Climate and Energy News Roundup 2/16/2018

Policy and Politics

Under a new policy, the EU will refuse to sign trade deals with countries that do not ratify the Paris Climate Agreement and take steps to combat global warming.  The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) said on Wednesday that energy taxes in major advanced economies are not doing enough to reduce energy use, improve energy efficiency, and drive a shift towards low-carbon sources.  In addition, the world’s biggest banks are failing to take climate change seriously in their business plans, according to research published Thursday by Boston Common Asset Management.  Business lobbies in Europe and the U.S. are pushing for a distinct, direct and formalized “business channel” into UN climate negotiations.  The nation’s intelligence agencies are warning, in the annual Worldwide Threat Assessment, of global instability if climate change continues unabated, according to a report submitted for a hearing Tuesday before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

After the Paris Climate Agreement adopted 1.5°C as an aspirational goal for the maximum amount of global warming, the IPCC was charged with preparing a report on the feasibility of achieving that goal.  Now the draft report by the IPCC has been leaked and it says that the world has only 12 to 16 years’ worth of greenhouse gas emissions left, from the start of 2016, if it wants a better-than-even chance of meeting the goal.  However, since it would be impossible to curb emissions that fast without damaging the global economy, the report notes that it’s virtually unavoidable that the planet will “overshoot” 1.5°C.  Megan Darby has summarized 11 takeaways from the draft report at Climate Home.  Writing in The New York Times Magazine, Michelle Nijhuis presented an interesting profile of the Valve Turners, the five activists who took civil disobedience in the climate change battle to a new level by shutting down several oil pipelines.  As one said, “I’m not courageous or brave.  I’m just more afraid of climate change than I am of prison.”

The budget bill passed last week by Congress contains an extension and expansion of the tax credit for the capture and storage of CO2 underground.  Even though a president’s budget is just a blueprint that is often ignored by Congress, there are some items in President Trump’s proposed budget that could have important negative impacts on the U.S. capacity to understand, prepare for, and respond to climate change.  Furthermore, the proposed budget for DOE would give a big boost to nuclear energy at the expense of renewables and weatherization.  Meanwhile, on Thursday a federal judge in San Francisco ordered DOE to end a one-year delay on rules developed by the Obama administration to combat climate change by tightening energy-efficiency standards for portable air conditioners, building heaters, and other appliances.

Climate

The relationship between climate change and conflict is a topic that is being hotly debated.  A new paper in Nature Climate Change reports on a meta study that reviewed the literature on the subject.  Unfortunately, it appears to have inflamed the debate more than clarified it.  Writing at The Atlantic, Robinson Meyers looks at both sides of the argument.

A ship has made a winter crossing of the Arctic without an icebreaker for the first time.  This was possible because climate change has caused the region’s ice sheets to melt and thin.  A federal appeals court ruled on Monday that Arctic ringed seals must be protected under the Endangered Species Act because of their reliance on the disappearing sea ice.  Melting land-based ice in Greenland and Antarctica is a major contributor to sea level rise.  A new analysis of sea level data from satellites, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, has revealed that the rate of sea level rise is accelerating.  According to a paper published in the journal Plos One, a combination of climate change and industrial-scale fishing is threatening the krill population in Antarctic waters, with a potentially disastrous impact on whales, penguins, and seals.  Yale Climate Connections presented descriptions of 13 books dealing with either the Arctic or the Antarctic.

Over the past year several papers have explored the need for negative emissions of CO2 to meet desired limitations on global warming.  One technique that has been proposed is “bioenergy with carbon capture and storage,” or BECCS.  It can have many impacts on a region, so a team of scientists has begun a study of the Upper Missouri River Basin to learn exactly what those impacts will be.  A paper published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances stated that even with countries meeting their pledges to the Paris Climate Agreement, we’re likely to see “substantial and widespread increases in the probability of historically unprecedented extreme events.”  Furthermore, the effects of this extreme weather will be seen “across human and natural systems, including both wealthy and poor communities.”

A new paper in the journal Geophysical Research Letters helps explain why the Southeastern U.S. has been cooling in winter and spring even though CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere have been increasing.  As you might expect, given weather reports in the past few years, it all has to do with the location of the jet stream.  Another example of regional weather changes is the Midwest, which has experienced cooler temperatures and more rainfall in summer than expected from climate models.  Now, a team of scientists at MIT has shown that this is due to the heavy agriculture in the region, which pumps more moisture into the atmosphere than would otherwise be there.

A new paper in the journal Global Change Biology reported that the arrival date of migrating bats at their summer home in Texas is around two weeks earlier than it was in 1992.

Most of the papers about the effects of climate change on corals have dealt with warm-water corals.  However, cold-water corals are also impacted by CO2 emissions, but in a different way.  Cold-water corals are found in deep, dark parts of the world’s oceans where they can thrive at depths of up to 2 km and water temperatures as low as 4°C.  The main threat to them is from ocean acidification caused by dissolution of CO2 from the atmosphere.  A paper in Nature reported that as the oceans acidify, more cold-water corals are being exposed to acidified waters, which can cause their hard outer layers to dissolve.

Energy

For the fourth time since 2002, the Edison Electric Institute and the Natural Resources Defense Council have issued a joint statement at a meeting of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners.  The statement supports an accelerating clean energy transition that is defined by energy efficiency, reducing carbon emissions, and empowering states and customers.  Thus it is not surprising that the latest edition of Bloomberg New Energy Finance’s Sustainable Energy in America Factbook stated that electricity generation from renewables reached its highest level ever in 2017, at 18% of the overall energy mix.

Four east coast states are pursuing off-shore wind farm projects.  Such wind farms use larger turbines than are used on land, but the U.S. does not yet have facilities for manufacturing large turbines.  Each of the various states would like to become the hub for large turbine manufacturing, but their competition could drive up manufacturing costs, putting the economics of the projects in jeopardy.  The world’s first floating wind farm was installed off the coast of Scotland last year.  Now Statoil, one of the project’s developers, has reported that not only has the farm survived winter storms, it has produced more electricity than expected.

Methane leaks from oil and gas sites in Pennsylvania could be five times greater than industry has reported to state regulators, according to a new analysis by the Environmental Defense Fund.  On the subject of methane leaks, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is seeking to wipe out the requirements that oil and gas well operators on BLM land monitor and detect leaks of methane, and capture and sell it instead of flaring it off or venting it to the atmosphere.

FERC voted unanimously on Thursday to remove barriers for batteries and other energy storage systems on the grid.  The new rule, first proposed in November of 2016, will require most grid operators to come up with a plan to amend their rules to fully integrate energy storage and allow it to compete.  Meanwhile, many consumers and businesses in areas that frequently experience severe weather are considering solar plus storage for the resiliency it provides.  Out in the desert southwest, Arizona Public Service was looking for a way to deliver power during peak evening hours in the summer.  First Solar’s bid with solar plus storage beat out conventional renewables, standalone batteries, and natural-gas peaking plants.

A new study in Nature Communications looked at the climate impact of a shift from truck-based to drone-based package delivery. It found that while small drones carrying packages weighing less than 1.1 lb would reduce greenhouse gas emissions compared to diesel or electric trucks anywhere in the U.S., the same is not true for larger drones carrying heavier packages.

The debate over the Renewable Fuel Standard has heated up again.  Oil interests have claimed that ethanol mandates hurt profitability and have caused a major refinery to declare bankruptcy.  The ethanol industry has said that the program is working as intended.  In addition, the NHTSA is looking at a range of options to lower future fuel economy standards, including one that would permit an average fleetwide standard of 35.7 mpg by 2026, down from the 46.6 mpg under rules put in place by the Obama administration.

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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Climate and Energy News Roundup 2/9/2018

Policy and Politics

A new paper, published in Environmental Research Letters, found that if all coal-fired power plants that are planned or under-construction were built and operated for their design lifetimes, while existing coal-fired power plants continued to operate, it would be impossible to hold global warming below 2°C.  After failing to get FERC approval for a plan to bail out some coal-fired power plants, DOE officials are considering having Rick Perry use his authority as energy secretary to grant emergency compensation for plants run by First Energy Solutions that may be at risk of shutting down.  Ted Nordhaus, Executive Director of The Breakthrough Institute, had an interesting essay in Foreign Affairs arguing that the 2°C goal is a delusion because climate change is not a problem that can be solved, but rather, must be managed.

In a formal comment submitted Wednesday to the docket for the repeal of the Clean Power Plan (CPP), four Democratic senators wrote that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is unfit to oversee the repeal of the CPP because of his history of lawsuits against the plan and the Obama administration when Pruitt was attorney general of Oklahoma.  Hence, he should recuse himself.  On an 11-10 party line vote in the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on Wednesday, former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler’s nomination to be Deputy Administrator of the EPA was sent to the full Senate for a vote.  Over the weekend, the White House withdrew its nomination of Kathleen Hartnett White to head the Council on Environmental Quality.  The compromise federal spending bill that Congress passed early Friday includes an array of tax credits for renewable energy, along with a controversial tax break for carbon-capturing technologies that will benefit the fossil fuel industries.

Ivy Main summarized the recent energy happenings in the Virginia General Assembly (GA).  As of Thursday, the electric utility regulation bill pushed by Dominion Energy was advancing through both chambers of the GA.  Meanwhile, in South Carolina, Dominion Energy was having disagreements with the Public Service Commission and the legislature over its proposed takeover of SCANA and how refunds related to the defunct Summer nuclear power plant should be handled.  The University of Edinburgh announced that it is divesting its £1bn endowment fund of all fossil fuel investments.  Climate change art made the news this week.  An article at CityLab featured the work of Hannah Rothstein, who reimagined seven historic National Park posters, originally designed for the WPA, to show what the parks might look like in 2050 after being damaged by climate change.  In addition, a feature article at Thomas Reuters Foundation News introduced several climate change museums around the world, including one in New York City showing pictures and a film of ice cores.

Climate

According to a new study published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters (GRL), there may be more than 874,000 tons of mercury buried in the permafrost of the Northern Hemisphere — roughly “twice as much mercury as the rest of all soils, the atmosphere, and ocean combined.”  The danger is that as the permafrost thaws, the mercury could be released and make its way into the food chain.  Another article in the same journal raised another issue to consider as we act against the root causes of climate change.  A significant part of the warming that has occurred since 1970 has been driven by CO2 emissions from new coal-fired power plants in China, India, and other developing countries.  Many of those power plants have no scrubbers on them so they are emitting aerosols, thereby causing severe air pollution in many cities.  Because aerosols block incoming sunlight, they act to cool Earth, counteracting some of the warming associated with the CO2 emissions.  According to the paper in GRL, the removal of the aerosols from the power plant stacks and other sources could induce a global mean surface heating of 0.5–1.1°C, an impact that needs to be considered in planning.

According to an analysis by reporters at The New York Times, 2,500 facilities in the U.S. that handle toxic chemicals are in locations that face a high or moderate risk of flooding.  Those risks are likely to increase as rainfall becomes more intense in a warming world.  A new study published in the journal Climate examined how the risk of flooding will change in Europe due to climate change.  At all levels of warming studied (1.5°C, 2°C, and 3°C), there is a substantial increase in flood risk over most countries in Central and Western Europe, but a smaller increase in Eastern Europe.

A controversy has erupted among marine scientists over the amount of carbon stored as a result of the growth of seagrass meadows (so-called “blue carbon”).  Late last year a team from Fisheries and Oceans Canada published an article in Environmental Research Letters claiming that blue carbon researchers are overestimating how much carbon is being stored in ocean sediments.  Tuesday, a group of Australian scientists published a response in the same journal.  This is an example of how science progresses and ultimately will drive research to the correct assessment.

David Kirtley had an interesting blog post on Skeptical Science about what changed the minds of several climate change skeptics.

Energy

On several occasions I have linked to articles about the debate over whether it is possible to decarbonize the electrical grid by using only renewable energy.  Now David Roberts at Vox has provided a primer on the issues involved in the debate.

Ionic Materials Inc., a battery-material developer, raised $65 million to build a production line and commercialize its technology, which involves a polymer electrolyte material for solid-state alkaline batteries, a concept that will compete with the dominant lithium-ion technology.

On Wednesday, Navigant Research released its latest report, “Offshore Wind Market and Project Assessment 2017”, which analyzed the offshore wind energy market around the globe, and found that 3.3 GW worth of new wind energy capacity was installed in 2017, bringing the global capacity up to almost 17 GW.  The UK accounted for more than half of the installations across Europe.  Vestas Wind Systems will offer combined wind, solar, and storage technologies, allowing the world’s biggest turbine maker to sell hybrid renewable plants that generate electricity around the clock.

On Tuesday, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) released its 2018 Annual Energy Outlook, which projected that the carbon emissions of the U.S. will barely go down for the foreseeable future and will be slightly higher in 2050 than it is now.  If that occurs, the U.S. would almost single-handedly exhaust the whole world’s carbon budget by midcentury.  In a new climate risk report requested by investors, ExxonMobil said that keeping global warming below 2°C might mean cutting the use of oil by 20% between now and the year 2040, although it insists it would still be able to produce all the oil in its existing fields and keep investing in new reserves.

New research from Applied Economics Clinic, commissioned by Consumers Union, concluded that a greater investment in energy efficiency by Dominion Energy in Virginia would reduce new household energy demand by nearly 60% and help significantly cut the need to build additional capacity, which could save customers up to $1.7 billion over the next decade.

The state of South Australia is continuing its development of energy storage systems with the announcement of a 1350 MWh pumped hydro energy storage plant in addition to Tesla’s recently awarded 675 MWh virtual power plant.  In the UK, a Scottish engineering company has received a grant from the government innovation agency to explore the commercial viability of using abandoned mine shafts for energy storage.  Rather than pumping water, as others have proposed, Edinburgh-based Gravitricity would suspend a huge weight in the mine shaft and raise it when there is excess electricity available, then lower it to generate electricity when needed.

From the end of 2016 to the end of 2017, the U.S. solar industry lost 9,800 jobs, marking the first drop ever recorded in the “National Solar Jobs Census” since it started collecting data in 2010.

Last week, the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee unanimously rejected the Northern Pass transmission project, which was to have moved power from Hydro-Quebec dams in Canada to a substation in Deerfield, N.H.  The developers plan to appeal.

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.

Solutions to Save Us: Eat for the Earth

solutionsseries1.5.2.20

All are invited to come to a public presentation by James Madison University Professor of Anthropology, Megan Tracy, to discuss the impacts of meat-based diets and food waste on global warming. Listed as the third and fourth most impactful actions in the solutions list in Paul Hawkens’ book, Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming, curtailing food waste and switching to plant-based diets offer significant reductions in carbon emissions to control climate change.

Wednesday, February 28 | 7PM
Community Development Public Meeting Room, Entrance C
(note change from previously advertised Fire and Rescue Training Room)
Rockingham County Administration Center
57 E. Gay St., Harrisonburg

A representative of the Friendly City Food Coop will join us with samples of meatless meats! Incorporating meat substitutes into meals can be helpful in transitioning to eating less meat.

This is the first of a three part series hosted by the Climate Action Alliance of the Valley to examine Solutions to Save Us.

“Plant-rich diets reduce emissions and also tend to be healthier, leading to lower rates of chronic disease. According to a 2016 study, business-as-usual emissions could be reduced by as much as 70 percent through adopting a vegan diet and 63 percent for a vegetarian diet, which includes cheese, milk, and eggs. $1 trillion in annual health-care costs and lost productivity would be saved.

The food we waste is responsible for roughly 8 percent of global emissions. Losing food to one waste heap or another is an issue in both high- and low-income countries. In places where income is low, wastage is generally unintentional and occurs earlier in the supply chain—food rots on farms or spoils during storage or distribution. In regions of higher income, willful food waste dominates farther along the supply chain. Retailers and consumers reject food based on bumps, bruises, and coloring, or simply order, buy, and serve too much.” – Drawdown

In March we’ll look at solutions 6 and 7, Educating Women and Family Planning, and in April we’ll learn about the surprising top solution, Refrigerant Management.

Climate and Energy News Roundup 2/2/2018

Policy and Politics

The House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology met Tuesday to hear about management and priorities at the Department of Energy (DOE).  According to draft budget documents obtained by The Washington Post, the Trump administration is planning to ask Congress to cut the funding for DOE’s renewable energy and energy efficiency programs by 72% in fiscal year 2019.  A new Pentagon report identifies military facilities vulnerable to climate change, documenting the effect of flooding, drought and extreme temperatures at installations across the U.S.  President Donald Trump didn’t mention climate change or global warming in his State of the Union address on Tuesday night, but then neither did Rep. Joe Kennedy (D, MA) in the Democratic rebuttal.  At The New York Times, Brad Plumer had a review of the state of the climate after a year of the Trump administration and at The Guardian, Bill McKibben presented a plan for how to proceed in spite of Washington.  At the EU, French foreign affairs minister Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne said: “No Paris Agreement, no trade agreement. The U.S. knows what to expect.”  Researchers at Yale and Columbia Universities have released their 2018 Environmental Performance Index, which ranks 180 countries on overall environmental performance.  The U.S. ranked 27th, near the bottom of developed countries.

Lawmakers from nine states announced on Wednesday that they would be forming a coalition to help pass carbon pricing at the local level, citing the importance of state-level policies in the face of federal inaction on climate.  In other actions at the state level, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee rejected a permit to build the nation’s largest oil-by-rail terminal in Vancouver and New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed an executive order on Monday putting the state back in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) and another on Wednesday putting it on track to develop 3.5 GW of offshore wind by 2030.  New York and Massachusetts are targeting 2.4 GW and 1.6 GW of offshore wind, respectively.  California Gov. Jerry Brown signed an executive order setting a new target of 5 million zero-emission vehicles in California by 2030 and 250,000 vehicle charging stations by 2025.  Last week I included a link to an article about Maine Gov. Paul LePage’s moratorium on new wind energy projects in the state.  Now, the Conservation Law Foundation has filed a lawsuit charging that the Governor’s action is unconstitutional.

If you have ever read one of the reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) you are probably aware of the difficulty climate scientists have had communicating their complex subject to the public.  Hopefully, upcoming reports will be easier to read, thanks to a new communications manual commissioned by the IPCC and released on Tuesday.  On the subject of communication, Jason Samenow traced the history of the terms “global warming” and “climate change” for the Capital Weather Gang.  In case you aren’t really certain about what we know about climate change or have a friend who knows little about the topic, Wired published a guide to the subject on Thursday.  Amy Brady had another interview with the author of a cli-fi book at Yale Climate Connection this week.  The subject is Robin MacArthur and her book is Heart Spring Mountain.  And at Ensia Richard Heinberg wrote about the role of the arts as we face more and more difficult decisions in a warming world.

Climate

A new report produced by the European Academies Science Advisory Council has concluded that negative emission technologies have “limited potential” for meeting the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement.  Instead, emphasis should be placed on preventing CO2 from entering the atmosphere in the first place.

The UK’s meteorological agency’s decadal forecast said the global average temperature was “likely” to permanently exceed pre-industrial temperatures by 1°C between 2018-2022.  It also said that there is around a 10% chance that at least one year in the period could exceed 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.  At Carbon Brief, Zeke Hausfather summarized the various kinds of climate data from 2017 and explained why the year was so remarkable.

At the start of this week, California’s statewide snowpack averaged just 30% of normal for the date, not far from the 25% logged at the same time in 2015, a record-low year.

In Oymyakon, Siberia, the forecast high on Thursday was 14°F, nearly 60°F warmer than its average January high around -44°F, and more than 100°F warmer than it was two weeks ago (-88°F).  This unusual warmth in Siberia could trigger a chain of events resulting in a deep freeze over central and eastern North America.

Research reported in a new paper in the journal Science challenges our perceptions of polar bears, their hunting techniques, and their energy needs.  One important fact uncovered is that polar bears burn energy at a rate that is 1.6 times previous estimates.  The overall results suggest that polar bears will have more difficulty surviving in the face of sea ice decline than previously thought.  Another study, published in the Journal of Animal Ecology on Tuesday, looked at something somewhat smaller — beetles.  The researchers looked at eight species of beetles that were caught in British Columbia over the past 100 years and compared changes in their size to temperature data over the same time period, finding that the largest beetles got smaller as the temperature warmed.

Energy

China is about to start its carbon emissions trading scheme, so Carbon Brief took an in-depth look at what is known about it, the remaining gaps, and how it will fit in with China’s wider climate policy landscape.

Dominion Energy announced Wednesday that its Cove Point liquefied natural gas export terminal in Lusby, Md., was beginning production, with Shell providing the natural gas for export into the global market.  On the subject of natural gas, Rocky Mountain Institute summarized our knowledge of methane emissions from the oil and gas industry and suggested ways they can be reduced.  In addition, Dana Nuccitelli argued in The Guardian that renewables plus storage will ultimately crowd out natural gas.

Last week I provided a link to an article that said that the developer of a proposed transmission line to carry renewable electricity across Arkansas had given up because of strong opposition.  Now, the developer of a transmission line to carry hydropower from Quebec to Massachusetts is facing pushback on several fronts.

Tesla Inc. is planning a major expansion of its solar division at Home Depot Inc.  It will install Tesla-branded selling spaces that are staffed by Tesla employees who can demonstrate its solar panels and Powerwall battery.  On the subject of Tesla, Reuters has learned that it is collaborating with several of the large companies that have ordered its new semi-truck to build on-site charging terminals at their facilities as part of Tesla’s efforts to roll out the truck next year.

According to a new analysis from two think-tanks, one in the UK and the other in Germany, the EU got more of its electricity from wind, solar, and biomass in 2017 than from coal.  At the end of last week, the U.S. Energy Information Agency released a report on the CO2 emissions of each state between 2000 and 2015.  CO2 emissions dropped in 41 states, but increased in nine.

New wind installations in the U.S. reached 7 GW in 2017, down from 8.2 GW the prior year, the American Wind Energy Association said in a report Tuesday.  Nevertheless, the U.S. Energy Information Administration expects wind power to surpass hydroelectric power as the country’s leading source of renewable energy in the next two years.  MAKE Consulting’s “Global Wind Turbine Trends 2017” report, published at the end of December, forecast continual growth in wind turbine size and capacity over the next six years.

On Tuesday, Bernard Looney, head of BP’s upstream division, admitted that some crude oil will be left in the ground, saying “Not every barrel of oil in the world will get produced.”  Responding to shareholder concerns, PPL Corp., which owns two utilities in Kentucky, said it would reduce CO2 emissions by 70% from 2010 levels by 2050.  And on a call with investors on Friday of last week, Jim Robo, CEO of NextEra Energy predicted that by the early 2020s, it will be cheaper to build new renewables than to continue running existing coal and nuclear plants.

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.

Senator Hanger keeps the RGGI Bill from going to committee

Dear Senator Hanger,

We are writing to thank you for your long-term and hard-fought efforts in the areas of mental health, Medicaid expansion, Chesapeake Bay cleanup and stewardship, and others. We also appreciate your sponsorship of legislation allowing local taxing entities to exempt certified solar equipment from personal property taxes [§ 58.1-3661].

However, we also want to express our extreme disappointment that you chose to vote against allowing SB696 (VA Alternative Energy and Coastal Protection Act) to obtain due consideration by the Commerce and Labor Committee. As you no doubt know, this is the 3rd year this legislation has been introduced and summarily dismissed by your party’s majority. It has done so despite the fact that this proposal would allow VA to take a much-needed step in the direction of reducing our greenhouse gas emissions, at least for carbon, and do so through a market-driven approach. Surely the need to do that is not partisan, since we all breathe the same air, drink the same water, farm the same land, depend on nature’s diversity and resilience, and rely on an economy that depends in large part on environmental predictability and stability–all of which are in serious jeopardy.

During these 3 years, we don’t believe your party has come up with legislative alternatives to what this bill proposed–i.e., that VA partner with the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) states to assess fees on carbon and use that revenue to cover the costs of such pressing matters as sea level rise along our coast, increased energy efficiency, and assistance to our southwest counties in their transition away from coal. Although it’s clear that your party–and also you apparently–do not favor RGGI, we are most interested in approaches that you do favor.

Some of the signatories are your constituents; all are engaged citizens who believe strongly that our legislature needs to focus–and do so now–on ways to foster sustainability and adaptation to climate-related weather events and to reduce our carbon emissions. We believe that, if you choose to do so, you can lead in this arena and we are offering our services to assist your doing just that.

Several years ago following a budget hearing, you spoke with one of us (Joy Loving, a constituent) and recommended that she “push” you in this direction by letting you know of relevant events and facts. She has been doing that periodically but has not recently requested a meeting with you to understand your positions and solicit your support in moving VA in the direction of greater sustainability and adaptation.

We think the time has come to sit down with you and have a frank discussion about what needs to be done and how best we can work together to do it. We will request a meeting with you once the current session has ended. At that point, we will know just what progress the General Assembly has made and what remains to be initiated. We sincerely hope you will be willing to have that discussion.

Thank you.

Joy Loving, Grottoes/ Rockingham Co
and sixteen other local concerned citizens

January 29, 2018

Climate and Energy News 1/26/2018

Policy and Politics

Business leaders at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos urged political leaders and fellow businesses to seize the opportunity to invest in tackling climate change.  (Megan Darby and Karl Mathiesen of Climate Home News presented a contrast between the rhetoric and reality.)  Meanwhile, at home, President Trump imposed a 30% tariff on solar panels imported from China and South Korea.  This prompted a backlash among some conservatives and from South Korea, as well as several prognostications as to what it all means (e.g., Inside Climate News and Politico).  And solar wasn’t the only form of renewable energy facing restrictions.  Maine Gov. Paul LePage imposed a moratorium Wednesday on new wind energy projects in the western and coastal regions of the state.  He also established the Maine Wind Energy Advisory Commission – which will have meetings that are closed to the public and not subject to Maine’s Freedom of Access Act.

Lots of people have wondered how a temperature rise of 2°C was chosen as a “safe” rise in the Paris Climate Agreement.  Katharine Hayhoe answers that question in her latest Global Weirding video.  So, what could we do if the temperature rise exceeds a “safe” value?  One proposed policy choice is solar geoengineering, in which sulfur dioxide is injected into the upper atmosphere to reflect some of the incoming sunlight.  A big question is what would happen if we suddenly stopped doing that, given that the atmosphere would still contain lots of CO2, which would rapidly push the temperature upward.  That question was addressed in a paper recently published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution and Robinson Meyer discussed it in The Atlantic.  And in Wired, Charles C. Mann, author of the book 1491, had an essay excerpted from his new book, The Wizard and the Prophet, in which he summarizes the history of climate change knowledge, right up to current discussions of geoengineering.  Over the last couple of years, I have provided several links to articles extolling the benefits of eating less meat.  Now, grazier Ariel Greenwood argues that a reduction in meat consumption can have unintended ecological consequences.  A number of films at the Wild and Scenic Film Festival in Nevada City, California, focused on climate change.  Daisy Simmons reported on them at Yale Climate Connections.

“A striking 68 percent of mayors agree that cities should play a strong role in reducing the effects of climate change, even if it means sacrificing revenues or increasing expenditures,” according to a report released Tuesday by the Boston University Initiative on Cities.  Its bad enough that climate research programs in the U.S. are facing funding cuts, but when our Canadian neighbors stop funding their Climate Change and Atmospheric Research program, which is very important for understanding the Arctic, things are getting pretty bad.  In a critique of international policies on climate change, New York Times columnist Eduardo Porter argued “that the greatest impediment to slowing this relentless warming is an illusion of progress that is allowing every country to sidestep many of the hard choices that still must be made.”  In that light, one may wonder about the motivations behind EPA administrator Scott Pruitt’s concern for methane emissions.  To end this section on a positive note, I’m going to include an article that came out a week ago on Grist.  It profiles several conservatives (some of whom were inspired by Bob Inglis at RepublicEn) who constitute part of the “eco-right” and who are working to remove the partisanship surrounding climate change.

Climate

I have frequently provided links to papers on bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) as a way of achieving negative emissions of CO2.  In a new paper in the journal Nature Climate Change, the authors argue that deploying BECCS technology on the scale needed to address climate change would use up massive amounts of water, fertilizer, and land.  It would also probably lead to large environmental problems and may even destabilize key planetary systems.

A new study, published in the journal Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change, points out the threats to the Cuvette Centrale peatlands of Africa, the world’s largest intact tropical peatland.  At risk is the ability of the peatlands to sequester large amounts of carbon, preventing its release to the atmosphere as CO2.  World Resources Institute’s Molly Bergen traveled to Central Africa and wrote about the four challenges in the fight to save the rainforests there.

“[I]t is unlikely the United States has ever seen such a sizable area of excessive tropical cyclone rainfall totals as it did from Harvey,” the National Hurricane Center said in a meteorological review of the storm released on Thursday.  Now, Texas is in a drought.

A new study published this week in Nature Climate Change examined 56 mountain glacier drainage basins worldwide and determined that roughly half had reached their “peak water” point, after which the amount of runoff each year will decline.  In 2016 two mountain glaciers collapsed in Tibet within three months.  Now, a paper in Nature Geoscience argues that climate change was the cause of both.

In a paper published in the journal Advances in Atmospheric Sciences, a team of Chinese scientists reported that in 2017, the world’s oceans were the hottest ever recorded.

Scientists and engineers have long known that removing air pollutants such as sulfur dioxide and soot from power plant emissions to reduce air pollution could have the perverse consequence of making global warming worse.  Now a new paper in the journal Geophysical Research Letters has quantified the effect, suggesting that the temperature increase could be between 0.5 and 1.0°C.

Energy

Forty-three businesses signed long-term agreements for a record 5.4 GW of clean power, including solar and wind, worldwide last year, according to a Bloomberg New Energy Finance report. That’s up from 4.3 GW in 2016 and is enough to displace at least 10 coal-fired power plants.  Budweiser said it has switched all of its U.S. brewing to renewable electricity and is adding a clean energy logo to its labels as part of a global shift to green power by its parent, Anheuser-Busch InBev.  Lloyd’s of London, the world’s oldest insurance market, has become the latest financial firm to announce that it plans to stop investing in coal companies.

There is no single plug system in use by all electric vehicle (EV) companies.  As EV sales increase and money is spent to expand charging networks, there is concern that much of that money will be wasted if EV manufacturers can’t agree on a standard plug soon.  Writing in The Guardian, Dana Nuccitelli argues that as the electric grid becomes greener, switching from gasoline-powered cars to EVs will become an important method for the U.S. to meet its share of carbon pollution cuts.  And on the subject of alternative-fueled vehicle, not only does the start-up Riversimple rely upon a hydrogen fuel cell for power, it has a new business model for an auto company – it will only lease its cars.

China’s emissions of CO2 associated with the power sector increased last year after three years of declining emissions.  The increase was attributed to larger activity in the manufacturing sector.

A proposed direct-current transmission line, which would have carried 4,000 MW of renewable wind energy from Western Oklahoma to eastern Tennessee, has been shelved by the developer following continued opposition by the Arkansas congressional delegation.  That’s a shame, because one of the things limiting renewable energy expansion is lack of transmission infrastructure.

Puerto Rico’s governor said on Monday he intends to sell off the island’s power utility to the private sector.  As part of the plan, Puerto Rico would receive 30% of its power from renewable sources.

By August, five fully-electric barges capable of carrying 24 20-ft. containers will be operating on the canals of Belgium and The Netherlands.

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.

Joshua Vana

CAAV Coalition Partner of the Month:  Joshua Vana of RAPTORS
January 16, 2018

JoshuaVana.1.16.18A native of Maryland, Josh arrived in Harrisonburg to acquire a degree in Justice Studies from James Madison University.  A fine guitarist, he currently performs with Nora Jane Struthers’ supporting band, The Party Line.  A little over a year ago, Appalachian Voices’ Virginia Field Organizer Lara Mack held a couple of anti-pipeline solidarity interest meetings in Harrisonburg. Out of these was born the Rockingham Alliance for the Protection and Transformation of Our Resources and Society (RAPTORS) with Josh as a founding member and chief organizer. Josh knew Lara from their days of working together at the iconic Little Grill Collective, of which they have both been worker-owners. RAPTORS was formed to address concerns over the Standing Rock pipeline conflict in the Dakotas, and to bring those concerns to the local area to fight the proposed Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley Pipelines.  The goal of the group is to increase awareness of these issues locally and to act in solidarity with all those working on pipeline issues statewide and possibly beyond into North and South Carolina.

He notes that long term, it is difficult for the group to maintain the sense of urgency with which they began, but the fact that communities and owners of land that the pipelines will cross now have their backs against the wall helps to keep them focused.  The agencies in place ostensibly to protect communities appear instead to have “railroaded” the issue to support Dominion Energy and other corporate and private interests.

That said, the pipelines have not yet been built, and construction is not yet certain.  Until they are constructed RAPTORS is still attempting to delay and prevent that.  One piece of good news is that Senator Kaine recently recommended that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) re-conduct hearings on both pipelines.  At the time FERC gave approval, the Board was down by two members, and it was a 2 to 1 vote.  Kaine also asked about “tolling orders” on the pipelines:  a set of FERC guidelines for the preconstruction work that must be done.  These orders are unclear, especially as regards eminent domain issues.  They are also contradictory:  by example, they prohibit “land disturbing activity” but allow felling trees, which is certainly “land disturbing”.

Recognition of the political muscle of Dominion Energy is increasingly recognized and opposed, particularly by aspiring young politicians like Sam Rasoul and Brent Finnegan.  (Note:  CAAV steering committee member Alleyn Harned intends to research allies of Dominion and legislative bills on the pipeline issue).   A packed house at the Augusta County Board of Zoning Appeals hearing on January 4 caused the tabling of a decision on a 34 acre Dominion pipeline construction yard on route 42 near Churchville that would fatally impact an innovative and productive, well-established sustainable family farm. They are likely to make a decision at the February 1, 1:30pm meeting in Verona. A petition against the zoning approval generated over 30,000 signatures within a couple of weeks.

Josh feels these pipelines may still be defeated, and that there are still many legal hurdles to their successful operation, regardless of whether they are constructed or not.  Letters can still be written, and he urges all who will write to do so, and to keep the issue local. (More things you can do below.)

– Anne Nielsen, for the CAAV Coalition-Building Committee, January 2018

Most months, the CAAV Coalition-Building Committee invites a community member or group to present to the CAAV steering committee about projects with which they are involved. We are grateful to be working with so many other groups and individuals passionate about creating a more resilient, healthy and just world.

From Josh: a few notes on some simple actions anyone can take to support pipeline fighters in our region.

Our next RAPTORS meeting will be Wednesday, January 31st at 6:45PM, Lucy Simms Center music room. For anyone who’d like to join our email list, send a message to RaptorsOfTheValley [at] gmail.com

The next day, Thursday, February 1st, Augusta County will be holding their Board of Zoning Appeals meeting and presumably will be deciding on the Blosser issue. Meeting’s at the Augusta County Government complex in Verona, 1:30PM. Here’s the FB event link and Petition to stop the rezoning of a 34 acre lot in Churchill, VA for use as ACP’s construction staging yard.

In the case of Mountain Valley Pipeline, I believe the comment period is still open for the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, which holds a permit that MVP must obtain concerning state-owned subaqueous bottomlands in Virginia. Their public hearing is January 23rd, 9:30AM at the VMRC in Newport News. I’ll be attending. More info on commenting here. Also, FB event link here. You might notice that this hearing will be extremely difficult to attend for anyone in Western VA – the VMRC has apparently not taken much from our petition to hold hearings along the route, closer to those affected. I’ll be driving down early that morning.

You may also have seen that Tim Kaine recently made a statement asking for rehearings from FERC on ACP and MVP. You can sign the Sierra petition to legislators supporting the statement here. Calling legislators here to follow up and amplify the cause would be great.

Also, you can Vote for Bold Alliance to receive charitable donations from CREDO this month – Bold Alliance is an allegiance group of pipeline fighters combating KXL, MVP, ACP, and a number of other pipelines. Their organization has spread from Nebraska to Appalachia, from Iowa to Oklahoma, and now to Louisiana in their fight against Bayou Bridge. Bold Appalachia is the wing fighting MVP & ACP primarily.

 

Climate and Energy News Roundup 1/19/2018

Policy and Politics

Jack Gerard announced Wednesday he would step down as head of the American Petroleum Institute, the lobbying association of oil and natural gas companies.  In a recent interview with Reuters, EPA administrator Scott Pruitt said, “The climate is changing. That’s not the debate. The debate is how do we know what the ideal surface temperature is in 2100?”  Dana Nuccitelli interviewed several climate scientists to answer that question.  Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R, FL), one of the founders of the Climate Solutions Caucus, was interviewed about the Caucus by Katherine Bagley for Yale Environment 360.  A report released Thursday by the Union of Concerned Scientists found that, during the first year of the Trump administration, science advisory panels all across the government have been decreased in size or disbanded.

The World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report showed that President Trump’s arrival in the White House in 2017 coincided with a marked increase in concern about the environment among experts polled by the organization.  On Thursday, EPA Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator Barry Breen told a congressional oversight committee that the government needs to plan for the ongoing threat posed to Superfund sites from climate change.  A bipartisan group of more than 100 members of Congress is urging President Trump to recognize climate change as a national security threat.

In a two-part series on Yale Climate Connection, Michael Svoboda provided a brief description of each of the major books on climate change economics published between 2005 and 2018Chicago Review of BooksAmy Brady interviewed novelist C. Morgan Babst, author of the “climate fiction” novel The Floating World, on the social inequality of climate change.  Ivy Main finished summarizing the energy-related bills that have been filed with the VA General Assembly: Part 2 and Part 3.  If measures before the state legislatures in Washington and Oregon pass, there will be a price on CO2 emissions from California to British Columbia.

Climate

An important new paper was published in the journal Nature on Monday.  It examined the value of equilibrium climate sensitivity (ECS), which is the amount the global average temperature of Earth would increase following a doubling of the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere.  For a number of reasons, there is still considerable uncertainty associated with ECS.  This study allowed the scientists to narrow the ECS range to between 2.2 and 3.4°C, with a central value of 2.8°C (5.04°F), somewhat lower than the previous central estimate of 3.0°C.  If correct, this means that the worst-case scenario is less likely to happen, but so is the best-case.

Both NASA and NOAA released their analyses of 2017 global average temperature on Thursday.  The agencies agreed that 2017 was the hottest year on record not influenced by El Niño.  When all years were included, NASA ranked 2017 as 2nd, while NOAA ranked it as 3rd.  The difference was due to the use of different methodologies by the two agencies.  Time Magazine presented a photo essay of how the ice in Antarctica is responding to the rise in temperature.

A major characteristic of human-caused climate change is the speed at which it is occurring.  This raises the question of whether the various species on Earth can adapt rapidly enough to survive.  In the case of Arctic ringed seals on the western shores of Svalbard, early indications are that they are doing well, except for one worrying thing, the survival of their pups.  On the other hand, musk oxen are not doing well, particularly when faced with increased winter rainfall.  And a study by scientists at Macquarie University in Australia revealed that high temperatures have a negative effect on zebra finch fertility.

Water stress is one of the factors that can lead to instability in a nation.  Also, water stress can be aggravated by climate change.  Consequently, a panel of retired U.S. military officials warned that water stress is likely to increase, with consequences for world stability.

Shifts in weather or ocean circulation can spark deadly marine heat waves, just as atmospheric shifts can bring droughts and heat waves on land.  Now, a new paper in the journal Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society has shown that three 2016 marine heat waves that killed whales, birds, corals, and shellfish from Australia to Alaska were many times more likely because of human emissions of greenhouse gases.  Erik Solheim, head of the UN Environment Programme, said that the battle to save the world’s coral reefs is at a “make or break point”.

The oceans contain significant amounts of methane hydrate, which is an ice-like structure on the ocean floor.  One concern has been that as Earth warms, these hydrates will melt, allowing the methane to make its way through the water to the atmosphere.  This would increase warming because methane is a strong greenhouse gas.  Now, a new study in Science Advances has provided data that suggest that methane released from the sea floor will be consumed by bacteria before it reaches the atmosphere.

Energy

Output from UK wind farms topped 10 GW for the first time, setting a new national record.  Saudi Arabia expects to install 4.125 GW of new renewable energy capacity this year, at a cost of $5 billion to $7 billion.  According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, world clean energy investment totaled $333.5 billion last year, up 3% from 2016 and the second highest annual figure ever, taking cumulative investment since 2010 to $2.5 trillion.  Reality is turning out to be very sobering for both India and Germany.  A top government official has told Reuters that India will need at least $125 billion to fund its ambitious plan to increase the share of renewable power in the country’s grid by 2022.  Germany will have to spend more than $1.2 trillion to meet even the lower end of the European Union’s 2050 target to reduce CO2 emissions.

Dominion Energy plans to put nine of its older, inefficient, and rarely-used generating units across Virginia into dormant status.  They account for less than 1% of the company’s generation capacity.  This fits with a national trend reported by the U.S. Energy Information Agency, which reported that roughly 13 GW of coal-fired generating capacity would be retired this year across the U.S.  Meanwhile, Reuters reported that nearly two-thirds of U.S. coal producing states lost coal mining jobs in 2017, even as overall employment in the sector grew modestly.

The transportation sector was the largest source of CO2 emissions in the U.S. for the second year in a row, according to an analysis from the Rhodium Group published Wednesday.  In a move that will help alleviate that problem, Ford announced this week that it will spend $11 billion by 2022 to develop electric vehicles and will bring 16 fully electric models to market by then.  It also plans to offer 24 plug-in hybrids.  Looking skyward, all of Norway’s short-distance airliners should be entirely electric by 2040, according to the chief executive of Avinor, the country’s airport operator.  Toward that end, Avinor plans to test a commercial route flown with a small electric plane with 19 seats, starting in 2025.

According to a new report from the International Renewable Energy Agency, all types of clean energy will fall within the cost range of fossil fuels in the next two years.  Robert Dieterich provided a detailed look at concentrated solar power with molten salt as a promising renewable energy technology that can provide electricity on demand 24 hours a day.

Thermal power plants for electricity generation, whether fossil fuel-fired or nuclear, require water for cooling, which can be a serious problem when water is periodically scarce, such as in India.  One way to alleviate the problem is to use more renewable energy.

A new paper in the journal Science of the Total Environment reported on a study examining the environmental, economic, and social sustainability of nine means of generating electricity, including fossils fuels, renewables and nuclear power.  The team found that when the three criteria were given equal weight, shale gas extraction by fracking ranked seventh, which placed it above coal, but far below wind and solar.

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 1/12/2018

Policy and Politics

New York City is suing BP, Chevron, Conoco Phillips, Exxon Mobil and Royal Dutch Shell, seeking compensation for the billions of dollars it spends protecting the city from the effects of climate change.  “As climate change continues to worsen, it’s up to the fossil fuel companies whose greed put us in this position to shoulder the cost of making New York safer and more resilient”, Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement.  The city also will divest its pension funds of fossil fuel assets.  Oliver Milman reported on the response of economists to the announcement, and Bill McKibben discussed its implications.

On Monday, the five FERC commissioners voted unanimously to reject a DOE proposal to subsidize coal and nuclear plants to enhance grid reliability.  Murray Energy head, Robert E. Murray, was not happy with the decision, although he should be happy about the many items on his wish list that the Trump administration has fulfilled.  According to a report released Wednesday by the Environmental Data & Governance Initiative, the Trump administration has undertaken a “systematic reduction” in presenting information and content about climate change on federal government websites.  On Wednesday, Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland committed to joining the U.S. Climate Alliance, a bipartisan coalition of states committed to meeting the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement.  Furthermore, four lawmakers, two Republicans and two Democrats, joined the House Climate Solutions Caucus on Tuesday.

In a broad-ranging interview with Reuters, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt laid out his plans for 2018, which include repeal of the Clean Power Plan (CPP).  However, 12 Democratic state Attorneys General have said that Pruitt needs to recuse himself from all matters related to the repeal of the CPP because of his efforts to fight it while he was Attorney General of Oklahoma.  After opening up essentially all of the coasts of the lower 48 states to new oil and gas drilling, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke made an exception for Florida.  Other coastal states sought similar exemptions, but the American Petroleum Institute objected.  The Trump administration has taken the position that climate policies kill jobs, but California’s experience challenges that position.

Climate

2017 was the most expensive year on record for disasters in the U.S., NOAA reported on Monday.  According to a new study in the journal Science Advances, unless new protections are added, the number of people affected by devastating floods could skyrocket over the next 25 years as a result of increased rainfall intensity.  According to lead author Sven Willner of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, “More than half of the United States must at least double their protection level within the next two decades if they want to avoid a dramatic increase in river flood risks.”  As if to put an exclamation point on that statement, heavy rains hit California this week, causing deadly mudslides.

Climate Central has determined that 2017 was the third hottest year on record in the U.S. based on an evaluation of NOAA data.  Last week I provided a link to a study showing that it was the second hottest year globally.

One of the direst consequences of climate change will be the collapse of Antarctic glaciers, causing massive sea level rise and the associated displacement of millions of people from Earth’s coasts.  Now, a young glaciologist has a radical proposal for delaying and possible averting such an event.

Peter Sinclair has a new video, this one explaining why the eastern U.S. can be so much colder than Alaska.  However, a study by the World Weather Attribution project concluded that a cold outbreak like the one that just occurred is 15-times less likely to take place today due to global warming.  In addition, the effects of global warming on such cold outbreaks is to make them about 4°F warmer than they otherwise would have been.

About every two years there is a resurgence of the myth that Earth is about to enter a new “mini ice age”.  Dana Nuccitelli examined the data behind the myth and what climate science has to say about it.

The sex of Pacific green sea turtles, like other sea turtles, is determined by the heat of the sand in which the eggs are incubated.  The warmer the temperature, the greater the number of females.  New research, published Monday in Current Biology, found that the ratio of female to male Pacific green sea turtles from the Pacific Ocean’s largest and most important green sea turtle rookery was 116:1.  Sea turtles aren’t the only aquatic life being impacted by climate change.  A study published in Global Change Biology found that the structure of California mussel shells has changed in response to declining ocean pH resulting from more CO2 in the atmosphere.

Energy

Renewable energy is moving forward in Australia with the announcement that construction will start this year on the world’s largest solar-thermal generation facility (150 MW) in South Australia.  Meanwhile, French utility Neoen announced that it will build a large battery storage system at the Kaban Green Power Hub in Queensland.  Closer to home, the U.S. Energy Information Administration reported that 25 GW of new electricity was added to the grid last year, with about half coming from renewable energy resources.  Dominion Energy is investing $1 billion in its solar fleet in Virginia and North Carolina, and now ranks among utilities with the largest solar portfolios, either operating or under development.

In other renewables news, an Xcel Energy solicitation set a new solar-plus-storage record after attracting a median price of $36 per megawatt-hour.  On-shore wind plus storage was even lower, with a median price of $21 per megawatt-hour.  After years of delays, the U.S. offshore wind industry is finally gaining momentum, with new projects being planned along the Atlantic coast.

In a new report, the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis said “As the global transition toward renewables gains pace and as battery storage and electric vehicles technologies pick up momentum, China is setting itself up to dominate these sectors globally over the next several decades of this century.”  For now, if you’re moved to buy an EV or add battery storage to your house for ethical reasons, you might consider where the cobalt in those batteries comes from.  General Motors head Mary Barra has promised investors that the company will make money selling electric cars by 2021, in part by reducing the amount of cobalt in its batteries.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration’s monthly short-term energy outlook projects that by 2019 natural gas will provide 34% of U.S. electricity generation and coal 28%, primarily because natural gas is cheaper.  On the other hand, the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC) approved an order Thursday that will require PG&E Corp., the state’s biggest utility, to use batteries rather than gas to meet peak electrical demand.  The PUC also voted on Thursday to require the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant to close in 2025.

A large number of bills dealing with renewable energy and energy efficiency have been filed for the current session of the Virginia General assembly.  Ivy Main posted a summary of the renewable energy bills.  The Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley Pipelines were also the subject of legislation in Virginia, where two Democratic Delegates and one Democratic Senator introduced a package of legislation aimed at protecting landowners, water sources, and public safety during construction of the pipelines.  Meanwhile, In North Carolina, regulators delayed a decision on the ACP’s clean water certificate until as late as February and postponed several other environmental permits.

Exxon has filed a petition in a Texas District Court in response to a series of civil lawsuits filed by coastal California communities that claim the company is responsible for damages caused by sea level rise.  According to Inside Climate News, “The petition claims that the California lawsuits are an extension of efforts by a coalition of Democratic state attorneys general pledged to holding fossil fuel companies accountable for climate change and born out of a meeting of green groups intent on ruining the industry.”

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 1/6/2018

Policy and Politics

In the past, I’ve linked to articles about the House Climate Solutions Caucus, which maintains an equal number of Democrats and Republicans.  In a very thought-provoking article in E&E News, Zack Colman examined the views of the climate community about the Caucus.  There is a debate within the climate advocacy community about the best way to motivate people to act on climate change: make them aware of the dire consequences of inaction or give them hope that the problem can be solved.  Inspired by a recent paper in the journal Nature Climate Change, Guardian columnist Lucia Graves addressed this issue.  In collaboration with Reveal, the Center for Investigative Reporting, and PRX, Tegan Wendland of WBUR investigated the plight of people in coastal Louisiana who are threatened by flooding, by can’t afford to relocate without state aid, for which there is no money.

Last year President Trump disbanded a panel that was to prepare an addendum to the National Climate Assessment on the local impacts of climate change.  Now Columbia University has hired a panel member, who will reconvene much of the panel to prepare the report.  Because they were considered to be “potential burdens” to energy development, the Interior Department recently rescinded an array of policies designed to elevate climate change and conservation in decisions on managing public lands, waters, and wildlife.  On Thursday, the Trump administration unveiled a controversial proposal to permit drilling for oil and gas in most U.S. continental-shelf waters, including in protected areas of the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans.  Meanwhile, a tax on oil companies that generated around $500 million a year to fund the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund was allowed to expire this week.

The Paris Climate Agreement is based on the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) submitted by each country.  Numerous analyses have shown that those NDCs are insufficient to keep warming below 2°C.  Now, four researchers have analyzed the NDCs and argue that five major gaps need to be addressed if they are to become the long-term instrument for international cooperation on climate change.  Another aspect of climate science that could impact planning and policy decisions is attribution science, which is growing more robust in its ability to determine whether a particular extreme weather event was influenced by climate change.  Chelsea Harvey of E&E News has reviewed the status of attribution science and its implications for such things as liability.  If you periodically use Google to search for information on climate change you should be aware of how denier groups are using the search engine to spread their disinformation.

Climate

In a fascinating essay in The Guardian, Benjamin Franta, a Ph.D. student in the history of science at Stanford University, revealed that the oil industry was warned by Edward Teller in 1959 about the dangers of CO2 emissions.

The weather is really cold right now in the eastern U.S., colder than we normally experience.  This raises the question of whether the current weather pattern has been influenced by climate change.  Several articles addressed that question this week, among them one by the Associated Press and another by Henry Fountain at The New York Times.  Likewise, a study in England examined the link between the warming Arctic and changes in British weather.  Andrew Freedman explained the term “bomb cyclone”, used to describe the winter storm.  Finally, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released an infographic addressing the impacts of climate change on extreme weather.

The three factors that determine our perception of temperature are dry-bulb temperature, relative humidity, and wind speed.  A recent paper in Nature Climate Change reported on modeling studies that examined those factors to determine just how comfortable (or uncomfortable) we’ll be as Earth warms.  Another study, by scientists from the Earth Institute at Columbia University, found that if we continue emitting CO2 at current rates, by the 2070s high wet-bulb temperature readings (which reflect the combined effects of heat and humidity) that now occur maybe once a year could prevail 100-250 days of the year in large parts of the world.

One consequence of global warming is that the atmosphere holds more water vapor, thereby increasing precipitation in some places.  One of those places is Queen Maud Land, in East Antarctica, as documented in a new study published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.  In that case, the precipitation is in the form of snow, which contributes to the buildup of ice sheets, partially counteracting their loss to the sea.  This raises the question of just how much such ice buildup reduces sea level rise from melting Antarctic glaciers.

The Paris Climate Agreement adopted a goal of limiting global average temperature rise due to climate change to 2°C, with an aspirational goal of 1.5°C.  Now a new paper in Nature Climate Change has concluded that there are substantial benefits to meeting the aspirational goal.  The authors found that aridification would emerge over about 20 to 30% of the world’s land surface if the temperature increase was 2°C, but the affected area would be reduced by two-thirds if warming was limited to 1.5°C.

The Copernicus Climate Change Service, a European Union monitoring center, said on Thursday that 2017 was the second hottest year on record.  It was also the hottest year without an El Niño event.  Last year was also a bad one for hurricanes, earthquakes, and fires, as reviewed by James Temple at MIT Technology Review.  As a result, the insurance industry had to pay out around $135 billion, the most ever, according to reinsurer Munich Re.  They also said that total losses, including those not insured, were $330 billion, the second highest ever.

A major study on coral bleaching was published Thursday in the journal Science.  It was the first to examine bleaching world-wide and found that the global proportion of coral being hit by bleaching per year rose from 8% in the 1980s to 31% in 2016.  Furthermore, it found that while the average reef bleached severely once every 25 or 30 years at the beginning of the 1980s, by 2016 the recurrence time was just 5.9 years.  As if that weren’t bad enough, another paper in the same issue of Science reported that ocean dead zones with zero oxygen have quadrupled in size since 1950, while the number of very low oxygen sites near coasts have multiplied tenfold.  Low oxygen levels are caused by a combination of high water temperatures, due to global warming, and fertilizer runoff.

Energy

The Arctic blast that has caused temperatures to plunge in the U.S. has revived arguments about which fuel source is the best for electricity generation under these circumstances.

Virginia-based Dominion Energy is buying SCANA Corp., the South Carolina company whose subsidiary, SCE&G, was building the abandoned V.C. Summer nuclear project.  The acquisition would leave SCANA as a subsidiary of Dominion.  Dominion Energy also completed a 71.4 MW solar energy facility in South Carolina, the state’s largest.  Unfortunately, according to recent reports, Virginia electric utilities, including Dominion, rank very low nationally in their energy efficiency.

The Appalachia Development Group has received approval for the first of two applications for a $1.9 billion U.S. Department of Energy loan to build an underground natural gas liquids storage hub in Appalachia, at a site to be determined.  The American Chemistry Council, a trade group for the chemical industry, estimates the facility could attract up to $36 billion in new chemical and plastics industry investment and create 100,000 new area jobs.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued a permit late in December that will allow the Mountain Valley Pipeline to make 383 stream crossings and 142 passes through wetlands in six Virginia counties.  Three days later, the National Park Service issued a right of way for the pipeline to cross the Blue Ridge Parkway near milepost 136, not far from U.S. 221 in Roanoke County.

A Republican representative to the Florida House of Representatives has filed a bill to investigate and value the use of solar-plus-storage systems as a power source during natural disasters.  It will establish a pilot program to “encourage and demonstrate the effectiveness of distributed energy generation and energy storage technologies to provide for the energy needs of critical disaster resilience facilities located in areas of critical state concern during a natural disaster or declared state of emergency.”

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.