Utility Companies May Undergo Climate-Change “Stress Test”

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Climate Change Stress Test

After the Paris Climate Deal in December this year, stockholders filed a record number of resolutions to utilities companies relating the the environment. One particularly common one involved electricity companies simulating or “stress testing” their ability to operate under the conditions imposed.

In fact, this month more than 42% of the shareholders for AES Corp, an electricity utility, voted to stress-test the company’s ability to operate under the “2-Degree-Celsius test” while 270 utility sector-investors published a paper speaking of the financial dangers posed to the elctricity industry by climate change.

More than 170 countries signed the historic Paris agreement, which involves capping the rise in CO2 emissions as quickly as possible and then reducing them vastly, in order to try to put a stop to climate change. The “2°C” test is so named because the goal of the Paris Deal is to cap global warming at 2°C above pre-industrial levels – any less than that is no longer possible.

The 270 authors of the electricity industry analysis collectively manage more than $22 trillion worth of corporate assets, which they feel may be at risk if the power utilities can’t adapt to the new deal. The document’s lead author, Matthias Narr, a financial asset manager at Dutch firm Robeco, said that the actions taken by electricity utilities in the near future “will determine their sustainability and profit for decades to come”.

Speaking to the press, he said that “investors must know whether the utilities they invest in are ready for the changing marketplace that will arise from policies designewd to fight global warming.”

Other resolutions have taken different forms, with some calling on utilities to examine how low-carbon-emissions energy generation might affect their business, while others request transparency on lobbying and political interest groups.

Power-generating utilities have been aware for years that hard regulations on climate change could be disastrous for their business models, says Dan Bakal, director of the electric power program at Ceres, a sustainable investment agency. Going on, he says that “this has been a long engagement” with the companies, that is “comng to a head.”

“This issue has been on our radar for more than a decade,” he says.

The winds are already changing for electric companies; just last month the Securities and Exchange Commission shut down a petition from Exxon Mobil and one from Chevron Corp. to block cliamte change resolutions from investors and shareholders. The investors will now vote on them next month.

New York comptroller Thomas DiNapoli backed them, saying “Investors need to know if Exxon Mobile is ready for a lower-carbon future, especially now, after the Paris Agreement was struck.”


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