Kerry calls power sector ‘the catalyst’ of global clean energy transition

Published on April 25, 2022 by Kim Riley

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America’s power sector is leading the global transition to clean energy, said former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, currently serving as the U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, earlier Monday.

“I really believe the power sector is the catalizer here, the lead entity in this transition,” said Kerry during the 6th annual Global Electrification Forum hosted today through Friday by the Edison Electric Institute’s (EEI’s) International Programs. “You are wrestling with an increasing supply of clean energy even as you are trying to clean the current sources, so you are working at it from both sides.

“You are already essential because if we can’t get it done in the power sector, then we’ll never get it done elsewhere,” Kerry said. “And by doing that, you’re going to empower us to transition in transportation, infrastructure, and in areas like heavy industry — including steel, cement, aluminum.”

During the forum’s opening conversation on Monday, Kerry and Ameren Corp. Executive Chairman Warren Baxter, who serves as EEI’s current vice chairman, discussed how the power sector can enhance its support of the clean energy transition, as well as the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP26, held last year in Glasgow, and the forthcoming COP27, which will be held Nov. 7-18 in Egypt.

Kerry told Baxter that one way the power sector could really help move the transition forward is via its efforts in Congress.

“There are still too many [climate change] deniers; there are too many doubters,” said Kerry. “There are people who don’t yet see the economic upside and you all have particular credibility because you’re huge employers, you create new products, and you keep the engine of our economy moving.

“I think if you speak to the brightness of the future on the other side of this, that it would have a profound impact on our ability to get the production tax credit, the investment tax credit to do the things we need to do,” he added. “Who knows, maybe ultimately there will be a conversation about pricing carbon, which would have a profound impact on our ability to leap forward.”

EEI, which represents all of the nation’s investor-owned electric companies, has repeatedly called on Congress to continue its work to pass legislation addressing climate change that includes a strong clean energy tax package providing optionality in choosing between the production tax credit and investment tax credit for solar, among other items. 

“I think just stay in the fight and help us to convince enough people how exciting this transition is going to be and about the benefits. We’ll have a cleaner, safer, healthier life as a consequence of this transition,” Kerry said.

“Rest assured Mr. Secretary, we will stay in the fight,” said Baxter, noting that EEI member companies think it is essential to take action to tackle climate change, while also delivering reliable and affordable energy.

EEI supported bipartisan work in Congress to pass the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which provides significant investments in critical energy infrastructure and new carbon-free technologies and includes a solid down payment on the electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure needed to accelerate the electrification of the transportation sector. 

Baxter called the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act an important step forward in making a down payment on the investments that are needed to fund the clean energy transition and said the power sector continues to make strides in providing additional investments to ensure the power supply is cleaner so that the transition goes smoothly.  

“The private and public sectors need to be more aligned,” Baxter told Kerry, asking: “What more can we be doing to help accelerate the clean energy transition, including the power sector?”

Kerry answered that the private sector should follow the public sector’s lead by embracing the reality of this transition in terms of electrification.

“If you look at what’s already happening, 95 percent of last year’s energy transition over the year before is in fact taking place in the deployment of renewables. Ninety-five percent of new power is coming from renewables,” said Kerry. “Broadly, if the private sector were to start targeting that as a goal, and say ‘we’re going to make sure that 95 percent of what is happening is going to be with renewables,’ then we can meet our goals with respect to the provision of energy and we can also meet our goals in terms of the reduction in emissions between now and 2030 when we have to hit 45 percent to 50 percent of global emission reductions targets.”

Likewise, Kerry said the private sector could also help by cutting methane leakage/emissions. “The private sector, gas companies particularly, are going to be part of this transition,” he said, noting that almost half of emissions come from methane, which is more damaging than CO2. 

Kerry hopes the gas industry will join the 113 countries that have signed on to the Global Methane Pledge to reduce methane leakage by at least 30 percent by 2030.

Regarding COP26, Kerry outlined some of the successes gleaned from the conference, including “an unprecedented level of private-sector engagement” that made a huge difference in several areas, including the recognition of the need for a new level of urgency regarding the transition to clean energy.

And for the first time ever, Kerry said there was agreement on a reduction, a phase-down in the global consumption of coal, among others.

“I’m excited by what we’re doing with technologies,” Kerry said, “and how the private sector is stepping up.”

Baxter pointed out that the power sector is working with the Biden administration to ensure it handles the clean energy transition “thoughtfully on an accelerated basis,” he said, and asked Kerry what he looks forward to during COP27.

Kerry said participants have settled “on a simple, straightforward strategy” called Implementation Plus that will build on all the commitments made in Glasgow during COP26 and on bringing in countries that didn’t submit NDCs, or Nationally Determined Contributions, which are climate action plans to cut emissions and adapt to climate impacts. Each party to the Paris Agreement is required to establish an NDC and update it every five years. Kerry said there are countries that need to come to the table, like Mexico.

“It’s essential that we prove to people that we can do this transition in a thoughtful way in which it’s not sacrificing lifestyle, it’s not diminishing our economic growth or capacity, rather it’s adding to it,” he said. “And if you do it in an orderly way, you can take out some of those 40-year-old, very inefficient coal plants and begin to build out whatever the new renewable or other alternative would be.” 

“I think that’s what makes this exciting because from a business point of view, you [the power sector] discovered this; you know this — you’re going to be producing the electricity,” said Kerry. “The future of a low-carbon/no-carbon/zero-carbon economy depends on” electrification across many other industries.

“We’re in the midst of an industrial revolution that in many ways is larger and more critical than the industrial revolution of the late 1800s,” he said.