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Adding to Eskom Capacity a Matter of “Extreme Urgency”, says Ramaphosa

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Monday, January 23, 2023

President Cyril Ramaphosa has moved to assure South Africans that government is using every means and resource at its disposal to get more capacity onto Eskom’s grid “as a matter of extreme urgency” with the Energy Action Plan at the core. The President was addressing the nation through his weekly newsletter after South Africans have been experiencing a sustained period of the higher stages of load shedding. President Ramaphosa said the government is taking action to address the myriad of challenges Eskom is facing, with a particular focus on improving the performance of Eskom’s ailing coal-fired power stations which serve at least 80% of South Africa’s energy needs. “A team of independent experts is conducting a diagnosis of the problems at poorly performing power stations and taking action to improve plant performance. Six power stations have been identified for particular focus over the coming months to recover additional capacity. “Eskom is also working to connect Kusile Unit 5 to the grid by September this year. Every urgent effort is being made to restore other units at Medupi, Kusile and Koeberg with significant capacity,” he said. The President added that Eskom is also taking steps to procure some 1000MW of energy from neighbouring countries with the power utility also aiming to “buy surplus power from companies with available generation capacity for a period of three years”. Furthermore, government has also signed procurement deals in Bid Windows 5 and 6 of the Renewable Independent Power Producer Programme (REIPPP) which is expected to add some 2800MW of energy to the grid once completed in at least two years. The President said the government has allowed for private power producers to contribute to the strained grid. “The licensing requirement for embedded generation projects has been removed. Since we first raised the licensing threshold to 100 MW, the pipeline of private sector projects has grown to more than 100 projects with over 9000 MW of capacity. “We have cut red tape and streamlined regulatory processes, reducing the timeframes for environmental authorisations, registration of new projects and grid connection approvals,” he said. President Ramaphosa announced that soon, those who have installed solar panels on the roofs of businesses and homes will also be allowed to sell their excess electricity to the grid with work already underway for a pricing structure. Taking stock Reflecting on the serious challenges facing Eskom, the President said “a combination of factors…years in the making” have led the power utility to where it currently is. “Lack of investment in new generating capacity, poor power plant maintenance, corruption and criminality, sabotage of infrastructure, rising municipal debt and a lack of suitable skills at Eskom have all created a perfect storm. There can be no sustainable solution without addressing all these factors in combination. “We should not make the mistakes of the past. For many years, critical maintenance was deferred, and our power stations were run too hard in order to keep the lights on. As a country we are now paying the price for these miscalculations,” he said. President Ramaphosa acknowledged the destabilisation that load shedding has wrought on South Africans and businesses alike but called for patience as government implements solutions. “As load shedding continues to wreak havoc on businesses, households and communities, the last thing South Africans want to hear are excuses or unrealistic promises. The demands for an immediate end to power cuts are wholly understandable. Everyone is fed up. “We must be realistic about our challenges and about what it is going to take to fix them. While we all desperately want to, we cannot end load shedding overnight,” he said. The President added that while measures are being implemented, collaboration from all quarters of society will ensure that the Energy Action Plan bears fruit. “While we cannot end load shedding immediately, what is certain is that if we work together with urgency to implement the Energy Action Plan, load shedding will steadily become less and less severe. “Through collective action, we will much sooner reach the point where we have enough power to end load shedding altogether,” President Ramaphosa concluded. – SAnews.gov.za The post Adding to Eskom Capacity a Matter of “Extreme Urgency”, says Ramaphosa appeared first on SAPeople - Worldwide South African News.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has moved to assure South Africans that government is using every means and resource at its disposal to get more capacity onto Eskom’s grid “as a matter of extreme urgency” with the Energy Action Plan at the core. The President was addressing the nation through his weekly newsletter after South Africans have […] The post Adding to Eskom Capacity a Matter of “Extreme Urgency”, says Ramaphosa appeared first on SAPeople - Worldwide South African News.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has moved to assure South Africans that government is using every means and resource at its disposal to get more capacity onto Eskom’s grid “as a matter of extreme urgency” with the Energy Action Plan at the core.

The President was addressing the nation through his weekly newsletter after South Africans have been experiencing a sustained period of the higher stages of load shedding.

President Ramaphosa said the government is taking action to address the myriad of challenges Eskom is facing, with a particular focus on improving the performance of Eskom’s ailing coal-fired power stations which serve at least 80% of South Africa’s energy needs.

“A team of independent experts is conducting a diagnosis of the problems at poorly performing power stations and taking action to improve plant performance. Six power stations have been identified for particular focus over the coming months to recover additional capacity.

“Eskom is also working to connect Kusile Unit 5 to the grid by September this year. Every urgent effort is being made to restore other units at Medupi, Kusile and Koeberg with significant capacity,” he said.

The President added that Eskom is also taking steps to procure some 1000MW of energy from neighbouring countries with the power utility also aiming to “buy surplus power from companies with available generation capacity for a period of three years”.

Furthermore, government has also signed procurement deals in Bid Windows 5 and 6 of the Renewable Independent Power Producer Programme (REIPPP) which is expected to add some 2800MW of energy to the grid once completed in at least two years.

The President said the government has allowed for private power producers to contribute to the strained grid.

“The licensing requirement for embedded generation projects has been removed. Since we first raised the licensing threshold to 100 MW, the pipeline of private sector projects has grown to more than 100 projects with over 9000 MW of capacity.

“We have cut red tape and streamlined regulatory processes, reducing the timeframes for environmental authorisations, registration of new projects and grid connection approvals,” he said.

President Ramaphosa announced that soon, those who have installed solar panels on the roofs of businesses and homes will also be allowed to sell their excess electricity to the grid with work already underway for a pricing structure.

Taking stock

Reflecting on the serious challenges facing Eskom, the President said “a combination of factors…years in the making” have led the power utility to where it currently is.

“Lack of investment in new generating capacity, poor power plant maintenance, corruption and criminality, sabotage of infrastructure, rising municipal debt and a lack of suitable skills at Eskom have all created a perfect storm. There can be no sustainable solution without addressing all these factors in combination.

“We should not make the mistakes of the past. For many years, critical maintenance was deferred, and our power stations were run too hard in order to keep the lights on. As a country we are now paying the price for these miscalculations,” he said.

President Ramaphosa acknowledged the destabilisation that load shedding has wrought on South Africans and businesses alike but called for patience as government implements solutions.

“As load shedding continues to wreak havoc on businesses, households and communities, the last thing South Africans want to hear are excuses or unrealistic promises. The demands for an immediate end to power cuts are wholly understandable. Everyone is fed up.

“We must be realistic about our challenges and about what it is going to take to fix them. While we all desperately want to, we cannot end load shedding overnight,” he said.

The President added that while measures are being implemented, collaboration from all quarters of society will ensure that the Energy Action Plan bears fruit.

“While we cannot end load shedding immediately, what is certain is that if we work together with urgency to implement the Energy Action Plan, load shedding will steadily become less and less severe.

“Through collective action, we will much sooner reach the point where we have enough power to end load shedding altogether,” President Ramaphosa concluded. – SAnews.gov.za

The post Adding to Eskom Capacity a Matter of “Extreme Urgency”, says Ramaphosa appeared first on SAPeople - Worldwide South African News.

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‘Green’ or ‘blue’ hydrogen – what difference does it make? Not much for most Australians

There are two approaches to producing low-emission hydrogen, and public acceptance (or rejection) of each method will be important for hydrogen and its place in the energy transition.

Hydrogen can play a key role in Australia’s energy transition by giving us additional ways of storing and moving energy around. As the world shifts towards cleaner energy production, there’s a push to make hydrogen production cleaner as well. In Australia, low-emission hydrogen is produced in two main ways. One method produces what is known as “green hydrogen”. It uses electricity produced from renewables – such as solar, wind or hydro – to “crack” water into separate streams of hydrogen and oxygen. The other method produces “blue hydrogen”. This process separates the hydrogen from a gas mixture obtained from fossil fuels (coal or natural gas), using carbon-capture technologies to deal with the emissions. While different colours are used to describe these methods, the resulting product is the same: colourless hydrogen. Both methods are technically viable options. So, we wanted to know what the public thinks about these approaches. Understanding people’s attitudes in more detail will help scientists, industry and governments to develop hydrogen technologies in a way that aligns with community values and expectations. Our survey found only a slight difference in public attitudes to the two methods when they were described without the colour “labels”. The method of production had little impact on people’s willingness to accept different uses of hydrogen. Read more: Hyped and expensive, hydrogen has a place in Australia’s energy transition, but only with urgent government support Why do we need to know what people think about hydrogen? There is a focus on scaling up the hydrogen industry for many purposes, including transport, heating and industrial uses, in Australia and overseas. Although there are plans for many new uses, such as powering vehicles, hydrogen has had industrial uses for a long time. At present, it’s mainly used to make other chemicals, such as ammonia for nitrogen fertiliser. However, most of this hydrogen is produced globally using fossil fuels, which emits carbon. Now attention has turned to producing low-emission hydrogen. Past research has shown Australians are “cautiously optimistic” about hydrogen’s potential as a future fuel. We wanted to explore attitudes to the two low-emission production methods more closely. Understanding public attitudes is key to promoting responsible innovation for the benefit of all Australians. Read more: Why electric trucks are our best bet to cut road transport emissions How was the survey done? We asked a representative sample of 1,900 Australians to share their thoughts about living near a hypothetical hydrogen hub – a site where hydrogen is stored, transported and used locally. Participants were told the hydrogen would be produced nearby (200 kilometres away). We wanted to investigate the effect of the “green” and “blue” production methods on acceptance. To avoid introducing bias, we only explained the technical process of each production method. We did not describe them using colours. Half of the participants were told the hydrogen was produced using one method and half were told about the other method. Because many Australians aren’t aware of hydrogen technologies, we consulted technical experts here at CSIRO so we could provide relevant information about the production methods and their potential impacts. Participants were also shown a short video introduction to hydrogen (shown below) at the start of the survey. We then asked a serious of questions to assess beliefs, attitudes and levels of support for the production methods and various uses of hydrogen. Survey participants were shown this animated video. Read more: Green hydrogen could be a game changer by displacing fossil fuels – we just need the price to come down A slight preference for ‘green’ Participants who were told the hydrogen was produced using renewable energy – “green” hydrogen – had, on average, a more positive attitude to it than those presented with hydrogen made from fossil fuels with carbon-capture technology – “blue” hydrogen. However, the difference between the two groups’ overall appraisal of the production methods was quite small. We also explored the beliefs that underpin these attitudes. Despite some differences in beliefs between the two groups, many of these differences were again quite small. And there were no differences in the perceived influence on cost of living and wealth creation. The largest difference between the groups was the perceived replaceability of the technology. Blue hydrogen was seen as the more replaceable approach. People also reported blue hydrogen as having a worse impact on climate change and competing more with renewable electricity production. What is the impact on acceptance of hydrogen? The small differences of opinion about production methods had little influence on people’s willingness to accept different uses of hydrogen. For example, knowing a bus was fuelled by blue hydrogen had a relatively weak effect on how willing people said they’d be to use a hydrogen bus. For most hydrogen applications presented, support was quite neutral regardless of how it was made. Further analysis showed that people with stronger pro-environmental attitudes were more supportive of green hydrogen. Those with weaker pro-environmental attitudes were more supportive of blue hydrogen. These results suggest that, to some extent, people’s broader worldviews shape their evaluations of production methods. Although blue hydrogen aims to address carbon emissions, it seems those who strongly value environmental preservation see blue hydrogen as less likely than green hydrogen to achieve this goal. Read more: For Australia to lead the way on green hydrogen, first we must find enough water Neither method is strongly opposed Our research shows there is no strong opposition to either hydrogen production method at this stage. Results suggest the hydrogen industry will need to address concerns that blue hydrogen technology might need to be replaced sooner rather than later. There is also a need to be clear about its impact on the environment and potential to compete with power from renewables. Despite these concerns, it seems the production method is not holding back hydrogen acceptance at this stage. As the industry grows, current public beliefs suggest it will be increasingly important to demonstrate that using hydrogen is safe and effective, and won’t compete with other renewable energy technologies. The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Music festivals embrace eco-friendly energy solutions

Music festivals are increasingly turning to sustainable energy sources, a move that's both challenging and costly.Suzanne Bearne reports for the BBC.In short:Festivals like Glastonbury and Shambala are pioneering the use of renewable energy sources, including wind turbines and solar panels, to power their events.Significant investments are being made in connecting festivals to the national grid and using sustainably sourced hydrogenated vegetable oil for power.Efforts are also focused on reducing energy demand, with initiatives like energy tariffs for traders and promoting sustainable transport options for attendees.Key quote:"Audiences are increasingly expecting their festivals to take action. The primary driver of ticket sales is still where your friends go, and also the line-up. But audiences are expecting their festivals to be sustainable, so I think there's increasingly a business case for being a more sustainable business."— Chris Johnson, co-founder of Shambala FestivalWhy this matters:The shift toward sustainable energy in music festivals reflects a growing public demand for environmentally responsible practices and showcases the potential for large-scale events to operate sustainably, impacting both public perception and environmental health.One Ohio River town that’s using outdoor recreation to boost its economy.

Music festivals are increasingly turning to sustainable energy sources, a move that's both challenging and costly.Suzanne Bearne reports for the BBC.In short:Festivals like Glastonbury and Shambala are pioneering the use of renewable energy sources, including wind turbines and solar panels, to power their events.Significant investments are being made in connecting festivals to the national grid and using sustainably sourced hydrogenated vegetable oil for power.Efforts are also focused on reducing energy demand, with initiatives like energy tariffs for traders and promoting sustainable transport options for attendees.Key quote:"Audiences are increasingly expecting their festivals to take action. The primary driver of ticket sales is still where your friends go, and also the line-up. But audiences are expecting their festivals to be sustainable, so I think there's increasingly a business case for being a more sustainable business."— Chris Johnson, co-founder of Shambala FestivalWhy this matters:The shift toward sustainable energy in music festivals reflects a growing public demand for environmentally responsible practices and showcases the potential for large-scale events to operate sustainably, impacting both public perception and environmental health.One Ohio River town that’s using outdoor recreation to boost its economy.

Anushree Chaudhuri: Involving local communities in renewable energy planning

As societies move to cleaner technologies, the MIT senior seeks to make the transition more sustainable and just.

Anushree Chaudhuri has a history of making bold decisions. In fifth grade, she biked across her home state of California with little prior experience. In her first year at MIT, she advocated for student recommendations in the preparation of the Institute’s Climate Action Plan for the Decade. And recently, she led a field research project throughout California to document the perspectives of rural and Indigenous populations affected by climate change and clean energy projects. “It doesn’t matter who you are or how young you are, you can get involved with something and inspire others to do so,” the senior says. Initially a materials science and engineering major, Chaudhuri was quickly drawn to environmental policy issues and later decided to double-major in urban studies and planning and in economics. Chaudhuri will receive her bachelor’s degrees this month, followed by a master’s degree in city planning in the spring. The importance of community engagement in policymaking has become one of Chaudhuri’s core interests. A 2024 Marshall Scholar, she is headed to the U.K. next year to pursue a PhD related to environment and development. She hopes to build on her work in California and continue to bring attention to impacts that energy transitions can have on local communities, which tend to be rural and low-income. Addressing resistance to these projects can be challenging, but “ignoring it leaves these communities in the dust and widens the urban-rural divide,” she says. Silliness and sustainability  Chaudhuri classifies her many activities into two groups: those that help her unwind, like her living community, Conner Two, and those that require intensive deliberation, like her sustainability-related organizing. Conner Two, in the Burton-Conner residence hall, is where Chaudhuri feels most at home on campus. She describes the group’s activities as “silly” and emphasizes their love of jokes, even in the floor’s nickname, “the British Floor,” which is intentionally absurd, as the residents are rarely British. Chaudhuri’s first involvement with sustainability issues on campus was during the preparation of MIT’s Fast Forward Climate Action Plan in the 2020-2021 academic year. As a co-lead of one of several student working groups, she helped organize key discussions between the administration, climate experts, and student government to push for six main goals in the plan, including an ethical investing framework. Being involved with a significant student movement so early on in her undergraduate career was a learning opportunity for Chaudhuri and impressed upon her that young people can play critical roles in making far-reaching structural changes. The experience also made her realize how many organizations on campus shared similar goals even if their perspectives varied, and she saw the potential for more synergy among them. Chaudhuri went on to co-lead the Student Sustainability Coalition to help build community across the sustainability-related organizations on campus and create a centralized system that would make it easier for outsiders and group members to access information and work together. Through the coalition, students have collaborated on efforts including campus events, and off-campus matters such as the Cambridge Green New Deal hearings. Another benefit to such a network: It creates a support system that recognizes even small-scale victories. “Community is so important to avoid burnout when you’re working on something that can be very frustrating and an uphill battle like negotiating with leadership or seeking policy changes,” Chaudhuri says. Fieldwork For the past year, Chaudhuri has been doing independent research in California with the support of several advisory organizations to host conversations with groups affected by renewable energy projects, which, as she has documented, are often concentrated in rural, low-income, and Indigenous communities. The introduction of renewable energy facilities, such as wind and solar farms, can perpetuate existing inequities if they ignore serious community concerns, Chaudhuri says. As state or federal policymakers and private developers carry out the permitting process for these projects, “they can repeat histories of extraction, sometimes infringing on the rights of a local or Tribal government to decide what happens with their land,” she says. In her site visits, she is documenting community opposition to controversial solar and wind proposals and collecting oral histories. Doing fieldwork for the first time as an outsider was difficult for Chaudhuri, as she dealt with distrust, unpredictability, and needing to be completely flexible for her sources. “A lot of it was just being willing to drop everything and go and be a little bit adventurous and take some risks,” she says. Role models and reading Chaudhuri is quick to credit many of the role models and other formative influences in her life. After working on the Climate Action Plan, Chaudhuri attended a public narrative workshop at Harvard University led by Marshall Ganz, a grassroots community organizer who worked with Cesar Chavez and on the 2008 Obama presidential campaign. “That was a big inspiration and kind of shaped how I viewed leadership in, for example, campus advocacy, but also in other projects and internships.” Reading has also influenced Chaudhuri’s perspective on community organizing, “After the Climate Action Plan campaign, I realized that a lot of what made the campaign successful or not could track well with organizing and social change theories, and histories of social movements. So, that was a good experience for me, being able to critically reflect on it and tie it into these other things I was learning about.” Since beginning her studies at MIT, Chaudhuri has become especially interested in social theory and political philosophy, starting with ancient forms of Western and Eastern ethic, and up to 20th and 21st century philosophers who inspire her. Chaudhuri cites Amartya Sen and Olúfẹ́mi Táíwò as particularly influential. “I think [they’ve] provided a really compelling framework to guide a lot of my own values,” she says. Another role model is Brenda Mallory, the current chair of the U.S. Council on Environmental Quality, who Chaudhuri was grateful to meet at the United Nations COP27 Climate Conference. As an intern at the U.S. Department of Energy, Chaudhuri worked within a team on implementing the federal administration’s Justice40 initiative, which commits 40 percent of federal climate investments to disadvantaged communities. This initiative was largely directed by Mallory, and Chaudhuri admires how Mallory was able to make an impact at different levels of government through her leadership. Chaudhuri hopes to follow in Mallory’s footsteps someday, as a public official committed to just policies and programs.  “Good leaders are those who empower good leadership in others,” Chaudhuri says.

Lab-Grown Diamonds Come With Sparkling Price Tags, but Many Have Cloudy Sustainability Claims

Lab-created diamonds come with sparkling claims: that they are ethically made by machines running on renewable energy

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The muted sounds of hammering and sanding drift down to the first floor of Bario Neal, a jewelry store in Philadelphia, where rustic artwork that mimics nature hangs on warmly-lit walls.Waiting for one of those rings is Haley Farlow, a 28-year-old second grade teacher who has been designing her three-stone engagement ring with her boyfriend. They care about price and also don't want jewelry that takes a toll on the Earth, or exploits people in mining. So they're planning on buying diamonds grown in a laboratory. “Most of my friends all have lab-grown. And I think it just fits our lifestyle and, you know, the economy and what we’re living through,” said Farlow. In the U.S., lab-grown diamond sales jumped 16% in 2023 from 2022, according to Edahn Golan, an industry analyst. They cost a fraction of the stones formed naturally underground. Social media posts show millennials and Generation Zs proudly explaining the purchase of their lab-grown diamonds for sustainability and ethical reasons. But how sustainable they are is questionable, since making a diamond requires an enormous amount of energy and many major manufacturers are not transparent about their operations.Farlow said the choice of lab-grown makes her ring “more special and fulfilling” because the materials are sourced from reputable companies. All of the lab diamonds at Bario Neal are either made with renewable energy or have the emissions that go into making them countered with carbon credits, which pay for activities like planting trees, which capture carbon. But that's not the norm for lab-grown diamonds. Many companies are based in India, where about 75% of electricity comes from burning coal. They use words like “sustainable” and “environmentally-friendly” on their websites, but don't post their environmental impact reports and aren’t certified by third parties. Cupid Diamonds, for example, says on its website that it produces diamonds in “an environmentally friendly manner,” but did not respond to questions about what makes its diamonds sustainable. Solar energy is rapidly expanding in India and there are some companies, such as Greenlab Diamonds, that utilize renewables in their manufacturing processes.China is the other major diamond manufacturing country. Henan Huanghe Whirlwind, Zhuhai Zhong Na Diamond, HeNan LiLiang Diamond, Starsgem Co. and Ningbo Crysdiam are among the largest producers. None returned requests for comment nor post details about where it gets its electricity. More than half of China's electricity came from coal in 2023.In the United States, one company, VRAI, whose parent company is Diamond Foundry, operates what it says is a zero-emissions foundry in Wenatchee, Washington, running on hydropower from the Columbia River. Martin Roscheisen, CEO and founder of Diamond Foundry, said via email the power VRAI uses to grow a diamond is "about one tenth of the energy required for mining.” But Paul Zimnisky, a diamond industry expert, said companies that are transparent about their supply chain and use renewable energy like this “represent a very small portion of production.”“It seems like there are a lot of companies that are riding on this coattail that it’s an environmentally-friendly product when they aren’t really doing anything that’s environmentally friendly,” said Zimnisky.Lab diamonds are often made over several weeks, subjecting carbon to high pressure and high temperature that mimic natural conditions that form diamonds beneath the Earth’s surface. The technology has been around since the 1950’s, but the diamonds produced were mostly used in industries like stone cutting, mining and dentistry tools.Over time the laboratories, or foundries, have gotten better at growing stones with minimal flaws. Production costs have dropped as technology improves.That means diamond growers can manufacture as many stones as they want and choose their size and quality, which is causing prices to fall rapidly. Natural diamonds take billions of years to form and are difficult to find, making their price more stable. Diamonds, whether lab-grown or natural, are chemically identical and entirely made out of carbon. But experts can distinguish between the two, using lasers to pinpoint telltale signs in atomic structure. The Gemological Institute of America grades millions of diamonds annually.With lower prices for lab-grown and young people increasingly preferring them, the new diamonds have cut into the market share for natural stones. Globally, lab-grown diamonds are now 5-6% of the market and the traditional industry is not taking it sitting down. The marketing battle is on.The mined diamond industry and some analysts warn lab-grown diamonds won't hold value over time. “Five to ten years into the future, I think there’s going to be very few customers that are willing to spend thousands of dollars for a lab diamond. I think almost all of it’s going to sell in the $100 price point or even below,” said Zimnisky. He predicts that natural diamonds will continue to sell in the thousands and tens of thousands of dollars for engagement rings.Some cultures view engagement rings as investments and choose natural diamonds for their value over the long term. That’s particularly true in China and India, Zimnisky said. It's also still true in more rural areas of the United States, while lab-grown diamonds have taken off more in the cities. Paying thousands of dollars for something that drops most of its value in just a few years can leave the buyer feeling cheated, which Golan said is an element that is currently working against the lab-grown sector.“When you buy a natural diamond, there’s a story that it is three billion years in the making by Mother Earth. This wondrous creation of nature … you cannot tell that story with a lab-grown,” said Golan. “You very quickly make the connection between forever and the longevity of the love.” “If we really want to get technical here, the greenest diamond is a repurposed or recycled diamond because that uses no energy,” Zimnisky said. Page Neal said she co-founded Bario Neal in 2008 to “create jewelry of lasting value that would have a positive impact on people and the planet.” All of the materials in her jewelry can be traced throughout their supply chain. The store offers both lab-grown and natural diamonds. “Jewelry is a powerful symbol ... it’s a keeper of memories,” she said. “But when we’re using materials that have caused harm to other people and the environment to create a symbol of love and commitment or identity, to me it feels at odds. We want to only work with materials that we feel like our clients would be proud to own."The Associated Press’ climate and environmental coverage receives financial support from multiple private foundations. AP is solely responsible for all content. Find AP’s standards for working with philanthropies, a list of supporters and funded coverage areas at AP.org.Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Love them or loathe them, pinyon-juniper woodlands are a growing biofuel battleground

The pinyon pines and juniper trees that fill the high desert, seen by many as an invasive scourge, are drawing interest as a source of renewable energy.

CALIENTE, Nev. —  When Varlin Higbee eyes the scrubby forest of pinyon pines and juniper trees that fill the high desert outside this old Union Pacific Railroad town, there’s just one thought that crosses his mind: “They’re just a wildfire waiting to happen,” the Lincoln County commissioner says of the low, bushy trees. And Higbee is not alone in his distaste for the plants. Lincoln County Commissioner Varlin Higbee, 63, in the rural eastern Nevada community of Caliente, Nev., which he believes would benefit from a plan to harvest pinyon and juniper trees to make methanol. (Louis Sahagun / Los Angeles Times) Despite the many uses Native Americans once had for pinyon-juniper woodlands — not the least of which was sustenance from pine nuts — ranchers and federal land managers throughout the American Southwest have now come to regard them as a highly flammable and invasive scourge.In parts of California and much of the Great Basin, land owners have declared war on pinyon pines and juniper trees, clearing them from rangelands with chains, bulldozers, saws and herbicides. At the same time, the trees are drawing increasing interest as a source of renewable energy — such as in California’s Lassen County, where 150,000 tons of the trees are fed into the Honey Lake Power Plant each year to generate energy for customers including San Diego Gas & Electric. Most recently, Higbee and other Nevada officials have proposed converting them into green methanol — a biofuel that could be used for everything from generating electricity to powering cargo ships calling on the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. In January, Nevada Gov. Joe Lombardo signed a declaration of understanding with Denmark to develop an industrial park in Lincoln County where methanol would be extracted from wood and used as a fuel additive to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from diesel engines. To hear Lombardo tell it, it’s a match made in heaven. “This innovative and collaborative technology project produces clean renewable energy, while simultaneously utilizing trees that need to be thinned out to maintain a healthy forest,” Lombardo said.Environmental groups, however, have blasted the plan. Among other criticisms, they say the deal with Denmark sets the stage for a fight over the future of an ecologically rich landscape, much of which has remained untouched by the glitz and bustle of Las Vegas and Reno.Gary Hughes of Biofuelwatch, an advocacy group focused on the impact of bioenergy development, dismissed the proposal as “a technological dead end road and heartbreaking waste of healthy trees.” A Maersk line container ship from Denmark awaits unloading at the Port of Los Angeles. Denmark is looking to the state of Nevada to convert pinyon pine and juniper trees into biofuel that could be used to power cargo ships. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times) Denmark — which is home to Maersk, the world’s largest container shipping company — has pledged to become 100% fossil fuel free by 2050, and bioenergy is a key part of that ambitious effort. “Denmark is at the forefront of renewable energy developments and closer collaboration between Nevada and Denmark can only strengthen our joint quests to create economic growth and well-paid jobs — while also doing good for the environment and our planet,” read a statement from Danish Ambassador to the U.S. Jesper Møller Sørensen.Nevada officials want to locate the facility in the middle of about 1.3 million acres of pinyon-juniper woodlands in public lands some 150 miles northeast of Las Vegas. The proposed site is also crossed by a Union Pacific mainline that terminates at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. The facility, according to officials, could attract $260 million in investments, create 150 sorely needed local jobs and become a model for creating similar industrial parks in other parts of Nevada.But there are significant environmental issues involved in scalping eastern Nevada’s mountainous public lands of century-old trees standing 15 to 20 feet tall. “I’d be surprised if this proposal is successful,” Hughes said. “So far, efforts to produce methanol from wood at scale for the aviation industry, for example, have all failed.”Patrick Donnelly, Great Basin director for the Center for Biological Diversity, called it a new chapter in “our nation’s 200-year-long war on pinyon-juniper ecosystems.”“Each generation finds a new excuse to justify their destruction because they don’t provide the economic benefits obtained from tall pine trees favored by the timber industry,” he said.“Now, it seems the state of Nevada is popping champagne corks because it believes it has found a way of making money from the trees,” Donnelly said. “But I see it as a short-term carbon benefit at the expense of the long-term carbon sequestration benefits provided by a healthy forest.”The development of renewable energy facilities — solar, wind, geothermal and biomass — on public lands has been a top priority of the federal government as it seeks to ease the nation’s dependence on fossil fuels and curb global warming.With that goal in mind, the Bureau of Land Management is working closely in Lincoln County with the governor’s economic development office, engineers in Denmark, and Sixco Nevada Inc. — a consortium of companies focused on deployment of new technologies — to develop the proposal. In the eyes of the BLM, pinyon pine and juniper trees are weedy species that invade sagebrush rangelands and increase the risk of wildfire. They say an overabundance of pinyon-juniper woodlands fueled the 2022 Calf Canyon-Hermits Peak fire in New Mexico, which burned 341,735 acres, a state record.But environmentalists argue that the loss of the trees outweighs the benefits of biofuel and biomass production. Pinyon-juniper woodlands absorb atmospheric carbon through the process of photosynthesis, and have been widespread for thousands of years in much of Nevada and Utah, as well as portions of California, Idaho, Oregon, Wyoming and Baja California. Critics of the biofuel project say the woodlands’ role in carbon storage is critical to battling climate change.Environmentalists also worry that the loss and degradation of pinyon-juniper woodlands will pose a significant threat to a number of animal species, including the bright blue pinyon jay, which is under consideration for listing as a federally endangered species. Lincoln County Commissioner Varlin Higbee, center, walks with Derick Hembd, right, president of Sixco Nevada, a consortium of firms focused on infrastructure, and Bill Vinnicombet, a Sixco Nevada energy finance advisor, at the proposed site of the tree harvesting and biofuel production project northeast of Las Vegas. (Louis Sahagun / Los Angeles Times) The Western Watershed Project and Center for Biological Diversity have filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court challenging the BLM’s approval of a plan to remove pinyon-juniper forests across more than 380,000 acres of sagebrush shrublands on federal land in eastern Nevada.The lawsuit claims the plan would eradicate habitat for imperiled sage grouse and pinyon jays with techniques including “chaining” — the dragging of an anchor chain from a U.S. Navy vessel between two bulldozers in order to uproot and crush pinyon-juniper forests and sagebrush.Derick Hembd, president of Sixco Nevada, said the governor’s proposal calls for using shears and saws to harvest individual trees, leaving saplings and sagebrush untouched.It remains to be seen, however, whether concerns over the future of pinyon jays and other creatures threaten to stall or derail the project in rural Lincoln County, which is best known as a gateway to the secretive Area 51 U.S. Air Force military installation.But Higbee, 63, has high hopes for the proposal that could also breathe new life into struggling rural communities such as Caliente, where the population of about 1,100 people hasn’t budged in decades.“We need to grow,” Higbee said with frustration. “I’m going to do everything in my power to get this project up and running.” Newsletter Toward a more sustainable California Get Boiling Point, our newsletter exploring climate change, energy and the environment, and become part of the conversation — and the solution. 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