The following is a contributed article by Tom Kuhn, president of the Edison Electric Institute, the association that represents all U.S. investor-owned electric companies.
The Biden-Harris administration was inaugurated last week during a time of great uncertainty and anxiety for America. While COVID-19 cases continue to surge across the country, we are heartened by the successful development of multiple new vaccines to help address the pandemic and are inspired by the example set in the process. The unprecedented pace of development of these new vaccines illustrates what we can accomplish when we share common goals and commit to achieving them. It is time to bring a similar level of focus and commitment to addressing the challenge of climate change.
The debate over climate often centers around a false choice between the environment and the economy. There is no need to make such a choice. There is a path forward that can bring the benefits of clean energy and a cleaner economy to all Americans.
The Edison Electric Institute (EEI) and the investor-owned electric companies we represent are committed to getting the energy we provide as clean as we can as fast as we can, without compromising on the affordability or reliability that our customers value. That's not new. What is new is that we are joining the growing call for a 100% clean energy future.
Today, nearly 40% of the nation's electricity comes from carbon-free sources, and carbon emissions from the U.S. power sector are at their lowest level in more than 30 years — and continue to fall.
The switch from coal to natural gas and renewable energy has been the single most effective tool over the past decade for reducing carbon emissions. Over the last 15 years, the use of coal has dropped by 50%. And, over the last five years, battery storage deployment has increased by 400%, solar deployment by 216%, and wind deployment by 59%. Importantly, all of this has been done while keeping rates steady and while ensuring that electricity remains affordable and reliable.
Collectively, EEI's member companies are on a path to reduce their carbon emissions at least 80% by 2050, compared with 2005 levels, with many of our member companies pledging to reduce their emissions even further and even faster. With the right policies and the right technologies, a 100% clean energy future can be more than a goal. It can be a reality.
It is important to us that we lead on clean energy in a way that gives us all the options, including making sure that we maintain existing nuclear and that we are still able to use natural gas to help achieve our clean energy targets. Wind, solar and energy storage can get us much of the way to a carbon-free future. Using an energy mix that includes nuclear and natural gas will help us get there faster and more reliably.
We also must continue our efforts to deploy clean energy, while at the same time picking up the pace on technology. It takes time to successfully develop, test and integrate the new technologies we will need to eliminate the last 10% to 20% of emissions, and we must start now.
Priorities for Congress and the Biden administration
It is critical that Congress appropriate money toward the further research, development, demonstration and deployment of new, affordable, 24/7 carbon-free technologies, including advanced renewables, long-duration energy storage and demand efficiency, advanced nuclear, hydrogen, and carbon capture, utilization and storage. The omnibus spending bill that became law in December provided a down payment on needed investment, but more is required to accelerate the drive toward zero emissions.
We also must pursue a range of technology areas at the same time since it is difficult to predict which innovations can become commercially available and viable. Our experience shows that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to meet the energy needs of a country as large and as diverse as ours. Weather patterns, land constraints, customer demographics, and a range of other factors mean that, in addition to addressing the technological challenges, we must address significant infrastructure and political challenges as well.
EEI is advocating for policies that support our clean energy transition, including getting critical transmission and energy grid infrastructure built more quickly. The transmission system is key to integrating more renewables, more clean energy, and more technologies into the grid affordably and reliably.
With such razor-thin majorities in both chambers of Congress, the prospects for big clean energy legislative packages addressing carbon reductions are uncertain, and much of the action may be destined for the regulatory arena. Last week, we voiced our support for President Biden's initial actions on climate change, including America rejoining the Paris Agreement. It is essential that we continue to engage in these conversations to make progress in addressing this global challenge.
Strong and cost-effective federal regulations on methane emissions across the value chain also are essential to ensure that we can continue to use natural gas as a 24/7 on-demand energy source, and we support the Environmental Protection Agency's regulation of methane emissions throughout the natural gas supply chain for new and existing sources.
Our position is — and has always been — that we should take an economy-wide approach to addressing climate change. Policies should recognize the key role that electrification can play in helping to reduce emissions cost-effectively in other sectors of the economy, particularly the industrial and transportation sectors.
We are pleased that the administration is moving forward to create aggressive rules for light-, medium- and heavy-duty vehicles to drive electric transportation. And we support the administration's commitment to invest in and deploy more charging infrastructure to enable more electric vehicle deployment across the country.
There are many legislative and regulatory tools that could be pursued to address climate change, and we're committed to working with the administration, Congress and other stakeholders to explore all the options. We also are encouraged that there are more policymakers on both sides of the aisle who want to address climate change and advance clean energy development. The best policy is bipartisan policy that has lasting results. If we make the right choices now, we can achieve a 100% clean energy future — and a cleaner economy.