Many U.S. utilities plan to hang on to their coal plants for a decade: Sierra Club

(Reuters) - The most coal-dependent U.S. utilities plan to keep around 75% of their coal-fired power plants running for another decade, according to an analysis by the environmental group Sierra Club released on Monday, posing a threat to the climate.

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The report here, which reviewed the plans of the 50 U.S. utilities most invested in coal and gas generation, reflects some of the obstacles President Joe Biden will need to overcome to achieve his administration's goal to decarbonize the power sector by 2035.

The Sierra Club analysis of utility public filings found that the companies, which together account for 43% of the nation’s power production, have committed to retiring just a quarter of their coal capacity by 2030.

It also found the companies plan to add new wind and solar capacity over that period amounting to less than one-fifth of their current coal and gas generation.

It said the study shows companies are not moving fast enough to transition away from fossil fuels and are unlikely to reduce greenhouse gas emissions quickly enough to align the United States with the Paris agreement goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°C, to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

Biden has re-engaged the United States with the Paris deal after former President Donald Trump withdrew from it.

The U.S. power sector contributes about 27% of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions, making it the second largest source behind transportation, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Many utilities have promised measures to decarbonize in the coming years or decades, responding in part to investor pressure, state mandates, or expectations for future federal greenhouse gas regulation.

A Reuters report last year revealed, however, that the industry will struggle to hit Biden’s net zero emissions target without a big technological breakthrough.

Sierra Club has been a major force in pushing for the retirement of U.S. coal plants. Since 2010, 63% of the nation’s coal plants have been retired or have committed to retire by 2030.

Reporting by Nichola Groom and Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Marguerita Choy