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This week, we discuss the latest climate change-driven disaster to hit the U.S., and what Hurricane Ian can tell us about the electric grid’s fate — and solar’s potential — as extreme weather becomes even more common.

Crews work to clear a tree that fell on power lines on Cole Mill Road following Tropical Storm Ian on Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022, in Durham, N.C.
Crews work to clear a tree that fell on power lines in Durham, North Carolina, this weekend. Credit: Kaitlin McKeown / The News & Observer via AP

Hurricane Ian hit Florida last week as a Category 4 monster, knocking out power for nearly 2.7 million customers before causing more damage through the Carolinas. In all, Ian left behind a death toll of at least 100 people — and its full impact isn’t even clear yet.

What is clear is that superstorms like this one will only become more common as climate change warms ocean waters. Karthik Balaguru, a climate scientist at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, tells the Washington Post that Ian is the latest in a string of hurricanes that rapidly gained power as they approached the shore, catching residents and forecasters off guard with their intensity.

While harsher storms should trigger utilities to further harden their power grids by burying power lines and strengthening poles, that’s something utility Florida Power & Light says it did in the years before Ian. But with thousands of residents still without power a week later, the state may want to take a cue from a newly built community not far from the devastated city of Fort Myers. Babcock Ranch, which calls itself “America’s first solar-powered town,” didn’t lose power during the storm thanks to its undergrounded lines and nearby solar array. Its specially built landscaping funneled floodwaters away from homes. 

And while it’s likely not a welcome message for anyone who just lost their home, federal aid to Ian victims has come with a word of caution from FEMA administrator Deanne Criswell: “Make informed decisions” before rebuilding in a disaster-prone area.

More clean energy news

👷‍♀️ Looking for a career change? The U.S. faces a shortage of electricians that’s expected to worsen as the country switches to electric appliances and vehicles, industry experts say. (Washington Post)

🏆 A nationwide EV network milestone: The U.S. Transportation Department has approved every state’s plan to build out electric vehicle charging stations, leaving most of their implementation in local governments’ hands. (CNBC, The Guardian)

♻️ Solar panels’ second lives: As the country deploys more solar panels, questions emerge over producers’ responsibility for what happens to them at the end of their life. (Utility Dive)

🔥 Methane’s a bigger problem than we thought: The oil industry practice of flaring often doesn’t fully burn off unwanted methane, a study has found, meaning far more of the potent greenhouse gas may be escaping into the atmosphere than previously assumed. (NPR)

🏭 A coal transition blueprint: A new report surveys how states are supporting communities in the wake of coal mine and power plant closures, and finds the best policies include retraining for workers and funding for environmental cleanup. (Canary Media)

💡 Learning from past grid mistakes: The Biden administration’s efforts to build up a high-speed, nationwide transmission system could learn from a similar Obama-era effort that only succeeded in quickly building two of its proposed seven power lines. (E&E News)

⛏️ A bit too much climate damage: A study finds mining Bitcoin often causes more climate damage than the cryptocurrency is worth, rivaling the impact of the beef and gasoline industries. (Smithsonian)

💸 Why Tesla needed California: California Gov. Gavin Newsom says Tesla’s success has been made possible by $3.2 billion of state subsidies and market mechanisms the company has received since 2009. (San Francisco Chronicle)

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Kathryn brings her extensive editorial background to the Energy News Network team, where she oversees the early-morning production of ENN’s five email digest newsletters as well as distribution of ENN’s original journalism with other media outlets. From documenting chronic illness’ effect on college students to following the inner workings of Congress, Kathryn has built a broad experience in her more than five years working at major publications including The Week Magazine. Kathryn holds a Bachelor of Science in magazine journalism and information management and technology from Syracuse University.