Renewables Beating Out Gas

While most U.S. utilities have now announced zero-carbon goals, some plans are notably more ambitious than others. Below are recent examples of the American power sector moving past gas and onto renewables and battery storage, grouped by state or region.

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Arizona

Arizona utilities have started to pivot away from gas. Arizona Public Service announced in February 2019 that it would fill a need for new peaking capacity with one of the largest battery storage initiatives in the United States, and Tucson Electric Power in June 2020 announced it would close all its remaining coal generation and replace it with 1.7 gigawatts of solar, 850 megawatts of wind, nearly 1.4 gigawatts of energy storage by 2035 – allowing it to transition without any new gas.

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Michigan

Consumers Energy in Michigan announced plans in February 2020 to be net-zero carbon emissions by 2040. This followed a settlement with key stakeholders last year to retire its five remaining coal units and add renewable generation in their place. In an interview, Consumers CEO Patti Poppe defended the company’s plans for a massive solar buildout, saying, “It’s not a big bet, per se. A big bet is a 1,000-megawatt natural gas power plant. What I like about renewables is you don’t have to make that big bet. You can gradually add… It’s lean because you only build to demand as opposed to building a 70-year asset that you hope you’re going to need.”

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California

California is replacing its gas plants with renewables and battery storage:

Examples of Wind Energy Beating Gas
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West and Pacific Northwest

PacifiCorp (which provides power to Utah, Wyoming, southeastern Idaho, Oregon, northern California, and southeastern Washington) finished a comprehensive planning process in October 2019 that puts 20 out of its 24 coal units on a path toward closure – some more than a decade earlier than had been anticipated. The utility concluded that its least-cost option for replacing these plants was to make major investments in new wind, solar, battery storage, and transmission. Gas has a very limited role, with most gas investments postponed until after 2026 to provide time to continue evaluating non-emitting alternatives.

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Rhode Island

Rhode Island regulators in November 2019 effectively killed a new gas-fired power plant proposed by Invenergy, denying a key permit based on a finding that market changes and the growth of renewable energy overtook any need for the project.

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New York

The New York Power Authority announced in October 2020 that it is partnering with several local environmental justice organizations to determine how it can use battery storage and other technologies to replace ten gas-fired peaking plants at six sites in New York City. A year earlier, New York regulators approved building a 316 MW battery storage plant to replace 16 fossil-fueled combustion turbines at NYC’s Ravenswood Generating Station.

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New Jersey

New Jersey’s largest power company, PSEG, announced a new goal in July 2019 of getting down to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 and pledged not to build or acquire any new fossil-fueled plants.

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Oklahoma

Oklahoma’s Western Farmers Electric Cooperative signed a contract with NextEra in July 2019 to build the largest proposed solar-plus-wind-plus-storage plant in the United States, because “it’s actually cheaper, economically than a gas peaker plant of similar size,” according to Western Farmers’ lead project engineer.

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New Mexico

Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM) announced in April 2019 that all its electric generation will be carbon-free by 2040, five years earlier than required under the state’s new Energy Transition Act. Starting in 2028, the company will begin closing its gas plants, with the last ones shuttered by 2040, and add renewable generation in their place. According to PNM President, Chairman, and CEO Pat Vincent-Collawn: “After its passage, we went back to consider scenarios that would get us to the 2045 goal without hurting customers’ pocketbooks and while maintaining reliability. We soon realized that we were not only up for the challenge of a 100 percent emission-free goal by 2045, but that we could do better…” And PNM more recently announced that when its 847-MW San Juan coal plant closes in June of 2022, the lost capacity will be replaced by 650 MW of solar generation and 300 MW/1,200 MWh of battery storage – and no new gas.

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Indiana

State regulators in April 2019 unanimously rejected an 850 MW gas plant proposed by utility Vectren (which provides power to central and southwestern Indiana) over concerns that the $781 million investment represented a major stranded asset risk. Previously, in September 2018, utility Northern Indiana Public Service Company (NIPSCO) announced that the most viable option for its customers would be to move up the retirement of all its coal plants within the next 10 years and to replace the fuel with lower-cost renewable energy resources such as wind, solar and battery storage technology, not gas.

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Idaho

Idaho Power announced plans in March 2019 to transition its generation to 100% clean energy by 2045. It will retire its interests in its three remaining coal plants and three gas plants and plans to add a new 120 MW solar facility at pricing that rivals the lowest ever seen in the U.S. market.

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Hawaii

In May 2020, Hawaiian Electric announced a massive buildout of 460 megawatts of solar and nearly 3 gigawatt-hours of storage, an important step to hitting the state’s mandate of 100% renewables by 2045.1 Previously, in March 2019, the utility received approval for an ambitious suite of new solar-plus-storage projects that came in at prices significantly lower than its existing fossil-fueled generation.

Renewable Energy Battery Storage
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Midwest, Plains, and Southwest

Xcel Energy (which serves customers in Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin, North Dakota, South Dakota, Colorado, Texas, and New Mexico) unveiled plans in December 2018 to be 100% carbon-free by 2050. The company had previously announced that it would save its customers money by retiring two coal units early and replacing them with a mix of wind, solar, and battery storage – and with considerably less gas than it originally anticipated.