Equilibrium & Sustainability

Equilibrium/Sustainability — Major dams to fall in Pacific Northwest

FILE – Demian Ebert, the Klamath program manager for PacifiCorp, looks at a tank holding juvenile chinook salmon being raised at the Iron Gate Hatchery at the base of the Iron Gate Dam March 3, 2020, near Hornbrook, Calif. Federal regulators on Friday, Aug.26, 2022 issued a final environmental impact statement that supports the demolition of four massive dams on Northern California’s Klamath River to save imperiled migratory salmon. (AP Photo/Gillian Flaccus, File)

Four hundred miles of the Klamath River — which runs through Oregon and California — will soon run free, California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s (D) office announced on Thursday. 

The removal of four hydroelectric dams from the river will mark “the largest river restoration project in American history,” according to the governor’s office. 

Newsom issued the statement alongside Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) and the heads of three tribal nations. 

The dam removal — a process in the works for nearly two decades — will restore access for salmon to hundreds of miles of habitats along the Klamath and its tributaries, officials said. 

“The Klamath Tribes are ecstatic about these dams being removed,” said tribal Chairman Clayton Dumont. 

“We are grateful to Governors Brown and Newsom, to our downriver Tribal brothers and sisters, and to all who worked tirelessly to make this huge contribution to restoring our Basin ecosystem.” 

The dam removal comes alongside nearly $6 million in grants to three tribal nations — the Klamath, Karuk and Yurok — to restore aquatic ecosystems along the Klamath. 

The many species of salmon, from Coho to Chinook, are an irreplaceable ingredient in both the diet, culture and cosmology of the peoples of the Pacific Northwest. 

But overfishing, agriculture and dam construction have led to the collapse of salmon populations across much of their historic range — forcing tribal nations to cut back dramatically on harvests.. 

While the Klamath was once the West Coast’s third most productive salmon-producing river, the rise of hydroelectric dams in the 20th Century blocked the fish from accessing the frigid upland streams they relied on to spawn. 

The warm, stagnant water of dam reservoirs also fosters the growth of parasites and disease — worsening population declines. 

Oregon and California will demolish the four dams — located in Klamath County, Ore., and Siskiyou County, Calif. — by summer 2023. 

Welcome to Equilibrium, a newsletter that tracks the growing global battle over the future of sustainability. I’m Saul Elbein. Send us tips and feedback. A friend forward this newsletter to you? Sign up here or in the box below

Today we’ll see why winter offers little drought relief for the Great Plains, followed by a groundbreaking green hydrogen plan for two red states. Then, we’ll look at how a clean energy trade group plan to deal with divided government. Plus: how auto dealerships could be the future of electric vehicle charging.

No drought relief for Southern Plains 

More than a third of Kansas and a fifth of Oklahoma will remain under “exceptional” drought this winter, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. 

That makes the two states the most drought-ridden in the country right now, according to the map released by the National Integrated Drought Information System.

  • Western Kansas and parts of Oklahoma are “a record-setting drought” that has battered the region’s agriculture. 
  • “Extreme” drought conditions have been in place across the region since August 2019.

Damaging extremes: While both states had precipitation near average in November, the average conceals a dangerously uneven pattern of rainfall, Drought Monitor reported.

  • Rainfall in parts of western Kansas was in the lowest 5 percent of all recorded Novembers. 
  • Conditions were similarly dry for a vast area stretching from Kansas across Oklahoma and the Texas Panhandle into New Mexico. 

When will it rain? Spring 2023 is now the earliest real chance, according to the Monitor. 

West getting record-breaking green hydrogen plants 

Two ambitious new green hydrogen plants are aiming to transform the role the emerging fuel plays in the grid. 

Large scale: The Utah project is billed as the world’s largest renewable energy storage facility, according to Vermont Business.  

  • Utah’s hub will use excess wind and solar energy to make hydrogen gas through electrolysis — breaking water apart into hydrogen and oxygen. 
  • The gas will be stored in salt caverns underground, to be fed into the grid at times when demand exceeds renewable supply. 

Meanwhile, the Texas project will be the biggest green hydrogen production facility in the U.S. and one of the top 10 largest in the world, the Journal reported. 

Terra cognita: “This puts the U.S. on the green-hydrogen map,” Andrés Gluski, chief executive of power company AES, told the Journal. 

  • Virginia-based AES will run the solar and wind generation needed to churn out 73,000 metric tons of hydrogen per year. 
  • Another company involved, Air Products, is already the world’s leading producer of hydrogen.  

What is hydrogen? The simplest and smallest element, hydrogen gas combines with oxygen when burned, releasing only water vapor as a byproduct. 

  • But while hydrogen itself burns clean, it requires a great deal of energy to break it free of the molecules that contain it, like methane, ammonia or water. 
  • Existing supply chains for the product — largely for producing fertilizer and refining fossil fuels — rely heavily on highly-emitting energy sources.  

A big boost: Federal incentives passed under the August Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) have helped make an American green hydrogen industry financially possible, according to the Journal.

  • Without subsidies, green hydrogen costs about five times as much as the cheap, dirty forms made from fossil fuels. 
  • The incentives in the IRA drop costs to the point that it is expensive, but still practical for buyers to purchase, one chief executive in the Texas deal told the Journal. 

Economies of scale: The more the industry grows, the more essential technology — like electrolyzers to “break” water into hydrogen and oxygen — will drop in price, pushing consumer prices down further, the Journal reported. 

Clean energy lobby picks bipartisan head

A leading clean energy lobby group is trying to find a bipartisan path through the divided Congress that is set to take office in January.

  • The American Clean Power Association (ACP) has hired a new chief executive who is a veteran of a top Washington, D.C., bipartisan think tank.
  • Jason Grumet, founder and director of the Bipartisan Policy Center, will take over at the ACP in January, the company announced.
  • “My life’s work has been about two things: Developing real climate solutions and building durable bipartisan policy,” he said in a statement.

Walking a tightrope: Grumet will head the ACP at a time when the split control of Congress makes further clean energy legislation unlikely.

  • But it is also a key moment for already-passed clean energy investments, including implementation of Democrats’ Inflation Reduction Act and CHIPS plan. 
  • Together these mark an unprecedented half-trillion dollar investment in a green economy, The Atlantic noted.

Auspicious timing: “There has never been a more dynamic moment for U.S. and global energy policy,” Grumet said in a statement.

  • Grumet framed the goal of the cleantech industries as “to simultaneously grow and decarbonize our economy while strengthening national security. 
  • He called these “the defining challenge of the next 30 years.” 

“The opportunity ACP has presented to join these two commitments is exciting and compelling,” Grumet added.

Automakers lean on dealerships for EV charging

General Motors (GM) announced this week it is expanding its nationwide charging network for electric vehicles, setting up a race with rival Ford as U.S. auto giants compete for their share of the EV market. 

Both companies are leaning on their dealerships across the country to build out battery-charging infrastructure that will be open to the public — helping to get EV ownership in general off the ground. 

Nodes in a network: GM on Wednesday installed the first two community charging stations at dealerships in Wisconsin and Michigan, according to the company.

  • “Nearly 90 percent of the U.S. population lives within 10 miles of a GM dealership,” Hoss Hassani, vice president of GM EV Ecosystem, said in a statement.  
  • GM dealers are “well positioned to determine locations that expand access to EV charging, including at small businesses, entertainment venues, schools, and other popular destinations,” he added.

Building out: The program aims to build 40,000 charging networks across the country — a major boost to the around 50,000 charging stations already in the U.S., according to the Department of Energy. 

  • The effort will begin with Chevrolet dealers, but Buick, Cadillac and GMC dealers will be able to apply starting in January, the company says. 
  • Canadian EV charging manufacturer Flo will supply the GM dealers, the companies announced this week.

Federal plans: The dealership-led plans come amid a broader push for national charging networks. In September the Department of Transportation announced the release of $5 billion in funding to build EV chargers across 35 states and 53,000 miles of highway over the next five years, according to a statement. 

Lots of catching up: GM’s network remains substantially smaller than Ford’s. About 1,000 GM dealers — a quarter of the total — have signed up for the program since it was announced in 2021, according to the company.

  • That’s roughly half the 1,920 Ford dealers that have signed up for that company’s Model e Program, according to Automotive News.  
  • A higher percentage of Ford dealers are involved as well. Around two-thirds of all dealers have signed up for the program, which will cost each dealer $500,000-$1.2 million to become “EV-certified,” Detroit Free Press reported. 

Two tiers: Each Ford Model e dealership will offer at least one fast-charging DC port, with two plugs, by 2024 — both open to the public, according to the Free Press. Starting then, dealerships will need the certification to sell Ford EVs. 

A SALES MODEL TO TAKE ON TESLA 

Ford is betting on its independently owned dealership model to help it compete against Tesla, CEO Jim Farley told the Automotive News World Congress this week, according to auto news site Detroit Bureau.

  • “We’re betting on the franchise system. Now the largest luxury brand in the United States didn’t,” Farley said, in a reference to Tesla’s direct-to-consumer model.  
  • “And we’re betting on the dealer council process,” Farley added.

Different approach: Unlike Tesla, that will require Ford to get consensus from thousands of independent dealers. 

And unlike GM, Ford will still allow dealers who opt out of EVs to continue selling its fossil-fuel powered cars, Detroit Bureau reported. 

How do dealers feel? It’s a mixed bag. “We are very excited about electrification,” one Alabama-based Ford dealer told the Free Press.

  • Not all dealers are so happy. Dozens of Ford dealers in Arkansas, New York and Illinois are suing Ford over the new system, Inside EVs reported. 
  • The dealers are incensed that agreeing to sell Ford EVs will require them to work within Ford’s new rules, the outlet reported. 

New rules: In addition to the expensive upgrades, these include committing to fixed, no-haggle prices, The Wall Street Journal reported. 

Dealers should have “a right to every Ford vehicle manufactured with that nameplate on it, to include the newest EVs,” one attorney told Automotive News, warning against dealers getting “pigeonholed.” 

Friday Follow-ups

Catching up on stories from throughout the week. 

North Carolina attacks: part of broader campaign?

Unions score key win in campaign to organize GM battery plants 

  • Employees at a new Ohio General Motors-LG Energy battery plant voted this week on whether to join the United Auto Workers. The decision went 710-16 in favor of unionizing — a signal that the partnership’s other new plants will also likely vote to join the union, the Detroit Free Press reported. 

Germany agonizes over future of nuclear

  • We reported on how the Biden administration was spending big to keep nuclear plants online. In Germany, three reactors set to be mothballed have received a temporary “stay of execution” in the face of potential Russian gas shortages, to the dismay of the country’s long-ascendant anti-nuclear movement. The postponed cancellations mean “the dam has been breached,” one anti-nuclear activist warned.


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

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