Report: A diverse generating mix offers more paths to decarbonization

As more jurisdictions – at the state and local levels – set or debate setting targets for reducing carbon dioxide emissions from electricity generation, electric utilities are stepping in to join these discussions and analyze the potential glide paths for their communities that consider how much achieving such targets, without compromising system reliability, would cost. 

Smart Decarbonization: Public Power’s Case for Generating Diversity and Affordability, a new eBook from the American Public Power Association, compiles research from a variety of industry sources that show potential infrastructure needs, costs, and timelines to reach different levels of emissions reductions or percentages of zero-emitting generation.

Many of the studies cited underscore the importance of including a wider array of low- or zero-emitting generation sources - such as hydro, nuclear, and landfill gas – in achieving decarbonization targets within an ambitious timeframe.

The eBook also shows how defining the set of resources that could be included in state renewable portfolio standards or renewable or clean energy goals has a considerable impact on a state’s baseline of clean energy. A set of overlaid clickable maps illustrate that considering only renewables such as solar and wind, but excluding hydropower generation, means that a majority of states currently generate less than 10% of electricity from such renewables, whereas including all zero-emitting sources, such as hydropower and nuclear, means that more than half of states already  generate 25% or more of electricity from zero-emitting resources. According to the eBook, more than 70% of electricity generated from zero-emitting sources in the United States in 2018 was produced by either hydro or nuclear facilities.

“This does not set an agenda nor give a recommendation for what kind of generating mix public power utilities should have,” said Paul Zummo, director of policy research and analysis at the American Public Power Association and author of the eBook. “Rather, we want this to be a tool that can help our members who are part of discussions about reducing carbon emissions or increasing renewable generation in their communities to showcase how having flexibility with the array of low- and zero-emitting generating technologies can have a major impact on how much it will cost to achieve.”    

The eBook is intended to be a quick read and includes links to numerous original research studies and analyses that offer more in-depth information on the potential paths to decarbonization for different regions of the United States.   

The eBook also points out several constraints or challenges public power providers face in developing new zero-emitting generation, such as not being able to directly take advantage of federal tax-based incentives like the wind production tax credit and solar investment tax credit.

The eBook concludes by summarizing six key considerations for communities considering decarbonization. These are:

  • There is a balance between decarbonization and cost
  • Clean energy targets that exclude nuclear and hydro are not realistic
  • The goal should be emissions reductions, not a specific resource mix
  • Some areas of the country may need a longer glide path to a cleaner energy future
  • Decarbonization should be economy-wide, not just for electricity generation
  • Electrification can play a role in decarbonization

Read the full eBook at:

The eBook was produced as part of APPA’s Moving Public Power Forward strategic initiative to help public power utilities prepare for major changes to the electric utility industry.