SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The nation’s largest utility on Wednesday outlined a multi-decade plan to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions to zero faster while still using natural gas to produce power.
Pacific Gas & Electric’s plan is to remove more carbon from the air than it emits by 2040, five years ahead of the target set by its home state of California and Edison in Southern California, the state’s second-largest utility.
The utility’s climate strategy also calls for more ambitious near-term targets. These include cutting emissions to 50% below 2015 levels, expanding the use of biogas – which is created when food waste and other organic matter breaks down – to make up 15% of its natural gas production, and ensuring that 70% of its electricity supply will come from renewable sources such as solar and wind, all by 2030.
The utility plans to add enough charging stations to power 3 million electric vehicles and help customers replace gas-powered appliances with electric options. The latter is intended to meet a growing trend of communities banning or severely restricting gas appliances in new construction. Los Angeles joined over 50 California cities last month that have approved such plans.
PG&E predicts that natural gas production will decline by 40% from 2015 to 2030, but the utility will continue operating its three gas-fired power plants.
With 16 million customers in Northern and Central California, PG&E supplies more people than any other utility company. Climate targets are among the most ambitious set by major investor-owned utilities. This is partly because California has already enacted aggressive clean energy laws, requiring utilities to get 100% of their electricity from non-carbon sources by 2045.
Aside from the broad deadlines, the plan lacks many details. Mark Toney of The Utility Reform Network, a taxpayer advocacy group, said there is no protection against consumer price hikes. By contrast, Sacramento’s municipal utility district recently pledged not to raise prices more than inflation as it works towards an ambitious deadline to eliminate carbon emissions from its power supply by 2030.
“What’s missing is a concrete commitment to affordability,” Toney said of PG&E’s plan.
The report also does not specify what level of emissions the company still expects to produce by 2040. To be net zero, the utility would need to remove that same amount of emissions from the air through technologies that aim to capture and store carbon. To beat. The report says the company supports policies that promote research and development of such technology but does not describe specific actions the company will take in that arena.
PG&E Chief Executive Officer Patti Poppe said details will come later.
“What I’ve learned over the years is that setting an ambitious goal is the first goal, the first step,” she said during an interview with reporters.
Poppe said the company wants to ensure it can deliver new, cleaner energy sources to customers at the “lowest possible cost”. The price per kilowatt hour that PG&E customers now pay is about 80% higher than the national average, according to a 2021 study by Next 10 and the Energy Institute at the University of California, Berkeley, Haas School of Business.
Last year, the utility generated about 50% of its electricity from renewable sources such as solar and wind. Another 39% came from the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant, which is expected to close in 2025. Although Governor Gavin Newsom has expressed interest in keeping the plant open, PG&E’s plan does not foresee a lasting role for it.
In recent years, California has struggled on extremely hot days with enough power to fuel the electrical grid as more and more people turn on their air conditioners. The plan said that to make up for that lost power, the utility is investing in more battery storage to store excess solar energy produced during the day for use at night. Boosting solar battery storage is important to the state’s strategy to prevent power outages.
Ken Alex, the senior policy advisor on climate and energy issues for former California Governor Jerry Brown, said it was odd that the utility chose 2015 as its benchmark for emissions. The state typically measures the progress of emissions from 1990 levels, which were lower than in 2015.
He also noted that the utility does not provide information about emissions related to wildfires caused by its equipment and how they contribute to its goals. California has only recently begun calculating the carbon emissions from wildfires in its total inventory of greenhouse gas emissions, although it doesn’t attribute those emissions to specific utilities.
“Those are real emissions and can overwhelm the system,” Alex said.