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Proterra’s Bankruptcy, Lithium’s OPEC, Montana’s Model (Energy Transitions | Week in Review)

A weekly five-point roundup of critical events in the energy transition and the implications of climate change for business and finance.
energy transition

A weekly five-point roundup of critical events in the energy transition and the implications of climate change for business and finance. 

The Big Bus Bankruptcy That Hurts Electric Cars

What happened: Proterra, the American electric bus manufacturer hailed by President Joe Biden as a shining example of what domestic electric production could achieve, filed for bankruptcy.

Why it matters: “Proterra’s demise points to another issue: Even with unprecedented levels of government support and customer interest, some sectors cannot compete against top manufacturers in China.”

What’s next: Demand for electric commercial vehicles is there. The IRA has a tax credit that could boost it even more. Maybe a post-bankruptcy Proterra survives? (By Tim McDonnell, Semafor)

Another New Commodity Superpower Rethinks Its View of Foreigners

What happened: The Democratic Republic Congo is taking a fresh look at contracts with all of its mining joint ventures with foreign investors. One of the world’s largest producers of cobalt and copper, it’s the latest new commodity superpower to begin to rethink its relationship to a world that seeks to extract as much value from its mineral rights as possible.

Why it matters: Everyone wants leverage. “Just in the past 12 months, Zimbabwe and Namibia banned exports of raw lithium; Chile increased state control over lithium mining; while Mexico plunged its nascent lithium industry into uncertainty with a new review of mining concessions. Meanwhile, Indonesia added export controls on bauxite (a key ingredient in aluminium) to its pre-existing ban on exports of raw nickel ore.” 

What’s next: The real question is does this sudden burst of nationalism and cooperation amongst mineral producers lead to something longstanding — an OPEC-like cartel that can control markets — or does it dissolve. (By Leslie Hook, The Financial Times)

Environmentalists Hope This Biden Bet Sucks

What happened: “The Department of Energy chose the first two locations for ‘hubs’ it envisions for industrial plants that suck planet-heating carbon dioxide out of the air. Projects in Texas and Louisiana will receive up to $1.2 billion from the Department of Energy (DOE) to develop direct air capture (DAC) facilities, backing a purported climate solution that not all environmental advocates support.”

Why it matters: DAC is popular among fossil fuel companies, which means it’s a way to gain support from some of the world’s biggest emitters, and biggest profit makers. That’s also why it’s controversial amongst environmentalists. The first of what will be $3.5 billion in funding signals a centrist approach that could backfire or do enough to make everyone happy.

What’s next: Another two billion in funds, and another chance or two to debate the future of green energy funding. (By Justine Calma, The Verge)

The Next Big Labor Battle Is Secretly About EVs

What happened: GM, Ford, and Stellantis and the UAW, the union that represents their employees, are saber-rattling about a potentially massive auto strike that would happen in September, when contracts expire.

Why it matters: Electric vehicles need fewer parts. That means less complexity and fewer workers. The UAW knows this, and is trying to extract concessions now that would mean workers at auto company battery plants get the same level of compensation as those few that remain actually building the simpler vehicles they’ll be producing in the future.

What’s next: A looming deadline. The UAW’s new president already threw a contract in a trash can during a livestream. Odds are the stunts will get bigger as the timeline gets shorter. (By Olivia Olander, Politico)

The Montana Kid Climate Change Lawsuit Scores a Victory

What happened: “Montana is violating the rights of young people with policies that prohibit the state from considering climate change effects when it reviews coal mining, natural gas extraction and other fossil fuel projects, a state judge said Monday.”

Why it matters: There are other, somewhat similar youth-led cases in other states, like one in Hawaii against the Department of Transportation. It is almost certainly just a symbolic victor–Montana’s Attorney General is appealing and the case likely only went forward because of an amendment specific to the state–but it may be an inroads towards larger Gen Z political participation in climate change.

What’s next: Copycats. (By Clark Mindock, Reuters)

If you don't feel that U.S. culture (and much of the world in different ways) is in turmoil, you are not paying attention.
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