Why it’s so hard to green the grid

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President Joe Biden has set an ambitious goal for slashing the U.S. economy’s greenhouse gas pollution. But getting there can feel like a giant, consequential game of whack-a-mole.

Phase out coal-fired power plants, and you face questions about whether wind and solar power can stand up to extreme weather. Deploy millions of electric vehicles, and you have to confront the pollution, forced labor and other thorny issues created by mining for battery minerals.

This is becoming a familiar dance for the nation’s grid operators, which must prepare for an influx of low-carbon power, growing energy demand for electric vehicle charging, and increasingly severe blizzards, heat waves and storms, writes POLITICO’s E&E News reporter Peter Behr.

Days of extreme heat with nary a breeze can limit wind power right as electricity demand for air conditioning goes through the roof. On the flip side, blizzards and other storms dim the sun’s rays (and cause natural gas shortages) just as people need more heat for their homes.

Electric utilities across the country are trying to get out in front of this challenge. In New England, for example, the region’s grid operator is investigating how each type of power will fare as climate change drives more extreme weather.

Meanwhile, coal is hanging on

One major (and tenacious) obstacle to cleaning up the grid: coal’s surprising staying power. Despite a shifting power market and tougher environmental regulations in the last 15 years, coal provided a fifth of the nation’s electricity generation last year, lagging behind gas and renewables.

That’s down a lot from 2007, when coal accounted for half of U.S. electrical generation. But as POLITICO’s E&E News reporter Jean Chemnick notes, “most projections ... see coal occupying a sliver of the market through the 2030s and beyond.” And that, as she writes, “is not consistent with Biden’s emissions goals.”

Over the next few months, the administration is expected to launch a regulatory blitz against coal plant pollution, taking aim at everything from carbon to coal ash. That could trigger a string of new coal retirements as utilities eye the cost of keeping the fuel on their books.

It’s unclear if that will be enough to meet the pledge that U.S. climate envoy John Kerry declared at climate talks in Glasgow, Scotland, in 2021: “By 2030 in the United States, we won’t have coal.”

It's Monday — thank you for tuning in to POLITICO's Power Switch. I'm your host, Arianna Skibell. Power Switch is brought to you by the journalists behind E&E News and POLITICO Energy. Send your tips, comments, questions to [email protected]

Today in POLITICO Energy’s podcast: David Ferris breaks down Nevada’s vision for an electric vehicle supply chain and why the Biden administration is supporting it.

electric future

Ford Motor announced Monday that it’s partnering with a Chinese company to build a $3.5 billion electric vehicle battery plant in Michigan, a move sure to spark backlash from Republican lawmakers.

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, a Republican and potential 2024 presidential candidate, already rejected the project for his state, citing concerns around the Chinese company's ties to the Chinese Communist Party, writes Hannah Northey.

Ford, the nation’s second-largest electric vehicle manufacturer, said a newly created subsidiary would build and completely own a sprawling battery complex about 100 miles west of Detroit. Ford workers will build both nickel manganese cobalt and lithium iron phosphate batteries at the new facility, slated to come online in 2026.

The Chinese company will continue to own the technology to create the cells and be contracted to provide some additional services.

Power Centers

New boss in town
Rhode Island Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse has built a political brand around the need for climate action. As the new chair of the Senate Budget Committee, he plans to catapult that issue to the forefront, write Emma Dumain and Jeremy Dillon.

Democrats have hailed the committee's new focus. But Republicans think the panel should be more focused on the federal deficit.

While he's at it ...
One of Whitehouse's priorities as chair is doubling down on an investigation into major oil companies' alleged efforts to mislead the public about the causes and consequences of global warming, write Corbin Hiar, Lesley Clark and Emma Dumain.

The strength of Whitehouse’s inquiry could hinge on when — or if — he can get his hands on a tranche of industry documents obtained by House Democrats in the previous Congress. The documents have been in limbo since Republicans took control this year.

Europe strikes back
The EU is set to hit Moscow with new financial sanctions, trade curbs and a ban on Russian nationals serving on boards of critical European infrastructure companies such as power grids, write Jakob Hanke Vela and Barbara Moens.

The European Commission briefed EU ambassadors in small groups over the weekend after the executive's president, Ursula von der Leyen, announced some elements of the 10th sanctions package last week.

in other news

Science explained: A climatologist breaks down what's causing this winter's erratic weather.

Mines & oil: A major U.S. railroad merger could bring more oil sands crude to southeast Texas.

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The White House is researching geoengineering as one solution to global warming, putting the Biden administration at the center of one of the most controversial ideas in climate policy.

Republicans are scrutinizing the administration’s billions of dollars in low-carbon energy incentives for signs that money could benefit companies tied to Beijing.

The Biden administration is touting new efficiency standards for refrigerators and washing machines as big wins for consumers and cuts in carbon emissions.

That's it for today, folks! Thanks for reading.