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Edison, PG&E execs: Trump to have limited impact on Calif. energy sector

The Trump administration's U-turn on climate and energy policy will do little or nothing to slow California's adoption of clean energy, representatives of the state's two largest electric utilities said at an April 5 event in San Francisco.

"While the November election represented a significant change in Washington, if anything, I think it's just redoubled the focus within California, and frankly, within PG&E," said Steve Malnight, senior vice president of strategy and policy for PG&E Corp. subsidiary Pacific Gas and Electric Co. "This state has a clear and strong commitment to addressing the challenge of carbon emissions. That's not going to change and that's what really drives most of our business."

Speaking at the Energy Times' "Renewables Rush" conference, Malnight said what is most important for U.S. utilities "is that we have some sense of certainty and predictability in the policy environment." California has that in its energy and climate policies, he added, which were created with bipartisan support. With energy companies around the country facing a need for major infrastructure investments, the PG&E executive advised other states to follow California's example by creating a strong foundation for such investments.

"Ninety percent of what happens in terms of regulation, legislation, policy in the electric industry happens at the state level," added Andrew Murphy, senior vice president of strategic planning at Edison International, the parent company of Southern California Edison Co. "The federal government historically just hasn't been able to and hasn't done much in terms of legislating and regulating the specifics around how we operate or what our goals are."

Still, Murphy said the Trump administration's energy policies could impact California and other states in smaller ways. "I think that the current administration has made a lot out of saying they are going to try to continue to promote, or re-promote, fossil fuels," he said. "They are not bringing back the coal industry to anything like it was. That's just not going to happen. Economics and everything else are going to continue to push that where it's going."

Those policies "could have an impact on making natural gas continue to be more available, as it has been," the Edison executive said, adding that "it's the environment in which we are operating right now." And while Murphy acknowledged that decisions made by FERC could, for instance, "impact our business models" with respect to retail customer choice, he does not "see that as fundamentally transformative."

The one area in which he does see the potential for the Trump administration to impact California's energy sector in a more meaningful way is in its treatment of vehicle fuel standards. "That could dampen the market [for zero-emission vehicles] in the U.S.," he said. Both executives said electrifying the state's transportation sector was critical to meeting the state's target of reducing economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions 40% below 1990 levels by 2030.