“100% carbon-free,” “90% reduction in carbon emissions by 2040,” “80% carbon-free by 2050,” “25% renewable by 2030;” the list goes on and on.
Lately, it seems like people are constantly asking me, “Why doesn’t Cherryland Electric Cooperative have a long-range, carbon-free goal?” It seems that all the “cool kids” are doing it in Michigan and across the country. It is a good question with a few explanations.
First, I’m old. I have been around this industry a long while and I’ve seen cycles come and go. I have watched the rise of renewables and the fall of coal-fired generation. What I have not seen is a utility executive make a carbon-free claim in a timeframe he or she will actually be responsible for and accountable to see through.
It would be so easy for me to make a 2040 claim, gather a bunch of slaps on the proverbial back, let the public relations chatter quiet over several months or a few years and then slip off into retirement or another job long before 2040. I simply choose not to do that. Whenever I retire, I will look back proudly on a record of accomplishments rather than news clippings of grandiose statements.
Second, why would I give up my best-negotiating lever by letting energy developers know my deadline, the size of my need and what types of energy I am locked into? Why wouldn’t anyone want room to negotiate the best price? Well, I guess if you are an entity that really doesn’t care about affordable power supply, you might not care about giving up negotiating leverage. That entity is not Cherryland.
Third, if climate change is truly at a critical stage, shouldn’t we be doing something today and not 20 plus years from now? Cherryland has gone from less than 1% renewable and somewhere below 10% carbon-free 20 years ago to a portfolio of power that was nearly 20% renewable and 62% carbon-free in 2018. We have done it with only two rate increases in the last 10 years as well.
Our goal at Cherryland is to get better every year. We are proud of a 62% carbon-free accomplishment, but we are not satisfied. We will continue to look for opportunities to make that number even better in the months and years ahead. When the opportunities in Michigan are defeated like they have been over the past 12 months, we will look to our neighboring states. If those opportunities slip through our grasp, we will look farther out into the regional grid.
My point is simple. Cherryland will always be looking to improve our portfolio of clean, affordable power—today, tomorrow, next month and next year. We don’t need a 2040 goal. We need to improve on the success of our last 20 years. This is simply how we choose to go about our business. If we focus on doing the right things today, 2040 takes care of itself through our actions and not the hollow words of a far-off date.