The U.S. energy landscape is gradually drifting away from coal power, which is not only compelling utility companies like Duke Energy (NYSE:DUK) to reassess its energy assets, but is also putting a question mark on the company’s ongoing coal business. It is especially bothersome to Duke as its U.S. Franchised Electric & Gas gets 13k MW of power from coal-fired stations, implying almost 50% of its 27k MW total power generation capacity in the segment.
Duke would need to phase out some of its old coal fired units and substitute them with renewable power or cleaner coal on a continual basis. Several steps are being considered to improve the investment attractiveness of the renewable power projects in the country. Let’s look at how these measures could impact utility companies like Duke.
We have price estimate of $25 for Duke’s stock, which is about 10% above the current market price.
- Earnings Review: Duke Posts Solid Q3 Numbers
- Earnings Preview: What To Expect From Duke’s Q3 Results
- Earnings Review: Lower Maintenance Costs Help Duke Post A Profit
- Earnings Preview: Spotlight On The Future As Duke’s Revenue Growth Stalls
- What’s Driving Duke’s Regulated Utilities Revenue Growth?
- What Has Driven Duke’s EPS Growth In The Last Four Years?
The popularity of coal is diminishing as many coal-fired plants across the nation have shuttered over the last few months and many more will follow over the next few years.  The primary reason for the closures is the environmentally unfriendly nature of coal plants. Most of the plants don’t comply to the carbon emission norms while others produce harmful chemicals that can be injurious to residents that live near the plans. For example, Duke’s Catabwa plant was found to discharge mercury in a nearby river. (See Duke Energy Updates: Nuke Plans; Mercury at Catawba; Rate Cuts For Commercial Customers)
It is believed that a tax structure adjustment for renewable energy projects could help. A U.S. Senator Chris Coons suggested that legislation to allow wind, solar and other renewable energy projects to operate under the master limited partnership (MLP) structure would boost the segment. 
Presently, the MLP structure is available to only oil, coal and natural gas projects. MLPs typically help unlisted companies to raise money through the stock market and avoid paying corporate income tax by distributing its profits. This could help improve the gloomy investment climate in renewable energy across the nation. Since Duke is already listed, it can still avail the tax benefit part of the legislation if it idles its renewable energy business into a separate MLP if the legislation were enacted.
We believe this could help Duke in making up for the phasing out inefficient coal power plants and enjoy better margins in its largest division, the U.S. Franchised Electric & Gas.Notes: