Edward Norton wonks out on solar policy and NYT crossword angers clean-energy fans

The first rule of Friday Social is that we don’t talk about…boring stuff.

Award-winning actor and solar policy nerd Edward Norton (Giuseppe Maffia/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

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Canary Media’s Friday Social column explores the intersection of energy, climate and social media. Canary thanks Silverline Communications for its support of the column.

Last week I made a few energy and climate social-media predictions for 2022. Celebrities getting wonky on Twitter was not on my list.

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Climate and clean-energy advocates in California are in the midst of a pitched battle over rooftop solar policy. The state’s utility commission recently proposed changing the rules to make it much less financially attractive for homeowners to install solar systems. Many solar advocates and climate activists are outraged, saying the changes would decimate the rooftop solar industry and set back the shift to clean energy. But other climate activists and community advocates (as well as the state’s big utilities) contend that a new system is needed so the public at large isn’t subsidizing solar just for wealthy Californians. 

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This week, actor Edward Norton took off his gloves (OK, I know, he didn’t wear gloves in Fight Club) and jumped into the ring with a pugilistic Twitter thread. He bashed the proposal from the California Public Utilities Commission and landed some punches on utility Pacific Gas & Electric along the way. And then he got right down in the weeds and cited some specific comments that energy economist Ahmad Faruqui had submitted to the CPUC.

Norton is not a novice to this issue. He’s a longtime rooftop-solar advocate. Way back in 2003, he launched a program to get solar onto roofs in lower-income communities in Los Angeles. He was wonking out even back in those days, as evidenced in a 2005 interview with Grist:

Historically the city has built power plants to satisfy peak demand in low-income neighborhoods. We’re trying to show that if you can lower demand on the grid, you reduce the likelihood of these peaker plants turning on, which are incredibly noisy and polluting. 

In the same interview, he talks about trying to use the power of celebrity for good, perhaps foreshadowing his future tweet storm:

There are ways that the culture of celebrity gets used in America that are really unappealing, but it can also be an opportunity for substantive public leadership. While the environmental organizations are fending off assault on the day-to-day legislative level, it’s an important time for us to engage in the more public battle to win hearts and minds on this issue.

Looking back at my 2022 forecast, I predicted that solar would get its first influencer. Perhaps the sector already has its high-profile champion in Edward Norton. 

Influencer or not, I’m sure the smart folks on #energytwitter are happy to welcome Norton to the family — and the fray. 

Cross words about a crossword

On Monday, renewable-energy and climate professionals around the country collectively gasped and spilled their morning coffees while doing the New York Times crossword puzzle.

The clue for 47 Across was greener energy source.” The appalling answer? Clean coal.”

In a New York Times crossword column, the puzzle constructor, Lynn Lempel, provided some background: 

Clean coal” as an answer gave me a slight pause because it’s debatable whether there really is such a thing. My original clue included something of a hedge (“Dubious term for a greener energy source”), but the editing team didn’t think that was needed.

Well, New York Times editing team, it certainly was needed.

#Energytwitter blew up, chastising the Times. Even Representative Sean Casten (D-Illinois) had some thoughts on the matter:

Perhaps due in part to the noise on Twitter, the paper issued a correction:

The clue for 47 Across in the Monday crossword puzzle implied incorrectly that coal is a viable source of clean energy. While it is possible to capture and sequester some of the greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants from coal-fired power plants, the technology has never been used on a large scale because of its high cost.

But as investigative journalist Amy Westervelt pointed out, the correction needs a correction”:

Do better next time, NYT. Canary has some great editors if you ever need a consultation.

The Wordle hurdle

In other puzzle news, the online game Wordle is taking Twitter by storm this week. It’s a free-to-play daily word puzzle, one part Hangman, one part Jumble.

MJ Shiao, head of North America business development and marketing at Longi Solar, warned that the game could be contributing to climate chaos:

In 2021, renewables were slowed down by a supply-chain crunch. In 2022, we’re confronting the global Wordle hurdle.

I’m going to exacerbate the situation by recommending that you play.

Silverline Communications, the supporter of this column, is a climatetech and ESG communications firm with deep experience in all facets of the clean economy. Learn more about how Silverline connects clients with stakeholders on social channels and beyond.

Mike Munsell is director of growth at Canary Media.