On Thursday, one of the country’s leading energy companies announced new goals aimed at subtantially cutting carbon emissions over the next several decades. NRG Energy, a massive enterprise with over 100 power plants situated primarily across the Northeast, set a target of cutting its carbon emissions 50 percent by 2030 and 90 percent by 2050. Billed as part of establishing a “clear course towards a clean energy future” the announcement accompanied the groundbreaking ceremony for the company’s new, environmentally-friendly Princeton, New Jersey headquarters.
“The goals you never set, you are certain to never meet,” said David Crane, NRG’s CEO, during the groundbreaking. Crane said he believes it’s NRG’s destiny to be a leader in creating a more sustainable and prosperous future while “winning the fight against climate change.”
NRG, the second-largest conventional power generation company in the country, has already reduced CO2 emissions by 40 percent since 2005, according to the company. They estimate that these new targets will avoid approximately three billion tons of CO2 emissions by 2050 — the equivalent of offsetting all of New York City’s CO2 emissions, at 2005 levels, for 65 years.
While NRG is pushing renewables hard, to accomplish these objectives the company is also banking on cost-effective carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) for its emissions-intensive coal-fired power plants as well as new natural gas generation coming online. According to a ThinkProgress review of NRG’s assets, the company has 21 coal-fired power plants in the U.S. and around 100 more split between oil and gas. The company also has about 30 wind-power plants and five solar plants totaling close to 2,300 megawatts.
“I would hate to see the country sort of turn its back on coal,” Crane told the New York Times. “I think we, alone or with the Chinese, have to direct our attention to capturing the carbon. ”
At the groundbreaking Crane emphasized the important role CCS will play in NRG’s future, saying that the last groundbreaking he attended was for a coal plant in Texas that will be the home of the largest CCS project of its kind in the world.
“CCS technology remains too expensive and geographically limited,” said Crane. “New technologies need to be developed and deployed.” Crane called this “the mother of all issues” and said “someone needs to go after it, and that someone is us.”
While the more environmentally-minded may criticize NRG for continuing to support coal-fired power, the truly impressive thing about their announcement is that it represents a voluntary effort by a power plant company to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
“We got sick of waiting around to see what was going to happen on the policy end,” Leah Seligmann, NRG Energy’s chief sustainability officer, told ThinkProgress. “Frankly if the industry does not follow us and start moving, people are not going to have much patience with it. We can either become extinct or we can become involved.”
Seligmann said CCS is a viable technology for much of the Gulf Coast region due to certain soil types and nearby oil fields, but one of the main challenges is finding new economic sources for the CO2. She said NRG is considering CCS for enhanced oil recovery and also that during a recent visit to China people were talking about using the CO2 in beverages.
“There’s a lot of opportunities,” she said. “We need to think creatively about putting a price on carbon.”
According to Seligmann, the importance of having public goals is twofold: they enable external stakeholders to measure progress, and they also provide managers with clear targets to innovate toward. To Seligmann, these goals are achievable in part because NRG has been laying the groundwork for years: they’ve invested in the Petra Nova CCS project in Texas, they are rapidly pursuing electric vehicle charging stations as part of their eVgo program, and this week they announced major plans to expand their home solar program.
NRG Home Solar will open two new California offices and hire 100 employees, the company announced on Tuesday. While residential solar only represents a small slice of NRG’s overall portfolio, the company is intent on growing its presence and this year purchased solar installer Roof Diagnostics Solar and online solar sales company Pure Energies. NRG Home Solar also announced it would offer solar loans for customers who want to install systems but can’t afford the $20,000 to $30,000 upfront cost. The company also offers leasing programs as an alternative financing option.
Crane recently said that NRG will have 10,000 home solar installations by the end of 2015 and up to 40,000 by the end of next year.
CREDIT: flickr/Kate Gardiner
Across the country from the home solar expansion, NRG’s new three-floor, 130,000 square foot headquarters will “incorporate the cutting-edge resource technologies that characterize the NRG vision.”
These include on-site solar farms with around 765 kilowatts of capacity, rainwater harvesting, more than 30 EV charging stations, leading energy-efficiency technology for heating and cooling, and grid power supplied by renewable sources.
Crane ended the groundbreaking ceremony on a personal note, saying that as he gets older, he thinks more about the future. He said that while he worries about the world our children will inherit, the youth themselves don’t seem to be quite as actively concerned.
“I can’t help but think they act this way because they trust us,” he said. “Let our children enjoy their youth, fall in love, embark on careers, and let us let them dream of doing these great things by removing from the future the dark shadow this is cast over it by global warming.”