Category Archives: Coal

Vanishing Demand,
 Not Trump Coal Crusade
 Is Real Issue For Utilities

It’s planning time in the electric utility industry, and a raft of new reports make two points abundantly clear:

  • Efforts to “save” the coal industry are bound to founder since utilities, as a group coal’s largest customer by far, have moved on and are planning a cleaner future in which the black rock’s current share of the electricity market, in the low 30 percent range, is as high as it’s ever going to get.
  • Vanishingly small increases in demand (and the occasional outlook for declines) will be a major issue for the industry in the next 10 years.

In its latest 10-year power plant siting plan, for example, Florida Power & Light pointed out that it was continuing its efforts “to move away from coal-fired generation.” In total, the utility said it planned to take 1,216 MW of coal-fired generation off its system by the first quarter of 2019. (FPL’s site plan can be found here.)

Similarly, in its recently filed 2017 integrated resource plan (IRP), PacifiCorp, the sprawling utility holding company that serves 1.8 million customers in six western states, said its preferred generation portfolio going forward “reflects a cost-conscious transition to a cleaner energy future.” Through 2028, PacifiCorp said it would be able to meet its system-wide power needs through demand side management (DSM), new renewable (primarily wind) generation and short-term purchases on the wholesale market. Looking longer-term, the company said it planned to shutter 3,650 MW of coal-fired capacity by 2036. (PacfiCorp’s IRP and other backup information can be found here.)

Continue reading Vanishing Demand,
 Not Trump Coal Crusade
 Is Real Issue For Utilities

King Coal Still Rules
 In Trump Team’s
 Alternate Reality

“You’re going back to work.”

With that rhetorical flourish, President Trump signed his much-ballyhooed and loftily-titled executive order “to create energy independence.”

The president’s words—directed to a group of coal miners at the signing ceremony—may have made for great TV (and the president certainly has a knack for that), but that’s about it. The coal mining jobs aren’t coming back, and anyone willing to take a factual look at the current trends in the U.S. electric power sector knows that.

The order, essentially the new administration’s effort  to undo any and all climate change-related plans put forward by the Obama administration (the Clean Power Plan in particular), is chock-full of assertions about the U.S. energy industry that are, at best, little more than wishful thinking. Let’s take a look.

Continue reading King Coal Still Rules
 In Trump Team’s
 Alternate Reality

EIA 2017 Outlook
 Shows Energy Transition
 Will Trump Trump

The Energy Information Administration’s Annual Energy Outlook is always chock full of interesting data, and the 2017 version, released uncommonly early last week, is certainly no exception. For its part, EIA highlighted the prospect of the U.S. becoming a net energy exporter in the near future, a far cry from the import-dependent years that drove policymakers crazy in the late 1900s and early 2000s. But from my perspective, the key takeaways can be found in EIA’s analysis of electric sector market shares in a reference case including the outgoing Obama administration’s climate change-fighting Clean Power Plan and a second case assuming the CPP is withdrawn, as the incoming president and his team have said they intend to do.

For starters, regardless of its assumptions, EIA sees no growth going forward for the nuclear power industry. In both its reference case, which incorporates the CPP and should, as a result, favor the construction of non-carbon emitting generation resources, and its no-CPP case, EIA comes up with the same results. Nuclear generation is expected to decline slowly from now through 2040—falling from 797 billion kilowatt-hours in 2016 to 701 billion kwh in 2040 as units are retired (either due to economic or age-related reasons) and no new reactors (save the four currently under construction in Georgia and South Carolina) are brought online.  [Charts showing the generation outlook in both cases are included below; the complete EIA Outlook can be found here.]

Continue reading EIA 2017 Outlook
 Shows Energy Transition
 Will Trump Trump

New Cheerleader In Chief Can’t Change Coal’s Fall, Rise In Gas, Renewables

The bright shiny package the coal industry unwrapped Christmas morning—the one it hoped was filled with rising and lasting demand for the black rock—is actually little more than a pretty box filled with empty promises delivered by the country’s new cheerleader in chief.

Just 10 years ago, coal was the clear top dog, accounting for just under 50 percent of the electricity generated annually in the U.S. (Coal’s total in 2006 was 48.9 percent, the last year it actually topped the 50 percent level was 2003.) This year, coal is likely to play second fiddle to the surging natural gas sector; the Energy Information Administration’s latest Short Term Energy Outlook (released Dec. 8) estimates that coal will account for 30.4 percent of the nation’s electric generation this year, below the 34.1 percent stake controlled by natural gas. And no amount of industry wishful thinking or presidential conceit is going to change that—the markets have changed.

Continue reading New Cheerleader In Chief Can’t Change Coal’s Fall, Rise In Gas, Renewables

EIA Annual Outlook
 Misses The Mark
 On Threat To Utilities,
 Generation Revolution

So many studies, so little time. Just in the past couple of weeks analyses from DOE’s Energy Information Administration, Bloomberg New Energy Finance, British Petroleum and the International Renewable Energy Agency have hit my inbox (thank goodness we have moved beyond the old hardcopy stage, just those reports alone would have contributed to the world’s ongoing deforestation problem), and having the time to study them all has been difficult. But muddling through them does provide some fascinating glimpses of where the energy industry is today, and where it might be headed in the years to come.

EIA’s 2016 Annual Energy Outlook, released in abbreviated form last month with its full rollout slated for early July, includes more sobering news for electric utility executives: Sales growth really is gone, and it isn’t coming back. In its analysis, EIA estimates that overall electricity sales will grow at an average rate of 0.7 percent from 2015-2040, essentially unchanged from the 0.6 percent growth rate posted from 2000-2015. But a closer look at the numbers shows even that relatively anemic growth estimate may be optimistic.

For example, EIA estimates that electric sales in the residential sector will rise by an average of just 0.3 percent a year from 2015-2040—well under even the paltry 1.1 percent annual growth recorded from 2000-2015. According to EIA, the slow growth can be attributed to rising energy efficiency, especially in the lighting sector, and the broad adoption of distributed photovoltaics (PV). But what is most intriguing about EIA’s estimate is that virtually all of the growth occurs in the out-years (see chart below): From 2015 through 2030 there is essentially zero growth in residential sales. Specifically, EIA puts 2015 sales in the sector at 1,402 billion kilowatt-hours (kwh)  and projects that sales in 2030 will rise to just 1,416 billion kwh—an increase, if you can call it that, of 0.1 percent annually. Rather than calling this growth it would be more appropriate to write it off as a rounding error. It also represents the continuation of a longer-term trend: Residential electric sales in 2007, just before the onset of the Great Recession, totaled 1,392 billion kwh. Measured from that starting point, sales are expected to climb just 24 billion kwh in 23 years, a miserly 0.07 percent annual increase.

Continue reading EIA Annual Outlook
 Misses The Mark
 On Threat To Utilities,
 Generation Revolution