Net zero is so last year. On Tuesday, power giant NextEra announced it was shooting for “real zero” by 2045, a term it trademarked to mean entirely zeroing out emissions without relying on carbon credits, offsets or capture.
Sure, the move introduces still more jargon into a corporate climate world where “net zero” commitments abound. But it could upstage those commitments, which often use offsets and fuzzy math to allow utilities to keep building out fossil fuel infrastructure while still targeting “decarbonization” on paper.
Alissa Jean Schafer, research and communications manager for the watchdog Energy and Policy Institute, said NextEra’s plan comes as a welcome surprise.
“For years, they have been one of the only utilities to not even set a goal when it comes to decarbonization, so this is great,” she said, though she added that she will have an eye on whether the utility company’s investments going forward match up with the plan.
The move, though, didn't come completely out of left field. Schafer pointed out that NextEra’s investor calls have featured excited chatter about the affordability of the solar-plus-storage approach for years now. And NextEra is already one of the country’s biggest solar players. Among the utilities under its banner, Florida Power & Light generates nearly 4,000 megawatts.
In its Tuesday announcement, the company said it plans to continue its brisk solar development. It expects FPL to generate 90,000 megawatts of solar power by 2045. More importantly, FPL also plans to expand storage capacity from 500 megawatts today to 50,000 megawatts by midcentury. The utility will keep its existing 3,500 megawatts of nuclear generation capacity up and running as well. (Whether it does so using the Biden administration's nuclear bailout funds remains to be seen.)
However, the plan’s fine print shows that a complete move away from NextEra’s existing fossil fuel infrastructure may be slow to come. The company plans to keep most of its natural gas plants in operation until converting them to run on green hydrogen in the 2040s. That gives the utility an 18-year runway to leave behind fossil fuels, which is a lot of time to keep polluting infrastructure running.
Other parts of the timeline have some caveats, too. The company’s plan for eliminating all or most of its Scope 1 and 2 emissions by 2045 assumes “there is no incremental cost to customers relative to alternatives, its efforts to do so are supported by cost-effective technology advancements and constructive governmental policies and incentives, and its investments are acceptable to its regulators.”
FPL also helped secretly draft a bill that would've cut into Florida rooftop solar incentives, raising questions about the utility's commitment to decarbonization. (In a surprise move in April, Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed that bill.)
Tyson Slocum, director of the energy program at the consumer rights advocacy group Public Citizen, said he “applauds” the company for “thumbing their nose at the use of dubious offsets,” given that so many other companies seem to have no problem in doing so to meet their net zero commitments.
“But I think we need to see a lot more in terms of their transition away from their existing natural gas generation and a prominent role for their captive customers to participate in the decarbonization effort,” he said, in reference to the residential consumers who may wish to improve energy efficiency or even install rooftop solar.