Lots of questions, fewer answers following election

The Northeast is trying to clean up after Hurricane Sandy and the rest of the nation thinks it might be safe to pick up the phone or turn on the television without being bombarded with negative political ads.

Energy analysts, meanwhile, are trying to figure out what exactly to make of recent weather and political news.

A few things, and just a few, are clear. President Obama won re-election. Likewise, so did virtually all of his GOP congressional critics – lawmakers that often issue press releases on the administration’s “coal-killing” regulation from EPA.

Likewise, re-election was also won by several lawmakers who are outspoken supporters of renewable energy and critics of traditional coal and nuclear plants. These include folks like Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., and Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif.

A few google searches and emails to trade association types around Washington, D.C., turned up scant revelations about major energy incumbents who lost Nov. 6.

One source noted that Republican Andy Barr won Kentucky’s 6th Congressional District seat from Democratic incumbent Ben Chandler. It’s not a shocker given that Barr only lost to Chandler by a few hundred votes in 2010.

Another coal industry observer noted that the dynamics of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee could change with the departure of the chairman, Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., who decided to retire rather than seek re-election. The chairman’s post is expected to pass to Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore. While not typically seen as pro-coal, Wyden hasn’t attacked West Coast coal export terminals, the source said.

In state elections, Georgia Public Service Commission member Stan Wise has won re-election. Georgia is where Southern (NYSE: SO) is leading development of two new nuclear reactors and Wise is seen as nuclear friendly. Wise is also a former president of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC).

In Michigan, voters there soundly defeated a constitutional measure that would have mandated 25% renewable energy by 2025.

In Washington, D.C., the American Wind Energy Association held a conference call with reporters saying that the election should improve the chances of renewal of the production tax credit.

Also in Washington D.C., groups representing environmentalists, mining and natural gas interests, and nuclear power all emailed their congratulations to President Obama and expressed willingness to work with him and Congress.

We’ll see how long this era of good feeling will last. In the meantime, here are some other post-election questions to chew upon (in no particular order):

** Did Hurricane Sandy tip the election? Did a few photos of President Obama and New Jersey’s Republican Gov. Chris Christie visiting hurricane victims while wearing windbreakers actually swing independents?

** Will climate change re-emerge as a major political issue? While global warming was hardly mentioned during the debates, the nation’s top media market has been devastated by extreme weather and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, was quoted as saying 100-year storms seem to happen every couple of years.

** A related question is whether extreme weather could make Northeast policymakers like Cuomo more or less open to nuclear power plants as a source of carbon-free electricity.

** Will coastal hurricanes increase public concern over flooding at nuclear plants?

** Will the Obama administration’s EPA significantly revise rules or extend deadlines to some of the standards scheduled to affect coal plants? Especially, the first-ever greenhouse gas emission standard.

** Will the PTC be renewed after the election? Most observers think it will. Exelon (NYSE: EXC), which has a bunch of wind projects, thinks the industry can survive without it.

** With all the talk of a “fiscal cliff” will the government loan program for renewables and nuclear power be eliminated?

** Will there be any federal government consensus on oversight of “fracking” to extract natural gas?

** Will policy makers be agreeable to large-scale export of natural gas from the United States to foreign markets?

** Now that they’ve pulled a four-year hitch, will certain key administration officials elect to do something else during the second term? Key people to watch include Steven Chu at DOE, Lisa Jackson at EPA and Ken Salazar at the Interior Department.

That’s probably enough questions to ponder during the first day of post-election hangover.


About Wayne Barber 4201 Articles
Wayne Barber, Chief Analyst for the GenerationHub, has been covering power generation, energy and natural resources issues at national publications for more than 20 years. Prior to joining PennWell he was editor of Generation Markets Week at SNL Financial for nine years. He has also worked as a business journalist at both McGraw-Hill and Financial Times Energy. Wayne also worked as a newspaper reporter for several years. During his career has visited nuclear reactors and coal mines as well as coal and natural gas power plants. Wayne can be reached at wayneb@pennwell.com.