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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.”

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.

Theresa May must challenge Trump’s ‘contempt’ for climate change, say MPs

CTA says: Misogynist arrogant silver spooned Republican bully wants to make the USA the ‘Ultimate’ instead of ‘Great Satan’.

http://www.britishslang.co.uk/slang/trump

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jan/27/theresa-may-must-challenge-trumps-contempt-for-climate-change-say-mps

MPs from across the political spectrum say the UK prime minister must urge the US president to remain in the global Paris agreement

Prime minister Theresa May must challenge President Donald Trump’s “contempt” for environmental protection and urge him to remain in the global agreement to fight climate change, according to MPs from across the UK’s political parties.

May will meet Trump on Friday in Washington DC and has been warned by MPs that the US president’s approach to global warming could determine whether or not people around the world suffer the worst impacts of climate change, such as severe floods, storms and heatwaves.

In his first few days as president, Trump has already replaced the climate change page on the White House website with a fossil-fuel-based energy policy, resurrected two controversial oil pipelines and attempted to gag the Environmental Protection Agency, the Agriculture Department and the National Parks Service.

Trump, who has called climate change a “hoax” and “bullshit”, has packed his administration with climate-change deniers and his pick for secretary of state is former ExxonMobil boss Rex Tillerson.

“We have grave concerns about the new president’s views on climate change and his reported plans to abandon the Paris agreement,” said the cross-party Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) of MPs in a letter to May. “Climate change is one of the greatest challenges of all time. The scientific evidence is unequivocal.”

The US is the second largest emitter of greenhouse gas emissions and the MPs said Trump’s “approach to reducing emissions could determine whether we, in the UK and people around the world, experience or avoid the worst impacts of climate change.”

Mary Creagh MP, EAC chair, said: “The prime minister should start by telling him climate change is not ‘a hoax’. We’re urging her to impress upon President Trump the importance of global action to tackle this global problem and to continue the US commitment to the Paris agreement.”

Caroline Lucas, a Green Party MP, said: “Donald Trump’s first few days as president have revealed his contempt for environmental protection. Failing to bring up climate change with him would be a dereliction of duty from Theresa May.”

Ed Miliband MP, a former leader of the Labour Party challenged May in the House of Commons on Wednesday: “As the first foreign leader to meet President Trump, the prime minister carries a huge responsibility on behalf of, not just of this country, but the whole international community in the tone that she sets. Can I ask her to reassure us that she will say to the president that he must abide by, and not withdraw from, the Paris climate change treaty?”

May replied: “The Obama administration signed up to the Paris climate change agreement, and we have now done so. I would hope that all parties would continue to ensure that that climate change agreement is put into practice.”

A government spokeswoman added: “The future direction of US climate policy is a matter for the US. But we face shared challenges on energy and have worked closely together on climate change issues. And we hope to see this continue under the new administration.”

May also told MPs she is “not afraid to speak frankly” to President Trump, thanks to the special relationship between the UK and America. But after the release of extracts from a speech May was giving in the US, she was accused of “grovelling” by former business secretary Vince Cable in order to win a trade deal.

One the eve of Trump’s inauguration, when 2016 was declared as the hottest year ever recorded, leading climate change figures urged the president to “make America great again” – and the world safer – by embracing the trillion-dollar green tech revolution. Over 100 UK climate experts also wrote to May earlier in January warning that Trump’s suggestion that he would cut US climate science would leave the world “flying blind” in tackling global warming.

Craig Bennett, chief executive of Friends of the Earth, said: “Trump’s war on our environment has already begun. Silence [from May] is not acceptable – it will simply legitimise the new president’s climate denial.”

Greenpeace UK executive director John Sauven said: “The relationship is only special if the prime minister is prepared to say what Trump wants to ignore. And what May should make absolutely clear is that the UK won’t wind back the clock on progress but will keep striving for a more peaceful and prosperous future.”

On 11 January, before President Trump’s inauguration, Tillerson said the US should remain part of the global climate change agreement, signed in Paris in December 2015.

“It’s important that the US maintain its seat at the table,” he said. The danger of climate change is real and “requires a global response”, he said. “No one country is going to solve this on its own.”

But on Thursday, a draft executive order leaked to the media suggested the Trump administration is preparing to order sweeping cuts in funding to the UN and other international organisations, while potentially walking away from some treaties.

Obama puts Arctic Ocean off limits for drilling in last-ditch barrier to Trump

US Department of the Interior says ‘fragile and unique’ Arctic ecosystem at risk if drilling allowed, possibly by pro-fossil fuels Trump administration

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/nov/18/obama-arctic-ocean-drilling-fossil-fuels-trump

Barack Obama’s administration has ruled out drilling for oil and gas in the pristine Arctic Ocean, throwing up a last-ditch barrier to the pro-fossil fuels agenda of incoming president Donald Trump.

The US Department of the Interior said that the “fragile and unique” Arctic ecosystem would face “significant risks” if drilling were allowed in the Chukchi or Beaufort Seas, which lie off Alaska. It added that the high costs of exploration, combined with a low oil price, would probably deter fossil fuel companies anyway.

“The plan focuses lease sales in the best places – those with the highest resource potential, lowest conflict, and established infrastructure – and removes regions that are simply not right to lease,” said the interior secretary, Sally Jewell.

“Given the unique and challenging Arctic environment and industry’s declining interest in the area, forgoing lease sales in the Arctic is the right path forward.”

The move, announced as part of the federal government’s land and ocean leasing program that will run from 2017 to 2022, has been cheered by environmentalists who called for the Arctic to be put off limits for drilling to help slow climate change and avoid a catastrophic oil spill.

“Today’s announcement demonstrates a commitment to prioritizing common sense, economics and science ahead of industry favoritism and politics as usual,” said Jacqueline Savitz, Oceana’s senior vice-president for the United States.

“The decades-long push to drill in the Arctic has put this unique and diverse ecosystem at risk, cost tens of billions of dollars and created significant controversy without providing the promised benefits. We now have the opportunity to put the old arguments behind us and work together toward a sustainable future for the Arctic region.”

The removal of the Arctic Ocean from federal leasing runs contrary to Trump’s vow to “lift the Obama-Clinton roadblocks” to large fossil fuel projects and throw open vast areas of land and water to drilling. But even if Trump reverses the Arctic ban, the economics are still unfavorable for offshore drilling in the region.

Shell spent more than $7bn on its attempt to exploit oil and gas reserves in the Arctic after being allowed to do so by the US government despite a high predicted risk of an oil spill in the frigid ecosystem. The Anglo-Dutch company abandoned its drilling operation in September last year, having faced huge costs and fierce opposition from green groups.

Fossil fuel interests have eyed the Arctic as a huge new frontier for oil and gas riches, with rapidly melting sea ice making areas of the Arctic Ocean more accessible for drilling rigs. The Arctic holds about 90bn barrels of undiscovered oil and 30% of the world’s untapped natural gas.

However, the International Energy Agency has warned that the drilling in the Arctic is not yet commercially viable, while environmental groups have warned that opening up new fossil fuel development will push the planet over the precipice into catastrophic climate change.

The Arctic is at the forefront of global warming, with the region heating up at twice the rate of the rest of the planet. This summer, Arctic sea ice shrank to its second smallest extent ever recorded, with the annual winter regrowth occurring at a “sluggish” rate, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center. On current trends, ice is returning at a slower rate than the record low experienced in 2012.

The new federal leasing plan also makes the Atlantic off-limits to drilling, another success for environmentalists and coastal communities that fought initial plans to lease areas to fossil fuel firms. But the plan does include 10 new sales in the Gulf of Mexico, the epicenter of US offshore drilling.

The federal government, through the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, currently manages around 3,400 active oil and gas leases in federal waters, covering an area spanning 18m acres.

“Today’s decision is a victory for the Arctic and demonstrates the growing strength of the movement to keep fossil fuels in the ground. But we also need to protect communities along the Gulf of Mexico,” said Marissa Knodel, a campaigner at Friends of the Earth.

“Unfortunately, Donald Trump has made it clear that he wants to return to the days of ‘drill baby drill’. That’s why President Obama must use his remaining days in office to permanently keep as much of our lands and waters from Trump and his oil cronies as possible.”

The Obama administration has pushed through a number of climate-related measures since the election of Trump, who denies climate change exists and has promised to withdraw the US from the international effort to tackle it. The president-elect also proposes cutting all funding for clean energy and to dismantle Obama’s Clean Power Plan, the main policy designed to cut emissions.

This week, the department of the interior unveiled regulations to slash fugitive emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, from natural gas operations. The US was also the first nation to submit to the United Nations a plan on how it will reduce emissions, with the Obama administration setting a goal of an 80% reduction by 2050.

John Kerry, the secretary of state, said this week that climate change is “bigger than one person, one president” and that international progress on the issue was unstoppable, despite the threat of US withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement.

Businesses have also stated their support for the international climate effort, with more than 360 companies, including Levi’s, Kellogg’s and Nike, urging Trump to keep up American efforts to ward off dangerous global warming.

Fuel from sewage is the future – and it’s closer than you think

Technology converts human waste into bio-based fuel

http://www.pnnl.gov/news/release.aspx?id=4317

Sludge from Metro Vancouver’s wastewater treatment plant has been dewatered prior to conversion to biocrude oil at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. Courtesy of WE&RF

Sludge from Metro Vancouver’s wastewater treatment plant has been dewatered prior to conversion to biocrude oil at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.
Courtesy of WE&RF

Biocrude oil, produced from wastewater treatment plant sludge, looks and performs virtually like fossil petroleum. Courtesy of WE&RF

Biocrude oil, produced from wastewater treatment plant sludge, looks and performs virtually like fossil petroleum.
Courtesy of WE&RF

RICHLAND, Wash. – It may sound like science fiction, but wastewater treatment plants across the United States may one day turn ordinary sewage into biocrude oil, thanks to new research at the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest national Laboratory.

The technology, hydrothermal liquefaction, mimics the geological conditions the Earth uses to create crude oil, using high pressure and temperature to achieve in minutes something that takes Mother Nature millions of years. The resulting material is similar to petroleum pumped out of the ground, with a small amount of water and oxygen mixed in. This biocrude can then be refined using conventional petroleum refining operations.

Wastewater treatment plants across the U.S. treat approximately 34 billion gallons of sewage every day. That amount could produce the equivalent of up to approximately 30 million barrels of oil per year. PNNL estimates that a single person could generate two to three gallons of biocrude per year.

Sewage, or more specifically sewage sludge, has long been viewed as a poor ingredient for producing biofuel because it’s too wet. The approach being studied by PNNL eliminates the need for drying required in a majority of current thermal technologies which historically has made wastewater to fuel conversion too energy intensive and expensive. HTL may also be used to make fuel from other types of wet organic feedstock, such as agricultural waste.

What we flush can be converted into a biocrude oil with properties very similar to fossil fuels. PNNL researchers have worked out a process that does not require that sewage be dried before transforming it under heat and pressure to biocrude. Metro Vancouver in Canada hopes to build a demonstration plant.

Using hydrothermal liquefaction, organic matter such as human waste can be broken down to simpler chemical compounds. The material is pressurized to 3,000 pounds per square inch — nearly one hundred times that of a car tire. Pressurized sludge then goes into a reactor system operating at about 660 degrees Fahrenheit. The heat and pressure cause the cells of the waste material to break down into different fractions — biocrude and an aqueous liquid phase.

“There is plenty of carbon in municipal waste water sludge and interestingly, there are also fats,” said Corinne Drennan, who is responsible for bioenergy technologies research at PNNL. “The fats or lipids appear to facilitate the conversion of other materials in the wastewater such as toilet paper, keep the sludge moving through the reactor, and produce a very high quality biocrude that, when refined, yields fuels such as gasoline, diesel and jet fuels.”

In addition to producing useful fuel, HTL could give local governments significant cost savings by virtually eliminating the need for sewage residuals processing, transport and disposal.

Simple and efficient

“The best thing about this process is how simple it is,” said Drennan. “The reactor is literally a hot, pressurized tube. We’ve really accelerated hydrothermal conversion technology over the last six years to create a continuous, and scalable process which allows the use of wet wastes like sewage sludge.”

An independent assessment for the Water Environment & Reuse Foundation calls HTL a highly disruptive technology that has potential for treating wastewater solids.

WE&RF investigators noted the process has high carbon conversion efficiency with nearly 60 percent of available carbon in primary sludge becoming bio-crude. The report calls for further demonstration, which may soon be in the works.

Demonstration Facility in the Works

PNNL has licensed its HTL technology to Utah-based Genifuel Corporation, which is now working with Metro Vancouver, a partnership of 23 local authorities in British Columbia, Canada, to build a demonstration plant.

“Metro Vancouver hopes to be the first wastewater treatment utility in North America to host hydrothermal liquefaction at one of its treatment plants,” said Darrell Mussatto, chair of Metro Vancouver’s Utilities Committee. “The pilot project will cost between $8 to $9 million (Canadian) with Metro Vancouver providing nearly one-half of the cost directly and the remaining balance subject to external funding.”

Once funding is in place, Metro Vancouver plans to move to the design phase in 2017, followed by equipment fabrication, with start-up occurring in 2018.

“If this emerging technology is a success, a future production facility could lead the way for Metro Vancouver’s wastewater operation to meet its sustainability objectives of zero net energy, zero odours and zero residuals,” Mussatto added.

Nothing left behind

In addition to the biocrude, the liquid phase can be treated with a catalyst to create other fuels and chemical products. A small amount of solid material is also generated, which contains important nutrients. For example, early efforts have demonstrated the ability to recover phosphorus, which can replace phosphorus ore used in fertilizer production.

Development of the HTL process was funded by DOE’s Bioenergy Technologies Office.

Global carbon intensity falls as coal use declines

China leads the charge for emissions efficiency, but faster progress is needed to meet the Paris climate goals, reports Climate Home

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/nov/01/global-carbon-intensity-falls-as-coal-use-declines

The amount of carbon needed to power the global economy fell to record lows in 2015, as coal consumption in major economies plummeted.

PricewaterhouseCoopers’ (PwC) annual Low Carbon Economy Index report has found that the global carbon intensity (emissions per unit of GDP) fell by 2.8%.

This was more than double the average fall of 1.3% between 2000 and 2014, but far below the 6.5% required to stay within the 2C warming limit set by last year’s Paris agreement.

“What we’ve seen in 2014-15 is a real step change in decarbonisation,” said Jonathan Grant, PwC director of sustainability and climate change.

The result was just 0.1% lower than the previous year, but it occurred against the background of healthy growth, which usually spurs carbon emissions growth.

“There was fairly reasonable economic growth in 2015, which is why we think this result is quite significant,” said Grant.

The biggest driver was a decline in China’s coal consumption, which resulted a 6.4% drop the carbon intensity of the world’s second biggest economy.

A centrally-led shift of the economy to a service-based industry has begun to shut down the vast coal-fuelled steel and cement sectors. For the first time, China led the rankings table for the biggest drop in intensity.

The UK and US were also significant contributors, reducing by 6% and 4.7% respectively, to the overall drop as both governments introduced policies that pushed coal plants out of business. In the UK coal use dropped by 20% for the second year running.

Richard Black, director of the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), said: “In the week in which the Paris Agreement comes into force, this is very promising news in showing that the dominant paradigm of economic growth is swiftly changing, which makes the Paris targets look more achievable.

“This analysis shows once again that economic growth and carbon emissions are not inextricably linked… Climate science is unequivocal in showing that switching away from coal is an essential first step in keeping climate change within ‘safe’ limits.”

But Grant said coal represented the low-hanging fruit and that economies were enjoying the benefits of relatively painless early decarbonisation.

“Countries are focussing on decarbonising electricity. That means tackling coal power. I think it will get increasingly challenging. Coal is the easiest target for government policy,” he said.

Leaked TTIP energy proposal could ‘sabotage’ EU climate policy

EU proposal on a free trade deal with the US could curb energy saving measures and a planned switch to clean energy, say MEPs

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/jul/11/leaked-ttip-energy-proposal-could-sabotage-eu-climate-policy

The latest draft version of the TTIP agreement could sabotage European efforts to save energy and switch to clean power, according to MEPs.

A 14th round of the troubled negotiations on a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) free trade deal between the EU and US is due to begin on Monday in Brussels.

A leak obtained by the Guardian shows that the EU will propose a rollback of mandatory energy savings measures, and major obstacles to any future pricing schemes designed to encourage the uptake of renewable energies.

Environmental protections against fossil fuel extraction, logging and mining in the developing world would also come under pressure from articles in the proposed energy chapter.

Paul de Clerck, a spokesman for Friends of the Earth Europe, said the leaked document: “is in complete contradiction with Europe’s commitments to tackle climate change. It will flood the EU market with inefficient appliances, and consumers and the climate will foot the bill. The proposal will also discourage measures to promote renewable electricity production from wind and solar.”

The European commission says that the free trade deal is intended to: “promote renewable energy and energy efficiency – areas that are crucial in terms of sustainability”.

The bloc has also promised that any agreement would support its climate targets. In the period to 2020, these are binding for clean power and partly binding for energy efficiency, in the home appliance and building standards sectors.

But the draft chapter obliges the two trade blocs to: “foster industry self-regulation of energy efficiency requirements for goods where such self-regulation is likely to deliver the policy objectives faster or in a less costly manner than mandatory requirements”.

Campaigners fear that this could tip the balance in future policy debates and setback efforts to tackle climate change.

Jack Hunter, a spokesman for the European Environmental Bureau said: “Legally-binding energy standards have done wonders to lower energy bills for homes and offices, so much so that energy use has dropped even as the British economy has grown and appliances have become more power-hungry.

“Voluntary agreements have a place, but are generally ‘business as usual’ and no substitute for the real thing. If they became the norm, it would seriously harm our fight against climate change.”

Another passage in the draft text mandates that operators of energy networks grant access to gas and electricity “on commercial terms that are reasonable, transparent and non-discriminatory, including as between types of energy”.

This could create an avenue for preventing the imposition of feed-in tariffs and other support schemes to encourage the uptake of clean energy, according to lawmakers in Brussels.

The Green MEP Claude Turmes said: “These proposals are completely unacceptable. They would sabotage EU legislators’ ability to privilege renewables and energy efficiency over unsustainable fossil fuels. This is an attempt to undermine democracy in Europe.”

The environmental law consultancy, ClientEarth, was concerned that the new proposal effectively derogated responsibility for urgent climate change actions agreed at COP21 to the business sector.

“Industry is not the right entity to lead the fight against climate change,” said ClientEarth’s lawyer, Laurens Ankersmit. “It is madness for the EU and the US to rely on it in this way.”

The energy chapter negotiations began as part of an EU push for unlimited access to exports of the US’s relatively cheap liquefied natural gas, much of it derived from shale.

The EU is committed to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of at least 80% by 2050, as measured against 1990 levels – and pledged a 40% CO2 cut by 2030 at the Paris climate conference, last December.

But the new text says that: “the Parties must agree on a legally binding commitment to eliminate all existing restrictions on the export of natural gas in trade between them as of the date of entry into force of the Agreement”.

Other countries wanting to trade with the EU or US would also find themselves up against requirements that they remove trade barriers.

The draft says: “The Parties shall cooperate to reduce or eliminate trade and investment distorting measures in third countries affecting energy and raw materials.”

In 2013, the EU’s trade commissioner Karel de Gucht promised the multinational oil giant Exxon that the energy chapter would remove obstacles to its expansion plans in Africa and South America.

Leaked TTIP energy proposal could ‘sabotage’ EU climate policy

EU proposal on a free trade deal with the US could curb energy saving measures and a planned switch to clean energy, say MEPs

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/jul/11/leaked-ttip-energy-proposal-could-sabotage-eu-climate-policy

The latest draft version of the TTIP agreement could sabotage European efforts to save energy and switch to clean power, according to MEPs.

A 14th round of the troubled negotiations on a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) free trade deal between the EU and US is due to begin on Monday in Brussels.

A leak obtained by the Guardian shows that the EU will propose a rollback of mandatory energy savings measures, and major obstacles to any future pricing schemes designed to encourage the uptake of renewable energies.

Environmental protections against fossil fuel extraction, logging and mining in the developing world would also come under pressure from articles in the proposed energy chapter.

Paul de Clerck, a spokesman for Friends of the Earth Europe, said the leaked document: “is in complete contradiction with Europe’s commitments to tackle climate change. It will flood the EU market with inefficient appliances, and consumers and the climate will foot the bill. The proposal will also discourage measures to promote renewable electricity production from wind and solar.”

The European commission says that the free trade deal is intended to: “promote renewable energy and energy efficiency – areas that are crucial in terms of sustainability”.

The bloc has also promised that any agreement would support its climate targets. In the period to 2020, these are binding for clean power and partly binding for energy efficiency, in the home appliance and building standards sectors.

But the draft chapter obliges the two trade blocs to: “foster industry self-regulation of energy efficiency requirements for goods where such self-regulation is likely to deliver the policy objectives faster or in a less costly manner than mandatory requirements”.

Campaigners fear that this could tip the balance in future policy debates and setback efforts to tackle climate change.

Jack Hunter, a spokesman for the European Environmental Bureau said: “Legally-binding energy standards have done wonders to lower energy bills for homes and offices, so much so that energy use has dropped even as the British economy has grown and appliances have become more power-hungry.

“Voluntary agreements have a place, but are generally ‘business as usual’ and no substitute for the real thing. If they became the norm, it would seriously harm our fight against climate change.”

Another passage in the draft text mandates that operators of energy networks grant access to gas and electricity “on commercial terms that are reasonable, transparent and non-discriminatory, including as between types of energy”.

This could create an avenue for preventing the imposition of feed-in tariffs and other support schemes to encourage the uptake of clean energy, according to lawmakers in Brussels.

The Green MEP Claude Turmes said: “These proposals are completely unacceptable. They would sabotage EU legislators’ ability to privilege renewables and energy efficiency over unsustainable fossil fuels. This is an attempt to undermine democracy in Europe.”

The environmental law consultancy, ClientEarth, was concerned that the new proposal effectively derogated responsibility for urgent climate change actions agreed at COP21 to the business sector.

“Industry is not the right entity to lead the fight against climate change,” said ClientEarth’s lawyer, Laurens Ankersmit. “It is madness for the EU and the US to rely on it in this way.”

The energy chapter negotiations began as part of an EU push for unlimited access to exports of the US’s relatively cheap liquefied natural gas, much of it derived from shale.

The EU is committed to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of at least 80% by 2050, as measured against 1990 levels – and pledged a 40% CO2 cut by 2030 at the Paris climate conference, last December.

But the new text says that: “the Parties must agree on a legally binding commitment to eliminate all existing restrictions on the export of natural gas in trade between them as of the date of entry into force of the Agreement”.

Other countries wanting to trade with the EU or US would also find themselves up against requirements that they remove trade barriers.

The draft says: “The Parties shall cooperate to reduce or eliminate trade and investment distorting measures in third countries affecting energy and raw materials.”

In 2013, the EU’s trade commissioner Karel de Gucht promised the multinational oil giant Exxon that the energy chapter would remove obstacles to its expansion plans in Africa and South America.

Meet the US farmers turning their tobacco into airplane fuel

As the demand for tobacco declines in the US, farmers in Virginia are experimenting with turning the crop into viable biofuel

https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2016/jul/06/us-farmers-turning-tobacco-into-airplane-fuel-biofuels-renewables

Most of the tobacco growing across 80-acres at Briar View Farms in Callands, Virginia is chosen for its flavour and high nicotine content. The leaves are hand-harvested, flue-cured or dark-fired and sold as smoking or chewing tobacco at premium prices.

One two-acre plot stands apart from the rest, its flavour and nicotine content are irrelevant. The June and October harvests are mechanised and the entire plant, including leaves and stems, are cut with a silage chopper and tossed into metal bins. All of the tobacco plants harvested are turned into biofuel.

On Briar View Farms, first-generation tobacco grower Robert Mills hopes tobacco-based biofuel can spark a profitable future for tobacco growers. “With the uncertainty of tobacco, growers are always looking for new opportunities,” he says.

Over the past four decades, the demand for tobacco in the US has declined. In the 1970s, US farmers grew more than 2bn pounds (900,000 tonnes) of tobacco; by 2012, production dropped to about 800m pounds (360,000 tonnes). The number of tobacco farms declined from 180,000 in the 1980s to just 10,000 in 2012, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Since 2009, the US biofuel company Tyton BioEnergy Systems has partnered with agronomists from Virginia Tech and North Carolina State University and tobacco growers to research the potential for turning tobacco into biomass. Mills grows two acres of energy tobacco under contract with Tyton.

“We’re experimenting with varieties that were discarded 50 years ago by traditional tobacco growers because the flavours were poor or the plants didn’t have enough nicotine,” explains Tyton co-founder Peter Majeranowski.

Researchers are pioneering selective breeding techniques and genetic engineering to increase tobacco’s sugar and seed oil content to create a promising source of renewable fuel. The low-nicotine varieties require little maintenance, are inexpensive to grow and thrive where other crops would fail.

“There is a lot of land not being used in tobacco regions that isn’t good for growing row crops,” Majeranowski says. “Instead of growing low-value crops like hay, farmers can earn more revenue per acre growing ‘energy tobacco’.”

Tyton BioEnergy Systems isn’t alone in its quest to turn tobacco into a viable biofuel. In 2013, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, in partnership with UC Berkeley and University of Kentucky, received a $4.8m grant from the US Department of Energy to research the potential of tobacco as a biofuel. While in South Africa, Project Solaris, a collaboration between Boeing and South African Airways, is focused on developing aviation biofuel from tobacco crops with a goal of operating its first tobacco-fuelled passenger flight in 2016.

For tobacco producers, the transition is simple: growing energy tobacco is similar to growing smoking tobacco and requires the same equipment and skills; because the harvest is mechanised, it takes less labour to produce a crop.

One acre of tobacco can yield up to 80 wet tons of biomass and all of the byproducts, including sugars, oils and proteins, can be used in products ranging from biofuel and animal feed to soil amendments (nutrients added to improve soil).

“I know we’re not going to get the same returns we get on traditional tobacco but we have a lot less labour so it’s a lot cheaper to produce and it’s more competitive per acre than commodities like corn and soybeans,” says Mills, who started growing tobacco under contract with Tyton in 2011.

The potential to turn tobacco into a different kind of cash crop enticed grower Chris Haskins to sign a contract with Tyton in 2013 to grow 1.5 acres of energy tobacco on his 50-acre farm in Chatham, Virginia.

“Tobacco has been a mainstay for farmers in this area,” Haskins says. “It’s nice to see it getting some positive press and building hope for farmers that it can be used in positive ways.”

While Haskins is hopeful, some tobacco growers are sceptical. These are just pilot projects and energy tobacco is not yet being sold on the open market, so there are no established prices. “I think there’s still a large amount of ‘wait and see if this is for real’ attitude among growers,” says Tim Pfohl, grants program director for the Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission.

According to Pfohl, the commission supports opportunities to build new markets for tobacco growers, noting that alternative buyers for tobacco crops will keep growers from being tied to the cigarette manufacturer contract system. The commission gave Tyton BioEnergy Systems a grant of $2.78m in 2012, to further its research.

“The end game for the commission … is new jobs and private investment in tobacco region production facilities,” Pfohl says.

Tyton has 30 acres of research trials under way and, in 2014, created a partner company, Tyton NC Biofuels, pledging $36m to start a tobacco ethanol refinery in Hoke County, North Carolina. As investments increase and bioenergy gets more attention in the media, interest from farmers is growing.

“Now that I’m going into my fourth season as a contract grower, I can see how far we’ve come and I can see tobacco being a viable source of energy for the future,” Mills says. “There is a new generation of farmers that are more progressive and looking for alternatives and this gives farmers opportunities for diversity. Now is the right time to focus on tobacco as a biofuel.”

Piles of Dirty Secrets Behind a Model ‘Clean Coal’ Project

A Mississippi project, a centerpiece of President Obama’s climate plan, has been plagued by problems that managers tried to conceal, and by cost overruns and questions of who will pay.

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/05/science/kemper-coal-mississippi.html?&hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=first-column-region%C2%AEion=top-news&WT.nav=top-news&_r=2

DE KALB, Miss. — The fortress of steel and concrete towering above the pine forest here is a first-of-its-kind power plant that was supposed to prove that “clean coal” was not an oxymoron — that it was possible to produce electricity from coal in a way that emits far less pollution, and to turn a profit while doing so.

The plant was not only a central piece of the Obama administration’s climate plan, it was also supposed to be a model for future power plants to help slow the dangerous effects of global warming. The project was hailed as a way to bring thousands of jobs to Mississippi, the nation’s poorest state, and to extend a lifeline to the dying coal industry.

The sense of hope is fading fast, however. The Kemper coal plant is more than two years behind schedule and more than $4 billion over its initial budget, $2.4 billion, and it is still not operational.

The plant and its owner, Southern Company, are the focus of a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation, and ratepayers, alleging fraud, are suing the company. Members of Congress have described the project as more boondoggle than boon. The mismanagement is particularly egregious, they say, given the urgent need to rein in the largest source of dangerous emissions around the world: coal plants.

The plant’s backers, including federal energy officials, have defended their work in recent years by saying that delays and cost overruns are inevitable with innovative projects of this scale. In this case, they say, the difficulties stem largely from unforeseen factors — or “unknown unknowns,” as Tom Fanning, the chief executive of Southern Company, has often called them — like bad weather, labor shortages and design uncertainties.

Many problems plaguing the project were broadly known and had been occurring for years. But a review by The New York Times of thousands of pages of public records, previously undisclosed internal documents and emails, and 200 hours of secretly though legally recorded conversations among more than a dozen colleagues at the plant offers a detailed look at what went wrong and why.

Those documents and recordings, provided to The Times by a whistle-blower, an engineer named Brett Wingo, and interviews with more than 30 current or former regulators, contractors, consultants or engineers who worked on the project, show that the plant’s owners drastically understated the project’s cost and timetable, and repeatedly tried to conceal problems as they emerged.

The system of checks and balances that are supposed to keep such projects on track was outweighed by a shared and powerful incentive: The company and regulators were eager to qualify for hundreds of millions of dollars in federal subsidies for the plant, which was also aggressively promoted by Haley Barbour, who was Southern’s chief lobbyist before becoming the governor of Mississippi. Once in office, Mr. Barbour signed a law in 2008 that allowed much of the cost of building any new power plants to be passed on to ratepayers before they are built.

Seeing so many of the problems from the inside, at least one employee felt the need to speak up.

“I’ve reached a personal tipping point and feel a duty to act,” Mr. Wingo wrote in a 2014 email, which was among several that he sent to officials of Southern Company and Mississippi Power, the state utility that runs the plant, alleging that the company had broken federal law and engaged in corporate fraud. “Hope is not a strategy,” he added. “This is a high-profile project with many misguided enemies, so why give them free ammo?”

In their recorded conversations with Mr. Wingo, at least six senior engineers from the plant said that they believed that the delays and cost overruns, as well as safety violations and shoddy work, were partly the result of mismanagement or fraud.

“It has nothing to do with the design, it has nothing to do with the technology, it just has to do with poor project management,” Landon Lunsford, an engineer at the plant, said during one recorded call with Mr. Wingo last December, when they discussed an email from Southern’s legal department telling senior employees to retain all emails because of a continuing S.E.C. investigation.

The company will never admit the project-management problems because they will attract more scrutiny from regulators, Mr. Lunsford said. “As long as they can talk away the results as attributable to something else other than just poor performance, the other public service commissions can’t hold them over the fire as much,” he added.

Officials from Southern Company and Mississippi Power, which is a Southern subsidiary, said that they could not comment on Mr. Wingo’s allegations but that all decisions about cost and budget projections were made by consensus. They also said that Mr. Wingo’s accusations had previously been investigated by the company and could not be substantiated. Mr. Wingo was fired in February, a move that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration later ruled illegal.

Ed Holland, the former chief executive of Mississippi Power, added that one of the project’s biggest mistakes was to start construction with little of the plant designed. “We still believe that from our investors’ standpoint, this was a wise investment to prove the technology,” he said in an interview.

In the end, the Kemper project is a story of how a monopoly utility, with political help from the Mississippi governor and from federal energy officials who pressured state regulators in letters to support the project, shifted the burden of one of the most expensive power plants ever built onto the shoulders of unwitting investors and some of the lowest-income ratepayers in the country.

Kemper’s rising price tag and other problems will probably affect the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed rules on new power plants, and also play into broader discussions about the best way to counter climate change. E.P.A. regulations in effect require new coal plants to have carbon capture technology but are being held up in federal court partly by arguments that the technology is not cost-effective.

The importance of this technology grows, as well, after President Obama said last week that the United States would join Canada and Mexico in pledging to reach a shared goal of generating 50 percent of North America’s electricity from zero-carbon sources by 2025, up from 37 percent today, with a power mix that includes wind, solar, hydropower, nuclear energy and coal or gas power paired with carbon capture technology.

“The big question with clean coal has always been whether it’s a moonshot or a money pit,” said Charles Grayson, the director of the Bigger Pie Forum, which advocates fiscal conservatism in Mississippi and has been critical of the Kemper project for years. “The Obama administration and my state made a really bad wager in trying to use Kemper to make the economic argument for this technology.”

High Hopes

Coal represents a conundrum: It is among the dirtiest sources of fuel, producing roughly 45 percent of the emissions that contribute to climate change. And yet the world still relies on it for power, with more than a quarter of the electricity used globally coming from coal plants.

 

Southern Company proposed a promising idea with the Kemper project. Providing a cleaner way to use coal, which is cheap and abundant in the United States, the plant also offered the means to preserve many coal-mining jobs that are fast disappearing in this part of the country.

Kemper County, with mostly two-lane roads cutting through clay hills and pine forest, has an average per capita income of $14,837 and an unemployment rate roughly double the national average. To the region, the plant offered more than clean power: It promised hope, at least 12,000 jobs and long-term savings. As construction ramped up, the county took in over $8 million annually in extra tax money, which went toward repairing roads, bridges and schools, lowering local property taxes, and clearing debt.

In the summer of 2005, as Hurricane Katrina toppled drilling rigs and uprooted pipelines in the Gulf of Mexico, the price of natural gas rose by more than 40 percent. In Mississippi, utility regulators saw the Kemper plant as a way to diversify its energy options in a state that relies on natural gas for nearly 80 percent of its electricity.

The plant, which broke ground in 2010, would run on lignite, a type of coal that is difficult to process but is plentiful in the region. Most of the carbon dioxide produced by the plant would be captured, compressed, sold and piped to oil fields. There, it would be pumped underground in a process known as enhanced oil recovery, to help push up previously unrecoverable oil to levels where it could be reached.

Though carbon capture technology is proven and widely viewed as a potentially important tool to slow global warming, the question has been whether it can be scaled up affordably.

Before becoming governor, Mr. Barbour helped orchestrate the transfer of about $270 million in federal subsidies from a canceled coal plant in Florida to the proposed Mississippi plant. As governor, Mr. Barbour then signed the Baseload Act, which shifted much of the cost and risk of building power plants from investors to consumers, and allowed utilities such as Mississippi Power to charge ratepayers for projects before they were completed.

Carbon capture has been considered a holy grail for decades. For Ronald Reagan, it was a solution to acid rain; for Bill Clinton, an alternative to nuclear power. George W. Bush billed his FutureGen project as the world’s first zero-emissions coal plant but mothballed it when it became too expensive.

As the emphasis on fighting climate change grew, the Obama administration hung many of its hopes on Kemper. Gina McCarthy, the E.P.A. administrator, cited federal support for the project as proof that her agency was not anti-coal, despite strict new rules on power-plant emissions. The Energy Department repeatedly wrote state regulators emphasizing the importance of the project.

By 2012, though, “Miss Power,” as locals called the state utility, was facing mounting criticism about the plant. In May of that year, after the utility said that the Kemper project was $366 million over budget, it announced a plan to raise its customers’ rates by 13 percent.

Campaigning for a seat on the Mississippi Public Service Commission, Thomas A. Blanton, an opponent of the project, ran television ads featuring an older woman eating dog food and warning of sacrifices that poorer people sometimes make to afford electricity. In cramped trailers where some of the poorest people in the state live, summer temperatures topped 110 degrees — potentially deadly for older residents who could not pay to keep their air-conditioning running.

“You don’t want to pay to build my home, and I don’t want to pay to build your plant,” John Gooding, a cabinetmaker from Bay St. Louis, who lost his home in Hurricane Katrina, said during a public hearing about the rate hikes. “Some people are still living in trailers, and now you want to build a plant you can’t guarantee.”

Other critics piled on. Environmentalists called the plant the “Solyndra of clean coal,” a reference to the heavily subsidized but failed federal solar project. They asked whether the plant’s climate change benefits were overstated because the carbon it would capture from coal was going to be used to pump more oil.

Why was Kemper being cited as a model worthy of replicating, they asked, given that other plants would not share one of Kemper’s main advantages: a plentiful supply of cheap coal nearby.

Alleging that Southern Company and Mississippi Power had overstated the plant’s cost-effectiveness, the Bigger Pie Forum sued to unseal project records. To help make their case that the Kemper plant would be competitive with natural gas, which is coal’s main competitor, utility executives predicted to investors and regulators that the per-unit price for natural gas would be higher than $11 by 2016. But gas remains less than $2 per unit, undermining the business case for the plant.

The project did create jobs, but Mark Klinedinst, a retired economics professor from the University of Southern Mississippi, said that more were lost in the region as businesses laid people off to pay for the higher electrical bills caused by Mississippi Power rate increases from plant construction. The University of Southern Mississippi also raised annual tuition $236 per student, partly to offset its additional $1 million in higher electrical costs, he said.

The Whistle-Blower

Mr. Wingo, 48, had lived paycheck to paycheck for years, working at small, struggling engineering firms. When he was hired in 2007 by a subsidiary of Southern, it was a big step up. He doubled his salary to become a midlevel manager to help oversee scheduling and some design decisions on a project that he believed would make history.

Before long, Southern began flying him around the country to explain the project to others. He received glowing performance reviews and was awarded an annual $2,000 “Southern Excellence” employee award.

By 2012, though, Mr. Wingo had begun his transition to whistle-blower. About two weeks after state regulators renewed the license for the project to continue, Mississippi Power admitted to regulators that it had concealed cost overruns of about $366 million.

In increasingly testy meetings and emails over succeeding months, Mr. Wingo told his supervisors that other scheduling information that Mississippi Power and Southern Company were providing to the public was infeasible and misleading.

Ed Day, Mississippi Power’s chief executive at the time, tried to tighten control over what was shared. “I would like to remind everyone ‘again,’ no numbers, schedules, or information in general should be communicated to external parties until I review it/them first,” Mr. Day wrote in an Aug. 8, 2012, email to senior staff.

Others shared Mr. Wingo’s growing concerns. Tom Theodore, a scheduling consultant who worked on the Kemper project for about eight months in 2012, described the company’s stated schedule as little more than “a pretty picture to show everybody that we’re all doing wonderful as opposed to what reality showed on the ground.”

His predecessors had altered the software so it no longer automatically adjusted the final price and completion date to reflect problems as they emerged, he said.

Greg Zoll, who had been hired by the state to be the project’s independent monitor, also grew skeptical. While engineering expenses and purchases went up, reported construction costs went down and scheduling timelines were shortened.

“These trends are illogical,” he wrote in of one of a series of highly critical reports that he filed with regulators from 2012 to 2014. Documents show that in a rush to qualify for federal subsidies, Mississippi Power started construction with less than 15 percent of the plant designed, Mr. Zoll told regulators.

Mississippi Power rejected Mr. Zoll’s criticism, responding that the delays were caused by glitchy software and shifts in design, and that the company was absorbing most of the additional costs.

But Brandon Presley, now the chairman of the Mississippi Public Service Commission, which regulates utilities, said that the project was troubled from the start and he voted against it. “The train left the station,” he said, when, in a rush to qualify for millions of dollars in federal subsidies, the commission approved the project.

He added that the problem was not the federal subsidies, which are necessary to develop innovative technology, but the failure by all parties to slow down and ask enough questions.

On May 20, 2013, Mr. Day abruptly stepped down as chief executive. His replacement, Ed Holland, told regulators that Mr. Day had directed or allowed employees to withhold from regulators documents about cost overruns. That sparked public outcry because the information was withheld from the commission while it was deciding whether to reapprove the project. “I will see that it never happens again,” said Mr. Holland, according to news articles at the time.

An Internal Battle

In February 2014, an argument erupted at the plant. Engineers told upper-level managers that the company should not promise to regulators and investors that the project would be done before the end of the year, emails and recorded calls show. Weeks later, the company did so anyway.

The next day, the owner of the project’s scheduling firm sent an email saying that he could not in good conscience continue to work on a project that did not “fairly and accurately represent the work that still remains.”

Mr. Wingo wrote in a subsequent email to an official at PricewaterhouseCoopers, an auditing firm that was helping to manage the project, “This has really put the entire project at a crossroads.” The other engineers in his division were in “utter disbelief” that the company had published a false schedule, he added.

On March 10, Mr. Wingo called Mr. Fanning, the chief executive of Southern Company, to ensure the message reached him. “I’m glad you brought this to me,” Mr. Wingo said Mr. Fanning told him. “I plan to get to the bottom of this.”

Instead, Southern Company and Mississippi Power focused in subsequent months at least as much on damage control as they did on rooting out wrongdoing.

In meetings, Mr. Wingo and other engineers said that they were told by plant managers that they needed to present an optimistic timetable for the project or the utility risked “financial Armageddon” of lost tax subsidies, spooked investors, possible bankruptcy, and harsh criticism from the news media, regulators and lawmakers.

After Mr. Wingo provided company officials with a binder of documents corroborating his allegations, he said he was ordered to stop sending emails on the matter because they could become public through litigation.

After he told his manager in an email that most project engineers agreed that the plant could not be completed by 2014, the manager continued telling executives that “to a man” all of the plant’s engineers thought that finishing by 2014 was feasible, Mr. Wingo said, and Mr. Lunsford, the engineer at the plant, reiterated in a recorded call that the manager’s comment was false.

Mr. Wingo, who began speaking to reporters, refused an offer of roughly $975,000 from the company to keep quiet, according to interviews and court records related to his whistle-blower claims. Southern was then granted a restraining order, later dropped, forbidding him from speaking publicly about the plant, court records show.

Mr. Wingo said that he began recording his phone conversations in August 2014, hoping to protect himself. During those calls, at least two of Mr. Wingo’s colleagues said that they strongly disagreed with what one of them called “his grand conspiracy.” A half-dozen other engineers told Mr. Wingo that they shared his views.

The Times contacted each of the engineers whose conversations were recorded and shared by Mr. Wingo. All declined to comment.

The recordings include commiseration among colleagues, and ambivalence from engineers who vacillated between criticizing and defending the project. They include typical workplace grousing about bosses who workers say are in need of “Viagra for the brain” and are incapable of running even a Popsicle stand.

They also reveal an internal struggle that Mr. Wingo faced: While still a believer in the possibility of clean coal, he was uneasy to find himself on the same side as environmental groups that oppose fossil fuels.

“My enemy’s enemy is not necessarily my friend,” he said in one recorded conversation in February 2015.

What troubled the engineers most was the poor quality of work: leaking gaskets, cracked ductwork, and pipes missing inspection records, valves and supports. Ryan Brown, a plant engineer, said during a phone call that he was having to “go back and do some sort of repair or rebuild” for every piece of work handed to him by the plant’s construction teams, which were under intense deadline pressure.

In a call on Aug. 22, 2014, Mr. Wingo confronted one of his superiors, Brett Wingard, about photographs covertly taken by an inspector who was concerned about defective pipes at the plant. Mr. Wingard dismissed the threat, saying that the pipes were only in a section of the plant not yet in operation (part of the project is running on natural gas already). GPS information in the images indicates otherwise.

Other workers recounted in phone calls to Mr. Wingo that they had discovered a large section of outdoor exhaust pipe that was glowing cherry red one night in September 2014 because 1,400-degree gases were misdirected through it. “That’s so bad that it made people all over the company stand up and say this is ridiculous,” Mr. Lunsford said in an October call with Mr. Wingo.

Several co-workers warned Mr. Wingo against being “a martyr.” One engineer, Donald Falletta, told him in a phone call that jumping on a grenade “when there ain’t nobody else in the damn room don’t save nobody.” In a call six months later, Mr. Falletta added that he too believed that managers were being “told to lie” about the pace of progress.

In February 2015, Southern sued Mr. Wingo, alleging that he had agreed to a settlement but failed to comply with its terms, which included keeping quiet about the plant. Mr. Wingo said that he never signed or agreed to any settlement.

Tim Leljedal, a spokesman for Southern Company, added that Mr. Wingo’s allegations had been thoroughly investigated by the company and by outside counsel and were found to be unsubstantiated. He added that with any project of this scope, detractors are inevitable.

Shortly after the lawsuit was filed, Mr. Wingo’s colleague, Robert Adams, called him to say that he was leaving the company and to ask whether he would be legally allowed to speak publicly about the plant at that point. “Once we resign, do you think they will try to silence us?” asked Mr. Adams, who left the company shortly thereafter.

In March, the company dropped its case against Mr. Wingo. “Hug that wife,” Donald Falletta said in a phone conversation congratulating Mr. Wingo. “She’s been through a damn roller-coaster ride.”

The utility was on a roller coaster, too. In February 2015, the state Supreme Court ruled that Mississippi Power had to repay ratepayers roughly $377 million for increasing rates by 15 percent in 2013 and 3 percent in 2014 without proper approvals. Utility officials responded that the requirement would bankrupt it, and several months later persuaded regulators to approve a new increase, 15 percent.

Meanwhile, engineers discussed the pressure to hurry construction. One of them, Brent Duncan, recounted in a phone call that he told a scheduling contractor how discouraged he was that managers were being allowed to “screw” with the schedule and “then claim they can meet all these dates, and there’s no way.”

The engineers joked that Mississippi Power, eager to show progress to investors and regulators, overstated certain milestones. For example, it bragged of achieving the “first fire,” which involves the lighting of the gasifier, when what they did fell far short of the actual definition, according to Mr. Wingo.

“We burned natural gas in a pilot” light, Brandon Davis, an engineer, said during one phone conversation. “I accomplish that every day in my garage.”

Some engineers wondered aloud whether accurate information was making it to the top. “By the time the message gets to Tom Fanning,” Mr. Lunsford said in a September 2015 call, “it’s so muddled and messed up that he’s not even hearing the truth.”

In March, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration alerted Southern that it had violated whistle-blower protections. The agency rejected the company’s claim that it was justified in firing Mr. Wingo because he could “not be trusted to support the chain of command.”

Mr. Wingo filed his whistle-blower claim against Southern Company under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. While that law does not lead to paying a cash bounty to successful whistle-blowers, Mr. Wingo declined to say whether he has also filed a claim with the S.E.C. under the Dodd-Frank Act, which does pay awards for successful cases.

In April of this year, Southern informed the S.E.C. for at least the eighth consecutive month of a new delay and cost overrun, this time for $60 million, bringing the total spent on the Kemper project to about $6.7 billion. In May, the Obama administration said that it planned to cut spending on clean-coal technologies by 3 percent in next year’s budget.

Supporters of carbon capture say that Kemper’s problems are not representative of the entire industry, and that one part of the plant — the gasifier that converts cheap coal into synthetic gas — is primarily causing the delays. But critics say that the principal challenge of carbon capture is cost, and that the gasifier’s ability to use cheap coal has always been advertised as key to making the project affordable.

As Mississippi Power and Southern Company have continued struggling to bring the plant online, Southern has repeatedly promoted in calls to investors its plans to help offset the project’s cost by selling the carbon-capture technology abroad.

For now, Mr. Presley, the chairman of the Mississippi Public Service Commission, says he is taking a wait-and-see approach, hoping that when and if the plant finally comes online, it works as promised. Mississippi Power has said that every month of delay adds more than $20 million to the overall cost, but it will charge customers for extra costs from the plant only with approval by the commission.

Mr. Presley will eventually have to grapple with what he called the “awful task” of not pushing the utility into bankruptcy while determining how much electricity customers, taxpayers and investors should pay for the billions of dollars in cost overruns.