Reduction in Power Plant Emissions Continues in New England

by | Jan 3, 2019

New England experienced another year of decline in harmful emissions, according to the 2017 ISO New England Electric Generator Air Emissions Report. The reduction is due mostly to a decline in the area’s use of power plants that use fossil fuels.

The below tables, from ISO Newswire, show the year-over-year reduction in emissions.

According to the preliminary report, several key factors contributed to the declines, including:

  • Continuing declines in coal- and oil-fired generation: Relatively warm winter temperatures in the first quarter of 2017 contributed to decreases in generation from coal and oil resources. Coal generation fell by 870 gigawatt-hours (GWh), or 34%, while oil generation fell by 152 GWh or 16%. Natural gas generation also declined, by about 5% or 2,532 GWh. On the other hand, nuclear generation, a source of zero emissions, declined by 1,207 GWh, or 4%.
  • Lower demand, and lower energy generation: Overall, generation in New England was 2.8% lower in 2017, at about 102,562 GWh. That paralleled a 2.6% decline in total demand for power, at about 121,220 GWh in 2017.
  • Significant increases in production from hydro, solar, and wind resources: Non-emitting grid-scale solar and wind resources together increased production by 995 GWh or 31%. Generation by hydro facilities rose 1,115 GWh, or 15%.

The decline in emissions represents a long-term trend for the New England area, considering natural gas-fired resources account for the vast majority of new generators built in New England since 1997. The report notes that ongoing trends to meet electricity needs with higher-efficiency, lower-emitting gas-fired generators instead of oil- and coal-fired generators have been the biggest contributor to the long-term decline in regional emissions. Transmission system upgrades have further reduced the need to run older, less efficient oil and coal units.

On the other end of the spectrum, Maryland is turning to the courts in an effort to control emissions from power plants in the area. In September 2018, Maryland officials announced plans to appeal an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) decision to deny the state’s efforts to reduce emissions from 36 power plants in five upwind states.

Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh said the EPA’s decision is “wrong” and if the ruling is allowed to stand, “the air Marylanders breathe will be dirtier, especially on the hottest days of the summer — through no fault of ours,” according to the Baltimore Sun.

The news site notes that most of the state’s congressional delegation — Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen and Reps. Steny Hoyer, Elijah Cummings, Dutch Ruppersberger, John Sarbanes, John Delaney, Anthony Brown, and Jamie Raskin — released a statement in support of the legal action. They urged state officials to “take all measures possible to appeal and overturn this decision.”

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