Electric Power Companies are Making PROMISES, Promises, big promises …

by Duane Nichols on November 7, 2019

Utilities Are Promising Net Zero Carbon Emissions, But Don’t Expect Big Changes Soon

From an Article by Dan Gearino, Inside Climate News, October 15, 2019

One way to quickly assess the seriousness of a utility’s emissions-reduction plan is to look at how it deals with coal-fired power plants, which are the leading sources of carbon emissions from the power sector, said Daniel Cohan, a Rice University environmental engineering professor.

“Any plan that leaves a substantial amount of coal around isn’t a serious climate plan,” he said

Most of the country’s largest investor-owned utilities have released carbon-reduction plans in recent months, often in response to intensifying demands from shareholders and customers to address climate change. The announcements reached an inflection point last month when Duke Energy, the utility behemoth that generates more electricity than any other U.S. company, issued its plan to get to net-zero carbon by 2050. DTE followed a week later.

The plans tend to have ambitious long-term targets, but many of the utilities, like Detroit-based DTE, wait decades to make major changes rather than starting an ambitious phase-out quickly, and some expect to rely on carbon capture technology. That’s drawing criticism from analysts and environmental advocates.

DTE pledged to get its operations to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, yet it still intends to run the Monroe plant, one of the largest coal-fired generators in the country, until 2040.

Southern Company has said its system will be “low to no carbon” by 2050, but its Georgia Power subsidiary told regulators this summer that the corporate carbon pledge has played no role in the drafting of a separate plan for Georgia power plants.

To enlarge click above

On the other end of the spectrum is Xcel Energy, which has used its net-zero carbon plan as the basis for proposals for power plants in Colorado and Minnesota. Xcel has an interim goal to cut its carbon emissions by 80 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. In contrast, DTE and Duke only aim for 50 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.

One reason Xcel can aim for such an ambitious interim goal is that it has done much of the work already. Its 2018 emissions were down more than a third from 2005.

Pace of Emissions Cuts Slowing?

The plans are statements about a company’s intentions. The more substantial commitments come in the form of long-term planning documents that utilities file with regulators in the states where they do business, showing which power plants would open and close over the next one to two decades.

“There’s always the risk that these targets will just be ignored, but having them announced is significant if it empowers citizens’ groups, regulators and others to hold these companies accountable,” Cohan said.

While companies often frame the plans as major progress, some of the plans actually slow the utilities’ pace of carbon dioxide emissions reductions, according to an analysis from Energy and Policy Institute, an environmental watchdog group.

Most utilities have significantly reduced their CO2 emissions since 2005. One reason was an economic shift as natural gas became a less expensive fuel than coal, leading to a boom in construction of natural gas plants and the closing of many coal plants. Natural gas plants also emit greenhouse gases, but they have lower CO2 emissions than coal.

To maintain this pace in the 2020s, companies would need to continue to close coal plants and also their older and less efficient gas plants, and replace them with renewable sources and energy storage. Many of the companies are not doing this fast enough, said David Pomerantz, executive director of the Energy and Policy Institute.

“I think they’re hoping they get plaudits for a nice-sounding goal and then people stop paying attention,” he said. “Once you start looking under the hood, you see some really big problems.”

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Dan Gearino ICN November 7, 2019 at 9:28 am

Duke Still Plans More Natural Gas Plants

Duke also faces criticism. The company’s net-zero plan was released at a time when the company had a long-term plan before regulators in North Carolina that called for construction of about 10,000 megawatts of natural gas power plants by 2033, more than double the renewable capacity it is proposing.

Philip Sgro, a Duke spokesman, says building natural gas plants “is critical to our ability to continue to retire coal and keep electricity reliable and affordable for customers.”

Considering that natural gas plants can operate for 30 or more years, Duke’s plan looks incompatible with the idea of net-zero carbon by 2050, said Michael O’Boyle, director of electricity policy for Energy Innovation, a clean energy think tank.

“Any attempt to get close to zero that also, on the other hand, involves building new gas is undermining itself,” he said.

(This may well be a major destination for fracked natural gas from WV by way of the ACP and MVP 42 inch pipelines. DGN)


Dan Gearino ICN November 7, 2019 at 9:31 am

Increasing Pressure from Investors and States

The pressure on utilities to cut emissions is coming from several directions, with shareholders, customers and some state regulators demanding that the companies take action.

Also, some of the utilities operate in states with new laws calling for a transition to carbon-free energy. Hawaii, California, Nevada, New Mexico and New York have all passed laws that set targets for 100 percent carbon-free energy production, or net-zero carbon for the economy as a whole.

In February, a group of institutional investors representing $1.8 trillion in assets signed a letter calling on the country’s 20 largest utility companies to set deadlines for reaching net-zero carbon.

“The climate crisis is an imminent threat not only to our planet, but to pensions systems, and ultimately, our beneficiaries,” Scott Stringer, the New York City comptroller, said in a news release about the letter. “Delaying climate action is like denying climate change—it’s not an option for these companies or for anyone else.”

Following this kind of advice is ultimately good for the companies, said Michael O’Boyle, director of electricity policy for Energy Innovation, a clean energy think tank.

“Retiring coal is not always an altruistic action,” he said. “It’s usually the economically right thing to do, and a lot of them have done it.”


NRDC NEWS November 11, 2019 at 12:52 am

EPA’s Proposals Would Allow Coal Plants to Pollute Our Water

Press Release from the Natural Resources Defense Council, November 04, 2019

WASHINGTON – The Environmental Protection Agency is proposing to allow coal-burning power plants to dump more toxic substances into waterways and companies to keep open unlined, hazardous coal ash ponds.

The following is a statement from Jon Devine, director of federal water policy at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC):

“These two measures are the latest example of the Trump administration rewarding polluters at the expense of all of us who rely on clean water. These dangerous attacks on the environment and our public health cannot be allowed to stand.”

“EPA’s proposal on water discharge from power plants would expose millions of people to a toxic brew of mercury, arsenic, lead and selenium – pollutants that can cause neurological disorders and cardiovascular disease, and increase the risk of cancer. Coal plants are the largest source of these pollutants; it’s long past time to get them to clean up their act.”

The following is a statement from Becky Hammer, deputy director of federal water policy at NRDC:

“Coal ash dumps are already leaking toxic pollution into our groundwater supplies across the country. As the dangerous spills in Tennessee and North Carolina dramatically demonstrate, these toxic dumps are contaminating our communities and harming our health. Allowing them to stay open risks causing serious harm to public health, particularly in low-income communities and communities of color.”


The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world’s natural resources, public health, and the environment.



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