Sunrise brief: Retire coal today? No problem, RMI report says

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New reports from RMI offer ways to rapidly decarbonize the U.S. power system while also maintaining reliability.

The first report, Cutting Carbon While Keeping the Lights On, said that more than half of the country’s coal fleet can be retired and replaced with renewables without compromising reliability reserve margins.

RMI, formerly Rocky Mountain Institute, found that 27% of the coal fleet, mostly in the Northeast and Southeast, could be retired by 2025 without replacement. Another 29% could be replaced with lower-cost wind and solar, which would reduce electricity costs and help decarbonize the U.S. power system.

The second report, How to Build Clean Energy Portfolios, said that utilities need to invest $300 million-$750 million through 2030 in clean energy to support changing demand, primarily in terms of electric vehicles and buildings. The report also said that “outdated utility procurement processes” favor coal- and gas-fired power plants.

The report said “outdated utility procurement processes” favor coal- and gas-fired power plants.
The RMI report said that unless utilities modernize these processes, they risk locking in “trillions of dollars of customer costs and billions of tons of CO2 emissions,” setting back progress “for decades” on both affordability and climate.

In a separate report published in early March, consultancy ICF said that utilities have been slow to respond to the threats that climate change poses to energy systems. The report cited what it said was an overall “lack of insight” into the degree of infrastructure exposure; the complexity around how to measure vulnerabilities, hazards, and stressors; and uncertainty about appropriate timing and level of investment for adaptation measures. What’s more, utilities face difficulty in securing funding for proactive resilience investments.

The report found a $500 billion gap in capital investment. It said that gap needs to be closed for U.S. investor-owned utilities to “effectively address” climate change risks.

Nashville approves solar capacity

The City of Nashville will install 3.2 MW of solar PV at three water treatment plants. The Metro Council unanimously approved the plan (BL2021-613) in early March. The vote also supported another ordinance (BL2019-1600) requiring the city to get 35% of its energy from renewable sources by 2025; roughly 2.5% of that must be solar. Under the measure, all of the city’s energy must be sourced from renewable energy by 2041, and 10% of it must be solar power.

In 2020, Nashville became the first local government to pursue access to utility-scale solar power in the Tennessee Valley Authority service territory. The city also modernized its building codes to promote greater energy efficiency in residential and commercial buildings.

PG&E tops RPS goal

Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) said it exceeded California’s renewable portfolio standard (RPS) goal requiring energy providers to deliver 33% renewable energy by the end of 2020.

The utility estimated that it delivered more than 35% of its electricity from eligible renewable resources last year. It said that more than 88% of its electricity came from greenhouse gas (GHG)-free resources, including eligible renewable, nuclear, and large hydroelectric sources.

The utility said that large-scale solar energy made up 45% of its total renewable energy power mix. The company added that it it has 239 RPS-eligible power purchase contracts, representing more than 6,700 MW of renewable energy; of that, more than 4,100 MW is solar energy. PG&E also owns 445 MW of RPS-eligible generation, including 13 solar power plants, which generate up to 152 MW of energy.

PG&E said that rooftop solar in its service area represents about 20% of all rooftop solar in the country.

The utility currently has contracts for battery energy storage projects totaling more than 1,400 MW of capacity to be deployed through 2023. It said that more than 19,000 customers have installed and connected behind-the-meter battery energy storage systems to the grid totaling more than 230 MW of capacity.

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