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Benchmarking Air Emissions of the 100 Largest Electric Power Producers in the United States 2015

The 2015 Benchmarking report is the eleventh collaborative effort highlighting environmental performance and progress in the nation’s electric power sector. The Benchmarking series uses publicly reported data to compare the emissions performance of the 100 largest power producers in the United States. The current report is based on 2013 generation and emissions data.

The 2015 Benchmarking report is the eleventh collaborative effort highlighting environmental performance and progress in the nation’s electric power sector. The Benchmarking series uses publicly reported data to compare the emissions performance of the 100 largest power producers in the United States. The current report is based on 2013 generation and emissions data.

This report examines and compares the stack air pollutant emissions of the 100 largest power producers in the United States based on their 2013 generation, plant ownership, and emissions data. The report focuses on four power plant pollutants for which public emissions data are available: sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), mercury (Hg), and carbon dioxide (CO2). These pollutants are associated with significant environmental and public health problems, including acid deposition, global warming, fine particle air pollution, mercury deposition, nitrogen deposition, ozone smog, and regional haze.

Key findings of the report include:

  • Air pollution emissions from power plants are highly concentrated among a small number of producers.  Among the 100 largest generators:
    • Five (Duke, AEP, Southern, NRG, and MidAmerican) generate 25 percent of CO2 emissions, though Southern has seen a significant decline in emissions (27 percent) since 2000, and Duke has seen a 10 percent decline in its emissions rate even after its recent merger with Progress Energy.
    • Three (AEP, Southern, and NRG) generate nearly 25 percent of SO2 emissions.
  • SO2 and NOX emissions in 2013 were 80 percent and 74 percent lower, respectively, than they were in 1990, when major amendments to the Clean Air Act were passed.
  • Mercury emissions have decreased 50 percent since 2000, when the industry was first required to report their mercury emissions to EPA.
  • Coal accounted for 40 percent of the power produced by the top 100 power producers, followed by natural gas at 26 percent, nuclear at 22 percent, and renewable power, including large hydroelectric, and other at 14 percent.
  • The utilization, or capacity factors, of coal plants continues to decline relative to natural gas plants, with coal plants’ average utilization rates declining from 73 to 61 percent, and natural gas plants increasing their utilization from 40 to 48 percent between 2008 and 2014.

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