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U.S. Utilities Could Decarbonize 13 Years Ahead of Schedule

Tennessee Valley Authority/Flickr
Tennessee Valley Authority/Flickr

Electricity producers could meet their 2030 carbon reduction targets under the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan as early as next year, and certainly by 2021, as utilities rapidly shift production from coal to natural gas and renewable energy, according to new analysis by the U.S. Sierra Club.

The rapid shift “will help push energy industry carbon emissions down by 100 million tons overall in 2016, to around 1.8 billion tons,” the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Affairs reports. “Moreover, data issued by the [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency] in September shows that carbon emissions from coal-fired generation dropped from 1.57 billion tons in 2014 to 1.35 billion tons in 2015.” That means the sector could very soon meet the CPP requirement of cutting carbon emissions 32% below 2005 levels by 2030—even if the Trump administration scraps the plan itself.

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That means the U.S. could be coal-free well before the 2030 target date in the Clean Power Plan, according to Bruce Nilles, senior director of Sierra’s Beyond Coal Campaign. “The analysis shows that the Clean Power Plan, even if it never goes into effect, has already had an enormous impact on the power industry,” IEEFA notes. “Since the carbon rule was first proposed in 2014, utilities and local governments have established policies to phase out the use of coal-fired generation and encourage the use of renewables,” and “even utilities say they will proceed with planned coal retirements regardless of how the new administration acts.