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Rising Seas Spark Tobacco-Style Lawsuits in California

Several flood-prone municipalities in California filed first-of-their-kind lawsuits against fossil fuel companies this week as they attempt to recoup the cost of coping with rising seas.

http://www.climatecentral.org/news/rising-seas-climate-lawsuits-california-21627

The suits point to indisputable climate science and decades of industry efforts to mar that science. Experts likened the legal complaints to those brought against the tobacco industry in decades past, which succeeded by alleging the use of anti-science tactics to mask the dangers of their products.

The new lawsuits come as 21 young Americans pursue a federal case in Oregon that alleges the U.S. government is violating their rights by failing to take far-reaching measures against global warming. A similar case previously failed in a different federal court.

“This is the next stage in climate change liability litigation,” said Tracy Hester, an environmental law lecturer at the University of Houston. “The first set of cases were all posted in federal court, and as a result they were pretty constrained.”

The sea level rise lawsuits were filed in state superior courts by the oceanfront city of Imperial Beach in southern California and by Marin and San Mateo counties in northern California. Those counties face severe impacts from rising seas on dual fronts: increased erosion and flooding risks at the Pacific Ocean and flooding along the shores of San Francisco Bay.

“It’s time to hold the fossil fuel producers accountable,” said David Pine, a local elected official in San Mateo. “San Mateo County has already incurred considerable expenses in planning for and adapting to the impacts of sea level rise, so we seek damages from the companies to help us pay.”

Although the municipalities face “significant hurdles” in the cases, they have a better chance of success now than would have been the case before decades of industry obfuscation of climate science had been laid bare in the pages of InsideClimate News and elsewhere, said Michael Burger, executive director of Columbia University’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law.

“The entire framing of the lawsuit is much closer to the tobacco litigation than anything we’ve seen before,” Burger said. “It makes use of all of the information that’s been coming to light over the last several years about the extent of industry research into climate change, and the vast network of think tanks and lobbyists that were deployed to create smokescreens.”

The lawsuit names Chevron, Phillips 66, Arch Coal and dozens of other energy companies as defendants, stating they’re collectively responsible for a fifth of global greenhouse gas pollution released since the mid-1960s. ExxonMobil and Royal Dutch Shell are also being targeted in federal court by the nonprofit Conservation Law Foundation, which alleges rising sea levels have worsened water pollution from some of the energy companies’ facilities in New England.

The companies “have known for decades” that climate change from their products “could be catastrophic and that only a narrow window existed to take action before the consequences would not be reversible,” the California lawsuits state. “They have nevertheless engaged in a coordinated, multi-front effort to conceal and deny their own knowledge of those threats.”

Pollution from fossil fuels produced by the companies has “substantially contributed” to “dire effects” including rising temperatures, more extreme weather and rising sea levels, the lawsuits state — with county residents and taxpayers forced to “suffer the consequences.”

Seas rose worldwide more than five inches last century. The effects of rising temperatures caused by fossil fuel pollution and deforestation are causing seas to rise 50 percent faster now than 20 years ago, leading to frequent flooding around the U.S. and the world.

Natural cycles have temporarily limited sea level rise along the West Coast in recent decades but cities, residents and infrastructure are already being affected. Local officials warn 5,000 acres of land in Marin County, including 1,300 parcels of property and 700 buildings, could be vulnerable to floodwaters in the coming decades.

“I’m all about public education — how do we get our residents engaged on this issue, and then how do we adapt to climate change?” said Kathrin Sears, a local elected official in Marin who works on regional efforts to cope with rising seas through marsh restorations and other efforts.

“How do we move forward? How do we hold accountable companies who are really significantly responsible for these sea-level rise impacts?” Sears said. “This lawsuit against the fossil fuel industry was really just a logical next step.”

The energy companies haven’t commented publicly on the new lawsuits, though they have previously denied being deceptive about climate science. Western States Petroleum Association attorney Oyango Snell said in a brief statement that the group is “aware of the lawsuit and monitoring the situation” but, “as a matter of policy, we don’t comment on active litigation.”

Gene-Editing Algae Doubles Biofuel Output Potential – Another leap forward for sustainable biofuels

Scientists have created a strain of algae that produces twice as much lipid as its wild parent, a substance that can be processed into a biofuel.

https://www.sciencealert.com/gene-editing-algae-doubles-biofuel-output-potential

By using a combination of gene editing tools, including the famed CRISPR-Cas9 technique, they identified and switched off genes that limited the production of lipids. Creating an alga that can pump out commercial amounts of sustainably obtained biofuels.

“We are focused on understanding how to maximize the efficiency of [lipid production] algae and at the same time maximise the amount of CO2 converted to lipids in the cells, which is the component processed into biodiesel,” Eric Moellering, lead researcher from company Synthetic Genomics Inc, told ScienceAlert.

Scientists have been trying to make the concept of using phototropic algae to produce bio-diesel a reality since the 1970s. In the past, it has been said that a new energy sector based on algal biofuels could guarantee transport fuel and food security far into the future.

Despite years of research, the best attempts until now have been limited to industrial strains which, although they have a really high lipid conversion rate, do not make sufficient amounts of lipid to make it commercially viable – limited by the fact it can’t grow very fast.

“Early in the [study] we posed the basic question, can we engineer an alga to produce more lipids while sustaining growth? This publication provides the proof of concept answer to that question is yes,” said Moellering.

In this new research, the team used CRISPR-Cas9, among other editing techniques, and identified 20 transition factors that regulated lipid production. By knocking out 18 of these, the team were able to double the lipid output compared to the non-modified algae.

But here’s the important bit: they were able to do so without stunting the alga’s growth rate. It grew at the same rate as the unmodified type.

The genetically modified algae produced up to 5 grams of lipid per metre per day, about twice as much as in the wild.

Another important metric is the total carbon to lipid conversion. This tells us how efficient the algae is at converting CO2 to lipids. In wild, unmodified alga the conversation rate is about 20 percent, but in the engineered alga it converted 40 to 55 percent of carbon to lipids.

It’s worth pointing out that this study was only performed at the laboratory scale but one of the researchers, Imad Ajjawi, also from Synthetic Genomics, told ScienceAlert that while they consider this a ‘proof of concept’, “they represent a significant milestone in establishing the foundation for a path that leads to eventual commercialisation of algal biofuels.”

Should this research graduate from the lab, bio-fuel production would no longer be reliant on sugars produced by land-grown crops like sugar cane and maize. Studies on the use of crop based biodiesel has shown that it could prove to be incredibly costly and damage our food security.

This research is another win for gene editing and the researchers have shown that new genetic editing tools sit at the centre of talking some of the world’s biggest problems.

“We have also developed the necessary genomic and genetic tools that will enable future breakthroughs to advance this field,” said Ajjawi.

The study has been published in Nature Biotechnology.

Winds of change? Why offshore wind might be the next big thing

Falling costs and rising acceptance are promising signs, but the industry needs to keep improving.

http://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/sustainability-and-resource-productivity/our-insights/winds-of-change-why-offshore-wind-might-be-the-next-big-thing

The landscapes of Rembrandt glow with the great painter’s rendering of light. And they are distinctive for another reason: windmills are everywhere. As far back as the 13th century, the Dutch used windmills to drain their land and power their economy. And now, 800 years later, the Netherlands is again in the vanguard of what could be the next big thing, not only in wind power but also in the global energy system as a whole: offshore wind.

In December, the Netherlands approved a bid for its cheapest offshore project yet—€54.50 per megawatt-hour, for a site about 15 miles off the coast. Just five months before, the winning bid for the same site was €72.70. Denmark has gone even further, with an auction in November 2016 seeing a then record-winning bid of €49.90 per megawatt-hour, half the level of 2014.

Europe, which has provided considerable economic and regulatory support, accounts for more than 90 percent of global capacity. As a result, Europe now has a maturing supply chain, a high level of expertise, and strong competition; it is possible that offshore wind could be competitive with other sources within a decade. By 2026, the Dutch government expects that its offshore auctions will feature no subsidies at all. But it might be even sooner: in the April 2017 German auction, the average winning bid for the projects was far below expectations, and even less than the Danish record set only six months before. Some of the bids were won at the wholesale electricity price, meaning no subsidy is required.

Prices and costs

The industry still has a way to go compared with current costs: the levelized cost of electricity (or LCOE, a metric that incorporates total lifetime costs and expected production) for an offshore park installed in 2016 is expected to be €120 to €130 per megawatt-hour, about 40 percent more than onshore wind in comparable regions and 20 percent more than solar photovoltaics (PVs). Conventional sources, such as coal and gas, are currently even cheaper in many locations.

The technology thus still comes at a premium. Costs are higher because building at sea requires more materials for foundations and piles, while rough weather conditions make installation and maintenance expensive. Offshore wind parks also require expensive connectors to the inland transmission network.

While prices for all renewables will continue to drop, offshore wind is at an earlier stage of development, so its prices can be expected to fall further, faster, thus improving its competitive position. According to McKinsey research, when different wind farms are made comparable by normalizing for water depth, site preparation, subsidies, and other factors, this is already happening (exhibit).

PNG_Insights_Winds-of-change_ex1

One caveat: these are prices, not actual costs. Until the parks are actually built and running, it is impossible to know if they can be profitable at these prices. But companies would not be competing so fiercely—the Dutch auction saw 38 bids—if they didn’t think they could be.

Offshore wind has a number of advantages that can help to compensate for its higher costs. Specifically, it can be sited near densely populated coastal areas, where land can be costly, and its higher wind speeds produce more power per unit of capacity. Offshore also complements solar PV, because it produces well in winter when load is highest, creating a stable production profile, day in and day out, throughout the year. Offshore wind produces at 35 to 55 percent of capacity, versus 10 to 20 percent in the Northern Hemisphere for solar PV. Finally, the not-in-my-backyard (NIMBY) effect is considerably less when the nearest turbine is miles away at sea. However, when offshore parks are not placed far enough offshore, NIMBY can become an issue, with complaints of visual or horizon pollution.

Factors outside the industry’s control, including low interest rates and low steel prices, have played a major role in cutting costs. But so has better technology, especially the trends toward larger turbines and greater durability. Larger turbines harvest more of the wind, which make them more efficient. For many years, 3- to 4-megawatt turbines were standard; now 8- to 10-megawatt models are common, and by 2024, 13- to 15-megawatt models will likely hit the market. This reduces the cost per megawatt. Even as turbines have become larger, they have also become better. In the 1990s, the expected lifetime of offshore wind parks was only 15 years; now it is closer to 25 years, and new sites project an operational lifetime of 30 years.

One final piece of good news: as investors get more comfortable with offshore wind, financing risk premiums will come down.

Room for improvement

The offshore wind industry is still in the process of growing up and becoming more professional. There are a limited number of fit-for-purpose suppliers and vessels, for example, and owners, contractors, and subcontractors are still learning how to work together. There aren’t that many industry professionals who are experienced at completing offshore wind projects, and as parks get bigger, the need for such expertise is greater.

Scale itself will help. With more offshore farms being built, the economics of scale are beginning to emerge, in both logistics and along the supply chain, including such things as sharing crew transfer vessels, helicopters, and coordinating jack-up barges across assets and operators for major component replacements.

For offshore wind to fulfill its considerable potential, it needs to raise its game everywhere. The most promising opportunities are in design, procurement, and execution; operations; and innovative financing.

Engineering, procurement, and construction

Value-focused design involves working with all stakeholders, internal and external, to systematically identify technical improvements and value-creation opportunities. For example, the developer and supplier can get together to define the minimum technical solutions, ruthlessly eliminating high-cost, low-value specifications. Design optimization is another possibility. The standardization of components and designs across a single offshore wind site, or a fleet of them, reduces the costs of construction, installation, follow-up engineering, and debugging. Manufacturers can then use modular techniques to adapt to specific situations in a cost-efficient way.

Contracting and procurement could add up to 5 to 10 percent in cost savings. Contracting strategy begins with understanding exactly what is expected of the contractor with respect to technical delivery and added value, the complexity of engineering, and fit with the design requirements. Based on a rigorous risk assessment, the developer seeks the best delivery model and pricing structure and optimizes the contract terms to be consistent with this strategy. By brainstorming with the candidate contractors, then assessing their risk profiles, one onshore wind company saved at least 15 percent on the final proposals.

Applying procurement-excellence tools, such as clean-sheet costing, and creating a clear “package procurement” road map, can help to find the right price for the right product. At several companies, this rigorous purchasing approach has translated into 15 to 20 percent price reductions in the procurement of turbines.

By their nature, offshore wind platforms are costly to build, so improving project execution offers another avenue to cut costs, by 3 to 5 percent. Integrated performance management ensures that data is collected and shared throughout the project—from the owner to all the suppliers and all the subcontractors. Lean construction comprises a set of principles, operating practices, and methods that improve execution while minimizing waste. In offshore wind, examples include reducing delays in preparing foundations and increasing standardization in the assembly of components.

Operations and maintenance

Offshore wind developers vary widely in their operations and maintenance performance. The best drive down costs while maintaining high availability and safety standards; the rest tend to focus on availability and do not pay enough attention to costs. We estimate that for many projects, improved operations could translate into savings of as much as €10 per megawatt-hour in LCOE. Improved operations start with the relentless application of advanced analytics to improve predictive maintenance, condition monitoring, and component replacement.

Second, operators should establish flexible work contracts for offshore sites that are difficult to access, share technicians across sites, and find the right balance between internal and external technicians to contain labor costs while maintaining quality. Size and proximity to other parks does matter. Building new vessel-logistics concepts such as service-operation vessels, and sharing technicians and fleet with other sites (as done in the offshore oil and gas sector) adds a third opportunity to reduce costs.

Financing

McKinsey analysis shows that a one-percentage-point decrease in the cost of capital brings a 5 to 10 percent improvement in LCOE for renewables. To realize this advantage requires investors having a thorough understanding of the real risk profile that offshore wind assets have compared with other renewable or infrastructure assets.

Another way to reduce financing costs is to make the sector more attractive to a broader group of investors. Offshore wind investments are relatively “chunky,” requiring hundreds of millions of euros per park, and “illiquid,” meaning they are difficult to sell without incurring high transaction costs. To overcome these challenges, other asset classes have devised alternative structures, such as publicly traded or private YieldCos; these have had their challenges but can still be attractive. The industry could also consider new structures, combining features such as publicly listed versus private structures, single asset versus broader portfolios, and single-technology focus versus cross technology.

Reasons for optimism

The world’s first wind farm began operating in 1991: the Vindeby project featured 0.45-megawatt turbines. As of 2017, there is more than 14 gigawatts of cumulative installed capacity worldwide.

Other markets have taken note of Europe’s progress and are putting into place supportive regulation. China has made offshore wind part of its five-year energy plan. Korea, Poland, Taiwan, and a number of other countries are also considering offshore wind as part of their future energy mix. For example, a major project off the northeast coast of the United States is in the works.

Although in some areas of the world the LCOE of offshore wind may never become at par with, say, solar PV, the value it can bring—as less-intermittent baseload power generation near urban demand centers, offsetting supply deficits from solar PV in winter—can make it a valuable addition to the energy mix.

These brighter prospects have also led to increased interest from oil and gas companies, which are increasing their exposure to the sector. Offshore is a natural fit with their expertise in engineering and in executing complex energy projects in offshore locations.

Offshore’s considerable potential would be further enhanced if floating wind platforms could become cost competitive. Fixed-foundation wind parks have to be sited in relatively shallow waters; floating ones could be placed in deeper areas, farther from land, and could open additional markets. There is considerable research going on, with the first floating wind farm being built off the coast of Scotland.

Fast growth, increased investment, bigger parks, falling costs, and new technologies and markets: these are the trends that are defining the offshore sector. Put it all together, and it is fair to conclude that the wind is at the industry’s back.

About the author(s)

Arnout de Pee is a partner in McKinsey’s Amsterdam office, Florian Küster is a consultant in the Hamburg office, and Andreas Schlosser is an associate partner in the Munich office.

The authors wish to thank Nikki Oude Elferink, Marte Guldemond, Jan Koeleman, Florian Kühn, Johannes Lüneborg, Nico Schnackenberg, and Marco Weber for their contributions to this article.

California Upholds Auto Emissions Standards, Setting Up Face-Off With Trump

California’s clean-air agency voted on Friday to push ahead with stricter emissions standards for cars and trucks, setting up a potential legal battle with the Trump administration over the state’s plan to reduce planet-warming gases.

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/24/business/energy-environment/california-upholds-emissions-standards-setting-up-face-off-with-trump.html?_r=0

The vote, by the California Air Resources Board, is the boldest indication yet of California’s plan to stand up to President Trump’s agenda. Leading politicians in the state, from the governor down to many mayors, have promised to lead the resistance to Mr. Trump’s policies.

Mr. Trump, backing industry over environmental concerns, said easing emissions rules would help stimulate auto manufacturing. He vowed last week to loosen the regulations. Automakers are aggressively pursuing those changes after years of supporting stricter standards.

But California can write its own standards because of a longstanding waiver granted under the Clean Air Act, giving the state — the country’s biggest auto market — major sway over the auto industry. Twelve other states, including New York and Pennsylvania, as well as Washington, D.C., follow California’s standards, a coalition that covers more than 130 million residents and more than a third of the vehicle market in the United States.

“All of the evidence — call it science, call it economics — shows that if anything, these standards should be even more aggressive,” said the board member Daniel Sperling, a transportation expert at the University of California, Davis.

The board’s chairwoman, Mary D. Nichols, an assistant administrator at the Environmental Protection Agency under President Bill Clinton, was even more pointed, admonishing automakers for milking Mr. Trump for favors.

“What were you thinking when you threw yourselves upon the mercy of the Trump administration to try to solve your problems?” she asked. “Let’s take action today, and let’s move on.”

Long a forerunner in environmental regulation, California worked with the Obama administration on joint standards that became a crucial part of the country’s effort to combat climate change. Officials said the regulations would reduce the country’s oil consumption by 12 billion barrels and eliminate six billion metric tons of carbon dioxide pollution over the lifetime of the cars affected. That amounts to more than a year’s worth of America’s carbon emissions.

Adopted in 2012, the standards would require automakers to nearly double the average fuel economy of new cars and trucks by 2025, to 54.5 miles per gallon, forcing automakers to speed development of highly fuel-efficient vehicles, including hybrid and electric cars. Mr. Trump intends to lower that target.

Friday’s unanimous vote by the 14-member board, which affirmed the higher standards through 2025, amounted to a public rejection of Mr. Trump’s plans.

Now, the question is how — or whether — the Trump administration will handle California’s dissent. The administration could choose to revoke California’s waiver, at which point experts expect the state would sue.

California sued the George W. Bush administration after it challenged California’s waiver in 2007. Mr. Obama reversed the federal challenge.

The White House and the E.P.A., which have not yet determined their plans for the California waiver, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Several states that follow California’s rules raced to its defense. “We’ve come a long way together,” said Steven Flint, director of the air resources division of the New York Department of Environmental Conservation. “We’re with you, and we believe in what you’re doing.”

Environmentalists and public health experts have criticized the automakers’ resistance to emissions rules under the Trump administration as an about-face. All major automakers previously voiced support for the more stringent standards.

After the election of Mr. Trump, a group representing the nation’s biggest makers of cars and light trucks urged a reassessment of the emissions rules, which the group said posed a “substantial challenge” for the auto industry.

Automakers now complain about the steep technical challenge that the stringent standards pose. They have estimated that only about 3.5 percent of new vehicles are able to reach it, and that their industry would have to spend a “staggering” $200 billion by 2025 to comply.

A separate study by the International Council on Clean Transportation, a think tank supporting emissions controls, has estimated that the cost of meeting those standards could be overstated by as much as 40 percent. And auto industry experts have warned that a slowdown in America’s shift toward efficient cars could leave its auto market a global laggard.

John Bozzella, chief executive of Global Automakers, an industry trade group, said before the California vote that companies agreed on the need to continue to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve fuel economy. But he urged California to fall into line with federal rules.

“There is a more effective way forward than regulatory systems that are different,” Mr. Bozzella said. He also suggested that demand for clean cars remained relatively tiny.

What was required, he said, were standards that “balance innovation, compliance and consumer needs and wants.”

Automakers have also been critical of a California’s zero-emission vehicle program, which requires automakers to sell a certain percentage of electric cars and trucks in California and nine other states. The board voted on Friday to continue that program.

Politicians in California, one of the country’s most Democratic states, have embraced acting as a bulwark against Mr. Trump’s policies, promising to defend the state’s laws on immigration, health care and the environment. Many cities in California have broad “sanctuary” policies aimed at protecting the rights of undocumented immigrants. State law also provides some protections for immigrants from being turned over to federal authorities for deportation.

In addition, Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, declared that California would continue to work toward its legally required target of reducing carbon emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. And the state has retained Eric H. Holder Jr., the former United States attorney general, to advise on potential legal fights with the White House.

Even at the federal level, the president’s announcement alone will not be enough to immediately roll back emissions standards, a process expected to take more than a year of legal and regulatory reviews by the E.P.A. and the Transportation Department. The Trump administration would then need to propose its own replacement fuel-economy standards.

Still, the Trump administration’s move to ease emissions rules is the first part of an expected assault on Mr. Obama’s environmental legacy. In the coming weeks, Mr. Trump is also expected to announce that he will direct the E.P.A. to dismantle Obama-era regulations on pollution from coal-fired power plants.

The E.P.A. administrator, Scott Pruitt, has said he does not think carbon dioxide is a primary cause of global warming, a statement at odds with the scientific consensus on climate change.

Bonnie Holmes-Gen of the American Lung Association of California, one of many health and environmental groups that spoke at the board meeting, said moving away from strict emissions standards would hurt public health and the health of the planet. She urged the state to stay its course.

“The public is bearing a huge cost — billions of dollars in health expenses and damage from climate,” Ms. Holmes-Gen said. “I urge California to keep us on track.”

Correction: March 25, 2017
An earlier version of this article misstated Steven Flint’s position. He is director of the air resources division of the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, not the director of the department.

 

The fossil fuel industry’s invisible colonization of academia

Corporate capture of academic research by the fossil fuel industry is an elephant in the room and a threat to tackling climate change.

On February 16, the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center hosted a film screening of the “Rational Middle Energy Series.” The university promoted the event as “Finding Energy’s Rational Middle” and described the film’s motivation as “a need and desire for a balanced discussion about today’s energy issues.”

Who can argue with balance and rationality? And with Harvard’s stamp of approval, surely the information presented to students and the public would be credible and reliable. Right?

Wrong.

The event’s sponsor was Shell Oil Company. The producer of the film series was Shell. The film’s director is Vice President of a family-owned oil and gas company, and has taken approximately $300,000 from Shell. The host, Harvard Kennedy School, has received at least $3.75 million from Shell. And the event’s panel included a Shell Executive Vice President.

The film “The Great Transition” says natural gas is “clean” (in terms of carbon emissions, it is not) and that low-carbon, renewable energy is a “very long time off” (which is a political judgment, not a fact). Amy Myers Jaffe, identified in the film as the Executive Director of Energy and Sustainability at the University of California, Davis, says, “We need to be realistic that we’re gonna use fossil fuels now, because in the end, we are.” We are not told that she is a member of the US National Petroleum Council.

The film also features Richard Newell, who is identified as a Former Administrator at the US Energy Information Administration. “You can get 50% reductions in your emissions relative to coal through natural gas,” he says, ignoring the methane leaks that undermine such claims. The film neglects to mention that the Energy Initiative Newell founded and directed at Duke University was given $4 million by an Executive Vice President of a natural gas company.

Michelle Michot Foss, who offers skepticism about battery production for renewables, is identified as the Chief Energy Economist at the Center for Energy Economics at the University of Texas at Austin. What’s not said is that the Energy Institute she founded at UT Austin is funded by Chevron, ExxonMobil, and other fossil fuel interests including the Koch Foundation, or that she’s a partner in a natural gas company.

You may notice a pattern. The very experts we assume to be objective, and the very centers of research we assume to be independent, are connected with the very industry the public believes they are objectively studying.

Moreover, these connections are often kept hidden.

To say that these experts and research centers have conflicts of interest is an understatement: many of them exist as they do only because of the fossil fuel industry. They are industry projects with the appearance of neutrality and credibility given by academia.

After years conducting energy-related research at Harvard and MIT, we have come to discover firsthand that this pattern is systemic. Funding from Shell, Chevron, BP, and other oil and gas companies dominates Harvard’s energy and climate policy research, and Harvard research directors consult for the industry. These are the experts tasked with formulating policies for countering climate change, policies that threaten the profits – indeed the existence – of the fossil fuel industry.

Down the street at MIT, the Institute’s Energy Initiative is almost entirely funded by fossil fuel companies, including Shell, ExxonMobil, and Chevron.

MIT has taken $185 million from oil billionaire and climate denial financier David Koch, who is a Life Member of the university’s board.

The trend continues at Stanford, where one of us now works. The university’s Global Science and Energy Project is funded by ExxonMobil and Schlumberger. The Project’s founding and current directors are both petroleum engineers. Its current director also co-directs Stanford’s Precourt Institute for Energy, which is named after (and was co-founded by) the CEO of a natural gas company (now owned by Shell). Across the bay, UC Berkeley’s Energy Biosciences Institute is the product of a $500 million deal with BP – one that gives the company power over which research projects get funded and which don’t.

Fossil fuel interests – oil, gas, and coal companies, fossil-fueled utilities, and fossil fuel investors – have colonized nearly every nook and cranny of energy and climate policy research in American universities, and much of energy science too. And they have done so quietly, without the general public’s knowledge.

For comparison, imagine if public health research were funded predominantly by the tobacco industry. It doesn’t take a neurosurgeon to understand the folly of making policy or science research financially dependent on the very industry it may regulate or negatively affect. Harvard’s school of public health no longer takes funding from the tobacco industry for that very reason. Yet such conflicts of interest are not only rife in energy and climate research, they are the norm.

This norm is no accident: it is the product of a public relations strategy to neutralize science and target those whom ExxonMobil dubbed “Informed Influentials,” and it comes straight out of Big Tobacco’s playbook. The myriad benefits of this strategy to the fossil fuel industry (and its effects on academic research) range from benign to insidious to unconscionable, but the big picture is simple: academia has a problem.

As scientists and policy experts rush to find solutions to the greatest challenge humanity has ever faced, our institutions are embroiled in a nationwide conflict of interest with the industry that has the most to lose.

Our message to universities is: stop ignoring it.

We are not saying that universities must cut all ties with all fossil fuel companies. Energy research is so awash with fossil fuel funding that such a proposal would imply major changes. What we are saying is that denial – “I don’t see a conflict,” MIT’s Chairman told the Boston Globe – is no longer acceptable.

Two parallel approaches can help. First, mandatory standards should be established in climate policy and energy research for disclosing financial and professional ties with fossil fuel interests, akin to those required in medical research. And second, conflicts of interest should be reduced by prioritizing less conflicted funding and personnel.

One way or another, the colonization of academia by the fossil fuel industry must be confronted. Because when our nation’s “independent” research to stop climate change is in fact dependent on an industry whose interests oppose that goal, neither the public nor the future is well served.

Dr. Benjamin Franta is a PhD student in the Department of History at Stanford University, an Associate at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and a former Research Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. He has a PhD in Applied Physics from Harvard University.

Dr. Geoffrey Supran is a Post Doctoral Associate in the Institute for Data, Systems, and Society at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a Post Doctoral Fellow in the Department of History of Science at Harvard University. He has a PhD in Materials Science & Engineering from MIT.

China’s premier unveils smog-busting plan to ‘make skies blue again’

Li Keqiang promises to intensify battle against air pollution as he unveils series of measures at annual people’s congress

The Chinese premier, Li Keqiang, has promised to step up his country’s battle against deadly smog, telling an annual political congress: “We will make our skies blue again.”

China’s cities have become synonymous with choking air pollution in recent years, which is blamed for up to 1 million premature deaths a year.

Speaking at the opening of the national people’s congress in Beijing on Sunday, Li admitted his country was facing a grave environmental crisis that had left Chinese citizens desperately hoping for relief.

Li unveiled a series of smog-busting measures including cutting coal use, upgrading coal-fired power plants, slashing vehicle emissions, encouraging the use of clean-energy cars and punishing government officials who ignore environmental crimes or air pollution. “Key sources” of industrial pollutants would be placed under 24-hour online monitoring in an effort to cut emissions.

The premier vowed that levels of PM2.5 would fall “markedly” over the coming year but did not cite a specific target.

“Tackling smog is down to every last one of us, and success depends on action and commitment. As long as the whole of our society keeps trying we will have more and more blue skies with each passing year,” he said.

PM2.5 is a tiny airborne particulate that has been linked to lung cancer, asthma and heart disease.

Despite his buoyant message, Li’s language was more cautious than three years ago when he used the same opening speech to “resolutely declare war on pollution” and warn that smog was “nature’s red light warning against inefficient and blind development”.

There has been public frustration – and protest – against Beijing’s failure to achieve results in its quest to clean up the environment. Tens of thousands of “smog refugees” reportedly fled China’s pollution-stricken north last December as a result of the country’s latest pollution “red alert”.

Wei Song, a Chinese opera singer who attended Li’s speech, said it was inhuman to “achieve development goals by sacrificing the environment” and called for tougher measures against polluters.

“The government should increase the penalties in order to bankrupt the people and the companies responsible. Otherwise, if the punishment is just a little scratch, they will carry on polluting,” said Wei, one of China’s “three tenors”.

Zhang Bawu, a senior Communist party official from Ningxia province, defended China’s “much improved” record on the environment.

He claimed the number of smoggy days in Beijing was now falling thanks to government efforts and he said his province, which is building what could become the biggest solar farm on Earth, was also doing its bit.

Ningxia’s frontline role in a Chinese wind and solar revolution meant 40% of its energy now came from renewable sources, Zhang said.

Additional reporting by Wang Zhen

Stellar Energy Defends Plasma Gasification Waste to Energy Plan for Bahamas

Steve Gill, Board Advisor the firm planning a plasma gasification waste to energy plant for the Bahamas, Stellar Energy, has responnded to recent criticism of the plans by the Waste Resources Development Group (WRDG).

https://waste-management-world.com/a/stellar-energy-defends-plasma-gasification-waste-to-energy-plan-for-bahamas

Stellar Energy remains committed to the provision of a world class waste management, remediation and clean energy production facility for the Bahamas. Stellar has worked tirelessly for over 6 years at its cost in advancing the project.

It is with disappointment that we are seen as an easy target by some local entities with a vested interest in the current practice, which has resulted in an unmanaged toxic waste dump that continues to have a significant, negative effect on this beautiful island; notably hazardous leachate that breaches the water table and noxious fires, both underground and open air.

The need to ameliorate this situation is plain to see, with the added benefit of a continuous supply of clean, renewable energy at less than half the current cost to Bahamian inhabitants. WRDG (which consists of consortia of small waste handlers and processors) is quick to point out their concerns over one of the proposed technologies-Gasplasma®.

When processing over 1000tpd of highly organic waste the only proven technology with long run time history is mass burn incineration, one can only imagine the furore that would have occurred if this solution had been proposed by Stellar for this project, as well as public outcry. Stellar looked for a new technology with significant risk mitigation, via the combination of two proven (at scale) technologies; gasification and DC Plasma Arc.

Our chosen technology provider, Advanced Plasma Power’s CEO Rolf Stein, supports rebuttal of these allegations made by the projects detractors. He said ‘The Gasplasma technology is based on two long proven technologies (fluidised bed gasification and plasma furnace) deployed in multiple locations around the world.

The Gasplasma technology brings benefits of efficiency and environmental improvement in the generation of power, the reduction in hazardous waste and lower water consumption compared to other waste to energy solutions. Confidence in the technology has been demonstrated by the recent investment by National Grid (UK) in a Gasplasma based project in the UK which is under construction.

Our work with Stellar and the EPC partner to date indicates that the proposed solution will not only deliver renewable power but provide a controlled and substantially more environmentally improved situation than the status quo’

To further mitigate any residual risk Stellar had ensured the whole project was underwritten with a comprehensive process guarantee by one of the world’s eminent and most experienced EPC contractors.

WRDG voice concerns about the proposed cost; again we feel the need to bring balance here. The $650mio figure was a first estimate that was subject to review following 3 separate FEL studies; waste characterisation, landfill study and resultant plant configuration.

Stellar undertook the first of these studies at its own cost, the results of which already bought the indicative capex down some $200 mio to $450mio. Stellar remains very confident that the last two studies would bring the cost down even further to meet its aim of sub $350mio. The irony here is that all costs of this project were to be borne by Stellar, not the Bahamas government or any allied body, public or private.

Again unfounded allegation of significant tipping fee increases are without foundation as Stellar’s business model is based on current pricing. The project bankability is underpinned by a PPA, like all energy projects of this kind in order to make the project fundable. The proposed PPA would have seen prices for clean, continual power brought down by more than 50%, so where we ask is the downside?

As a further commitment to the island and the legacy this project would bring is that Stellar had committed at its cost, to provide a “Centre of Excellence” whereby local labour would have been trained to world class standards and independently certified with NEBOSH/IOSH qualifications to allow maximum local labour content in the construction and operational phases.

To date we have seen no such offering in any shape of form from any of these detractors, in particular WRDG or their intent to work together for the common good.

Exclusive: Climate Science Denial Group Heartland Institute is “Reaching Out” to Fossil Fuel Industry for Funding

https://www.desmogblog.com/2017/02/01/climate-science-denial-group-heartland-institute-fossil-fuel-industry-funding-fred-palmer

One of the world’s most notorious climate science denial groups is “reaching out to the fossil fuel community” to raise cash in the wake of President Donald Trump’s election.

Coal industry veteran and new Heartland Institute senior fellow Fred Palmer believes the election of Donald Trump will transform the energy industry in the United States by leaving the science of climate change behind.

And in a wide-ranging interview with DeSmog, Palmer claimed there was nothing wrong with fossil fuel companies secretly funding groups that push climate science denial.

“I am reaching out to the fossil fuel community right now and raising money for Heartland,” he said. “Of course that’s acceptable.”

Palmer spent more than 30 years as a lobbyist and public affairs professional for the coal industry, first with Western Fuels Association and then later for Peabody Energy.

Palmer has long rejected the science linking fossil fuel burning to dangerous climate change. Instead, he says adding CO2 to the atmosphere will bring benefits. His position runs counter to credible scientists around the world and decades of peer-reviewed scientific literature, including the positions of every major scientific academy on the planet.

In 1990, Palmer was asked to help organize a coal-funded PR campaign to “reposition global warming as theory (not fact).”

Later Palmer established the Greening Earth Society to try to convince the public that the science linking dangerous climate change to fossil fuels was weak, but that adding CO2 to the atmosphere would help plant growth.

Palmer told DeSmog he believed coal and other fossil fuels were part of “a divine plan” because, he said, they were easy to access and improved people’s lives.

He said there was nothing wrong with fossil fuel companies funding climate science denial groups, even if that funding was not disclosed. People who opposed those secretive arrangements, he said, “don’t understand advocacy.”

In 2016 it emerged that Peabody had been funding a network of climate science denial groups.

The Heartland Institute announced in early January that Palmer would become a senior fellow on energy and climate change.

Heartland Institute runs regular conferences for climate science deniers and contrarians. Before one conference, the group launched a billboard campaign comparing people who “believed” in global warming to terrorist Ted “Unabomber” Kaczynski. A parade of corporate funders pulled their support to the institute after the ill-judged billboard campaign.

President Trump’s key financial backer, billionaire hedge fund manager Robert Mercer, has donated almost $5 million to Heartland from his family foundation.

Palmer told DeSmog he thought the presidency of Trump, who has said climate change is a hoax, would be “transformational” for the fossil fuel industry.

“For the first time in 25 years, CO2 greenhouse gas emissions are not the driving consideration in energy development in the United States,” said Palmer.

“That’s a transformational development and it took a Donald Trump to become president of the United States to put that on the table. I say God bless him.”

Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific seeks 80pc emissions reductions on some long flights with big switch to biofuels

Airline among world’s first to adopt fuels made largely from landfill rubbish

Cathay Pacific Airways has pledged an 80 per cent cut in the amount of climate-changing gases some of its longest flights pump into the Earth’s atmosphere, by betting big on biofuels.

The Hong Kong carrier will be one of the first airlines in the world to switch to cleaner jet fuels on an industrial scale.

The city is slowly strengthening its push to lessen its contribution to climate change, and the government aims to cut annual carbon emissions per person almost in half by 2030.

The aviation sector had avoided regulation until last year, when its governing body, the International Civil Aviation Organisation, agreed a global deal to curb emissions growth by the end of the decade.

Cathay Pacific planes will use fuel made from landfill rubbish. Many of its flights from the United States, where the fuel is being produced, will be able to fly to Hong Kong using a half-half mix of biofuel and conventional fuel by 2019. It is on these trans-Pacific flights that the company expects the 80 per cent emissions reductions.

“Aviation biofuels will play a key role for Cathay and the aviation industry’s quest for lower emissions,” the airline’s biofuel manager, Jeff Ovens, said. “We are on the cusp of large-scale production of low-carbon jet fuel and are eager to use it.”

The high and notoriously unpredictable cost of fuel has forced the airline to control how much it uses. By – among other things – reducing aircraft weight, flying on more direct flight paths and only using one engine to taxi on runways, the company cut emissions and paved the way for the rethink of how it could further cut pollution.

“This is where biofuels come in,” Ovens said. “These fuels will have a lower carbon footprint than fossil fuels, and the pricing we have is competitive with traditional fuels.”

Aside from the carbon dioxide reduction, using the mixed fuel avoids emissions of other harmful gases, like methane, given off as rubbish – which will instead be used as fuel – naturally degrades in landfill.

Cathay Pacific passengers are unlikely to see a rise in fares, because the biofuel investments since 2014 have been absorbed into the company’s operating costs. But it is too early to tell whether the switch could lower ticket prices.

Christine Loh Kung-wai, undersecretary at the Environment Bureau – which spearheaded the government’s 2030 climate action report – said: “I think the world as a whole has come to embrace dealing with climate change, and you are seeing major industry sectors coming forward to say they need to do more.”

But she said the lack of global rules on the production, infrastructure and supply of biofuels made long-term policymaking harder. “I think that is further down the road than we are able to make policies on,” she said.

Roy Tam Hoi-pong, CEO of Green Sense, an environmental pressure group, said the airline’s climate effort was a “good start”.

He said: “As one of Asia’s biggest airlines, they can do much more.”

Airlines occasionally test biofuels, mainly with used cooking oil, but not landfill waste.

United Airlines has started running some domestic flights on biofuels regularly, but even then in small quantities.

The airline’s new batch of Airbus A350 planes – themselves 25 per cent more fuel efficient than their forerunners – flew from France to Hong Kong for delivery using a small amount of biofuel.

The airline’s partnership with a US-based renewable fuel producer is on track to help make its flights from the US to Hong Kong International Airport, starting from 2019, greener.

Fulcrum Bioenergy and Cathay Pacific signed an agreement in 2014, helping the airline meet its biofuel supply targets, with a purchase of 375 million gallons of biofuel over 10 years.

That fuel would be enough to supply Cathay Pacific’s 76 weekly US flights to Hong Kong for six months.

Source URL: http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/health-environment/article/2066549/hong-kongs-cathay-pacific-seeks-80pc-emissions

How Politics and Pollution Could Push China Into the Climate Leader Role the US Is Giving up

https://www.desmogblog.com/2017/01/30/how-politics-pollution-could-push-china-climate-leader-role-us-giving

Earlier this month China halted more than 100 coal-fired power projects. Scrapping these projects, with combined installed capacity of more than 100 gigawatts, may have more to do with China’s current overcapacity in coal production than its commitment to mitigating climate change. Nevertheless, Chinese leaders are likely happy that the move is framing their nation as a green energy leader, according to experts in Chinese and environmental policy.

That’s because, they say, the Chinese government is now eager to fill the vacuum in climate change leadership that is being left by the U.S. And, they say, China is poised to eat America’s lunch in the renewable energy sector.

Pollution Fuels China’s New Energy Priorities

Saying that China is doing nothing on climate change has long been a right wing talking point used to stop U.S. regulations such as carbon taxes. While that may have been true a decade ago, it certainly isn’t true now.

Already, China is both the world’s leading producer of renewable energy technologies and its biggest consumer.

A recent Bloomberg New Energy Finance report showed that China invested $287.5 billion in clean energy in 2016, while the U.S. spent $58.6 billion. And in January it announced plans to invest an additional $120 billion a year in renewable power before 2020.

China’s five-year plan on energy and climate is ambitious, calling for an 18 percent reduction in carbon intensity from 2015 levels. It aims to reduce coal to 55 percent of total power by 2020, down from 69 percent now.

But China’s most urgent need is not reducing greenhouse gases, or even cashing in on the burgeoning green tech market, but eliminating the smog choking its cities, which is caused by burning coal, oil, and biomass. Over the past decade, China’s degraded air quality has caused millions of premature deaths, hurt its economy, and has become a primary cause of social unrest.

John Chung-En Liu, a professor of sociology at Occidental College in Los Angeles, told DeSmog that, despite positive stories about scrapping coal plants, these actions don’t mean an imminent end to China’s use of fossil fuels. And they don’t mean China is doing this for the world’s benefit either.

“The media have been talking about closing down 100 coal powered plants, but the real reason is that China has overbuilt from a massive expansion of coal over the past 20 years,” he said. “The Chinese government is committed to green tech but can’t make the move quickly because of the infrastructure.”

Nevertheless, China’s ambitious plans are bound to help reduce emissions that lead to global warming in the long run. And scholars say the country is planning to use its investment in green tech to its advantage, and at the expense of the United States.

China Poised to Benefit From Investment in Renewables

China’s dominance in wind, solar, and hydro energy is growing as the U.S. is falling behind, experts have said.

A paper released in December by the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation (ITIF) made the case that, even before Donald Trump took office, the U.S. was forfeiting its chance to capitalize on the growing clean energy market.

“The United States is losing this race because Asian countries are out-investing the United States and dictating the terms of competition, often flooding the market with low-cost, unimaginative products,” the ITIF report concluded.

In 2016, China was by far the leader in producing solar energy. At the end of 2014, China made one out of every three wind turbines in the world and last year a Chinese wind energy company bested American companies in producing wind power. In fact the country is producing more wind power than it can use, at least until the central government finds a way to move energy from where it’s produced to where it’s needed.

Last year China led the world in sales and manufacture of electric vehicles.

America, too, could benefit from similar growth in green tech if the current administration weren’t so committed to fossil fuels, according to Angel Hsu, a professor of environmental studies at the Yale School of Forestry.

“The U.S. economy stands to suffer with Trump’s denial of clean energy,” said Hsu. “If Trump wants to create jobs like he says he does, ignoring the potential of green jobs would be a huge oversight.”

China’s Climate Change Asset: A Lack of Kochs

Scholars of Chinese energy policy say the country benefits from having no climate denying lobby or equivalent to the Koch brothers.

“A critical difference is that there is no private oil and gas lobby in China,” Liu said, adding that climate skeptics are a fringe group within the Communist Party and largely ignored.

Energy interests are state-owned in China, and while they are not puppets of the state, they have much less relative power on the state’s official policies. Right now, the official state policy is to reduce pollution and greenhouse gases as quickly as possible.

“When the central government says, ‘Set up the policy,’ the companies must follow,” Liu said. “Yes, they will try to exert their influence within the government but not to the extent as oil and gas companies do in the U.S. In the U.S., industry will try to block any carbon regulation that hurts their opportunities, so they fight vehemently to slow down any regulation.”

Will U.S. Cede Climate Leadership to China?

Unlike President Obama, who urged the U.S. to show leadership in curbing climate change, the Trump administration has made clear that it plans to double down on dirty energy. While China has promised to expand its climate commitments, the new U.S. president has threatened to pull out of the Paris Agreement. That could allow Bejing to fill the leadership void left by Washington.

State-run newspapers are already boasting of China’s potential to exploit its leadership on global warming.

In a speech at the most recent World Economic Forum, Chinese President Xi Jinping gave a vigorous defense of multilateral cooperation, the kind of speech that U.S. presidents used to give, observers noted.

“Countries should view their own interest in the broader context and refrain from pursuing their own interests at the expense of others,” Xi declared.

China still has issues of huge inequality and provincial needs that are often at odds with the edicts of the central government. And for all its ambitious goals, the central government still doesn’t have a plan to address how it will meet them without economic pain for some coal-dependent provinces in the short term.

Liu points out that China is stuck with dirty industries, in addition to dirty means of powering them, and any tightening of regulations could come at the expense of much-needed jobs that may support an entire region.

Hsu told DeSmog that Chinese colleagues she spoke with at the Marrakech climate conference in November 2016 were optimistic about their country’s prospects in seizing not only economic opportunities in green tech, but the nation’s ability to claim the moral high ground on climate change.

“They said worldwide pressure would be put on the U.S. because they’re the second largest emitter of carbon and they’re not doing anything,” Hsu said. “So it deflects attention away from China and allows them to consider how to decarbonize to 2050 and put a long-term strategy in place. They don’t necessarily seek this role on climate change but they’re willing to take it in the absence of U.S. leadership.”

It’s been little more than a week under the new Trump administration, but all signs so far point to the U.S. government trumpeting discredited views on climate science and getting left behind in the burgeoning clean energy sector.