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Large new philanthropic fund responds to coal country transitions
Nonprofit Quarterly profiles the work of the Just Transition Fund and the diverse set of strategies in which it is investing.
Op-ed: Proposed Coal bailout would not stop U.S. transition to cleaner energy
A proposal by the Trump administration to save failing coal plants by invoking the Cold War-era Defense Production Act would have little lasting effect on the U.S. electricity-generation sector. A broad cross-section of executives and policymakers concur that the plan would not stop momentum behind a fast-moving transition to cleaner energy. That idea at its core is “a futile attempt to thwart long-term, fundamental change in U.S. energy markets that will proceed nonetheless, and to the benefit of customers everywhere,” the author writes.
More signs of coal’s diminishing market share
The national appetite for coal remains stagnant as the U.S. electricity sector continues to switch to other forms of fuel, most notably natural gas, which is better suited to day-to-day changes in demand—especially during warm-weather months, when air-conditioning use drives the market. “Wyoming feeds about 40 percent of national coal demand, but the fuel’s hold on the electricity market has weakened substantially in recent years, a trend that may continue.”
Federal proposals to bail out coal plants continue to fuel a backlash
Trump administration proposals to subsidize failing coal plants continue to anger the oil and gas industry, among others. Administration proposals to impose steel and aluminum tariffs will also damage the U.S. energy as a whole, critics say. One Arizona oil field services company owner said Trump’s “tortured coal policy penalizes natural gas” and that is “seems counter to what he campaigned on.”
Campaign to impose a carbon tax on utility industry gains traction
The utility company Exelon, which does business in 48 states, is joining a campaign to urge enactment of a federal carbon tax on the U.S. utility industry as a way to discourage further reliance on power generated from coal, natural gas, and oil. Other supporters of the initiative include ExxonMobil, BP, Royal Dutch Shell and General Motors, and the proposal “has a good chance of getting across the finish line,” said Kathleen Barron, Exelon’s senior vice president of federal regulatory affairs.
Report: Trend away from coal-fired generation persists
A new report on global electricity-generation trends finds once-conventional forms of fuel continuing to lose market share. The shift is driven partly by U.S. corporate preferences. “Coal emerges as the biggest loser in the long run,” said Elena Giannakopoulou, an energy economist for Bloomberg New Energy Finance. “The future electricity system will reorganize around cheap renewables—(and) coal gets squeezed out.”
Backlash against Trump plan to subsidize coal
After President Trump ordered the Energy Department last week to devise a way to subsidize failing coal plants, an assortment of other energy interests criticized the initiative as a “misguided” policy move that will disrupt markets and hurt consumers. Opponents include solar and wind energy interests, the natural gas industry and the American Petroleum Institute. Should the plan proceed, “litigation would begin almost immediately,” one analyst said.
Report: U.S. Solar Jobs Outnumber Coal 2-1
A report from a think tank led by former U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz found that solar-industry jobs topped 350,000 last year, more than double the total in coal-related work. The report ties half of all 133,000 news jobs in the energy sector to efficiency initiatives. Solar is gaining also on the natural-gas industry.
Commentary: ‘Modernization Is the Ticket to National Energy Security’
Most discussion around the possibility of the federal government invoking the Defense Production Act of 1950 in order to keep failing coal-fired and nuclear electricity plants alive has avoided exploring more sensible policy recommendations.
Opposition to Subsidies for FirstEnergy’s Plants Runs Deep
A formidable resistance has emerged to FirstEnergy Solutions’ request that the Energy Department let it raise electricity rates to keep its failing power plants alive. Opponents include the American Petroleum Institute, General Electric and Walmart. “Ultimately, it’s going to be very expensive, whether it puts the cost on ratepayers or taxpayers, all under this alleged emergency that doesn’t exist,” says one critic.
Congress, Over White House Objections, Succeeds in Leaving Coal Country Money in U.S. Budget Bill
Several coal country programs at risk of being scrapped in the latest budget bill out of Congress survived. The law maintains funding for black-lung clinics. The Appalachian Regional Commission will receive more money for its economic-development work, much of which goes into the POWER Initiative, which operates job retraining programs in areas hard hit by the collapse of the coal industry. West Virginia will continue to get $30 million in grants to support development in struggling coal counties. The bill was enacted largely through the insistence of Congress and over the objections of the president.
State Policies and Market Forces Limit What Washington Can Do to Save Coal
Trends in electricity generation are being driving increasingly by state policies that are adding to the larger momentum of market forces. Twenty-nine states have enacted requirements for more reliance on solar and wind which—combined with “the cheap price of natural gas and the rapidly falling cost of renewables,” as one analyst puts it—undermines Trump administration policies and rhetoric aimed at bringing coal-fired electricity back.
Commentary: North American utility shift driven by ‘good business sense’
A recent industry survey has 80 percent of 600 utility executives in the U.S. and Canada expecting electricity generation markets to continue to embrace clean energy models in a move driven by business practicalities. “Programs to help customers save energy, and solar and wind energy are cheaper in most places than almost any other resource to meet customer energy needs, including coal and gas, and getting cheaper all the time,” writes the author.
Trump $1.2 Trillion Infrastructure Plan Stands to Disadvantage Impoverished Communities
In a shift in long-standing federal policy, the Trump administration is beginning a $1.2 trillion infrastructure-improvement push that prioritizes attracting profit-motivated investors over determinations based on public benefit. The strategy could put impoverished communities at a disadvantage. “Instead of the public sector deciding on public needs and public priorities, the projects that are most attractive to private investors are the ones that will go to the head of the line,” one analyst said.
Editorial: ‘Empty Promises to Appalachian Coal Miners’
Political rhetoric from Washington will neither reverse market forces that are making old ways of generating electricity obsolete nor help hard-hit communities. “What miners need are real programs to help transition them to new jobs, not promises of ‘beautiful, clean coal.’”
2017: A Year of Growing National Momentum Against Coal Industry
Changes in utility-company policies and outright plant closures in Colorado, Missouri, New Mexico, Texas, and Wisconsin highlight the electricity-generation transition that gained momentum nationally in 2017: “While President Donald Trump’s ‘Energy Dominance’ agenda gave the false impression that federal efforts could revive coal, 27 coal-fired plants totaling 22 gigawatts (GW) of capacity were announced for early closure or conversion in 2017 – roughly one every 15 days since Trump’s election.”
Uptick in U.S. Coal Exports Leaves Industry Still Well Short of Previous Prosperity
While U.S. coal producers are celebrating a recent uptick in exports, the change is likely to be temporary as buyers in Asia adopt new energy policies, and the improvement is relative: “Exports this year will still be roughly 37 million tons below what they were in 2012, when they peaked at 126 million tons.”
Solar Uptake by K-12 Schools Driven by Cost
Over 5,000 K-12 schools in the U.S are powered by solar, part of a growing trend. A new study by the Solar Energy Industries Association puts the total capacity at about 910 megawatts, or enough to power 190,000 homes. “The biggest reason for the surge is the economic benefits of solar energy.”
2018 Outlook: Another Year of Coal Plant Retirements
A wave of coal-fired electricity plant retirements— in Kentucky, Missouri, Montana and Texas — add to a toll that continues to add up nationally. The closures accelerate a trend in which nearly twice as much coal-generation capacity will be retired in 2018 compared to 2017.
Trump’s Coal Programs Could Undermine Wind and Solar Industries
Several Trump administration policy proposals aimed at propping up the coal industry stand to slow the growth momentum of solar- and wind-powered electricity generation. They include “asking regulators to rewrite power market rules, revamping the tax code, and imposing tariffs on foreign-made solar panels.”
Report: Trump’s Policies Are Worse for Coal Than Obama’s
An analysis published by researchers at the Brattle Group finds that Trump administration policy toward natural gas industry production will undermine coal companies, “leading to net mining employment losses of 13,000-16,000 jobs” compared to Obama administration policies had they been left in place.