- Amy Harder
- Oct 13
Good morning from Las Vegas and welcome to a special guest issue of Generate. I'll be interviewing former Energy secretary Ernest Moniz on stage today at noon PDT as part of the National Clean Energy Summit. Watch the livestream here.
I also have a piece today, chock full of telling graphics, showing China's dominance in the clean energy race. Then Axios' Ben Geman will bring you the rest of the energy news you need to know. Let's get to it!
Why China is winning the clean energy race
Data: Rhodium Group; Chart: Chris Canipe / Axios
U.S. politicians have been warning for years that America couldn't let China win the clean energy race. That's exactly what has happened, with the trends most stark in electric cars, solar and nuclear energy.
Why it matters: Building for the last decade, these trends have accelerated in the last couple of years. Politicians and business leaders said America's dominance in this space would bring jobs to the U.S. and security to our clean energy resources, and now both of those goals are at risk.
Why China is doing this:
- It needs to literally energize its 1.4 billion people, both how they travel and how they power their homes.
- Its leadership feels compelled to do it in a cleaner way than the U.S. did. Air quality is at dangerously high levels across many of China's cities. People are seeing and feeling health repercussions of China's dependence on fossil fuel-fired cars and power plants in an acute way. Traditional air pollution, not climate change, is a big driver.
- China sees this as a national security and geopolitical strategy to both make and deploy clean energy technologies.
Why America is losing:
- As a Democratically run nation, it can't push policies and subsidies by decree. "China is able to simply mandate things in a way that would take us much longer to do," said Ethan Zindler, head of Americas at Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
- The U.S. has no long-term, coordinated energy and environment strategy, unlike China. "It's very obvious the U.S. would have all the technology, innovation potential and money to be the leader," said Paolo Frankl, head of the renewable energy division at the International Energy Agency, a Paris-based group tracking global energy trends. "Ultimately, it's a question of strategic choices."
Top Republican: Energy in play in tax overhaul talks
Driving the news: House Ways and Means Committee chairman Kevin Brady said the myriad energy-related provisions of the tax code are a live topic in negotiations over the wider plan to overhaul tax policy.
In his words: Here's how Brady, chatting with reporters on Capitol Hill yesterday, vaguely summarized the state of play: "We are discussing energy as a major part of our economy. It's also a major part of our tax code. The combination of all the energy provisions are about as convoluted as any parts of our code."
- "And so the committee is working toward good core principles, simplicity, and moving toward the free market over time, and so that is still a work in progress."
One big question: Whether Republicans will seek to alter wind and solar project tax credits that are currently in place for projects undertaken until around 2020 and 2021. Asked if the plan might end them sooner, Brady replied: "I don't want to get ahead of the committee discussions."
Why it matters: Those credits have historically been important drivers of increased deployment, though their relative importance is declining somewhat as renewables' costs plummet.
Go deeper: Oil-and-gas companies also have plenty at stake in the discussions, and we looked at the bare-bones GOP proposal unveiled in late September here.
To be sure: GOP Rep. Dave Schweikert, a Ways and Means member, tells Axios that discussions have not been detailed yet. "From a policy standpoint, I don't think there has been a lot of meat on the bones," he said.
On my screen: oil market moves, EVs, Trump nominee
What's moving markets: "Oil prices jumped Friday on a mix of factors, including bullish Chinese data and geopolitical risks from oil-rich regions in the Middle East," MarketWatch reports.
Earnings preview: A new note from HSBC looks at the upcoming third-quarter reports from the big multinational integrated oil-and-gas companies. The topline:
- "Brent's stabilisation above USD50/b has helped the sector perform well, with many stocks hitting 12-m highs in USD terms recently. We still see further upside in oil prices but importantly, prices are now at levels where financial frameworks of most companies look solid."
Tech corner: "Scientists have developed a ceramic heat pump that can operate at 1,400 ˚C, several hundred degrees hotter than existing heat transfer systems, opening up significant new possibilities for energy storage," MIT Technology Review reports.
Shell charges ahead: Here's a little more on Royal Dutch Shell's announcement yesterday that it's buying the electric vehicle charging company NewMotion, marking a major foray into the sector as major automakers ramp up plans for wider EV offerings.
- One reason it matters: "I think deep pockets — like VW and Shell — will be enormously helpful in building charging infrastructure. We need lots and lots of patient capital here, especially for the expensive but crucially important high-speed charging infrastructure," Chris Nelder, an EV expert with the Rocky Mountain Institute, tells Axios.
Latest in GM's electric push: The company, which recently announced plans to launch 20 all-electric vehicles by 2023, has named Pamela Fletcher to the newly created role of VP for Global Electric Vehicle Programs. She previously led the team that launched GM's Chevy Bolt EV.
Trump taps CEQ chief: President Trump is nominating Kathleen Hartnett White, who's currently with the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation, as chairwoman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.
- Go deeper: Politico explored her views, including her skepticism of mainstream climate science, in this piece a few months ago when the former Texas environmental regulator's name was circulating for the post.
Big today: FERC chief meets the press amid power sector battle
Federal Energy Regulatory Commission chairman Neil Chatterjee is holding a press roundtable later this morning.
- He's sure to face questions about how the independent agency is handling Energy secretary Rick Perry's proposal for a new regulation that would boost ratepayer support for certain power plants based on their "reliability and resilience" attributes.
Why it matters: Perry's rule, if FERC decides to craft anything resembling what he's seeking, would shakeup wholesale power markets by providing new revenues to coal and nuclear plants — which are under heavy pressure from natural gas and renewables — as the Trump administration seeks to prevent more of them from going offline.
Speaking of Perry: He faced questions about the instantly controversial proposal at a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing yesterday.
- CNBC has a good write-up of the session here.
Perry's goal: An exchange with Democratic Rep. Mike Doyle during the hearing highlighted one of the tensions running through Perry's appearance and his effort more broadly.
- The DOE chief repeatedly cast the proposal as an effort to ensure a "conversation" about power system reliability in the face of natural disasters and other challenges.
- Yes, but: Perry has also tasked FERC with crafting the rule on a lightning timeframe of 60 days.
- Asked by Doyle if the proposal is a directive or a "conversation," Perry replied: "Both."
- "It can't be both. So which one is it?" Doyle said. "Actually it is both. It can be both. We can have a conversation, and I think they must move," Perry replied. You can watch the exchange (at 1:54) here.
What's the cost of freedom? The line most likely to have a shelf life came in an exchange late in the hearing with Democratic Rep. Paul Tonko, who asked Perry whether consumer costs were considered in the proposal.
- "I think you take cost into account, but...what's the cost of freedom? What does it cost to build a system to keep America free? I'm not sure I want to just put that straight out on the free market," Perry replied.
Taking the pulse on climate change
Data: Public willingness to pay for a U.S. carbon tax and preferences for spending the revenue, Matthew J Kotchen et al 2017; Chart: Chris Canipe / Axios
Taxing question: A new paper in Environmental Research Letters explores the preferences of Americans who say they are willing to support a tax on carbon emissions to help fight global warming. The study led by Yale researchers explored how much these supporters of a tax are willing to pay, and what they would want the revenues used for (check out the chart above by Axios' Chris Canipe).
Why it matters: It's a data point for policymakers to consider if carbon tax proposals start gaining political traction in coming years. Right now they don't have any, but a number of groups and companies are trying to change political calculus.
Yes, but: A number of advocates — including the Climate Leadership Council that's backed by several GOP elder statesmen and big companies — say proceeds from a tax should be returned to the public via dividends or reductions in other taxes. But the new poll shows more support for other uses of the money.
More polling: "After hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria blitzed the nation, most Americans think weather disasters are getting more severe and see global warming's fingerprints," the Associated Press reports in a summary of their new survey conducted with University of Chicago researchers.
Go deeper: Dive into the details of the multi-question poll here.