Last week, Ceres, a nonprofit that advocates for sustainability by bringing together environmentalists and capitalists, released Benchmarking Air Emissions of the 100 Largest Electric Power Producers in the United States. The report evaluates and compares the emissions of the 100 largest power producers in the U.S., including investor-owned utilities, cooperatives, publicly-owned utilities, and Federal electric utilities. It focuses on sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), mercury (Hg), and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.
The report notes that although significant progress has been made in reducing SO2, NOx, and Hg emissions in the past decades, CO2 emissions were 14% higher in 2014 compared to 1990. However, recently CO2 emissions have begun to fall, with 2014 emissions 12% below those in 2008. The report details the substantial differences among the emissions performances (both emission levels and emission rates) among the different utilities, and it also provides a summary of CO2 emissions by state. In 2014, Texas, Florida, and Indiana had the highest CO2 emissions, while Vermont, Idaho, and Maine had the lowest.
The report places its analysis of emissions trends and rankings in the context of major structural transformations of the U.S. power sector. It emphasizes that the lack of new demand and the increasing output from renewable energy sources are leading to lower CO2 emissions, low wholesale electricity prices, and a decline in the use of coal as a source of electricity.
The report also identifies three key factors that will influence the transformation of the U.S. power sector going forward:
- The potential technological development of cost-effective energy storage could address the current difficulty of replacing traditional baseload capacity with intermittent renewable resources such as wind and solar.
- Changes to state policies will also be needed in order to integrate more distributed generation, such as rooftop solar. The report notes that many states with net metering policies limit the amount of generating capacity for which customers may be credited on their retail bills, and several of these states have already, or have nearly, reached those caps.
- Finally, federal regulations will continue to play a large role in reshaping the power sector. In addition to the pending judicial review of the Clean Power Plan and New Sources Performance Standards, EPA is expected to act later this year on NOx and SO2 state emissions budgets under the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule and has also proposed updated revisions to the Regional Haze Rule.