On the Grid: The Best and Worst of Times 6/17/22

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Extreme weather events and power outages are not science fiction, but an unfortunate reality that is already occurring. A multitude of neighborhoods across Central Ohio saw blackouts this week as excessive heat and extreme weather rattled the aging transmission infrastructure. Electricity provider AEP intentionally shut off the power across Columbus to protect the fragile grid and impede even more outages, with some of the most vulnerable areas in the city seeing the longest blackouts. A combination of high heat and unbearable humidity pushed temperatures into the triple digits, creating dangerous conditions and forcing Ohioans to designated heat refuge areas for hours. 

Over the last two weeks, we have highlighted reports that hinted at blackouts sweeping the country this summer as well as a multitude of policy solutions that would keep the lights on for millions of Americans. This week, we’re doing the same, while navigating some difficult conversations Americans will be having over the coming months. 

1. Delaying The Inevitable

On the Grid: US Capitol

The last few months have exemplified a need for an energy transition that provides affordable, clean, reliable, and secure power for all Americans. While we’re certainly making strides in that direction, due in part to the Biden Administration’s focus on a whole-of-government approach to combating climate change, this is not something we can accomplish with a quick flip of a switch. 

As Evan Halper pointed out this week in The Washington Post, there are a combination of forces at play impeding progress, even in parts of the country that want a quick switch to cleaner power. Permitting backlogs, supply chain issues, constrictive bills, confusing top-down messaging, and Congressional delays are hampering our clean energy transition. 

Simply put, the United States is just not able to build out clean energy technology fast enough to meet the sudden rush in demand–or to reach our net-zero goals. America, perhaps more than any other nation, has the capacity to make a full shift to clean energy, but must first overcome several structural and political barriers. 

2. Inflation Hits Hard…Again

Last week, the Bureau of Labor Statistics’s release of the May Consumer Price Index (CPI) report pointed to an increase of 8.6%. May's inflation rate has skyrocketed by the sharp jump in energy prices, up 34.6% from last year. 

In response, the Federal Reserve Board is buckling down. Raising interest rates 0.75%–the highest increase in almost 30 years–the Fed is set on increasing rates even more over the next several months to help the economy reach a “soft landing” and avoid a recession altogether. 

What does this mean for everyday Americans who are already paying more for their groceries and gas? While the Federal Reserve works to bring inflation rates down to 2% over the next several years, mortgages, car loans, and credit borrowing will be hit the hardest. Additionally, we will likely see an uptick in the unemployment rate, but Chair Jerome Powell claims this will likely be a relatively small increase. 

As the Federal Reserve is navigating unbound uncertainty, we sat down with the New Democrats Coalition to unpack the trends we’re seeing in oil and gas prices.

3. Getting Ready for FY23 Spending

This week, the House Appropriations Committee began the mark-up process for FY23. Over the next 2-3 weeks, Members will work to reach an agreement to ensure that the government is fully funded at the onset of the next fiscal year, beginning October 1st. Congress has tried and failed over the past several decades to approve spending levels by that deadline, resulting in a cycle of stopgap funding measures with an occasional government shutdown sprinkled in. 

Consistent, sustained funding is essential for a functioning government, but especially for our ambitious innovation lifecycle that fosters economic growth and boosts American competitiveness. To ensure that the US Department of Energy (DOE) continues its legacy of innovation research, development, demonstration, and deployment, Third Way sent a letter co-signed with 50+ organizations to Congressional leaders requesting a significant, targeted increase in DOE’s innovation activities for FY23. 

For more details on our funding requests and the exhaustive list of signatories, read the full letter.

4. Capturing the Moment for Carbon Capture

We have long advocated for a technology-inclusive approach to large-scale decarbonization that embraces all available clean energy sources alongside carbon capture technology that will make significant dents in eliminating carbon pollution. 

This week in The New York Times, Dr. Jennifer Wilcox, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management at the Department of Energy, is continuing her twenty-year crusade to recognize the critical role of carbon capture and storage technology in reaching net-zero emissions by 2050. 

The issue, according to Dr. Wilcox, is not from a lack of available technology or a skilled workforce, but rather a lack of deployment. The reason for the lag is no secret. Storage well permitting is covered, head-to-toe, in red tape, and in desperate need of an overhaul to streamline the process. Permitting aside, government inaction on both sides of the political spectrum is stalling deployment. To reach commercialization and sequester carbon at scale, we need appropriate tax credits to incentivize capture and storage and to encourage a continued cycle of innovation in the field. 

Read through our FY23 funding recommendations to better understand the type of smart investments we need to boost carbon capture and storage technology.

5. What We’re Reading and Listening To

  • Robinson Meyer, in The Atlantic, gives readers a hard pill to swallow: Democrats are falling short of delivering on an agreed-upon climate bill and even worse, are likely to lose the House and the Senate this coming November. Meyer unpacks what this could mean for climate goals, the economy, and American democracy. 
  • Julien Lee, in Bloomberg, warns of the impending hurricane season and the damaging cost it will have on both humanity and our already vulnerable oil and gas industry. 
  • Kate Swisher, host of the New York Times’s Sway podcast series, sat down with venture capitalist John Doerr to discuss whether or not we can “tech” our way out of climate change. Doerr presented an optimistic path forward for national-scale decarbonization based on an optimistic view of newly emerging youth leaders that are shifting perceptions on the urgency of addressing climate change and the ways in which we can accomplish this, mainly by leveraging cutting-edge innovation and emerging technologies.



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