Equilibrium — France calls on energy firms to save baguettes

Major French utilities have agreed to save the country’s beleaguered bakeries by letting them out of pricey power contracts, Reuters reported.

The renegotiation — brokered by the French government — comes as many of France’s 33,000 bakeries face financial ruin amid spiking energy costs spurred in part by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Energy suppliers like TotalEnergies and EDF have agreed to allow the country’s bakeries to renegotiate their contracts if they struggle to pay their bills due to rising energy and crop prices, according to Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire.

These companies have agreed in principle “to dissolve contracts when prices have risen prohibitively high and unsustainable for some bakeries,” Le Maire told reporters.

Bakery advocates have long railed against “rotten contracts,” as Reuters reported.

“The French state is doing its share to help bakers, energy suppliers must do their share,” Le Maire told Reuters.

The minister had previously criticized the country’s power firms for not doing enough to protect small and medium-sized businesses from the impacts of rising energy costs.

Under the agreement, the energy companies will review contracts on a “case by case” basis depending on each bakery’s situation and provide “payment facilities” for businesses with cash flow problems, Reuters reported.

The decision follows the U.N.’s November addition of the baguette to its “intangible cultural heritage” list.

Welcome to Equilibrium, a newsletter that tracks the growing global battle over the future of sustainability. I’m Saul Elbein. Send tips and feedback. Subscribe here or in the box below.

Today we’ll visit Texas and see a legislature divided over whether the grid is fixed or needs more fossil fuels. Plus: Tesla’s lower-than-expected 2022 performance, and most California oil workers won’t need retraining to find non fossil-fuel jobs.

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Texas legislature meets to confront grid

The Texas legislature began its biannual spring session on Tuesday during which Republican leaders intend to confront the state’s problematic electric grid, which experts say runs chronically short on power.

  • The grid came under scrutiny last year when it almost crashed several times due to the extreme heat of the 2022 summer.  

  • Hundreds died from complications of cold and generator misuse during a previous 2021 winter storm.

Intra-party dispute: Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) has made fixing the state grid a high priority this session — an issue Gov. Greg Abbott (R) considers already resolved, The Texas Tribune reported.

  • Abbott was referring to past legislation that requires power plant operators to winterize their facilities, while also reforming the state power markets. 

  • Patrick, meanwhile, is calling for a new fleet of natural gas plants for the state.

  • The state Public Utility Commission also favors thermal plants powered by coal, natural gas and nuclear energy, E&E News reported last month.

“We have to level the playing field so that we attract investment in natural gas plants,” Patrick said in late November, according to the Tribune. “We can’t leave here next spring unless we have a plan for more natural gas power.”

Is the grid really fixed? That’s debatable. The state avoided widespread power outages during last month’s hard freeze — but had there been precipitation, the state wouldn’t have been so lucky, experts told Houston Public Media.

  • In the case of ice storms, “we would have been short maybe 20,000 megawatts, and we would have had to go into rolling blackouts across the grid,” University of Houston energy fellow Ed Hirs said. 

  • “As it turned out, we went to brownouts, in other words, voltage reductions across the grid. Where typically a homeowner gets 120 volts, it was reduced to 115, 110, maybe – a way to ration electricity across the ERCOT grid,” Hirs added.

Hirs said the state is chronically short on power — with actual demand during the December freeze 13 percent higher than state energy regulators had anticipated.

Another issue: While Patrick tends to dismiss renewables in favor of natural gas plants, state energy prices are far too low to incentivize companies to build new gas plants, Hirs said.

The plunging cost of renewables is also the principal factor holding back the surge in Texas’ electricity costs — which have been driven by 10-year highs in both coal and gas prices, UtilityDive reported.

California oil, gas workers need help to find new jobs

As California transitions away from fossil fuels, most oil and gas workers will be able to find work in other industries, according to a new report from the nonpartisan Gender Equity Policy Institute.

  • However, more than a quarter of workers will face pay cuts in new industries, the study found. 

  • Supporting them at their current income in new fields could cost the state nearly $70 million per year — less than a fifth of previous estimates.

Matching money to mouths: “Our state has the resources to ensure that oil and gas workers land on their feet as we all say goodbye to fossil fuels,” Woody Hastings, energy program manager at The Climate Center, a California think tank, said in a statement.

By the numbers: Sixty-seven percent of workers are highly likely to find jobs in their current occupation but in a different sector, and they will not need retraining due to a high demand for their skills over the next decade.

  • The remaining workers who are unlikely to find work within their occupation have skills that are transferable to similar roles without a need for retraining.

  • However, the report also found 27 percent of these workers are expected to earn less in their new occupations, while only 7 percent are expected to earn more.

How big is the industry? California’s oil and gas workforce includes 45,946 individuals — of whom 18 percent are employed in core oil and gas extraction and production jobs, according to the report.

Investing in the transition: Spending money to help those workers transition needs to be as much of a priority as standing up new jobs, researchers said. 

  • “State and federal climate investments are set to create around four million new jobs in California in coming years,” Nancy Cohen, president of the Los Angeles-based Gender Equity Policy Institute, said in a statement. 

  • “But as the transition away from fossil fuels advances, oil and gas jobs will decline — and we must make sure the impacted workers are not left behind,” she added.

What that looks like: The report authors suggest providing income subsidies of three years duration for each employee, plus relocation funds for those who might need to move.

  • Such support could be funded by the state of California for an annual cost of between $27.3 million and $68.9 million.  

  • This is much smaller than previous studies that put the cost between $358 million and $424 million. 

  • It accounts for between one and three years of support for the approximately 8,100 workers who could face displacement into lower-paying jobs over the next 10 years.

Almost there: The 2022 state budget has already allocated $40 million for a pilot oil and gas worker displacement fund, as well as $20 million to train workers to participate in well-capping of abandoned oil wells.

Read the full story here.

Tesla misses 2022 production targets

Amid a broader boom in electric vehicle (EV) factory announcements, Tesla risks falling behind.

The EV leader — while still the world’s most valuable car company — failed to meet its ambitious 2022 delivery goals.

  • The company delivered 405,278 vehicles in the fourth quarter of 2022, falling short of analysts’ estimates of 431,117, according to Refinitiv.  

  • For the full year, Tesla’s deliveries rose by 40 percent, missing CEO Elon Musk’s standing target of a 50 percent yearly increase.  

  • The company’s shares fell 8.5 percent to $112 on Tuesday, and it has lost 65 percent of its market value in 2022.

What’s going on? Tesla is facing “a significant demand problem” and many investors underestimate “the magnitude of the demand challenges Tesla is facing,” Bernstein analyst Toni Sacconaghi told Reuters.

In other words: People are less inclined to buy Teslas than ever before.

  • To boost demand, Tesla has offered discounts on its top-selling vehicles as competition increases from legacy automakers and startups. 

  • These discounts appear to have frightened investors, as we reported last month.

Then there’s supply: The company also struggled with logistical issues, particularly with regard to its massive Shanghai plant, which is on reduced output through January. 


Tesla is not the only electric vehicle manufacturer experiencing production issues. Many other carmakers are racing to ramp up EV production — and building new factories to deliver a wide array of new vehicles.

Regional shift: These new factories are pulling the center of gravity of U.S. auto manufacturing from the Great Lakes toward the U.S. Southeast, according to The Wall Street Journal.

  • $33 billion in new auto-factories — including for new battery plants — was pledged last year, running through November.

  • That’s an eightfold increase from two decades ago and a more than fourfold increase over 2017.

Capitalizing on investments: About two-thirds of the new factories are in the U.S. South, according to the Journal.

  • A particular beneficiary has been Georgia, which has invested heavily in technical colleges and potential sites for new factories. 

  • “There’s no question that some of the markets in the Southeast have figured out a great secret sauce, in terms of how to court those big projects,” Eric Stavriotis, who studies location incentives for CBRE Group, a Dallas-based real estate company, told the Journal.

A drawback: One major incentive — the South’s low energy costs — could turn out to be a drawback for future electric vehicle buyers.

  • About 74 percent of the state’s electricity comes from fossil fuel-based sources, according to the Department of Energy. 

  • That risks raising the carbon cost of the new cars, even while lowering the dollar costs.

Solar energy from space

A new type of solar cell material could potentially revolutionize the way we generate energy in space — and on earth.

Warwick University in the U.K. has received $2.6 million (2.2 million pounds) to spend five years studying metal halide perovskite — a possible future candidate for building orbital solar farms capable of beaming energy back to Earth, the university announced.

Meet the material: Perovskite is made up of a class of crystalline compounds that are able to convert sunlight into electricity more efficiently than traditional silicon cells.

  • Perovskite compounds tend to degrade in humid, sunny conditions or at high temperatures.  

  • However, the material has proved to be stable outside the Earth’s atmosphere, raising the possibility of harvesting energy in space.

Beating out silicon: Its stability in cold temperatures is just one of perovskite’s potential advantages over silicon, physicist and study lead Dominik Kubicki said in a statement.

  • One of the key benefits of perovskite is that it is much lighter, cheaper and more flexible than silicon, making it easier to transport and install on satellites and other spacecraft.  

  • Silicon also “succumbs to cosmic radiation” more easily than perovskite.

Low light: Perovskite also is far more efficient than silicon at trapping energy from low-light environments, a 2021 study found.

Space power: The European Space Agency last year announced plans to invest in space-based solar power, in which orbital satellites capture solar energy and beam it down to earth, according to an agency statement.

  • On average orbiting satellites can tap into 10 times as much solar energy as ground-based arrays. 

  • Unlike terrestrial solar farms, this energy is available 24 hours a day.

One big disadvantage: Warwick’s research is aimed at understanding — on an atomic level — why perovskite degrades so easily under intense light, heat or humidity.

It has the potential to open up terrestrial applications like semi-transparent solar windows, according to the statement.

Monday Miscellanies

A curated selection of news from around the world.

Biden’s wind energy plans requires convincing rural America

  • Ambitious federal plans for an expansion of U.S. wind energy have a potential Achilles heel: They require thousands of conservative rural communities around the country to consent to large new wind developments, The New York Times reported. “Projects have been getting more contentious. The low hanging fruit places have been taken,” Sarah Banas Mills of University of Michigan told the Times.

Some in tourist industry oppose Europe’s shift to wind

  • European industry is increasingly relying on renewable energy sources like wind to offset the rising costs of natural gas — which is pushing conflicts with the tourism sector, according to The Wall Street Journal. Wind projects in touristy regions like Galicia are facing opposition from local hotel owners concerned about damage to views, the Journal reported.

Poisonous algae spreading in Cape Cod 

  • The waterways feeding Massachusetts’ Cape Cod are choking under spreading colonies of poisonous algae — fed by human waste leaking from the aging sewer systems of growing cities and incubated in waters warmed by climate change, The New York Times reported. The algae is leading to collapsing populations of eelgrass — which anchors the coastline — and shellfish, a staple of local economies, while making some ponds “too dangerous to touch,” the Times reported.

Please visit The Hill’s Sustainability section online for more and check out other newsletters here. We’ll see you tomorrow.

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