Songs for Solar

Join the Climate Action Alliance of the Valley and GiveSolar for an evening of music by acoustic duo Friction Farm, to benefit GiveSolar’s work in spreading the wealth of solar energy.

Friday, September 10 | 7-9:30PM

Community Mennonite Church
70 S High St, Harrisonburg

Free-will donation

“Songs for Solar” is a fundraiser for GiveSolar’s Solar Seed Fund which is raising money to install solar panels on new Habitat for Humanity homes in Harrisonburg and Rockingham County. Find out more about the Solar Seed Fund initiative on their website HERE and through their Facebook page HERE.

Come for the music, to hear more about the inspiring work of GiveSolar, and for snacks and socializing!

“Modern-folk duo Friction Farm is a husband and wife team of internationally traveling troubadours. Aidan Quinn and Christine Stay combine storytelling, social commentary and humor to create songs of everyday life, local heroes, and quirky observations. From ballads to anthems each song is filled with harmony and hope.” Find more about them HERE.

They’ve written a song just for this event. Be the first to hear it!

Free-will donations accepted at the door or on the GiveSolar website HERE.

Other sponsors of this event include the Shenandoah Group of the Sierra Club and the Harrisonburg Unitarian Universalists.

Virginia Environmental News Roundup for July 2021

The Climate Action Alliance of the Valley is pleased to provide Harrisonburg’s The Citizen with a monthly survey of energy and environmental news stories about Virginia.

With their permission, we are re-posting these pieces here after they appear in The Citizen.


The link to this piece as first published by The Citizen is HERE.

Statewide Environmental News Roundup for July 2021

Energy

Solar has been making news:

  • A Harrisonburg non-profit, Give Solar, has partnered with the local Habitat for Humanity affiliate to put solar on several newly constructed homes this year. The hope is to provide “a path to homeownership and sustainable energy” and to expand the model to other Habitat affiliates in the state.
  • An area installer has secured $25 million in financing to “develop, own and operate solar power projects in Virginia, West Virginia and North Carolina. Solar projects will include K-12 public schools, colleges and universities, hospitals and local government facilities.”
  • Large-scale solar development is underway across the state, with localities inundated with special use permit applications, some of which proposed solar as a new use for formerly industrial sites, or “brownfields.” Planning commissions and Boards of Supervisors in numerous counties have examined their zoning ordinances and listened to the public. Here are links to stories about this in a few of the many affected localities: Augusta CountyBuchanan CountyRockingham CountyHalifax CountySurry CountySouth BostonFauquier CountyMecklenburg County, and Gloucester CountyNot everyone is enamored of “utility‑scale” solar facilities.
  • With contracts signed between Appalachian Power and several southwest Virginia localities, schools there can finally move toward putting solar on their roofs.

Energy efficiency has also gotten some press:

As did off-shore wind:

court upheld Virginia’s Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), which is intended to reduce our carbon pollution from power plants. Revenue received from carbon polluters will provide funding for coastal resilience actions and energy efficiency initiatives for low income residents.

Owners of a proposed, and controversial, fracked gas plant near Charles City canceled plans to pursue the project after evidence showed DEQ could have revoked the permit it had granted. DEQ announced the Air Quality Control Board delayed consideration of a permit for the Lambert Compressor Station until September. Meanwhile, another company is exploring routes for a pipeline in Charles City, Hanover, Henrico, Louisa and New Kent counties.

EPA believes the Army Corps of Engineers should “not grant [the] Mountain Valley Pipeline stream crossing permit.” Even so, MVP owners recently purchased $150 million in carbon offsets to counter effects of its operations. Two Appalachian Voices staff members think that’s “greenwashing.”

Nelson County residents recently celebrated cancellation of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline one year ago. Berkshire Hathaway abandoned plans to purchase a gas pipeline from Dominion Energy because of “uncertainty about whether the deal could get regulatory approval.”

There is a new “state official supporting the rollout of green banks in Virginia”; green banks will help finance renewable energy projects. An analysis showed “Targeted Stimulus Investment in Advanced Energy Would Deliver Nearly $134 Billion to Virginia’s Economy.”

Climate and Environment

There have been numerous reports of sick birds in several states, including Virginia. Scientists are trying to learn why. DEQ reported a large fish kill (~8,000) in Little Creek near Bristol from a lye spill. A UVA-Wise researcher is studying amphibians in a wetlands area at the top of a mountain in southwest Virginia to find out what types of frogs and salamanders live there.

Fredericksburg is wrestling with whether, and how, to tax plastic bagsFairfax County plans to explore such a tax.

The new state park along the York River, Machicomoco, harks back to when it was the home of native people, with plentiful “tall grasslands and woods.” The only state park dedicated to indigenous tribes, its “dual purpose [is] to honor Native American tribes that trace their ancestral roots to the land and to educate nonnative visitors about the land’s importance to Indigenous people who still live in the region.”

Perhaps there will someday be a Chesapeake Bay National Recreation Area. Still, “cuts to clean water protections threaten Chesapeake Bay restoration.”

There is considerable interest in the planned Shenandoah Rail‑Trail that will link Broadway and Front Royal. The Alliance for the Shenandoah Valley is a proponent. Woodstock’s “bike and pedestrian trail [is] still on pace as [the] town nears engineering stage.”

Check out…

Find out about….

The Climate Action Alliance of the Valley (CAAV) is a non-profit, grassroots group in the Central Shenandoah Valley that educates legislators and the public about the implications of the Earth’s worsening climate crisis.

July News Roundup

First edition of a new Climate Action Alliance of the Valley Roundup of environmental and energy news! It follows the Weekly Roundup that Les Grady provided for many years; CAAV is so grateful for his efforts.

We plan to publish monthly and will try different approaches. We’d appreciate your feedback. Write us at contactcaav@gmail.com.

Find this July 2021 edition and future monthlies here. Read our monthly summary of Virginia Energy and Environmental news that the Harrisonburg Citizen publishes on its Perspectives page. CAAV is grateful to the Citizen’s editors for providing this community service and also to the Augusta Free Press editor for publishing our weekly Roundup and this new monthly.

Political, Legal, Policy

International

Legislation and Litigation

Administration, regulations, analyses, solutions

Wonk alert!

Visions (Realities?) of the future

  • Many climate-related events and results are leading people to re-evaluate whether and how they can remain in their homes and communities. Affected groups include Native Americans.
  • Some cities are examining what and how they’ll be in 2040 (Harrisonburg); others are thinking about 2121.

Our Changing Climate

Heat and fires

Drought, flooding, hurricanes, sea ice loss, sea level rise

Plastics, chemicals, and waste

Plants, animals, and wild places

Energy

Renewables, biomass, and nuclear

Transportation

Fossil fuels

We’re far from done with pipelines and maybe not coal either. This week’s stories told of …

Utilities and electric grid

  • A MI utility wants to meet its carbon reduction goals but plans to replace its coal‑fueled plants with those run on natural gas.
  • CA wants to test renewable energy and storage and grid capacity, without natural gas.
  • Utilities, the financial sector, and industrial energy customers agree that “transitioning away from coal is good for ratepayers.”
  • Wonk alert: RMI provides its “Utility Transition HubTM Insights” that foster understanding of what’s ahead for utilities and their customers.

Ideas, Entertainment and Information

Joy Loving

CAAV Steering Committee

Climate and Energy News Roundup 6/25/2021

Politics and Policy

President Joe Biden and a bipartisan group of centrist senators reached a deal on Thursday for $1.2 trillion in investments to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure.  Although the details are sparse at this point, the Washington Post provided a good summary of what is included.  One thing that is clear, however, is that it does relatively little to fight climate change.  However, Biden has said that he won’t sign the compromise into law unless there is a companion bill passed through the reconciliation process that includes many of the things left out of the compromise, infuriating Republicans and putting the deal in doubt.  Meanwhile, Rep. John Curtis (R-UT) officially announced the formation of the Conservative Climate Caucus with a membership of 52 Republican House members, so maybe change is coming.

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland told the House Natural Resources Committee that there is not currently a plan to permanently ban new drilling leases on public lands and waters.  The administration is considering banning imports of polysilicon from China’s Xinjiang region, a move that would assuage bipartisan pressure to crack down on human rights abuses but could undermine the White House’s climate change goals.  Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Jennifer Granholm defended US carbon-neutrality targets in testimony before the Senate Appropriations Committee, saying the US has no choice but to take action, regardless of what China does to reduce its emissions.  The Federal Housing Finance Agency is beginning to formally examine the risks climate change is bringing to the housing market, but it faces a challenge in designing policies that address those risks without unfairly burdening communities of color.  In its 2022 budget request, DOE included funds to create “urban integrated field laboratories” that would gather climate data in cities and build bridges to urban communities.  FERC announced a task force in collaboration with the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners to align federal and state regulators in an effort to identify and navigate barriers to construction of transmission lines.

A Massachusetts state judge rejected Exxon Mobil’s bid to dismiss a lawsuit by the state Attorney General accusing the oil company of misleading consumers and investors about its role in climate change.  Just 11% of the 250 biggest corporate greenhouse gas emitters have plans for major emission cuts by 2030.  The House voted 229-to-191 to restore a rule targeting leaks of methane from oil and gas operations.  The Line 3 fight continued, with the Biden administration urging in a court brief that a challenge brought by local tribes and environmental groups be thrown out; the protestors vowed not to stop.  In a retrospective on the fight over the Keystone XL pipeline, Marianne Lavelle wrote: “The 13-year fight over Keystone XL transformed the US environmental movement, and dramatically shifted the political center of the American debate over energy and climate change. … But the larger issue for the climate action movement is whether the US can enact a comprehensive policy that truly reshapes energy use ….”

The goal of limiting global warming seemed far away last week, as the most recent round of UN climate negotiations ended with concerns about a lack of progress on key issues like climate financing for developing countries and a global framework for a carbon market.  The World Bank agreed to boost its spending on climate change to 35% from 28% and to provide annual progress reports to its board.  The European Parliament approved a landmark law to make the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions targets legally binding.  The UK government set “historic” targets on the climate crisis but failed to come up with the policies needed to reach them, the government’s independent advisers on the climate warned.  Norway awarded four exploration licenses to seven oil companies, but fewer oil companies applied for the permits than in previous licensing rounds.

Climate and Climate Science

Agence-France Presse obtained a draft copy of the upcoming Working Group II report from the IPCC on the impacts of climate change, which says that climate change will fundamentally reshape life on Earth in the coming decades, even if humans can stop greenhouse gas emissions.  A new report detailed global warming’s impact on Yellowstone National Park — changes that have begun to alter its ecosystem and threaten everything from its forests to its geysers.  A new report from the World Resources Institute argued that incremental changes to agriculture in response to climate change will not be sufficient to feed everyone; rather they call for “transformative adaptation”.  UNESCO recommended that the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) be placed on a list of World Heritage sites that are “in danger,” prompting a fierce reaction from the Australian government.  UNESCO appeared to be singling out the GBR because Australia is a laggard in addressing climate change.

Scientists and engineers are proposing ways in which geoengineering could be applied to cause the oceans to take up increased amounts of CO2 in supposedly benign ways.  Climate change is reducing the supply of water from melting snow to many of the largest rivers in Asia, threatening the water security of millions of people.

The US Southwest has become drier since the mid-20th century, particularly on the hottest days, increasing wildfire risk.  Last week’s record heat wave in the western US led to multiple wildfires.  Scientists found that butterfly observations have declined 1.6% annually over the past four decades in the western US.  Heat waves, such as the one being experienced in the Pacific Northwest, are complex, both in their formation and duration, as explained in this article from Vox.  Furthermore, the health effects of heat waves are made more severe by poor air quality

The NOAA/NCEI Climate Extremes Index (CEI) tracks the frequency of extreme weather by combining six indicators and determining the percentage of the contiguous US that is above or below the normal climate conditions; 2020 had the highest CEI on record with a value of 44.63%.

An assumption inherent in the concept of net-zero CO2 emissions is that the behavior of the climate system in response to CO2 emissions and removals is symmetrical, but recent research has shown that it is actually asymmetrical.  Consequently, balancing an emission with a removal of the same size will result in higher atmospheric CO2 levels than avoiding the CO2 emission in the first place.  A group of climate futurists from the University of Hamburg examined the likelihood of keeping global warming below 1.5°C while reaching deep decarbonization by 2050 and concluded that neither goal is plausible.

Energy

Miami-Dade County has bought 42 Proterra ZX5+ electric transit buses, to be delivered in 2022, as well as 75 Proterra chargers.  D.C. Metro will add electric buses each year starting in 2023, then will phase out purchasing nonelectric buses by 2030 so that its entire fleet will be composed of electric buses by 2045.  Cummins’ Vice President for New Power Engineering, Jonathan Wood, said that hydrogen fuel cell trucks will become competitive with diesel powered vehicles by 2030 in terms of their total cost of ownership.  European auto and truck manufacturers are embracing fossil-free steel and competing to become industry leaders in making the switch.  The Swedish joint venture HYBRIT has succeeded in making sponge iron on a pilot scale entirely with renewable energy.

Despite the decision of automakers to shift production to EVs, high costs and an uncertain return on investment are causing many US gas station owners to delay installing EV charging stations.  Researchers at the Universities of Maryland and California (at Davis) have determined that getting drivers of light-duty trucks to buy electric versions may be a tough sell.  New York City’s taxi regulator voted to stop issuing new for-hire licenses for EVs.  The US Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy found that the estimated scheduled maintenance cost for a light-duty battery-electric vehicle is 6.1 cents/mile, while for a conventional internal combustion engine vehicle it is 10.1 cents/mile.

Janet Mills, Governor of Maine, signed legislation that makes Maine the ninth US state to have adopted a deployment target for energy storage.  British power producer Drax Group said it would seek planning permission to build a new 600 MW underground pumped hydro storage power station in Scotland.

One outcome of the recent G7 meeting was an agreement to work toward a doubling of the efficiency of cooling systems sold worldwide by 2030.  At RMI, John Matson reviewed why this is necessary and how it might be achieved.

Following a recent string of setbacks for big oil companies and the rapid advance of EVs, many are wondering if the time of peak oil has finally been reached.  European countries could be underreporting methane emissions from oil and gas infrastructure, investigators have warned after a study found that leakage was endemic across the industry.

Potpourri

The New York Times Magazine has devoted the current issue to the climate.  The lead article is entitled “What if American Democracy Fails the Climate Crisis” and features Ezra Klein and four environmental thinkers discussing the limits of politics in facing down the threat to the planet.  After conversations with a diverse group of global energy experts, Canary Media provided a list of seven emerging investment opportunities in the clean energy arena.  Weatherization assistance programs help low-income households save energy and reduce utility bills.  Architect Kunle Adeyemi has built his career around the question of how his creations affect the health of the planet.  At her Burning Worlds website, Amy Brady interviewed Irish artist Katie Holten about her Tree Alphabet projects.  The results of a recent study suggest that some Republicans can be persuaded to care about global warming and that microtargeting might be an effective way to reach them.  In an article about evangelical Christians and climate action, Katharine Hayhoe was quoted as saying: “If we really take the Bible seriously, we would be at the front of the line demanding climate action.  For somebody who is, at least, even partially a theological evangelical, who actually takes the Bible seriously, that is a huge point of connection.” 

Closing Thought – A Personal Note

Friday was a significant day for me, being my 83rd birthday.  It also represented 6.25 years of preparing the Weekly Roundup.  One thing I have noted as I approached this birthday is a real understanding that life is finite — that if I want to accomplish certain things I have been putting off, then I had best get on with them.  I’ve also become aware of how much longer it takes me to get things done.  So long, in fact, that the Roundup has begun to take up much of my time.  Thus, I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that if I want to accomplish some of the things I have been putting off, I need to stop compiling the Roundup and bid you adieu.  So, this is the last Roundup I will assemble (except as an occasional substitute).  A committee chaired by Joy Loving (who has kindly substituted for me on many occasions) is planning what CAAV will provide in place of a weekly Roundup, so you can expect to hear from her in the near future.

I plan to stay involved in climate advocacy and urge you to do so as well.  Getting the policies we need to limit warming will be a battle, as this last week has demonstrated.  So, make your voices heard.  Support political candidates who “get it” and work to educate those who don’t.  Lastly, get involved with CAAV, Give Solar, or any of the other climate-related activities here in the Valley.  And lastly, keep the faith!

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.

Virginia Environmental News Roundup for June 2021

The Climate Action Alliance of the Valley is pleased to provide Harrisonburg’s The Citizen with a monthly survey of energy and environmental news stories about Virginia.

With their permission, we are re-posting these pieces here after they appear in The Citizen.


The link to this piece as first published by The Citizen is HERE.

Statewide Environmental News Roundup for June 2021

Energy

Dominion has approval to continue operating the Surry nuclear plant for another 20 years. Google’s Loudoun County data center will be powered by carbon-free energy for 10 years. The EPA awarded Virginia’s DEQ $300,000 to convert “brownfields” into sites producing renewable energySouthwest Virginia solar advocates are pleased at a new contract between Appalachian Power (ApCo) and several of its jurisdictional customers that will allow them to use Power Purchase Agreement arrangements to put solar on their schools and other facilities. Although solar energy installation slowed statewide in 2020, the industry is “on a roll” and was among the top five states for new solar capacity installed in the first quarter of this year.

Several local, state, and federal elected officials praised Powhatan County for its efforts to put solar on several of its schools. The superintendent noted expected savings, pointing out one school’s roof was replaced as part of the project. Officials highlighted the educational benefits and the schools’ lowered carbon footprint.

A Harrisonburg non-profit, Give Solar, has partnered with Central Valley Habitat for Humanity to install solar on Harrisonburg and Rockingham Habitat homes built starting late 2020 and continuing for 5 years. The two organizations hosted a “Solar Barnraising” on June 18. Give Solar is fundraising to establish a seed fund to eventually cover costs for future Habitat homes. The hope is to expand the project’s model to other Virginia Habitat affiliates.

ApCo customers can pay an extra $4.25/month so “all of their electricity would come from wind, water and sunlight.” But ApCo “currently gets about 80% of its electricity from power plants that burn coal and natural gas.” Because of ApCo’s offering, no other company can offer ApCo customers a real renewable energy choice. A blogger explained why “most ‘renewable energy’ options don’t add new wind and solar to the grid.” Virginia will be one of three states to decide the fate of ApCo’s West Virginia coal plants.

Energy efficiency provides “the most affordable electricity … you don’t use.” A small business owner cities a new report—“Pathways for Energy Efficiency in Virginia” — arguing Dominion should improve its current programs to boost homeowner and small business owner ability to benefit from energy savings.

A long‑planned Botetourt County wind farm continues to undergo changes in its size and scope. Off‑shore wind farms off Virginia’s coast demonstrate how challenging and complex achieving goals for this technology has been and will continue to be.

Despite 2021 legislation supporting (but not funding) conversion of the state’s school buses from diesel- to electric‑powered, advocates are seeking ways to make e-buses a reality. New River Valley localities now have rental e-bikes.

Nelson County will celebrate the Atlantic Coast Pipeline cancellation July 5. Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) protests resulted in arrests. An opinion writer disagrees with the assertion that the MVP is “critical to energy security,” citing its rising costs and long delays but omitting direct reference to the environmental damage it’s already caused.

Climate and Environment

Virginia’s climate change vulnerability points to the need for adaptation. How, how much, and when to adapt depend on the projected scenario. Land erosion and climate-change-related sea level rise are bringing contamination, flooding, and “farther‑reaching storm surges” beyond the coast into Virginia’s Historic Triangle.

Several Attorneys General urged the EPA to include “Forever chemicals”—“29 per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances” (PFAS) — in its monitoring and analysis processes. Sources of Virginia’s 2020 solid waste included 25% from outside the state. An extensive evaluation of US dams and their hazards identified 80 locations with the greatest susceptibility to contamination from dam failure. Emporia Virginia has a site—a former foundry—and an aging dam—113 years old. Virginia’s Department of Health awarded Harrisonburg’s Public Utilities and Water Treatment staff “the 2020 Silver Water Treatment Plant Performance Award for Excellence in Filtration and Backwash.”

Virginia and other Chesapeake Bay states have worked on Bay clean-up for years. Recently, the states’ governors asked for $1billion in federal funds to boost progress, given “a 2025 deadline for major pollution reductions.” Governor Northam committed to reducing polluted runoff to advance Chesapeake Bay restoration. A blogger described the role trees can play. Part of Bay pollution originates in the Shenandoah Valley; Virginia does not do an adequate job warning users of the Valley’s waterways about the contaminants they could encounter, say environmental groups. Cognizant of their county’s “impaired” waters, Loudoun Supervisors want to find out if requiring expanded buffers around some larger bodies could reduce the negative effects of the rapid development there.

Plants can suffer from pandemic diseases; Virginia Tech researchers are studying how and what can be done to prevent outbreaks.

Federal funds improve several outdoor recreation projects in Southwest Virginia. The non-profit Eastern Shore Entrepreneurship Center will “offer funding [and] services to innovative agribusinesses.” Virginia’s Department of Conservation and Recreation provided “$4.8 million in grant awards … [to] help conserve more than 6,100 acres.” The Virginia Land Grant Foundation announced its FY2022 $7,500,000 state funding grant round in five categories: farmland, forestland, and historic preservation, natural area protection, and open space/parks.

Air pollution is one consequence of transportation powered by fossil fuels. A “study estimates 485 Virginians died prematurely in 2016 as a result of transportation emissions.” A blogger bemoaned recent federal data showing atmospheric CO2 concentrations reached their highest levels since measurements began. Virginia Tech established a first‑of‑its‑kind School of Environmental Security – to help understand and manage the natural and other consequences of human activities.

Also check out…

The Climate Action Alliance of the Valley (CAAV) is a non-profit, grassroots group in the Central Shenandoah Valley that educates legislators and the public about the implications of the Earth’s worsening climate crisis.

Climate and Energy News Roundup 6/18/2021

Politics and Policy

A bipartisan group of senators sketching out an alternative infrastructure proposal expanded their base of support when eleven more senators joined the original ten.  Senators Ed Markey (D-MA) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) said they would not vote for an infrastructure bill that omits key measures aimed at combatting climate change.  So far, no Senate Republicans have voiced support for President Biden’s clean electricity standard.  The Senate approved Richard Spinrad’s nomination to lead NOAA.  At The Atlantic, Robinson Meyer defined “the green vortex,” which describes how policy, technology, business, and politics can all work together to speed up humanity’s ability to decarbonize.

A federal judge issued an order temporarily blocking the Biden administration’s pause on new oil and gas leasing on public land and waters while the court case against it proceeds.  FERC Chair Richard Glick laid out a number of short and long-term goals he has for the commission to tackle transmission policy, and said regulators will outline a clearer path forward on those issues “in the near future.”  The Federal Consortium on Advanced Batteries released a report setting out a vision for the US and its partners to establish a secure supply chain for battery materials and technology.

After months of secret negotiations between Duke Energy, House Republican leaders, and other select stakeholders, sweeping energy legislation has been unveiled in North Carolina.  The Air Quality Committee of the North Carolina Environmental Management Commission recommended that the full Commission vote next month to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.  The Minnesota Court of Appeals on Monday ruled 2-1 that the state’s Public Utilities Commission correctly granted Enbridge Energy the certificate of need and route permit allowing the company to begin construction on the 337-mile Minnesota segment of the Line 3 oil pipeline replacement.  Colorado has ended its 2021 legislative session with a compromise on climate change legislation between House and Senate Democrats and Gov. Jared Polis (D).  Republicans who control Pennsylvania’s Legislature are reprising a fight from last year, passing legislation to require Gov. Tom Wolf (D) to go through them if he wants to impose a price on greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.

Leaders of the G7 nations promised to cut collective emissions in half by 2030, agreed that by next year they would stop international funding for any coal project that lacked carbon capture and storage technology, and vowed to achieve a decarbonized electricity sector by the end of the decade, but failed to set an end-date for coal use after the US and Japan blocked a deal.  Furthermore, behind-the-scenes arguing among the delegates caused some to worry that the COP26 summit’s chances of success may be in jeopardy.  The UK government is failing to protect people from the fast-rising risks of the climate crisis, its official Climate Change Committee said.  The government of Canada has launched a $960 million program to support the development and growth of renewable energy and the modernization of the electricity grid in the country.  The amount of China-invested overseas coal-fired power plant capacity shelved or cancelled since 2017 was 4.5 times higher than the amount constructed over the period.  South Korea’s ruling party has proposed cutting greenhouse gas emissions at least 40% by 2030, compared to 2017 levels.  The EU is considering tightening rules on whether wood-burning energy can be classed as renewable and count towards green goals.  It is also debating setting a zero-emissions target for vehicles sold beyond 2035.  Belgium’s failure to meet climate targets is a violation of human rights, a Brussels court has ruled.

Climate and Climate Science

The fundamental force driving climate change is the imbalance between the amount of energy entering Earth’s atmosphere and the amount leaving.  NASA climate scientists used two independent techniques to examine the energy imbalance, both of which showed that it approximately doubled between 2005 and 2019.

Much of the western US baked this week under a punishing heat wave that set temperature records, prompted health warnings, and strained power grids.  It also threatened recently planted corn, soybean, and spring wheat crops in Iowa, Minnesota, and the Dakotas.  Although the drought can’t be blamed directly on climate change, National Weather Service meteorologist Eric Schoening said we can expect more such events as the climate warms because it is part of a damaging feedback loop: the hotter it gets, the drier it gets; the drier it gets, the hotter it gets.  With temperatures expected to keep rising as global greenhouse gas emissions continue, the Western US will need to take difficult and costly measures to adapt.  In a feature article available only to subscribers, National Geographic explored the subject of extreme heat, its impacts on humans, and what we can do to relieve it.

The authors of an article in Nature Communications argued that economic degrowth might be less risky, and a better way to meet the goals of the Paris climate agreement, than relying on uncertain carbon removal technologies.

Wildfires in the high elevation Rocky Mountains are burning nearly twice as often as in the past, according to a new study that looks back at 2,000 years of data.  Until recently, the future of California’s Santa Ana winds was thought to be one of the few good-news stories of climate change — scientists had predicted rapid inland warming would weaken one of their primary drivers and reduce their frequency.  But a new study is casting doubt on that projection, finding that the winds are not declining, but could even be increasing.

Conventional wisdom says that some 20% to 90% of today’s tidal wetlands could be lost by century’s end, depending on how fast oceans rise, but scientists at the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences argue that such forecasts are needlessly bleak.  Previous periods of rapid warming millions of years ago drastically altered plants and forests on Earth.  Now, scientists see the beginnings of a more sudden, disruptive rearrangement of the world’s flora — a trend that will intensify if greenhouse gas emissions are not reined in.

Energy

The US is on track to install 24.4 GW of solar installations this year, an increase of nearly 24% over last year.  For the first time, the US solar market surpassed 100 GW of installed generating capacity, according to the new “US Solar Market Insight Q2 2021” report from the Solar Energy Industries Association and Wood Mackenzie.  Nationwide, Virginia ranked fifth with 236 MW of new solar capacity installed in the first quarter of this year.  Startup Erthos believes that by getting entirely rid of trackers and racking, and installing photovoltaic solar modules directly on the ground, it can save money and build a more efficient industrial-scale system with less risk to the environment.

Volvo will invest $118 million into its plant in Ridgeville, SC, to build Polestar 3 EVs.  It also plans to build cars using steel made without fossil fuels by 2026.  GM will boost global spending on electric and autonomous vehicles by 30% to $35 billion through 2025, including funds for two additional US battery plants.  New research focusing on non-luxury used EVs has shown that they are cheaper to own than used gasoline-powered cars.  A new analysis from Bloomberg New Energy Finance suggests that global sales of gas-powered cars likely peaked in 2017, marking a major milestone in the shift to EVs.

Startup Northvolt is building a Gigafactory in northern Sweden from which it hopes to provide a quarter of Europe’s batteries for new EVs.  Redwood Materials, a battery recycler, says it’s more than tripling the size of its operations in Nevada and will spend “hundreds of millions” to scale up recovery of lithium, cobalt, nickel, and other commodity metals it sells to makers of lithium-ion batteries for EVs.

A company backed by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos is set to build a large-scale nuclear fusion demonstration plant at Culham, home to the UK’s national fusion research program.  In December the California Institute of Technology will launch a space-based solar energy system into orbit to test the idea of harvesting solar energy that can be beamed back to Earth as microwaves.  If the steel industry were a country, its CO2 emissions would rank third in the world.  Reducing them will take nothing less than a revolution in steelmaking technology, backed by hundreds of billions of dollars in investments.

The share of fossil fuels in the world’s total energy mix is similar to its share a decade ago, despite the falling cost of renewables and pressure on governments to act on climate change, a report by green energy policy network REN21 showed.  The world’s demand for oil will rebound to pre-pandemic levels by the end of 2022, as recovering economies require oil-producing countries to pump more fossil fuels, according to the International Energy Agency.  A new fleet of satellites is zeroing in on methane leaks worldwide, opening the way for expanded enforcement of existing emission regulations and providing data to justify new regulations.

Potpourri

When a neighborhood, city, or region experiences truly unusual weather, some will see it as clearly connected to global warming, whereas others will not.  As if climate change weren’t enough, farmers in Australia are now facing a plague of mice.  Those who have a special fondness for the Low Country of South Carolina will find this article about the threats of climate change to the Gullah/Geechee culture to be particularly interesting.  Communications professor Thora Tenbrink presented eight ways you can make your climate change social media posts matter.  Cyrus Hadavi maintains that as societies we are ‘carbon blind’ to our supply chains, so some companies are creating labels to show consumers the climate change impact of their products.  In an interview following publication of his new book, The Spirit of Green: The Economics of Collisions and Contagions in a Crowded World, Nobel Laurate William Nordhaus said: “Carbon pricing by itself is not sufficient.  By itself, it won’t bring forth the necessary technologies.  Carbon pricing needs the helping hand of government support of new low-carbon technologies.”  Julian Kesterson, who has lived in a valley in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia since he was a child, began collecting weather data as a hobby, and now the data is being used by the National Weather Service.

Closing Thought

Tailoring online messaging and advertising toward Republican voters can shift their views on climate change, a new study suggests.

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.

Climate and Energy News Roundup 6/11/2021

Politics and Policy

President Joe Biden broke off talks on an infrastructure bill with Sen. Shelley Capito (R-WV) after they hit a “brick wall,” instead reaching out to a bipartisan group.  National Climate Adviser Gina McCarthy said some ambitious proposals to fight climate change could fall out of the infrastructure package, which garnered pushback from the party’s centrist and left wings, with many saying “No climate, no deal.”  During a webinar on Wednesday, scientists and activists said that proposals for solar geoengineering ignore the root cause of the climate crisis — and create a cascade of unintended problems.  Researchers argued that the federal government should minimize the risk for hydrogen infrastructure projects by providing clear regulatory treatment.  An antiquated law, a complex and drawn-out approval process, and a lack of ships are all hampering rapid development of offshore wind energy along the US coastline.  The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee passed a $547 billion package aimed at fixing the nation’s roads and transit systems, while putting a bigger focus on the environment.  The Growing Climate Solutions Act is popular on both sides of the aisle, but will it really help the climate?

A new UN report warned that unless the world stops treating climate change and biodiversity collapse as separate issues, neither problem can be addressed effectively.  For example, while most actions to address biodiversity loss are also good for the climate, the reverse is not necessarily true.  Research has found that achieving 80% carbon-free electricity by 2030 is possible using existing technologies, while maintaining grid dependability without increasing electricity costs, thanks to plummeting wind, solar, and battery costs.  The Department of Energy (DOE) announced that it was starting an “Earthshots” initiative to reduce the cost of clean energy within a decade — starting with reducing the cost of clean hydrogen by 80% to $1 per kilogram.  DOE also announced a series of policy actions to scale up manufacturing of advanced battery technologies.  The need is apparent when you consider how small the US capability is (See Table 2).  General Motors threw its support behind the overall emissions reductions in California’s 2019 deal with other major automakers. 

House Republicans are preparing to announce a new climate caucus, open only to Republican lawmakers, showing them how climate change affects their districts and introducing possible solutions focused around conservative values.  A Republican pollster, at a secretive meeting with roughly 20 Republican lawmakers, presented research suggesting that pro-climate messaging could turn the tide in enough close races to allow the party to take over the House.  Speaking with Jennifer Eberlien, associate deputy chief of the US Forest Service, congressman Louie Gohmert (R-TX) asked if it was possible to alter the orbits of the moon, or the Earth, as a way of combating climate change.  An upcoming overhaul of the federal government’s flood insurance program will financially benefit many of the nation’s lowest-income communities, while charging higher rates for houses that are expensive to replace or are vulnerable to rising sea levels and intensifying storm surge.

G7 finance ministers backed moves to force banks and companies to disclose their exposure to climate-related risks, a measure seen as vital to efforts to safeguard the financial system from climate change shocks.  Ahead of the G7 summit, investors controlling $41 trillion in assets called for governments around the world to end support for fossil fuels and set targets for rapid reductions in carbon emissions.  Similarly, more than 70 CEOs from some of the world’s biggest companies called on all governments to set policies to meet targets consistent with limiting the global rise in temperatures to 1.5°C.  In spite of these calls, the G7 countries remain committed to the fossil fuel industry.  Biden faces four major climate obstacles as he tries to find common ground with world leaders at the G7 meeting.  Research has revealed that 87% of the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by the G7 nations between 1999 and 2019 was because of climate policy, rather than wider socioeconomic changes.  Mexico’s President is unlikely to be able to change the constitution to pass fossil fuel friendly energy reforms.  Chinese banks and investors funneled billions of dollars into global agribusinesses driving deforestation in the past seven years.

Climate and Climate Science

Sea ice in the Arctic hit its annual maximum extent on March 21, tying with 2007 as the seventh-smallest extent of winter sea ice in the satellite record.  A new study has warned that the remainder of the ice shelf that holds the Pine Island Glacier in West Antarctica onto land could fall apart in a few decades, rather than the century previously estimated, accelerating the flow of the glacier to the sea.

Long before the era of fossil fuels, humans may have triggered a massive “carbon bomb” lurking beneath the Earth’s surface by converting large areas of carbon-rich peatlands for agriculture.  When the entire food system — including the raising of crops and livestock, the conversion of land to agriculture, transportation, retail sales, food consumption, and food waste — is considered, greenhouse gas emissions are much larger than previously estimated.

According to research from Oxfam and the Swiss Re Institute, the G7 countries will lose 8.5% of GDP a year, or nearly $5 trillion a year, within 30 years if temperatures rise by 2.6°C.  The city of Copenhagen is planning to build an artificial island in the middle of its port to help protect the city from storm surges as sea level rises.  Temperatures in the Middle East have topped 125°F after a run of record-breaking heat, a full month before high temperatures usually reach their annual average peak.

Lake Mead has sunk to its lowest level ever, underscoring the gravity of the extreme drought across the US West.  Unfortunately, it isn’t the only one, as the graphics in this article make clear.  During September 2020, the Central Valley of California and Oregon’s Columbia River Basin experienced a 20% drop in the amount of sun reaching solar panels because of smoke and soot from wildfires.

Energy

Electric trucks have come a long way in the last 18 months, with new models entering many segments of the market and policy efforts to grow vehicle sales and enlarge charging infrastructure expanding rapidly.  One exception is Lordstown Motors, the startup electric truck maker, which warned Tuesday it is close to running out of cash and may be forced out of business in the next year.

A new report released by the American Clean Power Association said that 500,000 to 600,000 new jobs could be created through the solar, wind, and battery storage industries as the country moves toward clean energy.  First Solar unveiled plans to double its US manufacturing capability by building a new state-of-the-art fully integrated solar panel manufacturing complex in Ohio.  Global solar power developers are slowing down project installations because of a surge in costs for components, labor, and freight as the world economy bounces back from the coronavirus pandemic.  Florida Power & Light Company is 40% of the way to its goal of installing 30 million solar panels by 2030, having installed 12 million.  The state of Mississippi has approved its first wind farm, to be built on 13,000 acres in the Mississippi Delta and to contain up to 100 turbines.  North Carolina has set a goal of having 2.8 GW of offshore wind energy by 2030 and 8 GW by 2040.

If we are to have a grid powered predominately by renewable energy we must have a way to level out its inherent variability, not just on a short-term basis, but also for longer periods (up to 500 hours).  Two ways of achieving that are low-carbon firm generation and long-duration energy storage (LDES).  David Roberts had an excellent article explaining recent research into what must happen before LDES can play a substantial role in a clean grid.  It is sobering.  Another sobering article appeared in The Economist, which examined the bottlenecks that could constrain the deployment of clean energy.

Plug Power, a company that produces hydrogen to fuel vehicles and electric generators, says it will invest $84 million to build a green hydrogen facility in southeast Georgia.  The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power has committed to running its 4.3 GW of fossil fueled power plants partly on green hydrogen by around mid-decade, ramping up to 100% in about 10 years.  A white paper by Siemens Gamesa said that using onshore wind turbines to power electrolyzers to produce hydrogen from water could become as cheap as making hydrogen using fossil fuels by 2030, whereas using offshore wind will take until 2035.  A paper from Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Group explained what turquoise hydrogen is and how it fits into the quest for net-zero emissions.

Shell will respond to a recent defeat in a Dutch court by accelerating its efforts to reduce its CO2 emissions, the company’s leader said.  The Keystone XL pipeline, which was to bring oil from Canada’s Western tar sands to US refiners, was cancelled by owner TC Energy Corp.  More than 200 people were arrested at a Minnesota construction site of the Line 3 Pipeline, a 340-mile pipeline carrying tar-sands oil through treaty-protected tribal lands in northern Minnesota and into Wisconsin to the tip of Lake Superior.  Exploratory drilling for lithium on BLM land in Arizona threatens the Hualapai Tribe’s religious practices.

Global Energy Monitor’s first comprehensive survey of global coal mine proposals has found more than 400 new mine proposals that could produce 2,277 million metric tons per annum (Mtpa), of which 614 Mtpa are already being developed.  The owner of three coal-fired power plants in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Ohio that generate a combined 2.4 GW of electricity said that it will shut them down.

Potpourri

Michael Svoboda has twelve books for your summer reading; some fiction, others nonfiction.  The “Climategate” computer hacking scandal, in which hackers stole thousands of emails and documents from the UK’s University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit, is to be made into a BBC film.  Two artists are trying to make climate change news more visible by using bots to interact with news articles about it.

Closing Thought

People say, what is the sense of our small effort?  They cannot see that we must lay one brick at a time, take one step at a time.  A pebble cast into a pond causes ripples that spread in all directions.  Each one of our thoughts, words and deeds is like that.  No one has a right to sit down and feel hopeless.  There is too much work to do.

Dorothy Day, 1897 – 1980

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.

Climate and Energy News Roundup 6/4/2021

Politics and Policy

President Joe Biden’s first budget proposal adds $14 billion in new money to policies and programs devoted to climate change.  It also takes aim at tax provisions that benefit the fossil fuel industry and projects that eliminating them will generate $35 billion over the course of a decade.  Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) predicted that the Senate would see a “big fight” over carbon pricing but said he believes lawmakers will make progress on the issue this year.  He also said, “I think there is a significant group of senators in the Democratic caucus who are going to insist that our climate measures be robust and real and point toward 1.5°C, and we will do what’s necessary to accomplish that goal”  In an opinion piece in The Boston Globe, James Hansen and Daniel Galpern maintained that Biden has the authority under the Independent Offices Appropriations Act to direct the EPA to impose a fee on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.  Last week, Biden announced $1 billion in funding for pre-disaster mitigation resources for communities, states, and Tribal governments.  The Biden administration is suspending all oil and gas leases in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge pending a deeper look at the environmental impacts of drilling in the sensitive region.  However, a law passed by the Republican-controlled Congress in 2017 requires the president to hold another lease sale in the refuge before the end of 2024.

ARPA-E’s SCALEUP program is putting a greater emphasis on bringing emerging clean technologies to commercial scale — and on finding private-sector partners to help.  At Vox, Ella Nilsen wrote about green banks and their potential for increasing the development of green infrastructure.  To electrify every home in America as quickly as possible, neither up-front costs nor electrical service constraints should prevent a homeowner from choosing an electric appliance to replace the fossil-fueled one that just broke down.  Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell made clear Friday that the institution’s role in the climate crisis is limited to oversight of banks and the rest of the financial system, and not in setting public policy. 

Sarah Steinberg, a policy principal at an industry association for clean energy companies, summarized the top ten energy issues generating legislative activity across the country.  The American Conservation Coalition is hosting the first conservative climate rally in Miami on Saturday, June 5.  This past winter, Virginia lawmakers committed to phasing out diesel-powered school buses and replacing them with electric ones within a decade, but left the law unfunded, leaving state and local officials to search everywhere for funding to make the transition.  Lawmakers in roughly a dozen states are using strikingly similar talking points as they unleash a wave of legislation aimed at forbidding municipalities from banning natural gas in buildings.  Power for Tomorrow, the organization that sent all those scary, large, postcards to many Virginians last week, is a utility front group that is “Virginia-based and Dominion Energy-connected.”  In another blow to the oil and gas industry last week, the Texas legislature did not reauthorize its property tax exemption.

In preparation for COP 26, officials from around the globe began three weeks of climate talks on Monday that involve grappling with a number of thorny political issues.  The world must rewild and restore an area the size of China to meet commitments on nature and the climate, and put forth an effort equal to the space race.  Rich countries are falling behind on their pledges to help the poor world tackle the climate crisis.  The development charity Tearfund and partners alleged that since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic the nations that make up the G7 pumped billions of dollars more into fossil fuels than they did into clean energy.  The EU’s greenhouse gas emissions fell nearly 4% in 2019.  Emissions from coal mined in Australia but exported and burned overseas were almost double the nation’s domestic greenhouse gas footprint in 2020.  The New York Times reported that the International Maritime Organization “has repeatedly delayed and watered down climate regulations, even as emissions from commercial shipping continue to rise.”

Climate and Climate Science

Wildlife ranging from bluebells and bumblebees to snow leopards and emperor penguins will be under threat if global warming exceeds 1.5°C.  A study involving 45,000 dissolved oxygen (DO) and temperature profiles collected from nearly 400 freshwater lakes worldwide has revealed a widespread drop in DO levels because of rising temperatures.

Dangerously hot conditions and triple-digit temperatures are forecast for the Western US this week.  The drought in the Klamath Basin along the California-Oregon border is so bad that violence could erupt as farmers experience extreme anger over being cut off from their main water source.

More than a third of heat-related deaths in many parts of the world can be attributed to the extra warming associated with climate change.  More than 32 million homes on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts with a combined value of $8.5 trillion are at risk of sustaining hurricane wind damage.

Seven of the ten biggest floods in the Amazon basin have occurred in the past 13 years, while this year, rivers around the biggest city in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest have swelled to levels unseen in over a century of record-keeping.  In recent weeks, nine major fires have ignited in the Brazilian Amazon on previously deforested land, heralding the start of another fire season, which, after a particularly dry year, experts say could be a bad one.

New research has found that clouds could have a greater cooling effect on the planet than CMIP6 climate models suggest because the models simulate too much rainfall and, therefore, underestimate clouds’ lifespan and cooling effect.  According to a risk analysis, the relationships between four massive Earth systems (Greenland and the West Antarctic Ice Sheets, the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, and the Amazon rainforest) could be destabilized by even moderate climate change, leading to cascading effects of accelerated sea level rise and species loss.  Sea ice in the coastal Arctic may be thinning far faster than scientists believed, likely because previous research didn’t completely account for the influence of climate change on snow.

Energy

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory has completed its “Electrification Futures Study” and released its final report; Dan Gearino devoted his “Inside Clean Energy” column this week to reviewing what it said about the feasibility of electrifying the entire US economy.  One of the key takeaways from a recently published white paper by FERC staff is that there are several potential benefits to pairing electricity generation with energy storage, but US network operators still have a way to go to best accommodate such ‘hybrid resources’.  The coal-fired 522 MW North Valmy Generation Station is scheduled for retirement and Nevada utility NV Energy wants to replace it with 600 MW of solar combined with 480 MW of battery storage across two planned sites.  Bill Gates’ advanced nuclear reactor company TerraPower LLC and Berkshire Hathaway’s PacifiCorp have selected Wyoming to launch the first Natrium nuclear reactor project, featuring a 345 MW sodium-cooled fast reactor with molten salt-based energy storage.

A new report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) said that investments in clean energy need to more than triple this decade to maintain the possibility of limiting warming to 1.5°C.  A group of 23 nations will invest $248 million over the next decade to address how best to respond to the variability associated with solar and wind energy.  A study by US think-tank Global Energy Monitor has revealed that the world’s coal producers are planning as many as 432 new mine projects with 2.28 billion metric tons of annual output capacity.

A third climate advocate has secured a seat on the board of Exxon Mobil Corp.  Oil major BP is investing $220 million in 9 GW of US solar projects as it seeks to expand its renewables portfolio.  An analysis, carried out by the energy consultancy M.J. Bradley & Associates, has revealed that five of the top ten emitters of methane are little-known oil and gas producers whose environmental footprints are large relative to their production.

Rhode Island coastal regulators approved certification for the South Fork Wind Farm, a decision that pushes the second major offshore wind project proposed in the US one step closer to reality.  Dominion Energy is building the Charybdis, the first Jones Act-qualified offshore wind turbine installation vessel in the US; Ørsted and Eversource have said they will charter it for the construction of Revolution Wind and Sunrise Wind, two of their planned offshore wind farms in the Northeast.  The wind industry will need to train over 480,000 people in the next five years to safely meet worldwide demand for wind power.  Start-up Vortex Bladeless has demonstrated its bladeless wind turbine, which generates electricity by oscillating.  Flower Turbines, whose turbines look like tulips, wants to make small windfarms a leading player in the green energy industry.

Global EV battery sales more than doubled in the first four months of the year, with Chinese company Contemporary Amperex Technology capturing 32.5% of the market.  Biden’s strategy to make the US a powerhouse in EVs will include boosting domestic recycling of batteries to reuse lithium and other metals.  A recent  Pew Research Center report found that 47% of US adults support a proposal to phase out production of gasoline-powered cars and trucks, while 51% oppose it.

Potpourri

While some news outlets are paying attention to the climate crisis, most are still underplaying its threats.  Ana Teresa Fernández’s work “On the Horizon,” erected on a beach, attempts to show passersby what the six feet of sea-level rise that scientists are projecting would actually look like.  According to the IEA, nearly two-thirds of the energy reduction needed to reach net-zero by 2050 will require people to change their behavior.  By understanding that people with different worldviews actually construct different mental images of how climate change and the world work, climate change communicators can better craft their messages.  Starting Friday night, Netflix débuted the series Breaking Boundaries: The Science of Our Planet, which documents “the most important scientific discovery of our time — that humanity has pushed Earth beyond the boundaries that have kept Earth stable for 10,000 years, since the dawn of civilization.”  Jonathan Watts interviewed Earth scientist Johan Rockström, who helped create the series. 

Closing Thought

Since publishing Doughnut Economics in 2017, renegade British economist Kate Raworth has become a phenomenon that mainstream economics largely declines to acknowledge but increasingly cannot ignore.

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.

Climate and Energy News Roundup 5/28/2021

Politics and Policy

Lisa Friedman of The New York Times examined the perilous path through Congress faced by President Joe Biden’s climate plan.  Senate Republicans unveiled their $928 billion infrastructure counteroffer to Biden on Thursday.  Grist examined what’s in it.  A growing number of Democrats are getting impatient with bipartisan infrastructure talks and prefer to move on.  Biden supposedly will rely on ally countries to supply the bulk of the metals needed to build the batteries for EVs, and, instead, focus on processing them domestically into battery parts.  DOE awarded a total of $19 million to 13 research groups to assess how much rare earth material is contained in coal and coal waste, and to explore ways to extract it.  The federal government plans to allow wind power projects to be built in federal waters off the coast of California northwest of Morro Bay and west of Humboldt Bay.  Inside Climate News reviewed the issues that have hampered California’s offshore wind development in the past.  California has announced that it is allocating $20 million and $110 million from its 2021-2022 budget to support the development of offshore wind and green hydrogen, respectively.  Data from public agencies indicates that the slow and inconsistent permitting processes seen across most of the 400 local jurisdictions in California is a key impediment to converting available funding into EV charging infrastructure.  Arizona regulators voted to revive a suite of clean energy requirements, but the compromise will extend Arizona’s decarbonization timeline through 2070.

Wednesday was not a good day for the oil industry.  ExxonMobil shareholders voted to install two new independent directors to the company’s board.  A court in the Netherlands ordered Shell to slash its carbon pollution 45% by 2030.  Chevron Corp shareholders voted to cut emissions generated by the use of the company’s products.  E&E News considered what these events might mean for the oil industry and RMI’s Center for Climate-Aligned Finance had a rundown of this year’s other major shareholder efforts.  On another, but related, subject, forest ecologist Charles Canham had an essay about US forest carbon offsets, in which he wrote: “Our forests can and will continue to provide critically important offsets to carbon emissions.  But marketing those offsets to allow emitters to continue to pollute may simply be unethical.”  Advocates for environmental justice urged North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper to block permits for future wood pellet plants and to pay more attention to their effects on health.

House Democrats intend to clear for Biden’s signature a resolution to curb methane emissions, but a final vote could be weeks away because the House Energy and Commerce Committee will first consider and debate the resolution in an effort to shield it from litigation in the courts.  The Biden administration is defending a huge Trump-era oil and gas project in the North Slope of Alaska designed to produce more than 100,000 barrels of oil a day for the next 30 years.  However, the administration said it planned to revise a Trump-era rule that limited the ability of states and tribes to veto pipelines and other energy projects that could pollute their local waterways.  Last week I included an item about Biden signing an executive order directing several federal departments and agencies to analyze the risks climate change poses to the US financial system and federal government.  The Wall Street Journal responded by writing “Rule by the climate technocrats is coming fast.”

After nearly two days of wrangling at a meeting of the G7 environment and energy ministers, all reaffirmed their commitment to limiting global warming to 1.5°C and agreed to end their financial support for coal development overseas, among other things.  Countries around the world raised $53 billion last year with carbon emission pricing schemes, up almost 18% from 2019 as some imposed new levies and prices in some existing schemes rose.  Trial runs of China’s national-level carbon emission trading system have been conducted to ensure the system’s successful launch in late June.  Almost 72% of the coal-fired power plants being built globally now rely on Chinese funding.  The federal court of Australia found that the environment minister has a “duty of care” to protect young people from the climate crisis.  Poland’s government defied an injunction by the top EU court that ordered the immediate closure of a major brown coal mine.  At Yale Environment 360, Fred Pearce dove into the arguments around pledges of net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050, asking whether “net-zero” is key to limiting global temperature rise or a dangerous delusion.

Climate and Climate Science

Large areas of the US Southwest were under “exceptional drought” conditions this week.  As a result, scientists and wildfire managers are concerned that the region is entering the fire season in worse shape than last year.  For the last two decades, Yellowstone National Park has warmed at its most intense rates in at least 1,250 years.

The World Meteorological Organization predicted that there is a 44% chance that Earth’s average annual temperature will temporarily hit 1.5°C of warming at some point in the next five years, a likelihood that has doubled since last year.  Two studies released this week show that heat exposure and related health issues are already having an inordinate impact on people of color and low-income communities in the US.  As the first official appointed in the US to focus on heatwaves, Miami’s chief heat officer is warning about the lethal threat of rising temperatures.  A study with fruit flies underscored the need to account for both thermal fertility limits and lethal temperatures in planning conservation efforts as temperatures rise.  Intense heat and high humidity could pose a serious risk to athletes at this year’s Tokyo Olympics. 

Driven primarily by the world’s land surface heating up, evapotranspiration — the transfer of water from the ground into the air through a combination of evaporation and transpiration — increased by 10% between 2003 and 2019.  In its latest “State of the Climate” report, Carbon Brief said that after a record-tying warm year in 2020, the world is on track for a cooler year in 2021, driven by moderately strong La Niña conditions in the last part of 2020 and early 2021, although 2021 will likely be among the top 10 warmest years.

Runoff from some melting glaciers in Greenland contains as much mercury as highly polluted rivers in heavily populated parts of the world, raising concerns about the amount of mercury entering nearby rivers and fjords, important sources of fish for coastal Greenland communities.

Energy

California regulators have proposed adding 11.5 GW of almost completely carbon-free capacity to its grid in the next five years; the questions is, “Can they do it?”.  A new study showed that in the US the queue of new wind and solar capacity scheduled for connection to the grid has reached record levels, along with the new capacity of battery storage projects.  A sobering article in The New York Times showed how much wind and solar capacity must be added to the US grid to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 and discussed the obstacles to getting there.

Offshore wind project developers plan to ship massive blades, towers, and other components for at least the initial wave of US projects from factories in France, Spain, and elsewhere before potentially opening up manufacturing plants on US shores.

The Nature Conservancy is conducting a pilot project to transform former mines in the central Appalachian coalfields into solar farms to benefit people in the region without harming the forests.

In collaboration with the US Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), a team from the University of Michigan has discovered a Si/GaN self-improving property that enhances its efficiency and stability in the direct conversion of sunlight and water into carbon-free hydrogen.  The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research has identified West Africa as having tremendous green hydrogen production potential.  Oman is planning to build one of the largest green hydrogen plants in the world, in a move to make the oil-producing nation a leader in renewable energy.  Hyundai Motor has announced its plans to send a new series of hydrogen fuel cell trucks to Europe later in 2021.

Ford expects 40% of its sales globally to be EVs by the end of this decade.  Dan Gearino devoted his column this week to the Ford F150 Lightning electric pickup.  Los Angeles-based Fisker Inc will supply the first pure EV for Pope Francis next year, based on its new Ocean SUV with features such as a solar roof, an all-glass cupola, and carpets made of recycled plastic bottles from the ocean.

Most lithium-ion batteries contain cobalt to reduce the chance of fire.  Much of the world’s cobalt is in Democratic Republic of Congo and this is leading to a “cobalt rush,” with terrible consequences for many.  A 2.5MW / 4MWh demonstration system using a novel grid-scale energy storage technology based on a “carbon dioxide battery” has begun construction in Sardinia, Italy.

Potpourri

Ben Santer, John D. and Catherine T. Macarthur Fellow at LLNL has announced that following his retirement at the end of September he will no longer have any affiliation with LLNL because of its invitation to Steven Koonin to speak on climate science.  Just in case you’ve forgotten who Koonin is, Yale Climate Connections had another critical review of his recent book Unsettled.  Steve Hoy explained what “true zero” means.  Grist had an article about two women who sacrificed everything to stop the Dakota Access pipeline.  The Pew Research Center has new results about how Americans’ attitudes about climate change differ by generation, party, and other factors.  Yale Climate Connections devoted this month’s bookshelf to new reports that envision how, and why, the US might rise to the task of recapturing leadership on climate.  In an opinion essay in The Guardian, an anthropologist of development and the environment wrote: “To believe that we can innovate and engineer ourselves out of this mess is to miss the key lesson of the Anthropocene – that dealing with planetary-scale processes calls for humility, not arrogance.”  Barnabas Calder’s Architecture: From Prehistory to Climate Emergency sets out to tell the history of architecture as one of energy useGrist reviewed environmental films from this year’s Mountainfilm Festival.

Closing Thought

Peter Sinclair has a new “This Is Not Cool” video, drawing a link between the historic “moon shot” goal of President John F. Kennedy and Biden’s climate objectives.  The excerpts from Kennedy’s speech on September 12, 1962 are particularly meaningful to me because the speech took place at Rice University, where my wife and I were students and in attendance.  Kennedy’s spirit of daring optimism colored my life and I hope that today’s students will someday be able to look back at this time as one of daring change.

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.

Virginia Environmental News Roundup for May 2021

The Climate Action Alliance of the Valley is pleased to provide Harrisonburg’s The Citizen with a monthly survey of energy and environmental news stories about Virginia.

With their permission, we are re-posting these pieces here after they appear in The Citizen.


The link to this piece as first published by The Citizen is HERE.

Statewide Environmental News Roundup for May 2021

Energy

A Virginia energy policy expert describes whether and how the state can reach carbon-free electricity by 2035, while pointing out that Dominion and ApCo ratepayers face so-called renewable energy choices that don’t actually provide them such energy. The State Corporation Commission recently approved renewable energy plans put forward by the two large utilities to implement requirements of the 2020 Virginia Clean Economy Act (VCEA). The SCC will evaluate future plans as to how well they carry out “the [VCEA’s] RPS and carbon dioxide reduction requirements.” An ApCo rate hike, if the SCC agrees, will mean customer bills will rise $22 on average. The federal Interagency “Working Group on Coal and Power Plant Communities” found southwest Virginia to be the fourth most coal‑dependent region in the U.S.

Solar installations on Virginia schools continue apace. Augusta County’s project is among those featured in this item. As part of a Green Business Alliance of Charlottesville area businesses, Tiger Fuel installed solar panels and also purchased Alt Energy, an area solar installer. Applications for utilityscale solar facilities in rural localities are having mixed success: Roanoke Valley (Smith Mountain Lake area), Campbell CountyCity of Chesapeake, and Central Appalachia. Bedford’s council approved installation of solar panels on the former “Bedford Middle School building, which is being converted into apartments.” Old Dominion Electric Cooperative is seeking proposals to develop 400MW of new solar to increase solar energy onto Virginia’s electric cooperatives’ grid. This blogger argues the recent hack of the Colonial Pipeline is one reason for more decentralized distributed (rooftop) solar. One example is community or shared solar. Dominion has an installation it owns and controls community solar. Another form is when a group of individuals cooperatively produce and share solar energy. The VCEA tasked Dominion with developing a prototype of the latter model. Dominion wants to assess a minimum $75 fee for shared solar; not everyone is in favor.

new training program, part of Virginia’s plan to make the state a hub for offshore wind services, is off to a good start.

Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality established a new Environmental Justice Office to assist in decision making involving social justice considerations. DEQ is proposing a reduction in currently allowed “hazardous waste that’s incinerated in an open burning ground at the Radford Army Ammunition Plant.” Opponents of the Chickahominy Power Plant want DEQ to reopen the “air permit issued to Chickahominy Power in 2019 for a proposed natural gas plant in Charles City County” because of inadequacies in the environmental justice analysis. Virginia’s Air Pollution Control Board has other controversial permits to consider, including one related to the Mountain Valley Pipeline. North Carolina’s DEQ recently denied for a second time a water permit for MVP Southgate extension , which would run from Virginia into North Carolina. Two MVP protesters were arrested for trying to stop a truck carrying pipeline materials. Project delays are one result of litigation and protests.

Blacksburg Transit has its first five electric buses—part of a plan to convert its bus fleet over the next 10 years. Negotiations with CSX are underway as part of the planning for passenger service rail expansion into the New River Valley. Norfolk Southern Railway has reached agreement to provide such service under the “Western Rail Initiative.” Northern Virginia will see more rail service also.

A northern Virginia condo-owner association approved a member’s request to install Tesla chargers at his two basement parking spaces; Virginia law allowed the change but the condo board needed convincing—and educating. Electricity demand will grow as Virginia sees more data centers and Virginians buy more EVs.

Climate and Environment

This article describes regenerative agriculture efforts in southwest Virginia. Opponents of the state’s plan to establish a seabird sanctuary on Fort Wool argue that it lacks “a balance between cultural and natural resources.” Seagrasses off Virginia’s coast absorb carbon? They do more than that.

A state delegate introduced a bill “to break down barriers for farmers, ranchers, and foresters interested in participating in carbon markets.” On May 1 the state began levying a litter tax on “manufacturers, wholesalers, distributors, and/or retailers of groceries, soft drinks, carbonated water, beer and other malt beverages” with penalties for late payments.

An National Park Service environmental assessment done as part of a proposal to restore Shenandoah National Park’s Meadow Run watershed found there would be no significant impact from the two alternative actions. The US Forest Service has done prescribed burns in areas of the Jefferson and George Washington National Forests to open up the tree canopy and allow greater plant diversity—part of an Appalachian forest regeneration effort. The Alliance for the Shenandoah Valley recently named Professor Charles Ziegenfus its 2021 Valley Treasure for his longtime efforts to study and protect wild birds.

The Climate Action Alliance of the Valley (CAAV) is a non-profit, grassroots group in the Central Shenandoah Valley that educates legislators and the public about the implications of the Earth’s worsening climate crisis.