Today’s Blog

April 25, 2021: What’s so off-putting about carbon offsets?!

You know that feeling. Something feels too good to be true. Too close for comfort. Fishy-smelling. Something rotten in Denmark. We have an array of expressions, including that sinking feeling that what we hope to be true simply isn’t.

True, as well, of the vaunted “carbon offsets,” in which companies, whole industries, even you and I, can go on our merry emitting ways but we can offset our careless behavior by offsetting or purchasing something somewhere else.

Typically, offsets involve planting trees. That sounds good.  Capturing carbon from the air through technical means is another promising area.

One challenge stems from many offsets being voluntary instead of going through a regulatory process. More critically, many of the locations around the world where reforestation occurs are conflict areas and locals support may simply not be there, the problem exacerbated by lax regulation. I know we get accused of over-regulation and its dampening on industry. Well, does anyone have a better idea how we can get these ideas implemented?

Another wet noodle in the embrace of carbon offsets is so-called “additionality.”  That is, does the project provide more than would have happened anyway?  Hard to judge but it is pretty obvious that if you rob Peter to pay Paul the money is just exchanging hands and not making a real differencde.

Comes back to doing the right thing in the first place, at the source. Cut the emissions!!

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-08-15/why-carbon-offsets-don-t-do-all-that-they-promise-quicktake

https://grist.org/article/carbon-offsets-arent-enough-we-need-to-remove-carbon-from-the-atmosphere/

April 4, 2021: Let’s count the ways of environmental good intentions in the American Jobs Plan

In order of appearance (as presented not even adding what would be derived benefits):

—Capping hundreds of thousands of orphan oil and gas wells and abandoned mines

—Retrofit homes and buildings for energy efficiency

—Use of more sustainable and innovative materials for infrastructure improvements, e.g., cleaner steel and cement

—Improving roads and bridges with objectives to improve air quality and limit greenhouse gas emissions along with reducing congestions

—Climate-friendly alternatives for moving people and freight

—Increase production and use of electric vehicles

—Investment in basic research like advanced pavements that recycle carbon dioxide

—Protect and, where necessary, restore nature-based infrastructure—our lands, forests, wetlands, watersheds, and coastal and ocean resources

—Investing in water efficiency

—Investing in recycling

—A more resilient grid that will not only lower energy bills but will improve air quality

—Tax credit for clean energy generation and storage

—Block grants that support clean energy and environmental justice

—Establishing an Energy Efficiency and Clean Energy Stand (EECES) aimed at, in addition to financial benefits, cutting electricity pollution, incentivizing more efficient energy usage and utilizing carbon-free existing sources like nuclear and hydropower

—Moving toward 100 percent carbon-pollution free power by 2035

—Mobilize a new Civilian Climate Corps

—Modernize schools to including improved air quality/ventilation, energy-efficient systems, more green spaces

—Research in advanced energy technologies

—$35 billion investment in the full range of solutions to achieve technology breakthroughs that address the climate crisis (utility-scale energy storage, carbon capture and storage, hydrogen, advanced nuclear, rare earth element separations, floating offshore wind, biofuel/bioproducts, and electric vehicles)

—More electric vehicles and charging ports

—Union jobs that leverage grit and ingenuity to address the climate crisis and build a sustainable infrastructure

https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/03/31/fact-sheet-the-american-jobs-plan/

March 28, 2021: Petroleum Industry Wakes Up

We had an expression in the NE, “Wake up and smell New Jersey.” It meant, simply, recognize the obvious and that’s just what the lobbying group, the American Petroleum Industry, did on Wednesday. While announcing their Climate Action Framework, API President Mike Sommers said that climate change was real. To be fair some industry companies ceased being deniers long ago. Still, I can only muster one hand to clap over API’s extremely late admission of truth.

Frameworks can lay out which side of an ongoing argument they intend to follow. Market-based solutions versus regulation, for instance, is favored by API. Of their five focus areas—technology and innovation, operational emissions mitigation, carbon pricing, cleaner fuels, and better climate reporting—carbon pricing seems to have captured the media’s eye.

So begins the tussle over the best way to get this done. I don’t know, but I do think carbon pricing that discourages consumption is the way to go. API quite rightly notes that a patchwork of state solutions won’t work and so advocates for a national policy. Natural gas is trumpeted and, well, ok, guess that is not surprising.

Innovation section includes the usual suspects: carbon capture, utilization and storage as well as hydrogen technology. Let’s hope there are not a bunch of crash and burn companies but rather there is a sharing and building together. (Dare I say that is the way to build back better.)

Pleased to see a section that addresses site emissions. As President Biden observed in his press conference this week, let’s put people to work capping wells. In API’s framework they address the practice of gas flaring. Good!

Cleaner fuels could turn out to less than bold, but let’s see.

Transparent industry reporting seems a big of a pipe dream but calling for transparency and consistency is good.

All in all, API’s market-driven approach will move the needle but, in this writer’s opinion, not without the overseer role of regulation.

The next few weeks should be interesting to see the cap and trade between competing visions.

https://www.api.org/-/media/Files/EHS/climate-change/2021/api-climate-action-framework.pdf

https://www.argusmedia.com/en/news/2199480-api-endorses-a-carbon-price

March 21, 2021: International Day of Forests

The UN declares this a day to acknowledge, celebrate and be grateful for forests.

As their opening paragraph states, “When we drink a glass of water, write in a notebook, take medicine for a fever or build a house, we do not always make the connection with forests. And yet, these and many other aspects of our lives are linked to forests in one way or another.”

In another UN article we can learn about the state of our forests. While deforestation has decreased, “between 2015 and 2020, the rate of deforestation was estimated at 10 million hectares per year.” Agricultural expansion is the main reason why. The article credits cattle ranching and cultivation of soya bean and oil palm primarily.

Let’s also talk about the value of native tree species. Invasive non-native (aka exotic species) can change the composition of native plant communities as they compete and displace natives. In turn, they can be vectors for damaging species and exotic insects. Below you’ll find a link about native species here in TN.

To celebrate trees here, please enjoy this picture of a sugar maple

https://www.un.org/en/observances/forests-and-trees-day

http://www.fao.org/state-of-forests/en/

https://www.tnipc.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/landscaping_2016_forweb.pdf

March 14, 2021: Carbon Capture & Sequestration You Say. Tell Me More.

This is the process that captures atmospheric carbon and stores it geologically or biologically and soon technologically.

Naturally, carbon is stored throughout our world. Some places in nature are better than others in storing carbon. Peat, commonly “bogs”, take in a lot of carbon. Though peatlands cover only 3% of the Earth’s surface, they store twice the amount of carbon as all the world’s forests combined. Forests, oceans and the soil are all sources for carbon sequestration.

We already know that soil conservation has become increasingly important, and would greatly benefit from more no-tilling and the use of cover crops.  These methods are also the tools for carbon sequestration. Think of these methods as locking carbon in the ground.

Geological sequestration requires interventions. Typically, carbon dioxide is captured from an industrial source, such as steel or cement production, or an energy-related source, such as a power plant or natural gas processing facility and injected into porous rocks for long-term storage. This is a burgeoning solution with just a few commercial-grade applications around the world but it is worth understanding and supporting.

Virginia, Oregon and California all have legislation to look more closely at this important contribution to combating climate change.  Now, aided by President Biden, referring to a recent Executive Order he signed, “America’s farmers, ranchers and forest landowners have an important role to play in combating the climate crisis and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, by sequestering carbon in soils, grasses, trees and other vegetation.” 

https://www.unep.org/news-and-stories/story/peatlands-store-twice-much-carbon-all-worlds-forests

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-dirt-could-help-save-the-planet/

March 3, 2021: Solar—is this the year?

It will come as no surprise that Texans are seeking independence from the grid by turning to residential solar.  Solar businesses are reporting triple-digit increases in the number of inquiries.

Solar has been our minds here as we anticipate the solar installation in Blount County.

Solar has been arriving for some time. Is 2021 the year when more and more Americans go solar?

According to the U.S. Solar Market Insight Q4 2020 report, released by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and Wood Mackenzie, solar accounts for 43% of all new electric generating capacity additions through Q3 2020, more than any other electricity source

So, we thought we’d explore some of the challenges solar adoption faces.

  • Like many renewables to achieve reliability there needs to have a storage, because the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow.
  • There are a lot of fast movers and fast fallers in the industry leading to instability.
  • China is leading the world on solar but you knew that already.
  • Cost perceptions. According to seia.org the cost to install solar has dropped by 70% over the past decade. TVA keeps promoting that solar is costly. While hardware costs are dropping, so-called soft costs (labor, permitting/inspection, customer acquisition) have increased due in part to inconsistent building codes.
  • Utilities really have not figured out how to work with homeowners and small businesses, including when a solar customer has “excess power” to sell.

Still, the general trend is to increase solar capacity.

Are you considering going solar? Are you already there? What is your experience?

https://www.forbes.com/sites/scottcarpenter/2021/02/18/traffic-to-rooftop-solar-sites-jumps-as-texans-seek-freedom-from-grid/?sh=48eda56691df

https://www.thedailytimes.com/news/nashville-solar-company-hunting-property-in-blount-to-build-plant-sell-power-to-maryville-electric/article_cf9c997f-e440-52b8-b556-2dbafe7bc24c.html

https://www.seia.org/us-solar-market-insight

Feb 5, 2021: TVA: time to update its core promise?

Is it time to update the TVA Act of 1933? Low energy rates and access have long been considered the priority. Nearly a century ago to enable the TVA rural customers needed to be wooed with access and low cost. Is it time to rebalance these priorities with more aggressive action to reduce carbon emissions?

Now is a good time to think about the TVA. At the Federal level there is focus on climate change policies. Also, the TVA is set to update its long-term energy plan in 2022.

TVA has cut CO2 60% from 2005 levels and has set goals to
reach 70% by 2030 and 80% by 2040. Is that enough? Fast enough? It is unlikely that it will meet the Biden administration’s clean energy goal to fully decarbonize its electricity mix by 2035.

There’s been a lot of mixed news coming out from TVA: a sweeping electric vehicle charging expansion, moving forward on a small advanced nuclear reactor at a site southwest of Knoxville, replacing shuttered fossil fuel power plants with new natural gas-fired generation in Kentucky and Alabama, and adding more solar. Sadly, the TVA does little for energy efficiency. In fact, Tennessee is the second worst state; only Alabama has a worse record on energy efficiency. It has also been noted that the TVA is allowing for customers to be charged fees for solar.

https://cleanenergy.org/blog/saces-third-annual-energy-efficiency-in-the-southeast-report-a-solution-to-multiple-crises/

https://www.southernenvironment.org/news-and-press/news-feed/2020-trends-making-and-braking-rooftop-solar-in-the-south

Jan 31 2021: The increasingly hollow howl of “job killing” from the fossil fuels industry

You can read it in the response to President Biden’s sweeping climate EO week. You can read it in the objections to Rep. Deb Haaland for the Department of Interior. You can read it in the Senate grilling of Department of Energy candidate Janet Granholm. The totally predictable assertion of “job killing” is being echoed by the fossil fuel industry and their cohorts.

Americans aren’t so ready to agree that our future depends on fossil fuels. In a November 2019 study Pew reported that 77% agreed that the more important energy priority should be developing alternative energy sources such as wind and solar power and hydrogen technology rather than increasing U.S. production of fossil fuels.

Renewables have taken off all across the land, even in Texas. The Houston Chronicle states that “the state ranks first in wind power and third in battery storage capacity. The state is fifth in solar, but the sector is seeing explosive growth, with a $1.6 billion solar farm — the country’s largest — opening outside of Dallas in 2023. Texas is also growing its footprint in the electric vehicle market, with Tesla building a manufacturing plant near Austin.”

Those in the vangaurd recognize the pain some families will face and the need for support in retraining and other measures. Many do not support an all-or-nothing approach. For example, Janet Granholm has pointed to carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) technologies, which essentially reduce carbon in the atmosphere, as important tools in cutting emissions without cutting jobs.

Nations fail when they don’t adapt. The horseless carriage put people out of work, too. This Administration seems determined to move us forward with as little pain as possible. Tune out the hollow men and their backward ways.

https://www.oaoa.com/editorial/views/texas_opinion/texas-view-the-transition-from-fossil-fuel-is-an-opportunity-for-texas/article_b3fd03f0-57cf-11eb-9648-1b60b032fe78.html

https://www.pewresearch.org/science/2019/11/25/u-s-public-views-on-climate-and-energy/

Jan 30 2021: When transparency is not necessarily a good thing

This week a Federal judge in Montana ruled against fast-tracking an EPA rule change that was positioned as being for transparency but was actually a bit of pro-polluter chicanery. The judge did not agree that it was merely procedural but would have an impact on outcomes. The rule may never come to be in the the current Administration. Another just in time event in these early days of the Biden Administration.

Why, though, would something claiming transparency, which we are generally ALL FOR, not be a good thing?

In health studies going back over time, individuals’ health records have been kept private. Many of these studies form the bulwark of anti-pollution regulations. When older rules would come up for renewal, they would have a harder time being renewed under the proposed new rule, which would show a preference for studies that had no such secrets.

Opposition from the science community has been robust.

From a letter submitted earlier last year to the EPA, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the world’s largest scientific society, they challenged the underlying purpose of the rule as well as dismissing the reason for it (i.e., good research demands access to raw data): “Simply put, excluding the best available science, as this proposed rule would do, puts public health and the environment at risk” and “As has been stated by the scientific community repeatedly in response to this rule and now this supplemental, there are credible procedures for testing results and verifying outcomes with methodologies that do not require access to raw data.”

This back door for polluters most likely will not be opened.

https://www.ucsusa.org/about/news/epa-rule-restricting-science-puts-agencys-mission-risk-0

https://www.aaas.org/sites/default/files/2020-05/EPA-Supplemental-MultiSociety-Comments.pdf

https://www.the-scientist.com/news-opinion/epa-finalizes-much-criticized-transparency-rule-68319

https://www.the-scientist.com/news-opinion/epa-finalizes-much-criticized-transparency-rule-68319

Jan 28, 2021: President Biden Puts Climate at the Core

First off, the moment we face is recognized: ” We have a narrow moment to pursue action at home and abroad in order to avoid the most catastrophic impacts of that crisis and to seize the opportunity that tackling climate change presents,” he White House documents states in its opening paragraph. Then goes on to say that climate will be “an essential element of United States foreign policy and national security.”

There’s a lot in here.

Ambitious goals: achieve net-zero emissions, economy-wide, by no later than 2050,  a carbon pollution-free electricity sector no later than 2035, doubling offshore wind by 2030, conserving at least 30 percent of our lands and waters by 2030.

Getting back together with the other players: Paris Agreement, Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate, UN Climate Change Conference, Montreal Agreement. In addition, reinstating the White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy.

Upping the leadership: John Kerry as Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, Leaders’ Climate Summit, National Climate Task Force, Civilian Climate Corp,  Interagency Working Group on Coal and Power Plant Communities and Economic Revitalization (Interagency Working Group), White House Environmental Justice Interagency Council (Interagency Council).

And you thought Elizabeth Warren had plans: Finance Plan due in 90 days, the Direction of National Intelligence has 120 days for a security impact plan. Likewise, the Secretary of Defense being tasked as well with Climate Risk Analysis. There’s specific asks for the Secretary of Energy and the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Homeland Security.

Protection for public lands: support for renewables, pause (for now) on fossil fuels

Power of the purse: to increase clean energy sector, reduce subsidizing fossil fuels

For workers: rebuilding infrastructure; advancing conservation, agriculture and reforestation, revitalizing energy communities (hard-hit by policies of extractive industries, for example)

Environmental Justice: a detailed and discreet plank including a White House council. One example of what’s in this section: “the Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality shall, within 6 months of the date of this order, create a geospatial Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool and shall annually publish interactive maps highlighting disadvantaged communities.”

The fine print: “This order shall be implemented consistent with applicable law and subject to the availability of appropriations.” Yes, still need to figure out how to pay for all of this.

I know there’s a lot of “watch this space,” but isn’t it nice that it is being filled with plans to be based on science and staffed by professionals with an appreciation of the climate as crisis. Attention is being paid!

https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions/2021/01/27/executive-order-on-tackling-the-climate-crisis-at-home-and-abroad/