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Will there be big changes in how we get our energy?

Nov 15, 2016

President-elect Donald Trump has called global warming "a very expensive hoax," despite agreement among the vast majority of climate scientists that climate change is happening now and is mainly human-caused. Trump has also put climate change skeptic Myron Ebell in charge of his EPA transition team.

In addition, Trump has promised to scrap the Clean Power Plan. That EPA rule aims to cut carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. It’s currently tied up in court.

But both utilities and environmental groups in Michigan say even if the Trump Administration scrapped the rule, it wouldn’t matter much.

John Austerberry is DTE Energy's communications manager.

“We supported the Clean Power Plan. Our plans are still in place that would’ve met those provisions, so we’re really continuing on that basis,” he says.

DTE is shutting down several of its old coal-burning power plants.

"We have an aging fleet of power plants that are reaching the end of their serviceable life, and we will need to replace them, and when we do that, we'll replace them with cleaner generating technologies," he says.

Consumers Energy has done the same thing. Dan Bishop is the company's director of media relations.

"We have shut down our seven oldest coal plants," he says, "We have no plans to reopen them."

Bishop says he expects Consumers to focus on more natural gas in the future, along with renewable energy from wind and solar, and energy efficiency programs.

Market forces have already gotten the ball rolling

James Clift is the policy director for the Michigan Environmental Council. He says the low price of natural gas has been the main driver of this transition away from coal.

“A lot of the transition we expected the Clean Power Plan was going to force is already happening and it’s actually happening more quickly than we thought. So we’re going to see a lot of carbon reduction in the next five years anyway,” he says.

He says one of the things his group will be watching is whether those cuts are enough to slow the pace of climate change.

"Are we having the reductions we need to really avoid the large-scale impacts that could potentially occur? I'm a little worried that even in the face of science that says it may not be enough, he (Trump) may not want to do more. That concerns us greatly here," says Clift.

The coal industry welcomes the change

Reid Frazier is an energy reporter with the environment news program The Allegheny Front. He says that the coal industry is expecting a rebound under President-elect Trump.

Frazier spoke to Bob Wilson, a coal miner in Greene County, Pennsylvania. Wilson told him, “with the EPA getting off of our backs, you’ll be able to produce coal for a cheaper amount.”

And Frazier says that while that may be true, it's likely not enough to bring the entire industry back.

“If Trump does roll back some of the Obama era restrictions on coal and regulations on coal, a lot of experts say that because natural gas has gotten so cheap through fracking, that it’s really unlikely that you’re going to see the coal industry get back to the level that it has been at, you know, 10 years ago. Just because fracking has made natural gas so cheap; cheaper than coal,” says Frazier.

Reactions from energy companies

A new administration is likely to bring changes for the energy industry. So are companies welcoming change?

Frazier says yes...and no.

“There’s a lot of very neutral language to describe how excited the various energy companies and industries are about working with a new administration and a new Congress. I think overall, Trump has favored exploiting some of the resources that Obama simply wasn’t that interested in, for instance, the Keystone XL Pipeline and other energy infrastructure projects, where you saw the Obama Administration push back.”

Frazier says although wind and solar companies are apprehensive about losing some of the incentives the Obama Administration implemented, some are still optimistic about the future of renewable energy.

“There is a sense among some of the people in the solar and wind industry that there’s kind of an unstoppable momentum for some of these technologies right now, just because the prices to produce wind and solar have come down so much, that they’re now beginning to be competitive with more traditional fuels,” he says.

For more on this topic, check out this post from the Inside Energy reporting project.