Coal, Gas, Solar

Utility Survey: Clean Power Plan Review Won’t Reverse Coal Exodus

By Editors of  Power Engineering

A Reuters survey of 32 utilities indicated the majority of them don’t plan on changing their development strategy in light of the Clean Power Plan.

Of the utilities surveyed, 20 said the order by President Trump would not impact their investment plans. Five utilities reported they are reviewing the implications of the order, and six gave no response.

Basin Electric Power Cooperative of North Dakota was the only utility to indicate it currently plans to take action, though a spokesman suggested the impact could be short-lived.

“We’re in the situation where the executive order takes a lot of pressure off the decisions we had to make in the near term, such as whether to retrofit and retire older coal plants,” Dale Niezwaag, a spokesman for Basin Electric, said to Reuters. “But Trump can be a one-termer, so the reprieve out there is short.”

Reasons for lack of response to Trump’s move included cheap natural gas, falling solar and wind development costs, enduring state environmental laws, pressure from investors that want action on climate change, an unwillingness to alter a long-term shift to reducing carbon emissions and doubt the review of the Clean Power Plan could survive legal challenges.

“I’m not going to build new coal plants in today’s environment,” said Ben Fowke, CEO of Xcel Energy, which operates in eight states and uses coal for about 36 percent of its electricity production. “And if I’m not going to build new ones, eventually there won’t be any.”

Pacificorp spokesman Tom Ganutt said that long term planning at utilities “takes place over much longer periods than presidential terms of office.”

Currently, U.S. utilities plan to retire or convert more than 8 GW of coal plants in 2017. Last year, 13 GW of coal generation was removed.