Exelon’s Crane urges move away from carbon-based energy

Published on October 24, 2018 by Jaclyn Brandt

Chris Crane

The president of Exelon Corp., which has more zero-carbon nuclear reactors than any other energy provider in the United States, recently outlined how the energy sector should reduce carbon emissions as many customers are demanding.

Exelon president and chief executive officer Christopher Crane spoke this week at a Brookings Institution event about the future of electric utilities, and how nuclear and renewables fit into the transition to a low-carbon future.

The electric industry is supporting lower emissions by reducing demand through energy efficiency initiatives, promoting the use of low-carbon to zero-carbon energy sources, scrubbing carbon out of fossil fuels, and extracting carbon from the atmosphere.

With a long-term goal of an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2050, Crane said, “Prominent scientific groups believe all of these strategies are required to meet the goals that we have set forward and to avoid the catastrophic climate impacts that we have seen and are having to live through as a company.”

He called on the industry to quickly reduce the amount of carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels.

“The impacts of climate change are irrefutable,” said Crane. “Look at our last couple of years: fires, floods, storms, heat waves, ocean temperatures that are drawing so much moisture into these hurricanes, and an infrastructure that we’re trying to maintain during these changing times.”

A dramatic reduction in emissions will be needed from both the supply side and the demand side of the industry and electrification with clean sources can be a key part of that, he added.

“We believe in the continued development of affordable renewable assets coming onto the market,” he said. “It’s got to be about cost, it’s got to be about safety, it’s got to be about reliability, but we can put the environment right on top of that to serve our customers.”

Exelon is also invested in grid-scale storage, as well as supporting the creation of new designs that will allow price and reliability. Crane also believes in the potential of carbon-capture and storage technologies.

Exelon currently runs 23 nuclear reactors, six utilities that deliver electric and gas to 10 million customers, and a power generation fleet that also provides wind, solar and hydroelectric generating capacity.

“The cost of new nuclear is prohibitive for us to be investing in, so our investments are going into storage, our investments are going into sequestering activities so we can bring more of those technologies online,” Crane said.

Although the company believes there is a place for nuclear, the high cost of bringing new nuclear properties online means making a dramatic move towards renewable sources may be a more economical option. While some small nuclear plants may not be viable economically, other larger emission-free nuclear plants are facing retirement before enough renewable energy can replace them, he noted.

Exelon has been the only utility to support the Baker-Shultz Carbon Dividends Plan, which calls for a fee applied to carbon dioxide emissions with the proceeds returned to taxpayers in the form of dividend payments.

Exelon supports a market-based approach that would allow creativity and technologies to compete, Crane said.

“What we’re doing right now is Band-Aids. What we need to do is either a regional or national fix,” he said. “What we’ve got now is just buying us time, and time is running out on many of these assets and we will end up going backwards. Our dependency will grow higher on carbon-emitting sources than go lower.”

Crane said customers are supportive of moving away from carbon-based energy.
“We’ve got customers in all the service territories that we serve believe the climate is changing, and believe we have to be a part of that solution in an economic way.”

Although the world is changing in terms of awareness of a changing climate, he said, “There is one area of the country we are not seeing the awareness and that is D.C. — not the city of DC, but our government. Getting energy and environmental policy merged is critical. We are seeing our customers across the board demand this from us.”

The goal of the industry is to make climate change a less-polarizing issue and influence recognition. To do that, Crane believes elected officials need to “hear the voices of the nation. I think that will bring them along.”

“If our federal government isn’t going to lead, our customers in our communities are,” Crane said. “If we are going to be a relevant supplier of energy in the future … We understand the model: do what your customers want and do it in a safe, effective, clean methodology.”