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Equilibrium/Sustainability — Satellites helped save nearly 400 lives last year

The Hill logo The Hill 1/23/2023 Saul Elbein
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Satellites operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) helped rescue nearly 400 people in 2022, the agency said on Monday. 

NOAA’s polar-orbiting and geo-stationary satellites are part of the worldwide Search and Rescue Satellite Aided Tracking system (SARSAT), which employs a network of spacecraft to detect and locate distress signals, according to NOAA.

Such distress signals are typically sent from emergency beacons on aircraft, boats and handheld personal locators, the agency says.

Of the 397 U.S. rescues last year, 275 occurred on water, 42 were from downed aircraft and 80 were on land involving personal locator beacons, a news release stated.  

“The value of NOAA satellites goes well beyond forecasting,” Steve Volz, assistant administrator for NOAA’s Satellite and Information Service, said in a statement. 

Among U.S. states, Florida topped the charts with 106 SARSAT rescues, followed by Alaska and Utah, with 56 and 20, respectively.

When a NOAA satellite identifies a distress signal in the U.S., the information is then conveyed to the SARSAT Mission Control Center at NOAA’s Satellite Operations Facility in Maryland.

From there, the data is transmitted to rescue centers operated by the Air Force or the Coast Guard, according to NOAA. 

One of the most notable such rescues in 2022 occurred when a group of 17 hikers were hoisted to safety from a ridge in Utah last June, the news release stated.  

In that incident, the Air Force received an alert from a personal locator beacon and notified the local county sheriff’s office — which then deployed a Utah Department of Public Safety helicopter to the site. 

Since SARSAT was established in 1982, the system has been credited for its involvement in more than 50,000 rescues worldwide, including more than 10,000 in the U.S., the agency added. 

Welcome to Equilibrium, a newsletter that tracks the growing global battle over the future of sustainability. We’re Saul Elbein and Sharon Udasin. Subscribe here or in the box below.

Today we’ll see what it will take to build out a domestic supply chain for U.S. offshore wind, followed by a look at how Puerto Rico could meet national renewable energy goals. Plus: New proposed penalties for grid attacks.

Offshore wind supply chain to cost at least $22.4B

Fulfilling President Biden’s goal of deploying 30 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2030 would require the rapid scale-up of a domestic supply chain and at least $22.4 billion in infrastructure investments, a new report has found. 

The success of such a build-out would rely upon the sustainable manufacturing of primarily U.S.-based facilities, ports and vessels, according to the report, published by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the Business Network for Offshore Wind. 

An expensive build-out: Building a domestic supply chain for offshore wind energy in the U.S. would require a minimum investment of $22.4 billion and take six to nine years to develop, according to the report. 

  • The supply chain would involve at least 34 new manufacturing facilities — with each major project costing between $200 million and $400 million and taking three to five years to complete. 
  • Among such facilities are fixed-bottom and floating ports, large installation vessels and U.S.-flagged feeder barges. 

Could cost more: The estimated $22.4 billion total, however, does not include support vessels, workforce training programs and the expansion of existing businesses in supporting supply, the authors warned. 

Domestic versus imports: As the domestic supply chain ramps up during the 2020s, the sector will likely need to import between 15 and 25 gigawatts worth of components to meet its 2030 deployment targets, the research found. 

Yet lower transportation costs, avoided tariffs and incentives from the Inflation Reduction Act — the Biden administration’s climate spending package — could ultimately make domestic products more competitive, according to the report. 

Harnessing local capacity: States and companies could leverage existing manufacturing capabilities to create a new workforce and bring economic benefits nationwide, the report determined. 

“A manufacturing supply chain is already emerging in more than a dozen locations up and down the U.S. coast in support of the offshore wind industry,” Ross Gould, vice president for supply chain development and research at the business network, said in a statement

Employment opportunities: A domestic offshore wind supply chain could also generate about 10,000 full-time jobs in manufacturing sites by 2030, the authors found. 

  • For every job created in such facilities, there is a chance for up to five supplier jobs in the production of associated items like parts and materials.  
  • As a result, most U.S. states with existing manufacturing capabilities could participate in the offshore wind supply chain — even if they do not have wind energy or a shoreline themselves. 

To read more findings from the report, please click here for the full story.

Puerto Rico may meet renewable goals with solar

Puerto Rico can meet national renewable energy targets by installing rooftop solar panels in locations such as airports and industrial areas, according to new research.

Turning to the sun: Puerto Rico has insufficient land available to install enough wind-power infrastructure to meet national targets, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory found in a draft report issued on Monday. 

  • The report said the island should instead opt for solar energy on sites such as brownfields, industrial areas and airports, our colleague Zack Budryk reported.
  • Puerto Rico’s transmission system can bear the projected renewables growth over the next five to 15 years.  
  • But grid upgrades will be necessary in the longer term, particularly for wind power. 

Recovering from disaster: Puerto Rico passed legislation in 2019 requiring the island to redesign its electric grid after it was devastated by Hurricane Maria in 2017, Budryk reported.  

  • The legislation included a requirement to transition to 100 percent renewables by 2050. 
  • More than $12 billion in disaster funds were announced in early 2022 for recovery and the remodel.  

More funds, but less than requested: In December, Congress appropriated another $1 billion for the grid.  

However, this sum was less than both the $3 billion requested by President Biden and the $5 billion for solar panels a coalition of House Democrats said was necessary. 

Cutting fossil fuels: Puerto Rico today is heavily dependent on fossil fuels for electricity production, with petroleum products accounting for about 60 percent of energy consumption, Budryk reported, citing the Energy Information Administration. 

  • The island has higher electricity costs than any U.S. state except Hawaii. 
  • Monday’s draft report found that installing new renewables would be more cost-effective than maintaining the existing system.

New penalties for grid attacks after substation threats

State legislators in North and South Carolina are proposing new measures to secure their states’ grids in response to a surge in attacks on U.S. substations, The Associated Press reported.   

  • North Carolina state Rep. Ben Moss (R) is pushing for new legislation requiring 24-hour security at substations responsible for transforming high-voltage electricity into the lower voltages used by communities.   
  • And a South Carolina state Senate proposal suggests implementing a sliding scale of penalties based on the damage caused.  

Avoiding a repeat: “I don’t want to see anybody else go through what Moore [County] did,” Moss told the AP.  

More than 40,000 customers in Moss’s district lost power after gunfire attacks on substations in December, as The Hill reported.  

New penalties: The proposal in South Carolina would see longer sentences for deliberate attacks on the grid, according to the AP.  

  • If repairs and losses exceed $25,000, the perpetrator could face up to 20 years in prison, double the current maximum sentence of 10 years.   
  • If someone dies or a resulting outage endangers their health, the maximum penalty would be 25 years. 


The FBI has warned utilities about the increasing threat of white supremacists planning to attack the nation’s power grid, according to Oregon Public Broadcasting. 

  • Despite the publicity garnered by attacks in the Carolinas, grid attacks have been much more common in the Western Interconnection.  
  • This grid, which covers 11 western U.S. states and British Columbia and Alberta, had more attacks in the first eight months of 2022 than all of North America.  

Sowing chaos: “The individuals of concern believe that an attack on electrical infrastructure will contribute to their ideological goal of causing societal collapse and a subsequent race war in the United States,” according to an FBI memo that Oregon Public Broadcasting obtained. 

Open-source: Far-right groups are posting manuals online spelling out tactics for attacking substations and other critical infrastructure, Eric Ward, senior advisor at Western States Center, a Portland-based civil rights group, told Oregon Public Broadcasting. 

Cosplaying revolution? These destructive instructions are often camouflaged in make-believe, Ward said.  

  • “White nationalists have tapped into gaming and ‘cosplay’ to convince individuals that what they’re engaging in is nothing more than play and gaming,” he said.  
  • But for those on breathing machines or who need to refrigerate insulin, “losing power isn’t just an inconvenience,” Ward added.  

Mammal Monday

Behavioral edition: A surprising overlap between human and chimpanzee teens, a group of Alaskan wolves finds a new food source and why a warming world means more polar bear attacks. 

Young chimps and human teens share risk-taking habits: study 

  • Adolescent chimpanzees and human teenagers share some of the same risk-taking behaviors, but chimps may be less impulsive than their human peers, according to a new study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology. “Adolescent chimpanzees are in some sense facing the same psychological tempest that human teens are,” lead researcher Alexandra Rosati, of the University of Michigan, said in a statement. 

Wolves learn to hunt sea otters 

  • After eating all the deer on a small Alaskan island, local wolves switched to hunting sea otters — the first time a land-based predator has made them its primary food source, according to a study published on Monday in PNAS. “It’s pretty surprising that sea otters have become the most important resource feeding wolves,” coauthor Taal Levi said in a statement. “You have top predators feeding on a top predator.”

Global warming could mean more polar bear attacks 

  • The killing of an Alaska mother and her 1-year-old son by a polar bear last week suggests that scarcity caused by global warming is raising the risk of attacks by the Arctic bears, The Washington Post reported. “Animals in poor body condition are just more likely to take risks, and those are the bears specifically that people have to be worried about,” Geoff York of Polar Bears International told the Post. 

Please visit The Hill’s Sustainability section online for more and check out other newsletters here. We’ll see you tomorrow.

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