Climate and Energy News Roundup 3/29/2019

Politics and Policy

The Trump administration announced last Friday that the government would provide an additional $3.7 billion in loan guarantees to the Plant Vogtle nuclear reactors under construction in Georgia, with Energy Secretary Rick Perry saying, “This is the real new green deal.”  Americans are evenly split over the use of nuclear power to supply the nation’s energy grid, a new Gallup poll revealed Wednesday.  In New Mexico the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant has had both successes and problems during the 20 years it has been storing radioactive waste underground, thereby providing valuable experience for devising plans for the nuclear power industry.

Calling the Senate vote on the Green New Deal (GND) a sham, all but three Democrats voted “present” as the measure was defeated 57-0.  On the heels of that defeat, Democrats tried to prove they would not give up on tackling climate change.  Meanwhile, politicians from both sides of the aisle have been presenting alternatives to the GND, such as Sen. Lamar Alexander’s (R-TN) New Manhattan Project for Clean Energy.  In addition, on Wednesday morning House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that House Democrats were introducing HR 9, the “Climate Action Now Act,” which aims to keep the U.S. in the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement.  As a climate advocate of a libertarian persuasion, Jerry Taylor of the Niskanen Center wrote an open letter to Green New Dealers explaining why he can’t support their initiative.  In an impassioned column, Washington Post opinion writer Jennifer Rubin wrote “…climate change should be properly thought of as an epidemic that left untreated will injure, impoverish and kill our people.  Denying the cause of those calamities isn’t climate denial, it’s a denial of human suffering.”  At Vox, David Roberts made “the case against incremental climate policy.”  Does that mean that climate policy will ultimately be determined by lawsuits, much as tobacco policy was?  Perhaps that would be easier if Polly Higgins is successful in making ecocide an international crime.

Bills to clamp down on pipeline protests have spread to at least nine new states this year, part of an industry-backed push that began two years ago to heighten penalties for activists who try to block fossil fuel infrastructure projects.  President Trump is expected to sign an executive order imminently to expedite gas and oil pipeline development.  Also, on Friday afternoon the President handed a victory to TransCanada Corp. with a new presidential permit allowing the controversial Keystone XL pipeline to go forward.  Many say the move is an effort to sidestep judiciary and environmental review and is likely to face legal challenges.  Shareholder activism is one tool of capitalism that has been used to influence the climate policies of corporations.  Unfortunately, under President Trump the Securities and Exchange Commission has made it more difficult for shareholders to be heard.

Glenn Rudebusch, the San Francisco Fed’s executive vice president for research, warned in a report on Monday that “climate-based risk could threaten the stability of the financial system as a whole.”  But fixes like those taken by the European Central Bank are currently not within the Fed’s authority.  Every year, the world’s five largest publicly owned oil and gas companies spend approximately $200 million on lobbying designed to control, delay, or block binding climate-motivated policy.  By 2025, Copenhagen aims to be net carbon neutral, thereby demonstrating to the rest of the world policies that cities can adopt to tackle climate change.

Potpourri

At Yale Climate Connections, Craig Chandler presented a five part series on how to cut your carbon footprint: One, Two, Three, Four, Five.  Herman Daly, professor emeritus at the University of Maryland School of Public Policy and a long-time advocate for steady-state economics, had an essay at Local Futures on ”growthism.”  The Conversation has introduced a new newsletter called “Imagine” that presents a vision of a world acting on climate change.  You can read the first issue and subscribe to it hereYale Climate Connections observed Women’s History Month by publishing a list of books and reports on gender and climate change.  At The New York Times, John Schwartz collected the stories of men and women with a family history in fossil fuels who now work in renewable energy.  Jeff Goodell sent his last dispatch to Rolling Stone from onboard the Nathanial B. Palmer as it neared Punta Arenas, Chile.  Climate scientist David Goodrich has ridden his bicycle, lots, to experience climate change first hand.  He was interviewed at Yale Climate Connections about his experiences.

Climate

This week the World Meteorological Organization released its 25th annual State of the Climate report.  A major message in the report is that both the physical and financial impacts of global warming are accelerating.  Vast area of Australia are experiencing record drought and it is taking a toll on the mental health of farmers.

In the Arctic, the retreat of Greenland’s Jakobshavn glacier has stalled since 2016, according to new research in Nature Geoscience.  The pause has been caused by a pulse of cool water entering the sea surrounding the glacier. This cool water burst came as a result of changes to ocean circulation patterns.  In the Antarctic, Two rifts on the Brunt Ice Shelf are close to creating an iceberg over 560 square miles in size.

A new study, published last month in the journal Global Change Biology, found that cod larvae that survive when reared under conditions of ocean acidification expected by the end of the century suffer significant organ damage and developmental delays that could cause problems throughout their lifetimes.

Researchers across the U.S. say the milder winters of a changing climate are inducing earlier flowering of temperate tree fruits, exposing the blooms and nascent fruit to increasingly erratic frosts, hail, and other adverse weather.  An expanding network of researchers has discovered the greenhouse gas methane flowing out of trees from the vast flooded forests of the Amazon basin to Borneo’s soggy peatlands, from temperate upland woods in Maryland and Hungary to forested mountain slopes in China.  These findings complicate our ability to assess the role of forests in the global climate system.

A new study, published in PLOS Neglected Tropical Disease, aims to estimate how the geographic ranges of the mosquitoes Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus, which carry viral diseases such as dengue fever, Zika, yellow fever and chikungunya, are likely to change with varying levels of future climate change.  The results show that, under business-as-usual carbon emissions, almost one billion additional people could be exposed to mosquito-borne diseases by 2080.

Energy

Greenhouse-gas emissions from the use of energy — by far their largest source — surged in 2018, reaching a record high of 33.1 billion tons, despite an increase in renewable energy.  Emissions showed 1.7% growth, well above the average since 2010.  Nevertheless, a report from Global Energy Monitor stated that the number of coal-fired power plants on which construction was begun each year has fallen by 84% since 2015, and 39% in 2018 alone, while the number of completed plants has dropped by more than half since 2015.  Carbon Brief has updated its map of the world’s coal-fired power plants.  More good news came from the climate policy NGO Sandbag, which released a new report on Tuesday revealing that the EU is on track to halve its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, compared to 1990 levels, far exceeding official targets.  Furthermore, according to a new report issued Monday by Energy Innovation and Vibrant Clean Energy, nearly three-quarters of coal-fired power plants in the U.S. cost more to operate than it would cost to build new wind and solar in the same area.

The Charles City County (VA) Board of Supervisors on Tuesday voted to approve a special-use permit for a 340-MW solar energy project planned for the western part of the county.  The project still needs approval from the State Corporation Commission and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.  In Spotsylvania County, VA, the largest solar farm east of the Rocky Mountains could soon be built and, depending on whom you ask, it would be either a dangerous eyesore that will destroy the area’s rural character or a win-win, boosting the local economy and the environment.  Dominion Energy has decided to permanently close ten older and less-efficient generating units in Virginia that had previously been put into cold storage because they could no longer compete profitably.  The units include a mixture of coal and gas-fired resources, along with one biomass unit.

Scotland’s Orkney islands produce more clean energy than their inhabitants can use, so they convert the excess to hydrogen to power cars and other things, thereby serving as a demonstration project for the rest of the world.  EURACTIV’s energy and environment editor, Frédéric Simon, spoke with Jan Ingwersen, who is the general manager of the European Network of Transmission System Operators for Gas.  Among the things they discussed was the conversion of gas pipelines from natural gas to hydrogen.

Florida Power & Light Company is planning to build the world’s largest battery energy storage system adjacent to an existing PV solar power plant, but others have the same idea.  Bloomberg New Energy Finance says the cost of lithium-ion batteries has fallen 35% compared to the first six months of 2018, while offshore wind costs have decreased 24% over the same period.  While battery energy storage works well to level out short-term fluctuations in energy availability, other technologies are required for long-term energy storage, i.e., over days or weeks.  One now being deployed is cryogenic energy storage, which uses liquid air.

At Vox, Umair Irfan and Javier Zarracina answered the question, “Why does a huge swath of the country have hardly any wind turbines at all?”.

These news items have been compiled by Les Grady, member and former chair of the CAAV steering committee. He is a licensed professional engineer (retired) who taught environmental engineering at Purdue and Clemson Universities and engaged in private practice with CH2M Hill, the world’s largest environmental engineering consulting firm. Since his retirement in 2003 he has devoted much of his time to the study of climate science and the question of global warming and makes himself available to speak to groups about this subject. More here.

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