Energy in the News: Friday, July 27
5 things to watch as the Trump administration weakens car rules
Scientific American, feat. John DeCicco
With the Trump administration set to weaken Obama-era fuel economy standards for passenger cars and trucks, a chasm is opening between red and blue states.
EPA is expected to propose a rule in the coming days to prevent the standards from rising past the 2020 levels established under former President Obama, who hailed those increases as a major step toward addressing rising temperatures.
Also in the crosshairs is a California waiver under the Clean Air Act that allows it and more than a dozen other states to surpass federal car rules. EPA is expected to ask for comment on rescinding the waiver, a move that many see as a signal of the administration's intent to do just that (E&E News PM, July 19).
Trump officials eye new attack on car rules
The Hill, feat. Barry Rabe
The Trump administration is preparing to roll back Obama-era automobile efficiency and emissions standards by making the controversial argument that the rules make cars less safe.
The proposal, which is expected to be unveiled by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Transportation Department’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in the coming days, already has consumer and safety advocates ready for a fight.
At issue are clean car standards the Obama administration put in place through the 2026 model year.
'Road map' lays out paths for deep carbon cuts in Midwest
There are multiple pathways to slash power-sector carbon emissions in the nation's midsection, with a couple of key factors, especially natural gas prices and policy, expected to dictate the cheapest route, according to a new study.
The study, a "road map" for decarbonization of the region by 2050, was overseen by power plant owners and environmental groups that joined the Midcontinent Power Sector Collaborative, an ad hoc group convened by the nonprofit Great Plains Institute.
While national and international studies have examined how decarbonization of the power sector can be achieved, the Midcontinent Power Sector Collaborative report released yesterday afternoon is the first analysis of a specific U.S. region, Franz Litz, a Great Plains Institute consultant, said in an interview.
Once on the sidelines, carbon capture is now being touted as an economic win
To fight climate change, the world needs to cut the amount of carbon dioxide dumped into the atmosphere—fast. One way to make a serious dent is carbon capture, a suite of technologies to trap carbon dioxide produced by industries and fossil-fuel power plants, and then either bury it underground or put it to some use.
Though carbon capture has been in commercial use since the 1970s, cost has limited progress on deploying it more widely. “The carbon-capture community is a dispirited community,” Rich Powell, director of ClearPath, an organization that lobbies for clean energy, told Quartz this past February. There are currently 17 large-scale plants in the world, mostly in the US, that put away about 40 million metric tons of carbon dioxide—roughly 1% of global annual emissions. (Quartz published an in-depth series on the technology in 2017.)
How to build community solar projects for the masses
So far, high prices and barriers to entry have mostly made solar possible for well-to-do homeowners and corporations.
A new report from GTM Research, Wood Mackenzie and Vote Solar, a solar accessibility advocate, notes that 50 to 75 percent of U.S. consumers don’t have access to conventional rooftop installations. But, if executed properly, authors say community solar can change that.
Assessing the possibilities of supportive policies and business models, the report, which also received support from the Coalition for Community Solar Access and GRID Alternatives, notes community solar installations could reach 84 gigawatts of operating capacity, serve 8.8 million customers and account for as much as 2.6 percent of U.S. electricity consumption by 2030.
How vulnerable is the grid to cyberattacks, really?
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) sent alarm bells ringing across the power sector Monday when it announced that Russian-backed hackers have infiltrated utility control rooms, gaining the "ability to throw switches" and cause potential blackouts in a campaign that claimed "hundreds" of victims.
The announcement, made during an unclassified DHS web briefing, stoked some of the worst fears of power sector leaders — namely of a coordinated attack to compromise electricity delivery across broad swaths of the United States. Security concerns are a central focus for utility leaders, who rank them as the top issue facing the industry in sector surveys.
Some grid security experts, however, question the DHS's framing of the issue, particularly the ability of hackers to cause potential blackouts across large areas.
Will China's Appalachian gas investments survive trade fight?
It fell to Brian Anderson, a West Virginia University professor, to break the bad news at a Pittsburgh conference celebrating a hoped-for economic renaissance based on a bonanza of Appalachian shale gas.
Anderson, director of the West Virginia University Energy Institute, has been a point man in negotiations with China Energy Investment Corp. (CEIC), a huge, state-controlled energy conglomerate. CEIC has proposed investments of up to $84 billion over a decade or more to help develop a gas extraction and petrochemical manufacturing complex along both sides of the Ohio River.
The Chinese and their money were not coming, at least for now, Anderson announced at the Northeast U.S. Petrochemical Construction Conference in Pittsburgh last month — collateral damage from President Trump's trade offensive against China's "economic aggression," as the administration describes it.
Mountaintop mining is destroying more land for less coal, study finds
Strip mining across the mountaintops of Appalachia is scarring as much as three times more land to get a ton of coal than just three decades ago, new research shows.
The data and a series of new maps that track the spread of surface mining across the region suggest that even as the industry has declined, what continues likely has an oversized impact on people and the environment.
If mining companies have to do more blasting and digging for the same amount of coal, that means more dust in the air and more pollution in streams, said Appalachian Voices Programs Director Matt Wasson, who worked on the study with researchers from Duke University, West Virginia University, Google and SkyTruth.
Mapped: The US nuclear power plants ‘at risk’ of shutting down
Nuclear power plants generate more than half of the US’s low-carbon electricity. However, record low gas prices associated with the US fracking boom have made many existing nuclear plants uncompetitive in the current market.
About 90 terawatt hours (TWh) of nuclear generation is scheduled to retire in the next decade, more than all of the US’s current solar generation. Studies suggest that another 135TWh is probably not cost competitive with gas plants and, therefore, at risk of retirement.
This means the source of about 15% of US low-carbon electricity could shut down and largely be replaced by gas, making it harder for the US to meet its emission reduction targets.
Turns out cities can’t sue oil companies for climate change
You can’t sue your way to a solution for global warming. So says the judge.
On Thursday, Judge John Keenan of New York’s Southern District dismissed the City of New York’s lawsuit against the international oil and gas companies BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, and Royal Dutch Shell. Facing billions of dollars in climate change-related damage in the coming years, New York was hoping to extract some money from the transnational companies that extract the oil that people burn for energy—raising the planet’s temperature, exacerbating storms, melting polar ice and elevating sea levels, worsening wildfires, extending droughts, and allowing diseases to spread farther and faster.
Yucca Mountain revival efforts appear dead – for now
Las Vegas Review-Journal
Efforts to restart licensing hearings and store nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain appear dead for the next year after a congressional panel eliminated a funding request from the defense bill Monday.
Trump administration and congressional attempts to restart the licensing hearings and open the nuclear waste repository will likely resume in the next Congress, after midterm elections in November that could reshape the makeup of the House.
The House Armed Services Committee had authorized $30 million to store waste in Nevada in the defense bill, and the House had included $120 million in a separate spending bill to revive the licensing process of the Department of Energy’s application before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Thieves made off with $10 million worth of cobalt in a warehouse heist
Around 112 metric tons of cobalt—worth around $10 million—were stolen from a warehouse in the Netherlands this month.
Drums of the scarce metal were taken from a secure area of a Vollers warehouse in Rotterdam, MetalBulletin reports. The theft was first noted this week by the UK-based Minor Metals Trade Association, which told Bloomberg that the company was working with Dutch police to solve the crime.
Cobalt is a key component of lithium-ion batteries, and the battery industry uses more than 40% of the world’s cobalt supply. The price of cobalt has risen more than 100% since 2016, mainly thanks to the surge in demand from electric carmakers.