The easiest option for many utilities is to switch from coal to gas. The average age of coal plants in America is over 40 years, and the plants are facing increasingly strict regulation of air pollution, water use, and ash disposal. Plus, natural gas remains at rock bottom prices, thanks to the miracle of fracking. Gas is already pushing coal out of the market because it's cheaper.
But two of the presenters, Jack Moore of Energy + Environmental Economics Consulting (E3) and Trevor Houser of Rhodium Group, cautioned against relying solely on a coal to gas strategy. By investing in gas infrastructure and generation, we run the risk of locking in carbon emissions beyond the 2030 timeframe of the Clean Power Plan. Assuming global warming will not have been solved by 2030, further cuts will be necessary, and those investments may be stranded.
Moore went so far as to call the coal-to-gas strategy a "dead end."
While today's primary task in the US is going "beyond coal," as the Sierra Club puts it, the task of the next decade will be to go beyond gas. Moore and Houser suggest that we should get started on that task today, with energy efficiency and renewable energy.
More details about the symposium are available in my article in POWER Magazine.