Utility executives and energy policy makers met in downtown Mobile on June 5 for the 2014 Gulf Coast Energy Forum to discuss challenges and opportunities facing utilities in their efforts to serve customers with low-cost, reliable power.
A recurring topic of discussion throughout the day was the need for innovative solutions to problems facing the industry, including workforce development, transmission delivery and reliability and how federal mandates could impact the industry.
Michael Zehr, federal policy advisor with the Consumer Energy Alliance, said federal regulations can do more harm than good when they impose massive restrictions for minor benefit.
“To be successful, regulations should be designed to provide maximum environmental benefits with minimal financial impact on customers,” he said.
Investing in new technology
During a discussion on investing in new technology, Sen. Terry Burton (R-Newton), who is also chairman of the Energy Committee in the Mississippi Senate, said the Kemper County energy facility is a perfect example of the Department of Energy investing dollars in new technology.
“This plant will pay tremendous dividends down the line,” Burton said. “I think it will set the standard for a change in energy policy not only here, but in other parts of the country, and the world, as well.
“The investment by the federal government into this plant shows me that they believe in it too,” he added.
“We fundamentally believe there has to be a future for coal-fired capacity in this country and across the world,” said CEO Ed Holland, who participated in the forum’s executive roundtable. “But we have to use this resource cleaner than we have in the past. The technology we are applying at Kemper is drawing interest from countries all over the globe. We’re proud to be a leader in the area of carbon capture.”
Using renewable energy
While all members of the executive roundtable agreed that there is a place for renewables in a diversified energy portfolio, many cautioned that the cost of renewables should not come at the expense of customers.
“It can’t be done on the backs of ratepayers, some of whom struggle to pay as it is,” said Chip Pardee, executive vice president and COO of the Tennessee Valley Authority.
Holland also said renewables do have limitations since strong solar and wind resources exist in areas where few people live.
“We believe that you need to build generation as close to the source of consumption as possible,” he said, referencing the cautionary tales of previous blackouts in the Midwest, Northeast and desert Southwest.
Powering the future
Jim Compton, general manager and CEO of South Mississippi Electric Power Association, which will own a portion of the Kemper facility, noted the constantly changing environment of the utility industry.
“We have a real opportunity to meet the challenge of making our industry cleaner while keeping it affordable,” he said.
“We produce the most important product in our economy. Energy runs our homes, it runs our businesses. We owe it to our customers to keep the lights on.”