Rise in Natural Gas Use Causes Power Plant Emissions to Decline in 2011

CERES, Natural Resources Defense Council
May 2013

Benchmarking Air Emissions of the 100 Largest Electric Power Producers in the United States

Despite an increase in overall electricity generation, the nation’s largest power producers cut emissions of major air pollutants in 2011, according to a new report from CERES and Natural Resources Defense Council. According to the report, the increase in the use of natural gas (due to low prices) and the adoption of renewable energy resulted in reduced emissions of nitrogen oxide (NOX), sulfur dioxide (SO2) and carbon dioxide (CO2) in 2011. CO2 emissions have dropped steadily since 2007. AlthoughCO2 emissions have increased by 20 percent since 19990, emissions have gone down by 7 percent between 2008 and 2011.

The report is based on data from the Energy Information Administration and the EPA, and focuses on the top 100 power producers, which accounted for 86 percent of the electricity produced in the United States in 2011. AEP, which serves West Virginia through its Appalachian Power subsidiary, is the second largest electricity producer in the country, and the largest CO2 source. FirstEnergy, which serves portions of West Virginia through its Mon Power and Potomac Edison subsidiaries, is the fourth largest emitter of CO2 in the country.

The report also broke down CO2 emissions by state and found that states with a larger coal share generally had the highest CO2 emission rates. For example, Wyoming, which has an 86 percent coal share, and Kentucky, which has a 93 percent share, had the highest CO2 emission rates. West Virginia, with its 96 percent reliance on coal-fired generation, had the third highest CO2 emissions rate, and the tenth highest level of total CO2 emissions. Texas had the highest total CO2 emissions. The report observes that “[o]ne of the challenges in developing a policy to regulate power plant CO2 emissions will be to design an approach that recognizes the wide variability in the carbon intensity of the electric generating fleet.”