It's a nearly religious point among climate-change skeptics, not least among them President Donald Trump: If America moves quickly to reduce carbon emissions, electric bills will spike and business will suffer.
But it's not true, and a handful of leading-edge utilities, far from the liberal confines of California and years in advance of the enactment of a Green New Deal like the one proposed by newly elected Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, are showing how a green electricity future can work. Already, carbon emissions from electricity are 28 percent lower than in 2007, according to the Edison Electric Institute, a trade group for investor-owned utilities. And inflation in electricity rates has averaged just 1.1 percent since 2010, by Labor Department figures — lower than the overall inflation rate.
Now the utility industry is targeting the truly big numbers — reductions of 40 percent to 80 percent by 2030, with leaders like Minneapolis-based Xcel Energy, which serves 3.6 million electric customers in eight states from Minnesota to Texas, saying it's possible to go virtually carbon-free by 2050 with little to no rate impact.
The basic notion is that the money used to pay for new wind and solar energy power plants can be financed with cash not spent on coal or natural gas, especially with interest rates so low.
"The surprising thing is that when you do the math, it's cheaper to build the wind and not use your coal and gas plants as much," Xcel Energy CEO Ben Fowke said in a speech in Denver last year. "Most of our customers want a cleaner energy product. All of them want an affordable energy product."