The clean energy elephant in the room

If you’re paying any kind of attention at all to the presidential campaign or state politics or international politics, you most likely hear politicians talking about achieving “100 percent clean energy” within 20 to 30 years.

What you probably don’t hear is that, at the moment, having renewables may also mean having at least a little bit of fossil fuels.

If that sounds counterintuitive to you, you’re probably not alone. But think about it: sunlight and wind are not constant, and we like our electricity to be continuous. So, at night or when it’s calm, those solar panels and wind turbines can’t be used to generate electricity — we need something else to provide as much electricity as we use or might need. This is what grid operators and utilities call “balancing the grid.”

At the moment, generators or maybe even power plants often fill those gaps created by the inherent variability of renewables. Some utilities, however, are increasing their flexibility in providing power from different sources with batteries, which are becoming less expensive to produce and big enough to store electricity to fill the minutes or hours without wind and sun, according to Nathanael Greene, a renewable energy expert with the Natural Resources Defense Council, but are still not quite cost-effective enough. (There are also a few other storage options, like pumped hydroelectric storage, compressed air energy storage, among others.)

So utilities are turning more and more to natural-gas or oil-fired reciprocating engines to provide this flexible electricity. These internal combustion engines work like the ones in our cars, quickly providing relatively small amounts of power. In the last two decades, about three times as many of these engines have been added to the grid as were in the 50 years prior, and most of them are in states with large and growing renewable electricity capacity — like Texas, California and Kansas — according to a report from the Energy Information Administration.

The need for stable, reliable electricity to balance out renewables is often played down in conversations about the transition to clean energy, according to Mark P. Mills, a physicist, engineer and senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a free-market think tank, who recently wrote a report that calls ambitions for a transition to 100 percent renewable electricity as an exercise in “magical thinking.”

However, according to both Mr. Greene and Mr. Mills, these reciprocating engines may actually be an improvement, both in terms of efficiency and fossil fuel reduction. Typically, the way to balance the variability has been to keep a traditional coal or gas fired power plant running at part load so that there’s no interruption. These reciprocating engines, by contrast, can go from zero to full power in as little as two minutes. (Combined cycle turbines, another type of generator, can take much more time to start up, usually more than 30 minutes, so they are sometimes kept in “spinning reserve,” which means they’re using fuel but not producing electricity. In that way, they’re less efficient, but they’re bigger and can produce more electricity.)

Antelope Station, a 165 megawatt electricity producer in Texas, has 18 reciprocating engine generators to balance out wind variability, and can get to full operating capacity in 5 minutes. They can be run individually or together, depending on how much electricity is needed, and, according to their website, save a significant amount of water, which is important in parts of Texas. (Golden Spread Electric Co-Op, which owns Antelope Station, did not respond to an email requesting comment.)

What renewable-energy advocates like Mr. Greene are waiting for is a drop in the price of batteries to make them more cost-effective than natural gas, or increased flexibility in the grid market, like in the western grid’s Western Energy Imbalance Market, which, among other things, enables excess renewable electricity to move where it’s needed. To Mr. Greene, these solutions are imminent. To Mr. Mills, they’re unrealistic.

Either way, it’s worth remembering that without some investments in battery technology, grid flexibility, and innovative storage ideas, renewable electricity won’t be enough on its own, and may almost always be dependent on fossil fuels. SOURCE

Ottawa launches consultations on Indigenous ownership of Trans Mountain pipeline

Ottawa launches consultations on Indigenous ownership of Trans Mountain pipeline

CALGARY – Finance Minister Bill Morneau says the federal government is launching a new set of consultations with Indigenous groups that will determine if and how they might take part in ownership of the Trans Mountain pipeline and its expansion project.

Speaking in Calgary, the minister says up to 129 communities will be consulted over the next weeks and months to ensure they have a chance for “meaningful economic participation” in the pipeline.

He says the groups will be asked their level of support for equity-based or revenue-sharing options, as well as whether groups are willing to work with each other through existing or new organizations.

In a speech, the minister welcomed a Federal Court of Appeal ruling last week that set aside a challenge of the Trans Mountain expansion project by four B.C. First Nations, noting the project is important to the economic well-being of the West.

The court found that the government had met its duty to consult, thus endorsing its response to an earlier ruling that had stalled the pipeline and clearing one of the last major hurdles for construction to continue on the conduit from the Alberta oilsands and refining hub in Edmonton to the B.C. coast.

Morneau says the federal government will earn a profit when it sells Trans Mountain, despite a new construction cost estimate made last week of $12.6 billion, an increase of 70 per cent over the previous forecast of $7.4 billion.

“We believe this new estimate is realistic and we remain confident that when it’s the appropriate time to sell, we will see a profit on this investment,” Morneau said.

The government expects to earn $500 million a year in taxes from Trans Mountain after it begins operating, he added. SOURCE

These Canadian farmers have a plan for tackling climate change

Gillian Flies stands among the salad greens growing on her organic farm in June, 2015. Photo by Jason van Bruggen

Agriculture is a major contributor to Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions. At the same time, farmers are hit by some of the worst effects of climate change. But a coalition of farming groups says they can also be a part of the solution.

Farmers for Climate Solutions is calling for agricultural policy to be redesigned with a climate change lens placed over the entire framework. That means boosting the efforts of farmers to reduce their emissions, enhance soil health and increase resilience to extreme weather.

Measures to rein in emissions from agriculture, which would include reducing reliance on costly synthetic fertilizers and herbicides, should also improve farmer’s livelihoods, said the coalition, whose members includes the National Farmers Union, Canadian Organic Growers, FarmFolk CityFolk, Rural Routes to Climate Solutions and the Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario.

“Farmers are on the front lines of climate change. They’re dealing with the impacts already and being required to find solutions,” said Jane Rabinowicz, the executive director of SeedChange, another member of the coalition. “What we’re saying is the burden shouldn’t be on farmers alone.”

Rabinowicz and others in the coalition said government has an important role to play in spreading the word about successful farm innovations and helping to scale them up.

“It’s been several decades now that we really don’t have a significant public extension service,” said Karen Ross, project manager for agriculture at coalition member Équiterre. “It’s been replaced with private extension.”

“Extension service” refers to the application of new scientific methods to farming.

“So that means companies who are selling fertilizers, who are selling pesticides, who are selling seeds, are most of the people that farmers talk to,” she said.

A farmer drives a combine harvester. Photo courtesy of Farmers for Climate Solutions

Spreading the word about good practice

Gillian Flies, the president of Canadian Organic Growers, represents the type of success story the coalition hopes can be emulated across the country.

She and her husband, Brent Preston, work full-time on their 100-acre, certified organic farm in Creemore, Ont., growing salad greens and cucumbers, and supplying some 150 restaurants and a handful of retail stores.

Agriculture accounts for 12 per cent of GHG emissions in Canada, according to a report released in December by the National Farmers Union. But the industry is also a promising place to target for fast and effective solutions.

They have implemented several regenerative practices, which have had a notable effect on their ability to produce in tougher weather conditions.

These include planting some 12,000 trees, installing 18 beehives and creating protected pollinator and wildlife areas. They also use cover cropping — planting non-yielding crops to suppress weeds, improve soil quality and manage erosion — and have shifted away from tilling, which releases carbon into the atmosphere and leads to less water retention.

The measures are producing tangible results.

“Last summer, we had really high temperatures and a long drought, and we were still able to germinate arugula and spinach while farmers in our area who were tilling couldn’t,” Flies said in a phone interview, noting that a research trial they were involved in showed that their soil was 6 degrees cooler than soil on a neighbouring farm.

“It’s intimidating until you know how to do it and you hear success stories from other farmers demonstrating their increased profitability, but it really is an opportunity for all farmers,” Flies said.

Soil degradation cost farmers $3.1 billion in lost yield in 2011, according to researchers at the University of Manitoba. It has removed between $40 billion and $60 billion from gross domestic product since the 1970s, they calculated.

Eyeing next farm five-year plan starting in 2023

The coalition is hoping to see their views reflected in the next five-year plan of the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, a $3-billion funding mechanism from federal, provincial and territorial governments. The next one will map out policy priorities for 2023 and onwards.

Ottawa on Monday shelled out $2 million from the fund to cover half the costs of grain drying, after heavy rains led to a wet harvest last year, meaning dryers had to burn more fuel for longer periods to prevent crops from rotting.

The increasing frequency and severity of extreme weather damages crops and soil, with unseasonal snow trapping unharvested crops underneath and late frosts killing blossoms on fruit trees.

Agriculture accounts for 12 per cent of GHG emissions in Canada, according to a report released in December by the National Farmers Union, one of the members of the coalition. But the industry is also a promising place to target for fast and effective climate solutions, they said.

The group estimates that the reimagining of farming they are calling for could cut those emissions by 30 per cent by 2030 and perhaps by 50 per cent by 2050. SOURCE


Mohawk lawyer says blockade not breaching court injunction

Seventy-nine-year-old elder, identified only as George, sits by the fire at a demonstration by Mohawk members in Tyendinaga. George has been at the blockade near CN Railway tracks since it began February 6. ALEX FILIPE JPG, BI

Tyendinaga Mohawks said in social media interviews posted on YouTube they don’t believe they are breaching a court injunction served Tuesday by a sheriff that asks the demonstrators to cease and desist to allow the CN railway to open once again.

The demonstration east of Shannonville continued into its eighth day in support of the Wet’suwet’en First Nations efforts to stop a $6.6 billion Coastal Gaslink pipeline on their lands in northern British Columbia.

In the video, the local Mohawk’s contingent staging a demonstration along the CN Railway tracks at Wyman Road level crossing, said the injunction states there should be no “damage to the tracks or the mechanisms.”

Nothing is damaged, nothing is blocked,” said the demonstrators who have declined to speak to mainstream media at the site since the political action started Feb. 6, including The Intelligencer.

The demonstration has forced Canadian National Rail and Via Rail to cancel hundreds of trains from travelling along the busiest railway corridor in the country.

In a statement Thursday, Via Rail said it is “cancelling all departures until Friday February 14 end of day on the Montreal-Toronto and Toronto-Ottawa routes in both directions.”

As of 1:30 p.m. on February 12, 256 trains have been cancelled and at least 42,100 passengers have been affected. On the Prince Rupert-Prince Georges route, 30 passengers have been impacted,” Via commented in a statement e-mailed to The Intelligencer.

At the railway crossing in question east of Shannonville, Stephen John Ford, a lawyer and member of the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte, said in a Youtube video he reviewed the court injunction filed by CN and said “from what I can tell here, there is nothing that seems on its face to violate the injunction.”

What they’re [CN] saying is that there can be no obstruction of the tracks or any damage to any of their equipment including the tracks, switches or signals or of that nature,” Ford said.

Other than the fact that there may be some people standing and being within the boundaries of the right-of-way claimed by CN, there is nothing that would violate in my view the injunction,” he said.

This may well indeed be the galvanizing issue that brings First Nations people together in a common cause against the colonization that they suffered under for the last 152 years in this country,” he said.

Support is always warranted, however, there are laws in this country. We don’t want to see people jailed,” Ford said. “And I think the Wet’suewt’en lead is the one to follow, peacefully. Peaceful resistance is the way to go. That’s what I see here.”

In a separate video, a local Mohawk resident noted the First Nations never ceded the land to Canadian National Railway and suggested the railway firm should be paying some kind of toll to Tyendinaga Mohawks for its use.

Thursday marked one week since Mohawk demonstrators occupied space beside a CN railway in Tyendinaga. As some members sat around a fire, others brought fresh firewood to keep them warm as Environment Canada has issued an extreme cold weather warning for Southern Ontario.

Wind chills near -31 were expected to begin overnight and continue on into Friday.

“We are looking at some very cold conditions throughout today and especially tonight and early Friday morning,” explained meteorologist Gerald Cheng from Environment Canada. “We are talking about windchill values reaching -31 overnight. And as people wake up early tomorrow morning, that is the kind of same windchill we are looking at.”

“When we are talking about windchill values of -21 and even lower, there is a risk to exposed skin possibly freezing in 10 to 30 minutes,” explained Cheng. “So in these conditions, we certainly advise people to dress warmly. Cover your fingers, hands, feet and even face so that your skin is not exposed for an extended period of time.”

“Certainly there is a high risk of frostbite and hypothermia as well if you’re outside for long periods of time without adequate clothing,” said Cheng. SOURCE

Via Rail cancels most trains nationwide, CN closes Eastern Canadian network as Indigenous protests continue

Passenger rail service says it has ‘no other option,’ while CN warns of temporary layoffs

Anti-pipeline protests in B.C. and Ontario have led to a sweeping shutdown of CN and VIA rail services. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

CN Rail and Via Rail are shutting down huge sections of their railway networks as Indigenous blockades continue to cripple the country’s transportation systems.

Via Rail is temporarily ending most passenger services nationwide, expanding an earlier work stoppage that restricted train cancellations to the Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal corridor.

“Via Rail has no other option but to cancel all of its services on the network, with the exception of Sudbury-White River (CP Rail) and Churchill-The Pas (Hudson Bay Railway), until further notice,” the rail operator said in a media statement.

The company said it would automatically process full refunds for all cancelled trips.

“You do not need to contact Via Rail to confirm the refund, but note that due to the volume of transactions it may take up to 15 days to receive,” the Crown corporation said. “We understand the impact this unfortunate situation has on our passengers and regret the significant inconvenience this is causing to their travel.”

Via Rail has temporarily suspended all trains nationwide because of ongoing Indigenous protests. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)


CN Rail, the country’s largest railway, is “initiating a progressive and orderly shutdown of its Eastern Canadian network” because Tyendinaga Mohawk protesters near Belleville, Ont. have so far refused to dismantle their blockade.

The railway operator said the shutdown, which will affect the entire network east of Toronto, may result in temporary layoffs of CN workers.

Via Rail trains run on CN tracks in most parts of the country, a vestige of a time when CN ran its own passenger trains.

‘The situation is regrettable’

“With over 400 trains cancelled during the last week and new protests that emerged at strategic locations on our mainline, we have decided that a progressive shutdown of our Eastern Canadian operations is the responsible approach to take for the safety of our employees and the protestors,” J.J. Ruest, the president and CEO of CN, said in a media statement.

“This situation is regrettable … these protests are unrelated to CN’s activities and beyond our control. Our shutdown will be progressive and methodical to ensure that we are well set up for recovery, which will come when the illegal blockades end completely.”

Last weekend, CN Rail obtained a court injunction to end the illegal Mohawk demonstration. The injunction has been ignored by the protesters. Activists also ignored a request from the on-reserve Tyendinaga Police for them to voluntarily dismantle the blockade.

History and internal politics play a role in the internal division over the Coastal GasLink pipeline among the Wet’suwet’en people. 2:08

The injunction forbids any continued interference with the rail line under the threat of arrest. The Ontario Provincial Police has not yet enforced the injunction.

The federal government, which has jurisdictional authority over railways, has so far refused to intervene. Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller has agreed to meet with the Mohawks on Saturday.

Transport Minister Marc Garneau said he plans to meet with his provincial and territorial counterparts Friday, adding he is in contact with CN and CP.

In a statement Thursday, Garneau said “freedom of expression” is an important democratic right, but added, “these activities must respect the court decisions and the law.”

The Mohawk activists have said they won’t end their demonstration until the RCMP leaves the traditional territory of the Wet’suwet’en in northern B.C. Wet’suwet’en hereditary leaders had been blocking road access to a construction site for the Coastal GasLink pipeline, a key part of a $40-billion LNG Canada liquefied natural gas export project.

While much of the police action near that road ended Tuesday with multiple arrests, the RCMP still has officers stationed near the pipeline construction site.

Train tracks have been blocked near New Hazelton, B.C. since Saturday afternoon. (Photo by Lillian Granley)

A separate rail blockade on CN tracks near New Hazelton, B.C. was set to end today after Gitxsan hereditary chiefs agreed to end protests designed to show solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en.

Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett and her provincial counterpart will hold talks with both the Gitxsan and the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs in the coming days.

A prolonged shutdown could have devastating consequences for the country’s economy. CN moves more than $250 billion a year in goods across its transcontinental network.

The shutdown threatens the transport of food and consumer items, grain, de-icing fluid for airports, construction materials, propane supplies for Quebec and Atlantic Canada, and natural resources like lumber, aluminum and coal, the railway said.

The Canadian Chamber of Commerce urged the federal and provincial governments and the police to immediately end the transport chaos and help CN restore rail service.

“From propane to grain and food and consumer items, Canada’s supply chains are being severely damaged by the continuing interruptions to Canada’s rail services by protestors,” the organization said in a statement.

“The rail system affects the entire Canadian economy and Canadians everywhere, including people trying to get to and from work. They must be allowed to continue to serve the thousands of businesses that depend on them.”

‘What happened to the rule of law?’

Bob Masterson, president and CEO of the Chemistry Industry Association of Canada, said this shutdown could be hugely problematic.

“It’s a critical situation. It’s an extremely dire situation for the economy and, in the coming days, for communities across the country,” he told CBC’s Power & Politics.

He said 80 per cent of his industry’s products, such as jet fuel for planes and chlorine for drinking water, are shipped by rail.

Masterson said the provincial police need to enforce the court-ordered injunction and clear out the Mohawk protesters.

“Everyone has the right to protest … but the courts have said, ‘You’ve gone too far, it’s no longer in the public interest,'” he said. “The actions are illegal, this is trespassing. What happened to the rule of law in Canada?” SOURCE