Monday, November 02, 2020

Trump administration strips gray wolves of endangered species protection

Trump administration officials on Thursday stripped Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves in most of the U.S., ending longstanding federal safeguards and putting states and tribes in charge of overseeing the predators.

The U.S. Department of Interior announcement just days ahead of the Nov. 3 election could lead to resumption of wolf hunts in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin -- a crucial battleground in the campaign between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden.

It's the latest in a series of administration actions on the environment that appeal to key blocs of rural voters in the race's final days, including steps to allow more mining in Minnesota and logging in Alaska.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Waltz, who opposes recreational wolf hunting, called the decision disappointing and wildlife advocacy groups pledged to fight it in court.

Both feared and revered by people, gray wolves have recovered from near extinction in parts of the country but remain absent from much of their historical range.

Federal wildlife officials contend thriving populations in the western Great Lakes region, Rocky Mountains and Pacific Northwest ensure the species' long-term survival. They argue it's not necessary for wolves to be in every place they once inhabited to be considered recovered.

In an announcement attended by several dozen people at a national wildlife refuge overlooking the Minnesota River in the Minneapolis suburb of Bloomington, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt declared the gray wolf's recovery 'a milestone of success.'

'In the early part of the 20th century the gray wolf had essentially become a ghost throughout the United States,' Bernhardt said. 'That is not the case today.'

Former U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service director Dan Ashe agreed that wolves were recovered and said it's time for the agency to 'move on' to help other imperiled wildlife. But he questioned the announcement coming so close to the election. 'It creates the perception that it's being done for political reasons,' Ashe said in an interview.

Some biologists and former government officials who previously reviewed the administration's proposal for lifting protections said it lacked scientific justification.

And wildlife advocates worry the move will make it harder, if not impossible, for wolves to recover in more regions, such as the southern Rocky Mountains and portions of the Northeast.

Their numbers also are sure to drop in the western Great Lakes area, as happened previously when federal controls were lifted, said Adrian Treves, a professor of environmental studies at the University of Wisconsin.

Hunting seasons took their toll and research showed that poachers were emboldened by the absence of federal enforcement, he said.

Agency scientists believe wolves can continue expanding even without the federal listing, although support from states is considered crucial.

Farmers and hunters welcomed the news.

Ashleigh Calaway of Pittsville, Wisconsin said 13 of her family farm's sheep were killed by wolves in July of 2019. Reducing wolf numbers through state-sponsored hunts would help prevent such attacks, she said.

'It's allowing them to be managed to a level to lower the risk to sheep and cattle,' Calaway said.

It's the latest attempt over two decades to return management authority to the states. Courts have frequently rejected such moves after opponents filed lawsuits.

Environmental groups said protections are still needed to shield small populations of wolves in West Coast states, including California, and to help them expand to new areas.

'Instead of pursuing further wolf recovery, the Fish and Wildlife Service has just adopted the broadest, most destructive delisting rule yet,' said Collette Adkins with the Center for Biological Diversity.

An initiative on the Colorado ballot next week seeks to reintroduce wolves there in coming years. With federal protections removed, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would have no say about moving ahead with the plan, if voters approve it.

Wolves were wiped out across most of the U.S. by the 1930s under government-sponsored poisoning and trapping campaigns. A remnant population in the western Great Lakes region has since expanded to some 4,400 animals in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

More than 2,000 occupy six states in the Northern Rockies and Pacific Northwest after wolves from Canada were reintroduced in Idaho and Yellowstone National Park beginning 25 years ago.

Following a protracted courtroom battle that ended when Congress intervened, the Northern Rockies wolves are now under state management and are hunted in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho.

State officials also allowed hunting of Great Lakes wolves for several years last decade when protections were removed. The hunts ended when protections were restored under a 2014 federal court order.

Wolves were given initial federal protections in the late 1960s and listed as an endangered species in 1978, except in Minnesota where they were classified as threatened. A government-sponsored recovery effort had cost roughly $160 million as of last year.

The wolves lose protection 60 days after the decision is published Nov. 3 in the Federal Register, although the wildlife service will continue monitoring their populations for five years.

Wolves have never been legally protected in Alaska, which has a population of 7,000 to 11,000.

Fires at wind farms 'underreported over fears of reputational damage'

Poor data and lack of rigorous and transparent reporting around blazes raise concerns operators are left guessing over protection, according to an expert report

Industry-wide underreporting of fires at wind farms has led to poor risk mitigation and damage prevention strategies, a report from a fire suppression firm has found.

Firetrace International's report, called In the Line of Fire, looks at the threat of wind farm fires amid changes in turbine technology and the climate. It draws insights from wind industry fire experts about how manufacturers, operators and investors can respond to an evolving threat of fire.

The fire specialist says that because of a lack of reporting and transparency around wind farm blazes, it is difficult to know how far off current estimates (ranging from 1 in 2,000 turbines to 1 in 15,000 ) are from the true number of fires each year, while many figures are more than five years out of date.

It identifies risks from global warming, ageing turbines, new materials, offshore giants and skills shortages.

Chris Streatfeild, director at health and safety consultant Forge Risk, said that companies are “fundamentally going in the right direction in terms of health and safety”, and that the industry has a good track record on managing fire risk.

However, he added: “I think we need to take data ownership. The industry certainly has opportunities to be better about sharing and communicating data about incidents, because we need to share, and we need to learn from it.

"I fully understand the industry’s caution, but I think we should be more open, more upfront and more willing to own the issue.”


Operator uncertainty: A lack of robust figures means wind farm owners and operators find it difficult to decide what level of fire protection they need.

Old data: A reliance on turbine fire data from the mid-2010s means companies can’t spot recent fire trends to tackle them
Firetrace argues that there insurers and manufacturers' reports of how often wind turbines catach fire "vary wildly".

In 2020, Wind Power Engineering magazine estimated that one in 2,000 turbines would catch fire, while one in 10,000 was the figure offered by Fire Protection Engineering magazine in 2019.

And Firetrace cites an independent fire expert who says that the risk of a catastrophic fire, where a turbine is destroyed, is one in 15,000.

Firetrace added that if one in 2,000 turbines catches fire each year, it suggests that a typical wind farm with 150 turbines would be hit by one or two fires in 20 years of operation.

It also stated that the risk of wind turbine fires will change alongside the climate and technological trends.

Global warming

In 2020 there have been devastating wildfires in Australia and the US, exacerbated by climate change, rising temperatures and droughts, creating the perfect conditions for fire.

These conditions expose turbine operators to additional risk, Firetrace stated.

The research cites examples where turbines have been struck by fire. A turbine fire at the 120.6MW Buffalo Gap
wind farm in Texas in August 2019 sparked the 1km2 Rhodes Ranch 3 Fire in Mulberry Canyon.

In July 2020, another turbine fire in Texas that caused a 13km2 wildfire in Nolan County.

And in July 2019, a turbine fire at the 151.2MW Juniper Canyon Phase 1 wind farm in Washington state ignited the surrounding grass and brush after melted sections fell to the ground. The blaze sparked a 1km2 wildfire.

The research points to such fires exposing operators to legal claims from neighbouring landowners even if there was no negligence by the operator, potentially provoking legal battles between insurers, manufacturers and operators.

Ageing turbines

As the first major wave of turbines installed in the mid-1990s come to the end of their operational lives, around 7% of the total current wind fleet is now more than 15 years old, the research states, alongside 28% in Europe due to the maturity of the sector.

Firetrace raises concerns over older models that may be less reliable – because of less sophisticated technology – that can exacerbate problems in the three primary ignition sources in typical turbines.

These are the converter and capacitor cabinets in the nacelle, the transformer and the nacelle brake area.

Firetrace adds: “The hydraulic area is sometimes considered a fourth ignition source. Of these three primary ignition sources, most fires start in the converter cabinet or capacitor cabinet in the nacelle. Most fires are caused by electrical failures, from short circuits or cable failures to overloading or generator problems.”

New materials

The research suggests risks with older machines may be well-known, but that this may not be the case with materials in new turbines, such as fibreglass used in blades.

Firetrace cites JP Conkwright, turbine fire investigator and assistant professor of fire protection and safety engineering technology at Eastern Kentucky University, who said that making turbine blades out of fibreglass may expose workers to "explosive dust" during repairs.

He said: “We’re doing a lot of blade repairs. We’re doing a lot of internal blade repairs, and the fibreglass dust is much more explosive than normal dust. We’re inside a confined space, 300 feet in the air, creating fibreglass dust with a grinder.”

Meanwhile in Europe wooden turbine towers are a good environmental solution, but concerns were raised over safety, especially in confined spaces, hundreds of metres in the air, where there may be fibreglass dust.


Size matters offshore, the report stated, with manufacturers now offering 13MW and 14MW turbines.

As big as skyscrapers and many miles from dry land, they pose a different set of risks from those in onshore wind, though Firetrace added that so far industry is managing them well.

Friretrace cites G+, the global health and safety organisation for offshore wind, saying there has been no fire incidents at offshore wind farms in 2018, 2019 or in the most recent set of statistics from the first quarter of 2020.

The company did warn that operators and investors should remain very aware that the costs of a catastrophic fire at an offshore wind turbine would be huge.

Skills shortages

The potential impacts of skills shortages among skilled operations and maintenance (O&M) technicians mean potential fire risks, the research states.

In the US, wind farms totalling 9.1GW were commissioned in 2019, which was the third-highest year on record – with 4.4GW in the first six months of 2020.

Now there are more than 60,000 turbines totalling 109.9GW in the US, with just 7,000 technicians to manage that fleet.

The stark contrast in figures has led O&M specialists to warn of a shortage of skilled technicians.

Operators need contractors to deliver projects cheaper by driving down costs, raising concerns over service quality.

Owners need to remain vigilant so that this doesn’t “store up extra fire risks” in the coming years, the report concluded.

How is Britain’s Most Efficient Windfarm Doing?

The UK’s most efficient* offshore windfarm is Kentish Flats, owned by the nationalised Swedish conglomerate Vattenfall, and situated just outside the Thames estuary, north of Whitstable. Its low costs are due to the very shallow waters in which it sits.

Strangely, being part of an industry that claims to be enjoying rapidly declining costs, Kentish Flats is not a new windfarm. In fact it was one of the UK’s first, commissioned in 2005. Later windfarms moved further offshore, in search of more reliable wind speeds, but were rewarded with higher costs and only marginally better output.

Kentish Flats’ management reckon the useful life of their wind turbines is 20 years, so the windfarm may close at some point in the next few years. It is probably no coincidence that 20 years is also the period for which the operators can claim subsidies. Just how generous the subsidy regime is can be seen from the windfarm’s 2017 results. In that year, it made a profit before tax of £11 million, but as the notes to the accounts reveal, it also received £11.4 million in subsidies. A further £0.5 million of government grants is being written off each year. In other words, without state support, Kentish Flats would have lost £1 million. Recall that this is the UK’s lowest-cost offshore windfarm.

Note also that it is selling electricity at far above market prices; the 2018 accounts note a rise in prices from £95 to £122/MWh since the previous year, suggesting that a buyer willing to pay vastly over the odds – presumably within the Vattenfall group – had been found to cover up their embarrassment. Last year, that change was largely reversed, and the windfarm only managed to break even before subsidies.

Since Kentish Flats was built 15 years ago, the cost of building and operating an offshore windfarm in the UK has soared. In fact, if you look at those commissioned since 2010, they all have costs more than double those of Kentish Flats. And yet, as we can see, without its subsidies, Kentish Flats is marginally profitable at best. If we also took away its ability to sell at far-above market prices, it would be well and truly sunk.

What we can therefore say, with some certainty, is that the offshore wind fleet is, as a whole, destroying wealth at a remarkable pace.

Australian bank's climate policy reveals steps away from coal to support net zero emission by 2050

But not shifting support away from family farms

ANZ has released its new climate change policy that will see the bank take steps away from financing thermal coal and towards supporting the transition to a net zero emissions economy by 2050.

Under the 10-year strategy, ANZ has committed to stop directly financing any new coal-fired power plans or thermal coal mines including expansions by 2030.

It will also "wind down" existing direct lending to coal-fired plants and thermal coal, and help existing customers with more than 50 per cent exposure to thermal coal create diversification strategies by 2025.

ANZ group executive Mark Whelan told investors via its blog Bluenotes that the new approach committed the bank to "taking strong action to support the Paris Agreement".

The big four bank has pledged to no longer provide services to any new business that makes more than 10 per cent of its revenue from thermal coal.

The bank also made changes to how it would finance the construction of large-scale office buildings, saying loans would only be provided if the buildings were highly energy efficient and had a 5-star energy rating.

Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack released a statement on Thursday condemning ANZ's policy for being "sheer virtue-signalling".

Mr McCormack said banks should be focused on "supporting our agricultural producers, not adding an extra layer of administration".

"Imposing largely Euro-centric standards to satisfy shareholder activists while our nation recovers from a global pandemic is grossly unfair," he said.

ANZ chief executive Shayne Elliott told investors via Bluenotes on Thursday afternoon the bank was not shifting support away from farmers.

"ANZ's climate change statement is focused on the top 100 carbon emitters, and will have no impact on the bank's farmgate lending practices," Mr Elliott said.

He said the policy was about the bank's "major agribusiness customers" becoming more energy efficient and was "not about family farms".

The new policy adds ANZ to a growing number of businesses that are ahead of the Australian Government when it comes to commitments to stop the effects of climate change.




1 comment:

Anonymous said...

RE - "Fires at wind farms 'underreported over fears of reputational damage'."

Wind farm negatives may be "under reported," BUT what is reported is sufficiently damning.