Jul 16, 2019

Axios Generate

By Ben Geman
Ben GemanAmy Harder

Welcome back! My Axios colleague Amy Harder chatted with PV Magazine about the energy landscape and how she covers it. Check it out.

Today's Smart Brevity count: 1,033 words (< 4 min read).

And happy birthday to drummer extraordinaire Stewart Copeland, who played for some obscure rock band who provides today's intro tune...

1 big thing: Coal communities' peril
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Adapted from Morris, et. al, 2019,  "The risk of fiscal collapse in coal-reliant communities"; Chart; Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Local governments face severe economic risks from coal's ongoing decline and future climate policies, yet often fail to disclose these threats in their municipal bond filings, a new report shows.

Why it matters: It's a sobering look at what could be in store for specific mining-dependent regions, where coal revenues account for a third or even more of the budget, and the sector's collapse would have severe ripple effects.

  • The analysis — from a Columbia University energy think tank and the Brookings Institution — arrives as Democratic White House hopefuls push emissions policies that would hasten coal's power-sector decline.
  • However, the Democratic proposals also aim to help fossil fuel workers and communities transition to other economic sectors.

What they found: One conclusion is that "even a moderately stringent climate policy could create existential risks for the coal industry." Mining employs roughly 53,000 people and its economic importance to coal-dependent regions affects far more people still.

  • A second is that while new climate policies would further threaten coal-mining regions' ability to pay outstanding bond debt, their filings fail to capture this.
  • "[O]ur review of the outstanding bonds indicates that municipalities are at best uneven and at worst misleading (by omission) in their characterizations of climate-related risks," it states.

The bottom line: The report emphasizes the need for economic diversification of coal-reliant economies — and federal investment and support for these regions and their workers.

  • "A new source of government revenue may be required to push a serious economic development program across the finish line, and logical source of these funds would be a federal carbon price," it states.

Go deeper: Coal communities risk fiscal collapse (Washington Examiner)

2. New in business: $44M for EV charging player
Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

Volta Charging, which provides free electric vehicle charging stations supported by advertising, said Tuesday that the investment firm Energy Impact Partners is providing a $44 million loan to support expansion of the network.

Why it matters: Expansion of charging is one of the keys to expanding EV market penetration. More charging availability helps give consumers confidence in the technology, which now accounts for just a tiny slice of U.S. vehicle sales.

Background: San Francisco-based Volta was founded in 2010 and says it's now the nation's largest free charging network, with over 700 stations in 10 states. Retail partners include Whole Foods and Macy's.

What they're saying: “Volta creates opportunities for brands to connect with their audience, while reducing ‘range anxiety’ and fitting an unmet need for EV drivers—free of charge," Energy Impact Partners managing partner Harry Giovani said in a statement.

Separately, another business note on emerging tech comes via Greentech Media, which writes...

"Tendril and Simple Energy, two Colorado-based startups focused on utility customer data analytics and energy engagement, have merged into a one-stop-shop for utilities’ customer-facing software needs."
3. Report: Trump's plan won't stem coal closures

S&P Global Market Intelligence reports that power companies aren't backing off plans to shut coal-fired power plants in coming years, despite EPA carbon rules that are softer than Obama-era plans.

Why it matters: It's the most deeply reported story I've seen about plant operators — not just analysts, though they're quoted too — saying the Trump administration policy won't affect utilities' moves away from coal.

Catch up fast: The story arrives a month after EPA finalized regulations that require greater efficiency from coal plants but are weaker than Obama-era emissions-cutting regulations.

What they did: S&P touched base with, or reviewed filings from, a suite of power companies including the Tennessee Valley Authority, NiSource, FirstEnergy Solutions and DTE Energy. Here's an example...

"NiSource Inc. said it is reviewing the [EPA] rule but does not expect any changes to its plan to retire all remaining coal-fired units by 2028. NiSource subsidiary Northern Indiana Public Service Co. will shut down the 1,625-MW R.M. Schahfer coal plant in 2023 and the 469-MW Michigan City coal plant in 2028."
4. Who's leading on 2020 Facebook climate ads
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Data: Bully Pulpit Interactive, March 30 to July 6, 2019;  Table: Harry Stevens/Axios

When it comes to 2020 hopefuls using Facebook for climate-related ads, there's Washington Governor Jay Inslee and then everyone else.

The big picture: Data gathered by communications agency Bully Pulpit Interactive shows Inslee's climate-focused campaign accounts for over two-thirds of the $671,000 spent from March 30 to July 6.

Where it stands: Inslee yesterday reported raising $3 million in Q2, which is far behind the top-tier hopefuls, as the New York Times lays out here.

The intrigue: Inslee's campaign has helped to raise the profile of climate policy in the 2020 contest.

  • But that hasn't translated into much political traction for Inslee himself, at least not yet. He's around 1% in the polls.

Go deeper: Inslee raises $3 million for presidential campaign in second quarter (Seattle Times)

5. Catch up fast: shale, climate, Interior

Oil deal: Monday brought news of a shale patch deal between Texas-based oil producers as Callon Petroleum announced it's acquiring Carrizo Oil & Gas in a stock transaction with a total value of $3.2 billion including debt.

  • The big picture: Per Houston Chronicle, "The deal is a merger of near-equals focused exclusively on Texas shale oil and gas in the booming Permian Basin and the Eagle Ford shale. The all-stock deal will leave Callon stockholders with a 54 percent stake and Carrizo investors with 46 percent."

Climate record: "Boosted by a historic heat wave in Europe and unusually warm conditions across the Arctic and Eurasia, the average temperature of the planet soared to its highest level ever recorded in June," the Washington Post reports, citing new federal data.

  • What's next: "[S]tay tuned for July numbers. July is the warmest month of the year globally. If this July turns out to be the warmest July (it has a good shot at it), it will be the warmest month we have measured on Earth!" Penn State climate scientist Michael Mann tweeted yesterday.

Interior shuffle: "The federal Bureau of Land Management will move its headquarters to Grand Junction, U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner said Monday, ending years of successful lobbying efforts by officials in Colorado," writes the Denver Post.

  • Why it matters: BLM's work includes permitting and oversight of oil-and-gas projects. WashPost notes that the plan would relocate roughly 300 workers from the Interior agency is part of a "broader push to shift power away from Washington."
  • The other side: "To avoid being marginalized in budget and policy decisions, the BLM Director needs to be close to agency and Congressional leadership in DC," former Interior scientist and whistleblower Joel Clement tweets.
Ben GemanAmy Harder