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Trump Inauguration: US power, natural gas poised for change under Trump administration

Washington (Platts)--20 Jan 2017 224 pm EST/1924 GMT


As President Donald Trump takes office, the power and natural gas sectors await changes in policy direction and regulatory oversight.

Market and industry players remain focused on the new administration, with executive actions expected as soon as Friday.

Related: Find more content about Trump's administration in our news and analysis feature.

Expected abandonment of the Clean Power Plan, a pullback in support for renewables and the future of gas trading are pivotal issues.


ENERGY POLICY


With a newly inaugurated President Trump in the White House, uncertainty lingers as the regulated energy sectors await executive orders and new nominees to lead regulatory agencies.

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Sources expect Trump may place a freeze on new regulations through executive action, perhaps as early as Monday.

Major roster changes at key federal regulatory agencies in the first 100 days of the Trump administration portend important policy shifts for energy markets in 2017.

At the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, Chairman Timothy Massad stepped down and was replaced on an acting basis by Republican Chris Giancarlo.

While still embracing core reforms of the Dodd-Frank Act, Giancarlo said he will make it a priority to provide customer choice in swap trade execution, fix a swap data reporting regime that has failed to bring about intended transparency to the markets, and alter the commission's approach to cross-border harmonization.

The House of Representatives added significant pressure for CFTC to retreat from the position limits rule, passing legislation that would allow the commission to opt out of issuing the rule.

There will be new faces at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission as well, where the roster currently comprises just three sitting commissioners, all Democrats.

The five-member commission is expected to welcome at least two new Republicans, one of whom would be given the chairman's gavel. But that could take months, given the time required for background checks and Senate confirmation. New commissioners can be expected to take a hard look at what constitutes gaming in energy markets and perhaps throttle back on the number of such cases brought against companies active in the markets.


POWER


Trump's inauguration is expected to close a period of rapid renewables growth -- driven, at least in part, by federal market intervention -- and ushers in an era with generation changes likely driven more by economics and state-level mandates.

At the heart of Obama's power-regulation agenda was the Clean Power Plan, which will likely be squarely in the crosshairs of Trump's early actions as president, particularly if fossil-fuel advocate Scott Pruitt is confirmed at the helm of the Environmental Protection Agency.

The specifics of Trump's "all of the above" approach to energy remain to be seen, but stand in stark contrast to defeated Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton's policy calling for a massive solar buildout and federal renewables generation targets.

Wind and solar penetration will continue to increase as California and other states chase lofty Renewable Portfolio Standard targets, but with federal tax incentives phasing down in coming years, development in non-RPS states could taper off.

An important wild card remains the economics of both fuel -- as gas and remaining coal generation battle for market share -- and development, as renewables and battery technology continue to garner private sector investment.

Trump's White House tenure will put him in a position to at some point replace all five members of the commission. A reconstituted FERC could give more deference to the states when there is a call between relying on states in power markets and asserting federal jurisdiction.


NATURAL GAS


The arrival of the Trump administration comes at an important turning point in the US gas market. The US market is marching toward globalization, with growing pipeline exports to Mexico and rising LNG shipments to multiple destinations.

It is unclear at this point whether the new administration will make an effort to slow this march, but any effort is unlikely to significantly change this trend.

These areas of demand growth -- at a time when US gas production declined in 2016 to 72.2 Bcf/d from 72.5 Bcf/d in 2015, for the first time since Platts Analytics began tracking production in 2005 -- point to tighter market conditions in 2017.

Gas prices at the benchmark Henry Hub point in Louisiana for 2017 are expected to top those of 2016 by more than $1/MMBtu, according to Platts Analytics' Bentek Energy unit, and average roughly $3.60/MMBtu.

The forecast is currently slightly above the 2017 NYMEX futures strip, which has Henry Hub averaging about $3.42/MMBtu, up 94 cents from the 2016 Henry Hub spot price average of $2.48/MMBtu.

US dry gas production is expected to grow to 74.7 Bcf/d in 2017, up 2.5 Bcf/d from 2016, according the latest forecast from Platts Analytics.

Exports should reach 6.7 Bcf/d in 2017, up 2.45 Bcf/d from 2016, with Mexico and LNG exports splitting the increase fairly evenly. Gas demand from power generation is expected to fall 3 Bcf/d to 24.6 Bcf/d, largely because of an expected return to normal weather conditions, while residential and commercial demand should rise to 25.9 Bcf/d in 2017, assuming normal weather.

The new administration is unlikely to have a near-term impact on these broader market trends.

--Staff, newsdesk@spglobal.com

--Edited by Valarie Jackson, valarie.jackson@spglobal.com

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