Equilibrium/Sustainability — ‘Renewable’ waste pit leaches into waterways

A pit of hog waste in eastern North Carolina billed as a renewable energy solution leaked tens of thousands of gallons of toxic sludge into local waterways for months over the summer, the Raleigh News & Observer reported.

But though that spill — which seems to have burst through the pit’s plastic lining — contained a toxic slurry of urine, feces and the decomposing bodies of hogs, state law allowed it to be kept quiet, according to the News & Observer.

White Oak Farms — a factory hog farm that was the source of the spill — had operated a side business running an anaerobic digester.

The digesters involve covering standard waste pits, or lagoons, beside factory farms. These generally contain millions of gallons of rotting animal waste, which releases the potent climate pollutant methane that the digester captures.

Since methane is also the major component of natural gas, many local corporations — as well as states like North Carolina and California — have rolled methane from waste it into their power supply.

And the U.S. Department of Agriculture has heavily backed anaerobic digester as a means of capturing the potent climate pollutant.

In North Carolina, local conglomerate Dominion Energy has teamed up with pork giant Smithfield to begin selling the captured methane as fuel.

But critics say that the digesters don’t really fix the waste problem posed by the lagoons, which have repeatedly spilled into area waterways due to leaks or after floods, the News & Observer reported.

When they do — as in this case — locals often may have no idea what’s gotten into their water, Jill Howell of the Pamlico-Tar riverkeeper Jill Howell told the News & Observer.

“There was no reference to what was in the wastewater foam, there was no acknowledgment that it was swine waste or dead hogs or food waste product,” Howell said. “It’s like a bare, bare bones public notice.”

Welcome to Equilibrium, a newsletter that tracks the growing global battle over the future of sustainability. We’re Saul Elbein and Sharon Udasin. Send us tips and feedback. A friend forward this newsletter to you? Subscribe here.

Today we’ll look at how the record heat wave is pushing California’s grid up against the possibility of blackouts. Then we’ll turn to Europe, where Russia’s Gazprom has indefinitely shuttered a major natural gas pipeline, and where Germany is backtracking on plans to end its nuclear power program.

Climate change strains California’s grid

A record heat wave is pushing California’s electric grid up against the point of failure this week, with officials pointing to climate change for putting continued stress on the system.

Emergency alert: The state issued an emergency alert for a seventh consecutive day on Tuesday, urging customers to conserve energy between 4 p.m. and 9 p.m.

  • “We have now entered the most intense phase of this heat wave,” Elliot Mainzer, chief executive officer of the California Independent System Operator (CAISO), a nonprofit that oversees grid operations, said at a Monday briefing.

  • Officials said the grid was expected to be as much as 4,000 megawatts short of demand by late afternoon on Tuesday.

What’s going on? As temperatures in the state capital of Sacramento head toward 114 degrees, CAISO said Tuesday that demand could hit an all-time record of
51,000 megawatts by 5:30 p.m.

  • The reason: Solar capacity begins to taper off with sunset while temperatures — and power demand for air conditioner use — remain high.

  • To make matters worse, the older natural gas plants that provide power when demand is at its highest are less reliable in extreme heat, The Associated Press reported.

“We are on razor thin margins,” Siva Gunda, vice chairman of the California Energy Commission, told the Sacramento Bee.


California is attempting to meet demand by spinning up emergency natural gas generators — enough to power 120,000 homes, according to the state’s Department of Water Resources.

But those plants will provide just 120 megawatts — about 3 percent of the potential shortfall. That has the state calling on business and industry to cut power usage while asking households to raise thermostats and turn off large appliances in the evening.

Conservation is working — sort of: Citizen attempts to cut electricity usage over the weekend helped cut power by 1,000 megawatts — enough to supply 750,000 households, Mainzer said.

  • “Your efforts have been making a real difference,” he continued. 

  • But with temperatures set to keep rising throughout the week, if ratepayers can’t close the gap by cutting demand, then “blackouts, rolling, rotating outages are a possibility,” Mainzer added.

What’s a rolling blackout? In a rolling blackout, grid officials deal with power shortfalls by cycling outages among users. In California in August 2020, that meant outages ranging from 15 minutes to more than two hours.

Broader concerns: The state’s power crunch is one more sign of how climate change is straining the national grid and forcing even climate-forward states to depend even more on traditional energy sources.

Forestalling maintenance: The power issues also highlight the strain on infrastructure in general. California avoided blackouts this week in part by postponing maintenance on power plants between noon and 10 p.m. on Tuesday, The Wall Street Journal reported. That is a strategy that only works for so long.

Please click here to read the full story.

Russia shutters gas pipeline with no signs of return

Russia’s Nord Stream 1 pipeline to Europe will not resume pumping natural gas until Siemens Energy repairs defective equipment, a Gazprom executive told Reuters on Tuesday.

These comments came after the Russian state-owned energy giant announced on Friday that the pipeline would remain closed because a turbine at a compressor station had an engine oil leak, according to Reuters.

An anticipated crisis: Gazprom halted gas flow through Nord Stream — a major supplier to Europe, via Germany —  last Wednesday, initially declaring that it would be closed for several days of maintenance, as we reported.

  • The pipeline had already been operating at just 20 percent of its capacity, which Gazprom blamed on faulty equipment.  

  • The company had previously shuttered Nord Stream for 10 days in July — prompting concerns about whether Russia would restart flow this time at all.

Putting the onus on the West: “Problems in pumping arose because of the sanctions imposed against our country and against a number of companies by Western states, including Germany and the U.K.,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Monday, according to CNBC.

The White House disagrees: A White House official accused Russia on Monday of using energy as a weapon, adding that U.S. sanctions on Moscow do not prevent this supply route from operating, Reuters reported.

Blame game: When asked when Nord Stream would begin conveying gas to Germany again, Gazprom’s Deputy Chief Executive Vitaly Markelov pointed fingers at a German multinational energy corporation.

  • “You should ask Siemens,” Markelov told Reuters on the sidelines of the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, Russia.  

  • “They have to repair equipment first,” he added. 

Questioning the shutdown: While Siemens told Reuters that the company was on standby, the firm said that it was not commissioned by Gazprom to perform maintenance work, according to Reuters.

  • Siemens stressed that an engine oil leak at the least remaining turbine in operation at a compressor station in Portovaya, Russia, was not a reason to keep the pipeline closed.  

  • “Such leaks do not normally affect the operation of a turbine and can be sealed on site,” a statement from Siemens said.

Economic escalation: Energy experts have come to see Russia’s decision as a bid to cause the region financial distress, CNBC reported.

  • Analysts at the New York-based Eurasia Group described Moscow’s move as “a further escalation of its policy” of inflicting pain “through repeated supply cuts to Germany.”

  • Consultants at the Oslo-based Rystad Energy, meanwhile, noted that “the European energy sector continues to be shocked by price volatility.”

  • The current shutdown, they added, has increased the chances “that Europe may not get further gas flows through Nord Stream 1 for the whole winter.”


With future energy supplies in question, Germany decided on Monday to keep two of its three remaining nuclear power plants on standby, The New York Times reported.

  • The move delays Berlin’s plans to become the first industrial power to go nuclear-free.  

  • The power plants will remain operational as an emergency electricity reserve.

Energy ‘stress tests’: Germany has already instituted a swath of conservation measures aimed at curbing its reliance on Russian gas, according to the Times.

But the government’s decision to disregard “a political taboo” occurred after officials carried out “a series of stress tests playing out worst-case energy scenarios,” the Times reported.

Preparing for crisis: Economy and Energy Minister Robert Habeck, of the fiercely anti-nuclear Greens party, acknowledged that a combination of factors could cause severe strain on Europe’s grid this winter, according to The Associated Press.

  • “We can’t rely securely on there being enough power plants available to stabilize the electricity network in the short term if there are grid shortages in our neighboring countries,” he said. 

  • If a harsh winter coincided with a shutdown of French power plants, for example, the result could be hourslong blackouts for millions of Germans.

The plants are still doomed: Habeck told the AP that Germany remains committed to eventually eliminating nuclear power nonetheless.

“The nuclear plants won’t be equipped with new fuel rods,” he said. “There will be no decision to build new atomic power plants.

West Virginia to field test electric school buses

West Virginia — a state best known for its coal industry — will preside over a new test of electric school buses.

  • Three Type D BEAST buses are being sent to the state this week by manufacturer GreenPower — one each for Kanawha, Cabell and Mercer counties — for field testing in rural conditions, the company announced on Tuesday. 

  • With this program West Virginia joins 38 additional states that have committed to their own electric school bus programs since January, according to the World Resources Institute.

Perfect site: West Virginia offers distinct advantages for a pilot program, according to GreenPower.

  • “West Virginia is a perfect location for the first true pilot project of all-electric, purpose-built, zero-emission school buses,” company CEO Fraser Atkinson said. 

  • “The terrain, weather conditions and the combination of rural and urban settings will give a real-life demonstration of the school buses’ capabilities,” Atkinson added.

The state Department of Education is overseeing the program.

Looking to the future: “Electric school buses like the ones utilized for this pilot program will soon be manufactured right here in West Virginia,” Cabell County superintendent Ryan Saxe said in a statement.

“No one can do it better, and I cannot wait to see the multitude of benefits this investment will yield for the deserving people of the Mountain State,” Saxe added.

Tuesday Troubles

Nuclear disaster still looms in Eastern Ukraine, Kim Kardashian “picks” private jets over climate compromise and beavers troubles yield to treaty. 

Urgent need to prevent nuclear accident at Ukraine plant: watchdog 

  • The International Atomic Energy Agency said there is an “urgent” need for interim measures to prevent a nuclear accident at Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia power plant, in a new report published on Tuesday, covered by our colleague Rachel Frazin. The report specifically called for a cessation of gunfire adjacent to the plant, as well as the establishment of a protection zone around it.

Kim Kardashian: ‘You have to pick and choose’ on climate issues

A water-trapping treaty with beavers 

  • After generations of “war” against beavers, some Western farmers are beginning to embrace the social, dam-building rodents for their skill as hydraulic engineers trapping water in a parched countryside, The New York Times reported. “It’s all about identifying those locations where beavers’ survival interests align with humans’ survival interests, and they’re not always aligned,” river scientist Caroline Nash told the Times.

Please visit The Hill’s Sustainability section online for the web version of this newsletter and more stories. We’ll see you tomorrow.


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