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Report: OUC keeps a solid clean energy score, despite dropping 14 points since last year

A solar array is a collection of several solar panels that generate electricity.
OUC says it's on track to meet its goal of halving the utility's carbon dioxide emissions by 2030, citing a combination of solar energy production, energy storage, vehicle electrification and energy efficiency programs.

The Orlando Utilities Commission received its lowest numerical score yet on the Sierra Club’s third annual “Dirty Truth” report, which ranks U.S. utilities’ progress on clean energy.

OUC scored 51 out of 100 on this year’s report: 14 points lower than last year. Still, the municipal utility maintained its ‘B’ grade, outshining the Sierra Club’s overall ‘D’ grade for all 77 utilities analyzed in the report.

Susannah Randolph is a senior field organizer with Sierra Club’s “Beyond Coal” campaign. Although she says she'd like to see more climate-conscious action from the utility, Randolph also recognizes that “OUC has led the way” in Florida’s renewable energy realm.

“OUC, before any other utility in the state, got a ‘B’ grade. They had the highest grade there for a while,” Randolph said. “They slipped a little bit, just because they continue to kind of keep in place with the most recent 2020 electric integrated resource plan that they turned in.”

Although OUC “did a good job” with the electric integrated resource plan (EIRP) it commissioned in 2020, Randolph says, the plan stopped short of recommending that the utility permanently retire both of its coal-powered energy generation units.

Instead, the plan called for OUC to first convert those units from coal to natural gas, which would provide a “technology bridge,” according to the report.

“Converting the Stanton coal units instead of retiring them greatly reduces the need for solar and storage capacity, while still significantly reducing emissions,” reads the 2020 report.

OUC later decided it would fully retire one coal unit, and switch the other one over to natural gas “as an interim measure,” according to a company spokesperson, who also confirmed the utility plans to stop using natural gas by 2040, at the latest.

But still: “We really are looking to [OUC] to really drop the plans for the coal-to-gas conversion on Unit 2,” Randolph said.

The utility could maximize its clean energy potential by capitalizing on the current federal administration’s unprecedented level of support for environmental initiatives, Randolph said.

“We have this game-changing investment from the federal government in the form of the Inflation Reduction Act, which is incentivizing and making clean energy — solar, storage, energy efficiency — more affordable than ever before, especially for municipal utilities,” Randolph said.

For example, a municipal-owned utility like OUC could receive an immediate financial boost by taking advantage of the Act’s “direct pay” provisions, Randolph said.

Randolph said as an Orlando resident, she’s “rooting for” OUC to lean into the Act’s historic climate incentives, phase out natural gas, and hopefully earn an ‘A’ grade on next year’s “Dirty Truth” report.

“To lose this moment, to miss this opportunity, would be absolutely tragic,” Randolph said.

WMFE asked OUC for its take on the Sierra Club’s latest ranking. In response, the utility provided a statement, which is printed in full below:

Company Statement:
"OUC’s Unwavering Commitment to Net Zero CO2"
"At OUC, we remain committed to Net Zero CO2 emissions by 2050 and we’re on track to meet our 50% reduction by 2030. Maintaining reliability and affordability for our customers are key, and we’re meeting these goals through a combination of solar energy production, energy storage, vehicle electrification and energy efficiency programs. Additionally, we’re working with our customers to help them reduce their own carbon footprints – in their homes and businesses – as we all play a role in reducing CO2 emissions.”

Molly is an award-winning reporter with a background in video production and investigative journalism, focused on covering environmental issues for WMFE and WMFV.

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