PG&E invests in gas, nuclear, and hot air
by Aliza Wasserman
Electrical generation is the largest single source of carbon-dioxide emissions in the country. If we are going to stabilize our climate, the electrical industry needs to be a climate-stabilizing industry. So is PG&E doing what it needs to do to prevent global climate disruption?
PG&E's statistics on renewable energy and conservation compare well with other utilitiesÑuntil you realize that they are no better than required by state law, and that in many policy areas PG&E campaigns against green energy laws.
Sources of power
These renewables are to consist of: biomass and waste 4%, geothermal 4%, small hydroelectric 4%, wind 2%, solar <1%.
PG&E is indeed lower in coal and higher in renewables than most U.S. utilities. This portfolio, however, is largely a geographic and historical accident: California is a region with limited coal, but abundant hydropower (low in carbon emissions but with its own set of environmental problems). Solar and wind comprise a mere 1% and 2% respectively of PG&E's portfolio.
Furthermore, a recent study by Navigant Consulting concludes that many California cities can obtain 40% of their electricity from renewable energy without charging any more than PG&E. (Navigant has good credentials. It's the consultant hired both by Marin County and by Oakland, Emeryville, and Berkeley to prepare the business plans for their energy futures.) In that context, PG&E's projected 14% renewables for 2008 is unacceptably low.
PG&E moves forward only because it has to
PG&E is choosing to invest the bulk of its electricity-expansion funds in the Diablo nuclear plant and in bringing on board a new type of fossil fuel, liquefied natural gas. Simply put, this company is not positioning itself as a renewable-energy company but as a larger nuclear- and gas-power company.
PG&E has a better carbon footprint than most U.S. utilities and should be praised for its low dependence on coal and for being one of the first companies to endorse state and federal climate-change policies. This praise, however, should be considered in the context that PG&E's low-carbon footprint is largely due to its reliance on nuclear power, and its beneficial investments in renewables and efficiency are all mandated by state law, and not the company's voluntary initiative.
PG&E, which is being lauded around the country as a green leader, is projecting only 14% renewables for 2008— when at least 51% is possible.
For more information about PG&E and climate see:
Reprinted with permission from Sierra Club Yodeler, Jul-Aug 2008.
Aliza Wasserman is a co-founder of the Green Guerrillas Against Greenwash.