California houses the top greenest utilities
The nation's greenest utilities tend to cluster in coastal states such as California that promote renewable power and energy efficiency, while those that score lower are located in the Southeast, says a ranking Thursday of the 32 largest U.S. electric utilities.
State policies are a key determinant in how utilities perform, according to the report — billed as the "first-of-its-kind" — by Ceres and Clean Edge, two research groups focused on sustainability. The utilities are ranked on three indicators that look at renewable energy sales and energy efficiency savings.
"This report comes at a critical time for the electric power sector," said Dan Bakal, director of electric power programs at the the non-profit, Boston-based Ceres. He noted that the Environmental Protection Agency plans to begin public hearings next week — in Atlanta, Denver, Washington, D.C., and Pittsburgh — on its proposal to cut carbon-dioxide emissions from existing power plants.
The findings suggest which utilities may be best positioned to meet the EPA's proposed rules, unveiled in June. The rules set varying reduction targets for states, which can meet them by closing the biggest-polluting plants, cutting energy consumption or using more renewable power.
California, noted for its clean-energy policies, has three of the highest-scoring utilities — PG&E, Edison International and Sempra, the report says. Other states that set strong energy-efficiency targets, such as Massachusetts, Oregon and Connecticut, have utilities that also fared well.
In contrast, most of the lower-scoring utilities — Southern, Entergy, SCANA, Florida Power & Light, and Dominion — reside in the Southeast, where state-level support for clean energy has historically been weak.
The District of Columbia and 29 states currently require utilities to include some share of renewable energy in their portfolios, and 22 states require that they use efficiency programs to achieve a specified amount of energy savings.
Still, the report says state policies are not the only factor, noting that scores ranged even among utilities with similar markets and regulations. For example, in Ohio, Duke Energy has delivered more cumulative energy savings than other utilities in the state.
"We're not here to criticize utilities with lower rankings" but encourage them to embrace renewable power and energy efficiency, Bakal said at a news conference, noting the price for renewables is plummeting.
The report ranks the 32 investor-owned utilities, accounting for 68% of U.S. retail electricity sales in 2012, based on government and industry data sources that include the U.S. Energy Information Administration, state Renewable Portfolio Standard annual reports, and annual reports that publicly traded utilities make to the Securities and Exchange Commission.
The five best for selling renewable energy were NV Energy, Xcel, PG&E, Sempra and Edison International, for 17% to 21% of their 2012 electricity sales. The five worst were Southern Company, SCANA, Dominion, AES and Entergy. Their renewable energy sales accounted for less than 2% of overall power sales.
Nearly half, or 54%, of renewable-energy sales were made by five of the 32 holding companies analyzed.
Still, utilities' use of renewables is growing and now averages 5% of overall power sales, said Bryce Yonker, director of business development at Clean Edge, a clean-tech research and advisory firm. He added: "The demand for renewables has never been higher."
The report says the best utilities for cumulative energy efficiency are PG&E, Edison International and Northeast Utilities, which used efficiency gains to save 16% to 17% of their 2012 retail electric sales.
"We feel we have transformed the market" and are driving new technologies, said Northeast Utilities' Tilak Subrahmanian. He said the utility has worked with its customers, citing a recent three-year effort with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that cut the university's energy usage 15%.
The five lowest-scoring utilities for cumulative energy efficiency are PSEG, SCANA, Pepco Holdings, Dominion Resources and Entergy, which saved less than 1% of annual retail sales through efficiency projects.
By providing data, the report provides transparency and "gives consumers the opportunity to push their utilities further," Jon Wellinghoff, partner at Stoel Rives and former chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, told reporters. He wrote the report's foreword.