November 17, 2013

15 million live within 1 mile of fracking well

The WSJ looked at census and natural gas well data from more than 700 counties in 11 major natural-gas producing states, and found that at least 15.3 million Americans have a natural gas well within one mile of their home that has been drilled since 2000. That's more than the population of Michigan or New York.   [Climate Progress]

Boston to Developers: Time to Prepare for Climate Change

Developers in Boston will soon be required to address how they'll deal with threats of climate change before they construct large buildings, if a new proposal is passed in the city.

The proposal, which is part of the city's new Climate Ready Boston report and will be presented before the Boston Redevelopment Authority board next month, would require developers in Boston to complete a climate-proofing checklist which would include documenting how the building would survive in the event of a flood or power outage and how it would conserve energy. The rules would apply only to new buildings larger than 50,000 square feet, a stipulation George Bachrach, president of the Environmental League of Massachusetts, said needs to ultimately be done away with.

NYC lowers pollution from garbage trucks

One of NYC's hybrid garbage trucks
The administration of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, which has made cleaner air a priority, has taken steps to modernize the city's fleet of diesel-powered vehicles — including about 2,000 trucks used for picking up residential waste and recyclables — with newer, less-polluting models. Under a law the mayor signed in September, by 2017 at least 90 percent of these vehicles must meet the tougher emission control standards for diesel trucks that the federal Environmental Protection Agency set in 2007.
But those trucks are not the only ones on the streets. Now the administration wants to impose similar requirements on private haulers who dispose of the city's commercial garbage and recyclables, as well as construction and demolition debris.
A new proposal would require about 8,300 private collection trucks to meet the same federal emissions standards by 2020, three years after the deadline for the municipal fleet. 

Bees: Another reason to eat organic food

Here is one more reason to eat organic food. That is if you want to keep eating - we may not have a choice. Pesticides and fungicides are killing the bees. 

Scientists had struggled to find the trigger for so-called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) that has wiped out an estimated 10 million beehives, worth $2 billion, over the past six years. Suspects have included pesticides, disease-bearing parasites and poor nutrition. But in a first-of-its-kind study published today in the journal PLOS ONE, scientists at the University of Maryland and the US Department of Agriculture have identified a witch's brew of pesticides and fungicides contaminating pollen that bees collect to feed their hives. The findings break new ground on why large numbers of bees are dying though they do not identify the specific cause of CCD, where an entire beehive dies at once.


November 16, 2013

Energy Revolution

The United States is undergoing the greatest revolution in energy production in decades due to the shale-gas boom and the rise of renewable energy. 

Renewable energy's share of energy production is rising rapidly. Solar, in particular, has benefited from a sharp drop in the price of photovoltaic modules as a result of a massive expansion of manufacturing capacity in recent years.

Power plants are multibillion-dollar investments and are designed to operate for decades. Thus all those natural gas-fired power plants and solar and wind farms coming online now will be fueling the economy for a good chunk of the 21st century.
The chart below shows when the capacity that we use to power the grid came online. A lot of the dirty coal plants are more than thirty years old. 
Source: US Energy Information Administration

Rethinking Utilities' Reason for Being

We may be about to witness one of the most profound transitions ever to occur in the utility industry.
Challenged by the surge in distributed renewables and a strong decline in revenues, one of Europe's largest largest utilities, RWE, is reportedly planning to completely transform itself from a traditional electricity provider into a renewable energy service provider. 

“We will position ourselves as a project enabler, operator, and system integrator of renewables.”
The utility's new philosophy: either adapt -- or wither away and die.
"The massive erosion of wholesale prices caused by the growth of German photovoltaics constitutes a serious problem for RWE which may even threaten the company's survival," wrote the utility in a recent strategy paper.
According to the documents, RWE wants to move away from simply being a developer and owner of centralized power plants and instead help use its expertise to help manage and integrate renewables into the grid. 
"The guiding principle is 'from volume to value' with technologies ranging from large-scale offshore wind and hydro to onshore wind or photovoltaic. But we will no longer pursue volume or percentage targets in renewables. We will rather leverage our skill set by taking a 'capital-light' approach. Based on funds sourced largely from third parties, we will position ourselves as a project enabler and operator, and [as a] system integrator of renewables," read the documents published by Energy Post.
Instead of simply transmitting electricity and selling kilowatt-hours, RWE wants to think of itself as a conduit for renewable energy projects -- helping manage risk without making dramatic new capital investments.
Citing a "prosumer" business strategy, the documents read as if they were written by a consumer electronics company, not a legacy utility.
The strategy documents were initially outlined by the European energy website Energy Post. The site reported that the strategy was agreed upon by RWE's board last month and will be evaluated within the entire company at the end of October. 
This is not a small, progressive-minded municipal utility calling for a shift to renewables. RWE provides electricity and gas for 24 million customers throughout Europe and is one of the biggest emitters of carbon in the region. The company operates a portfolio worth 50,000 megawatts of capacity that includes large coal, natural gas and oil-fired power stations.
RWE has been forced into a tough spot by the surge in distributed generation, particularly in Germany, where more than half of renewables are owned by customers. Major utilities like RWE directly own only a small portion of renewables in the country.
This surge in renewables has lowered wholesale prices and has even periodically caused prices to go negative during peak hours, forcing utilities to ramp down production from fossil-fuel plants and lose revenue. The situation has been exacerbated by the over-build of centralized fossil fuel plants in the last decade. Utilities expected Europe's electricity demand to grow. Instead, it has declined in the post-recession era.

Facebook Running with the Wind

Facebook announced that its newest data center in Altoona, Iowa will be 100 percent powered by wind power when it goes online in 2015.

The electricity for the new data center will come from a nearby wind project in Wellsburg, Iowa, according to a blog post from Facebook

"When Facebook announced that they were going to Iowa, the utility company in Iowa, MidAmerican Energy, announced that they were shelving plans to build a new nuclear facility and then filed plans to build a wind plant instead," said Greenpeace IT analyst Gary Cook.

"The project will add up to 138 MW of new renewable wind capacity to the grid in Iowa – more than what our data center is likely to require for the foreseeable future," the Facebook blog says.

Pope Francis takes stand against fracking

Pope Francis holding a T shirt with the message "Water is more valuable than Gold"

Pope Francis holding a T shirt with the message "No to Fracking" 

November 12, 2013

Tar Sands Impact is Growing

Canada's tar sands are emitting 21% more greenhouse gases per barrel now than they were five years ago, according to a new environmental report card. [Climate Progress]

Massachusetts #1 on Energy Efficiency - 3rd year in a row

Massachusetts has done it again. For the third year in a row, the state has won the coveted top spot on the annual energy efficiency state scorecard released by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.
Coming in a close second was California, followed by New York, Oregon and Connecticut.
Massachusetts has held onto its lead due in large part to the continued implementation and growth of the programs put in place in 2008 with the passage of the Green Communities Act. This landmark law required utilities to increase investment in energy efficiency measures, mandated the design and implementation of three-year energy efficiency plans for gas and electric utilities, required that 15 percent of electricity be supplied by new renewable power facilities by 2020, established a pilot program for utilities to enter into long-term contracts with renewable energy developers and encouraged green building design through updated codes, training, and assistance.
The ACEEE state energy efficiency scorecard grades states based on six policy areas: utility and "public benefits" programs, transportation policies, building energy codes and compliance, combined heat and power policies, appliance and equipment standards, and state government-led initiatives around energy efficiency.

Nuns Protest Pipelines

In September, a group of Roman Catholic nuns successfully persuaded the companies building an underground gas pipeline through Kentucky to reroute the project to avoid their land. But the nuns aren't stopping there.

This week, about 50 religious protesters, including nuns from the Sisters of Loretto and members of Kentucky Baptist, Presbyterian and Unitarian churches traveled to the Kentucky capitol to deliver a 36,250-signature petition against the Bluegrass Pipeline to Gov. Steve Beshear's office. The religious leaders used Biblical imagery to speak out against the pipeline — a project that David Whitlock, pastor of Lebanon Baptist Church said would mar God's land.

"I am here because I believe, as the Psalms express, that the whole Earth is full of the steadfast love of God," Susan Classen, co-member of the Sisters of Loretto said Tuesday. "It matters how we treat the Earth, the land, the water and all inhabitants of the Earth."

Earlier this year, the nuns of Sisters of Loretto and the monks of the Abbey of Gethsemani refused to allow Bluegrass pipeline workers to survey their property — which, between the two religious communities, amounts to more than 3,000 acres that they've owned since the 1800s. In September, a representative of Williams Co., the company which, along with Boardwalk Pipeline Partners, is building the Bluegrass pipeline, confirmed that the pipeline would not go through the religious communities' property. The nuns, however, promised to continue to fight the pipeline, saying the fight wasn't about them, but about ensuring the environment isn't abused for the sake of profit.

Tim DeChristopher: We have to be the carbon tax

Tim DeChristopher continues to provide some of the most insightful comments about the future of our climate change efforts. 

This is an excellent interview where he discusses his opposition to a natural gas pipeline in New York City and how it relates to Keystone XL and other pipeline infrastructure projects along around the country. 

Northeast increasingly reliant on Natural Gas

The increased use of natural gas for electricity generation has raised concerns about fuel diversity, as the Northeast is also reliant on natural gas for part of its heating needs and has limited pipeline capacity to bring gas to market. The winter of 2012-13 saw spikes in wholesale electricity prices in New England and New York as demand for natural gas from both electric generators and natural gas distribution companies taxed the capacity to bring natural gas into these markets.

November 5, 2013

DeChristopher to Faust - You can't be neutral

Harvard President Faust and Harvard Divinity Student Tim DeChristopher

Tim DeChristopher wrote an incredibly powerful and important letter to the President of Harvard on her decision not to divest from fossil fuels.  

Renowned climate activist Tim DeChristopher, newly arrived at Harvard Divinity School after serving a two-year federal sentence for peaceful civil disobedience, is now a member of the "Harvard community" addressed by Faust.

Drew Faust seeks a position of neutrality in a struggle where the powerful only ask that people like her remain neutral. She says that Harvard's endowment shouldn't take a political position, and yet it invests in an industry that spends countless millions on corrupting our political system. In a world of corporate personhood, if she doesn't want that money to be political, she should put it under her mattress. She has clearly forgotten the words of Paolo Freire: "Washing one's hands of the conflict between the powerful and powerless means to side with the powerful, not to remain neutral." Or as Howard Zinn put succinctly, "You can't be neutral on a moving train."

She touts all the great research on climate change that is done at Harvard, but she ignores the fact that the fossil fuel industry actively works to suppress or distort every one of those efforts. To seriously suggest that any research will solve the climate crisis while we continue to allow the fossil fuel industry to maintain a stranglehold on our democracy is profoundly naive. Faust never admits whether or not she agrees with the basic science of the carbon budget, which is the foundation of the understanding that the current reserves of the fossil fuel industry cannot be burned without condemning us to an unlivable future. If she accepts the science, she should explain how her plan of cooperation will convince the industry to leave those assets in the ground.

Faust's claim that the university should not divest while it continues to consume fossil fuels obfuscates the fact that divestment is about undermining the political power of the fossil fuel industry. Energy is a market driven not by consumers but by political influence, yet Faust alludes to the worn out old argument that the consumers of fossil fuels don't have a right to object to the crimes against humanity committed by an industry that uses political leverage to prevent alternatives. As a historian of the Civil War, surely Faust knows that the exact same argument was made to defend slavery, an energy source that was once every bit as vital to our economy as fossil fuels are today.

The students' call for divestment was a call for help by the young people who will reap the consequences of the climate crisis. The industry committed to ruining our future simply asked Faust to stay out of it. There is no way for someone in a position of influence to not take a side in such a situation. That's why leadership is no place for a coward. By turning her back on those calling for help, Faust absolutely took a side. I strongly suspect that time will show that she chose the wrong side of history. When our generation writes Drew Faust into the history books, being not as bad as Larry Summers will not suffice as a position of honor. Harvard needs leaders better able to see beyond their own time, and the students who will continue to push for divestment are a great example.

—Tim DeChristopher

Electric Vehicles sales are up - Way, Way, Up

The amount of electric cars sold in America is up over 447.95 percent over where it was at this time last year. Those are the latest numbers as reported by EVObsession, which also show that combined sales of all-electric cars and hybrids is up 30.11 percent.
One of the big drivers here, unsurprisingly, was Tesla, whose sales rocketed up 8,056 percent this year, from 160 to 13,050. But sales of the Nissan Leaf have also shot up 208 percent, from 5,212 to 16,076. That's particularly encouraging. Unlike Tesla's admittedly fantastic high-end Model S, the Leaf is a realistic buy for the average American consumer. Its price is now down below $30,000, and can get below $20,000 with the help of tax credits. In raw numbers, total electric vehicle sales for 2013 are at 67,232, while they were just at 15,708 at this point last year.
Ford's combined sales of electric vehicles and hybrids are up 328 percent (from 15,708 to 67,232) and Toyota's combined sales increased 9.55 percent (from 247,878 to 271,538).

Judge to EPA: Time for Action on Coal Ash Disposal

A federal judge has given the Environmental Protection Agency a deadline of 60 days to finish long-stalled regulations on the disposal of coal ash, the waste product that comes from burning coal for power.
Since the disastrous 2008 coal ash spill in Kingston, Tennessee, the EPA has been working on regulations for its disposal. In that spill, a toxic sludge burst through a retaining wall, spreading a billion gallons of liquefied ash over an area of 400 acres, destroying and damaging homes and contaminating rivers.
A recent EPA study found that coal ash contamination of groundwater was widespread, and a 2010 report by Earthjustice and Physicians for Social Responsibility found that it typically contains arsenic, lead, mercury, cadmium, chromium, and selenium, which "can cause cancer and neurological damage in humans," and harm and kill wildlife.  [Climate Progress

White House: It's Time For Adaptation and Resilience

The White House is expected to take new steps to help society adapt to global warming, an acknowledgment that worldwide efforts to control emissions will be inadequate to head off big climatic shifts.

White House aides said President Obama would sign an executive order on Friday morning directing federal agencies to make it easier for states and communities to build resilience against storms, droughts and other weather extremes. For instance, when federal money is being spent on projects like roads, bridges, flood control and many others, the plan would encourage greater attention to the likely climate conditions of the future, which might require making the structures stronger or larger.

Climate Pact signed by 3 states and British Columbia

The leaders of three Pacific Coast states and British Columbia have announced a broad alliance to combat climate change, including new joint steps to raise the cost of greenhouse gas pollution, promote zero-emission vehicles and push for the use of cleaner-burning fuels in transportation. 

The governors of California, Oregon and Washington and the premier of British Columbia said the compact could simultaneously reduce carbon emissions and create new clean-energy jobs in a region of 53 million people that is equivalent to the fifth-largest economy in the world. [NY Times]

Renewables, Energy Storage and Utilities

Xtreme Power / Duke Energy - Notrees Energy Storage Project

"Utility giant Duke Energy is testing several pilot projects that use microgrids and standalone storage systems to buffer wind and solar power as they come and go, and to provide essential grid management services like price arbitrage, reliability support, "reactive power" (don't ask — seriously, don't!), and other highly technical functions that only engineers understand.

"At Duke Energy, our focus now is not so much looking for the next great battery, but finding out how to create the best value for the grid and our customers," wrote vice president David Mohler. "Better yet, how do we make energy storage tackle a number of tasks for the grid — instead of being a 'one-trick pony' concentrating on a single area?"
The Duke pilots include a 36-MW advanced lead acid battery system in Notrees, Texas; a Rankin Energy Storage System in Gaston County, North Carolina.; an islandable microgrid in Charlotte, N.C.; and another microgrid at a shopping mall in Carmel, Ind.
Notrees Energy Storage Project

The kind of testing that Duke is doing is a critical part of the good grid planning that allowed Germany to accommodate more renewable power than naysayers said was possible. So it's encouraging to see this kind of exploration finally being done in the United States. "
You can read the entire article here. It also discusses California's new energy storage mandate to install energy storage equivalent to 1% of projected peak demand in 2020. 

Electric Vehicles - having less impact on grid than expected

In a study of vehicle charging in a neighborhood with one of the highest residential concentrations of electric cars in the country, researchers found that owners are charging their EVs much less during hot summer afternoons than most behavioral models predicted.
"EV drivers are distributing when they charge much more than was assumed in models," said Brewster McCracken, CEO of Pecan Street. "This could have a pretty dramatic impact on what the projections are for how many EVs a utility could manage in a particular area."
According to representatives at Pacific Gas and Electric Co., which serves large EV populations, a grid service check is conducted every time a customer purchases an EV to ensure there's enough power to charge it. Out of the 10,000 checks, only 12 local grids have had to be upgraded.