Equilibrium/Sustainability — Presented by The American Petroleum Institute — Louisiana police head seeks federal scrutiny of agency

Equilibrium/Sustainability — Presented by The American Petroleum Institute — Louisiana police head seeks federal scrutiny of agency
© iStock

Today is Monday. Welcome to Equilibrium, a newsletter that tracks the growing global battle over the future of sustainability. Subscribe here: thehill.com/newsletter-signup

The head of the Louisiana State Police said he would “welcome an investigation” by the U.S. Department of Justice into reports “that 67 percent of his agency’s uses of force in recent years were against Black people,” the Root reported.

Colonel Lamar Davis — who is Black — suggested that discrimination allegations represented a sustainability crisis for a department that depends on community members seeing it as a legitimate and unbiased. 

“I don’t want the community thinking we’re going to ‘get them,’” he told The Associated Press, following an investigation that found a broad pattern of police beatings and suppressed evidence. 

“Those are the types of things I’m trying to get to the root of.” 

Today we’re focusing further on the social side of sustainability. First, we’ll look at a study that explores how California’s solar energy push is locking out minorities. Then we’ll look at backlash over Texas’s abortion ban and the attempt to get around the Supreme Court.

For Equilibrium, we are Saul Elbein and Sharon Udasin. Please send tips or comments to Saul at selbein@thehill.com or Sharon at sudasin@thehill.com. Follow us on Twitter: @saul_elbein and @sharonudasin

Let’s get to it.

California grid limits hamper minority access to solar: study

California grid constraints could exacerbate the existing racial inequities tied to solar energy adoption, a new study in Nature Energy has found.

The prohibitive upfront costs associated with solar installations have already put them out of reach for those who cannot afford to integrate such technologies on their rooftops, according to the authors. But the structure of the state’s electricity grids themselves are also reinforcing these gaps, leaving Black-identifying and poorer populations with “disproportionately less grid capacity to host renewable solar energy,” the researchers observed. 

What kinds of structural problems? The installation of household photovoltaic (PV) systems causes an increase in current flow, leading to high temperatures and voltages that constrain the grid, the authors explained. As a result, the number of households able to install such systems is limited.

The study connects two limitations to solar adoption that researchers traditionally treated separately: the limitations posed by both equity and technical roadblocks, Anna Brockway, the study’s lead author and a PhD candidate in the Energy and Resources Group at the University of California, Berkeley, told Equilibrium.

The researchers wanted to connect “disparities related to equity around current deployment, and technical barriers from the engineering side — to see if there was something we could learn about the practicalities of adoption,” she said.

How did their combined assessment work? Brockway and her colleagues mapped the grid capacity of California’s two largest electricity providers: Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) and Southern California Edison (SCE), which together serve more than 30 million people, according to the researchers. 

After cross-referencing the results alongside demographic data, the authors found that the PG&E and SCE grids only have enough capacity to support photovoltaic systems in less than half of their connected households. Those capacity limits “reinforce demographic disparities in access,” said a news release accompanying the study. 

In PG&E’s territory, the authors found that 39 percent of households cannot access “even the least power-intensive new loads,” such as space and water heating or “level-1” electric vehicle chargers — the slower, standard chargers that come with an EV.

How did access pair with racial inequities? The people who got that limited solar capacity were disproportionately likely to be in non-Latinx white and Latinx census block groups (CBGs), as opposed to Black or Asian groups. Census block groups, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, generally include 600-3,000 people in a contiguous area.

The authors also found disparities among wealthy and poor populations, observing linguistic isolation — a lack of English fluency — as a possible barrier to adoption.

The researchers also observed that as the percentage of Black residents in a given area increases, the total circuit capacity for solar generation decreases  — meaning, circuits located in Black communities “cannot currently support the same PV deployment.”

 

PRESENTED BY API

 

The Environmental Partnership recently released its annual report highlighting its new flare management program that reported a 50 percent reduction in flare volumes from 2019 to 2020. Read more.

INEQUITIES COULD WORSEN

And the gap is at risk of widening further. “If grid limits are not considered,” the authors wrote, “further inequities may emerge.”

Already, Brockway said, the California Public Utilities Commission has set a goal to "consistently integrate equity and access considerations” in the clean energy transition.

If they can do that, it’s possible to have a big boom in solar: Costs associated with rooftop solar systems “have plummeted in the last 10 years, to the point where the lifetime cost of solar is below the cost of electricity for nearly every customer in California,” co-author Duncan Callaway, an associate professor of energy and resources at Berkeley, told Equilibrium.

“The challenge is finding pathways to identify and equitably finance a diverse array of customers,” he said.

Last words: As policymakers try to help specific communities adopt solar energy, Callaway said they will need to consider the “significant costs” that grid upgrades will add to increasing access.

“It may be that alternative approaches like community solar could provide the same economic and environmental benefits to a diverse range of customers, without requiring the same grid upgrades,” he added.

To read the full story, please click here.

 

Texas abortion ban sparks business backlash

Protesters rally in Austin against Texas's restrictive abortion law in May 2021

Uproar over Texas’s near-total abortion ban has led big tech firms and some local governments, including Connecticut and the city of Chicago, to offer sanctuary to workers who want a change. But it may take more than values to woo residents away. 

A pitch to Texans: Marc Benioff, CEO of San Francisco-based software giant Salesforce, tweeted on Friday to his employees — about 1,000 in Dallas, as Ars Technica reported — that “if you want to move we’ll help you exit TX. Your choice.” 

Benioff’s offer followed the launch of a relief fund for women seeking abortions in Texas by Austin-based dating company Bumble, USA Today reported. 

Then on Sunday, the city of Chicago ran a full-page ad in the Dallas Morning News, wooing Texans put off by the new law, Bloomberg Equality reported. 

“We believe that the values of the city you are doing business in matters more than ever before,” Michael Fassnacht, CEO of the city’s public-private development agency, said in a statement.

And Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont (D) touted business opportunities in his state, which he said has one of the  “most innovative workforces in the world,” according to the Dallas Morning News.

Wait — what happened in Texas? On Sept. 1, a Texas law took effect banning virtually all abortions after six weeks — a point when many women often don’t know they’re pregnant, the Financial Times noted.

Outsourcing enforcement: Just as striking as the law’s provisions is its structure, which radically expands the notion of “standing” — the question of who can legitimately sue in a civil case — to allow any private Texan to sue facilitators of abortions, The Texas Tribune explained.

That includes drivers who bring women to a clinic, which has led Uber and Lyft to offer to pay the legal fees of any driver sued under the law, according to Ars Technica.

Texas both banned abortion and denied that it was banning abortion, Stefanie Lindquist, an Arizona State University political science professor, wrote in The Conversation — a technique similar to legal tactics used to disenfranchise Black Texans during Jim Crow.

AN END-RUN AROUND THE COURTS

Backdoor discrimination: After a state law banning African Americans from voting in primaries was struck down in 1927, Texas passed a new law letting political parties themselves decide — meaning they, and not the state, would be the ones discriminating, Lindquist wrote.

The Court didn’t buy it. In 1944, it struck the measure down in Smith v. Allwright, a decision that ruled that the 1923 law had unconstitutionally permitted “a private organization to practice racial discrimination in the election” — a precedent that the Department of Justice (DOJ) directly referenced last week in its lawsuit against Texas over the abortion ban. 

The new law, the DOJ lawyers wrote on Thursday, would put Texas  “in open defiance of the Constitution.”

A coming fight: The abortion ban highlights Texas’s defining cultural divide: the growing rift between the economically depressed, heavily Republican rural areas and blue cities like Dallas, Austin and Houston — which have drawn millions to the state since 2010, according to the Financial Times.

Fears of getting pulled into this rancorous divide are perhaps one reason why most Texas corporations — despite concerns among Republicans, highlighted by the Times, that the new law will turn off moderates — have not expressed a public opinion, the Dallas Morning News wrote. 

What are the likely impacts of the law? In the short term, transplant Texans interviewed by the Times intended to stay; and as Bloomberg Equality wrote, the tax advantage of living in Texas over, say, Chicago may be enough to keep many potential migrants there, particularly those in the relatively progressive cities.

But over the long term, if the law stands, things could become more tenuous. 

Last words: “Laws that are less inclusive,” including those that “unreasonably limit flexibility in family planning pose substantial risk to the Texas economy over an extended period,” Texas economist Ray Perryman told the Morning News.

 

PRESENTED BY API

 

The Environmental Partnership recently released its annual report highlighting its new flare management program that reported a 50 percent reduction in flare volumes from 2019 to 2020. Read more.

Motor Monday 

Dispatches from the car world.

‘A computer with tires’: Chip shortage drives tech firms, automakers together

  • Partnerships between semiconductor companies and automakers are accelerating, due to a chip shortage and the understanding that motor vehicles have become digital-dependent, The Wall Street Journal reported.
  • Car manufacturers and chip makers are now working together to innovate new products, more than a year into an ongoing chip shortage, according to the Journal.
  • “This is a symbiotic future that we are off innovating and supplying as the automobile becomes a computer with tires,” Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger told car industry officials at an event last week, cited by the Journal. 
  • The automotive chip market is expected to be worth around $85 billion in 2027, up from about $52 billion this year, IHS Markit Ltd. analysts estimated, according to the Journal.

American car dealerships may be a relic of the past

  • Auto dealerships may “soon look like other parts of the business world upended by e-commerce,” as buyers opt for online transactions and as “glass-walled showrooms” become fewer and farther between, The Wall Street Journal reported.
  • While this shift began before the coronavirus pandemic, the stay-at-home culture of the past year-and-a-half did accelerate the transition, particularly as demand for cars surged, according to the Journal.
  • “It was my time to ride off into the sunset,” a Denver-area dealer who sold his six-store chain to a Canadian dealership group last year told the Journal.
  • Despite the growth of online car sales, the dealership business is still dominated by small, individually held ventures that rely on “face-to-face contact,” as a Minnesota dealer told the Journal.
  • But many big automakers — which have long partnered with local dealers — are stocking fewer cars onsite, as inventory faces pandemic-related supply-chain  constraints, according to the Journal.

Non-union carmakers attack union-made electric vehicle incentive

  • Toyota and Honda have criticized a proposal by House Democrats to give an extra $4,500 in tax credits to those who buy union-built electric vehicles, Reuters reported. 
  • Representatives will vote on the bill on Tuesday as part of the broader $3.5 trillion spending bill. 
  • Though the United Auto Workers praised the measure, Honda said the bill “discriminates among EVs made by hard-working American auto workers based simply on whether they belong to a union.”

 

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

ADVERTISEMENT