Category Archives: climate change

EPA Releases New Regulations on Carbon Emissions

In its effort to promote the new EPA regulations on carbon emissions, the White House has a new infographic. The public comment period is open, and anyone can submit comments here.

epa carbon infographic

 

Price Tag on Carbon

The New York Times provides an in-depth look at how systems carbon pricing systems are working in California, New England, and Europe.

KEWAUNEE, Wis. — Bryan T. Pagel, a dairy farmer, watched as a glistening slurry of cow manure disappeared down a culvert. If recycling the waste on his family’s farm would help to save the world, he was happy to go along.

Out back, machinery was breaking down the manure and capturing a byproduct called methane, a potent greenhouse gas. A huge Caterpillar engine roared as it burned the methane to generate electricity, keeping it out of the atmosphere.

The $3.2 million system also reduces odors at Pagel’s Ponderosa Dairy, one of the largest in Wisconsin, but it would not have been built without a surprising source of funds: a California initiative that is investing in carefully chosen projects, even ones far beyond its borders, to reduce emissions as part of the battle against climate change.

“When they came out here and told us they were willing to send us checks, we were thrilled,” Mr. Pagel said.

California’s program is the latest incarnation of an increasingly popular — and much debated — mechanism that has emerged as one of the primary weapons against global warming. From China to Norway, Kazakhstan to the Northeastern United States, governments are requiring industries to buy permits allowing them to emit set levels of greenhouse gases. Under these plans, the allowable levels of pollution are steadily reduced and the cost of permits rises, creating an economic incentive for companies to cut emissions. Read more.

 

National Climate Report: Regional Impacts

This graphic tells the story of climate change as we are experiencing it today. Not in the future!

nca_regions

CREDIT: 2014 National Climate Assessment

 

Climate Change in Northeast: Floods, Heatwaves , and more …

Reporting on the latest governmental report on climate change, the Boston Globe reports:

The Northeast is bearing the brunt of climate change in the nation, assaulted by heat waves, torrential rains, and flooding that are the result of human action, according to a federal report released Tuesday.

Over the past century, temperatures in Northeastern states have risen by 2 degrees Fahrenheit, and if heat-trapping gases increase at current rates, warming could spike as much as 10 degrees by the 2080s, prolonging bouts of extreme heat, taxing electrical systems, and disrupting ecosystems.

 In the same time, the region’s precipitation has risen by more than 10 percentand the worst storms here have brought significantly more rain and snow — a surge of more than 70 percent over the past 50 years and significantly more than other parts of the country.

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MA House Passes Gas Leaks Bill

In a unanimous vote, the House passed a bill to require utility companies to stop leaks from their gas lines. As reported in the Boston Globe (2/13/2014),

Boston’s gas pipelines are riddled with thousands of small leaks — often the cause of the occasional rotten-egg-like whiff of mercaptan-laced gas that passerbys smell. Federal and state legislators have called for fixes, citing both safety concerns and the amount of money lost from leaking gas that never gets to consumers.

State Representative Lori Ehrlich, the Marblehead Democrat who filed the bill, said she was delighted at this step toward addressing the problem.

“The law has permitted gas companies to merely monitor more than 20,000 gas leaks throughout the Commonwealth,” Ehrlich said in a statement. “These unrepaired methane leaks waste almost $40 million of a natural resource annually, and often lead to deadly explosions.’’

SAFE has been a strong proponent of fixing the gas links, particularly in light of the proposal to build a new gas-generation power plant in Salem.

SALEM GAS PLANT AND THE LOW-CARBON FUTURE

Salem Alliance for the Environment (SAFE) released the following statement in response to the February 8 demonstration in Salem by 350-MA.

SAFE fully agrees with 350MA that the United States must take immediate steps to address global climate change. However, SAFE believes that the proposed quick-start, high efficiency natural-gas power plant for our city is consistent with the state’s Global Warming Solutions Act and can play a positive role in decarbonizing the electric grid in the three decades ahead.

As a seaside community, Salem should be on the forefront of addressing the climate crisis. If we are to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, including sea level rise that could risk putting a part of our own community under water, the world must reduce carbon emissions by 80 percent or more by 2050. Like the sponsors of the protest against the proposed gas plant in Salem, we are in search of a viable path forward.

Our vision for Salem includes a large-scale maritime wind farm off of Cape Ann—a project that would become more viable if the proposed Salem gas plant goes forward.  And as advocates for solar energy, we are pleased that Salem is one of 15 communities that have been selected for the second round of Solarize Mass.

We also recognize the growing evidence that hydrofracking is severely damaging the environment and peoples’ lives. We strongly oppose this practice and believe it should be stopped until proven safe. To that end, SAFE supports federal and state regulation of fracking and legislation that forces utilities to prevent chemical contamination of drinking water supplies and to fully address methane leaks in the gas distribution infrastructure.

The “easy” work in reducing emissions has been done here in Massachusetts, with all coal-fired power plants scheduled to close by 2017. Going forward the choices become more difficult. Among the steps we can take to further reduce emissions in the short run is to replace older gas generation with high-efficiency quick-start plants similar to the one proposed for Salem.

The challenge of renewable energy is that it is intermittent: the sun doesn’t shine at night, and the wind can die down at any time. The older plants that currently power the grid are not good at filling in these interruptions in power production because they take 12-36 hours to ramp up to full power. The proposed gas plant for Salem is a much better choice to be paired with large renewable projects because it offers super-efficient generation with the flexibility of being able to increase or decrease power generation in an hour’s time, without having to run any more than needed.

During this recent cold spell, our reliance on the dirtiest fossil fuels – coal and oil – for our region’s electricity has escalated dramatically. This situation underscores the need for gas as a transitional fuel until renewables can take up the slack. Otherwise, we are exposing ourselves not only to the unnecessary risks of rolling brownouts that ISO New England (the region’s non-profit electric grid manager) has so forcefully warned us about in their recent statements but also a reliance on dirtier fuels that increase our greenhouse gas emissions.

Natural gas power generation is not a panacea but rather a transitional step. It is a much cleaner-burning fuel and creates fewer carbon emissions than either coal or oil. For gas generation to be part of the solution, however, public policies must ensure that gas extraction and transmission meet the highest standards.

In the next 30 years, we must make major changes in how we generate, transmit and use electricity. Our policymakers here in Massachusetts and in Washington, DC, need to make a far greater commitment to investing in renewable energy generation and in the national network of transmission infrastructure needed to deliver that power to every community in America. Once that infrastructure is in place, then natural gas generation can—and should—be phased out.

This is a need and vision that will take decades to make real. During this transition we have a choice of relying on older gas generation or upgrading to the latest and most efficient gas turbines that will allow us to introduce more renewables, not fewer, into the regional power grid.

Our goal should be to build a national transmission network powered by thousands of renewable energy projects distributed all over the system. That will allow us to decarbonize our electricity in this country safely and dependably.  If we choose not to build high-efficiency gas plants at strategic locations on the existing power grid, we miss the opportunity to create the infrastructure of the future–today.

We must recognize that in order to transition from our current electric system to one in the future powered mostly by renewable energy, we need several interim steps. We believe this proposed plant is one of the steps on this pathway to a low carbon future that our region and country must pursue and develop.

We should not let unrealistic short-term idealism, regardless of how well-intentioned, limit long term progress.

Read  SAFE’s earlier statement on Footprint Power’s proposed gas generating plant for Salem Harbor.

Plant can be part of renewable energy future

SAFE members recently published two letters in the Salem News.

From Karen Kahn:

David Pelletier, in his Dec. 31 column (”They got their wish, and now they don’t want it”), unfortunately undermines his credibility by implying that climate change concerns may be overblown. Over the last 15 years, the risks from fossil fuels have increased, and many credible people now are concerned about our reliance on natural gas, as well as coal and oil for electricity production.

What makes Healthlink’s position ingenuous is a refusal to look at the specifics of the Footprint proposal. The SAFE board, of which I am a member, has studied the proposal and concluded that it is not only good for Salem but a positive step forward for the environment.

The proposed gas plant has many features that make it a good transition to a renewable energy future. Its quick-start technology allows for half of its full capacity to come online in just 10 minutes, reducing the amount of carbon pollution that older plants spew during the full day that it takes them to get online. Moreover, this type of plant can provide “firming” power for renewables, quickly getting up to full production when the wind doesn’t blow or the sun doesn’t shine.

Reducing the risks of climate change is a goal we should all share. It is unfortunate that our communities are fighting with each other over a good proposal, rather than seeking common ground in addressing the crisis that we all face.

From Stan Franzeen:

In his Jan. 8 letter to The Salem News (“Are wind and solar energy the answer?”), Robert D’Entremont vividly points out the real-world challenges of replacing Salem’s massive coal-burning power plant with solar or wind technologies.

The following day, Commonwealth Magazine revealed that “data compiled by New England’s power grid operator indicate plants running on coal and oil have been producing between 14 and 21 percent of the region’s electricity over the last few days. During all of 2012, coal accounted for 3 percent of the region’s power output and oil just 1 percent. The recent shift to coal and oil sharply increases carbon emissions, but it keeps the lights on.”

Although I believe that non-carbon energy sources are critical to solving our growing climate crisis, the above report is a perfect illustration of SAFE’s position that until sustainable technologies take up the slack, gas will be needed to meet the energy requirements that ISO New England has so forcefully concluded we need.

It’s a bitter pill to take, but what are the real-world alternatives?

Is Ethanol Green?

The Boston Globe reports on the loss of prairie lands to new corn production–not for food but to run our cars.

ROSCOE, S.D. — Robert Malsam nearly went broke in the 1980s when corn was cheap. So now that prices are high and he can finally make a profit, he’s not about to apologize for ripping up prairieland to plant corn.

Across the Dakotas and Nebraska, more than 1 million acres of the Great Plains are giving way to corn fields as farmers transform the wild expanse that once served as the backdrop for American pioneers.

This expansion of the Corn Belt is fueled in part by America’s green energy policy, which requires oil companies to blend billions of gallons of corn ethanol into their gasoline. In 2010, fuel became the number one use for corn in America, a title it held in 2011 and 2012 and narrowly lost this year. That helps keep prices high.

‘‘It’s not hard to do the math there as to what’s profitable to have,’’ Malsam said. ‘‘I think an ethanol plant is a farmer’s friend.’’

Future of Power Generation in Salem

A Statement from the SAFE Board of Directors

SAFE has struggled with the environmental issues raised by the likely construction of another fossil fuel-burning plant on Salem Harbor. Like our allies in the environmental movement, we dream of a future in which energy demand is reduced dramatically by advances in energy efficiency, and is supplied by clean and renewable sources. We believe that this vision is achievable if our country and other nations rally to the urgency of the climate change crisis at hand. Even with an urgent mobilization, however, we expect the transition to a low-carbon world to take several decades to achieve. There will be no overnight fix to the climate crisis.

The City of Salem has before it a proposal by Footprint Power to redevelop the existing site of the Salem Harbor Generating Station.  This large, multi-year project would be the largest transformation of the Salem waterfront since the current plant’s construction in 1954-56.  Footprint Power is the new owner of the site and seeks to demolish the existing plant and related structures, remediate the entire site, and then build a 692 MW combined-cycle gas plant on 18-20 acres (on the eastern portion of the site, near the South Essex Sewage District facility).  The current plan calls for a tight timetable with the new plant online and ready to generate power by 2016.  Then, once the new plant was online, they would redevelop the remaining 38 acres of the site.

Salem Alliance for the Environment (SAFE) has expressed qualified support for this project for several reasons. Despite environmental concerns laid out below, we believe that the proposal, under the right circumstances, can provide a meaningful opportunity to transition to a renewable energy future.

Environmental Concerns

SAFE believes that people in the United States and around the world must heed the calls of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to reduce carbon emissions.  The last consensus report called for industrialized, G-8 countries to reduce their CO2 emissions by 80 percent or more by 2050 if not sooner.  This is a generation-defining and historic challenge we face and it will require major changes in US energy policy and the lifestyle of American citizens.

Consequently, SAFE has struggled with the environmental issues raised with respect to supporting another fossil fuel-burning plant on Salem Harbor.  While gas burns more cleanly than coal or oil, it still contributes to climate change.

In addition, this new plant would be using gas purchased from hydrofracking operations.  Because hydrofracking is not well regulated and is rapidly expanding, it has become an environmental threat. In some regions, hydrofracking is threatening the purity of ground water supplies. In addition, millions of cubic feet of methane are escaping into the atmosphere each year.  Methane (or CH4) is 26 times more powerful as a greenhouse gas than CO2 (over a 100 year period). Thus, the science is uncertain as to whether the lifecycle carbon emissions from using natural gas are a substantial improvement over coal or oil. At the same time, we believe that appropriate regulation could significantly mitigate the environmental damage that results from the process, making natural gas an appropriate, if not ideal, “bridge” to a renewable energy future.

The Energy Transition

Our society needs to increase our use of renewable energy and reduce our consumption and dependence on fossil fuels for electricity and transportation. One viable path towards this future goal of relying more on renewable energy sources is to use high-efficiency, combined-cycle gas plants like the one being proposed for Salem. A plant with this design and technology can increase or decrease its power production at any given moment, and therefore is an ideal facility to be paired with large-scale renewable energy projects such as wind and solar farms, whose generation is intermittent and constantly changes.

The only other type of power generation readily available to do this is nuclear energy.  For obvious safety and environmental reasons, SAFE’s members do not support that option.  Rather we aspire to live in a society that harnesses the wind, the sun and waves to sustainably provide our country and planet with the energy it needs.

This sort of major transition will take a generation or more to accomplish.  It begins however with building and putting in place the infrastructure that opens up the potential to harness renewables. SAFE therefore supports the Footprint proposal, with qualifications, for the sake of this larger vision.

We take our role as local environmental advocates seriously. Our support is not, and has never been, unconditional; it is premised on our researched understanding that the proposed plant will contribute to the net de-carbonization of the regional grid, and will further enable, rather than impede, the development of renewable energy. Should these premises prove otherwise, or if evidence emerges that the proposed plant will undermine the general health or well being of Salem or its neighboring communities, SAFE’s position may change.

Addressing Climate Change

Addressing global climate change is a significant challenge for our community. We live in a coastal city that is already feeling the impact with increasingly high tides, severe weather, and coastal flooding. Though the proposed plant would be less polluting than its predecessor, the more energy it produces, the more CO2 it will release into the atmosphere. It is only appropriate as a transition, not as a solution. It does not in any way lessen the need for the government, or us as citizens, to keep driving down our carbon emissions, at the individual and societal level.

With this in mind, SAFE’s vision for our area includes the development of an off-shore wind farm off the coast of Salem and/or Cape Ann. Though there is no proposed plan for a maritime wind farm at this time, it is our belief that public opinion will come around on this topic as more people locally realize and understand the profound and urgent challenges we face in reducing carbon emissions here in New England.

As public sentiment grows in favor of offshore wind and as the market for such projects becomes more attractive, SAFE wants to ensure that this current plant will be “wind farm ready.” This plant will be situated right next to a major hub in the regional power grid. This is an ideal point of interconnection for a large-scale renewable energy project, especially when accompanied by a generation facility that can ramp up and down its generation relatively quickly and readily “firm” power generated from an offshore wind farm.

Community Benefits and Issues

A gas plant like this one can be a part of the larger transition to a low carbon economy and society, but this will not happen automatically.  Decisions and agreements now will frame the path of future development.  There are times when the wind does not blow and the sun does not shine and tides are not flowing.  During such moments, we will need reliable power generation over the next 50 years.  If this plant can allow, over the long run, an increased reliance of renewable energy here in eastern New England, then we support its construction with the provisions outlined below.

SAFE’s support for the proposed high-efficiency, combined-cycle gas plant on Salem Harbor is conditioned on the following:

1) There is an investment in infrastructure on the site now to make the proposed plant “maritime wind farm ready.”  This includes reviewing the proposed design to ensure that no new construction would make it more difficult to connect to a wind farm later.

2) The sound and emissions impacts on neighboring properties and the immediate area are measured, and estimated by a reputable independent engineering firm to be minimal or negligible.

3) Footprint agrees to provide a detailed description of the condition in which the remainder of the former power plant site will be left upon the final completion of the proposed new gas plant and before any other additional development commences.  If 20 acres of the 58 acres will be used for the gas plant, what will the remaining approximately 38 acres look like when the proposed plant is completed?  There is a concern that the portions of the property not be used for the new plant could be “fenced off” as an unattractive post-construction zone until other development projects are identified.

4) There is an agreement to create a robust and binding community benefits agreement (CBA) with the City that transfers with ownership of the plant.  Elements of this CBA would most likely need to include:

  •  A clear and legally binding dispute resolution process between the City and the Plant owners;
  • The assurance that the community will have input of how the remaining 38 acres of the larger site is developed;
  • The formation of a community foundation funded by the developers and owners of the facility but managed by an independent board of directors (as is called for in CBAs prepared for other cities hosting new, gas-fired generation plants.)
  • The identification of future opportunities to share heat processes with South Essex Sewage District (SESD), the largest user of power in Essex County. If waste heat from the power plant were used by SESD, there would be less need for cooling fans, reducing noise and local impacts. This is a potentially “low hanging piece of fruit” that would be tragic to ignore; conversely, a mutually beneficial, energy-saving relationship between the two facilities could result in significant energy savings.

5) The developers publicly pledge to advocate for strong oversight and regulation of hydrofracking. The process is now exempt from provisions in the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Clean Water Act that serve to protect underground sources of drinking water; and, as noted above, must reduce its methane emissions.

6) The proposed facility design meets green building and sustainable landscaping standards.

7) The plant offsets its carbon emissions locally, by investing in renewable energy and energy efficiency projects that reduce the carbon footprint of the City of Salem. This could include supporting home weatherization, retrofitting public buildings, solar panels for all public buildings and residences that can make effective use of solar energy, small and large scale wind projects.  Some of this could be covered in a Community Benefits Agreement.
Ultimately, SAFE supports this proposed plant with the above qualifications because we see the potential for this plant to be part of one solution for meeting the problem of carbon emissions regionally and globally. This will only happen, however, if local and regional leaders and community members insist upon it. As sea level rises and storms grow more extreme and agricultural systems become compromised, concern about Climate Change will grow in urgency over the next 10 to 20 years. It is up to us as a society and a community to embrace that potential and support and pursue ways to live more lightly on this planet.

Climate Change Hitting Alaska

A recent heat wave in Alaska has resulted in an extreme die-off among spawning Salmon and trout.  Water temperatures reached 80 degrees. Check out this story at Think Progress.