Politics is all about rhetoric, and the current administration is no exception.
President Trump has made the revival of America’s coal industry one of the themes of his administration. Soon after his election, he signed an executive order rolling back the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan, which many in the industry had complained was too restrictive.
In the end, this may prove to be nothing more than a political gesture. Despite the new administration’s policies, utility executives still see a future powered increasingly by renewables, and one in which the role of coal and other fossil fuels is highly diminished.
In January, the online industry monitor, Utility Dive, conducted a survey of over 600 electric utility industry employees from the United States and Canada. The “State of the Electric Utility Survey 2017” assessed the industry’s projections for its own future.
Of note in the survey, utilities overwhelmingly expect to source more power from low-carbon generation and to retire baseload plants, while preparing for rapid growth of emerging distributed technologies like rooftop solar and energy storage.
To be fair, the Trump administration’s stance on reviving traditional power industries did not go unnoticed, especially his position on coal. Nearly half of respondents indicated they now have a “more positive outlook” on the future of coal after the election.
This optimism only goes so far. Broadly speaking, most utility executives do not expect the election of Donald Trump to change the outlook for generation resources in their service areas. Regarding coal, the survey respondents expect it to decline “significantly,” and they expect nuclear generation to stagnate or retire. Few of the executives expect to deploy more coal capacity at their own utilities.
The momentum is clearly with renewables. Utilities are most confident in the growth of utility-scale solar, distributed energy resources, wind energy, and natural gas generation over the next 10 years.
Also of note, despite the antagonism toward the Clean Power Plan and the EPA under former President Obama, according to the survey, utility executives largely want the federal government to pursue a policy of decarbonization, with a carbon tax emerging as the most popular policy mechanism.