Climate and Energy News Roundup 2/8/2019

This week’s Roundup was prepared by Joy Loving and Bishop Dansby.

Politics and Policy

This week saw the President give a “state of the union” address.  Per this Washington Post item, three areas he didn’t mention:  coal, renewable energy, and climate change.

There may be some narrowing of the partisan divide over whether and how to address climate change risks.  This Green Tech Network/Energy News Network podcast offers some insights.

What to do about transportation sector contribution to greenhouse gas emissions and how to do it is a big question.  Southeast Energy News says Virginia could be on a path to addressing this question. The Transportation Research Board of The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine has issued a policy snapshot, “Critical Issues in Transportation 2019” takes a broad and long-term view of 12 areas needing attention.

The Register-Herald, Beckley WV, reported that VA Tech researchers will use U.S. Department of Energy grant money to study ways to “reduce the stress of renewables on the nation’s power grid”.  Hopefully, their results will lead to more favorable federal and state policies on renewable energy.

Several recent articles covered a study that concluded “Climate change skeptics live where its effects are hurting economy most”; this headline is from CBS NewsThe Hill put it this way:  “Climate change likely to hit red states hardest”.  Brookings weighed in also:  “How the geography of climate damage could make the politics less polarizing”.

You will recall that a favorite trope of conservative talk show hosts was the Obama restriction on incandescent lightbulbs (actually, energy standards that affected inefficient bulbs). Now, the U.S. Department of Energy has a proposal to roll back standards on lightbulbs that will cost consumers billions. Further, the proposal sets up all sorts of barriers designed to slow progress and compromise the highly successful standards program that saves the average household more than $500 off their energy bills every year.

When Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez joined members of the Sunrise Movement and the Justice Democrats at a sit-in at Nancy Pelosi’s office pushing a Green New Deal in November, she framed the proposal, which few had then heard of, as the only way for the Party and the country to seriously address climate change. “We do not have a choice,” she told them. “We have to get to one hundred per cent renewable energy in ten years. There is no other option.” The Green New Deal resolution as now drafted some three months later has language that leaves open the possibility of sustaining or expanding nuclear energy, which had been rejected in an open letter last month from over six hundred environmental groups, including the Sunrise Movement. The resolution also does not rule out the possibility of a carbon tax—an idea favored by centrists but viewed as inadequate by many climate activists.

Technology

There is a lot of buzz about a “green new deal” for America.  Architectural Digest discusses what this might mean for building design.

GM and other car makers have said that they are going ‘all-electric,” and yet GM has discontinued their Chevy Volt and continues to crank out conventional vehicles. Nevertheless, GM CEO Barra repeated Wednesday GM’s intent to go all-electric, but it doesn’t expect to make money off battery-powered cars until early next decade.

Railroads have long been the most efficient form of transport. Global transport emissions could peak in the 2030s if railways are “aggressively” expanded, says the International Energy Agency (IEA).

Tesla has acquired Maxwell Technologies, a company you probably have never heard of. Maxwell is a capacitor manufacturer, including something called the ultra-capacitor. It is well known that batteries have limitations that ultra-capacitors do not have, and vice versa. Tesla’s Elon Musk has been quoted as having a personal fascination with ultra-capacitors. Tesla’s purchase of Maxwell might signal an interest in using ultra-capacitor to power electric cars.

 Climate

A recent New York Times article in its “Climate Forward” series warns in stark terms that shrinking glaciers mean less water for human consumption and for agriculture, affecting millions of people.  And The Guardian reporter David Wallace-Wells tells us that after researching the already-happening and likely-future effects of global warming, he’s no longer a doubter about what the world will be like in 2100—again, a gloomy perspective with a chilling image of an August 2018 Portugal wildfire.  The Washington Post reminds us, through stories about real people and communities called “Gone in a Generation”, that the U.S. isn’t immune from climate calamities and, indeed, that they’re already happening.

How about a wall to combat climate change?  “The Navy Wants to Build a Wall to Stave Off Climate Change”, according to a Bloomberg report.  Perhaps this barrier will actually keep unwanted water out.

An intriguing study reported in ScienceDirect examines whether carbon dioxide reductions in the late 1500s were connected to human explorations in the “new world”.

A research team working on Baffin Island in Northeastern Canada has uncovered evidence that today’s Earth looks a lot like it did 115,000 years ago. All we’re missing is the much higher sea level that was present at that time. New research suggests the planet is already paralleling the most recent major warm period in its past. Now the only question is how fast Antarctica could collapse to raise sea level.

If climate change changed the color of the oceans, would that get the world’s attention? The changes in color are in part a function of the fluctuating populations of phytoplankton, or algae — the microscopic plants that, across their thousands of different species, do some rather heavy lifting for the global ecosystem.

When we think about all that climate change imperils, we don’t always think about art and history.  Maybe we should, given that “9 Famous Sites from Art History Are in Danger of Destruction”, according to this Artsy article.

Energy

Nary does a week go by without an article, or 6, about the Atlantic Coast (ACP) and/or Mountain Valley Pipelines (MVP).  Here’s one from Reuter’s about rising costs because of construction delays.  And here’s a WHSV-TV item about one type of delay.  The current General Assembly is trying to decide how much authority the State Corporation Commission has on the subject of Dominion claims for ratepayer-reimbursement for the ACP.  Here’s Bacon’s Rebellion’s piece on a recent House vote on HB 1718.  And, as has been true from the beginnings of the ACP and MVP, the thorny issue of eminent domain continues to matter to many—as indicated in this Reuter’s item and in this Roanoke Times piece.

Many rural counties struggle with the pros and cons of large solar farms.  Here’s an interesting article about a win-win approach that doesn’t actually reduce agricultural use while allowing solar panels.

The World Economic Forum recently heard from CEOs Jules Kortenhurst of Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) and Cristina Lampe-Onnerrud of Cadenza Innovation about the urgent need to move more quickly to reduce carbon emissions.  And RMI did a piece about China’s efforts in this regard, as did Renewable Energy World (REW).

There have been a number of recent articles about the changing relationship between utilities and their customers and about changing utility business models.  REW ran an article titled “How Utilities and Consumers Can Join Forces to Power the Sustainable Future”.  REW did another article, “Why Community Solar Is the Future of the Industry”.  And Green Tech Network offered up this item:  “Utilities ‘Need to Be More’ Than Electricity Providers, Entergy and ComEd Execs Declare”.  Chron published “University of Houston courts oil and gas for work on carbon management”.  And of all corporations, “BP will link bonuses for 36,000 workers to climate targets”, according to CNN Business item.

During the 2019 Virginia Assembly session, there was no lack of renewable energy and energy efficiency bills to alter the barriers in current laws.  Ivy Main’s blog Power for the People provided a Feb 4 status update on how these bills fared.  The picture she paints shows Virginia legislators have a way to go.

In contrast, Dominion Energy has been supporting the education of Virginia teachers about solar energy so they can in turn educate students.  The Dickenson Star reported on a southwest Virginia event, as did the Bluefield WV Telegraph.  Closer to home, The Citizen reported recently in two articles about the Harrisonburg school board’s efforts to put solar panels on schools and the dilemma posed for the city’s municipal electric utility (Harrisonburg Electric Commission–HEC) and city officials and staff.  Other nearby schools’ systems (Albemarle and Augusta Counties) have managed to make this happen, but it appears HEC and Harrisonburg have a financial interest in their schools’ not going solar.  Two other Citizen articles, one about a sustainability effort in the city and the other about the city council’s vision for Harrisonburg by 2039 provide further context about the challenges the city faces.

Australia has been experiencing record high temperatures.  Yale Environment 360 published an article about how renewables helped keep the grid operating.

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