SEPA report shows utilities have numerous paths to carbon-free electricity as transition inequalities emerge

Published on February 09, 2023 by Chris Galford

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According to the 2023 Utility Transformation Profile released by the Smart Electric Power Alliance (SEPA) this week, leading utilities have made significant progress toward a carbon-free energy system, but challenges have kept others from the same, leaving industry gains uneven.

SEPA is a nonprofit member organization consisting of more than 1,100 utilities, corporations, and government entities. Its latest report included a year’s worth of survey responses collected from more than 100 individual utility members from 41 states. 

“Electric utilities, their regulators, customers, and stakeholders all have important roles to play in decarbonizing the U.S. electric power system,” said Sheri Givens, SEPA president and CEO. “SEPA offers the Utility Transformation Profile to identify areas of both progress and opportunity and to help our members and the industry at large prioritize the focus areas to accelerate the transition to a carbon-free energy system.”

For starters, the report highlighted that each utility will have its own path and require different strategies to achieve a carbon-free system. For leading utilities, efforts have yielded greater strength, depth, and transparency of their carbon reduction targets, the development of concrete action plans with interim targets, and allowed for earlier target dates overall. Utilities are also wading further into distribution system operations to help manage the increased number of customer-sited distributed energy resources (DERs) and guarantee grid reliability. 

SEPA specifically showcased a leaderboard of 12 utilities leading the transformation charge based on four categories: the procurement and deployment of clean energy resources, corporate leadership, integration of clean energy resources for a balanced and reliable modern grid, and aligned actions and engagement between utilities and their stakeholders. Leading utilities, in this case, included:

  • Austin Energy
  • Green Mountain Power
  • National Grid
  • Pacific Gas and Electric
  • Palo Alto Utilities
  • Portland General Electric
  • Public Service Enterprise Group
  • Seattle City Light
  • Sacramento Municipal Utility District
  • Snohomish County Public Utility District
  • Southern California Edison
  • Xcel Energy

Despite the gains these and other companies showcased, SEPA also included a series of recommendations based on what they learned from the results. These included expanding carbon reduction commitments to include both direct and indirect emissions, establishing quantifiable interim carbon reduction targets under transparent and public plans, creating similarly transparent and standardized emissions tracking systems, integrating equity considerations and goals into any planning and development, expanding customer programs to reduce the weight of rate impacts and increase engagement, and creating internal governance structures to address risks and improve climate resilience.