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Utility companies aim for clean energy, but are they doing enough?

A coal mound stands outside a Kentucky Utilities Co. station.
Bloomberg via Getty Images
A coal mound stands outside a Kentucky Utilities Co. station.

Despite their climate pledges, many utilities aren't moving away from fossil fuels very quickly, according to a new report.

The Sierra Club conducted a follow-up analysis to its 2021 report on the 50 utility companies most invested in coal and gas. It found that companies are doing a marginally better job moving toward clean energy. The analysis looked at two utilities operating in Idaho: Pacificorp and Idaho Power. Lisa Young with the Idaho Chapter of the Sierra Club said market forces are trending toward more affordable renewable energy.

"So utilities are starting to get the picture and move in the right direction, but certainly not fast enough. We see utilities like Pacificorp that really don't have any major carbon-reduction and climate plans to the scale and speed that we need," Young said.

Sierra Club graded utilities based on their commitment through 2030 to phasing out coal, plans to build gas plants that negatively impact the climate and plans for clean energy. In its analysis, Pacificorp improved from an "F" grade to a "D" and Idaho Power improved from "F" to "C."

Young said Pacificorp has a long way to go to clean up its power grid. While Idaho Power is doing better, she said the company has more to improve on as well. Idaho Power has made a corporate goal of getting to 100 percent clean electricity by 2045. Young said the company's most recent resource plan shows carbon-emission reductions through about 2030, but then efforts flatline for the next decade.

"So if they're supposed to reach zero emissions, they're really going to need to make some plans to eliminate not only the coal plants, which they do plan to eliminate within the next decade, but their gas plants as well," said Young.

Young said the company also should consider moving its 100 percent clean-energy goal up to 2035, given the urgency of the climate emergency. And she said that utilities shouldn't stand in the way of individuals and businesses owning clean-energy technologies to meet their needs. She said companies such as Idaho Power have been creating hurdles for customers to own and afford their own solar panels.