This week’s energy news includes some unfortunate instances where investment in clean energy has led to harm for some communities, as in Michigan where a hydropower company failed to comply with safety guidelines. It also highlights ambitious climate plans as well as concerns over greenwashing.
Hydropower Firm Fined $15 Million for Violations
Boyce Hydro Power was recently fined $15 million for numerous violations it had committed when operating four dams it owned in mid-Michigan.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued the fine after receiving no response from the hydropower company showing why it should not be fined.
The failure of Boyce Hydro Power to properly manage its dams was said to be behind massive flooding that destroyed homes and forced the evacuation of 10,000 residents in May 2020.
FERC said the fine sent “a clear message” to hydroelectric operators that they must comply with safety regulations.
The commission had revoked Boyce Hydro Power’s generation license in 2018 after a decade of urging the company to make improvements. But critics suggest the fine is merely a symbolic gesture, as the hydropower company declared bankruptcy last August.
Restitution for homeowners will take priority in any claims on the money from the company.
The Four Lakes Task Force that has taken over the dams plans to restore the lakes over the next six years at a cost of over $200 million.
A bipartisan National Dam and Hydropower Safety Act was recently introduced to ensure dam owners operate safely and are held accountable.
Tesla EV Factory May Harm Environment
A Tesla Gigafactory now under construction in Brandenburg, Germany, will have a deleterious impact on the environment, critics say.
Covering 300 hectares, the factory is intended to produce 500,000 electric vehicles a year and be home to the world’s largest battery factory.
However, environmentalists and residents say it will consume as much as 30% of the region’s water supply. They are also concerned about the factory’s impact on biodiversity and successfully sought an injunction to stop Tesla from clearing swaths of a forest.
Though the site has only provisional construction permits and requires final approval after an environmental assessment is completed, Tesla has already begun work. Residents fear the company will put pressure on the government to grant full approval for the project, and the environment minister has already expressed his support for it.
The region of Brandenburg suffers from inadequate employment opportunities and supporters of the Gigafactory are hoping it will bring jobs. Tesla expects to employ 3,000 workers when it begins car production in 2021.
Lawyers Call For Warnings on Oil Company Ads
An environmental law nonprofit is proposing that ads from oil and gas companies should carry tobacco-style health warnings on their ads to highlight the harm they do to the environment.
The lawyers of ClientEarth made the call when they published new research showing that many oil and gas companies tout their sustainability initiatives while continuing business practices that contribute to global warming.
They said these companies spend millions on advertising about their sustainability initiatives as a form of greenwashing that effectively misleads the public and thwarts efforts to mitigate climate change.
In compiling their report, ClientEarth compared the climate pledges of the companies with information in their regulatory filings and annual reports.
Their research showed, for example, that while ExxonMobil advertised its experimental biofuel as a climate solution, the company has set 2025 emissions reduction targets that ignore the majority of emissions from its products. It found that Chevron’s carbon capture plans would deal with less than 1% of its 2019 carbon emissions. Likewise, despite Shell’s promise to invest in green energy, it spent just $3 billion on low-carbon initiatives while spending $17 billion on fossil fuels.
Exxon Proposes $100 Billion Carbon Sequestration Project
ExxonMobil is hoping for tax incentives to help with a $100 billion carbon sequestration project it predicts will capture as much as 50 million tons of carbon dioxide every year when launched, or the equivalent of emissions from 11 million cars.
The carbon sequestration project is part of the oil company’s plans to capitalize on massive new business opportunities in carbon capture for fossil fuels. With this intention, in February, it announced the establishment of a new business arm, ExxonMobil Low Carbon Solutions.
ExxonMobil says the proposed project would begin by focusing on emissions reduction for the Houston Ship Channel, where many fuel refineries and petrochemical plants operate. It said if a price were put on carbon of $100 per ton, the project would be financially viable.
The project proposes to pump carbon captured from the Houston area into rock formations under the sea floor of the Gulf Coast.
Exxon and other oil producers are exploring carbon capture technology as a means to enable continued fossil fuel production, whereas green activists oppose it because they think emphasis should be on emissions reductions rather than storage.
ExxonMobil lost more than $22 billion last year and has pledged to spend more on green projects. It estimates the carbon capture market will be worth $2 trillion by 2040.
Cost of Financing Coal Goes Up
A University of Oxford study has revealed that investors are demanding much higher returns from investments in coal than they are when investing in renewables.
According to the study, investors expect a return of around 10% on solar projects, whereas over the past few years, they have increased the expected returns on coal investments to 40% in light of the greater risk of stranded assets.
Between 2015 and 2020, the cost of financing renewables also fell by more than 15%, while the cost of financing coal plants has risen by more than 30%.
On the other hand, the cost of oil and gas financing has seen increases of less than 5%, and the cost of financing offshore oil production has actually fallen by more than 40%.
In line with this, loan volumes for oil and gas have also increased, while loan volumes for coal mines have declined.
However, Asia continues to make steady investments in coal-powered plants. Investments in unconventional oil and gas, such as shale, have consistently declined over the past decade, the researchers said.
Maine Reviews Credits for Solar Energy Sold to the Grid
Maine lawmakers are considering legislation that would affect the amount of money paid to owners of domestic and community solar rooftop systems for the surplus energy they sell to the grid.
During sunny months, domestic and commercial solar panel owners generate more power than they need and sell the surplus to the state utility. In return, they are given credits in a practice known as net energy billing that allows them to use the credits they have accumulated to offset their electricity bills during the winter when they must rely on the state utility for power.
Each state handles net energy billing differently, and the way they do so determines how much each customer receives.
There is some concern that the utility companies are being asked to pay too much for the energy homeowners and businesses with solar systems supply and that the high rates paid to owners of home and commercial solar systems will eventually be passed on to other consumers.
Of particular concern are large megawatt solar projects that consist of several acres of solar panels.
Though solar power is considered an important component of Maine’s clean energy portfolio to fight climate change, there is concern about the need to balance the environmental benefits with their financial impact.
Israel Looks to Reduce Emissions by 80%
Israel has announced that by 2050 it will cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80% despite its rapidly growing population density and increased power demand of 2.8% per year.
The country’s energy ministry says it is doable in light of new global trends, including the greater use of hydrogen and natural gas as well as the innovation of digital and smart grids. The country also hopes to reduce emissions in the electricity sector by around 80% by 2050.
It says it will close all coal mines by 2025, which would be the fastest rate in the world.
To determine its emissions reduction targets, the country carried out 2,000 simulations of potential scenarios and took into consideration its lack of space for large solar plants, lack of renewable energy sources such as wind, and the fact that it is strong in innovation.
Facebook Achieves 100% Renewables for Power
Facebook announced that it has now acquired enough renewable energy to run all of its operations globally, which included buying sufficient clean energy to match the energy use of its employees working from home.
The company had also cut carbon emissions drastically since 2017, mainly in the data centers that power its servers and in its offices. Ongoing emissions from construction projects will be offset by investments in reforestation and carbon removal projects.
In 2018 and 2019, Facebook was the top corporate buyer of clean energy.
It has 63 renewable projects located on the same electrical grids as its data centers and has contracted for more than 6 gigawatts of wind and solar energy from across the United States and in five other countries.
Facebook says it will now be turning its attention to its supply chain, with the goal of making that net zero by 2030.
Other tech giants — including Microsoft, Amazon, and Google — have also announced ambitious emissions reduction targets.
Opinion writer: Jewel Fraser
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