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Environment and Energy Reporter
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Many large corporations are pledging to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions in an effort to stave off the worst effects of climate change driving devastating flooding and other destructive weather patterns.
But corporate giants with large footprints in West Virginia are on a climate nonprofit think tank’s list of the world’s most obstructive companies on climate policy.
And their political action committees have thrown support behind many of the candidates in West Virginia legislative races in Tuesday’s general election.
American Electric Power, Ohio-based parent company of West Virginia-serving electric utilities Appalachian Power and Wheeling Power, ranked sixth in a list of the 25 “most negative and influential” companies on climate policy globally. Dow Chemical, parent company of Union Carbide Corp., ranked 24th.
The ranking by InfluenceMap, a London-based think tank, combined the nonprofit’s corporate climate policy assessments with other indicators to evaluate the relative economic and political clout of each company. Each company’s score is a combination of direct policy engagement and indirect engagement via industry association groups.
InfluenceMap cited American Electric Power’s opposition to the Clean Electricity Performance Program, a carrot-and-stick approach to getting electricity providers to increase their use of renewable energy. Climate experts said it would have been the most aggressive climate change-fighting tool in President Joe Biden’s climate plan before it was scrapped amid pushback from Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.
The program would have authorized grants for electricity providers that increase clean electricity use by 4% or more through 2030. Those who missed the mark would have faced penalties.
In a September 2021 letter to the House Energy and Commerce Committee, American Electric Power Senior Vice President of Governmental Affairs Tony Kavanagh said the Clean Electricity Performance Program “is forcing clean energy development too rapidly.”
Kavanagh argued that the program would adversely affect electric grid reliability and that renewable energy demand would exceed supply. He objected to the program penalizing electricity suppliers for failing to meet clean energy targets, saying clean energy deployment will be uneven over the program’s eight years.
Manchin spokeswoman Sam Runyon had previously, similarly indicated that the senator had concerns about the program “using taxpayer dollars to pay private companies to do things they’re already doing.”
Later, Manchin cited utility company concerns about reliability under the proposed program as a reason for opposing it.
AEP has touted progress toward its goal of net-zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2050, including a 74% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions from 2000 to 2020.
But the company’s resource portfolio still hasn’t made the pivot to renewable energy.
Hydro, wind, solar and pumped storage composed 18% of AEP’s generating resource portfolio as of April 2021 — just 14 percentage points more than they combined for in 1999. That was a net annual increase of only 0.63 percentage points over 22 years. AEP has a target of raising that share to 51% by 2030 — still only 3.7 percentage points a year.
Executives representing Appalachian Power and Wheeling Power and FirstEnergy’s West Virginia-serving utilities have downplayed their respective companies’ planned energy transitions in testimony before the state Public Service Commission.
FirstEnergy was not among the six American utility companies on InfluenceMap’s list released Thursday. AEP was ranked between utilities Sempra Energy (fifth) and Southern Company (seventh).
InfluenceMap cited AEP’s membership in industry associations that the think tank said had “highly negative” engagement in climate policy, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers.
InfluenceMap also cited Dow’s membership in industry associations that promote continued use of fossil fuels, including the American Petroleum Institute.
AEP spokeswoman Tammy Ridout noted the company’s plan to add more than 15,000 megawatts of new renewables over the next 10 years to serve its customers.
Ridout touted the company’s exploration of what she called “the next generation of energy technologies,” including hydrogen, small modular reactors, long-term energy storage and carbon capture. The latter is unproven at commercial scale and was rejected by Appalachian Power as financially unfeasible after a 2009-11 carbon capture project at the company’s Mountaineer coal-fired power plant in Mason County proved costly.
Ridout also noted that the Inflation Reduction Act signed into law by Biden in August after critical support from Manchin and opposition from West Virginia’s other members of Congress expands opportunities for AEP and the industry to invest in renewables.
“We’re making significant investments in renewable energy and a reliable, resilient grid to drive the clean energy transition,” Ridout said.
Dow Chemical did not respond to a request for comment.
Dow has pledged to cut its net annual carbon emissions by 5 million metric tons versus its 2020 baseline by 2030.
InfluenceMap’s report contends that net-zero emissions is an impossible goal to achieve without government policy, making a study of a company’s policy engagement “a profound test of the authenticity of its net-zero targets.”
AEP and Dow political action committees contributed more than $42,000 combined to the campaigns of state legislative candidates since July, with AEP accounting for just over $30,000.
The PACs contributed to Democrats and Republicans in the House of Delegates and Senate, but skewed heavily toward supporting GOP candidates.
The American Electric Power Committee for Responsible Government contributed to 59 candidates, with its largest contributions of $1,000 typically reserved for Republican legislative committee chairs or party leaders, including House Energy and Manufacturing Chair Bill Anderson, R-Wood, House Judiciary Chair Moore Capito, R-Kanawha, House Assistant Majority Whip Daniel Linville, R-Cabell, House Majority Leader Amy Summers, R-Taylor, Senate Majority Leader Tom Takubo, R-Kanawha, and Senate Finance Chair Eric Tarr, R-Putnam.
The AEP political action committee contributed down the stretch to the committee for Republican Mike Stuart ($1,000) in his Senate District 7 bid against incumbent Sen. Ron Stollings, D-Boone, and Republican Mark Hunt ($1,000) in his Senate District 8 race against incumbent Sen. Richard Lindsay, D-Kanawha.
The largest reported contribution down the election stretch for Dow’s political action committee, Dow Inc. PAC, was to the campaign committee for Takubo ($2,800).
The company also contributed to committees for House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay ($1,800), Capito ($1,000), Senate Judiciary Chair Charles Trump, R-Morgan ($1,000), House Minority Leader Doug Skaff Jr., D-Kanawha ($1,000), Summers ($750), Anderson ($500), Delegate Jason Barrett, R-Berkeley ($500), House Majority Whip Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson ($500), Delegate Ben Queen, R-Harrison ($500), and Delegate Kayla Young, D-Kanawha ($500).
Skaff is president of HD Media, publisher of the Charleston Gazette-Mail.
Mike Tony covers energy and the environment. He can be reached at 304-348-1236 or mtony@hd
mediallc.com. Follow @Mike__Tony
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