Green Biz Meets Green Sports

NRG Energy & Green-Sports: Joe Nocera of The New York Times Follows GSB’s Lead


Happy Thanksgiving, GreenSportsBlog readers!

A year ago, we ran a Happy Thanksgiving From A Green, New York Sports Fan” column. Because the state of New York sports is so putrid (aren’t you, like me, thankful that the Jets aren’t playing today?), we are going in a different direction today. 



In Monday’s post, we stretched the green-sports-ness of GreenSportsBlog to write a post about NRG Energy’s (fifth largest electricity generator and CO2 emitter in the US) bold plan to reduce its CO2 emissions by 90 percent by 2050. It was a stretch to find a sports connection to this green story; our angle was to mention NRG Energy’s NFL sponsorship. Tuesday, Joe Nocera, on the New York Times Op-Ed page, followed the same, green-sports-stretch playbook–and I’m sure he didn’t even know he was doing so!

Joe Nocera is not my favorite New York Times Op-Ed columnist (I go Tom Friedman #1, Paul Krugman #2 and Nick Kristof #3.) While his hard-hitting columns on the staggering corruption of the NCAA have been fantastic, his pieces on hydraulic fracturing (fracking), has been, in my view, overly-sympathetic to Big Energy and overly nasty in their dismissiveness of the anti-fracking movement.


Joe Nocera
New York Times columnist Joe Nocera. (Photo Credit: New York Times)


Thus I was very thankful (hey, it’s Thanksgiving) to read Tuesday’s column, “Committed To Carbon Goals”, in which he interviewed NRG Energy CEO David Crane about the electricity generating giant’s commitment to reduce its CO2 emissions by 90 percent by 2050. GreenSportsBlog was up with a similar, NRG-Emissions-Reduction post on Monday but we, with slightly less clout than the Times, couldn’t get Mr. Crane to talk to us.

No sour grapes here. In fact, Nocera’s piece was terrific because it gave Crane the forum to describe what sounds like a revolutionary approach, coming from a Big Energy CEO.

And, while Crane certainly sounded like a revolutionary when he broke from many of his Big Energy CEO brethren by recognizing that climate change is a massive threat and by favoring a carbon tax*, per Nocera,”Crane is not some pie-in-the-sky dreamer. Although he sees climate change as an ‘intergenerational issue’ — a way of ensuring the future for our children and grandchildren — he is also a pragmatic man running a publicly traded company. He firmly believes that the technology exists to make his ambitious goals possible, and that the real problem is the refusal of the rest of the power industry to adapt and change.”


David Crane
David Crane, CEO of NRG Energy. He recently pledged to reduce the electricity generator’s CO2 emissions by 90 percent by 2050. (Photo Credit: Reuters)


How will Crane/NRG Energy get it done? Per Crane, solar will be a big factor in the NRG energy mix of the future (it’s already the largest producer in the US now but the scale is still relatively small). And he’s making a big bet on carbon sequestration from coal production (capturing the CO2 before it hits the atmosphere and burying it or somehow turning it into benignly useable products or energy sources) . Color me very skeptical that investing in carbon sequestration is a better bet than putting those resources into much more rapid/robust deployment of renewables but here’s what Nocera/Crane have to say on the subject:

Nocera: “…carbon will need to be captured and then put to some good use. At one of its Texas power plants, NRG is teaming up with JX Nippon of Japan in a $1 billion joint venture to build a carbon-capturing capacity, which it expects will capture 1.6 million tons of carbon each year — some 90 percent of the plant’s emissions. (Crane) is also convinced that that carbon will eventually be used to create liquid fuel or get embedded in cement. “We could rebuild America’s roadways with embedded carbon from coal.”

Finally, as Nocera points out, Crane believes being out front on sustainability will 1) be a winner for NRG investors as he expects climate change risk will soon factor into investment decisions (don’t believe this? Check out “Unburnable Carbon: Wasted Capital and Stranded Assets”), and 2) be a hit with the next generation of consumers who will most certainly demand cleanly generated energy.

So, where’s the sports reference in the Nocera piece, you ask? Well, he ends his column with this: “‘It’s like Wayne Gretzky said,’ (Crane) told me before hanging up the phone. ‘We are skating where the puck is going, rather than where it is now.'”

Not a bad green-sports hook, Nocera, not bad at all. Glad to have you aboard!


* The carbon tax limb Crane walked out on is not that shaky as, in his own words, “it’s politically impossible”. That’s certainly the case today in the US and will likely be even more so with a GOP-controlled senate and a more solidly GOP House, at least for the next two years. But it won’t always be so. Hopefully Crane still will advocate for the carbon tax when it is more politically doable.



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