Overnight Energy & Environment — Spotlight on solar

Welcome to Wednesday’s Overnight Energy & Environment, your source for the latest news focused on energy, the environment and beyond. Subscribe here: thehill.com/newsletter-signup.

Today we’re looking at an Energy Department study on expanding solar power, new Biden administration decisions on drilling in the Arctic and the latest research on averting catastrophic warming.

For The Hill, we’re Rachel Frazin and Zack Budryk. Write to us with tips: rfrazin@thehill.com and zbudryk@thehill.com. Follow us on Twitter: @RachelFrazin and @BudrykZack.

Let’s jump in.

Solar use could hit 45 percent by 2050 

The Biden administration on Wednesday released a new report that shows how the U.S. could boost its use of solar power to as much as 45 percent of U.S. electricity use, an effort that could help the U.S. meet goals to limit climate change.

The Energy Department study outlines three possible scenarios, including two in which the U.S. grid is 95 percent decarbonized by 2035 and an ambitious third one in which the grid is fully decarbonized by 2050. One way to fulfill that scenario would be to have solar power comprise 45 percent of electricity generation by 2050.

Bullish goals: To reach the target, the U.S. would need to produce twice as much solar energy annually as it did in 2020 over the next four years before doubling the output again between 2025 and 2030.

State of play: The release of the blueprint comes a day after President BidenJoe BidenTrump to offer commentary at heavyweight fight on 9/11 Manchin would support spending plan of at most .5T: report South Dakota governor issues executive order restricting access to abortion medicine MORE toured areas of New York and New Jersey that experienced severe flooding from the remnants of Hurricane Ida last week. Biden on one of his stops said such incidents related to climate change are here and only likely to get worse.

Biden is also focused on including a number of provisions to reduce the U.S. carbon output as part of a $3.5 trillion spending package that Democrats hope to get to his desk this fall.

In a statement, Energy Secretary Jennifer GranholmJennifer GranholmBiden tours Ida damage in Louisiana: ‘We’re going to be here for you’ Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by the American Petroleum Institute — A warning shot on Biden’s .5T plan Biden to reprise ‘consoler in chief’ role with Louisiana trip MORE emphasized that the plan would have to rely on cooperation from Congress, which is currently considering both the spending package and a bipartisan infrastructure bill containing major climate provisions.

Read more about the roadmap here.

Interior reevaluates plan to open most of Arctic reserve for drilling

The Interior Department is reevaluating the Trump administration’s plan to open up 82 percent of an Arctic oil reserve to drilling. 

In a memo released as part of a court case Tuesday, Interior official Laura Daniel-Davis directed the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to “undertake an evaluation” of the plan and an environmental review that were completed last year regarding the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska (NPR-A). 

Daniel-Davis, the department’s principal deputy assistant secretary for land and minerals management, also wrote that the review may prompt a new decision on how much of the reserve should be open for drilling.

And in the meantime?: Until that time, the BLM won’t offer leases for drilling on tracts of land that were newly opened up for drilling last year. 

Daniel-Davis wrote that the department’s initial assessment indicates that the 2020 plan is “inconsistent” with a Biden executive order titled “Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring Science To Tackle the Climate Crisis.”

But the department hasn’t yet made a final determination and thus will carry out its review. 

Daniel-Davis specifically raised concerns about opening up the “biologically sensitive” Teshekpuk Lake Special Area. Opponents of the plan have raised concerns about drilling in that area, citing its importance for wildlife.

Read more about the plan here.

To limit warming, study says most fossil fuel must remain untapped

The majority of the planet’s oil, gas and coal must remain in the ground to provide just a 50 percent chance of limiting the amount the Earth has warmed to 1.5 degrees Celsius, according to a new study.

The study, published in the journal Nature, found that 58 percent of the planet’s oil, 59 percent of its gas and 89 percent of its coal as of 2018 needed to remain unextracted in the year 2050 to provide a chance of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. 

It said that this means that many parts of the world will need to reach peak fossil fuel production soon and shouldn’t start new fossil fuel projects. 

“This implies that most regions must reach peak production now or during the next decade, rendering many operational and planned fossil fuel projects unviable,” the study said.

What else?: It also said that its findings likely underestimate the changes needed because more planet-warming fuel would need to remain untapped to get more than a 50 percent chance of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees and because of uncertainties about how soon emission-reducing technologies will be deployed. 

The scenario pitched in the study would have U.S. oil production grow until 2025 and then decline after that. 

It said that for the U.S., gas should have peaked last year and should decline by about 8.1 percent per year to avoid more dramatic warming. 

The scientists used an energy systems model to assess the levels of fossil fuels to make their calculations.

Read more about the study here.

FOLLOWING CALIFORNIA’S LEAD

New York Gov. Kathy HochulKathy HochulFive big questions after millions lose federal unemployment aid The Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by Facebook – Biden to tour Ida’s northeast wrath; AG warns Texas on abortion law Biden approves disaster funds for NJ, NY after Ida flooding MORE (D) on Wednesday signed a bill into law that will require all passenger vehicles sold in the state to be emission-free by 2035.

The law will make New York the second state after California to phase out greenhouse gas emissions in cars and light trucks. It also aims to eliminate emissions from medium- and heavy-duty vehicles by 2045, and requires the creation of a detailed plan for zero-emissions vehicle development by 2023.

Separately, Hochul signed an order instructing the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to develop a regulation cutting the pollution emitted by trucks. While Hochul’s office did not release details of the proposed regulation, it projected it would “accelerate” sales of zero-emission trucks.

“New York is implementing the nation’s most aggressive plan to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions affecting our climate and to reach our ambitious goals, we must reduce emissions from the transportation sector, currently the largest source of the state’s climate pollution,” Hochul said in a statement. “The new law and regulation mark a critical milestone in our efforts and will further advance the transition to clean electric vehicles, while helping to reduce emissions in communities that have been overburdened by pollution from cars and trucks for decades.”

Read more about the new law here.

WHAT WE’RE READING

ICYMI

Offbeat and off-beat: Going bananas

That’s it for today, thanks for reading. Check out The Hill’s energy & environment page for the latest news and coverage. We’ll see you Thursday.

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