WASHINGTON (June 29, 2010) -- A new report comparing the air pollutant emissions of America’s 100 largest electric power producers offers important insights into the trends shaping the electric power industry and some of the strategies that companies are using to improve their environmental performance.
The report found wide disparities in emissions rates (tons emitted per megawatt hour of electricity produced) of CO2, SO2 and nitrogen oxide (NOx) and that a company’s management strategies and power plant fleets can have a significant impact on their emissions profile and exposure to stricter air pollution limits.
“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, which commissioned the report. “These investments will need to increase dramatically to further improve the sector’s environmental performance, while meeting our country’s future energy needs.”
NextEra Energy (formerly FPL Group), for example, 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. NextEra, which has rapidly expanded its wind generation capacity in recent years, 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. 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.
“Power companies have been on notice for more than a decade that they will need to cut their emissions of carbon dioxide and other pollutants. This report shows which companies have made smart decisions to position themselves for the transition to clean energy and which are lagging,” said Dan Lashof, Climate Center Director at the Natural Resources Defense Council.
The Benchmarking Air Emissions 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 provides detailed summaries of company-by-company emissions and emissions rates.
The report shows that since 1990, power plant emissions of SO2 and NOx have decreased 54 and 52 percent respectively due to the installation of air pollution control equipment and investment in cleaner sources of generation. CO2 emissions from power plants rose 30 percent over the same time period, but have declined in the past several years due to a combination of factors including the economic recession and increased use of natural gas, renewable energy and energy efficiency.
As highlighted in the report, in 2009, the U.S. wind energy industry developed over 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. The U.S. also has potential for expanding the utilization of existing natural gas combined cycle facilities, which only had an average utilization of 33 percent in 2008. In contrast, the average utilization of coal-fired power plants was 56 percent in 2008.
“Good information is critical to good decision making. Transparency about emissions enables our society to balance future energy needs with health and quality of life considerations,” said Eric Svenson, Vice President – Policy and Environment, Health & Safety, PSEG Services Corporation, one of the participants in the report. “PSEG has long sponsored the Benchmarking Report because it provides important context for the public policy process. Making emissions data available to stakeholders is a necessary step to making informed decisions about how to achieve a sustainable future.”
“This report illustrates our sector can achieve meaningful emissions reductions through the deployment of the latest scrubber technology and investment in clean generation sources,” said Paul Allen, Senior Vice President and Chief Environmental Officer, Constellation Energy. “While much work remains to be done, including the adoption of federal carbon policy we’re optimistic that the transition to a cleaner, lower carbon economy is under way and can be achieved if we maintain focus and proceed without delay.”
“The U.S. must develop a carbon policy that is effective, efficient and equitable,” said Gary Serio, Vice President of Safety and Environment for Entergy, one of the participants in the report. “Given a limited ability to bend the trend line of ever-growing greenhouse gas emissions, as demonstrated by this report, we must enact policy now -- with urgency -- to reduce emissions significantly by mid-century.”