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Iran’s President-elect Ebrahim Raisi attends a news conference in Tehran, Iran June 21, 2021.
Majid Asgaripour | WANA News Agency | Reuters

U.S. officials say they are still trying to determine exactly what’s happening, but numerous reports say there’s potentially one hijacked ship in the Gulf of Oman and the status of several others is unclear.

The situation occurred as tensions between the West and Iran have been rising, and as the U.S. and other world powers have been trying to reach a new deal with Iran over its nuclear program.

At a briefing, U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said “we are aware of the reports of a maritime incident in the Gulf of Oman. We are concerned. We are looking into it.”

Price said this was part of a disturbing pattern of belligerent behavior from Iran “including belligerents in the maritime domain.”

Price was referring to what military experts call a drone attack against a ship last week that killed a British crew member and a Romanian crew member aboard the ship Mercer Street.

Other U.S. officials say the situation is moving quickly, but it appears armed Iranian gunmen had boarded the seized tanker.

The incident has not moved oil prices, yet anyway. West Texas Intermediate crude futures for September settled down nearly 1% at $70.50 per barrel but they were off the lows of the day after the reports.

Lloyds List reported that the Panamanian flagged Asphalt Princess was the ship that was reportedly seized by armed men. The British navy earlier Tuesday had warned of a “potential hijack” in the Gulf of Oman, and the British military’s United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations warned ship operators that “an incident is currently underway” off of Fujairah, according to news reports.

Tankers depicted in the Strait of Hormuz — a strategically important waterway which separates Iran, Oman and the United Arab Emirates.
ATTA KENARE | AFP | Getty Images

The Associated Press had reported that at least four ships off the coast of the United Arab Emirates broadcast warnings Tuesday that they had lost the control of their steering. The four vessels were identified as Queen Ematha, the Golden Brilliant, Jag Poofa and Abyss, according to the AP, citing MarineTraffic.com.

Helima Croft, a former CIA analyst who heads global commodities strategy for RBC, said the activity is alarming and it appears to have been some sort of action that involves the Islamic Revolutionary Guard. The IRGC is a powerful military force that Iran wields separately from the standard Iranian armed forces and it reports directly to the Ayatollah.

“It is alarming given the fact we had two fatalities on Friday,” she said. “You have to put it in the context of Iran continuing to make progress on the nuclear restart against the backdrop of a new hardline government coming to power in Tehran. It raises the risk of unintended escalation, or one side not appreciating the other’s red lines.”

This is all happening amid stalled nuclear talks between Iran and major international powers. At the same time, a new hardline president, Ebrahim Raisi, took over as of Tuesday. In the past several days he’s increased the rhetoric against the United States calling the U.S. “tyrannical.”

“We will not tie the economy to the will of foreigners,” Raisi said.

Croft said the best window for Washington to get a deal done with Iran has probably passed, now that a new government is in place.

“The fact we are now dealing with a different negotiating team in and of itself would signal the process would be more protracted,” she said. “If you add the maritime security incidents … that makes it a much bigger hill to climb to get back into the deal.”

Croft said Iran may be using a hardline stance to try to push Washington into a deal. “The Iranians may be calculating if you raise the temperature enough, Washington will fold because Washington does not want a military operation in the Middle East,” she said.

Croft said the market is singularly focused on the potential of a renewed economic slowdown and drop off in oil demand due to the breakout of the delta variant of Covid.

The escalation of tensions makes it less likely a deal will be struck soon, meaning Iran’s oil will not be back on the market. But if the tensions escalate and the activity disrupts the oil market that would impact prices.

“If we see real signs of a disruption in production or delivery the market will move very quickly,” she said.

Alireza Nader, a senior fellow at Foundation for Defense of Democracies, says the Iranian attacks on international shipping shows the policies of the Biden administration aren’t working. 

“The U.S. obsession with keeping the nuclear agreement alive at all costs incentivizes the regime in Iran to take more aggressive actions against US interests without fear of punishment,” Nader said in an interview with CNBC Tuesday.

Despite an increase in tensions, Again Capital’s John Kilduff, who watches the oil market closely, said “there’s not enough here yet for me to be convinced, the market isn’t getting excited yet.”

Kilduff does believe however “the Islamic Revolutionary Guard is clearly ascendant and they have a lot of power to cause a lot of disruption.”

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BIDIRECTIONAL Act introduced in US Senate to promote electric school buses feeding grid

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BIDIRECTIONAL Act introduced in US Senate to promote electric school buses feeding grid

A new bill introduced Friday by US Senator Angus King of Maine could unlock the true potential of electric school buses and provide stability to communities in need. The BIDIRECTIONAL Act would “create a program dedicated to deploying electric school buses with bidirectional vehicle-to-grid (V2G) flow capability.”

Zero-emission electric school buses are being deployed nationwide as state leaders and school districts look to protect the children and communities they vow to serve. New information shows school districts that replace just one diesel school bus with an electric one can reduce toxic emissions by 54,000 pounds a year.

However, the benefits of electric school buses don’t stop there. The massive batteries they utilize also make perfect energy storage devices. Several automakers and charging companies are experimenting with vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technology that enables vehicles to send energy back to the grid.

Manufacturers of electric pickup trucks (like the Ford F-150) and other EVs have dived into bi-directional charging, but this technology makes even more sense for electric school buses because they have large batteries that sit most of the day. To illustrate this point, Thomas Built Buses partnered with Proterra to show two electric school buses can send 10 MWh total back to the grid, enough to power around 600 homes.

Senator King wants to capitalize on this ability with the BIDIRECTIONAL Act to promote the widespread deployment of electric school buses with V2G capability to improve community stability.

electric-school-buses-v2g-1
Electric school bus with V2G capabilities Source: Proterra

The BIDIRECTIONAL Act is designed to accelerate adoption of EV school buses while using them for more than just a ride to school.

According to Senator King, the BIDIRECTIONAL Act will:

  • Establish a Department of Energy (DOE) program to roll out electric school buses designed with V2G capabilities in communities that need them most.
  • Require the DOE to report on current V2G initiatives (such as Thomas Built and Proterra) while also requiring electricity providers to consider bi-directional integration.

Senator King commented on the initiative, stating:

Vehicle-to-grid school buses are another common sense tool that can help to create a reliable grid, promote clean energy, and cut costs for local towns and school districts.

Adding:

The BIDIRECTIONAL Act will assist school districts across Maine and America transition to electric buses and make sure these vehicles provide greater stability to their communities. Combined with electric bus investments in the Inflation Reduction Act, this will be an important step towards unlocking America’s clean energy future. It’s a simple, win-win bill and I hope it can get bipartisan support across Congress.

Several major electric school bus makers and other organizations are backing the bill, such as Blue Bird, Highland Electric, Lion Electric, Nuuve, Proterra, and Xcel Energy.

Electrek’s Take

Electric school buses with V2G are a no-brainer. Not only will they reduce greenhouse gas emissions, protecting the communities they serve, but they can also play a key role in providing energy stability to communities in need.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) just announced it would be nearly doubling EPA clean school bus program funding to $965 million in its initial round . Federal funding is a huge first step, but strong state leadership is also necessary if these clean machines are going to become widely adopted. Virginia, for example, just surpassed 500,000 electric school bus miles driven thanks to a state initiative to roll out 13,0000 electric school buses in 2019. They now have the nation’s second largest fleet of electric school buses.

I believe Senator King is wise in proposing this bill. I truly believe electric school buses have unlimited potential waiting to be unlocked, and the BIDIRECTIONAL Act can do just that.

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Could offshore wind sites host edible seaweed farms? The Swedes think so

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Could offshore wind sites host edible seaweed farms? The Swedes think so

Stockholm-headquartered renewable energy developer OX2 has signed letters of intent with Swedish edible seaweed companies Nordic SeaFarm and KOBB to explore the possibility of seaweed farming at one of OX2’s offshore wind farms.

Seaweed and offshore wind

OX2’s Galatea-Galene huge 1.7 gigawatt offshore wind farm will be sited off Halland, a county on the western coast of Sweden. It’s named after two Greek sea nymphs, Galatea and Galene, and consists of two sub-areas around 15.5 miles (25 km) outside the cities of Falkenberg and Varberg.

Galatea-Galene is expected to consist of up to 101 wind turbines and generate around 6 to 7 terawatt-hours of clean electricity per year. That’s the equivalent of the average annual electricity consumption of more than 1.2 million Swedish households. (There are 4.8 million households in Sweden, for perspective.)

This offshore wind farm will be developed in a single phase. Construction is expected to commence in 2028 and enter into commercial operation in 2030.

Simon Johansson, CEO of Nordic SeaFarm, and Benjamin Ajo, chairman of the board of KOBB, said in a joint statement [via Offshorewind.biz]:

We see great opportunities, in collaboration with both the fishing industry and the wind power industry, to both maintain and create new jobs when we investigate the possibilities of creating a new industry in Sweden in the form of large-scale aquaculture.

Developing the national food supply while [offshore wind] farms contribute to stopping the negative effects of climate change are more positive aspects.

All seaweed needs to grow is saltwater and sunlight. It’s a superfood that’s rich in vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants, and particularly high in iodine, so it’s very nutritious. (Note that crispy seaweed in Chinese restaurants is actually cabbage.)

It can be used to wrap sushi, in soups and salads, in snacks and instant noodles, and as livestock food.

Seaweed also provides a source of food for marine life. In April, Electrek reported that a groundbreaking study found that the first US offshore wind farm has had no negative effect on fish and has even proven to be beneficial.

Here’s a short video from Nordic SeaFarm that shows how the company grows and harvests seaweed for consumption:

Electrek’s Take

Pairing seaweed farms and offshore wind farms seems like an inspired idea.

Seaweed’s ability to absorb toxins and other contaminants from the sea make it environmentally friendly, but that’s not what humans want to consume. That’s where seaweed growers come in: they test the seaweed for safety and quality.

Any multipurpose sustainable use of an offshore wind farm, particularly one that provides both clean energy and nutritious food that doesn’t require either fertilizer or fresh water to grow, is a win. It’s also another example of innovation that the clean energy revolution is bringing about in the climate change fight.

Read more: This new innovation boosts wind farm energy output yet costs nothing


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EPA doubles electric school bus funding to almost $1B after overwhelming initial demand

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EPA doubles electric school bus funding to almost B after overwhelming initial demand

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced Thursday that the agency will almost double its funding for electric school buses to close to $1 billion after school districts from all 50 states applied for rebates.

Electric school buses are quickly taking over streets around the US as school districts and state leaders see how they can benefit the communities they serve in.

According to Dominion Energy, a power provider promoting the use of EVs for a cleaner and sustainable future, replacing one diesel bus can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 54,000 pounds annually.

With help from Dominion’s initiatives, the second largest electric bus fleet in the US just crossed 500,000 service miles. By implementing EV buses, Virginia school districts were able to avoid 447.7 short tons of greenhouse gases.

These toxic fumes are known to creep into the bus’s interior while the bus is idling, harming the health of students taking them every day. A 2002 Yale study found dangerous particle levels were five to ten times higher while buses were stopped.

Although new standards have come along since then, it’s still not enough to limit the exposure when you can cut it out altogether.

Not only do electric school buses produce zero emissions, but they can also save school districts money on fuel and repair costs in the long run. For example, The Modesto Unified School District in California, which ordered 30 Blue Bird EV school buses, expects to save $250,000 a year on fuel.

With federal and many state funding options, there’s never been a better time to convert to an all-electric school bus fleet.

Electric-school-buses-US-1
Lion Electric EV school buses Source: Lion Electric

EPA doubles funding for electric school bus fleets across the US

The EPA Clean School Bus Program, part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, provides $5 billion in funding for electric school buses through the next five years.

The first round of funding, announced in May, was supposed to free up $500 million, but after overwhelming demand from school districts across all 50 states, the EPA will now be almost doubling it to $965 million.

The EPA received about 2,000 applications, amounting to nearly $4 billion in funding, with over 90% submitting for zero-emission electric school buses. Sue Gander, director of the electric school bus initiative at the World Resources Institute, highlights the demand for fully electric options, claiming:

There’s more to the story. The overwhelming demand for electric school buses, over any other fuel type, is striking. Applicants across the country chose electric buses over propane at a rate of 10 to 1. There’s no doubt we’re entering a new, electric era in student transportation, one with massive benefits for our kids’ health, climate and the economy.

With requests for over eight times the initial funding round, EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan said on the program’s success thus far:

America’s school districts delivered this message loud and clear – we must replace older, dirty diesel school buses. Together, we can reduce climate pollution, improve air quality, and reduce the risk of health impacts like asthma for as many as 25 million children who ride the bus every day.

The EPA said it’s “moving swiftly” to review applications and expects the list of winning applicants to be released in October 2022. Applicants will be selected through a lottery-based system.

Another $1 billion round of funding for electric school buses will be in the Fiscal Year 2023, according to the EPA. The agency plans the next funding program to launch in the next few months, including a grant competition.

However, more may need to be done. Senator Carper, chair of the senate committee on environmental and public works, talks about the need for further funding, saying:

Given the response to the availability of these dollars, it’s clear that more funding is needed. I look forward to working with Administrator Regan, the rest of the Biden Administration, and my colleagues in Congress to build on this progress so that more communities can realize the clean air and energy saving benefits of these cleaner vehicles.

Will we have access to more funding for electric school buses? Time will tell. If the initial demand is any indication, school districts are ready and willing. It’s time to get the funding to make it happen.

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