ESG & Industry Updates

Inflation Reduction Act - Relevant Industry Item Snapshot

Posted by Kelly Burke on Aug 22, 2022 12:43:46 PM

 

Last week President Biden signed into law the “Inflation Reduction Act”, which is essentially a slimmed down adjunct bill to the “Build Back Better Act”. As the name implies, ,the goal would be to combat the crippling inflation facing the country currently – although most analysis by both CBO and federal groups has not concluded that would be the case in the long term. We shall see.

In the meantime, we pulled together some of the major industry-relevant items to keep an eye on

Federal analysis of the Inflation Reduction Act projects that the law will help cut United States emissions to 40% lower than 2005 levels by 2030. This aligns with the longer term goal of a net zero emission economy by 2050.

$370 billion dollars of the $740 billion dollars contained in the Inflation Reduction Act are directed toward addressing climate change, (including the potential cost of tax credits)

Among the points focused on are:

  • Removing the per-manufacturer cap on tax credits per unit sold of Electric Vehicles, which is meant to stimulate growth in EV sales and usage. However, there is also a provision that EV batteries have to be sourced 40% from domestic sources, which will be a major hurdle for some companies.
  • $60 billion in production tax credits for companies involved in domestic clean energy production, including multiple incentives for nuclear production to the tune of $30 billion
  • EPA granted the authority to fine oil & gas companies for emitting excessive methane emissions. This is a first of its kind provision that would kick off in 2024 and fine $900 per metric ton initially, and increase annually thereafter.
  • $9 billion dollars toward promotion of consumer adoption of renewable energy for residential use in the form of solar, heat pumps and electric systems instead of natural gas.
  • $60 billion for Environmental Justice programs, in the form of both renewable energy conversions and pollution, drought, and flooding remediation for impacted communities.
  • $51 billion for renewable energy production
  • $51 billion for clean energy investment
  • $3.2 billion for carbon capture technology
  • $27 billion for Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund (a financing agent for startups focused on decarbonization, essentially)

Of note is that most of the federal analysis seems to conclude that the emission reductions projected would require a heavy reliance on Carbon Capture & Store technology, which at the moment is a complicated and cost prohibitive solution in many situations.

As with any massive piece of legislation, its hard to predict how different provisions will impact industry segments until the rubber hits the road as they say. Definitely something to keep an eye on as it unfolds.

Stay Tuned!

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Topics: carbon emissions, Biden Administration, environmental justice, inflation, ev, Inflation Reduction Act, Carbon Capture

Solid State Batteries Could Change the EV Game

Posted by Kelly Burke on Aug 3, 2022 2:01:43 PM

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We're all familiar with both the rise of electric vehicles, and the lingering concerns some have regarding their adoption - namely, driving range, time to recharge, and battery lifetime limits. It's long been assumed that solid state batteries could be the key to solving all of these issues at once, while simultaneously enhancing safety but until recently it looked like it would be quite some time before the technology got to a point where it was scalable and practical. We may have reached that point sooner than expected, however. 

So what even are solid state batteries? . Right now, most EV currently use the familiar lithium ion battery, which uses a liquid or gel electrolyte solution between positive and negative electrodes to both store and release charge. Solid state batteries instead use a solid material for electrons to pass through (ceramic, glass, etc). The lack of liquid/gel allows for holding a  larger amount energy per unit of mass, which means solid state batteries have the potential to increase range. Because of the decreased overall mass (they're roughly half the size of a lithium ion battery) auto manufacturers can allot nearly twice as many batteries to the reserved battery holding areas within the standard EV setup. Additionally, the lack of liquid means more temperature stability for the battery, and removes much of the need for added cooling mechanisms currently in place to avoid the risk of fire & overheating that is present in standard batteries. 

In terms of battery lifetime and the cost to update or replace EV batteries, some manufacturers are estimating that the prototype models they are currently running will be able to stand up to 1000 charges, and with double the battery capacity, the math works out to newer solid state running EVs potentially running a little over half a million miles prior to needing battery replacement. 

The other main highlight is that an additional long standing issue with the move to EV and general electrification has been the impracticality of lithium ion powered heavy freight, long haul trucking, aircraft, or grid level energy storage. By changing the battery variable, that equation may become solvable in time. 

We did an article for Oil & Energy magazine this issue to discuss Solid State Batteries' potential in the EV market, and specifically what Solid Power, one of the industry tech leaders, is doing. You can read that article in its entirety here: Solid State Batteries are Game Changers

For more by way of background on EV batteries and whats going on with that technology - the video below does an excellent job explaining how Lithium, Hydrogen, and Solid State batteries work, and what the benefits and limitations are of each: 

 

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Topics: climate change, electric vehicles, battery, ev, solid state battery

Boston Based "Farm to Grid" Renewable Energy Pioneer Acquired

Posted by Kelly Burke on Jul 21, 2022 8:45:00 AM

Boston based Vanguard Renewables, a pioneer in the food & dairy industry waste-to-energy space has been acquired by BlackRock for $700 million dollars, with a plan to invest up to an additional billion dollars in the company’s expansion, according to the Wall Street Journal this morning. The expansion plan reportedly focuses on commissioning up to 100 anaerobic digesters for renewable natural gas production across the United States by 2026.

We’ve written about Vanguard’s projects in MA before, so this expansion is particularly exciting, and obviously timely with the push toward renewable natural gas we are seeing in the marketplace.

As a refresher, agricultural and food waste has been a continual issue in terms of both disposal, generated methane emissions, and waste forever. As part of the effort to address that, in 2014 Massachusetts  banned disposal of commercial organic waste by businesses that produce more than a ton of organic waste per week. Organic waste was the second largest contribution to landfills in the State before 2014 and the ban served to divert that waste. But the problem became, well, divert it to where?

The solution that arose in the form of anerobic digesters is genius and has the potential to have a transformative effect on both natural gas production and the impact of the agricultural sector on climate. As a sector of the economy, agriculture contributes 11% of total carbon emissions, not including land use and other factors, according to the EPA. 

carbon emissions EPA

Anaerobic digesters take the methane and other emissions from organic waste (chiefly cow manure, but also food waste) and transform it into renewable energy. The process as a whole serves to divert food and animal waste, reduce odor, capture methane emissions, and produces organic fertilizer which lowers chemical usage. Additionally, the energy farmers produce can be sold back to the grid. It’s a pretty perfect sytem. Extrapolated outward across multiple states, its pretty clear implementing this process would have relatively immediate and tangible impacts.

Anaerobic Digester Chart

 

For more information on how the digester process works (and a focus on the MA site), read this article from Oil & Energy: Farm to Grid 

For a more in depth look at the process and Vanguard’s currently operational projects in Massachusetts, check out their website: Vanguard Renewables

 

 

 

 

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Topics: Massachusetts, methane, carbon emissions, renewable energy, renewable natural gas

National Grid to Pivot NY to Renewable Nat Gas, Green Hydrogen Power

Posted by Kelly Burke on Jul 7, 2022 3:30:00 PM

 

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National Grid has announced it plans to transition New York away from natural gas by 2050 via a combination of renewable natural gas and green hydrogen. New York City alone creates 70% of the State’s emissions, and almost half of those are a direct result of heating buildings and heating water with fossil fuels across its 1 million+ buildings.

National Grid’s strategy is that renewable natural gas and green hydrogen will be used in tandem with electrification projects and renewables like solar. The renewable natural gas and green hydrogen are necessary for reliability of the grid, at least with current technology in place.

I wrote an article for Oil & Energy magazine this month on the topic. You can read that in its entirety here: National Grid says it will pivot to renewable gas and green hydrogen.

Additionally, a quick overview on renewable natural gas & green hydrogen is below.

Renewable Natural Gas

Renewable natural gas, or biogas/biomethane is captured when methane is released from landfills, wastewater treatment plants, food waste, and livestock manure. Emissions from these sources are recurring and otherwise contribute to greenhouse gas emissions but with the renewable natural gas process, they are harnessed, purified, and used to provide gas for cooking, heat, etc, through pipelines in the same manner as conventional natural gas.

Renewable natural gas is chemically similar to conventional, and can run through the same pipeline systems which is a huge plus for infrastructure concerns. However, the infrastructure to purify the captured emissions is essentially nonexistent currently.

There is some concern among environmentalists that biomethane pushes could push agricultural operations to scale further in order to be more cost effective. However, it is worth pointing out that the emissions from the agricultural sector are so high currently, that it seems unlikely capturing spilloff would ultimately function as a detrimental factor in terms of the broader emissions picture.

Even with that particular criticism aside, the infrastructure upgrades and purification setups needed and their associated costs make it unlikely that renewable natural gas can serve as a comprehensive replacement on its own.

Green Hydrogen

Green hydrogen is the cleanest of the hydrogen options and produces zero carbon emissions. It’s produced by electrolysis. H20 is split into hydrogen and oxygen, so there is no waste and the environmental impact is zero. If the process is powered by renewable sources like wind or solar, it is considered a green fuel and has no environmental emissions cost.

The issue with green hydrogen is the infrastructure costs that would be associated with required upgrades to pipeline infrastructure. Currently, 26 pilot programs are running in the United States to test use in existing pipelines as well as production and storage methods.

So while green hydrogen may be the most promising of the solutions long term, it definitely is LONG term.

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Topics: New York, Biofuels, carbon emissions, renewable energy, hydrogen

Renewable Advocates Target ISO New England over Natural Gas Preference

Posted by Kelly Burke on May 9, 2022 8:45:00 AM

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In March, RENEW Northeast and the American Clean Power Association (ACPA) filed a complaint with the Federal Energy Regulatory Committee (FERC) asking the agency to find that ISO New England market rules “provide undue preference to natural gas only resources” and to direct the grid operator to fix its ruled to end that preference.

 

The allegation is based on how the reliability is weighted for natural gas versus “intermittent” resources like solar and wind. For example, solar is scored lower for reliability based on winter supply issues, wind turbines are lowered through summer months based on projected output, but natural gas is presumed to have 100% reliability despite growing concerns that capacity problems in the Northeast Region would potentially make gas inaccessible under full winter loads in extreme situations. If you recall, natural gas capacity in the region has been a concern for quite some time. 

We wrote an article for Oil & Energy in April laying out the details and basis of the complaint, as well as how the capacity auction works and served to generate this complaint. You can read that article in its entirety here: Renewable Advocates Target ISO New England

 

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Topics: natural gas, Solar Power, renewable energy, ferc, offshore wind

Offshore Wind Breathes New Life into Old Coal Facility in MA

Posted by Kelly Burke on Mar 25, 2022 10:45:00 AM

Brayton Point in Somerset was once the largest coal-fired plant in Massachusetts, and was the last to be decommissioned in 2017.

The plan for the site has been to develop it into Massachusetts' first major offshore wind manufacturing facility, as an integral part of the Commonwealth's approach to its renewable energy portfolio. 

This February, Governor Baker and State Officials announced that a 47 acre parcel of the property would be sold to Prysmian Group, who will manufacture high tech subsea transmission cables on the site that will be used to  bring offshore wind generated electricity back on site and into the grid. 

Prysmian is looking to invest up to $300 million dollars in the Brayton Point facility, and would create a projected 250 high paying jobs on site. Part of the enticement to the project for Prysmian was assurance from Avangrid Renewables that the manufactured cables would be used for the Commonwealth Wind projects, as well as the parallel project in Connecticut (Park City Wind). Avangrid is also the joint partner with Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners on the Vineyard Wind Project. 

Vineyard Wind (off Martha's Vineyard) is set to be the first large-scale offshore wind project in the country. Approved by the Biden Administration last year, the Vineyard Wind project will consist of up to 84 wind turbines and expected to produce 800 megawatts of power, or enough to power 400,000 homes. 

Back to Brayton Point - Mayflower Wind (also off Martha's Vineyard) will generate 400 megawatts, and feed into the Brayton Point site.  Mayflower will also be building a converter station at Brayton Point to facilitate movement of wind generated electricity into the grid. Mayflower also has said its proposal includes $42 million additional dollars in on-shore development and have proposed establishing an operations and maintenance facility at a former industrial site in Fall River and plan to utilize a Somerset based company for a crew transfer vessel for employees as well.  

This investment on local infrastructure and the tax revenue that involved facilities will generate, not to mention the creation of plentiful higher paying jobs for the area is a huge positive for Southeastern MA, an area that has been impacted over the decades by phase outs of manufacturing and changes in the fishing industries that were once the lifeblood of the area.  

Overall, Massachusetts looks poised to really be in the lead when it comes to offshore wind generation as we watch multiple projects come together. As the Governor said at the gathering in February "One of the biggest challenges we will all face as we go forward from here is figuring out how to get the generation where it needs to go" - that is a problem that the development of Brayton Point seeks to help alleviate. 

I wrote an article for the March issue of Oil & Energy Magazine on the Brayton Point site redevelopment, you can read that article in its entirety here: Revisiting Brayton Point: Offshore Wind Brings New Life to Closed Coal Site 

 

(Below: Brayton Point Currently (left), and to the right, a rendering of the proposed redevelopment)

Brayton Point  - PowerBrayton Point - Rendering

 

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Topics: Massachusetts, climate change, Clean Energy, offshore wind

Oh Truck No! Three Northeast States Adopt Zero Emission Vehicle Rules

Posted by Kelly Burke on Mar 23, 2022 10:31:17 AM

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The Advanced Clean Truck Rule, first adopted in California, has been adopted by three Northeastern States as well - namely, Massachusetts, New York & New Jersey. The rule requires an increasing percentage of medium & heavy duty trucks sold to be Zero Emission Vehicles (ZEV), beginning in 2025. The Act requires manufacturers to participate in a credit/deficit program to increase the number of ZEVs sold in the state, and a one time report detailing in-state operation of vehicles over 8500lb to "inform future decisions about emission reductions from the transportation sector". 

Despite being a relatively small percentage of the total vehicles in the United States, medium and heavy duty trucks contribute an estimated 60% of tailpipe nitrogen and particle emissions. So far, California, NY, MA, NJ and Oregon have adopted the rule (Maine is expected to sign on later in 2022) and all combined their fleets constitute about 20% of the total vehicle class, so their adoption of the regulations is expected to have a major and relatively immediate impact. In New Jersey, their transportation sector is responsible for 40% of emissions and despite impacted vehicles (buses, trucks) only making up about 40% of their total number, they're responsible for 25% of transport related emissions. Massachusetts by 2050 expects to see a 51% reduction in nitrous oxide, 23% in particulate matter emissions, and 53% GHG emissions drops as a result of adopting this measure. If you extrapolate these expectations out, the impact of this rule's adaptation should be very significant.  

Of added significance is, as discussed with regard to current Administration concerns about environmental justice, the Advanced Clean Truck Rule is expected to be especially beneficial to historically impacted communities, as heavy transportation and its resultant particulate emissions disproportionately impact urban communities, including communities of color. The steep reduction in GHG and particulates expected from ZEV adaption will have the greatest impact where those emissions are currently concentrated most heavily. 

The rule is in effect pre point of sale, so it impacts manufacturers of these medium & heavy duty trucks. It's a little unclear yet how timelines, if any become put in place, would work for existent fleets - one can only assume that the one time reporting rule included in the ACT adoption will be used to address that question down the line. It's also unclear what exactly the mix of ZEV looks like, and how the timeline on the rules impact will impact sales cycles and equipment turnover going forward, and what impact that will have on fleets, fleet operators, and end level consumers. 

I wrote an article for Oil & Energy Magazine's Jan/Feb issue on the specifics of the rule and how it breaks out by each state that has adopted thus far in the Northeast. You can read that article in its entirety here: Oh Truck No! Three Northeast States Adopt Zero-Emission Vehicle Rule 

 

 

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Topics: Massachusetts, climate change, carbon emissions, emissons, environmental justice

Addressing Western Water Shortages

Posted by Kelly Burke on Dec 20, 2021 11:11:00 AM

Western DroughtOver 70% of the American West, Southwest and Northern Plains has been categorized as a D3 (severe) drought or higher since June. In October, the US Bureau of Reclamation issued its 5 year projections for the Colorado River, which serves 40 million people in the American West. Projections help management consultants better plan for future demands and determine allocations appropriately based on the data.

Ongoing drought conditions in the region have led to drastic and unprecedented changes in water allocations. These cuts in allocation have devastating implications for regional farmers and ranchers, their livelihood and the commodity markets their products determine pricing versus demand for more broadly. It also complicates the clean energy picture, as hydroelectric plants (which produce 40 billion kwh of energy for millions of homes and businesses in the Western region) become not only unable to enhance capacity, but become less able to meet current loads and meet demand.

Additionally, the continuing drought conditions and their impacts are a concerning sign for what is to come with climate change. Lake Powell & Lake Mead are the largest man-made reservoirs in the country, and their levels largely depend on snowpack conditions in the region. Warmer temperatures and drought conditions have caused both to dip to historic levels as well as causing a first-ever water shortage on the Colorado River. Should levels continue to drop, downstream states could become unable to access water downstream from Lake Mead and the implications of that would be devastating.

In 2019 seven regional states along the Colorado River signed a plan to prop water levels up, and portions of the infrastructure bill passed at the end of 2021 address ongoing concerns and provide funding for infrastructure improvements in the Western region to at least forestall the worst potential longer term impacts.

I wrote an article for Oil & Energy magazine that goes into more depth on the specifics of the problem, as well as how the infrastructure bill will attempt to address concerns. You can read that article in its entirety here: Drought Relief for Western States

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Topics: Energy Infrastructure, climate change, hydro-electric

Preserving Forests is Critical to Slowing Carbon Change

Posted by Kelly Burke on Dec 14, 2021 11:55:00 AM

A groundbreaking report “Avoided Deforestation: A Climate Mitigation Opportunity in New England and New York” was released in September by a Clark University research group. The study measures the levels of climate mitigation that could be achieved in the Northeast if deforestation was prevented.

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New England and New York release 4.9 million tons of CO2 equivalent each year due to forest loss, while simultaneously losing approximately 1.2 million metric tons that could have been stored by the forests annually. Massachusetts alone loses an average of 5,000 acres annually (its 1 million acres across the continental United States).

Overall deforestation is equivalent to about 2% of all fossil fuel emissions in New England, so it isn’t a small issue, taking action could have a significant impact on climate projections.

There is a new online mapping tool from the Nature Conservancy that calculates the potential of intact forests across the US, which is allowing land managers and developers to determine the forest areas with the highest carbon stock and sequestration levels so they are able to make development decision with this information in mind.

I wrote an article for Oil & Energy magazine detailing the issues around deforestation and climate mitigation, particularly as the development of solar photovoltaic systems grows in volume. You can read that article in its entirety here:  Conservation Matters: Study shows preserving forests would help slow climate change

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Topics: climate change, carbon emissions

Slimmed Down Biden Infrastructure Bill Clears House

Posted by Kelly Burke on Nov 8, 2021 12:07:44 PM

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This past Friday, November 5th, the House passed a $1.2 trillion dollar infrastructure bill after weeks of legislative infighting, primarily between progressive Democratic members and their more centrist colleagues, in addition to the given squabbling across party lines. 

At the end of the day, 13 Republicans supported the measure where 6 Democrats did not. Simply put, the moderate republicans & democrats a la Joe Manchin ultimately voted “yea” where “the Squad” went “nay”.

Some of the more ambitious social spending related items were ultimately trimmed from the original proposal, including parental leave, $100 billion for workforce development, $400 billion to bolstering care for disabled and elderly Americans via expanded access to long term care services, $18 billion for VA Hospital modernization, and items regarding home health care worker pay levels.

Also conspicuously absent on the other side of the ledger – the proposed increase in corporate tax rate (from 21 to 28%) was scrapped, as were multiple tax hikes proposed to pay for some measures. Presumably, the social spending items that were ultimately trimmed from the Infrastructure package will be added to the separate 1.75 trillion Climate & Social spending bill (the so called “Human Infrastructure” bill) up next.

What’s still included?

  • $110 billion for roads, bridges, and major infrastructure projects.
  • $11 billion for Transportation safety, including crash mitigation for cyclists.
  • $1 billion to reconnect communities divided by prior infrastructure projects, particularly in minority neighborhoods disproportionately impacted.
  • $39 billion to modernize public transport systems
  • $66 billion on rail infrastructure additionally, to reduce the Amtrak backlog and modernize the Northeast corridor.
  • $65 billion in Broadband Infrastructure expansion & improvement
  • $17 billion to Port infrastructure
  • $25 billion to Airports
  • $7.5 billion for zero & low emission busses and ferries
  • $7.5 billion for building out EV charger network
  • $21 to environmental remediation of Superfund sites, abandoned mines, and orphaned gas wells.
  • $55 billion to upgrade water infrastructure, including removing lead piping.
  • $65 billion to rebuild the electric grid

As mentioned previously, the passage of the infrastructure package from the view of those who work in utility contracting, electrical contracting, and other related union jobs (particularly in the Northeast) will be a huge boon to their members in terms of providing multiple long term projects, and thus multiple long term well-paying jobs.

One major variable to keep an eye on will be how much ongoing frustration and shortages along all facets of the supply chain, from manufacturing to delivery, may serve to push timelines on projects and ultimately slow progress forward on the outlined goals of the bill.

Stay tuned!

 

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Topics: Energy Infrastructure, Biden Administration

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