ESG & Industry Updates

Banned In Boston? City Seeks to Stop New Fossil Fuel Infrastructure

Posted by Kelly Burke on Oct 4, 2022 1:23:09 PM

In August of this year, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker signed into law House Bill 5060 “An Act Driving Clean Energy and Offshore Wind” into law

A controversial part of the bill was a provision allowing for a pilot program of 10 cities and towns to require all new building projects to be electric (with the exception of hospitals and labs). The Boston City Council in September voted to become one of those cities, after the proposal was introduced by Mayor Wu.

How the provision works is it would allow individual cities to develop local ordinances preventing new building projects (or large scale renovation/rehab projects) from using fossil fuels and enforce those ordinances by denying permits. (As an aside, you may remember that Brookline MA, one of the ten pilot cities, one night at a town meeting voted to ban oil and gas infrastructure in town in 2019 – a provision that was ultimately struck down. Essentially, the policy Brookline attempted to enact in 2019 is in some ways the blueprint for how the ordinances in the new pilot program work.)

It's unclear whether Boston will be allowed to join the program, as there are already 10 slated participants (Acton, Aquinnah, Arlington, Brookline, Cambridge, Concord, Lexington, Lincoln, Newton and West Tisbury). Conceptually, cities and towns that are not the size and population of Boston would seem to be a better fit for a pilot program of any kind – it is possible they will get approved however, because a requirement of participation is that the town meet the States 10% affordable housing target, and West Tisbury looks like it will fall short.

Speaking of affordable housing, one of the main concerns around the pilot program is that it would drive up costs for construction and extend timelines for building (particularly as multifamily dwellings are non exempt from the ordinances) which could further exacerbate Boston’s existing housing crisis, as well as continue to push lower SES community members out of the City, something that has already picked up steam post pandemic. The other half of that coin is serious reservations about the impact to union jobs in the program cities, particularly for pipefitters. 

On the other hand, 70% of Boston’s carbon emissions are from buildings, according to the City’s latest Climate Action Report, so in that sense going right to the source makes sense on some level.

I wrote an article for Oil & Energy Magazine that goes into more detail on the bill and its support/objections. You can read that article in its entirety here: Boston Seeks to Ban Fossil Fuels in New Buildings

 

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Topics: Mass DOER, Massachusetts, climate change, carbon emissions, boston

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

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

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

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

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

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 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

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

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