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?