April 14, 2017 Read More →

IEEFA Media Monitor: The Weight of Fact Versus Fiction

As New Energy-Policy Propaganda Spews Forth From Washington, the Truth Finds an Audience Too

While a new regime of Washington policymakers is working hard to—what’s the word, bamboozle/reeducate/distract?—Americans on the energy transition gaining momentum nationally, an informed backlash is taking root.

The New Republic has some fun with what’s happening in a piece published yesterday by Emily Atkin that talks about how Scott Pruitt, the new EPA director, chose “for his big speech about reviving coal” a mine in Pennsylvania that is owned by Consol, which is getting out of the battered coal business.

The headline-of-the-week goes to the Minneapolis Tribune—“GOP Spits Into the Wind”—over a column by Lori Sturdevant that gets into how the truth on the ground is quite different from the discharge coming out of the White House.

Writing in the Navajo Times, Nicole Horseherder makes the case for why the much-publicized closure of the coal-fired Navajo Generating Station in Arizona presents less a setback than an opportunity to improve the “economic well-being” of the region, regardless of the message being delivered by pro-coal lobbyists in Washington.

THREE RECENT IEEFA ANECDOTAL COMMENTARIES SPEAK OF THE BROADER CURRENTS driving the global electricity-generation transition.

In “Shifting Regulatory Landscape Makes Coal-Fired Plants Riskier to Finance,” Yulanda Chung, an IEEFA analyst based in Southeast Asia, notes how the government of Indonesia has recently imposed new regulations that make it riskier for financiers to back coal-fired projects there. It’s a deliberate policy shift meant to challenge tradition.

“All of the changes are detrimental to the bankability of coal-fired power projects, and they make financiers think twice now about bankrolling any plant at risk of becoming a stranded asset in Indonesia’s shifting regulatory landscape,” Chung writes.

People listen when Indonesia talks. Its economy is tied enormously to coal, it is the fifth most populous country in the world and is among the top 10 coal producers, and it is increasingly aware or the value of energy modernization.

In “Lacking Customers, PacRim Bails Out of Its Alaska Coal Project,” Tom Sanzillo, IEEFA’s director of finance, zooms in on the cancellation this month of plans by a company called PacRim to build a coal mine south of Anchorage.

The proposal was “as crazy as it sounded,” wrote Sanzillo, who turned to an IEEFA report published in January that shows why the U.S. coal industry isn’t likely to recover (“Short-Term Gains Muted by Prevailing Weaknesses in Fundamentals”) and why dreams of a U.S. coal-export boom are unfounded.

Today, David Schlissel, IEEFA’s director of resource planning analysis, has a note out on the news that Plant Hammond in Georgia has just said it will reduce half its 140-employee work force. The aging coal-fired generator—emblematic of the sector as a whole—is too expensive to be competitive anymore. Schlissel authored a report a year and a half ago that said this would happen—said it was happening then—and this week (“Full Retirement of Plant Hammond Remains the Best Outcome for Georgia Ratepayers”) he says the best solution is the same one IEEFA recommended in late 2015.

THE CHANGE NARRATIVE HAS LEGS, AND MOMENTUM, AND IS SPREADING on the sheer force of fact.

Dennis Wamsted, an inside-the-Beltway energy wonk, this week chronicles “the vanishing demand” for coal on his blog, Wamsted on Energy, where he notes that seeing is believing in the likes of a broad roster of companies that include Florida Power & Light, PacifiCorp, Tucson Electric Power, and Xcel.

Lyndsey Gilpin at InsideClimate News, an outfit that reports seriously and deeply on national energy issues, has a compelling story up this week about how a little education goes a long way among energy-transition skeptics. Her piece describes how a wind-farm field trip helped the speaker of the North Carolina House of Representatives come to see how the Amazon Wind Farm U.S. East “takes advantage of a valuable natural resource our state has to offer.”

That politician, in making a public statement along those lines, is perhaps aware of polling in North Carolina that suggests broad bipartisan support for clean energy.

At E&E News, which specializes in energy-industry journalism, Emily Holden published a deeply reported and carefully-balanced article that rains nonetheless on a recent parade by a group called the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity to get somebody, somewhere to build a new coal-fired electricity plant in the U.S.

It includes this choice passage:

ACCCE’s push comes as existing coal plants are struggling to compete against abundant natural gas and increasingly cheap renewable power. Plants started shutting down before the Obama administration proposed greenhouse gas cuts. Even though Trump will not implement regulations like the Clean Power Plan, a new coal plant is meant to last for about 40 years and could run up against climate rules from a future administration.

That’s why building a new plant would be a steep uphill battle, according to analysts who study power markets.

“It’s a pretty tough sell,” said Philip Smyth, senior director in Fitch Ratings’ utilities group. “Utilities are looking for ways to save plants they already have in the ground, never mind building new ones.”

The transition continues, all hot air aside.

Karl Cates is IEEFA’s director of media relations.

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IEEFA Update: The Texas Electricity Transition Gains Pace

IEEFA Update: Japan Is Investing Heavily in Overseas Renewables

IEEFA U.K.: An Official Acknowledgement That Renewables and Better Cross-Border Interconnection Can Replace Coal-Fired Generation

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