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Ernest Moniz. Photo: NurPhoto / Contributor

Axios’ Amy Harder moderated an event Thursday that included Ernest Moniz, energy secretary under former President Barack Obama, where she asked him about some significant developments.

The big picture: The event presented research looking at the challenges of transitioning communities heavily dependent on oil, natural gas and coal to cleaner energy sources to address climate change.

What they're saying: Amy also asked about three areas of focus in the news recently. Here are summaries and excerpts of those exchanges:

Amy: To what extent do you think variable wind and solar contributed to California’s recent rolling blackouts? The nonprofit you run, Energy Futures Initiative, issued a report last year detailing how important long-term, seasonal storage is to California's plans to ramp up its renewable energy.

Ernest Moniz:

“The issues that led to the recent rolling blackout problems were quite apparent. The message there is not ‘don’t do solar.’ It’s about addressing the system in a way that maintains reliability and manages the risk at all times. Unfortunately that is not the current ground truth. … I’m not saying that solar caused the problem, but the reality is, of course, California is way out in front in solar deployment and clearly there is nothing like the storage capacity to move that resource from the afternoon into the evening, so that’s a fact. … You really got to have the system integration and the risk management approaches coming together to make sure you don’t have reliability problems.”

Amy: You say that a key reason big action on climate change hasn’t occurred is because communities relying on oil, natural gas and coal don’t see a viable future for them. Some environmental activists say it’s not so much the workers, but the big fossil-fuel companies that are blocking action. To that end, they’re calling on the presidential campaign of Joe Biden to not take advice from officials who are connected to the fossil-fuel industry, which they say includes you and several other officials from the Obama administration. They cite your position on the board of Southern Company, an electric utility with a mix heavy on natural gas and coal.

Moniz:

“I do not agree with the characterization of the Southern Company as a fossil fuel company. It’s an electricity utility. It also is a natural gas supplier at a retail level. But that’s [like] the statement that anybody who drives an internal combustion car is a fossil fuel company because they use them. I think that’s the wrong way to look at it.”

Moniz went on to say that since he joined the board in March 2018, the company has been more active in reducing its carbon footprint.

“We should be looking at these companies as part of the solution as long as they keep at it. I just think it’s the wrong attitude. The attitude is it’s about the carbon.”

Amy: What is the state or region that you think will have the most difficult time transitioning to a clean-energy economy? Why?

Moniz:

New England. Moniz then went on to say that that region has in recent years opposed new and existing energy infrastructure, like natural-gas pipelines, hydropower and nuclear power plants that could help reduce emissions.

“There are a lot of nos. Where are the yeses? … If we are going to go to low carbon, where is it all going to come from? It’s not all going to come from offshore wind. That’s why we need pragmatic, realistic solutions.”

Go deeper: Click here to see a full video of the event.

Go deeper

Amy Harder, author of Generate
Dec 18, 2020 - Energy & Environment

How to judge America’s climate-change responsibility

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Historically, America has emitted the most greenhouse gases of any country in the world. But over the next 80 years, the U.S. may account for as little as 5% of such emissions.

Why it matters: Installing technologies to address climate change will, therefore, be most critical in places other than America where emissions’ growth is expected to be higher, according to physicist Varun Sivaram.

Scoop: Border officials project 13,000 child migrants in May

The "El Chaparral" border crossing at Tijuana. Photo: Stringer/Picture Alliance via Getty Images

A Customs and Border Protection staffer told top administration officials Thursday the agency is projecting a peak of 13,000 unaccompanied children crossing the border in May, sources directly familiar with the discussion told Axios.

Why it matters: That projection would exceed the height of the 2019 crisis, which led to the infamous "kids-in-cages" disaster. It also underscores a rapidly escalating crisis for the Biden administration.

5 hours ago - World

U.S. strikes Iran-backed militia facilities in Syria

President Biden at the Pentagon on Feb. 10. Photo: Alex Brandon - Pool/Getty Images

The United States on Thursday carried out an airstrike against facilities in Syria linked to an Iran-backed militia group, the Pentagon announced.

The state of play: The strike, approved by President Biden, comes "in response to recent attacks against American and Coalition personnel in Iraq, and to ongoing threats to those personnel," Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said in a statement.