What utilities can teach us about fighting climate change

What utilities can teach us about fighting climate change

In 2018, we’ve seen the harsh impacts of climate change arise much faster than expected, and carbon emissions continue to increase at a record pace. But against this stark backdrop and with uncertain political will at the federal level to address it, shining examples of business- and state-led action illustrate the possible and profitable transition to a lower-carbon and lower-cost energy mix.

Nowhere has this trend been more visible in 2018 than among American electric utilities, and not just those in blue-state strongholds. Motivated not by politics but by lower costs, value creation and customer preferences, a growing number of electric utilities across the nation unilaterally have announced ambitious targets for carbon reductions in line with science-based goals and the international commitments made under the Paris Agreement.

Colorado is an indicative and encouraging example of this emerging trend. Colorado is an unabashedly purple state with split priorities on climate, but its 41 electric utilities serve communities across the political spectrum using the same set of objectives focused on safe, reliable and affordable service. No matter where in the state or political spectrum you look, these same timeless objectives are increasingly aligned with accelerated adoption of low-cost renewable energy.

The largest public recognition of this emerging reality has come from eight-state Xcel Energy, whose Colorado operation provides electricity to over half of the customers in that state. Xcel, after discovering earlier this year that continuing to run two coal plants would cost its customers an extra $200 million compared to retiring and replacing them with renewables and batteries, this month became the first major, multi-state U.S. utility to commit to 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2050.

Other utilities serving a diverse cross-section of Colorado customers have taken similar steps in 2018. Colorado Springs Utilities, serving a military town, announced a plan to provide over 20 percent of its energy from solar projects by 2024. The board of Platte River Power Authority, serving four municipalities in northern Colorado, voted unanimously to adopt a goal of 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2030. And Holy Cross Energy, a small cooperative utility in the mountains of central Colorado, adopted a goal of 70 percent renewable energy by 2030.

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