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Executive Perspectives

EXECUTIVE PERSPECTIVE: Blowing Smoke

Antony Currie

24 Aug 2018

“The operating costs of renewable generation like solar and wind power, which already account for a fifth of U.S. energy production, are on course to be lower than coal’s by 2021 at the latest.”

The Trump administration’s new plan to bolster coal power blows little but hot air. The Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday laid out what it calls the Affordable Clean Energy rule, which would let states set their own emissions standards for coal-fired generation. It may save some plants for a while, but runs against bigger trends.

Other electricity sources either are, or soon will be, cheaper anyway. Natural-gas prices dropped low enough in the past few years to supplant dirtier coal as the biggest source of electricity at U.S. plants. The fuel accounted for 32 percent of generation last year, compared with 30 percent for coal, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

The operating costs of renewable generation like solar and wind power, which already account for a fifth of U.S. energy production, are on course to be lower than coal’s by 2021 at the latest, Carbon Tracker reckons. And the sector provides more jobs: almost 400,000 in wind and solar alone compared to 114,000 in the coal industry last year, according to the U.S. Energy and Employment Report.

Green energy accounted for around half of the $200 billion Wells Fargo pledged in April to lend to sustainable businesses and projects – and the lender was one of the laggards getting excited about the sector. By contrast, no new coal plants have opened in the United States for some time and none are planned, according to Carbon Brief.

The likes of HSBC and Bank of America have also pledged to stop financing coal generation, although with some caveats. Their investors are piling on the pressure. Norges Bank Investment Management, which runs $1 trillion in assets, is pushing banks to disclose the carbon exposure in their loan portfolios.

And it’s likely the EPA’s proposal will end up in the courts, delaying or halting its implementation, as happened with former President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan. Pollution from one state affects its neighbors, inviting litigation over any such plan.

If Tuesday’s proposal does eventually go into effect, it could extend the life of some coal plants and even create uncertainty for some alternative projects. President Donald Trump’s EPA, however, is too puny to hold off stronger market currents for long.


Note: Originally published by BreakingViews on August 21st, 2018

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