Many utility companies pledged to increase their clean energy production. Utilities have made little progress, according to research by the Sierra Club. Most of them are not on the path to achieving the goal of 80 percent clean energy by 2030 and 100 percent by 2035. That goal lines up with the climate commitments of the United States.
The Sierra Club’s analysis of 77 utilities found that almost half of them (44 percent) made no progress or received a lower score than in a previous report. The aggregate score for all utilities was 21.4, or a “D,” a four-point increase from 2021. Of all the utilities analyzed, 35 percent received worse scores, 56 percent improved their scores, and nine percent made no progress.
The companies analyzed account for 69 percent of coal generation in the U.S. They have only committed to retiring 28 percent of their coal generation by 2030. Around half of the companies analyzed plan to build new gas plants, totaling almost 38 gigawatts, through 2030. This accounts for more than half the total planned gas in the U.S. through 2030. The analyzed companies plan to add 308 million megawatt hours of new wind and solar energy to the grid by 2030. That is equivalent to 24 percent of their current coal and gas generation.
Tales of Greenwashing
Investopedia defines greenwashing as “the process of conveying a false impression or misleading information about how a company’s products are environmentally sound.” Many of the utilities analyzed have pledged to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Forty of the 50 parent companies analyzed had a climate, pledge, target, or goal. However, only 23 of those companies have goals with milestones by 2030 or sooner, and only seven had goals of at least 80 percent clean energy by 2030.
The analysis cites several clear examples of greenwashing. One is Southern Company’s pledge to be carbon neutral by 2050. Its subsidiaries include Georgia Power, Mississippi Power, and Alabama Power, and they all have stated that the climate pledge does not apply to their planning.
Tennessee Valley Authority is the largest federal utility in the U.S. and serves seven southeastern states. The utility has goals for a 70 percent carbon reduction by 2030, an 80 percent reduction by 2035, and net zero by 2050. However, TVA has fallen behind in working towards its climate goals. In 2021, TVA received a score of nine out of 100 and this year received only a two. TVAS plans to retire three percent of its remaining coal generation by 2030. It plans to build over four gigawatts of new gas plants by 2030.
TVA only plans to replace less than 20 percent of its coal and gas generation with clean energy. The utility claims it is a “clean-energy leader and is committed to partnering with others to go further and faster to achieve its carbon-reduction initiatives.” TVA has the fifth-largest coal fleet of all the parent companies analyzed. It also has the second-highest planned gas buildout through 2030 and the eighth-largest clean energy buildout through 2030.
A Tale of Two Oklahoma Utility Companies
The two largest utility companies in Oklahoma couldn’t be more different concerning their future. While the Public Service Company of Oklahoma scored 99.5 percent, Oklahoma Gas and Electric scored zero percent. While PSO improved its score by 13 points, OG&E’s decreased by four points. PSO plans to replace coal plants with renewable energy before 2030. OG&E plans to add renewable energy before 2030 but also plans to build a new gas plant that will mainly burn methane, a greenhouse gas with a warming potential of 80 times that of carbon dioxide.
Oklahoma has great potential for wind energy. The state generated 45 percent of its electricity from renewables in 2021. Around 91 percent of the state’s renewable energy generation came from wind energy. Wind energy accounted for 41 percent of Oklahoma’s electricity. That is a larger share than all but three states (Iowa, South Dakota, and Kansas).