New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

The Soapbox: The politics of energy

The Soapbox is a weekly column by WSN covering major news developments at NYU’s campuses and study away sites abroad. Global consciousness for a global university.
Max Van Hosen
The Soapbox is a weekly news column rounding up stories worth reading for a global university. (Max Van Hosen for WSN)

In Ghana, president suspends electricity export amid power shortage crisis

Nana Akufo-Addo, the president of Ghana, ordered the country to cease exports of its electricity supplies to neighboring countries last Tuesday. The executive decision marks the latest measure by the Ghanaian government to address the country’s monthslong power shortage caused by years of missing backpay, lack of infrastructural maintenance and a struggling national economy. 

In the last few months, power outages have been occurring all over Ghana, which experts are saying is related to the country’s struggle to meet financial obligations to private electricity providers. These providers constitute the primary source of Ghana’s electricity supply. Gas makes up one of the country’s main sources of electricity, alongside crude oil, hydropower and other renewable sources. Gas constitutes about 63% of the total electricity supply. 

Experts and members of the Ghanaian parliament fear the halt of electricity support would have severe consequences on the nation’s economy. Ghana has been exporting electricity to West African neighbors including Togo, Benin, Burkina Faso and the Ivory Coast for at least the past two decades

Halting exports could immediately impact the country’s foreign exchange reserves. The cedi — Ghana’s national currency — plummeted against the dollar after the pandemic and remained one of the worst performing currencies in West Africa. The failing national currency has led Ghanaians and their international partners to transact in foreign currencies — with a substantial supply coming from neighboring countries that import electricity from Ghana.

A shortage of foreign exchange may cause further electricity shortages and economic downturn. The Volta River Authority — a state-owned power company and one of Ghana’s largest — pays at least some of its workers in foreign exchange. 

“The only reason [the Volta River Authority] is able to pay its workers is from the foreign exchange from the energy exports,” Edward Bawa, a member of the energy committee of the Ghanaian parliament, told BBC. “VRA are able to meet their overhead cost also through this foreign exchange so this decision not to export will [cause] worry.”

In China, talks with U.S. Treasury Secretary progress bilateral trade relations

On a diplomatic trip earlier this month, U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen met with top Chinese officials to discuss bilateral economic relations. The trip comes after the United States considered sanctioning  some China-based manufacturers for their sales to Russia, banned the export of key semiconductor technology to China and pressured the sale of TikTok — whose parent company the Chinese government owns stakes in — to non-Chinese stakeholders. 

A key issue looming over Yellen’s visit is the overproduction of Chinese clean energy products, which Yellen claims could disincentivize domestic production in the United States. The U.S. government is not the first to raise concerns over unfair competition from Chinese clean energy exports. In 2020, the Mexican government levied tariffs on Chinese wind turbines for selling the turbines to Mexico at a price cheaper than domestic sales. In late last year, the European Union launched a formal investigation into unfair export practices of Chinese biodiesel fuels. 

“Building a healthy economic relationship requires a level playing field for American workers and firms, as well as open and direct communication on areas where we disagree,” Yellen told The New York Times. “This includes the issue of China’s industrial overcapacity, which the United States and other countries are concerned can cause global spillovers.”

The U.S. Treasury believes the Chinese exports of electric vehicles, batteries and solar panels would crowd out U.S. products. They also claim it would reverse the effect of the 2 trillion dollar tax cuts and subsidies provided to domestic companies manufacturing clean energy technologies under the Inflation Reduction Act. 

Premier Li Qiang did not admit to intentionally flooding international markets with Chinese products, but remained diplomatic, at least in part, to avoid overshadowing progress made in other negotiations. 

Last month, China lodged a complaint to the World Trade Organization against American subsidies for electric vehicle purchases that excluded cars with materials from China. Despite leading the world in export of clean energy technology, China remains one of the world’s largest polluters by burning coal as its primary source of energy.

“There is little prospect of a significant de-escalation of tariffs and other trade restrictions imposed by Washington,” Eswar Prasad, a former head of the International Monetary Fund’s China division, told the Times. “But avoiding any further escalation of overt bilateral trade hostilities in the coming months would in itself be an accomplishment for both sides.”

In Australia, storage of foreign nuclear wastes sparks debate

The Australian parliament is deciding on proposals to create “nuclear propulsion facilities” as part of AUKUS — a collaboration with the United States and the United Kingdom to arm Australia with state-of-the-art nuclear submarines. The Australian Greens, an environmentalist party, objects to the facilities over concerns of storing foreign nuclear waste on Australian soil. 

The proposed legislation would operationalize Australia’s domestic nuclear submarine program, including establishing watchdog mechanisms and facilities to store and process nuclear waste. The legislation does not include provisions for Australia to store nuclear waste of U.S. or U.K. submarines long term, but the construction of nuclear storage facilities may allow short-term waste storage as other AUKUS submarines dock in Australian ports for servicing.

“While the Minister has repeatedly stated that Australia would not accept spent nuclear fuel from the US and UK, he has not commented publicly on whether low-level radioactive waste from US and UK submarines may be permanently disposed of in Australia, following temporary storage at Defence locations,” the Australian Naval Nuclear Power Safety Bill reads. 

In addition to the environmental implications of excess nuclear storage from foreign nations, the Australian Greens are also worried about the political consequences of nuclear storage in general — suggesting that nuclear storage sites could disproportionately impact First Nation lands, particularly since Indigenous communities have limited influence in the AUKUS agreements.

“[The Australia Naval Nuclear Power Safety Bill] is a desperately undemocratic, cynical and dangerous bit of legislation,” David Shoebridge, the Australian Greens spokesperson for defense, told Mirage News

The Australian government has committed to not take any high-level radioactive waste from the United States or the United Kingdom, and the submarines are not expected to produce high-level waste throughout their entire life cycle. The findings of the Australian Senate’s inquiry into this legislation are scheduled to be reported on April 26. 

“This is just another example of the Greens party doing nothing more than fear-mongering,” a spokesperson for Richard Marles, the Australian defense minister, told The Sydney Morning Herald. “This was an issue raised at the time of the [AUKUS] announcement in March and answered then, and consistently since that time. The Greens continue to argue against AUKUS, and want to stand in the way of jobs, productivity, economic growth and our national security.”

Contact Samson Tu at [email protected].

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About the Contributor
Samson Tu
Samson Tu, Magazine Managing Editor
Samson Tu is finishing his B.A. degree in politics with a thesis on the state of civil society development in the People's Republic of China. Synthesizing his experience in journalism and training in politics, Samson is going to attend the NYU School of Law after his undergraduate to study intellectual property law. Samson attempts to make sense of Heidegger and Sartre or edits photographs on his 15-hour flight between New York and Taipei. He always prefers the flights to New York. Send an email to [email protected] for ideas about WSN's monthly magazine issues!

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