Economics, not regulation, driving energy transition

The rise of renewable energy, and not excessive regulation, is driving the collapse of coal-fired power plants around the country, said Barry Smitherman, a former Texas energy regulator who was a contender to be the new head of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Smitherman still advocated for cutting regulations on the power industry, and he is a champion for Texas’ approach to deregulated energy market, which he said brings customers lower prices and more choices. Smitherman spoke on Thursday morning about Texas’ power and was one five panelists, all of whom advocated a gentler approach to energy regulation.

But Smitherman encouraged companies to shut down older coal-fired power plants and cede to the expansion of wind and solar power.

“The trend lines are clearly more wind and more solar and all of that will continue to push fossil off the supply curve,” Smitherman said, adding that reliability of those renewable energy sources is still a problem.

Another Texas power regulator — Toby Baker, one of three commissioners for the Texas Commission for Environmental Quality — agreed that economics, not so much regulations, are changing the nation’s power mix.

“Regulations are important, but at the end of the day, low cost natural gas, zero cost wind are driving this more than the regulation,” Baker said on Thursday. “The regulation might be the nail in the coffin, but (low cost natural gas) is really what’s driving this.”

Baker predicted that a rollback of the Clean Power Plan, an Obama administration set of regulations aimed at reducing emissions from fossil fuel power plants, would have little impact on Texas, where cheap natural gas and wind are already dominant sources of power. President Trump has made the dissolution of the Clean Power Plan a key piece of his energy policy.

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