What's the TCI & how does it work?

Posted by Ed Burke on Mar 4, 2020 3:06:31 PM

Carbon

You may have been hearing about the Transportation & Climate Initiative (TCI) on the news recently - in particular, you have probably been hearing about the implications the TCI would have on the gas tax. (That goes double for those of you in Massachusetts, where gas taxes were a major point of contention in the prior few election cycles)

The TCI is a cap-and-trade system for incentivizing development of fuel efficient technologies, while simultaneously putting a "cap" on emissions and a price on carbon offsets to reach those caps, where needed. 

So if it goes into effect, what happens? What you have probably mostly heard about is that depending on which option the TCI takes officially (25%, 22.5%, or 20% reduction in emissions by 2032) the gas tax you pay at the pump would go up 5, 9, or 17 cents per gallon (estimated). 

But there is a lot more to the program and it's goals than just an at the pump tax, in fact, that's not even the main part of the program. The main portion of the Initiative is the emissions cap and the corollary carbon allowances that would be required for transportation companies to offset their fuel's carbon dioxide production. Carbon allowances can be both auctioned and traded, and money from their sales would go to member states for further transportation emission reduction measures. 

There is a lot involved in the program, some of which is relatively complex. I wrote an article for Oil & Energy Magazine this past month that runs through the basic framework of the program, what the estimated goals are for both emission reductions and revenue generation, and what impacts are projected for consumers.

You can read that article here: TCI: What's Under the Hood?

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Topics: Massachusetts, climate change, carbon emissions, TCI

Too Late for Canaries: Coal Companies File for Bankruptcy Protection

Posted by Ed Burke on Jan 9, 2020 11:49:57 AM

coal

The United States' largest privately owned coal company filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy protection in late October. Murray Energy joins at least 7 other major companies as casualties in the move toward cleaner and more sustainable energy.

2018 saw the lowest demand level for coal since 1978, so the bankruptcy filings are not very surprising - it is becoming more a matter of when companies either change focus to add in non-coal sources, or slowly dwindle on earnings. The major looming question will be how workers and other supply chain members are compensated for wages, contracts, etc as this sector of the industry reorganizes.

I wrote an article for Oil & Energy Magazine that goes into a little more detail on the subject and potential outcomes going forward. You can read that article in its' entirety here: Coal Companies Seek Bankruptcy Protection 

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Topics: coal, renewable energy, Clean Energy

Massachusetts Mulls Geothermal MicroDistricts to Offset Emissions

Posted by Ed Burke on Nov 25, 2019 8:15:00 AM

geothermal

The Massachusetts legislature is considering a bill that would set up what would essentially be test geothermal projects to determine if what are being called "GeoMicroDistrict"s could be used going forward for heating & cooling of buildings and neighborhoods. The goal of this is that if it works, utilities would able to buy/source geothermal for energy supply in addition to (or instead of) natural gas. 

The project would be a partnership with Eversource and the Department of Public Utilities, based off of feasibility studies performed by a UK based engineering firm (BuroHappold Engineering). The project would use existing infrastructure with the addition of bore drilled vertical holes, ambient waterlines, etc. Eversource presented a plan for the project to the DPU, and described it to the Mass Legislature for consideration.

If the project moves forward, it would be a large step forward in reducing building & residence based emissions, which have been an ongoing concern for MA cities and towns, particularly those in more dense urban type settings where solar or wind farms are space limited, as are the accompanying larger scale batteries they would require to ensure full reliability. Geothermal may be a good option to "fill in the gaps" other renewable sources can leave in different settings.  

You can read more detail on the project here: Massachusetts Considers Substituting Geothermal for Natural Gas

(Not really clear on what geothermal is exactly? The US EIA has a good quick overview here: EIA: Geothermal Explained )

Massachusetts has committed to aggressively reducing carbon emissions, and geothermal has been coming up increasingly often as a potential source of greener energy, whether in addition to, or in lieu of current options. In fact we have heard geothermal come up in everything from the climate change forum of the State Democratic Primary (Ed Markey versus Shannon Liss-Riordan) to budget discussions on new regional school construction. (After initial approval, Waconah high school's new building in Dalton MA will not use geothermal based on cost, you can read that local story here: Price-Conscious Waconah Panel drops Geothermal Option )

It appears that the State is seriously looking at adding more geothermal options to the energy mix in order to meet climate change mitigation goals that have been set. 

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Topics: Massachusetts Clean Cities, climate change, carbon emissions, renewable energy, geothermal

Commonwealth Awards 14.9 Million in Green Communities Grants

Posted by Ed Burke on Oct 29, 2019 10:16:40 AM

2016-01-20_18-21-41

This September, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts awarded competitive grants to 91 municipalities across the state to the tune of 14.9 million dollars, at up to 250,000 per municipality. The grants allow cities to fund renewable energy projects for the community that help MA move towards its clean energy goals.

This is the largest single year payout for the program, which has paid out over 100 million in project grants since 2010. 

To obtain a Green Communities designation in Massachusetts, the community must pledge to reduce municipal energy consumption by 20% within 5 years. The project and its grants have allowed cities to offset the costs of energy efficiency projects like weatherization, LED streetlights, heating system conversions, EV charging stations, and EV fleet vehicles. This is beneficial for both the community running the project, and for the State energy efficiency levels overall. Massachusetts is the most energy efficient state in the union and is looking to hold on to that designation. 

If you want more background and info on the Green Communities program and grants, I wrote an article for the October issue of Oil & Energy Magazine on the program that you can read here: Massachusetts' Green Communities

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Topics: Oil & Energy Magazine, Mass DOER, Massachusetts Clean Cities, Energy Efficiency

Maine is Making Crude from Waste Wood (and it's Kind of a Big Deal!)

Posted by Ed Burke on Sep 5, 2019 11:40:17 AM

shutterstock_559453354

University of Maine students experimenting with salt and high temperatures appear to have stumbled upon a way to create a sulfur free crude oil from wood pulp.

The discovery is exciting - Maine is looking at the potential (future) large scale production of an advanced, cellulosic biofuel from already abundant waste products in the area - sawdust, wood pulp, and logging residue from wood processing & lumber facilities. 

As we have discussed before, an ongoing difficulty with the Renewable Fuel Standard has been compliance with the cellulosic portion of the recommendations, because the technology and production just hasn't been there. This project in Maine is still very small in terms of production levels, of course, but the technology holds promise for cellulosic development and the patents are in place for companies to do the research and testing, and ultimately scale the project to private sector demand levels.

I wrote about the project in more detail in this month's issue of Oil & Energy Magazine, which you can read here: They're Making Fuel from Wood Waste in Maine

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Topics: Waste Feedstock Biodiesel, Cellulosic Ethanol, RFS, renewable energy

Carbon Capture & Store - New Approaches to Climate Change

Posted by Ed Burke on Aug 14, 2019 10:14:29 AM

Carbon Capture

The ongoing quest to lower carbon emissions has shown some promising progress with the processes of capture & store, direct air capture of carbon, and the development of SynFuels that use captured CO2 to create fuel** 

Shell's Quest Carbon Capture & Store project in Edmonton has reached the milestone of over four million tons of carbon captured & stored, or the equivalent of the annual combined emissions of a million cars. Quest captures about a third of the carbon generated by the Scotsgard Upgrader on site - the Upgrader itself turns oil sands bitumen into synthetic crude oil that is in turn refined into other fuel products. Pretty awesome setup, actually. (You can read more about this project and Shell's projects in carbon capturing globally here: Carbon Capture & Storage Projects )

The Direct Air Capture model is also showing some success, with Climeworks leading the charge with the first commercial DAC facility being opened in 2017. Climeworks’ DAC technology is based on a capture-regeneration process using a filter made of porous granulates modified with amines. Fans are used to draw in atmospheric CO2 that chemically bonds to the filter’s surface. Once saturated, the filter is then heated to around 100°C, releasing high-purity gaseous CO2. The filters can operate for several thousand cycles before needing to be replaced. In addition, the devices are powered by waste stock energy as well, which is awesome. (For more about what they are doing and how the technology works, check here: Climeworks )

I also wrote an article for Oil & Energy Magazine this month going into some more detail on the subject of carbon capture and the potential market for carbon in the future. You can read that article here:  Carbon Capture: Store It & Sell It

 

**(it's important to note that SynFuels do not lower atmospheric carbon but are a net-zero carbon potential alternative to both conventional fuels and biofuels that can impact the environment on an agricultural side via the use of fertile land, etc)

 

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Topics: climate change, carbon emissions

Massachusetts Retires Last Nuclear Power Plant

Posted by Ed Burke on Jun 25, 2019 11:33:00 AM

Pilgrim Power

May 31st 2019, the Pilgrim Nuclear Power station in Plymouth, MA shut down for the last time. Now the lengthy process to fully decommission the plant and return the site to its former condition begins. 

Pilgrim has been operational for 47 years, producing approximately 15% of the State's energy needs through nuclear power generation. The loss of power generation from the Pilgrim closure should be offset by increases from new plants, as well as a continued decline in demand, particularly during peak periods. The forecast for this years usage for example, is down 600 megawatts as compared to the prior year. 

Not everyone is on board with seeing the Pilgrim closure as a positive though. Nuclear is a reliable, zero emission power source, and market conditions mean new nuclear plants are unlikely, so the shuttering of existing plants versus running repairs and safety/regulatory upgrades essentially means Massachusetts is most likely permanently out of nuclear power generation. 

I wrote an article for Oil & Energy magazine detailing some of the cited impacts the closure will have, the decommissioning timeline, regulatory concerns, and concerns about withdrawing from nuclear in general.

You can read that article here: Massachusetts' Only Nuclear Power Plant is Retired  

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Topics: Massachusetts, power plant emissions, Clean Energy

Holyoke's Mt Tom Site is a Blueprint for Success with Renewable Energy Projects

Posted by Ed Burke on Jun 6, 2019 10:43:00 AM

solar panels

Holyoke MA, the site of the last coal fired plant in MA, this year will see the smokestacks of the now closed plant taken down. The site is now home to the largest solar farm in the state, and the first large scale renewables battery storage system. By 2017, the Mount Tom site housed over 17,000 solar panels, and in 2018 Engie (formerly GDF Suez) installed 3 megawatts of battery storage on site to keep supply to the grid consistent. 

Holyoke Gas & Electric, which is the city owned utility, supplies roughly 90% of its power from carbon-free sources, including nuclear, about 2/3 of which comes from wind and solar. 

I've written a few articles for Oil & Energy magazine about the project in Holyoke, which has become essentially a template for communities moving toward more renewable power, as well as looking at workforce shifts, equitable pay outs, and job training for the changes brought by moving power sources, which Engie and Holyoke did a fantastic job with. You can read them here: Holyoke's Path Away from Coal and here Massachusetts Envisions Huge Growth in Energy Storage

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Topics: Holyoke, Solar Power, Clean Energy

IMO 2020 Raises Questions on Market, Supply Impacts

Posted by Ed Burke on May 1, 2019 10:30:43 AM

truck w cargo ship

In January 2020, the IMO (International Maritime Organization) regulation on sulfur content caps for Marine Vessels takes effect. The regulation is one of the most significant energy policy regulations in the past decade (at least). The rule caps sulfur content in all marine fuels at 0.5% (the current cap is 3.5%).

The impacts of this regulation could have an outsize impact, both because the supply versus demand shakeup at terminals and ports could affect availability, and because of the global nature of oil pricing. Marine vessels account for about 4% of global oil demand and handle around 80% of international trade volumes so impacts not only carry potential to hit other oil related industries (trucking, refining, etc) but also heavily trade dependent  industries. 

There has been concern about availability of very low sulfur fuel for vessels upon the regulations effective dates,and potentially substantial pricing impacts.  A phase-in versus a "flipping the switch" plan for IMO 2020 has been proposed but rejected thus far.

This month (May) the IMO has a meeting where a phase in is again expected to be proposed. The Trump Administration has come out on the side of pushing for a phase in, likely in an attempt to prevent rising energy prices prior to the 2020 election cycle. There is some speculation that this may give the phase in policy more weight, fear that the U.S may withdraw from the deal entirely (ie Paris accords) may cause the IMO to agree to moderate policy to keep the deal on the horizon. We will have to stay tuned to see the results of the IMO meeting. 

In the meantime, if you want to learn more about the IMO regulation and the steps being taken to comply with the rule by the Marine industry and on the refinery side, I wrote an article for Oil & Energy Magazine a few weeks ago that takes a deeper dive into the subject. You can read that here: "2020 Marine Regulations Raise Concerns" 

(As an aside, March saw a market day impacted by the subject of IMO 2020 coming up for traders as they weighed it versus actual inventory indicators - sort of a fun indicator of what we may be looking at on the markets, as well as a link to a relatively exhaustive overview of the 2020 rule - here: "EIA Levels Push Gas Lower, Distillates Hang Steady Ahead of IMO Change Questions"

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Topics: IMO 2020

NTSB Releases Most Wanted Improvements for 2019

Posted by Ed Burke on Mar 27, 2019 12:23:13 PM

safety triange

 

In February, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) outlined its "most wanted" Transportation Safety Improvements for 2019-2020. 

The list, which the NTSB has published since 1990, attempts to outline the most substantial, high priority items it feels should be addressed to limit accidents, especially fatal ones.

While the NTSB has no official regulatory authority, it has long served as an important voice in pushing for recommendations to make the roads safer. 

Here are this years major trucking related items:

  • Eliminate Distractions 
  • End Drug & Alcohol Impairment
  • Implement a Comprehensive Strategy to Reduce Speeding Related Crashes 
  • Increase Implementation of Highway Collision Avoidance 
  • Reduce Fatigue Related Accidents
  • Require Screening & Treatment for Obstructive Sleep Apnea

The items above deal with everything from apps to lock down mobile devices while driving, to vehicle crash avoidance tech, to looking at revisions in alcohol & substance policy (impaired driving still causes a staggering nearly 30% of crashes)

I went through each of the bullet points above in more detail, as well as looking at some of the impacts this would have on the FMCSA (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration) and its future policies. You can read that article in its entirety here:

"From Lessons Learned to Lives Saved" 

 

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Topics: Safety

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