The WSJ looked at census and natural gas well data from more than 700 counties in 11 major natural-gas producing states, and found that at least 15.3 million Americans have a natural gas well within one mile of their home that has been drilled since 2000. That's more than the population of Michigan or New York. [Climate Progress]
November 17, 2013
Developers in Boston will soon be required to address how they'll deal with threats of climate change before they construct large buildings, if a new proposal is passed in the city.
The proposal, which is part of the city's new Climate Ready Boston report and will be presented before the Boston Redevelopment Authority board next month, would require developers in Boston to complete a climate-proofing checklist which would include documenting how the building would survive in the event of a flood or power outage and how it would conserve energy. The rules would apply only to new buildings larger than 50,000 square feet, a stipulation George Bachrach, president of the Environmental League of Massachusetts, said needs to ultimately be done away with.
|One of NYC's hybrid garbage trucks|
The administration of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, which has made cleaner air a priority, has taken steps to modernize the city's fleet of diesel-powered vehicles — including about 2,000 trucks used for picking up residential waste and recyclables — with newer, less-polluting models. Under a law the mayor signed in September, by 2017 at least 90 percent of these vehicles must meet the tougher emission control standards for diesel trucks that the federal Environmental Protection Agency set in 2007.
But those trucks are not the only ones on the streets. Now the administration wants to impose similar requirements on private haulers who dispose of the city's commercial garbage and recyclables, as well as construction and demolition debris.
A new proposal would require about 8,300 private collection trucks to meet the same federal emissions standards by 2020, three years after the deadline for the municipal fleet.
Here is one more reason to eat organic food. That is if you want to keep eating - we may not have a choice. Pesticides and fungicides are killing the bees.
Scientists had struggled to find the trigger for so-called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) that has wiped out an estimated 10 million beehives, worth $2 billion, over the past six years. Suspects have included pesticides, disease-bearing parasites and poor nutrition. But in a first-of-its-kind study published today in the journal PLOS ONE, scientists at the University of Maryland and the US Department of Agriculture have identified a witch's brew of pesticides and fungicides contaminating pollen that bees collect to feed their hives. The findings break new ground on why large numbers of bees are dying though they do not identify the specific cause of CCD, where an entire beehive dies at once.
November 16, 2013
The United States is undergoing the greatest revolution in energy production in decades due to the shale-gas boom and the rise of renewable energy.
Renewable energy's share of energy production is rising rapidly. Solar, in particular, has benefited from a sharp drop in the price of photovoltaic modules as a result of a massive expansion of manufacturing capacity in recent years.
Power plants are multibillion-dollar investments and are designed to operate for decades. Thus all those natural gas-fired power plants and solar and wind farms coming online now will be fueling the economy for a good chunk of the 21st century.
The chart below shows when the capacity that we use to power the grid came online. A lot of the dirty coal plants are more than thirty years old.
Challenged by the surge in distributed renewables and a strong decline in revenues, one of Europe's largest largest utilities, RWE, is reportedly planning to completely transform itself from a traditional electricity provider into a renewable energy service provider.
“We will position ourselves as a project enabler, operator, and system integrator of renewables.”
The utility's new philosophy: either adapt -- or wither away and die.
"The massive erosion of wholesale prices caused by the growth of German photovoltaics constitutes a serious problem for RWE which may even threaten the company's survival," wrote the utility in a recent strategy paper.
According to the documents, RWE wants to move away from simply being a developer and owner of centralized power plants and instead help use its expertise to help manage and integrate renewables into the grid.
"The guiding principle is 'from volume to value' with technologies ranging from large-scale offshore wind and hydro to onshore wind or photovoltaic. But we will no longer pursue volume or percentage targets in renewables. We will rather leverage our skill set by taking a 'capital-light' approach. Based on funds sourced largely from third parties, we will position ourselves as a project enabler and operator, and [as a] system integrator of renewables," read the documents published by Energy Post.
Instead of simply transmitting electricity and selling kilowatt-hours, RWE wants to think of itself as a conduit for renewable energy projects -- helping manage risk without making dramatic new capital investments.
Citing a "prosumer" business strategy, the documents read as if they were written by a consumer electronics company, not a legacy utility.
The strategy documents were initially outlined by the European energy website Energy Post. The site reported that the strategy was agreed upon by RWE's board last month and will be evaluated within the entire company at the end of October.
This is not a small, progressive-minded municipal utility calling for a shift to renewables. RWE provides electricity and gas for 24 million customers throughout Europe and is one of the biggest emitters of carbon in the region. The company operates a portfolio worth 50,000 megawatts of capacity that includes large coal, natural gas and oil-fired power stations.
RWE has been forced into a tough spot by the surge in distributed generation, particularly in Germany, where more than half of renewables are owned by customers. Major utilities like RWE directly own only a small portion of renewables in the country.
This surge in renewables has lowered wholesale prices and has even periodically caused prices to go negative during peak hours, forcing utilities to ramp down production from fossil-fuel plants and lose revenue. The situation has been exacerbated by the over-build of centralized fossil fuel plants in the last decade. Utilities expected Europe's electricity demand to grow. Instead, it has declined in the post-recession era.
Facebook announced that its newest data center in Altoona, Iowa will be 100 percent powered by wind power when it goes online in 2015.
The electricity for the new data center will come from a nearby wind project in Wellsburg, Iowa, according to a blog post from Facebook.
"When Facebook announced that they were going to Iowa, the utility company in Iowa, MidAmerican Energy, announced that they were shelving plans to build a new nuclear facility and then filed plans to build a wind plant instead," said Greenpeace IT analyst Gary Cook.
"The project will add up to 138 MW of new renewable wind capacity to the grid in Iowa – more than what our data center is likely to require for the foreseeable future," the Facebook blog says.
November 12, 2013
|CREDIT: AP/EAMON MAC MAHON|
In September, a group of Roman Catholic nuns successfully persuaded the companies building an underground gas pipeline through Kentucky to reroute the project to avoid their land. But the nuns aren't stopping there.
This week, about 50 religious protesters, including nuns from the Sisters of Loretto and members of Kentucky Baptist, Presbyterian and Unitarian churches traveled to the Kentucky capitol to deliver a 36,250-signature petition against the Bluegrass Pipeline to Gov. Steve Beshear's office. The religious leaders used Biblical imagery to speak out against the pipeline — a project that David Whitlock, pastor of Lebanon Baptist Church said would mar God's land.
"I am here because I believe, as the Psalms express, that the whole Earth is full of the steadfast love of God," Susan Classen, co-member of the Sisters of Loretto said Tuesday. "It matters how we treat the Earth, the land, the water and all inhabitants of the Earth."
Earlier this year, the nuns of Sisters of Loretto and the monks of the Abbey of Gethsemani refused to allow Bluegrass pipeline workers to survey their property — which, between the two religious communities, amounts to more than 3,000 acres that they've owned since the 1800s. In September, a representative of Williams Co., the company which, along with Boardwalk Pipeline Partners, is building the Bluegrass pipeline, confirmed that the pipeline would not go through the religious communities' property. The nuns, however, promised to continue to fight the pipeline, saying the fight wasn't about them, but about ensuring the environment isn't abused for the sake of profit.
Tim DeChristopher continues to provide some of the most insightful comments about the future of our climate change efforts.
This is an excellent interview where he discusses his opposition to a natural gas pipeline in New York City and how it relates to Keystone XL and other pipeline infrastructure projects along around the country.
The increased use of natural gas for electricity generation has raised concerns about fuel diversity, as the Northeast is also reliant on natural gas for part of its heating needs and has limited pipeline capacity to bring gas to market. The winter of 2012-13 saw spikes in wholesale electricity prices in New England and New York as demand for natural gas from both electric generators and natural gas distribution companies taxed the capacity to bring natural gas into these markets.
November 5, 2013
|Harvard President Faust and Harvard Divinity Student Tim DeChristopher|
Tim DeChristopher wrote an incredibly powerful and important letter to the President of Harvard on her decision not to divest from fossil fuels.
Renowned climate activist Tim DeChristopher, newly arrived at Harvard Divinity School after serving a two-year federal sentence for peaceful civil disobedience, is now a member of the "Harvard community" addressed by Faust.
Drew Faust seeks a position of neutrality in a struggle where the powerful only ask that people like her remain neutral. She says that Harvard's endowment shouldn't take a political position, and yet it invests in an industry that spends countless millions on corrupting our political system. In a world of corporate personhood, if she doesn't want that money to be political, she should put it under her mattress. She has clearly forgotten the words of Paolo Freire: "Washing one's hands of the conflict between the powerful and powerless means to side with the powerful, not to remain neutral." Or as Howard Zinn put succinctly, "You can't be neutral on a moving train."
She touts all the great research on climate change that is done at Harvard, but she ignores the fact that the fossil fuel industry actively works to suppress or distort every one of those efforts. To seriously suggest that any research will solve the climate crisis while we continue to allow the fossil fuel industry to maintain a stranglehold on our democracy is profoundly naive. Faust never admits whether or not she agrees with the basic science of the carbon budget, which is the foundation of the understanding that the current reserves of the fossil fuel industry cannot be burned without condemning us to an unlivable future. If she accepts the science, she should explain how her plan of cooperation will convince the industry to leave those assets in the ground.
Faust's claim that the university should not divest while it continues to consume fossil fuels obfuscates the fact that divestment is about undermining the political power of the fossil fuel industry. Energy is a market driven not by consumers but by political influence, yet Faust alludes to the worn out old argument that the consumers of fossil fuels don't have a right to object to the crimes against humanity committed by an industry that uses political leverage to prevent alternatives. As a historian of the Civil War, surely Faust knows that the exact same argument was made to defend slavery, an energy source that was once every bit as vital to our economy as fossil fuels are today.
The students' call for divestment was a call for help by the young people who will reap the consequences of the climate crisis. The industry committed to ruining our future simply asked Faust to stay out of it. There is no way for someone in a position of influence to not take a side in such a situation. That's why leadership is no place for a coward. By turning her back on those calling for help, Faust absolutely took a side. I strongly suspect that time will show that she chose the wrong side of history. When our generation writes Drew Faust into the history books, being not as bad as Larry Summers will not suffice as a position of honor. Harvard needs leaders better able to see beyond their own time, and the students who will continue to push for divestment are a great example.
The White House is expected to take new steps to help society adapt to global warming, an acknowledgment that worldwide efforts to control emissions will be inadequate to head off big climatic shifts.
White House aides said President Obama would sign an executive order on Friday morning directing federal agencies to make it easier for states and communities to build resilience against storms, droughts and other weather extremes. For instance, when federal money is being spent on projects like roads, bridges, flood control and many others, the plan would encourage greater attention to the likely climate conditions of the future, which might require making the structures stronger or larger.
The leaders of three Pacific Coast states and British Columbia have announced a broad alliance to combat climate change, including new joint steps to raise the cost of greenhouse gas pollution, promote zero-emission vehicles and push for the use of cleaner-burning fuels in transportation.
The governors of California, Oregon and Washington and the premier of British Columbia said the compact could simultaneously reduce carbon emissions and create new clean-energy jobs in a region of 53 million people that is equivalent to the fifth-largest economy in the world. [NY Times]
|Xtreme Power / Duke Energy - Notrees Energy Storage Project|
"Utility giant Duke Energy is testing several pilot projects that use microgrids and standalone storage systems to buffer wind and solar power as they come and go, and to provide essential grid management services like price arbitrage, reliability support, "reactive power" (don't ask — seriously, don't!), and other highly technical functions that only engineers understand.
September 26, 2013
The Vermont Yankee nuclear reactor, one of the oldest nuclear plants in the country and the subject of heated battles over the decades, will close late next year, the company that owns it announced, less than two weeks after winning a protracted legal fight against the State of Vermont to keep it open.
The company, Entergy, said a long depression in natural gas prices had pushed the wholesale price of electricity so low that it was losing money on the reactor, which is on the Connecticut River in Vernon just north of the Massachusetts border. So far this year, owners have announced the retirements of five reactors, with the low price of gas being cited as a factor in all of the cases. Three of the five have substantial mechanical problems.
Tearing down the old reactor will require many years and hundreds of millions of dollars. Using an option approved by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Entergy intends to seal the plant and leave it for years, while some of the radioactivity dies down and a trust fund established for its decommissioning — now with about $582 million on hand — grows.
But Vermont Yankee and one in Wisconsin, Kewaunee, represent a more significant trend because they have no major physical needs beyond the typical requirements for continuing capital investments. Vermont Yankee did face some expenses for improvements prompted by the Fukushima Daiichi meltdowns in Japan in March 2011, but these do not appear to have been decisive.
The latest closing would leave the United States with 99 operating reactors, presuming no others are shut before the fourth quarter of next year, when Vermont Yankee is to close. Four reactors in Georgia and South Carolina are under construction, and the Tennessee Valley Authority is finishing a fifth in Tennessee. But the industry is in a period of rapid decline.
"This was an agonizing decision and an extremely tough call for us," said Leo Denault, Entergy's chairman and chief executive, in a statement.
The Vermont plant has 630 permanent workers and employs a large number of contractors. In a midday press conference, Peter Shumlin, Vermont's governor, said "my heart goes out to the hardworking employees and their families" but nonetheless said: "This is the right decision for Vermont, and it's the right decision for Vermont's energy future."
Red Marker shows location of Vermont Yankee and its proximity to the Quabbin Reservoir
The problems stemming from climate change will be expressed through water. On the Atlantic coast, we all have images of waves pouring into and through our cities, but in the West, the issue is not one of too much water, but too little.
Climate change makes wet places wetter and dry places drier. In the West, one result of a long term drought is more and more devastating wildfires.
2013 is already a huge wildfire year; and it may become a record year after a series of very bad wildfire years. So far this year almost 4,000,000 million acres have burned, an area larger than the state of Connecticut.
Here in San Francisco, we have become acutely aware of the dangers the Rim Fire near Yosemite. That fire is already the largest fire in the recorded history of the Sierra Nevada, a fact that by itself should give everyone pause. For many of us though, the surprise has been the threat this fire has posed to our drinking water, most of which comes from the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir in Yosemite National Park. The threat to our drinking water will continue for years because of erosion and flooding as a result of the burned forest.
San Francisco is not alone. Twenty-percent of the clean water for our nation's cities originates in forests. In the west, major cities depend on water from forests. In addition to San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, Denver and even Los Angeles depend on clean water that originates in forests. Huge wildfires could pose a toxic threat to metropolitan populations hundreds of miles from the fire, populations that feel falsely secure from these fires. [Climate Progress]
In a letter to President Barack Obama, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper offered to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to gain approval for the Keystone XL pipeline, according to CBC News.
It is worth pointing out that Canada has already far exceeded the emissions targets it set for itself under the Copenhagen Accord in December 2009 (the yellow line below).
Primary benefits include carbon capture and building up soil - instead of losing soil to erosion.
I felt like cheering at the end. It is great to see these ideas taking root - literally!
August 11, 2013
One night in August 2012, after months of unexplained seismic activity and mysterious bubbling on the bayou, a sinkhole opened up on a plot of land leased by the petrochemical company Texas Brine, forcing an immediate evacuation of Bayou Corne's 350 residents — an exodus that still has no end in sight.
Last week, Louisiana filed a lawsuit against the company and the principal landowner, Occidental Chemical Corporation, for damages stemming from the cavern collapse. [Grist]
Last week, Louisiana filed a lawsuit against the company and the principal landowner, Occidental Chemical Corporation, for damages stemming from the cavern collapse. [Grist]
Five years ago, the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization published a report called "Livestock's Long Shadow," which maintained that 18 percent of greenhouse gases were attributable to the raising of animals for food. The number was startling. [Some reports say that number is even higher.]
What [matters] is that few people take the role of livestock in producing greenhouse gases seriously enough. Even most climate change experts focus on new forms of energy ...and often ignore the much easier fix of adjusting our eating habits.
The earth may very well be running out of clean water, and by some estimates it takes 100 times more water (up to 2,500 gallons) to produce a pound of grain-fed beef than it does to produce a pound of wheat. We're also running out of land: somewhere around 45 percent of the world's land is either directly or indirectly involved in livestock production, and as forests are cleared to create new land for grazing animals or growing feed crops, the earth's capacity to sequester greenhouse gases (trees are especially good at this) diminishes.
I could go on and on about the dangers of producing and consuming too much meat: heavy reliance on fossil fuels and phosphorous (both in short supply); consumption of staggering amounts of antibiotics, a threat to public health; and the link to many of the lifestyle diseases that are wreaking havoc on our health.
Here's the thing: It's seldom that such enormous problems have such simple solutions, but this is one that does. We can tackle climate change without inventing new cars or spending billions on mass transit or trillions on new forms of energy, though all of that is not only desirable but essential.
In the meantime, we can begin eating less meat tomorrow. That's something any of us can do, with no technological advances. If personal choice enacted on a large scale could literally save the world, maybe we have to talk about it that way. We could be heroes, like Bruce Willis in "Armageddon," only maybe the sacrifice is on a more modest and easier scale. (You already changed your light bulbs; how about eating a salad?)
Mark Bittman - We Could Be Heros
The act I want to talk about is growing some — even just a little — of your own food. In fact it's one of the most powerful things an individual can do — to reduce your carbon footprint, sure, but more important, to reduce your sense of dependence and dividedness.
A great many things happen when you plant a vegetable garden, some of them directly related to climate change, others indirect but related nevertheless. Growing food comprises the original solar technology: calories produced by means of photosynthesis. Years ago [we] discovered that more food could be produced ...by replacing sunlight with fossil-fuel fertilizers and pesticides, with a result that the typical calorie of food energy in your diet now requires about 10 calories of fossil-fuel energy to produce.
Yet the sun still shines down on your yard, and photosynthesis still works so abundantly that in a thoughtfully organized vegetable garden (one planted from seed, nourished by compost from the kitchen and involving not too many drives to the garden center), you can grow the proverbial free lunch — CO2-free and dollar-free. This is the most-local food you can possibly eat (not to mention the freshest, tastiest and most nutritious). And while we're counting carbon, consider too your compost pile, which shrinks the heap of garbage your household needs trucked away even as it feeds your vegetables and sequesters carbon in your soil.
What else? Well, you will probably notice that you're getting a pretty good workout there in your garden, burning calories without having to get into the car to drive to the gym. (It is one of the absurdities of modern life that, having replaced physical labor with fossil fuel, we now burn even more fossil fuel to keep our unemployed bodies in shape.) Also, by engaging both body and mind, time spent in the garden is time (and energy) subtracted from electronic forms of entertainment.
You begin to see that growing even a little of your own food is, as Wendell Berry pointed out 30 years ago, one of those solutions that, instead of begetting a new set of problems — the way "solutions" like ethanol or nuclear power inevitably do — actually beget other solutions, and not only of the kind that save carbon.
Still more valuable are the habits of mind that growing a little of your own food can yield. You quickly learn that you need not be dependent on specialists to provide for yourself — that your body is still good for something and may actually be enlisted in its own support. If the experts are right, if both oil and time are running out, these are skills and habits of mind we're all very soon going to need. We may also need the food. Could gardens provide it? Well, during World War II, victory gardens supplied as much as 40 percent of the produce Americans ate.
But there are sweeter reasons to plant that garden. At least in this one corner of your yard and life, you will have begun to heal the split between what you think and what you do, to commingle your identities as consumer and producer and citizen.
Chances are, your garden will re-engage you with your neighbors, for you will have produce to give away and the need to borrow their tools. You will have reduced the power of the cheap-energy mind by personally overcoming its most debilitating weakness: its helplessness and the fact that it can't do much of anything that doesn't involve division or subtraction. The garden's season-long transit from seed to ripe fruit — will you get a load of that zucchini?! — suggests that the operations of addition and multiplication still obtain, that the abundance of nature is not exhausted. The single greatest lesson the garden teaches is that our relationship to the planet need not be zero-sum, and that as long as the sun still shines and people still can plan and plant, think and do, we can, if we bother to try, find ways to provide for ourselves without diminishing the world.
- Michael Pollen - The Way We Live Now
|A worker walking near water tanks at the |
Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan.
Calling recent revelations of new contamination flowing into the Pacific Ocean an "urgent issue," Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the national government had to use its resources to help the plant's operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company, bring the leaks under control. In a recognition of the magnitude of the problem, a government official said Wednesday that some 300 tons, or about 75,000 gallons, of contaminated groundwater is now believed to be flowing daily into the man-made harbor at the Fukushima plant.
The plan calls for freezing the soil around the buildings to shut off the flow of contamination into nearby groundwater, and thus end the leaks into the sea. Doing this would require an ice wall nearly a mile in length that would reach almost 100 feet, or 30 meters, into the ground. Officials said that an ice wall of such a scale had never been attempted before, making it unlikely that Tepco could pull off the feat alone.
"There is no precedent in the world to create a water-shielding wall with frozen soil on such a large scale," the government's main spokesman, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, told a news conference. [NY Times]
This contaminated groundwater is likely seeping into the sea, exceeding legal limits of radioactive discharge, and a workaround planned by Tokyo Electric Power Co will only forestall the growing problem temporarily, Shinji Kinjo, head of a Nuclear Regulatory Authority task force, told Reuters.
"Right now we have a state of emergency," Kinjo said, saying there is a "rather high possibility" that the radioactive wastewater has breached the barrier and is rising towards the ground's surface, Kinjo said. [Reuters]
"Republicans have said that this would be a big jobs generator," Mr. Obama said in an interview with The New York Times.
"There is no evidence that that's true. The most realistic estimates are this might create maybe 2,000 jobs during the construction of the pipeline, which might take a year or two, and then after that we're talking about somewhere between 50 and 100 jobs in an economy of 150 million working people."
He said 2,000 jobs were "a blip relative to the need."
The president also disputed the argument that the pipeline would help lower retail gasoline prices. He said most of the oil would be destined for refineries on the Gulf Coast and then exported. In fact, he said, the pipeline might increase prices somewhat in the Midwest, which would suddenly be able to ship more of its oil to other parts of the world.