Tim Faulkner

Tim Faulkner: Vineyard Wind delay holds up similar projects

The federal wind lease area for the first phase of the 84-turbine Vineyard Wind project.     — Vineyard Wind graphic

The federal wind lease area for the first phase of the 84-turbine Vineyard Wind project.

— Vineyard Wind graphic

From ecoRI News (ecori.org)

The Vineyard Wind project is a major test of the offshore wind industry. The 84-turbine project is hailed as the first large utility-scale power source, after the five-turbine Block Island Wind Farm went on-line in December 2016.

As a pilot project, Block Island showed that the United States can profitably produce and deliver offshore wind energy, and create jobs. More than a dozen other proposals have followed, and new federal wind-lease areas are expected along the East Coast.

Vineyard Wind, with 800 megawatts of electric capacity, is presumed to clear the way for more than 10 gigawatts of power coming from the waters off southern New England.

The $2.8 billion project, backed by the Danish investment fund Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners and Avangrid Renewables of Portland Ore., has received most of the needed permits, including a power-purchase agreement from the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities.

In Rhode Island, the project went through a bruising review to secure an agreement with commercial fishermen and seafood processors. In February, the state’s Coastal Resources Management Council approved a consistency certification.

The latest impasse, however, may be more difficult than reducing the number of turbines and bargaining over compensation, as Vineyard Wind did with the fishing industry. The delay issued by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) on Aug. 9 presents a more formidable hurdle.

In its announcement, BOEM said it will take more time to review Vineyard Wind’s environmental impact statement (EIS), in part because of the influx of offshore wind proposals and state mandates for offshore wind energy.

Additional hearings will be held and public comment will be reopened to include input from federal, state, and local agencies, elected officials, and fishing communities. No dates have yet been announced.

BOEM expects to complete the supplemental EIS by the end of this year or in early 2020. Once the EIS is issued, permits can move forward from the Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Vineyard Wind said it was surprised and disappointed by BOEM’s announcement.

“Even though today’s decision will delay development of American offshore wind projects, Vineyard Wind remains deeply committed to the emerging industry’s success,” according to Vineyard Wind statement.

Vineyard Wind noted that it worked closely with BOEM to have the EIS completed by Aug. 16 and issued by Sept. 6, so that construction can begin by the end of the year. Further delay reduces a key federal investment tax credit the project is relying on.

BOEM has a reputation for rubber-stamping commercial projects. Some elected officials, however, have accuse the agency of thumbing its nose at renewable energy and favoring a fossil-fuel industry that wants to keep New England reliant on natural gas and oil.

BOEM, a division of the Department of Interior, is lead by David Bernhardt, a former lobbyist for the mining and fossil-fuel extraction industry. President Trump, meanwhile, has repeatedly besmirched the wind-energy industry despite its rapid growth and a trend of lower costs.

U.S. Rep. William Keating, a Democrat representing Martha’s Vineyard, said, “the Trump Administration has not dealt fairly with Vineyard Wind.”

“Taking this action, at this late stage, is another example of this Administration’s hostility toward those seeking to combat climate change, as well as its overall rejection of basic environmental values,” Keating is quoted in a statement.

Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., said BOEM’s delay “sends a clear and chilling message across this nascent industry that the Trump Administration will do everything in its power to cut corners for oil and gas projects while cutting the chord on the next frontier of clean energy deployment.”

Despite the setback, shareholders still back the project, according to Vineyard Wind.

Vineyard Wind, based in New Bedford, said the project is the lynchpin to the construction of thousands of offshore wind turbines.

“The project is poised to kickstart a new offshore wind industry that promises industrial growth along with new manufacturing and blue-collar employment across the United States from New England to Louisiana to Colorado and beyond,” according to project officials.

The BOEM setback hasn’t deterred Vineyard Wind from proposing up to two additional offshore wind facilities: a 400-megawatt proposal and an 800-megawatt project called Vineyard Wind 2, south of the first Vineyard Wind proposal and in the same federal wind-lease area located 15 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard.

The first Vineyard Wind is also appealing a decision by the Edgartown Conservation Commission to deny a permit to run power cables through the Muskeget Channel. The commission rejected the proposal in July for lacking a decommissioning plan, an absence of environmental research, and concern about the impact of future wind projects.

The Vineyard Wind project and perhaps the future of the offshore wind industry could face another potential obstacle: radar interference. An Aug. 21 story by the MV Times reported that offshore turbines potentially distort marine radar, thereby impairing boat navigation.

The Coast Guard raised the issue in a letter to BOEM in March and suggested that Vineyard Wind research the radar problem and pay for any remedies. The Coast Guard recently joined a federal task force that has been reviewing the issue since 2014. Earlier federal reports showed that wind turbines can interfere with military radar and weather instruments. Various technologies that reduce the problem are being researched.

Vineyard Wind said it answered the radar issue in the EIS and intends to work with the Coast Guard to address any problems. Vineyard Wind said it also will consider “mitigation measures” to compensate fishermen and other stakeholders if needed.

The target completion date for Vineyard Wind is 2022. If built, it will generate enough electricity to power 400,000 homes. According to the Department of Energy the offshore wind industry is expected to create 600,000 jobs by 2050.

Tim Faulkner is an ecoRI News journalist.

Tim Faulkner: Searching for support for tidal and wave power

From ecoRI News (ecori.org)

Efforts to generate electricity from waves and tidal currents have slowed in southern New England, as offshore wind power takes a commanding lead in the renewable-energy portion of the so-called “blue economy.”

In recent years, tidal- and wave-energy programs at Brown University, University of Massachusetts atm Dartmouth and the University of Rhode Island have curtailed their research and commercial collaborations.

At Brown, the Leading Edge project has shifted from an academic and commercial venture to a school-based laboratory-research project. Engineering students designed oscillating hydrofoils that generate electricity from rectangular blades that lift and rotate in strong currents. Faculty leaders, however, have gone to other schools or are on sabbatical, thereby halting commercial partnerships.

The program was funded by the federal Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy (APRA-E) program, which supports energy initiatives that private investors consider too risky.

Leading Edge partnered with Portsmouth, R.I.-based BluSource Energy Inc. to build and test underwater turbines in the Taunton River and at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy at the entrance of the Cape Cod Canal.

Tom Derecktor, CEO of BluSource, said the turbine succeeded in producing uninterrupted electricity, something wind and solar can’t promise. But he noted the challenges of scaling hydrokinetic power for commercial production. Large energy systems require open water or a river with a strong current, free from ship traffic and debris, conditions hard to find in the Northeast. Most currents with the desired speed of 4 knots or more are too far from population centers to host a permanent power system.

Still, Derekotor believes that tidal energy can achieve scale in other parts of the country.

“There’s a lot of potential there, but it requires a lot funding to take it to the next level,” he said.

Congress may help by increasing funding for the APRA-E program, but President Trump opposes the program and has tried, unsuccessfully, to eliminate its funding.

Offshore wind-energy development by state. (U.S. Department of Energy)

Offshore wind-energy development by state. (U.S. Department of Energy)

Meanwhile, offshore wind power is taking off, with some 25 gigawatts of projects proposed across the country, much of it in the Northeast, according to the Department of Energy. More then 10 gigawatts is planned for Massachusetts and Rhode Island waters, thanks to southern New England's large, windy, and relatively shallow offshore regions — all within range of millions of energy customers.

There is still hope for harnessing energy from currents and waves. In 2014, UMass-Dartmouth closed its Marine Renewable Energy Center, prompting the energy program to reorganize as the Marine Renewable Energy Collaborative (MRECo). The nonprofit switched from its academic initiative to focus on public outreach, promotion, and equipment testing.

MRECo’s executive director, John Miller, said there isn’t adequate financial support to make tidal and wave projects financially viable, especially as federal dollars have shifted to wave-energy testing on the West Coast, such as the PacWave project off the coast of Oregon.

“It’s a tough business,” Miller said. “The whole business is 10 to 15 years behind where offshore wind is.

Nevertheless, MRECo is testing a range of marine-industry products. The organization recently concluded a study that determined that current for the proposed Muskeget Channel tidal installation between Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard lacks the velocity to support the latest tidal-energy systems.

In 2017, MRECo installed the Bourne Tidal Test Site (BTTS),. in the Cape Cod Canal. Miller noted that the $300,000 steel platform was a bargain to build compared to more elaborate facilities off the coast of Scotland and in the Bay of Fundy in Canada that cost $30 million apiece

Within a year, BTTS expects to test its first underwater turbine, a device for the start-up company Littoral Power Systems of Fall River, Mass. BTTS has hosted other marine equipment, including commercial fishing nets and soon will gather data for aquatic sensors that monitor microplastics and algae linked to toxic blooms.

MRECo is seeking $200,000 to upgrade the power and Internet capability of BTTS to accommodate testing of additional marine sensors and instruments.

At URI, the ocean-energy research labs and indoor wave tank have broadened their study areas to include the offshore wind industry.

Prof. M. Reza Hashemi said wave and tidal power are some of the oldest forms of energy but have yet to be proven commercially viable in New England, primarily because water currents aren’t strong enough.

“There is hope, but it needs a lot help,” Hashemi said.

Wave and tidal energy are more promising on the West Coast and in the United Kingdom, where the currents are much stronger, he said.

But local tidal- and wave-energy efforts haven’t stopped. The massive tides in the Gulf of Maine are drawing demonstration projects supported by research from URI and the University of New Hampshire, among others.

Hashemi also co-authored a textbook about wind, tidal, and wave energy. For now, he is conducting research on the impacts of hurricanes on wind turbines. But Hashemi and URI remain dedicated to hydrokinetic energy. The university recently received $148,000 from The Champlin Foundation for a new ocean-energy flume, a type of indoor wave tank designed for testing small-scale wave- and tidal-energy devices

“Wave and tidal energy are still at the early stages of development,” Hashemi said. “They are not yet at the commercial stage.

Tim Faulkner is an ecoRI News journalist.

Tim Faulkner: Big weekend in N.E. for dirty fuel

Renewal-energy use in New England last weekend

Renewal-energy use in New England last weekend

From ecoRI News (ecori.org)

This past weekend was one of the most energy-intensive in New England history, relying on dirty backup power plants that run on oil and coal to keep up with demand.

According to preliminary data from grid operator ISO New England, July 20 and July 21 were the fourth- and fifth-most energy intensive weekend days on record. On Saturday, electricity demand reached 23,852 megawatts. Sunday peaked at 23,786 megawatts. The highest for any day was set Aug. 2, 2006, a Wednesday, when the energy load reached 28,130 megawatts.

“New England's power system was able to withstand the heat and humidity over the course of this weekend's heat wave and operated under normal conditions,” ISO New England spokeswoman Ellen Foley said.

But on both weekend days coal and oil generated as much as 8 percent of the electricity. New England has three coal-fired power plants: the 440-megawatt Merrimack Station in Bow, N.H.; two 47-megawatt generators at the Schiller Station, in Portsmouth, N.H.; and the 384-megawatt Bridgeport Harbor Generating Station, in Bridgeport, Conn.

While renewables held steady at about 5 percent of the energy mix, about 80 percent of that power came from burning high-polluting wood and trash.

High-polluting trash/wood-fired power plants accounted for most of the renewable energy used on July 20. (ISO New England)

Ratepayers have options to reduce the energy load during high-demand days. The Shave the Peak program run by the Green Energy Consumers Alliance uses text alerts and emails to deliver energy-saving actions during the hottest hours each summer. The goal is to limit the need for energy from high-polluting power plants, which sit idle most of the year.

Typically, New England’s remaining oil and coal power plants run for a few hours each during summer heat waves to meet the spike in electricity demand.

Tips include delaying use of large energy-intensive appliances, such as laundry dryers and electric stoves, until cooler times of day, when air conditioners are turned down and electricity demand falls.

Battery-storage incentive

Homeowners interested in adding backup battery power to their solar panels have a few days to take advantage of an incentive from National Grid.

The ConnectedSolutions program reduces the peak energy load by paying the owner of home battery-storage systems for its stored electricity during periods of high energy demand.

In Rhode Island, National Grid will pay $400 per kilowatt “performed” for electricity it draws from home storage systems during summer energy spikes. The Massachusetts program pays $225 per kilowatt performed during summer heat events and $50 per kilowatt in winter. In both states, the five-year contract promises to draw electricity from no more that 75 events annually.

The deadline to submit an application for both Rhode Island and Massachusetts has been extended to Aug. 1. The battery systems can be installed to new or existing home solar arrays.

Although the battery system is connected to the electric grid it can still provide a backup electricity supply to the residence during a power outage.

According to an article in Bloomberg, a customer with a single Tesla Powerwall battery system could earn up to $1,000 annually from the program. Other eligible battery systems are offered by Pika Energy, Sonnen, and Sunrun. These vendors manage each customer’s storage system using information from National Grid. The battery companies also issue payments to the homeowners.

National Grid hopes to sign up 50 customers in Rhode Island and 230 in Massachusetts.

The estimated cost for a new battery system before tax breaks and incentives is about $8,000. The estimated payback period is about five years.

National Grid benefits by having renewable power to draw from while reducing its need to invest in infrastructure to address spikes in electricity use.

“Calling on batteries to discharge during peak times reduces the loads on the grid when it is most important,” said Ted Kresse, spokesman for National Grid. “It also helps to decrease distribution, transmission, and generation costs. In the future, we hope to also use batteries to help support even more growth of renewable and distributed energy generation.”

Battery-storage systems paired with solar arrays are expected to gain popularity as prices for solar equipment and battery prices drop. There is also a 30 percent federal tax credit for the cost of solar and battery systems.

Tim Faulkner is an ecoRI News journalist.

Tim Faulkner: Offshore wind boom continues, with snags


From ecoRI News (ecori.org)

The demand for offshore wind continues, as the designated wind zones in waters south of Rhode Island, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket fill with projects.

At the June 11 meeting of the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC), Grover Fugate, executive director, recounted the growing pains to accommodate as much as 22,000 megawatts of offshore wind.

“This industry has literally exploded overnight,” said Fugate, as he highlighted issues confronting several projects.

The 800-megawatt Vineyard Wind facility, for instance, is deadlocked with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) over the project’s environmental impact statement.

“That’s not something that’s been done before in the NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) world,” Fugate said. “So we’re not quite sure where that is going to end up.”

The Nantucket Historical Commission is seeking $16 million from the Vineyard Wind developer, according to Fugate. The island town has sought funds to compensate for adverse visual impacts the 84 turbines may have on tourism.

Connecticut recently announced it wants to add 2,000 megawatts of offshore wind to the power grid but the state lacks approved offshore wind areas.

“Connecticut, of course, does not have any offshore sources,” Fugate said. “The closest ones to Connecticut are us (Rhode Island).”

Connecticut is already signed on for 300 megawatts from the Revolution Wind project located in one of four wind-lease areas that require CRMC approval.

Rhode Island has already signed up 400 megawatts from the same wind project managed jointly by Ørsted US Offshore Wind and the Massachusetts utility Eversource.

Massachusetts has a goal of 3,200 megawatts of offshore wind by 2035. It has already agreed to buy 800 megawatts from the Vineyard Wind project and the state has issued a request for proposal for an addition 800 megawatts that may come from the second half of the Vineyard Wind lease area.

Vineyard Wind went through a lengthy and contentious review for its initial wind facility and wants to meet with CRMC about a review of the second half of its wind-zone lease.

Bay State Wind, another Eversource and Ørsted project, is also moving forward with an 800-megawatt wind project in the same region. Fugate met with Bay State Wind’s CEO and discussed how the project fails to conform with a 1-mile spacing of turbines within its grid configuration.

Fugate said Bay State Wind is using a European design that doesn’t meet the fisheries requirement for U.S. projects.

“So they are taking that back under consideration,” Fugate said.

Vineyard Wind has filed a proposal to deliver 1.2 gigawatts of wind power to New York along a 95-mile transmission line from Vineyard Wind’s second wind zone, in the easternmost section of the federal wind-lease area. In all, New York is looking for some 9,000 megawatts of wind energy.

“If you add it all up it’s about 22,000 megawatts from New York to the Cape that's under consideration,” Fugate said.

He expressed frustration with the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management for not requiring an extended analysis of proposed offshore wind project sites.

“If you don't get two years of baseline data you have no way of measuring the impact,” Fugate said. “That may be intentional on their part, I don't know. But we have pushed for baseline data so that you can measure before and after, so that you know what you just did and how to adjust to it. But without that baseline, we don't know what we just did.”

Cable congestion

The surge in offshore wind development has created a need for transmissions lines and onshore connections to the electric grid. Wakefield, Mass.-based Anbaric Development Partners is creating a renewable-energy center on a leased site at the former Brayton Point coal-fired power plant in Somerset, Mass. Anbaric wants to install two high-voltage electric cables from Brayton Point to serve wind facilities off the coast of Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Ørsted would also like to run two cables from its Bay State Wind project to the mainland at Brayton Point.

The transmission lines would run through the the Sakonnet River along the easternmost channel of Narragansett Bay.

Fugate noted that the passage can only accommodate two power cables because of the narrow Stone Bridge corridor between Portsmouth and Tiverton. He said the activity at Brayton Point and other wind-facility operations within Narragansett Bay will be busiest during the summer, causing congestion along the East Passage, which runs between Newport and Jamestown.

“There’s a huge interference with a lot of existing uses down there,” Fugate said.

Federal review

NOAA officials will perform a three-day review of CRMC’s overall coastal program, including a public hearing scheduled for June 18. The review, required every seven years, will culminate with a report of findings that will offer suggested and required actions needed to adhere to federal grant requirements.

In a worst-case scenario, CRMC could face sanctions, which include a loss of federal funding for CRMC’s coastal programs. More than half of CRMC’s budget comes from federal sources.

NOAA’s last evaluation of CRMC was conducted in 2010.

The public hearing will be held at the Department of Administration building, conference room A, One Capital Hill, at 6 p.m.

Matunuck seawall

Hearings are expected in the fall for phase two of a seawall project on Matunuck Beach Road, in South Kingstown, R.I. The first phase was a highly controversial and meaningful case for the CRMC, as it confronts sea-level rise and shoreline erosion from climate change.

Tim Faulkner is an ecoRI News journalist.

Tim Faulkner: Providence's stunning new food-distribution center

Artist’s rendition of Farm Fresh Rhode Island’s coming food-distribution center in Providence.

Artist’s rendition of Farm Fresh Rhode Island’s coming food-distribution center in Providence.

Via ecoRI News (ecori.org)


This city recently celebrated its designation as a food capital by recognizing three new food ventures and a book touting its success at making food a cultural, educational, and economic engine.

The businesses — all under different stages of construction — include the relocation of Farm Fresh Rhode Island’s food distribution center to a 60,000-square-foot building on a 3.2-acre site off Valley Road, the 110,000-square-foot greenhouse for Gotham Greens on Harris Avenue, and the Urban Greens Co-op, a tenant in a new commercial and residential space on Cranston Street.

All of the projects are being built on remediated brownfield sites. The three organizations use food to bring together culture, arts, and economic growth for a “a new green future,” Mayor Jorge Elorza said at the May 30 “Edible Providence” event. “It’s just a way to bring us together as a community.”

The mayor spoke of celebrating his Guatemalan heritage through traditional foods such as tortillas, black beans, carne asada, and guacamole — all of which have been enjoyed and adopted by other cultures.

“Food has such a transformative quality to it in Guatemalan culture and in every culture throughout the world,” Elorza said.

Providence also was profiled in a chapter of the United Nations book Integrating Food Into Urban Planning. The planning guide looks at food systems in 20 cities, including Toronto, New York, Bangkok, and Tokyo.

The book shows how food is used across municipal agencies to address a range of issues such as health, diet, recreation, education, planning, and waste management.

Providence was singled out for having the forethought to increase food security and nutrition through collaboration between businesses, residents, and government.

Bonnie Nickerson, director of the city’s Department of Planning and Development, said the creation of the Office of Sustainability brought together several independent initiatives and policies. Changes to zoning regulations advanced programs for beekeeping, urban farming, and backyard chickens.

Nellie de Goguel, of the city’s Office of Sustainability, said the city is in the early stages of launching a curbside food-scrap collection service within a single neighborhood. The city has a goal of having 100 restaurants divert their food scrap for compost by 2020. So far, 12 restaurants are onboard through the city’s composting program.

Ellen Cynar, director of the city’s Healthy Communities Office, said new programs such as Lots of Hope created access to vacant land for neighborhood gardens and urban farmers. The city has a goal of hiring a farmer to manage the public farming and garden areas at city parks. Thanks to a federal grant the city is developing a farm-to-school program.

Cynar said the program will help students learn about the relationships between the environment and food.

Tim Faulkner is an eco RI News journalist.

Tim Faulkner: Deal between fishermen and Vineyard Wind nears completion


From ecoRI News (ecori.org)

A deal between fishermen and Vineyard Wind is nearly approved, but the revised agreement won’t give fishermen much more than what was originally offered by the developer.

Lanny Dellinger, chairman of the Fishermen’s Advisory Board (FAB), and Grover Fugate, executive director of the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC), admitted that Vineyard Wind had the leverage in negotiations and that agreeing to a slightly improved compensation offer is better than no deal at all.

“Just open your eyes and see what you are up against,” Dellinger told the fishermen crowded in a hotel banquet hall on Feb. 23. “That’s the bottom line. That's what we had to weigh and look at as a group. There is no choice here.”

Dellinger explained that federal agencies such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, nongovernmental organizations, and environmental groups were pushing for the approval of the Vineyard Wind project.

“It’s this (fishing) industry against the world,” Dellinger said.

Fugate elaborated, saying that President Trump accelerated the approval process for energy development so that decisions on proposals must be reached within a year of the filling of an environmental impact statement. All other permits must be issued within two years.

“Never been done before, but we are all scrambling to try to do this at this point,” Fugate said. “So these are the limitations that we’re operating under and why the process has not been able to go in a much more relaxed and thoughtful process. We’re under these time constraints where if we don't make these decisions they escape us.”

FAB member Chris Brown blamed the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM).

“We have so much invested in our fisheries and none of that matters to BOEM,” Brown said. “They are in an inexhaustible search for the next energy source. Years ago it was ‘drill baby drill.’ Now it’s ‘spin baby spin.’ It’s the same thing. They value nothing and we have no way to rein them in.”

FAB member Mike Marchetti said much more research is needed on fisheries impacts caused by the proposed 92-square-mile wind project other planned offshore wind facilities.

“We have five more projects coming at us, at least,” Marchetti said. “You wanna talk squid? You wanna talk scallop? You wanna talk ocean quahog? We have a lot coming at us. So I think, unfortunately, this is the best we are gong to get, and we worked hard on your behalf. I have zero self-interest in this other than to keep the ship afloat for all of us.”

In the end, the six-member FAB unanimously approved a financial package that is about the same as the original $30 million offer made Jan. 16. In the new agreement some of the money will be dispersed upfront. Instead of $6.2 million paid over 30 years, a fishermen’s compensation fund will receive $2.3 million over 30 years but with a $1 million initial payout.

A second payment stream goes to a new RI Fishermen’s Future Viability Trust. In the first offer, this fund was controlled by the state and paid for fisheries-related research. The new fund will receive $2.5 million annually for five years and will be controlled by an independent board of trustees. The board and CRMC staff will determine how the money will be spent.

FAB member Rick Bellevance noted that giving the fishermen control over the money instead of the state was a big benefit, even though the amount of money might be inadequate.

“The FAB feels strongly that this agreement is not precedent setting in the way that we determine the value of the fisheries in this area,” he said.

Many of the commercial fishermen gathered at the Holiday Inn on Route 1 were displeased with the agreement. Dockside buyers of seafood felt excluded from the process and wanted compensation for the loss of squid and other seafood moving through their fish houses.

Meghan Lapp, fisheries liaison for Seafreeze Ltd., which owns four fishing boats and two processors at Davisville Pier, in North Kingstown, said the new offer was only made known two days earlier and the fishing industry needs to comment.

“There has been no public meeting that has heard public comment on the proposal that is before the FAB today,” Lapp said before Dellinger cut her off.

Dellinger told her the meeting was public but that comments would only be taken at the CRMC meeting on Feb. 26.

At that meeting, the agreement will go before the CRMC board as it decides whether the proposed 84-turbine offshore wind project is consistent with regulations. The meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. at the University of Rhode Island Bay Campus in Narragansett.

Tim Faulkner is a journalist with ecoRI News.

Tim Faulkner: Trump still pushing for offshore seismic surveying for oil and gas


Via ecoRI News (ecori.org)

Despite the government shutdown, federal agencies are moving forward with permitting for seismic airgun surveying and the offshore drilling for natural gas and oil that may follow.

Press liaisons are furloughed, so it’s difficult to know the status of pending permits before the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) and the Department of Interior.

Nevertheless, the five exploration companies approved for sonic airgun blasting are still expected to hear from the Department of Interior this month, after which they can immediately begin surveying.

The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) is processing paperwork, as more than half of the agency’s 803 employees remain on the job, paid by “non-lapsing funds,” according to BSEE.

“During the shut-down BSEE will continue critical permitting and oversight activities associated with energy development on the Outer Continental Shelf, so as to allow the bureau to continue to support the sustained exploration and development of the Outer Continental Shelf during the shut-down,” according to a Dec. 17, 2018 BSEE statement.

Blasts from seismic airguns disrupt many aquatic ecosystems and harm sea mammals such as North Atlantic right whales, dolphins, and sea turtles, according to research. During surveys, ships fire underwater sonic blasts for hours and even days, sending sonic booms with 100,000 times the intensity of a jet engine thousands of miles through the ocean. The noise disrupts feeding, mating, and echolocation used by marine mammals. A 2017 study found that the sonic booms decimate vital sea life such as zooplankton.

Shortly before President Trump took office, in January 2017, BOEM denied the same airgun activity because of potential harm to marine life. But the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reversed the decisions months later, saying that sea animals can recover from any harm.

Several environmental groups are suing NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service for allowing fossil-fuel exploration companies to conduct the seismic airgun activities and thereby violate protections like the Endangered Species Act.

In Rhode Island, members of the General Assembly joined elected officials from seven other states by sponsoring legislation that bans offshore drilling. Sen. Dawn Euer, D-Newport, and Rep. Lauren Carson, D-Newport, are expected to introduce matching bills in the Senate and House.

“The state and our institutions have invested incredible resources on forward-thinking coastal policy initiatives. Opening up coastal waters to offshore drilling is short-sighted and puts our economy at great risk,” Euer wrote in a press statement.

The legislation would prohibit oil drilling within state waters, which extends 3 nautical miles offshore. The bill would also ban the construction of oil platforms and port terminals and the installation of any equipment related to oil production within the state. In 2018, the same bill died in committee in both the House and Senate.

Similar legislation is being filed in Georgia, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, and Oregon.

Massachusetts Rep. Dylan Fernandez, D-Woods Hole, filed a bill that bans oil and gas drilling off the coast of the Bay State.

In Washington, D.C., bipartisan steps were recently taken to stymie Trump’s plans for offshore exploration and drilling. Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., introduced a bill that prohibits the Department of the Interior from issuing leases for the exploration, development, or production of oil or natural gas off the New England coast. Other representatives introduced bills protecting the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, the eastern Gulf of Mexico, Alaska, and the Arctic.

“We’re not going to sit by and watch as President Trump plunders our oceans for his friends in the big oil companies,” Cicilline said.

Tim Faulkner is an ecoRI News journalist.

Tim Faulkner: Opposition mounts to seismic blasting off East Coast to find oil and gas


From ecoRI News (ecori.org)

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., and environmental groups intend to resist the recent announcement of plans to commence seismic blasting for offshore oil and gas drilling. But time may be running out to prevent it.

Seismic blasting uses underwater airguns to search for fossil fuels deep beneath the seafloor, a process that endangers marine mammals such as whales and dolphins.

On Nov. 30, the National Marine Fisheries Service issued what is known as incidental harassment authorizations (IHA) to five companies for conducting seismic testing in an area from Delaware to Florida, a region twice the size of California.

The companies are ION GeoVentures, based in Houston; Spectrum Geo Inc. of England; TGS-NOPEC Geophysical Company of Norway; WesternGeco of England, and CGG, based in Paris.

Whitehouse called their approval “a statement” and “just an idea” that could be stalled by Congress. But according to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), the five authorizations are under final review and seismic surveys could begin as early as January.

The IHA allows the the companies to perform deep-penetration seismic surveys that search thousands of meters below the seafloor for oil, natural gas, and minerals. The federal “incidental take authorization” provision allows the activity to kill, harass, hunt, or capture marine mammals. Harassment is defined as “any act of pursuit, torment, or annoyance which has the potential to injure a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild; or has the potential to disturb a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild by causing disruption of behavioral patterns, including, but not limited to, migration, breathing, nursing, breeding, feeding, or sheltering.”

The federal National Marine Fisheries Service, a division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, says the potential to displace or harm marine life is minimal because of brief and limited exposure to survey noise.

According to the environmental advocacy group Oceana, the surveys deliver seismic blasts every 10 seconds, 24 hours a day over days or even weeks. Survey boats use dozens of airguns simultaneously to produce a constant blast that can travel thousand of miles.

The impact on sea life is significant. Airgun blasts cause temporary and permanent hearing loss, abandonment of habitat, disruption of mating and feeding, beach strandings and even death, according to Oceana. Airgun blasts also kill fish eggs and larvae.

“For whales and dolphins, which rely on their hearing to find food, communicate, and reproduce, being able to hear is a life or death matter,” according to Oceana.

According to a 2013 report, catch rates of Atlantic cod, haddock, rockfish, herring, sand eel and blue whiting declined by 40 percent to 80 percent because of seismic testing.

Seismic airgun testing in the Atlantic Ocean could injure 138,000 whales, according to BOEM. The noise is particularly threatening to the endangered North Atlantic right whale.

BOEM offers a list of protective measures to reduce harm to sea life, such as halting airgun use when animals get too close to vessels.

When a similar proposal was advanced under President Obama, more than 90 percent of the coastal communities in the Mid- and South Atlantic passed resolutions opposing the practice. The dissent was known as the Resolution Revolution, organized by Oceana. Shortly before Turmp took office in 2017, the Obama administration denied the applications for seismic testing in the Mid and South Atlantic, citing impacts on marine life. President Trump and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke reversed that decision in May 2017, with the America-First Offshore Energy Strategy.

In January, Zinke announced plans to open the entire East and West coasts to offshore fossil-fuel exploration, prompting broad public opposition and efforts by coastal governors to meet with Zinke to convince him to halt the initiative.

In February, Gov. Gina Raimondo and Rhode Island’s congressional delegation held a press conference to announce their opposition to offshore drilling. Block Island, Charlestown, Jamestown and Tiverton all passed resolutions opposing offshore drilling and seismic blasting.

During a 45-day comment period on the proposed seismic airgun testing, the National Marine Fisheries Service received 15 petitions with a total of 99,423 signatures. Only one petition, with 595 signatures, supported the seismic surveys. The 14 other petitions with nearly 99,000 signatures opposed seismic blasting, as well as oil and gas drilling in the Atlantic Ocean.

After the recent news of forthcoming seismic testing, Whitehouse said South Atlantic Republicans “would do well to remember the job Oceana did with the Obama administration trying for offside drilling.”

Whitehouse intends to work with the Commerce Committee and Appropriations Committee “to align our folks” to halt the seismic surveys and offshore oil and gas extraction.

On Dec. 11, Whitehouse, Sen. Edward J. Markey, D-MA, and six other senators asked the Department of Commerce to rescind IHA’s and the Department of Interior to deny the seismic survey permits. In a letter, the senators cite environmental threats and economic harm to tourism and fishing. They also noted that the results of the surveys would be kept private by the survey companies and not available for government or public use.

BOEM, however, is already reviewing the survey applications and could approve them by January.

“If they try to move up to the Northeast, they’ll find that the opposition is bipartisan,“ Whitehouse said. “So, I think we have a real prospect of stopping it, but it’s hard to stop something that’s at this point is just an idea, a statement. Once it hits the administrative steps, we’ll figure out what the best way to counterattack is.”

The counterattack is also going through the courts, primarily in the South. On Dec. 11, Oceana and eight other environmental groups filed in U.S. District Court in South Carolina a lawsuit that claims that by issuing the IHA, the National Marine Fisheries Service ignored science and violated the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act. The lawsuit wants the authorizations suspended until environmental assessments are performed.

If and when the seismic blasting get underway, Oceana will track the activity with a real-time map.

Tim Faulkner is a reporter and writer for ecoRI News.

Tim Faulkner: Sport and commercial fishermen at odds over offshore wind


Via ecoRI News (ecori.org)

NARRAGANSETT, R.I. — Commercial fishermen and sport fishermen are split over the benefits of offshore wind facilities.

Commercial fishermen, primarily from eastern Long Island, N.Y., say the wind-energy projects planned for southern New England, such as the South Fork Wind Farm, are the latest threats to their income after decades of quotas and regulations.

“I don't like the idea of the ocean being taken away from me after I’ve thrown so many big-dollar fish back in the water for the last 30 years, praying I’d get it back in the end,” said Dave Aripotch, owner of a 75-foot trawl-fishing boat based in Montauk, N.Y.

In the summer, Aripotch patrols for squid and weakfish in the area where the 15 South Fork wind turbines and others wind projects are planned. He expects the wind facilities and undersea cables will shrink fishing grounds along the Eastern Seaboard.

“If you put 2,000 wind turbines from the Nantucket Shoals to New York City, I’m losing 50 to 60 percent of my fishing grounds,” Aripotch said during a Nov. 8 public hearing at the Narragansett Community Center.

Dave Monti of the Rhode Island Saltwater Anglers Association said the submerged turbine foundations at the Block Island Wind Farm created artificial reefs, boosting fish populations and attracting charter boats like his.

“It’s a very positive thing for recreational fishing,” Monti said. “The Block Island Wind Farm has acted like a fish magnet.”

Offshore wind development also has the support of environmental groups such as the National Wildlife Federation and the Conservation Law Foundation, which view renewable energy as an answer to climate change.

“Offshore wind power really is the kind of game-changing large-scale solution that we need to see move forward, particularly along along the East Coast,” said Amber Hewett, manager of the Atlantic offshore wind energy campaign for the National Wildlife Federation.

Aripotch and fellow commercial fisherman Donald Fox urged the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) to study the cumulative effects of the four other wind projects planned for the Rhode Island/Massachusetts wind-energy area. They want to know how catches and quotas will be calculated if fishing nets run through multiple wind facilities.

“God bless you if you figure that one out,” Fox said.

Commercial fisherman David Aripotch said offshore wind turbines and the accompanying infrastructure will shrink fishing grounds along the Eastern Seaboard. (Tim Faulkner/ecoRI News photos)

The comments were made at the last of three public hearing held by BOEM for the South Fork Wind Farm’s environmental impact statement (EIS). A 30-day public comment period on the environmental impacts ends Nov. 19. BOEM has held a total of eight public meetings for the South Fork project.

After the current comment period, a second 45-day comment period will follow BOEM’s release of a draft IES. BOEM then has three months to issue a decision, which is expected in early 2020. If approved, construction on the South Fork Wind Farm would begin in 2021. Pending other permits, the wind facility would then be expected to be operating by the end of 2022.

BOEM is reviewing the engineering plans for the wind turbines, an offshore substation, and the 30-mile power cable that will run to East Hampton, N.Y. The federal agency also is reviewing the effects of the transmission line, such as the impacts of electromagnetic fields on sea life.

The substation would be above the water on its own platform or share a platform with a wind turbine. It will have a height of up to 200 feet to support a high-voltage power transformer, reactor, and ventilation and air-conditioning systems. The substation may also include a 400-horse-power diesel generator and a 500-gallon diesel fuel tank.

Sportfisherman Dave Monti said the submerged turbine foundations at the Block Island Wind Farm created artificial reefs, boosting fish populations and attracting charter boats like his.

The designated wind area between Block Island and Martha’s Vineyard has already restricted wind-energy development in portions of prime fishing grounds such as Cox Ledge.

Bonnie Brady of the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association called Deepwater Wind “the not ready for primetime players” because of technical problems with the Block Island Wind Farm, such as exposed undersea cables.

Brady noted that Deepwater Wind, now called Ørsted U.S. Offshore Wind, increased the capacity of the proposed South Fork Wind Farm from 90 to 130 megawatts. Each turbine can have an electricity output of 12 megawatts, or twice the power output of the Block Island turbines. The maximum height of the new turbines is 840 feet. The Block Island turbines are about 580 feet tall.

Brady wants BOEM to study of the effects of the larger turbines and increase the space between each turbine to 2 miles. Deepwater Wind has offered to separate the turbines by a mile. She said studies are needed of the noise and particle pressure from the larger turbines and the impacts of jet plowing and pile driving on fish and shellfish.

Brady is advocating for BOEM and New York regulators to afford fishermen the same protections that Rhode Island fishermen receive, such payment for lost revenue, as defined by the Ocean Special Area Management Plan.

“There needs to be long-term mitigation, long-term compensation at fair values, without signing a nondisclosure agreement,” she said.

Tim Faulkner, nature writer, is a reporter and writer for ecoRI News

Tim Faulkner: More hurdles for plans to import Quebec electricity

Proposed New England Clean Energy Connect project.

Proposed New England Clean Energy Connect project.

Via ecoRI News (ecori.org)

News continues to get worse for the Northern Pass project and efforts to deliver Canadian hydropower to southern New England.

On May 24, the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee denied an appeal by Northern Pass to overturn the decision that rejected the 192-mile-long high-voltage transmission line though the state.

The siting committee initially rejected the $1.6 billion project on Feb. 1 because of concern that the network of unsightly power lines and towers would harm tourism, local businesses and the environment.

According to the siting board, the appeal failed because there was no new information to review. And despite objections by Northern Pass, the positive elements of the application had been considered in the initial decision, committee members said.

"If there were conditions they could meet to approve it, we would have approved it with those conditions," said Bill Oldenburg of the Site Evaluation Committee in a video of the meeting taken by WMUR-TV, of Manchester, N.H.

In an online statement, Northern Pass, a joint venture between Eversource and Hydro-Québec, said it remains committed to the project and is considering taking the siting committee’s decision to court.

“We intend to pursue all options for making this critical clean energy project a reality, along with the many economic and environmental benefits for New Hampshire and the region. This opportunity to significantly lower energy costs for customers should be given great weight,” said Eversource New Hampshire president Bill Quinlan. “Large infrastructure projects of this scale often face challenges during the siting process, and we will continue to work with all of the stakeholders to present a project that receives New Hampshire’s approval.”

Meanwhile, Massachusetts, which has agreed to a 20-year power-purchase agreement for Northern Pass energy, has shifted its focus from Northern Pass to New England Clean Energy Connect (NECEC), a power-line transmission project that delivers Québec hydropower through western Maine to Lewiston, Maine, and on to Massachusetts.

The 145-mile project has broad community support, including from Maine Gov. Paul LePage.

The transmission system is opposed by the environmental group  (NRCM), which says the project will damage 53 miles of forest. The conservation group worries that NECEC won’t receive the same vetting as Northern Pass.

“Rather than allowing Maine regulators to go through the same thoughtful process that led New Hampshire to reject that project, Gov. Paul LePage, through a spokesperson, has vowed to ram the project through Maine’s Department of Environmental Protection,” according to a March 19 NRCM statement.

The Boston Globe editorial board criticized opponents of NECEC for overlooking the 1,200 megawatts of low-emission-creating electricity and the tax revenue it will bring to communities along the route.

The financial benefits are far less than the $200 million in tourism funding and $30 million in annual tax revenue promised by Northern Pass. So far, local taxes are the only revenue promised by NECEC.

State and local lawmakers are now rethinking their initial support for the project, in hopes of increasing the financial benefits to the state. There is also concern over the fact that none of the hydropower will be available for in-state use. Local renewable-energy projects will also be unable to connect to the power lines.

NECEC is being developed by Hydro-Québec and the utility Central Maine Power, a subsidiary of the multinational corporation Avangrid.

The Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources and state utilities are negotiating a power-purchase contract with Central Maine Power for the project. The agreement must be approved by the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities. State permits are expected by the end of 2018. Federal permits are expected in 2019.

Tim Faulkner is a journalist with ecoRI News.

Tim Faulkner: Localities stepping in to address ocean plastic crisis


Plastic pollution, especially in the ocean and along the coast, such as these plastic jugs found on the Portsmouth, R.I., shoreline, is a significant global problem.

Photo by Frank Carini of ecoRI News.

Via ecoRI News (ecori.org)

U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse’s Save Our Seas Act has big goals for addressing plastic in the oceans. The bipartisan bill that passed out of the Senate last year seeks to tackle marine debris and the ballooning problem of plastic waste by authorizing $10 million annually for cleanups of severe debris events in waters across the country. It also restarts federal research to determine the source of marine trash and the steps needed to prevent it.

What is already known is that much of the 8 million tons of plastic waste dumped in the world’s oceans each year happens outside the United States. In fact, five countries — China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam — are responsible for 60 percent of the plastic garbage that makes it into our waters every year, according to the Ocean Conservancy. 

That’s a problem, because most of those five countries receive plastic from U.S. recycling centers. The recycling industry, however, is lightly regulated, so it's hard to know the fate of the millions of bales of plastic recyclables shipped overseas annually.

The Save Our Seas Act addresses this problem by encouraging the president and the State Department to address the marine debris problem with these high-polluting nations. It also encourages international research into biodegradable plastics and establishes prevention strategies.

However, the likelihood of an environmental bill passing in the current Congress, much less President Trump endorsing it, is low. Trump wants to cut $1 billion from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which overseas the marine-debris program.

For now, much of the action on marine garbage is happening at state and local levels. Those steps include greater enforcement of recycling rules, bans on certain plastics, and improvement by product manufactures to make their packaging more environmentally friendly, reusable and include take-back programs for hard-to-recycle and bulky items.

At a recent Earth Day event in Middletown, R.I., aimed at drawing attention to the Save Our Seas Act, Johnathan Berard of the Rhode Island chapter of Clean Water Action said, “We cannot recycle our way out of this problem. We will only be able to solve it through policies that stop plastic pollution at its source.”

Recycling is necessary but is vulnerable to economic and market pressures, which cause revenues for waste prevention and education to fluctuate. There is little enforcement of rules, such as requirements in Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut that all business collect recyclables and offer collection for their customers. There is even less oversight of what happens to recyclables once they leave sorting centers and are shipped around the world. And with the exception of metals and glass, plastics eventually lose their durability and are down-cycled to trash.

Depending on the item, recycling rates hover between 20 percent and 30 percent nationally. Requiring a deposit on glass and plastic bottles, so-called “bottle bills,” boost the recycling rate to nearly 90 percent. But the political will for bottle bills is poor. For example, legislation is introduced in the Rhode Island General Assembly each year but rarely makes it out of committee.

The 2018 bill has yet to be scheduled a hearing. Massachusetts has had a successful 5-cent bottle-deposit program since 1983, but voters defeated a referendum in 2014 to expand the collection to include non-carbonate beverage bottles.

Take-back programs for bulky and hard-to-recycle items such as mattresses, paint cans and electronic waste have also made a difference, but expanding programs to other items like light bulbs, syringes and medications have stalled, as manufactures and retailers resist raising prices to fund collection or improvement of packaging.

This resistance puts the cost of waste management and recycling on consumers and local governments who pay for clean up and transportation. Budget limitations have led to the most cost-effective solution: bans. Prohibitions and fees on plastic bags, in particular, have proven effective at reducing land and marine debris. Dozens of communities in Massachusetts have banned plastic bags and a handful have enacted bans on polystyrene cups and to-go containers.

Seven Rhode Island communities have passed bag bans and more are considering them. Block Island even added a ban on balloons, and the “skip the straw” movement is growing among consumers and restaurants.

While bag bans and beach cleanups are helping clean southern New England, there is still the problem of global waste. Global plastic production is expected to double within 10 years and by 2050 there will be more plastic waste by weight in ocean waters than fish.

The Ocean Conservancy says a combination of education, waste collection and recycling infrastructure, and better managed and properly cited landfills are needed to tackle the plastic ocean debris epidemic.

“While we have made enormous progress cleaning up Narragansett Bay, the millions of tons of trash that are dumped into the oceans around the world can wind up on American shores and in the nets of Rhode Island fishermen,” Whitehouse said.

Tim Faulkner reports and writes for ecoRI News.

Wood is actually a bad source of energy for New England



From Robert Whitcomb's "Digital Diary,'' in GoLocal24.com

'New England has lots of woodland and so we’re tempted to see biomass as a good source of “renewable energy.’’ The theory goes that, yes, burning wood, notably in the form of wood pellets, releases carbon dioxide but growing trees absorbs it and so the whole process can be seen as “carbon neutral’’.

But a report from an outfit called Not Carbon Neutral says that CO2 emissions far exceed the absorbing capacity  of the living trees planted or maintained as future fuel sources.  The report’s author, Mary Booth, told ecoRI News journalist Tim Faulkner:

“This analysis shows that power plants burning residues-derived chips and wood pellets are a net source of carbon pollution in the coming decades just when it is most urgent to reduce emissions.’’ She included in her calculations the fossil-fuel emissions from the shipping and manufacturing of wood fuels.

Southern New England gets some electricity  from burning wood in northern New England.

The report reminds me of the wood-burning mania in New England during the energy crises of the ‘70s. It was handy to have all that wood available  for heating in New England to offset a little the swelling price of heating oil, but the wood stoves caused serious air pollution in many parts of our region, including in rural areas once noted for their clean air.

So wind, solar and hydro are the way to go in New England’s energy future.

To read Mr. Faulkner’s article, please hit this link:


Tim Faulkner: Report takes aim at using wood for energy

Heater using wood pellets.

Heater using wood pellets.

Via ecoRI News (ecori.org)

A new study contends that wood-fueled power plants continue to be a polluting energy source especially as their use grows. The report Not Carbon Neutral, recently published in Environmental Research Letters, challenges the claim that wood pellets, trees and forestry residue have a negligible effect on greenhouse-gas emissions when used to generate energy.

The author, Mary Booth, argues that many biomass/bioenergy plants and pellet manufacturers are using whole tree “rounds” instead of wood byproducts and tree residue, as they claim. And even if the wood-power and pellet industry adhered to sustainable sourcing of wood, carbon dioxide emissions are still much higher than claimed and similar to coal and other fossil fuels, according to the report.

“This analysis shows that power plants burning residues-derived chips and wood pellets are a net source of carbon pollution in the coming decades just when it is most urgent to reduce emissions,” Booth said.

Booth reaches her conclusion by including fossil-fuel emissions from the shipping and manufacturing of wood fuels, such as wood pellets. Wood pellets are produced in the southeastern United States and most are shipped to biomass power plants in the United Kingdom and Belgium. The European Union classifies woody biomass as carbon neutral and offers subsidies for switching from coal and other fossil fuels to wood.

However, a growing body of research claims that it takes decades for replanted forests to recoup the carbon emissions released from trees used as fuel or to make wood pellets. Researchers and environmentalists are raising questions as climate scientists urge greenhouse-gas reductions during the next 10 to 20 years, to curb some of the worst effects of climate change.

While Massachusetts has restrictions on biomass power plants, the state released guidelines in December for biomass boilers and industrial heating systems, systems that qualify for renewable-energy incentives. Gov. Charlie Baker supports woody biomass and sees it as a boost to the state’s lumber industry.

Rhode Island imports electricity from woody biomass power plants in northern New England for its program to deliver renewable energy to the regional grid. As of 2015, according to the latest report available, 34 percent of Rhode Island’s renewable-energy portfolio was supplied by woody biomass power plants.

President Trump supports biomass with his "all of the above" energy policy. On Feb. 13, Environmental Protection Agency Director Scott Pruitt visited New Hampshire, which has a handful of biomass power plants, to declare woody biomass a carbon-neutral energy “in appropriate circumstances.”

Booth lives in Pelham, Mass., and battles against local wood-burning power plants and state efforts to expand biomass. Her organization Partnership for Public Policy offers a global perspective on biomass energy.

“Even under the best-case scenario the carbon footprint is really big,” she said.

Booth directed her latest research toward the Inter­governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a United Nations organization that studies the causes and impacts of climate change. The IPCC endorses biomass if it is sourced from agriculture and forestry residues. But Booth noted that even if lifecycle emissions are ignored, the report “finds that even assuming the materials burned are true residues, up to 95 percent of the cumulative CO2 emitted represents a net addition to the atmosphere over decades."

And time is one part of the equation that can't be ignored.

“To avoid dangerous climate warming requires us to reduce power sector CO2 emissions immediately,” Booth said.

Tim Faulkner is a reporter and writer for ecoRI News.

Tim Faulkner: Mass. may get electricity from Hydro-Quebec another way

The spillway at Hydro-Quebec's   Robert-Bourassa generating station  can deal with a water flow twice as large as the Saint Lawrence River.

The spillway at Hydro-Quebec's  Robert-Bourassa generating station can deal with a water flow twice as large as the Saint Lawrence River.

Via ecoRI News (ecori.org)

The Northern Pass power-line project may be on life support, but controversial Canadian hydropower might yet reach southern New England if Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker gets his way.

The New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee rejected the 192-mil-long Northern Pass project on Feb. 1. While Eversource Energy has until March 27 to salvage its $1.6 billion transmission plan, Massachusetts has announced negotiations with a Maine utility for a backup plan to deliver imported hydropower to the Bay State.

The New England Clean Energy Connect, developed by the Central Maine Power Co., proposes a 145-mile power-line network to transmit 1,200 megawatts of hydropower from the Canadian border to Lewiston, Maine, where it will connect to the New England power grid. The $950 million cost for the project would be spilt by ratepayers and Hydro-Québec, an energy company run by the Canadian government.

Baker is banking on Canadian hydropower to fulfill his goal of 1,200 megawatts of new renewable energy under contract by April 1. The terms of the deal, as set by state law, have been criticized for excessively benefiting the utility, which in this case is Eversource or Central Maine Power. The terms for a hydropower-transmission project allows the utility to collect an annual payment, as well as receive a fully funded, high-voltage transmission system.

New Hampshire Republican Gov. Chris Sununu supports the Northern Pass proposal, but there was overwhelming opposition from local politicians, environmentalists and the public. In a unanimous vote, the state siting board ultimately rejected the proposal 7-0 because of concern that it would damage scenic areas, tourism and local businesses.

In Massachusetts, the bidding process has been accused of favoring the utilities, who make up a majority of the selection committee. Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey is reviewing the bidding process for any violations.

Less publicized is the threat hydropower inflicts on the environment and indigenous communities in Québec. Hydro dams require massive reservoirs that swamp dry land and low-lying wetlands while distressing fish and their habitat.

Indigenous groups such as the Pessamit Innu, Cree and Inuit claim that hydropower causes permanent damage to their land, food supply and the salmon population, one of the primary sources of revenue in the Betsiamites River. The Pessamit Innu tribe says exporting additional Hydro-Quebec electricity would cause greater changes in the water level of the reservoirs and further damage the environment.

The New Hampshire energy siting board denied the Pessamit Innu a request to intervene in the Northern Pass application review. The Pessamit grievances date back to the 1950s, when the first dams were built on their tribal land without approval, by Hydro-Quebec, which runs 62 hydro projects in the region. The company maintains that it has worked with the indigenous groups to protect and restore the salmon population while paying the Pessamit $80 million over 20 years. Hydro-Quebec notes that the company has signed 30 agreements with indigenous groups, known as first nations, since 1975.

Hydro-Quebec chasticed the Pessamit for partnering with Sierra Club to advance its opposition to exporting hydropower. The power company also criticized the environmental group for arguing that hydropower doesn't reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

Yet, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, large-scale hydropower contributes to global warming, as flooded land releases carbon dioxide and methane from decaying vegetation and erosion caused by runoff.

A 2016 study by Washington State University suggests that methane and CO2 emissions released as the water level fluctuates in hydropower reservoirs should be considered in the lifecycle emissions of an energy facility. A 2016 study published by PLOS One reaches a similar conclusion, but suggests that the emissions can be offset by generating biogas electricity and timely management of power generation.

Tim Faulkner is a reporter and writer for ecoRI News, where this article first appeared.



Tim Faulkner: Governor wants to talk to Interior chief about offshore drilling

Photo by TheConduqtor

Photo by TheConduqtor

From ecoRI News (ecori.org)

Florida recently received an exemption from a new plan to revive offshore drilling and other states, including Rhode Island, hope to receive the same treatment from the Department of Interior.

Gov. Gina Raimondo's office spoke with the Department of Interior on Jan. 10 to schedule a call with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. No date and time for that call have been announced.

After traveling to Florida to meet Gov. Rick Scott,  a Republican, Zinke removed the state from a proposal to open federal waters off the East and West Coasts and Alaska to oil and gas drilling.

“I support the governor’s position that Florida is unique and its coasts are heavily reliant on tourism as an economic driver,” Zinke said.

Zinke made the Florida decision five days after a Jan. 4 announcement of a sweeping proposal to expand drilling in areas long closed to fossil-fuel extraction, including in many prime commercial fishing grounds. Most of these proposed zones are in federal waters that typically begin just three miles off the coast.

Condemnation of the proposal was swift, with bipartisan opposition from governors of coastal states who see the same risks that Florida raised. Many governors threatened to sue the Department of Interior over the proposal, including Maryland Republican Gov. Larry Hogan.

Maine Gov. Paul LePage, a Republican, is the only governor from a coastal state to support the offshore drilling proposal.

The Department of Interior said governors are welcome to meet with Zinke to plead their case. So far, North Carolina and South Carolina had made requests to meet. Raimondo is seeking a phone call.

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker said he also opposes the drilling proposal, but didn't respond to inquiries about seeking an exemption from the Department of Interior or a meeting with Zinke.

Political pundits claim the Florida exemption was a gift to Scott by President Trump who is urging the Republican governor to run for the U.S. Senate this year.

Details of the proposal will be open to public scrutiny during public workshops that begin this month and run through Feb. 28. Providence hosts a meeting Jan. 25 at the Marriott hotel, 1 Orms St., from 3-7 p.m. Boston hosts a meeting Jan. 24 and Hartford hosts a meeting Feb. 13. The meetings offer one-on-one conversations with industry experts and scientists from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. Public comment will be accepted in writing at the meetings but there will be no town hall-style open discussions with an audience.

Public comments are being accepted online through March.

Local and national environmental groups uniformly oppose the drilling plan.

“At a time when offshore wind projects are gaining traction in our region, the last thing our coastal environment needs is oil drilling and all of the risks that go with it,” according to Providence-based Save The Bay. “Rhode Island has seen its share of petroleum disasters, including the 1989 grounding of World Prodigy on Brenton Reef and the 1996 North Cape oil spill off of Moonstone Beach.”

Tim Faulkner reports and writes for ecoRI News.


Tim Faulkner: Frigid end in N.E. but 2017 was world's second-warmest



Via ecoRI News (ecori.org)

Despite ending on a frigid note, 2017 was a warm year for southern New England, and the planet.

Globally, a European Union climate agency calculates that 2017 was 2.16 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than pre-industrial temperatures, to earn the second-warmest year on record after 2016; 2015 was the previous second warmest.

Locally, 2017 was the eighth warmest for Rhode Island and Connecticut, and the 10th warmest for Massachusetts, according to the National Weather Service and the Northeast Regional Climate Center at Cornell University.

Driving up the temperatures was a record-warm February, which was 6.6 degrees above normal and the highest for the Northeast since 1895. Feb. 23 set a record of 66 degrees in Providence. The Bay State also had the distinction of having its first February tornado, which touched down in western Massachusetts.

It was the warmest October ever for New England. Massachusetts and Connecticut had their warmest autumns since data were taken. Providence had a record October, with an average temperature of 61.3 degrees, 7.7 degrees above normal.

Data from the National Weather Service shows that Providence had an average temp of 52.9 degrees in 2017. The state had an average temperature of 51.5 degrees; 2012 was the warmest year in Rhode Island since 1905, with an average of 52.9 degrees, and 2016 was the second warmest for the state, with an average temperature of 52.2 degrees.

Summer 2017 temperatures in Providence were slightly below average at 71.1 degrees, 1.35 degrees below the mean. Last spring had average temperatures, but last winter was the eighth warmest at 35.1 degrees, 3.3 degree above the average.

February was the seventh warmest in Providence, with an average temperature of 35.7 degrees. April was the third warmest in Providence, with an average temperature of 52.6 degrees, 3.5 degrees above average. May 18 reached a record 95 degrees. May 19 reached 91 degrees, breaking a record of 89 degrees set in 1906.

Winter 2017 was the eighth warmest in Providence. Jan. 12 hit a record 60 degrees, and January had an average temperature in Providence of 34.8 degrees, 5.6 above the mean.

Last spring was the fifth wettest for Providence, as April and May had nearly 14 inches of precipitation. In all, 2017 was close to the average for precipitation in southern New England. But 2018 began with record snowfall on Jan. 4, with 14.1 inches in Providence, 13.4 inches in Boston, and 10.2 inches in Hartford.

Tim Faulkner is a staff writer for ecoRI News.




Tim Faulkner: The lessons of the long Cape Wind saga



Via ecoRI News (ecori.org)

NARRAGANSETT, R.I. — Cape Wind may be gone, but it’s still fresh on the minds of attendees and speakers at a two-day southern New England wind energy conference hosted by the University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Oceanography.

Bill White, senior director of wind development for the Massachusetts state agency that advances renewable energy, said the demise of Cape Wind was a personal disappointment, but the 16-year saga offered several teachable moments for the offshore wind industry.

Those lessons, White said, include building further offshore, presumably away from popular recreation and fishing areas such as Nantucket Sound. To speed up permitting, environmental studies should be completed and regulations addressed earlier in the application process, he added.

Cape Wind also established offshore infrastructure that will benefit future projects. It led to construction hubs such as the New Bedford Marine Commerce Terminal, and laid the groundwork for planning, staging, and construction of turbines and their transmission lines.

“Cape Wind in a way served as a catalyst not just for Massachusetts but in a way for the entire East Coast in educating us to the possibility of offshore wind,” White said.

Smaller is better, Deepwater Wind CEO Jeffrey Grybowski said. He noted that the 130-turbine Cape Wind project and other failed offshore wind farms suffered from a process that was pushed by developers rather than by a state-driven model, such as the one Rhode Island embraced for the five-turbine Block Island Wind Farm.

Developers, inspired by large European wind projects, relied on analysis from engineers showing the maximum number of turbines that could be built in an offshore zone, Grybowski said. Large projects like Cape Wind and others off the coasts of Delaware, New Jersey and Long Island “were in essence drawn up on a white board in a developer’s office."

"They were engineered," Grybowski said. "An engineer said, ‘I can build this much in this area.’ They were mechanically engineered and financially engineered to those particular project sizes. And those projects failed.”

Grybowski praised Rhode Island’s ocean mapping plan for providing the locations and process for approving offshore wind projects. Through community and stakeholder involvement, the project was reduced from 100 turbines to eight and then five.

“When you are doing something for the first time going for the large size is not necessarily the right way to go, even though it may make financial sense,” Grybowski said.

Building 400 turbines is feasible and already happening in Europe, he said, “but starting small makes a lot of sense when you look at the long term.”

Starting small and moving slowly makes it easier to recover from mistakes that might derail a larger project. Grybowski didn’t mention specific errors, but the Block Island project encountered some safety and construction problems, along with minor public resistance, all of which were fixed or addressed with alternative plans.

Grybowski described the give-and-take as “enlightened self-interest.” He explained that the turbines benefited Block Island by fulfilling its dual goals of ending its reliance on diesel-fuel power, while connecting the island to the mainland power grid. As an inducement, the transmission line included a fiber-optic Internet connection.

“It means ... making the right concessions for the community and the project that maximizes everyone's goals at the end of the day,” Grybowski said.

The experience of building the Block Island Wind Farm set the course for new and much larger offshore wind projects that will be needed as the country transitions away from fossil fuels. Electrification of the transportation sector and advances in battery storage are escalating the demand for renewable energy and offshore wind is the most practical source of utility-scale power to meet that energy need, according to Grybowski.

Fake news

Science was the focus of the two-day conference (Dec. 11 and 12), with sessions on marine mammals, fish and fisheries, birds, and bats. Grybowski urged scientists to do more to promote their research. Climate-change deniers, Grybowski said, were given legitimacy because scientists didn't adequately “engage in that public conversation.”

“When there was pushback, fake news on the other side, the science community, they were comfortable with kind of putting their studies together," he said. “They weren’t really comfortable engaging in a real way out with people on the other side in the community. So I ask you to do that."

Grybowski pointed to news stories that circulated a dubious claim that noise from the Block Island Wind Farm killed a humpback whale that washed ashore on Jamestown earlier this year.

“When that sort of thing happens, it would be really great to have some researchers who were willing to step up and actually get engaged in that conversation and provide facts and help people make clear judgements about what is and what isn’t happening,” Grybowski said.

Tim Faulkner writes for ecoRI News.

Tim Faulkner: Solar-energy batteries and big storm outages


Many trick-or-treaters ventured through southern New England neighborhoods afflicted by the latest widescale power outages, caused by the big storm of Oct. 29-30. Some houses were lit by generators, others arbitrarily spared from the blackout. To grown-ups at least, the Halloween displays were far less scary than the darkened homes with spoiling food and a lack of heat.

After a string of blackouts in recent years, it’s hard to blame homeowners for wanting backup power such as portable generators. The noisy, gas engines are more common since storms such as Sandy and Nemo have hit the region during the past five years. Some homeowners have even installed large, permanent standby units fueled by a direct hookup to a natural-gas line.

Property owners have reason to look for backup energy. Extended power outages are more common, in part because of higher winds and more powerful storms fueled by climate change.

Generator choices and prices vary widely. Portables start at $150. Quieter, cleaner and more powerful models can be as much as $5,000 or more. Permanent, standby units are priced upwards of $4,000 to as much as $25,000.

Adding backup battery storage to a solar array costs about $12,000, or about $8,400 after a federal tax credit.  That’s on top of the price of panels and equipment, which typically cost between $12,000 and $25,000 for the average home. Current rebates and incentives cut the expense by about 40 percent.

While the price may be high for the solar + storage, consumers are looking.

“There is huge interest for energy storage. We get calls all the time,” said Doug Sabetti, owner of Newport Solar, based in North Kingstown, R.I.

The first thing that residential customers want to know is whether they can go off the grid. Sabetti explained that cutting ties with the power grid is complicated and expensive. Several renewable incentives require a grid connection. So far, Sabetti has installed one solar + battery unit, but as incentives improve and hardware cost drop, the option of solar backup with grid connection will become more common.

Nationally, Tesla launched the solar + storage movement with the release of its Powerwall lithium battery storage pack in 2015. Sales have been slow and Tesla has shifted its focus to commercial customers, who use batteries to lower energy costs during peak demand. Tesla still offers solar + storage to residential customers through its SolarCity subsidiary. Other national installers such as Sunrun are expanding into the residential market using the Tesla Powerwall.

These systems are grid-connected, allowing for financial discounts and other benefits. In principal, the systems sell excess power back to the grid. And, of course, when the power goes out, the lights and refrigerator stay on.

However, not all states are prepared for permitting new solar + storage systems. Massachusetts and Rhode Island support the model and regulators are clarifying the rules.

One problem: solar regulations don’t state whether battery storage can be coupled with net metering, the process of taking and sending electricity to the grid at the regular retail price for power. Utilities such as National Grid don’t want customers charging their batteries off the grid when prices are low and selling the electricity back to the grid when prices are higher.

In September, the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities issued a temporary ruling allowing net metering solar + storage systems while it further investigates the implications of those systems.

Sunrun and Tesla have a petition before the Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission (PUC) that limits the size of eligible solar + storage systems to 25 kilowatts or smaller and batteries can only be charged by the sun and not from the power grid. The docket is supported by the Office of Energy Resources and the Northeast Clean Energy Council. National Grid generally favors the concept but wants the rules clarified. The PUC may rule on the petition at its Nov. 27 meeting.

Another approach to ensuring that the power stays on is to create municipally owned electric utilities. The U.S. Energy Information Administration reports that public utilities have fewer power outages. National Grid, a for-profit company, was criticized for its response to the recent lengthy power outages in the region.

Rhode Island state Rep. Aaron Regunberg (D.-Providence) plans to introduce legislation when the General Assembly convenes in January that would allow more public, nonprofit utilities to operate in the state. Currently, the Pascoag Utility District is the only municipal electric utility in Rhode Island. Massachusetts has 41 municipally owned electric utilities. None have been created since the 1920s, and bills allowing new ones to form have stalled for years in the Legislature.

Proponents of public utilities say they invest in community projects, including renewable energy.

Tim Faulkner reports and writes for ecoRI News.

Tim Faulkner: Future looks bright for New England offshore windpower


Via ecoRI.org

The future looks promising for the local and regional offshore wind business. Three recent reports project up to 36,000 new jobs and 8,000 megawatts of offshore wind power between New Jersey and Maine by 2030.

Released by the Clean Energy States Alliance, a coalition of state energy agencies, the reports examine and aggregate information about offshore locations, state policies, interconnection infrastructure, and job potential.

The main findings identify 109 different occupations and electricity output for nearly 4 million homes. By comparison, Rhode Island has 462,000 housing units and Massachusetts 2.7 million.

Of the the seven states in the reports, Massachusetts has the greatest resources for offshore wind energy, with 82,704 megawatts of potential power. Maine is next with 56,503 megawatts, but currently has no wind projects proposed. Rhode Island has 8,364 megawatts of wind potential. Rhode Island and Massachusetts share a federally designated wind-lease area south of Martha’s Vineyard.

The reports are part of a regional effort to promote renewable-energy planning called A Roadmap for Multi-State Cooperation on Offshore Wind Development. They were partially funded by a U.S Department of Energy grant of $592,683 given to the New York State Energy Research Development Authority. The reports were also done for the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources, and the Rhode Island Office of Energy Resources (OER).

“As host to the nation's very first offshore wind farm, currently generating 30 megawatts off the southern coast of Block Island, we see these reports as key to laying the foundation for this growing industry,” OER administrator Carol Grant said. “The states in the region have individually taken important steps to advance offshore wind. The release of the new reports exemplifies how the states are also working together to advance offshore wind deployment and supply-chain development.”

Report one, the Northeast Offshore Wind Regional Market Characterization, looks at federal lease opportunities, state policies, regional energy needs, existing electricity generation and planned retirements, and transmission capacity through 2030.

Report two, U.S. Job Creation in Offshore Wind, looks at job potential. The majority of jobs are in project development and management, supply and installation of electrical substations and subsea cable, wind farm operation and maintenance, and possibly some in manufacturing.

Report three, U.S. Jones Act Compliant Offshore Wind Turbine Installation Vessel Study, examines the federal rule that requires all vessels transporting cargo between domestic ports to be built in the United States. The report concludes that the budding offshore wind industry would need a turbine installation vessel and a feeder barge. Shipyards have already been sent information on cost estimates. The installation vessel would cost about $222 million and some $87 million for the feeder barge.

Webinars on the reports are scheduled to held Nov. 20 and Dec. 7.

Tim Faulkner is on the staff of ecoRI News (ecori.org).

Tim Faulkner: How a new economy might work in Rhode Island


Via ecoRI news (ecori.org)


Ever hear a politician brag about how much open space she protected? Or how much food scrap he wants to divert from the landfill? Or how they both made a neighborhood healthier by shutting down a polluter? Probably not often.

Instead, the words and acts of most elected officials focus on top-down economic development, such as lowering taxes and offering big corporations massive financial incentives to relocate.

That kind of outdated thinking is driving the spread of an altered economy, one that reduces the emphasis on unbridled profit-making and gives priority to health, nature and economic equality. Models vary, but most advocates and practitioners call for a shift to a shared economy, one that relies on local resources and networks and shuns outside ownership.

Statistics show that the current economic system isn’t working. The United States is doing poorly in creating economic equality and providing health care. Success stories abound, as do data, supporting the benefits of spending local. The grassroots-economy movement has been led by networks of artists, environmentalists and social entrepreneurs.

Specific solutions vary. Some say it’s as simple as having consumers, the government and institutions buy locally made products from locally owned businesses. Everything from food to furniture should made using local raw materials and labor and sold in locally owned shops. Bartering is also common, especially for items that can't be produced locally.

This modified capitalism has also fostered a more minimalist lifestyle. Less stuff and smaller homes reduces environmental harm. It also leads to greater contentment. Houses are smaller while the role of nature and open space is greater.

Partisan gridlock and corporate-funded opposition are stalling favorable policies at the legislative level, so the movement so far has adapted through tweaks to existing rules and systems.

Local environmentalist Greg Gerritt and social-enterprise advocate and impact-investor Dan Levinson, of Main Street Resources, recently discussed the issue and policies around a new economic movement.

Gerritt’s economic platform of ecological healing focuses on addressing climate change, ending fossil-fuel use and protecting forests.

Levinson believes that Rhode Island can prosper from a food-based economy and greater simplicity. Solutions include asking large food users such as universities to exclusively buy local; shifting out-of-state tourism marketing funds into attracting locals to local destinations; government injecting money into the local economy by paying premiums to local companies that bid on local projects.

Rather than politicians, local small-business owners should decide where economic stimulus money goes, Levinson said. “Ask these guys where to put it," he said. "They are not going to want to pollute. They treat people fairly. They are not going to ship all over the world."

Tim Faulkner writes for ecoRI News.