A new Natural Resources Defence Council (NRDC) 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.
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.
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
Companies using generation portfolios dominated by coal were the worst emitters per MWh generated, with Big Rivers Electric and NiSource topping the list with over 2400 lbs of carbon dioxide (CO2) per MWh.
By comparison companies with high proportions of nuclear like Exelon and PG&E emitted only 122 lbs and 32 lbs CO2 per MWh respectively. Using over 90% nuclear power means that Exelon ranked as the fifth-biggest generator and also the fifth-smallest CO2 polluter per unit of power produced.
Other clean mixes included large amounts of hydro, like the US Corps of Engineers – actually the 18th biggest power generator in the country but with virtually no carbon dioxide emissions due to its total reliance on hydro. The NRDC report only counts emissions at the source of generation, rather than life-cycle figures.