In Afghanistan, ‘Who Has the Guns Gets the Land’

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — For decades, roughly a thousand families called the low-slung mud-walled neighborhood of Firqa home. Some moved in during the 1990s civil war, while others were provided housing under the previous government.

Soon after the Taliban takeover on Aug. 15, the new government told them all to get out.

Ghullam Farooq, 40, sat in the darkness of his shop in Firqa last month, describing how armed Taliban fighters came at night, expelling him at gunpoint from his home in the community, a neighborhood of Kandahar city in southern Afghanistan.

“All the Taliban said was: ‘Take your stuff and go,” he said.

Those who fled or were forcibly removed were quickly replaced with Taliban commanders and fighters.

Thousands of Afghans are facing such traumatic dislocations as the new Taliban government uses property to compensate its fighters for years of military service, amid a crumbling economy and a lack of cash.

under control of the Taliban. Across the country, there is widespread anxiety about the future.

The country is slightly smaller in land area than Texas, with a population that has grown in past decades to around 39 million people. Yet, only one-eighth of Afghanistan’s land is farmable and shrinking under a crippling drought and changes wrought from climate change.

Today’s land disputes in Afghanistan can be largely traced to the Soviet-backed regime that came to power in the late 1970s, which redistributed property across the country. This quickly fueled tensions as land was confiscated and given to the poor and landless under the banner of socialism.

Land redistribution continued to play out, first during the civil war in the early 1990s, and then under the rise of the Taliban. After the U.S. invasion in 2001, those same commanders who were once defeated by the Taliban went about distributing and stealing land once more, this time with the backing of the newly installed U.S.-supported government. American and NATO military forces contributed to the problem by seizing property for bases and doing little to compensate landowners.

Afghanistan Analysts Network, a policy research group, who focused on land ownership in Afghanistan. “So when the Taliban want to legalize or demarcate lands, they will also need to take back the lands from people who grabbed them in any period, in the 70s, 80s, 90s, 2000s and so on. This will be very challenging for them.”

In central Afghanistan, property disputes of another nature are playing out: the marginalization and displacement of ethnic minorities in order to seize their arable land. Taliban leaders have long persecuted and antagonized the Hazaras, a mostly Shiite minority, and in recent months, the new government has watched as local strongmen evicted hundreds of families.

In September, Nasrullah, 27, and his family fled their village in Daikundi Province, along with around 200 families who left nearly everything, he said.

Such displacements have upended more than a dozen villages in central Afghanistan, affecting more than 2,800 Hazaras, according to a Human Rights Watch report.

In recent weeks, local courts have overturned some seizures, allowing some families to return. But for most, the evictions have been traumatic.

“In each village the Taliban put a checkpoint, and the people aren’t allowed to take anything but our clothes and some flour,” said Nasrullah, who goes by one name, during an interview in September. “But I brought only my clothes.”

Taimoor Shah contributed reporting from Kandahar; Victor J. Blue from Kabul; Jim Huylebroek from Musa Qala; and Sami Sahakfrom Los Angeles.

View Source

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

Old Power Gear Is Slowing Use of Clean Energy and Electric Cars

Seven months after workers finished installing solar panels atop the Garcia family home near Stanford University, the system is little more than a roof ornament. The problem: The local utility’s equipment is so overloaded that there is no place for the electricity produced by the panels to go.

“We wasted 30,000-something dollars on a system we can’t use,” Theresa Garcia said. “It’s just been really frustrating.”

President Biden is pushing lawmakers and regulators to wean the United States from fossil fuels and counter the effects of climate change. But his ambitious goals could be upended by aging transformers and dated electrical lines that have made it hard for homeowners, local governments and businesses to use solar panels, batteries, electric cars, heat pumps and other devices that can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Much of the equipment on the electric grid was built decades ago and needs to be upgraded. It was designed for a world in which electricity flowed in one direction — from the grid to people. Now, homes and businesses are increasingly supplying energy to the grid from their rooftop solar panels.

to electricity generated by solar, wind, nuclear and other zero-emission energy sources. Yet the grid is far from having enough capacity to power all the things that can help address the effects of climate change, energy experts said.

“It’s a perfect violent storm as far as meeting the demand that we’re going to have,” said Michael Johnston, executive director of codes and standards for the National Electrical Contractors Association. “It’s no small problem.”

half of new cars sold in the country by 2030. If all of those cars were plugged in during the day when energy use is high, utilities would have to spend a lot on upgrades. But if regulators allowed more utilities to offer lower electricity rates at night, people would charge cars when there is plenty of spare capacity.

Some businesses are already finding ways to rely less on the grid when demand is high. Electrify America, a subsidiary of Volkswagen that operates an electric vehicle charging network, has installed large batteries at some charging stations to avoid paying fees that utilities impose on businesses that draw too much power.

Robert Barrosa, senior director of sales and marketing at Electrify America, said that eventually the company could help utilities by taking power when there was too much of it and supplying it when there was not enough of it.

$1,050 to $2,585 a year, according to Rewiring America. Those products are more energy efficient and electricity tends to cost less than comparable amounts of gasoline, heating oil and natural gas. Electric cars and appliances are also cheaper to maintain.

“Done right, money can go further toward a more reliable network,” Mr. Calisch said, “especially in the face of increased stress from climate change.”

View Source

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

Why Louisiana’s Electric Grid Failed in Hurricane Ida

Just weeks before Hurricane Ida knocked out power to much of Louisiana, leaving its residents exposed to extreme heat and humidity, the chief executive of Entergy, the state’s biggest utility company, told Wall Street that it had been upgrading power lines and equipment to withstand big storms.

“Building greater resiliency into our system is an ongoing focus,” the executive, Leo P. Denault, told financial analysts on a conference call on Aug. 4, adding that Entergy was replacing its towers and poles with equipment “able to handle higher wind loading and flood levels.”

Mr. Denault’s statements would soon be tested harshly. On the last Sunday in August, Hurricane Ida made landfall in Louisiana and dealt a catastrophic blow to Entergy’s power lines, towers and poles, many of which were built decades ago to withstand much weaker hurricanes. The company had not upgraded or replaced a lot of that equipment with more modern gear designed to survive the 150 mile-an-hour wind gusts that Ida brought to bear on the state.

A hurricane like Ida would have been a challenge to any power system built over many decades that contains a mix of dated and new equipment. But some energy experts said Entergy was clearly unprepared for the Category 4 storm despite what executives have said about efforts to strengthen its network.

a Category 2 storm, according to an analysis of regulatory filing and other company records by McCullough Research, a consulting firm based in Portland, Ore., that advises power companies and government agencies.

Entergy said that analysis was inaccurate but wouldn’t say how many of its transmission structures were built to withstand 150 mile-per-hour winds. The company has said that its towers met the safety standards in place at the time of installation but older standards often assumed wind speeds well below 150 m.p.h.

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, a professional group whose guidelines are widely followed by utilities and other industries, recommends that power companies that operate in areas vulnerable to hurricanes install equipment that can withstand major storms and return service quickly when systems fail. In coastal areas of Louisiana, for example, it says large transmission equipment should be designed to withstand winds of 150 m.p.h.

growing ferocity of hurricanes. The company says it had acted with alacrity. Its critics contend that it dragged its feet.

to restart a $210 million natural gas-fired plant the company opened in New Orleans last year that it said would provide power during periods of high demand, including after storms. But energy experts say it is a lot more concerning that so many of the company’s lines went down — and did so for the second year in a row.

Last year, Hurricane Laura, a Category 4 storm, destroyed and damaged hundreds of Entergy’s towers and poles in Southwestern Louisiana. In April, Entergy told the Louisiana Public Service Commission, which regulates its operations outside New Orleans, that the company had strengthened its equipment, including the installation of stronger distribution poles in coastal areas particularly vulnerable to high winds.

Michelle P. Bourg, who is responsible for transmission at Entergy’s Louisiana operations, told regulators that because it was too expensive to make the entire network resilient, Entergy pursued “targeted programs that cost effectively reduce the risks to reliability.”

In a statement, Entergy said its spending on transmission was working, noting that Ida destroyed or damaged 508 transmission structures, compared with 1,909 during Laura and 1,003 in Katrina. The company added that its annual investment in transmission in Louisiana and New Orleans has increased over the last eight years and totaled $926 million in 2020, when it spent extensively on repairs after Laura. The company spent $471 million on transmission in 2019.

“The facts of this storm support that we have made substantial progress in terms of resiliency since the storms that hit our system in the early 2000s — both generally and with respect to transmission in particular,” said Jerry Nappi, an Entergy spokesman.

The company declined to provide the age of damaged or destroyed transmission structures and an age range for the damaged distribution poles and equipment. Mr. Nappi acknowledged that distribution poles suffered widespread destruction and were not built to withstand winds of 130 to 150 m.p.h.

“Substantial additional investment will be required to mitigate hardship and avoid lengthy outages as increasingly powerful storms hit with increasing frequency,” he said in an email. “We are pursuing much-needed federal support for the additional hardening needed without compromising the affordability of electricity on which our customers and communities depend.”

The company’s plea for more help comes as President Biden is pushing to upgrade and expand the nation’s electricity system to address climate change as well as to harden equipment against disasters. Part of his plan includes spending tens of billions of dollars on transmission lines. Mr. Biden also wants to provide incentives for clean energy sources like solar and wind power and batteries — the kinds of improvements that community leaders in New Orleans had sought for years and that Entergy has often pushed back on.

Susan Guidry, a former member of the New Orleans City Council, said she opposed the construction of the new natural gas plant, which was located in a low-lying area near neighborhoods made up mostly of African Americans and Vietnamese Americans. Instead, she pushed for upgrades to the transmission and distribution system and more investment in solar power and batteries. The council ultimately approved Entergy’s plans for the plant over her objections.

“One of the things we argued about was that they should be upgrading transmission lines rather than building a peaking plant,” Ms. Guidry said.

In addition, she said, she called for the company to replace the wooden poles in neighborhoods with those built with stronger materials.

Robert McCullough, principal of McCullough Research, said it was hard to understand why Entergy had not upgraded towers and poles more quickly.

“Wood poles no longer have the expected lifetime in the face of climate change,” he said. “Given the repeated failures, it is going to be cost-effective to replace them with more durable options that can survive repeated Category 4 storms — including going to metal poles in many circumstances.”

Had Entergy invested more in its transmission and distribution lines and solar panels and battery systems, some green energy activists argued, the city and state would not have suffered as widespread and as long a power outage as it did after Ida.

“Entergy Louisiana needs to be held accountable for this,” said one of those activists, Logan Atkinson Burke, executive director of the Alliance for Affordable Clean Energy.

Entergy has argued that the natural gas plant was a much more affordable and reliable option for providing electricity during periods of high demand than solar panels and batteries.

Jennifer Granholm, Mr. Biden’s energy secretary, said that Ida highlighted the need for a big investment in electric grids. That might include putting more power lines serving homes and businesses under ground. Burying wires would protect them from winds, though it could make it harder to access the lines during floods.

“Clearly, as New Orleans builds back, it really does have to build back better in some areas,” Ms. Granholm said in an interview this month.

Mr. Nappi, the Entergy spokesman, said that distribution lines in some parts of New Orleans and elsewhere are already underground but that burying more of them would be expensive. “Distribution assets can be made to withstand extreme winds, through engineering or under grounding, but at significant cost and disruption to customers and to the community,” he said.

View Source

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

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! <<<<

Syria’s Surprising Solar Boom: Sunlight Powers the Night in Rebel Idlib

HARANABUSH, Syria — When the Syrian government attacked their village, Radwan al-Shimali’s family hastily threw clothes, blankets and mattresses into their truck and sped off to begin new lives as refugees, leaving behind their house, farmland and television.

Among the belongings they kept was one prized technology: the solar panel now propped up on rock next to the tattered tent they call home in an olive grove near the village of Haranabush in northwestern Syria.

“It is important,” Mr. al-Shimali said of the 270-watt panel, his family’s sole source of electricity. “When there is sun during the day, we can have light at night.”

An unlikely solar revolution of sorts has taken off in an embattled, rebel-controlled pocket of northwestern Syria, where large numbers of people whose lives have been upended by the country’s 10-year-old civil war have embraced the sun’s energy simply because it is the cheapest source of electricity around.

the Islamic State lost its last patch of territory in Syria in 2019, the northwest was importing fuel from Turkey that was much purer but cost more than twice as much, now about $150 for a 58-gallon barrel of Turkish diesel, compared with $60 for a barrel from eastern Syria a few years ago.

That price spike pushed customers into the arms of solar power, said Ahmed Falaha, who sells solar panels and batteries in the town of Binnish in Idlib.

He had originally sold generators, but added solar panels in 2014. They weren’t popular at first because they produced less electricity, but when fuel prices went up, people noticed at night that their neighbors who had solar panels still had lights while they sat in the dark. Demand grew, and in 2017, he stopped selling generators.

“Now we work on solar energy day and night,” he said.

His best sellers were Canadian-made 130-watt panels that had been imported into Syria after a few years at a solar farm in Germany, he said. They cost $38 each.

For those with more to invest, he had Chinese-made 400-watt panels for $100.

His standard package for a modest home consisted of four panels, two batteries, cables and other equipment for $550, he said. Most families could use that to run a refrigerator or washing machine during the day and lights and a television at night.

As people got used to solar power, he started selling large installations to workshops and chicken farms. He recently sold his largest package yet, 160 solar panels for about $20,000, to a farmer who had nearly gone broke buying diesel to run his irrigation pump and needed a cheaper alternative.

“It is expensive at the start, but then it’s free,” Mr. Falaha said, showing a video on his phone of the solar-powered sprinklers watering a lush, green field.

Farmers who embraced solar appreciated the lack of noise and smoke, but what mattered most was price.

“Here, the last thing people think about is the environment,” Mr. Falaha said. Nearby, a colleague of his poured battery acid down the shop’s drain.

Outside of town, Mamoun Kibbi, 46, stood amid lush green fields of fava beans, eggplants and garlic.

In recent years, the price of diesel to power the family’s 40-year-old irrigation pump had gotten so expensive that it erased Mr. Kibbi’s profits. So last year he shelled out nearly $30,000 to install 280 400-watt panels on the flat roof of a defunct chicken farm.

The large swath of panels were on a seesaw base connected to a winch so he could adjust their angle to the sun through the day. When it was sunny, the system kept the pump going for eight hours. It worked less well on cloudy days, but he was pleased with how his crops looked so far.

“It is true that it costs a lot, but then you forget about it for a long time,” he said.

Most people in northwest Syria have simpler energy needs and much less money to invest. More than half of the 4.2 million people in the rebel-held area have been displaced from elsewhere, and many struggle to secure life’s basics, like healthy food, clean water and soap.

But many of the refugee families living in crowded tent camps have at least one solar panel that produces enough energy to charge their phones and power small LED lights at night. Others have three or four panels to power such luxuries as internet routers and televisions.

In the city of Idlib, Ahmed Bakkar, a former fireman, and his family had settled in the second-floor of a four-floor apartment building whose roof had been punched in by an airstrike.

The family had moved six times during the war and lost nearly everything along the way, Mr. Bakkar said. Most of the rooms in the family’s current apartment lacked windows, so he had hung blankets to block the wind. They couldn’t afford heating oil, so they burned pistachio shells to keep warm.

But he had managed to buy four used solar panels that sat on a rack on the balcony, facing the sky.

When the sun was out, they provided enough energy to pump water up to the apartment so they didn’t have to carry it up, and they charged a battery so the family could have some lights at night.

“It works for us because it’s free energy,” said Mr. Bakkar, 50.

His nephew, also Ahmed Bakkar, was less impressed.

“It is an alternative,” he said. But if Syria were more functional and the family could simply plug into the grid, “it would be better.”

View Source