Equilibrium & Sustainability

Equilibrium/Sustainability — Wind farm targets picturesque Spanish seascape

The jagged Mediterranean shores from which Salvador Dalí produced some of his most celebrated work may soon become host to a disputed wind farm.

Spanish government officials are preparing to approve the construction of a massive floating wind farm offshore of Port Lligat, a town about 100 miles north of Barcelona, The New York Times reported.

Energy giants “are already jockeying to harness the volatile northerly winds in the area,” where Dalí’s most famous Surrealist paintings were set, according to the Times.

Spain is still highly dependent on fossil fuels as it confronts a deadly summer heat wave. But the “dozens of turbines” would also risk “fundamentally altering the character” of the region, the newspaper reported.

The project, which has become contentious among residents, is also “emblematic of a push-and-pull” occurring throughout Europe as officials try to ramp up renewable energy production amid bureaucratic roadblocks, according to the Times.

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. Subscribe here.

Today we’ll track dangerous temperatures dogging the southern U.S., and look at Sen. Joe Manchin’s (D-W.Va.) support for a key competitor to wind and solar power. Plus: One industrialized country that’s seeking to change its image on climate issues.

‘Extreme’ temperatures afflict pockets of US South

Tens of millions of Americans across the South and West are sweltering under dangerous temperatures this week in the midst of a global heat wave in which even the young and healthy aren’t safe.

Where is at risk? An NWS map on Twitter shows a big, purple bruise of extreme temperatures across the south central U.S., with dangerous heat islands scattered elsewhere.

Wet bulbs: As of noon Tuesday, scattered pockets of north Texas and north Oklahoma, as well as most of Arkansas and eastern Michigan, faced “wet bulb” temperatures deemed “extreme” by the NWS.

The wet bulb temperature is the temperature “read by a thermometer covered in wet cloth,” according to an NWS fact sheet. 

Worse than we thought: “Humans can withstand less heat and humidity than we thought,” Penn State kinesiologist W. Larry Kenney told The Philadelphia Inquirer. 

Scientists had long been believed that the upper limit for human survival was a “wet bulb temperature” of 95 degrees — which Kenney noted has never been seen on earth, ”at least for a sustained period of time.” 

Overly optimistic: “For young, healthy people, the limit is more on the order of a wet bulb temperature of 88 degrees,” Kenney told the Inquirer. 

  • He noted that number “equates to 95 degrees in 75 percent humidity, or
    104 degrees in 55 percent humidity.” 
  • While these conditions are just beginning to appear, “they are going to become more common with climate change,” he added.

Manchin reaffirms support for hydrogen

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) called for more investment in the hydrogen industry at a Senate Energy Committee hearing on Tuesday. 

But while the senator touted hydrogen as a crucial step toward clean energy, environmental groups say the fuel could increase U.S. greenhouse gas emissions under existing government standards.

  • “I’m really a big fan of hydrogen because I believe it’s just the right direction for us to go,” Manchin told the committee.
  • “My biggest concern that I have right now is that we have not invested the money that we needed to invest in hydrogen,” the senator added, contrasting it “how quickly we matured” wind and solar energy over the past decade. 

Manchin last week announced his refusal to accept the wind and solar portions of President Biden’s economic stimulus package, as our colleagues Zack Budryk and Rachel Frazin reported for The Hill.

Zooming in: The senator has long supported a national network of pipelines — potentially repurposed from transporting gas — to convey hydrogen.  

Many policymakers, scientists and industry advocates argue hydrogen is better suited than batteries for the purpose of decarbonizing heavy freight, energy storage and heating.

Last month, the Department of Energy announced it would spend $8 billion on a network of new “clean hydrogen hubs” for the manufacture of the gas.

Big environmental questions: Proponents of hydrogen note that the gas could be used to “charge” battery-like devices called fuel cells, which produce only water vapor as exhaust, according to the Department of Energy. 

Varying impacts: But hydrogen’s climate and environmental impacts differ widely depending on how it’s produced.  

  • Hydrogen can be split from water by renewable energy (green hydrogen), but it can also be pulled from planet-warming fuels like natural gas, methane or coal (grey hydrogen), CNBC reported.
  • Existing federal standards as to what qualifies as clean hydrogen allow the use of fossil fuels if the carbon is captured, in what is called blue hydrogen.

Uncounted emissions: Energy Department “clean hydrogen standards” undercount life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions by a factor of two, according to a Friends of the Earth study released on Tuesday. 

“Companies with substantial interests in natural gas are seizing opportunities to hype blue hydrogen as the next shiny object that will save the planet – and preserve shareholder value,” study author Bruce Buckheit, former director of the Air Enforcement Division at the EPA, said in an emailed statement.

Australia presses ahead on climate amid US hurdles

Australia, which leads the world in per-capita emissions from coal power, is vowing aggressive action to reduce emissions and curb global warming.

  • Tanya Plibersek, Australia’s minister for the environment and water, has vowed to push for “a fundamental reform” of the country’s environmental laws.
  • The push comes as President Biden‘s climate agenda for the U.S. is largely on ice amid Senate opposition, shifting the focus to what other global leaders are doing to combat climate change.

Strengthening regulation: At a time when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has seen its powers recently limited by the Supreme Court, Australia’s leaders are pushing to bolster their own environmental regulator. 

  • Refusing to accept failure: “Without structural change we’ll be resigning ourselves to another decade of failure, without the tools we need to arrest our decline,” Plibersek said Tuesday at the National Press Club of Australia.
  • She spoke following the release of the country’s 2021 State of the Environment report, which she described as “one of the most important documents in environmental science.”   

U.S. climate emergency looms: On the other side of the world, sources indicated that President Biden was considering declaring a climate emergency, our colleague Rachel Frazin reported for The Hill.

  • Just last week, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) announced he would not support the inclusion of climate legislation in Biden’s broader economic package, to the dismay of Democrats.  
  • And earlier this month, the Supreme Court restricted the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to limit power plant emissions.         

Empowering environmental protection: In Australia, Plibersek suggested doing the opposite.

The minister said on Tuesday that climate progress could only be achieved by  “empowering a new environmental protection agency to enforce them.” 

Some shifts have already occurred: Since center-left Labor Party leader Anthony Albanese replaced conservative Scott Morrison as prime minister in May, the country has already taken several steps to shift its climate policies.  

Albanese recently pledged to decrease greenhouse gas emissions by 43 percent below 2005 levels by the end of the decade, departing from his predecessor’s commitment of just 26-28 percent.   

Looking in the mirror: Plibersek accused her country’s previous administration of keeping the new report hidden for the past six months, stressing that its findings push Australians to “take a good, hard look at ourselves.” 

  • Responding to her criticism, opposition lawmaker Jonathon Duniam told CNN that Plibersek was using the report as a tool to attack the Morrison administration, which he said spent billions of dollars on green initiatives.
     
  • Moving forward: “While it’s a confronting read, Australians deserve the truth,” Plibersek said of the new report. “We deserve to know that Australia has lost more mammal species to extinction than any other continent.”    

To read the rest of the report’s findings, click here.

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Russian gas flow could restart on time: report

Russian gas flow through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline is expected to restart on schedule this Thursday, following 10 days of annual maintenance, Reuters reported.  

A significant shutdown: The pipeline had been shuttered for scheduled maintenance on July 11, according to Reuters. 

  • Nord Stream 1 shuttles more than a third of Russian natural gas exports to the European Union. 
  • Once operations resume, the pipeline is expected to resume pumping gas at less than its maximum capacity, sources told Reuters.  

Cuts had already occurred last month: State-controlled energy giant Gazprom had already reduced exports through the pipeline to 40 percent capacity last month, according to Reuters. 

The company had cited delays in the return of a turbine that Siemens Energy was servicing in Canada, Reuters reported.  

Shifting blame: Germany’s biggest buyer of Russian gas, Uniper SE, said Monday it had received a letter from Gazprom claiming “force majeure,” The Wall Street Journal reported. 

  • Force majeure is a legal declaration that exempts a company from completing a contractual duty due to circumstances outside its control, the Journal noted.

Avoiding a total shutdown: With Thursday’s deadline rapidly approaching, Bloomberg said the EU is “on tenterhooks” to see if gas flow will actually resume.

“A total cutoff would be catastrophic for European industry, and raises the prospect of rationing and shutdowns this winter,” Bloomberg reported.

Transport Tuesday

A British airport got too hot for planes to take off, General Motors’ plan to take on Tesla and Transportation Secretary Buttigieg defends electric vehicles (EVs).

Record heat closes airport near UK capitol 

  • A Royal Air Force base in the U.K. had to temporarily halt flights on Monday as 106-degree temperatures caused the runway to buckle, The Hill reported. 

General Motors to target Tesla with fleet of cheap EVs: CEO 

  • General Motors will sell more EVs than Tesla by mid-decade by focusing on low-cost, high-range vehicles, CEO Mary Barra pledged to The Associated Press. “To really get to 30, 40, 50 percent EVs being sold, you have to appeal to people that are in that $30,000 to $35,000 price range,” Barra told the AP. 

Buttigieg battles GOP over Biden’s EV strategy  

  • Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg defended the Biden administration’s goal of making 50 percent of vehicles sold electric by 2030, as GOP lawmakers argued the influx could further increase energy costs, Zach Wendling reported for The Hill. Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) said that the increase in EVs could strain the country’s grid, which Buttigieg also acknowledged could be an issue.

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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