What will the coal industry look like in the age of Trump? On today's The Cutting Edge, E&E News reporter Benjamin Storrow discusses his new series that explores the impact the Trump administration could have on plant closures and the strength of the industry.
Monica Trauzzi: Welcome to The Cutting Edge. What does the coal industry look like in the age of Trump? E&E News reporter Ben Storrow has been investigating the impact the Trump administration could have on plant closures and the strength of the industry. Ben — thank you for joining me. Nice to see you.
Benjamin Storrow: Nice to see you too, Monica.
Monica Trauzzi: So, you traveled to Page in Arizona, and you visited the Navajo Generating Station recently, and it's one of the largest coal plants in the West. It's on its way to closing. What makes the plant so significant, and why is it particularly relevant right now, as the Trump administration continues to promise a revitalization of the coal industry?
Benjamin Storrow: Yeah. I think, from a national perspective, what's interesting about this plant is here in D.C., we're hearing all this talk about reviving the coal industry and — by rolling back some of the Obama-era climate regulations. The Navajo Generating Station really shows some of the challenges involved in that. Natural gas prices, and to a lesser extent cheap solar, have really eaten into its market share, and regardless of what happens with sort of the environmental regulations, this planet faces a really tough road ahead, economically speaking.
Monica Trauzzi: And so, what are some of the factors that have led the plant to this place? And what is it like on the ground? What were people saying as you talked to and interviewed members of the community?
Benjamin Storrow: Yeah. Yeah. This plant is really important to the state of Arizona, beyond sort of what a normal power plant is like, in the sense that it powers the pumps that deliver water to Phoenix and to Tucson. So, its reach goes beyond what a normal power plant provides. And so, it's really, really important to the economy of Arizona. It's even more important to the economy of the Navajo and Hopi tribes, who rely on it for high-paying jobs and tax revenue. Both of those reservations are quite poor, so those are really valued contributions.
That said, to your question about what's the reaction on the ground, there's a lot of diversity of opinion about that very question, and there's some folks who want to see the plant stay open. The government is a part owner of the plant, another sort of unique factor, and has expressed a willingness to try and keep it open. So, that's one group. There's other groups who feel that this is an opportunity to move beyond coal, and for wind and solar to really start to move in. And then there's the utilities, who say, "You know, there's so much gas in Arizona and we're also getting all this cheap solar from California. Just don't need it anymore."
Monica Trauzzi: And is there some hope that the Trump administration could come in and help in some way?
Benjamin Storrow: So, what happened was is there was a meeting here in D.C., and all the stakeholders came, and basically what happened was the Interior Department said, "We'll look into this. We're going to see if there — are there regulations that we could remove that would make this plant more economical? Can we help find a buyer for it?" But that really is the problem. The four utilities involved in it, they serve most of the load there in Arizona, and so that's sort of — and what they told the government was, "Look, we didn't just arrive here willy-nilly. We looked into selling this thing and we couldn't find a buyer." So, that's the big question.
Monica Trauzzi: This is, of course, just one plant, but this is a story that we are seeing more of throughout the country.
Benjamin Storrow: Yeah. Absolutely. Some 9,000 megawatts of coal power have been announced to retire since Trump was elected. That's 3 percent of total U.S. coal capacity. So, when you think about — we're talking a span of several months here — that's a lot of coal to come off, and so that shows the market challenges that coal faces, even in a more friendly regulatory environment.
Monica Trauzzi: But then there's also this challenge of what to replace it with, because that raises another set of questions.
Benjamin Storrow: Right. And that's a whole 'nother debate. There's a lot of worry in Arizona that the state is becoming too reliant on natural gas. There's different reasons for that. Some folks worry that by removing coal, you're removing a really reliable source of power that has underpinned the regional grid for a long time.
Environmentalists say when you look at how far the costs have come down for wind and solar, and you look at the increasing collaboration across state lines in the West, that solar, in particular for Arizona, really can do quite a bit. So, they don't want to see new gas pipelines going in the ground and ratepayers paying for that, and for environmental reasons as well.
Monica Trauzzi: Debates to last a long time, for sure.
Benjamin Storrow: Yes, indeed.
Monica Trauzzi: So, the second story in your series is running in Climatewire on Monday. We will look for that.
Benjamin Storrow: Yes, indeed.
Monica Trauzzi: All right. Thank you, Ben. Nice to see you.
Benjamin Storrow: Thanks, Monica. Yeah.
Monica Trauzzi: More Cutting Edge coming next Friday. We'll see you then.
[End of Audio]