10 trends shaping the electric power sector in 2019
From coal bailouts to batteries and wind and solar growth, here are the issues that will define the year to come.
The electricity sector at the start of 2019 is in the midst of fundamental change.
Renewable energy is increasingly competitive with fossil fuels. Distributed energy is upending the economics of the grid. Climate change is presenting new threats to power systems and their regulatory models.
As with any disruption, the reshaping of the electricity industry is multifaceted, with a litany of competing interests and narratives working to shape the direction of the transition. What will rise to the surface in the year to come? Here’s what we expect:
A Trump bailout will continue to be a threat
Throughout 2018, the threat of federal action to bail out coal and nuclear plants cast a pall over Washington energy policy.
The debate started late in 2017, when President Trump’s Department of Energy proposed a financial support package for the large generators, which are challenged by cheaper natural gas and renewables, at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
Regulators unanimously rejected that proposal in January, but in the spring, the White House responded by directing DOE — following public pushes from coal and nuclear generators — to find another way to save the ailing plants. In late May, a leaked administration memo revealed that officials were considering using DOE’s emergency powers or wartime authorities dating back to the 1950s.
Those plans were reportedly shelved this fall after internal debate, but many of the companies that pushed the original bailout proposal are running out of time to save their plants from retirement, and the White House could move to use its emergency authorities at any time throughout the coming year.
If that happens, it will likely prompt a swift pushback from clean energy and environmental groups, as well as some utility companies themselves. Utility Dive’s 2018 sector survey showed that most electric utility employees across the nation do not want to see the White House support uncompetitive generation.