Oct 8, 2019

Axios Generate

By Ben Geman
Ben GemanAmy Harder

Good morning! Today's Smart Brevity count: 902 words, ~ 3 minutes.

This is cool: Axios on HBO” Season 2 returns 6 p.m. ET/PT Sunday, October 20th on all HBO platforms. Tune in: Oct. 20 & 27 + Nov. 3 & 10.

And today marks the 1980 release date of Talking Heads' "Remain in Light," so let's go into the blue again...

1 big thing: Fanning California's climate flames
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Reproduced from Next 10's Green Innovation Index; Chart: Axios Visuals

California power giant PG&E may shut off electricity in parts of roughly 30 counties to stem risks of downed power lines sparking wildfires when strong and dry winds arrive later this week.

Why it matters: The plan announced Monday, which the San Francisco Chronicle called "unprecedented," highlights how utilities are grappling with dangers heightened by global warming.

Climate change and the hotter and drier conditions it brings are among the forces that increase fire risks and severity.

The big picture: The utility's announcement comes as a new report Tuesday shows how California's fatal and devastating wildfires in 2018, in addition to their human toll, were a major source of carbon emissions as they burned nearly 2 million acres.

Threat level: Wildfires are another reason why California will be hard-pressed to meet requirements in state law to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40% below 1990s levels by 2030, the report finds.

  • "As the wildfire seasons grow longer and our lands grow dryer, managing this threat will be critical to our climate success," states the report from the nonprofit group Next 10 and the firm Beacon Economics.

What they found: Last year's fires were a larger emissions source than 2017 levels from the state's commercial, residential or agricultural sectors, as the chart above shows.

The important numbers: "California has achieved consistent emissions reductions annually for the past several years, reducing emissions by 1.15 percent economy-wide in 2017," the annual report on California's emissions states.

"But these achievements were eclipsed several times over by the 2018 wildfires, which produced more than nine times more emissions than were reduced in 2017," it adds.

Where it stands: The bankrupt utility said the plan could affect more than 600,000 customers.

"This is shaping up to be one of the most severe dry wind events we’ve seen in our territory in recent years, and we want our customers to be prepared for an extended outage that may last several days," said Michael Lewis, PG&E's senior VP for electric operations, in a statement.

What's next: Some outages appear inevitable.

"The utility confirmed Monday afternoon that it plans to begin shutting off power in Napa County beginning early Wednesday morning due to a 'potentially widespread, strong and dry wind event' that is forecast through Thursday afternoon," CBS News reports.

Go deeper: Humans are a wildfire threat multiplier

2. How Rick Perry measures up (so far)
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Data: Department of Energy; Chart: Axios Visuals

Energy Secretary Rick Perry told reporters in Lithuania yesterday that his departure from DOE isn't imminent.

What they're saying: "They’ve been writing the story for at least nine months now. One of these days they will probably get it right, but it’s not today, it’s not tomorrow, it’s not next month," he said, per Reuters and others.

But, but, but: "Not next month" doesn't exactly knock down recent reports that he's planning to step down this year.

The chart above shows that if Perry does indeed leave soon, his tenure would be shorter than some predecessors at the department, but much longer than others.

Go deeper:

3. Electric buses are having a moment

The electric bus maker Proterra announced yesterday that Miami-Dade County is buying 33 of its 40-foot, Proterra Catalyst E2 models.

Why it matters: California-based Proterra called it the "largest electric bus order on the East Coast."

The order is the latest sign of growing global adoption of the technology that nonetheless remains very heavily concentrated in China.

What they're saying: Nick Albanese of the research firm BloombergNEF tells me that electrification of bus fleets in the U.S. is happening slightly faster than they predicted.

  • They had previously forecast the U.S. fleet to reach 675 by year's end, but it has already surpassed 600.
  • "Growing concern about urban air quality and new financing mechanisms (like battery leasing) have been big drivers," he tells me via email.

The big picture: The Miami-Dade order is one of several recent buys in the U.S. and elsewhere.

For instance, InsideEVs reported over the weekend: "Tata Motors is rapidly expanding its electric bus business in India and recently scored a contract for 300 vehicles for the Ahmedabad Janmarg Limited."

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Speaking of large EVs used in fleets, this caught my eye a few days back: Anheuser-Busch is buying 21 BYD Class 8 (i.e. huge) electric trucks for use in California.

Why it matters: It's the "largest Class 8 electric truck deployment in North America," the companies said in a joint release.

4. Catch up fast: Oil, coal, EVs

Climate: Bloomberg points out that oil giants' moves away from projects that have the largest carbon footprint doesn't necessarily mean that those reserves go undeveloped.

Instead, "that may only offload the emissions problem onto another company," Bloomberg notes, in looking at moves including BP's sale of its Alaskan assets.

Courts: The Casper Star-Tribune reports on a newly revealed wrinkle in the big coal producer Blackjewel's bankruptcy case.

"[A] court document filed Saturday revealed the federal government has been investigating Blackjewel for potential fraud since before the company filed for bankruptcy, adding another possible wrinkle to a case that has rattled Wyoming’s coal country for over three months," the paper reports.

Electric cars: The Financial Times reports that the dire financial struggles of the Chinese EV startup Nio are a window onto something bigger.

"Nio’s disastrous year is a cautionary tale for dozens of small would-be car pioneers looking to gain a toehold in the industry as they try to compete with established giants such as Volkswagen and Toyota," their piece notes.

Ben GemanAmy Harder