Power Plant CO2 Emissions
by Kevin Mathews
Most of the environmental news we hear today is disheartening information about the consequences we'll soon be facing thanks to climate change. Let's take a momentary break from that sadness to focus on some good news: U.S. power plants are currently releasing the lowest amount of carbon emissions in 27 years. It seems like we might be making some progress!
The low mark occurred in April of this year, when U.S. power plants generated just 141 million tons of carbon dioxide, a figure we haven't seen since April of 1988. Because power plants produce roughly one-third of the country's emissions, this measurement is one of the biggest indicators we have to see how we're doing at tackling global warming.
While some of this carbon success can be attributed to a rise in renewable resources, experts admit that a lot of the shift is a decreased reliance on coal.
Considered dirty energy, burning coal releases more carbon dioxide than other forms of fuel. Instead, more power companies have turned to burning natural gas, which -- though still harmful to the environment -- creates less carbon emissions. The reason for this shift is not only that power companies are becoming more conscious of their eco-footprint, but also that the price of natural gas has decreased nearly 40 percent in the past twelve months alone making it a much more affordable option.
Though it's likely that April's number will rebound a little over the summer months since the heat prompts a surge in air conditioning use, the trend is encouraging overall. Though the amount of carbon emissions have been dropping (fairly) steadily since 2008, the initial drop was attributed mainly to the economic crash and a decline in manufacturing that necessitates power. While the economy has since rebounded and, in turn, required more power, a change in what power plants are burning has kept carbon emissions trending in a downward trajectory anyway.
A 27-year low in power plant emissions is worth celebrating, but it's still not time to coast on this success. Though burning natural gas is better than coal, switching to wind and solar power on a large scale will be the real victory. To protect the planet, carbon emissions from power plants will eventually need to hover around zero.
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