Energy in the News: Friday, March 16

Friday, March 16, 2018

UMEI Senior Economist Ellen Hughes-Cromwick summarized this past week’s visits from Anthony Foxx and Penny Pritzker here; check it out!

Utility renewable pledges go above and beyond state laws — but why?

Midwest Energy News, feat. Thomas Lyon

In February, Michigan activists began circulating petitions to put a 30 percent by 2030 renewable energy standard on the state’s November ballot.

Consumers Energy, which spent $12 million to help defeat a similar proposal in 2012, quickly expressed its opposition to the new campaign.

A week later, though, the company made news with a pledge: it would generate 40 percent of its power from renewables by 2040.

The announcement was the latest example of a large, investor-owned utility in the region promising to boost renewable energy or cut carbon emissions even as it balks at legislative requirements to make good on those pledges.

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Carbon tax fails to earn enough votes in Democrat controlled Washington legislature

West Side Story, feat. Barry Rabe

Those hoping to see states pick up the federal government’s slack on climate change action were disappointed last week, when Washington State’s carbon-tax bill failed to earn enough votes in the legislature, according to the Seattle Times. The state would have been the first to implement a straightforward carbon tax, and the legislation has been followed nationally, as a barometer of whether states will be able to take climate action into their own hands as the Trump administration rolls back federal measures.

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Meet the satellites that can pinpoint methane and carbon dioxide leaks

Scientific American, feat. Eric Kort

The world’s first space-based system to help identify specific sources of greenhouse gas emissions is now circling the Earth.

The main unit in the network, an orbiter called the Tropospheric Monitoring Instrument (Tropomi), is a package of state-of-the-art sensors launched by the European Space Agency (ESA) in October. By December, it had begun to map the plumes of methane, carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide and various aerosols over industrial facilities and cities as it passed over Europe, Asia, Africa and South America.

Built to eventually map emissions planetwide every 24 hours and to show pollutants in higher resolution than ever before, Tropomi’s sharper images drew raves from its sponsors. Josef Aschbacher, director of ESA’s Earth observation programs, called it a “milestone for Europe“ and noted that it will be “valuable for helping to put appropriate mitigation policies in place.”

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Survey: Majority of Americans want government to step up action on climate change

Michigan Radio, feat. Sarah Mills

A majority of Americans now say all levels of government need to act on climate change.

That’s one finding from the latest survey in a series of National Surveys on Energy and Environment.

Sarah Mills is the senior project manager with the Center for Local, State and Urban Policy at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan.

“For the past decade or so, and even last year, about 70% of Americans say that the government needs to act urgently to address climate change. On the latest survey, in the fall, it was 76%. So that’s where we’ve seen the biggest jump in recent times,” she says.

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Ex-Commerce Chief says Trump tariffs could damage US economy

Bloomberg Markets

The tariffs on steel and aluminum levied by President Donald Trump could damage the U.S. economy and set off trade wars with American allies, according to former commerce secretary Penny Pritzker.

“The European Union has come out and said they’re going to go after our bourbon, Levi’s and Harley-Davidson because they all feel very targeted,” Pritzker said in an interview following a speech at the University of Michigan. “What happens to a relationship when you poke somebody in the eye? Will we get past it? Will there be lasting memories? We’re going to have to see.”

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Motor City grows as tech talent hub

The Detroit News

As Detroit’s century-old automotive industry reckons with fast-paced advancements in technology, the Motor City’s talent pool is shifting to favor tech workers.

A recent study by the Brookings Institution ranks the Detroit area at No. 4 in a list of the country’s hubs for advanced industry employment. Nearly 15 percent of the workforce in the Detroit-Warren-Dearborn area works in advanced industries such as research and development, and engineering. The city is outranked only by the Silicon Valley region, including San Jose, Sunnyvale and Santa Clara; greater Seattle; and Wichita, Kansas, which made the list because of technology’s outsize presence in a relatively small workforce.

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Are renewable portfolio standards on the way out? Three ballot initiatives say otherwise

Utility Dive

In the beginning, renewable portfolio standards drove the renewable energy market. While its role has diminished somewhat as wind and solar, especially, have become cost-competitive, a handful of states are still expanding these mandates for more ambitious targets.

A trio of proposed renewable energy ballot initiatives has caught the eye of the energy sector. Confined to two Western and one Midwestern states, these ballots are backed by climate activist and billionaire Tom Steyer, through his super PAC NextGen America.

The initiatives aim to increase existing mandates for renewable energy; in some cases, this requires amending the state's constitution. For now, the initiatives must gather the requisite number of signatures, before appearing on the ballots. But their introduction has sparked discussion over whether or not RPSs are still necessary to drive the renewable energy market forward in states now that costs for wind and solar have dropped.

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Pure Michigan faces troubles from climate change to drinking water

Bridge MI

As climate change and rapidly changing industries create fault lines over Michigan’s natural resources, experts are looking for sustainability both in business and in state environmental policy.

It’s a tension, state environmental experts agree, that can be made more difficult by legislators who are term-limited.

“Part of that is building durability into our thinking and not just responding on that short-term political cycle,” said Jon Allan, director of the Michigan Office of the Great Lakes. “We need to figure out how get out of the tyranny of the storm term cycle, because it’s going to kill us.”

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Battery markets and metals markets have officially collided

Greentech Media

Lithium, cobalt and nickel are experiencing price fluctuations as global tech and auto giants race to lock down these crucial battery materials.

All three metals were rising in price through the early part of 2018, according to the latest research from Wood Mackenzie's newly launched Battery Raw Materials Service. The data charts out ups and downs in those metal prices over the next five years, which will play an increasingly significant role in the cost structure for advanced batteries.

The analysts expect lithium demand to grow by approximately 42 percent between 2017 and 2020, prompting an expansion of materials supply. But, they note, there’s a lag time between expanding raw metals production and churning out battery-grade materials.

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Methane explosions trigger questions about greenhouse gas emissions

Midwest Energy News

An explosion at a well pad in eastern Ohio last month forced nearby residents to evacuate for three weeks while crews worked to cap a gas leak.

Just two weeks earlier, a gas pipeline in an adjacent county ruptured and caused several fires.

The incidents illustrated a risk related to natural gas production, not just to a community’s safety but the planet’s climate, too.

Both blasts triggered an uncontrolled release of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Such accidental and other “fugitive” emissions are poorly tracked and compromise some of the benefits from the recent shift to natural gas.

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