Equilibrium & Sustainability

Equilibrium/Sustainability — Texas stares down the barrel of summer grid failure

AP Photo/David J. Phillip

Texas’s power grid may be courting collapse this weekend as temperatures soar across the state. 

By Saturday, the state utility regulator expects just under 70 gigawatts of demand — more than any previous May, the Houston Chronicle reported. 

Demand this weekend is expected to climb to just below the amount that crashed the grid during Winter Storm Uri in 2021, according to a study by the Texas Oil and Gas Association. 

This means that the state’s “notoriously fickle power grid” is bracing for a squeeze, according to the Chronicle.

With 100-plus-degree temperatures forecast for South and West Texas this weekend, the state regulator is scrambling to restart idled power plants, the Chronicle reported.

Without these plants online, Texas “could be short” on energy  — heightening the need for state-funded cooling centers for those “who can’t afford to stay cool,” according to energy consultant Doug Lewin.

Welcome to Equilibrium, a newsletter that tracks the growing global battle over the future of sustainability. We’re Saul Elbein and Sharon Udasin. Send us tips and feedback. A friend forward this newsletter to you? Subscribe here.

Today we’ll meet New Mexico residents who are forced to choose whether to flee or fight the nation’s largest current fire. Then we’ll look at how so-called forever chemicals can disrupt some teenagers’ bone growth. 

Out-of-control fire gives hint of summer to come

The largest fire in the United States is blazing out of control through the pine forests of northern New Mexico, leading to evacuations, 172 burnt houses and the destruction of 228 square miles, The Associated Press reported on Tuesday. 

The still-spreading combination of the Calf Canyon and Hermits Peak Fires — propelled by 50-mile-per-hour winds and months of drought conditions that dried trees to tinder — is a grim warning that the West is facing a long, hard fire season.  

Big concerns: “We are very concerned about very significant fire growth today,” National Weather Service fire meteorologist David Craft told the AP on Tuesday.

Running for cover: As the fire burned northwest of Las Vegas, N.M., in San Miguel County, some chose to flee, stripping grocery shelves bare as they went, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported. 

“I’d rather take off now than hear a siren ringing,” Cathy Garcia told the New Mexican as she wrapped up porcelain figures. 

Down the street, Ronnie Marquez loaded his wife and four kids into his truck and a flock of about 100 pet chickens and ducks into his trailer. 

“I don’t have to take the furniture, that can all be replaced,” Marquez told the New Mexican. “You can’t replace the personal stuff, your family.”

Others choose to fight: Amid falling ash, Chris Castillo and his cousins moved trees and other fuel away from a relative’s Las Vegas home, the AP reported. 

“We’re all family here. We’re trying to make a fire line,” Castillo said. 

SIGNS OF A BIG FIRE SEASON STILL TO COME

The Calf Canyon and Hermits Peak fires came on the heels of federal National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) estimates for July and August, which on Sunday predicted elevated fire danger across the West. 

What does that mean in practice? According to NIFC predictions, fire risk is elevated in the following locations: 

  • In western Florida in May
  • On the High Plains through August, particularly after the “green up” of summer grass dries out 
  • In southern and western Colorado in May and June 
  • In Oregon, Washington and Northern California through July 
  • Across most of the Pacific Northwest by August  

It’s already a big fire year: More than 1.1 million acres have already burned this year— twice as much as during the equivalent period in 2021 and four times as much as the same period in 2020.

That total burned acreage is still much less than the damage incurred during the 2016, 2017 or 2018 fire seasons, according to NIFC. 

Nearby states are on alert: San Diego rang in the beginning of Wildfire Preparedness Week with a “very concerning” .02 inches of April precipitation, NBC San Diego reported. 

With dry soil, diminishing snowpack and fire risk creeping north along the Wasatch Range east of Salt Lake City, state officials are urging citizens to “use good fire sense,”Salt Lake City’s KSL reported. 

The state credits its Fire Sense educational program with cutting the number of human caused fires by nearly a thousand between 2020 and 2021, according to KSL.

And then there’s the Pacific Northwest — which is bracing for impact. 

One local meteorologist, John Saltenberger, warned Portland-based NBC affiliated KGW Oregon that he foresees one of the worst seasons in his 38 years on the job.  

“I can’t recall seeing such an ominous signal displayed over such a large swath [of] the continental United States,” Saltenberger said.

Chemicals may impair bones in teen males: study 

Exposure to two classes of endocrine-disrupting compounds — so-called “forever chemicals” and phthalates — may be associated with poor bone health in male teens, a new study has found. 

Some of these disrupters, which interfere with the way the body’s hormones work, could be responsible for reducing bone mineral density in adolescent boys, according to the study in the Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.

A critical period for bone development: Because bone accrual mainly occurs during childhood and adolescence, the authors stressed the importance of identifying factors that could harm bone development during this period. 

What are forever chemicals again? Also known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), forever chemicals are most notorious for their presence in jet fuel firefighting foams and industrial discharge.  

  • PFAS are key ingredients in a variety of household products, like nonstick pans, waterproof apparel, cosmetics and food packaging.  
  • Not only are PFAS pervasive in consumer products, but they also tend to linger in both human tissue and in the environment.  

Exposure to PFAS is linked to kidney cancer, testicular cancer, thyroid disease and other illnesses.  

And phthalates? These compounds are often used in personal care products, children’s toys and food packaging and processing materials. They are associated with birth defects, infertility, learning disabilities and neurological disorders.   

Universal exposure during an important stage of development: “Adolescence is an important time when our bodies build up bone,” study co-author Abby F. Fleisch, of the Maine Medical Center Research Institute, said in a statement.  

“Almost all U.S. children and adolescents are exposed to PFAS and phthalates, but few studies have looked at how these chemicals could be impacting our bone health,” Fleisch added.  

What is the connection between PFAS and phthalates?

  • These substances may impact bone in a similar manner because they share a specific biological mechanism, the authors explained.  
  • Both groups of chemicals can activate a type of protein-regulating gene that suppresses the formation of the cells responsible for skeletal mineralization, according to the study. 

EXPOSURE EFFECTS THAT COULD LAST A LIFETIME 

To conduct their research, the scientists analyzed urine and blood samples from 453 boys and 395 girls together through the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey — a Center for Disease Control and Prevention program that assesses the nutritional status of American children and adults.  

Concern for teen males: While they found that higher levels of PFAS and phthalates may be linked with lower bone mineral density in adolescent males, they did not observe the same impact on adolescent girls, according to the study.  

The results were similar across non-Hispanic white, non-Hispanic Black and Hispanic individuals, the authors noted.  

Far-reaching implications for human skeletal health: Because bone mineral density tracks across a lifetime, the scientists hypothesized that if their approach was employed in studies that cover a longer period, the findings could have far-reaching ramifications for the health of human skeletons.  

Scientists suggest solutions: The authors proposed that consumers reduce their exposure to PFAS and phthalates by avoiding relevant products or through the enactment of public policies that substitute these chemicals with safer alternatives. 

“Because bone accrual primarily occurs during adolescence, if replicated, this finding may have implications for lifelong bone health,” Fleisch added.

Transport Tuesday

Ford’s new e-truck hits the road, high diesel prices squeeze, well, everything — and Tesla’s “rearview mirror is getting crowded.”   

New F-150 Lightnings hit the roads this week 

  • Ford’s new F-150 Lightning is hitting U.S. roads this week, with more horsepower and a higher payload that originally anticipated, electric transport news site Electrek reported. The standard $40,000 Lightning will have a range of 230 miles, while the extended battery model will be delivering 320 miles of range — for $72,500, according to Electrek.    

Farmers, truckers fear escalating diesel prices 

While still dominant, there’s a target on Tesla’s back 

  • While Tesla produced 75 percent of all new electric vehicles (EVs) sold between January and March, the company’s “rearview mirror is getting crowded” by rising competition, Kelley Blue Book reported. While Americans chose between just 18 different EVs first quarter 2021, they had 32 options first quarter 2022 — and can expect “at least 50” by year’s end, according to Blue Book.

Please visit The Hill’s Sustainability section online for the web version of this newsletter and more stories. We’ll see you tomorrow.

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