ESG & Industry Updates

Boston Based "Farm to Grid" Renewable Energy Pioneer Acquired

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

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

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

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

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

carbon emissions EPA

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

Anaerobic Digester Chart

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Renewable Natural Gas

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

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

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

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

Green Hydrogen

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

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

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

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

Renewable Advocates Target ISO New England over Natural Gas Preference

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

Bitcoin Miners seek 'Greener' Pastures in the US

Posted by Kelly Burke on Aug 18, 2021 12:57:00 PM

Bitcoin CO2We're going to go millennial this month and talk about the ongoing controversy regarding bitcoin  - not the part you're thinking about, (to the moon!) -  but the controversy regarding the Carbon Footprint of digital currency, and what is seen as its "excessive" energy consumption. 

When most people think of digital currency, carbon footprints don't necessarily spring to mind. After all, the entire industry is just computers (and nerds) right? No shipping, no delivery, no need for massive buildings or corporate offices - the beauty of the whole system is hinged on it being completely digital. However, being completely digital means that the industry relies on using massive amounts of electricity for processing power to "mine". (Mining essentially relies on solving complex mathematics which requires insane amounts of processing power and speed). 

According to industry reports, peak consumption was 143 terawatts, recorded in May. However, consumption has dropped some 60% since then, dropping to 62 TwH in July. Why? Because of 1) the Tesla decision to suspend bitcoin payments on May 12th based on environmental concerns, 2) China's decision in May to crack down on crypto mining, which resulted in approximately HALF of all miners being offline essentially overnight. 

In an odd twist, China's decision to boot bitcoin miners in May might end up being a saving grace for the industry longer term on the energy & carbon side, versus being a single impact drop from kicking everyone offline. Miners are increasingly moving to base out of the United States, where an increasing focus on renewable energy driven power and simultaneous development of more and more efficient processing equipment should help continue to drive down the overall impact of the industry. Mining works on thin margins, and electricity is often the most changeable variable overhead number, which also bodes well for enhancing renewable use as countries like the US focus on making renewable energy options more attractive financially than they have been historically. 

As anyone who's tried to read anything about bitcoin/digital currency is aware, its pretty confusing stuff. We wrote an article for Oil & Energy Magazine this month about the ins and outs of digital currency's Carbon issue and how it looks to be moving forward. You can read the article here: Bitcoin Miners Seek "Greener" Pastures in the United States 

 

 

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Topics: china, renewable energy, tesla, bitcoin

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

Maine Stalls on Path to First Statewide Consumer Owned Utility

Posted by Kelly Burke on Jul 14, 2021 11:07:00 AM

shutterstock_102519710Maine lawmakers have been pushing for the state to create the first statewide, publicly owned utility in the US. The legislation proposed in June would have created the entity (Pine Tree Power) as a nonprofit utility that would use issued bonds to purchase the asset holdings of the current suppliers (Central Maine Power & Versant). The bill passed the House but stalled in the Senate, ultimately being defeated by one vote on questions raised about how the utility would cover the shortfall in property tax revenue that would arise from the exit of the current utilities. The shortfall was estimated at $90 million dollars, which is normally paid out to cities and towns.

Given the failure in the Senate, as well as the likelihood that Maine governor Janet Mills would veto the project should it pass, supporters are reportedly looking to pursue the project as a ballot initiative. Supporters see the project as a necessary pivot from the privately held utilities because they project that it would be cheaper for ratepayers, and would be a step forward towards Maine's goal of 100% renewable based power generation. 

The story in Maine is multilayered and complicated  - and still ongoing. We wrote an article for Oil & Energy Magazine that runs through a more detailed overview of where the issue stands currently. You can read that article here: Power to the... International Corporate Ownership? 

 

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Topics: Utility Rates, renewable energy, maine

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

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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