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Earth Day 2020: Now More Than Ever We Need to Act Together

image credit: Edison Electric Institute
Tom Kuhn's picture
President Edison Electric Institute

Tom Kuhn is President of the Edison Electric Institute, the association that represents all U.S. investor-owned electric companies. EEI’s members provide electricity for 220 million Americans,...

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  • Apr 22, 2020
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In our country's fight to defeat the coronavirus, the importance of coming together to solve big problems is clear. We see the heroic actions of those on the front lines working tirelessly to address immense challenges and to keep essential services up and running. We see the critical role of individuals who are choosing to stay apart to help keep themselves and others safe and healthy. We also know that leadership, policies, and funding at all levels will determine how quickly and successfully we come out of this crisis. I am confident we will emerge more resilient. I also believe lessons from this pandemic can help us come together to address another great challenge we currently face—climate change. 

This week we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, which arrives as global emissions are plummeting in response to stay-at-home orders around the world. This will be short-lived and should not deter us from continuing our efforts to dramatically reduce carbon emissions across our economy. We know there is a great deal of work that must be done to get us to a zero-carbon, clean energy future. The good news is we already are making significant progress.

Today, nearly 40 percent of all U.S. electricity comes from carbon-free sources, including nuclear energy, hydropower, and wind and solar energy. Overall, emissions from the electric power sector are at their lowest level since 1987 and are down by a third (32.9 percent to be exact) compared to 15 years ago. Among the nation’s investor-owned electric companies, which I proudly represent, emissions have been reduced even more and were 45 percent below 2005 levels as of year-end 2019.

This is just the beginning. We must act together, focus on the challenge, and support innovation to accelerate the pace of change and to achieve our vision for clean energy and a cleaner economy.

As we are learning from the coronavirus pandemic, individuals working alone cannot solve a problem as large as climate change. Collaboration and coordination are crucial, which is why our companies and our industry are working with policymakers, environmental organizations, technology companies, and other stakeholders to research, develop, and implement the most effective climate change solutions. We are promoting the key role that electrification can play in helping reduce emissions from other sectors, particularly the transportation and industrial sectors. At the same time, we are staying focused on customer needs with solutions that achieve our goals without compromising on reliability or affordability. 

As with the pandemic, we also need to focus our actions on the real challenge. For climate change, that is reducing carbon emissions. The question we should all be asking is how can we get as clean as we can as fast as we can? Renewables and energy storage are critical parts of the solution, and our industry is investing more in renewables than any other source. But, they are not enough today to achieve a zero-carbon future, and we also need to ensure reliable, 24/7 energy at a price customers are willing to pay. To achieve our goal, we must be open to any technology or energy source that helps us reduce emissions faster, further, and most cost-effectively.

Finally, the COVID-19 crisis makes it clear that the flexibility to innovate is critical and we need to pursue as many options as we can. There is no simple formula for developing a vaccine, so dozens of companies around the world are racing to find a breakthrough. We do not know where the answer will come from, so we need to pursue all possibilities. The same is true for climate change. We are making tremendous progress already, but we know that getting to zero carbon requires breakthrough innovation. We need policies that provide the flexibility we need to pursue many paths to help find the best solutions.

While it is difficult to celebrate Earth Day this year knowing that families, homes, and businesses across the country are still being profoundly impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, I am confident that we can get past this health crisis if we act together. I share the same optimism when it comes to climate change. The challenge of climate change is clear, and I assure you that America’s electric companies remain committed to leading the way to a clean energy future. Our efforts will not stop until we all get there, together.

Tom Kuhn is president of the Edison Electric Institute, the association that represents all U.S. investor-owned electric companies. EEI members serve nearly 70 percent of America’s industries, businesses, and residential customers.

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Apr 22, 2020

As with the pandemic, we also need to focus our actions on the real challenge. For climate change, that is reducing carbon emissions. The question we should all be asking is how can we get as clean as we can as fast as we can? 

Another lesson for climate change action to take from the pandemic: Maybe some of the systematic and behavioral changes that all businesses, including utilities, have been resistant to are not so impossible-- teleworking for certain employees, at least part of the time, and not needing to fly across a country to network at a conference or business meeting now that everyone has a crash course in Zoom. I'll be curious to see how much these lessons are heeded with COVID-19 is in the rearview mirror!

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