Moniz says there is no ‘war on coal,’ lauds Obama CCS support

Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz rejects the idea that the Obama administration is out to put coal-fired power plants out of business.

“There is lots of discussion about the so-called ‘war on coal.’ I’ve said very clearly ‘there is no war on coal,’” Moniz told the Clean Energy Summit Aug. 13 in Las Vegas.

At the same time, the society needs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Moniz said. The administration has made an “unprecedented” multi-billion-dollar investment in carbon capture and storage (CCS), said the DOE secretary.

The Department of Energy (DOE) has not been merely “talking the talk” on developing carbon control technology, Moniz told the gathering,

Much of the ‘war on coal’ analogy was sparked by what the coal sector sees as overreach by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the first Obama term. Ex-EPA administrator Lisa Jackson, said Obama’s recent climate action plan is a sign that the United States is now into clean energy “for the long term.”

After leaving EPA, Jackson has joined Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) as an environmental advisor for the company. “Apple’s data centers are 100% powered by renewables,” Jackson said.

The Moniz comments were among the few highlights for coal power in the renewable energy conference promoted by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

Reid and other speakers, to the extent they mentioned coal at all, stressed the declining role of coal-fired power in electric generation.

Reid said he was happy that a utility in his home state, NV Energy (NYSE:NVE), is moving toward retirement of the roughly 600-MW Reid Gardner coal plant.

Speaking of NV Energy, Reid predicted that approval should come “quickly” on the Nevada-based company’s purchase by MidAmerican Energy Holdings (MEH). MidAmerican is part of Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE:BRK-A), which is headed by investor Warren Buffett.

Another MidAmerican subsidiary, PacifiCorp, is embracing the markets concept by its relationship with the California ISO (Cal-ISO), said outgoing FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff.

Wellinghoff also said that FERC is “neutral” with regard to what type of fuel is used to produce electricity. One reason for the growing popularity of renewable energy is that consumers want to feel less exposed to grid outages such as Hurricane Sandy, Wellinghoff said.

Sempra Energy (NYSE:SRE) Chairman and CEO Debra Reed said her company is helping convert coal-fired plants to natural gas in the United States and is helping to convert fuel oil power plants to natural gas in Mexico.

During a panel discussion on state policies, ex-California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican and renewable advocate, said energy choices are not necessarily governed by party affiliation. He cited opposition to much of President Obama’s policy by coal state Democrats.

During the same panel, ex-Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, a Democrat, said renewable portfolio standards probably “won’t fly” unless they make business sense for utilities. Granholm also attributed last year’s defeat of an expanded RPS in Michigan to the fact there were too many other voter referendums on the ballot at the same time.

During his welcoming address, Reid lauded the growing renewable energy footprint in Nevada. This includes everything from large-scale solar on Indian lands to a 6-MW solar facility that NRG Energy (NYSE:NRG) will develop on the roof of a Las Vegas casino.

The conference, which is being webcast, is also sponsored by the University of Nevada at Las Vegas (UNLV).

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.