Sep 27, 2018

Axios Generate

By Ben Geman
Ben GemanAmy Harder

Good morning and welcome back! Don’t forget to RSVP for tomorrow’s Axios event on global competition in a 5G world.

And, September has historically been a good month for Neil Young album releases. So a cut from "Ragged Glory," a burst of Neil Young & Crazy Horse brilliance which turned 28 this month, is today's intro tune...

1 big thing: C-suite makeovers
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The changing of the guard at auto giant Daimler is the latest C-suite move at auto and energy giants that will help shape the future of both industries.

Driving the news: Daimler yesterday said that CEO Dieter Zetsche will step aside for current development head Ola Källenius, who the Wall Street Journal notes has been "leading the car maker’s push into electric vehicles and self-driving cars."

The big picture: The move comes after rival Volkswagen, the world's largest automaker, announced a new CEO at a time when it's also expanding its EV program.

  • And in the oil industry, U.S. behemoths ExxonMobil and Chevron have farily new bosses who are taking a different tack on climate change than their predecessors — a topic we covered here.
  • The oil industry's most powerful trade group, the American Petroleum Institute, also has a new leader in Mike Sommers, who took over recently.
  • Uber has a rather new CEO in Dara Khosrowshahi, who is running the company at a time when some experts fear the explosive growth of ride-hailing will boost carbon emissions (more on that below).

My thought bubble: A big question is whether there will be a bankshot effect that alters the Beltway posture of powerful auto and oil industry trade groups, which often oppose or seek to scale back climate regulations.

  • One longstanding K Street dynamic is that trade associations sometimes stake out positions that are essentially to the right of some big members' views or practices.
2. Uber's push to be a carbon ally

Uber announced Wednesday that it's funneling $10 million over three years into a new "fund for sustainable mobility" to help address congestion, aid urban design, boost electrification and bicycle transit, and more.

Why it matters: The move arrives as some analysts and policymakers fear that the growth of ride-hailing is worsening urban traffic — and hence boosting emissions — and could be cannibalizing mass transit.

The details: Some goals for the Uber fund, the company says, include...

  • Advocating for congestion pricing in cities.
  • "We’re ready to do our part to help cities that want to put in place smart policies to tackle congestion—even if that means paying money out of our own pocket to pass a tax on our core business," CEO Dara Khosrowshahi says in the announcement.
  • $250,000 will go to the nonprofit transportation data organization SharedStreets.
  • They're also contributing to alternatives to car use, including a donation to the group PeopleForBikes.
  • More: TechCruch has a good rundown of the initiatives here.

The big picture: Fast Company's piece on the new efforts takes stock of Uber's wider evolution. Eillie Anzilotti writes:

Whereas in the early days, Uber thrived by positioning itself as a luxurious counterpoint to public transit, and a more convenient alternative to car travel in a city by doing away with the need to search for parking, it’s now trying to position itself as one node in a city’s transportation fabric, and potentially one that can use its reach and revenue to create broader change.

Separately, SharedStreets announced that it's collaborating with Uber, Lyft and Ford. Via a joint statement, the companies say:

The data sets pledged by the companies will provide the public and private sectors with new tools to manage curb space in order to reduce congestion and emissions that cause climate change; improve the efficiency of city streets by making it easier for everyone to get around; and save lives by preventing traffic crashes.

Go deeper: How Uber is making traffic even worse

3. Where the barrels are

Breaking Thursday: "Saudi Arabia will quietly add extra oil to the market over the next couple of months to offset a drop in Iranian production but is worried it might need to limit output next year to balance global supply and demand as the United States pumps more crude," Reuters reports.

  • Citing sources familiar with the plans, they report that the kingdom plans to boost production by 200,000 to 300,000 barrels per day (bpd) beyond its 10.4 million bpd level from August.

Why it matters: The report arrives amid a tight market as the U.S. is seeking to drive down Iranian exports with sanctions that formally resume in November.

The intrigue: Per S&P Global Platts, "The Trump administration is not considering a release from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in order to blunt the impact of looming US sanctions on Iranian crude oil exports on the global oil market, US Energy Secretary Rick Perry said Wednesday."

  • Speculation about a potential release had increased in recent days amid President Trump's attacks on OPEC.
  • Yes, but: Perry is tamping down on the prospect of additional releases beyond the previously announced distribution in October and November of 11 million barrels, which is required under a legislatively required sale announced last month.
  • But, but, but: Via Twitter, there may be cause to take Perry's comments with a grain of salt.
4. A troubled nuclear project stays alive
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The only nuclear power project under construction in the U.S. will proceed after co-owners reached an 11th-hour deal Wednesday on how to handle further cost overruns.

Why it matters: For days the future of Southern Company's delayed, way-over-budget construction of two new reactors at its Vogtle plant has been cloudy.

  • A decision to halt the now-$27 billion project would have been another major wound to the badly struggling U.S. nuclear industry.
  • The new reactors are slated to come online in 2021 and 2022.

The details: Under the arrangement described in this filing, Southern subsidiary Georgia Power, which has a 45.7% stake in the project, agreed to assume a larger share of future cost increases. Per the Securities and Exchange Commission filing:

  • They're on the hook for 55.7% of increases of up to $1.6 billion, and 65.7% of increases up to $2.1 billion.
  • And if costs balloon even more, the other owners could sell a portion of their stake to Georgia Power in exchange for Georgia Power agreeing to pay their share of those overruns.
  • Plus: "In this event, Georgia Power would have the option of cancelling the project in lieu of purchasing a portion of the ownership interest of any other Vogtle Owner."

The other owners of the project are the Oglethorpe Power, the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia, and Dalton Utilities.

The big picture: Via Utility Dive...

  • "The decision to continue construction of the Vogtle plant is a win for Southern and a boon for the fragile U.S. nuclear industry."
  • "The Department of Energy warned last week that cancelation of the project would strike a blow to the teetering sector and prompt the repayment of billions in federal loans."
5. Electric vehicle notes

EV charging: Axios Expert Voices contributor Maggie Teliska writes that the Electric Vehicle Charging Carbon Coalition (EVCCC) recently announced a new method to certify the contribution of EV charging stations to the reduction of greenhouse gases (GHG).

  • The certification would give EV charging station investors and installers access to the voluntary carbon market, which enables buyers to purchase carbon credits to offset their own emissions.
  • Go deeper.

Tesla: Per Bloomberg, "Panasonic Corp., the sole battery supplier for Tesla Inc.’s best-selling Model 3, is taking steps to help Elon Musk solve the 'production hell' problem that has plagued the car that’s key to making profits."

  • The story describes Panasonic's efforts to accelerate output at Tesla's Gigafactory in Nevada.

Trucks: This Financial Times feature gets into why, despite all the attention, electrified heavy trucking is unlikely to grab much of diesel's dominant market share anytime remotely soon.

Ben GemanAmy Harder