Jun 26, 2019

Axios Generate

By Ben Geman
Ben GemanAmy Harder

Welcome back!

Today's Smart Brevity count: 1,198 words/ <5 minute read.

And today marks the 1975 release date of "The Basement Tapes" from Bob Dylan and The Band, who open today's edition...

1 big thing: How warming fuels energy demand

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A new peer-reviewed study finds that higher temperatures could bring large increases in energy demand as use of cooling soars, far outweighing reduced need for heating.

Why it matters: The paper published in Nature Communications finds that depending on future warming levels, global demand in 2050 could be 11%–58% higher than what's otherwise expected based on economic development and population growth.

One level deeper: While the total and regional ranges are significant, the paper notes: "We find broad agreement among [Earth System Models] that energy demand rises by more than 25% in the tropics and southern regions of the USA, Europe and China."

What's new: "These are the first globally comprehensive estimates of how much energy demand will change due to the increase in temperatures that is projected to happen, not just globally averaged but depending on where around the globe different climate models say it is going to be hotter rather than colder compared to the global mean,” Boston University professor and co-author Ian Sue Wing tells Axios.

My thought bubble: The paper underscores a sticky problem. Adapting to warming could make cutting emissions even harder if those higher energy needs aren't met with low-carbon sources.

  • The paper — co-authored by researchers with the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis and Ca’ Foscari University of Venice — does not model how additional demand will be met.
  • "The emissions story is going to depend on how we choose to generate that additional electricity,” Sue Wing said.

What they did: The study is a global and regional look at potential warming-driven energy demand increases in 2050, looking at use of electricity, petroleum and natural gas in four sectors: industry, housing, business and agriculture.

They modeled a large set of potential outcomes based on 2 major emissions scenarios commonly employed by scientists.

  • One shows emissions soaring essentially unchecked through the century, enabling large temperature increases.
  • The other is an emissions peak around 2040, follow by a plateau and decline, which still brings significant warming.

But, but, but: The authors acknowledge limitations in the modeling and the need for future research.

  • Their analysis does not consider factors including changes in energy prices that could dampen energy demand growth, technological improvements, policy changes and more localized energy demand responses.
2. Here come the Democratic debates

Protester at a Greenpeace rally calling for a presidential campaign climate debate, June 12, Washington, DC. Photo: Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images

Tonight will be a test of how much climate change has broken through as an A-list topic in national politics as Democrats hold the first of 2 consecutive primary debates in Miami.

Why it matters: Climate has barely surfaced in past cycles. But Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez wrote in a statement earlier this month that "based on our conversations with networks, climate change will be discussed early and often during our party’s primary debates."

The intrigue: Perez's lengthy statement was a rebuff to calls from multiple candidates — led by Jay Inslee — and activists for a debate focused solely on the topic.

Where it stands: A Morning Consult/Politico poll published yesterday shows climate change in the top tier of topics that Democratic voters want discussed onstage.

  • 63% of voters polled said it's "very important" for the 2020 hopefuls to address it at the debate. The survey's margin of error is ±4%.
3. The strange demise of Oregon's big climate bill

The Oregonian reports...

"Oregon Senate President Peter Courtney said Tuesday that the climate change bill that prompted Republicans’ walkout lacks the votes necessary to pass because not enough Democrats support it."

Why it matters: It's a big setback for advocates seeking expansive state climate measures as the White House abandons Obama-era federal policies. The Oregon cap-and-trade bill aims to cut state emissions 80% below 1990 levels by 2050.

Driving the news: The apparent demise came after a wild few days in which...

  • GOP lawmakers fled the state capitol to prevent a quorum, and Democratic Gov. Kate Brown deployed state cops to look for them.
  • One GOP state senator appeared to threaten violence if police tried to bring him back.
  • Far-right militias offered support for the GOP lawmakers, per AP and others, while HuffPost notes the senators "have disavowed a local militia group that offered to defend them."
  • It's a sharp contrast to New York State, where last week the Democratically controlled legislature passed legislation — which Gov. Andrew Cuomo will sign — that requires an 85% cut in emissions by 2050.

Where it stands: I'm not close enough to Oregon politics to know whether the GOP walkout and surrounding events changed the Democratic vote calculus.

  • Democrats needed 16 of their 18 state senators to vote for it. Beyond Courtney's statement, Senate Majority Leader Ginny Burdick told reporters the votes weren't there, per several accounts.
  • But Nancy Hamilton, co-director of Oregon Business for Climate, told me via email last night: "We had continued to push for a floor vote because we had confidence we had the votes."

Quick take: It's worth watching to see if abandoning the state to thwart the bill signals conservative tactics to come as advocates push more far-reaching climate measures in various states.

  • "[B]y caving to the threat of violence and theatrics, Oregon Democrats just paved the way for more extremist responses to climate legislation," writes Earther's Brian Kahn.
4. Why a huge renewable-energy power line failed

Axios' Amy Harder reports... America was “tantalizingly” close to building what would have amounted to a superhighway power line sending renewable energy across the country, but local opposition, government delay and utility disinterest killed it.

What's happening: In the new book "Superpower: One Man's Quest to Transform American Energy," WSJ reporter Russell Gold documents in excruciating detail the reality of just how hard it is to build big infrastructure projects in the United States.

What’s more, this 700-mile-long power line was for something that ostensibly has a lot of support: renewable energy.

The big picture: The book is part biography of entrepreneur Michael Skelly — whose now-shuttered firm tried to build the power line — part historical record on electricity, and part lesson in trying big things against myriad obstacles.

Skelly’s firm, Clean Line Energy Partners, was founded in 2009 to move wind power from Oklahoma to Tennessee, but folded in 2017 after legal, political and bureaucratic obstacles mounted, including:

  • A slow start on federal review at the Energy Department under then-President Obama.
  • Lawsuits and legislation from lawmakers and residents in Arkansas, which the line would pass through, and Tennessee.
  • Mixed messages but ultimately no interest from Tennessee Valley Authority, a government-owned utility, to buy the wind power.
  • A lack of support, despite President Trump listing it as an infrastructure priority.

Go deeper: How America’s biggest renewable-energy power line failed

5. Catch up fast: Crude, Tesla, solar

Markets: "Oil prices rose on Wednesday, buoyed by an outage at a major refinery on the U.S. East Coast and industry data that showed U.S. crude stockpiles fell more than expected," Reuters reports.

Electric cars: Per Bloomberg, "Tesla Inc. could be on the verge of a quarterly record for vehicle deliveries, though the electric carmaker will need to go 'all out' in the last few days of the month, Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk wrote in an internal memo."

  • CNBC reports that BMW "announced that it will meet its target of marketing 25 electrified vehicle models by 2023 — two years earlier than expected."

Solar: Greentech Media reports on a major move by a Nevada utility: "NV Energy one-upped its huge 2018 solar and storage procurement on Tuesday, announcing three new solar projects totaling 1,200 megawatts paired with 590 megawatts of battery storage."

Ben GemanAmy Harder