The $3 Billion Plan to Turn Hoover Dam Into a Giant Battery

.. Now it is the focus of a distinctly 21st-century challenge: turning the dam into a vast reservoir of excess electricity, fed by the solar farms and wind turbines that represent the power sources of the future.

.. wants to equip it with a $3 billion pipeline and a pump station powered by solar and wind energy. The pump station, downstream, would help regulate the water flow through the dam’s generators, sending water back to the top to help manage electricity at times of peak demand.

The net result would be a kind of energy storage — performing much the same function as the giant lithium-ion batteries being developed to absorb and release power.

.. The Hoover Dam project may help answer a looming question for the energy industry: how to come up with affordable and efficient power storage
.. when solar and wind farms produce more electricity than consumers need, California utilities have had to find ways to get rid of it — including giving it away to other states — or risk overloading the electric grid and causing blackouts.
.. The target for completion is 2028, and some say the effort could inspire similar innovations at other dams.
.. Using Hoover Dam to help manage the electricity grid has been mentioned informally over the last 15 years. But no one pursued the idea seriously until about a year ago, as California began grappling with the need to better manage its soaring alternative-electricity production — part of weaning itself from coal-fired and nuclear power plants.
.. estimated that utility-scale lithium-ion batteries cost 26 cents a kilowatt-hour, compared with 15 cents for a pumped-storage hydroelectric project. The typical household pays about 12.5 cents a kilowatt-hour for electricity.
.. engineers propose building a pump station about 20 miles downstream from the main reservoir, Lake Mead
.. “Hoover Dam is ideal for this,” said Kelly Sanders, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Southern California. “It’s a gigantic plant. We don’t have anything on the horizon as far as batteries of that magnitude.”
.. “With lithium-ion batteries, you have durability issues,” Mr. Narayan said. “If they last five to 10 years, that would be a stretch, especially because we expect to use these facilities at full capacity. It has to be 10 times more durable than it is today.”
.. its proposal would increase the productivity of the dam, which operates at just 20 percent of its potential, to avoid releasing too much water at once and flooding towns downstream.

Breaking from GOP orthodoxy, Trump increasingly deciding winners and losers in the economy

President Trump is increasingly intervening in the economy, making decisions about corporate winners and losers in ways that Republicans for decades have insisted should be left to free markets — not the government.

.. On Friday, citing national security, Trump ordered the Energy Department to compel power-grid operators to buy from ailing coal and nuclear plants that otherwise would be forced to shut down because of competition from cheaper sources.

.. The order came one day after the president imposed historic metals tariffs on some of the country’s strongest allies and trading partners. Now the Commerce Department is further picking winners and losers as it weighs thousands of requests from companies for waivers from the import taxes.

“It replaces the invisible hand with the government hand,” said Mary Lovely, a Syracuse University economist. “You’re replacing the market with government fiat.”

.. The president has chastised individual companies, second-guessed the U.S. Postal Service’s business arrangement with Amazon and put pressure on Boeing and Lockheed Martin over the cost of their products.

.. Of course, Trump isn’t the only one to tinker with market forces. President Barack Obama backed subsidies for wind and solar power. And about 30 states have adopted laws mandating minimum purchases of renewable energy.

Obama also won passage of a health-care reform package that created winners and losers. Republicans criticized the Affordable Care Act at the time for forcing people to make purchases through the individual mandate.

.. Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.) said that he and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) would co-sponsor legislation “to rein in the executive branch’s power to impose unilateral tax increases like these.”

.. “One of the reasons tariffs are not good policy in general is that it is a form of corporate welfare,” said Stephen Moore, an economist at the Heritage Foundation. “You’re saying consumers will have to pay more so this auto company or steel company or aluminum company stays in business. It’s the ultimate form of picking winners and losers.”

U.S. allies see Trump’s steel tariffs as an insult

No world leader has tried harder to get on President Trump’s good side than Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Whether racing to New York the day after the 2016 election and presenting Trump with a $3,755 gold-plated golf driver, or taking him out on the golf course and serving hamburgers for lunch, Abe has cultivated a close personal relationship with his American counterpart.

.. But now, Japan, which is not just led by a friendly politician but also is a key security ally of the United States, looks likely to be slapped with tariffs on its steel exports to the United States. And to add insult to injury, the reason, Trump says, is rooted in national security.

“The U.S. is suddenly treating Japan as a target,” said Tsuyoshi Kawase, a professor of international trade policy at Sophia University in Tokyo. “The Japanese side is bewildered and confused.”

.. countries that figured, no matter the bumps in relations with Washington, they would wind up on the same side against China in any dispute over steel or unfair trade practices. And yet suddenly there is talk of a trade war between the United States and its supposed friends.

.. Even those leaders who have grown accustomed to the zigs and zags of the Trump White House say this could be different. The consequences of Trump’s targeting other priorities — the Paris climate agreement and the Iran nuclear deal chief among them — have not had an immediate, concrete effect. But the tariffs could soon put citizens in ally nations out of work, and if a trade war escalates, all sides could feel the pain, officials from Brasília to Brussels to Seoul say.“The impulsiveness of the decision caught us by surprise,” said Diego Bonomo, the head of foreign trade at the National Trade Association of Brazil. His country is the second-largest exporter of steel to the United States.

“It’s an economic shot in the foot,” he said. “When they impose tariffs to hurt Brazilian steel, they hurt their own coal exports and exports of products that use steel.”

.. Trump’s order came hours after Japan and 10 other countries formalized a new Pacific free-trade agreement

.. The announcement also upended a Saturday meeting of the top U.S., E.U. and Japanese trade negotiators, who were originally scheduled to convene to talk about how to take on what they say is China’s unfair support for its steel industry. Instead, officials say, the meeting may turn out to be the first salvo in an unfolding and escalating trade skirmish.

.. The frustration is compounded by Trump’s national security rationale. In fact, say U.S. allies, there is no national security risk to importing steel and aluminum from one’s closest military partners. And any move that damages their own industries also hits at overall NATO readiness and hurts trust among allies, they say.

.. But that response could backfire, some analysts say. If the WTO rules against the White House, and Trump chooses to ignore the ruling, that could effectively spell the end of the organization.

.. “To be honest, everyone kind of agrees with us,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss closed-door European efforts. “I haven’t found anyone who says, ‘No no, the president is right.’ ”

.. The prospect of steel tariffs follows on the heels of similar levies on solar panels and washing machines. But it comes at a sensitive time on the front of North Korean diplomacy.

..  tariffs could have a “negative impact on South Korea-U.S. relations,”

.. Many in Japan worry that Trump’s effort may ultimately undermine global security, not bolster it.

“When trade friction grows between allies, the alliance is weakened,” Watanabe said. “But it’s unclear if Trump understands that.”

The Economics of Dirty Old Men

About washing machines: The legal basis of the new tariff is a finding by the United States International Trade Commission that the industry has been injured by rising imports. The definition of “injury” is a bit peculiar: The commission admitted that the domestic industry “did not suffer a significant idling of productive facilities,” and that “there has been no significant unemployment or underemployment.” Nonetheless, the commission argued that production and employment should have expanded more than it did given the economy’s growth between 2012 and 2016 (you know, the Obama-era boom Trump insisted was fake).

.. Everything we know about the Trump administration suggests that hurting renewables is actually a good thing from its point of view. As I said, this is an administration of dirty old men.

.. Over all, there are around five times as many people working, in one way or another, for the solar energy sector as there are coal miners.

.. Last fall, Rick Perry, the energy secretary, tried to impose a rule that would in effect have forced electricity grids to subsidize coal and nuclear plants. The rule was shot down, but it showed what these guys want. From their point of view, destroying solar jobs is probably a good thing.

.. what’s good for the Koch brothers may not be good for America (or the world), but it’s good for G.O.P. campaign finance. Partly it’s about blue-collar voters, who still imagine that Trump can bring back coal jobs. (In 2017 the coal industry added 500, that’s right, 500 jobs. That’s 0.0003 percent of total U.S. employment.)

.. It’s also partly about cultural nostalgia: Trump and others recall the heyday of fossil fuels as a golden age

.. But I suspect that it’s also about a kind of machismo, a sense that real men don’t soak up solar energy; they burn stuff instead.

.. You shouldn’t even call it protectionism, since its direct effect will be to destroy far more jobs than it creates. Plus it’s bad for the environment. So much winning!