To Beat Putin, Europe Needs America’s Clean Energy

“The European Union is dependent on Russia for almost half of its natural gas and a quarter of its oil. Germany alone imports 55 percent of the gas it consumes from Putin’s petro-state. As part of its invasion strategy, Russia thought it could use its natural gas and oil to blackmail Europe into passivity. Europe is belatedly beginning to shut off the Russian spigot, but it will pay a heavy economic price for the delay.

And for Europe’s energy switch to succeed, the United States must step up.

Just as we were the Arsenal of Democracy when fascism threatened Europe 80 years ago, today we must become the Arsenal of Clean Energy. That means we should finance and export clean energy to Europe in large quantities as quickly as possible. This approach would help protect our own security and economic interests, as well as the sovereignty, democracies, and economies of Europe, all while working to combat climate change.

Our goals should be: 1) make European energy secure; 2) help shift European countries to cleaner energy; and 3) create a massive clean energy market that strengthens supply chains and job creation in the U.S.”

“starts with an energy version of the “Candy Bombers” who supplied Berlin during the Soviet Union’s blockade in 1948. In this case, we could provide a temporary natural gas lifeline to Europe as they wean themselves off Russian energy. America has some additional capacity, and more coming online very soon, to send liquefied natural gas to Europe. We should combine a near-term increase in U.S. gas production and exports to Europe with assistance for European countries to, over the medium-term, reduce their reliance on natural gas by switching to other, lower-carbon fuels and increased energy efficiency.

Second, to ensure this lifeline leads Europe to a safe and sustainable future, the United States needs to create an American clean energy sovereignty fund. We should commit to $10 billion per year for the next decade to finance the export of U.S. hydrogen, nuclear, and carbon capture technology that can be deployed across Europe. The new technologies should be supported by both U.S. and European supply chains and workers to ensure economic growth across both continents. This government-backed entity would provide a significant cost-share for countries importing U.S. clean energy, particularly technologies that will be primarily made in and exported from the U.S.

As we are seeing now with Germany’s reconsideration of its decision to close its nuclear plants, even renewable-heavy countries need firm clean energy provided by technologies like nuclear power. This is even more important in industrial areas of Eastern Europe that need both the steady electricity and high heat that nuclear, or hydrogen, can provide.

Finally, as all of Washington knows by now, personnel is policy. To underscore the urgency of this mission, the Biden administration should create a new, senior position at the National Security Council to manage clean, firm energy and coordinate the alphabet soup of agencies involved. This position would oversee a new “Team Energy” of public and private sector experts who can cut through the bureaucracy.”

How Manchin used politics to protect his family coal company

“As governor, Joe Manchin supported an unusual detail in a clean energy bill that was moving through the West Virginia Legislature in 2009.
The provision classified waste coal as an alternative energy.

The muddy mix of discarded coal and rocks is one of the most carbon-intensive fuels in America. And Manchin’s family business stood to benefit financially when it was reclassified as something akin to solar, wind and hydropower.

Selling the scrap coal has earned Manchin millions of dollars over three decades, and he has used his political positions to protect the fuel — and a single power plant in West Virginia that burns it — from laws and regulations that also threatened his family business.

It continues today.

Only now Manchin has enormous influence over federal climate policy. He is using his chair role of the energy committee — and role as maverick Democrat – to shape environmental policy across the states.”

“By 2006, when Manchin was governor, the plant’s owners went before the West Virginia Public Service Commission and claimed it was on the verge of shutting down.

The commission, then chaired by Jon McKinney, a Manchin appointee, raised the rate that Grant Town could charge for its electricity from $27.25 per megawatt to $34.25. They also gave the plant a way to stay in business longer, by extending its power purchase agreement with FirstEnergy by eight years to 2036.

Those changes still reverberate today. West Virginia has seen some of the highest electricity rate increases in the nation. Its loyalty to coal is one reason for that.

The price of residential power in a dozen other states that share the PJM grid with West Virginia has declined, according to a report released last month from the West Virginia University’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research.

“Over the past 10 years, West Virginia’s residential prices have risen, while PJM’s average price has come down considerably,” the report found.

Between 2010 and 2019, utility bills in West Virginia rose at five times the national average, according to calculations by James Van Nostrand, a West Virginia University professor who spent 22 years as a lawyer representing energy clients in state regulatory proceedings.

Power prices are higher in West Virginia in part because coal is more expensive than natural gas and renewables. In other states, aging coal plants that can’t compete economically are allowed to shut down.”

“Manchin’s business interests reflect long-standing ethical questions in Congress, said Shaub, the former government ethics official. Lawmakers have the power to prevent obvious conflicts of interest. But neither party has changed its rule to stop members from making money off their votes in the Capitol, he said.”

Putin Has a Big Piece of Leverage Over Europe. Here’s How to Take It Away.

“Europe does not need to be this reliant on Russian gas. A look back at the last 20 years reveals a series of decisions — notably by Germany, but also by decision-makers across the continent — that created the present-day vulnerability. While some of these choices can’t be undone, Europe can still learn from history to reduce its vulnerability to energy-market manipulations driven by geopolitics. Just as the United States during the 1970s invested in emergency oil reserves to insulate itself from the effects of Middle Eastern oil embargoes, Europe should do the same with natural gas. The lesson of that era is that it’s not just the amount of energy supply that matters; countries also need to invest in resilient systems to fall back on when a crisis occurs.

What’s more, energy security doesn’t have to come at the price of climate goals. Contrary to what some commentators have suggested, this isn’t the time for Europe to revert back to its own fossil fuels. Instead, by continuing to invest in renewable energy while prioritizing a system that can withstand shocks, Europe can do both: keep phasing out fossil fuels and weaken Russia’s hold over its foreign policy.”

“Three critical decisions in recent years made Europe dependent on natural gas and, therefore, vulnerable to Russian machinations. The first was Germany’s momentous decision to phase out its nuclear reactors in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima disaster. Eliminating nuclear energy, which does not emit greenhouse gases and has an impeccable safety record in Western Europe, put enormous pressure on the rest of Europe’s energy supplies. Had this choice not been made, Europe’s energy system — which includes the electrical grid but also other components, like the energy used to heat buildings and fuel transportation — would be less dependent on imported natural gas.

The second key set of decisions, by Germany and the EU, was to allow the Nord Stream 2 pipeline to be built. The natural gas pipeline, which connects Russia to Germany directly, is not yet operational, and the German foreign minister has explicitly threatened to block it if Russia invades Ukraine. Still, Scholz has yet to say the same, and Nord Stream 2 has some powerful backers, including former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, who sits on the board of directors of multiple Russian oil and gas companies. Anticipating the pipeline’s completion, the rest of the German system has made investment and planning decisions that curtail the amount of other energy available.

Germany’s moves took place as the EU was trying to lower the cost of gas by increasing market competition. One tactic was to make it easier for global suppliers to compete by favoring “spot markets” with tradable contracts over long-term, fixed contracts. As intended, the policy lowered the average cost of energy in Europe. The unintended side effect, however, has been to make the natural gas system more fragile and vulnerable to manipulation.

The third key decision was a failure across Europe to invest sufficiently in natural gas storage and pipeline interconnections that could serve as a buffer in the event of an emergency. Storage tanks and pipelines can hold reserve energy to make up for a shortage, while pipeline interconnections can resolve shortages in some parts of the system by temporarily flowing natural gas from others. Both are expensive to build and maintain, though. True, some real progress has been made increase interconnections, as energy expert Andreas Goldthau points out. But the system remains vulnerable in case of emergency: In mid-December, Europe had roughly 690 terawatt-hours of gas stored, but one analysis suggested that under certain conditions such as an extreme winter, it could need more than twice that amount. (Fortunately, this winter has been relatively mild so far.)”

“It is true that the gradual transition from fossil fuels to wind and solar creates more demand for “bridge fuels” like natural gas or nuclear power. But energy security is not at odds with climate ambitions, so long as a country invests in sufficient emergency supply capacity to ride out potential market manipulations like Russia’s.

How do we know that gas vulnerability could be solved this way? Because the same thing happened with oil in the 1970s. Then, the West was vulnerable to oil embargoes, just as Europe’s gas supply is vulnerable now. Before 1973, oil-exporting petrostates regularly used embargoes or boycotts to try to coerce target countries to make geopolitical concessions, with varying degrees of success, as I discuss in my book Partial Hegemony. But after the massive disruptions of the 1973 oil crisis, the United States and Western oil consumers got serious about oil storage. The United States created the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, which still exists — in fact, the Biden administration released oil from these reserves to ease an energy crunch in the fall. Japan, Germany and the other members of the International Energy Agency (IEA) also created oil reserves in the 1970s and agreed to coordinate with the United States on how to use them. The effects were dramatic: Petrostates immediately stopped trying to enact embargoes, and major oil consumers have not faced import shortages ever since.”

Biden’s offshore wind plan is also a jobs plan

“what’s really worth paying attention to are Biden’s goals for offshore wind power, which is an important energy source for regions like the northeastern US that lack the space and ample sunlight that solar energy depends on. It’s here that the new plan goes from mundane to ambitious, and it may be an indicator of how the administration intends to address issues related to climate change, energy, and jobs at the same time.”

“As of today, the US has only seven offshore wind turbines — five in a wind farm off Rhode Island’s Block Island, and two more set up as tests in Virginia. But on February 23, the federal government will auction offshore wind leases to utilities or offshore wind energy developers in an ocean region called the New York Bight, off the coasts of New York and New Jersey. The holders of those leases will then be able to set up wind farms in the area that generate up to 7 gigawatts of energy — enough to power about 2 million homes — which would require 600 to 700 turbines.”

“Those 600 or 700 wind turbines will require people to build turbine components, ship them out to sea, and maintain them once they’re set up. To make that happen, the White House and Transportation Department are aiming to create nearly 80,000 offshore wind-related jobs by 2030 by investing in ports across the Eastern Seaboard — some as far inland as Albany, New York, from where turbine parts will be shipped down the Hudson River to the New York Bight.”

“The turbines, fishers say, could negatively affect marine life. They’re also concerned that turbine towers may interfere with radar, while no-sail safety zones in the vicinity of turbines may affect their ability to reach fishing areas. The long-term impacts of wind turbines on marine life still aren’t clear, but a study in Europe’s North Sea showed turbine bases may act as artificial reefs for animals like mussels. Late last year, the Energy Department awarded Duke University a $7.5 million grant to study offshore wind’s impact on marine life, the results of which should provide a fuller picture of how turbines might affect fisheries. In the meantime, the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is looking for workarounds, which is why the sale notice for the New York Bight includes provisions aimed at helping fishers, such as 2.8-mile-wide transit lanes for fishing vessels.”

“The challenges don’t end there: Even if the wind turbines do get built, and even if their potential impacts on marine life are minimized, there has to be somewhere for the energy they produce to go. Transmission lines — those high-voltage cables you see strung up on steel struts across vast stretches of the country — are usually built by regional transmission organizations, and Jacobs says there might not be enough of them to carry all the energy produced by those new turbines.

This is exactly the issue Germany faced in 2020, when a lack of transmission capacity in Northern Germany meant the region had to send some of its wind power to neighboring countries instead. “They had a whole lot of offshore wind arrive at the beach,” Jacobs said. “And then the German utility industry said, ‘Oh, we hadn’t really prepared for this.’”

The Biden administration seems to want to avoid having a similar situation happen in the United States. That’s why the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law includes funding for transmission lines, and the administration announced the Energy Department is launching an initiative called Building a Better Grid that will act as a sort of central planning authority for grid improvements. But it’s unclear if that transmission buildout will happen by the time offshore wind gets up and running in the New York Bight — and the administration makes no mention of distribution lines, or the lower-voltage wires that bring electricity to homes and businesses. Those are usually built in the US by local utilities, explained Kyri Baker, assistant professor of engineering at the University of Colorado Boulder, and they’re often only replaced once they become completely inoperable.”

Germany Shuts Down Three Perfectly Good Nuclear Power Plants

“Electricity prices tripled in many European countries this winter, including in Germany, as renewable power supplies faltered and Russia seized the opportunity to boost the price of its natural gas exports. So, of course, the German government thought this was a fine time to permanently shutter three perfectly good nuclear power plants.
The closures are part of Germany’s famous energy transition, widely known as the Energiewende, to a low-carbon, nuclear-free economy. Germany aims to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2045 chiefly by switching entirely to renewable energy generation to supply electricity to residences, factories, and transport. That goal would be much more easily achieved if the country not only kept running its carbon-free nuclear power plants, but also built more of them.”

“How will Germany make up for the power lost from shutting down the three nuclear power plants? A new analysis by the admittedly pro-nuclear Environmental Progress activist group argues that the expected addition of solar and wind capacity will not be sufficient to make up for the loss of the German nuclear plants. Consequently, the group observes, “Next year, the share of German electricity generation coming from fossil fuels could be as high as 44 percent, compared to 39 percent in 2021 and 37 percent in 2020.”

In contrast, French President Emmanuel Macron pledged in November that France will build more nuclear power plants. The new plants, he said, are meant “to guarantee France’s energy independence, to guarantee our country’s electricity supply and achieve our objectives, in particular carbon neutrality in 2050.””

The downside to Biden’s electric vehicle charging plan

“to build 500,000 chargers with half the budget, the Biden administration will have to opt for slower chargers. (The faster the charger, the more expensive it is to install.) The Biden administration’s plan, which draws on funds from the recently passed $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill, prioritizes chargers that take hours to fully charge an electric car — a potentially hard sell for Americans who are used to filling gas tanks from empty to full in minutes. And while more chargers are great, the plan is an indicator of just how watered-down Biden’s energy policies have become over the last year. Democrats still haven’t been able to agree on a clean energy plan, and without one in place, those EV chargers could just end up getting their energy from fossil fuel sources.”

“There are currently three different types, or levels, of electric vehicle chargers. Level 1 chargers plug into a regular 120-volt power outlet and deliver power to electric cars at a glacial three to five miles of range per hour. At that rate, it would take a couple of days for most cars to go from empty to fully charge. Level 2 chargers convert the 120-volt connection to about 240 volts, charging cars around 10 times faster than Level 1 chargers and bringing a battery to full within a few hours. Level 3 chargers, also called DC fast chargers, are the fastest of the lot. They add anywhere from three to 20 miles of range per minute.That means your car can be about 80 percent charged in the time it takes you to use the bathroom and grab a cup of coffee at a rest stop.”

“industry experts say, we don’t really need every charger to be a fast charger — which is why the Biden administration’s charging framework just might work.
“There’s a temptation to recreate the gas station model, where we say, ‘Oh I’m low on fuel, I need to go fill up now and be on my way in five minutes,’” Joe Britton, executive director of the Zero Emission Transportation Association, told Recode. “That would be a mistake.” (Just don’t tell Harris, who said charging the Volt was “just like filling up your car with gas.”)

Instead, Britton said, it’s important to consider how most people actually use their cars on a regular day. Most folks aren’t driving hundreds of miles each day; they’re driving between home and work or running errands around town. For those folks, Level 2 chargers would work just fine. They can charge their cars at home, drive to a grocery store, plug in at the parking lot, and drive back home with a full battery. So while the Biden plan does include strategically installing faster chargers along highways and in rural areas, the focus on building lots of Level 2 chargers in local communities is a way to stretch that $7.5 billion a long way.”

“Despite being home to EV pioneers like Tesla and GM, the US lags far behind Europe and China in electric vehicle sales. The majority of American EV sales are also concentrated in major metropolitan areas, with nearly half of all EV sales in California alone.”

“Studies have shown that electric cars drawing power from coal-heavy grids can actually be worse for the climate than hybrids. And so far, the president’s attempts to clean up the grid have been repeatedly thwarted by Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who single-handedly gutted a proposal to replace coal- and gas-powered plants with solar, wind, and nuclear energy. Most of the energy policy that remains in Biden’s signature Build Back Better bill revolves around tax credits for clean energy, with few penalties for continued pollution-heavy energy production.”

U.S. investigators increasingly confident directed-energy attacks behind Havana Syndrome

“The U.S. government’s investigation into the mysterious illnesses impacting American personnel overseas and at home is turning up new evidence that the symptoms are the result of directed-energy attacks, according to five lawmakers and officials briefed on the matter.

Behind closed doors, lawmakers are also growing increasingly confident that Russia or another hostile foreign government is behind the suspected attacks, based on regular briefings from administration officials — although there is still no smoking gun linking the incidents to Moscow.”

Why the US isn’t ready for clean energy

“In the near future, the energy made in the US is going to be much greener. The country’s current goal is for solar plants alone to make nearly half of US electricity by 2050. But we can’t just build solar plants where coal and gas plants used to be. They have to be built where it’s … sunny. And wind turbines have to be built where it’s windy. But that’s not always where the people who need the power are.

The distance from energy source to energy need is about to get a lot bigger. And the US is going to need more high-voltage transmission lines. A lot more. As soon as possible. While solar plants can be built relatively fast, high-voltage transmission projects can take up to 10 years. So experts say we need to start proactively building them, right now.”