Last May, Australian tech billionaire Mike Cannon-Brookes, co-founder and CEO of Atlassian Software Systems, won an activist fight against Australia’s top polluter. Cannon-Brookes, worth about $11 Billion and 119th on the Forbes billionaire list, invested about $500 million to purchase an 11% stake in AGL, the largest Australian electric utility. He used that investment to stop AGL, the top Aussie CO2 emitter, from executing a transaction to keep its coal plants running a decade longer than needed. He took a page from the Engine #1 Board shake up at Exxon that secured 3 precious Exxon board seats with only a tiny investment in Exxon stock. The main goal of these campaigns was to install board members with the right mindset and experience to put these companies on a path to a profitable clean energy future.
One of the essential steps to cutting US emissions in the next five years is to rapidly turn off our coal fired generation plants in favor of new renewable, solar and wind generation. Cutting emissions from the other big sectors (vehicles, buildings, industry, and agriculture) is going to take longer. The single reason US emissions have declined over the past decade, from 6 billion tons per year to 4.8 billion, is that coal electric generation was cut from 40% of the grid to less than 20%. Emissions from all other sectors increased.
That progress has stagnated. The 9th largest US utility Duke Energy (DUK) has been in the news battling regulators for permission to build two new natural gas generation plants and to keep its coal plants running for another decade. It’s a cozy relationship between US utilities with 20th century mindsets and the public service commissions that approve their rates and investment returns. Public advocates are pressuring public service commissions across the country for clean energy and a better grid, but it’s an uphill slog.
At least the nation’s largest and best performing utility company NextEra Energy (NEE) has a real zero goal by 2045 and intends to build 92 Gigawatts of new renewable power, 50 Gigawatts of battery storage and 16 Gigawatts of hydrogen power in the coming decades. The US grid currently runs on only 1100 Gigawatts and NEE now only makes 62 Gigawatts of power, mainly by its Florida Power and Light subsidiary. The tax and production credits under IRA, NEE says, make this build out massively profitable to shareholders. The huge runup in the cost of fossil fuels makes this path even more compelling.
How do we get the rest of the US utility industry onboard?
There are 2600 billionaires now on the planet and they have most of the money; Forbes estimates $12 Trillion. Even a 10% or $1.2 Trillion chunk of that money invested (not donated) into the clean energy transition would dwarf the $350 Billion impact under IRA. Governments can’t print any more money and they can’t or won’t raise taxes. To any billionaires or hundred millionaires out there who want to turn off coal plants and speed the clean energy transition (CET), let’s talk: Doug.Mckeige@theclimatecapitalist.com. +1 914 282 0271