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

Ferry Cool Changes on the Water in Maine

Posted by Ed Burke on Sep 21, 2020 9:19:44 AM

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The newest passenger boat for Maine's Casco Bay Lines will be running a diesel-electric hybrid propulsion engine. The hybrid will be handling the Portland to Peaks Island run, fully on electricity. The diesel engine will function as a backup, or be engaged for trips longer than the normal run. This assigned route is approximately 2.5 miles, which should allow the ferry to travel one way, charge at docking (~10-15 minutes) and run the return trip on electricity as well. 

If you aren't familiar, Casco Bay Line's ferry runs all year round and carries over a million passengers, 30,000 vehicles, and 5,300 tons of freight in a given year, so they are a critical part of transportation in Maine,. The ferry functions as a vital link between the islands & main lands that allows for commuting to school, work, and postage services. 

The project is being funded in part by a Federal Grant as part of the Federal Transit Administrations Ferry Grant Program. Vessels essentially hit a point where maintenance becomes cost prohibitive (after about 30 years of operation), and the grant for this particular ferry project will replace one such vessel. The replacement with a hybrid is projected to eliminate up to 800 metric tons of carbon emissions annually. The new vessel should be completed and in operation by the end of 2022. 

I wrote an article for Oil & Energy this month about the Casco Bay project, as well as the Federal Fund Grant generally. You can read that article in its entirety here: A Ferry Different Approach

 

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Topics: Oil & Energy Magazine, climate change, carbon emissions, maine, Hybrid

TCI Talks Move Forward

Posted by Ed Burke on Aug 6, 2020 4:27:20 PM

Carbon

Even as Coronavirus disrupts business as usual, talks regarding the TCI (Transportation Climate Initiative) continue via video conference and email amongst the involved 12 States & Washington DC. 

The TCI is a cap and invest system to curb emissions, with some estimates putting the reduction of carbon emissions at up to 3 times as much as we have achieved with the RGGI (Regional Greenhouse Gas Initialtive) enacted 10 years ago. (For a quick review of what the TCI entails and how it works, go here:  What's the TCI & How Does It Work?) 

The pandemic has caused adjusted timelines for the initiative. Current adjusted timelines for the TCI put the final Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in the fall of this year, and it appears states planning on joining are looking at a launch date of January 2022.

As discussed prior, the impact of the TCI would be a tax of 5-17 cents per gallon, and as expected, its looking like 17 will be the number. At that level, transportation emissions, (which comprise 40% of greenhouse gas in the region) would drop by 25% by 2032. (As an aside - without the TCI being passed, emissions are expected to drop in that category by 19% based on efficiencies, etc - not including any pandemic induced curbing of emissions). 

While we are seeing lower fuel prices, which would generally make passing the TCI or similar plans involving gas taxes more viable politically, on the other side of the equation there is legitimate concern that the economic impacts of COVID-19 make the timing of any tax increases tone deaf (at best), especially in the face of the unemployment levels we are seeing. 

We wrote an article for the July issue of Oil & Energy detailing the progress being made on the TCI regional talks, as well as some of the details in contention. You can read that article here:  TCI Moves Forward  

 

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Topics: climate change, carbon emissions, renewable energy, TCI

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

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

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

Air Conditioning Goes Global - but Environmental Cost Could Be High

Posted by Ed Burke on Aug 15, 2017 9:05:00 AM

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Air conditioning is the new big thing globally. The huge increase in demand and the pace at which it is occuring, particularly in countries that are relatively rural with less reliable electricity, is bringing air conditioning to the forefront as a huge environmental concern that was essentially overlooked historically.

We tend to think of air conditioning as a sort of add on luxury item, but clearly the demand growth indicates it is becoming more and more of a standard item globally. We need to seriously look at how we approach making it a less energy intensive and environmentally destructive product. 

The issue with air conditioning, in terms of environmental impact, that is of particular concern (in addition to the huge energy usage and carbon emissions) is that older air conditioners are dependent on hydroflourocarbons (HFCs). HFCs are used as refrigerants and have hundreds of thousands of the heat trapping power of CO2. HFCs account for only 1-2% of warming currently, however, given their use in air conditioning and the increasing demand, projections put HFC contributions to emissions at up to 19% should their use continue unchecked. 

So what do we do?

As we discussed before, the Montreal Protocols were the critical factor in the global community moving away from CFCs, and there has been a demonstable effect on the ozone as a result of action on those protocols. The protocols replaced CFCs with HFCs - now we move into the second phase of the process, where HFCs also get phased out. 

I wrote an article for the August issue of Oil & Energy Magazine that details what the increasing AC demand looks like and goes into more of the process involved with the Kigali Amendment, Montreal Protocols, and the effect taking those actions is expected to have on the pace of Climate Change. You can read the full article here: Bringing Air Conditioning to Developing Countries

 

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Topics: Oil & Energy Magazine, climate change, carbon emissions, Air conditioning, HFCs, Montreal Protocol, Kigali Amendment

New England States & Climate Change Preparedness

Posted by Ed Burke on Feb 11, 2016 12:30:00 PM

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A comprehensive state by state analysis of 5 specific threats: wildfire, extreme heat, drought, inland flooding and coastal flooding by Climate Change Central and ICF International has ranked New England states in order of preparedness. Once again, Massachusetts comes in on top.

I wrote an article for this month’s edition of Oil & Energy Magazine that goes into how each New England state stacked up, why, and where there is an opportunity to improve preparedness. You can read that article here: “Oil & Energy Magazine: States Prepare for Climate Change”

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Topics: Oil & Energy Magazine, climate change

Ahead of the Climate Change Summit, Here's Where We Are on Regulations

Posted by Ed Burke on Nov 16, 2015 2:39:21 PM

Image of Climate Change in a dictionary

Despite the horrific ISIS terrorist attacks in Paris this past weekend and the fact that France will still officially be in a State of Emergency, as declared by French President Hollande, the Global Climate Change Council Meeting is still slated to take place in Paris on November 20th

 Some are arguing that at the very least the venue ought to change, others that it should be postponed, and still others that the best thing we can do in response to terrorist attacks is carry on with scheduled events versus cancelling  in fear.

 Regardless of anyone’s position, at the moment, the Council meeting is a go.

 We’re likely to hear new proposals from both the US, and several European countries on comprehensive changes. So before new policies or talking points are rolled out, it’s a good time to recap the steps the United States has taken policy wise to combat Climate Change over the past year through EPA proposals and regulations.

 I wrote a “roundup” of major EPA rulings and proposals from 2015 aimed at combatting Climate Change and how they may impact the industry for Fuel Marketers News Magazine recently - You can read the article in PDF format here: 

"Climate Change: Regulations Roundup"

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Topics: EPA, climate change, climate change summit

TransCanada/White House Standoff Begins Ahead of Climate Change Summit

Posted by Ed Burke on Nov 4, 2015 1:24:28 PM

Picture of an oil pipeline in the snow

In a surprise move Monday, TransCanada issued a request to the U.S. State Department that they pause the ongoing review of the project until the legal challenges in Nebraska are settled. (Interestingly and somewhat ironically, this is the exact same reason Secretary of State John Kerry gave for why the review was taking so long when asked last year.)

The project that we’ve all been debating for the past several years was looking at a likely rejection from the State Department and the prevailing theory is that TransCanada would like the review process to linger on, in the hopes that the proposal lands in front of a more friendly Administration in 2016, after the Presidential Elections.

The White House put forth this same theory, that the petition was a play to get a more friendly administration to rule on the project and spokesman Josh Earnest said the White House will summarily dismiss the petition for that reason.

TransCanada denies there is any politics at play. Even if it were political, however, the political moves are certainly not one-sided.

The reason cited for the timing of the petition is because Obama is expected to veto the project ahead of the upcoming UN Summit in Paris on Climate change, in order to make a statement on the U.S.’ commitment to battling Climate Change.  Not an apolitical move in and of itself, no?  (In fairness, it has become pretty clear that the President intended to veto no matter what the timing was.)

The Keystone projects’ prominence in the political realm had substantially faded in the face of tumbling oil prices but the issue has come up again with the beginning of the election cycle, with Presidential Candidates on both sides being asked their positions on the project in interviews and debates. The bid from TransCanada this week only added fuel to that fire. 

Whether the move was political, or simply meant to re-raise the issue, it most certainly puts pressure on the Administration to make a decision. That can’t be exciting for the President.  One would think he would rather pass it on to the next person anyway and avoid both the gains and fallouts politically from making the decision.

It will be interesting to see if the veto comes down before Paris, or if the project trudges on longer and longer despite a refusal to pause. 

 

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Topics: Keystone XL, TransCanada, climate change, obama

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