The utility industry's top lobbyist called the Trump tax reform bill a major "win" for the industry and its customers, while noting that there is still "significant work" in implementing the law.
Tom Kuhn, the Edison Electric Institute's president and CEO, discussed the charged political landscape and the challenges that the industry faces this year during a major address to Wall Street on Tuesday. Kuhn's trade association represents the investor-owned utility industry, which represents 5 percent of the nation's gross domestic product.
He noted the major reductions in electricity rates that many of his member companies have announced over the last month because of the tax law's reduction in the corporate tax rate by 14 percentage points.
"Not only was final passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in December a top priority for EEI and our member companies, it was a win for electricity customers and for investment in critical energy infrastructure," Kuhn said.
Nevertheless, the tax bill's benefits will take time to work out over the next several months before it becomes effective on a number of other issues important to the industry.
"While the tax legislation has been signed into law, implementation will require significant work," Kuhn said. "We plan to act quickly and to have all our member companies involved."
He explained that some of the industry's "immediate needs" include clarifying how to deal with the interest allocated from a holding company, as well as figuring out which depreciation schedule should apply for the fourth quarter of 2017. Those are just some of the details that still need to be worked out, "but more issues will arise," he said.
He also praised Trump's deregulation agenda, which is set to address many of the utility industry's top concerns, from expediting Interior Department reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act to limiting the energy industry's liability for bird deaths under an international migratory bird treaty.
All of that is part of Trump's infrastructure development agenda, which Kuhn expects to be announced shortly by the administration.
"From a policy standpoint, we fully support streamlining and expediting the process for permitting and siting energy infrastructure — including transmission, natural gas facilities and pipelines, and hydroelectric and other renewable energy facilities — to ensure that energy can get where it is needed, when it is needed," he said.
But he also thinks that infrastructure must help support the development of "smart communities" and electric vehicles for both personal use and mass transit.
Kuhn said the industry believes in a diverse mix of energy resources that combines traditional energy resources, such as fossil fuels, with clean and renewable energy resources.
"We also know that our customers want and expect clean energy," he emphasized. "Our industry has made tremendous progress to transition to an even cleaner generation fleet."
The utility industry is "leading the way on renewables," but it remains focused on "the vital role" of baseload power plants, he said.
Baseload plants such as coal and nuclear power plants provide energy 24 hours a day, seven days a week, without interruption. Renewables are subject to interruptions when the wind does not blow and the sun is not shining.