Despite vowing climate action, many United States power utilities remain heavily committed to fossil fuels and are ill-prepared to support President Joe Biden’s goal of delivering 80% clean power by 2030, finds a new report.
Titled “The Dirty Truth About Utility Climate Pledges,” and co-authored by climate experts at the U.S. Sierra Club and the University of California Santa Barbara, the report graded 77 utilities on their plans to retire coal plants, cease building new gas-fired ones, and deploy more renewables through 2030, reports The Washington Post.
The aggregate score of the utilities studied was 23 out of 100, with 37 of them intending to build out nearly 38 gigawatts of natural gas infrastructure, despite warnings against fossil fuel lock-in. This suggests their climate commitments “amount to little more than greenwashing,” writes the Post.
This is the second year running that the 77 utilities have come under the research team’s scrutiny, and many are going nowhere on climate or doing worse, says the Post. “Compared to last year, nearly half of the utilities made no progress or received a lower score.”
The utilities account for a combined 69% of the country’s current coal-fired generation capacity.
The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), the country’s largest federally-owned utility, received the “remarkably low” score of 1.73 out of 100, courtesy of its plans to retire only 3% of its coal plants by 2030, even as it builds out more than four gigawatts of new gas by decade’s end.
“For a utility of that size that is so connected to a federal administration with these big climate goals, it’s really entirely unacceptable,” said study co-author Cara Bottorff, managing senior analyst at Sierra Club.
It shows a profound disconnect between climate policy goals and the entities responsible for delivering them, added co-author Leah Stokes, a climate policy expert at the University of California.
“President Biden has set an ambitious goal of 80% clean power by 2030, but these utilities don’t have the plans to back that up,” Stokes said. “Particularly with the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, that is completely irresponsible.”
Defending TVA’s “decarbonization efforts” in an email to the Post, a spokesperson said the utility is “on track to add 10,000 megawatts of solar energy—enough to power more than 1.6 million homes—by 2035.”
But the new report found that the 77 utilities plan to add 308 million megawatt hours of new wind and solar to the grid over the next seven years, a contribution that is “equivalent to only 24% of their current coal and gas generation,” the authors say.
Utility giant Duke Energy scored 12.77 out of 100, a dismal rating owing in part to its plans for more than 5400 megawatts of gas by 2030.
Duke spokesperson Ben Goldey did not directly dispute the report’s findings, says the Post. He said the utility intends to meet its climate target—50% reduction by 2030 and net-zero by 2050—and to exit coal by 2035.
The report shows the 77 utilities retiring just 28% of their coal generation by 2030.