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Benchmarking Air Emissions of the 100 Largest Electric Power Producers in the United States 2014

This report examines and compares the stack air pollutant emissions of the 100 largest power producers in the United States based on their 2012 generation, plant ownership, and emissions data and shows a downward trend in nitrogen oxides (NOx), sulfur dioxides (SO2), mercury and carbon dioxide (CO2) since 2000, with CO2 emissions decreasing 13 percent between 2008 and 2012.

This report examines and compares the stack air pollutant emissions of the 100 largest power producers in the United States based on their 2012 generation, plant ownership, and emissions data and shows a downward trend in nitrogen oxides (NOx), sulfur dioxides (SO2), mercury and carbon dioxide (CO2) since 2000, with CO2 emissions decreasing 13 percent between 2008 and 2012. The findings show that the industry is already shifting toward a combination of increased energy efficiency and lower carbon fuel sources.

Key findings of the report include:

  • NOx and SO2 emissions in 2012 were 74 percent and 79 percent lower, respectively, than they were in 1990 when Congress passed major amendments to the Clean Air Act. Mercury emissions decreased 51 percent since 2000.
  • CO2 emissions have decreased in recent years, declining 13 percent between 2008 and 2012. Energy efficiency improvements, displacement of coal generation by natural gas and renewable energy sources, and slower economic growth all contributed to the decline.
  • Coal accounted for 39 percent of the power produced by the 100 largest companies in 2012, down from 44 percent in 2011. Roughly 18 percent of the nation’s coal-fired generating fleet (over 58,000 megawatts) has been slated for retirement since 2010. Retiring coal plants tend to be older and smaller than the industry average. Also, average utilization of coal plants (how often the plants are run) has dropped from 73 percent in 2008 to 60 percent in 2013.
  • Across the entire electric sector, renewable energy electricity generation increased 31 percent since 2010 (by more than 50,000 gigawatt hours) even as total electricity generation declined modestly.

Benchmarking Air Emissions is the 10th in a series highlighting environmental improvements and progress in the nation’s electric power sector since 1997. The 100 power producers evaluated in the report represent 86 percent of the electric power generated in the U.S. and 87 percent of the industry’s pollution. Based on 2012 generation and emissions data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration and the EPA, the report is a collaborative effort between Ceres, Bank of America, four power producers (Calpine, Entergy, Exelon and Public Service Enterprise Group (PSEG)) and the Natural Resources Defense Council, and is authored by M.J. Bradley and Associates.

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