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Renewables Beating Out Gas

While most U.S. utilities have 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, and nearly 1.4 gigawatts of energy storage by 2035 – without any new gas.

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Michigan

Consumers Energy in Michigan announced plans in February 2020 to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2040. The utility now plans to retire its remaining coal units in 2025 and add 8,000 MW of solar and 550 MW of energy storage by 2040. In an interview, then 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 September 2021 that puts all 24 of its 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 – with no new investments in gas.

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Oregon

In 2021, Gov. Kate Brown signed an ambitious new climate bill into law that included a measure that bans the expansion or new construction of power plants that burn gas or other fossil fuels.

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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

Following completion of a joint study in partnership with several local environmental justice organizations, the New York Power Authority issued a request for proposals to replace its gas peaker plants with battery storage technologies.

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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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Mississippi

Entergy Mississippi announced plans in November 2021 to replace a number of aging gas plants by adding 1 gigawatt of new renewable power over the next five years.

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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 2022, the lost capacity will be replaced by 650 MW of solar generation and 300 MW/1,200 MWh of battery storage – with no new gas.

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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. 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. And in 2021, Xcel proposed further speeding its transition by abandoning previous plans for adding a big new gas plant to its fleet.