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Decarbonization Targets for the Largest U.S. Utilities

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The following content is sponsored by the National Public Utilities Council

Decarbonization Targets for the Largest U.S. Utilities

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Decarbonization Targets for the Largest U.S. Utilities

This was originally posted on April 23, 2021, on Visual Capitalist.

The U.S. recently rejoined the Paris Climate Agreement and decarbonization is back on the minds of government officials and companies alike.

Though every sector plays a major role on the path to net zero carbon emissions, none are as impactful as the energy sector. In 2016, almost three-quarters of global GHG emissions came from energy consumption. With organizations looking to either curb energy consumption or transition to cleaner forms of energy, the pressure is on utilities to decarbonize and offer green alternatives.

How are U.S. utilities responding?

This infographic from the National Public Utilities Council highlights the decarbonization targets of the largest investor-owned and public U.S. utilities.

U.S. Utility Decarbonization Targets Through 2035

The American energy sector has many players, but the largest utilities account for the bulk of production.

For each state, we looked at the largest investor-owned and public electric utilities by retail sales as tracked by the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Decarbonization targets were taken from each utility’s stated goals or sustainability report.

After narrowing down from 3,328 different entities and subsidiaries, the final list of 60 utilities accounted for 60% of U.S. energy sales in 2019 at just under 1.93 trillion MWh (megawatt hours).

Many companies on the list have multiple goals spread across different timeframes, but they can be grouped into a few distinct categories:

  • Reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) or greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions: These measures are either percentage-based or flat reductions, and also include becoming carbon neutral or “net zero” by balancing reduced emissions with carbon offsets.
  • Reducing carbon intensity: These measures work on reducing the impact of electricity generated by fossil fuels, rather than reducing the amount directly.
  • Increasing renewable energy production: These measures focus on adding renewable energy with a lower carbon footprint to the production mix and can be either percentage-based or flat additions.
  • Increasing clean electricity production: These measures are centered around ensuring that electricity produced is 100% carbon free.

Utilities with decarbonization targets set for 2035 and earlier vary wildly in scope, from completely carbon neutral to minimal reductions.

EntityState (Largest Provider)Decarbonization GoalTarget Year
City of SeattleWACarbon neutral2005 (since)
ALLETEMN△50% Renewable energy2021
ExelonDC, DE, IL, MD, NJ, PA▽15% GHG emissions2022
Otter Tail PowerND▽30% CO2 emissions, △30% Renewable energy2022
AvangridCT, ME▽35% GHG emissions2025
Emera (Tampa Electric)FL▽55% CO2 emissions2025
Green Mountain PowerVT▽100% CO2 emissions2025
NextEra EnergyFL▽67% CO2 emissions2025
NiSourceIN▽50% GHG emissions2025
NRGTX▽50% CO2 emissions2025
Avista CorpID, WACarbon neutral2027
AESIN▽70% Carbon intensity2030
AlliantIA, WI▽50% CO2 emissions2030
AmerenIL, MO▽50% CO2 emissions2030
American Electric PowerAR, KY, LA, MI, OK, OH, VA, WV▽70% CO2 emissions2030
Arizona Public ServiceAZ△65% Clean electricity2030
Black HillsSD, WY▽40% GHG emissions2030
City of Colorado SpringsCO▽80% CO2 emissions2030
DTE Electric CompanyMI▽50% CO2 emissions2030
Duke EnergyFL, IN, NC, OH, SC▽50% CO2 emissions2030
EntergyAR, LA, MS▽50% CO2 emissions2030
EversourceCT, MA, NHCarbon neutral2030
FirstEnergyMD, NJ, OH, PA▽30% GHG emissions2030
Green Mountain PowerVT△100% Renewable energy2030
Long Island Power AuthorityNY▽40% GHG emissions2030
MDU ResourcesND▽45% GHG emissions2030
National GridMA, NY, RI▽80% GHG emissions2030
NiSourceIN▽90% GHG emissions2030
NV EnergyNV△50% Renewable energy2030
OGE ElectricOK▽50% CO2 emissions2030
Pacific Gas & ElectricCA△60% Renewable energy2030
PacifiCorpID, OR, UT, WY▽60% CO2 emissions2030
PSEGNJ▽13 million tons CO2 emissions2030
Puget Sound EnergyWACarbon neutral2030
Southern California EdisonCA△60% Renewable energy2030
Southern Company AL, GA, MS▽50% CO2 emissions2030
Tennessee Valley AuthorityTN▽70% CO2 emissions2030
Vistra (TXU Energy Retail)TX▽60% CO2 emissions2030
WEC EnergyWI▽40% CO2 emissions2030
Xcel EnergyCO, MN, ND, NM, SD▽80% CO2 emissions2030
AvangridCT, MECarbon neutral2035
Salt River ProjectAZ▽65% Carbon intensity, ▽30% CO2 emissions2035
Tucson Electric PowerAZ▽80% CO2 emissions, △70% Renewable energy2035

It’s also important to note that carbon emission reductions are not equal across the board.

Reduction is traditionally based on a base-year measurement (usually 2000 or 2005) that changes for each utility, and a small reduction at a major energy producer can be more impactful than 100% clean energy at a small local utility.

U.S. Utility Decarbonization Targets 2040 and Beyond

From 2040 and beyond, the decarbonization efforts become more ambitious.

In line with many states and the federal government making sweeping clean energy commitments, most of the utility companies with decarbonization targets from 2040 to 2050 are aimed at either carbon neutrality or significant reductions.

For some companies these are their first and only targets, while others are building on smaller goals from earlier years. In the case of the few utility companies marked *N/A, a decarbonization target goal couldn’t be found.

EntityState (Largest Provider)Decarbonization GoalTarget Year
AmerenIL, MO▽85% CO2 emissions2040
Black HillsSD, WY▽70% GHG emissions2040
City of Colorado SpringsCO▽90% CO2 emissions2040
City of San AntonioTX▽80% CO2 emissions2040
CMS EnergyMICarbon neutral, △90% Clean electricity2040
Consolidated EdisonNY△100% Clean electricity2040
Emera (Tampa Electric)FL▽80% CO2 emissions2040
Lincoln Electric SystemNECarbon neutral2040
National GridMA, NY, RI▽90% GHG emissions2040
PNM ResourcesNM▽100% CO2 emissions2040
Portland General ElectricORCarbon neutral2040
PPLKY, PA▽70% CO2 emissions2040
Avista CorpID, WA△100% Clean electricity2045
Hawaiian Electric IndustriesHICarbon neutral, △100% Renewable energy2045
Idaho PowerID△100% Clean electricity2045
NorthWestern EnergyMT, SD▽90% Carbon intensity2045
Pacific Gas & ElectricCA△100% Clean electricity2045
Puget Sound EnergyWA△100% Clean electricity2045
SempraCA△100% Clean electricity2045
Southern California EdisonCA△100% Clean electricity2045
PSEGNJ▽80% CO2 emissions2046
AlliantIA, WICarbon neutral2050
AmerenIL, MOCarbon neutral2050
American Electric PowerAR, KY, LA, MI, OK, OH, VA, WV▽80% CO2 emissions2050
Arizona Public ServiceAZ△100% Clean electricity2050
City of San AntonioTXCarbon neutral2050
Dominion EnergyNC, SC, VACarbon neutral2050
DTE Electric CompanyMICarbon neutral2050
Duke EnergyFL, IN, NC, OH, SCCarbon neutral2050
Emera (Tampa Electric)FLCarbon neutral2050
EntergyAR, LA, MSCarbon neutral2050
EvergyKS, MO▽80% CO2 emissions2050
FirstEnergyMD, NJ, OH, PACarbon neutral2050
Long Island Power AuthorityNY▽85% GHG emissions2050
National GridMA, NY, RICarbon neutral2050
NRGTXCarbon neutral2050
NV EnergyNV△100% Clean electricity2050
Omaha Public Power DistrictNECarbon neutral2050
PacifiCorpID, OR, UT, WY▽80% CO2 emissions2050
PPLKY, PA▽80% CO2 emissions2050
PSEGNJCarbon neutral2050
Salt River ProjectAZ▽90% Carbon intensity2050
Southern Company AL, GA, MSCarbon neutral2050
Vistra (TXU Energy Retail)TXCarbon neutral2050
WEC EnergyWI▽80% CO2 emissions2050
Xcel EnergyCO, MN, ND, NM, SDCarbon neutral2050
MidAmerican EnergyIA, IL△100% Renewable energyN/A
Cleco PowerLAN/AN/A
ENMAX (Versant Power)MEN/AN/A
Nebraska Public Power DistrictNEN/AN/A
PUD 1 of Snohomish CountyWAN/AN/A
Unitil Energy SystemsNHN/AN/A

While the targets set above are significant, they are also a long time away from being met. With pressure to decarbonize increasing across the board, utility companies may need to reassess the impact or timeliness of their decarbonization targets.

The National Public Utilities Council is a collaborative body of industry experts coming together to solve decarbonization challenges in the power sector and the proud sponsor of the Decarbonization Channel.

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Decarbonization

The U.S. Utilities Decarbonization Index

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The U.S. Utilities Decarbonization Index

With the Biden administration targeting a zero-emissions power sector for the U.S. by 2035, how are the nation’s largest electric power providers faring in terms of decarbonization? 

Together, Visual Capitalist and our sponsor National Public Utilities Council have developed the Annual Utility Decarbonization Index. The index quantifies and compares the status of decarbonization among the 30 largest investor-owned utilities in the United States.

Decarbonization is quantified by scoring companies on six emissions-related metrics based on publicly available data from 2020 (the latest available).

Why the 30 Largest IOUs?

Why does the Decarbonization Index specifically look at the 30 largest IOUs by electricity generation? 

Well, these 30 utilities collectively generated around 2.3 billion megawatt hours (MWh) of electricity (including purchased power), making up over half of U.S. net electricity generation in 2020. Moreover, they also served over 90 million customers, accounting for roughly 56% of all electric customers in the country.

30 largest utilities in the U.S.

Therefore, it’s safe to say that the 30 largest IOUs have an important role in decarbonizing both the power sector and the U.S. economy. Since the residential, commercial, industrial, and agricultural sectors all use electricity, the decarbonization of utilities—the providers of electric power—can enable emissions reduction throughout the economy.

Decarbonization Index Methodology

For each of the six metrics used in the Decarbonization Index, utilities are scored on a scale of 1 (lowest) to 5 (highest), indicating whether they are trailing or leading, respectively. Scores for each metric are based on the range of figures for each metric divided into five equal buckets that the utilities fall into. 

For simplicity, let’s suppose that the lowest reported total emissions figure is zero metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) and the highest is 100 metric tons. In that case, companies that emit fewer than 20 metric tons of CO2 will receive the highest score of 5. Those that emit between 20 and 40 metric tons of CO2 will receive a 4, and so on.

A utility’s overall decarbonization score is an average of their scores across the six metrics, summarized below:

  1. Fuel Mix: The share of low-carbon sources (renewables, nuclear, and fuel cells) in the utility’s owned net electricity generation. We’ve assumed that the share of low-carbon sources can range from 0% to 100%, and scores are assigned based on that range.
  2. CO2 Emissions Intensity: The amount of CO2 emitted per megawatt-hour of owned and purchased electricity generation.
  3. Total CO2 Emissions: The sum of absolute CO2 emissions from owned and purchased electricity generation. While this overlooks the differing sizes of utilities, the rationale is that smaller unconsolidated utilities may find it easier to decarbonize than larger peers.
  4. CO2 Emissions per Capita: The amount of CO2 emitted from owned and purchased electricity generation per retail customer served in 2020.
  5. Decarbonization Goals: An evaluation of the utility’s interim greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction goals and net-zero targets. The baseline for this is 50% GHG emissions reduction by 2030 and net-zero emissions by 2050 (utilities with baseline targets get a score of 2.5/5).
  6. Low-Carbon Investment: The share of planned capital expenditure (CAPEX) for electricity generation that is allocated to low-carbon sources. We’ve assumed that the share of CAPEX for low-carbon sources can range from 0% to 100%, and scores are assigned based on that range.

The data for these metrics comes from various sources including company sustainability reports, quantitative reporting templates from the Edison Electric Institute, and the Climate Disclosure Project’s Climate Change Questionnaire filings.

Explore all six metrics of the U.S. Utility Decarbonization Index

NPUC Annual Utility Decarbonization Report

Download The NPUC Annual Utility Decarbonization Report for free.

The Annual Utility Decarbonization Index 2022

Before looking at numbers, it’s important to note that the Decarbonization Index is relative and compares the 30 largest IOUs to each other. Therefore, a score of 5 does not indicate full decarbonization or net-zero emissions. Instead, it suggests that the utility is doing particularly well relative to its peers. 

With that in mind, here’s a look at the Annual Utility Decarbonization Index 2022: 

Rank
CompanyDecarbonization Score
#1Public Service Enterprise Group4.7
#2NextEra Energy Resources4.7
#3Pacific Gas and Electric4.5
#4Avangrid4.2
#5Exelon4.1
#6Portland General Electric3.7
#7Dominion Energy3.6
#8Florida Power and Light3.6
#9PNM Resources3.5
#10Alliant Energy3.4
#11Consolidated Edison3.4
#12Fortis Inc.3.4
#13American Electric Power3.3
#14Consumers Energy3.3
#15Evergy3.0
#16NRG Energy3.0
#17AES Corporation2.9
#18Xcel Energy2.9
#19WEC Energy2.9
#20DTE Energy2.8
#21Duke Energy2.8
#22Entergy2.8
#23TransAlta2.8
#24Emera2.7
#25Ameren2.6
#26Berkshire Hathaway Energy2.5
#27Oklahoma Gas & Electric Company2.4
#28Southern Company2.3
#29PPL Corporation2.2
#30Vistra Corp.2.0

A small number of companies did not report data on certain metrics and have been excluded from scoring for those metrics (denoted as N/A). In such cases, the decarbonization score is an average of five metrics instead of six.

Public Service Enterprise Group (PSEG), headquartered in New Jersey, tops this year’s rankings thanks to its low-emissions profile and ambitious climate goals. The company is aiming to achieve net-zero emissions from operations by 2030—five years ahead of the Biden Administration’s target and faster than any other utility on the list.

Tied with PSEG is NextEra Energy Resources, the clean energy-focused subsidiary of NextEra Energy. The company is the world’s largest producer of solar and wind power and generated 97% of its net electricity from low-carbon sources in 2020.

In third place is California’s largest utility, the Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E). PG&E had the lowest emissions per capita of the 30 largest IOUs at 0.5 metric tons of CO2 per retail customer in 2020. That figure is significantly lower than the average of 11.5 metric tons across the 30 IOUs. 

Rounding out the top five are Avangrid, a renewables-focused U.S. subsidiary of the Spanish Iberdrola Group, and Exelon, the nation’s largest utility by number of retail customers. Avangrid had one of the cleanest fuel mixes with 87% of its owned net electricity coming from low-carbon sources. Exelon is the nation’s largest provider of emissions-free electricity, generating around 157 million MWh or 86% of its owned net electricity from nuclear power.

Download the Full Utility Decarbonization Report

While the Decarbonization Index provides a look at the current status of utility decarbonization, there’s much more to uncover in the full report, including:

  • The obstacles that utilities face on the path to decarbonization
  • The detailed data behind the six individual metrics
  • The U.S. utilities ESG report card
  • The solutions and strategies that can help accelerate decarbonization

Download the full report and find out everything you need to know about utility decarbonization.

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Climate

Mapped: 30 Years of Deforestation and Forest Growth, by Country

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Global Deforestation and Forest Growth over 30 Years

This was originally published on December 29, 2021, on Visual Capitalist.

Forests are the great carbon capturers of our planet, and they are a key source of wildlife habitats and vital resources for people around the world.

But deforestation is threatening this natural infrastructure, releasing carbon into the atmosphere while simultaneously reducing wildlife diversity and making our environment more susceptible to environmental disasters.

This graphic looks at global deforestation and forest growth over the past 30 years, mapping out the net forest change by country and region using data from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

The State of Deforestation by Region

Today, forests make up around 31% of the Earth’s total land area, spanning 15.68 million square miles (40.6 million km²). Over the past three decades, the world lost a bit more than 4% (685,300 square miles) of its forests, which equates to an area about half the size of India.

Europe and Asia were the only two regions which had significant overall forest growth during this time period, while Oceania saw no significant change and North and Central America saw a slight reduction.

RegionForest area change (1990-2020)Percentage change in forest area
Asia+146,718 sq mi+6.64%
Europe+88,803 sq mi+2.34%
Oceania+1,057 sq mi+0.0015%
North America and Central America-7,722 sq mi-0.34%
South America and the Caribbean-501,932 sq mi-13.30%
Africa-409,268 sq mi-14.29%
Global total-685,401 sq mi-4.19%

Source: UN Food and Agriculture Organization

Africa along with South America and the Caribbean were the regions with the greatest amount of net forest loss, both losing more than 13% of their forests over the past 30 years. This is largely because these two regions have large amounts of forest area available, with the underlying land in high demand for agriculture and cattle-raising.

Although the overall forest loss around the world is massive, the rate of forest loss has slowed down over the past three decades. While an average of 30,116 square miles were lost each year between 1990 to 2000, between 2010 to 2020 that number has dropped to 18,146 square miles, showing that the rate of overall loss has fallen by almost 40%.

The Countries and Drivers of Deforestation and Forest Growth

Despite an overall slowing down of forest loss, certain countries in South America along with the entirety of Africa are still showing an increase in the rate of forest loss. It’s in these regions where most of the countries with the largest reduction in forest area are located:

CountryNet change in forest area (1990-2020)Percentage change in forest area
Brazil-356,287 sq mi-15.67%
Indonesia-101,977 sq mi-22.28%
Democratic Republic of the Congo-94,495 sq mi-16.25%
Angola-48,865 sq mi-15.97%
Tanzania-44,962 sq mi-20.29%
Myanmar-41,213 sq mi-27.22%
Paraguay-36,463 sq mi-36.97%
Bolivia-26,915 sq mi-12.06%
Mozambique-25,614 sq mi-15.29%
Argentina-25,602 sq mi-18.84%

Source: UN Food and Agriculture Organization

Brazil, home to most of the Amazon rainforest, saw 356,287 square miles of net forest loss, largely fueled by farmers using the land to raise cattle for beef. It’s estimated that 80% of the deforested land area of the Amazon has been replaced with pastures, with the resulting beef production known to be among the worst meats for the environment in terms of carbon emissions.

The other great driver of deforestation is seed and palm oil agriculture. These oils account for about 20% of the world’s deforestation carbon emissions, and their production concentrated in Indonesia and Malaysia is now expanding to other Asian countries along with Africa.

While the demand for beef and palm oils drives deforestation, initiatives like the Central African Forest Initiative (CAFI) are providing incentives to protect forest land.

Select countries in the European Union along with the United Kingdom and South Korea have committed $494.7 million to six central African nations (Cameroon, Gabon, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, and the Republic of Congo) for them to preserve their forests and pursue low emission pathways for sustainable development. The initiative has seen $202 million transferred thus far and an anticipated reduction of 75 million tons of CO2 emissions.

Forests and the Climate Crisis

It’s estimated that forests absorb around 30% of the world’s carbon emissions each year, making them the greatest and most important carbon sinks we have on land. When you pair this with the fact that deforestation contributes around 12% of annual greenhouse gas emissions, the importance of forest preservation becomes even more clear.

But we often forget how much forests protect our environment by acting as natural buffers against extreme weather. Forests increase and ensure rainfall security, making nearby land areas significantly less susceptible to wildfires and natural droughts in hot and dry seasons along with flooding and landslides in wet seasons.

With every dollar invested in landscape restoration yielding up to $30 in benefits, reducing deforestation and investing in reforestation is considered an effective way to reduce the difficulty and costs of meeting climate and environmental protection goals. This is without even considering the benefits of maintaining the world’s largest wildlife habitat and source of species diversity, the home of the nearly 70 million indigenous people who live in forests, and the livelihood of 1.6 billion people who rely on forests every day.

Preserving and Regrowing Forests for the Future

Despite the short-term acceleration in forest loss seen in 2020, there have been positive signs about forest regrowth coming to light. A recent study found that previously deforested land can recuperate its soil fertility in about a decade, and layered plants, trees, and species diversity can recover in around 25-60 years.

Along with this, in some instances these regrowing “secondary forests” can absorb more carbon dioxide than “primary forests”, giving hope that a global reforestation effort can absorb more emissions than previously thought possible.

From better financial incentives for local farmers and ranchers to preserve forest area to larger scale policies and initiatives like CAFI, curbing deforestation and promoting reforestation requires a global effort. Reversing forest loss in the coming decades is a daunting but necessary step towards stabilizing the climate and preserving the environment that billions of animals and people rely on.

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