We have some exciting news for you! The Communique & Recommendations for the 8th Annual AGOA CSO Network Spring Conference is now available for your perusal. This important event, held in partnership with The Foundation for Democracy in Africa (FDA) and the Institute for African Studies, The Elliot School for International Affairs, George Washington University, took place on April 13, 2023, in Washington D.C., USA.
Under the theme “Extending AGOA to 2035: Using Trade to Strengthen U.S.-Africa Strategic Alliances,” this conference brought together key stakeholders to discuss the future of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) and its significance in fostering strong trade relationships between the United States and Africa.
Ms. Rosa Whitaker, President of the Whitaker Group, highlighted a crucial point in her written remarks, “While the utilization rate of Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) and other U.S. preferential trade programs for Least Developed Countries has declined, AGOA stands out with a positive utilization rate of about 1.6%.” This demonstrates the immense potential and value that AGOA holds for African countries.
To delve deeper into the discussions and outcomes of the conference, we invite you to read the full Communique. It encapsulates the key takeaways and proposals put forth by experts and industry leaders. The Communique sheds light on the role of AGOA Strategy Plans, which studies have shown to be instrumental in achieving higher utilization rates for AGOA. It’s an opportunity to gain insights into the strategies and policies that can drive mutually beneficial trade between the United States and Africa.
We urge you to explore the complete USITC AGOA Report. This comprehensive report provides a thorough analysis of AGOA’s impact, challenges, and potential areas of improvement. It serves as a valuable resource for policymakers, researchers, and business professionals seeking to understand the intricacies of AGOA and its role in shaping trade dynamics.
We believe in taking action and making a difference, which is why we encourage you to sign the petition calling for the extension of AGOA. By adding your voice, you can contribute to the efforts to ensure that AGOA continues to promote economic growth, job creation, and sustainable development in Africa.
You’re invited you to join us for our 24th Annual AfrICANDO. The conference and expo will be held on-site at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Miami Airport & Convention Center (MACC),711 NW 72nd Avenue, Miami, Florida, USA, and virtually. Registrants unable to travel to the US can participate in the conference online. The hybrid event will feature Seminars, A Trade Expo, and a Gala Awards Dinner.
THEME: The Diaspora: Accelerating U.S.-Africa Trade, Investment, and Technological Innovation
Areas of Focus
Trade and Investment ● Health ● Infrastructure ● Technology ● Tourism
AfrICANDO is designed to assist civil society organizations (CSOs), micro, small and medium-sized businesses (MSMEs), and the African Diaspora in creating linkages with US businesses. Read more
The Hotel for AfrICANDO 2023 is DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel at Miami Airport Convention Center (MACC). To reserve your room, CLICK HERE!
AGOA CSO Network
AGOA CSO Network
The AGOA Civil Society Network is a consortium of non-governmental organizations, (NGOs) and other groups in the United States and Africa working to facilitate the successful application of the AGOA trade bill for the benefit of small business in the US, and Africa.
The Network was established by the 102 member organizations from the United States, Mauritius, South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, Namibia, Mali, Lesotho and the Democratic Republic of Congo that were in attendance during the AGOA Civil Society Forum on January 17, 2003, in Phoenix, Mauritius.
The AGOA CSO Network’s focus is on increasing the volume and quality of African exports under AGOA and educating stakeholders on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean on this trade policy and its advantages.
Author: NFD Staff Published: 5/31/2023 New Frontier Data
Our latest report, Cannabis Trends in 2023: Products, Consumers and the Impact of Prohibition on the Industry is out now and available for free! This report examines current trends across cannabis and how the history of cannabis prohibition continues to have a profound impact on every face of the cannabis industry. From product preferences to social equity programs and everything in between, prohibition has shaped the cannabis narrative. As the cannabis industry seeks to set the record straight, it must address the harms of prohibition head on while meeting the needs of modern cannabis consumers.
Because of prohibition, cannabis consumers may equate potency with quality and default to flower as their product of choice.
Potency and effect continue to dominate product purchase decision-making in regulated markets.
States are funding technical assistance and education for equity applicants and businesses as they move away from fee waivers and early access to licensing offered in earlier programs.
Currently, most consumers use cannabis alone and stay home during and after the experience, but there is high interest in participating in cannabis activities outside the home.
The race to electrify the world’s vehicles and store energy will require batteries — so many of them, in fact, that meeting the demand we will see by 2040will require 30 times the amount of critical minerals like lithium, cobalt and nickel that those industries currently use.
There are ways to mitigate electrification’s extractive impacts, one of which may seem obvious: Recycle every battery we make.
Doing so would reduce the world’s need to mine these minerals by 10 percent within 16 years, because the critical materials in batteries are infinitely reusable. Eventually, a robust circular battery economy could all but eliminate the need to extract them at all.
Of course, that would require recovering every EV pack at the end of its life, a sizable undertaking as the United States prepares for hundreds of thousands of electric vehicles to retire by the end of the decade. A nascent ecosystem of startups is working toward that goal, and the Inflation Reduction Act includes tax credits to incentivize the practice. But some electrification advocates say those steps do not go far enough. While the European Union recently passed a regulation mandating EV battery recycling, there is no such law in the U.S. Proponents of a federal recycling standard say that without one, batteries that could be recycled might get left behind, increasing the need for mining and undermining electrification’s environmental benefits.
“We need a coordinated federal response to truly have a large-scale impact on meeting our demand,” said Blaine Miller-McFeeley, a policy advocate at Earthjustice, which favors a federal recycling requirement. “If you compare us to the EU, we are woefully behind and need to move much more quickly.”
That movement would have to come from Congress, according to Miller-McFeeley. Historically, however, regulating recycling has been left up to the states and local jurisdictions.
The Biden administration has instead been supporting the country’s budding EV battery recycling industry, mainly by making it good business to recover critical materials.
The Department of Energy wants to establish a “battery ecosystem” that can recover 90 percent of spent lithium batteries by 2030. It has granted billions in loans to battery recyclers to build new facilities. Automakers are incentivized to buy those recyclers’ products, because part of the federal EV tax credit applies only to cars with batteries that include a minimum amount of critical minerals that were mined, processed or recycled in the U.S. or by a free-trade partner. Manufacturers also get a tax credit for producing critical materials (including recycled ones) in the U.S.
Daniel Zotos, who handles public advocacy at the battery recycling startup Redwood Materials, said in an email that a healthy market for recycled materials is emerging. “Not only is there tremendous value today in recycling these metals, but the global demand for metals means that automakers need to source both more mined and recycled critical minerals.”
Zotos said Redwood Materials agrees with the approach the federal government has taken. “The U.S. has in fact chosen to help incentivize, rather than mandate, recycling through provisions established in the Inflation Reduction Act, which we’re deeply supportive of.”
During a pilot project in California last year, the company recovered 95 percent of the critical materials in 1,300 lithium-ion and nickel-metal-hydride EV and hybrid batteries. The cost of retrieving packs from throughout the state was the biggest barrier to profitability, but Zotos said that expense will subside as the industry grows.
A tiny but growing secondary market for EV batteries is also driving their reuse. Most batteries will be retired once their capacity dwindles to about 70 to 80 percent, due to the impact on the car’s range. But they’re still viable enough at that point to sustain a second life as storage for renewable energy like wind and solar power.
B2U Storage Solutions used 1,300 retired batteries from Nissan and Honda to create 27 megawatt-hours of storage at its solar farm just north of Los Angeles in Lancaster, California. Photovoltaic panels charge the packs all day, and B2U sells the stored power to the local utility during peak demand in the evening. “There is more value in reuse,” said company president Freeman Hall, “and we’re not doing anything more than deferring recycling another four or five years.”
Homeowners and hobbyists are embracing second-life batteries, too. Henry Newman, co-owner of the auto dismantler EV Parts Solutions in Phoenix, said customers buy his Tesla and Nissan Leaf batteries to convert classic cars or create DIY power storage at home. Any batteries that Newman can’t sell are picked up by Li-Cycle, a lithium-ion battery recycler with a plant in Gilbert, Arizona.
Newman said dismantlers and customers seem to want to do the right thing. “I know there will be people who don’t follow regulation, but my experience in the last six to seven years is that the industry is pretty conscious of it and tries to mitigate throwing these things in the trash,” he said. A law could help prevent mishandling, but Newman worries about any overreach or added costs that would come with more regulation.
But relying on the market to ensure proper stewardship is risky, said Jessica Dunn, a senior analyst in the clean transportation program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “The recycling of cars has traditionally been a market-based environment,” she said. “But we’re dealing with a completely different system now. EV batteries are big and have a lot of critical materials in them that we need to get out of them no matter if it’s economical or not.”
Transporting EV batteries, which can weigh more than 1,500 pounds, is expensive (as much as one-third of the cost of recycling them), dangerous and logistically challenging. Packs can catch fire if improperly handled, and they are classified as hazardous material, which requires special shipping permits. If the battery is in a remote location or is damaged, a recycler could deem it too much trouble to retrieve without a mandate to do so.
Dunn also said that not all batteries contain enough valuable materials for it to make financial sense to go through the trouble of recovering them. While most EV batteries currently contain high-value cobalt and nickel, a new generation of cheaper lithium-ion-phosphate, or LFP, batteries don’t use those metals. Tesla, Ford and Rivian all recently announced they will use LFPs in some models.
“Just because there aren’t nickel and cobalt in them doesn’t mean that the lithium isn’t something that we should be recovering,” said Dunn. Redwood Materials said it collects lithium-ion-phosphate batteries and uses the lithium within them to assemble new battery components, and it collects all battery packs no matter their condition.
Finally, without guidelines in place, viable batteries may not be repurposed before being recycled, which Dunn said undermines their sustainability. “You’ve already put all that literal energy — and the environmental impacts that go along with that — into manufacturing these batteries,” she said. “So if you can squeak an extra five to 10 years out of them, that’s a really good option.”
With the U.S. poised to see about 165,000EV batteries retire in 2030, Dunn said the time to ensure no batteries are stranded is now. “We’re not seeing a big wave now, but that’s coming, and so we need to be prepared for that.”
There has been some federal movement toward a recycling requirement. The 2021 bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act directed the Department of Energy to establish a task force to develop an “extended battery producer responsibility framework” to address battery design, transport and recycling.
Extended producer responsibility, or EPR, is the approach that the EU took in its battery regulation that passed last December. EPR puts the onus on the manufacturer to ensure that what it produces is properly repurposed and then recycled, either by compelling it to pay for the recycling or to handle the recycling itself.
Thirty-three states have EPR laws covering 16 products ranging from mattresses to packaging. “It is a paradigm shift for how waste is managed in the United States,” said Scott Cassel of the Product Stewardship Initiative. But Congress has never passed such a law.
EV battery recycling might be the issue that could garner bipartisan support for one. Access to critical materials is a foreign policy and national security issue: China processes more than half the world’s lithium and cobalt, which means a steady domestic supply from recycling would help alleviate dependency on a geopolitical rival.
Building out the infrastructure to dismantle, recover and process battery materials could also create thousands of jobs, an accomplishment most lawmakers are happy to align themselves with.
Republican Senator Bill Hagerty of Tennessee said in a statement that the bill would ensure agencies could “reap the full economic benefits of EV investments…and do so in a manner that lessens our dependence on communist China.”
These laws set in motion efforts to design recycling frameworks, but the timelines to develop them span years. In the meantime, a few states are weighing their own mandates. “The states don’t want to wait for any of these bills to move,” Cassel said. “They’re ready to act right now.”
In California, a Senate bill would require battery suppliers to ensure that all “vehicle traction batteries” be recovered, reused, repurposed or recycled. The bill passed unanimously last week and is headed to the Assembly. Senator Ben Allen (D), who introduced the bill, said there is bipartisan political and industry support for creating a framework. “You need a system in place,” he said. “That’s like saying, ‘Oh, the people will drive just fine to and from work. We don’t need traffic laws.’”
As it has been with other clean-vehicle targets, California could be a bellwether for a standard that would eventually take hold nationally.
“We’d love to create a system that could help to inform national policy,” said Allen. “And in this case, with this industry support and bipartisan backing, there actually may be a blueprint here.”
Energy Secretary Jennifer M. Granholm announced the launch of the Clean Fuels & Products ShotTM, which aims to significantly reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from carbon-based fuels and products critical to our way of life. This is the seventh DOE Energy Earthshot, and it focuses on reducing carbon emissions from the fuel and chemical industry through alternative, sustainable sources of carbon to achieve a minimum of 85% lower GHG emissions compared to fossil-based sources by 2035.
EERE’s Vehicle Technology Office announced a $99.5 million funding opportunity to support projects that improve electric vehicle charging infrastructure for underserved communities, develop electric vehicles batteries that use abundant materials, and provide consumer education on electric vehicles and electric vehicle charging.
In addition, 45 projects totaling $87 million and spanning 18 states and Washington, D.C. were selected to advance production of next-generation electric vehicle technologies, train the future electrified transportation workforce, and ensure the equitable deployment of clean mobility options in disadvantaged communities.
The Joint Office of Energy and Transportation, managed by DOE and Department of Transportation (DOT), announced a $51 million Ride and Drive Electric funding opportunity through President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to accelerate the electrification of the nation’s transportation sector and spur private sector investments in clean transportation. Concept papers are due June 16.
The National Charging Experience Consortium was also launched to advance rapid, on-the-ground solutions that ensure a convenient, reliable, equitable, and easy-to-use charging experience for all Americans. The consortium has commitments from 30 companies and organizations that are working to support the deployment of a reliable national charging network.
DOE announced nearly $42 million in funding for 22 projects in 14 states to advance critical technologies for producing, storing, and deploying clean hydrogen, and $17.8 million to establish a new North American university research consortium that will help states and tribal communities implement grid resilience programs and achieve decarbonization goals. The funding will reduce the cost of clean hydrogen, deliver cleaner air, create more high-quality jobs, and reduce reliance on fossil fuels.
DOE awarded $3 million in funding for two projects to improve local community waste-to-energy processes and infrastructure. These projects will explore new approaches to reuse waste streams as energy, nutrients, and other resources.
DOE announced a $150-million investment to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) that will help the laboratory keep the United States on the cutting edge of clean energy technology and lead the world in the transition to carbon-free power sources. Of the investment, $93 million is earmarked for modernizing NREL’s research infrastructure, including facilities to advance technologies such as sustainable aviation fuels, and $57 million will focus on laboratory renovations and deferred maintenance.
DOE announced the winners of the 10th annual Collegiate Wind Competition, which aims to prepare the next-generation wind energy workforce through real-world technology, project development, and outreach experience. Kansas State University rose above 12 other teams to claim first place by developing the best solution to the challenges associated with fixed-bottom offshore wind energy projects.
Reports released by DOE’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory show that renewable generation and energy storage projects face lengthy approval processes to interconnect to the transmission grid, increasing overall timelines and costs. Without reforms, interconnection is likely to remain a major obstacle in meeting the goals of clean energy deployment and decarbonization.
Join this Better Buildings Residential Network peer exchange call to learn about the significant levels of U.S. government investment and how states, cities, utilities, and residential energy-efficiency programs are planning for it.
Join this Better Buildings Residential Network peer exchange call to learn about the significant levels of U.S. government investment and how states, cities, utilities, and residential energy-efficiency programs are planning for it.
This webinar will explore existing best practices for community solar projects and programs to increase access to community solar for low- to moderate-income households, including outreach and engagement strategies, best practices for enrollment and verification, and key consumer protection considerations.
See below for more details on the Montgomery County Green Bank’s new CEO.
Montgomery County Green Bank Appoints Stephen Morel as New Chief Executive Officer
The Montgomery County Green Bank (Green Bank) announced that Stephen Morel has been appointed the new Chief Executive Officer. Stephen Morel, who has been serving as the Green Bank’s Chief Investment Officer since 2019, will succeed Tom Deyo, the Green Bank’s inaugural Chief Executive Officer.
Morel has a professional background in entrepreneurial leadership as well as in corporate and project finance, with a particular interest in public-private institutions and catalyzing investment into high impact sectors. Morel brings his proven skills in business management and investment structuring to the Montgomery County Green Bank with the intent to more rapidly make clean energy and climate-resilient solutions accessible to and affordable for all in Montgomery County.
See below for more details on the upcoming Green Bank Market Series.
June 28: Montgomery County Green Bank Market Series: Solar Market Series
Date: June 28, 2023
Time: 4:30 PM – 6:30 PM Location: Rockville Innovation Center, 155 Gibbs Street, Rockville, MD
Join the Montgomery County Green Bank for a lively in-person panel discussion on the newly signed law making Maryland’s Community Solar Program permanent.
With the implementation of the new state law, the Maryland Community Solar Pilot Program will become a permanent program and community solar subscriptions will be able to be paid on the same utility bill where the credits are earned. During this discussion, we will hear from leaders in the solar industry from the Climate Access Fund, We Solar, and CHESSA, the regional arm of the Solar Energy Industries Association.
Refreshments will be provided. Register soon because space is limited!
The Green Bank is committed to working collaboratively with partner organizations. See below for more details on networking and outreach events.
Held On April 23: Montgomery County Green Fest
On Sunday, April 23, The Montgomery County Green Bank attended the highly anticipated Montgomery County Green Fest. As proud participants, we set up a table to engage with attendees and showcase our commitment to sustainable initiatives.
At the Green Bank’s table, visitors had the opportunity to learn more about our innovative financing solutions and how we contribute to the development of a greener future. Our knowledgeable team was present to answer questions, provide guidance, and foster meaningful conversations around sustainable financing options.
Held On May 5: Montgomery County Affordable Housing Conference
On Friday, May 5, The Montgomery County Green Bank made a impact by actively participating in the Montgomery County Affordable Housing Conference. As a leading organization in sustainable financing, the Green Bank’s CEO, Steve Morel, took the stage as a panelist, delivering valuable insights and actionable takeaways.
During the conference, the Green Bank also demonstrated their commitment as proud sponsors by setting up an engaging and informative table. Attendees of the Green Bank’s booth were eager to learn more about innovative financing solutions for affordable housing projects. The Green Bank team engaged with visitors, answered questions, provided guidance, and fostered meaningful conversations around sustainable housing initiatives.
Held On May 9: Montgomery County Green Bank Market Series Event
On Tuesday, May 9, The Montgomery County Green Bank hosted a captivating and informative in-person panel discussion centered around the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for Common Ownership Communities (COCs). This event brought together industry experts, passionate individuals, and community leaders to delve into crucial topics shaping the future of COCs.
The panelists included, Emily Curley from the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), Mike Cain from Era Building Solutions, and Mike Flynn from 8101 Connecticut Avenue. They shared their invaluable insights and expertise with the audience. Their deep knowledge and experience shed light on pressing matters such as state and local Building Energy Performance Standards (BEPS), electrification, the Inflation Reduction Act, electric vehicle (EV) infrastructure, financing strategies, and the abundance of incentives and resources available.
Beyond the insightful discussion, this event also provided an exceptional networking opportunity for attendees. The gathering brought together like-minded individuals, fostering connections and collaborations among professionals, community leaders, and individuals passionate about sustainable development.
Held On May 21: St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church of Silver Spring Solar Celebration
On Sunday May 21, St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church of Silver Spring celebrated their newly installed solar system with a special dedication ceremony. At the ceremony, congregants gathered to sing the praises of the new solar panels using the clean, abundant energy from the sun.
Cindy McCabe, the Green Bank’s Associate Director of Renewables, spoke about working with St. Stephen’s and providing education and financing. Also in attendance were Matt Coleman from Skyview Ventures, the owner of the solar system and the provider of the Power Purchase Agreement, and Joelle Novey, Director of Interfaith Power & Light.
The Green Bank works closely with Interfaith Power & Light to help green the faith communities in the county and to educate residents on options to use clean energy.
Date: June 13, 2023
Time: 8:30 AM – 11:30 AM Location: 530 Gaither Road Rockville, MD 20850
Join Pepco and The Montgomery County Green Bank for a networking breakfast to connect with colleagues and Pepco program staff. This event presents a unique opportunity to connect with colleagues and engage with program staff from Pepco, the Maryland Energy Administration (MEA), the Montgomery County Green Bank, and the Maryland Department of Transportation.
During the breakfast, you will receive informative updates on the EMPOWER program, a groundbreaking initiative aimed at promoting energy efficiency and sustainability. Additionally, there will be insightful break-out sessions focusing on new and exciting funding pathways facilitated by the MEA and the Green Bank. These sessions will provide valuable information about financial resources available to support your sustainability projects. Furthermore, you’ll gain important insights into the Inflation Reduction Act and discover opportunities for small or DBE (Disadvantaged Business Enterprise) businesses through the Maryland Department of Transportation.
Don’t miss this chance to network, learn, and explore various avenues for advancing sustainability in our community. Mark your calendars and join us for a morning of connection, knowledge sharing, and collaboration. We look forward to seeing you there!
See below for more details on the Capital Area Solar Switch program.
Capital Area Solar Co-op Now in its Third Year Has a NEW NAME: Capital Area Solar Switch
Capital Area Solar Switch offers DC-area residents the opportunity to install rooftop solar panels, battery storage, and electric vehicle charging stations at a discounted price through group buying. The program, supported by non-profit Solar United Neighbors, vets installers through a reverse auction to secure competitive pricing. Members include Washington, D.C.; Arlington and Falls Church in Virginia; Montgomery and Frederick County, including Poolesville, and Maryland cities Bowie, Frederick, Gaithersburg, Rockville, and Takoma Park.
The reverse auction with qualified installers will be hosted on June 21, 2023. More registrations lead to more competitive bids. After the auction, personal recommendations will be sent via email to registrants by July 25, 2023. Residents can save an average of $4,000 through the program, with additional cost reduction from the federal solar tax credit.
Registration is free, and homeowners are not obligated to purchase solar panels. They can choose to proceed with a solar installation based on program-negotiated pricing. Capital Area Solar Switch also offers free virtual and in-person information sessions on solar technology, financing, incentives, and sessions with winning installers.
Clean Energy Solutions Webinar Archive
View the library of Clean Energy Solutions webinars for topics ranging from home appliance efficiency and benchmarking to breakthrough information on achieving energy savings.
ENERGY STAR Recorded Webinars
Learn about the latest ENERGY STAR residential programs about advanced energy efficiency in homes, or revisit your contractor trainings for Home Performance with ENERGY STAR to refresh requirements, objectives, and strategies.
Please share with your network. We can help secure an EV charging station for your neighborhood, public or private property! Partly funded by the government. (Apartments, community centers, office buildings, hotels, Supermarkets, drugstores, shopping centers, parking garages, stadiums, colleges, churches, libraries, etc)
The DCSEU is soliciting bids from contractors and development teams to install CREFs that will enable the DCSEU and the Department of Energy & Environment (DOEE) to extend the benefits of solar power to income-qualified District residents. Selected bidders will receive incentives and be able to take advantage of this additional $1.1 million in funding to install solar at community solar host sites with all output designated to income-qualified residents.
Single-Family Rooftop Solar
Selected bidders will receive incentives and be able to take advantage of this additional $200,000 in funding to install solar systems on income-qualified DC single-family households, maintain the system, and to complete roof repairs on select homes in preparation for installation throughout FY 2023.
Join us for both information sessions tomorrow to learn more about these RFPs and how you can work with the DCSEU to bring solar to more income-qualified families in DC. Please also note to submit all questions about both RFPs by Friday, May 26th, 2023, by 5:00 pm email@example.com. All responses (including both proposals and financials) are due by Tuesday, June 2nd, 2023, by 5:00 pm. Please plan to get your responses in by that time. All proposals must be submitted via the DCSEU Contractor Web Portal and financials emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Author: John Oliver Published: 5/21/2023 Energy and Policy Institute
John Oliver exposed a mainstream audience to the ways that failed utility regulation often result in higher monthly bills, political corruption and environmental damage on Last Week Tonight, his weekly late-night show on HBO.
After explaining how monopoly utilities make money from capital expenditures and influence often-captured regulators, Oliver toured some of the scandals that have beset the industry in recent years, from FirstEnergy corrupting Ohio’s political system with $60 million in dark money payments and millions more in admitted bribes of its top regulator, to PG&E’s causing more than one fire per day during a three-year period due in part to the company’s poor maintenance of its equipment.
The segment had racked up over 900,000 views on YouTube as of this morning.
Here’s more context on some of the scandals that Oliver discussed from the Energy and Policy Institute’s archives:
Both boondoggles were enabled by the utilities’ influence over legislators, which led to the passage of laws that allowed the companies to offload the risk of speculative projects onto customers. The utilities also worked to install and sway pliant regulators at the Public Utility Commissions in those states. Public backlashes in both places have led to greater regulatory scrutiny of the companies since the scandals.
Borrowing footage from Jonathan Scott’s documentary Power Trip, Oliver explained how monopoly utilities around the country have attacked policies that enable customers to own their own rooftop solar panels.
Oliver heaped satire on the elected Alabama Public Service Commission PSC, noting that both Commissioners Twinkle Cavanaugh and Chip Beeker have denied the reality of climate change.
For decades, Southern Company subsidiary Alabama Power has used immense influence over those regulators to extract high rates from Alabama customers and to avoid oversight. From 2014 to 2018, the company reaped over $1 billion in excess profits on top of what it would have earned with industry-average returns on equity, according to an analysis by EPI. Unlike regulators in any other jurisdiction, the Alabama PSC has not subjected the company to a contested rate case with a full discovery process since 1982.
EPI reported last week that Alabama Power has built a war chest of almost $4 million during a year where two of its regulators, Beeker and Jeremy Oden, face re-election.
The utility scandal that has attracted the most attention in recent years happened in Ohio, where FirstEnergy paid $60 million to Speaker of the Ohio House Larry Householder’s political slush fund in exchange for enacting a new law that provided a $1 billion ratepayer-funded bailout for several nuclear and coal plants owned by a bankrupt FirstEnergy subsidiary. Oliver described how FirstEnergy paid $22 million to its top regulator, Sam Randazzo, in the years prior to Randazzo’s appointment as the chair of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio. Randazzo resigned shortly after the FBI raided his house, though he has not yet been charged with any crimes. Householder’s trial is set to begin later this year.
Oliver suggested that viewers “Just google your utility and the word scandal, and the chances are they’ve gotten into some major trouble.”
Anyone doing so would find a plethora of examples. A recent set of cascading scandals comes from Florida, where the monopoly utility Florida Power & Light (FPL) drafted legislation that would have ended a key rooftop solar policy, delivering the bill to the sponsoring legislator alongside a contribution to that legislator’s political action committee a few days later. Florida’s governor Ron DeSantis vetoed the bill, which was deeply unpopular.
Like FirstEnergy, FPL and its parent company NextEra Energy also spent millions on dark-money groups to get the legislators that it wanted. With the Florida Senate hanging in the balance during the 2020 election cycle, FPL and NextEra paid millions of dollars to political consultants who used the money to set up 501(c)(4) “dark-money” organizations. According to records obtained by the Orlando Sentinel, FPL executives, including the CEO, coordinated closely with the consultants. The utility-funded dark-money groups engineered a brazen scheme to siphon votes from Democrats to third-party “ghost candidates” in three of Florida’s 2020 legislative elections, all of which were won by Republicans, two by razor-thin margins.
DOE announced eight projects selected for the $26 million Solar and Wind Grid Services and Reliability Demonstration funding program. Teams will work to demonstrate an electric grid that runs on 100% solar, wind, and battery storage. Learn more about the selected projects.
SETO announced the selection of Planted Solar for a $1.6 million award under the Solar Manufacturing Incubator funding program. Planted Solar is developing a novel ground-mounted photovoltaic (PV) system design. Learn more about this and the other projects funded through the program.
U.S. Solar Manufacturing Workforce Request for Information – Members of the solar industry, academia, research laboratories, government agencies, manufacturers, suppliers, education and training providers, community-based organizations, and workers’ rights organizations can submit feedback by June 2.
OPTIMA Funding Opportunity – Diverse teams of researchers, equipment manufacturers, software vendors, utilities, and independent system operators must submit concept papers by June 5 for the Operation and Planning Tools for Inverter-Based Resource Management and Availability for Future Power Systems (OPTIMA) funding opportunity.
Recent reports by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory highlight the impact of high interconnection costs on the deployment of renewables and storage in the United States and propose solutions to address cost increases and improve the speed and efficiency of the interconnection process.
Reinforcing solar panels against the elements is important to increasing their efficiency and extending their lifetimes. Learn how the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has improved modeling to help researchers and industry personnel develop robust, durable solar panels that are also as thin, lightweight, and cost-effective as possible.
CelLink Corporation has come full circle since receiving SETO funding for its novel flex circuit for solar panels and has now received a conditional commitment for a $362 million DOE loan for its U.S. manufacturing facility to support the domestic electric vehicle market.
The Office of Clean Energy Demonstrations announced a new grant funding opportunity for community-based energy projects located in rural and remote areas across the country. This funding program aims to recognize and address the distinct energy challenges faced by rural communities, increase energy affordability, and promote climate resilience.
Solar panels are meant to help decarbonize the electric grid, but net carbon footprints can vary based on manufacturing supply chains. The Global Electronics Council announced the addition of criteria to its EPEAT ecolabel system focused on decarbonizing the supply chain for solar panel production.
The National Community Solar Partnership is launching a webinar series to highlight best practices in developing community solar projects and programs that deliver meaningful benefits to subscribers and their communities. Register for the first webinar, titled, ‘Building with Benefits: Greater Household Savings.’
Learn and discuss the various elements of community solar program design, as well as ownership options relevant to municipal utilities in this new continuing education course presented in partnership with the American Public Power Association and NREL.
DOE–DOT Joint Office of Energy and Transportation Launches New Funding Opportunity and Consortium to Improve Reliability and Accessibility of EV Chargers, Expand the Nation’s Clean Transportation Workforce
The Biden-Harris Administration today announced a $51 million Ride and Drive Electric funding opportunity through President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to accelerate the electrification of the nation’s transportation sector and spur private sector investments in clean transportation. The administration also today announced the launch of the National Charging Experience Consortium to advance rapid, on-the-ground solutions that ensure a convenient, reliable, equitable, and easy-to-use charging experience for all Americans with chargers that are made in America. The Joint Office of Energy and Transportation (Joint Office) will administer the Ride and Drive Electric program and has funded DOE’s Idaho National Laboratory to lead the National Charging Experience Consortium. Managed by the Departments of Energy (DOE) and Transportation (DOT), the Joint Office was created through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to build a national electric vehicle charging network that will spark public confidence in EV adoption and fill charging gaps in rural, disadvantaged, and hard-to-reach locations. Today’s announcements support President Biden’s Investing in America agenda to grow the American economy from the bottom up and middle out—rebuilding our nation’s infrastructure, creating good paying jobs, and building a clean energy economy that will combat climate change and make our communities more resilient.
“Thanks to President Biden’s Investing in America agenda, we are developing a robust and reliable EV charging network that is accessible in all communities and easy to use for all riders and drivers,” said U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm. “Rapidly modernizing and electrifying key parts of our transportation sector is how we’ll meet consumer needs and achieve widespread electrification.”
“Under President Biden’s leadership, we are creating a new generation of good-paying jobs building the vehicles of the future and the infrastructure that supports them,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. “The EV revolution is well underway, and this funding will help to ensure that every American can access the benefits and count on a reliable EV charging network across the country.”
Ride and Drive Electric Funding Opportunity Announcement
Electrifying America’s transportation sector will play a critical role in mitigating greenhouse gas pollution and climate change while benefiting all Americans through improved health outcomes, reduced fuel and maintenance costs, and strengthened energy security. With more than 3 million EVs on the road, federal investments to reach President Biden’s goal of building a national network of 500,000 public EV charging ports will allow even more Americans to make the switch to electric. The Ride and Drive Electric funding opportunity will advance this mission by:
Enhancing EV charging resilience
Providing equitable access and opportunity in electrification through community-driven models for EV charging deployment and workforce development
Improving EV charging performance and reliability
This funding will help to increase reliability of chargers by providing funding for validating and testing charging equipment; advance new business models for electrified shared mobility and fleet-based services; and increase opportunities for underserved communities through new jobs and training resources, among others. Aligning with the President’s Justice40 Initiative, all applicants must outline the benefits that will be delivered to disadvantaged communities through the Ride and Drive Electric funding opportunity.
Read the full Ride and Drive Electric funding opportunity announcement here. The submission deadline for concept papers is June 16, 2023. Only applicants who have submitted an eligible concept paper will be eligible to submit a full application. The submission deadline for full applications is July 28, 2023.
The National Charging Experience Consortium (ChargeX)
Led by DOE’s Idaho National Laboratory, Argonne National Laboratory, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the ChargeX Consortium will rapidly develop solutions that ensure an easy and reliable charging experience for all Americans. The objective of ChargeX is to help the EV industry achieve first-time plug-in success every time a customer uses public charging infrastructure. ChargeX will collaborate with organizations representing a cross-section of the EV charging industry on usability and accessibility issues that require multi-stakeholder collaboration to address. The Consortium already has commitments from nearly 30 companies and organizations that are working to support the deployment of a reliable national charging network. The ChargeX Consortium complements the foundation for charging reliability established by the minimum standards for Federal Highway Administration Title 23 funded EV charging infrastructure projects and complements the Ride and Drive Electric funding opportunity.
For more information or to request to join the ChargeX Consortium, visit chargex.inl.gov.
Author: Medhini Kumar Published: May 17, 2023 Evergreen Action
In the past 20 years, fossil fuel-powered cars have become ubiquitous. And with their rapid rise—largely fueled by car manufacturers and oil company lobbyists—has come increased climate pollution and a slew of health problems.
Fortunately, since 1975, EPA has successfully cut pollution from the biggest offenders in the transportation sector—cars, SUVs, and small trucks—through what’s known as light-duty vehicle standards.
Last month, EPA released its newest standards… but there’s something a little different about them.
Regulating the pollution from light-duty vehicles is a big deal. Communities that were historically torn apart by highways and polluted by car traffic are some of the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. But with these standards, we can begin to turn things around.
Complex, but packing a big punch, tax incentives for clean electricity represent a significant portion of the investments within President Biden’s landmark climate bill. Initial estimates stated that the IRA will deliver at least $370 billion in climate action, $257 billion of which comes from tax credits. Revised projections found that these investments could be three times greater than initially thought, or more—because the credits are uncapped, the only limit on their uptake is the public’s desire to take advantage of them.
Many of the credits go to consumers—a homeowner installing a new heat pump, for example, can take up to $2,000 of the appliance’s cost off their tax bill at the end of the year. But the credits that have the greatest impact to drive forward the clean energy transition will operate largely out of sight from consumers. The clean electricity production tax credit (PTC) and investment tax credit (ITC) fit that profile: lesser-known, but among the IRA’s highest-impact investments to spur a fair and equitable clean energy economy.
First, what are the ITC and PTC?
As the name suggests, the clean electricity production tax credit subsidizes the production of clean electricity. Similarly, the clean electricity investment tax credit supports new investment in clean electricity installations. A given project can only receive the PTC or ITC, but not both. The credits’ shared purpose—boosting the installation and operation of new clean power sources—is clear. But the devil is in the details.
With the ITC, project developers can receive a base credit worth 30 percent of the project’s value, provided they meet certain labor standards (more on that in a second). In a market where wind and solar are already the world’s cheapest energy sources and getting cheaper, this substantial subsidy will make new generation all the more appealing to project developers. And the updated credit supports more than wind and solar power: For the first time, the ITC is now available for energy storage technologies, which are critical for achieving a stable clean grid.
The PTC, on the other hand, awards credits to clean energy sources on a per-kilowatt-hour basis. For every kWh of clean energy generated, the producer gets a base credit of 2.6¢/kWh (again, provided they meet certain labor standards). Historically that’s been roughly equivalent in value to the 30 percent ITC. Subsidizing production per-unit creates a strong incentive to generate as much clean power as possible, with operating costs defrayed along the way.
This is roughly how the ITC and PTC have always operated, but for the first time the IRA extends these credits for a full ten-years, and beyond, at their full value. The IRA also makes some important upgrades. Those changes will redefine the credits’ impact on the clean energy economy.
How does the IRA upgrade the ITC and PTC?
Ambitious labor standards
New labor stipulations are among the IRA’s most significant changes to the ITC and PTC. Originally, projects were eligible for the base credits of 30 percent and 2.75¢/kWh with no strings attached. Now, developers and operators have to pay prevailing wages and hire apprentices to qualify for the full credit value. If they don’t, they receive much, much smaller credit shares—a modest 6 percent and 0.5¢/kWh, respectively. (Smaller projects aren’t subject to this standard to receive the base credit.) Tying the full credit value to labor practices, as pioneered by Washington’s Clean Energy Transformation Act signed by Governor Jay Inslee in 2019, is a major incentive to create good jobs in the clean energy economy.
The prevailing wage provision requires that all wages for construction, alteration, and repair for the first five years of an ITC project and the first 10 years of a PTC project must be paid at the prevailing wage. Prevailing wages, calculated on a state and regional basis, are the average wage paid to workers in a given occupation in a geographic area. This requirement ensures that clean energy workers are paid a fair, liveable wage.
The apprenticeship requirement further calls for a certain percentage of construction labor hours for each clean power project to be performed by an apprentice. The percentage increases over time: It’s currently held at 12.5 percent for projects beginning construction this year, and will reach 15 percent for projects beginning construction after 2023. Apprenticeships are a critical pathway into good union jobs, and this stipulation will help build a durable workforce with a new generation of well-trained clean energy workers.
Direct pay and transferability
Direct pay and transferability change the game for certain clean energy projects. These provisions recognize that tax credits are ultimately a blunt instrument, in part because they depend on the benefiting organization actually having tax liability—you can’t count a subsidy credit against your taxes if you don’t pay any taxes!
Direct pay solves that problem, by converting the tax credit to direct cash payments. By making the credits available without requiring tax liability, direct pay offers credit access to a much broader set of entities, including tax-exempt entities, states and their political subdivisions, and Tribal governments. New access to tax credits will be especially important for public utilities, including municipal utilities and rural cooperatives, which generate 15 percent of all power in the U.S. and serve one in seven Americans. We can expect a massive upswell in new nonprofit- and publicly-owned clean energy generation, as a result of the direct pay upgrade.
Transferability addresses another problem with tax credit accessibility. In the past, a company eligible for a credit larger than what they’d otherwise pay in taxes could find a complicated workaround: Contracting with a financial institution to apply the credit against that company’s much larger tax liability, in exchange for a steep cut of the credit. Those arrangements were purely extractive, boosting profits for banks while reducing the credit benefit for project developers. Transferability makes it much simpler and cheaper to shift credits between companies, so less of the credit is wasted—and more federal investments go toward their intended purpose of encouraging renewable energy.
3, Tying credits to clean energy targets The IRA newly connects the two credits to real-world climate targets, ensuring incentives don’t run out until we’re on track to decarbonize the power sector. The ITC/PTC provisions are an extension and expansion of existing tax credits until January 1, 2025. After that, the old credits expire, and functionally similar programs (with some tweaks, including a transition to covering all zero-carbon power sources) kick in. The new credits are partly linked to greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution reduction targets. They begin to phase out in 2032 only if GHG pollution from electricity is below 25 percent of 2022 emissions. If the power sector hasn’t hit the decarbonization target of less than 25 percent of 2022 emissions by 2032, the credits won’t phase out until the target is met. It’s a neat way of connecting the credits to important, real-world climate targets.
But the IRA’s changes to the ITC and PTC don’t stop at these three upgrades. There’s one more crucially important update in the IRA’s credit extension: bonus credits. Above, we outlined the base tax rate, which is the guaranteed minimum credit for producers and suppliers. Bonus credits go one step further, providing robust incentives—and much larger credit values—to boost the broader economic benefits of clean energy deployment.
Let’s break it down: How do bonus credits work?
If a tax credit could have a “secret sauce,” bonus credits, also known as adders, would be it. They’re huge incentives for clean power developers and operators to strengthen domestic supply chains, build the clean energy workforce, support equitable clean energy investment, and more.
The bonus credits are at the heart of the Biden administration’s climate policy agenda, going beyond driving widespread uptake of clean energy and electrification. These incentives will help remake the fabric of the American economy, which has historically prioritized profits over people and has spent decades offshoring, disinvesting, and racing to the bottom on job quality. By creating additional incentives across several benchmarks, PTC and ITC can have a lasting impact on clean power in the U.S.
Three key bonus credits within ITC and PTC
Both the ITC and PTC credits feature an adder for projects built with domestically produced materials. The domestic content requirement encourages projects to source all of their iron and steel and 40 percent of the value of other materials from U.S. manufacturers—with an increasing proportion of other materials required over time, ultimately reaching 55 percent for projects built after 2026.
The incentive is calculated differently for the two credits. Per the Department of Energy, projects “that meet domestic content minimums are eligible for a 10 percentage point increase in value of the ITC (e.g., an additional 10 percent for a 30 percent ITC = 40 percent) or 10 percent increase in value of the PTC (e.g., an additional 0.3 ¢/kWh for a 2.75 ¢/kWh).” Either way, the incentive is clear: build more infrastructure with U.S.-made components and get a bigger subsidy for your clean power project. This adder can play a major role in building out domestic supply chains that will feed into new clean power generation for years to come.
The credits include another adder for projects sited in “energy communities.” Energy communities are specifically defined in the IRA statute, generally including communities that have suffered hardship from the decline of the fossil fuel industry. (The US Department of Energy has helpfully released a mapping tool to help identify energy communities as defined by the IRA.)
This adder features the same 10 percent bonus as the domestic content requirement for both credits, with a catch: Larger projects that fail to meet the labor adder benchmarks only receive a 2-percentage-point increase in the value of the ITC. That caveat makes intuitive sense—the point of the energy community bonus is to revitalize communities left behind by the transition away from fossil fuels, and high-road labor standards will go a long way toward uplifting working families in those places.
This bonus credit only applies to the ITC, which receives an additional 10-percentage-point increase for wind and solar projects under 5MW located in a low-income community or on Tribal land. For projects classified as a “qualified low-income residential building project” or “qualified low-income economic benefit project,” that bumps up to a 20-percentage-point increase.
Much like the energy communities provision, this adder is a major incentive for developers to invest in communities that would benefit the most from new infrastructure and good jobs. The 5MW ceiling also indicates an interest in applying the ITC toward smaller-scale community solar or rooftop projects focused on providing targeted economic benefits to low-income communities and residents.
The maximum incentives for projects that hit every benchmark speak for themselves. A new smaller project that meets labor and domestic requirements, and is built in a low-income energy community, qualifies for an ITC at a whopping 70 percent of the project cost. Larger projects, which don’t qualify for the low-income community adders, are still eligible for a full 50 percent credit. If opting for the PTC instead, a large clean power source meeting the labor and domestic requirements in an energy community will receive a PTC of 3.2 ¢/kWh. In a market where as of 2021 the national average cost of solar power was 3.6 ¢/kWh and wind power was 3.8 ¢/kWh, such incentives would be a seismic shift.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) modeled the impact of the PTC and ITC on domestic clean energy generation. They project that without the IRA and the ITC/PTC extension, the U.S. would have around 726 gigawatts of solar power capacity by 2050. Factoring in the PTC and ITC, with high credit uptake, we’d reach nearly 1,000 GW of solar power by 2050. That’d be a 38 percent percent increase in capacity over business as usual for solar generation on the strength of these two credits alone.
EIA’s study of the “high uptake case” highlights a critical variable in all of these discussions: how many businesses will take advantage of the credits and with how many bonuses. The IRA’s cost estimate comes with the major caveat that, for the credits, these numbers are only projections. There is, theoretically, no limit on the value of uncapped credits that businesses can take. The IRA doesn’t impose a cap on the PTC and ITC, so the sky’s the limit.
Initial projections indicated that the two credits alone will comprise more than $125 billion of investments. Multiple recent reports blow that figure out of the water. According to Goldman Sachs modeling, the IRA could drive three times the climate investments initially projected, with an additional $82 billion in clean energy credits. The Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation, which issued the authoritative initial IRA cost estimates, produced even higher revised credit projections—their April 2023 figures indicate the IRA’s clean energy tax credits will drive nearly $570 billion of new federal investments. According to the Wall Street Journal’s coverage, “companies are rushing to cash in on tax credits that aren’t capped.” These results demonstrate the private sector’s voracious appetite for the PTC and ITC subsidies, and indicate that the credits could have a far greater impact than first predicted.
The Bottom Line
The IRA is overflowing with ambitious climate investments that stand to reshape the American economy: ITC and PTC stand out among them, driving domestic investment in frontline communities.
As part of President Biden’s Investing in America agenda, DOE announced $26 million for eight selected projects across 13 states and Puerto Rico to demonstrate how solar, wind, storage, and other clean energy resources can support a reliable and efficient U.S. power grid.
EERE’s Wind Energy Technologies Office announced $1 million from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to Triton Systems to test and advance a first-of-its kind anchoring system for floating offshore wind. This selection is one of three small businesses funded to accelerate wind energy deployment as part of DOE’s Small Business Innovative Research and Small Business Technology Transfer programs.
EERE’s Wind Energy Technologies Office released a $4.75 million funding opportunity that will create one or more university-led Centers of Excellence to increase offshore wind expertise at U.S. universities; develop partnerships to address key offshore wind development challenges; and educate the next generation of offshore wind experts in the United States.
EERE’s Bioenergy Technologies Office launched the Bioenergy Research and Education Bridge Program (BRIDGES), a case study-based curriculum designed to encourage careers in bioenergy fields. The BRIDGES case studies can be used in high school or universities in biology, environmental science, or chemistry courses.
Endicott College won first place in the inaugural DOE Hydropower Collegiate Competition, where 10 student-led teams analyzed a case study on how hydropower fits into a future power grid supported by 100% renewable energy.
The University of New Hampshire was awarded the top prize in the fourth annual DOE Marine Energy Collegiate Competition, where 19 student-led teams developed designs and business plans to power activities using a range of marine energy technologies.
Researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory are seeking solar workers for 1-hour, one-on-one interviews to inform a study about the solar workforce. People with knowledge and experience on solar installation, deployment, and worker well-being in California, Florida, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Ohio, and/or Texas are encouraged to sign up.
Solar panels need to withstand weather conditions to keep producing power for decades. Using clever measurement and modeling methods, researchers are optimizing sealants on solar modules to keep water out.
DOE selected Arizona State University to lead the seventh Clean Energy Manufacturing Innovation Institute, The Electrified Processes for Industry without Carbon (EPIXC) Institute. EPIXC will mobilize a coalition of private, public and community partners and will allocate up to $70 million in federal funding for projects that electrify process heating and decarbonize the industrial sector.
DOE, in partnership with the Clean Energy Smart Manufacturing Innovation Institute, selected seven projects that will advance smart manufacturing technologies and processes, including artificial intelligence, and machine learning. Projects will demonstrate energy productivity and/or operational efficiencies of smart manufacturing technologies within energy-intensive industries, including cement, chemicals, food, and steel.
Join experts from EERE’s Technology Offices to discuss funding Technology Commercialization Fund programs that reduce embodied energy/carbon of materials and processes across residential, commercial, and industrial settings.
Join this Better Buildings Residential Network peer exchange call to learn about the significant levels of U.S. government investment, and what states, cities, utilities and residential energy-efficiency programs are doing to plan for it.
Join us in Arlington, VA, for DOE’s annual review of its hydrogen program. The Annual Merit Review will feature presentations and posters on DOE-funded work and a one-day, interagency track featuring presentations on hydrogen and fuel-cell initiatives from other federal agencies.
Applications are open for America’s Top Small Business (ATSB) — a small business awards program from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
America’s Top Small Business aims to recognize small businesses doing big things in their industries and communities through innovation, job creation and a commitment to being an integral part of a thriving business ecosystem.
Find out everything you need to know about the ATSB program, including who is eligible to apply, how winners are chosen, and how your business can enter to win a $25K cash prize, here.
Warm spring temperatures bring melting snow and rain. But in the Quad Cities, a collection of five small cities bordering the Mississippi River in southeastern Iowa and northwestern Illinois, residents have once again been hard-hit by catastrophic flooding.
Caught in this deluge of water is Davenport, Iowa, an 11% Black, 15% low-income city of 100,000 residents on the western bank of the Mississippi.
Alicia Houston, a Black resident who moved to Davenport a year ago, says flooding in the predominantly Black and low-income west end of the city’s downtown has been largely ignored.
Historic flooding affected the area in 1965, 1993, 2008, 2014, 2019, and now again this year. On April 23, snowmelt from Wisconsin and Illinois made its way to Davenport. The river reached major flood stage and officially crested in the city at 21.51 feet on Monday, May 1.
Houston says on April 29, her home was completely surrounded by water, and it didn’t recede for two weeks. She says FEMA never contacted her.
“FEMA knows we are in trouble,” Houston says. “Where’s FEMA? We need help. I haven’t heard anything from FEMA.”
“A lot of times, we rent. We don’t have the money to go to the banks and get loans,” Glenda Gluster, the chair of the NAACP Davenport Environmental Climate Justice Committee, tells Word In Black.
As of 2021, the median income of a Black family in the United States was $46,400, and it’s only $35,548 in Iowa. Flood insurance is costly, too. The average cost of flood insurance through the National Flood Insurance Program is $771 per year.
“This is one of the reasons why we need to get involved in the environment,” Guster says. Everyone should be involved in the fight for climate justice because it affects all of us. This is our Earth, and it belongs to all of us. If we don’t care about it, we are going to lose it.”
Experts say these severe floods are not isolated incidents but are harbingers of a disconcerting new normal shaped by the forces of climate change.
Matt Wilson, the senior service hydrologist for the National Weather Service Quad Cities, says the first flood warning this year was sent out on Feb. 9. His team has sent out three updates on flooding over the past two months.
“In some places, it had what was essentially six to 10 or more inches of snow water equivalent,” Wilson says. The former geologist says that flooding especially impacts underserved communities.
“Most of the locations where they have a flood wall, they put up temporary structures to protect all of the areas along the low line. Any area that is flood-prone is going to be more likely to be lower income.”
And this isn’t the first time severe floods have reached low-income communities in southeastern Iowa.
The Worst Flooding in Davenport
On April 30, 2019, the National Weather Service issued a flood warning for downtown Davenport, an area filled with bustling businesses and restaurants.
A flood barrier had failed, causing water to pour into the street. Water levels rose as high as 21.88 feet, breaking records for flooding in the city.
Buildings were underwater, and some businesses were permanently closed due to the severity of the flooding, and at least four people died.
No one has died in Iowa from this current round of flooding, but Houston says a freshwater drowning victim was recently identified in Rock Island, Illinois, just across the Mississippi from Davenport.
And experts say as climate change worsens, the death toll will rise.
“The severity of heavy rain storms in the Midwest has increased over the last five years. More rain and snow from storm systems will lead to more frequent and likely more significant flooding,” Wilson says.
“You need to know about your environment and how things affect you. You need a disaster plan if your home does flood,” Guster says.
Meanwhile, Houston says she can see a majority Black homeless encampment from her living room. She says she was lucky enough to have a place to stay with her parents but worries flooding will have dire consequences over time.
“They’re not doing anything to prevent this,” Houston says. “It’s getting worse and worse. It’s going to take more lives if they don’t get a hold of it soon.”
In response to the launch of USDA’s Empowering Rural America (“New ERA”) and the Powering Affordable Clean Energy (PACE) programs, Evergreen Action Policy Lead Mattea Mrkusic released the following statement:
“Rural electric providers are often still heavily reliant on expensive, polluting coal plants. But the $10.7 billion in funding announced today is a game changing opportunity for these providers to lead the clean energy transition without ever compromising on reliability or affordability for the customers they serve.
“The New ERA program will provide rural electric cooperatives with $9.7 billion in grants and loans to decarbonize their fleet, whether they’re refinancing existing loans to accelerate the retirement of stranded assets or investing in renewable energy sources and systems. The PACE program will provide $1 billion in partially forgivable loans to eligible recipients, like renewable energy developers, rural electric cooperatives and municipalities, to finance large-scale solar, wind, geothermal, and more. These two programs will reduce costs and climate pollution, all while improving air quality in rural communities—particularly for the fenceline communities surrounding polluting facilities. It’s a slam-dunk win for coops, their ratepayers, and anyone who likes to breathe. But time is ticking. With deadlines for initial letters of interest fast approaching, rural electric providers must act now to seize this tremendous opportunity.”
Evergreen Action worked to secure financing for rural utilities’ clean energy transition in the Inflation Reduction Act. You can read more about the programs in the bill that are key to decarbonizing the power sector here. For rural electric cooperatives to make the most of this enormous discount on clean energy, they’ll need to submit an initial letter of interest for USDA’s New ERA Program before August 31, 2023. For the PACE Program, eligible entities will have until September 29, 2023 to submit an initial letter of interest.
Over two decades, MDE lost one out of every seven employees and those positions went unfilled as environmental challenges increased.
The Maryland Department of the Environment’s funding is among the lowest in the Chesapeake watershed area. Only West Virginia’s environmental department received a smaller portion of its state’s general fund.
“What we saw in 2021 and in prior years was just a really dramatic cut-off (in resources) and Hogan’s initiatives to make sure that state agencies weren’t fully enforcing the law,” Katlynn Schmitt, a senior analyst at the Center for Progressive Reform, told Capital News Service. She is one of the authors of the 2022 Chesapeake Accountability Project scorecard – an evaluation of “water-related enforcement trends over the last two decades,” according to its website.
Ben Grumbles, Secretary of the Environment under Hogan from 2015 until March 2022, disputed allegations of lax water quality enforcement.
“The administration absolutely put an emphasis on compliance and enforcement,” he said.
“We imposed and recovered many record-setting penalties. We also had to deal with COVID — we were not able to have on-site inspections because they put our employees at risk.”
“When you get much below 1% (funding), that’s when you start to see a lot of pollution problems. … It kind of sends a signal to polluters that you’re not going to get caught,” said Doug Myers, Maryland senior scientist for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
The Chesapeake Bay is America’s largest estuary, and its watershed encompasses six states and the District of Columbia. Among these, Maryland provided its environmental protection agency with one of the lowest funding levels in 2020. Only West Virginia allocated a smaller percentage of its general fund to its environmental department.
This low funding has observable results. The 2022 CAP scorecard said that “there has been a dramatic decline in the number of enforcement actions taken by the Water & Science
Administration (WSA) (a subsidiary of MDE), the number of sites inspected, and the number of significant violations identified involving environmental or health impacts.”
Although the scorecard says that the MDE situation has been degrading since the early 2000s, many of the identified changes became more severe during Hogan’s tenure, beginning in 2015.
West VirginiaMarylandNew YorkVirginiaDelawarePennsylvaniaWashington, D.C.State010.80.60.40.21.2General fund allocation (%)
West VirginiaMarylandNew YorkVirginiaDelawarePennsylvaniaWashington, D.C.State010.80.60.40.21.2General fund allocation (%)
Howard University and Morgan State University have partnered with Georgetown University’s Massive Data Institute for an initiative that aims to make environmental data accessible and usable for a wider range of researchers. After launching a year and a half ago, the Environmental Impact Data Collaborative created an interactive platform that hosts more than 145 datasets alongside digital tools that make it faster and easier to combine and analyze them.
“People can use our platform for data science tools, using programming languages to transform the data, merge the data and analyze and visualize the data,” said Michael Bailey, the collaborative’s director and a government professor at Georgetown. “But we really are focused on having impact—we want to avoid just having data for data’s sake.”
To that end, the collaborative supports more than 10 different data science projects examining environmental justice and climate change. Researchers at Howard lead five of those projects, which focus on environmental justice issues related to air pollution, health, transportation and homelessness.
Dr. Legand Burge, a Howard computer science professor, currently works on a project that collects and organizes community-level air quality data in D.C. and Baltimore. He also serves as the coordinator for Howard’s partnership within the Environmental Impact Data Collaborative.
“Georgetown is one of those sites where you can actually get access to census data and all these various kinds of data, and they’re responsible for managing and governing it, making it accessible to folks,” Burge said. “What [Howard] brings to the table I think is the fact that a lot of our projects are looking at marginalized communities dealing with underrepresented populations.”
Part of Burge’s project involves collecting air quality data from residential properties, and his team has been experimenting with new ways to give individuals more control and ownership of the data they share with researchers. Burge said that Howard’s and Morgan State’s partnerships within the collaborative can make it easier to reach vulnerable communities that may otherwise feel more reluctant to engage with academic institutions.
“If anyone wants to do research and they want to get real, real-time data, especially from vulnerable communities, there is a level of trust that needs to be established,” he said. “Working with churches or local organizations that are grassroots organizations already in the community is the best way to go.”
Tackling the problem with big datasets
Huge databases are often unwieldy and difficult to work with. Moreover, different sources organize information differently, and even within a single dataset, inconsistencies can significantly slow down the research process. Data analysts sometimes cite an “80/20 rule”—80% of their time is spent getting information cleaned up and prepared and 20% is spent on actual analysis.
Bailey said that the platform created by EIDC will speed things up and widen the range of people who can do meaningful analysis of environmental data beyond those with specialized data skills.
“For high-end users, we might save hours or a couple of days, but then, for middle or more novice users, we could save months,” he said. “A high-end user who’s a sophisticated data scientist with experience in the environmental field could do a lot of this without us. We’re trying to expand that set of folks.”
At Morgan State, the collaborative supports a small team of computer scientists developing machine learning processes that would assist with pulling data from the internet and making it usable for researchers. Dr. Paul Wang, the university’s chair of computer science, said that making more information both available and usable is a key part of solving climate and environmental justice issues.
“How are you going to meet a goal without knowing where the key areas to address are?” Wang said.
In addition to the three universities involved, the collaborative includes five other entities spanning the private, public and nonprofit sectors. Some partnered with university researchers and students to produce specific projects and others helped provide new data that hadn’t previously been made public, according to an annual report on the collaborative released by the Massive Data Institute earlier this year.
Most of the data housed within the Environmental Impact Data Collaborative’s platform is public information from sources such as the federal government’s Justice 40 initiative, EPA data on air, water and landfill toxics, and weather data. The collection includes local, state and national datasets, but currently does not have international data.
Funding for the initiative comes from the Bezos Earth Fund, which Amazon founder Jeff Bezos launched in 2020 to support projects addressing climate change and nature. The Massive Data Institute at Georgetown’s school of public policy received a $3.2 million grant from the fund in 2021 in order to launch the Collaborative.
Author: Amy Green Published: 5/13/2023 Inside Climate News
Leaders in North Port St. Joe had big plans for tourism, real estate, even a Black history museum. Then they found out, almost by accident, that elected officials had been pushing the LNG terminal for years without telling them.
Dannie Bolden grew up in this house. He and other North Port St. Joe residents dream of revitalizing their neighborhood and uniting it with the other end of town. “Because of what we see happening on the other side of town, we know it’s possible,” he says. Credit: Amy Green
PORT ST. JOE, Fla.—Not long ago, this rural coastal town in the Florida Panhandle was home to a thriving Black community, with locally owned shops and restaurants and plentiful jobs at the nearby paper mill.
Their community fell into decay after the paper mill closed in 1999, but today residents have big plans for restoring and uniting it, finally, with the white side of town.
They envision a reinvented Martin Luther King Boulevard, the main thoroughfare here, with mixed-use development, extended sidewalks and a new Black history museum. They had crafted a redevelopment plan with the community’s beachy location making tourism and real estate opportunities the centerpiece.
To support their dream, the residents had secured three grants from the Environmental Protection Agency, together totaling $850,000, for health and housing needs, repairs after Hurricane Michael in 2018 and a legacy of pollution left by the paper mill. They just garnered another one in April from the Biden administration, aimed at finding nature-based solutions for frequent flooding affecting the community.
“Because of what we see happening on the other side of town, we know it’s possible,” said Dannie Bolden, an activist who works tirelessly for the community. He grew up here and now is vice president of the North Port St. Joe Project Area Coalition, a local group aimed at redeveloping the community. He has a round face, warm smile and gray goatee.
But elected officials and a Miami-based energy company, Nopetro Energy, have other plans: a liquified natural gas plant on the same 60 acres, now vacant and weedy, where the paper mill once stood.
The LNG plant would involve three enormous refrigerators that would cool natural gas to an extreme minus-260 degrees Fahrenheit, turning the fossil fuel into a liquid. The LNG then would be loaded into shipping containers and trucked a crucial quarter mile—1,300 feet—to a dock, where a crane would hoist the containers on cargo ships destined for the Caribbean and Latin America.
The 1,300 feet is a crucial detail because it has enabled Nopetro to move forward with the plant without any oversight from federal regulators, sparing the energy company a lengthy and costly environmental review process that would have involved the public, said Tyson Slocum, energy program director at Public Citizen, a consumer advocacy group in Washington.
Instead, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission found that because the LNG would be trucked rather than piped directly onto the ships waiting at the dock, the plant was outside the commission’s jurisdiction.
“If you look at the details of Nopetro’s design, they clearly worked with lawyers to intentionally design and orient their LNG terminal specifically to evade FERC oversight,” he said. “This is why this case is so insane. FERC is mangling common sense and the plain statutory language. It’s insane that we’re even having to file this lawsuit.”
Slocum believes the commission, by granting the exemption, is establishing a precedent that opens a legal loophole, making way for similar LNG plants nationwide. His organization has sued in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit for a review of the decision.
Meanwhile, in Port St. Joe, the proposed LNG plant has generated widespread opposition, among Black and white residents, but has benefited notably from the quiet but deliberate support of state Rep. Jason Shoaf, a local Republican. Shoaf is vice president of the St. Joe Gas Company, Inc., which connects to the massive interstate pipeline that would provide natural gas for the plant. Shoaf’s father, Stuart Shoaf, is president.
In Port St. Joe, all redevelopment plans have come to a halt in the city’s Black community so that residents can devote everything toward preventing the LNG plant’s construction, Bolden said.
“Our cultural burden for environmental injustice was already at the highest that we thought it could be,” he said, “and now they’re going to put this on top of that?”
“This community deserves better,” said Lynn Peters-Lewis, who also grew up here and moved back after retiring from a career at IBM in New York City. She lives on Peters Street, named for her grandfather. “I would like these elected officials to think deeper, embrace new ideas, be transparent about what they do and think and listen to what people who elected them want.”
LNG’s Gulf Coast Build-Out
Across the country LNG exports are booming. Until 2014 the United States did not ship any LNG overseas. Last year the country became the world’s top exporter, with eight terminals now operating and more on the way. The exports have been pushed by the oil industry, which has experienced declining domestic demand even as production has soared.
The exports also have helped European countries wean themselves from Russian gas. LNG takes up 1/600th of the volume of natural gas, making the liquid form of the fossil fuel more economical to ship.
Many of the export terminals are clustered along the Gulf Coast of Louisiana and Texas, in Black and Latino communities that already are home to a concentration of polluting oil and gas terminals and petrochemical plants—the same communities that are the most vulnerable to climate change impacts like hotter temperatures, rising seas and more damaging hurricanes, said Morgan Johnson, senior staff attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council.
“This industry and its build-out are really benefiting from a weak regulatory framework,” she said. “These are communities, many of which have already been really hit hard and hit uniquely hard with extreme weather events and recovering from hurricanes and storm after storm, and so for these projects to be slated in these vulnerable communities is problematic.”
Many environmental advocates say massive investments in new LNG infrastructure like liquification facilities and export terminals represent a poor strategy in the global transition toward cleaner energy because they lock in fossil fuel dependence. They say as the LNG industry expands it likely will be nearly impossible to prevent temperatures from rising above the 1.5-degree Celsius threshold scientists say is necessary to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.
North Port St. Joe
In Port St. Joe, a series of railroad tracks forms the boundaries of the Black side of town, called North Port St. Joe, segregating the community from the beachy shops and restaurants attracting tourists on the other end of town. The vacant site of the former paper mill represents another boundary, further isolating the community from St. Joseph Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.
“The name North Port St. Joe tells you it has always been segregated,” said Pastor Chester Davis of Philadelphia Primitive Baptist Church, who grew up here and has lived here most of his life. A Vietnam veteran, he wore a vibrant T-shirt featuring an American flag, eagle and other patriotic symbols that contrasted sharply with his quiet demeanor. His church, a tiny white block structure, has about 60 members.
North Port St. Joe’s history traces to the late 1800s and early 1900s, when the community’s original residents settled here for the local fishing, turpentine and lumber industries. The St. Joe Paper Company, as it was called at the time, opened the paper mill in 1938, manufacturing products like liner board and corrugated cardboard boxes. Today the St. Joe Company, as it now is known, is among the state’s top landowners, with business interests in real estate and timber. The company still owns the paper mill site where the proposed LNG plant would be located, but is a separate entity from the St. Joe Gas Company.
The paper mill predated EPA regulations and spewed fly ash and other emissions into the air while discharging arsenic, lead and other hazardous chemicals into the soil and water, according to an amicus brief filed by Earthjustice, an environmental advocacy group, in support of Public Citizen’s lawsuit over the FERC exemption. Untreated wastewater was discarded into an unlined impoundment and then St. Joseph Bay. The air smelled horribly, and the bay water at the site grew discolored and unsuitable for swimming.
Perhaps most alarmingly, St. Joe Paper Company dumped mill waste like wood chips, tree bark and other debris into nearby timberlands and wetlands, according to the Earthjustice amicus brief. The company then leveled the land, divided it into lots and sold the properties to unsuspecting North Port St. Joe residents.
Today the homes adjacent to the vacant paper mill site where the LNG plant would be built continue to sink and sag, with large cracks creeping from damaged foundations, as the buried waste decomposes and settles. The neighborhood spans a few blocks and consists of newly renovated homes and old ranch-style houses that are in very poor shape, a community center, playground, restaurant and food pantry. The St. Joe Company did not respond to requests for comment.
Nonetheless, Davis remembers his childhood in North Port St. Joe fondly.
“Each family took care of each other. That’s the way I saw it as a child,” Davis said. “It was a well-taken-care-of community, because we were self-supporting. The only thing we did not have in the ‘50s was a bank. We had all the motels and places to eat and service stations. We had a few offices that were considered doctor’s offices and dispensaries.”
After the mill closed, many North Port St. Joe residents were left with few options, and the community languished. Eventually, to revive the community, some of the residents formed several organizations including the Pioneer Bay Community Development Corporation, aimed at addressing local challenges like poverty, disenfranchisement and loss of population. The residents held public meetings and raised funds with next to no help from local officials, they say. Port St. Joe City Manager Jim Anderson said leaders have invested millions of dollars in recent years in local improvements, including in North Port St. Joe.
The North Port St. Joe residents dreamed of cleaning up their contaminated land, situating their homes on solid ground and integrating Port St. Joe once and for all. The future seemed bright.
Instead, the community was in for a shock.
For Years, Locals Knew Nothing
While monitoring major legal filings before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in Washington two years ago, Slocum, the energy analyst at Public Citizen, noticed one from Nopetro asking for a jurisdictional exemption that would make way for the LNG plant in Port St. Joe, Florida.
Slocum said he immediately recognized the filing as significant, and his organization protested it. But a year later FERC dismissed the protest and granted Nopetro the exemption.
“We knew the wheels were in motion to eventually appeal this,” Slocum said. “So then we started reaching out to the local community to find out if people were concerned.”
Slocum tracked down a telephone number for Dannie Bolden of the North Port St. Joe Project Area Coalition and dialed the activist.
“‘I want to speak to you about the proposed liquified natural gas export terminal,’” Slocum recalled saying.
“‘What are you talking about?’” he remembered Bolden saying.
Bolden can be challenging to speak with because he often is called away by residents who need his help. On the phone that day with Slocum, he said knew nothing about any LNG plant in Port St. Joe. He asked for a little time and after hanging up, he said he reached out to state Rep. Jason Shoaf, who Bolden had a working relationship with.
“‘This is not going to happen,’” Bolden said the state representative told him. “‘That’s just people making stuff up.’”
Advanced Energy United was honored to sponsor last week’s 46th Annual National Conference of the American Association of Blacks in Energy (AABE): Energized for Success: It’s Time in Houston. The conference provided several of our staff members #TheAABEExperience, where we also premiered a new video (below) showcasing our mission to build a cleaner, more inclusive world. Member organizations Sunrun, LS Power, SunPower CorporationUtilidata, Key Capture Energy, DNV, Microsoft, and Pattern Energy Group joined us in producing the video and sponsoring the
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