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Climate

The Texas Panhandle Is on Fire

On the massive blazes, BYD's next move, and South Fork Wind

The Texas Panhandle Is on Fire
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Current conditions: Hundreds of people hunkered down in Chicago O’Hare’s emergency shelter during severe storms • Volcanic ash delayed flights out of Mexico City • The tree pollen count in Washington, DC, has been extremely high.

THE TOP FIVE

1. Large wildfires burn out of control in Texas

Massive wildfires are burning in the Texas Panhandle, fueled by strong winds and dry conditions. At least four fires have scorched more than 500,000 acres so far in areas surrounding Amarillo, and the flames have crept into neighboring Oklahoma. The biggest blaze is the Smokehouse Creek Fire, which remains out of control. Some communities have been evacuated, others are sheltering in place. Texas’ Hutchinson County was experiencing power and water shortages. Much of Texas experienced record-breaking heat at the start of this week, prompting red flag warnings.

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2. BYD not interested in entering ‘confusing’ U.S. market

The world’s top-selling EV maker apparently has no interest in bringing its cars to the U.S. In an interview with Yahoo! Finance, Stella Li, CEO of BYD Americas, called the U.S. market “interesting,” but said it was too messy to be worth a great investment from the Chinese carmaker. “U.S. market is a little bit slow down on electrification and a lot of confusing,” Li said, adding: “Everything is complicated. Politics are complicated ... and it's confusing for the consumer, and then they don't know which to choose.” Meanwhile, in China, “the message is strong. If you are not investing for electric car, you are out. You will die. You have no future.”

The news dovetails nicely with an opinion piece penned by Heatmap’s Robinson Meyer yesterday in The New York Times, in which he says American automakers need to recognize that “Chinese companies now understand aspects of EV manufacturing better than their American counterparts.” Even if BYD stays out of the U.S. for now, Meyer notes Chinese automaker Geely is preparing to sell the small, all-electric Volvo EX30 SUV in the U.S. for $35,000, and BYD’s cheap EVs still threaten global sales of American cars. “In the short term, American automakers — even the homegrown electric-only carmakers like Tesla and Rivian — must be shielded from a wave of cheap cars,” Robinson wrote. “But in the long term, Mr. Biden must be careful not to cordon off the American car market from the rest of the world, turning the United States into an automotive backwater of bloated, expensive, gas-guzzling vehicles.”

3. Biden administration announces funds for clean energy projects in rural America

The Biden administration will devote $366 million to funding 17 clean energy projects across rural and remote parts of America with the goal of improving access to electricity and reducing energy bills. At least 12 of those projects will serve Native American tribes. The Department of Energy estimates that 21% of Navajo Nation homes and 35% of Hopi Indian Tribe homes remain unelectrified, and even if homes do have electricity, they frequently experience outages. The projects vary in cost and scope: Some aim to install solar panels and battery storage and microgrids, others focus on new hydroelectric facilities. There are heat pump initiatives and EV charging stations. The projects have to submit a plan demonstrating how they will benefit the local community and will undergo negotiations with the Office of Clean Energy Demonstrations before they’re given the green light. The funding was made available through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

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  • 4. Coffee farmers in Costa Rica try to adapt to climate change

    Coffee farmers in Costa Rica, threatened by a lack of rain brought on by climate change, are changing their farming practices to adapt, according to AFP. One farmer said he has been planting fruit trees around his coffee plants because the shade and humidity they foster helps create a “microclimate,” and their fallen leaves help fertilize the soil below. “We have increased production,” said Jesus Valverde. At the same time, the Coffee Institute of Costa Rica is trying to develop new coffee plant hybrids that are more resistant to the changing climate. One estimate suggests rising global temperatures threaten half the world’s coffee crops. The coffee industry supports more than 25,000 families in Costa Rica.

    5. South Fork Wind project installs last turbine

    The final turbine has been installed at New York’s South Fork Wind farm, meaning America’s first large-scale offshore wind farm in federal waters is complete. The project consists of 12 turbines that can provide clean power to 70,000 Long Island homes, eliminating up to 6 million tons of carbon emissions annually. “We are working toward full power,” a South Fork Wind spokesperson toldrenews. The project started sending power to the grid in December.

    THE KICKER

    Apple has reportedly abandoned its plans to build an electric car. Tesla CEO Elon Musk responded to the news with two emojis:

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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

    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 Hands Out $7 Billion to Expand Solar Access

    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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    Climate

    A Big Week for Batteries

    Texas and California offered intriguing, opposing examples of what batteries can do for the grid.

    A battery.
    Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

    While cold winters in the south and hot summers across the country are the most dramatic times for electricity usage — with air conditioners blasting as weary workers return home or inefficient electric heaters strain to keep toes warm from Chattanooga to El Paso before the sun is up — it may be early spring that gives us the most insight into the lower-emitting grid of the future.

    In California, America’s longtime leader in clean energy deployment, the combination of mild temperatures and longer days means that solar power can do most of the heavy lifting. And in Texas — whose uniquely isolated, market-based and permissive grid is fast becoming the source of much of the country’s clean power growth — regulators allow the state’s vast fleet of natural gas power (and some coal) power plants to shut down for maintenance during the mild weather, giving renewables time to shine.

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