More Utilities Make Big Commitments to Climate Action

Utility clean energy commitments have strengthened and multiplied since we inventoried some of the most newsworthy announcements last year. Xcel Energy recently became the first major utility to commit to eliminating 100 percent of its carbon emissions by 2050. Platte River Power Authority, a publicly owned utility in Colorado, announced its pledge to provide 100 percent carbon-free energy by 2030. And MidAmerican Energy, a Berkshire Hathaway subsidiary, will be the first U.S. utility to provide customers with electricity generated from 100 percent renewable energy by 2020, less than a year away.

When President Trump proposed to roll back the Clean Power Plan to cut power plant emissions and replace it with the worse than do-nothing Dirty Power Plan (the administration calls it the Affordable Clean Energy rule), and then weakened emissions standards for new coal-fired power plants, there were concerns that the new rules would not only benefit coal companies, but dissuade electric power providers from transitioning to clean energy. So far—and we’ve seen two years of strong attempts—that has not been the case. These commitments from utilities to reduce carbon pollution and invest in clean energy keep coming despite a strong push by the Trump administration in the opposite direction.

The best investment is climate action

Costs for renewable energy and energy efficiency programs are falling rapidly enough for clean energy investments to be more cost-effective than burning fossil fuels, and utilities are catching on.

Why else would the CEO of Southern Co. confirm to reporters that the utility will not be abandoning its long-term commitment to retire its coal fleet and achieve a “low- to no-carbon” energy mix by 2050? Similarly, DTE Energy Co. of Michigan stated that, “while it’s not immediately known what impacts the administration’s plans will have on the energy industry overall now and long term, DTE will continue to drive to reduce our carbon emissions by 45 percent by 2030 and by more than 80 percent by 2050.” And just two weeks ago, Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) announced plans to shut down two of its six remaining coal-fired power plants despite tweets from President Trump urging it not to do so. In other words, utilities know what they need to do to be both financially responsible and climate smart.

U.S. Department of Energy

Climate commitments keep coming

A year ago, we saw that American Electric PowerNational Grid, and Southern California Edison were among the large utilities that had committed to reducing their emissions 80 percent by 2050, and that several others had set significant climate and clean energy goals. Since then, utilities have continued to pledge to meet strong climate reduction goals. Below is an updated sample of commitments made since last year’s blog by utilities representing over 18.5 million electric customers:

  • Alliant Energy, a Wisconsin-based utility with operations in Iowa, Minnesota, and Oklahoma, has committed to reducing carbon emissions 40 percent by 2030 and 80 percent by 2050. The company also plans on retiring all coal operations by 2050.
  • Ameren Missouri recently announced plans to invest over $200 million in the largest energy efficiency plan in state history, which will push the utility toward its goal of reducing carbon emissions 80 percent by 2050 while helping customers reduce energy consumption and lower their energy bills.
  • In an effort to achieve its Clean Energy Breakthrough Goal of reducing emissions 80 percent by 2050, increasing clean energy capacity 50 percent by 2030, and retiring all coal by 2040, Consumers Energy in Michigan plans on adding 5,000 megawatts of solar with a ramp-up in the 2020s.  
  • In 2017, Michigan’s DTE Energy committed to a 30 percent reduction in greenhouse gas pollution by the early 2020s, 45 percent by 2030, 75 percent by 2040, and more than 80 percent by 2050. In a step toward reaching its emissions goals, the company more recently announced plans to double its renewable energy capacity to 2,000 megawatts by 2022.
  • MidAmerican Energy will be the first U.S. utility with the capacity to meet the needs of its Iowa customers—households, businesses, and industry—with 100 percent clean energy by 2020.
  • NextEra Energy, the world’s largest utility company with operations in over 30 states, has reduced its carbon intensity 52 percent since 2001 and has committed to reducing over 65 percent of its emissions by 2021.
  • In addition to its near-term goal of 40 percent by 2030, Wisconsin-based WEC Energy Group recently set a long-term goal to reduce carbon emissions 80 percent from 2005 levels by 2050.
  • Xcel Energy, a Minnesota-based utility holding company with utilities in Colorado, Minnesota and six other states, recently pledged to go 100 percent carbon-free by 2050. In the interim, the utility will reduce carbon emissions 80 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.

While the majority of commitments have come from investor-owned power providers, rural cooperatives and municipal utilities have similarly begun to join the ranks of the climate-savvy. Colorado-based Platte River Power Authority, for example, is a community-owned utility that has pledged to provide its customers with 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2030, outpacing its investor-owned competitor, Xcel. Holy Cross Energy, an electric cooperative in the Rocky Mountain region, expects to reach its 70 percent renewable capacity goal by 2021, nine years earlier than its target date of 2030. From investor-owned to local municipal companies, utilities get it: climate action is worth the investment.

Utilities need a push from an economy-wide solution

With the business case so clear, it makes sense that big utilities are choosing clean energy over coal. But it’s time to carry these commitments into the policy sphere. In order to avoid a climate calamity, we are going to need not only for all utilities to join in, but for all sectors that contribute to carbon pollution to step up. The nation’s policymakers must act immediately to establish a set of strong and ambitious climate policies that will propel us on the path toward limiting the worst impacts of climate change while creating jobs and growing the economy. 

What we need is an economy-wide solution.

About the Authors

Sophia Ptacek

Program Assistant

Sheryl Carter

Director, Power Sector, Climate & Clean Energy Program

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