California solar proposal delay a positive sign, plus Olympics stir snowmaking debate

Source: General Motors Co.

By David Callaway, Callaway Climate Insights

A firestorm of protest from consumer groups, solar and other cleantech businesses — and even California Gov. Gavin Newsom — in recent days succeeded in delaying a controversial proposal to slash subsidies for homeowners with solar power. What does that mean for solar stocks?

The California Public Utilities Commission was due to take up the proposal on Thursday but suddenly withdrew it from its agenda with no sign of when it will be back on. Could be a week. Could be much longer. The fact that it was delayed is a positive sign for solar companies and their investors.

As we’ve said before, the plan to reduce the amount of money homeowners can get from utilities by sending them their excess solar energy withdrew one of the major benefits to investing in solar. Homeowners can now make their money back over five to seven years. If the plan is approved, it could be 15 to 20 years by some estimates.

Utilities such as Pacific Gas & Electric (PCG) argue that the subsidies are unfair; that prices are set too high and that the subsidies unfairly benefit the rich who can afford solar panels at the expense of everybody else (including PG&E?).

While there is no timeline on when the CPUC will take up the proposal again, any delay can be seen as a good thing by solar investors, who have seen their stocks fall by about half since December. Stocks such as SunPower (SPWR) and First Solar (FSLR) were still down Tuesday, but more so because of the volatility in the overall market, which has been savage to cleantech.

The delay means a new, more sensible proposal is more likely. And a brief respite for investors not used to being burned.

More insights below. . . .

Tuesday’s subscriber insights: Searching for peak electric bike

. . . . You see them everywhere — electric bicycles. Rushing around cities doing deliveries, on cycling trails and in suburban neighborhoods. And now comes news that they are outselling four-wheeled EVs in the U.S. Will these sales be sustained, or is the market near saturation? Read more here. . . .

. . . . Climate change has led yet another oil company to change its name. This time it’s Shell, which dropped the “Royal Dutch” in front of the main part of its moniker as part of its plan to move its headquarters to London. Harking back to the change BP made years ago from British Petroleum, Shell’s move is in part due to an unfavorable environmental ruling in a Dutch court last year. Read more here. . . .

. . . . The instances of rebel investors forcing boards to mend their polluting ways has increased with the pledge of Britain’s Aviva Investors to the tactics most notably used by America’s Engine No. 1 to target bosses who don’t get with the green game. At the same time, Engine No. 1 is increasing its efforts. Some companies, and politicians, are fighting back. A battle is brewing as proxy season approaches. Read more here. . . .

. . . . With many eyes focused on the electric vehicle ambitions of GM, Ford, Volkswagen and Toyota, the Japan/France also-ran made up of Nissan, Renault and Mitsubishi has been lost in the dust. Now, they are cranking up their efforts. How effective will they be in this new era given their place in the pecking order? Read more here. . . .

Editor’s picks: Counting clouds; how green will the Beijing Olympics be?

Join NASA’s Cloud Challenge brigade

Citizens of Earth: NASA is calling upon you to become citizen scientists to investigate clouds during the NASA GLOBE Cloud Challenge 2022: Clouds in a Changing Climate. “Are you seeing more precipitating clouds? Are you seeing less of them? Are there more thick, blanketed clouds that cast more shadows, or are you seeing more of those thin high clouds that are ice and don’t cast shadows but hold the heat in the atmosphere?,” said Marilé Colón Robles, atmospheric scientist and lead for the GLOBE Clouds Team at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va. “Each cloud type affects Earth’s energy balance differently. That’s what we’re trying to understand.” The GLOBE Clouds team tries to match citizen science observations to different satellites including: Aqua, CALIPSO and Terra. To find out more about the challenge and to participate, check out NASA’s Cloud Challenge 2022 here.

Beijing Winter Olympics: Neither green nor white?

Barely a week before the start of the Winter Olympics in Beijing, research sheds more light on the threat climate change poses to the locations where the winter games are held. Without drastic reduction in carbon emissions, all but one of the 21 cities that have hosted the winter games would not be able to do so in 50 or 60 years. NPR notes the University of Waterloo’s report shows six cities would be considered “marginal,” while 14 would be deemed “unreliable” — meaning the right conditions for snow and athlete safety cannot be met. The Washington Post, meanwhile, reports that despite pledges from the Chinese government that every aspect of the Beijing Olympics will be green, “are difficult to square with the country’s broader environmental challenges. Beijing’s water scarcity is a concern for environmentalists, with one estimate suggesting it could take 200 years for water piped into the city to return water resources to 1998 levels.” And, it takes a lot of water to make artificial snow: See below.

Data driven: No snow? No problem.

.  . . . With virtually no snow falling at the ski venues for Beijing’s Winter Olympic Games (the region is famed for being cold but very dry), more than 1.2 million cubic tons of artificial snow is being made. SI reports that while making snow for the winter games isn’t new, the Beijing event will be a first in that all the snow will be artificial. It’s also the first time a city will host both a summer and winter Games. The job of making all that snow falls to Italy’s TechnoAlpin. According to the report, the “snowmaking process for Beijing is projected to pull 49 million gallons of water from natural resources, a figure that environmentalists will cite as yet another example of the Olympics’ poor sustainability record.”. . .

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