Each week, we’re compiling the most relevant news stories from diverse sources online, connecting the latest environmental and energy economics research to global current events, real-time public discourse, and policy decisions. Here are some questions we’re asking and addressing with our research chops this week:
As the offshore wind sector takes off, what key challenges remain for policymakers and business leaders?
Last week, the US Department of the Interior approved the nation’s second utility-scale offshore wind project—a boon for the rapidly growing sector. The South Fork project, located miles off the coasts of Rhode Island and New York, is expected to generate enough power for 70,000 households. The project, approved shortly after construction commenced on a similar wind project off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard, comes as the Biden administration sets ambitious goals for boosting the offshore wind sector and as various states promise a quick transition to cleaner energy sources. Future approvals for offshore wind projects are forthcoming: the White House has set a goal of deploying 30 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2030, and administration officials have signaled a goal to approve 16 offshore wind projects across both coasts before the end of Biden’s first term.
At a two-day RFF workshop this week, scholars, public officials, and industry leaders explored key challenges and opportunities for the burgeoning offshore wind sector. In Thursday’s first session, Avangrid Renewables President and CEO Bill White and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission analyst Timothy Bialecki agreed that one of the most significant challenges as the sector grows is constructing sufficient transmission. “We have to take the steps today to build the transmission that the future requires,” Bialecki emphasized. At Thursday’s second session, panelists considered the local impacts of offshore wind projects on coastal communities, where residents often express skepticism that they’ll benefit from offshore wind projects. And on Friday, panelists discussed the necessity of modernizing transmission and grid infrastructure. “There are challenges—but there are also some benefits for offshore wind and the transmission that will be installed in the next decade or so,” said National Offshore Wind Research and Development Consortium Executive Director Carrie Cullen Hitt. For instance, offshore wind infrastructure on the West Coast of the United States will be further removed from wildfire risks.
Related research and commentary:
How is Germany preparing to support workers and communities that are affected by its new plan to phase out coal?
After a tightly contested election, three political parties in Germany have agreed to form a coalition government, and the trio—a center-left party, an environmentalist party, and a pro-business party—has already released policy plans. These include a commitment to phase out coal in Germany by 2030—a major change to the current plan, which calls for ending coal production by 2038. The new timeline comes after Germany, then still under Chancellor Angela Merkel’s leadership, voiced its support for reducing coal use at COP26: the country signed on to a global pledge to phase down coal and committed to financially support a program that will fund the transition away from coal in developing countries. While the new government’s aims are especially ambitious, Germany has been plotting an energy transition for some time now. In 2018, the government created a Coal Commission—comprising coal company leaders, policymakers, affected communities, and others—to sketch out a path forward. Last year, that commission determined that Germany should spend $47.3 billion to diversify local economies and support laid-off coal workers.
Building on previous research about the energy transition in the United States, a new report from RFF and Environmental Defense Fund explores public programs in Germany that are designed to support workers and communities that historically have relied on coal production, as the nation transitions to cleaner sources of energy. The scholars point out that Germany has plotted a phaseout of coal for decades and has implemented policies aimed at economic diversification, workforce support, environmental remediation, and more. This “anticipatory and preventive approach” has helped create jobs and speed the development of new industries in coal-producing regions. The scholars also note that policies to support coal communities in Germany often have involved robust public sector involvement, provided opportunities for affected communities to inform policymakers, and been helped by a strong social safety net that already supports economically struggling Germans. For more, stay tuned for future papers in the series, including reports that analyze just transition policies in the United Kingdom, Poland, and elsewhere.
Related research and commentary:
- Report: German Just Transition: A Review of Public Policies to Assist German Coal Communities in Transition
- Podcast: Giving a Fair Shot to Energy Workers and Communities in Transition, with Wesley Look and Daniel Raimi
- Blog: Equitable Transition to a Low-Emissions Future: Federal Support for a Workforce in Transition
What strategies exist for curbing plastic pollution—both for policymakers hoping to promote recycling and for individuals hoping to minimize their carbon footprint?
Last month, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced that the United States will support a global treaty aimed at addressing plastic waste. The United States—which produces more plastic waste per capita than any other country—will join the UN Environment Assembly talks in February 2022 to iron out the details of the agreement. The Biden administration has taken other steps to control waste: in November, the US Environmental Protection Agency announced its first national recycling strategy, which aims to achieve a 50 percent nationwide recycling rate by the end of the decade. Although the plan targets a variety of materials, plastics could be especially impacted, given that the agency hopes to clarify product labeling to help improve plastic recycling rates. Concern about plastic pollution is mounting the world over, and many other countries exceed US ambitions in ramping up their own recycling and reductions in plastic waste. For instance, in England, where single-use plastic straws already are banned, more stringent restrictions on single-use items may be introduced.
On a recent episode of the Resources Radio podcast, University of Michigan Associate Professor Shelie Miller shares insights from her research, which examines the environmental consequences of single-use plastics and reusable alternatives. Miller calculates the number of times a consumer must use various reusable items in order for the environmental impact to match that of their single-use counterparts, highlighting that it’s crucial for items like metal coffee cups to be reused many times before their intended environmental benefits can accrue. Pointing to a potential tendency for people to collect reusable products from free giveaways, Miller cautions that accumulating new items instead of reusing them could lead to negative environmental impacts. Ultimately, though, Miller says that we don’t need to overthink our efforts to reduce our individual carbon footprints. “While it’s certainly great to pay attention to reusing your reusables, there are lots of other things that you can do,” she says. “Don’t get too caught up in these details if you’re doing other things to reduce your environmental impact.”
Related research and commentary:
How is Germany’s new government navigating the energy transition? Consider this #FactOfTheWeek.
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The three parties set to form a coalition government in Germany agreed last week to phase out coal by 2030. The coal-reliant country had previously set a time line for ending coal use by 2038.