Support for Anti-Science Group Withers: American Electric Power Leaves ALEC

December 8, 2015 | 12:25 pm
John Rogers
Energy Campaign Analytic Lead

Another major company has decided that its values and those of the American Legislative Exchange Council no longer match up. Leaving ALEC is the right step for American Electric Power, one the U.S.’s largest electric utilities, an owner of lots of coal plants, and one of the top carbon-emitting utilities. There are signs that more progress is coming, and you can bet we’ll be watching closely to make sure that happens.

The right thing to dotransmission-lines

ALEC has been having a rough time lately. The organization purports to be about free markets, but actually, as we see so clearly in the climate and energy space and as UCS has documented many times, has often been more about obscuring the science and pushing an agenda that’s against energy progress and undermines market evolution.

That disconnect between what ALEC stands for and what leading companies know to be true—how market-oriented, fact-based, rational companies make decisions—has become irreconcilable for many companies—and their shareholders.

And now AEP, The Guardian newspaper reports, is not renewing its membership in ALEC, citing climate and energy reasons:

[A] spokesperson for AEP told The Guardian… “We are reallocating our resources as focus on our work with the states around the Clean Power Plan. There are a variety of reasons for the decision. We have long been involved in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.”

For AEP, the company that has long chaired the task force responsible for ALEC’s unscientific position on climate change and attacks on clean energy policies, this move is a big one. But AEP is just the latest in a series of recent high profile exits from ALEC, including Facebook, oil/gas companies BP and Shell, and other electric utilitiesmore than 100 companies so far.

More right things to do

This is indeed an important step for AEP, but more steps are coming, and needed. The Guardian notes that “Nearly three-quarters of AEP’s generation was supplied by coal in 2005 but this is expected to drop to 51% next year, with renewable energy such as wind and solar comprising 11% of generation.” And the Associated Press reported just yesterday that AEP’s subsidiary Appalachian Power Co. is looking for another substantial chunk of wind power.

AEP has also reportedly shifted its position on the new EPA Clean Power Plan, according to The Guardian:

A company spokeswoman said AEP was previously concerned by the EPA’s plan to slash carbon emissions from power plants but only due to the pace of the proposed changes. AEP supports the EPA’s amended plan and the expansion of renewables in general, the spokeswoman added.

Since the Clean Power Plan represents a large part of what the U.S. is bringing to the table in the climate talks in Paris, it would be great for the utility to loudly trumpet support for international climate action as the talk continue this week, and as the U.S. lives into the commitments it makes there.

And AEP should do more to stand up for science wherever it sees challenges that hamper good decision making, wherever attacks on science persist (like on Capitol Hill). As it leaves ALEC, AEP needs to see what other organizations it’s supporting that are at odds its position on climate change. AEP is still listed as a member of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, for example, even though ACCCE still hasn’t come around to the notion of rooting decisions firmly in facts.

We look forward to seeing AEP’s words translated into even more actions toward sound science and clean energy.

Parker, Adams, Churchill, and the future of clean energy

History suggests, as Theodore Parker, John Adams, and Winston Churchill might have said, that the arc of understanding bends toward science, that facts about climate and energy are stubborn things, and that we Americans—including our utility companies—can eventually be counted on to do the right things to get our carbon house in order, maybe even before we’ve exhausted all other possibilities.

It’s great that AEP is moving toward a more solid foundation. And we’ll be waiting to see a whole lot more from companies that want to show themselves to be the leaders we need to take us into a clean energy future.

UPDATE (12/10/15): There’s news that, along with breaking with ALEC, AEP has trimmed its funding for ACCCE. That’s not as good as severing that unhealthy connection altogether, but it’s another sign of progress.

About the author

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John Rogers is energy campaign analytic lead at the Union of Concerned Scientists with expertise in clean energy technologies and policies and a focus on solar, wind, and natural gas. He co-managed the UCS-led Energy and Water in a Warming World Initiative, a multi-year program aimed at raising awareness of the energy-water connection, particularly in the context of climate change, and motivating and informing effective low-carbon and low-water energy solutions.