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Economy

New England Will Soon Be Coal-Free

On shuttered coal plants, New York’s congestion charge, and Volvo’s last diesel car

New England Will Soon Be Coal-Free
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Current conditions: Flood watches are in effect for the eastern half of North Carolina • Egg-sized hail smashed car windshields in eastern China • Europe is forecast to be unusually warm through April.

THE TOP FIVE

1. New England to shutter last remaining coal plant

New England will soon follow the Pacific Northwest in becoming a coal-free region. Granite Shore Power, which owns the region’s last-remaining coal plant, said it will close Merrimack Station in Bow, New Hampshire, by 2028 at the latest. The move is voluntary, but is part of a settlement with the Environmental Protection Agency over the facility’s excessive particulate matter emissions. Granite Shore Power says it will transform the plant, as well as Schiller Station in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, into a “renewable energy park.” “The end of coal in New Hampshire, and for the New England region as a whole, is now certain and in sight,” said a statement issued by Tom Irwin, the vice president of the Conservation Law Foundation in New Hampshire. “Now we must vigorously push for the phaseout of other polluting fuels like oil and gas.” New Hampshire will be the 16th state to go coal free.

2. Louisiana to get direct air capture hub

The Department of Energy is giving the green light to Project Cypress, a cluster of facilities in southwest Louisiana that will filter carbon dioxide directly from the air and store it underground. The agency will award the project $50 million for the next phase of its development, which will be matched by $51 million in private investment. But there is a long road ahead: The project’s four implementation phases will take several years, and members of the surrounding community near Lake Charles (home to some of the most contested energy projects in the country) are skeptical the project will benefit them. Once it’s fully operational, Project Cypress is designed to capture 1 million tons of carbon from the air per year. Louisiana alone releases more than 200 million tons annually. “Even if we scale this up, we'd have to scale it up orders of magnitude higher than will ever be possible,” one Louisiana activist told Heatmap’s Emily Pontecorvo.

3. New York’s MTA paves the way for congestion pricing

New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority has approved a plan to start charging drivers $15 for entering Manhattan below 60th Street, “the most congested district in the United States.” The congestion charge is expected to result in 100,000 fewer cars entering that region every day, reducing gridlock and improving air quality. Research shows that low-emission zones and congestion charging zones, which have been rolled out in other cities across the world, are associated with health benefits, including lower rates of cardiovascular disease.

MTA

New York would be the first city in the United States to implement such a program, but the plan faces challenges from six lawsuits that need to be settled before it can go ahead. “I’m keeping my champagne on ice until the lawsuits are resolved (which stopped a version in 1980) and no acts of Congress passed to block it (which stopped tolls on East and Harlem river bridges in 1977) and the first car is charged,” traffic analyst Sam Schwartz toldGothamist.

4. Biden administration finalizes crackdown on methane from oil and gas

The Biden administration finalized a rule yesterday requiring oil and gas companies to reduce methane emissions from their operations. The rule “will hold oil and gas companies accountable” by tightening restrictions on gas flaring on federal lands and requiring producers to find and prevent leaks. “By setting a ceiling on how much gas companies can vent and flare without paying royalties, the new rule is expected to generate more than $50 million in additional payments to the federal government each year,” The Washington Post reported. “It will also conserve billions of cubic feet of gas that might otherwise have been vented, flared, or leaked.”

5. Volvo builds its last diesel car

Volvo

You’re looking at the last diesel car Volvo will ever make. The XC90 SUV rolled off the line at the carmaker’s plant in Torslanda, Sweden, this week, and will head straight to a museum, “where it will be on display for anyone wanting to ponder the noxious emissions of yore,” wrote Jennifer Mossalgue at Electrek.

As recently as 2016, diesel vehicles accounted for half the company’s sales. Noting the surprising speed of the EV revolution, Volvo credited “tightening regulations around tailpipe emissions, as well as customer demand in response to the climate crisis.” Volvo plans to be all-electric by 2030, “making it one of the first legacy carmakers to do so,” Mossalgue said.

THE KICKER

“The fact that we can say, ‘Look, this is slowing down the entire Earth’ seems like another way of saying that climate change is unprecedented and important.”–Duncan Agnew, a geophysicist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, whose new research suggests climate change might be affecting global timekeeping

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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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