Federal agencies are required to consult with tribes about pipelines. They often don’t.

Read the full story in Grist.

In Montana, the Keystone XL pipeline’s proposed path cuts underneath the Missouri River at the edge of the Fort Peck Reservation’s southwestern border. The Fort Peck Reservation is home to several bands of the Assiniboine and Sioux tribes, and a spill from the pipeline could contaminate their main source of drinking water.

Federal agencies are required by law to work with Native American tribes that might be affected by oil and gas projects. But there hasn’t been a single public hearing on the Fort Peck Reservation yet, even though the pipeline has been a source of controversy for about a decade.

There are similar stories in Virginia, New Mexico, and elsewhere across the country, according to Indian law experts tracking oil and gas projects. Tribal officials say they try to contact federal agencies and don’t hear back, or that agencies make key decisions before contacting them. Sometimes an agency sends letters asking for tribes’ input to the wrong address or never contacts them at all.

“Superior” pinpoints racism in science: Naive scientists plus strategic racists

Read the full story from ARS Technica.

Science has had issues with racism from its very beginning. At best, many of the early scientists had ideas that typified the racist societies of their times. At worst, they actively participated in providing justification for that racism, a habit that reached its peak in the eugenics movement of the first half of last century. But World War II made the end point of eugenics painfully obvious, causing mainstream science to re-evaluate and reject many of its racist ideas.

But as racists have become increasingly public in the early years of this century, they’ve once again turned to science for support—and found some scientists ready to provide it. How in the world did this happen?

Angela Saini’s new book Superior provides not one but multiple answers to that question. They range from tracking how a rich segregationist helped keep race-focused biology on life support to a view into how naive scientists are still accepting society’s ideas on race despite their lack of a biological basis. The book makes for a compelling read, but it’s an especially important caution for the science-inclined, who can benefit from being forced to step back and re-examine their assumptions on race and where they came from.

Big oil asks government to protect its Texas facilities from climate change

Read the full story from CBS News.

As the nation plans new defenses against the more powerful storms and higher tides expected from climate change, one project stands out: an ambitious proposal to build a nearly 60-mile “spine” of concrete seawalls, earthen barriers, floating gates and steel levees on the Texas Gulf Coast.

Like other oceanfront projects, this one would protect homes, delicate ecosystems and vital infrastructure, but it also has another priority: to shield some of the crown jewels of the petroleum industry, which is blamed for contributing to global warming and now wants the federal government to build safeguards against the consequences of it.

A lasting legacy: DuPont, C8 contamination and the community of Parkersburg left to grapple with the consequences

Read the full story from Environmental Health News.

Tommy Joyce is no cinephile. The last movie he saw in a theater was the remake of “True Grit” nearly a decade ago“I’d rather watch squirrels run in the woods” than sit through most of what appears on the big screen, he said.

But there’s a film that opened Dec. 5 at the Regal Cinemas at Grand Central Mall that’s attracting a lot of attention in his community. “Dark Waters” — a legal thriller starring Mark Ruffalo, with a script inspired by a 2016 New York Times article — tells the epic story of the DuPont corporation’s failure to inform residents of the Mid-Ohio Valley of the considerable health risks of a perfluoroalkyl substance [PFAS] called perfluorooctanoic acid, or C8, for its chain of eight carbons.

The chemical was used in DuPont’s production of Teflon and other household products at its Washington Works facility just outside Parkersburg, along the Ohio River. C8 is found in nonstick pans, waterproof clothing, stain-resistant carpets, microwave popcorn bags, fast-food wrappers and hundreds of other products. According to a 2007 study, C8 is in the blood of 99.7% of Americans. It’s called a “forever chemical” because it never fully degrades.

The new face of responsible sourcing

Read the full story in Refrigerated & Frozen Foods.

The definition of responsible sourcing has expanded beyond food safety to include issues like worker safety, animal welfare and the environment, but the definition of “supply chain” is changing too.

‘I’d Tell My Mom to Sign Up.’ Has Community Solar Finally Come of Age?

Read the full story from Green Tech Media.

Developers want to sell solar like Netflix. But the community solar model still has a few snags to work through.

A huge swath of South Carolina land is now preserved for generations

Read the full story from Mother Nature Network.

The descendants of John Winthrop, founder of the Massachusetts Bay Colony nearly 400 years ago, recently set aside 14,000 acres along the Savannah River that will forever remain undeveloped. It’s the largest private conservation easement in South Carolina history.

Its significance, though, goes well beyond the creation of a natural bulwark against overdevelopment and forest loss.

Utility-Scale Solar

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The utility-scale solar sector has led the overall U.S. solar market in terms of installed capacity since 2012.  In 2018, the utility-scale sector accounted for nearly 60% of all new solar capacity, and is expected to maintain its market-leading position for at least another six years.  More than three-quarters of all states, representing all regions of the country, are now home to one or more utility-scale solar projects. 

This report—the seventh in an ongoing annual series—provides in-depth data-driven analysis of the utility-scale solar project fleet in the United States. Drawing on empirical project-level data from a wide range of sources, this report analyzes technology trends, installed project prices, operating costs, capacity factors, power purchase agreement (“PPA”) prices, the levelized cost of solar energy (LCOE), and the market value of solar. The report also includes data and observations about completed or recently announced solar+storage projects. Given its current preeminence in the market, utility-scale PV also dominates much of this report, though data from CPV and CSP projects are also presented where appropriate. Highlights from this year’s edition include:

  • Installation and Technology Trends:  The use of solar trackers (all single-axis, east-west tracking) dominated 2018 installations with nearly 70% of all new capacity.  After declining for five consecutive years—a reflection of the geographic shift in the market from the high-insolation Southwest to other less-sunny regions—the median long-term average insolation at newly built project sites stabilized in 2018.  New fixed-tilt projects are now seen predominantly in less-sunny regions, while tracking projects are increasingly pushing into these same regions.  Meanwhile, the median inverter loading ratio (“ILR”)—i.e., the ratio of a project’s DC module array nameplate rating to its AC inverter nameplate rating—has grown steadily since 2014, to 1.33 in 2018 for both tracking and fixed-tilt projects, allowing the inverters to operate closer to (or at) full capacity for more of the day.  In 2018, seven utility-scale PV+battery projects came online.
  • Installed Prices:  Median installed PV project prices have steadily fallen by nearly 70% since 2010, to $1.6/WAC (or $1.2/WDC) for projects completed in 2018.  The lowest 20th percentile of projects were priced at or below $1.3/WAC, with the lowest-priced projects around $1.0/WAC.  Those 2018 projects that use single-axis trackers exhibited no upfront cost premium (and even slightly lower prices) on average, compared to fixed-tilt installations.  Overall price dispersion across the entire sample has decreased steadily every year since 2013.
  • Operation and Maintenance (“O&M”) Costs:  PV O&M costs were in the neighborhood of $19/kWAC-year, or $11/MWh, in 2018. These numbers include only those costs incurred to directly operate and maintain the generating plant.
  • Capacity Factors:  The cumulative net AC capacity factors of individual projects range widely, from 12.1% to 34.8%, with a sample median of 25.2%.  This project-level variation is based on a number of factors, including the strength of the solar resource at the project site, whether the array is mounted at a fixed tilt or on a tracking mechanism, the ILR, degradation, and curtailment.  Changes in at least the first three of these factors drove mean capacity factors higher from 2010-vintage to 2013-vintage projects.  Among more-recent project vintages, however, mean capacity factors have remained stagnant or even declined, as a build-out of lower-resource sites has offset an increase in the prevalence of tracking (while the ILR has changed little).
  • PPA Prices and LCOE:  Driven by lower installed project prices and, at least through 2013, improving capacity factors, levelized PPA prices for utility-scale PV have fallen dramatically over time, by $10/MWh per year in most years since 2013.  Most recent PPAs in our sample—including many outside of California and the Southwest—are priced below $40/MWh levelized (in real 2018 dollars), with many priced below $30/MWh and a few even priced below $20/MWh.  Despite these low PPA prices, solar continues to face stiff competition from both wind and natural gas.  Excluding the benefit of the 30% ITC, the median LCOE among operational PV projects in our sample stood at $53.8/MWh in 2018, and has followed PPA prices lower over time, suggesting a relatively competitive market for PPAs.
  • Solar’s Wholesale Market Value:  Falling PPA prices have been matched to some degree by a decline in the wholesale market value of solar (energy + capacity) within higher-penetration solar markets like California.  Due to an abundance of solar energy pushing down mid-day wholesale power prices, solar generation in California earned just 79% of the average energy and capacity price within CAISO’s wholesale market in 2018 (down from 146% back in 2012).  In five of the six other ISO markets analyzed, however, solar still provides above-average value.  In CAISO, falling solar PPA prices have largely kept pace with solar’s declining market value over time, thereby maintaining solar’s competitiveness.  In all other ISOs, solar offers higher value yet similar or even lower PPA prices than in California.
  • Solar+Storage:  Adding battery storage is one way to increase the value of solar. Data from 37 completed or announced PV hybrid projects (with storage duration ranging from 2-5 hours) suggests that sizing of the battery capacity relative to the PV capacity varies widely, depending on the application and specific situation.  Moreover, the size of the incremental PPA price adder for 4-hour storage varies linearly with this ratio, ranging from ~$5/MWh for batteries sized at 25% of PV capacity up to $15/MWh for batteries sized at 75% of PV capacity.  There are a variety of ways in which storage is compensated within these PPAs, some of which are rather creative.  As PV plus battery storage becomes more cost-effective, many developers are now regularly offering it as an upgrade to standalone PV.

At the end of 2018, there were at least 284 GW of utility-scale solar power capacity within the interconnection queues across the nation, 55 GW of which are paired with storage.  The growth within these queues is widely distributed across all regions of the country, and is most pronounced in the up-and-coming Midwest region, which accounts for 26% of the 133 GW added to queues in 2018, followed by the Southwest (21%), Southeast and Northeast (each with 15%), California (10%), Texas (9%), and the Northwest (5%).  Though not all of these projects will ultimately be built as planned, the ongoing influx and widening geographic distribution of solar projects within these queues is as clear of a sign as any that the utility-scale market is maturing and expanding outside of its traditional high-insolation comfort zones.

Our Top Sustainability Insights of 2019

Read the full story at BSR.

As 2019 comes to a close, we are taking a moment to look back at the news and initiatives that shaped the year. The most popular blog posts and reports BSR published this year show reader interest in a variety of topics, from collaboration to climate change, that are sure to impact sustainability strategies for the decade to come.

Peer-review for six-year-olds

Read the full story in Nature.

A peer-reviewed science journal for school students is giving new life to inventions that might otherwise gather dust under the bed.

The new Canadian Science Fair Journal is the first of its kind, giving school kids as young as six a platform to publish their work, which has so far included creating new bioplastics, forest fire-detectors, and a Dyslexia-friendly reading tool.