Thursday, April 06, 2017

Electric execs say Trump's moves for coal won't have much effect on their shift away from the fuel

Amid President Trump's promises to revive the coal industry, six coal-fired power plants have closed since November and more than 40 are set to close within the next four years, Coral Davenport reports for The New York Times. That includes Arizona's Navajo Generating Station, the largest coal-fired power plant in the West, which is expected to seize operations by 2019.

"Trump campaigned on a pledge to restore the limping American coal industry, vowing to bring jobs and production back to a sector that has been on a steady decline for over a decade," Davenport writes. "But to do that, he would have to revive demand for coal by electric utilities, which for decades have been the largest consumer of the heavily polluting fuel. Nearly all the coal mined in the U.S. generates electricity."

Electricity executives say Trump’s rollbacks of Obama administration regulations "make little difference to them," Davenport writes. "They still plan to retire coal plants—although perhaps at a slightly slower pace—and, more significant, they have no plans to build new ones." One reason is that electric utilities, like Southern Co., plan investments "on a 50-year horizon, the expected life span of a new power plant. Its planners do not see coal as economically viable in that time frame."

In 2005, 71 percent of American Electric Power's output was coal-fired, but is now 47 percent and is expected to keep going down, Davenport notes. At the same time its natural-gas share has increased from 20 percent to 27 percent. "Over the next three years, the company plans to invest about $1 billion in new wind and solar generation and $3 billion in new transmission lines to move that electricity."

"With or without the Clean Power Plan, power companies say, coal is simply no longer the fuel of choice for keeping the lights on in America—and they do not expect it to make a comeback," Davenport writes. "Cheaper natural gas and renewable sources like wind and solar power have replaced it. This decision is also driven by economics. Electric company executives are including in their long-term profit-and-loss calculations an expectation that the federal government will eventually tax or regulate carbon dioxide pollution."

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