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

TCI Talks Move Forward

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

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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

Mass Dairy Farmers Use Food Waste & Manure to Generate Renewable Energy

Posted by Ed Burke on Apr 17, 2020 4:01:00 PM

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Local farms in Massachusetts are producing their own renewable energy, and they're doing it while diverting food waste and dropping their carbon footprint at the same time. How? By utliizing anaerobic digesters, produced by Vanguard Renewables.

The simplified version is that the process takes the potential energy in both food waste and organic waste (like cow manure) and converts it into biogas that is used to reduce energy costs, reduce methane emissions,eliminate food waste, generate heat, and offset carbon emissions. 

Massachusetts implemented a ban in 2014 on disposal of commercial organic wastes by businesses that dispose of more than a ton of organic waste per week. Prior to the ban, this type of waste was the second highest contributor to landfills, so the State mandated that instead of being disposed of, they had to be recycled.

The solution that arose in the form of waste to power anaerobic digesters is pretty ideal - it allows not just farms to upcycle their waste, but also helps food processors, supermarkets, and even fast food restaurants by opening up an avenue for food related industries to dispose of waste economically and in a way that is hugely beneficial from an environmental standpoint. 

I wrote an article for Oil & Energy online that goes more in depth into how the process works and the benefits - you can read that article in its entirety here: Farm to Grid 

For more in depth info on how waste-to-power works, and to view some of the currently operating facilites, check out Vanguard Renewables site. 

 

 

 

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Topics: Oil & Energy Magazine, methane, carbon emissions, renewable energy

Too Late for Canaries: Coal Companies File for Bankruptcy Protection

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

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

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

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

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Topics: coal, renewable energy, Clean Energy

Massachusetts Mulls Geothermal MicroDistricts to Offset Emissions

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

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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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

China Leads the Charge on EV Market Growth

Posted by Ed Burke on Feb 19, 2019 11:36:00 AM

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Sales of electric vehicles (EV) in the US grew 80% over 2017 sales (2018 saw 361,000 sold), and the global sales number was over 1.7 billion, with China accounting for approximately half of that volume. 

China is seeking to lead the EV transition, with the goal of 19% of all passenger cars sold being electric by 2025. The "New Energy Vehicle" quota law adopted there is the foundation of the rapidly expanding push - this law essentially mimics the "California Zero Emission Vehicle" program. It's a credit based system on the manufacturer side, versus an incentive on the consumer side. So similarly to the California program (or not unlike RINs and other proposed carbon initiatives), manufacturers generate credits via selling EV's, or purchase credits from competitors with excess to meet their required threshold. 

I wrote an article about the current EV landscape both in the US and in China, the major players and factories involved, and what I think we can reasonably assume the near future looks like for EV growth in the passenger car sector. You can read that article here: "Dominating the Electric Vehicle Market" 

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Topics: electric vehicles, china, renewable energy

Sterling MA Launches Utility Scale Battery Project

Posted by Ed Burke on Nov 21, 2016 3:00:00 PM

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The Sterling Municipal Light Department in Sterling MA is building the first utility scale battery storage system project in Massachusetts. It's  not only the first in Mass, its also the largest in New England -a 2-megawatt, 3.9 megawatt-hour battery storage system to be exact. Its kind of a big deal!

The system is designed to boost grid resiliency - it will allow the town to be able to "isolate" from the grid and provide up to 12 days of backup power for the police and dispatch center.

Sterling has jumped on with the Governor and the state initiative to embrace energy storage as a comprehensive part of cleaner energy solutions. Sterling has been developing a well balanced energy portfolio, including aggressively installing PV solar in recent years and is currently 7th in the nation in installed PV per capita, so a large scale energy storage project like the one underway makes sense for the town. It should also serve as a fantastic "pilot program" of sorts for other communities looking to launch similar projects.

I wrote an article for Oil & Energy Magazine that goes into more detail about the project, the goals, and the role the state and US Departments of Energy would like to see the project play in moving the country forward on energy storage, especially as it relates to renewables. You can read that article here: "Building New England's Largest Energy Storage Project" 

(For some background on energy storage battery technology, and why its so important for utilities, you can also read: "Persuing the Holy Grails of Battery Tech" )

I look forward to following the project and updating about its success. Congratulations, Sterling MA, on being pioneers in the future of energy in Massachusetts!

  

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Topics: Mass DOER, renewable energy, battery

Battery Tech Advances Could Change U.S. Energy Storage Outlook

Posted by Ed Burke on Apr 14, 2016 2:00:00 PM

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Batteries had a great year in 2015 - with costs going down and large scale installations occuring, primarily in the utility sector. The United States energy storage capacity grew by 221 megawatts in 2015, which is triple the capacity added in 2014.

Batteries serve to bridge the gap between renewables like wind and solar and the grid. Wind and solar are both intermittent in terms of power generation, and battery storage technology is a necessary to ensure power is available when its needed versus when it happens to be generated. 

I wrote an article for Oil & Energy magazine going into depth on new developments in battery technology and what the future holds in terms of the goals of cutting edge developments at MIT, Harvard, and the Department of Energy. You can read that article here: Oil & Energy Magazine: "Persuing the Holy Grail of Battery Tech"

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Topics: Solar Energy, renewable energy, energy storage

Renewables in 2015 & 2016

Posted by Ed Burke on Mar 11, 2016 1:30:00 PM

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2015 was a banner year for Renewables. The EPA finally finalized RFS volumes for 2014-2016 in November. In December, Congress passed the tax extenders package which included both the $1 per gallon biodiesel blender credit and cellulosic blending credit of $1.01 per gallon, retroactively.

We also saw the Paris Climate Change Summit in November (Here's a quick recap of where we were then in terms of Climate Change regulations). The Summit saw 190 countries agree to Climate Change resolutions and almost univerally agreeing that each country would lower its carbon emissions.

2015 saw increases in renewable fuels use essentially across the board, and 2016 projections are optimistic on growth. I wrote an article for Oil & Energy's March issue that goes into depth on current levels, projections, and how the renewables mix looks like it will shake out through 2016. You can read that article here: Oil & Energy: "Renewables are Changing the Energy Mix"

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Topics: Biodiesel, EPA, renewable energy

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