NRG Sets Ambitious Target of 90% Cut in Greenhouse-Gas Emissions By 2050

Tom Johnson | November 21, 2014 | Energy & Environment
Independent power producer asserts it will make goals despite having large fleet of coal-powered plants

Architect's rendering of the new NRG Energy headquarters.
NRG Energy is committing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent by 2030 and 90 percent by 2050, an ambitious goal for the nation’s largest independent power producer, particularly one with a fleet of up to 20 coal-fired plants.

David Crane, NRG’s chief executive officer, announced the target when the Princeton company broke ground for a new corporate headquarters, essentially across the street from its current offices in Carnegie Center off Route 1.

For NRG, which has been one of the most aggressive energy companies pursuing investments in renewable energy, such as solar and wind, the target aligns with its goal of becoming a leader in promoting cleaner ways of producing electricity for the energy sector, Crane said.

At the same time, NRG has an extensive fleet of natural gas, coal, and oil plants, as well as one nuclear unit in Texas. Regardless, Crane said the company is committed to a long-term plan to cut emissions from carbon dioxide, as evidenced by its reduction in greenhouse-gas pollution by 40 percent since 2005.

“As the U.S. transitions to a renewables-driven, increasingly distributed, grid-resilient energy system, we expect to be a leader both in both clean energy and in converting the carbon dioxide emissions of our conventional generation from a liability to a profitable byproduct,’’ he said.

For NRG, it mostly means reducing greenhouse-gas emissions from its fleet of coal plants, which account for at least two-thirds and more of the carbon dioxide coming out of its power plants, according to Crane.

To do so, Crane laid out three key strategies: switching some coal plants to gas-fired units; retirement of some coal facilities; and ways to capture carbon emissions from coal units.

The latter technology is to be employed at the company’s Parish generating station, south of Houston. It is designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 90 percent when it is operational in 2016.

“We absolutely believe we still be making electricity from coal plants in 2050,’’ Crane said, referring to the so-called carbon capture technology. New breakthrough technologies, however, need to be deployed, he said.

The company also plans to ramp up its renewable energy portfolio, with Crane saying by 2030, it hopes cleaner energy will be at least 30 percent of the mix it offers and at least 50 percent by 2050.

If it reaches the 2050 target, the company said it will avoid approximately 3 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions — the equivalent of avoiding all of the greenhouse gas pollution at 2005 levels for 65 years.

NRG also said distributed energy resources — facilities that produce electricity locally rather than using traditional centralized power plants– will play an increasingly important role in the company’s growth. These include solar, efficient cogeneration facilities, and electric-vehicle networks, along with smart systems to manage them effectively and efficiently.

“It’s the destiny of NRG to be a leader, in close collaboration with other companies similarly minded, to create a more sustainable and prosperous future while winning the fight against climate change,’’ Crane said.

The new corporate headquarters were bolstered by $37.5 million in tax incentives from the Economic Development Authority, which convinced the company to stay in New Jersey.

The new three-story office building is designed to be carbon-free and have the ability to operate even if the power grid fails. Among other things, it will feature two on-site solar fields, energy-efficient lighting that could reduce energy use by roughly one-third, and more than 30 electric vehicle charging stations for employees with such vehicles.