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Proof That the Clean Power Plan's Strategy for Cutting Carbon Pollution Is the Industry Standard

The public comment period is just about to close on EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s reckless attempt to repeal the Clean Power Plan, and thousands of Americans — including mayors, CEOs, energy experts, and citizens concerned about the threats Pruitt’s actions pose to our children’s health and future — have already spoken out in vigorous opposition to the misguided repeal effort.

There is a lot at stake. The Clean Power Plan would prevent 4,500 early deaths and 90,000 childhood asthma attacks each year. It would cut carbon pollution by 32 percent from 2005 levels, and would substantially reduce other harmful air pollutants from power plants.

By slashing air pollution and helping mitigate the threats of climate change, the Clean Power Plan would secure significant benefits to public health while growing the clean energy economy.

Yet, as Pruitt continues his misguided effort to turn back the clock on lifesaving climate protections, momentum is growing in states and the power sector to slash carbon pollution and usher in a clean energy future.

States and companies are moving away from carbon-intensive sources of electricity generation, and are increasing their use of cleaner technologies — deploying the same cost-effective strategies to cut carbon pollution that EPA relied upon when establishing emission reduction targets under the Clean Power Plan. Pruitt’s attempt to repeal the Clean Power Plan is putting this flexible approach to ambitious and low-cost emission reductions under attack.

Meaningful federal actions to reduce carbon pollution, such as the Clean Power Plan, remain essential to mitigate climate change. But in the meantime, states and companies – by making continued progress toward emission reductions through time-tested methods – are providing solid evidence that the Clean Power Plan’s approach is not only reasonable, but is the industry-standard for reducing carbon pollution from the power sector. 

The clean energy transformation is accelerating

Carbon pollution from the power sector fell to 27 percent below 2005 levels in 2017, continuing a clear downward trend since the mid-2000’s even as the U.S. economy continues to grow. Carbon pollution levels from the power sector in the U.S. have now fallen below emissions from transportation, demonstrating remarkable progress in cleaning up our electric grid.

The rapid decarbonization of the U.S. power sector continues to be driven by a shift toward clean energy technologies. Renewable energy including solar, wind, and hydropower generated a record 18 percent of U.S. electricity in 2017, and new renewables comprised nearly half of utility-scale generating capacity installed in 2017. As more and more high-polluting coal plants become scheduled for retirement, power companies and regulators from Colorado to New Mexico to Wisconsin are increasingly replacing them directly with renewables.

A precipitous drop in costs has made the outlook for clean energy increasingly bullish in recent years. The cost of utility-scale solar power fell by more than 77 percent from 2010 to 2017. Worldwide, the cost of solar and onshore wind power declined by 18 percent in the last year alone.

As of 2017, the lifetime cost of unsubsidized wind and utility-scale solar is now below that of coal and on par with the cost of natural gas combined cycle technology.

Low-cost projections for clean energy are increasingly becoming a reality on the ground. In Colorado, for example, a recent solicitation for new renewables resulted in bid prices for wind and solar plus energy storage that are cheaper than the operating cost of nearly all coal plants in the state.

States and power companies continue to lead

Across the country, state governors and major power companies have continued to ramp up forward-looking commitments to cut carbon pollution and deploy clean energy — recognizing these clear power sector trends and driving increasingly ambitious climate progress.

Here are some recent examples:

Power companies

  • American Electric Power, the nation’s largest generator of electricity from coal, laid out a strategy in February to reduce carbon pollution by 60 percent below 2000 levels by 2030, and 80 percent by 2050. “There is no question the electrification of our economy is accelerating,” said CEO Nick Akins. “Today, we are taking a longer-term view of carbon by setting new goals for carbon dioxide emission reductions for the future based upon resource plans that account for economics, customer preferences, reliability and regulation.”
  • Southern Company, the nation’s third largest power producer, announced a goal this month to reduce carbon pollution by 50 percent below 2007 levels by 2030 and to achieve “low- to no-carbon operations by 2050.” The commitment comes in the wake of a rapidly changing generation mix for Southern, with its share of generation from coal declining to 28 percent in 2017 from 70 percent in 2010.
  • In March, Oregon’s Portland General Electric committed to reducing carbon pollution by more than 80 percent by 2050, in part by achieving Oregon’s target of 50 percent renewable energy by 2040 and transitioning away from coal by 2035.
  • PacifiCorp subsidiary Rocky Mountain Power plans to add more than 1,300 megawatts of wind power by 2020 — a $1.5 billion investment.

Across the Midwest, a slate of electric utilities recently committed to slash carbon emissions and transition away from coal:

  • PPL Corporation plans to reduce emissions by 2050 to 70 percent below 2010 levels, including retiring the bulk of the company’s coal plants in Kentucky.
  • Wisconsin’s largest utility, WEC Energy Group, plans to reduce carbon pollution by 40% below 2005 levels by 2030.
  • In Indiana, Vectren announced plans to reduce carbon pollution by 60 percent by shuttering three coal-fired power plants.
  • Ameren Missouri committed to reducing emissions to 80 percent below 2005 levels by 2050, and plans to invest $1 billion to add at least 700 megawatts of wind power by 2020.
  • In February 2018, Michigan utility Consumers Energy announced plans to reduce emissions by 80 percent and phase out coal by 2040.

States

  • This month, New Jersey lawmakers passed a sweeping clean energy bill that will put the state on a path to becoming a national clean energy leader. Governor Phil Murphy directed the state to begin negotiations to rejoin the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) – a multi-state program to reduce carbon pollution from the power sector. Governor Murphy also signed an order adding New Jersey to the U.S. Climate Alliance of states committed to upholding the Paris Agreement goals, and has outlined a goal of powering the state with 100 percent clean energy by mid-century.
  • In a show of bipartisan commitment to ambitious climate action, Maryland also joined the U.S. Climate Alliance this January, and participated in a multi-state process to strengthen RGGI.
  • Alaska Governor Bill Walker — an Independent — signed an order in October 2017 establishing an advisory team to propose actions, including “statutory and regulatory changes,” for the state to reduce carbon pollution and support the goals of the Paris Agreement.
  • Just last week, environmental and energy regulators from thirteen states — California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington delivered a letter to Administrator Pruitt opposing repeal of the Clean Power Plan and highlighting important progress across states to reduce carbon pollution from the power sector. “Low natural gas prices, declining costs of renewable energy technologies, and low demand growth are all existing power sector trends that have allowed our states to reap positive economic benefits from reducing emissions. The CPP would amplify these trends and make emissions reductions easier and more cost-effective,” the states write in the letter.

Shared prosperity under a stable climate

As the impacts of climate change — from wildfires to hurricanescontinue to threaten vulnerable communities across the U.S. and around the world, concerted actions to cut climate pollution are more important than ever.

At the same time, efforts to transition to a clean energy economy are delivering myriad benefits — from millions of good-paying clean energy jobs, to critical public health protections, to more affordable and more reliable electricity.

The leadership demonstrated by a growing group of states and major power companies to advance climate progress is critical to securing the benefits of a stable climate and clean energy future for millions of Americans. With continued leadership, and a return to meaningful federal action, America will see a global clean energy transformation and secure shared prosperity for all.

By Charlie Jiang

Photo Credit: Dean Hochman via Flickr

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