CO2: Heroes and Villains

Not that Congress, let alone the global community, shows real signs that it is going to get serious about addressing climate change, but if they ever did they now have a clear idea of where a big part of the problem is coming from. An online database going live this afternoon lists the carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions of 50,000 power plants worldwide. Power plants are responsible for one-quarter of the world’s CO2 emissions, and the trend line is ever upward.

Produced by the Center for Global Development, a policy and research group in Washington that examines how the actions of wealthy nations affect the poor in developing countries, it is a treasure-trove of data that shows just what the world is up against when it comes to controlling CO2 emissions. The data reflect information that is publicly available from agencies such as Environment Canada and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, as well as calculations of CO2 emissions based on the kind of generators, fuel, efficiency and other specs at power plants.

Some findings:

*per capita, Australians are among the largest CO2 emitters in the world, producing more than 11 tons of CO2 per person every year from power plants. Americans produce just over 9 tons per person. China? 2 tons. India? One-half ton per person.

*of the nearly 10 billion tons of CO2 emitted per year by power plants, the U.S.’s 8,000-plus plants emit just over 25 percent of that, or 2.8 billion tons. The U.S.’s biggest CO2 emitter is Southern Co., at 172 million tons, followed by American Electric Power Company Inc., Duke Energy Corp., and AES Corp.

*in the U.S. the biggest CO2 polluting power plants are the Scherer plant in Juliet, Ga., with 25.3 million tons, the Miller plant in Quinton, Ala., with 20.6 million tons, the Bowen plant in Cartersville, Ga., with 20.5 million tons, and the Gibson plant in Owensville, Ind., with 20.4 million tons. All burn coal.

*zero-emitters are of course nuclear plants, led in the U.S. by the Palo Verde plant near Phoenix which generates 26 million megawatt-hours (MWh) of electricity per year, the South Texas plant in Wadsworth, at 20.9 million MWh, and the Limerick plant in Pottstown, Pa., at 20.8 million MWh.

*do state CO2 rankings affect how their congressmen and senators vote on climate bills? The dirtiest states are Texas (290 million tons), followed by Florida (157 million tons), Indiana (137 million tons), Pennsylvania (136 million tons), Ohio (133 million tons), Illinois (113 million tons), Kentucky (98 million tons), Georgia (92 million tons), Michigan (91 million tons) and Alabama (91 million tons).

*why does California think it can slash CO2 emissions? CO2 output from power plants in the Golden State, with some 36 million people, is nearly the same as that of North Carolina, with one-quarter the population. North Carolina gets about half its power from coal, while California uses natural gas, hydro, nuclear power, and renewables.

*and why must developing countries be brought into the post-Kyoto process? The world’s single biggest source of CO2 emissions is Huaneng Power International of China (292 million tons), followed by South Africa’s Eskom (214 million tons), NTPC Ltd. Of India (182 million tons), China Huadian Group (176 million tons).

Click around yourself and see just how big a mess we’re in—and who the worst actors are.