Large Swath of North America Could Have Carbon-Free Electricity by 2050

Electricity generation in a significant portion of the North American heartland  — an area stretching from Canada’s prairie provinces south to Louisiana — could be carbon-free, using existing technology, as early as 2050, according to a new report by a group of utilities, state regulators, and environmental groups. Currently, 77 percent of the electricity in the region is generated by coal and natural gas.

“Essentially that means more wind, more solar, more energy efficiency,” Franz Litz, a program consultant with the Great Plains Institute, who produced the report, told Minnesota Public Radio. “It also means really thinking hard about those existing nuclear plants, which don’t have [CO2] emissions and could be an important part of the mix when we get out to 2050 and need to be generating our electricity without putting carbon into the air.”

The analysis also forecasts that natural gas-fired power plants with carbon capture systems will serve as an important backup source of electricity if renewable energy supplies temporarily falter because of intermittent generation in wind or solar energy.

Participants in the report include utilities such as DTE Energy, MidAmerican Energy, and Xcel Energy; state regulators including the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality; and environmental and clean energy groups such as the Clean Air Task Force and the Environmental Defense Fund.