximately 4,000 tons of carbon dioxide directly from the air each year. Developed by the Swiss engineering firm Climeworks, Orca is the largest example of direct air capture to date — a technology intended to suck carbon dioxide out of thin air.

“To me, this is kind of the last hope,” Christoph Beuttler, the carbon dioxide removal manager of Climeworks tells Grist. “This, together with reducing emissions and planting as many trees as we can, enable[s] us to just make the Paris Agreement.”

You can think about the carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere like a bucket. Today, that bucket is almost full: We have about nine percent of the volume left to fill if we want to stay below 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming by 2050. To keep that bucket from overflowing, we’ll certainly have to cut back on global emissions (which, with the exception of 2020’s pandemic shutdown, are projected to keep rising).

But all of the pathways that keep us at or below 1.5 degrees C, as outlined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, also include development of direct air capture technologies like the giant fans set to start spinning in Iceland. Direct air capture can’t keep us below that threshold on its own, but it can help poke a hole in our proverbial carbon bucket to drain out some of our past emissions.

To make a big enough hole, though, this tech will have to remove billions of tons of carbon dioxide from the air each year. Such projects represent “an engineering project probably larger than has ever been created by humanity in the past,” says Jeffrey Reimer, a materials chemist at The University of California Berkeley who is not affiliated with Climeworks. He says there’s still a long way to go, but a few key pieces have fallen into place and set the project in motion.
» Read article            

» More about CCS

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION


Advances mean all new US vehicles can be electric by 2035, study finds
By Oliver Milman, The Guardian
April 15, 2021

Rapid advances in the technology and cost of batteries should allow all new cars and trucks sold in the US to be powered by electricity by 2035, saving drivers trillions of dollars and delivering a major boost to the effort to slow the climate crisis, new research has found.

Electric vehicles currently make up only about 2% of all cars sold in the US, with many American drivers put off until now by models that were often significantly more expensive than gasoline or diesel cars, as well as concerns over the availability of plug-in recharge points.

This situation is likely to drastically change this decade, according to the new University of California, Berkeley study, with the upfront cost of electric cars set to reach parity with petrol vehicles in around five years’ time. As electric cars are more efficient and require less costly maintenance, the rapid electrification of transport would save about $2.7tn in driver costs by 2050.

Researchers said the plummeting cost of batteries, the main factor in the higher cost of electric vehicles, and improvements in their efficiency mean that it will be technically feasible for the US to phase out the sale of new petrol and diesel cars within 15 years. This would shrink planet-heating emissions from transport, currently the largest source of greenhouse gases in the US.

“In order to meet any sort of carbon goals, the transport sector needs to be electrified,” said Amol Phadke, a senior scientist at University of California, Berkeley and report co-author.

Phadke added: “The upfront price of electric vehicles is coming down rapidly, which is very exciting. Because of battery technology improvements, most models now have a range of 250 miles, higher than the daily driving distance of most people, and now come with pretty astonishing fast-charging capabilities.”
» Read article            
» Read the U.C. Berkeley study


EV charging setup would cost Schneider, NFI more than 10 times annual fuel savings: study
By S.L. Fuller, Utility Dive
April 6, 2021

Schneider could save $554,813 in annual fuel costs by electrifying its 42-truck fleet based out of Stockton, California, according to a study prepared by Gladstein, Neandross & Associates funded by the Environmental Defense Fund. And NFI could save $748,311 annually by electrifying its fleet of 50 trucks that operate out of Chino, California, according to the report released Wednesday.

But the report also found that those savings are not enough to mitigate upfront infrastructure costs required to support the electric fleets. Schneider would pay $8.9 million, while NFI would need to shell out $10.4 million. Those costs include charging hardware and construction.

EDF called charging infrastructure “the greatest challenge of electrifying heavy-duty trucks,” and recommended governments and utilities pursue policies to help bring down the upfront costs for fleets.

Whether a fleet or OEM has invested in battery-electric vehicles, fuel-cell-electric vehicles or both, infrastructure is one of the biggest question marks.

Standing up a national hydrogen network presents steep funding and other challenges.

Electric charging capabilities are becoming more commonplace around the country as electric passenger cars grow in popularity. But stations that can accommodate heavy-duty trucks require more power.

NFI is testing 10 electric Daimler trucks out of Chino, and building chargers was the longest part of the project, NFI Senior Vice President of Fleet Services Bill Bliem said in February.

One lesson NFI learned during that process was how different it was to deal with a utility company’s rates, rather than paying for a standard fuel source.
» Read article            

» More about clean transportation

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY


John Topping, 77, Dies; Early Advocate for Climate Action
A former official of the Environmental Protection Agency, he was a Republican activist on global warming when it was an issue with bipartisan support
By John Schwartz, New York TImes
April 10, 2021

John Topping, whose work to warn the world of the risks of climate change stretched back to the 1980s, and who helped spur the international effort to limit warming, died on March 9 at a hospital in Bethesda, Md. He was 77.

The cause was gastrointestinal bleeding, his daughter Elizabeth Barrett Topping said.

A Rockefeller Republican, Mr. Topping took on the emerging climate crisis when fighting planetary warming was still a bipartisan issue.

“John was an early actor,” said Rafe Pomerance, senior fellow at the Woodwell Climate Research Center in Massachusetts, who recalled Mr. Topping’s ability to connect people who might not otherwise have had much in common. “He brought a lot of interesting people to the table and got involved.” As a Republican of solid credentials, Mr. Pomerance said, Mr. Topping “reached out into places I had no access to.”

In a phone interview, Joe Cannon, who served as an Environmental Protection Agency official with Mr. Topping, called him “very patient” and said he had a “gigantic understanding of things — bureaucracy in general, and environmental policy in particular.”

James Hansen, a former NASA scientist who introduced Mr. Topping to climate issues in 1982, recalled a special quality Mr. Topping had as an advocate: “John was a jolly fellow, always upbeat and happy, even though he was working on what he knew was a serious problem.”

Dr. Hansen, who would become a prominent clarion of climate risk, said he first met Mr. Topping when the Ronald Reagan administration tried to cut his funding for research into carbon dioxide and climate change. Mr. Topping and Mr. Cannon got the research funded, but the gains were only temporary, Dr. Hansen recalled. Mr. Topping was disturbed to discover that, by his count, only seven people at the E.P.A. out of some 13,000 staff members were assigned to work on climate change and ozone depletion.

“Topping was frustrated with the administration, which wouldn’t take climate change seriously,” Dr. Hansen said, “so he finally decided to form his own organization.”

The organization that became known as the Climate Institute is widely considered the first nongovernmental entity dedicated to addressing climate change. Mr. Topping served as its president until his death.
» Read article              
» Visit the Climate Institute

» More about the EPA

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY


Federal Court Ends Trump Effort to Open 128 Million Acres of Atlantic, Arctic Oceans to Drilling
“As the Biden administration considers its next steps, it should build on these foundations, end fossil fuel leasing on public lands and waters, and embrace a clean energy future.”
By Jake Johnson, Common Dreams
April 14, 2021

A federal appeals court on Tuesday dealt the final blow to former President Donald Trump’s attempt to open nearly 130 million acres of territory in the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans to oil and gas drilling.

In April of 2017, Trump signed an executive order aiming to undo an Obama-era ban on fossil fuel exploration in that territory, but a federal judge in Alaska ruled the move unlawful in 2019.

Though the Trump administration appealed the ruling, President Joe Biden revoked his predecessor’s 2017 order shortly after taking office, rendering the court case moot. On Tuesday, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed to dismiss the Trump administration’s appeal.

“Because the terms of the challenged Executive Order are no longer in effect, the relevant areas of the [Outer Continental Shelf] in the Chukchi Sea, Beaufort Sea, and Atlantic Ocean will be withdrawn from exploration and development activities,” the court said in its order.

Erik Grafe of Earthjustice, which represented a coalition of advocacy groups that challenged Trump’s order, said in a statement that “we welcome today’s decision and its confirmation of President Obama’s legacy of ocean and climate protection.”

“As the Biden administration considers its next steps, it should build on these foundations, end fossil fuel leasing on public lands and waters, and embrace a clean energy future that does not come at the expense of wildlife and our natural heritage,” Grafe continued. “One obvious place for immediate action is America’s Arctic, including the Arctic Refuge and the Western Arctic, which the previous administration sought to relegate to oil development in a series of last-minute decisions that violate bedrock environmental laws.”
» Read article


‘Seismic shift’ at FERC could kill natural gas pipelines
By Arianna Skibell, E&E News
April 13, 2021

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s decision to assess a proposed natural gas pipeline’s contribution to climate change could have major implications for gas infrastructure, analysts say, including nearly unheard-of project rejections.

“Once one starts to look at the impact of the pipelines on the climate, it won’t be business as usual,” said Jennifer Danis, a senior fellow at the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law. “FERC took a really important first step in a long overdue process.”

For the first time ever, FERC last month weighed greenhouse gas emissions related to a Northern Natural Gas Co. pipeline replacement project running 87 miles from northeast Nebraska to Sioux Falls, S.D. The independent agency ultimately approved the project (Energywire, March 19).

The issue will be revisited this week at FERC’s meeting, where the agency is expected to consider Enbridge Pipeline’s request to intervene in the case. If FERC approves that, the company could file a lawsuit challenging the decision to account for pipeline greenhouse gas emissions.

The landmark order signals that the five-member commission under Democratic Chairman Richard Glick could begin assessing emissions for all projects in its purview, from interstate gas pipelines to liquefied natural gas terminals. Glick has long called for carrying out such reviews.

“FERC announced [through] a policy that it does not consider itself universally incapable of conducting a [greenhouse gas] significance assessment,” said Gillian Giannetti, senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “That would seem to strongly suggest FERC is going to try to do a significance assessment every time.”

Experts agree the move could lead to FERC denying certification for major natural gas projects, though not for all proposals.
» Read article              

» More about fossil fuel

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS


The Delaware River Basin paradox: Why fracking is so hard to quit
The regulatory agency charged with protecting the Delaware River Basin both banned fracking and paved the way for an LNG export facility within a few months, demonstrating just how hard it is to sever ties with natural gas.
By Zoya Teirstein, Grist
April 15, 2021

In late February, the Delaware River Basin Commission made a historic announcement: It banned hydraulic fracturing in the basin, a 13,539-square-mile area that supplies some 17 million people with drinking water.

“Prohibiting high volume hydraulic fracturing in the Basin is vital to preserving our region’s recreational and natural resources and ecology,” said New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, who represents one of the four states in the Delaware River Basin Commission, or DRBC. “Our actions,” he added, “will protect public health and preserve our water resources for future generations.”

The decision to permanently protect the watershed from fracking was the culmination of years of dedicated activism and public input. Politicians, environmental groups, and citizens alike celebrated the decision by the commission — a powerful, interstate-federal regulatory agency made up of the governors of Delaware, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania and the commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ North Atlantic Division.

But the same commission that made the historic decision to protect the basin from fracking also voted several months earlier to pave the way for a natural gas company to use the Delaware River to export its product abroad.

In December 2020, the DRBC voted to approve construction of a dock in the New Jersey city of Gibbstown, in Gloucester County. That dock, attached to an export terminal constructed on the site of a former Dupont munitions plant, will receive a fossil fuel called liquefied natural gas, or LNG, from a plant in northern Pennsylvania and then ship it overseas.

When complete, the Delaware River Basin’s first-ever liquefied natural gas project will pose immediate risks to a wide swath of the Eastern seaboard — to people who live near the liquefaction plant in Pennsylvania and to communities clustered along the 200-mile route between the plant and the export dock in New Jersey — as well as to the Delaware River itself.

The two decisions weighed against each other point to an interesting paradox in the DRBC’s attitude toward natural gas, a significant contributor to global warming. While the commission doesn’t want exploration to pollute the basin, it’s still tacitly permitting the industry to use the river for a different side of the natural gas business — one that’s not without its own environmental and health threats. The rulings illuminate the complex, often contradictory relationship with natural gas that many policymakers find themselves in at the moment, as pressure builds for communities to transition away from fossil fuels toward a clean economy.
» Blog editor’s note: keep reading for a fascinating account of how the Gibbstown LNG project was sneaked in through the back door with little oversight or environmental review, and what might happen next….
» Read article              

» More about LNG

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Weekly News Check-In 4/2/21

Welcome back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— The NFGiM Team

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION


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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about the Weymouth compressor station

PIPELINES



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about pipelines

DIVESTMENT


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about divestment

LEGISLATION


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about legislation

GREENING THE ECONOMY


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

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

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

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

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

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

» More on greening the economy

CLIMATE


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

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

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

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

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

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY


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

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

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

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

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

» More about energy efficiency

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about clean transportation

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about fossil fuels

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS


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

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

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

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

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

» More about LNG

BIOMASS


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» Read the Manomet study on Biomass Sustainability and Carbon


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about biomass

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