COAL FIRED: AZ Clears Way for Nuclear

Arizona seeks to become a 100 percent clean energy state. At present, it’s generating 50 percent clean electricity utilizing one of the largest solar fleets in the U.S. and the most powerful nuclear energy resource in the country, the Phoenix-based Palo Verde Generating Station. The power plant can generate over 3,900 megawatts and only a few years ago received the POWER Top Plant Award. It’s considered critical towards reaching the state’s clean-energy goals and marks an alignment with power generators in neighboring states such as Colorado, New Mexico and even the advanced plans of California utilities.  

Other states have also thrown their renewable energy hats into the ring. Minneapolis’ Xcel Energy recently announced a target of generating 100% carbon-free energy by the year 2050. New Mexico has followed suit, passing the Energy Transition Act which requires them to be carbon-free by 2045. And the list continues to grow – Minnesota, Wisconsin, New Jersey, Hawaii, and even New York, which passed its “Green New Deal” in January of last year. 

However, as bold and clean-minded these ideas are, they remain in large part just that: ideas. Clean-energy is based on science, both existing and future, to inform as yet unknown and unproven market-based solutions which can lead to a great deal of uncertainty. Questions remain if gains in environmental solutions through collaborations with customers and regulators will maintain the reliability and affordability of existing practices. For example, in order for APS to replace almost half of its current power generation with carbon-free sources, new technologies will be required that are not yet available.

While environmental groups laud APS for their movement into less carbon-free renewable energy that once in operation will prove less expensive than fossil-fuel technologies, there remains the challenge of helping coal plant workers with the loss of employment. The transition will no doubt take a significant economical toll on the surrounding communities. Meeting those challenges must be part of the overall design, and according to many in the clean-energy community, APS has stood out among the other major U.S. utilities in terms of their awareness of these issues, including reasonable and specific actions that demonstrate a commitment to real progress. This kind of leadership sends a strong signal to the world that transitioning away from fossil fuels is not only important, but feasible. 

And perhaps those signals are being received loudly and clearly. Only this week, BlackRock, the world’s largest investor in coal, announced an official coal-exclusion policy, thereby sending its own signal to markets about the importance of moving from lip-service to actual clean service. Heretofore, the company was conspicuous in its absence, with approximately $17 billion invested in coal. Now, due to increased pressure from larger entities taking bold, measurable steps, BlackRock has added its name among them. While the move includes only about one-quarter of its total assets, Blackrock’s announcement heralds a major step towards a coal-free future invested in clean renewable energy technologies such as nuclear power.

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