Natural gas has been pouring into a Los Angeles neighborhood since October 23. It’s considered to be the biggest environmental disaster since the Deepwater Horizon oil leak. It could be months before the methane leak is stopped. An estimate of the impact on climate change (methane is a very potent greenhouse gas, stronger than carbon dioxide) has been equated to driving seven million cars FOR THE NEXT TWENTY YEARS.
This story by Christian M. Wade, Statehouse Reporter, was printed in the 12/26/15 edition of the Salem News. Representative Lori Ehrlich filed a bill to prevent utilities from passing the bulk of costs of gas leaks on to ratepayers. A Harvard University study revealed that the cost of these leaks is $90,000,000 a year. Also, the effect of natural gas escaping into the atmosphere contributes to climate change, since methane is a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.
BOSTON — Utilities are under growing pressure from lawmakers and environmental groups to plug tens of thousands of leaks in aging underground gas pipelines, some of which are decades old.
An interactive map of leaks [NOTE: as reported by the various local utilities on 2/26/2015] throughout the state posted by a Cambridge nonprofit group, the Home Energy Efficiency Team, pinpoints tends of thousands of leaks, some of them major. The map uses data provided by National Grid, Eversource, Columbia Gas and other providers.
A law passed last year requires the utilities to track and grade all gas leaks on a scale of 1 to 3, with 1 being most serious, and immediately repair the most hazardous. The law also requires utilities to share the information with the public.
The map of leaks in Salem, as reported by the local utility on 2/26/2015. Go to HEET’s website (Home Energy Efficiency Team) for a more detailed look at Salem’s map, and those of other communities.
[President Obama signed an important bill on Friday that extends federal solar tax credits for five more years. Also, in 2014, Massachusetts ranked fourth of the top 10 solar states in the country. Because solar energy is so popular here, net metering caps have been raised three times so that consumers can count on the utilities having to buy back their excess solar-produced electricity. However, the hurdles still in the way of the net-metering issue still need to be solved; and that solution will open the floodgates on large-scale, freestanding solar projects.]
From Salem Gazette correspondent, Shelley A. Sackett:
Solar legislation uncertain
The problem with this seemingly perfect green scenario is the future of the state’s net metering policy is anything but settled, as House and Senate lawmakers toil to update the state’s energy laws.
“The solar industry will have the lobbying muscle to protect itself,” said Sanborn in any upcoming legislative debate.
Last August, the House passed Gov. Charlie Baker’s proposed H.B. 3724 (“An Act Relative to a Long-term, Sustainable Solar Industry”), which looks to lift and expand the cap on solar net metering and protect ratepayers, and provide long-term stability to the solar industry.
The bill would immediately expand the net metering cap by 40 percent for public entities and 50 percent for private entities and empowers the Department of Public Utilities to further raise the cap “when it is in the public interest to do so.”
The biggest boon for those trying to plan for long-range projects is the grandfathering of all solar generators already receiving net metering credit for the next 20 years.
The bill now sits in the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, which continues to hear testimony from scores of witnesses on all sides of the issue, from National Grid to Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation and dozens of renewable energy proponents.
Mass Power Forward, a brand-new, statewide coalition dedicated to fighting for a just transition to clean energy, advocates modernizing the power grid and empowering “everyday people” to access locally generated power. Among its 90 members are HealthLink, Ipswich Watershed Association, ICARE, GASSP and other local groups.
While House leaders have said they are holding out hope of completing a more comprehensive energy bill, most observers are skeptical that will happen.
This uncertainty affects everyone, from energy consulting firms trying to plan large-scale projects to municipal electric utilities, to large investor-owned utilities, solar panel installers and, of course, the consumer.
Opening the solar floodgates
According to Donald E. Bowen and Richard E. Waitt Jr., principals of Beverly’s Meridian Associates, settling the net-metering issue will open the floodgates on large-scale, freestanding solar projects.
It’s good to finally start hearing some good news about the climate. The big question, of course, is if we can make enough of a difference in time to prevent catastrophic climate change. Note that a few of these charts do not bear good news.
Think Progress contributor Joe Romm, on
My candidate for the top solutions chart of the year comes from a November DOE report, “Revolution…Now The Future Arrives for Five Clean Energy Technologies.” It shows the stunning progress core clean energy technologies have made in the last several years as accelerated deployment created economies of scale and brought technologies rapidly down the learning curve.
From Common Dreams contributor, Lauren McCauley on December 16, 2015; an almost immediate reaction on the Stock Market the day after the climate agreement:
Fossil fuel stocks tumbled while renewable energy soared on Monday, the first day of trading after global leaders cemented their landmark climate pact in Paris.
Under the agreement, countries have pledged to rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions in an effort to keep global warming beneath 1.5 degrees Celsius. And it is clear the fossil fuel industry is feeling the heat…
…“Pace is now the key word for climate,” said 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben after the agreement was finalized. “Not where we’re going, but how fast we’re going there. Pace—velocity, speed, rate, momentum, tempo. That’s what matters from here on in.”
Caption: The first day of trading after global leaders cemented their landmark climate pact in Paris, it is clear the fossil fuel industry is feeling the heat. Photo credit: Pieter Morlion / Flickr
(Salem News file photo)
North Shore communities, in particular, are losing coastline to erosion from rising seas and storm surges.
From the Salem News, Thursday, December 17, 2015
By Christian M. Wade Statehouse Reporter
In Essex County, more than $100 billion is at risk…
New England coastal waters are rising at an annual rate three to four times faster than the global average, according to the state Office of Coastal Zone Management, which attributes the trend largely to climate change exacerbated by human activity…
Many communities are already feeling the impact. Plum Island — which bears the brunt of erosion in the North Shore — has lost about 100 feet of beach to the sea in the last 20 years, the report says. The problem has been exacerbated by recent storms that have destroyed homes, though local officials suggest that the sand isn’t eroding but shifting to other areas…
In Ipswich, Crane Beach loses about 4.6 feet a year, while Swampscott’s Phillips Beach loses 2 feet a year, according to the report…
In Essex County…only 46 percent of the region’s 150 miles of coastline is protected with man-made barriers.
Read the article.
Various New York Times writers and contributors reflect on how this deal will help the environment, or at least slow down climate change; and how it will affect world economies. [Thank you, SAFE Board Member Kathy Karch for finding this article.]
A group of 195 nations reached a landmark climate agreement on Saturday. Here is what it means for the planet, business and other areas.
CreditMark Ralston/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
JUSTIN GILLIS: “…some of the consequences of an overheated planet might be avoided, or at least slowed, if the climate deal succeeds in reducing emissions. At the least, by requiring regular reviews, the deal lays a foundation for stronger action in the future…”
MELISSA EDDY: “It could aid the economies in technologically innovative places like the United States and Japan; create economic stars out of relatively poor countries with an abundance of sun and wind for renewable energy; or leave developing countries that are slow to adjust with an energy disadvantage…
“There will be greater emphasis on more efficient electrical products, homes and vehicles. Jobs could be created through the construction of a new energy infrastructure… Or, as Republicans warn, Americans could see a loss in jobs and American economic competitiveness, as developing economies with less stringent targets are allowed to grow at American’s expense…”
SEWELL CHAN: “The environment has not typically played a major role in voters’ choices, and the issue will most likely be overshadowed in the current election cycle by fears of terrorism, though the drought in California and severe weather in many parts of the country have raised concerns for many Americans…”
STANLEY REED: “The ambitious targets included in Saturday’s deal for limiting the rise in global temperatures may help companies involved in renewable energy and energy efficiency by expanding their markets…”
[This story by Dustin Luca was in the Salem News on Sunday, December 6. Following the link to read more of the article are the notes I took at the November 30th Salem City Council Sub-Committee on Public Health, Safety and the Environment meeting on the subject. –Alan Hanscom]
SALEM — There are hundreds of slow, gradual natural gas leaks throughout the North Shore, but National Grid is steadily making progress addressing them.
There were about 800 leaks throughout the communities covered by The Salem News when state utilities reported their leak numbers this past winter. The majority of them locally were in Beverly, Danvers, Marblehead, Peabody, Salem and Swampscott, according to data put together by Home Energy Efficiency Team at heetma.org.
Salem’s share of those leaks at the time was 92. After more than a half-year of work, that number has been carved down to 60, according to Danielle Williamson, a spokeswoman for National Grid.
Of those leaks, 55 are considered “grade 3” leaks, meaning they don’t pose a significant risk to public health, safety and the environment, according to Williamson. The remaining five leaks are “grade 2,” which aren’t massive problems but enough of an issue that they’ll be patched in the coming month or two.
Grade 1 leaks are labeled such when they’re so severe that the company won’t leave the scene until they’re closed. There aren’t any throughout the city, Williamson said.
The number of leaks is tied to the age of the infrastructure that pumps gas into the region, according to Williamson.
My notes on the 11/30 meeting:
Present in addition to the City Council members of this subcommittee were State Representative Paul Tucker, Joel Wool (Energy Organizer, Clean Water Action); and, from National Grid: Daniel Cameron, Program Manager, Community and Customer Management for Massachusetts; and Bill Mosco (his jurisdiction with National Grid is Salem). From the city: officials from the Salem Fire Department, the Salem Police Department, and the city’s Electrical Department. A number of residents were also present, including myself.
National Grid is not required to pay for the unaccounted gas from these leaks…the cost is passed along to consumers. A City Council member asked, “Do you have a pie chart showing the sliver of natural gas that’s leaked into Salem’s air in a one-year period?” National Grid’s answer was, “No, we’re not capable of making that determination.”
However, a statement by Joel Wool had a lot of good information about all the gas leaks passing up into the atmosphere, and that National Grid CAN figure out how much this is. The fact that the cost of this waste is being passed along to the consumer is making National Grid less motivated to perform repairs. He also pointed out that Harvard University did a study and determined $90,000,000 (NINETY MILLION DOLLARS) of natural gas is escaping [sorry I didn’t get the info for what area this covered and for how long a period of time], and cost is being passed along to consumers; as well as methane being a very potent greenhouse gas, far worse than carbon dioxide.
NG showed the Excel spreadsheet of the gas leaks in Salem, by which time of this meeting was down to 55 leaks.
Grade 1 gas leaks are serious and are fixed immediately. Response to these are triggered by 911 calls to the fire department, usually in response to residents smelling mercaptan, the gas additive that has the strong odor. The Fire Department has two hand-sized natural gas sensors on every truck, and if gas is detected by both sensors, National Grid is called in; if only one sensor picks up gas, a third sensor is brought in to figure out if there’s really gas present (the sensors go off when the percentage of gas present is only 0.5%, even though when it’s up as high as 5%, it still presents no danger). Any gas leak inside a residence is always grade 1; even a small gas leak that’s near a residence is grade 1. Grade 1 gas leaks occur about twice a week in Salem, but the fire chief said they are dealt with immediately. One of the problems with reporting these leaks is that instead of first and foremost calling the fire department, people try to report it through less direct means.
Councilor Gerard said in regards to this: “I ran into a situation where one of my constituents told me someone had reported a gas leak ONLY on See Click Fix on the city’s website. I called the Fire Department right away and removed it from the website.”
The Fire Chief replied, “Gas leaks should NOT be reported on the web. The fire department should always be called, even if we find out later on it’s a known, grade 3 leak that poses no danger. We respond to all of those calls and check with our sensors, since it’s possible that a grade 1 leak may have developed.”
The grade is determined by using a formula that is based on the distance from the nearest structure; and the percent of gas to the amount of air it’s occupying. NG stated they didn’t want to get too technical on giving us the details of this formula.
Grade 2 gas leaks are non-hazardous, but could turn into grade 1. They’re only required to be checked once every twelve months, but the reality is that National Grid checks and fixes them more often than that (within a few months at the most). Again, these are far enough away from structures to not pose a threat, and the percentage of gas to air is not very high. There are currently five grade 2 gas leaks in Salem, and they’ll be fixed before the end of the year (2015).
Grade 3 gas leaks are away from structures and consist of a small percentage of gas escaping to the volume of air present; National Grid is only required to check these every twelve months and they’re NOT required to fix them. However, they do monitor these multiple times throughout the year.
NG has an ongoing program with the Salem DPW; three miles of gas lines have been replaced [I didn’t catch what time period this was in]. They have to comply with a law that they replace “X number of miles of leak-prone pipeline per year.” [they didn’t say what “X” was, but that may have been because they were talking about communities in general, and the number is different for each]
Questions posed to National Grid
Q: “How do you cover the entire area of Salem to determine where the gas leaks are?”
A: “Those trucks that have the special cones on them, when you see them driving through–those cones are very sensitive sensors that are picking up the gas leaks.”
Q: “Does National Grid coordinate with the cable project that’s currently going on in Salem, especially since the cable operation is digging in the same area the gas lines are?”
A: “Yes, and the Electrical Department of Salem is ALSO getting their work done at the same time.”
Q: “What about clusters of grade 3 leaks that are in close proximity to each other?”
A: “They’re still evaluated individually, although usually that situation identifies a leak-prone pipeline; which then triggers replacement of it.”
Q: “How well are these replacements and repairs being performed?”
A: “Repairs are done in a permanent way, if at all possible.” [I wanted to ask what situations there were in which a repair couldn’t be done in a permanent way, but the meeting was running out of time]
Q: “How do you find it on the web if there’s a leak near your house?”
[multiple answers] —
A: (from one of the city councilors) “Call the city, they have the spreadsheet on file and are obligated to give out that information if asked.” [also, it should be noted here that there is an online map of the gas leaks in Salem as of February 2015]
A: (I think from Councilor Eppley) “Forward those requests to the City Clerk’s office.”
A: (from National Grid) “The information is not on line. Even though that’s being done out in California and other places, the concern is that we don’t want to create panic over grade 3 leaks that pose no threat.” [However, one of the Councilors thought we COULD handle that information, and it should be not only online, but dynamically changing as the leaks are repaired].
Q: (from myself) “I lost 90% of my sense of smell about 15 years ago, and I can‘t smell the mercaptan that’s added to natural gas. What if there was a grade one leak in my house? I’d never even know it. And what about the many people who have a diminished sense of smell?”
A: (Daniel Cameron from National Grid gave me his card and said for me to contact him about it; suggestions from others including doing some research on the web for the best methane gas detectors, and also access dogs are trained to smell and alert their owners to the presence of natural gas)
Boston.com Staff Eric Levenson reported on how Obama is using his summer trip to Acadia to comment on addressing the need for climate change:
What better way to emphasize the beauty of the natural environment than a hike in Acadia National Park?
That was the thought of the White House Instagram account on Sunday, which posted a photo of the Obama family’s trip to Acadia in July 2010 to emphasize the president’s plea for climate change action.
The photo shows the president, his wife Michelle, and kids Sasha and Malia hiking up Cadillac Mountain during a short vacation. #climatechange
Positive news from the Paris climate talks. The New York Times reported December 13 on actions agreed to by participating countries:
PARIS — Before the applause had even settled in the suburban convention center where the Paris Agreement was adopted by consensus on Saturday night, world leaders warned that momentum for the historic accord must not be allowed to dissipate.
“Today, we celebrate,” said Miguel Arias Cañete, the European Union’s energy commissioner and top climate negotiator. “Tomorrow, we have to act.”
With nearly every nation on earth having now pledged to gradually reduce emissions of the heat-trapping gases that are warming the planet — a universal commitment that had eluded negotiators and activists since the first Earth Day summit meeting, in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 — much of the burden for maintaining the momentum now shifts back to the countries to figure out, and put in place, the concrete steps needed to deliver on their pledges.
The task may prove most challenging for India, which is struggling to lift more than half of its population of 1.25 billion out of poverty and to provide basic electricity to 300 million of them. Rich countries are intent that India not get stuck on a coal-dependent development path. Read more.