Sierra Club releases report grading utilities on their clean energy efforts

by Jeff Della Rosa ([email protected]) 1,078 views 

Environmental group Sierra Club released Monday (Jan. 25) a report and research tool that grades U.S. utilities based on their plans to retire coal plants, stop building natural gas plants and invest in renewable energy projects. From this, one can determine each utility’s climate progress based on its carbon reduction goals and how that compares to what science demands, a news release shows.

The Sierra Club plans to update regularly the scores in the report, The Dirty Truth About Utility Climate Pledges, which grades the 50 largest utilities in the United States on whether coal plants will be closed by 2030, whether new natural gas plants are slated to replace coal plants and the commitment to build renewable energy and invest in efficiency. The report includes utilities Southwestern Electric Power Co. (SWEPCO), Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corp. and Entergy Arkansas.

“It’s encouraging to see our state’s largest utilities score better than most of their peers, but there’s always room for improvement,” said Glen Hooks, director for the Arkansas Chapter of Sierra Club. “SWEPCO could be among the top utilities in the country transitioning from fossil fuels to clean energy if it would reconsider the continued operation of the aging Flint Creek coal plant.”

In November, SWEPCO announced plans to retire the H.W. Pirkey Power Plant in Hallsville, Texas, in 2023 and cease coal operations at the Welsh Power Plant in Pittsburg, Texas, in 2028. Also, the utility planned to upgrade the Flint Creek Power Plant in Gentry. It’s expected to continue to operate with the installation of a dry bottom ash handling system and other facilities to comply with a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rule and the Effluent Limitation Guidelines requirements in 2023. The existing ash pond at the site will be closed, and the ash will be sold for reuse or moved to the plant’s regulated onsite landfill.

Along with the report, the Sierra Club launched an interactive website that allows users to look up the grade of each utility, its coal plant retirement schedule if one exists, its planned gas plant capacity and its investments into renewable energy. SWEPCO received a B for how well it is meeting its clean energy goals. Arkansas Electric Cooperative and Entergy Arkansas received a C. Entergy Mississippi received a B, while Entergy Louisiana and Entergy New Orleans received an F. Entergy Corp. is based in New Orleans and is the parent company of Entergy Arkansas.

Edward Smith, associate press secretary for the Sierra Club, said if SWEPCO were to retire the Flint Creek plant the utility would be closer to the top of the list. However, he noted the utility is closer to the top than the bottom.

The website also includes a national map showing utility service areas and a digital dashboard for tracking each utility’s progress over the next decade.

“Arkansans are reaping the vast benefits that come with renewable energy investments now, like new jobs, lower bills, and cleaner air and water,” Hooks said. “Clean energy is our present and our future, and this tool will help customers and investors ensure this trend continues.”

The 50 utilities included in the report account for 68% of the remaining coal generating capacity in the United States, according to the Sierra Club. These companies have committed to retire 25% of their coal generating capacity by 2030, the report shows. These companies plan to build 36 gigawatts of natural gas plants through 2030. This accounts for more than 40% of the total planned natural gas plants across the United States over this period. These companies also plan to add 250 million megawatt-hours of wind and solar energy to the grid between 2020 and 2030. This comprises 19% of their existing coal and gas generating capacity.

The information sources for the report and website include the utilities’ long-term energy plan, or Integrated Resource Plan; the Energy Information Administration; S&P Global Market Intelligence; and major announcements from the 50 utilities that generate the most electricity from coal and natural gas. The 50 companies with the lowest grades include investor-owned utilities, power authorities such as the Tennessee Valley Authority, generation and transmission co-ops and large municipal utilities, the release shows. Overall, the report examines 79 companies owned by 50 parent companies.

Link here to access the report and interactive website.