When utility executives make decisions about building new power plants, a lot rides on their choices. Depending on their size and type, new generating facilities cost hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars. They typically will run for 40 or more years — 10 U.S. presidential terms. Much can change during that time.
Today one of the biggest dilemmas that regulators and electricity industry planners face is predicting how strict future limits on greenhouse gas emissions will be. Future policies will affect the profitability of today’s investments. For example, if the United States adopts a carbon tax 10 years from now, it could make power plants that burn fossil fuels less profitable, or even insolvent.