Emera Inc. is proceeding with its strategy to export low-carbon energy to the United States, even as President Donald Trump stands poised to roll back Obama administration climate-change policies.
Despite a change in direction in Washington, there is a strong business case for Canadian clean power exports, and for capital spending at its American utilities to move away from coal-based electricity to natural gas and renewables, Emera chief executive Chris Huskilson said in an interview.
The Halifax-based multinational energy company completed its $6.5-billion (U.S.) acquisition of TECO Energy Inc. last July, giving it electricity and natural gas distribution operations in Florida and New Mexico. When it was announced in September, 2015, Mr. Huskilson touted the transaction as an opportunity to expand on its strategy of providing affordable, lower-carbon energy to customers, and shifting away from coal-fired power.
However, Mr. Trump campaigned on an effort to revitalize coal. His controversial choice to head of the Environmental Protection Agency, former Oklahoma attorney general Scott Pruitt, was confirmed last Friday and the President is expected to issue executive orders this week signalling the new direction for the agency.
"We don't think we're displaced in our approach" by Mr. Trump's policies, Mr. Huskilson said last week, after the company released its quarterly results. "We believe the customer base is really looking forward to clean, affordable energy in those markets. And in Florida especially, they're looking forward to more solar energy."
Emera has also issued a call for 900 megawatts of clean power from electricity producers in the Maritimes, Quebec and northern Maine to supply a proposed 563-kilometre underwater cable from Nova Scotia to Massachusetts. The company is bidding to construct a $2-billion undersea transmission line to transport clean electricity under a request for proposals issued by the state of Massachusetts.
Canadian utilities were bullish on the American market after former president Barack Obama enacted his clean power plan, which aimed to cut greenhouse-gas emissions in the electricity sector and was seen as accelerating the recent trend to replace coal with gas and renewable sources of power.
Many analysts argue the President can do little to revive coal demand, which they argue is losing ground due to market forces. However, the U.S. Energy Information Administration suggests the clean power plan would have a considerable impact on the coal market.
In a forecast issued last month, the EIA said coal consumption in the power sector fell from more than 2-trillion kilowatt hours in 2009 to less than 1.3 trillion last year. Under Mr. Obama's clean power plan, it expects that consumption to continue to decline in the coming years. Without that regulatory driver, demand will level out in 2020 and remain 40 per cent higher in 2030 than it would be under the clean power plan, the Energy Information Administration said.
However, Mr. Huskilson said natural gas is now cheaper than coal in Florida and New Mexico, and that, with existing tax breaks, solar is competitive with coal for new generation. Emera's TECO supplies both power and natural gas distribution in the two states.
"It is very much a strong focus of those markets to use more and more natural gas," he said. New Mexico produces growing volumes of its own gas, and Emera is pushing greater use of the fuel for electricity and is also exporting the gas to Mexico.
The Emera chief executive noted many states have their own policies to encourage clean power, and will continue to do so regardless of the direction in Washington.
In a letter to the President last week, 20 Republican and Democratic governors urged him to support wind and solar power, saying "expanding renewable energy production is one of the best ways to meet the country's growing demand for energy."
The group, which included governors from Midwestern states such as Kansas, Iowa and Illinois, said solar and wind energy resources are enriching low-income rural areas by providing payments to landowners and creating local jobs.