October 31, 2015

Lexington Senator Mike Barrett wants to put a price on carbon

"We have to step up our fight against climate change," Massachusetts state Sen. Michael Barrett told a packed committee hearing in Boston on Tuesday. Barrett's solution: put a price on carbon.
Tuesday's hearing of the Massachusetts Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy in Boston was packed. Attendees overflowed the limited seating, sat on the floor, lined the walls, and spilled into the hallway of the State House. The majority of the nearly five-hour meeting focused on the competing carbon pricing schemes, and many of the speakers favored Barrett's bill.
Barrett, the second person to testify, said a carbon price is necessary if Massachusetts is to slash its carbon emissions 25 percent by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050 compared to levels before 1990, a mandate laid out in the state's Global Warming Solutions Act of 2008.
Barrett laid out his plan in Senate Bill S.1747, one of two carbon price options before the legislature. Massachusetts joins five other states—Connecticut, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington—with proposed legislation exploring this option for cutting greenhouse gas emissions.
Although the idea of a carbon price is not new, it is increasingly seen as a key climate solution in the leadup to the U.N. climate talks in Paris in December. Six major oil and gas companies, including BP, Shell and Statoil, have said they support carbon pricing. In recent weeks, Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkeland Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg voiced support for a global price on carbon. So have the heads of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, along with many global leaders in business and politics.
"The idea of putting a price on carbon is catching fire as one of the best ways we can cut emissions and deal with the worst effects of climate change," Kenneth Kimmell, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists, a climate research and communications nonprofit told InsideClimate News. "I do think the Paris agreement is going to galvanize that further.
Read the rest of the Inside Climate News article here 

October 30, 2015

Wind Power Cheaper than Natural Gas

  • Wind energy's current 20-year power purchase agreement price of $25/MWh beats the projected average of $32/MWh price for natural gas over the same time period, according to Xcel Energy CEO Ben Fowke.
  • Fowke said Xcel does not expect natural gas, presently at an historic low of below $2.50 per MMBTU, to remain at that price indefinitely. The utility plans to invest in 1,600 MW of new wind capacity over the next 15 years as a hedge against natural gas price volatility, Fowke said.
  • On Oct. 2, Xcel set a single-day record for wind energy electricity generation on its Colorado grid by supplying an average of 54% of its customers' electricity over the course of the entire day.
Xcel set a one-day wind energy generation record early this month. On Oct. 2, more than half of Xcel's system's electricity was generated by wind power for almost every hour. The utility also set a new one-hour record for wind energy output that day with 2,352 MWh, outpacing the record reached in 2014 of 2,203 MWh.
The utility's move to increase its wind capacity 20% by the end of 2016 aligns with a goal to cut 60% of its emissions by 2030.
In setting the one-day wind energy generation record, over 50% of the Xcel system's electricity was generated by wind power every hour of the day except the last one, during which it met 49% of load. 
The utility is planning to use wind to replace coal plants being retired to meet EPA pollution regulations. Xcel's plan bucks the trend being set by other U.S. utilities moving to natural gas to meet EPA regulations.

October 29, 2015

Deadly Heat Expected

Pilgrims in Mecca
According to a study published Monday some population centers in the Middle East "are likely to experience temperature levels that are intolerable to humans" because of humanity's contribution to climate change.

By the end of this century, areas of the Persian Gulf will experience waves of heat and humidity so severe that simply being outside for several hours could threaten human life.

As climate change causes temperatures to rise around the world, it should come as no surprise that the warm-water coasts in the Middle East could be the first to experience brutal combinations of heat and humidity. The conditions would not be constant, but spikes would become increasingly common.

A temperature that today would rank in the 95th percentile "becomes approximately a normal summer day" by the end of the century, the researchers said. Wet-bulb temperatures that even exceed the 95-degree threshold could be expected to occur once every 10 or 20 years, Dr. Eltahir said. "When they happen, they will be quite lethal," he said.

If the nations of the world reduce their greenhouse-gas emissions, the authors concluded, the predicted disasters can be prevented: "Such efforts applied at the global scale would significantly reduce the severity of the projected impacts."

Many cities on the Persian Gulf coast could be essentially uninhabitable by the end of the century for those without air-conditioning. "That is truly shocking," he wrote in an email exchange, and added that he found it ironic, "given the region's importance in providing fossil fuels."

October 22, 2015

Sunscreen linked to coral reef destruction

Coral reefs cannot seem to catch a break this year. Between a particularly strong El Niñoocean acidification and increasing ocean temperatures, links between overfishing and reef collapses, and the declaration of a massive coral bleaching event expected to affect 95 percent of U.S. coral reefs by the end of the year, the current state of the global environment has been particularly detrimental to coral reefs.
And now, research has shown that a chemical found in almost every chemical-based sunscreen used in the United States is linked to coral destruction.
The study, published Tuesday in the Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology, was led by Craig Downs from the Haereticus Environmental Laboratory in Virginia. He told Reuters that the research was conducted in order to help explain why baby corals have not been developing in many established reefs.
Researchers conducted the study in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Hawaii — areas that attract large amounts of tourists each year to swim in reef areas. They found that the chemical oxybenzone affects coral in three different ways: it alters its DNA, makes coral susceptible to potentially fatal bleaching, and acts as an endocrine disruptor, which causes baby coral to encase itself in its own skeleton and leads to its death.
To make things worse, it does not take a large amount of this chemical to upset coral. According to the research, concentrations of oxybenzone as low as 62 parts per trillion — equivalent to a drop of water in six and a half Olympic-sized swimming pools — are deemed harmful.

October 21, 2015

Bill McKibben Arrested because "Exxon Knew"

Bill McKibben Arrested at an Exxon Station

The bare facts are, he tried to get arrested in a one-person protest in his home town, and he succeeded - because he wants you to read two well researched articles about Exxon's deception on climate change.  

From The Burlington Free Press:
Climate activist and author Bill McKibben was arrested Thursday afternoon in Burlington after blocking access to a downtown gas pump.

McKibben, a Ripton resident, said he hoped his protest at the Simon's Quick Stop and Deli Mobile station on South Winooski Avenue would draw attention to recent evidence that suggests that Exxon Mobile knew about fossil fuel's role in global warming several decades ago — and shaped drilling strategies accordingly.

"I don't want this story to disappear in all this media clutter," McKibben told journalists and a dozen or so supporters. "We need to let people know what we now know about ExxonMobil."

Now the explanation. Why did he do this? 

At the moment I'm sitting in front of an ExxonMobil station in Burlington Vermont waiting to be arrested and feeling, frankly, a little silly.
But I'm doing it because I want people to read and share two news stories, and I figure this small gesture might be enough to move a few people to do so.  The stories come from teams of reporters at the Los Angeles Times, the Columbia Journalism School, and the Pulitzer-Prize winning Inside Climate News, and they demonstrate—exhaustively, undeniably, and appallingly—that ExxonMobil, the biggest and most powerful company on earth, knew all about climate change in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. The company had sophisticated computer models demonstrating exactly how fast the globe would warm, and its highest levels of management were clearly aware that this would be a severe problem for the planet. They even used this knowledge to bid on oil leases in the rapidly melting Arctic.
But they didn't tell anyone. Instead, they lied—they helped fund institutes devoted to climate denial, and bankrolled politicians who fought against climate action. Their CEO—who had overseen much of the research—told Chinese leaders in 1997 that the globe was cooling and that they should go full-steam ahead with fossil fuel.
This is not just one more set of sad stories about our climate. In the 28 years I've been following the story of global warming, this is the single most outrageous set of new revelations that journalists have uncovered. Given its unique credibility—again, it was the biggest corporation on earth—ExxonMobil could have changed history for the better. Had it sounded the alarm—had it merely said 'our internal research shows the world's scientists are right'—it would have saved a quarter century of wheel-spinning. We might actually have done something as a world before the Arctic melted, before the coral reefs were bleached, before the cycles of drought and flood set fully in.
Instead, their silence and their lies—driven by nothing more than the desire to keep making money—helped disrupt the earth's most critical systems. When people ask, how could our species have wrecked our planet, the memos and internal documents uncovered by these reporters offer a huge part of the answer. We wrecked the planet, in no small part, because we were lied to by the most powerful institutions on that planet.
And so here I sit. I don't have any great hope this action of mine will change anything practical. I fear that no one is likely to prosecute Exxon—they're too big and too powerful. And for that matter it wouldn't undo the damage. I know that we can't rally enough Americans to boycott Exxon to make more than a token dent in their endless profits, and that even if we did those profits would flow to some other oil giant whose deeds are yet to be uncovered. Indeed, I know that most of the gas stations that say Exxon or Mobil on the sign aren't even owned by the company. I know that none of this is the fault of the local franchisees—I gave the folks who run this station a hundred bucks before I sat down in hopes that my small protest won't cost them too much in income.
I also know that there are clever and cynical people who will wave off these stories by saying, 'of course, we knew that all along. That's just how the world works.' Or they will say, 'it's not Exxon's fault; we all use fossil fuels.' These clever people are the cousins of the cynics who worked at ExxonMobil; their knowingness is a cover for inaction. Exxon didn't act when its actions could have changed the course of history; that's not true of the rest of us.
My only real hope is that this gesture of mine will lead a few more people to read these pieces of reporting before they disappear into what my wife correctly and despairingly called the overwhelming clutter of our digital culture. I don't want you to sign a petition, add your name to a mailing list, send money to a kickstarter. Just to read.  I guess I figure that some people will say: if it's important enough to someone to get arrested, I can spare ten minutes to read the story.
Perhaps this understanding will lead more people to join in the movement for fossil fuel divestment, or to oppose giant new oil projects, or to take away government subsidies from dirty energy. That would be good—I've spent much of my life on those battles, and will keep at them with my colleagues at 350.org and throughout the climate justice movement. It would help in every battle that matters if the Exxons of the world had less credibility and less power.
But even if these stories simply lead to more understanding without any practical consequence, that seems worthwhile.  People are dying already around the world from the effects of climate change, people who never burned a gallon of oil in their lives. Everyone who comes after us will inhabit a planet much less vibrant than the one we were born into. My daughter graduates from college this spring, and she inherits this world that Exxon did so much to break. They—and all of us–deserve at least to know the truth.
Here are the stories I've been referring to:
Bill McKibben
P.S.—if others elsewhere want to repeat this small gesture, please do it peacefully, and respectfully.

October 10, 2015

Fracking leading to premature births

Preterm births were 40 percent higher among women who lived in areas of intense drilling and fracking operations, and these women's pregnancies were 30 percent more likely to be considered "high-risk," the authors found.
Being born premature is linked to breathing problems, cerebral palsy, and hearing and vision impairments. In addition, preterm-related causes of death are the single leading cause of infant deaths, the CDC reports, accounting for 35 percent of infant deaths in 2010. Preterm birth can cause long-term neurological disabilities.
A new study from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health has linked hydraulic fracturing — the process of pumping chemical-laced water into shale to extract the oil or gas embedded within — to premature births and high-risk pregnancies.

Massive Coral Bleaching Is Sweeping Across The World’s Oceans

This bleaching event began in June 2014, and has been continuously spreading across the Pacific Ocean. By 2015, coral bleaching was occurring in the south Pacific Ocean. It has now spread further in to the Indian Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, and coral bleaching has been reported in Florida, Cuba, Bahamas, Haiti, Puerto Rico and other coastal countries. Coral in Hawaii, specifically, is in the worst condition scientists have ever seen. 

group of ocean scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), XL Catlin Seaview Survey, the University of Queensland, and Reef Check, confirmed this bleaching event is being brought on by a combination of a strong El Niño pattern, a warm water mass in the Pacific called "the Blob," and increasingly warming ocean temperatures brought on by climate change. This potentially lethal mixture of elements is expected to impact about 38 percent of the world's coral reefs by the end of this year and kill over 4,633 square miles (12,000 square kilometers) of reefs. NOAA predicts that by the end of 2015, almost 95 percent of U.S. coral reefs will have been exposed to ocean conditions that can cause corals to bleach.

"People are very dependent on coral reefs around the world. Half a billion people rely on coral reefs and fisheries to survive," Eakin said. 

Gov. Brown signs ambitious renewables bill into law

Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill into law Wednesday that requires state-regulated utilities to get a whopping 50 percent of their electricity from renewable energy sources, such as wind, solar, and hydro, by 2030. The law also requires a 50 percent increase in energy efficiency in buildings by that year. The goals were previously laid out during Brown's inaugural address.

"California is laying the groundwork for a healthier and sustainable future for all of our families," de León said. "We are showing the world through innovation how we can transition and increase access to renewable energy while cleaning up the air we breathe, especially in our most polluted communities."

California already gets more electricity from solar than any other state in the country, with enough solar capacity installed in the state to power nearly 3 million homes — and that investment has paid off. Nearly 55,000 Californians work in the solar industry.

October 7, 2015

Heating Costs Expected to be lower this winter

Most regions of the country are expected to have warmer weather this winter. The Northeast, Midwest, and South are expected to be about 13%, 11%, and 8% warmer, respectively, based on forecasts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

EIA expects households heating with natural gas to benefit from 4% lower residential natural gas prices compared to last winter.

EIA expects households heating primarily with heating oil to spend an average of 47-cent-per gallon (15%) less this winter than last winter. 


Solar and Wind Just Passed Another Turning Point

Bloomberg Business: It has never made less sense to build fossil fuel power plants

Wind power is now the cheapest electricity to produce in both Germany and the U.K., even without government subsidies, according to a new analysis by Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF).

But that's less interesting than what just happened in the U.S. 

One of the major strengths of fossil fuel power plants is that they can command very high and predictable capacity factors. The average U.S. natural gas plant, for example, might produce about 70 percent of its potential (falling short of 100 percent because of seasonal demand and maintenance). But that's what's changing, and it's a big deal. 

For the first time, widespread adoption of renewables is effectively lowering the capacity factor for fossil fuels. That's because once a solar or wind project is built, the marginal cost of the electricity it produces is pretty much zero—free electricity—while coal and gas plants require more fuel for every new watt produced. If you're a power company with a choice, [or a regulator in California,] you choose the free stuff every time. 

It's a self-reinforcing cycle. As more renewables are installed, coal and natural gas plants are used less. As coal and gas are used less, the cost of using them to generate electricity goes up. As the cost of coal and gas power rises, more renewables will be installed. 

"Renewables are really becoming cost-competitive, and they're competing more directly with fossil fuels," said BNEF analyst Luke Mills. "We're seeing the utilization rate of fossil fuels wear away." 

The shift illustrates a serious new risk for power companies planning to invest in coal or natural-gas plants. Historically, a high capacity factor has been a fixed input in the cost calculation. But now anyone contemplating a billion-dollar power plant with an anticipated lifespan of decades must consider the possibility that as time goes on, the plant will be used less than when its doors first open. 

"...onshore wind and solar PV are both now much more competitive against the established generation technologies than would have seemed possible only five or 10 years ago," said Luke Mills, analyst at BNEF.  

What do BP and VW shareholders have in common?

The shareholders of both companies took a major bath because management violated environmental regulations. 

VW lost as much as $33 billion in market value since admitting cheating on emissions tests last month. The company is facing lawsuits and criminal probes with fines that could reach $7.4 billion in the U.S. alone. VW will fall to 80 euros in the short term, according to FXCM analyst Vincent Ganne. 

"You're going to have, as BP still has, long-cycle private litigation. Volkswagen's share price is going nowhere in a hurry," said Anthony Peters, a strategist at Swiss Investment Corp. in London. 

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch and five Gulf Coast states announced a $20.8 billion settlement with BP on Monday.