U.S. power plant carbon dioxide emissions have fallen below those of the transportation sector, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) reports. The development ends the reign of power plants as America’s dominant source of CO2 emissions. As recently as a decade ago, power plant emissions surpassed those of transportation by more than 20%. However, low-price natural gas, unleashed by the fracking revolution, is transforming America’s power generation to low-emission natural gas rather than high-emission coal.
The U.S. power plant emissions story is remarkable given that power plants consume more energy to produce electricity than transportation vehicles do to power automobiles.
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“The electric power sector makes up a larger share of total U.S. energy consumption than the transportation sector. However, CO2 emissions from the electric power sector are now lower than those from transportation because the carbon intensity of the power sector has fallen much faster than the carbon intensity of the transportation sector,” EIA reports.
“Emissions from the electric power sector are primarily from coal-fired and natural gas-fired electric generators. On average, emissions associated with combusting coal are higher than those associated with combusting natural gas. The average rate of CO2 emitted from combusting coal ranges from 206 to 229 pounds per million British thermal units (lbs CO2/MMBtu), depending on the type of coal consumed. The combustion of natural gas emits on average 117 lbs CO2/MMBtu. Natural gas electric generators also tend to be more efficient than coal generators, because they require less fuel to generate electricity,” EIA observes.
EIA data show the disparity between power plant emissions and transportation emissions began to reverse itself late last decade, when the fracking revolution transformed the natural gas industry. With fracking and directional drilling advances allowing natural gas producers to recover natural gas at much lower cost, natural gas began to replace coal as America’s primary power plant energy source.
While anti-fracking extremists claim they are fighting for the environment, anti-fracking campaigns are essentially anti-clean air campaigns and anti-carbon dioxide reduction campaigns. If anti-fracking activists successfully block natural gas fracking, the result will be fewer coal power plants being replaced by natural gas, and a slowdown or reversal of America’s decade-long reduction in power plant air pollution and carbon dioxide emissions.