(Bloomberg) -- FirstEnergy Corp. abandoned its 2030 target for slashing greenhouse-gas emissions because coal plants can’t be replaced in time, marking a major about-face in the movement to protect the climate. 

Utilities across the US have announced a slew of carbon-reduction goals in recent years in response to regulatory pressure to clean up power-generation fleets and meet green investor goals. Most utilities, however, are failing to make significant progress toward long-term carbon-neutrality targets, the Sierra Club found in an October report.  

FirstEnergy can’t meaningfully cut emissions because the coal-fired Fort Martin and Harrison power plants in West Virginia are crucial to ensuring adequate regional electricity supplies, according to a company presentation. Changing market conditions also mean those facilities are going to be more profitable to keep open than historically projected.

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“We’ve identified several challenges to our ability to meet that interim goal, including resource adequacy concerns,” FirstEnergy Chief Executive Officer Brian Tierney said during a conference call with investors on Friday. “Given these challenges, we have decided to remove our 2030 interim goal.” 

The Ohio-based company’s longer-term goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2050 remains in effect, he noted. Those two West Virginian coal plants are slated to shut down in 2035 and 2040. 

FirstEnergy’s move comes after Duke Energy Corp. warned North Carolina regulators that meeting carbon-reduction mandates may take longer than the 2030 deadline, given the pace of economic development that drives power-demand growth. Southern Co. executives, meanwhile, have been hinting that they may need to delay some coal-pant retirements.

“It definitely seems like here is some back peddling underway,” said Dave Anderson, a spokesman for the Energy and Policy Institute, a utility watchdog group that advocates for clean energy. “Utilities are not living up to their climate goals.”

(Disclaimer: Michael R. Bloomberg , founder of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP, is UN Special Envoy for Climate Ambition and Solutions. In 2019, he committed $500 million to Beyond Carbon, a campaign aimed at closing the remaining coal-fired power plants in the U.S. by 2030 and halting the development of new natural gas-fired plants. He also started an effort to close a quarter of the world’s coal capacity and cancel all proposed coal plants by 2025.)

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