Utilities’ climate goals have little impact on emissions

Executive Editor
Source:U.S. Energy Information Administration

U.S. carbon dioxide emissions would be 12% lower by 2050 if electric utility companies achieve their climate goals compared to a business as usual scenario, according to a new report by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).

Utilities have been at the forefront of a corporate-wide move in pledging new goals to slash carbon emissions. But many of these goals lack integrity, according to a new study by the NewClimate Institute.

Although 12% isn’t nothing, it’s also a far cry from zero emissions, which is where the entire U.S. economy needs to be by 2050 if the world is to meet goals in line with the Paris Climate Agreement.

That limited emissions reduction reflects the fact that although corporate goals are important, more systemic change is needed, likely prodded by government policy.

Overall CO2 emissions from the energy sector would be just 3% lower by 2050 with these corporate goals achieved.

Such a small reduction reflects the fact that the electricity sector accounts for just a quarter of U.S. emissions.

A primary factor driving the 12% reduction in electricity emissions is utilities’ plans to keep operating nuclear power plants.

This outcome occurs in part because our model identifies existing nuclear generation as being among the lowest-cost options for meeting clean energy or carbon-reduction goals. Existing nuclear plants typically have operation and maintenance costs that are less than the cost of building new low-carbon capacity.
U.S. Energy Information Administration

The reference case EIA is comparing the corporate goals against reflects current laws and regulations, including state-level mandates for renewable and zero-emitting electricity.