How to ensure the world's largest pumped-hydro dam isn't a disaster for Queensland's environment

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Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Jamie Pittock, Author providedTo quit coal and move to renewables, we need large-scale energy storage. That’s where pumped hydro comes in. Queensland’s ambitious new plan involves shifting from a coal-dominated electricity grid to 80% renewables within 13 years, using 22 gigawatts of new wind and solar. The plan relies on two massive new pumped hydro developments to store electricity, including the biggest proposed in the world. While it sounds high-tech, it’s very simple: take two dams at different elevations. Pump water to the top dam when cheap renewables are flooding the grid. Run the water down the slope and through turbines to make power at night or when the wind isn’t blowing. When dams are built badly, however, they can trash the environment. For two decades, I’ve pointed out the environmental destruction conventional dams can cause. But now we urgently need more pumped hydro dams to enable Australia’s transition to fully renewable power. The campaign to save Lake Pedder (pictured in 1954) from being flooded for hydroelectricity failed - but made new large scale hydro dams less viable. Janette Asch/Flickr, CC BY Queensland is getting pumped Queensland’s huge new renewable energy plan relies heavily on two massive pumped hydro projects. Inland from the Sunshine Coast is Borumba Dam, which could deliver two gigawatts of 24-hour storage by 2030. This was first proposed last year. The new proposal is Pioneer-Burdekin, west of Mackay, which is intended to store five gigawatts of 24-hour storage from the 2030s. It would involve relocating residents of the small town of Netherdale, which would be inundated. For consumers, this means energy reliability. Each gigawatt of stored power could supply around two million homes – and Queensland has around two million households. Environmentally, the good news is we can learn from previous mistakes and build this vital infrastructure carefully to minimise local environmental damage and maximise the broader environmental benefit of quitting coal power. The world’s largest pumped hydro facility is planned for the Pioneer Valley, west of Mackay. Steven Penton/Flickr, CC BY Why is pumped hydro so important to the energy transition? Solar and wind power can produce vast quantities of cheap power – but not all the time. Pumped hydro is one way to store renewable energy when it’s being generated and releasing it later when needed. While grid-scale batteries such as Victoria’s Big Battery have drawn plenty of media coverage, they are better at storing smaller amounts of electricity and releasing it quickly. Pumped hydro is slightly slower to start feeding back to the grid, but big facilities can keep generating power for days. Read more: The hydropower industry is talking the talk. But fine words won't save our last wild rivers Renewable fuels such as green hydrogen and ammonia may be available in the future, but not now. Nuclear energy is very expensive and would take decades to build. Batteries cannot meet supply gaps longer than a few hours, and come with environmental costs from the mining of raw materials, manufacture, and recycling and disposal of toxic materials. That leaves pumped hydro as a vital option – especially on cold, still and overcast days in winter when solar and wind produce very little electricity. So why is pumped hydro a better environmental prospect? Conventional hydropower dams destroy river ecosystems and flood forests, towns and prime farm land. Globally, the hydropower industry anticipates expanding by 60% by 2050 to provide renewable electricity and storage. I’m less worried about pumped hydro, for three reasons. First, the two reservoirs can be built away from rivers. This alone greatly reduces the damage done by damming rivers and flooding fertile valleys. Second, the area flooded is generally an order of magnitude smaller than conventional hydropower. This is because the great elevation difference between the two reservoirs may enable more power to be generated from limited water. And third, pumped hydro doesn’t need much extra water once filled, as the water cycles around. A little topping up to replace losses from evaporation and seepage is all that’s needed. More than 3,000 potential sites for pumped hydro have been identified in Australia. Importantly, these are all outside formal nature reserves and mostly located along the Great Dividing Range. We’d only need around 20 of these sites to be developed to store power for the nation. That’s around the same number currently planned, built or under construction in Tasmania, South Australia, New South Wales and Queensland. Nearly all large renewable energy developments meet local opposition based on non-financial values. Opponents of big pumped hydro developments such as Snowy 2.0 have called for other sites to be developed instead. If we took this approach, however, we could multiply the environmental disruption. That’s because Snowy 2.0, as well as the proposed Borumba and Pioneer-Burdekin projects in Queensland are huge. They could each generate up to ten times more power than most of the other projects being planned elsewhere. Shifting elsewhere could mean many more smaller projects, which means more roads, transmission lines and reservoirs. Pumped hydro relies on two reservoirs at different elevations, as visible in the Turlough Hill pumped hydro scheme in Ireland. Shutterstock Avoiding the mistakes of the past Environmental disruption from pumped hydro differs greatly depending on the site. At the site selection stage, it’s vital to avoid areas of high conservation and Indigenous cultural value. We can limit environmental damage by using existing dams, as we’re seeing at Snowy 2.0. Old mines in the right locations can have a second life as pumped hydro, as the Kidston project in Queensland demonstrates. By using existing dams or mines, we can actually begin repairing past damage, such as by improving old dams to boost environmental flows. That’s not to say damage won’t be done. Pumped hydro has been linked to the introduction of diseases affecting wildlife, as well as invasive plant and animal species. Roads and transmission lines are one of the biggest impacts on the natural world. By my calculations, much more habitat will be cleared for the Snowy 2.0 overhead transmission lines (around 9,600 hectares) than the new hydro scheme road and pipeline access and waste rock disposal (around 1,000 hectares). We could dramatically reduce environmental damage and visual clutter by putting the lines underground, or building close to existing power lines. So, the choice is ours. While pumped hydro is a lot less damaging than traditional hydroelectricity, it will cause some environmental damage. That’s why pumped hydro developers must choose sites and build carefully, to minimise environmental damage and maximise the benefits of storage. After all, this technology offers the enormous environmental good of freeing ourselves from the need to burn coal, gas and oil every hour of every day. Read more: Batteries get hyped, but pumped hydro provides the vast majority of long-term energy storage essential for renewable power – here’s how it works Jamie Pittock receives funding from the Australian Water Partnership and leads a project from Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation concerning pumped storage hydropower in the Asia - Pacific region. He is a member and advises a number of non-government environmental organizations, including WWF Australia.

Pumped hydro offers us large scale energy storage. If we do it carefully, we can make sure these dams don’t cause the damage of the past.

Read the full story here.
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Energy & Environment — A closer look at the ‘loss and damage’ fund

COP27’s highly touted “loss and damage” fund still has major uncertainties — including where its money will come from. Meanwhile, the Biden administration is easing some restrictions on ESG investing and Europe is proposing a price cap on natural gas. This is Overnight Energy & Environment, your source for the latest news focused on...

COP27’s highly touted “loss and damage” fund still has major uncertainties — including where its money will come from. Meanwhile, the Biden administration is easing some restrictions on ESG investing and Europe is proposing a price cap on natural gas.   This is Overnight Energy & Environment, your source for the latest news focused on energy, the environment and beyond. For The Hill, we’re Rachel Frazin and Zack Budryk. Someone forward you this newsletter? Close Thank you for signing up! Subscribe to more newsletters here The latest in politics and policy. Direct to your inbox. Sign up for the Energy and Environment newsletter Uncertainties about fund lead to skepticism A newly agreed “loss and damage” fund in which developed countries would pay for climate damages suffered by vulnerable developing counterparts lacks both details and actual funding, raising questions about whether it’s merely a symbolic breakthrough.  Developing nations responsible for the smallest amounts of climate pollution for years have called for such a fund, which has been resisted by the United States and other wealthy countries.  That changed over the weekend when nearly 200 countries agreed to launch a new fund at the United Nations climate change conference (COP27) in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.    The agreement states that the fund will help developing countries respond to “economic and non-economic loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change, including extreme weather events.”   OK, so what’s still unknown?   The deal provides no money, and no organizational structure, saying such details will be worked out in the coming months. It creates a “transitional committee” made up of representatives from 24 countries who will be tasked with finding funding sources and setting up the fund’s structure and governance.   “A loss and damage fund has been established and that’s important on its own, but it’s an empty vessel,” Morgan Bazilian, a public policy professor at the Colorado School of Mines, told The Hill.    What about the U.S.?  The government divided by the midterms is likely to pose a hurdle for getting U.S. funding. Some Republicans are already expressing opposition. “Insanity. This wasn’t even on my list of the top 1 million things the United States should do with money we don’t have,” Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) said in a written statement that his office shared with The Hill when asked for his thoughts on the deal.   Yet, reaching this point at all is a first:  “There was just a tremendous breakthrough this time of getting the United States and other traditional blockers to stop blocking,” said Jean Su, the energy justice program director at the Center for Biological Diversity.   She acknowledged that there are still “big questions,” including “whether finance will actually get delivered,” but said that ultimately it gave “vulnerable communities around the world a glimmer of real hope.  Read more about the uncertainties here. Biden eases ESG restrictions for financial advisers The Biden administration is making it easier for money managers to consider climate change and other environmental and social factors in retirement investments.   The Labor Department on Tuesday issued a new final rule making it so that these fiduciaries can consider “the economic effects of climate change” in investments that they oversee.  Assistant Secretary for Employee Benefits Security Lisa Gomez said in a statement that the rule was issued to end a “chilling effect” created by Trump-era restrictions on considering environmental and social factors in investing.    In 2020, the Trump administration issued a rule that was expected to discourage the consideration of environmental and social factors in this type of investing.  Read more about the new rule here.  WHITE HOUSE UNVEILS ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE SCREENER The White House on Tuesday unveiled a tool aimed at screening for environmental justice communities – disadvantaged communities that face high pollution burdens.   White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Brenda Mallory said in a statement that the tool would enable the administration to make sure that these communities particularly see benefits from its climate actions.   “The Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool identifies communities that have faced historic injustices and have borne the brunt of pollution so we can ensure they’re some of the first to see the benefits of climate action,” she said. EU proposes gas price cap ahead of winter The European Commission on Tuesday proposed a temporary cap on natural gas prices, with the goal of taming energy costs and safeguarding supplies ahead of winter.  The so-called Market Correction Mechanism” would serve “to protect EU businesses and households from episodes of excessively high gas prices in the EU,” while reducing volatility on European gas markets, according to the Commission.  “Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine and weaponization of energy supplies, natural gas prices have seen unprecedented price peaks across the EU,” a statement from the Commission said.  At the end of August, Russian state-run energy company Gazprom shut down its main gas pipeline to Europe for what it said would be three days of maintenance, but then never resumed operations.  Natural gas prices reached all-time highs in Europe during the second half of August — a situation that the Commission described as “highly damaging for the European economy, with contagion effects on electricity prices and an increase in overall inflation.”  On Tuesday, Gazprom threatened to cut off its last running gas pipeline to Europe, which runs through Ukraine, next week. The company accused Kyiv of diverting gas supplies intended for Moldova and creating a “transit imbalance.” The Gas Transmission System Operator of Ukraine denied the accusations, asserting that all volumes of gas destined for Moldovan customers were being transferred “in full.”  With an uncertain winter ahead, the European Commission stressed that it intends “to prevent the repetition” of August’s price surges by proposing a “temporary and well-targeted instrument.”  How does it work? In the case of extreme gas price hikes, the instrument would automatically intervene — setting a safety price ceiling of 275 euros ($282) per megawatt-hour on month-ahead title transfer facility (TTF) derivatives.  Read more here, from The Hill’s Sharon Udasin.   WHAT WE'RE READING The U.S. Promised Tribes They Would Always Have Fish, but the Fish They Have Pose Toxic Risks (ProPublica and Oregon Public Broadcasting) Nuclear plant along Lake Michigan will not reopen after federal application denied (MLive) Europe’s Wind Industry Is Stumbling When It’s Needed Most (The New York Times) Bison’s relocation to Native lands revives a spiritual bond (The Associated Press) ICYMI EPA reports drop in significant Clean Water Act violations Biden administration to allocate $550M for community-based clean energy  🦖 Lighter click: Not historically accurate, but we’ll let it slide. That’s it for today, thanks for reading. Check out The Hill’s Energy & Environment page for the latest news and coverage. We’ll see you tomorrow.

Offshore Wind Moves Forward on California Coast

Progress continues on the controversial proposal to install a multi-billion dollar wind farm off the California coast. The five project areas will provide future power needs equivalent to the electricity produced by Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant, which was on schedule to be retired until this past legislative session. On November 21, PG&E received a federal grant of $1.1 billion to keep it operating for another five years.

Progress continues on the controversial proposal to install a multi-billion dollar wind farm off the California coast. The five project areas will provide future power needs equivalent to the electricity produced by Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant, which was on schedule to be retired until this past legislative session. On November 21, PG&E received a federal grant of $1.1 billion to keep it operating for another five years. California’s deep waters, 3,000 feet, are three times as deep as any floating wind turbines have been launched. Forging into the unknown presents a number of concerns and promises that engineers, officials and citizens are weighing out. Leases to Outer Continental Land, needed to locate as many as 1,300 mega-sized wind turbines, will be auctioned off December 6. The process for building 2-5 GigaWatt offshore wind projects, producing more electricity than Diablo Canyon, gets underway with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s lease sale auction starting at 7 a.m. Pacific. They will warm up with a practice auction the day before. The auction could take two days to reach a conclusion and settle on five winning bidders. The lease sale includes three Morro Bay areas, (80,062 acres, 80,418 acres, 80,418 acres), and two Humboldt areas, (673,338 acres and 69,031 acres) totaling 373,268 acres of the Outer Continental Shelf, 20-30 miles offshore. Forty-three bidders have qualified and ponied up the $5 million bid deposit to participate.‍ Bidding credits‍ Bids will be considered not only on amount of money, but also on how they propose to use the bidding credits. Bidders can qualify for up to 20 percent credit by committing to investing in workforce training and supply chain development. They can also get up to five percent credit for a Lease Area Use Community Benefit Agreement and five percent for a General Community Benefit Agreement. CBAs are intended to mitigate potential impacts on- and offshore to communities, tribal, or other stakeholder groups and may assist fishing and related industries by supporting their resilience and ability to adapt to impacts that may arise from the development of the lease area. A Lease Area Use CBA would be between the lessee and a community or stakeholder group “whose use of the geographic space of the Lease Area, or whose use of resources harvested from that geographic space, is directly impacted by the Lessee’s potential offshore wind development. ”The General CBA would be with communities, tribes, or stakeholder groups that are expected to be affected by the potential impacts on the marine, coastal, and/or human environment from activities resulting from lease development that are not otherwise addressed by the Lease Area Use CBA. Eric Endersby, Morro Bay’s harbor director, sees how those credits can help the waterfront. “We are the closest port to the Morro Bay area, and we are a protected port, so it makes sense for the operations and maintenance boats to be coming and going out of Morro Bay,” he said in an interview. “There would be a lot of fuel sales, a lot of high-dollar, high-skilled jobs. The cable is coming into Morro Bay, through the grid system, so there’ll be that aspect to it. We see a revitalization of our working waterfront.” Other ocean users The leases require consideration of other users, from commercial fishing and Department of Defense national security to vessel speed requirements, use of low-energy geophysical survey equipment and coordinating with the Coastal Commission on plan submissions. Bidders know that BOEM has no authority to issue leases in national marine sanctuaries. The Morro Bay wind areas are adjacent to the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary and the proposed Chumash Heritage NMS. Violet Sage Walker, chair of the Northern Chumash Tribal Council, wrote in an op-ed in The Tribune, “The Northern Chumash Tribal Council advocates for marine conservation, equitable mitigation measures and fair community benefits. We believe offshore wind must coexist and cooperate with marine protections, and we see this as a unique opportunity for a collaborative effort, not a combative one.” Frankie Myers, vice chair of the Yurok Tribe in Northern California, said at the Floating Wind USA 2022 conference in San Francisco, that the ocean is the last place his people have to pray. “We can’t go any further west,” he said. “What will our descendants see? Another colonial resource or a collaborative partner?” Lines on a map are abstractions that are irrelevant to fisheries and tribal lands. Full details are in the Final Sale Notice National and state goals The West Coast Floating Offshore Wind projects, with a goal of 4.5 GW of power by 2030, are part of the Biden administration’s goal for Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad, a commitment to deploy 30 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2030 and at least 25 gigawatts of onshore renewable energy by 2025.The state of California has set a target of 2-5 GW of offshore wind power by 2030 and 25 GW by 2045. Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant’s two units combined produce 2.2 GW. Although intended to be retired in 2024 and 2025, in 2022 the legislature extended the plant’s licenses five years. ‍New port terminals needed Ten additional port terminals along California’s coast will be required to support the projects. None of California’s current ports is large enough or strong enough to support the wind turbine staging and fabrication. Terminals may be located in existing ports such as Long Beach and San Francisco, but construction of entirely new ports may be required. ‍Building the turbines Turbines are 1,100 feet tall on a base 425 feet wide. About 1,300 are projected to be installed in the West Coast projects. The size of the turbines presents problems yet unsolved, including moving the assembled turbines from the manufacturing facility into the water. It could take two weeks or longer to tow them out to the site where they will be tethered. The size and complications of constructing the turbines and setting them in place presents risks that are difficult to evaluate and insure. “What keeps me up at night is a project that is uninsurable,” one insurance executive said.‍ Deeper waters, bigger ships Hanson Wood, regional senior vice president for development in the West Region, EDF Renewables, said that although technical lessons have been learned from projects in Asia, there is no precedent for a wind project in California’s depths, around 3,000 feet. The chains tethering the turbines to sea floor anchors could put marine mammals at risk by catching drifting fishing gear and ensnaring them. The area is known as the Blue Serengeti for its migration routes of whales and seals. A ship large enough to transport the turbine parts, in compliance with U.S. Jones Law, is under construction in Texas. The 472-foot-long Charybdis is estimated to cost around $500 million. Humboldt has already received a grant for $10.5 million to renovate its facilities into the Humboldt Bay Offshore Wind Heavy Lift Marine Terminal, which will be capable of handling large heavy cargo vessels, offshore wind floating platform development and integration and decommissioning, and other maritime activities. Developing the Central Coast wind area could create around 15,000 new jobs, according to a report on the economic impact by REACH Central Coast and Cal Poly. Environmental impacts Environmental impacts such as the loss of wind energy that drives the ocean upwelling which is the central feature of ocean ecology in the area remain to be evaluated in the future. The amount of money involved is staggering, hundreds of billions of dollars, so those credits – 20 percent for workforce and supply chain, and five percent each for offshore and onshore impacts – will represent large amounts of money to communities like Morro Bay and Humboldt. It’s not without significant risk, though. In mid-November, Shell, with partners China General Nuclear Power Group and France’s Caisse des dépôts et consignations (CDC) canceled a demonstration floating wind project offshore France. Shell’s statement cited ”technical, commercial and financial challenges” in the execution of the project as the main reasons for the decision to cancel the EUR 300 million, 28.5 MW Groix & Belle-Île pilot wind farm, Le Parisien reports.“ The economic conditions linked to the project have been significantly modified, calling into question, for all the partners of the consortium, the economic viability of the project,” Shell was quoted as saying in a statement. State regulators Representatives of California’s State Lands Commission and the Coastal Commission attended the San Francisco conference, supporting the projects. Governor Gavin Newsom is committed to floating offshore wind and the regulatory agencies are on board. All projects will be subjected to California's notoriously contentious permitting process, but the pressure is on to get turbines in the water by 2030. With the workforce development required – it will take as long as two years to train welders to the skill level needed – new port terminals to be constructed, and techniques for anchoring the turbines in such deep water refined, sussing out the risks of screwing it up is needed. Yurok Vice Chair Myers said, “The path to messing it up is just so wide. ”While the powers behind the idea and the money are moving forward, those communities that will be most affected are watching from the sidelines. “I’m afraid that it will be just such a bright, shiny object that it will distract us from the changes we need to make,” one conference participant said privately. The question of whether this provides the solution California needs for its future power requirements, or if expenses and technical problems overwhelm it remains to be seen. We will keep you posted.

Energy & Environment — COP27 closes with 'loss and damage' breakthrough

The COP27 conference closes with a long-elusive "loss and damage" deal, pro-sustainability Democrats want narrower permitting reform and Saudi Arabia denies a report that it’s set to increase oil production. This is Overnight Energy & Environment, your source for the latest news focused on energy, the environment and beyond. For The Hill, we’re Rachel Frazin and Zack Budryk. Sign...

The COP27 conference closes with a long-elusive "loss and damage" deal, pro-sustainability Democrats want narrower permitting reform and Saudi Arabia denies a report that it’s set to increase oil production. This is Overnight Energy & Environment, your source for the latest news focused on energy, the environment and beyond. For The Hill, we’re Rachel Frazin and Zack Budryk. Sign up in the box below or subscribe here.  Close Thank you for signing up! Subscribe to more newsletters here The latest in politics and policy. Direct to your inbox. Sign up for the Energy and Environment newsletter UN conference ends with climate damage deal  The COP27 global climate change conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, wrapped early Sunday with an agreement to compensate developing countries for the damages they have suffered from climate change.  While developing countries have long pushed for a "loss and damage" fund for suffering they say they have endured from climate change, wealthy countries, including the U.S., had resisted the idea.But that changed this year, and those developing nations got a fund establishing such climate reparations. Still, questions linger over how that fund will actually secure monetary backing. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres heralded the agreement as an “important step towards justice.” “I welcome the decision to establish a loss and damage fund and to operationalize it in the coming period,” Guterres said in a statement. “Clearly this will not be enough, but it is a much-needed political signal to rebuild broken trust.”  What does it do? The decision establishes a fund for responding to the “loss and damage” that these countries have suffered, but some details are not yet resolved.   To address that, a transitional committee that will be made up of 24 countries tasked with finding funding sources and establishing a structure and governance for the fund will be established.The fund would be open to "developing countries that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change."The decision comes after a tentative deal was reached in the early hours of Saturday morning.   Background: Although the U.S. has long been at the forefront of opposition to the idea, President Biden's climate envoy John Kerry said earlier this year the U.S. was open to it. Late last week, European Union (EU) delegates issued a proposal that European Commission Executive Vice President Frans Timmermans described as the EU’s “final offer.” Timmermans said any agreement would depend on an updated definition of a “developing” country. China, currently the world’s largest single emitter, is considered a developing country under the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.  But wait, there's more: Nations also adopted a broader agreement, called the Sharm el-Sheikh Implementation Plan. Read more about the deal and the original announcement. Sustainability Dems propose narrow permitting effort A group of House Democrats that are part of a sustainability coalition on Monday put forward a narrow proposal on permitting reform amid broader talks on how to reshape the country’s energy approval process.   The new policy brief, released by leaders of the House Sustainable Energy & Environment Coalition (SEEC) narrowly focuses on bolstering the country’s electricity infrastructure and community involvement in energy project assessments.  “This policy brief breaks down some of the key legislative solutions that Congress should take up when considering reforming our laws to build a clean energy future,” the brief’s introduction reads.   The background: The permitting reform negotiations are complex as large swaths of Democrats and Republicans would have to be on board on a set of issues where the two parties remain far apart.   Some of SEEC’s leaders, including co-chair Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) and vice chairs Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.) and Donald McEachin (D-Va.), were part of a large coalition of Democrats who expressed opposition to Sen. Joe Manchin’s (D-W.Va.) permitting reform push. The new pitch from the sustainability coalition promotes legislation that the lawmakers say would give the federal government more power to approve some electric transmission lines, bolster grid resiliency and promote the development of community solar and offshore wind. It also called for increases to community involvement by requiring the preparation of reports on whether projects will harm community health and establishing environmental justice liaisons for such projects.   Manchin has been fighting to speed up the approval process for both fossil and renewable energy projects. Backed by Democratic leadership, he recently attempted to pass legislation that included shorter timelines for environmental impact studies and the approval of a pipeline in his home state.  Read more about the brief here.  INTERIOR PROPOSES OIL LEASE SALES IN UT, NV The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) on Monday announced two proposed oil and gas lease sales for nearly 100,000 acres of land in Nevada and Utah. The land in question includes 63,603.89 acres on 35 parcels in Nevada and 31,808 acres across 18 parcels in Utah, according to a release from BLM. The land in question would be leased under updated provisions from the Inflation Reduction Act, President Biden’s expansive climate and infrastructure package that became law earlier this year. Under the updated regulations, minimum bids would be set at $10 per acre, a fivefold increase from the previous minimum of $2 per acre. This marks the first increase in the minimum in 35 years. The sales will also reflect updated royalty rates for oil and gas leasing, with minimum rates increasing from 12.5 percent to 16.7 percent. Meanwhile, while rental rates before the act were $1.50 per acre for five years and $2 per year thereafter, the new rates will increase to $3 per acre for the initial two years, $5 an acre for the third through eighth years and $15 in the ninth and tenth years. Read more here. Saudi Arabia denies report on oil production increase Saudi officials on Monday denied the kingdom is backtracking on planned cuts to oil production after The Wall Street Journal reported Riyadh is mulling an increase. “It is well known, and no secret, that OPEC+ does not discuss any decisions ahead of its meetings,” Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman said Monday through state news agency SPA.“The current cut of 2 million barrels per day by OPEC+ continues until the end of 2023 and if there is a need to take further measures by reducing production to balance supply and demand, we always remain ready to intervene.”  In its initial report Monday, the Journal reported Saudi Arabia and other OPEC member nations are considering stepping up oil production by up to 500,000 barrels a day ahead of the organization’s Dec. 4 meeting.  In October, OPEC+ announced the original 2 million-barrel cut, sparking fears in the West that it could send gas prices spiraling and throw a lifeline to Russia as it faces the loss of energy revenues due to sanctions.  A number of congressional Democrats called for changes to the U.S.-Saudi relationship after the announcement, saying the West has worked with the Saudis despite concerns over human rights abuses with the understanding that the kingdom would act as a strategic ally. Read more about the denial here.  WHAT WE'RE READING No nitrate police: State and local regulators can’t, or won’t, stop Nebraska’s drinking water from getting worse (Flatwater Free Press) U.S. oil giants Exxon Mobil, Chevron and ConocoPhillips challenged over ‘secretive’ tax practices (CNBC) Soaring West Virginia Electricity Prices Trigger Standoff Over the State’s Devotion to Coal Power (InsideClimateNews) Gold, guns, gangs: on patrol with the elite unit saving Ivory Coast’s forests (The Guardian) EPA floats sharply increased social cost of carbon (E&E News)  MORE FROM THE HILL Interior Department announces new proposed oil and gas lease sales in Nevada, Utah Speeding up clean energy build-out could lessen the impacts of related emissions: study Hochul activates NY National Guard amid ‘epic snow event’ Environmental ministers warn UN climate summit could roll back progress  ⚡️ Lighter click: Electric pizza That’s it for today, thanks for reading. Check out The Hill’s Energy & Environment page for the latest news and coverage. We’ll see you tomorrow.  

Sustainability Democrats propose narrow permitting reform effort on electric grid, community involvement

A group of House Democrats that are part of a sustainability coalition on Monday put forward a narrow proposal on permitting reform amid broader talks on how to reshape the country’s energy approval process.  The new policy brief released by leaders of the House Sustainable Energy & Environment Coalition (SEEC) narrowly focuses on bolstering the...

A group of House Democrats that are part of a sustainability coalition on Monday put forward a narrow proposal on permitting reform amid broader talks on how to reshape the country’s energy approval process.  The new policy brief released by leaders of the House Sustainable Energy & Environment Coalition (SEEC) narrowly focuses on bolstering the country’s electricity infrastructure and community involvement in energy project assessments.  “This policy brief breaks down some of the key legislative solutions that Congress should take up when considering reforming our laws to build a clean energy future,” the brief’s introduction reads.  The permitting reform negotiations are complex as large swaths of Democrats and Republicans would have to be on board on a set of issues where the two parties remain far apart.  Some of SEEC’s leaders, including co-chair Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) and vice chairs Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.), and Donald McEachin (D-Va.) were part of a large coalition of Democrats who expressed opposition to Sen. Joe Manchin’s (D-W.Va.) permitting reform push.  The new pitch from the sustainability coalition promotes legislation that the lawmakers say would give the federal government more power to approve some electric transmission lines, bolster grid resiliency and promote the development of community solar and offshore wind. It also called for increases to community involvement by requiring the preparation of reports on whether projects will harm community health and establishing environmental justice liaisons for such projects.  Manchin has been fighting to speed up the approval process for both fossil and renewable energy projects. Backed by Democratic leadership, he recently attempted to pass legislation that included shorter timelines for environmental impact studies and the approval of a pipeline in his home state.  Manchin’s push was met with pushback from both sides. Democrats, led by Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), have raised concerns that Manchin’s push could hamper the environmental review process and benefit polluting fossil fuels.  Separately, in a new letter to House leadership on Monday, Grijalva reiterated his request to exclude the package from upcoming must-pass funding legislation for both general government spending and military spending.  Meanwhile, Republicans have argued that Manchin's proposal didn’t go far enough. They have particularly pushed for tighter restrictions on how long agencies can take to study a project’s potential environmental impacts.  Some have also expressed opposition to working with the senator after his support for the Democrats’ climate, tax and healthcare bill. 

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