Briefly

Stuff that matters


in it to wind it

The country’s biggest offshore wind farm is coming to Long Island.

The newly approved Deepwater Wind project will feature up to 15 turbines and should generate enough energy to power around 50,000 homes. And after a pretty brutal week, the news couldn’t have come sooner.

The Long Island farm would be the country’s largest and, environmentalists hope, a signal of even bigger farms to come. Scheduled to open in 2022, it’s supposed to be triple the size of the first offshore U.S. wind farm, also run by Deepwater, which began operation off the coast of Rhode Island in December. (Reality check: The United States remains dwarfed by Europe’s sprawling offshore wind industry.)

Though both projects have been cheered on by green groups, the Rhode Island farm faced legal opposition from the Narragansett Indian Tribe after workers improperly removed tribal artifacts during the farm’s construction. The project moved forward when a district court denied the tribe’s bid to suspend construction.

The latest wind farm will sit 30 miles southeast of Montauk and cost around around $740 million. It’s a necessary step toward New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s goal of building up to 2,400 megawatts of offshore wind power by 2030 — enough to light 1.25 million homes.

Even with a climate-denier in the White House, it’s state-led actions like these that will power climate progress.


Watch the throne, Elon

Europe is going all in for batteries.

Daimler AG, the company behind Mercedes-Benz, just broke ground on a $543 million lithium-ion battery plant in Germany, Bloomberg reports. Consider it a response to Tesla’s $5 billion gigafactory under construction in California, as car makers and utilities drive demand for more powerful and less expensive batteries.

The German plant is the first of many such factories planned in Europe, including a 4 billion-euro ($4.5 billion) battery plant slated for Sweden by 2023. With all this investment in batteries, prices could fall by 43 percent, estimates Bloomberg’s energy research unit — enough to make electric cars cheaper than their fossil-fueled counterparts by 2030.

Cheap, reliable batteries are the key to affordable electric cars and greener energy systems, as we’ve reported. Finland and Italy are also testing large-scale battery storage systems to use with solar and wind projects. Good storage can turn an erratic and unpredictable power supply into a stable and responsive one.

And of course, growth of EVs and utility-scale solar are interconnected, too. As more plug-in vehicles draw their energy from an increasingly renewable-powered grid, more storage will be necessary to meet that demand. It just keeps coming back to batteries.


canary meet coal mine

Coal impacts could push 122 million people into extreme poverty by 2030.

That’s according to a report from the global anti-poverty organization Oxfam, which specifically calls for Australia to stop propping up the coal industry — especially the $300 million in subsidies it’s offered up for a proposed mine in Queensland.

“Against the backdrop of an imperiled Great Barrier Reef and extreme weather disasters, Australia’s carbon pollution is continuing to climb — the tragic consequence of more than a decade of climate policy paralysis and short-term political opportunism,” Helen Szoke, CEO of Oxfam Australia, says.

Oxfam notes that increased investment will especially harm the world’s poor in developing nations that aren’t benefiting from the energy production. The report also hails efforts by China and India to ditch coal for renewable energy.

From an economic point of view, Australia might do well to heed Oxfam’s advice and to keep an eye on what’s happening in the U.S., where the market is moving away from coal, even while the Trump administration is trying to breathe new life into the industry.

Just this year, U.S. utilities announced the closure of eight coal-fired plants that generate enough energy to power the country of Qatar.


cut the crap

Even Republicans are nervous about Trump’s budget.

Though the official release is planned for Tuesday, leaked versions of the 2018 budget proposal show dramatic funding cuts for environmental programs — even those supported by the president’s own party.

The budget, which still needs congressional approval, would cut the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget by 35 percent. It also slashes funding for cleanup programs like Superfund, but adds cash for water infrastructure.

After submitting an original budget blueprint, the Trump administration faced backlash from Democrats and environmental groups about the drastic cuts. But Republicans are wary of what President Trump might propose, too.

Lisa Murkowski, a Republican senator from Alaska, has said she opposes the elimination of programs like Energy Star and ARPA-E, which funds energy technology research. Both were cut in the draft budget. Republicans have also defended regional water programs that Trump proposed cutting.

Murkowski, along with five other Republican senators, urged Trump to set aside money for the Department of Energy’s research in a May 18 letter. “Governing is about setting priorities, and the federal debt is not the result of Congress overspending on science and energy research each year,” they wrote.


Grist 50: Cameron Russell's picks

Meet the fixers: These activists want carbon polluters to pay.

When you’re confronted with an issue as big and urgent as global climate change, what do you do? Camila Thorndike and Page Atcheson decided to pick one avenue of attack and go hard. They’re the creators of the Put A Price On It campaign, which is a joint project of Our Climate, an advocacy organization lead by both Atcheson and Thorndike, and Years of Living Dangerously. Their premise: The best way to fight climate change is simply to make carbon pollution more expensive — and organizing youth leaders around the country to push state legislation is the best way to make that kind of carbon tax happen.

Put A Price On It launched in August, which means the campaign was still in its infancy when it was hit with some pretty bleak news on Nov. 8. But Atcheson and Thorndike were focused on policy change on the state level all along — and there’s still quite a bit of hope there.

“It’s impossible to not be optimistic when your job is to work with young people,” Atcheson adds. The day after the election, “our students had the attitude of: ‘We need to work harder, we’re even more dedicated than we were yesterday, we have to move forward and our future is at stake — and we’re the most effective messengers at that.’”


Meet all the fixers on this year’s Grist 50.


Beyond Standing Rock

Watch the story behind the government dam that created Lake Oahe.

A new video series from Reveal spotlights indigenous peoples’ struggles with the dams, highways, and pipelines that invaded their land.

In one video, Candace Ducheneaux remembers life before Lake Oahe, a reservoir on the Missouri River that formed after Oahe Dam was completed in 1958. “The bulk of the lands that were inundated by the floodwaters were Indian lands,” she says. One thing lost under the newly formed lake: her childhood home.

Oil now flows through the Dakota Access Pipeline under Lake Oahe, a source of drinking water for the Standing Rock Sioux.

Don’t miss the rest of Reveal’s series, which brings us the stories of:


Spilling Secrets

An oil well off Australia leaked for weeks last year. We just found out about it.

The National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority mentioned the leak in an annual report on offshore exploration but revealed no details about who operated the well.

That information came to light on Friday, when Woodside Petroleum — Australia’s largest oil and gas producer, owned by Royal Dutch Shell — admitted to owning the well on the North West Shelf of the country. The leak began in April 2016 and lasted about two months. All told, it spilled nearly 2,800 gallons of oil into the ocean.

Woodside gave a statement to the Australian Broadcasting Company claiming the spill caused no damage: “Due to the composition of the fluid, small quantity released, water depth at release site, and distance from environmentally sensitive areas, there was no lasting impact to the environment.”

Offshore oil safety expert Andrew Hopkins told the Guardian that the Australian regulator’s failure to identify who was responsible for the spill is concerning, as it spares reckless firms from justice via “naming and shaming.”

“Companies that know they will be named in the case of an incident like this,” Hopkins said, “are going to be less likely to do it.”