Forbes: AEP Power Plants Largest U.S. Carbon Polluter

5/28/2014 by Jeff McMahon

American Electric Power Company was the largest emitter of carbon pollution from power plants in the U.S. in 2012, according to a report released this morning by Ceres, Bank of America, several utilities and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

AEPs fleet of coal, natural gas, and oil-fired power plants emitted 141,226,882 tons of carbon in 2012, according to the Benchmarking Air Emissions report. The next runner up, Duke Energy, emitted 134,277,330 tons.

AEP is the fifth largest producer of electricity, while Duke is the largest.

AEP spokesperson Tammy Ridout noted, “The important point in this report is the reduction in emissions, including CO2, from our plants.” She went on to say, “AEP’s CO2 emissions have been cut 21 percent since 2005, and they will continue to go down as we retire another 6,600 megawatts of coal-fueled generation in the next few years. AEP is one of the largest generators of electricity in the United States, and about 60 percent of our generating capacity uses coal, so it is not surprising that we produce the highest CO2 emissions by volume. But, the CO2 emissions rate from our coal plants is ranked much lower in the report – at No. 61 on the list – which means we produce the power we make very efficiently.”

In the report, larger carbon emissions generally correlate to use of coal.

AEP relied on coal to produce 73 percent of the electricity it generated in 2012, according to the report, delivering electricity in Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia.

The Benchmarking Air Emissions report analyzes NOx (Nitric Oxide), SO2 (sulfur dioxide), CO2 (carbon dioxide) and mercury emissions of the nation’s 100 largest electric power producers, which collectively operate 2,700 power plants and generate 86 percent of the country’s electricity. It comes about a week before the EPA is expected to release new rules regulating carbon emissions from power plants.

After AEP and Duke, the largest carbon emitters included Southern Company, NRG, and the Tennessee Valley Authority.

Although AEP produced the most gross carbon, it did not produce carbon at the highest rate. That distinction goes to the Kentucky-based Big Rivers Electric Corporation, which relies on coal for 84 percent of the electricity it generates.

Big Rivers emitted 2,267 pounds of carbon per MWh hour of electricity produced, compared to 1,729 for AEP.

Kentucky topped the 50 states with the greatest carbon emission rate—2,099 pounds of carbon per MWh—while Texas emitted the most carbon overall, by far—261.2 million tons of carbon compared to 117.7 for Florida, the next runner-up.

The lowest carbon emitting state, for both gross emissions and emissions rate, was Vermont.

The report’s sponsors emphasized good news, including these four key findings:

  • 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. ”What these reductions show us, once again, is that the power sector can successfully meet air pollution standards while keeping our lights on and making sure our economy continues to grow,” said Ceres President Mindy Lubber. “There is no reason to think they can’t do the same with carbon dioxide.”
  • CO2 emissions have declined 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.
  • U.S. reliance on coal declined by 5 percent from 2011 to 2012. Coal accounted for 39 percent of the power produced by the 100 largest companies in 2012, down from 44 percent in 2011. 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.
  • “The data shows that the power sector has already begun to decarbonize, to increase investment in natural gas, renewables, and energy efficiency,” Lubber said. “We see the trend nationally, and we see it among individual power providers in all regions of the country.


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