Sunday, October 31, 2021


 The 26th meeting of the Conference of the Parties, calledCOP-26 has opened in Glasgow, Scotland. The warm up speech was given at the closing of the  G20 meeting in Rome by HRH the Prince Wales, whose long term support for and commitment to environmental issues is well known. The Prince of Wales told world leaders the lives of future generations are "in your hands" and they can no longer ignore "the despairing voices of young people."

For 26 years the UN has been bringing together almost every country on earth for global climate summits the COPs to try and address climate change.  This year will be the 26th annual summit with the UK serving as host. “We want to be able to say with credibility, coming out of Glasgow, that we have kept 1.5 within reach,” said Alok Sharma, who will serve as president of the proceedings before the conference.

Limiting temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius was aspirational when the Paris Agreement was completed in December 2015 and signed on Earth Day 2016. Now it's the new consensus. The UN climate conference, COP25 in Madrid, failed to accomplished its goals. Matters including Article 6, reporting requirements for transparency and “common timeframes” for climate pledges failed to reach any agreement and were pushed into 2020 which because of the pandemic were pushed into 2021.

Under the Paris Agreement, every country agreed to work together to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees and aim for 1.5 degrees, to adapt to the impacts of a changing climate and to make money available to deliver on these aims to countries not able to afford the costs of adapting to a changing climate. The parties to the agreement committed to create national plans setting out how much they would reduce their emissions called Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC). Furthermore, they agreed that every five years they would come back with an updated plan that would reflect their highest possible ambition at that time. Now is that time.

The key points of the Paris Agreement were:

  • The new climate treaty will run from 2020-2030. 
  • The nations embrace the aim of keeping temperatures “well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels, and aims to “pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C. 
  • Each nation will declare their “Intended Nationally Determined Contribution” (INDC) instead of the U.N. mandating cuts. 
  • Countries will review their goals and progress towards the goals every five years. 
  • The developed countries are obliged to continue to 'mobilize' at least $100 billion (US) a year of public and private finance to help developing countries to address the impacts of climate change. 

On October 25th 2021 the UN published an Update of the synthesis report assessing the progress of climate action ahead of the COP26meeting. The update of the Synthesis Report found disappointing results. The report synthesizes information from the 165 latest available NDCs, representing all 192 Parties to the Paris Agreement, including the 116 new or updated NDCs communicated by 143 Parties as on 12 October 2021.

For the group of 143 Parties that submitted new or updated NDCs, total greenhouse gas emissions promised are estimated to be about 9% below the 2010 level by 2030. Of that group 71 nations pledged a carbon neutrality goal around mid-century. This includes the United States who rejoined the Paris accord by executive order of President Biden. The UN report finds that if these goals are met, total greenhouse gas emission level could be 83–88% lower in 2050 than they were in 2019. However, getting to carbon neutrality is a big goal and there is no clear pathway at this time.

The IPCC has estimated that limiting global average temperature increases to 1.5C requires a reduction of CO2 emissions of 45% in 2030 or a 25% reduction by 2030 to limit warming to 2C. If emissions are not reduced by 2030, they will need to be substantially reduced thereafter to compensate for the slow start on the path to net zero emissions, but likely at a higher cost.

Alok Sharma said: “This latest report from the UN makes clear, to protect the world from the most devastating impacts of climate change, countries must take more ambitious action on emissions, and they must act now." 

"If countries deliver on their 2030 NDCs and net zero commitments announced …, we will be heading towards average global temperature rises of just above 2C. Analysis suggests the commitments made in Paris would have capped the rise in temperature to below 4C.”

“So there has been progress, but not enough. That is why we especially need the biggest emitters, the G20 nations, to come forward with stronger commitments if we are to keep 1.5C in reach over this critical decade. Glasgow must launch a decade of ever-increasing ambition.”

Lots of words and hope at a time when there is a fuel crisis in Europe and China. World wide we have reduced supply of hydrocarbons ahead of reducing demand and China has an electricity shortage and Europe is heading into winter with a fuel shortage. President Biden was reduced to begging OPEC+ to ramp up production, while pushing to decrease oil and gas production in the Americas. Though our gas prices are up the United States still has enough gas production to get by. 

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Natural Gas Leaks in Boston

Atmospheric methane (CH4) is the second-most important greenhouse gas after carbon dioxide (CO2); the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that it was responsible for about 20% of global anthropogenic direct radiative forcing from 2000 to 2010” begins a paper by Maryann R. Sargent et al-Majority of US urban natural gas emissions unaccounted for in inventories. The authors continue “Oil and natural gas systems are estimated to account for 31% of anthropogenic methane emissions in the United States .” 

Globally wetlands contributed 30% of global methane emissions, with oil, gas, and coal activities accounting for 20%. Agriculture, including enteric fermentation (cow belching), manure management, and rice cultivation, made up 24% of emissions, and landfill gas contributed 11%. Sixty-four percent of methane emissions come from the tropical regions of South America, Asia, and Africa, with temperate regions accounting for 32% and the Arctic contributing 4%. According to previous studies the amount of methane in Earth’s atmosphere continues to rise. Concentrations of methane now exceed 1875 parts per billion, about 2.5 times as much as was in the atmosphere in the 1850s.

In the past most efforts to reduce methane emissions in the United States has targeted oil- and natural gas-production, because the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had estimated that to be the source of most of the leakage from natural gas. However, a 2019 NOAA and University of Michigan study using an instrumented airplane found unexpectedly large emissions over five major cities along the East Coast. These cities have natural gas distribution systems and deliver natural gas to households.

This confirmed the earlier work of two scientists, Robert B. Jackson, who was then Professor of Global Environmental Change at Duke University and Nathan Phillips, associate professor at Boston University Department of Earth and Environment collaborated with Robert Ackley of Gas Safety Inc., and Eric Crosson of Picarro Inc., who studied gas leaks in Boston. They mapped the gas leaks under the city using a the Picarro high-precision methane analyzer installed in a GPS-equipped car. Driving all 785 road miles within city limits, the researchers discovered 3,356 leaks. The leaks were found to be associated with old cast-iron underground pipes, rather than neighborhood socioeconomic indicators. Levels of methane in the surface air on Boston’s streets exceeded 15 times the normal atmospheric background value.

"Bottom-up" estimates measure emissions from a sample of devices and multiplies the result by the total number of devices. In contrast, "top-down" measurements can be performed at a regional scale, such as flying an aircraft upwind and downwind of a study area. In most studies, the bottom up method is underestimating the emissions.  The newly published study mentioned above from scientists at Harvard, Boston University and NOAA used 8 years of actual measured methane levels at two locations in the heart of Boston (Boston University and Copley Square) and 3 sites far outside the city to study methane emissions in Boston has made some interesting suggestions of the potential missing sources of methane emissions.

The city of Boston has set a goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2050 (34), and Massachusetts implemented new laws and regulations between 2014 and 2019 requiring utilities to report and repair large leaks based on their size (35) (36). A 2014 law required repair of leaks classified as grade 1 and grade 2, as well as making leak data public. A 2018 law required repair of grade 3 leaks classified as “significant environmental impact” as well. In the eight year period of this study there has been no significant change in the number of grade 1 or 2 leaks on the pipeline system and only a slight reduction in the number of grade 3 leaks. Thus the authors conclude that new leaks are appearing in the aging Boston pipeline system as fast as old ones are being fixed. The methane distribution infrastructure is crumbling.

According to the authors of a 2019 study by the Home Energy Efficiency Team (HEET) predicted that the 2018 Massachusetts law requiring the repair of leaks deemed “significant environmental impact” could reduce pipeline emissions by half, based on a finding that 7% of leaks emit half of all gas by volume. The current study analysis finds that these efforts have not yet resulted in a measurable change in methane emissions which can be attributed to the constant number of leaks reported despite ongoing repairs.

Using their measurements and model the scientists found an average methane loss rate of 2.5% ± 0.5% from 2012 to 2020. They found no statistically significant trend in loss rate over the 8 year period of the study, despite the new leak repair regulations going into effect. In addition, the methane loss rate calculated by the scientists in this study is three times higher than the 0.8% loss rate indicated by their prior bottom up inventory for Boston and six times higher than the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) estimate. 

The scientists found a strong, correlation between methane emissions and consumption in Boston that the scientists said was unexpected. During the winter when natural gas is in higher use, the methane emission are higher. This relationship has also been found in Washington, DC and Los Angeles. This lead the scientists to speculate that either the releases are coming from end use equipment (heaters, stoves, etc.) in homes or there is a fluctuation in the pipeline pressure based on demand that causes and increase in leakage from the distribution system. Only further study of distribution pipeline pressure can answer this.

However, the authors interpreted their data to imply that sources other than pipelines, such as transmission and appliances, are important sources of methane emissions and may require future policy action. They estimated total supply chain losses of 3.3% to 4.7% for methane consumed in urban areas, which significantly increases the climate impacts of natural gas compared to Environmental Protection Agency estimates.

The scientists point out that densely populated urban areas could potentially make big changes in their methane emissions, because they have concentrated populations, infrastructure, and emissions and in in many cases Democratic/ progressive control and the will to implement emission reductions policies. Pipelines, transmission infrastructure, household and commercial appliances, meters, stationary combustion, and service leaks are believed to be the most significant contributors for urban methane emissions. Bottom-up inventories estimate that distribution and end use are responsible for 6% of US emissions from methane this work suggests a higher contribution.

Full Citation:

Majority of US urban natural gas emissions unaccounted for in inventories
Maryann R. Sargent, Cody Floerchinger, Kathryn McKain, John Budney, Elaine W. Gottlieb, Lucy R. Hutyra, Joseph Rudek, Steven C. Wofsy
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Nov 2021, 118 (44) e2105804118; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2105804118 
Majority of US urban natural gas emissions unaccounted for in inventories | PNAS

Other reading:

R B Jackson, M Saunois, P Bousquet , J G Canadell, B Poulter, A R Stavert , P Bergamaschi, Y Niwa , A Segers and A Tsuruta: Increasing anthropogenic methane emissions arise equally from agricultural and fossil fuel sources, Environ. Res. Lett. 15 (2020) 071002

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Data Centers in Prince William County

Last Thursday, October 21st, the Prince William County Planning Office held a virtual meeting to share information on data centers. This meeting served as the public outreach portion of expanding data centers in Prince William County. Data centers are on the Board’s adopted "List of Targeted Industries for New, and Expanding Companies.” The Planning Office proposes to finalize the as yet undisclosed policy changes at the beginning of 2022 and have final approval by the Board of Supervisors in spring 2022. As of now, no dates have been set for a public hearing on the  expansion . There were only hints of what policy might be expected.  

Showing some data center in a corner of Ashburn, VA

The virtual meeting was Chaired by Alex Stanley of the Planning Office. BAE Urban Economics Principal Mary Burkholder reported on the Data Center market and financial benefits and Stantec Consultant Jason Beske reported the non-industry concerns and impacts as well as the industry concerns and needs. Currently, there are 20 data centers in Prince William County, but according to Stantec consultants, we are not as attractive a location for data centers as Ashburn, yet. . 

Several new data center proposals are currently in the process and it is unclear if they will be held until a final policy is approved or if these projects will be approved this year and become the de facto data center policy. In July the Prince William Board of County Supervisors initiated an amendment to the Comprehensive Plan for PW Digital Gateway  which is within the Rural Crescent to change the Long Range Land Use from AE, Agricultural or Estate and ER, Environmental Resource to Technology / Flex (T/F) . This amendment would create a technology corridor along Pageland Lane for the development of data centers.  

Digital Gateway plans to use existing transmission and fiber optic infrastructure which are the most important elements for a data center according to BAE. The corridor, which originally included 27 parcels totaling about 800 acres located on both sides of Pageland Lane in areas south of Sudley Road and approximately one mile north of Route 29, was expanded to 2,000 acres as shown in the map below. This was done to consolidate all the proposals or potential data center proposals and evaluate the entire corridor between Sudley Road and Route 29 in order to review in a holistic manner (traffic, land use, and environmental concerns). Parts of this area directly abutts Conway Robinson Memorial State Forest and the Manassas National Battlefield Park,  and the proposed area is entirely within the rural area and the Occoquan Watershed.

The 2,000 acres for Digital Gateway

According to Christina Winn of the Planning Office each data center requires about 30 acres of land (not including any landscaping or setbacks) and only a small amount of land in the current overlay is still available. According to Ms. Winn as of this month there was  only about 90 acres of site ready land still available for sale, but there was more available as recently as May 2021. The breakdown of land in the current data center overlay district as if May 2021 is as follows:

The Data Center Overlay District is highlighted below.

Data centers are a rapidly growing modern industry that is highly profitable to the owners and developers and uses lots of power. Almost half of the growth in the industry is taking place in Northern Virginia.  Highlights from BAE presentation:

Power and access to optical fiber are the most important factors in selecting a site for a data center. However, the increase base load power usage of 323 MW just in the past year could impact the cost and reliability of power to the region especially as we decarbonize. Data centers operate 24/7 and increase the baseload needs for power generation. Building data centers creates many jobs during construction, but only 28 jobs after buildout. While the direct jobs are well paying $180,000 on average (including benefits and company payroll costs) the induced and indirect jobs created will be for an average salary of $43,600 (including the same expenses). There is according to BAE permanent 155 induced and indirect jobs like landscapers, janitors, cashiers, fast food etc.  Like any industry data centers will have a life cycle. During the buildout there is a tremendous amount of employment in construction trades.

Jason Beske of Stantec outlined the concerns of various organizations and the complaints and concerns of data center developers that need to be addressed to increase our data center density and economic reliance. Overall Stantec found that Prince William County is an attractive place for data centers with the low cost of energy. However, Prince William needs to be more flexible and accommodating to the data center developers. Energy cost and availability may be the controlling factor. The county goal of obtaining 100% of electricity from renewable sources by 2035 is not with current technology compatible with and increase in base load demand of that magnitude. 

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Getting Ready for Glasgow

As we approach the beginning of the 26th Conference of the Parties (COP26) meeting in Glasgow, Scotland on October 31st, many countries have put forth new commitments for reducing carbon emissions. As delineated in the April 22, 2021 White House press statement, the United States has set a goal to reach 100 % carbon pollution-free electricity by 2035 and net zero emissions throughout the economy by 2050. Under the framework of the Paris accord, more than 50 countries, as well as the entire European Union, have pledged to meet net zero emissions targets.

Under the Paris Agreement, every country agreed to work together to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees and aim for 1.5 degrees, to adapt to the impacts of a changing climate and to make money available to deliver on these aims to countries not able to afford the costs of adapting to a changing climate. The parties to the agreement committed to create national plans setting out how much they would reduce their emissions called Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC). Furthermore, they agreed that every five years they would come back with an updated plan that would reflect their highest possible ambition at that time.

The U.S. rejoined the Paris Agreement by executive order when President Biden took office and pledged for the United States to reach net zero emissions economy-wide by no later than 2050.  The President also pledged an interim goal of a 50-52% reduction from 2005 levels in economy-wide net greenhouse gas pollution by 2030. This pledge was to increase the 2015 pledge of cutting greenhouse gas emissions 26 to 28 % below 2005 levels by 2025. It was estimated by the Rhodium Group analysis that the United States is actuallyon track to cut emissions 12 to 20% below the 2005 baseline by 2025, not thehigher aspirational goal.

The  50% to 52% new target is ambitious and would require a carbon-slashing overhaul of the U.S. economy.  President Biden charged Gina McCarthy with drawing up the details of the increased American NDC commitment under the Paris Agreement. Gina McCarthy, the Whitehouse National Climate Advisor and U.S. climate envoy John Kerry and his State Department staff have been working on this product with groups of consultants. I look forward to seeing the carbon reductions they have identified.

According to the IEA (the International Energy Agency) World Energy Outlook 2021 prepared for the COP-26 meeting and designed to assist decision makers at COP-26.  “The successful pursuit of all announced pledges means that global energy-related CO2 emissions fall by 40% over the period to 2050. All sectors see a decline, with the electricity sector delivering by far the largest. The global average temperature rise in 2100 is held to around 2.1 °C above pre-industrial levels, although this scenario does not hit net zero emissions, so the temperature trend has still not stabilized.”

IEA (2021), World Energy Outlook 2021, IEA, Paris

The achievement by a party of its NDC is not a legally binding obligation, nor is a country bound to any particular policies to achieve its target. It can, at any time, revise those targets and policies without legal ramifications. However, there does not appear to be a clear path for the United States to achieve the White House goals. The reconciliation bill stuck in congress is reported to contain large but unknow number of climate and energy provisions including: clean energy and electric vehicle tax credit expansions, a methane fee, funding for rural electric cooperatives, money for agriculture and forestry carbon capture programs, and the proposed Clean Electricity Performance Program (CEPP). In the last few days a carbon tax has been proposed. However, the CEPP and carbon tax have both been removed from the negotiation process.

The package of climate policies Democrats are considering as part of their $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill  could overhaul energy and contribute to meeting President Biden’s Paris Agreement emissions-cutting pledge, though not meet it. The Senate chair of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) has voiced opposition to both the CEPP and a carbon tax as well as the reconciliation bill’s $3.5 trillion price tag. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) has promised a vote by October 31, 2021 in time for the opening of COP-26. A smaller deal is being negotiated.

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Wildfires Disrupt Bird Migration in the West

From a U.S. Geological Survey news release based on the research article cited below:

Tule white-fronted geese take off from Summer Lake Wildlife Area USGS image

Since 2018, researchers from the USGS Western Ecological Research Center have been tracking the migratory pattern of tule geese. To do this they “marked” with GPS trackers few individual tule geese that breed in Alaska and northern Canada and winter in Washington, Oregon and California as well as Texas, Mexico and Central America with GPS-tracking devices. 

The USGS was tracking the tule geese because the tule goose is a “Species of Special Concern” in California with a population estimated at fewer than 10,000 birds. The tule geese are especially susceptible to disruption to its migration. Tule geese exhibit strong site fidelity, the tendency to use the same migration paths and return to the same stopover locations year after year, and they fly in formation which conserves their energy by reducing wind resistance and allows for tracking by tagging only a few individual geese.

Formation migration along to the same stopover points normally make migration more efficient and help maintain social cohesion for many migratory birds. However, these strategies can also make it more difficult survive unexpected obstacles like wildfire smoke. Tule geese are at additional risk because of their small population size.

Although the 2020 fire season was the most extreme on record, it exemplified patterns of increased wildfire size, number, timing, return frequency, and extent which are linked to climate-driven changes in precipitation and temperature affecting fire ignition and severity. (Overton et al. 2021, Goss et al. 2020, Weber and Yadav 2020). 

The 2020 wildfire season affecting the western United States reached unprecedented levels in September with 116 fires that consumed 20,822 square kilometers. (Overton et al 2021) It reflected a pattern of increased wildfire size, number, frequency and extent which are linked to climate change and are expected to grow worse in the future.

“Everything coincided such that we could watch this unfold in almost real time,” said Cory Overton, a USGS wildlife biologist and lead author on the study. “It’s virtually impossible to see this type of event without preparedness and good fortune … It’s pretty incredible.”

During the migration the geese encountered dense smoke. The geese responded to thesmoke by pausing their migrations, altering the direction or altitude of flight, or both. Some geese stopped their flight for two to three days until the smoke cleared. Geese that flew through smoke or directly over fires had disorganized flight paths, sharp increases in altitude to fly over the smoke plume, and stopovers in non-traditional habitats far from traditional migratory pathways. All of the marked geese eventually arrived at their destination of Summer Lake, Oregon, but the average migration in 2020 took more than twice as long as in 2019 (nine days versus four days) and covered an additional 470 miles (757 km).

These longer and farther flights resulted in much higher energy expenditure than a typical migration. The scientists estimated that the geese would need several extra days to recover from the resulting caloric deficits. These energy deficits could lead to increased mortality or lower reproductive rates, suggesting that smoke disruptions could ultimately put vulnerable migratory bird populations at greater risk to some of the changes associated with climate change. Plans to reduce carbon dioxide emissions under the Paris accord or reduce methane emissions under the Global Methane Pledge will not have a large enough impact save this bird population. We need another plan to preserve the tule geese.

Overton, C.T., Lorenz, A.A., James, E.P., Ahmadov, R., Eadie, J.M., McDuie, F., Petrie, M.J., Nicolai, C.A., Weaver, M.L., Skalos, D.A., Skalos, S.M., Mott, A.L., Mackell, D.A., Kennedy, A., Matchett, E.L. and Casazza, M.L. (2021), Megafires and thick smoke portend big problems for migratory birds. Ecology. Accepted Author Manuscript e03552.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Glasgow Climate Meeting & Methane

In just three weeks the world will gather for the COP26 Climatesummit in Glasgow, Scotland. This meeting hopes to bring together representatives of more than 190 nations including all the parties of the Paris Agreement to increase their target carbon dioxide emissions towards reaching the goals of the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Under the Paris Agreement, every country agreed to work together to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees and aim for 1.5 degrees, to adapt to the impacts of a changing climate and to make money available to countries not able to afford the costs of adapting to a changing climate. The parties to the agreement committed to create national plans setting out how much they would reduce their emissions called  Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC). Furthermore, they agreed that every five years they would come back with an updated plan that would reflect their highest possible ambition at that time.

The meeting in Glasgow is that five year update delayed by a year due to the pandemic. This is truely necessary, because the commitments laid out in Paris did not even come close to limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees, and the window for achieving that goal is rapidly closing. As a matter of fact,  according to the IPCC’s Working Group I report issued in August:

Climate change is widespread and intensifying. The concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is at its highest level since the dawn of mankind. Before the COVID-19 pandemic when the data set used stops, emissions of carbon dioxide had been rising by about 1% per year on average for the past decade, not shrinking at all. Renewable energy use has been expanding rapidly, but much of the renewable energy is being deployed alongside existing fossil energy, not replacing it.  The planet has warmed 1.1 degrees C since the late 19th century and is expected to warm an additional 0.4 degrees C in the next 20 years.

Limiting human-induced global warming to a specific level requires limiting cumulative CO2 emissions, reaching at least net zero CO2emissions, along with strong reductions in other greenhouse gas emissions. Strong, rapid and sustained reductions in CH4 emissions would also limit the warming effect resulting from declining aerosol pollution and would improve air quality.” 

So, in preparation for the Glasgow meeting, last month, the United States and European Union announced the Global Methane Pledge, an initiative to reduce global methane emissions to be launched at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP 26) in November in Glasgow.  President Biden and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen urged countries at the U.S.-led Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate to join the Pledge and welcomed those that have already signaled their support.  

Countries joining the Global Methane Pledge commit to a collective goal of reducing global methane emissions by at least 30% from 2020 levels by 2030 and moving towards using best available inventory methodologies to quantify methane emissions, with a particular focus on high emission sources. So far, 24 nations and the EU have joined the pledge (several members of the EU have pledged both with the EU and as individual nations). The four largest emitters of methane, China, India, Russia and Brazil, however, have not joined yet. If all nations join the Pledge, it would reduce climate warming by about 0.2 degrees Celsius by 2050. 

The United States is pursuing significant methane reductionson multiple fronts. In response to an Executive Order that President Biden issued on his first day a President, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is promulgating new regulations to curtail methane emissions from the oil and gas industry. In parallel, the EPA has taken steps to implement stronger pollution standards for landfills, and the Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials and Safety Administration is continuing to take steps that will reduce methane leakage from pipelines and related facilities. At the President’s urging and in partnership with U.S. farmers and ranchers, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is working to significantly expand the voluntary adoption of climate-smart agriculture practices that will reduce methane emissions from key agriculture sources by incentivizing the deployment of improved manure management systems, anaerobic digesters, new livestock feeds, composting, and other practices. 

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Insulating Your Home

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) on average, more than half (51% in 2015) of a household’s annual energy consumption is for space heating and air conditioning. Though, seasonal heating and cooling needs vary significantly by geographic location, home size and structure, and equipment and fuels used. Nonetheless, heating and cooling your home uses more energy and costs more money than any other system in your home.

I live in climate zone 4 and made my decisions on insulation based those factors in 2008. My brother who just bought new home (from the 1950’s) lives in climate zone 5 in the Boston area. He is looking to add insulation to his home.  So, I am reviewing the choices in 2021. For the insulation project, the attic and accessible areas of the basement and crawl spaces were inspected for adequate insulation.

from DOE

For my home built in 2004 with duct work for my heat pump in the attic, I followed the recommendations by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The attic, crawl spaces, eves, ductwork,underside of a large portion of the main level floor were insulated withcellulose (in the attic) and fiberglass batting insulation in the basement andfloor. The pipes, end caps, knee wall, sump pumps and all identified areas were sealed, the garage was insulated and an insulated garage door installed. I have a separate garage with no living space above it, I used it to test Icynene foam insulation.

My total electricity bills for the following 12 months were 27% less than I paid in the 12 months before I added the additional insulation to the house, and the winter liquid propane usage (as measured in volume use December through March both years) was reduced by 25%. Also, the overall comfort in the bedroom over the garage and the master bedroom has been vastly improved. I was very surprised at the energy savings for what was a well insulated home. The payback on this project was under 4 years, unbelievably good.

I used blown in cellulose for several because it was inexpensive, but also because it is inert and I was adding insulation to a home that already had some blown in cellulose. There was no off-gassing from urethane based foams, no fiberglass fibers to get into the air handling system. When I insulated my home in 2008 various foams on the market were changing due to the removal of some foaming agents from the market. I was concerned about having a negative impact on air quality that would be extremely difficult to remedy. Todaythe Environmental Working Group says: “spray foam containing a chemical knownas methylene diphenyl diisocyanate, or MDI, which can cause asthma and lungdamage in exposed workers. Spray foam can also contain the toxic flameretardant TCPP. If mistakes are made during installation, sprayed-on insulationfoam is difficult to remove.”

For loose-fill insulation, each manufacturer must determine the R-value of its product at settled density and create coverage charts showing the minimum settled thickness, minimum weight per square foot, and coverage area per bag for various total R-values. This is because as the installed thickness of loose-fill insulation increases, its settled density also increases due to compression of the insulation under its own weight.  Thus, the R-value of loose-fill insulation does not change proportionately with thickness. The manufacturers’ coverage charts specify the bags of insulation needed per square foot of coverage area; the maximum coverage area for one bag of insulation; the minimum weight per square foot of the installed insulation; and the initial and settled thickness of the installed insulation needed to achieve a particular R-value.

Spray foam comes in two types- open-cell foam or closed-cell foam. Closed cell foam has the highest R-value of any insulation, up to R-7 per inch, but can be expensive; open-cell foam insulation values are around R-3 to R-4 per inch of thickness. Closed cell can also serve as a moisture barrier. Spray foam insulation should be installed by a professional, since it is tricky to do right and almost impossible to undo. In order to spray in insulation into an attic that has some existing insulation, all the old insulation would have to be removed, or the new spray in insulation would have to be applied to the roof deck and knee walls. This can trap moisture between the roof shingles and foam mass. It could prevent mold in the attic, but allow rotting of the roof elements. 

Before insulating, seal any air leaks and make roof and other necessary repairs. If it is located in a conditioned part of the house, also remember to insulate and air seal your attic access. Insulate and air seal any knee walls -- vertical walls with attic space directly behind them -- in your home as well. If the air distribution system is not within the conditioned space but within the attic, insulating the rafters will enclose the distribution system. Finally, the DOE advises if you live in a hot or warm climate, consider installing a radiant barrier in your attic to reduce summer heat gain.

According to the U.S. EPA:

  • Spray foam application generates isocyanate vapors and aerosols.
  • Research data indicate that inhalation exposures during spray foam insulation will typically exceed Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) occupational exposure limits and require skin, eye and respiratory protection.
  • Vapors and aerosols can migrate through the building if the installation area is not properly isolated and ventilated.
  • After application, vapors may linger in a building until properly ventilated and thoroughly cleaned.

These days, foam insulation is growing in popularity, especially in colder climates where higher insulation values are required by code. Available foam insulation materials include:

  • Cementitious
  • Phenolic
  • Polyisocyanurate (polyiso)
  • Polyurethane.

Polyurethane is the most commonly used right now according to DOE. Some less common types include Icynene foam (what I used in my garage attic) and Tripolymer foam. Icynene foam can be either sprayed or injected, which makes it the most versatile. It also has good resistance to both air and water intrusion. Tripolymer foam—a water-soluble foam—is injected into wall cavities. It has excellent resistance to fire and air intrusion.

Foam insulation products and installation usually cost more than traditional batt or blown in insulation. However, foam insulation has higher R-values and forms an air barrier, which can eliminate some of the other costs and tasks associated with weatherizing a home, such as caulking, applying housewrap and vapor barrier, and taping joints. When building a new home, this type of insulation can also help reduce construction time and the number of specialized contractors, which saves money for the builder so it is often used in new construction.

Liquid foam insulation materials can be sprayed, foamed-in-place, injected, or poured. Foam-in-place insulation can be blown into walls, on attic surfaces, or under floors to insulate and reduce air leakage. Closed cell installations can yield a higher R-value than traditional batt insulation for the same thickness, and can fill even the smallest cavities, creating an effective air barrier. You can use the small pressurized cans of foam-in-place insulation to reduce air leakage in holes and cracks, such as window and door frames, and electrical and plumbing penetrations. In the end the type of insulation you used is your decision.

Thursday, October 7, 2021

Flood Preparedness Fund Grants Awarded

This week Governor Northam today announced $7.8 million in grants awarded to support projects that address impacts of flooding, sea-level rise, and extreme weather statewide. These grants are the first to be awarded through the Virginia Community Flood Preparedness Fund. Which was established in 2020 to assist communities in building resilience to the impacts of climate change, including floods, with targeted funding going to vulnerable and underserved communities.

Community Flood Preparedness Fund 2021 Grant Awards - Round 1:

  • Eastern Branch of Elizabeth River Wetland and Floodplain Restoration $3,000,000-City of Virginia Beach
  • McGuire and Chapel Drive Drainage Improvements Project $1,100,000-City of Richmond
  • Norfolk Coastal Storm Risk Management Analysis $900,000-City of Norfolk
  • Portsmouth's Data-Driven and Equity-Driven Resilience Strategy $527,949-City of Portsmouth
  • Lake Whitehurst Watershed Study $500,000-City of Norfolk
  • Plans and Capacity Building with Consultant Services $387,500-Buchanan County
  • Oyster Plan - Capacity Building and Resilience Planning $202,232-Northampton County
  • Resilient Hampton: Downton Hampton, Phoebus and Buckroe Beach $158,681-City of Hampton
  • Moores Creek Watershed $153,500-City of Charlottesville
  • Honor Park Resilience Park $147,994-City of Hampton
  • Mill Point Living Shoreline $126,498-City of Hampton
  • Resilient Stormwater Capacity and Green Streets Project $115,200-City of Alexandria
  • Richmond Manchester and Shockoe Bottom Neighborhoods $103,500-City of Richmond
  • Southern Chesapeake - Watershed 5 $91,404-City of Chesapeake
  • Resilience Plan $74,997-City of Chesapeake
  • Capacity Building and Planning  $68,024-City of Suffolk
  • Resilience Plan $65,040-City of Winchester
  • The Impacts of Climate Change on Crop Planning and Production: An Agricultural Study of the Eastern Shore $47,121-Accomack-Northampton Planning District Commission
  • Carlton Road Boat Ramp, Wake, Virginia - Design and Permitting $26,400-Middle Peninsula Planning District Commission (Middlesex County)

A second grant cycle closes on November 5. More information is available here.

Coastal Virginia is threatened by rising waters. High rates of land subsidence, combined with sea level rise, means Virginia is experiencing one of the highest rates of relative sea level rise in the United States. Virginia has experienced more than 18 inches of relative sea level rise in the past 100 years. More intense hurricanes and nor’easters, more frequent heavy rainfall events and increased frequency of tidal flooding from sea level rise are predicted from the changing climate.

The Virginia Coastal Resilience Master Planning Framework lays out the Commonwealth’s approach to coastal protection and adaptation which is intended to make our coastal communities and economies more resilient to increased flooding expected from subsidence of the land and climate change. This Framework establishes the goals, objectives, guiding principles, and key actions the Commonwealth plans to take to enhance costal resilience, with an emphasis on protecting key assets, developing cost-effective natural strategies, conserving and enhancing natural flood controls, and ensuring equity for underserved communities.

The Virginia Community Flood Preparedness Fund was established to provide support for regions and localities across Virginia to reduce the impacts of flooding, including flooding driven by climate change. The first thing that was needed was a source of funding. In the 2020 the Clean Economy Act was signed into law. Amongst other things the legislation had the state join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a regional cap-and-invest program for the electric sector in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic.

RGGI is a carbon-trading/ cap program that is already in place in ten New England states. The RGGI reduces carbon emissions from fuel fired power plants by putting a price on carbon. According to Governor Northam’s press release the RGGI will create nearly $75 million in revenue each year. This money does not appear out of thin air, the actual source of the RGGI revenue will be increased power rates since the cost of the carbon allowances is part of the rate base for electricity and will be passed onto consumers. So, increases in electric costs will go to mitigate some of the impacts of climate change and hopefully serve to reduce power use.

The Community Flood Preparedness Fund is receives 45% of the revenue Virginia generates through the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. An estimated $75 million per year will be available through the matching grant program. At least 25% of the money distributed from the fund each year must be used for projects in low-income geographic areas. For this group of grants, 48%, or $3.7 million, of the total awards have been in low income areas.

Sunday, October 3, 2021

Chesapeake Bay Cleanup Will Account for Climate Change

On Friday Governor Ralph Northam joined Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, Virginia Delegate David Bulova, Environmental Protection Agency Acting Regional Administrator Diana Esher, and the other representatives from the Chesapeake Bay watershed states at a meeting of the Chesapeake Executive Council to sign a directive that commits the Chesapeake Bay Program to addressing the threats of climate change.

In the 2014 all the parties signed the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement, where the EPA set a limit for release of nutrients into the Chesapeake Bay watershed. This limit was called a TMDL at the time and now is called the Chesapeake Bay Clean Water Blueprint. Under the most recent revision to the blueprint, the Chesapeake Bay model called for about 25% reduction in nitrogen, 24% reduction in phosphorus and 20 % reduction in sediment from the “base case 2011 levels.”

 The reductions in pollution were then partitioned to the various states and river basins based on the Chesapeake Bay computer modeling tools and monitoring data. Each year, Virginia, as well as the other Bay jurisdictions, report information about implemented practices to the EPA, which takes the information and runs it through the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Model. The results estimate the amount of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment that would make it to the Bay under average conditions. By comparing the model results across time, EPA can see the expected collective impact of our actions under the implementation plans.

However, with climate change, conditions veer away from the average conditions underlying the model assumptions. Let’s be honest, no matter what mankind does, in the next couple of decades the expected impacts from climate change are going to happen. At this point climate projections for our region forecast that on average, precipitation in the region is projected to increase by around 8% by 2040, and temperature is projected to increase by about 1 °C further.

“Because warmer air can hold more moisture, heavy rainfall events ...are projected to increase in frequency and severity as the world continues to warm. Both the intensity and rainfall rates of Atlantic hurricanes are projected to increase with the strongest storms getting stronger in a warming climate. Recent research has shown how global warming can alter atmospheric circulation and weather patterns such as the jet stream, affecting the location, frequency, and duration of these and other extremes,” says the Fourth National Climate Assessment.

To respond to climate, change the Chesapeake Bay models will have to incorporate more precipitation and more severe storms. It is stormwater that delivers the pollutants to the Chesapeake Bay. Our mitigation efforts must consider increased storm intensity and flooding frequency. Our mitigations, called “Best Management Practices” must be robust and be able to function in stronger storms.

So, the Chesapeake Executive Council has committed to increase the resiliency of the watershed, including its living resources, habitats, public infrastructure and communities, to withstand adverse impacts from changing environmental and climate conditions. To respond to the growing body of science documenting the impacts of climate change and the urgent need for action, the Executive Council has agreed to build upon previous commitments and hasten their response. Directive No. 21-1 Collective Action for ClimateChange calls for addressing the threats of climate change in all aspects of theplan to restore the Chesapeake Bay and its watershed:

• Prioritize communities and habitats most vulnerable to ever-increasing risks.

• Apply the best scientific, modeling, monitoring and planning capabilities of the Chesapeake Bay Program.

• Connect Chesapeake Bay restoration goals with emerging opportunities in climate adaptation, mitigation, and resilience.

As the Chesapeake Bay Foundation stated: “Climate change is a real and imminent threat to the Chesapeake Bay. Water temperatures are warming. Sea levels are rising. Record levels of rainfall, like those in 2018, are expected to become more regular. Scientists agree these changes will make Bay restoration harder, requiring additional reductions in nitrogen and phosphorus pollution by 2025.”