Cultural Attitudes: 55 Years can make a World of Difference. So can 12.
Remember the iconic 1960-era engineer? He wore a pocket protector in the shirt pocket of his short-sleeved white dress shirt. He usually had two or three ballpoint pens sticking up next to a small slide rule—he was the symbol of a culture that respected and emphasized things like science, math, logic and precision, a culture for which automotive designers put rocket-like fins on the back of heavy steel cars powered by 8-cylinder engines.
The American culture is vastly different today. Family members are glued to their individual smart phones at the dinner table, an abundance of beheading videos lurks a few clicks away, there is a U.S. congressman who thinks it’s just fine to text naked pictures of himself around the Internet, and there are people eager to do just about anything to show their hate for fossil fuels: from blocking roads to dangling off bridges to block the movement of deepwater drill ships in pursuit of Alaska’s Arctic oil.
That last group is loud and getting louder. And judging from the daily local business headlines, a lot of people are listening to them.
Tracking a Trend: Has Green Energy Already Won?
Since the shale revolution shifted into high gear about a dozen years ago, the attention of energy company executives has been on things like day rates, rig availability, capital raises, borrowing base redeterminations, quarterly financials, lease operating expense and EURs.
Fossil Fuels 101: coal and natural gas are the legacy fuels that produce the electricity that human beings use to design, create, market and deliver goods and services. In other words, they power the global economy, not to mention that they also heat homes and provide raw material for the manufacture of products we use every day (things made with plastic or plastic parts). They also produce the fuels (gasoline, diesel fuel and to a much lesser degree natural gas and byproducts like propane) that the vehicles all over the planet require in order to be able to transport goods and people from point A to point B across the land, over the sea and through the air. (Electric vehicles may be sexy, courtesy of Mr. Musk’s designers, but they aren’t up to the task of an 18-wheeler, or a fleet of army trucks, or the airline industry.)
Never mind the realities of global commerce. If you look at today’s business headlines, it appears as though the anti-carbon folks have successfully slipped in over the gunwales, masked by the dust and activity of the shale boom, and taken over the helm. Bottom line: it’s their hands pulling the energy policymaking levers in 2015—both in the halls of government and in the c-suites of large companies.
Want proof that Green is winning the battle for global hearts and minds? The stories below were collected in the past few months from a wide variety of business media, government announcements and news reports on energy-focused websites. One story alone might sound implausible or absurd. But when you absorb the lot, you’re seeing the present state of government, public and corporate thought. The green energy movement has organically built up a head of steam with governments, companies, voters and the public—on a parallel timeline with the acceleration of the shale boom. The people who make energy policy decisions today are taking actions that will result in the reduction in the use of certain fossil fuels in the future (transportation fuels notwithstanding). Here are some examples.
1. Replacing “fossil natural gas” with “renewable natural gas” to help our customers reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.
From Transport Topics: Ryder, the rental truck company, announced a week or so ago that it would switch to “renewable natural gas” from “fossil natural gas” at its natural gas fueling stations in California.
The truck rental company has decided to source the methane it uses to fuel its NatGas powered trucks from companies that are producing the gas from decomposing waste material on the surface, rather than from several-million year old decomposed vegetation 10,000 feet below the surface, traditionally accessed by oil and gas companies.
“Our decision to use 100% renewable natural gas is based upon our ongoing commitment to ensuring we are delivering solutions that help our customers reduce greenhouse-gas emissions,” Ryder’s vice president of supply management and global fuel products said in a statement.
Ryder believes it will reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by about 6,300 metric tons per year, the equivalent of removing about 1,319 passenger cars from the road, according to the story in Transport Topics.
From the Associated Press: “One of the largest biogas projects of its kind in the United States is currently being installed in northern Missouri, part of a long-term effort to turn underused agriculture resources into an engine for environmentally friendly farming practices.
“The joint project, involving Roeslein Alternative Energy and Smithfield Food Hogs Production, will first convert manure from hogs on nine farms into renewable natural gas, with a goal of selling it as early as 2016. The second phase would add native prairie grasses planted on erodible or marginal farm land to the manure to increase the biomass.
“Developers expect the first phase to produce about 2.2 billion cubic feet of pipeline-quality natural gas, providing an alternative energy source while also keeping an estimated 850,000 tons of methane, a major greenhouse gas, from escaping into the atmosphere. Plus, the covers mostly eliminate the odor that can permeate the area around large hog farms, reduce the amount of waste-tainted water that leaches into the ground and capture thousands of gallons of clean water for reuse.
“We have the science to make farming work better for the environment. The question is: Do we have the political will, and the financial will, to do it?” said RAE founder Rudi Roeslein, who has invested $25 million in the project.
“Duke Energy in North Carolina has agreed to buy about one-third of the finished product, due to be delivered next summer.”
2. Could a city council resolve to end the transport and storage of fossil fuels in its city limits?
From several media outlets: Portland’s city council has unanimously approved a resolution that would prevent any new gasoline stations from being built in Portland.
According to coverage in World Net Daily, the city council’s resolution “prevents the construction of new facilities to transport or store oil, gasoline, coal, and natural gas within Portland, Oregon. The goal of the resolution is to make shipping of fossil fuels prohibitively expensive for companies in the name of fighting global warming.
“‘Our work is not done yet, but we feel that with this unanimous vote, there is good chance that the codifying language is going to be strong and signal to the fossil fuel industry that Portland is not open for their business’, Adriana Voss-Andreae, director of a local environmental group, told Climate Progress. Portland has previously divested its financial assets from coal, oil, and gas. The city also halted various petroleum and energy projects due to perceived environmental impacts.”
3. Outside pressure works: the BLM is postponing lease sales, canceling leases.
From the U.S. government, Salt Lake City: “The BLM-Utah competitive oil and gas lease sale scheduled for Nov. 17, 2015, has been postponed to allow the time needed to better accommodate the high level of public interest in attending the sale. BLM-Utah expects to reschedule the sale in the near future. Once the details have been determined, they will be released through the media and posted on the BLM-Utah state home page, as well as the BLM-Utah oil and gas leasing webpage. BLM-Utah apologizes for the short notice of postponement.”
From Colorado Public Radio: “The Bureau of Land Management issued a draft plan Thursday that would cancel 18 oil and gas leases in the Thompson Divide, which spans 15 different watersheds in western Colorado.
“The move was included in a larger assessment by the BLM on previously issued oil and gas leases in the White River National Forest. For the nonprofit Thompson Divide Coalition, it’s a huge step after years of building a group of stakeholders–ranging from Garfield County commissioners to local ranchers.
“There are certain places that are inappropriate for development and we believe that the Thompson Divide is one of those places,” said Zane Kessler, executive director of the Thompson Divide Coalition.
“The idea has seen opposition from the oil and gas leaseholders and Republican U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton. A final environmental plan by the BLM is expected next year.”
4. Investors seek low-carbon options; activists push billionaires and banks to divest fossil fuels.
From a UK investment newsletter: “Demand for low-carbon investment options is surging as climate change continues to grab global headlines.”
From the Guardian: “Bill Gates has announced he will invest $2bn (£1.3bn) in renewable technologies initiatives, but rejected calls to divest from the fossil fuel companies that are burning carbon at a rate that ignores international agreements to limit global warming.
“Speaking to the Financial Times, Gates said that he would double his current investments in renewables over the next five years in a bid to “bend the curve” on tackling climate change.
“The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, lead by Gates and his wife, is the world’s largest charitable foundation. According to the charity’s most recent tax filings in 2013, it currently has $1.4bn invested in fossil fuel companies, including BP, responsible for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
“In March, the Guardian launched a campaign calling on the Gates’ Foundation and the Wellcome Trust to divest from coal, oil and gas companies. More than 223,000 people have since signed up to the campaign.
“Instead he said there was an urgent need for “high risk” investments in breakthrough technologies. He said that a “miracle” on the level of the invention of the automobile was necessary to avoid a climate catastrophe and that current renewables are not yet close to being able to meet projected energy needs by 2030.
“Gates told the Financial Times that the only way current technology could reduce global emissions is at “a beyond astronomical cost” and that innovation is the only way to reach a positive scenario.
“Between two-thirds and four-fifths of existing fossil fuel reserves must remain in the ground if the world is to remain within a 2C rise in global temperatures, the level agreed on the international stage as necessary to avoid irreversible and catastrophic climate change.
“Gates’ announcement comes as Christiana Figueres, who is leading the UN’s climate change negotiations, has written to the chief executives of six leading oil and gas companies asking them to show more ambition and thanking them for supporting December’s landmark climate change conference in December.
“Her letter is a response to a call from the heads of the energy companies – Shell, BP, Eni, Statoil, Total and the BG group – to make gas and a strong carbon price a core part of global efforts to tackle climate change.
From Bloomberg: “Citigroup Third Major Bank to Cut Financing to Coal Industry”
Citigroup is the latest bank to join other banks in a move away from coal by cutting its lending to the global coal mining industry. “The bank has updated its environmental and social policy framework, stating that it had begun to cut its credit exposure to coal mining and that going forward, it will ‘commit to continue this trend of reducing our global credit exposure to coal mining companies’.
“This is the second major American bank to cut financing for coal mining just this year. In May, Bank of America announced a similar policy, following years of campaigning by Rainforest Action Network (RAN) and allied groups.
“Earlier this year, Europe’s third largest bank Crédit Agricole, adopted a similar commitment, under pressure from European organizations.
“Citigroup’s move follows the launch of the Paris Pledge this summer, a global coalition of over 130 organizations calling on the banking sector to end its support for coal mining and coal-fired power prior to the Paris Climate Conference this year.
“‘We are encouraged to see Citigroup begin to move away from lending to coal mining’, said Lindsey Allen, RAN executive director. ‘But reducing credit exposure is only a partial step forward. We urge Citigroup and Wall Street laggards such as Morgan Stanley to cut all financing ties to both coal mining and coal-fired power’.
“In 2014 alone, Morgan Stanley financed $477 million for coal mining.
“Last month, RAN launched a new campaign calling on Morgan Stanley to end its financing for coal. This Friday, activists will hold a nationwide day of action to spotlight the bank’s continued financing ties to some of the world’s most carbon-intensive and socially destructive coal mining and power companies. Morgan Stanley is the latest target in a series of campaigns by RAN since 2000 to hold major U.S. banks accountable for the environmental, human rights, and climate impacts of their financing decisions.
“The withdrawal of support for coal mining by Bank of America, Crédit Agricole, and, now, Citigroup demonstrates major momentum away from financing coal by the banking sector.
“The Bank of America announcement followed four years of campaigning by RAN and other groups. This time, Citigroup moved swiftly to avoid a campaign ahead of December’s climate negotiations in Paris. Financing policy changes at both banks acknowledged that the scale of the challenge posed by climate change calls for the financial sector to transition away from financing high-carbon energy sources in addition to scaling up financing for low-carbon energy.”
5. The White House rejects the Keystone XL pipeline on the basis of climate change.
From the White House transcript of President Obama’s comments explaining the State Department’s rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline, referencing his chat with Canada PM Justin Trudeau: “…we both agreed that our close friendship on a whole range of issues, including energy and climate change, should provide the basis for even closer coordination between our countries going forward. … If we want to prevent the worst effects of climate change before it’s too late, the time to act is now. Not later. Not someday. Right here, right now.”
6. IEA says renewable generation has moved into second place. Coal is losing ground fast – will natural gas be next?
Headline from the IEA: “Renewable electricity generation climbs to second place after coal – growth driven by wind and solar.”
From Power Magazine: “U.S. Power Mix: Gas Replacing Coal Faster Than Expected.”
From Bloomberg News: “Will renewables upend the need for natural gas pipelines?”
From Raymond James Equity Research: “Energy Stat: Could U.S. Solar Penetration Cancel out 5 Bcf/d of Growth in Natural Gas Demand by 2020?”
7. Do the American people/voters want renewable energy to replace fossil fuels?
From a University of Texas energy poll, as reported by Fierce Energy: “Climate change is a reality and more people believe it now than just six months ago. That is according to an energy poll from the University of Texas at Austin.
“52% of survey respondents said they are more likely to vote for a candidate who supports reducing coal as an energy source — up from 43% in March — while 62 percent of Democrats support the policy, compared with 40 percent of Republicans; 65 percent of respondents age 35 and younger support reducing coal use, compared with 42 percent age 65 and older.
“In terms of the imposition of a carbon tax, 37 percent of survey respondents said they are more likely to vote for a candidate who supports it –up from 28 percent six months ago. At the same time, 50 percent of Democrats support a tax on carbon, compared with 26 percent of Republicans; 54 percent of millennials support a carbon tax, compared with 27 percent of Americans age 65 or older.
“Throwing utilities into the mix, 62 percent of the people surveyed said they are more likely to vote for a candidate who supports requiring utilities to obtain a certain percentage of their electricity from renewable sources — up from 54 percent six months ago. Nearly three-fourths of Democrats (74 percent) support such a requirement, compared with 50 percent of Republicans.”
8. Global companies are flocking to the renewable bandwagon.
From the Portland Business Journal: “Nike pledges to use 100% renewable energy by 2025”
“Nine companies, including such household names as Goldman Sachs, Walmart and Starbucks, joined a green electricity campaign this week called RE100 that aims to promote the use of renewable energy resources for electricity as a way of combatting climate change.
“‘Goldman Sachs, Johnson & Johnson, Nike, Procter & Gamble, Salesforce, Starbucks, Steelcase, Voya Financial and Walmart have today joined RE100’, said the RE100 campaign in a statement on Wednesday.
“The green electricity campaign has tripled its roster from 12 companies one year ago to 36 companies today.
“RE100 was organized by The Climate Group and CDP, formerly known as the Carbon Disclosure Project. In addition to the high profile U.S. companies, the campaign has also recruited an impressive roster of international companies, including the Swedish IKEA Group and insurer Swiss RE.
“The companies that join the campaign promise to increase reliance on renewable energy resources, such as wind and solar power, for electricity. The objective is to mitigate the impact of global climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels.”
From Fierce Energy: “Global brands continue to join RE100 at a rapid pace and it’s no wonder”
“‘Research shows that the most ambitious companies have seen a 27 percent return on their low carbon investments…Lowering risk, protecting against price rises, saving millions and boosting brand is what shaping a low carbon economy is all about,’ said Mark Kenber, CEO of The Climate Group. ‘Today, these companies are signaling loud and clear to COP21 negotiators that forward-thinking businesses back renewables and want to see a strong climate deal in Paris.’
“The other companies setting targets include Goldman Sachs (100% renewable by 2020); Nike Inc. (100% by 2025) and Procter & Gamble, who plan to be 30 percent renewable by 2020.
“U.S. furniture company, Steelcase too announced its participation on Wednesday, however it became 100 percent renewable last year. The last of the new entrants, Voya International, aims to be completely powered by renewable resources this year.
“RE100 launched officially at ‘Climate Week NYC’ in September 2014, with IKEA and Nestle being some of the debut supporters.
“Tech giants have been at the forefront of this green trend for years, with Amazon funding large wind farms and Apple announcing plans to power data centers on renewable energy.
“Siemens too jumped onboard Tuesday, announcing it aspires to be the “world’s first” major industrial firm to attain a net-zero carbon footprint by 2030. To succeed, the German engineering firm plans on investing around 100 million euros ($111.5 million) over the next three years.
“Since RE100 was launched at Climate Week NYC 2014, the campaign has continued to gather momentum and is now being rolled out in India and China in addition to Europe and the US. More than 30 companies have now joined from all over the world, and including a wide range of industrial sectors – from telecommunications and IT to retail and food.
“‘The collective voice of all these businesses coming together to say they are going 100 percent renewable really sends a strong message to other businesses and policymakers; that this is the direction of travel that we are going to go in’, said Emily Farnworth, RE100 Campaign Director of The Climate Group in a statement.
“‘This is the future for power and the more companies that do it, then the more quickly we will get there’.”
From Fierce Energy: “As the collapse in global oil prices wreaks havoc on the oil industry, Europe’s second largest oil and gas company said it would ramp up investments in renewable energy.
“Total SA, the French oil major, plans to invest $500 million in renewable energy over the next year, primarily in biofuels and solar power. The French company said in a presentation to investors it wanted to “take advantage of fast growing renewable market” to build a profitable business.
“In 2011, Total paid $1.4 billion for a majority equity stake in SunPower, one of the largest U.S. solar manufacturers based in San Jose, California. Earlier this year, the company announced plans to turn an unprofitable oil refinery into a biofuels plants. The conversion will cost more than $200 million.
“Earlier this year, a half dozen of Europe’s leading oil and gas companies, including BP, Eni SpA, Shell, Statoil, Total and the BG Group, sent a joint letter to the top climate change official at the United Nations that urged him to put a price on carbon emissions at an international climate summit scheduled to take place in Paris in December.
“‘Climate change is a critical challenge for our world’, the letter said. ‘We need governments across the world to provide us with clear, stable, long-term ambitious policy frameworks’.”
9. Oil companies are ponying up for climate change.
From the Financial Post: “In an admission that reducing greenhouse gas emissions will take help from the world’s best minds, Canada’s oil sands companies are co-sponsoring a $20-million prize to find solutions to climate change. It’s an unconventional approach at a time policymakers are pitching quick fixes like cap-and-trade, and pressure groups want the world to get off oil (and particularly off oilsands) altogether. ”
10. The Big Green Machine is not letting up one little bit.
From the Associated Press: “Shell announced Monday that it would abandon exploration in U.S. Arctic waters for the foreseeable future after a well drilled this summer in the Chukchi Sea off the Alaskan coast failed to find natural gas and oil in sufficient quantities. Royal Dutch Shell PLC spent more than $7 billion on Arctic offshore development in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas and was dogged at every regulatory level by environmental groups, which feared that a spill in the harsh climate would be difficult to clean up and devastating to polar bears, walruses, seals and other wildlife.
“The next step for many environmental advocates is to establish ‘some sort of binding policy so that these decisions are not up to oil companies’, said Cassady Sharp, spokeswoman for Greenpeace USA in Washington, D.C.
“Greenpeace remains opposed to Arctic offshore oil development and will turn its attention to other Alaska leases and potential drilling in other countries, she said.”
11. Groups are uniting to block expansion of fossil fuels.
From Reuters: “Native chiefs in the Western Canadian province of British Columbia voted on Wednesday to join some of their eastern counterparts opposed to a major [oil] pipeline project, in a move some leaders described as a step toward a national alliance aimed at blocking expansion of Alberta’s oil sands industry.”
12. World’s coal producing communities are getting the shaft.
From Raymond James: “No More Coals in Newcastle: U.K. Becomes First Major Economy to Phase Out Coal-Fired Power Plants”
“The U.K.’s planned coal phaseout has the notable distinction of being the first such policy in any major economy. This decision stands as a particularly high-profile and far-reaching example of the ongoing decarbonization trend worldwide.”
From Oil & Gas 360®: “West Virginia’s Coal Industry is Reeling”
“‘It doesn’t matter if you’re from eastern Kentucky, Virginia or from southern West Virginia. These are all very topographically challenged areas that have provided coal to this country since before the Industrial Revolution, and have quite literally provided the fuel for this country’s growth’: Keith Burdette, Secretary of Commerce for West Virginia.
“‘If you live in southern West Virginia and were willing to go underground and mine for coal, you could have earned six figures straight out of high school if you were willing to work overtime. So now we we’re trying to convince them to go back to school, incur some debt, and then make half as much money as they used to. So it’s not just an economic challenge, it’s a cultural challenge’.”
13. Some populations might leapfrog the fossil fuel era altogether.
From Accenture: “Utilities in Africa could leapfrog, as they did with telephony, and skip the fossil fuel era by implementing a low-carbon energy system directly.”
14. What will fossil fueled governments do about climate change, other than kick each other in the teeth?
From the Edmonton Journal: “Alberta Launches Climate Change Plan”
“Alberta’s new climate-change plan will introduce a carbon tax on every Albertan, phase out coal pollution and plants by 2030, set a greenhouse-gas-emissions cap on oilsands production and pump money back into the pockets of Albertans and businesses to help with the transition.
“It will also cut methane emissions from flaring and leakage by 45 per cent from 2014 levels by 2025. Methane is roughly 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a heat-trapping gas.
“The plan was hailed by energy and environmental leaders as a ‘game changer’ that will make Alberta a global leader in fighting climate change. But it will also require Albertans to pay 4.7-cents more per litre of gas at the pumps in 2017, and 5.5 cents more per litre of diesel, plus an extra $320 to heat their homes in 2017, rising to $470 by 2018. The $3 billion raised by these carbon taxes won’t go into government coffers, but will go back to Albertans through a rebate program and by building green infrastructure and public transit, the premier said.
“‘This is the day that we set a better course for our economic future’, Premier Rachel Notley said Sunday, addressing environment and energy groups at the Telus World of Science. “This is the day that we start to mobilize capital and resources to create green jobs, green energy, green infrastructure and a strong, environmentally responsible, sustainable and visionary Alberta energy industry with a great future … This is the day we stop denying there is an issue, and this is the day we do our part.”
“Notley released Alberta’s Climate Leadership Plan with Environment Minister Shannon Phillips … only days before the United Nations conference on climate change in Paris.
“‘We need to step up to the climate change issue’, Notley said. ‘We got a major wake-up call on this a few weeks ago, in the form of a kick in the teeth from the government of the United States’. President Barack Obama rejected TransCanada’s application to build the Keystone XL pipeline and called Alberta’s oil “dirty.” Notley said the new policy won’t guarantee new pipelines will be built, but will broaden the conversation about the merits of energy infrastructure for Alberta, Canada and other jurisdictions.
“‘I’ll be able to make that case now from a platform where we have introduced a very credible climate-change plan’, Notley said. ‘I think that we’ll be able to demonstrate that Alberta is in fact now a national leader on climate change’.”
Fallout from COP21 could be Significant
The much anticipated United Nations-sponsored climate change conference COP21 comes to Paris in seven days—Nov. 30, 2015. If Alberta’s pre-response is an indication of what may come from the Paris climate conference, 2016 could be the year when a mob of governments and companies rush to the podium to announce stringent energy policies that push back on the use of fossil fuels. If the trend continues gaining steam, the combination may send fossil fuels to the mat sooner than anyone thought.