Axios Generate

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July 26, 2017

Good morning and welcome back to Generate! With health care battles consuming Capitol Hill, this is probably a good time to mention that Axios has a must-read morning health care newsletter called Vitals. You can sign up for Vitals and all the free Axios newsletters here.

But, don't fret. Congress also is working on multiple energy pieces. Let's dive in . . .

Big auto news: U.K. plans 2040 ban on gas and diesel car sales

The British government plans to phase out sales of new gasoline and diesel-powered cars by 2040, according to the Financial Times.

Axios' Steve LeVine explains how the policy could have a broader impact, particularly after the French also announced a future ban earlier this month. The Netherlands and India as well have set similar targets.

Why it matters: The moves by large European and Asian economies will help bolster the small but growing market for electric vehicles as a number of automakers expand their offerings.

  • EVs are one part of the puzzle as policymakers seek to curb carbon emissions enough to avoid the most dangerous levels of global warming.

Go deeper: The new targets could influence forecasts of electric vehicles' market penetration in coming decades, lending support to more bullish predictions. Bloomberg New Energy Finance has a nice comparison of competing EV growth forecasts, including their own recent prediction that EVs will account for 54% of new car sales worldwide by 2040.

Congress update: energy spending, sanctions, wholesale power

Spending fight: The full House today will begin debating a multi-agency spending package that would make deep cuts to Energy Department R&D programs. The dozens of amendments slated for votes during this week's debate are listed here.

  • The suite of amendments include measures that would restore the proposed cuts to research in renewables and fossil energy and would strike language that bars closure of the Yucca Mountain project.

Sanctions: Yesterday the House overwhelmingly approved sanctions legislation targeting Russia, North Korea, and Iran, and the Senate is expected to endorse the House bill. But it remains unclear whether the White House will sign the bill that prevents President Trump from relaxing sanctions without congressional approval.

  • What it means for oil-and-gas: The bill is a win for companies who told lawmakers that the Senate version of the measure would have thwarted projects in multiple countries.
  • The House bill still restricts U.S. companies' work with Russian firms on deepwater, Arctic, and shale projects, but only if Russian interests hold at least a 33% stake in the development. We looked more closely at the changes obtained by oil lobbyists here.

Power sector in focus: Top officials from the nation's regional power grid operators will brief a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee today about the state of wholesale electricity markets.

  • Why it matters: Energy subcommittee chairman Fred Upton said he will use the hearing to explore a series of "evolving" challenges, including cost-recovery hurdles that some power companies face amid weak consumption growth and wholesale prices at near-record lows.

Carbon taxes: Two liberal Democratic senators — Sheldon Whitehouse and Brian Schatz — will unveil a carbon tax proposal at an event hosted by the conservative American Enterprise Institute this afternoon. Axios' Amy Harder set the table here.

Climate: In the House, the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus is now up to 50 members, with the additions announced yesterday of Republican Rep. Steve Knight and Democratic Rep. Marcy Kaptur.

Exxon's big find gets even bigger

Striking: Exxon said Tuesday that it found even more hydrocarbons in a huge field off the coast of Guyana, increasing the "Payara" discovery to over 500 million barrels worth of oil and gas.

The newly announced results of test wells in the field bring the estimated resources in the wider region called the Stabroek Block to somewhere in the range of 2.25 billion-2.75 billion barrels.

Why it matters: The recent and ongoing discoveries off Guyana's coast show that despite the industry's zeal for onshore shale in the U.S., there are still big "elephant" fields out there to be found offshore.

And Exxon's long-term, multi-billion dollar project shows how oil majors are confident that the global thirst for crude won't abate anytime soon, despite some forecaster's chatter about peak demand arriving as soon as late in the next decade.

Exxon and its partners announced in June that they were moving ahead with the multi-billion dollar commercial development of the nearby Liza field, estimating phase 1 production of 120,000 barrels per day beginning in 2020.

Go deeper: The resources off Guyana are part of a geologic hydrocarbon bounty along the South American and West African coasts left over from breakup of the supercontinent Pangaea around 200 million years ago.

My Axios colleague Steve LeVine explored the topic for Quartz last year.

More oil notes

Earnings: Bloomberg previews the biggest oil-and-gas companies' upcoming second-quarter profit reports as "oil majors are learning to live with $50 crude" and the industry "rediscovers how to make money at lower prices."

  • Crystal ball: Their compilation of analysts' estimates shows that Exxon and Shell are forecast to more than double their Q2 profits compared with a year earlier.

Markets: MarketWatch has a good look at the factors behind Tuesday's jump in prices, the biggest one-day increase this year.

  • They list a cocktail of reasons, including: Saudi plans to cut exports; Nigeria's pledge to cut exports; signs that some U.S. companies could cut exploration spending plans (Anadarko announced such a move); and expectations that the U.S. Energy Information Administration will report another drop in crude stockpiles later today.

Shale: An analysis by IHS Markit looks at hedging strategies as one reason why production in the Permian Basin keeps growing and growing even at modest prices.

  • "The Permian-focused operators have locked in a substantially higher portion of production than their non-Permian counterparts, providing support for the group's aggressive production-growth targets," they note.

OPEC: Over at the The Fuse blog, Matt Piotrowski takes stock of the cartel's strategy to ease inventories and boost prices in light of the meeting in Russia between officials from OPEC and other nations to the production-limiting deal.

  • "In some regards, the OPEC cut can be considered a failure so far, given that the cartel hasn't achieved its goals. But the next nine months or so will be an even bigger test, since a number of analysts expect tighter conditions throughout the rest of 2017," he writes.

Amy’s notebook: New York and Illinois lag on clean power goals

Amy reports...

Two big states, New York and Illinois, are lagging in their goals to power their electricity with renewable sources of energy, according to a new report out by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, one of the DOE's research labs.

The details: New York is just 35% of the way toward meeting interim targets; its overall goal is 50% renewables in 2030. Illinois is 60% of the way toward its interim target; its overall goal is to get a fourth of its energy from renewables by 2025. Most other states are meeting their goals, the lab report says.

Why it matters: These two states are among a few grappling with early retirements of nuclear power plants, which provide carbon-free electricity. Both states recently enacted policies subsidizing economically struggling nuclear power plants in their states, but neither of their renewable-electricity standards were broadened to include nuclear power as an option to meet the standard itself. Nuclear power is not considered renewable because its underlying fuel, uranium, is mined and is not renewable like wind and solar.

What's next: The ability of Illinois and New York to find carbon-free electricity sources will only get harder as reactors retire and are at least partially replaced by natural gas, which does emit carbon.

On my screen: storage, Al Gore, environmental watchdog

Storage: Utility Dive reports on the growth of projects that combine conventional gas-fired power generation with battery storage, and what it means for providers of the hybrid equipment and the grid.

  • "For GE, the hybrid turbine is the next iteration of a shift the company has made to adapt to a market in which there is a greater need for flexible generation that can quickly adapt to a higher level of intermittent renewable resources on the grid," their piece notes.

Gore's done with Trump: Al Gore tells the Washington Post that he's unlikely to keep communicating with Trump in light of his decision to bail on the Paris climate accord. Gore had met with Trump in December and kept up discussions until the speech where the president made his Paris announcement.

  • "Gore said he has not spoken with the president since that Rose Garden speech, and does not plan to, 'barring some unusual set of circumstances that I can't foresee,'" the paper reports.

Climate: "The U.S. electric industry knew as far back as 1968 that burning fossil fuels might cause global warming, but cast doubt on the science of climate change and ramped up coal use for decades afterward, an environmental watchdog group said on Tuesday," Reuters reports.

One intriguing (or ironic) tweet

Yesterday the Twitter feed of the DOE's PR shop highlighted Senate progress on spending legislation.

But that means they're calling attention to legislation that splits sharply with the White House budget request. The bill moving through the Senate does not include the proposed cuts to science, and trims far less from renewables and nuclear R&D programs than the White House is seeking. Nor does it back the proposal to kill off the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy.

Context: Is it another message? Energy secretary Rick Perry, in recent Capitol Hill appearances, has distanced himself from the White House request, saying it was crafted before he was confirmed. A DOE press aide did not respond to a request for comment.