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November 02, 2017

Good morning! A couple of quick notes before we get started.

Later this morning Axios and NBC are teaming up to host a discussion with Energy secretary Rick Perry and Sen. Maria Cantwell, the top Democrat on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Keep an eye on the Axios stream for coverage.

Good listen: My Axios colleague Amy Harder is a guest on the Smart Women, Smart Power podcast from the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Click here to listen to Amy and others have an interesting chat about the politics of climate change and how journalists approach the topic.

Ok, here we go . . .

Analysis: Renewables beating coal and nuke power on costs

All grown up: Falling costs for developing wind and solar power plants are giving those technologies a market edge over coal and nuclear power even without tax subsidies, according to a new analysis on the changing economics of electricity from the financial advisory firm Lazard.

Why it matters: The trend explains why power companies are opting to build new renewables generation, like American Electric Power's massive Wind Catcher project in Oklahoma, according to Jonathan Mir, head of Lazard's North American Power Group.

The study also signals why new utility-scale renewables plants will continue to be developed even after federal tax credits expire in a few years, he said in an interview.

Key trend: Mir notes that costs have come down enough that developing new renewables generation is increasingly attractive in many regions compared to even keeping existing coal and nuclear plants running.

  • "In North America the costs of utility-scale solar and utility-scale wind on an unsubsidized basis are starting to approach the marginal cost of operating nuclear or coal plants," he tells Axios.
  • "Currently, given U.S. tax subsidies, they are beneath the marginal costs of coal and nuclear. That is why you are seeing an acceleration of coal and nuclear retirements."

The report examines the so-called levelized costs of different technologies, which basically means an all-in comparison of the costs of building, running, supplying and maintaining different types of facilities over time.

It finds that the costs for utility scale solar technologies fell by another 9% from last year, while wind dropped 4%, a summary states.

Go deeper: Lazard analysts caution that while renewables are increasingly attractive, the grid will require a mix of generation sources. And there are a suite of variables when comparing costs, some of which — like integration and transmission — aren't factored into the analysis.

You can read the detailed report here, and a separate analysis of energy storage cost trends here.

Latest in oil: Shell's earnings, Aramco's value, Arctic drilling fight

Shell's profits: "Royal Dutch Shell PLC said Thursday its profits more than doubled in the third quarter compared with a year earlier, as improved business conditions and rising production lifted earnings," the Wall Street Journal reports.

Aramco IPO: Bloomberg has an interesting look at the company's plans for a massive listing that might (or might not) happen next year. Here's a concise comparison of their unresolved decision on where the international listing should happen:

  • "New York offers the biggest pool of money and potentially the highest valuation, but listing there could also leave it more exposed to litigation in the U.S. London is more friendly legally, but it's unclear that British regulators would allow the IPO in its current form. Hong Kong offers few regulatory obstacles, but its smaller capital pool means a lower valuation, too."

Arctic drilling: The New York Times chatted with Alaska GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski in a piece that sets the stage for today's Senate hearing on legislation to allow drilling in the state's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Markets: "Oil prices steadied on Thursday as supply cuts by OPEC and other major exporters tightened the market despite higher production in the United States," Reuters reports.

ICYMI: Crude exports surge

Milestone: Crude oil exports averaged a record 2.1 million barrels per day for the week ending October 27, according to new Energy Information Administration data, marking the first time they have surpassed the 2 million threshold in EIA's weekly tallies.

Why it matters: The growing exports underscore how the shale boom and the lifting of major export restrictions in late 2015 are making the U.S. an increasingly prominent force in global crude oil markets.

I've got more on this on the Axios stream.

Regulator may "cast a lifeline" to coal and nuclear

Amy reports that a top regulator said the federal government may "cast a lifeline" to coal and nuclear power plants while the government conducts a longterm review of America's electricity grid.

What they're saying: "I just think it's prudent to potentially cast a lifeline to certain assets so they can stay afloat while we do this longer term analysis," said Neil Chatterjee, chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, during a Wednesday luncheon with dozens of energy industry executives.

"I truly think there is a way to achieve that in a legally defensible manner that does not distort markets," he said.

Why it matters: Chatterjee's remarks offer some of the most concrete evidence that FERC, at Perry's request, may end up taking a specific action soon to help numerous financially struggling coal and nuclear power plants. Helping revive the coal and nuclear industries is a top energy priority for President Trump.

Amy's got more here in the Axios stream.

The high stakes of Tesla's stumbles

Rough patch: Tesla's shares tumbled in after hours trading yesterday and CEO Elon Musk was on the defensive in an earnings call as the electric carmaker reported a $619.4 million loss today — its biggest ever, my colleagues Steve LeVine and Stef W. Kight report.

What we heard: Again and again, the usually chest-out Musk told Wall Street analysts about the growing pains of ramping up to produce hundreds of thousands of cars a year, at one point declining even to forecast how many units of the ostensibly company-changing Model 3 Tesla would produce in the last quarter of the year, apart from finally saying it will be in the thousands per week.

"We are in a vertical climb here," he said of the company's ramp-up difficulties.

Why it matters: It is not too dramatic to say that, given the absence of any other electric with the enormous consumer demand enjoyed by the Model 3, the near-term future of global electric cars rides on him resolving the problems and making hundreds of thousands of more or less problem-free units of the mainstream vehicle.

What is vexing Musk: Analysts regard the Model 3 as make or break for Tesla, which is spending terrific sums of money to ramp up not only the Model 3 but the Gigafactory, the gigantic lithium-ion battery factory Musk is building in Nevada. Everything is on the line for Tesla. Musk either needs to get the kinks out — Tesla was supposed to be producing 5,000 Model 3s per day by the end of the year, a milestone that is now pushed out to next year — or he could see his pumped-up share price absorb a far more serious hit.

Here's more of their analysis published last night in the Axios stream.

On tap today: House Republicans are planning to finally release their tax overhaul plan. We recently looked at the stakes for the energy industry here. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee holds a hearing this morning on the revived GOP push to open the ANWR to oil drilling.

Thanks for reading! Your tips and feedback are always welcome at [email protected] See you back here tomorrow.