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This Week In Massachusetts – October 12, 2022

Posted on October 12, 2022

Employers Still Struggling to Find Workers 

Eagle Tribune – Employers are still struggling to find workers amid a prolonged hiring crunch, according to a new report by a national business group.

The survey of employers by the National Federation of Independent Businesses found that nearly half of all businesses couldn’t hire enough workers in September, while more than 23% of available positions went unfilled – a 48-year high.

About 42% of business owners have openings for skilled workers and 22% have openings for unskilled labor, the report notes.

Business leaders in Massachusetts say the latest data shows the shortage is continuing to drag on the state’s economic recovery.

“It’s frustrating to witness employers agonizing over filling open positions as the Massachusetts unemployment rate slowly ticks upward and over 135,000 Massachusetts residents remain unemployed,” said Chris Carlozzi, the group’s state director in Massachusetts.

“Even as small businesses owners continue to increase compensation for workers, they still report finding qualified workers as their top concern,” he added.

The survey found at least 89% of owners hiring or trying to hire reported few or no qualified applicants for open positions.

Business leaders say the reasons behind the worker shortage is complicated, but has long-term implications in hard-hit industries like healthcare and early education.

 More Americans Apply for Jobless Benefits 

Boston Globe – More Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week, but the labor market remains strong even in the face of persistent inflation and a slowing overall US economy.

Jobless claims for the week ending Oct. 1 rose by 29,000 to 219,000, the Labor Department reported Thursday. Last week’s number was revised down by 3,000 to 190,000.

The four-week moving average inched up by 250 to 206,500.

The total number of Americans collecting unemployment aid rose by 15,000 to 1.36 million for the week ending Sept. 24.

In Massachusetts, about 3,389 individuals filed new claims for unemployment benefits last week, up 2,206 from the week prior, according to the Labor Department.

Applications for jobless aid generally reflect layoffs, which have remained historically low since the initial purge of more than 20 million jobs at the start of the coronavirus pandemic in the spring of 2020.

Recent employment data has indicated that the job market may be cooling slightly, an important consideration for the Federal Reserve when it meets early next month to decide whether or not to raise its main lending rate again.

On Tuesday, the government reported that the number of available jobs in the US plummeted in August compared with July as businesses grow less desperate for workers, a trend that could put a dent in chronically high inflation.


US Hiring Remains Solid in September as Employers Add 263,000 jobs 

Boston Globe – America’s employers slowed their hiring in September but still added a solid 263,000 jobs — a dose of encouraging news that may mean the Federal Reserve’s drive to cool the job market and ease inflation is starting to make progress.

Friday’s government report showed that last month’s job growth was down from 315,000 in August and that the unemployment rate fell from 3.7% to 3.5%, matching a half-century low.

September’s slightly more moderate pace of hiring may be welcomed by the Fed, which is trying to restrain the economy enough to tame the worst inflation in four decades without causing a recession. Slower job growth would mean less pressure on employers to raise pay and pass those costs on to their customers through price increases — a recipe for high inflation.

The public anxiety that has arisen over high prices and the prospect of a recession is also carrying political consequences as President Joe Biden’s Democratic Party struggles to maintain control of Congress in November’s midterm elections.

In its epic battle to rein in inflation, the Fed has raised its benchmark interest rate five times this year. It is aiming to slow economic growth enough to reduce annual price increases back toward its 2% target.

It has a long way to go. In August, one key measure of year-over-year inflation, the consumer price index, amounted to 8.3%. And for now, consumer spending – the primary driver of the U.S. economy – is showing some resilience. In August, consumers spent a bit more than in July, a sign that the economy was holding up despite rising borrowing rates, violent swings in the stock market and inflated prices for food, rent and other essentials.

Yellow Cabs Are Struggling. Congestion Pricing Could Deal a New Blow.

New York Times – New York City’s taxi industry has faced a drumbeat of challenges over the past decade, from predatory loans and the rise of ride-share apps to a global pandemic that dried up business. Now, an ambitious government effort to boost public transit and push commuters out of cars could be the latest existential threat confronting the iconic yellow cab.

The initiative — known as congestion pricing — aims to shore up the strained budget of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the agency that runs the city’s subways and buses, with new tolls on vehicles entering the congested streets of Midtown and Lower Manhattan. And transportation authorities have said they hope the plan would cut the number of vehicles entering the area by at least 10 percent, which would also contribute to cleaner air.

Many urban planners and climatologists say a plan to thin out traffic on Manhattan’s most clogged streets is long overdue. But as congestion pricing moves closer to reality, the city’s shrinking fleet of yellow cabs — once as synonymous with New York City as the Yankees and Broadway — is at risk of dwindling even further.

Cabdrivers and drivers of for-hire vehicles might have to pay additional tolls when they drive into Midtown and Lower Manhattan, and they would be likely to pass those costs to passengers. Those fare increases could slash demand for taxis and for-hire rides by up to 17 percent, according to an environmental assessment of the congestion pricing program.

That would amount on an average day this past July to a loss of about $327,000 from the roughly $2 million collected by cabbies, based on the city’s most recently available data.

It would add to the financial burden on an industry with an almost entirely immigrant work force that already juggles government-imposed surcharges and fees and the ballooning cost of taxi medallions, the permits needed to own a yellow cab.

If congestion pricing applies to cabs — which could still be exempted from the charges — it could “not only be devastating, but an absolute slap on the face clearly meant to vanish this industry,” said Bhairavi Desai, the head of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, a group advocating better working conditions for taxi and app-based drivers.

The congestion pricing plan is the first of its kind in the United States, and experts around the country are drawing lessons from the transit authority, whose execution will serve as either a model or a cautionary tale for other American cities wishing to rein in traffic.

By 2024, motorists could pay as much as $23 to reach Midtown and Lower Manhattan, where traffic clogs roads and contributes to some of the region’s poorest air quality. The tolling zone would run from 60th Street to the Battery, but drivers won’t be charged to use the Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive or the West Side Highway.

The authority is still figuring out how much to bill drivers. The worst option for cabbies would mean a $19 fee during peak hours each time they enter the congestion zone, which is home to most of the city’s office towers and its financial, tourism and theater districts. Another option would cost $23 during peak hours, but authorities would limit the fee to once daily.

If cabbies pay the new tolls, the cost would come on top of an existing congestion surcharge implemented in 2019 that adds $2.50 for all trips south of 96th Street in Manhattan. For-hire vehicles pay $2.75. The fees are passed along to passengers and go to the transit authority.

“A lot of customers, they’re not going to take the cab. They’re going to take the subway or they’re going to take the bus,” said Balkar Singh, 63, who has been a cabdriver and medallion owner for the past 30 years since he immigrated to the United States from India. “Nobody wants to pay extra.”

Even without the new congestion fee, taxi fares could soon rise as cabbies negotiate a hike of about 23 percent that would be paid to drivers and would effectively be a raise — their first in a decade. The city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission held a hearing on Thursday to solicit public input and expects to take a vote in the coming weeks.

Transit officials are considering scenarios that would spare taxis from paying anything as part of the new congestion pricing program. Still, the more exemptions, discounts and credits granted for particular groups of drivers, the more transit officials risk watering down the benefits of the program, and the higher the costs for motorists who do pay.

Drivers of yellow cabs argue that they merit special consideration in part because they don’t contribute to congestion as much as other vehicles. Data collected by the Taxi and Limousine Commission log a daily average of 5,700 yellow taxis on the road citywide in July, compared with 46,800 for-hire vehicles operating through ride-share apps. According to the authority’s environmental assessment, about 700,000 vehicles of all types enter the congestion pricing zone each day.

The M.T.A. board has yet to approve congestion pricing, though it is expected to pass the program in some form after federal officials weigh in and local transportation officials hammer out how much the tolls will cost. Gov. Kathy Hochul, who controls the board, favors it. Representatives of the authority and the governor’s office have said that no decision on pricing and other key details had been made and that the authority was still gathering public input and studying the environmental assessment, which was released in August.

“It is disingenuous to cherry-pick data from different scenarios and suggest a single outcome is likely to be implemented for taxi drivers or anyone else,” said John J. McCarthy, a spokesman for the authority. “What’s beyond doubt is that an often-gridlocked central business district will have tens of thousands fewer vehicles every weekday, enabling dramatic air quality improvements.”

Taxis were already hanging by a thread when Uber arrived in 2011 and claimed many riders.

Soaring medallion prices had put a generation of taxi drivers in crushing debt. Industry leaders had pushed drivers into loans they could not afford. A spate of suicides by taxi drivers underscored the crisis, which government officials ignored while the cost of a medallion skyrocketed from $200,000 to $1 million between 2002 and 2014. City records showed that the income of drivers barely changed over the period.

“It’s an outrage,” said Leo Ladijinsky, 65, who immigrated from Ukraine and has been driving a yellow cab for about 45 years. “They always rob us.”

Under public pressure, officials have offered some cabbies a bailout. In late September, Mayor Eric Adams, Senator Chuck Schumer and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez announced that city’s largest taxi medallion lender, Marblegate Asset Management, had forgiven about $225 million in debt.

The relief was part of a program created last year to help 3,000 medallion owners bring down their bills to under $200,000. City officials are trying to reach similar deals with other lenders.

One key goal of congestion pricing is to raise money for the transportation authority, which is facing a $2.5 billion deficit in 2025 because of slumping ridership during the pandemic. The tolls would raise $1 billion annually, which the M.T.A. said it plans to borrow against to raise $15 billion earmarked for transit system improvements.

Some public health experts said that given the mounting urgency of climate change, the plan should strive to get as many cars and trucks off the streets as possible, whether they are taxis or any other vehicles.

“Traffic is one of the largest sources of emissions in urban areas,” said Dr. Akhgar Ghassabian, an assistant professor at N.Y.U.’s Grossman School of Medicine and expert on environmental hazards.

Politicians outside Manhattan have denounced congestion pricing because of pressure from motorists and fears that it could place an unfair burden on people from other boroughs and around the region.

In the Bronx, some residents are worried the tolls could push even more polluting trucks onto the Cross Bronx Expressway, a traffic-choked artery that is blamed for causing some of the worst asthma rates in the state. The authority’s environmental assessment identified the area as vulnerable.

The study also underscored that most taxi and for-hire drivers are immigrants whose language and cultural barriers can often limit their economic opportunities. About 96 percent of yellow and green taxi drivers were born outside the country — mostly Bangladesh — compared with 91 percent of for-hire vehicle drivers, who are mostly from the Dominican Republic.

Bracing for possible job losses, the authority is considering programs to help drivers of taxis and for-hire vehicles become licensed M.T.A. bus drivers, who are in high demand as transit agencies here and around the country seek to replenish a work force that was battered during the pandemic.

Some residents in the congestion pricing zone who would reap the greatest benefits from the plan say they are eager to see traffic reduced, but they are also sympathetic to cabdrivers.

“There should be something to make sure that the taxi drivers and the yellow cabs continue to be the lifeblood of New York City,” said Shkumbin Mustafa, 45, who has lived in Hell’s Kitchen for 17 years and said he would be in favor of granting taxi drivers a waiver only if they operate newer vehicle models that are less polluting. “If you take away yellow cabs, you take away a history of New York City.”


Boston’s Motional Inks Deal with Uber to put Driverless Vehicles on the Road 

Boston Globe – Your next Uber ride might not have a driver.

Boston-based Motional, an autonomous vehicle startup, and San Francisco-based Uber Technologies said Thursday they plan to deploy a fleet of fully driverless “robotaxis” across the United States for delivery and ride-hailing.

The newpartnership, which will span 10 years, is expected to create one of the largest fleets of autonomous vehicles for a major ride-hailing network, the companies said. It has the potential to reach millions of Uber riders and is the first in the industry to include both ride-hailing and food delivery.

Indeed, after a huge amount of hype and problems in the field, the move could turn out to be significant.

Uber will deploy Motional’s driverless, electric vehicles across several US cities, with the first trips expected to start later this year. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, but a spokesperson for Uber said the companies agreed on a revenue-share model.

“While it won’t happen overnight, we expect autonomous vehicles to be an increasingly important part of the transportation ecosystem and therefore Uber’s business over time,” said Leah Seay, the spokesperson, adding that partnering with a company such as Motional makes more sense “than building AVs ourselves.”

“This agreement will be instrumental to the wide-scale adoption of robotaxis,” said Karl Iagnemma, chief executive of Motional. “Motional now has unparalleled access to millions of riders and a roadmap to scale significantly over the next 10 years.”

The companies did not specify which cities would have access to the vehicles first, or in how many states they would be available. Driverless cars will be available to customers using UberX and Uber Comfort Electric, the companies said.

2.2 Million Fully Vaccinated State Residents have not Received any Booster Shots 

Boston Globe – Approximately 2.2 million Massachusetts residents are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 but haven’t been boosted, according to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

The DPH said in a report that about 5.5 million of the state’s 7 million residents are fully vaccinated. But only about 3.3 million of them have received at least one booster dose, leaving around 2.2 million still waiting to get their first booster.

Here’s the good news for those who’ve dragged their feet: The official recommendation on boosters changed last month. Now, instead of multiple boosters, you just need to get one.

“If people who have received the primary vaccine series haven’t gotten around to getting their first (or, if eligible, second) booster yet, they are eligible for the bivalent booster, which we anticipate will provide broad and effective protection against currently circulating SARS-CoV-2 variant,” said Dr. Cassandra Pierre, Boston Medical Center’s associate hospital epidemiologist and medical director of public health programs.

“There is no current indication for subsequent boosters following receipt of the bivalent vaccine,” she said in an e-mail, though she noted that new shots could come along at some time, depending on the pandemic’s twist and turns.


Ian-Damaged ‘Nightmare’ Cars Could Hit Massachusetts Used-Car Market: AAA

 Boston Herald – Flood-damaged cars could be making their way into the local used-car market, AAA Northeast is warning buyers after Hurricane Ian wrecked boatloads of vehicles in Florida last week.

These problematic cars might be coming to the Bay State amid a shortage of new and used cars, as people desperately search for cheaper deals.

“The concern is the used-car market has been a tough market,” AAA Northeast’s Mark Schieldrop told the Herald on Thursday. “It’s not a great time to buy a used vehicle because prices are still high.

“So people could be putting flood-damaged cars on the market here when there’s a strong demand for used vehicles,” he added. “Shoppers have to be suspicious if they see a good deal. If the price looks too good to be true, it likely is.”

CARFAX has reported that nearly 50% of flood-damaged totaled vehicles return to the market as used cars.

“It’s pretty alarming to hear that,” Schieldrop said. “Flood-damaged cars can be a nightmare with so many problems.”

Insurance companies often declare flood-damaged vehicles as total losses, and those cars are then sold to salvage companies. However, rather than being dismantled for parts, some of these vehicles are purchased by individuals who restore them to some degree of working order.

AAA is warning car buyers that water-damaged vehicles can be transported anywhere for resale, and often continue to appear in the marketplace for many months following major floods.


Sustainability, Climate and Energy

Hydropower to Flow to 13 More Massachusetts Municipalities

Massachusetts moves a step closer to meeting its requirement for utilities to obtain 50% of supply from carbon-free sources, with FirstLight’s power purchase agreement (PPA) with thirteen utilities for hydro power. FirstLight Power signed the agreement with Energy New England (ENE) for more than 100 GigaWatt Hours of hydroelectric power produced by Shepaug Generating Station in Southbury, Conn. and Stevenson Generating Station in Monroe, Conn.

“We are pleased to build on our successful collaboration with Energy New England by expanding our power purchase agreements with Massachusetts municipal utilities. These thirteen communities are showing tremendous climate leadership by choosing locally produced, cost-competitive, and clean hydropower to advance their own clean energy goals,” said Alicia Barton, president and CEO of FirstLight Power.

“Long-term clean power commitments such as these agreements not only bolster our region’s ability to decarbonize the electric grid, but they also lock in affordable energy supply for Massachusetts homes and businesses at a time when fossil fuel prices are driving customer bills up.”

FirstLight Power is a clean power producer, developer, and energy storage company with a portfolio that includes over 1.4 GW of operating renewable energy and hybrid solutions that pair hydroelectric, pumped-hydro storage, utility-scale solar, large-scale battery, and offshore wind assets. Headquartered in Burlington, FirstLight is a steward of more than 14,000 acres and hundreds of miles of shoreline along rivers and lakes in the Northeast.

ENE is a wholesale risk management and energy trading organization that serves the needs of municipal utilities in New England. ENE reports that it helps promote the principles of conservation, efficiency, and environmental stewardship, and offers sustainability planning including home energy audit programs, electric vehicle programs, wholesale energy procurement and risk management programs, regulatory and lobbying services.

This is the second such PPA between First Light and ENE, bringing the total number of municipal utilities served to 34. Working in collaboration with ENE, the new power purchase agreement will run from 2024 through 2030.

“We are excited to expand our collaboration with FirstLight Power, and we are incredibly proud that our members continue to lead the way by aggressively procuring new sources of clean energy to meet Massachusetts’ 2030 requirements for municipal utilities,” said John Tzimorangas, president and CEO of Energy New England.

“Not only have our members made major strides in meeting the state’s goals; they have also shown that these long-term procurements help deliver safe, reliable, and cost-competitive electricity to ratepayers across the Commonwealth.”

The public power entities participating in the most recent PPA include: Belmont Municipal Light Department, Braintree Electric Light Department, Concord Municipal Light Plant, Danvers Electric Division, Groveland Municipal Light Department, Hingham Municipal Lighting Plant, Mass Development Finance Agency (MDFA)/Devens Utilities, Merrimac Municipal Light Department, Norwood Municipal Light Department, Reading Municipal Light Department, Rowley Municipal Lighting Plant, Wellesley Municipal Light Plant, and Westfield Gas & Electric.


Mayflower Wind Pledges to Employ Unionized Workers

Boston Globe – In a move hailed as a victory for labor in an industry expected to employ thousands across Massachusetts in coming decades,Mayflower Wind, which plans to develop an offshore wind energy lease area off Massachusetts’ coast, has pledged to train and employ union workers to build the project.

The nascent clean energy industry is poised to become a massive employer. The federal government says the construction, operation, and maintenance of new offshore wind projects could create 44,000 jobs by 2030, and New England is considered a likely hotspot for the sector.

But jobs in the fossil fuel industry typically pay more than those in clean energy and are more frequentlyunionized. Michael Sabitoni, business manager for the Rhode Island Construction and General Laborers Local 271, said that’s a problem, not only for ethical reasons but also for pragmatic, political ones: Workers can’t be expected to support climate policy if it threatens to remove their ability to get quality jobs.

“We’re not, in the building trades, climate change deniers,” he said. “But we can’t replace good, union, well-paying jobs with low-paying ones.”

He said new announcement is a step in the right direction.

In its new memorandum of understanding with North America’s Building Trades Unions and the United Brotherhood of Carpenters — together known as the Building Trades — Mayflower Wind agreed to train and hire a unionized, local, diverse workforce for construction work on the SouthCoast project.


Can This Man Solve Europe’s Energy Conundrum?

Europe’s energy crisis is rooted in its love affair with natural gas, and now its citizens are paying the price for dependence on gas piped in from Russia. At the same time, Europe’s lawmakers and businesses are searching for an alternative that could keep its homes warm and power factories yet help the continent reach its climate goals.

One answer may be in a fuel that burns just like natural gas but uses hydrogen to help the continent reach its carbon goals. At a proposed hub on the northern coast of Germany, Marco Alverà is planning to deliver such gas — a clean and affordable synthetic substitute for the fossil fuels that Europe is importing in vast quantities at high cost.

“We are the cheapest way to replace oil and gas and coal without having to change the way we think about energy,” Mr. Alverà, 47, said over a lunch of pizza at the storefront his company has set up in Wilhelmshaven, a port city in northwest Germany. “We can go in the same ships, the same pipes, the same factories.”

Hydrogen, an emissions-free fuel made from water, features prominently in plans to run factories, power airplanes and heat homes in the future, and Europe’s energy crisis is only intensifying that interest. But the electrical process to create hydrogen gas typically results in abundant carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas. Hydrogen can be made cleanly — using renewable electricity — but until now the costs have been too high.

Mr. Alverà and his company, Tree Energy Solutions, or TES, attempt to overcome these problems by creating a synthetic “green” methane — the main ingredient in natural gas — from hydrogen that’s made using renewable energy and carbon dioxide, generated as a byproduct of different manufacturing process. The fuel would be usable where natural gas is used but release less greenhouse gases. And it would not come from Russia.

To minimize costs of making clean hydrogen, the company would sign deals to use giant solar farms in parts of the world that get a lot of sun, like the Persian Gulf, or where hydroelectric power is abundant. The gas could be liquefied and shipped via tanker, like liquefied natural gas.

The plan is audacious, and faces environmental and technological obstacles. But it recently won serious backing from the German government, which signed a deal with TES to help build and run a floating liquefied natural gas terminal in Wilhelmshaven — the fifth such terminal approved in recent months as lawmakers race to find alternatives to Russian gas.

Eventually this floating unit would be replaced by a permanent facility built with an initial investment of 1.5 billion euros (about $1.5 billion). This terminal would be able to handle conventional liquefied natural gas as well as Mr. Alverà’s green gas and have the capacity to bring in 10 percent of the energy needs of Europe’s largest economy.

TES is attracting investors and announced in July that it had raised €65 million in its second fund-raising drive. Part of the appeal, supporters say, is that Germany and Europe will need to import alternatives to the Russian gas and other fuels that they are trying to phase out because of climate change and geopolitical concerns.

Governments in Europe and elsewhere are gearing up to spend huge sums to support hydrogen — even though how it will be made, transported and used is less than clear. Mr. Alverà’s plan, some say, offers a pathway.

“We have to get into something,” said Patrick Lammers, a chief operating officer of E.ON, a large German utility, which needs to figure out how it is going to supply millions of customers across Europe.

E.ON is putting some of its chips on Mr. Alverà’s project for several reasons, including Wilhelmshaven’s promise as an entry route into Germany’s industrial heartland. TES offers a fuel that is “not a very different technology” from liquefied natural gas, Mr. Lammers said, and so won’t require much adjustment.

The initiative received a boost on Wednesday when Fortescue Future Industries, which is controlled by Andrew Forrest, an Australian mining tycoon who has become a green energy advocate, said it would invest €130 million in TES and the Wilhelmshaven terminal. The two companies agreed to develop facilities in as-yet-unnamed locations that would furnish enough hydrogen to power more than one million homes.

“We both believe this is going to be a massive industry, that it is going to take fossil fuels out at some point,” said Mark Hutchinson, the Australian company’s chief executive.

TES’s approach requires very little adaptation by heavy industrial users of natural gas. The fuel could be transported in existing ships and pipelines, and it would make use of the many multibillion-dollar gas liquefaction plants that already exist. Companies are hesitant to build more of these plants, despite the pressure to find alternatives to Russian gas, because they risk becoming huge write-offs if liquefied natural gas is phased out in coming decades over climate concerns.

The proposal may also ease concerns among the German government’s environmentally minded constituents that the energy crisis has derailed efforts to meet ambitious climate goals.

“By importing liquefied natural gas, we are making ourselves less dependent on imports of Russian pipeline gas,” said Robert Habeck, Germany’s minister for economy and climate change, in a statement. “At the same time, we are accelerating the import of green hydrogen.”

Signing up to import L.N.G. gives Mr. Alverà’s group “a special window,” said Madjid Kübler, managing director of Team Consult, an energy consulting firm in Berlin. “Then you are in the game; then you have access to the administration” to discuss other projects.

Until this year, Mr. Alverà was chief executive of Snam, the Italian gas transmission company. In that role he was responsible for some of Italy’s key energy facilities, including L.N.G. terminals, and was an enthusiastic advocate of substituting hydrogen for natural gas while preserving existing gas pipelines and infrastructure.

Mr. Alverà plans to create a vast, circular industrial ecosystem. His venture would collect carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, from emissions-spewing power plants and factories in Germany, pipe it to Wilhelmshaven and ship it to countries where green hydrogen can be produced cheaply. There, the carbon dioxide would be converted into methane and fused with the hydrogen. It would then be chilled to liquid form, much like liquefied natural gas, and exported back to Europe or other energy hungry locations.

Synthetic fuels are already being made this way. About two hours south of Wilhelmshaven in the rural town of Werlte, a company called Kiwi mixes carbon dioxide emitted by agricultural waste with hydrogen, producing enough methane to heat about 800 houses. Hermann Pengg, Kiwi’s founder, said an enormous expansion of this kind of process, as Mr. Alverà contemplates, might eventually make economic sense but would be risky if done too quickly.

Some manufacturers that emit large amounts of carbon dioxide, including cement and fertilizer makers, say they are intrigued. These companies are under pressure to cut emissions or face rising carbon taxes. At the same time, they would prefer to make changes with minimal disruption to their existing processes.

What TES proposes is “one of the very few concepts that is promising for large natural gas consumers to avoid greenhouse gas emissions in the future,” said Matthias Missling, technical business manager at SKW, which makes chemicals for fertilizers from natural gas in Lutherstadt-Wittenberg, southwest of Berlin.

Mr. Alverà said he could start, around 2025, bringing in the first liquefied fuel made at least partly with hydrogen at a cost of €100 per megawatt-hour. That would be about 40 percent less than the current futures prices for natural gas in Europe, but more than gas normally cost before the current crisis.

If customers choose, they could also receive pure hydrogen separated from the imported green gas. Some major industrial users, like ArcelorMittal’s steel plant on Hamburg’s harbor, are planning to shift from natural gas to hydrogen to reduce emissions.

Environmental activists are skeptical that natural gas can ever be green.

“Even the name, Tree Energy Solutions, is sort of green-washing, in my opinion,” said Stefanie Eilers, head of the local chapter of NABU, a German conservation group.

The Wilhelmshaven property where TES would build the gas processing facilities is in a protected area valued for its bird life. The company proposes to address this problem by acquiring new habitat elsewhere in the region — an approach that may not satisfy environmental groups.

“It is never as good to replace a good area with another,” Ms. Eilers said. So far, though, German environmental groups have been reluctant to disrupt the government’s efforts to deal with what is widely considered a national energy emergency.

There are other doubts about Mr. Alverà’s plans. He said he worried about whether enough electrolyzers — devices that separate hydrogen from water — and solar panels would be available to supply his needs.

He is also coy about where the hydrogen and the synthetic methane would be made, although the deal with Fortescue begins to solve this problem. He mentions countries, including Egypt, Oman and the United Arab Emirates, that have abundant sun-baked desert land, but might come with difficult politics that could increase costs and risks.

The key, he said, is not to depend on any one location. “The sun is everywhere,” he said.


Massachusetts Gets $145 Million to Bring Broadband to Rural, Underserved Towns 

 MassLive – Massachusetts will get $145 million from the American Rescue Plan Act, enough to bring high-speed internet service to 16,000 households and businesses.

Those 16,000 households represent 27% of locations still lacking high-speed internet access in the state, according to a news release issued Thursday by U.S. Sens Edward J. Markey and Elizabeth Warren along with the state’s Congressional delegation including U.S. Rep. Richard E. Neal, D-Springfield and U.S. Rep. James P. McGovern, D-Worcester.

The biggest gaps in broadband exist in the central and western portions of the state.

Describing broadband as “the connective tissue of our commercial, social, and civic lives,” the Massachusetts delegation in a joint statement said the funds would benefit communities that have disproportionally lacked access to high-speed internet: communities of color and communities whose residents experience low incomes.

“It is past time that all families in our great Commonwealth reap the benefits of high-speed internet, and it is past time we close the digital divide. With this funding, Massachusetts is closer than ever to achieving that elusive goal,” the statement said.


Municipal Fiber Internet Could Cost Boston More Than $900 Million, Study Says 

Boston Herald – The city of Boston could have to pay close to a billion dollars if it decided to build out a fiber internet network, according to a new “digital equity” study that details gaps to access in the city.

The study, titled “Analysis of Broadband Availability, Digital Equity Programs, and Fiber Build Costs, prepared for the City by CTC Technology and Energy,” came back with a few findings based on what the city had asked: that high-speed wired broadband is “ubiquitously available” in Boston, and Verizon Fios has made the market more competitive; that city programs had increased the number of residents with access to good internet, but “gaps remain”; and that building a new City-owned fiber-to-the-premises network would cost an estimated $825 million to $961 million.

The city had commissioned the report to see how easily and affordably residents are able to have access to high-speed internet, and the administration also had asked them to take a look at how expensive it would be to build out the fiber network as a competitor to Comcast and Verizon, the two big internet games in town.

The report said numbers suggest 35,000 or so Bostonians have been without such access, but that number has likely dropped over the past few years due to new city programs and partnerships with nonprofits.

“Digital access to education, opportunity, healthcare, and government services enable our communities to thrive,” said Mayor Michelle Wu. “We must work to improve our understanding of the gaps that some of our neighbors experience, and bridge those gaps.”


Health Care
Nested Therapeutics Launches with $125 Million for Precision Cancer Therapies 

Boston Globe – Nested Therapeutics launched Thursday with $125 million to develop drugs that target cancers sharing similar kinds of genetic mutations, regardless of where in the body the cancer arises.

The Cambridge startup is the latest addition to the burgeoning field of precision oncology, and is led by veterans from Agios Pharmaceuticals and Blueprint medicines, Cambridge firms that have commercialized their own precision cancer drugs.

“We thought there was a still lot to do in tumor genetics, but many companies were focused on the same targets,” said Carlo Rizzuto, a managing director at Versant Ventures, a life science venture capital firm that founded Nested in 2021.

Scientists have recorded thousands of genetic mutations in tumors, each a potential clue about what causes cancer to form. Some are common enough to make them obvious take-out targets for drug developers. But it’s often hard for researchers to discern the cancer-causing mutations from the red herrings. Even if the culprits are identified, many of them would be too rare for a drug company to focus on.

Nested was formed to solve both of those problems.

Klaus Hoeflich, the company’s cofounder and chief scientific officer, came up with the idea to take all of the mutations that are often overlooked in the 2D code of genetic databases and map them onto the 3D structures of human proteins. Although these mutations might not sit next to each other in the DNA code, they are sometimes clustered — or nested — together on a specific part of a protein, a concept reflected in the startup’s name.

Taxation and Budget
Report Claims Massachusetts about to Give Too Much Money Back to Taxpayers 

MassLive – Massachusetts is on the brink of returning too much excess state revenues — to the tune of nearly $1.4 billion — to Bay Staters, according to a new report that calls into question a critical calculation underlying a tax cap law known as Chapter 62F.

State Auditor Suzanne Bump last month determined that $2.9 billion in surplus dollars were owed back to Massachusetts taxpayers, based on an analysis that takes into account annual wage and salary growth.

But a report released this week by the left-leaning Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center contends the figure is vastly overstated.

While the number reflects business tax payments made in tax year 2021 and the first part of tax year 2022, it doesn’t deduct most pending pass-through entity excise tax credits.

“The flawed 62F structure does not subtract these as-yet-unclaimed credits from the FY 2022 tax collection total,” the report, written by senior policy analyst Kurt Wise, states. “Many eligible filers have yet to claim and apply these PTE credits on their income taxes. These guaranteed credits, once claimed, are expected to reduce tax collections by 90 percent of the value of the PTE tax excise.”