December 20, 2018

Happy Thursday!

Situational awareness: Crude oil prices are heading back downward this morning. Reuters notes they fell to the lowest point in over a year thanks to "worries about oversupply and the outlook for energy demand as a U.S. interest rate rise knocked stock markets."

Onto music. We're on the 3rd and final day of our Keith Richards' 75th birthday celebration, so the Rolling Stones play us into one more edition this week...

1 big thing: Tracking the countermoves to Trump

Image of energy extraction and production facilities
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

An important new commentary in the journal Nature Climate Change offers a path for quantifying the emissions-cutting initiatives emerging from cities, states, companies and others worldwide.

Why it matters: These efforts are a key part of the climate policy landscape. And that's especially true as these parties respond to the White House abandoning Obama-era initiatives and planning to quit the Paris agreement, and as scientific warnings pile up about the need for steep and near-term CO2 cuts.

  • But that creates a thorny problem too, which is how to make sense of the real-world emissions-cutting effects of this global kaleidoscope of sub-national and non-state efforts.
  • Right now, attempts to create accurate comparisons and tallies are limited by reliance on a mishmash of assumptions, methods and data sources.
  • "Existing global aggregation studies ... are fragmented and incomplete," the paper states.

What they found: The paper offers a "research roadmap" for getting a better handle on the it, with a suite of ideas around topics such as...

  • Creating "consistent taxonomies" for defining which types of actions are included in studies.
  • How to analyze and measure the policy and emissions baseline against which actions are seeking to cut emissions.
  • How to disentangle efforts to see which ones are overlapping and to what degree.
  • Assessing the likelihood that various pledges are actually implemented.

Details: To take just one example, the papers offer guidance for how to weigh different forms of "emissions overlap."

1. One form is geographic, wherein different actors target the same type of emissions source, such as power supply, in a shared region.

2. Another is "supply chain overlap," which "occurs when targeting the same emission source either from a supply perspective (car manufacturers, for example) or use perspective (initiatives to change company vehicle fleets)."

  • "If overlap exists, compare the ambition of overlapping actors’ GHG reductions, assuming that one actor adds to the effect of another if its ambition is higher," it suggests.
  • It then offers ways to determine whether there are "amplification effects" from overlapping actions.

The bottom line: "The ability to ratchet up global climate mitigation relies on all levels of government and various actors, but these efforts must now be matched with solid scientific approaches to assess mitigation effort, document progress and highlight the lessons learned over time," it finds.

2. Democrats grapple with climate plan

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More info about House Democrats' plan to create new select committee on clean energy and global warming is emerging — and creating tension between party leaders and insurgent progressives.

Driving the news: Via The Hill, Steny Hoyer, the No. 2 House Democrat, told reporters that the panel is not expected to have subpoena power. A leadership aide confirmed this to Axios and other outlets.

The intrigue: That drew pushback from progressive Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's office and youth-led activists pushing for a Select Committee on a "Green New Deal."

  • They envision the panel having investigative power in addition to writing a sweeping draft legislative proposal on climate, clean energy and jobs that's ready for launch in 2020.
  • Two groups backing the plan — the Sunrise Movement and Justice Democrats — accused Hoyer of offering a "toothless proposal."

Why it matters: The inside baseball reflects broader, more consequential questions and deliberations over how the party should prepare to act on climate policy if a political window for big legislation opens after the 2020 elections.

What they're saying:

"Our goal is to treat Climate Change like the serious, existential threat it is by drafting an ambitious solution on the scale necessary — aka a Green New Deal — to get it done. A weak committee misses the point & endangers people."
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, in a tweet
"Subpoena power is granted to committees in the standard [H]ouse rules. ... We are simply asking for what is the usual power granted to all committees."
— Saikat Chakrabarti, Ocasio-Cortez's chief of staff, via Twitter

The other side: The Democratic leadership aide said the intention not to grant subpoena power reflects how leadership envisions the new panel working with existing committees.

  • "The plan going forward will be for the select committee chair to work in close coordination with a standing committee chair should an issue arise," the aide said.
  • "Obviously depending on the issue that could be a different chair on different topics."

3. Shell boosts renewables push in U.S. and Asia

Royal Dutch Shell announced 2 new renewables deals Wednesday, the latest sign that oil-and-gas behemoths — especially the European-based majors — are increasingly moving into the zero-carbon power space.

Driving the news: Shell unveiled a joint venture with EDF Renewables North America, an arm of France-based global power giant EDF Group, to develop a wind energy lease off New Jersey's coast.

  • Separately, Shell said it has acquired a 49% stake in Cleantech Solar, a Singapore-based developer with projects in southeast Asia and India. The costs were not disclosed.

The big picture: It comes on the heels of a separate Shell-backed joint venture — this one with Portugal's EDP — submitting a $135 million winning bid Friday for a wind energy tract in federal waters off Massachusetts.

  • Plus, on the solar front, early this year Shell said it's spending $217 million to acquire a 44% stake in the U.S. solar power developer and operator Silicon Ranch.
  • Shell has also been moving into EV charging and other power initiatives beyond its core oil-and-gas business.

But, but, but: Big Oil's clean energy investments remain a very small part of their portfolios.

The bottom line: For perspective, the amount oil majors as a group have spent on renewables since 2016 represents less than 3% of their exploration and production spending, according to Wood Mackenzie.

The consultancy said in a note this week that they expect renewables spending to grow just slightly in 2019.

  • "Companies and investors will be wary of backing the wrong horse in new energy. It’s a sector they are still trying to understand," said WoodMac analyst Tom Ellacott.

4. Alphabet's energy storage project raises $26 million

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"Alphabet Inc.'s secretive X moonshot lab is spinning off an energy-storage project with backing from billionaires including Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates," Bloomberg reports.

Where it stands: The company, Malta Inc., announced $26 million in Series A funding from investors led by the Gates-backed Breakthrough Energy Ventures and also including Concord New Energy Group and Alfa Laval.

Why it matters: The need for storage will grow as more intermittent renewables are added to the grid, and it's an important part of scenarios for achieving the deep decarbonization of electricity.

The big picture: Via Bloomberg...

"The money will help Malta further develop a system that uses large vats of molten salt and cooler liquid to store electricity generated from variable sources such as solar and wind. The startup likely will need additional funds to build a full facility, according to Chief Executive Officer Ramya Swaminathan."

5. Following up: Exxon's methane move

On Wednesday, Axios’ Amy Harder wrote about a letter ExxonMobil sent to the EPA calling for it to keep intact and ramp up regulations on emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

Where it stands: Now, she reports, at least one environmentalist is saying that’s mostly empty words. Here's more from Amy...

Driving the news: David Doniger, a senior director at Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), says one of the last paragraphs of that letter show Exxon still supports scaling back certain requirements of the existing rule affecting new oil and gas wells.

“In the last paragraph, Exxon actually supports EPA’s proposed rollback of the current methane rules. The letter’s vague support for some future federal regulation of new and existing methane sources is similar to its vague support for carbon taxes. We haven’t seen the company put shoulder to the wheel on either subject.”
— David Doniger

The other side: On its support for a carbon tax, Exxon has put $1 million into a political advocacy campaign in Washington pushing such a policy. Its critics say that money is too little, too late.

The big picture: Methane is the primary component of natural gas and is sometimes purposefully or inadvertently leaked in the production and transport of the fuel, as well as when drilling for oil. The EPA has been slow in its approach toward rolling back Obama-era methane rules, in part due to industry divisions.

Exxon's response to NRDC: "We are heavily engaged in research and technology development with academia, vendors, NGOs and some other companies to find less costly, yet effective ways of detecting leaks and reducing emissions," spokesman Scott Silvestri said.

Go deeper: Big Oil walks tightrope on methane emissions

6. On my screen: CO2 taxes, LNG, states

Congress: The Washington Examiner reports, "Sens. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and Chris Coons, D-Del., on Wednesday introduced a carbon tax bill to combat climate change, just days before the end of the current session of Congress."

States: Two new long-term policy goals emerged this week...

  • New York: Per Greentech Media, "New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced Monday that he will push for New York to transition to 100 percent clean electricity by 2040, in a statement outlining his agenda for early 2019."
  • D.C.: Yes, I realize this is not a state. But via Utility Dive, the city council has sent an ambitious new goal to Mayor Muriel Bowser. "The city council of Washington, D.C. unanimously voted to approve a 100% renewable energy mandate by 2032, which would put the federal district on a faster path than any U.S. state to achieve the ambitious clean energy goal," they report.

LNG: Via AP, "Poland has signed a long-term deal with a U.S. company for supplies of liquefied natural gas as part of an effort to reduce its dependence on Russian energy, the two sides announced on Wednesday."

7. Tackling carbon from legal weed

Sira Naturals CEO Mike Dundas looks over plants at the Milford facility. Photo: Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Axios Expert Voices contributor Maggie Teliska looks at the energy implications now that Massachusetts opened the state’s first two recreational marijuana stores last month, which sold more than $2.2 million in product on their first day.

The big picture: The state's Cannabis Control Commission’s Energy Working Group (CCCEWG) is concerned with skyrocketing greenhouse gas emissions from the cultivating facilities.

  • Massachusetts aims to cut statewide emissions by 25% by 2020 and 80% by 2050. As of 2017, the state was at a 21% reduction, and many fear that the cultivation facilities' increasing energy demands may put the 25% goal at risk.

How it works: In cultivation facilities, marijuana producers commonly employ dehumidifiers and high-intensity discharge (HID) lights, which use 80 times the energy of a 100-watt LED bulb. HIDs also generate a significant amount of heat, which then requires ventilation and air conditioning to keep the plants at optimal temperatures.

By the numbers: The energy use of a marijuana-growing facility is 8–10 times that of a normal office of similar size.

Where it stands: To curb emissions, cultivation facilities will need to adopt more efficient (and more expensive) LED lighting and building improvements.

  • In March, the CCCEWG — which has been tasked with studying and outlining new regulations for energy use for both adult recreational and medical marijuana — put in place new electricity caps and lighting-power density standards that favor LEDs over HIDs.

What's next: The regulations are spurring innovation in sustainable growing technology, LED lighting and hydroponics, to name a few. While these efforts will initially be used in the cannabis industry, they could also benefit other agricultural industries, especially in areas without stable electricity access.

Teliska is a technical specialist at Caldwell Intellectual Property Law and a member of GLG, a platform connecting businesses with industry experts.