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March 28, 2014
Another Win for Climate Change Mitigation
    by Robert Kropp

As You Sow withdraws shareowner resolution at Southern Company after the utility agrees to report on integrating renewable energy into its business operations.

As You Sow won well-deserved accolades last week when the investor network announced that ExxonMobil has agreed to report on the implications of stranded assets on its business operations.

This week, the organization announced another victory for engagement on climate change by sustainable shareowners, when one of the largest utilities in the US agreed to report on its plans to integrate more renewable energy into its operations.

Not only is the Atlanta-based Southern Company one of the nation's largest utilities; its primary source for its power production has been coal, and only about three percent of its current production comes from renewables.

In 2011, As You Sow published a white paper (updated in 2012) detailing the increasing financial risks associated with investment in coal. The costs of regulatory compliance are expected to lead to the retirement of 75 GW of coal-fired capacity by 2030, and the rapidly decreasing costs of renewable energy technologies should make them far more attractive to investors in the immediate future.

“Policy options shall consider innovative technologies and strategies for energy generation, such as placing greater emphasis on distributed clean energy sources or strategies to deploy centralized renewable energy generation,” the res olution stated. It requested that Southern consider President Obama's goal of reducing carbon emissions by 80% by 2050 in its reporting; according to As You Sow, “The company pledged to provide shareholders with information about the utilities’ existing renewable and distributed generation assets, and to describe new projects that will be brought online by 2015.”

To meet the President's goal, “Utilities need to immediately shift away from coal towards distributed and renewable energy,” said Amelia Timbers, Energy Program Manager at As You Sow. “The agreement with Southern shows that a shift in the trajectory of the electric utility industry toward a healthy, low carbon fuel mix is underway. In the last earnings call, investors wanted to know Southern’s plans for solar. Now they will have that data.”

“Southern Company’s actions to bring more renewable and distributed energy online should be a wake-up call to other utilities, public utility commissions, and politicians that energy policy should favor cleaner, cheaper, more innovative sources of energy,” As You Sow President Danielle Fugere said.

In January, As You Sow and New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli reached a similar agreement with FirstEnergy, an Ohio-based utility. In its agreement letter, FirstEnergy stated that it “intends to incorporate information, as applicable, on additional policies that the Company could adopt and additional actions the Company could take to reduce its greenhouse gas emission in connection with President Obama’s goal of an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions into our Sustainability Report.”


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