Breakingviews - Trump's coal push loses power as U.S. goes green

U.S. energy Secretary Rick Perry speaks to reporters during a briefing at the White House in Washington, U.S., June 27, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

DALLAS (Reuters Breakingviews) - President Donald Trump’s coal push is losing power as America goes green. An administration plan to subsidize solid fuels has stirred a backlash from industry, which fears it will distort power prices. Meanwhile U.S. carbon emissions from coal fell at a record pace in 2015. Environmental and economic forces are conspiring against the president’s campaign pledge.

In September, Secretary of Energy Rick Perry proposed that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission adopt new grid rules that would effectively subsidize coal- and nuclear-powered electricity producers. The feedback has been strongly negative. Respondents ranging from grid operators to oil and gas trade groups to Brooklyn-based arts and crafts website Etsy have opposed the plan. The commission is supposed to take a decision by Dec. 11, but on Tuesday Chairman Neil Chatterjee told an industry publication the commission might order a new round of study to ensure that whatever decision it takes can stand up to legal scrutiny.

Coal’s future may not brighten even if FERC adopts Perry’s plan. On Monday, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said coal emissions fell by a record amount in 2015. There were big declines in states that were key to Trump’s election victory, including Ohio and Pennsylvania. And the ultimate irony came in Perry’s home state of Texas, which recorded the largest drop and enjoyed a surge in wind power.

One year after the election, Trump’s big coal push has produced a whimper. The 2017 Global Carbon Budget, released by the Global Carbon Project, said U.S. carbon emissions from fossil fuels would continue their decade-long decline in 2017, albeit at a slower pace. The group predicts coal’s share will increase slightly, though the EIA shows renewable energy growing at a far faster pace.

That pattern looks set to endure. Wind power should cost less than natural gas and coal by about 2030 if recent price trends persist, researchers at the Rochester Institute of Technology said in a recent study. The Rhodium Group anticipates carbon emissions at that point will be 27 percent to 35 percent below 2005 levels as a result of coal-plant closures. No amount of subsidies are likely to bend those curves.


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