Newsletter: A New Hope’ for solar equity

A force awakens at the Department of Energy: the power of Star Wars puns to promote equity and inclusion in the solar workforce.
By Julian Spector

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(Tim Mossholder/Unsplash)

A force awakens at the Department of Energy: the power of Star Wars puns to promote equity and inclusion in the solar workforce.

I didn’t really understand what this meant when Eric Wesoff pitched the story at our newsroom meeting. But the DOE under Sec. Jennifer Granholm is working on justice, equity, diversity and inclusion for clean energy jobs, which historically haven’t succeeded on those metrics.

The acronym is JEDI, May the Fourth was Star Wars day, so Granholm addressed the topic accordingly:

The dark side we have to acknowledge is that over the last decade, clean energy jobs have gone overwhelmingly to men, particularly to white men. So we know we won’t just Luke into a workforce that looks like America — that’s thinking about it in Alderaan ways. This administration won’t make that Wookiee mistake: Achieve equity, we must. And we’re not just talking the talk; we’re walking Ewok.

From there, the event moved into more specific issues and actions. You can read what government and industry leaders had to say in our coverage here.

Watch your back, California

David Roberts is back, and he’s making the case that Washington state has eclipsed California as the shining light of state clean energy policy.

Those are fighting words, but he backs them up with an array of laws passed in the last three years to tackle the grid, buildings, electric vehicles and fuels.

Interestingly, the latest legislation adds carbon pricing, which hasn’t gotten as much love lately from climate policy wonks. (Note how the Biden administration talks a lot about clean energy standards, massive infrastructure investment and environmental justice, but not so much about the conceptual elegance of a carbon tax.)

Carbon pricing is not dead. The key is that Washington state isn’t relying on a carbon price alone to solve all its problems. Instead, carbon pricing complements sector-specific standards, investment programs and justice.

Just so you know the interstate competition wasn’t my own opportunistic framing, here’s how the bill’s Senate architect described the process to The Seattle Times:

I had a checklist, and I made sure in my own head that we addressed these criticisms and weaknesses of the California bill, and not just danced around them.”

Just how uncompetitive is coal right now?

One effect of clean energy standards would be to phase out coal plants, and that’s looking like an economic winner.

New research compared the costs of continuing to operate the 235 surviving coal plants in the U.S. with building new wind and solar in the same regions. A contributed piece from researchers at Energy Innovation breaks down the findings:

Coal is quickly losing the price war to renewables across the country. The calculated plant-level weighted average [levelized costs of energy] for wind and solar, and the plant-level going-forward coal cost shows 182 existing coal plants are more expensive to continue operating compared to building new nearby wind or solar plants that fully displace current annual generation from those coal plants.

The implications are not solely financial, because coal plants have a well-documented public health toll that disproportionately hurts low-income and minority communities.

Read on for the next steps to take once it’s clear a coal plant needs to go.

Regardless of what utilities want to do with their coal plants, they may soon run out of mines to supply them. Check out Jason Deign’s latest reporting to learn about that risk factor and how nuclear plants are grappling with similar market challenges from cheap gas and renewables.

Julian Spector is a senior reporter at Canary Media. He reports on batteries, long-duration energy storage, low-carbon hydrogen and clean energy breakthroughs around the world.