A new study on how three large power companies serving customers in the southeastern United States are faring in meeting their own decarbonization targets concludes that they are decidedly “missing the mark.” Investing in Failure, released March 9 by Synapse Energy Economics, studied the announced goals of Dominion Energy, Duke Energy and Southern Company to decarbonize their generating facilities. The three companies’ combined ownership represent 1/8th of the electric generating capacity in the entire country.
The study, which was done for Majority Action, a non-profit organization concerned with holding corporations accountable in matters of corporate governance and social responsibility (www.majorityaction.org), concludes:
“. . . contrary to what Southern Company, Dominion Energy, and Duke Energy say on their websites, in television ads, and in shareholder reports and pamphlets, the three companies are thus far taking minimal actions to decarbonize their electricity systems. This report demonstrates that none of the three companies examined in this report will meet their 2050 greenhouse gas reduction goals under their current resource plans.”
Synapse further concludes:
“The three companies lag leading utilities in investing in replacement resources, including energy efficiency and renewable investments. In addition, the companies’ grid modernization efforts are not equal to the task of transforming to a decarbonized grid. This investment gap in renewables, energy efficiency, and grid modernization is occurring at the same time the companies have invested as much as hundreds of millions in capital expenditures in the continued operation of aging coal plants that should have been retired. Finally, as the number of solar facilities interconnecting to the grid has increased, the companies are discouraging competition by lowering the avoided cost rates paid to solar facilities, adding significant solar integration charges, and making the interconnection process long and costly.”
The chart below, excerpted from the study, shows that Dominion Energy’s projected CO2 emissions between 2019-40 will be more than double the company’s announced decarbonization target. The projected shortfalls for Duke and Southern meeting their goals is similar.
Dominion Energy projected emissions (2019–2040
The study also takes a critical, unflattering look at the investment that Dominion and Duke have made to build the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.
“Despite the cost overruns and legal setbacks, Dominion continues to be committed to the 2021 completion of the ACP. . . Duke is marketing the ACP as ‘critical infrastructure that will allow [Duke Energy] to bring low cost gas supply and economic development to the Southeast.
“While the ACP is not directly owned by the subsidiary electric utilities discussed here, those subsidiary utilities have contracted for the majority of the gas that will be transported on the pipeline. This means that the costs associated with building the pipeline will be passed onto the utility customers via transportation fees and fuel contracts. The ACP is projected to supply up to 1.5 billion cubic feet of gas per day, equivalent to 67 million metric tons of CO2 emissions per year, not accounting for emissions associated with leaks. It seems unlikely that ownership of the gas transportation network has no influence on these companies’ decisions to build and rely on generators that would be in part be supplied by the pipeline. Additionally, the pipeline has a projected lifetime of 80 years. Which begs the question, how can Duke and Dominion be net or zero carbon by 2050 if they are building a pipeline intended to supply its own generators with natural gas that has a lifetime through 2100?” (emphasis added)