Biden Offers Ambitious Blueprint for Solar Energy

Building and installing enough solar panels to generate up to 45 percent of the country’s power needs will strain manufacturers and the energy industry, increasing demand for materials like aluminum, silicon, steel and glass. The industry will also need to find and train tens of thousands of workers and quickly. Some labor groups have said that in the rush to quickly build solar farms, developers often hire lower-paid nonunion workers rather than the union members Mr. Biden frequently champions.

Challenges like trade disputes could also complicate the push for solar power. China dominates the supply chain for solar panels, and the administration recently began blocking imports connected with the Xinjiang region of China over concerns about the use of forced labor. While many solar companies say they are working to shift away from materials made in Xinjiang, energy experts say the import ban could slow the construction of solar projects throughout the United States in the short term.

Yet, energy analysts said it would be impossible for Mr. Biden to achieve his climate goals without a big increase in the use of solar energy. “No matter how you slice it, you need solar deployments to double or quadruple in the near term,” said Michelle Davis, a principal analyst at Wood Mackenzie, an energy research and consulting firm. “Supply chain constraints are certainly on everyone’s mind.”

Administration officials pointed to changes being made by state and local officials as an example of how the country could begin to move faster toward renewable energy. Regulators in California, for example, are changing the state’s building code to require solar and batteries in new buildings.

Another big area of focus for the administration is greater use of batteries to store energy generated by solar panels and wind turbines for use at night or when the wind is not blowing. The cost of batteries has been falling but remains too high for a rapid shift to renewables and electric cars, according to many analysts.

To some solar industry officials, the Energy Department report ought to help to focus people’s minds on what is possible even if lawmakers haven’t worked out the details.

“In essence the D.O.E. is saying America needs a ton more solar, not less, and we need it today, not tomorrow,” said Bernadette Del Chiaro, executive director of the California Solar and Storage Association, which represents solar developers in the state with by far the largest number of solar installations. “That simple call to action should guide every policymaking decision from city councils to legislatures and regulatory agencies across the country.”

Brad Plumer contributed reporting.

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<

Hurricane Ida Exposes Grid Weaknesses as New Orleans Goes Dark

Most of New Orleans went dark on Sunday after Hurricane Ida took out transmission lines and forced power plants offline. It was an all too familiar scene in a city that has often lost power during big storms.

But this was an outage that was never supposed to happen. The utility company Entergy opened a new natural gas power plant in the city last year, pledging that it would help keep the lights on — even during hot summer days and big storms. It was one of two natural gas plants commissioned in recent years in the New Orleans area, the other one hailed by Gov. John Bel Edwards last year as a “source of clean energy that gives our state a competitive advantage and helps our communities grow.”

The storm raises fresh questions about how well the energy industry has prepared for natural disasters, which many scientists believe are becoming more common because of climate change. This year, much of Texas was shrouded in darkness after a winter storm, and last summer officials in California ordered rolling blackouts during a heat wave.

More than a million residential and commercial customers in Louisiana were without power on Monday afternoon, and Entergy and other utilities serving the state said it would take days to assess the damage to their equipment and weeks to fully restore service across the state. One customer can be a family or a large business, so the number of people without power is most likely many times higher. In neighboring Mississippi, just under 100,000 customers were without power.

some of California’s largest and deadliest wildfires.

impossible for Texas to import power by keeping the state grid largely isolated from the rest of the country to avoid federal oversight.

add more transmission lines to carry more solar and wind power from one region of the country to another. But some energy experts said the increasing frequency of devastating hurricanes, wildfires and other disasters argues against a big investment in power lines and for greater investment in smaller-scale systems like rooftop solar panels and batteries. Because small systems are placed at many homes, businesses, schools and other buildings, some continue to function even when others are damaged, providing much-needed energy during and after disasters.

Susan Guidry, a former member of the New Orleans City Council who voted against the Entergy plant, said she had worried that a storm like Ida could wreak havoc on her city and its energy system. She had wanted the city and utility to consider other options. But she said her fellow Council members and the utility had ignored those warnings.

“They said that they had dealt with that problem,” Ms. Guidry said. “The bottom line is they should have instead been upgrading their transmission and investing in renewable energy.”

Numerous community groups and city leaders opposed the gas-fired power plant, which is just south of Interstate 10 and Lake Pontchartrain, bordering predominantly African American and Vietnamese American neighborhoods. Nevertheless, the City Council approved the plant, which began commercial operations in May 2020. It generates power mainly at times of peak demand.

About a year earlier, Entergy opened a larger gas power plant in nearby St. Charles Parish. Leo P. Denault, Entergy’s chairman and chief executive, last year called that plant “a significant milestone along the clean energy journey we began more than 20 years ago.”

Some utilities have turned to burying transmission lines to protect them from strong winds and storms, but Mr. Gasteiger said that was expensive and could cause its own problems.

“Generally speaking, it’s not that the utilities are not willing to do it,” he said. “It’s that people aren’t willing to pay for it. Usually it’s a cost issue. And undergrounding can make it more difficult to locate and fix” problems.

Big changes to electric grids and power plants are likely to take years, but activists and residents of New Orleans say officials should explore solutions that can be rolled out more quickly, especially as tens of thousands of people face days or weeks without electricity. Some activists want officials to put a priority on investments in rooftop solar, batteries and microgrids, which can power homes and commercial buildings even when the larger grid goes down.

“We keep walking by the solutions to keep people safe in their homes,” said Logan Atkinson Burke, executive director of the Alliance for Affordable Energy, a consumer group based in New Orleans. “When these events happen, then we’re in crisis mode because instead we’re spending billions of dollars every year now to rebuild the same system that leaves people in the dark, in a dire situation.”

Some residents have already invested in small-scale energy systems for themselves. Julie Graybill and her husband, Bob Smith, installed solar panels and batteries at their New Orleans home after Hurricane Isaac blew through Louisiana in 2012. They lost power for five days after Isaac, at times going to their car for air-conditioning with their two older dogs, said Ms. Graybill, 67, who retired from the Tulane University School of Medicine.

“We would sit in the car about every hour,” she said. “My husband said, ‘We are never doing this again.’” Mr. Smith, 73, who is also retired, worked as an engineer at Royal Dutch Shell, the oil company.

The couple have set up a little power station on their porch so neighbors can charge their phones and other items. Only a few other homes on their street have solar panels, but no one else nearby has batteries, which can store the power that panels generate and dispense it when the grid goes down.

“We’re told we’re not going to have power for three weeks,” Ms. Graybill said. “The only people who have power are people with generators or solar panels. We lived through Katrina. This is not Katrina, so we’re lucky.”

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<

More Power Lines or Rooftop Solar Panels: The Fight Over Energy’s Future

The nation is facing once in a generation choices about how energy ought to be delivered to homes, businesses and electric cars — decisions that could shape the course of climate change and determine how the United States copes with wildfires, heat waves and other extreme weather linked to global warming.

On one side, large electric utilities and President Biden want to build thousands of miles of power lines to move electricity created by distant wind turbines and solar farms to cities and suburbs. On the other, some environmental organizations and community groups are pushing for greater investment in rooftop solar panels, batteries and local wind turbines.

There is an intense policy struggle taking place in Washington and state capitals about the choices that lawmakers, energy businesses and individuals make in the next few years, which could lock in an energy system that lasts for decades. The divide between those who want more power lines and those calling for a more decentralized energy system has split the renewable energy industry and the environmental movement. And it has created partnerships of convenience between fossil fuel companies and local groups fighting power lines.

At issue is how quickly the country can move to cleaner energy and how much electricity rates will increase.

senators from both parties agreed to in June. That deal includes the creation of a Grid Development Authority to speed up approvals for transmission lines.

Most energy experts agree that the United States must improve its aging electric grids, especially after millions of Texans spent days freezing this winter when the state’s electricity system faltered.

“The choices we make today will set us on a path that, if history is a barometer, could last for 50 to 100 years,” said Amy Myers Jaffe, managing director of the Climate Policy Lab at Tufts University. “At stake is literally the health and economic well-being of every American.”

The option supported by Mr. Biden and some large energy companies would replace coal and natural gas power plants with large wind and solar farms hundreds of miles from cities, requiring lots of new power lines. Such integration would strengthen the control that the utility industry and Wall Street have over the grid.

batteries installed at homes, businesses and municipal buildings.

Those batteries kicked in up to 6 percent of the state grid’s power supply during the crisis, helping to make up for idled natural gas and nuclear power plants. Rooftop solar panels generated an additional 4 percent of the state’s electricity.

become more common in recent years.

Some environmentalists argue that greater use of rooftop solar and batteries is becoming more essential because of climate change.

After its gear ignited several large wildfires, Pacific Gas & Electric began shutting off power on hot and windy days to prevent fires. The company emerged from bankruptcy last year after amassing $30 billion in liabilities for wildfires caused by its equipment, including transmission lines.

Elizabeth Ellenburg, an 87-year-old cancer survivor in Napa, Calif., bought solar panels and a battery from Sunrun in 2019 to keep her refrigerator, oxygen equipment and appliances running during PG&E’s power shut-offs, a plan that she said has worked well.

“Usually, when PG&E goes out it’s not 24 hours — it’s days,” said Ms. Ellenburg, a retired nurse. “I need to have the ability to use medical equipment. To live in my own home, I needed power other than the power company.”

working to improve its equipment. “Our focus is to make both our distribution and transmission system more resilient and fireproof,” said Sumeet Singh, PG&E’s chief risk officer.

But spending on fire prevention by California utilities has raised electricity rates, and consumer groups say building more power lines will drive them even higher.

Average residential electricity rates nationally have increased by about 14 percent over the last decade even though average household energy use rose just over 1 percent.

2019 report by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, a research arm of the Energy Department, found that greater use of rooftop solar can reduce the need for new transmission lines, displace expensive power plants and save the energy that is lost when electricity is moved long distances. The study also found that rooftop systems can put pressure on utilities to improve or expand neighborhood wires and equipment.

Texas was paralyzed for more than four days by a deep freeze that shut down power plants and disabled natural gas pipelines. People used cars and grills and even burned furniture to keep warm; at least 150 died.

One reason for the failure was that the state has kept the grid managed by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas largely disconnected from the rest of the country to avoid federal oversight. That prevented the state from importing power and makes Texas a case for the interconnected power system that Mr. Biden wants.

Consider Marfa, an artsy town in the Chihuahuan Desert. Residents struggled to stay warm as the ground was blanketed with snow and freezing rain. Yet 75 miles to the west, the lights were on in Van Horn, Texas. That town is served by El Paso Electric, a utility attached to the Western Electricity Coordinating Council, a grid that ties together 14 states, two Canadian provinces and a Mexican state.

$1.4 million, compared with about $1 million to Donald J. Trump, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

In Washington, developers of large solar and wind projects are pushing for a more connected grid while utilities want more federal funding for new transmission lines. Advocates for rooftop solar panels and batteries are lobbying Congress for more federal incentives.

Separately, there are pitched battles going on in state capitals over how much utilities must pay homeowners for the electricity generated by rooftop solar panels. Utilities in California, Florida and elsewhere want lawmakers to reduce those rates. Homeowners with solar panels and renewable energy groups are fighting those efforts.

Despite Mr. Biden’s support, the utility industry could struggle to add power lines.

Many Americans resist transmission lines for aesthetic and environmental reasons. Powerful economic interests are also at play. In Maine, for instance, a campaign is underway to stop a 145-mile line that will bring hydroelectric power from Quebec to Massachusetts.

New England has phased out coal but still uses natural gas. Lawmakers are hoping to change that with the help of the $1 billion line, called the New England Clean Energy Connect.

This spring, workmen cleared trees and installed steel poles in the forests of western Maine. First proposed a decade ago, the project was supposed to cut through New Hampshire until the state rejected it. Federal and state regulators have signed off on the Maine route, which is sponsored by Central Maine Power and HydroQuebec.

But the project is mired in lawsuits, and Maine residents could block it through a November ballot measure.

set a record in May, and some scientists believe recent heat waves were made worse by climate change.

“Transmission projects take upward of 10 years from conception to completion,” said Douglas D. Giuffre, a power expert at IHS Markit. “So if we’re looking at decarbonization of the power sector by 2035, then this all needs to happen very rapidly.”

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<

Offshore Wind Farms Show What Biden’s Climate Plan Is Up Against

A constellation of 5,400 offshore wind turbines meet a growing portion of Europe’s energy needs. The United States has exactly seven.

With more than 90,000 miles of coastline, the country has plenty of places to plunk down turbines. But legal, environmental and economic obstacles and even vanity have stood in the way.

President Biden wants to catch up fast — in fact, his targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions depend on that happening. Yet problems abound, including a shortage of boats big enough to haul the huge equipment to sea, fishermen worried about their livelihoods and wealthy people who fear that the turbines will mar the pristine views from their waterfront mansions. There’s even a century-old, politically fraught federal law, known as the Jones Act, that blocks wind farm developers from using American ports to launch foreign construction vessels.

Offshore turbines are useful because the wind tends to blow stronger and more steadily at sea than onshore. The turbines can be placed far enough out that they aren’t visible from land but still close enough to cities and suburbs that they do not require hundreds of miles of expensive transmission lines.

approved a project near Martha’s Vineyard that languished during the Trump administration and in May announced support for large wind farms off California’s coast. The $2 trillion infrastructure plan that Mr. Biden proposed in March would also increase incentives for renewable energy.

The cost of offshore wind turbines has fallen about 80 percent over the last two decades, to as low as $50 a megawatt-hour. While more expensive per unit of energy than solar and wind farms on land, offshore turbines often make economic sense because of lower transmission costs.

“Solar in the East is a little bit more challenging than in the desert West,” said Robert M. Blue, the chairman and chief executive of Dominion Energy, a big utility company that is working on a wind farm with nearly 200 turbines off the coast of Virginia. “We’ve set a net-zero goal for our company by 2050. This project is essential to hitting those goals.”

rely on European components, suppliers and ships for years.

Installing giant offshore wind turbines — the largest one, made by General Electric, is 853 feet high — is difficult work. Ships with cranes that can lift more than a thousand tons haul large components out to sea. At their destinations, legs are lowered into the water to raise the ships and make them stationary while they work. Only a few ships can handle the biggest components, and that’s a big problem for the United States.

Government Accountability Office report published in December. That is far too small for the giant components that Mr. Eley’s team was working with.

So Dominion hired three European ships and operated them out of the Port of Halifax in Nova Scotia. One of them, the Vole au Vent from Luxembourg, is 459 feet (140 meters) long and can lift 1,654 tons.

Mr. Eley’s crew waited weeks at a time for the European ships to travel more than 800 miles each way to port. The installations took a year. In Europe, it would have been completed in a few weeks. “It was definitely a challenge,” he said.

The U.S. shipping industry has not invested in the vessels needed to carry large wind equipment because there have been so few projects here. The first five offshore turbines were installed in 2016 near Block Island, R.I. Dominion’s two turbines were installed last year.

Had the Jones Act not existed — it was enacted after World War I to ensure that the country had ships and crews to mobilize during war and emergencies — Dominion could have run European vessels out of Virginia’s ports. The law is sacrosanct in Congress, and labor unions and other supporters argue that repealing it would eliminate thousands of jobs at shipyards and on boats, leaving the United States reliant on foreign companies.

Demand for large ships could grow significantly over the next decade because the United States, Europe and China have ambitious offshore wind goals. Just eight ships in the world can transport the largest turbine parts, according to Dominion.

200 more turbines by 2026. Dominion spent $300 million on its first two but hopes the others will cost $40 million each.

For the last 24 years, Tommy Eskridge, a resident of Tangier Island, has made a living catching conchs and crabs off the Virginia coast.

One area he works is where Dominion plans to place its turbines. Federal regulators have adjusted spacing between turbines to one nautical mile to create wider lanes for fishing and other boats, but Mr. Eskridge, 54, worries that the turbines could hurt his catch.

The area has yielded up to 7,000 pounds of conchs a day, though Mr. Eskridge said a typical day produced about half that amount. A pound can fetch $2 to $3, he said.

Mr. Eskridge said the company and regulators had not done enough to show that installing turbines would not hurt his catch. “We just don’t know what it’s going to do.”

who died in 2009, and William I. Koch, an industrialist.

Neither wanted the turbines marring the views of the coast from their vacation compounds. They also argued that the project would obstruct 16 historical sites, disrupt fishermen and clog up waterways used by humpback, pilot and other whales.

the developer of Cape Wind gave up in 2017. But well before that happened, Cape Wind’s troubles terrified energy executives who were considering offshore wind.

Projects up and down the East Coast are mired in similar fights. Residents of the Hamptons, the wealthy enclave, opposed two wind development areas, and the federal government shelved the project. On the New Jersey shore, some homeowners and businesses are opposing offshore wind because they fear it will raise their electricity rates, disrupt whales and hurt the area’s fluke fishery.

Energy executives want the Biden administration to mediate such conflicts and speed up permit approval.

“It’s been artificially, incrementally slow because of some inefficiencies on the federal permitting side,” said David Hardy, chief executive of Orsted North America.

Renewable-energy supporters said they were hopeful because the country had added lots of wind turbines on land — 66,000 in 41 states. They supplied more than 8 percent of the country’s electricity last year.

Ms. Lefton, the regulator who oversees leasing of federal waters, said future offshore projects would move more quickly because more people appreciated the dangers of climate change.

“We have a climate crisis in front of us,” she said. “We need to transition to clean energy. I think that will be a big motivator.”

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<

SoftBank Breaks Records, But Can It Last?

Coinbase introduces another controversial H.R. policy. The cryptocurrency exchange, which last year banned political discussions at work, said it would no longer negotiate over salary in hiring, and would instead offer identical pay by position and location. It said the move would eliminate pay disparities.

Several of the world’s biggest asset managers have joined the movement to cut the carbon emissions of their investments to zero. Now TIAA, which oversees $1.3 trillion in assets, is unveiling its net-zero plan, DealBook is first to report.

TIAA’s $280 billion General Account will go zero-carbon by 2050, the firm is set to announce today. The account, which supports its flagship annuity offering, will do so by focusing on investments in areas like renewable energy and greener real estate, and using offsets to balance out the rest. “Climate risk is an investment risk that we must manage over time,” said Thasunda Brown Duckett, TIAA’s chief executive, describing the firm’s strategy to cut emissions as “investment selection, disposal and engagement with companies.”

TIAA also said it would lay out five-year interim targets for its net-zero plan, with the first set for 2025. Other money managers embracing net-zero goals, like BlackRock and Brookfield Asset Management, have also said they will stick to such milestones — though those firms are setting 2030 as their initial target.

The plan is a bet that net-zero investing is good for the bottom line. Nick Liolis, the investment chief for the General Account, said that the move would create a “resilient portfolio” better placed to meet obligations to pension investors, “which extend into perpetuity.”


—Ray McGuire, the former Citigroup executive who’s running for New York mayor, when asked by The Times’s editorial board to guess the median price of a house in Brooklyn. Responses from seven other candidates ranged from $100,000 to $1.8 million, and only Andrew Yang guessed correctly: $900,000.

View Source

For Clean Energy, Buy American or Buy It Quick and Cheap?

Patricia Fahy, a New York State legislator, celebrated when a new development project for the Port of Albany — the country’s first assembly plant dedicated to building offshore wind towers — was approved in January.

“I was doing cartwheels,” said Ms. Fahy, who represents the area.

Before long, however, she was caught in a political bind.

A powerful union informed her that most of the equipment for New York’s big investment in offshore windmills would not be built by American workers but would come from abroad. Yet when Ms. Fahy proposed legislation to press developers to use locally made parts, she met opposition from environmentalists and wind industry officials. “They were like, ‘Oh, God, don’t cause us any problems,’” she recalled.

Since President Biden’s election, Democratic politicians have extolled the win-win allure of the transition from fossil fuels, saying it can help avert a looming climate crisis while putting millions to work. “For too long we’ve failed to use the most important word when it comes to meeting the climate crisis: jobs, jobs, jobs,” Mr. Biden said in an address to Congress last month.

final approval of the nation’s first large-scale offshore wind project on Tuesday, called it an important step to “create good-paying union jobs while combating climate change.”

But there is a tension between the goals of industrial workers and those of environmentalists — groups that Democrats count as politically crucial. The greater the emphasis on domestic manufacturing, the more expensive renewable energy will be, at least initially, and the longer it could take to meet renewable-energy targets.

That tension could become apparent as the White House fleshes out its climate agenda.

“It’s a classic trade-off,” said Anne Reynolds, who heads the Alliance for Clean Energy New York, a coalition of environmental and industry groups. “It would be better if we manufactured more solar panels in the U.S. But other countries invested public money for a decade. That’s why it’s cheaper to build them there.”

There is some data to support the contention that climate goals can create jobs. The consulting firm Wood Mackenzie expects tens of thousands of new jobs per year later this decade just in offshore wind, an industry that barely exists in the United States today.

And labor unions — even those whose members are most threatened by the shift to green energy, like mineworkers — increasingly accept this logic. In recent years, many unions have joined forces with supporters of renewable energy to create groups with names like the BlueGreen Alliance that press for ambitious jobs and climate legislation, in the vein of the $2.3 trillion proposal that Mr. Biden is calling the American Jobs Plan.

recent report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies and BloombergNEF, an energy research group.

Batteries for electric vehicles, their most valuable component, follow a similar pattern, the report found. And there is virtually no domestic supply chain specifically for offshore wind, an industry that Mr. Biden hopes to see grow from roughly a half-dozen turbines in the water today to thousands over the next decade. That supply chain is largely in Europe.

Many proponents of a greener economy say that importing equipment is not a problem but a benefit — and that insisting on domestic production could raise the price of renewable energy and slow the transition from fossil fuels.

“It is valuable to have flexible global supply chains that let us move fast,” said Craig Cornelius, who once managed the Energy Department’s solar program and is now chief executive of Clearway Energy Group, which develops solar and wind projects.

Those emphasizing speed over sourcing argue that most of the jobs in renewable energy will be in the construction of solar and wind plants, not making equipment, because the manufacturing is increasingly automated.

But labor groups worry that construction and installation jobs will be low paying and temporary. They say only manufacturing has traditionally offered higher pay and benefits and can sustain a work force for years.

Partisans of manufacturing also point out that it often leads to jobs in new industries. Researchers have shown that the migration of consumer electronics to Asia in the 1960s and ’70s helped those countries become hubs for future technologies, like advanced batteries.

thousands of employees in recent decades.

Around the same time, the state was close to approving bids for two major offshore wind projects. The eventual winner, a Norwegian developer, Equinor, promised to help bring a wind-tower assembly plant to New York and upgrade a port in Brooklyn.

“All of a sudden I focus on the fact that we’re talking about wind manufacturing,” said Bob Master, the communications workers official who contacted Ms. Fahy, the state legislator. “G.E. makes turbines — there could be a New York supply chain. Let’s give it a try.”

more offshore wind turbines than any other country by the start of this year but had manufactured only a small portion of the equipment.

2017 report indicated that the country manufactured well below 30 percent of its offshore wind equipment, and Mr. Roberts said the percentage had probably increased slightly since then. The country currently manufactures blades but no nacelles.

All of which leaves the Biden administration with a difficult choice: If it genuinely wants to shift manufacturing to the United States, doing so could require some aggressive prodding. A senior White House official said the administration was exploring ways of requiring that a portion of wind and solar equipment be American-made when federal money was involved.

But some current and former Democratic economic officials are skeptical of the idea, as are clean-energy advocates.

“I worry about local content requirements for offshore wind from the federal government right now,” said Kathleen Theoharides, the Massachusetts secretary of energy and environmental affairs. “I don’t think adding anything that could potentially raise the cost of clean energy to the ratepayer is necessarily the right strategy.”

Mr. Master said the recent legislation in New York was a victory given the difficulty of enacting stronger domestic content policies at the state level, but acknowledged that it fell short of his union’s goals. Both he and Ms. Fahy vowed to keep pressing to bring more offshore wind manufacturing jobs to New York.

“I could be the queen of lost causes, but we want to get some energy around this,” Ms. Fahy said. “We need this here. I’m not just saying New York. This is a national conversation.”

View Source

Wind Project Shows Democratic Tensions Over Energy

Patricia Fahy, a New York State legislator, celebrated when a new development project for the Port of Albany — the country’s first assembly plant dedicated to building offshore wind towers — was approved in January.

“I was doing cartwheels,” said Ms. Fahy, who represents the area.

Before long, however, she was caught in a political bind.

A powerful union informed her that most of the equipment for New York’s big investment in offshore windmills would not be built by American workers but would come from abroad. Yet when Ms. Fahy proposed legislation to press developers to use locally made parts, she met opposition from environmentalists and wind industry officials. “They were like, ‘Oh, God, don’t cause us any problems,’” she recalled.

Since President Biden’s election, Democratic politicians have extolled the win-win allure of the transition from fossil fuels, saying it can help avert a looming climate crisis while putting millions to work. “For too long we’ve failed to use the most important word when it comes to meeting the climate crisis: jobs, jobs, jobs,” Mr. Biden said in an address to Congress last month.

final approval of the nation’s first large-scale offshore wind project on Tuesday, called it an important step to “create good-paying union jobs while combating climate change.”

But there is a tension between the goals of industrial workers and those of environmentalists — groups that Democrats count as politically crucial. The greater the emphasis on domestic manufacturing, the more expensive renewable energy will be, at least initially, and the longer it could take to meet renewable-energy targets.

That tension could become apparent as the White House fleshes out its climate agenda.

“It’s a classic trade-off,” said Anne Reynolds, who heads the Alliance for Clean Energy New York, a coalition of environmental and industry groups. “It would be better if we manufactured more solar panels in the U.S. But other countries invested public money for a decade. That’s why it’s cheaper to build them there.”

There is some data to support the contention that climate goals can create jobs. The consulting firm Wood Mackenzie expects tens of thousands of new jobs per year later this decade just in offshore wind, an industry that barely exists in the United States today.

And labor unions — even those whose members are most threatened by the shift to green energy, like mineworkers — increasingly accept this logic. In recent years, many unions have joined forces with supporters of renewable energy to create groups with names like the BlueGreen Alliance that press for ambitious jobs and climate legislation, in the vein of the $2.3 trillion proposal that Mr. Biden is calling the American Jobs Plan.

recent report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies and BloombergNEF, an energy research group.

Batteries for electric vehicles, their most valuable component, follow a similar pattern, the report found. And there is virtually no domestic supply chain specifically for offshore wind, an industry that Mr. Biden hopes to see grow from roughly a half-dozen turbines in the water today to thousands over the next decade. That supply chain is largely in Europe.

Many proponents of a greener economy say that importing equipment is not a problem but a benefit — and that insisting on domestic production could raise the price of renewable energy and slow the transition from fossil fuels.

“It is valuable to have flexible global supply chains that let us move fast,” said Craig Cornelius, who once managed the Energy Department’s solar program and is now chief executive of Clearway Energy Group, which develops solar and wind projects.

Those emphasizing speed over sourcing argue that most of the jobs in renewable energy will be in the construction of solar and wind plants, not making equipment, because the manufacturing is increasingly automated.

But labor groups worry that construction and installation jobs will be low paying and temporary. They say only manufacturing has traditionally offered higher pay and benefits and can sustain a work force for years.

Partisans of manufacturing also point out that it often leads to jobs in new industries. Researchers have shown that the migration of consumer electronics to Asia in the 1960s and ’70s helped those countries become hubs for future technologies, like advanced batteries.

thousands of employees in recent decades.

Around the same time, the state was close to approving bids for two major offshore wind projects. The eventual winner, a Norwegian developer, Equinor, promised to help bring a wind-tower assembly plant to New York and upgrade a port in Brooklyn.

“All of a sudden I focus on the fact that we’re talking about wind manufacturing,” said Bob Master, the communications workers official who contacted Ms. Fahy, the state legislator. “G.E. makes turbines — there could be a New York supply chain. Let’s give it a try.”

more offshore wind turbines than any other country by the start of this year but had manufactured only a small portion of the equipment.

2017 report indicated that the country manufactured well below 30 percent of its offshore wind equipment,and Mr. Roberts said the percentage had probably increased slightly since then. The country currently manufactures blades but no nacelles.

All of which leaves the Biden administration with a difficult choice: If it genuinely wants to shift manufacturing to the United States, doing so could require some aggressive prodding. A senior White House official said the administration was exploring ways of requiring that a portion of wind and solar equipment be American-made when federal money was involved.

But some current and former Democratic economic officials are skeptical of the idea, as are clean-energy advocates.

“I worry about local content requirements for offshore wind from the federal government right now,” said Kathleen Theoharides, the Massachusetts secretary of energy and environmental affairs. “I don’t think adding anything that could potentially raise the cost of clean energy to the ratepayer is necessarily the right strategy.”

Mr. Master said the recent legislation in New York was a victory given the difficulty of enacting stronger domestic content policies at the state level, but acknowledged that it fell short of his union’s goals. Both he and Ms. Fahy vowed to keep pressing to bring more offshore wind manufacturing jobs to New York.

“I could be the queen of lost causes, but we want to get some energy around this,” Ms. Fahy said. “We need this here. I’m not just saying New York. This is a national conversation.”

View Source

The Lithium Gold Rush: Inside the Race to Power Electric Vehicles

Atop a long-dormant volcano in northern Nevada, workers are preparing to start blasting and digging out a giant pit that will serve as the first new large-scale lithium mine in the United States in more than a decade — a new domestic supply of an essential ingredient in electric car batteries and renewable energy.

The mine, constructed on leased federal lands, could help address the near total reliance by the United States on foreign sources of lithium.

But the project, known as Lithium Americas, has drawn protests from members of a Native American tribe, ranchers and environmental groups because it is expected to use billions of gallons of precious ground water, potentially contaminating some of it for 300 years, while leaving behind a giant mound of waste.

“Blowing up a mountain isn’t green, no matter how much marketing spin people put on it,” said Max Wilbert, who has been living in a tent on the proposed mine site while two lawsuits seeking to block the project wend their way through federal courts.

Electric cars and renewable energy may not be as green as they appear. Production of raw materials like lithium, cobalt and nickel that are essential to these technologies are often ruinous to land, water, wildlife and people.

That environmental toll has often been overlooked in part because there is a race underway among the United States, China, Europe and other major powers. Echoing past contests and wars over gold and oil, governments are fighting for supremacy over minerals that could help countries achieve economic and technological dominance for decades to come.

Developers and lawmakers see this Nevada project, given final approval in the last days of the Trump administration, as part of the opportunity for the United States to become a leader in producing some of these raw materials as President Biden moves aggressively to fight climate change. In addition to Nevada, businesses have proposed lithium production sites in California, Oregon, Tennessee, Arkansas and North Carolina.

But traditional mining is one of the dirtiest businesses out there. That reality is not lost on automakers and renewable-energy businesses.

“Our new clean-energy demands could be creating greater harm, even though its intention is to do good,” said Aimee Boulanger, executive director for the Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance, a group that vets mines for companies like BMW and Ford Motor. “We can’t allow that to happen.”

assembled by Bloomberg, and a hint of the frenzy underway.

Some of those investors are backing alternatives including a plan to extract lithium from briny water beneath California’s largest lake, the Salton Sea, about 600 miles south of the Lithium Americas site.

At the Salton Sea, investors plan to use specially coated beads to extract lithium salt from the hot liquid pumped up from an aquifer more than 4,000 feet below the surface. The self-contained systems will be connected to geothermal power plants generating emission-free electricity. And in the process, they hope to generate the revenue needed to restore the lake, which has been fouled by toxic runoff from area farms for decades.

Businesses are also hoping to extract lithium from brine in Arkansas, Nevada, North Dakota and at least one more location in the United States.

The United States needs to quickly find new supplies of lithium as automakers ramp up manufacturing of electric vehicles. Lithium is used in electric car batteries because it is lightweight, can store lots of energy and can be repeatedly recharged. Analysts estimate that lithium demand is going to increase tenfold before the end of this decade as Tesla, Volkswagen, General Motors and other automakers introduce dozens of electric models. Other ingredients like cobalt are needed to keep the battery stable.

Even though the United States has some of the world’s largest reserves, the country today has only one large-scale lithium mine, Silver Peak in Nevada, which first opened in the 1960s and is producing just 5,000 tons a year — less than 2 percent of the world’s annual supply. Most of the raw lithium used domestically comes from Latin America or Australia, and most of it is processed and turned into battery cells in China and other Asian countries.

In March, she announced grants to increase production of crucial minerals. “This is a race to the future that America is going to win,” she said.

So far, the Biden administration has not moved to help push more environmentally friendly options — like lithium brine extraction, instead of open pit mines. The Interior Department declined to say whether it would shift its stand on the Lithium Americas permit, which it is defending in court.

Mining companies and related businesses want to accelerate domestic production of lithium and are pressing the administration and key lawmakers to insert a $10 billion grant program into Mr. Biden’s infrastructure bill, arguing that it is a matter of national security.

“Right now, if China decided to cut off the U.S. for a variety of reasons we’re in trouble,” said Ben Steinberg, an Obama administration official turned lobbyist. He was hired in January by ​Piedmont Lithium, which is working to build an open-pit mine in North Carolina and is one of several companies that have created a trade association for the industry.

Investors are rushing to get permits for new mines and begin production to secure contracts with battery companies and automakers.

Ultimately, federal and state officials will decide which of the two methods — traditional mining or brine extraction — is approved. Both could take hold. Much will depend on how successful environmentalists, tribes and local groups are in blocking projects.

370 feet.

Mr. Bartell’s biggest fear is that the mine will consume the water that keeps his cattle alive. The company has said the mine will consume 3,224 gallons per minute. That could cause the water table to drop on land Mr. Bartell owns by an estimated 12 feet, according to a Lithium Americas consultant.

While producing 66,000 tons a year of battery-grade lithium carbonate, the mine may cause groundwater contamination with metals including antimony and arsenic, according to federal documents.

The lithium will be extracted by mixing clay dug out from the mountainside with as much as 5,800 tons a day of sulfuric acid. This whole process will also create 354 million cubic yards of mining waste that will be loaded with discharge from the sulfuric acid treatment, and may contain modestly radioactive uranium, permit documents disclose.

A December assessment by the Interior Department found that over its 41-year life, the mine would degrade nearly 5,000 acres of winter range used by pronghorn antelope and hurt the habitat of the sage grouse. It would probably also destroy a nesting area for a pair of golden eagles whose feathers are vital to the local tribe’s religious ceremonies.

a lawsuit to try to block the mine.

At the Fort McDermitt Indian Reservation, anger over the project has boiled over, even causing some fights between members as Lithium Americas has offered to hire tribal members in jobs that will pay an average annual wage of $62,675 — twice the county’s per capita income — but that will come with a big trade-off.

“Tell me, what water am I going to drink for 300 years?” Deland Hinkey, a member of the tribe, yelled as a federal official arrived at the reservation in March to brief tribal leaders on the mining plan. “Anybody, answer my question. After you contaminate my water, what I am going to drink for 300 years? You are lying!”

The reservation is nearly 50 miles from the mine site — and far beyond the area where groundwater may be contaminated — but tribe members fear the pollution could spread.

hiring a lobbying team that includes a former Trump White House aide, Jonathan Slemrod.

Lithium Americas, which estimates there is $3.9 billion worth of recoverable lithium at the site, hopes to start mining operations next year. Its largest shareholder is the Chinese company Ganfeng Lithium.

CalEnergy, and another business, Energy Source, have tapped the Buttes’ geothermal heat to produce electricity. The systems use naturally occurring underground steam. This same water is loaded with lithium.

Now, Berkshire Hathaway and two other companies — Controlled Thermal Resources and Materials Research — want to install equipment that will extract lithium after the water passes through the geothermal plants, in a process that will take only about two hours.

Rod Colwell, a burly Australian, has spent much of the last decade pitching investors and lawmakers on putting the brine to use. In February, a backhoe plowed dirt on a 7,000-acre site being developed by his company, Controlled Thermal Resources.

“This is the sweet spot,” Mr. Colwell said. “This is the most sustainable lithium in the world, made in America. Who would have thought it? We’ve got this massive opportunity.”

unemployment rate of nearly 16 percent.

“Our region is very rich in natural resources and mineral resources,” said Luis Olmedo, executive director of Comite Civico del Valle, which represents area farm workers. “However, they’re very poorly distributed. The population has not been afforded a seat at the table.”

The state has given millions in grants to lithium extraction companies, and the Legislature is considering requiring carmakers by 2035 to use California sources for some of the lithium in vehicles they sell in the state, the country’s largest electric-car market.

But even these projects have raised some questions.

Geothermal plants produce energy without emissions, but they can require tens of billions of gallons of water annually for cooling. And lithium extraction from brine dredges up minerals like iron and salt that need to be removed before the brine is injected back into the ground.

Similar extraction efforts at the Salton Sea have previously failed. In 2000, CalEnergy proposed spending $200 million to extract zinc and to help restore the Salton Sea. The company gave up on the effort in 2004.

opened demonstration projects using the brine extraction technology, with Standard Lithium tapping into a brine source already being extracted from the ground by an Arkansas chemical plant, meaning it did not need to take additional water from the ground.

“This green aspect is incredibly important,” said Robert Mintak, chief executive of Standard Lithium, who hopes the company will produce 21,000 tons a year of lithium in Arkansas within five years if it can raise $440 million in financing. “The Fred Flintstone approach is not the solution to the lithium challenge.”

Lilac Solutions, whose clients include Controlled Thermal Resources, is also working on direct lithium extraction in Nevada, North Dakota and at least one other U.S. location that it would not disclose. The company predicts that within five years, these projects could produce about 100,000 tons of lithium annually, or 20 times current domestic production.

Executives from companies like Lithium Americans question if these more innovative approaches can deliver all the lithium the world needs.

But automakers are keen to pursue approaches that have a much smaller impact on the environment.

“Indigenous tribes being pushed out or their water being poisoned or any of those types of issues, we just don’t want to be party to that,” said Sue Slaughter, Ford’s purchasing director for supply chain sustainability. “We really want to force the industries that we’re buying materials from to make sure that they’re doing it in a responsible way. As an industry, we are going to be buying so much of these materials that we do have significant power to leverage that situation very strongly. And we intend to do that.”

Gabriella Angotti-Jones contributed reporting.

View Source

Warren Buffett Opposes Climate and Diversity Proposals for Berkshire

The other proposal, by the shareholder advocacy group As You Sow on behalf of Handlery Hotels, calls on Berkshire to detail its diversity and inclusion efforts, arguing that more diverse workforces perform better.

Berkshire does not dispute the importance of either issue. In its proxy statement to shareholders, which recommends voting against the proposals, the company says that it agrees about the importance of both climate change and a diverse and inclusive work force.

The argument against those proposals is tied to what the company calls its “unusually decentralized” business model. Though its various subsidiaries employ about 360,000 people around the world, Berkshire itself employs only about two dozen at its base in Omaha, Neb., with relatively lean resources to review the efforts of all its portfolio companies. Asking for standardized diversity data for all of its subsidiaries, for instance, would be “unreasonable,” it said.

“I think for a company this size, it’s an extraordinary ask,” Mr. Cunningham said.

Moreover, Mr. Buffett has long played up the independence of his subsidiaries’ chief executives, giving them wide berths so long as their companies perform well. “I don’t believe in imposing my political opinions on the activities of our businesses,” he said at Berkshire’s 2018 annual meeting.

For Berkshire, then, responsibility for action on climate and diversity lies largely with its operating companies. Berkshire Hathaway Energy “determined independently” to back the Paris climate accord and has invested heavily in renewable energy, the proxy statement noted.

The shareholder proposals’ fates aren’t in doubt. Mr. Buffett controls about a third of Berkshire’s voting power, and holds enormous sway over the company’s army of devoted retail investors. Previous efforts to force changes to Berkshire’s governance do not have a great track record: A 2014 proposal to encourage the company to pay a dividend, which was opposed by management, garnered support from less than 3 percent of shareholders.

But even if the proposals fail on Saturday, Berkshire may still need to change. The Securities and Exchange Commission is weighing moves to require companies to provide more disclosure on E.S.G. issues, particularly climate, calling them potentially material financial information.

View Source