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 1:38 PM
Updated: Apr 12, 2018 1:38 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.

Related: Former refugee is now the first Latina CEO of a major US company

"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.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 28770

Reported Deaths: 1092
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds224739
DeSoto144216
Madison124234
Jones109149
Neshoba97070
Lauderdale89479
Rankin86012
Forrest82942
Harrison79410
Scott75715
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Lee51816
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Washington5129
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Pike39312
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Simpson2713
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Clay24410
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Marshall2123
Smith21111
Clarke20424
Coahoma1906
Union1819
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Kemper17614
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Lawrence1621
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Webster12610
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Montgomery1242
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Tallahatchie1153
Jefferson Davis1074
Prentiss1003
Greene968
Jefferson963
Wilkinson929
Tunica903
Amite842
George753
Tishomingo731
Choctaw724
Quitman690
Perry634
Alcorn601
Stone541
Franklin392
Benton270
Sharkey270
Issaquena81
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 41362

Reported Deaths: 983
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson4532143
Montgomery3875102
Mobile3797134
Tuscaloosa210739
Marshall162210
Lee124537
Shelby110923
Madison11047
Morgan10203
Walker87123
Franklin86314
Dallas8419
Elmore83614
Baldwin7359
Etowah64413
DeKalb6415
Butler60727
Chambers60027
Tallapoosa57269
Autauga55312
Unassigned50724
Russell5030
Lowndes45820
Lauderdale4576
Houston4464
Limestone4290
Cullman4114
Pike4075
Colbert3775
Bullock3649
Coffee3592
Barbour3331
Covington3327
St. Clair3192
Marengo29911
Hale29621
Escambia2936
Wilcox2848
Talladega2827
Calhoun2805
Sumter27912
Clarke2686
Dale2620
Jackson2522
Winston2373
Blount2181
Pickens2176
Chilton2152
Marion20613
Monroe2052
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Randolph1889
Conecuh1866
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Bibb1761
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Washington1027
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