Ireland votes to divest from fossil fuels #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

By Jeff Schmaltz – NASA Earth Observatory, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14627545

From The Guardian (Damian Carrington):

Bill passed by parliament means more than €300m shares in coal, oil, peat and gas will be sold ‘as soon as practicable’

The Republic of Ireland will become the world’s first country to sell off its investments in fossil fuel companies, after a bill was passed with all-party support in the lower house of parliament.

The state’s €8bn national investment fund will be required to sell all investments in coal, oil, gas and peat “as soon as is practicable”, which is expected to mean within five years. Norway’s huge $1tn sovereign wealth fund has only partially divested from fossil fuels, targeting some coal companies, and is still considering its oil and gas holdings.

The fossil fuel divestment movement has grown rapidly and trillions of dollars of investment funds have been divested, including large pension funds and insurers, cities such as New York, churches and universities.

Supporters of divestment say existing fossil fuel resources are already far greater than can be burned without causing catastrophic climate change and that exploring and producing more fossil fuels is therefore morally wrong and economically risky… [ed. emphasis mine]

The Irish fossil fuel divestment bill was passed in the lower house of parliament on Thursday and it is expected to pass rapidly through the upper house, meaning it could become law before the end of the year. The Irish state investment fund holds more than €300m in fossil fuel investments in 150 companies.

“The [divestment] movement is highlighting the need to stop investing in the expansion of a global industry which must be brought into managed decline if catastrophic climate change is to be averted,” said Thomas Pringle, the independent member of parliament who introduced the bill. “Ireland by divesting is sending a clear message that the Irish public and the international community are ready to think and act beyond narrow short term vested interests.”

Éamonn Meehan, executive director of international development charity Trócaire, said: “Today the Oireachtas [Irish parliament] has sent a powerful signal to the international community about the need to speed up the phase-out of fossil fuels.”

[…]

The bill defines a fossil fuel company as a company that derives 20% or more of its revenue from exploration, extraction or refinement of fossil fuels. The bill also allows investment in Irish fossil fuel companies if this funds their move away from fossil fuels.

Gerry Liston at Global Legal Action Network, who drafted the bill, said: “Governments will not meet their obligations under the Paris agreement on climate change if they continue to financially sustain the fossil fuel industry. Countries the world over must now urgently follow Ireland’s lead and divest from fossil fuels.”

Oil and Gas Fields Leak Far More Methane than EPA Reports, Study Finds — Inside Climate News

Colorado has led the way on regulations designed to limit emissions of methane. Photo/Allen Best

From Inside Climate News (Sabrina Shankman):

The amount of methane leaking from the nation’s oil and gas fields may be 60 percent higher than the official estimates of the Environmental Protection Agency, according to a new study in the journal Science.

The study, led by a group of scientists from the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), presents some of the most compelling evidence to date that switching to gas from dirtier fuels like coal might not be as effective a climate strategy as its proponents suggest unless the gas industry improves how it controls leaks…

The authors estimated, conservatively, that methane equivalent to 2.3 percent of all the natural gas produced in the nation is leaking during the production, processing and transportation of oil and gas every year. That doesn’t count leaks from local delivery lines, another widespread problem.

This much leaked methane would have roughly the same climate impact in the short-term as emissions from all U.S. coal-fired power plants, the authors found.

Another way to put it: This rate of leaking methane is just as bad for the climate in the short term as the carbon dioxide that results from burning natural gas for fuel.

Suddenly, solar energy plus storage is giving conventional fuels a run for their money —

As the owners of the largest coal-burning power plant in the West map out the details of closing in the next two years, the Navajo Nation has taken its next step in its energy development by starting operations at a new 27-megawatt solar farm not far from the source of the coal that fuels Navajo Generating Station. The Kayenta solar project, owned by the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority and operated by First solar, is the first large-scale solar energy facility on the reservation. The electricity is sold to the Salt River Project for distribution. The project’s 120,000 photovoltaic panels sit on 200 acres and are mounted on single-axis trackers that follow the movement of the sun. It provides enough electricity to power approximately 7,700 households. The tribe entered a lease agreement with NTUA in 2015 for the location, a groundbreaking ceremony was held in April 2016, followed by six months of construction that started last September. The $60 million facility was built using a construction loan from the National Rural Utilities Cooperative Finance Corporation.

From ENSIA (Daniel Rothberg):

In December, the state’s largest utility — Xcel Energy — released a short report summarizing the responses to the solicitation it had issued to power suppliers for bids to bring new sources of electricity to the grid. The utility received 430 bids, and 350 of those were for renewable energy projects.

That was remarkable on its own, but what surprised people even more were the bids for projects that added battery storage to the mix. They were cheaper than anyone expected.

“It’s a testament to how quickly the market is changing,” Pierce says.

Changing Attitudes

For years, renewable energy advocates have pushed utilities and regulators to consider adding battery storage to their electrical generation portfolios for flexibility and to reduce intermittency problems that come with solar and wind. Until recently, it wasn’t considered a realistic option: Batteries were expensive and largely untested by utilities, and risk-averse regulators mostly let grid managers ignore them in their bids, statements and long-term planning documents.

Analysts say that’s starting to change as batteries come down in price, as momentum builds behind renewables and as renewables create a natural market for storage. Utilities are increasingly looking at batteries as a tool for leveling out power available over the course of the day and for replacing bulky and expensive peaking power plants that have high costs but only occasionally run at or near full capacity to meet peak demand (in the Southwest, this might be one hot day in the summer when everyone has their air conditioning turned up).

Some see the Xcel Energy report as the most recent case in a growing trend. Xcel’s preliminary analysis from December (a more thorough report is expected to come out June 6) showed that the median bids for battery storage projects coupled with solar and wind generation came in at about US$36 and US$21 per megawatt-hour, respectively. The prices of projects that combined solar or wind with storage, according to the report, were still more expensive than conventional fuels but only marginally more expensive than bids for standalone solar or wind projects. What it shows, analysts say, is that utilities can use batteries without adding huge costs to renewable projects.

Xcel is not alone. Utilities across the country appear to be more receptive to the idea of adding storage to their portfolios. Tucson Electric Power’s decision to build a solar-plus-storage project for US$45 per megawatt-hour generated dozens of headlines last year — and that price-point is higher than the Xcel median. Earlier this year, NV Energy, an affiliate of Berkshire Hathaway Energy, announced it would include battery storage in its bidding process for the first time. Around the same time, California regulators pushed a utility to procure energy storage as a replacement to natural gas. A few months later, Florida Light & Power announced a project adding storage to an existing solar plant.

Kate McGinnis, the Western U.S. market director for Fluence Energy, a global battery storage provider that Siemens and AES Corporation launched last year, says it’s clear that attitudes toward storage are changing. “We’re seeing utilities talk directly to us to learn more about what storage can do and how it can help them to meet the various grid challenges they are experiencing,” McGinnis says.

But she also offered the following warning: The Xcel numbers, as medians, reveal difficulties in comparing different energy storage projects. Batteries are diverse and complex. Different batteries have different capacities — some might be able to hold enough energy so they could discharge power over five hours. Others might be able to store enough for 10 hours…

Boosting Efficiency, Replacing Gas

A big driver of the shift in energy storage is cost, says Yayoi Sekine, an analyst for Bloomberg New Energy Finance. She notes that the price of lithium-ion batteries has dropped from about $1,000 per kilowatt-hour in 2010 to about $209 per kWh in 2017. The decreases came as more batteries were produced at a more efficient scale to accommodate a growing electric vehicle market.

“That’s a massive decrease in prices over not that long of a period,” she says.

Utilities, Sekine says, see an opportunity to use storage to make the grid more efficient. Adding more solar to the grid has created big issues for how grid operators manage a utility’s generation portfolio, the biggest of which is commonly known as the “duck curve” (the name comes from the a graph of net load on the grid; it forms what looks like the outline of a duck). It occurs when so much solar power is produced during the day that it creates a slew of issues for meeting demand at night. The thinking is that if some of that solar power were stored in a battery, it could be dispatched with more flexibility and deployed more gradually to better balance supply and demand.

Others want to take storage and solar a step further. They believe that, as prices become more competitive, the two together can obviate the need for some natural gas plants. According to a new report from Greentech Media, solar and storage together are expected to compete directly with natural gas peakers — plants built to meet peak electricity demand — by 2022.

“That is an application where we think [battery] storage can be highly competitive,” says Ravi Manghani, an industry analyst who directs Greentech Media’s energy storage research.

The industry still faces some headwinds. Analysts say costs need to decrease even more for batteries plus renewables to compete head-on with most conventional fuels. David Hart, a professor at George Mason University and a co-author on a recent working paper on energy storage, says that more research and development is necessary. He proposes that government mechanisms encourage innovation, especially research in battery types other than lithium-ion.

Another challenge, Hart says, is the fact that electricity prices vary based on time and location.

Colorado lawmakers should nurture the electric vehicle market, not punish it

Leaf, Berthoud Pass Summint, August 21, 2017.

From ColoradoPolitics.com (Will Toor):

EVs improve our air quality. Vehicles are one of the two largest sources of air pollution, and a majority of Colorado residents live in areas of the Front Range that violate federal air quality standards. Dirty air is unhealthy for all of us, and it has a particularly negative impact on children, the elderly, and people suffering from asthma or lung disease. Electric vehicles have no emissions from the tailpipe and are so much more efficient than gas cars. A 2017 study for the Regional Air Quality Council found that EVs emit 99 percent less volatile organic compounds and 30 percent less nitrogen oxides than a new gas car today.

EVs bring real economic benefits to consumers. Fuel cost savings can approach $1,000 per year for every electric vehicle. If Colorado is able to achieve the goals set out in the state’s recently adopted EV plan, consumers will save over $500 million per year by 2030. Those consumer dollars will be reinvested in our communities, supporting local businesses and creating jobs…

But the economic benefits don’t just help EV drivers; getting more EVs on the road also will lower everyone’s electric bills. EVs help utilities make more efficient use of their existing power plants and grid infrastructure (which all of us have to pay for), thereby spreading out the costs more and reducing the share that each of us pay.

Here’s how that works. Utilities have to build their power plants for peak electrical use, which normally happens during the day – and all of us pay a portion of that infrastructure cost. But most EV drivers charge at night in preparation for the next morning’s drive, and night is when other electrical demands are low and power plants have excess capacity. So by charging their cars at night, EV drivers help utilities pay down their fixed costs. A study by a national consulting firm found that every EV on the road drives down the total electricity costs paid by other customers by $650 — and by 2030, ratepayers could be saving $70 million per year! The same study found that high levels of EV adoption would lead to total net economic benefits across Colorado of $43 billion by 2050.

Despite all of these benefits, the state Senate recently voted in a party line vote to end the state electric vehicle tax credits (the House rejected this bill). Others have called for new fees on EVs, based on the argument that EV drivers don’t pay gas tax. But EV owners already pay an extra vehicle registration fee, that is designed to pay the same amount into the highway fund as a gasoline vehicle that is as efficient as an EV would pay. It doesn’t make sense to add even more fees at a time when EVs still make up a very small part of the market.

If we want to achieve all the benefits that EVs bring, we need to get a lot more on the road. Because Colorado has supported EVs with a tax credit and state investment in charging stations, the EV market here is one of the best in the country, with the sixth-highest market share of any state in 2017. Sales are growing by over 50 percent per year.

#Colorado Communities File Lawsuit Against Oil Giants for #ClimateChange Costs

Here’s the release (Barb Halpin, Public Information Officer, Ben Irwin, Amy Markwell, Valentina Stackl):

Costs of climate change impacts estimated to top one hundred million dollars by 2050

Today, the Colorado communities of Boulder County, San Miguel County, and the City of Boulder—with legal support from EarthRights International, Niskanen Center, and other co-counsel—filed a lawsuit against Suncor and ExxonMobil (“Exxon”), two oil companies with significant responsibility for climate change. The communities have demanded that these companies pay their fair share of the costs associated with climate change impacts, so that the costs do not fall disproportionately on taxpayers.

Climate change affects fragile high-altitude ecosystems and hits at the heart of these communities’ local economies, affecting roads and bridges, parks and forests, buildings, farming and agriculture, the ski industry, and public open space. Adapting to such a wide range of impacts requires local governments to undertake unprecedented levels of planning and spending. Over the next three decades, these communities will face at least one hundred million dollars in costs to deal with the impacts of climate change caused by the use of fossil fuel products like those made and sold by Suncor and Exxon.

Suncor and Exxon have known about the costly consequences of fossil fuel use for more than 50 years. Yet they continued to promote and sell their products, while recklessly deceiving the public and policymakers about the dangers.

In the past year, nine coastal communities in California and New York filed climate lawsuits against fossil fuel companies. This is the first such lawsuit in Colorado—or anywhere in the U.S. interior—aimed at holding fossil fuel companies accountable for paying their fair share of the costs of climate change.

Statements

“Climate change impacts are already happening and they are only going to get worse. In fact, Colorado is one of the fastest warming states in the nation. Climate change is not just about sea level rise. It affects all of us in the middle of the country as well.” – Elise Jones, Boulder County Commissioner

“We are a small rural county dependent on tourism and farming and ranching. A natural disaster here could wipe out our reserves. Unabated fossil fuel production is already impacting our climate. These changes will grow more intense over time.” – Hilary Cooper, San Miguel County Commissioner.

“Our communities and our taxpayers should not shoulder the cost of climate change adaptation alone. These oil companies need to pay their fair share.” – Suzanne Jones, Mayor, City of Boulder

“For over 50 years, Suncor and Exxon have known that fossil fuels would cause severe climate impacts. To enhance their own profits, they concealed this knowledge and spread doubt about science they knew to be correct. Now, communities all over this country are left to foot the bill.” – Marco Simons, EarthRights International

“Future generations and those least responsible for causing climate change will bear the brunt of the impacts. We need to shift the costs back to these companies that have profited off their demands for unabated pollution in the face of global climate destabilization.” – Micah Parkin (350 Colorado)

“The fossil fuel industry has normalized oil and gas in our lives while concealing the dangers. It’s time for a cultural shift. In the future, when we talk about ‘energy,’ we should be referring to renewable energy, not fossil fuels.” – Rebecca Dickson, Sierra Club

“For hundreds of years, the common law has insisted that people who damage property should be held liable for their actions, and this case seeks no more than to protect property rights and the rule of law.” – David Bookbinder, Niskanen Center.

Background

For years, these Colorado communities have taken action to reduce their own carbon footprints. All three have adopted ambitious CO2 emission reduction targets, passed budgets for climate work, conducted greenhouse gas (GHG) inventories, and established incentive programs for residents. Despite these efforts, taxpayers already face the rising costs of adapting to a changing climate.

Suncor and Exxon are two of the world’s largest contributors to climate change and have been particularly active in Colorado. Fossil fuel combustion accounted for nearly 80 percent of all GHG emissions between 1970 and 2010.

  • Exxon is the largest investor-owned fossil fuel producer in history. Suncor is one of the world’s largest independent energy companies. Both are active in Colorado.
  • Suncor’s U.S. operations are based in Denver, Colorado; the company supplies about 35 percent of the state’s gasoline and diesel fuel demand. Suncor and Exxon work closely together in Colorado to market and sell fossil fuels.
  • The two companies jointly own the majority of Syncrude Canada Ltd., one of the largest developer of Canada’s tar sands.
  • Together, Suncor and Exxon are responsible for billions of tons of CO2 emissions. Their future carbon footprint is likely to be enormous, as well: both companies plan to expand fossil fuel production through tar sands, fracking, and other means.

    For more than 50 years, these oil companies have known about the harm that their products would cause to communities, but have chosen to continue business as usual. These companies have long known about the risks of their own activities. In 1968, industry scientists warned them that “significant temperature changes are almost certain to occur by the year 2000” due to rising GHGs, and that “the potential damage to our environment could be severe.”

    By the 1970s, Suncor and Exxon knew with high certainty that their products were dangerous and that inaction would cause dramatic, even catastrophic, changes to the climate. Exxon even took measures to protect itself from climate change: for example, the company adapted its own facilities to protect from sea level rise.

    Summary

    Boulder County, San Miguel County, and the City of Boulder have partnered together to represent communities on the Front Range and the Western Slope and require these oil companies to help pay for the costs of climate change on local communities in Colorado. Because of the magnitude of the financial impacts, these communities feel like they have little choice but to bring this litigation on behalf of their residents.

    Down ‘The River Of Lost Souls’ With Jonathan Thompson — Colorado Public Radio

    From Colorado Public Radio (Nathan Heffel). Click through to listen to the interview:

    A new book puts the Gold King Mine spill within the long history of mining and pollution in Southwest Colorado.

    Jonathan Thompson will be at the Book Bar tonight. I wonder if Denver is a bit of a shock to his system even though he’s a sixth-generation Coloradan?

    I am so happy to finally get to finally meet Jonathan. His new book, River of Lost Souls, is an important read. Understanding the industrialization of our state over the years will help us chart a less destructive course.

    I loved the passages where Jonathan reminisces about spending time around the Four Corners and in the San Juans. He transports you to those times in your life spent next to the river or exploring what sights the land has to offer. He connects you to the Four Corners in a way that only a son of the San Juans could.

    Cement Creek aerial photo — Jonathan Thompson via Twitter

    America’s Most Endangered Rivers® of 2018 — @AmericanRivers

    Click here to read the report.

    From American Rivers (Jessie Thomas-Blate):

    Released today, America’s Most Endangered Rivers® of 2018 spotlights the battery of threats from the Trump administration and its allies in Congress to clean water and rivers nationwide. Take action today on behalf of this year’s endangered rivers.

    Is your favorite river endangered? Check out the list below of the 2018 America’s Most Endangered Rivers®.

    On this year’s list, zombie projects abound. From draining critical wetlands on Mississippi’s Big Sunflower River to mining in Minnesota’s Boundary Waters and the rivers of Alaska’s Bristol Bay, to building a border wall on the Lower Rio Grande, America’s Most Endangered Rivers® of 2018 illustrates the recurring attacks by the Trump administration and Congress on clean water, people and wildlife.

    This is the kind of destruction that will be difficult and, in some cases, impossible to reverse. If the Trump administration and its supporters in Congress succeed in rolling back bedrock environmental protections and handing over our rivers to polluters, the health, well-being and natural heritage of our nation’s families and communities will be impoverished for generations to come.

    This is the kind of destruction that will be difficult and, in some cases, impossible to reverse. If the Trump administration and its supporters in Congress succeed in rolling back bedrock environmental protections and handing over our rivers to polluters, the health, well-being and natural heritage of our nation’s families and communities will be impoverished for generations to come.

    The following rivers on this year’s list will be directly impacted by decisions from the Trump administration and Congress:

    Big Sunflower River (Mississippi), threatened by revival of the Army Corps of Engineers Yazoo Pumps project that would drain critical wetlands at enormous taxpayer expense.

    Rivers of Bristol Bay (Alaska), threatened by the world’s biggest open pit mine that could devastate a $1.5 billion salmon fishery.

    Boundary Waters (Minnesota), threatened by mining that would pollute pristine waters and harm a thriving recreation economy.

    Lower Rio Grande (Texas), threatened by a border wall that would cut off people and communities from the river, exacerbate flooding, and destroy wildlife habitat.

    South Fork Salmon River (Idaho), threatened by mining that could have lasting consequences for clean water and the Wild and Scenic mainstem Salmon River.

    Mississippi River Gorge (Minnesota), threatened by obsolete locks and dams preventing revitalization of river health and recreation in downtown Minneapolis.

    Colville River (Alaska), threatened by oil and gas development that imperils clean water and habitat for polar bears, wolves and caribou.

    “Healthy rivers are essential to public health, our economy, and the well-being of our nation. We must insist that those tasked with managing our water resources have the best interests of the public in mind. America’s Most Endangered Rivers of 2018 highlights critical upcoming decisions and paints a stark picture of what’s at stake. It’s an important call to action that we must amplify nationwide,” said Jo-Ellen Darcy, former Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works) and American Rivers board member.

    On the #1 river on this year’s list, the Big Sunflower in Mississippi, members of Congress are pushing to undermine the Clean Water Act to resurrect the Yazoo Pumps, one of the most environmentally damaging projects ever proposed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. If allowed to advance, it would be the first time ever that an EPA veto of a Corps project (the George W. Bush EPA stopped the project in 2008) was overturned by Congress, undermining the authority of the EPA to enforce the Clean Water Act.

    The Yazoo Pumps Project would damage more than 200,000 acres of wetlands in the Big Sunflower River watershed in the heart of the Mississippi River Flyway. More than 450 species of fish and wildlife, including the Louisiana black bear, rely on the wetlands habitat that would be drained by the project.

    The Lower Rio Grande, #4 on this year’s list, is threatened by border wall construction that would cut the Rio Grande off from its floodplain, potentially exacerbating flooding and erosion and blocking access to this life-giving resource for people and wildlife.

    “There is nothing American about building a border wall that threatens a great river and its wildlife and tears communities apart. This wall is wholly contrary to our nation’s values. Echoing President Reagan in West Berlin in 1987: Mr. Trump, tear down this wall,” said Theodore Roosevelt IV. “Water and rivers are an essential part of our life and if we don’t preserve them we’ll be doing an infinite amount of damage to future generations.”

    Threats facing many of America’s Most Endangered Rivers® of 2018 would have a significant impact on indigenous, Latinx, and African American communities. Destroying the Big Sunflower’s wetlands would impact subsistence fishing for low-income families and communities of color. Mining in Bristol Bay and the South Fork Salmon would harm wild salmon runs, which are central to the cultures and livelihoods of Alaska Natives and Native American tribes respectively. A wall along the Rio Grande would prevent people from accessing the river and create additional flood risks and other challenges for border communities.

    In its 33rd year, the annual America’s Most Endangered Rivers® report is a list of rivers at a crossroads, where key decisions in the coming months will determine the rivers’ fates. Rivers are chosen for the list based on the following criteria: 1) The magnitude of the threat, 2) The significance of the river to people and nature, and 3) A critical decision-point in the coming year.

    Over the years, the report has helped spur many successes including the removal of outdated dams and the prevention of harmful development and pollution.

    AMERICA’S MOST ENDANGERED RIVERS® OF 2018:
    Big Sunflower River, MS

  • Threat – Army Corps pumping project
  • At Risk – Critical wetlands and wildlife habitat
  • Rivers of Bristol Bay, AK

  • Threat – Mining
  • At risk – Clean water, salmon runs, indigenous culture
  • Boundary Waters, MN

  • Threat – Mining
  • At risk – Clean water, recreation economy
  • Lower Rio Grande, TX

  • Threat – Border wall
  • At risk – River access, public safety, wildlife habitat
  • South Fork Salmon River, ID

  • Threat – Mining
  • At risk – Clean water, salmon habitat
  • Mississippi River Gorge, MN

  • Threat – Dams
  • At risk – Habitat, recreation opportunities
  • Smith River, MT

  • Threat – Mining
  • At risk – Clean water, recreation
  • Colville River, AK

  • Threat – Oil and gas development
  • At risk – Clean water, wildlife
  • https://www.americanrivers.org/endangered-rivers/middle-fork-of-the-vermilion-river-il/

  • Threat – Coal ash pollution
  • At risk – Clean water, Wild and Scenic River values
  • Kinnickinnic River, WI

  • Threat – Dams
  • At risk – Blue-ribbon trout stream
  • Take Action.

    Photo Credit: City of Minneapolis