Exelon's Byron Generating Station in Illinois. (Photo by Michael Kappel via Creative Commons)
Exelon's Byron Generating Station in Illinois. (Photo by Michael Kappel via Creative Commons)
Exelon’s Byron Generating Station in Illinois. (Photo by Michael Kappel via Creative Commons)

©2014 E&E Publishing, LLC
Republished with permission

By Nathanael Massey

Energy giant Exelon Corp. announced this week that it avoided 18 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions in 2013, meeting its carbon reduction goals seven years ahead of schedule.

The goal, first established in 2008, aimed to reduce 15.7 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions by 2020. It was met and exceeded by shutting down old power plants, by improved performance in its sizable nuclear fleet and by energy efficiency measures on both the customer and supply sides of the meter, among other measures.

The tally of the company’s carbon reductions — which, it pointed out, would be equivalent to taking 3.8 million passenger vehicles off the road, or planting the equivalent of Missouri’s forests — reflects many of the broader changes occurring in the power sector, including a wide-scale switch from coal to natural gas.

Of its total reduction, 9.8 million metric tons comes from retirement of old fossil fuel plants, the company said.

Exelon also took advantage of carbon offset tools like voluntary Renewable Energy Credits, of which it retired 2.7 million megawatt-hours in 2013, and Climate Reserve Tonnes.

Since the goal was set, the company has added 1,300 MW of wind generation capacity to its portfolio, as well as 359 MW of solar power. The emissions reductions resulting from these new additions are not accounted for under the “Exelon 2020” carbon reduction program.

While some of the changes were undertaken to meet federal and state laws, most were voluntary business decisions based on sustainability goals and consideration of shareholder value, according to Paul Elsberg, a company spokesman.

“Nearly three-quarters of our greenhouse gas reduction and avoidance resulted from voluntary, company-driven actions,” he wrote in an email. “A smaller portion resulted from efforts, such as utility customer energy efficiency programs, that also help ensure compliance with state and other mandates.”

Rough sailing ahead for nation’s largest nuclear fleet

Exelon already boasts a small carbon footprint relative to other large energy producers. It owns the nation’s largest nuclear fleet, accounting for about 55 percent of its total energy portfolio, while renewables make up another 10 percent. Coal and oil, by contrast, account for about 7 percent of the power it generates.

The remaining quarter is taken up by natural gas, which has been gaining share in recent years.

The company’s sizable nuclear fleet has been facing hard times, however. An analysis by the Chicago Tribune last month found that none of the company’s six nuclear reactors in Illinois had turned a profit over the past half-decade, leading the company to hint that some plants may close if the financial landscape doesn’t change.

“Our reliable, always-on nuclear fleet produces enough affordable, carbon-free energy to power 17 million homes annually,” said Chris Crane, Exelon’s president and CEO, in a statement. “It is part of a U.S. fleet that provides 64 percent of our nation’s carbon-free electricity, up to a quarter of which could be at risk for early retirement.”

“Losing that generating capacity would forfeit more than half of the progress to date in meeting U.S. climate goals,” he added. “Our energy policies must ensure that existing nuclear energy plants are preserved.”

Exelon’s emissions are tracked and verified through its participation in the World Resources Institute’s Greenhouse Gas Protocol, as well as the Climate Registry and ISO 1406 standards.

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