All Eyes on the Growing Driver Shortage

Posted by Kelly Burke on Jul 28, 2021 11:18:29 AM

Driver Shortage

Events of the past year/18 months have highlighted in the mainstream a problem that has been plaguing the Transportation Industry for well over a decade - namely, the growing driver shortage.  This has been a particularly tough issue in the fuel side of the transportation sector, as the safety and licensing endorsements (like hazmat) are substantially more stringent than some other portions of the commercial driving arena. 

The Colonial Pipeline outage recently highlighted the worst case scenario for Americans - dry stations and high prices. In this instance it was supply related, however, the time to get surrounding areas back up and running in the event of a supply disruption like this, or a hurricane or natural disaster, relies on the ability of crisis managers to call in drivers to cover loads needed to get "back to normal".  As the driver shortage continues to accelerate, this is likely to become a more and more difficult scenario to overcome. 

The Pandemic shutdowns additionally had a devastating effect - when demand across multiple industries plummeted, many drivers were sidelined and out of work, a lot of whom chose to leave the industry. As a double whammy, training schools for new drivers were also closed, so timelines on training replacement drivers have been pushed out a year or more on those who chose to wait and continue their training. 

We went into more of the specifics on this and the impact the FMCSA's new Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse regulations impacted return to work numbers, as well as what steps are being looked at to solve for the upcoming labor crisis in tank transport. You can read that article in its entirety here: More Openings on the Open Road

 

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Topics: Tank Truck Safety Training, Hazmat, driver shortage

Biden's Offshore Wind Plan Bolsters NE Clean Energy Goals

Posted by Kelly Burke on Jul 22, 2021 11:11:53 AM

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The Biden Administation has the ambitious goal of bringing 30 gigawatts of offshore wind online by 2030, and 1.4 of those gigawatts are slated to come from the New England coast. 

The move toward more offshore wind is part of the goal of reducing US carbon emissions in half by 2030, a goal that dovetails nicely with goals set by the New England region's member states on climate action. ISO New England's 2021 outlook report released in April outlines some of the anticipated advances, including both the 1.4 gigawatts of offshore wind, 3.5 gigawatts of solar power, and 800 transmission project to connect clean energy projects by 2030. 

All of the New England region's states have set specific carbon goals that line up with (or exceed in some cases) the Federal Government's goals.  These include:

  • Connecticut: zero-carbon electricity by 2040
  • Maine: Carbon Neutral by 2045
  • Massachusetts: 80% renewable energy by 2050 (more details on MA here: MA Climate Change & Environmental Justice Bill)
  • New Hampshire: 25% renewable energy by 2025 (no specific zero carbon goal outlined)
  • Vermont: 90% renewable energy by 2050
  • Rhode Island: zero-carbon electricity by 2050 

On the wind front specifically, Rhode Island is the only New England state with a currently operational wind farm, but the Vineyard Wind Project set to bring offshore wind online in Massachusetts received federal approval in March, and is projected, upon completion, bring 800 megawatts of power to businesses and homes throughout the state. 

I wrote an article for Oil & Energy Magazine detailing some more of the specific goals for the Wind push - you can read it in its entirety here:  Wind Ho! Biden's Offshore Wind Plan Bolster's New England's Clean Energy Goals 

 


 

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Topics: Massachusetts, carbon emissions, renewable energy, Clean Energy, offshore wind

The New Recovery Proposal: Infrastructure, Transportation & Climate Change, Oh My

Posted by Kelly Burke on Apr 2, 2021 4:18:58 PM

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This Wednesday, the Biden Administration unveiled a 2 trillion dollar transportation, infrastructure and economic recovery package. The goal of the bill is to create jobs, fix/upgrade US infrastructure, and combat climate change as the country attempts to recover from the COVID induced economic slump.

The bill is extremely large and multifaceted, so we are going to try and give a super brief summary of the major takeaways and points here as best we can with the disclaimer that because the bill hasn't passed yet, different points are subject to change as it moves through the legislative process.

In terms of the scope of the bill, it is anticipated to cost $2 trillion dollars over 8 years. The spending will be funded over 15 years by increasing the corporate tax rate from 21% to 28% and "discouraging offshoring" to tax havens (although specifics on the measures being taken to prevent offshoring have not yet been released). The corporate tax rate was lowered to the current 21% in 2017 by Republicans from its prior rate of 35% - so this increase, if passed, would still keep the corporate rate substantially below its prior level. Despite the fact that it will still be lower than 2016, this portion of the bill is expected to face stiff partisan opposition. It's unclear what provisions may change (if any) based on if funding sources need to be adjusted, so that is something to keep an eye on as the bill progresses. 

Projects focused on in the package on the transportation/infrastructure side include repair/replace of 20,000 miles of roads/highways, repair of 10,000 bridges, the addition of 500,000 Electric Vehicle charging stations, universal broadband, and the replacement of all lead pipes in drinking water systems nationwide. Those portions of the bill comprise about 900 million dollars, give or take (approximately 620 million for roads & bridges, 300 million for water & electric infrastructure). Additionally, there is a focus on expanding rail transport, notably in the Northeast. 

Another 580 billion dollars of the bill is directed to "American manufacturing, research and development, and job training efforts". Presumably the job training efforts include retraining of workers for "green jobs" as the bill includes climate related provisions congruent with Biden's so called "Build Back America Better" agenda, including the EV charger expansion we mentioned, rebates for consumers to encourage EV purchases, moving 20% of school busses to electric, and a provision to replace 50,000 diesel public transportation vehicles. 

Outside of strictly transportation/infrastructure, the bill also includes spending for building & retrofitting affordable housing, providing direct aid to the elderly & disabled, and modernization efforts for water ports and airports. 

As mentioned, the bill is extremely large and covers a lot of areas - definitely something to watch as it progresses through the legislative process and we find out what does or does not get included in the passage - there's something in there that impacts almost everyone, but hopefully this quick overview was helpful in outlining some of the major points relevant to our readers. 

 

 

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Topics: Stimulus, climate change, covid-19, Biden Administration

MA Passes Landmark Climate Change & Environmental Justice Bill

Posted by Kelly Burke on Apr 1, 2021 3:07:36 PM

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Friday, March 23rd, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker signed into law Senate Bill 9 "An Act Creating a Next Generation Roadmap for Massachusetts Climate Change Policy" that includes provisions described as "some of the most aggressive greenhouse gas emissions reductions targets in the country"

The ultimate goal of the bill is for Massachusetts to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, and includes 5 year sublimit goals to that end for impacted sectors (transportation, buildings, etc).

The bill also serves to codify Environmental Justice provisions into Massachusetts law, to both define disparately impacted communities, and provide new tools and protections for those communities going forward. As part of the Environmental Justice approach, $12 million in annual funding was established for the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center to create a pathway to clean energy for environmental justice communities, minority and women owned businesses and fossil fuel industry workers. 

The Department of Public Utilities (DPU) is additionally required to balance equity and accessibility as part of their decision making process regarding regulations in addition to safety, system security, and emissions reductions. Lastly, the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act (MEPA) is expanded to require environmental impact studies for all projects that impact air quality within a mile of Environmental Justice Neighborhoods and evaluate not just the proposed project's impact but the cumulative impact to the area of projects over time. 

Other major takeaways from the bill:

  • Utilities - first-time greenhouse gas emissions standard for municipal lighting plants, requiring 50% non-emitting electricity by 2030, 75 percent by 2040 and net-zero by 2050.
  • Solar - The bill prioritizes equitable solar program access for low-income neighborhoods. It also provides solar incentives for businesses by exempting them from net metering cap so they can set solar up on business properties to offset electric usage (and cost).
  • Wind - utilities will be required to buy an additional 2,400 megawatts of offshore wind 
  • Natural Gas - Enhanced pipeline safety goals that require adopting provisions including increased fines for safety violations, and enhanced training/certification requirements for utility contractors. Also sets targets for leak reduction along pipelines. 
  • Technology & Other Related Items: Senate Bill 9 also sets benchmarks for clean energy technology - electric vehicles, EV charging stations, anaerobic digesters, solar technology, and energy storage technology. Additionally, on the consumer side there are new regulations set for appliance energy efficiency. 

Obviously, the bill is very comprehensive and there are a lot of details and policy changes involved, some of which we won't know the exact implications of until new projects that are under its scope start rolling out. You can read more on the exact provisions at the Mass.gov website if you are interested in digging into the details, starting with the official press release here: Governor Baker Signs Climate Legislation to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Protect Environmental Justice Communities

 

 

 


 

 

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Topics: EV Charger, Massachusetts, climate change, carbon emissions, renewable energy, environmental justice

Maine Based AeroSpace Company breaks Bio Barriers at -14 & Zero G

Posted by Kelly Burke on Mar 17, 2021 9:46:00 AM

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Maine-based bluShift Aerospace successfully launched and landed the first commercial rocket powered by biofuel on January 31st of this year. Not only did the rocket successfully launch running on bio, but it did so at a staggering -14 degrees fahrenheit! 

The rocket runs on a proprietary biofuel created by bluShift's founder, Sascha Deri. The fuel is cheaper than standard petroleum derived rocket fuel, is non-toxic, and is close to net-zero. The performance of the rocket in the frigid January temperatures in Northern Maine is a critical component of success as well - biofuels notoriously have cold flow issues that can be an impediment to some applications. If that issue is off the table, the option opens up for their use in arenas like satellite placement, etc. 

The success the launch is seen as a hopeful step forward both for the application of biofuels in space related avenues, and a step forward for "Spaceport Maine" becoming a reality in the future. 

I wrote an article for Oil & Energy magazine on the bluShift Aerospace launch, if you want more info on this launch, the planned upcoming launch of Stardust 2.0 and the Spaceport Maine concept - you can read it here: Running Bio at -14 degrees and Zero G

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Topics: Biofuels, maine, space, net-zero

Maine Central Power Clears Regulatory Hurdle, Stalls on Legal Challenge

Posted by Kelly Burke on Feb 26, 2021 11:17:00 AM

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Central Maine Power's proposal for a 145 mile electricity transmission line through the Western part of the State has cleared the final regulatory hurdle. Central Maine Power (Avangrid) recieved a Presidential Permit from the US Department of Energy for their $950 million dollar "New England Clean Energy Connect" (NECEC) Project to be able to cross the Canadian Border. (As an aside, if you want to read about the project in detail their website is a great resource: NECEC

When completed, the project will run 1,200 megawatts of hydroelectric energy from Hydro-Quebec to Massachusetts. The project is funded by MA ratepayers but arguably will help the entire New England region's grid. 

The permit was the last major hurdle outstanding for the project, but more obstacles have popped up. As crews prepared to go to work when the DOE permit was granted, a judge granted an injunction to stop work for 30 days as outstanding filings are adjudicated regarding a separate permit from the Army Corps of Engineers. Work is stopped as the court process moves on, but Maine Central Power is confident the project will continue. 

Upon completion, estimates say the project will reduce regional carbon emissions by 3-3.6 million metric tons per year (the equivalent of removing 700,000 cars from the road) Another portion of the project involves $200 million in upgrades to the Maine power grid, and a $250 million high voltage converter station in Lewiston that will direct current into alternating current to feed the regional grid. 

I wrote a piece for Oil & Energy Magazine on the Central Maine project, you can read it in its entirety here: Central Maine Power Line Stalled Again

 

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Topics: carbon emissions, renewable energy, maine, hydro-electric

New Administration, New Focus - Executive Orders & Industry Impacts

Posted by Kelly Burke on Jan 28, 2021 5:59:19 PM

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The new Administration is off to a running start, as Wednesday saw a flurry of Executive Orders come out, many of which deal with climate change, and the oil & gas industry. There are a lot of items, and they are all pretty detailed with substantial backstory, but we are going to try and briefly touch on the three major items relevant to the industry and quickly go over the main points (or, try to at least!) 

So, here's the recap:

Keystone XL:  The Biden Administration cancelled the permitting for the Keystone XL pipeline, an $8 billion dollar project that would run over 800K barrels per day from Canada through the United States. Specifically, the pipeline runs from Alberta to Nebraska, where it would then hook with existing pipeline infrastructure running to the Gulf Coast refineries. There seems to be no recourse for TC Energy to fight the permit cancellation per se, the only major sway could theoretically be if Canada argues on behalf of the project continuing but according to analysts, that will be a non-starter, Trudeau is extremely unlikely to broach the subject with the Administration amid attempts to smooth a relationship between the two countries that was somewhat fractured during the prior administration's tenure. 

Moratorium on Federal Oil & Gas Leasing:  Another executive order has put a moratorium on the lease of any federal land or offshore waters for oil & gas development. The order also stipulates that current permits in effect be reviewed against the new standard, presumably to see if some additional will be cancelled. The Administration has a stated aim of "protecting at least 30% of federal land and offshore waters" as a general goal, and the moratorium appears to be a part of that aim. Currently, fossil fuel leasing on Federal land accounts for approximately 25% of carbon emission output, which is the impetus for the move. However, as others have pointed out, the leasing also provides around 8.1 billion dollars annually in tax revenue to tribal, state, and federal governments.  22% of oil production, and 12% of natural gas production takes place on federal lands and although this moratorium does not affect current operations (yet) there is some concern that a move toward stopping production on federal land, which is the possible end goal, would push the US back into becoming a net importer of petroleum as the economy continues to recover and demand begins to increase. However, its important to note that states have wildly disparate levels of reliance on federal land for production - New Mexico is largely federally based, whereas even a complete halt would not affect Texas very much, as production land is almost exclusively privately held. This is a watch-and-see item for sure, as no one is really clear on the end goal or next steps on this item yet. 

 

Paris Accords  The Biden Administration has additionally rejoined the Paris Climate Accord, which the prior Administration withdrew from last year. The US, under President Obama, played a major role in crafting the Paris Accord in 2015. The agreement overall aims to keep global temperatures from rising no more than 2 degrees Celsius (ideally 1.5... we are already up 1 degree) by way of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The agreement is essentially an international treaty with almost 200 member countries who have pledged to take various steps to curb emissions in their respective countries. There are a million details within the Accord, but for the US the actions required include (among others) cutting emissions by 26% below 2005 levels by 2025, tightening fuel economy standards, and would also heavily rely on the "Clean Power Plan" to hit targets. Rejoining the Paris agreement is an important symbolic gesture for the Biden Administration, as one of the major focuses they will have is "putting climate at the center of domestic, national security, and policy" 

 

So those are the major points relating to the industry from Wednesday, and they are definitely items we will continue to follow and update on. It will certainly be interesting to watch how these unfold and shape the energy industry landscape over the coming four years. Stay tuned! 

 

 

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Topics: Keystone XL, climate change, clean power plan, Biden Administration, paris accord

MA refiles Vetoed Climate Change Bill, This Time with Potential Veto Proof Margin

Posted by Kelly Burke on Jan 22, 2021 1:58:54 PM

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Last week Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker vetoed a bill that committed Massachusetts to reducing carbon emissions to 85% of 1990 levels over the next 3 decades, with the goal being a 100% reduction versus 1990 levels. Included as well are interim 5 year goals, one of which is a 50% reduction by 2030. The ultimate goal of the bill is requiring Massachusetts to become carbon neutral by 2050 - which is a goal Baker has publicly endorsed throughout his tenure.

The issue with the particular bill seems to have been a lack of time for amendments, and concern that by allowing cities and towns to declare their own goals (i.e. similar to the "no new carbon based power/heat" rule in Brookline previously -  this rule was ultimately struck down) it could delay some of the housing access goals set previously by both the Administration and the legislature. 

The other major sticking point is the bill would require more off shore wind production to meet stated goals... and as we know, contention about offshore wind farms is a standing headline in MA, particularly along the Cape & Islands. 

This Monday, the MA legislature refiled the bill and it appears as though this time around, they may have a veto-proof majority. It's unclear whether amendments suggested will be considered prior to voting, and no vote has been scheduled as of this morning - so this is definitely one to watch. 

For more specifics on the bill, and its refiling this week in the MA legislature you can follow the developing story on WBUR here: State Legislature Files Climate Bill, Again 

 

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Topics: Massachusetts, carbon emissions

Climate Change Controversy Heats Up on Wood Pellets

Posted by Kelly Burke on Dec 22, 2020 10:48:08 AM

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Controversy is brewing on the issue, of all things, of wood pellets. 

Here in New England, wood pellet stoves have been around forever, and we saw a noticeable uptick in usage when energy prices were high several years ago, as wood stoves offered an additional, lower cost way to keep the thermostat a little lower than you otherwise could. A 40lb bag of pellets runs you about 5 bucks at a home improvement store and will heat for approximately 24 hours, give or take. Plus you get that nice old timey fireplace smell, good stuff. 

So what's the issue with them anyway? The issue is less with residential use and more with biomass generated electricity. Wood pellets are designated biomass by US and International policy - they are designated as a renewable resource because (obviously) trees are regrown. A focus of the growth of wood pellets has been the designation that they are a carbon-neutral heating source. But are they really? 

Scientists in both Europe and the US are arguing that the actual burning of the pellets is more carbon intensive than coal, and that the length of the cycle to replace and regrow the source trees for the pellets ought to be considered - after all, it can take decades for full regrowth, which slows the ability of replanted trees to absorb the carbon. They also argue that the carbon neutrality fails to take into account the transportation impact of Europe's usage. Europe is a major user of pellets, and because of the lack of suitable forestry, they import them, largely from the Southeastern US.  

Why are they such heavy users when they lack the natural resources? Because ten years ago, the European Commission issued a Renewable Energy Directive to its member countries that 20 percent of their energy should come from renewable sources by 2020. The burning of biomass such as wood pellets was one way to meet that goal. Indeed, carbon emissions from burning wood are not counted toward a nation’s emissions output, due to a controversial provision of the Kyoto Protocol.

This faulty logic has led to massive renewable energy subsidies for biomass under the EU Renewable Energy Directive program. With that said, a number of countries have embraced biomass electricity, which scientists argue is actually speeding up climate change, pollution and forest destruction. Currently, biomass represents nearly 60 percent of the EU’s renewable energy total.

Because of the subsidies, it's beneficial for EU nations to import the pellets, and the demand on producers in the US has resulted in deforestration, which scientists warn could make the impact of extreme weather conditions far more severe since forests play a critical role in slowing flooding and erosion, in addition to their obvious role in absorbing atmospheric carbon.

Biomass plants have come under criticism because of all these factors by both scientists and environmentalists, and both legislators and the community seem to be coming to agreement that biomass electricity plants may not be the best way to renewable energy. This year we are seeing permits for new facilities being turned down everywhere from the Netherlands to Virginia. 

I wrote an article for Oil & Energy Magazine that goes into the specifics of the objections to wood pellets & biomass produced electricity. You can read that article in its entirety here: Are Wood Pellets Speeding Up Climate Change?

 

 

 

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Topics: climate change, carbon emissions, renewable energy

Debates Raise Net-Zero & Climate Action Questions  - Here's what the Industry has been doing in the Northeast

Posted by Ed Burke on Oct 23, 2020 12:20:03 PM

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With the Oil Industry, Climate Change, and emissions top of mind after last night's Presidential Debates, we thought it was a good time to review what Massachusetts, New England, and specifically, the Oil Industry in the Northeast have been doing on emissions and climate change recently. 

The Local Industry: In September 2019, the Northeast's heating oil sector voted unanimously at the NEFI energy conference to establish a goal of Net Zero GHG emissions by 2050 (drooping 15% by 2023, 40% by 2030, Net Zero by 2050). You can read the details of the the unanimous motion here: The Road to Net Zero Starts Here 

Beyond specific carbon level moves, the New England & Northeast region has been ahead of the game for decades on promoting biofuels and renewable energy projects. This is a great snapshot of regional Biofuel and renewable energy standards by state in the region: Biofuel & Electrification at a Glance

Massachusetts & the City of Boston were some of the earliest and most ardent adopters of biodiesel and other clean energy options, including sulfur limits in diesel fuel & heating oil. New York moved first to ultra low sulfur diesel regionally, and New York City adopted biofuels very early on.

Regionally though, all of the Northeast states have been working diligently on doing what they can to adopt more renewable and environmentally friendly options from regional food waste to fuel recycling, to major solar projects, to geothermal microzones, to making Crude from wood in Maine.

 

Massachusetts: In April 2020, the Baker-Polito Administration issued a formal determination letter that officially set the legal limit for emissions at net zero for 2050. The Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) official statement is:

"A level of statewide greenhouse gas emissions that is equal in quantity to the amount of carbon dioxide or its equivalent that is removed from the atmosphere and stored annually by, or attributable to, the Commonwealth; provided, however, that in no event shall the level of emissions be greater than a level that is 85 percent below the 1990 level". 

In other words, not only net-zero on emissions but emissions overall (captured or not) need to stay below previously established levels. 

The net zero target was initially announced in January 2018 at Baker's State of the Commonwealth address. The way the State achieves the goal for 2050 will be laid out in the "2050 Roadmap", and the roadmap will also be used to set interim emission limits for 2030, and those limits will be officially laid out in the "Massachusetts Clean Energy and Climate Plan for 2030". You can follow updates to the plan at mass.gov here: MA Decarbonization Roadmap

In addition to the newer net zero goals, Massachusetts has been on the leading edge of climate and emissions reduction goals for decades - for a refresher:

Massachusetts Green Communities -  Communities can compete for grants to support energy efficiency & renewable projects in the Commonwealth. This includes ventilation system upgrades, heating system conversions, electric vehicles, insulation projects, etc. 

Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative & Transportation Climate Inititatives - regional incentivized emission reduction

Heres an overall recap on what the state accomplished for 2018 on Clean Energy: Massachusetts Pushes Clean Energy Forward in 2018

Overall: There is much work to be done on climate, and serious questions need to develop into serious policy based answers going forward.

One can only hope that we see some movement on climate initiatives in some form in the next 4 years that moves the needle while balancing the serious economic concerns of businesses and consumers, regardless of what the winning Administration looks like. 

We're glad to work in a region that is putting the work in to make changes while attempting to maintain that balance.

 

 

 

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Topics: Massachusetts, climate change, renewable energy, maine

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