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Farming and solar power set to combine in Netherlands-based pilot

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Swedish energy firm Vattenfall has been given a permit to build a project in the Netherlands that plans to combine solar power with farming, in the latest example of how renewables and agriculture can potentially dovetail with one another. 

In a statement earlier this week Annemarie Schouten, Vattenfall’s head of solar development for the Netherlands, explained how the project would “alternate rows of panels with strips where various crops are grown for organic farming.”

The pilot, known as Symbizon, is slated to last four years and be located in Almere, to the east of Amsterdam. Funding has come from the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs.

Schouten said that double-sided solar panels would be used in order to ensure “sufficient light yield.” Such a setup would also enable the panels to “catch the reflected light from the soil, the crops and the adjacent rows and use it to produce solar energy.”

While plans have taken a step forward, Vattenfall has yet to confirm if the project will actually progress. A decision on this is expected by the end of 2021. If it does get the green light, construction work will start in 2022. 

A wide range of stakeholders are set to be involved if the scheme is fully realized. These include independent research organization TNO, which would develop a “solar tracking algorithm” to track energy and crop yields, among other things.

The idea of deploying solar panels on farmland has been around for many years. One strand of this is called agrivoltaics, which also goes by the name of agrophotovoltaics.

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According to Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE, agrivoltaics “enables the dual use of land for harvesting agriculture and solar energy.”

The idea behind the concept traces its roots back to the early 1980s and is attributed to Adolf Goetzberger, founder of Fraunhofer ISE, and his colleague Armin Zastrow.

According to the Institute, agrivoltaic installations grew from around 5 megawatts in 2012 to approximately 2.9 gigawatts in 2018.

Solar panels can also be used to help those working in agriculture with their day-to-day activities. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, for instance, has noted that “solar technologies are becoming a viable option for both large and small-scale farmers.”

In 2020, CNBC’s “Sustainable Energy” reported on how one Zimbabwe based farmer, Cheneso Ndlovu, was using solar tech to help her grow produce.  

“We do gardening using a solar powered borehole for watering,” she said.

“We planted tomatoes on a small patch we were watering and we realized it was thriving, so we decided to grow other vegetables,” she added. “We use the water for other domestic needs like washing.”

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Stock futures are flat following the S&P 500’s worst day since May, Fed meeting ahead

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U.S. stock futures were about flat in overnight trading on Monday following a major sell-off on Wall Street that resulted in the S&P 500’s worst day since May.

Dow Jones futures rose just 12 points. S&P 500 futures and Nasdaq 100 futures were about flat.

The major averages tumbled on Monday due to a confluence of concerns including the imminent Federal Reserve meeting, the lingering delta variant, potential economic disruption in China and the debt ceiling deadline.

However, stocks closed well off their lows of the day.

The S&P 500 slid 1.7% for its worst day since May 12 of this year. At it’s low of the day, the 500-stock average pulled back 5% on an intraday basis from its high. It currently sits 4.1% from its record.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average plummeted 614 points, or 1.8%, for its biggest one-day drop since July 19. The Nasdaq Composite dropped 2.2% as growth pockets of the market were some of the hardest hit.

The Federal Reserve begins its two-day policy meeting on Tuesday and investors are looking for more information from Chairman Jerome Powell about the central bank’s plans to taper its bond buying, specifically when that will happen. Powell said last month that he sees the Fed slowing its $120 billion in monthly purchases at some point this year.

The Fed releases its quarterly economic forecasts, the so-called dot plot, along with the statement on interest rates at 2 p.m. ET Wednesday. Powell will have a a press conference after.

We’re going to have to see proof that the Fed dot plots don’t come out in a way that spooks the market,” said said Yung-Yu Ma, chief investment strategist at BMO Wealth Management.

Weakness in China’s equity market reverberated into U.S. stocks on Monday. The benchmark Hang Seng index plunged 4% with as struggling real estate developer China Evergrande Group teeters on the brink of default.

“We’re going to have to see some proof that the Chinese government is taking steps to manage this,” added Ma.

The Delta variant remains a global health threat as the colder months approach and vaccination hesitancy persists among some Americans.

Stocks linked to global growth led losses on Monday and energy names took a hit thanks to a 2% drop in U.S. oil prices. Banks stops dropped as bond yields fell.

The Cboe Volatility index, Wall Street’s fear gauge, jumped above the 26 level on Monday, the highest since May.

Investors are also concerned about the deadline to raise the debt ceiling and possible tax increases. Congress returned to Washington from recess rushing to pass funding bills to avoid a government shutdown.

September is a historically volatile month for stocks and after the S&P 500’s 16% rally year-to-date, many investors have said the market is due for a pullback. Some strategists called Monday’s sell-off a buying opportunity.

“The market sell-off that escalated overnight we believe is primarily driven by technical selling flows ([commodity trading advisors] and option hedgers) in an environment of poor liquidity, and overreaction of discretionary traders to perceived risks,” Marko Kolanovic, JPMorgan chief global market strategist, said in a note Monday.

While others said volatility is likely to persist until some of the risks are resolved.

“We’re not in the camp that this small pullback represents a special buying opportunity,” said Ma. “There could easily be more volatility depending on what happens with the Fed meeting…similar with the debt ceiling. With the overhang and then negotiations, this is definitely going to be pushed to the wire.”

Cryptocurrencies also pulled back on Monday with bitcoin ending the day about 7% lower. The slide resurfaced the debate about whether bitcoin can or should serve as a safe-haven asset.

FedEx, Adobe, AutoZone and Stich Fix report quarterly earnings on Tuesday.

— with reporting from CNBC’s Hannah Miao.

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85 Americans have left Afghanistan since U.S. completed its withdrawal

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Afghan passengers are pictured in-front of a Qatar Airways airplane at Kabul International Airport, in Kabul, Afghanistan September 19, 2021.

Qatar’s Ministry of Foreign Affa | via Reuters

WASHINGTON – A commercial flight carrying 21 Americans and 48 lawful permanent U.S. residents departed Kabul, Afghanistan over the weekend, the State Department confirmed on Monday.

In total, at least 85 American citizens and 79 lawful permanent residents have left Afghanistan since the U.S. ended a massive humanitarian evacuation and completed the withdrawal of its troops in August, according to State Department figures.

“We are thankful to Qatari authorities, who continue to coordinate these flights with the Taliban,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said Monday. The Biden administration is still working to help American citizens, lawful permanent residents and vulnerable Afghans leave, Price added.

The Taliban’s rapid takeover of Afghanistan last month prompted a chaotic effort by the U.S. and its allies to get their citizens and vulnerable Afghans out of the country. By Aug. 31, approximately 125,000 people, including about 6,000 U.S. citizens and their families, were evacuated out of the country.

However, not everyone was able to make it out in time. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told lawmakers last week that approximately 100 U.S. citizens are still seeking evacuation from Afghanistan.

Blinken blamed the Trump administration for America’s chaotic exit from its longest war saying: “We inherited a deadline; we did not inherit a plan.”

“There had not been a single interview in the Special Immigrant Visa program in Kabul for nine months, going back to March of 2020. The program was basically in a stall,” Blinken said on Sept. 13.

“We made the right decision in ending America’s longest war, we made the right decision in not sending a third generation of Americans to fight and die in Afghanistan,” Blinken said.

President Joe Biden has defended his decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan, despite the Taliban takeover. Biden was forced to order the temporary deployment of thousands of U.S. troops to Kabul in order to help with evacuation efforts last month.

Thirteen U.S. service members and dozens of Afghans died in an ISIS-K suicide bombing at Kabul’s airport during the evacuation. A subsequent U.S. drone strike in Kabul killed as many as 10 civilians in what the Pentagon has described as a tragic mistake.

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Washington gridlock and a debt ceiling showdown are weighing on the market

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U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) on the steps of the U.S. Capitol.

Drew Angerer | Getty Images

The U.S. stock market is on track to post its worst day in months. And U.S. politics are in part to blame.

As the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 614 points on Monday — its worst day since July — and the S&P 500 shedding 1.7%, strategists say gridlock on Capitol Hill is starting to send shutters through the market.

The S&P 500 on Monday notched its worst session since May.

Dan Clinton, head of policy research at Strategas Research Partners, wrote Monday that Wall Street is increasingly convinced lawmakers won’t address the debt ceiling anytime soon.

“Much of this is short-term risk and headline risk, but the framework of Washington policy is shifting to more risk after 18 months of unlimited fiscal and monetary policy,” he wrote. “Consensus now believes that the debt ceiling will be raised in the second half of October, meaning a last-minute move, and another month of talk of debt ceiling breaches and prioritization of government spending if the debt ceiling is not lifted.”

If Congress fails to suspend or raise the borrowing limit before the so-called drop-dead date, the U.S. government will default for the first time. The Treasury Department doesn’t have a precise “drop-dead” date right now, but estimates that it’s likely some point in October.

House Democrats plan to hold a vote this week on a piece of legislation that would suspend the limit and fund the government for a matter of months beyond the close of the fiscal year when it ends Sept. 30.

Republicans have said they won’t help Democrats lift the borrowing limit as a sort-of protest over the trillions of dollars in new spending the Biden administration has proposed.

“This week, the House of Representatives will pass legislation to fund the government through December of this year to avoid a needless government shutdown that would harm American families and our economic recovery before the September 30th deadline,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in press release Monday.

“The legislation to avoid a government shutdown will also include a suspension of the debt limit through December 2022 to once again meet our obligations and protect the full faith and credit of the United States,” she added. “The American people expect our Republican colleagues to live up to their responsibilities and make good on the debts they proudly helped incur in the December 2020 ‘908’ COVID package that helped American families and small businesses reeling from the COVID crisis.”

The bigger hurdle is likely the Senate, where lawmakers will need to muster 60 votes to pass such a bill that isn’t tied to the separate reconciliation legislation.

Raising or suspending the debt ceiling does not authorize additional fiscal spending. Instead, raising the ceiling is more like increasing the country’s credit card limit.

Importantly, even if the Biden administration hadn’t authorized any spending — even if Congress had passed zero bills in 2021 — lawmakers would still need to lift the ceiling to pay for legislation passed in prior years.

“The U.S. has never defaulted. Not once. Doing so would likely precipitate a historic financial crisis that would compound the damage of the continuing public health emergency,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen wrote in an op-ed over the weekend.

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“Default could trigger a spike in interest rates, a steep drop in stock prices and other financial turmoil,” she added. “Our current economic recovery would reverse into recession, with billions of dollars of growth and millions of jobs lost.”

Even if lawmakers ultimately avoid a technical default, a lengthy last-minute fight over the debt limit could lead to another downgrade of the U.S. debt rating, akin to what happened in 2011. The mere specter of default led Standard & Poor to downgrade U.S. sovereign credit, which in turned whacked demand for Treasurys and pushed yields up.

But investors fears aren’t exclusive to the borrowing limit.

Instead, the added angst over the debt ceiling adds to growing fears about the delta variant of Covid-19, pesky inflation and the end of easy Federal Reserve policies, according to Art Hogan, chief market strategist at National Securities.

Hogan explained that markets are keeping a close eye on the bipartisan effort to pass $1 trillion in infrastructure spending and Democrats’ effort to add on another $3.5 trillion to revolutionize the country’s social safety net.

But, he said, it’s not necessarily surprising to see the $3.5 trillion bill curtailed as it makes its way through Congress.

“It feels like consensus is that we will get some but not all of the spending proposals passed,” Hogan wrote in an email. It’s likely we see some “increased taxes but certainly not in an order of magnitude that is currently being discussed.”

September is often a choppy month for markets, Hogan added, and 2021 is proving no exception.

“When we think about things that are driving markets, it certainly feels like we have turned from complacent to concerned about a plethora of potential headwinds,” he wrote. “None of the concerns that market participants have in the here and now are necessarily new, but are being viewed through the lens of what historically has been a rough month for markets in general, as such they seem to be hitting a crescendo.”

The Dow and S&P 500 have each lost more than 3.5% in September.

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