Equilibrium & Sustainability

Equilibrium/Sustainability — Toyota used up EV credits on gas-burning hybrid

FILE – In this Monday, Jan. 15, 2015, file photo, the emblem on a new Toyota is shown at a dealership in Brandon, Fla. Toyota’s much ballyhooed plug-in hybrid Prius Prime is being pushed back by several months, with the new sales date set for late this year or early next year. Toyota Motor Corp. said Wednesday the launch dates were being delayed for Japan, but not for the U.S. and Europe because they were set to follow Japan from the start. It was unclear what the dates were for any of the regions. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara, File)

Automaker Toyota has run through its federal electric vehicle (EV) tax credits just before its new all-electric SUV hits the streets, TechCrunch reported. 

Most of the company’s tax credits — which offer up to $7,500 in rebates to buyers of the first 200,000 plug-in hybrids or EVs a company produces — went to plug-in hybrids like the Prius Prime and RAV4, according to TechCrunch. 

With a lineup of 30 EVs planned for 2030, Toyota joins Tesla and General Motors on the roster of auto companies that must now expect customers to pay the full price for their cars without hope of a tax break on the back end. 

The company is one of several automakers pushing Congress to extend those incentives in advance of an expected Republican takeover in November, Reuters reported.

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

Today we’ll look at a controversial European bill ruling that natural gas is a “green” fuel — which climate campaigners warn will have dangerous impacts on the climate. Then we’ll look at why the U.S. center of gas production isn’t benefiting from low prices.

Europe votes that gas is ‘green’

Gas and nuclear energy can be counted as “green” fuels after a vote on Wednesday in the European Union Parliament.

  • That vote will help secure clean energy financing for at least some gas projects, which U.S. petroleum companies have been eager to supply. 
  • But many scientists worry it will speed up climate change while locking in a new generation of polluting infrastructure. 

The vote: Critics of the EU Taxonomy — which aimed to counter “greenwashing,” or misrepresenting environmental benefits, by settling once and for all what was and was not renewable energy — argued that including these fuels was itself a misrepresentation of that kind, The Washington Post reported. 

But a vote in favor of excluding them failed 328 to 278, according to the EU. 

The Taxonomy will now take effect on Jan. 1, 2023. 

Dueling reactions: Responses from environmental campaigners were heated. 

  • “The European Parliament just voted to label fossil gas as ‘green’ energy. This will delay a desperately needed real sustainable transition and deepen our dependency on Russian fuels,” climate activist Greta Thunberg wrote on Twitter. 
  • “I am stunned by the ridiculous claim that investing in alternative sources of gas and nuclear helps Putin. Putin is helped when we do not invest, when Germany shuts nuclear and depends more on him. Investing in substitution hurts him,” Spanish member of the EU Parliament Luis Garicano tweeted. 

Behind the conflict: As we have reported, the European Union is split between a pro-nuclear and pro-gas camp

These caps map uncannily well onto the European alliance blocs that fought World War II.

  • France leads the pro-nuclear — and anti-gas — camp, backed by former Soviet states like Poland, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic. 
  • Germany — which has been shutting down its nuclear plants despite fears of energy shortages — leads a coalition of German-speaking countries like Austria in backing gas.

The all-of-the-above approach offered by Wednesday’s vote — members had to support excluding both zero-emission nuclear and high-emission gas power from the Taxonomy — may have helped doom it.

SCIENTISTS DENOUNCE ‘BRIDGE FUELS,’ WARN OF FEEDBACKS

German scientists decried a long-held article of faith of the gas industry and its proponents: that the fuel is a “bridge” to cleaner technologies. 

paper published on Tuesday in Nature Energy argued that Europe’s turn toward embracing new gas infrastructure would pay grim dividends for the climate. 

  • “Fossil natural gas is neither clean nor safe. By holding on to fossil natural gas for too long, Germany has found itself in an energy crisis,” study author Claudia Kemfert said in a statement. 
  • “The country can now only emerge from this crisis by taking decisive action for consistent decarbonization towards a full supply from renewable energies,” Kemfert added.

Bridge to nowhere: The expansion of new gas infrastructure — import terminals, export terminals, ships and pipelines — locks the world into a dangerous path of increased fossil fuel emissions, the researchers found.

  • A major problem is the virulent climate pollutant methane, which accounts for the overwhelming majority of gas by volume and warms the atmosphere dozens of times more powerfully than carbon dioxide.
     
  • Notoriously leaky methane “escapes unburned into the atmosphere along the entire value chain,” researcher Fabian Präger said in a statement.

Once those new gas facilities are built, there will be a powerful incentive to keep using them — regardless of the climate cost — at the risk of “stranding” the investment made in building them, the scientists warned.  

Dangerous feedbacks: As increasing levels of methane heating the atmosphere, increased heating also means more methane in the atmosphere, according to a June study in Nature Communications. 

Rising heat means more methane released by microbial activity in swamps and wetlands — which makes up about 40 percent of global methane emissions, the Guardian reported. 

Climate change also means less methane is removed from the air, as carbon monoxide from climate change fueled-wildfires deactivates atmospheric compounds like hydroxyl radical — which would otherwise break down methane, according to the Guardian. 

“The worry is that climate change may accelerate such risks, feeding back to accelerating atmospheric methane concentrations in a vicious circle,” lead researcher Simon Redfern told the Guardian.

US oil, gas prices rise as supplies go abroad

Sky-high global prices for oil and (particularly) gas mean that Americans are competing with foreign buyers for domestically produced supplies — and losing. 

Price shock in gas heartland: Nation-leading natural gas producer Texas can no longer guarantee cheap energy to its citizens as local prices double, taking utility bills with them, The Texas Tribune reported. 

“I’m just not sure it’s real to people yet. If it’s not, it will be very, very soon when the bills hit this summer,” John Ballenger of Texas utility Champion Energy told the Tribune. 

Sell globally, pay locally: Europe’s gas prices have gone up 700 percent since the lulls of early 2021, and Asia — the site of a massive switch to the fuel over the past decade — has seen prices triple, Bloomberg reported. 

  • “People are lining up around the world to get our product,” Todd Staples, president of the Texas Oil and Gas Association, told the Tribune. 
  • That has “created a supply issue locally in the state of Texas. Our customers feel the real-time impact of changing fuel costs,” San Antonio utility head Cory Kuchinsky told the Tribune. 

Breaching the wall: But while domestic natural gas prices are rising now, they are still being kept relatively low by bottlenecks in processing, storage, unloading and shipping the fuel — the kind of new infrastructure that both Europe and the U.S. are now investing heavily in, Bloomberg reported.

  • That means that gas is on its way to becoming a truly global market with a global price, Bloomberg reported. 
  • In such a world, living in a production hub like Texas would offer little advantage in terms of price. 

In the meantime, a June fire at a minor liquified natural gas (LNG) production facility in Freeport, Texas, was enough to spike gas prices in Europe and Asia by 60 percent, Bloomberg reported. 

Oil is leaving too: More than five million barrels of oil released by the Biden administration to tame gasoline prices were exported to Europe and Asia in June, Reuters reported. 

  • The flow of oil came from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, which is now at its lowest level, according to Reuters. 
  • The exports — which would have been impossible before 2015, when an Obama-era Congress legalized foreign oil and gas sales — have blunted the price-lowering impacts of the release, Reuters reported. 

“Crude and fuel prices would likely be higher if [the releases] hadn’t happened, but at the same time, it isn’t really having the effect that was assumed,” Matt Smith, lead oil analyst at Kpler, told Reuters.

New York lays groundwork for heating networks

New York could get its own Icelandic-style geothermal heating networks after Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) signed three new clean energy development bills on Tuesday, state news site CNY Central reported. 

One of these, the Utility Thermal Energy Network and Jobs Act, would allow energy utilities to own, maintain and supply thermal energy to distributed heating projects — and directs the state Public Service Commission to create a regulatory structure for them to do so. 

What is thermal heating? It involves moving energy in the form of heat — which can be used to heat houses and water, and for industrial uses — rather than transmitting electricity and using that to heat, say, a home water heater. 

Why bother? This avoids the substantial efficiency losses caused when energy changes form — particularly when the energy in question began as heat, as in the subterranean geothermal steam that New York utilities are aiming to tap.  

Catching up: Last month we covered this sort of distributed thermal energy setup in Iceland — a highly volcanic island that is a world leader in creative uses for geothermal energy.

Water Wednesday

A worrying record for the Great Salt Lake, a helpful investment for a new form of renewable power and floods battering Australia’s most populous city. 

Great Salt Lake hits a record low 

  • Utah’s Great Salt Lake hit a drought-driven record low this week — threatening millions of birds and an economy worth $1.3 billion, The Guardian reported. The exposed lakebed — which is contaminated with arsenic — could also send poisonous dust storms into Salt Lake City as it dries, according to the Guardian. 

Tidal power gets a boost 

  • A Scottish company that operates the world’s most powerful tidal turbine just received nearly $9 million in funding, CNBC reported. Orbital Marine Power’s O2 turbine can generate 2 megawatts of power by tapping the energy produced as the moon pulls the ocean back and forth, per CNBC.  

Floods force evacuations in Sydney 

  • More than 85,000 people have been forced to evacuate Sydney, Australia, following severe flooding, the U.K.-based Independent reported. “Everyone is talking about fixing the same problem … nothing has happened. The locals are always prepared, the government is not,” one resident complained, according to the Independent.

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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