The 50 dirtiest electric power plants in the United States—all coal-fired—emit as much carbon dioxide as half of America’s 240 million cars.
The dirtiest 1% spew out a third of the carbon produced by US power plants.
And the 100 dirtiest plants—still a tiny fraction of the country’s 6,000 power plants—account for a fifth of all US carbon emissions.
According to this report, curbing the emissions of these worst offenders would be one of the best ways to cut US carbon emissions, reducing the risk that emissions will trigger dangerous climate change:
• Environment America Research and Policy Center, America’s dirtiest power plants: their oversized contribution to global warming and what we can do about it, 2013.
Some states in the US already limit carbon pollution from power plants. At the start of this year, California imposed a cap on carbon dioxide emissions, and in 2014 it will link with Quebec’s carbon market. Nine states from Maine to Maryland participate in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), which caps emissions from power plants in the Northeast.
At the federal level, a big step forward was the 2007 Supreme Court decision saying the Environmental Protection Agency should develop plans to regulate carbon emissions. The EPA is now getting ready to impose carbon emission limits for all new power plants in the US. But some of the largest sources of carbon dioxide are existing power plants, so getting them to shape up or shut down could have big benefits.
What to do?
Here’s what the report suggests:
• The Obama Administration should set strong limits on carbon dioxide pollution from new power plants to prevent the construction of a new generation of dirty power plants, and force existing power plants to clean up by setting strong limits on carbon dioxide emissions from all existing power plants.
• New plants – The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) should work to meet its September 2013 deadline for re-proposing a stringent emissions standard for new power plants. It should also set a deadline for finalizing these standards no later than June 2015.
• Existing plants – The EPA should work to meet the timeline put forth by President Obama for proposing and finalizing emissions standards for existing power plants. This timeline calls for limits on existing plants to be proposed by June 2014 and finalized by June 2015. The standards should be based on the most recent climate science and designed to achieve the emissions reduction targets that are necessary to avoid the worst impacts of global warming.
In addition to cutting pollution from power plants, the United States should adopt a suite of clean energy policies at the local, state, and federal levels to curb emissions of carbon dioxide from energy use in other sectors.
In particular, the United States should prioritize establishing a comprehensive, national plan to reduce carbon pollution from all sources – including transportation, industrial activities, and the commercial and residential sectors.
Other policies to curb emissions include:
• Retrofitting three-quarters of America’s homes and businesses for improved energy efficiency, and implementing strong building energy codes to dramatically reduce fossil fuel consumption in new homes and businesses.
• Adopting a federal renewable electricity standard that calls for 25 percent of America’s electricity to come from clean, renewable sources by 2025.
• Strengthening and implementing state energy efficiency resource standards that require utilities to deliver energy efficiency improvements in homes, businesses and industries.
• Installing more than 200 gigawatts of solar panels and other forms of distributed renewable energy at residential, commercial and industrial buildings over the next two decades.
• Encouraging the use of energy-saving combined heat-and-power systems in industry.
• Facilitating the deployment of millions of plug-in vehicles that operate partly or solely on electricity, and adopting clean fuel standards that require a reduction in the carbon intensity of transportation fuels.
• Ensuring that the majority of new residential and commercial development in metropolitan areas takes place in compact, walkable communities with access to a range of transportation options.
• Expanding public transportation service to double ridership by 2030, encouraging further ridership increases through better transit service, and reducing per-mile global warming pollution from transit vehicles. The U.S. should also build high-speed rail lines in 11 high-priority corridors by 2030.
• Strengthening and expanding the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which limits carbon dioxide pollution from power plants in nine northeastern state, and implementing California’s Global Warming Solutions Act (AB32), which places an economy-wide cap on the state’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Carbon emitted per power produced
An appendix to this report list the power plants that emit the most carbon dioxide by name, along with estimates of their emissions. That’s great! But annoyingly, they do not seem to list the amounts of energy per year produced by these plants.
If carbon emissions were strictly proportional to the amount of energy produced, that would tend to undercut the the notion that the biggest carbon emitters are especially naughty. But in fact there’s a lot of variability in the amount of carbon emitted per energy generated. You can see that in this chart of theirs:
So, it would be good to see a list of the worst power plants in terms of CO2 emitted per energy generated.
The people who prepared this report could probably create such a list without much extra work, since they write:
We obtained fuel consumption and electricity generation data for power plants operating in the United States from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) 2011 December EIA-923 Monthly Time Series.