Power Line: Energy's diversity problem — A fight against smart meters — Renewables to boost utilities

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Power Line: Energy's diversity problem — A fight against smart meters — Renewables to boost utilities
Power Lines running through Fairfield, IowaSantiago Jose Sanchez for Business Insider

Welcome to Power Line, a weekly energy newsletter brought to you by Business Insider.

Here's what you need to know:

My heart was heavy this week as I joined my friends, family, and colleagues in facing more vivid examples of the racism that courses through the country.

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We have a team of talented reporters following the protests. You can find their coverage here.

Where does energy fit in?

Some industry workers I talked to through social media suggested that there's no place for racially-charged politics in oil and gas companies.

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Experts I spoke to strongly disagreed — both with the notion that protests in the name of George Floyd are political and that energy companies should not engage.

Energy corporations respond to the George Floyd protests. But they still have a lot of work to do, experts say.

Pretty much every top energy company with large US holdings responded to our requests for comment, sharing memos they circulated to their staff or statements condemning racism.

  • That makes sense. Companies like Exxon and BP are among the largest corporations in the world, and as one diversity & inclusion (D&I) expert told me, "the world is watching."
  • "There's an expectation for business leaders to be visible, vocal, and willing to use their access and power to renounce racism and injustice," said Lanaya Irvin, president of the Center for Talent Innovation.

But: While words matter, energy companies still have a lot of D&I work to do, said Dennis Kennedy, who founded the Houston-based National Diversity Council.

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  • About 8% of the energy industry is black, while women make up between 23% and 32%.
  • People of color have also historically been disproportionately impacted by pollution from the oil and gas industry.

Time to act: Kennedy and Irvin said there's now an opportunity to turn statements into stronger action.

  • It starts with community engagement, they agreed.
  • Kennedy is launching a new organization called the Energy Diversity and Inclusion Council, which seeks to be "the premier resource for D&I for the energy sector," he said.

Read more: "Oil Boom a Bust for Blacks," by Alan Neuhauser.

Do you have stories or tips about how racial justice intersects with the energy industry? Reach out to me directly at bjones@businessinsider.com.

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Power Line: Energy's diversity problem — A fight against smart meters — Renewables to boost utilities
An analog electricity meter on my house in Fairfield, IowaSantiago Jose Sanchez for Business Insider

Transcendental meditators fought a $12 billion energy utility — and won

I was standing outside my parent's home in the small town of Fairfield, Iowa last month when my neighbor came over to explain that our wifi is "poison." He asked my parents to turn it off at night, sheath our router with a product called Signal Tamer, or switch to using ethernet.

I thought it was ridiculous. But in Fairfield — a town of about 10,000 that's home to disciples of the late Indian guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi who practice Transcendental Meditation — such requests are not seen as ridiculous at all.

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The issue: More than a thousand people in Fairfield believe that radiofrequency (RF) radiation emitted by devices like routers and cell phones is dangerous. And that created a problem for the local utility, which tried to roll out smart meters that talk to the power company using similar radio waves.

How it played out: Over the last two years, some Fairfield residents fought the utility's plan. And for the most part, they won, eventually forcing the company — a subsidiary of Alliant Energy — to allow them to keep their simple analog meters.

Big picture: As I learned, the fight was about something much bigger than the health effects of smart meters. It was about protecting a way of life and the freedom to exercise a set of beliefs that big corporations and advancing technologies put at risk.

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Read the full story here, which is full of beautiful photography from the talented writer and artist Santiago José Sánchez.

Why the CEO of a $3 billion asset manager is betting big on the utility sector

It's all about cheap renewable energy.

"The incentive to build more renewables just continues to grow," Jay Rhame of Reaves Asset Management said. "The economic trends make it so you can start having confidence in utilities growing over the next five to 10 years."

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Basically: There's a huge opportunity to replace fossil-fuel emitting power plants with wind and solar farms because they're increasingly more economical. That opportunity leads to growth, which Rhame says can benefit investors.

He shared his 3 top utility picks. You can find those here.

4 big stories we didn't cover

  • Startups: Swiss carbon capture startup Climeworks raised another $76 million, which the firm said was the biggest private investment in direct-air capture technology to date.
  • Clean energy vs. coal: Wind and solar energy is increasingly cheaper than even the cheapest new coal plants, according to a report out this week from the International Renewable Energy Agency.
  • OPEC cuts: A coalition of top oil-producers led by Saudi Arabia and Russia known as OPEC Plus is set to extend its record cuts by another month, Bloomberg reports. Previously, the cuts were expected to step down at the end of June.
  • Oil spill: Russia declared a state of emergency earlier this week in a part of northern Siberia after more than 20,000 tons of diesel fuel leaked into the Ambarnaya River last Friday, the New York Times reports.

That's it! Have a great weekend.

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- Benji

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