PG&E CEO: Why coal isn't the future

Burning coal used to be the primary way power companies generated the electricity needed to cool homes, run factories...

Posted: Apr 12, 2018 2:38 PM
Updated: Apr 12, 2018 2:38 PM

Burning coal used to be the primary way power companies generated the electricity needed to cool homes, run factories and brighten streets. But US electricity production is changing dramatically, as companies rely more on natural gas and renewable energy sources.

"I don't think coal is the future. I really don't," Geisha Williams, CEO of PG&E Corp., tells CNN's Poppy Harlow in a new episode of Boss Files. "I think coal played an important role. I don't believe it's economical. It's certainly not as clean."

Natural gas is cheaper and cleaner, she says. That's why PG&E, which is California's largest utility, now has three natural gas power plants and zero coal plants, Williams told Harlow.

The $30 billion firm, which employs some 20,000 employees, once used coal to generate electricity. But now it delivers some of the nation's cleanest power using natural gas and renewable energy sources, such as wind, solar and geothermal energy. Nearly 70% of PG&E's electricity comes from sources that are greenhouse-gas free.

In recent years, natural gas has surpassed coal as the leading source of electricity in the US. In 2017, natural gas accounted for nearly 32% of US power generation, up from about 22% a decade earlier, according to federal data. Coal, meanwhile, now accounts for 30%, after falling from 49% over the same time period.

Despite President Trump's promises that he would bring back coal jobs, the industry saw a net gain of only 400 jobs during his first year in office.

California still uses some coal to produce electricity, but barely any. The state's move away from coal is driven by its aggressive environmental goals.

PG&E, the parent company of Pacific Gas and Electric which serves some 16 million customers in the state, aims to boost the amount of power it gets from renewable sources like wind and solar energy from 33% to 50% by 2030, says Williams.

"We'll bank 50% by 2030. I'm confident of that, and actually, we've taken on a higher goal and said we want to be at 55% by 2031. I'm confident that we can do it. We have to do it," Williams declares.

Williams acknowledges that a large percentage of President Trump's base comes from coal country and voted for him because he promised to revive America's coal industry.

She said California's success with renewable energy can show them a different way. While not every state has the same wealth of natural resources, she believes California can serve as a model of how it can be done.

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"I really believe it can be an example to the rest of the country in how to do this properly," Williams tells Harlow. "Our reliability has never been better. Our customer bills are 20% to 30% lower than the national average. Our system is safe, we've created jobs, our economy is booming."

She says it's up to the states to push for new plants fueled by renewable energy.

"When states are ready to go to higher levels of renewables, the market's going to be there, the costs are going to be more competitive, and it's going be more reliable," Williams said.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 661673

Reported Deaths: 12573
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion906391639
Lake48389876
Allen35806635
Hamilton32056396
St. Joseph29947512
Elkhart25376414
Vanderburgh21245378
Tippecanoe20000201
Johnson16336359
Porter15957270
Hendricks15813300
Clark11946181
Madison11741316
Vigo11595229
Monroe10328161
Delaware9836179
LaPorte9761196
Howard9055197
Kosciusko8561109
Bartholomew7448147
Warrick7412150
Hancock7404131
Floyd7200169
Wayne6631191
Grant6424157
Morgan6084125
Boone608288
Dubois5903111
Dearborn547067
Cass544399
Marshall5423104
Henry542093
Noble509078
Jackson464566
Shelby460290
Lawrence4180112
Gibson401281
Harrison399663
Clinton395453
Montgomery386783
DeKalb385178
Knox357285
Miami357263
Whitley349136
Huntington343976
Steuben338155
Wabash331176
Putnam329759
Ripley327061
Adams323149
Jasper315943
White297352
Jefferson294873
Daviess285396
Fayette271556
Decatur270888
Greene261280
Posey260831
Wells258274
Scott250350
Clay241044
LaGrange240870
Randolph225576
Spencer217130
Jennings215044
Washington211027
Sullivan203239
Fountain201442
Starke188051
Owen182153
Fulton178237
Jay177728
Carroll176518
Perry173235
Orange171250
Rush164722
Vermillion160442
Franklin159435
Tipton146341
Parke139216
Pike127632
Blackford120627
Pulaski106444
Newton96531
Brown94939
Benton91913
Crawford90613
Martin80114
Warren75814
Switzerland7537
Union67110
Ohio53311
Unassigned0431

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 967422

Reported Deaths: 17297
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1118511208
Cuyahoga954841746
Hamilton73202970
Montgomery47226889
Summit40110957
Butler35435471
Lucas35217765
Stark29301840
Warren22361276
Lorain21952389
Mahoning19402543
Lake18358305
Clermont18327211
Delaware16415135
Licking14939200
Fairfield14491159
Trumbull14283462
Greene13548213
Medina13347219
Clark12223336
Wood11492193
Portage10982160
Allen10762235
Richland10250206
Miami10006190
Muskingum8153130
Columbiana8103182
Pickaway8033101
Tuscarawas8016236
Marion7979137
Wayne7848219
Erie6858184
Ross6123136
Geauga6051128
Hancock5979112
Ashtabula5937145
Scioto5920104
Lawrence523174
Union511252
Darke5025124
Belmont490989
Huron4781117
Jefferson4781108
Sandusky475996
Seneca4652103
Athens463133
Washington460587
Mercer4581101
Auglaize455099
Shelby440769
Knox401186
Putnam3984101
Madison391447
Ashland378495
Fulton377964
Defiance3711102
Brown369042
Crawford356696
Logan353259
Preble352571
Clinton339964
Highland327356
Ottawa322767
Williams301878
Jackson289256
Champaign285846
Guernsey285834
Fayette267844
Perry267543
Morrow259125
Henry245565
Hardin243957
Holmes2430104
Coshocton234547
Van Wert228849
Gallia221346
Adams215532
Pike214928
Wyandot209153
Hocking193549
Carroll180328
Paulding159723
Meigs134837
Noble128542
Monroe116136
Morgan100534
Harrison100432
Vinton76615
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