Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Republican state puts banks on notice over wokeness: 'Won’t be tolerated'

Kentucky issued an official notice Monday morning listing 11 banks it accused of boycotting energy companies and which would be subject to divestment within months.

Kentucky State Treasurer Allison Ball announced that, after a review of their energy and climate policies, the listed banks — which included BlackRock, the largest asset manager in the world, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup and HSBC among others — were found to be in an active boycott of fossil fuel companies. The Kentucky state government could begin divesting from the firms if they didn't reverse their boycotts, according to the notice obtained first by FOX Business.

"Kentucky is a coal, oil, and gas producing state," Ball told FOX Business. "Our energy sector helps power America. Kentucky refuses to fund the ideological boycotts of our own fossil fuel industry with the hard-earned taxes and pensions of Kentucky citizens."

Kentucky's Republican-led legislature passed a bill requiring the state government to identify and divest from banks that are determined to be engaging in a boycott of energy and fossil fuel companies. Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear signed the bill, which was endorsed by both the Kentucky Oil and Gas Association and Kentucky Coal Association, into law on April 8, 2022.

The law directs the state treasurer's office to publish an annual list of financial firms engaged in energy boycotts. State agencies then must notify the office if they own direct or indirect holdings of the listed companies and send a notice to the relevant companies within 30 days. If the companies don't halt their boycotts within 90 days of receiving such notice, the state government could divest from their holdings.

"When companies boycott fossil fuels, they intentionally choke off the lifeblood of capital to Kentucky’s signature industries," Ball said in a statement Monday. "Traditional energy sources fuel our Kentucky economy, provide much needed jobs, and warm our homes. Kentucky must not allow our signature industries to be irreparably damaged based upon the ideological whims of a select few."

Dozens of banks and major financial institutions which manage trillions of dollars in assets worldwide have made aggressive commitments to withdraw investment from fossil fuel companies and divert those resources to boost green energy companies as part of the so-called environmental, social and governance (ESG) movement. The companies are in favor of a rapid transition to renewable energy sources to stave off climate change.

Over the last year, though, Republican lawmakers and officials in nearly 20 states have organized a concerted effort to push back against the ESG movement, arguing that the oil, gas and coal sectors are vital for employment and energy production. They have threatened various forms of financial retribution in response to major banks' ESG and climate policies.

Kentucky is the seventh-largest coal-producing state in the U.S., generates 71% of its electricity from coal-fired plants, is home to one of the largest oil refineries in the nation and has about 2% of the nation's total underground natural gas storage capacity, according to the Energy Information Administration. Overall, the energy sector employs 7.8% of employed Kentuckians.

In her announcement Monday, Ball also noted that Kentucky had the 12th-lowest average electricity price of any state. The average price represented the second-lowest price for a state east of the Mississippi River.

"Treasurer Ball takes another bold step today in defense of her state’s financial future by putting banks on notice that boycotts of American energy won’t be tolerated," State Financial Officers Foundation CEO Derek Kreifels said in a statement to FOX Business.

"She and other state financial officers across the country are leading the movement to ensure that money earned by hardworking American families is used in accordance with their values, not weaponized against them," he added.

Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Missouri, South Carolina, Utah and West Virginia have already announced they will divest hundreds of millions of dollars from banks engaging in energy boycotts. Texas and Oklahoma have taken legislative steps akin to Kentucky's that will likely soon lead to divestment.

"Treasurer Allison Ball continues to show undaunted leadership in standing up for her state’s financial interests," Will Hild, the executive director of Consumers' Research, told FOX Business. "By putting financial institutions on notice today, she makes clear that Kentucky will no longer do business with financial institutions whose ideological agendas have targeted one of the state’s signature industries."

"It is past time for banks and money managers to abandon their war on American energy and hardworking people who literally keep the lights on across the country."

In response to the action Monday, BlackRock and JPMorgan Chase pushed back, saying they haven't engaged in energy boycotts as alleged by Kentucky's state government.


Soaring Costs Threaten U.S. Offshore-Wind Buildout

Offshore wind developers are facing financial challenges that threaten to derail several East Coast projects critical to reaching the Biden administration’s near-term clean-energy targets.

Supply-chain snarls, rising interest rates and inflationary pressures are making projects far more expensive to build. Now, some developers are looking to renegotiate financing agreements to keep their projects under way.

The Biden administration has set a target for the U.S. to develop 30 gigawatts of offshore wind power by 2030—enough to supply electricity to roughly 10 million homes. Analysts say that target will be difficult, if not impossible, to achieve if cost and supply issues persist.

“We’re seeing unexpected and unprecedented macroeconomic challenges,” said David Hardy, chief executive of the Americas for Danish power company Ørsted A/S, which is developing about five gigawatts of offshore wind projects off the coast between Rhode Island and Maryland.

Avangrid AGR - a subsidiary of Spanish power company Iberdrola is developing a 1.2-gigawatt project called Commonwealth Wind off the coast of Massachusetts. The company in December asked the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities to terminate its review of contracts the company negotiated with utilities serving the state. The company said it now intends to scrap the contracts and rebid the project next year to account for higher costs.

“We think this allows us to find a path to financeability for the project,” said Kimberly Harriman, Avangrid’s senior vice president of state-government affairs and corporate communications.

Mayflower Wind Energy LLC, a joint venture between Shell New Energies US LLC and Ocean Winds, is developing another Massachusetts project. It said in regulatory filings that its contracts have been similarly affected and that it plans to produce third-party analysis showing the challenges of financing the project. Mayflower Wind declined to comment.

Ørsted told analysts in November that its anticipated return on U.S. projects, including Ocean Wind 1 off New Jersey, is “not where we want it to be.” New Jersey utility company Public Service Enterprise Group Inc., which has a 25% interest in Ocean Winds, told analysts in October that it was reviewing its options and project costs before making a final investment decision. The company declined to comment.

The U.S. offshore wind industry has long faced delays related to federal permitting, a process the Biden administration has pushed to accelerate. Vineyard Wind LLC, a joint venture between Avangrid and Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners, is now building the nation’s first large-scale project off the coast of Massachusetts and expects it to begin producing power late next year, roughly six years after it started the permitting process.

Global market dynamics have compounded the hurdles. The U.S. is building its first wave of offshore wind farms at the same time European countries try to accelerate their own projects to secure electricity supplies following the invasion of Ukraine. That has strained the supply chain, as well as the availability of specialized installation vessels needed to transport and hoist massive turbines.

“There’s going to be a lot of vessel sharing,” said Samantha Woodworth, senior research analyst at Wood Mackenzie.

Any delay to a single project in the U.S. or Europe could impact other projects, Ms. Woodworth said. WoodMac expects trickle-down delays will cause the U.S. to fall 2 gigawatts short of the 2030 goal set by the Biden administration.

Dominion Energy Inc., a Richmond, Va.-based utility company, is building the only offshore-wind installation vessel under construction in the U.S. The vessel is expected in 2024 to service two projects under development by Ørsted and New England utility company Eversource Energy, and will then move to service a 2.6-gigawatt project Dominion is building off the coast of Virginia.

Josh Bennett, Dominion’s vice president of offshore wind, said the vessel is more than 60% complete. The company’s $9.8 billion offshore wind farm remains on schedule and on budget, he said, largely because the company signed its supply contracts before the constraints emerged.

“There’s so much demand now,” he said. “If you were to attempt to do an offshore wind project starting today, it would take you out into the late ’20s or early ’30s.”

The U.S. is also pushing to begin developing offshore wind along the West Coast, an effort seen as key to achieving the 2030 target and other clean-energy goals. But potential projects there come with regulatory complexities, deep-water technical risks and port space constraints, and developers have been hesitant to bet big on the region as costs soar. The first-ever sale of California offshore wind rights in December fetched $757 million, compared with a $4.37 billion Atlantic coast auction in February.


U.S. Big Three Auto Companies Commit to Making Cars That People Don't Want

Stephen Moore

I grew up in a household with parents who were of the Greatest Generation. They lived and shouldered through the Great Depression, and then their lives and families were thrown into turmoil on Dec. 7, 1941. My grandfather worked for the War Department in Washington, D.C., and during World War II, my father served in the Pacific Theater.

Both my mother and father made a solemn vow that as long as they lived, they would never buy a German or a Japanese car. No matter how well they were made. They were the enemies. They were the ones who killed nearly half a million Americans. Period.

And that value system was transported to me. In honor of my parents' values, I couldn't in good conscience buy a Japanese or German car.

I've been thinking that after all these years, I may have to change my mind. The American auto companies, which are so often bailed out by U.S. taxpayers, have made a pronouncement that they intend, in the next few years, to stop making and assembling gas-engine cars. You know, the kind of cars that Henry Ford started rolling off the assembly line 100 years ago at the Ford Motor Company in Detroit.

Henceforth, virtually all American-made cars will be electric vehicles. Perhaps the corporate brass in Michigan's auto executive offices thinks this makes them good global citizens. They are all in on the fight against global warming. They may be making a political bet that the federal government and more states are going to go the way of California and eventually mandate that every car produced must be battery-operated. But there is also a good deal of virtue-signaling going on here by the folks at Ford and General Motors.

It's a free country, and if they want to start rolling millions of EVs off the assembly lines, so be it.

But it's one thing to make cars that appeal to members of the Sierra Club and quite another to produce automobiles that the typical buyer wants. And guess what? So far, most people have turned a decisive thumbs-down on EVs. (Incidentally, I'm personally agnostic on electric vehicles. I've driven Teslas, and they are wonderful smooth-driving vehicles. But they have problems, too, such as getting stranded with no juice in the middle of nowhere.)

So far, only about 6% of new cars sold are electric vehicles. And polls show that only about half of Americans prefer an EV over a traditional car. Much larger majorities oppose the government telling us what kind of car we can buy.

Incidentally, the one state that far outpaces the rest of the country in EV sales (with about 1 in 5 new car sales being battery-operated) is California. But, hey, Detroit: Sorry, California isn't the country.

All of this is to say that there's a decent chance the American auto companies' shift to all EVs is going to fail. This could even be the most epic failure for American car companies since Ford introduced the Edsel. (For youngsters, that was the 1950s ugly car that nobody wanted to buy.)

Meanwhile, and this is the especially sad part of the story, at least one company realizes the tomfoolery of making only electric cars. And that company is the Japanese automaker Toyota. Akio Toyoda, the president and grandson of the founder of the giant Japanese car company, is going to buck the trend.

"People involved in the auto industry are largely a silent majority," Toyoda recently told news reporters. "That silent majority is wondering whether EVs are really OK to have as a single option. But they think it's the trend, so they can't speak out loudly."

Toyoda wasn't done. "I believe we need to be realistic about when society will be able to fully adopt Battery Electric Vehicles," he explained. "And frankly, BEVs are not the only way to achieve the world's carbon neutrality goals."

Toyoda is right on all counts. There's scant evidence that EVs will reduce pollution levels more than traditional cars -- in part because most of the energy for the batteries comes from burning fossil fuels. And because the batteries themselves create waste issues.

How can it be that a Japanese CEO is more plugged in to the tastes, preferences and buying habits of American car buyers than those based here at home? (Yes, I know Toyota has many plants in the United States.)

You would think that U.S. automakers would understand a basic red, white and blue reality, which is that Americans have a special and long-standing love affair with their cars. They aren't going to trade in their Mustangs, Camaros, Cadillacs and trucks for an EV. For many of us, this would be akin to taking away our firstborn.

What's sadder still is that the Japanese seem to understand American car buyers better than the execs in Detroit. Honda and Toyota were the first to recognize that people wanted more fuel-efficient cars when gas prices more than tripled in the 1970s.

All of this means that if GM, Ford and Chrysler speed forward with their commitment to convert to 100% EVs, I'm going to have to break my long-standing pledge to my parents to "buy American" and never purchase a Japanese car. The American companies will have given me no choice. Sorry, this is 2023, not 1923, when Henry Ford said you could have a Model T in any color you wanted, as long as it was black.

Incidentally, as this "woke" green energy fad fades into the sunset, as it almost assuredly will, and the American auto companies see their sales crash, they'd better not come begging for yet another taxpayer bailout.


Beijing aims to corner another green energy market: hydrogen

A decade ago, China used low prices to dominate solar manufacturing, wiping out Western competitors just as worldwide demand for panels started to soar. The U.S. and Europe are determined not to let the same thing happen with hydrogen.

As the world sprints to decarbonize, the next round of competition revolves around a device called an electrolyzer. Plug these into clean electricity such as solar power, and it’s possible to extract hydrogen from water without producing any emissions. That’s a crucial step in creating a green fuel capable of decarbonizing such industries as steel, cement or shipping.

Companies around the world are already revving up electrolyzer production, green hydrogen plants are under construction, and the industry is finally making the leap from pilot projects to industrial scale. BloombergNEF, a clean energy research group, estimates worldwide electrolyzer production will need to grow 91 times larger by 2030 to meet demand. But many Western clean tech veterans eye the emerging competition with a queasy feeling of déjà vu. More than 40% of all electrolyzers made today come from China, according to BNEF.

Chinese electrolyzers aren’t as efficient as those made in the U.S. and Europe, but they cost far less — about a quarter of what Western companies charge. Chinese electrolyzer companies still largely serve their domestic market, but they’re starting to expand sales overseas.

“I’ve heard too many government officials say we cannot repeat the experience of solar again,” said BNEF hydrogen analyst Xiaoting Wang.

President Joe Biden served as vice president during the crucial years when China seized the lead in solar manufacturing. Now he views China as a competitor more than a supplier, and he has made bringing clean tech manufacturing back to the U.S. a pillar of his climate policies. The U.S. is determined not to let China control this new energy boom, and Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act showers money on domestic hydrogen production.

“The reality is, the U.S. is going to give very generous subsidies to ensure that local suppliers survive,” Wang said.

Europe has its own reasons for wanting a piece of this nascent industry.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has driven home the value of fuel that can be produced within Europe, and it has ramped up the continent’s ambitions for hydrogen. And yet, some hydrogen advocates say the European Union isn’t following through, putting it at a disadvantage to both the U.S. and China. The union has set a target for green hydrogen production — 10 million tons per year by 2030 — but has not yet decided which methods will qualify as “green.” That makes it hard for companies to commit to the big hydrogen production projects that would drive electrolyzer orders.

“I’m scared the market shares in the electrolyzer business will be taken away from Europe and shipped to other geographies,” said Jorgo Chatzimarkakis, chief executive officer of the Brussels-based lobbying group Hydrogen Europe. “The EU are shooting themselves in the head. Not in the foot — in the head.”

Meanwhile, many analysts expect the efficiency of Chinese electrolyzers to improve, eroding any technological advantage U.S. and European companies now have.

“I have no doubt that China is working on better electrolyzers,” said Bridget van Dorsten, senior hydrogen analyst at the Wood Mackenzie research and consulting firm. “The day that China decides not to be a laggard anymore is the day they aren’t a laggard anymore.”

And some Chinese companies have a head start. Chemical-equipment manufacturers there have made electrolyzers for years, installing large-scale water electrolysis systems for various manufacturing industries such as polysilicon production for solar cells.

Electrolyzers use electricity to split water into hydrogen and oxygen, and versions of them have been on the market since the 1920s. Many countries now see hydrogen as the best bet for decarbonizing industries that can’t easily run on electricity. If an electrolyzer’s power comes from a solar or wind facility, or a nuclear reactor, the process of producing the hydrogen is also carbon-free.

The devices come in several varieties, each with its pros and cons. Chinese companies mostly produce “alkaline” electrolyzers that have low up-front costs but need more electricity than competing technologies to yield each kilogram of hydrogen. U.S. and European companies focus on “solid oxide” and “proton-exchange membrane” (PEM) electrolyzers that have a higher initial cost but need less electricity — a big selling point in places where electricity is expensive.

Chinese manufacturers, however, are developing PEM electrolyzers and refining their alkaline products. And they’re eying foreign markets for growth.

Xi’an-based Longi Green Energy Technology Co., the world’s largest solar equipment maker, set up a hydrogen unit in March 2021 and has already built 1.5 gigawatts of electrolyzer manufacturing capacity in China. It’s developing PEM but predicts that alkaline electrolyzers will dominate the industry for the next five years, said Wang Yingge, vice president of Longi Hydrogen. Within three years, the company expects foreign markets to make up more than half of its sales, he said.

“Europe and the U.S. have the most proactive incentive policies for the hydrogen industry, while the Middle East and Africa have the largest scale and most economical renewable energy,” Wang said. “Green hydrogen projects in these regions have good profitability.”

Meanwhile, state-owned PERIC received orders in 2022 from seven foreign countries, including Australia, the U.S. and Korea. Shandong Saikesaisi Hydrogen Energy, one of the few Chinese manufacturers to specialize in PEM, now gets about 10% to 15% of its sales from overseas, said Huang Fang, a project director of the company. It’s aiming to improve that percentage amid demand from Europe and Australia, Huang said.




No comments: