REALITY CHECK: The Clean Electricity Transition We Need To Meet President Biden’s Goals Isn’t “Already Happening”

In the last few weeks, critics of the Clean Electricity Performance Program (CEPP), central in President Biden’s climate plan, have misrepresented the state of America’s clean energy transition. In particular, critics like Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) have argued that utility companies are already transitioning away from fossil fuels at the pace required, thus making the CEPP unnecessary. This claim is false. 

At their current decarbonization rates, utilities are not on pace to add new clean electricity fast enough to fulfill President Biden’s commitments to decarbonize the power sector by 2035, and reduce America’s economy-wide greenhouse gas pollution by at least 50% by 2030. As explained below, the CEPP would provide the incentives, and penalties, needed to help utilities transition to clean electricity at the pace demanded by science.

Utilities’ Current Trajectories Aren’t Driving The Clean Electricity Transition Fast Enough To Meet President Biden’s Goals

President Biden committed to reduce America’s greenhouse gas pollution by at least 50% by 2030. And as a key step to achieve that goal, the president committed to achieve 100% clean electricity by 2035. But at the current rate of decarbonization, utilities will achieve only a fraction of that— analysts project that, without ambitious policy action, the US is on track to reach only 47% carbon-free energy by 2035.

But with a CEPP in place, we can achieve 80% clean electricity by 2030—putting us on the path to 100% by 2035, and reducing carbon pollution by as much as 750 million metric tonnes. The CEPP would provide incentives for utilities to add at least 4 percentage points (p.p) of new carbon-free power to their portfolios each per year through 2030. That is an achievable goal for utilities across the country, but it is well above and beyond the sector’s current trajectory—only a few utilities, out of 3,300 nationwide, currently plan to add 4 p.p. or more of clean electricity per year.

In fact, the most clean electricity growth the power sector has ever achieved in a single year was 2.3% in 2020.

With the CEPP in place, the power sector would be decarbonized at the rate demanded by science. According to an analysis released by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), investments made through the Build Back Better Act could put the U.S. on track to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas pollution by 45% by 2030—and using the CEPP to clean up the power sector is one of two main drivers of those pollution reductions. These power sector investments are essential to tackling the climate crisis, and helping communities build back better. 

Utilities Themselves Have Said The CEPP Would Help Drive The Clean Energy Transition “In Ways We’ve Never Seen In The Past."

Last month at the National Clean Energy Week Policymakers Symposium, President and CEO of Public Service Enterprise Group (PSEG) Ralph Izzo explained that the CEPP combined with other clean energy incentives in the Build Back Better Act would "propel this green economy in ways we’ve never seen in the past."

David Brown, the Senior Vice President of Government Affairs for Chicago-based utility Exelon, echoed PSEG’s message in an interview with the Washington Examiner last month. Brown said, “The CEPP encourages companies not only to build clean generation but to do it faster than we would see in a business as usual scenario. You are paying them to go above and beyond business as usual.”

President Biden campaigned and won on a commitment to achieve 100% clean electricity by 2035, but without federal intervention, the power sector won’t be on track to achieve the clean electricity growth we need to meet that goal. The data is clear and utilities themselves have laid it out: the incentives in the CEPP would drive America’s power sector to exceed their current trajectory for the clean energy transition and deliver more clean energy, faster. The CEPP is the most proven, effective way to get the U.S. on track to fulfill President Biden’s climate commitments to the American people and the international community.