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.

Cases: 313166

Reported Deaths: 7228
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto21496257
Hinds20294414
Harrison17814309
Rankin13573278
Jackson13411246
Madison10066217
Lee9962173
Jones8364163
Forrest7649152
Lauderdale7181240
Lowndes6370145
Lamar621686
Lafayette6171118
Washington5323133
Bolivar4797132
Oktibbeha461498
Panola4561105
Pearl River4499145
Marshall4397103
Warren4380121
Pontotoc419572
Monroe4100133
Union409076
Neshoba4026176
Lincoln3950110
Hancock377786
Leflore3487125
Sunflower335790
Tate332484
Pike3301105
Scott315373
Alcorn311968
Yazoo310769
Itawamba299477
Copiah296465
Simpson294788
Coahoma294379
Tippah287768
Prentiss279560
Adams269582
Marion268880
Leake266273
Wayne262341
Grenada260386
Covington256381
George246848
Newton246061
Winston226881
Tishomingo225967
Jasper220848
Attala214173
Chickasaw207157
Holmes188673
Clay184754
Stone182033
Tallahatchie178140
Clarke177879
Calhoun170132
Yalobusha163337
Smith162234
Walthall133845
Greene130333
Lawrence128323
Montgomery126742
Noxubee126734
Perry125938
Amite122842
Carroll121728
Webster114532
Jefferson Davis106932
Tunica104826
Claiborne102230
Benton99125
Humphreys96133
Kemper95428
Franklin83623
Quitman80216
Choctaw76118
Wilkinson66930
Jefferson65428
Sharkey50317
Issaquena1686
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 530325

Reported Deaths: 10966
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson763971520
Mobile40908804
Madison34717503
Tuscaloosa25730452
Montgomery24314588
Shelby23401249
Baldwin21107307
Lee15856171
Calhoun14488314
Morgan14282279
Etowah13819353
Marshall12210223
Houston10557280
Elmore10044205
Limestone9954150
Cullman9649193
St. Clair9644242
Lauderdale9419241
DeKalb8825185
Talladega8214175
Walker7223277
Autauga6918108
Jackson6804112
Blount6651137
Colbert6292134
Coffee5506119
Dale4828111
Russell440638
Chilton4279112
Franklin425582
Covington4118118
Tallapoosa4019152
Escambia393276
Chambers3559123
Dallas3547151
Clarke350861
Marion3113100
Pike310577
Lawrence299898
Winston274072
Bibb260464
Marengo249264
Geneva249077
Pickens234160
Barbour230757
Hale222677
Butler215969
Fayette212062
Henry188744
Cherokee184445
Randolph179941
Monroe177340
Washington167039
Macon158750
Clay156156
Crenshaw152057
Cleburne148741
Lamar141934
Lowndes138653
Wilcox127030
Bullock123041
Conecuh110129
Perry107526
Coosa107128
Sumter104332
Greene92334
Choctaw60424
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