US’s Largest Utility CEO Warns Of A Future Without Coal Plants

REUTERS/Larry Downing

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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Duke Energy CEO Lynn Good had some news to share about the fate of America’s coal-fired power plants — and it’s not good news.

Duke Energy is the largest energy producer in the U.S. and relies on lots of coal-fired power plants to deliver affordable electricity to their customers, but Good says Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations make it nearly impossible to build new coal plants.

Good told The Wall Street Journal’s Amy Harder in a Tuesday report that America was moving in the direction of getting almost none of its electricity from coal-fired power.

HARDER: Do you ever envision a future, whether it’s 2050 or 2100, when coal will be next to 0% electricity here in the U.S.?

GOOD: I certainly think we’re moving in that direction. Under the rules that exist today, you can’t build a new coal plant without capture and sequestration [of carbon], and at this point we don’t have a viable technology that is economic for that. So you’re talking about extending lives of existing plants, and those economic decisions become very challenging when gas is cheap and renewables are available.

Good is referring to the EPA’s so-called Clean Power Plan (CPP), which aims to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants 32 percent by 2030. The CPP largely reduces emissions by forcing coal plants to shut down and be replaced by natural gas plants or green energy sources.

Another provision of the CPP, regarding new power plants, bans the construction of coal plants unless they use carbon capture and storage technology, or CCS — a technology that’s not commercially viable.

Utilities plan for energy investments years in advance, so EPA’s new rule has kept companies from even thinking about investing in new coal plants in the coming years. That is, unless CCS becomes commercially viable in the near future.

But cheap natural gas has dimmed coal advocates hopes CCS will be widely adopted anytime soon.

HARDER: Southern Co. CEO Tom Fanning had some pretty critical words for carbon capture and sequestration in the last panel. He said he doesn’t think it’s going to be economic here in the U.S., given cheap natural-gas prices. Do you agree?

GOOD: The enthusiasm around carbon capture and sequestration was probably greater before the shale-gas discovery and the low prices were so prevalent. And I would step back again to the pragmatism of an investment in carbon capture and sequestration, or retiring an [existing coal-fired] plant and building natural gas and renewables. I also think that as a nation we haven’t invested as much in research and development around [carbon capture] as we have other technologies.

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