This is the first instance of a new type of post I’m going to play around with, a quick hit article in the form of GIF reactions. While there’s so much going on in the world of Energy policy, clean energy technology, and critical utility markets these days, I frustratingly find myself too busy to write an article on all the topics I wish I could.
When that happens, I still want to put my thoughts and ideas out there. While Twitter is a common way for me to do this, and I’d love for you to follow me @ChesterEnergy, I wanted to also include some short-form blog posts just covering the basics and my rapid reaction to these stories. Through the years, I like to think I’ve honed a skill in conveying thoughts and feelings through themed GIFs, so I figured why not try that out for a quick energy news update format?
With that said, here’s my reaction to some of the most relevant energy news of the week, expressed via my favorite show, The Office.
Democrat Presidential Candidates to Debate Climate
The past few years have seen clean energy policy initiatives experience watershed moments, both positive and negative. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change made clear that we have just over a decade left for us to take necessary action lest the effects of climate change become irreversible, leading to (among other things) the Green New Deal to take activists and mainstream politics by storm. On the other end, the United States has a President who pulled the nation out of the Paris Agreement on climate change and troublingly spreads false information about renewable energy technology, while one of the front-runners to challenge him for the White House in 2020 has been criticized by climate advocates for looking for a ‘middle ground’ on climate policy.
As the Democratic field for the Presidential election in 2020 has expanded and tried to separate themselves from the pack, they’ve all said in one way or another they’d take action on climate. However, it’s no longer enough to simply be a candidate who touts green policy, clean energy, an environmental record, or support for climate action. This incredibly crucial moment in our time requires more than simple words and platitudes, it calls for specific plans of action. And there are different ideas for what mechanisms work best , and those specific ideas need to be debated (to learn about some of these, check out this living document I’ve been helping create for Solar Tribune on policy mechanisms and who supports them) For these reasons, there’s been a lot of clamoring for a debate from the candidates that centered exclusively on climate and energy issues. Initially, the Democratic National Committee opposed the idea and said they wouldn’t hold one.
Despite immense push back from the voters and the candidates themselves, they’ve held to that position. CNN, however, announced they would be holding a climate crisis town hall with the eligible 2020 candidates this coming September. So for the network doing what was so desperately needed, Michael Scott and I give an exasperated THANK YOU.
In Texas, Wind Generation Outpacing Coal Generation for 2019
If you pay attention to the world of energy news, every so often there are good news on the clean energy front of milestones hit, new technologies, and clean energy commitments from governments, companies, and utilities. One that got a lot of play in the past week was that Texas had generated more electricity from wind turbines than it had from Coal over the course of the first half of 2019.
This milestone had been a long-time coming, as the coal sector has been rapidly decreasing in the United States and Texas has long been a leader in wind power. So while this news doesn’t surprise anyone watching the energy markets, it did make for a great fist pump of a headline to push out to the more mainstream audience.
So while it’s not enough, mission is far from accomplished, and there’s lots of work to go, each win like this deserves to be acknowledged and celebrated on the way towards the ultimate goal. So, Michael Scott gives clean energy advocates the permission to raise the roof here.
Coal Billionaire Looking to Exert Influence on Trump
Despite the progress made in the clean energy sector, which is in part responsible for the decline in the coal industry, there are many powerful institutional forces who continue to prop up the coal industry. Bob Murray has been the face of this push to keep coal alive, having made his fortune via coal.
In late 2017 and early 2018, Murray seemed to be pulling at the strings of the energy sector with his political influence, having advocated for and help craft a Department of Energy coal power subsidy proposal. While that measure ultimately got rejected by the Federal )Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), Murray now appears to be at it again according to news earlier this week.
Recognizing the tide is firmly turning against coal (see: previous section), the staunchest supporter of coal in the United States is again looking to pull all the stops to keep the industry afloat through government intervention. The latest attempt: appealing directly to President Trump via flattery, funding, and public praise. Murray hosted President Trump in the heart of coal country for a private fundraising event. As reported by EE News, Murray reportedly gave Trump a direct list of suggestions on what should be done to ‘fix’ FERC (the entity that put a stop to his efforts a year and a half ago). Afterwards, Murray publicly praised Trump (“Anything that gets to him, he gets it quick and he deals with it”) and his fundraising efforts are typically successful (“Murray has given more than $1 million to outside groups supporting Trump”).
Given how much those areas are likely to win the favor, attention, and agreement of President Trump, Michael Scott and I are holding our breath for the worst.
Sorting Out the NYC Blackout
A big story of the past month in the utility sector was the four hours of blackouts that occurred on a Saturday night in New York City. A blackout in one of the largest world cities has the potential to be a catastrophic event, but the stars aligned for this to not be nearly as bad as it could have been. It was on a weekend night, so businesses and Wall Street weren’t affected during main operating hours, no long-term damage or injuries were reported, and power was restored before the end of the night.
That said, anything like this happening in the Big Apple amplifies its impact and its visibility. And in responding, the responsible utility– Con Edison– fumbled its response by first saying they didn’t know the cause, drawing ire and frustration from Mayor Bill de Blasio. More than two weeks later, they were able to trace the issue to a faulty relay protection system, and largely the city seems to have moved on.
That said, the resolution of this blackout and the potential harm it could have done should not be swept under the rug. Rather, we should be grateful that this instance happened with minimal widespread impacts while recognizing we might not be so lucky next time. Grid security needs to be a top priority, especially as the utility sector becomes more digitized and increasing numbers of gateways are opened to both fault and malice of action.
Put another way, we were lucky this time– but we still need to be at Threat Level Midnight.
Coal Bailout Latched onto Nuclear Bill
Last, but not least, comes the much discussed passage of Ohio H.B. 6. If you hadn’t noticed, the main theme of this post is The Office, but a secondary theme might as well be the struggles of the coal industry. This bill from the Ohio legislature, that’s officially been signed into law, offered funding to keep existing nuclear plants open. Such funding is great because it is done in a way that provides funding that properly values the emission-free generation from the nuclear industry, a critical part of the clean energy transition in the Buckeye State. While the economics don’t make sense to build new nuclear, keeping the existing plants that have already been built operational is a worthwhile investment for this reason alone.
However, that’s not all that happened and attached to this bill were a few unsavory additions, demonstrating some of the most frustrating parts of the political process. In addition to a gutting of renewable and energy efficiency programs in Ohio, somehow coal hitched its ‘would be bankrupt otherwise’ wagon to the nuclear subsidies. While nuclear in Ohio was struggling and deemed worth saving for the ‘common good’ benefits that carbon-free generation brings, there’s no such benefit to propping up coal-fired plants. We should of course empathize with the workers who rely on the coal industry, but rather than bolster an inevitably dying industry they should be allowed to go bankrupt and see funds go towards programs initiated to help the economic transition to a new energy economy.
Instead, we got what Vox called the worst energy bill of the 21st century. Instead, coal plants in Ohio (and elsewhere) should be encouraged to follow the lead of Michael Gary Scott and loudly declare bankruptcy.
How else do you see the energy industry relating to the folks at Dunder Mifflin? Do you have a request for future energy-GIF themes? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter.
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To read more insights into the energy industry, see this state-by-state analysis of the U.S. energy mix, this post on the U.S. Wind Turbine Database, and this article on how split incentives create issues in the energy field.
About the author: Matt Chester is an energy analyst in Orlando FL, studied engineering and science & technology policy at the University of Virginia, and operates this blog and website to share news, insights, and advice in the fields of energy policy, energy technology, and more. For more quick hits in addition to posts on this blog, follow him on Twitter @ChesterEnergy.