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Demand for renewable power remains strong despite Trump policies

Despite U.S. President Donald Trump’s focus on revitalizing the country’s coal industry, much of the world remains committed to the transformations laid out at the Paris climate conference in 2016.

CHRISTOPHER ALUKA BERRY/REUTERS

The global market for renewable power remains strong, even in the United States where President Donald Trump is looking to revive the fortunes of coal-fired generation, the founder of Bloomberg New Energy Finance said Wednesday.

Around the world, two-thirds of investment in electricity generation was renewable power, and only a third in coal- and gas-fired generation last year, Michael Liebreich told the Globe Finance clean-technology conference in Toronto.

While renewable investment fell slightly, the reduction in cost for solar and wind technology resulted in a greater amount of capacity being added than in 2015, despite the drop in value.

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"There is nothing alternative about alternative energy," Mr. Liebreich said. Bloomberg New Energy is a highly-regarded global advisory firm that focuses on low-carbon energy.

In an interview, Mr. Liebreich predicted there would be only a modest impact from Mr. Trump's executive order aimed at rolling back former president Barack Obama's regulations that would reduce emissions in the power sector by cutting coal use.

Major utilities continue to announce coal-plant closures, as they boost investment in renewable generation and natural gas. Florida Power & Light Co. of Miami announced this week it would add 1,500 megawatts of solar power over the next six years, while it will close an aging 1,250-megawatt coal station. It has announced three coal-plant closures in the past three years.

Reuters surveyed 32 utilities with operations in the 26 states that sued Mr. Obama's administration to block its Clean Power Plan, the main target of Mr. Trump's executive order. The bulk of them have no plans to alter their years-long shift away from coal, suggesting demand for the fuel will keep falling despite Mr. Trump's efforts.

The utilities gave many reasons, mainly economic: natural gas – coal's top competitor – is cheap and abundant; solar and wind power costs are falling; state environmental laws remain in place; and the President's regulatory rollback may not survive legal challenges, Reuters said.

Mr. Liebreich said new coal cannot compete with natural gas, renewable sources or even energy efficiency, especially where there are state efforts to regulate its environmental impacts.

"There are some very old power plants in the U.S., and there's a retirement process that is going to happen anyway," he said. "One thing is for sure: I don't meet many investors running around trying to put together financing for a new coal-fired power stations just because there is a four-year or eight-year regulatory holiday."

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The bigger impact from Mr. Trump's retreat on climate change would be the loss of U.S. leadership in the world, he said. Mr. Obama paved the way for a successful Paris climate summit in 2015 by reaching climate deals with China and India that promised clean-energy co-operation.

India is considering whether to dramatically expand its coal fleet in order to bring power to its energy-starved population.

Mr. Liebreich said China and Europe will not be able to fill that global leadership gap.

"You have to envision an energy leapfrog [bypassing fossil technology], and then you have to help India to achieve it," he said. "Who has the credibility to do that? Who has the technology, the diplomatic heft, the credibility to say to political leaders in India, you don't have to develop that coal?

"The leadership that the U.S. has brought to that effort has been invaluable," he said.

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About the Author
Global Energy Reporter

Shawn McCarthy is an Ottawa-based, national business correspondent for The Globe and Mail, covering a global energy beat. He writes on various aspects of the international energy industry, from oil and gas production and refining, to the development of new technologies, to the business implications of climate-change regulations. More

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