US utilities plan limited reduction in coal capacity

The most coal-dependent US utilities plan to keep around 75% of their coal-fired power plants running for another decade, according to an analysis by environmental lobbying group Sierra Club.

According to the analysis of utility public filings the companies, which together account for 43% of US power production, have committed to retiring just a quarter of their coal capacity by 2030.

It also found the companies plan to add new wind and solar capacity over that period amounting to less than one-fifth of their current coal and gas generation.

The Sierra Club said the study shows companies are not moving fast enough to transition away from fossil fuels and are unlikely to reduce greenhouse gas emissions quickly enough to align the United States with the Paris agreement goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°C, to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

The US power sector contributes about 27% of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions, making it the second largest source behind transportation, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency.

Many utilities have promised measures to decarbonize in the coming years or decades, responding in part to investor pressure, state mandates, or expectations for future federal greenhouse gas regulation.

The analysis comes as the US federal government is tacking a decidedly more environmentally friendly approach under President Biden.

As well as recommitting to the Paris Climate Accord, on his first day in charge he signed an Executive Order that his office described as taking the critical first steps to “address the climate crisis, create good union jobs, and advance environmental justice, while reversing the previous administration’s harmful policies”.

The order looks to tackle the climate crisis by directing all executive departments and agencies to immediately review and take appropriate action to address federal regulations and other executive actions taken during the last four years that were “harmful to public health, damaging to the environment, unsupported by the best available science, or otherwise not in the national interest, including agency actions identified on the attached list”.

It also directs federal agencies “to consider revising vehicle fuel economy and emissions standards, methane emissions standards, and appliance and building efficiency standards to ensure that such standards cut pollution, save consumers money, and create good union jobs”.

The US power sector contributes about 27% of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions, making it the second largest source behind transportation, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency.

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