IOUs cut carbon emissions in 2020, though the footprint remains big for some
Energize Weekly, June 30, 2021
Coal-fired generation and carbon emissions are down among the largest investor-owned utilities, but even with sharp drops in emissions, the carbon footprint for some companies remains large, according to survey data from the Edison Electric Institute (EEI).
The survey by EEI, the industry’s main trade group, covers most, but not all major investor-owned utilities. Dominion Energy, the third largest utility by market value, for example, did not provide data.
Still, many of the largest utility companies responded and showed a general decline in emissions as their generating mix shifted away from coal.
Akron-based FirstEnergy posted one of the biggest declines, a 28 percent reduction in pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour generated (lbs-CO2/MWh) to 791 lbs-CO2/MWh.
FirstEnergy serves parts of seven Midwestern and mid-Atlantic states. The company said in the qualitative narrative it provided EEI that its calculations were based on generation emission changes in the PJM Interconnection, the regional transmission organization from which it gets its electricity.
Minneapolis-based Xcel Energy, serving parts of eight Midwestern, Plains and Western states, recorded a 13 percent emission decline to 851 lbs-CO2/MWh.
Xcel has invested heavily in wind power and now has 10,000 megawatts (MW) of wind capacity and a goal of reducing its emission 80 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.
Between 2010 and 2030, Xcel Energy shaved coal-fired generation to 21 percent of its portfolio from 27 percent, as wind rose to 27 percent from 21 percent. Natural gas-fired generation accounted for 32 percent of the company’s 2020 generating portfolio and nuclear 13 percent. Solar and hydropower make up the remainder.
Among the lowest emitting utilities was Edison International’s Southern California Edison with 512 lbs-CO2/MWh, a 2.5 percent reduction over 2019.
Southern California Edison relies on purchased power for 81 percent of its electricity supplies and gets two-fifths of its power from carbon-free sources, including 15 percent from solar, 9 percent from wind, 4 percent from hydropower, 8 percent from nuclear and 6 percent from geothermal. It has no coal-fired generation.
Edison International said in the narrative accompanying the data that it is spending $5 billion a year to enable its grid to accommodate high levels of renewable resources.
“By the end of 2020, industry CO2 emissions were 40 percent below 2005 levels, driven in part by low natural gas prices, increased deployment of renewable generation and customer demands,” the EEI said.
The 2020 national generation-resource mix was 39.9 percent natural gas, 19.1 percent coal, 19.5 percent nuclear, 8.3 percent wind, 7.5 percent hydro and 5.1 percent other renewables, according to the EEI.
Two utilities saw an uptick in emissions, Duke Energy and Entergy. Charlotte, N.C.-based Duke Energy, which serves parts of the Midwest and South, logged a slight increase with emissions rising less than 1 percent to 846 lbs-CO2/MWh.
Company-wide, Duke relied on coal for 24 percent of its generation mix and on natural gas for another 38 percent. Some of the Duke subsidiaries had even more pronounced fossil-fuel numbers.
Duke Energy Kentucky, for example, got 97 percent of its power from coal, 2 percent from natural gas and 1 percent from solar. It emitted 1,986 pounds of carbon dioxide for each MWh generated – the highest emission number in the survey.
Emissions for Entergy, headquartered in New Orleans and serving customers in Louisiana, Arkansas, Texas and Mississippi, rose 4.3 percent to 699 lbs-CO2/MWh.
Some utilities trimmed their emissions, but still maintained a large carbon footprint. American Electric Power (AEP), based in Columbus, Ohio, saw emissions fall 5.5 percent, but is still heavily dependent on coal-fired plants and emitted 1,183 pounds of carbon dioxide for each MWh generated.
In 2020, AEP still relied on coal for 43 percent of its generation and natural gas for 23 percent. Nuclear accounted for another 22 percent of generation.
AEP said that since 2010 it has retired or converted to natural gas 13,500 MW of coal-fired capacity. “We have plans to reduce our coal capacity another 5,574 MW from 2021 through 2030,” the company said. “By the close of this decade we will have reduced our coal generating capacity by approximately 74 percent.”