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The Cost of Coal: Impact of Russian coal mining on the environment, local communities and indigenous peoples

By Natalia Paramonov - EcoDefense, December 2015

In four hours of flight from Moscow, in the middle of the country, lies the coal heart of Russia.

Coal mining and burning are generally known to be polluting atmosphere with loads of CO2 and causing climate change. But people of Kuzbass have little concern about global problems. They get used to open-cut mines operating and huge trucks roaring right out of their windows. Shot operations destroy houses, and spoil piles grow up around. Air and rivers are contaminated with coal dust, and fertile land is being devastated.

These particular problems can be discovered only by visiting surroundings of Novokuznetsk. Bad news about violations over environmental rights in Kemerovo Oblast would never reach Moscow themselves. They are hidden behind companies' ambition to get coal at any cost.

Number of official statistics provides evidence for contamination of air, water, and soil, high mortality and sickness rates in Kemerovo Oblast. Local authorities and regulatory bodies, however, prefer to avoid looking into particular cases. There is Kemerovo Oblast with a range of general environmental problems, but there are no particular people whose violated rights need to be protected. This way, there are no victims and no need to pay out compensations or think about mine reclamation.

This report begins with statistic data which reflect environmental conditions in Kuzbass, followed by testimonies of the local residents. Interviews with those suffered from coal production but unable to get it acknowledged and fully compensated by the state are enclosed in the appendix.

Behind every figure of the official statistics presented below, there are lives of people who live in Kuzbass and battle for their rights.

Read the report (PDF).

Maryland's Clean Energy Future

By various - Labor Network for Sustainability and Synapse, October 14, 2015

This report presents a Clean Energy Future (CEF) plan that reduces Maryland’s net emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) 80 percent below the 2006 level by 2050 – while adding more than ten thousand jobs per year. With a state strategy to encourage and expand the growing industries of the future, Maryland’s employment gains could be considerably greater.

Maryland has often been told that doing its share to save the earth’s climate will threaten its workers’ jobs. “Maryland’s Clean Energy Future: Climate goals and employment benefits” refutes that claim. This report lays out a climate protection strategy that will produce an estimated 10,000 more jobs per year over business as usual projections through 2050. Almost two-thirds of the jobs created will be in the high-wage construction and manufacturing sectors.

The report also indicates that Maryland can use the burgeoning state and national demand for clean energy to create good, stable jobs in a growing climate protection sector: manufacturing jobs, jobs for those who have been marginalized in the current labor market, and jobs for skilled union workers in the construction trades. Maryland needs a robust job creation and clean industry development strategy to realize that potential.

Read the report (PDF).

Replace Hazelwood Primer

By David Spratt - Climate Action Moreland, June 2015

Hazelwood Power Station (HPS) was built between 1964 and 1971, and comprises 1542 megawatt (MW) of capacity over eight generators. It was privatised by the Victorian Liberal Party Kennett government in 1996 for $2.35 billion.If HPS had stayed in public hands, it would likely have been decommissioned in 2005, but in 2004 the Bracks Labor government extended its operations till 2031, allowing Hazelwood to move a road and a river to access 43 million tonnes of brown coal deposits in a realignment of the mining licence boundaries. The owners have a 30-year mining licence due for renewal in 2026.HPS and the land on which it operates are owned by the Hazelwood Power Partnership. Since 7 June 2013, the four partners have been subsidiaries of International Power (Australia) Holdings Pty Ltd. This company is in turn jointly owned by subsidiaries of Engie (formerly GDF Suez SA) (72 per cent ownership) and Mitsui & Co Ltd (28 per cent ownership). Engie is a global energy company with corporate headquarters in France. Mitsui & Co Ltd is a global trading company with corporate headquarters in Japan.Currently HPS produces more than 10,000 gigawatt hours (GWh) of energy annually and is supplied with up to 18 million tonnes of coal each year from the adjacent Hazelwood mine, releasing around 16 million tonnes of greenhouse gases annually. Today HPS provides approximately 21 per cent of Victoria’s baseline electricity supply.

The Victorian Government has expressed a desire (though it does not yet have a policy) for a significant expansion of renewable energy in Victoria. This has widespread community support and must be done quickly and at a large scale because climate change is already dangerous. Scientists warn that two degrees Celsius of warming could occur in just two decades, so preserving a safe climate and a healthy future requires rapid de-carbonisation.

Expanding renewable energy requires coal-generating capacity to be removed from the market because oversupply is crowding out and preventing new investment. The Australian energy market operator says there are about eight gigawatts of surplus generating capacity across the national market, equivalent to five Hazelwood power stations. This includes up to 2.2 gigawatts of brown coal generation that is no longer required in Victoria in 2015, which is greater than Hazelwood’s capacity. Power companies have been lobbying government for capacity to be reduced, and senior Victorian energy department bureaucrats are aware of the need to close coal power stations in order to roll out renewables.

The Victorian Government has committed to being a leader on climate change. Closing down excess coal generation is a key test of the government’s climate credentials. Coal-fired power stations are the world’s largest source of planet-warming carbon dioxide emissions. Victoria cannot make the necessary emissions reductions without addressing the operations of Hazelwood and/or Yallourn power stations.

Hazelwood power station is old, unsafe and dirty. Based on emissions intensity, it is the third-dirtiest coal power station in the world and the dirtiest in Australia, releasing around 16 million tonnes of greenhouse gases annually, almost three per cent of total Australian greenhouse emissions. The Hazelwood majority owner, Engie (formerly GDF Suez), owns the third-most polluting coal-power station fleet in the world. The full – health and carbon pollution – social costs of Hazelwood totalling $900 million per year are borne by the community, rather than the plant’s owners.

A steady stream of local jobs can be created in the Latrobe Valley with the rehabilitation of mines and decommissioning of plant, which will require a significant workforce stretching well over a decade. The Latrobe Valley needs a strong jobs package and an economic transition plan and new industries because the move from coal to clean wind and solar renewable energy is now both urgent and inevitable.

Hazelwood power station and mine are a health hazard to local residents, exemplified by the autumn 2014 mine fire. The owners of Hazelwood have abused their social licence and forfeited the right to profit from a power station that is now a major health hazard – both to local people and to all peoples who face the uncertainties of living in a hotter and more extreme climate.

In July 2010, the Victorian Labor government promised to start shutting Hazelwood and passed climate legislation providing the reserve power to regulate emissions from existing brown coal-fired generators. Restoring the government’s capacity to regulate emissions would be complementary to actions being taken by other governments, including in the United States and Europe.

Read the report (PDF).

Europe's energy transformation in the austerity trap

By Béla Galgóczi - European Trade Union Institute, 2015

Our planetary limits demand a radical transition from the energy-intensive economic model based on the extraction of finite resources, which has been dominant since the first industrial revolution, to a model that is both sustainable and equitable.

Unfortunately however, energy transformation in Europe has, after a promising start, fallen hostage to austerity and to the main philosophy underpinning the crisis management policies in which overall competitiveness is reduced to the much narrower concept of cost-competitiveness. Regulatory uncertainty, design failures built into incentive systems, and unjust distribution of the costs, have also contributed to the reversal of progress in energy transformation currently observable across Europe.

In this book three country case studies highlight the different facets of these conflicts, while additional light is thrown on the situation by an account of the lack of progress in achieving energy efficiency.

By way of conclusion, a mapping of the main conflicts and obstacles to progress will be of help in formulating policy recommendations. Ambitious climate and energy policy targets should be regarded not as a burden on the economy but rather as investment targets able to pave the way to higher employment and sustainable growth. It is high time for this perception to be recognised and implemented in the context of Europe’s new Investment Plan, thereby enabling clean energy investment to come to form its central pillar. A shift in this direction will require an overhaul of the regulatory and incentive systems to ensure that the need for just burden-sharing is adequately taken into account.

Read the report (Link).

Offshore Wind Energy and Potential Economic Impacts in Long Island

By Staff - New York Energy Policy Institute and Stony Brook University, November 25, 2014

This study assesses the offshore wind energy and its potential economic impacts on Long Island. The study consists of four parts. It first reviews the literature on economic development benefits associated with wind energy development. We also assess the resource and market potentials of offshore wind based on four factors:

  • (a) prior estimates of offshore wind potential;
  • (b) federal leasing of submerged lands;
  • (c) state policies in support of offshore wind; and
  • (d) proposed offshore wind projects.

Existing research on the offshore wind supply chain is reviewed. These reviews are followed with an assessment of potential impacts on employment and economic activity in Long Island. This study employs JEDI model developed by National Renewable Energy Lab to determine the job creation and economic output associated with offshore wind development under two scenarios. This study reaches four major conclusions on the economic impacts of offshore wind energy on Long Island.

First, offshore wind energy can bring significant job and economic benefits to local economies. Previous studies provide varying estimates. Job creation associated with offshore wind development ranges from 7 to 42 jobs for each megawatt. It is reasonable, however, to conclude that offshore wind can generate about 20 jobs in a region with well-developed supply chain and approximately $3.3 million of new local economic development activity.

Second, states in the mid-Atlantic and northeast are rich in offshore wind resources, and have also established policies to support renewable energies, in certain cases including offshore wind.Our review of wind resources, siting and permitting restrictions, federal leasing, state policies, and market demand for offshore wind energy suggests that a Long Island-based offshore-wind industry can have a near-term addressable market of approximately 8,850 MW.

Third, the near-term local economic development opportunities are likely in foundations, blades and marine operations. Long Island is competitive in these areas because of its large, skilled labor base, experience in the aerospace industry and maritime industries.

This analysis finds that each offshore wind farm can produce hundreds of Long Island-based jobs and millions of dollars for the local economy. A single offshore wind farm (250 MW) built off Long Island coast can create 2,864 full-time equivalent (FTE) jobs on Long Island or about 11 per MW, as well as approximately $645 million in local economic output, under a scenario assuming that the first offshore wind projects will have to use more service providers and equipment manufacturers outside Long Island as the Long Island supply-chain is built out. Under another scenario that assume Long Island offshore wind industry can achieve a scale of supporting 2,500 MW, more than 58 thousand FTE jobs and approximately $12.9 billion in local economic output can be expected. Our analysis suggests that offshore wind constitutes a significant opportunity for job creation and economic development on Long Island.

Read the report (PDF).

Star Power: The Growing Role of Solar Energy, in America

By Judee Burr and Lindsey Hallock, Frontier Group and Rob Sargent, Environment America Research & Policy Center, Environment America - Publication, November 2014

America could meet its energy needs by capturing just a sliver of the virtually limit-less and pollution-free energy that strikes the nation every day in the form of sunlight. With solar installation costs falling, the efficiency of solar cells rising, and the threats of air pollution and global warming ever-looming, solar power is becoming a more attractive and widespread source of energy everyday.

Solar energy is on the rise across the country.The amount of solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity in the United States has tripled in the past two years. More than half of all new U.S. electricity generating capac-ity came from solar installations in the first half of 2014, and the United States now has enough solar electric capacity installed to power more than 3.2 million homes.

Read the report (Link).

How the Walton Family is Threatening Our Clean Energy Future

By Stacy Mitchell - Institute for Local Self-Reliance, October 2014

Critical fights over the future of our energy system are underway in dozens of states, with far-reaching implications for both climate change and our economy. At issue is the recent, rapid expansion of rooftop solar, which is revolutionizing who owns and profits from electricity generation. Rather than power production being monopolized by utilities, more and more households are becoming energy producers themselves. This transition is saving families money and driving the creation of tens of thousands of well-paying jobs.

But rooftop solar threatens the profits of utilities and the companies that supply them with energy. These powerful interests have gone on the offensive and are campaigning to weaken policies that enable rooftop solar in multiple states. They have begun to score wins, including a pivotal victory in Arizona, where regulators granted the state’s largest utility, APS, the right to impose new fees on households with rooftop solar. The fees have undermined the economics of rooftop solar, dramatically slowing installations and causing widespread job losses.

Read the report (PDF).

Drilling Deeper: a Reality Check on U.S. Government Forecasts for a Lasting Tight Oil & Shale Gas Boom

By J David Hughes - Post Carbon Institute, October 2014

In recent years Americans have been hearing that the United States is poised to regain its role as the world’s premier oil and natural gas producer, thanks to the widespread use of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”). This “shale revolution,” we’re told, will fundamentally change the U.S. energy picture for decades to come—leading to energy independence, a rebirth of U.S. manufacturing, and a surplus supply of both oil and natural gas that can be exported to allies around the world. This promise of oil and natural gas abundance is influencing climate policy, foreign policy, and investments in alternative energy sources.

The primary source for these rosy expectations of future production is the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). Each year the DOE’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) releases its Annual Energy Outlook (AEO), which provides a range of forecasts for energy production, consumption, and prices.

The 2014 AEO reference case projects U.S. crude oil production to rise to 9.6 million barrels of oil per day (MMbbl/d) in 2019 and slowly decline to 7.5 MMbbl/d by 2040, while natural gas production is projected to grow for at least the next 25 years and hit 37.5 trillion cubic feet per year in 2040. Tight oil (shale oil) and shale gas serve as the foundation for these optimistic forecasts.

This report provides an extensive analysis of actual production data from the top seven tight oil and seven shale gas plays in the U.S. (These plays account for 89% of current tight oil production and 88% of current shale gas production, and serve as the primary sources of future production in the EIA’s forecasts—82% of forecast tight oil and 88% of forecast shale gas production through 2040.) It concludes that the current boom in domestic oil and gas production is unsustainable at the rates projected by the EIA, and that the EIA’s tight oil and shale gas forecasts to 2040 are extremely optimistic. What this means is that the country's current energy policy—which is largely based on the expectation of domestic oil and natural gas abundance far into the future—is badly misguided and is setting the country up for a painful, costly, and unexpected shock when the boom ends.

The Effect of Natural Gas Supply on US Renewable Energy and CO2 Emissions

By Christine Shearer, et. al. - Environmental Research Letters, September 9, 2014

Increased use of natural gas has been promoted as a means of decarbonizing the US power sector, because of superior generator efficiency and lower CO2 emissions per unit of electricity than coal. We model the effect of different gas supplies on the US power sector and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Across a range of climate policies, we find that abundant natural gas decreases use of both coal and renewable energy technologies in the future. Without a climate policy, overall electricity use also increases as the gas supply increases. With reduced deployment of lower-carbon renewable energies and increased electricity consumption, the effect of higher gas supplies on GHG emissions is small: cumulative emissions 2013–55 in our high gas supply scenario are 2% less than in our low gas supply scenario, when there are no new climate policies and a methane leakage rate of 1.5% is assumed. Assuming leakage rates of 0 or 3% does not substantially alter this finding. In our results, only climate policies bring about a significant reduction in future CO2 emissions within the US electricity sector. Our results suggest that without strong limits on GHG emissions or policies that explicitly encourage renewable electricity, abundant natural gas may actually slow the process of decarbonization, primarily by delaying deployment of renewable energy technologies.

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Integrated life-cycle assessment of electricity-supply scenarios confirms global environmental benefit of low-carbon technologies

By Edgar G. Hertwich, et. al. - National Academy of Sciences of the United States, September 3, 2014

Decarbonization of electricity generation can support climate-change mitigation and presents an opportunity to address pollution resulting from fossil-fuel combustion. Generally, renewable technologies require higher initial investments in infrastructure than fossil-based power systems. To assess the trade offs of increased up-front emissions and reduced operational emissions, we present, to our knowledge, the first global, integrated life-cycle assessment (LCA) of long-term, wide-scale implementation of electricity generation from renewable sources (i.e., photovoltaic and solar thermal, wind, and hydropower) and of carbon dioxide capture and storage for fossil power generation. We compare emissions causing particulate matter exposure, freshwater eco-toxicity, freshwater eutrophication, and climate change for the climate-change-mitigation (BLUE Map) and business-as-usual (Baseline) scenarios of the International Energy Agency up to 2050. We use a vintage stock model to conduct an LCA of newly installed capacity year-by-year for each region, thus accounting for changes in the energy mix used to manufacture future power plants. Under the Baseline scenario, emissions of air and water pollutants more than double whereas the low-carbon technologies introduced in the BLUE Map scenario allow a doubling of electricity supply while stabilizing or even reducing pollution. Material requirements per unit generation for low-carbon technologies can be higher than for conventional fossil generation: 11–40 times more copper for photovoltaic systems and 6–14 times more iron for wind power plants. However, only two years of current global copper and one year of iron production will suffice to build a low-carbon energy system capable of supplying the world’s electricity needs in 2050.

Read the report (PDF).

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