US CO2 emissions declined 3.3% in 2008 on economy, weather

US power plants spewed less carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in 2008 compared with the year before, but six states led by Oklahoma had increases of more than one million tonnes, according to the nonpartisan Environmental Integrity Project (EIP).

The report attributes the 3.3% decline in CO2 output primarily to the weak economy which led to a drop in power generation. Milder than normal weather in the Fall and Winter was a secondary factor causing electricity demand to decline.

EIP officials cautioned that the one-year dip is a departure from the recent trends in power plant carbon dioxide emissions, which have risen 0.9 percent since 2003, and 4.5 percent since 1998, according to data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

``Unfortunately, one year of improved data does not mean that we are on the right path for carbon dioxide reduction from U.S. power plants,’’ says Ilan Levin, senior attorney at EIP. `` We clearly cannot afford a wave of conventional fossil-fired power plants that would only add tens of millions of tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere every year over the lifetimes of these new plants.’’

Levin argues that if the Obama administration is serious about curbing climate-warming greenhouse gases, then many of the nation's dirtiest power plants will either need to be cleaned up or retired. ``We have no time to lose,’’ he says.

The US Energy Department predicts that carbon dioxide emissions from power generation will increase 15% between 2009 and 2030, due to new or expanded coal plants. It said an additional 1,392 megawatts of new coal-fired generating capacity was added in 2008, and another 26,131 megawatts have permits for construction.

Six states had year-on-year CO2 emission increases: Oklahoma, 3.11m tons; Iowa, 1.81m; Texas 1.73m; Nebraska 1.31m; Illinois, 1.11m and Washington, 1.09m.

As it has for this decade, Texas in 2008 led all states in power plant CO2 emissions with 261.04m tons, followed by Ohio, 133.01m; Indiana, 131.04m; Florida, 123.21m; Pennsylvania, 116.55m; Illinois, 110.24m; Kentucky, 101.39m; Georgia, 94.13m; Alabama, 89.41m and West Virginia, 88.26m.

Texas also led all states with the largest power plant CO2 emission increases during the past ten years with 26.87m tons, followed by Arizona, 22.64m; California, 18.77m; Georgia, 17.69m; Illinois, 17.68m; Oklahoma, 16.59m; Alabama, 8.85m; South Carolina, 7.51m; Colorado, 6.65m and Iowa, 6.02m.

EIP noted that power plant CO2 emissions are directly linked to the efficiency with which fossil fuels are converted into electricity, and coal-fired power plants are inherently inefficient. A typical power plant converts only about a third of the energy contained in coal into electricity, while the remainder is emitted as waste heat, the group says.

EIP contends that US coal-fired power plant efficiency has remained largely unchanged since the mid 1960’s.

In the short-term, the quickest route to greenhouse gas reductions is reducing demand for energy, EIP adds. That means smarter building codes, and supporting initiatives – such as the weatherization of low-income homes and appliance efficiency standards.