Utilities slow-walking decarbonization, fail align with Biden targets

Report outlines Biden, utility clash over 100% clean power

E&E News | Kristi E. Swartz

Most of the nation’s largest investor-owned utilities aren’t on track to meet President-elect Joe Biden’s goals to decarbonize the power sector by 2035, according to a new analysis. The companies may have set targets to remove all or most carbon from their generating fleets by 2050, but they are moving at a pace that’s too slow to align with Biden’s proposal, says the report released today by the Energy and Policy Institute (EPI), a pro-renewable-energy watchdog group. This sets up the utilities for a “potential clash” with the next administration, according to EPI — one that “might challenge the green image the utilities have been attempting to cultivate in recent years.” Electric companies have been vocal about calling Biden’s plan ambitious, but several CEOs have said they are willing to work with the incoming administration. They see opportunities to accelerate electric vehicle deployment and to expand emerging carbon-free technologies but argue that the timeline is aggressive. […]

A September report from Deloitte pointed out “significant gaps” between electric companies’ net-zero targets and their plans to close fossil fuel plants, add renewables, and modernize the grid to support clean energy and distributed technologies. Many lack detailed road maps to their carbon-neutral futures, the report said.

The Energy & Policy Institute (EPI) added its own analysis to that report, criticizing the utilities’ carbon-cutting road maps. The organization said many utilities will continue to rely on natural gas, for example, or have been slow to close the remaining coal-fired plants on their grids. EPI also highlighted an ongoing tug of war involving large energy companies that own and operate individual power providers in different states. The parent company may have set lofty emissions reduction targets, but that goal may not show up in the electric utilities’ long-term energy plans. What’s more, the companies continue to operate using an arcane business model that supports capital investment in large, centralized power plants instead of distributed generation and incremental investments, the report pointed out, singling out Duke Energy Corp. and Southern Co. as leading the utility sector in carbon pollution last year.