Top Power Producers Decrease SO2/NOx Emissions, Increase CO2 Emissions since 1990

by | Jul 1, 2010

The 100 largest electric power producers in the U.S. have significantly decreased their overall sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions since 1990, while carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions continue to rise, according to a new report released by Ceres.

The report shows that power plant emissions of SO2 and NOx have decreased 54 and 52 percent, respectively, since 1990 thanks to the installation of air pollution control equipment and investment in cleaner sources of generation.

The report also indicates that CO2 emissions from power plants rose 30 percent over the same time period. However, CO2 emissions have declined by 2.1 percent from 2007 levels due to several reasons including the economic recession and increased use of natural gas, renewable energy and energy efficiency, reports the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

The “Benchmarking Air Emissions” report finds that big differences in emissions rates (tons emitted per megawatt hour of electricity produced) for CO2, SO2 and NOx were significantly impacted by a company’s management strategies and power plant fleets.

“Many companies within the electric power sector have been expanding their investments in alternative energy sources and energy efficiency, which is lowering both their emission rates and long-term regulatory exposure,” said Mindy Lubber, president of Ceres. “These investments will need to increase dramatically to further improve the sector’s environmental performance, while meeting our country’s future energy needs.”

As an example, NextEra Energy (formerly FPL Group) is the nation’s fourth largest electric power producer, yet its overall emissions and emission rates for CO2, SO2 and NOx are significantly lower than many of its peers, says NRDC. Report analysts attribute the lower rates to NextEra’s expanded wind generation capacity.

NextEra ranks 86th among the 100 top power companies for its CO2 emissions rate, 77th for NOx, and 75th for SO2 emissions, based on 2008 data.

NextEra Energy says its Capricorn Ridge Wind Energy Center located in West Texas is the first wind project in the U.S. to create VERs under the Voluntary Carbon Standard protocol.

Similarly, Calpine, which operates natural gas-fired and geothermal power plants, is the 11th largest power producer yet ranks 87th for both its NOx and SO2 emissions rates, says NRDC.

In February, Calpine asked for CO2 emissions limits for its new power plant in California in anticipation of stricter emissions regulations.

In 2009, the U.S. wind energy industry developed more than 10,000 megawatts of new wind power capacity and the budgets of ratepayer funded energy-efficiency programs increased 37 percent in 2009 over 2008 levels, reports NRDC.

The report analyzes 2008 data submitted by power plant operators to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Energy Information Administration (EIA) and other sources, focusing on CO2, NOx, SO2 and mercury emissions.

The report reveals that power plants were responsible for 66 percent of SO2 emissions, 19 percent of NOx emissions, 72 percent of mercury air emissions, and 39 percent of CO2 emissions in the U.S. in 2008.

The report also shows that a quarter of the electric power industry’s SO2 and CO2 emissions are emitted by just two and five top 100 producers, respectively, according to NRDC.

Another key finding shows that the U.S. has the potential to expand the use of existing natural gas combined cycle facilities, which only had an average utilization of 33 percent in 2008, according to the report. The average utilization of coal-fired power plants was 56 percent in 2008.

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