Axios Generate

A green lightbulb.

May 05, 2017

Happy Friday and welcome back to Generate!

This weekend—very late tonight actually—your host is eager to see a fascinating experiment in human energy: a Nike-backed attempt to break two hours in the marathon under tightly controlled conditions on a Formula One track in Italy. Viewing info here. The expert consensus is that it's super-duper-duper unlikely, but that the extraordinary Eliud Kipchoge has the best chance. has a great and appropriately skeptical table-setter here.

Ok let's dive in . . .

Down to the wire in Paris

A few quick follow up notes to my Axios colleague Jonathan Swan's scoop about pivotal upcoming Trump-world meetings on the Paris climate pact...

Obscure but important: A key architect of the 2015 pact walked back comments to E&E News claiming that the accord's wording prevent the U.S. from softening its emissions pledge.

  • Former French diplomat Laurence Tubiana, on Twitter later in the day, clarified that the U.S. can legally scale-back its carbon-cutting pledge "but politically they should not."

Why it matters: The episode underscores how the White House decision could hinge on whether Trump's aides believe the U.S. has running room to formally scale back Obama's commitment, in lieu of bailing outright.

  • The White House wants to avoid creating legal jeopardy for Trump's aggressive moves to abandon Obama's domestic regulations.
  • The White House counsel's office supports the (contrarian) view that the U.S. cannot lower its emissions pledge, according to multiple press reports.

Quick take: While many experts say the Paris framework does not create legal constraints, lingering White House doubt could tip the balance toward withdrawing.

What's next: A decision could happen as soon as next week. The White House has said it will arrive at its position before G-7 heads of state summit late this month.

DOE rebuffs bid for grid study stakeholder process

I'm into follow-ups today. So remember that Generate item Monday about renewable industry groups urging DOE to create a formal process to allow outside input before DOE completes its grid reliability report?

Don't hold your breath: "The findings will be released to the public (including stakeholders) once the study is completed this summer. The Secretary looks forward to receiving input from all parties once that occurs," DOE spokeswoman Shaylyn Hynes tells Axios.

Why it matters: the absence of a formal stakeholder comment process during the report's creation is sure to fuel cleantech industry fears that that DOE will find that environmental regs and pro-renewables policies could threaten the reliability of big baseload coal and nuclear by driving early plant closures.

Goldman Sachs sizes up controversial solar trade petition

A new Goldman Sachs research note explores the implications of solar panel maker Suniva's petition to the Trump administration for steep import duties on photovoltaic cells and modules.

Bottom line: Granting the petition could roughly double prices and could have a seismic effect on U.S. solar power project markets by lowering project developers' returns, and demand could "drop significantly."

  • All-in costs for utility-scale projects would climb by an estimated 30 percent, with a 15 percent increase for residential projects.

To be sure: Their research note acknowledges a range of possible outcomes. It's a best guess, in other words.

What they're saying: "We expect solar installations would fall precipitously in the US on the back of lower returns in a higher-priced module [average sale price] environment," Goldman writes.

  • "While we cannot precisely estimate customer demand elasticity, we would expect it to be severe considering the top reason for solar adoption at utilities and among homeowners has always been costs."

One level deeper: The federal Energy Information Administration provided a useful look yesterday at the growth of the utility-scale solar market in the U.S.

From Amy’s notebook: in politics, Paris won’t matter

Regardless of what President Trump does with the Paris climate deal, influential climate activists will carry on their attacks.

"I don't think it's relevant," Tom Steyer, a billionaire hedge fund investor turned climate activist, told Axios' Amy Harder Thursday about whether Trump stays in or withdraws from the climate accord. "Either way they have absolutely no intention of living up to any kind of progressive energy policy."

  • Why this matters: Steyer's comment indicates the fight between the environmental left and the Trump administration will rage on regardless.
  • The facts: Trump is already in the process of throwing out Obama's main commitment to the deal: an EPA regulation cutting carbon emissions from power plants. The main substance of the U.S. pledge is gone for good.
  • To be sure: On a diplomatic and symbolic level, it matters a lot what the administration does. European nations and others have made veiled threats to impose tariffs on U.S. goods if Trump pulls out, which could ultimately cause concrete consequences of withdrawing. But that's jumping to far-flung potential scenarios.

A few things on my screen

A really, really big idea: A Harvard Business Review column makes the case for the business world to think far more expansively about what's needed to meet world's climate, health and sustainability goals.

  • Meeting the UN's sustainable development goals is a multi-trillion dollar opportunity, but, "we have to break out of the zone of incremental change. . . . There's an urgent and intensifying need to shift toward real breakthroughs."
  • "[W]e have to admit that our planet has strict boundaries on the activities it can support, and that by exceeding these boundaries, we're helping climate change to accelerate at an alarming pace."

Big picture on oil: The Financial Times sizes up the majors' earnings season with a piece noting that good results on the backs of the price rebound don't mean all is rosy for behemoths like Chevron and Shell.

Huh, that's interesting: The Wall Street Journal has a look at the rather opaque world of sustainable investment funds.

  • For instance, it looks at how one fund initially branded as "fossil fuel free" had holdings in drilling-rig giant Transocean, coal and gas-reliant utility Southern Company, and Valero refining.
  • "These loosely defined strategies offer a feel-good tilt while still preserving broad market exposure, which muddies the difference between responsible funds and their plain-vanilla peers."

Thanks for reading! Tips and feedback and predictions on Nike's Breaking2 experiment are welcome at [email protected]. Have a great weekend.