In March, Entergy released a report outlining how it would respond to climate change, including an emissions reduction goal. But the goal it set for annual carbon emissions in 2030 is actually an increase of roughly two million tons from 2017 levels.
Entergy’s report said that its plan would reduce overall emissions from its utility generation by approximately 28 percent. But it uses the year 2000 as a baseline. The company already met and exceeded that goal in 2017, according to data provided by Entergy.
Though the company’s 2030 emissions would increase relative to 2017, it is a slight reduction from 2018 levels, since Energy’s overall carbon emissions crept up from 2017 to 2018.
Chuck Barlow, Entergy’s Vice President of Sustainability and Environmental Policy, said the company used 2000 as a comparison year because that was the baseline for Entergy’s first carbon reduction goals in 2001.
“It’s the year that Entergy started spending a lot of time and effort in trying to deal with climate issues,” Barlow said. “We were the first US electric utility to adopt a voluntary carbon goal, a cap on our emissions. We did that in 2001.”
Barlow said that he didn’t think it was at all misleading to use 2000 as a base year, when emissions were roughly 30 percent higher than they are today.
“The numbers are right in the report,” he said. “It’s telling you our base year is 2000.”
Entergy’s forecast of higher emissions in 2030 than in 2017 was noted in a recent report from the Energy and Policy Institute, a pro-renewable energy group that seeks to expose what it characterizes as “misinformation by fossil fuel and utility interests.”
The report looked at the 22 highest-emitting investor-owned utilities and analyzed each of their carbon reduction plans. It noted that Entergy is following a common trend for many utilities: its rate of year over year carbon reduction is slowing down. One major reason, it says, is that much of the reduction achieved by utilities over the last decade was derived from switching from coal to natural gas power.
The switch from fossil fuels to renewables, on the other hand, is not happening at the same speed.
“A lot of the utilities made some progress in the last decades because they effectively switched to natural gas from coal,” said Daniel Tait, research and communication manager for the group. “You can see once that lock in of gas happened, it pretty much kept their carbon emissions steady or only slightly declining.”
Entergy reduced its overall emissions from 49.1 million tons in 2000 to 38 million tons in 2018. In that time, its overall energy portfolio went from 15 percent coal to 11.9 percent, while natural gas increased from 42 percent to 51.4 percent. Renewable energy, meanwhile, only increased from less than .1 percent to .2 percent.
Looking forward to 2030, Entergy is mapping a similar course, with coal falling to 1.3 percent and natural gas increasing to 60.3 percent. Renewable energy would climb to 6.8 percent.
“Entergy’s carbon emission reduction goal is a joke,” Ezra Oliff-Lieberman said in an emailed statement. Oliff-Lieberman is a leader with Sunrise New Orleans, the local chapter of a national youth-led climate change advocacy organization.
“To ensure a livable future, Entergy executives must immediately start transitioning to 100% renewable energy, technology that already exists and would create thousands of new jobs here in Louisiana,” the statement said.
The goals Entergy laid out for itself aren’t primarily focused on the total amount of carbon its plants emit. The main objective is to reduce how much carbon they have to release for every additional megawatt hour of power they produce — the emission rate. The goal is to reduce the emission rate by 50 percent, relative to 2000 levels.
The goal only applies to its utility emissions. It does not include Entergy’s fleet of merchant power generators, which is largely made up of nuclear plants in the Northeast. But non-utility emissions only make up roughly 5 percent of the company’s total emissions.
If the company does reduce its emissions rate by 50 percent, it predicts that total annual utility emissions would fall by 28 percent, compared to 2000. The reason that annual emissions wouldn’t shrink at a slower pace is because Entergy’s prediction that over the next decade, total energy production will increase by 34 percent.
Barlow says he was surprised when he was told about the predicted uptick in demand. That forecast is at odds with national trends in energy use. Energy consumption in the US fell in 2008 due to the recession and has sat below that year’s consumption total ever since.
“I’m using data coming from other parts of the company,” Barlow said. “I can tell you that I pushed back just like you, and they came back to me and said they’d run the numbers several times, based on all the economic factors that they look at in our part of the country, primarily industrial growth.”
Environmental advocates, however, say that even if Entergy’s forecast for industrial growth is accurate, there are steps it can take to deal with the increased demand aside from bolstering supply, such as energy efficiency and demand response programs.
Demand response is the idea that brief periods of higher-than-usual demand — peak demand — can be managed by lowering usage rather than increasing supply. These programs can include financial incentives for individuals and businesses to voluntarily shut off air conditioners or factories at times of peak demand.
Traditionally, utilities have dealt with these periods of extraordinarily high demand with peaking plants that are only turned on for this purpose, sometimes only for several hours a year. Entergy New Orleans is currently constructing a $210 million natural gas peaking plant in eastern New Orleans.
Opponents of the plant argued that it would not only increase carbon emissions, but was an outdated solution that would be more expensive than alternatives like demand response and battery storage.
“We’ve got a lot of programs across the company that deal with demand response and energy efficiency,” Barlow said. “To the extent that our regulators have an appetite for that, we will continue to push that envelope. We’ve got some regulators who are very interested in and others that are lukewarm.”
Tait pointed out that Entergy’s emissions goals are far from meeting the targets set by a landmark 2018 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. That report focused on how humanity can limit global warming to 1.5 degree Celsius. The report predicts that a larger rise of 2 degrees would be exponentially worse, including millions more people vulnerable to droughts and flooding.
To limit global warming to 1.5 degrees celsius, the report says that global greenhouse emissions need to be cut in half by 2030 and disappear entirely by 2050. If Entergy follows its in-house plan, it will only reduce emissions by 6 percent in 2030 compared to last year.
The report from the Energy and Policy Institute found few utilities conforming to the plan put forward by the IPCC. Minneapolis-based Xcel Energy is one of the few examples, pledging to reduce total emissions by 80 percent from 2005 to 2030 and reach zero carbon emissions by 2050.
Barlow gave a few explanations as to why Entergy isn’t aiming for a 50 percent reduction by 2030. First, he said that the company is already performing better than many other utilities in terms of emissions per megawatt hour produced. He pointed to a June report from M.J. Bradley & Associates, a consultancy firm that represents several utilities, along with environmental groups like the National Resource Defense Council.
The report, which Entergy sponsored, said that among the 20 biggest utilities, Entergy ranked fourth lowest in emission rates. Its emission rate was three times smaller than the last place utility, St Louis-based Ameren.
Barlow also said that decreasing total emissions by 50 percent, even when using 2000 as a baseline, was found to be untenable both from an economic and regulatory standpoint.
“We tried to force our system into a situation where it would reduce the tonnage by 50 percent,” he said. “And what we see is something that quite frankly we don’t think is realistic for Entergy, or Entergy’s territory. We don’t think it would get regulatory support in the public service commissions. We think it would cost a tremendous amount of money for our customers.”
Still, for climate activists like Oliff-Lieberman, the threat of climate change and the necessity to act outweigh excuses for not aggressively moving to zero carbon emissions.
“We’re facing an existential climate crisis here in New Orleans and around the country,” he said.