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Climate

Biden Just Approved Another Big Offshore Wind Project

Orsted’s Sunrise Wind farm, crazy cocoa prices, and hydropower trends

Biden Just Approved Another Big Offshore Wind Project
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Current conditions: Freeze warnings are in place across Missouri • Tourists heading to Spain’s Canary Islands over the Easter holiday have been told to brace for extreme weather • It is 82 degrees Fahrenheit in Gaza today, marking the region’s first heat wave of the season.

THE TOP FIVE

1. Biden approves another big offshore wind project

The Biden administration approved its seventh commercial-scale offshore wind project yesterday. Orsted’s Sunrise Wind project will be located about 16 nautical miles south of Marth’s Vineyard and have a capacity of 924-megawatts (MW) of renewable energy to power more than 320,000 homes per year. It will likely be completed in 2026. “The approval is the latest positive development for an industry that had been bogged down by inflation, higher borrowing costs and supply-chain woes,” saidBloomberg. The seven projects in total have the potential to provide more than 8 gigawatts of clean energy to power roughly 3 million homes, according to the Department of the Interior.

2. Deadly Baltimore bridge collapse halts coal shipments

Six people are presumed dead after Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge collapsed yesterday. The search continues for their remains. The disaster has halted the flow of ships in and out of the Port of Baltimore indefinitely, and this could have knock-on economic effects. It’s already throwing the U.S. coal market for a loop, reported Heatmap’s Matthew Zeitlin. The port plays a pivotal role in the energy trade, as it is the second largest coal export facility in the country. One coal shipping executive told Bloomberg the disruption could last more than a month. Shares of Consol Energy, which ships more than 10 million tons of coal annually through a terminal at the Port of Baltimore, were down 7% yesterday. In terms of its effects on the overall energy market, the port’s indefinite closure could be mild and may actually result in lower energy prices in the Northeast, as coal that would have been exported becomes, essentially, stranded stateside, Greg Brew, an analyst at the Eurasia Group, told Zeitlin. But even this effect may be muted, Brew explained, because the weather is warming up with the end of winter, meaning there’s less demand on natural gas for heating.

3. Cocoa prices reach historic highs

Cocoa futures were trading above $10,000 a tonne yesterday for the first time, more than double their price from two months ago, the Financial Timesreported. Prices dropped slightly later in the day, but the overall trend is not good: Cocoa has more than tripled in cost over the past year, according to CNBC. Two countries in West Africa – Ivory Coast and Ghana – produce around two-thirds of the world’s cocoa beans. Heavy rainfall followed by dry heat in the region has hurt crop yields, and many farmers are abandoning the trade for other crops. “It rains outside of the rainy seasons now,” one cocoa plantation owner in Ghana told the FT. “Dry seasons are hotter than they used to be.” Consumers could start to feel the pinch soon in the form of smaller chocolate bars for higher prices. Dark chocolate, which has a high cocoa content, will likely see the biggest price hike.

Price of cocoa futures over the last five years.CNBC

4. Western U.S. hydropower dips due to drought

The amount of hydropower generated in the western U.S. plummeted last year because of drought, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA). Eleven states – Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming, California, Oregon, and Washington – produce nearly 60% of the nation’s hydroelectricity. Between October 1, 2022, and September 30, 2023, they produced 141.6 million megawatthours (MWh) of hydropower, 11% below the year prior, and the smallest amount since 2001. Drought and heat waves meant less rainfall and rapidly melting snowpack in the Pacific Northwest. Hydropower in Washington fell by 23% compared to the year before. California, on the other hand, saw hydropower grow thanks to repeated atmospheric rivers, but not enough to make up for the overall regional deficit. The EIA forecasts that western hydropower production will fall by another 12% this year. The Verge succinctly explained why a drop in hydropower is bad for the planet: “Drought reduces the amount of clean energy available from hydroelectric dams. To avoid energy shortfalls, utilities wind up relying on fossil fuels to make up the difference. That leads to more of the greenhouse gas emissions causing climate change, which makes droughts worse.”

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  • 5. Wisconsin utilities pledge to use union labor to build clean energy infrastructure

    Wisconsin’s major utilities this week announced a commitment to employing local union workers to build clean energy projects. The state is embarking on a major renewables expansion, including new solar installations, onshore wind, and battery storage. The projects will require about 19,000 construction jobs, and the biggest power providers in the state – Alliant Energy, Madison Gas & Electric, WEC Energy Group, and Xcel Energy – say they’ll rely on workers from five labor unions to fill those roles. The pledge “reflects the power of the federal Inflation Reduction Act's tax incentives for large-scale renewable energy projects,” wrote Karl Ebert at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “The IRA provides additional incentives for projects that are built with union labor or pay the local prevailing wage.”

    THE KICKER

    The first ever Global Summit on Extreme Heat will take place tomorrow.



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    Jessica Hullinger

    Jessica Hullinger is a freelance writer and editor who likes to think deeply about climate science and sustainability. She previously served as Global Deputy Editor for The Week, and her writing has been featured in publications including Fast Company, Popular Science, and Fortune. Jessica is originally from Indiana but lives in London. Read More

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    Politics

    Are Pollsters Getting Climate Change Wrong?

    Why climate might be a more powerful election issue than it seems.

    A pollster on an ice floe.
    Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

    Climate change either is or isn’t the biggest issue of our time. It all depends on who you ask — and, especially, how.

    In March, as it has since 1939, Gallup asked Americans what they thought was the most important problem facing the country. Just 2% of respondents said “environment/pollution/climate change” — fewer than those who said “poor leadership” or “unifying the country” (although more than those who said “the media.”) Pew, meanwhile, asked Americans in January what the top priority for the president and Congress ought to be for this year, and “dealing with climate change” ranked third-to-last out of 20 issues — well behind “defending against terrorism,” “reducing availability of illegal drugs,” and “improving the way the political system works.”

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    Politics

    AM Briefing: Earth Day Edition

    On expanding solar access, the American Climate Corps, and union news

    Biden’s Big Earth Day Agenda
    Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

    Current conditions: Torrential rains forced Mauritius to shut down its stock exchange • “Once in a century” flooding hit southern China • In the Northern Hemisphere, the Lyrid meteor shower peaks tonight.

    THE TOP FIVE

    1. Biden kicks off Earth Day with $7 billion for expanding solar access

    Today is Earth Day, but President Biden and his cabinet are celebrating all week long. Senior members of the administration have scheduled a national tour of events and announcements related to the president’s climate and environmental record. It starts with Biden’s visit to Prince William Forest Park in Triangle, Virginia, today, where he will announce $7 billion is being awarded to 60 state and local governments, tribes, and national and regional nonprofits through the Environmental Protection Agency’s Solar for All initiative, which aims to support solar in low- to moderate-income communities. The average grant size will be more than $80 million, and the funding will be used to design new programs and bolster existing ones that subsidize the cost of rooftop solar installations, community solar projects, and battery storage.

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    Sparks

    Biden’s $7 Billion Solar Bonanza

    The Solar For All program is the final piece of the $27 billion Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund.

    Solar panel installation.
    Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

    The great promise of solar panels — in addition to their being carbon-free — is the democratization of energy. Anyone can produce their own power, typically for less than the going utility rate. The problem is that those who stand to benefit the most from this opportunity haven’t been able to access it.

    That pattern could change, however, with Solar for All, a $7 billion program under the Environmental Protection Agency to support solar in low- to moderate-income communities. On Monday, the Biden administration announced it was awarding the funds to 60 state and local governments, tribes, and national and regional nonprofits, at an average grant size of more than $80 million.

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    Green