Covering COVID-19 is a daily Poynter briefing of story ideas about the coronavirus and other timely topics for journalists, written by senior faculty Al Tompkins. Sign up here to have it delivered to your inbox every weekday morning.
The months ahead are going to stretch your budget. Not only will gasoline prices rise again because OPEC+ countries are cutting their production, but the U.S. Department of Energy predicts your winter electric bills will go up significantly this winter, too. The DOE forecasted:
We forecast the U.S. residential price of electricity will average 14.8 cents per kilowatt-hour in 2022, up 7.5% from 2021. Higher retail electricity prices largely reflect an increase in wholesale power prices driven by rising natural gas prices.
The Southwest region has the lowest forecast wholesale prices in 2022, averaging $69 per megawatt hour (MWh), up 25% from 2021. The highest forecast wholesale prices are at more than $100/MWh in ISO New England (up 96% from 2021) and New York ISO (up 124% from 2021).
America’s No. 1 source of electricity is natural gas and, compared to a year ago, prices are up 65%. If you compare it to two years ago, natural gas prices have risen 170%.
Natural gas became the key producer of electricity in the last couple of decades with an equal decline in coal use. Renewable sources including wind and solar are the fastest-growing sources of U.S. energy (22%) but have a long way to go to match natural gas (37%). Coal still provides about 21% of U.S. electricity, about the same as nuclear sources.
Energy costs for homes and businesses have been one of the key drivers of high inflation. Overall inflation is running 8.3% year-over-year, but home energy costs are up 21%. Just about everybody knows the price of gasoline, since it’s posted on giant numbers at every filling station. Almost nobody knows the price of natural gas or electricity, which is buried in the fine print on monthly utility statements. People certainly notice when their monthly bill arrives, but consumers don’t adjust to higher heating or electricity costs as quickly or aggressively as they do to higher pump prices.
During the midterm election season, some candidates have talked about a need for the U.S. to increase oil production. It is worth pointing out that the Department of Energy’s charts show oil production is at a peak right now. Natural gas production is also at record levels. But America is also exporting record amounts of natural gas, in part to help European allies who are dealing with Russia’s cutback on shipments to countries that support Ukraine’s fight for independence.
The Energy Department forecasts a 7.5% jump in electricity prices for 2022, which would be the largest jump since 2006. That may shock some families, given that Americans have gotten used to stable electricity prices. From 2011 through 2020, electricity prices rose by an average of just 1.3% per year.
After floods and hurricanes, EVs can be dangerous
Florida’s state fire marshal and chief financial officer posted this:
There’s a ton of EVs disabled from Ian. As those batteries corrode, fires start. That’s a new challenge that our firefighters haven’t faced before. At least on this kind of scale. #HurricaneIan pic.twitter.com/WsErgA6evO
— Jimmy Patronis (@JimmyPatronis) October 6, 2022
Here is a link to the video of this EV fire from the North Collier Fire District that responded to the call.
Several news articles have suggested that fire and rescue crews face a serious chance of being electrocuted if they cut into the wires of an electric car, or that they might be electrocuted just from touching such a car if it is partially or fully submerged in water. These articles are overinflating the danger at best.
But the HowStuffWorks article adds:
If water comes in contact with the nickel-metal hydride in the battery cells, the resulting chemical reaction forms hydrogen. If enough hydrogen builds up, it could cause disorientation and dizziness, and it could also lead to an explosion. This is really only an issue for rescue crews who have to deal with ruptured batteries, and they can easily handle it by properly ventilating the wreck.
The National Fire Protection Association has warned about the remote danger of electric vehicles that get submerged.
Emergency responders face many hazards when working with vehicles that have been submerged in water, particularly with a hybrid or electric vehicle. Understanding common safety issues with these vehicles can help keep responders safe.
Hybrid, electric, and fuel cell vehicles aredesigned to be safe in water, even when fully submerged. The High Voltage (HV) system is isolated from the chassis and is designed to NOT pose a shock and NOT energize the surrounding water.
- Never remove a submerged service disconnect.
- Submersion in water (especially salt water) can damage low and high voltage components. Although not a common occurrence, this could result in an electrical short and potential fire once the vehicle is no longer submerged.
- Damaged HV batteries can produce flammable gas. Venting the passenger compartment is recommended once the vehicle is out of the water. Do not store vehicle indoors.
What journalists can learn from Jon Stewart’s interview with the Arkansas AG
Political commentator Jon Stewart’s takedown of the Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge led some to comment on social media that journalists should be as prepared and tenacious as Stewart when conducting interviews.
The state is trying to enforce a law preventing gender-affirming medical care for children. Stewart asks the AG who she trusts for advice on, say, treating pediatric cancer. She said she would trust the research from experts. HuffPost summarizes what happened next:
“Why would the state of Arkansas step in to override parents, physicians, psychiatrists, endocrinologists who have developed guidelines. Why would you override those guidelines?” the TV host, writer and comedian asked Rutledge.
The Arkansas attorney general responded that for every single one of the experts Stewart cited, “there’s another expert to say we don’t need to allow children to take those medications.”
“But you know that’s not true,” Stewart said. “You know it’s not ‘for every one, there’s one.’”
Rutledge then claimed that there were many people who testified before the state legislature who said “98% of the young people who have gender dysphoria … are able to move past that. And once they have the help that they need, they no longer suffer from gender dysphoria. 98%.”
“Wow,” Stewart said sarcastically. “That’s an incredibly made-up figure. That doesn’t comport with any of the studies or documentation that exists from these medical organizations. What medical association are you talking about?”
Rutledge didn’t expect to be questioned on the dubious statistic.
“We have all of that in our legislative history, and we’ll be glad to provide that to you. I don’t have the name of that off the top of my head,” Rutledge said.
She also couldn’t name experts and medical associations that would back her ban, claiming she didn’t expect “a Supreme Court debate.”
Rutledge loudly supported the Save Adolescents from Experimentation (SAFE) Act in Arkansas, which she says will “protect” minors from moving forward with what she refers to as dangerous and irreversible gender correction procedures. Stewart responded:
“Parents with children who have gender dysphoria have lost children to suicide.”
“These mainstream medical organizations have developed guidelines through peer review data and studies, and through those guidelines they’ve improved mental health outcomes. So, I’m confused why you follow AMA guidelines, AAAP guidelines for all other health issues in Arkansas, but not for this.”
I have to say this might be the single best line of questioning i’ve ever seen performed by an interviewer talking to a politician about gender and kids. https://t.co/H6ekU7mHMk
— Tyler Black, MD (@tylerblack32) October 7, 2022
Later this month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit will hold a hearing on whether to allow the Arkansas law to stand.
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