It’s been a bad week for the U.S. coal industry. On Monday, Michigan-based Consumers Energy announced that it planned to close all its remaining coal-fired generation by 2040; the company already had closed seven of its 12 coal plants in 2016. Then, on Tuesday, Vectren, an electric and gas utility serving parts of Indiana and Ohio, said it planned to retire three of its coal-fired plants and sell its ownership stake in a fourth by 2023; this from a company that just two years ago was dependent on coal for 90 percent of its generation.
But this week is hardly unique. Just last Friday, FirstEnergy said it was going to close or sell the 1,300 megawatt coal-fired Pleasants plant in West Virginia by Jan. 1, 2019 after being unable to convince federal regulators to approve a deal between two of the Akron, Ohio-based holding company’s subsidiaries that effectively would have moved the facility from the open market into rate base, forcing consumers to pay for the plant even if it was no longer economic.
Not to be forgotten, earlier this month, AEP announced plans to slash its carbon dioxide emissions 60 percent by 2030 and 80 percent by 2050 (based on a 2000 baseline, see my story here). And finally, on Jan. 30, PPL announced plans to reduce its CO2 emissions by 70 percent by 2050 (based on a 2010 baseline).
So, in reality, it’s been a bad month, and similar months are likely moving forward.
Continue reading Another Bad Week,
Make That Month,
For The Coal Industry
The rear guard defending the coal industry in the White House and across the mall at the Department of Energy need to put their reading glasses on and spend some quality time with a couple of just-released documents that put to rest any dreams of recovery.
The first, from American Electric Power, is a corporate document filled with congratulatory platitudes and the obligatory cautions about going too far, too fast. But, and this is the key, it acknowledges reality, and lays out a plan for addressing that reality instead of pining for the past. The report, Strategic Vision for a Clean Energy Future 2018 (which is available here), should be required reading for the Trump White House and the administration’s energy-related political appointees.
The forward-looking tone is evident from the outset, with Nicholas Akins, chairman, president and CEO of Columbus, Ohio-based AEP, writing: “We have diversified our generating portfolio to provide our customers with the clean energy solutions they are asking us for.” [Emphasis added] You could easily read right over this, but it’s worth digging into the details a bit.
Continue reading AEP Looks Forward, Beyond Coal, Trump Team Still Stuck In The Past
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
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,
The Energy Information Administration’s annual energy outlook, which was released last week, is like manna from heaven for geeky industry analysts and commentators, most definitely including myself.
Like any projection—as I have discussed in prior posts (see this piece in particular)—it is probably outdated essentially from the minute it is finished. But to EIA’s credit, it doesn’t oversell the analysis, noting instead that its forecasts “are not statements of what will happen, but of what might happen, given the assumptions and methodologies used for any particular case.” In addition, and here EIA gets extra credit, the agency takes a policy-neutral approach in its analysis, using current law in its projections; there are no assumptions about new legislation, executive orders or extensions of policies with sunset dates. As such, EIA’s analysis is about as fair as it can get.
Despite these limitations, there are a number of fascinating items in EIA’s Annual Energy Outlook 2015 (which can be found here).
Continue reading EIA Energy Outlook
Of Efficiency Efforts