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CHARLESTON — FirstEnergy pledged this week to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 in an effort to combat climate change, becoming the latest company to look ahead to a carbon-neutral economy.

The Akron, Ohio-based electric utility provider announced Monday it is preparing for a transition away from coal-fired power in West Virginia by 2050. FirstEnergy is targeting a 30% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions within the company’s direct operational control by 2030, based on 2019 levels, and said it will “responsibly operate our existing small generation fleet,” which includes two coal-fired plants in West Virginia.

FirstEnergy also said it will seek approval next year to construct a solar generation source of at least 50 megawatts in West Virginia, acknowledging its current lack of any regulated renewable generation. The company aims to electrify 30% of a 3,500-vehicle fleet by 2030, with a goal of achieving 100% electrification by 2050.

“We believe climate change is among the most important issues of our time,” FirstEnergy president and acting CEO Steven E. Strah said in a statement. “We will help address this challenge by building a more climate-resilient energy system and supporting the transition to a carbon-neutral economy. Our ambitious new carbon goal and comprehensive climate strategy are fully aligned with our regulated business strategy and support our commitments to our customers, communities and investors, as well as environmental stewardship.”

Other energy companies have made similar pledges recently as they stare down the barrel of climate change.

Dominion Energy, based in Richmond, Virginia, announced in February a goal to achieve net-zero carbon dioxide and methane emissions by 2050, while Atlanta-based Southern Co. in May announced a long-term greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction goal of net zero by 2050. In September 2019, Charlotte, North Carolina-based Duke Energy announced an updated climate strategy with a new goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Consumer advocates and conservationists have criticized FirstEnergy for relying on coal-fired power and not prioritizing use of renewable resources in its integrated resource planning, a process in which electric utilities outline what resources they need to meet anticipated long-term electricity demand as required by many states, including West Virginia.

FirstEnergy’s carbon-neutral goal comes on the heels of a major shakeup at the top of its ranks following the termination of former CEO Charles E. Jones and two other executives last month. The company reported those executives violated its code of conduct without further elaboration.

FirstEnergy became implicated in a political scandal in July after federal charges that executives of a company — that a complaint makes clear is FirstEnergy — and its affiliates bankrolled a $60 million bribery scheme, funneling the money through Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder and alleged co-conspirators to pass a $1 billion bailout for two nuclear plants.

Reach Mike Tony at mtony@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-1236 or follow @Mike__Tony on Twitter.

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