In this anniversary episode, we welcome back Jonathan Koomey to talk about some of the interesting developments and raucous debates we have seen over the past year. We’ll consider how expectations have changed for coal and gas-fired electricity generation; we’ll discuss the changed outlook for natural gas appliances; we’ll talk about the growing support for “just transition” strategies integrating climate and environmental justice objectives to ensure that energy transition leaves no one behind; we’ll summarize the latest developments in the ongoing debate over climate scenarios; we’ll discuss some of the new models around what an 80, 90, or 100% renewable energy system might look like; and we’ll review a slew of stories about corruption investigations into legacy energy companies, several of which we first covered two and three years ago.
Owners of uneconomic coal plants in the US have tried many ways to keep operating, even when it is not profitable to do so, such as out-of-market subsidies and re-regulation (as we discussed in Episode #41), bailouts and wholesale market controls (as we discussed in Episode #70), and seeking capacity payments or other novel payments for alleged reliability (as we discussed in our trilogy of shows on decarbonizing power markets, Episodes #90, #97, and #105).
But there’s another tactic, variously known as “self-committing” or “self-scheduling,” and it happens when a utility that owns a coal-fired power plant elects to operate the plant no matter what the going rate for power is, even if that price is below its operating costs. Fully regulated utilities oftentimes can pass the costs of operation onto their customers even when they’re electing to run at a loss, without having to go to the trouble of asking for additional cost recovery from a regulator, or getting a legislator or wholesale market operator to give them a handout in one form or another. And it all happens more or less invisibly to customers and regulators. Only a researcher with a sharp eye and expert knowledge of what to look for would even detect these uneconomic operations, such as our guest in this episode.