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infrastructure and mega-projects

Renewable Energy is (Mostly) Green and Not Inherently Capitalist, Volume 1: Wind Power (REVISED)

By Steve Ongerth - IWW Eco Union Caucus, Revised January 16, 2024

Is renewable energy actually green? Are wind, solar, and storage infrastructure projects a climate and/or envi­ronmental solution or are they just feel-good, greenwashing, false "solutions" that either perpetuate the deep­ening climate and environmental crisis or just represent further extractivism by the capitalist class and the privileged Global North at the expense of front-line communities and the Global South? 

This document argues that, while there is no guarantee that renewable energy projects will ultimately be truly "green", there is nothing inherent in the technology itself that precludes them from being so. Ultimately the "green"-ness of the project depends on the level of rank-and-file, democratic, front-line community and working-class grassroots power with the orga­nized leverage to counter the forces that would use renewable energy to perpetuate the capitalist, colonialist, extractivist system that created the cli­mate and environmental crisis in which we find ourselves.

In‌ order to do that, we mustn't fall prey to the misconceptions and inaccuracies that paint renewable energy infrastructure projects as inherently anti-green. This series attempts to do just that. This first Volume, on utility scale wind power addresses several arguments made against it, including (but not limited to) the following misconceptions:

  • Humanity must abandon electricity completely;
  • Degrowth is the only solution;
  • New wind developments only expand overall consumption;
  • Wind power is unreliable and intermittent;
  • Wind power is just another form of "green" capitalism;
  • The extraction of resources necessary to build wind power negates any of their alleged green benefits;
  • Wind power is an extinction-level event threat to birds, bats, whales, and other wildlife (and possibly humans);
  • Only locally distributed renewable energy arrayed in microgrids should be built without any--even a small percentage--of utility scale wind developments;
  • Only nationalized and/or state-owned utility scale renewable energy developments should be built;
  • No wind power developments will be green unless we first organize a socialist revolution, because eve­rything else represents misplaced faith in capitalist market forces.

In fact, none of the above arguments are automatically true (and the majority are almost completely untrue). However, they're often repeated, sometimes ignorantly, but not too infrequently in bad faith. This document is offered as an inoculation and antidote to these misconceptions and misinformation.

Download a copy of this publication here (PDF).

Ignoring Climate Scientists and Environmental Justice Advocates, DOE Awards Billions to Fossil Fuel Hydrogen

By Abbe Ramanan - Linked In, October 30, 2023

On October 13th, the U.S. Department of Energy announced the recipients of the Regional Clean Hydrogen Hubs (“H2Hubs”) funding. H2Hubs will award up to $7 billion to seven regional hydrogen hubs around the country. Disappointingly, more than half of the money from this massive federal investment will go towards Hubs producing hydrogen from fossil fuels with carbon capture and storage (CCS), also known as blue hydrogen. This massive investment ignores major concerns cited by climate scientists, environmental justice advocates, and clean energy experts.

One major concern identified by climate scientists is especially worrying: hydrogen gas leaked into the atmosphere is an indirect greenhouse gas that extends the lifetime of methane in the atmosphere, which means hydrogen has 35 times the climate warming impacts of CO2. A massive buildout of hydrogen infrastructure at this scale, without further research into how to safely and securely transport and store hydrogen, will almost certainly lead to significant short-term warming.

Although DOE has stated that each Hub’s projected benefits played a large role in determining awards, the H2Hubs process has suffered from a lack of transparency. Prospective awardees were not required to publish their proposals publicly, so while many of the Hubs promise community benefits, how these community benefits will be generated – and how those benefits will outweigh the potential harms of each Hub – remain opaque. DOE is hosting a series of local engagement opportunities for each Hub, which will hopefully provide opportunities to cut through the hype and learn more about what these projects will mean for the communities impacted.

While we don’t know much about these Hubs, what we do know suggests that most of these projects will do more harm than good:

Infrastructural Solidarity

Biden Funding for Hydrogen Hubs Threatens Communities, Exacerbates Climate Crisis

By Patrick Sullivan, Center for Biological Diversity; Karen Feridun, Better Path Coalition; Peter Hart, Food and Water Watch; Maya van Rossum, Delaware Riverkeeper Network - Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) Facts, October 13, 2023

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Biden administration announced today that it will fund seven hydrogen hubs with $7 billion in taxpayer dollars to rapidly expand the production, transport, and use of hydrogen across the nation – sacrificing communities, worsening localized pollution and water crises, doubling down on national sacrifice zones, and perpetuating our reliance on fossil fuels. 

“Throwing billions at hydrogen hubs deepens our dependence on fossil fuels and worsens the climate emergency,” said Maggie Coulter, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute. “President Biden should be urgently investing in proven and increasingly affordable solar and wind energy. It’s wasteful and misguided to fund false solutions like hydrogen that only further burden frontline communities.”

The Department of Energy’s announcement to fund regional hydrogen hubs in the Mid-Atlantic, Appalachia, the Gulf Coast, California, the Midwest, the Dakotas/Minnesota, and the Pacific Northwest flies in the face of the numerous adverse impacts such hubs will have on communities. Billions of dollars in funding for the planned hydrogen buildout subjects already disproportionately adversely affected communities to more pollution and dangerous infrastructure.

“Today’s announcement is a pledge of allegiance to dirty energy by the Biden administration. It is at once a betrayal of environmental justice communities that have been suffering at the hands of the same polluting industries that will now benefit from this misappropriation of taxpayer dollars and of future generations who will suffer the climate chaos hydrogen hub development guarantees,” said Karen Feridun, Co-founder of the Better Path Coalition in Pennsylvania.

Earlier this year, over 180 regional and national climate, community and environmental groups urged the Department of Energy to reject the “hydrogen hype” and ditch funding to expand hydrogen-based technologies touted as climate solutions by the fossil fuel industry. In fact, the vast majority of hydrogen is generated from fossil fuels, and it itself is an indirect greenhouse gas. 

“The build out of massive hydrogen infrastructure is little more than an industry ploy to rebrand fracked gas. The Biden Administration has clearly fallen for this scam hook, line and sinker. This multi-billion dollar bet on greenwashed dirty energy will undermine efforts to address the climate crisis, while increasing pollution of our air and water, and milk taxpayers for billions in new fossil fuel subsidies,” said Jim Walsh, Policy Director of Food & Water Watch. 

“The avalanche of funding from the Infrastructure Law to create Hydrogen Hubs threatens to doom our national commitment to keep the earth from global climate catastrophe. Efforts to replace greenhouse gas emitting energy sources with renewable and truly clean energy will be undone by these subsidies to support methane and other polluting fuels that will make matters worse. Our government must stop investing in dirty energy and instead launch a full-on campaign for non-polluting renewables,” said Maya van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper, leader of Delaware Riverkeeper Network.

Hydrogen production requires massive amounts of water; takes more energy to produce than it generates; is more likely to explode and burns hotter than conventional fossil fuels; and is more corrosive to pipelines – increasing threats in already overburdened communities, and extending our nation’s reliance on fossil fuels. 

“We need an ambitious transition away from dirty energy, not another taxpayer subsidy that enables Big Oil to repackage fossil fuels as so-called clean energy,” said Sarah Lutz, Climate Campaigner at Friends of the Earth US. “The Biden Administration should not be funding hydrogen infrastructure that will lock in decades more of dirty energy production in frontline communities already overburdened with pollution.”

Appalachian Economy Sees Few Gains From Natural Gas Development, Report Says

By Jon Hurdle - Inside Climate News, August 23, 2023

Natural gas production in the Appalachian region of the United States has failed to produce promised increases in jobs and income since the fracking boom began there in the late 2000s, with economic stagnation likely to persist now that output of the fuel has passed its peak, according to a report issued on Tuesday.

The study from the Ohio River Valley Institute, a nonprofit research group, found that gas-producing areas of Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia lost more than 10,000 jobs from 2008 to 2021 and that their personal income growth trailed that of the three states and the U.S. as a whole. Their population dropped by more than 46,000 during the period.

Even though gross domestic product of the 22-county region surged at four times the rate of the states overall from 2008 to 2019, little of that new wealth helped local economies because natural gas investment is mostly made in capital, not labor, and because many of the industry’s workers came from distant areas like Texas or Oklahoma where oil and gas skills were more readily available, the report said.

“GDP, which is often cited as a principal barometer of economic health, failed to produce commensurate gains in local measures of prosperity and well-being, including job, income and population growth,” it said.

Frackalachia Update: Peak Natural Gas and the Economic Implications for Appalachia

By Sean O'Leary - Ohio River Valley Institute, August 22, 2023

By the first quarter of 2020, EQT Corporation, the nation’s largest domestic producer of natural gas, was supplying more than 4 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day. Just a decade earlier, EQT’s output wasn’t even one-tenth as much and the company ranked an undistinguished 25th for output among US producers. But EQT had the good fortune and foresight to base all of its operations in Appalachia, which made it the greatest beneficiary of what turned out to be the world’s richest natural gas field. 

In those early days of 2010, when EQT was the scuffling little guy trying to find a place among giants, such as ExxonMobil, the company employed just 1,815 people. But, by 2020, when EQT’s production had surpassed that of ExxonMobil and all others, its employee count mushroomed to . . . 624.

Yes, EQT’s head count actually declined by nearly two-thirds between 2010 and 2020. In fairness, some of EQT’s job reduction was attributable to its spin-off of Equitrans Midstream (EQM) in 2018. But, even if you add EQM’s 2020 head count to EQT’s, combined employment at the two companies was only 1,395 in 2020, still a quarter smaller than EQT’s workforce in 2010.

EQT’s tale of skyrocketing output accompanied by a shrinking workforce helps us understand important things about the shale gas industry. It helps explain why, as the Ohio River Valley Institute documented in 2021, the Appalachian natural gas boom failed to deliver what had been expected to be hundreds of thousands of new jobs for the region. And it demonstrates that as the natural gas industry matures, it becomes less jobs-intensive and its already meager contributions to economic development and prosperity become even fewer. The dynamic is simple. As a larger share of output comes from existing wells and fewer new ones are dug and work is completed on the construction of processing plants and pipelines, fewer workers are needed. 

Consequently, if production stagnates and the only need for new wells is to replace those that retire, the economic value of the gas industry to Appalachia may diminish even further. And if the Energy Information Administration is correct in its most recent forecast for domestic natural gas production between now and 2050, that is exactly the scenario Appalachia and its natural gas industry are facing.

According to the EIA’s “Annual Energy Outlook 2023”, Appalachian natural gas production likely peaked in 2022. Although this year’s events may prove that forecast to be incorrect in the short term, the long-term trend is clear. Production is leveling off. Indeed, data show that Appalachian production began to plateau as early as 2019. And, as this report will show, economic outcomes in the 22 counties in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia that are responsible for 90% of Appalachian gas production deteriorated even further since 2019, which was the last year examined in ORVI’s original study of the Appalachian natural gas boom’s economic impacts in the counties where it is concentrated – an area christened “Frackalachia.”

Download a copy of this publication here (PDF).

The New (Renewable) Energy Tyranny

By Al Weinrub - Non Profit Quarterly, July 13, 2023

There are two very different (and antagonistic) renewable energy models: the utility-centered, centralized energy model—the existing dominant one—and the community-centered, decentralized energy model—what energy justice advocates have been pushing for. Although both models utilize the same technologies (solar generation, energy storage, and so on), they have very different physical characteristics (remote versus local energy resources, transmission lines or not). But the key difference is that they represent very different socioeconomic energy development models and very different impacts on our communities and living ecosystems.

Let me start by recounting some recent history in California—the state often regarded as a leader in the clean energy transition.

In recent years, California’s energy system has failed the state’s communities in almost too many ways to count: utility-caused wildfires, utility power shutoffs, and skyrocketing utility bills, for starters. Currently, state energy institutions are advancing an all-out effort to suppress local community ownership and control of energy resources—the decentralized energy model.

Instead, they are promoting and enforcing an outmoded, top-down, utility-centered, extractive, and unjust energy regime—the centralized energy model—which effectively eliminates local energy decision-making and local energy resource development. This model forces communities to pay the enormous costs of unneeded transmission line construction and bear the massive burden of transmission line failures.

Using the power of the state to enforce the centralized energy model is at the heart of California’s new renewable energy tyranny. And this tyranny has now spread to the federal level, as substantial public investment is now set to go toward large-scale renewable energy projects across the country. These projects will be controlled by and benefit an increasingly powerful renewable energy oligarchy. Being touted as a solution to what is popularly regarded as the “climate emergency,” this centralized energy model has actually failed to meet our communities’ energy needs, and at the same time has exacerbated systemic energy injustice.

Responsible Offshore Wind Development Starts with a Green Port

By Luis Neuner, Jennifer Kalt, Caroline Griffith, and Colin Fiske - Lost Coast Outpost (reposted at Wild California), May 10, 2023

Humboldt Bay Offshore Wind & Heavy Lift Multipurpose Marine Terminal Conceptual Master Plan. Image from Humboldt Bay Harbor Resource & Conservation District.

Humboldt County’s proposed offshore wind project would significantly reduce carbon emissions throughout California by providing upwards of 1.6 gigawatts of clean, renewable-sourced energy. But to ensure the success of offshore wind and to meet the promise of climate action, decision-makers must commit to a green port facility capable of building and servicing the turbines while not further contributing to greenhouse gas emissions or polluting Humboldt Bay.

A key component of a thriving offshore wind industry is a port capable of constructing, assembling, and maintaining wind turbines. The Humboldt Bay Harbor District has partnered with Crowley Wind Services, a multinational port development company, to build this heavy lift terminal on the Samoa Peninsula. There are various potential benefits: port development could create many family-wage jobs and substantially contribute to a growing local economy—all while making important strides towards a clean-energy future to address the climate crisis.

Unfortunately, these types of heavy-lift terminals have a mixed track record for communities. On land, port equipment such as terminal tractors, forklifts, yard trucks, cranes, and handlers commonly run on diesel. In the water, most heavy-duty cargo ships and tugboats also run on diesel or heavy fuel oil, polluting the air. Ships and tugs even burn fuel while docked at the terminal to maintain a base load of electricity. As a result, communities surrounding these ports often suffer from the effects of air pollution. In Los Angeles, for example, air quality studies revealed that these diesel fumes significantly raised cancer risk for people within fifteen miles of the terminals.

Our port doesn’t have to be this way. Recent technological developments have made major progress towards enabling the possibility of a ‘green port.’ Green ports seek to make all aspects of operation sustainable, from the heavy machinery on land to the ships docked at the harbor. This work requires moving away from fossil fuels and shifting towards electrification and other zero-carbon energy sources, such as green hydrogen.

Pursuing a Just and Renewable Energy System: A Positive and Progressive Permitting Vision to Unlock Resilient Renewable Energy and Empower Impacted Communities

By staff - The Climate and Community Project, et. al., May 2023

It is indisputable that the climate emergency requires the United States to rapidly transform its majority fossil energy system to 100% clean and renewable energy.

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s recent sixth synthesis report makes absolutely clear that an unprecedented bold transition to renewable energy with an equally aggressive effort to halt new fossil fuel development and phase out existing fossil fuel usage is absolutely vital to avoiding the most catastrophic consequences of climate change.

This necessary transformation presents a tremendous opportunity to pursue a far more just path forward—one that ends the status quo entrenchment of the fossil fuel industry; empowers federal agencies to use their authorities to accelerate the transitions to a justly sourced, justly implemented, resilient, and equitable power system; actualizes the principles of environmental justice; and preserves our core environmental laws.

This system is composed of our most commonsense and affordable solutions that can be deployed in an efficient and just manner: energy conservation, distributed and resilient renewable energy and storage, and responsibly-sited utility-scale renewables, all paired with robust community engagement and opportunities for real energy democracy.

However, both Congress and the Biden administration are failing to exercise their imaginations to embed justice in a renewable energy future.

After the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, both Democratic and Republican Congress members have proposed numerous “permitting reform” proposals, but the majority continue to argue that achieving a fast transition to renewable energy necessarily means undermining bedrock environmental laws like the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

This false logic must be interrogated. While these proposals might marginally improve the deployment of utility-scale renewable energy particularly on pristine lands, our energy needs can and must also be met with renewable energy on built surfaces that is more resilient, affordable, and respectful toward communities and wildlands.

Furthermore, any such purported gains of “permitting reform” proposals would be massively dwarfed by the emissions of fossil fuel projects that would also be expedited and result in deepening substantial environmental injustices for countless communities around the nation.

Download a copy of this publication here (PDF).

What It Really Takes To Save the Planet

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