Last updated on April 20, 2014 at 7:42 EDT

CEC examines air pollution from North America’s 3,000 fossil-fuel power plants

December 7, 2011

MONTREAL, Dec. 7, 2011 /PRNewswire/ – North America’s 3,000 fossil
fuel-burning power plants continue to produce two-thirds of the
region’s electricity and, at the same time, generate the majority of
certain harmful air pollutants and emit more greenhouse gases than any
other industrial sector.

North American Power Plant Air Emissions, a new report and database released today by the Commission for
Environmental Cooperation (CEC), provides detailed information on the
electric power sector in North America, and profiles, on a
plant-by-plant basis, the air emissions of six of the most-important
contaminants–the greenhouse gases carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and
methane; sulfur dioxide; mercury; and particulate matter–emitted by
North America’s fossil fuel-fired power plants.

These pollutants–especially sulfur dioxide, mercury and greenhouse
gases–are linked to a range of environmental and public health problems
facing the people of North America today, including acid rain, smog,
asthma, and global climate change. For sulfur dioxide alone, the major
contributor to acid rain, fossil-fuel power plants are responsible for
71 percent of reported emissions from industrial facilities across
North America.

“The information we’ve collected in this report is vital to
understanding the magnitude and impact of these power plant emissions
on our environment, climate, and health, not just locally but across
North America,” said CEC Executive Director Evan Lloyd. “North
America’s continuing reliance on fossil fuel electricity comes at a
steep price in terms of air pollution and public health, and underlines
the challenge, and the long-term benefits, of making the transition to
a cleaner, low-carbon economy. The detailed information found here will
help industry, regional and federal authorities in Canada, Mexico and
the United States make better decisions on energy alternatives and on
reducing and preventing pollution,” said Lloyd.

Greenhouse gases
North America’s fossil-fuel electricity generating sector is a major
contributor to emissions of greenhouse gases, representing 33 percent
of North American and six percent of global emissions, mainly carbon
dioxide. The combustion of coal accounts for the bulk of these
emissions. Coal-fired power plants in Canada and the United States,
along with Mexican oil-fired facilities, produced the largest emissions
overall of greenhouse gases (GHGs), particularly CO(2), although in Canada and Mexico, natural gas-fired power plants were
major sources of methane as well as nitrous oxide, both extremely
potent greenhouse gases.

Sulfur dioxide
The CEC study finds that a relatively small percentage of facilities
across the region account for much of the sector’s sulfur dioxide (SO(2)) emissions, a criteria air contaminant associated with a variety of
impacts on the environment and human health–including the creation of
smog, acid rain and regional haze, and the development of respiratory
illnesses. The report reveals that the overall per-plant emission
levels of the top five SO(2) emitters of Mexico and the United States were very similar, and
significantly higher than those of the top five SO(2) emitters of Canada.

The data in this report show that mercury emissions in the three
countries were mainly from the combustion of coal. For Canada and the
United States, coal-fired power plants accounted for 98 percent of all
mercury releases from fossil-fuel electricity generating facilities,
and in Mexico, they accounted for nearly 88 percent.

Gauging environmental performance
The report reveals that factors other than fuel type, such as total
electricity generation, capacity, age and efficiency of power plants,
also figure significantly–with many of the top pollutant emitting
facilities not necessarily the top electricity generators. For
instance, for the pollutants considered in the report, per capita
emissions are higher in the United States than in Canada and Mexico.
However, for certain pollutants, such as CO(2), overall the largest US facilities, many of them coal-fired power
plants, had lower emissions per unit of electricity produced than the
largest facilities in Canada and Mexico. Similarly, for SO(2), Mexico’s three highest emitters had considerably higher emissions per
unit of electricity produced than the highest three emitters of Canada
and the United States, suggesting differences in environmental controls
and performance.

A North American picture of power plants
The report compiles data from 2005, the latest publicly available
information from all three countries. The report reveals the
relationship between pollutant emissions and the type and size of
facilities and the technologies and fuels they use–a unique mix for
each country. For instance, coal-fired plants in the United States
generate close to half of that country’s electricity, while Canada
produces 60 percent of its electricity from hydroelectric generation.
In Mexico, oil and natural gas-fired plants generate more than
two-thirds of that country’s electricity.

North American Power Plant Air Emissions builds upon the first-such CEC assessment (published in 2004) that
compiled information on emissions of two criteria air contaminants and
limited information on mercury and carbon dioxide emissions from power
plants in North America for the year 2002. The latest report provides a
more extensive coverage, with analyses from over two thousand
additional facilities and of additional pollutants, including methane,
nitrous oxide and particulate matter, thereby offering a more complete
picture of power plant contributions to air emissions across North

The current report also highlights some of the significant emission
reductions achieved by a number of power plants featured in the
previous publication. The report also notes that from 2002 to 2005
increases in electricity production have also been accompanied by
increases in the use of relatively cleaner fuels such as natural gas,
increased use of fuels from renewable sources, as well as the
implementation of control technologies.

The report also makes a statement about the importance of improved
availability and comparability of pollutant emissions data from the
three countries. Although the emissions inventory data for Canada and
Mexico have improved significantly from 2002 to 2005, they are not yet
at par with the level of detail of the US data. Facility-level data on
electricity generation or pollution-control technologies for Canadian
facilities are not publically available. In Mexico, the majority of the
air emissions data were estimates based on facility fuel consumption,
due to the lack of site-specific monitoring data.

North American Power Plant Air Emissions Online
You can read the report and explore the CEC’s air emissions database for
3,144 fossil-fuel power plants online at www.cec.org/powerplants. The data can be downloaded and can also be viewed using Google Earth. A PDF of the report is also available for download.

The Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) was established by Canada, Mexico and the United States to
implement the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation
(NAAEC), the environmental side accord to NAFTA. The CEC supports
cooperation among the NAFTA partners to address environmental issues of
continental concern, including the environmental challenges and
opportunities presented by continent-wide free trade. More information


Source: PR Newswire