One Step Back, Two Steps Forward

For every kilowatt-hour that the continental U.S. grid generated in this January, the first month of 2021, eighty-six hundredths of a pound of carbon dioxide was emitted to the atmosphere, on average. This was lower than two years ago, in January of 2019, when ninety-three hundredths of a pound was emitted. But it was higher than last year, in January of 2020, when just seventy-five hundredths of a pound was emitted.

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Total emissions of carbon dioxide rose this January by nearly nineteen percent over January 2020. This was due in large part to the increase in electricity sales by well over two percent.

These days, with many of the nation’s coal plants operating in the intermediate range of the generation stack, it doesn’t take much of an increase in sales in the winter and summer to really drive up coal plant utilization and with it their emissions. In January 2021, the coal plants produced thirty-five percent more megawatt-hours than they did in January 2020.

Still, the coal plants in January 2021 produced nearly sixteen percent fewer megawatt-hours than in January 2019. The long-term trend of decreasing coal plant production continues.

For example, the carbon intensity of the Southwest Power Pool fell from one-and-a-tenth pound of carbon dioxide per kilowatt-hour in January 2019 to ninety-six hundredths of a pound in January 2021. The carbon intensity of MISO fell from one and thirty-seven hundredths of a pound in January 2019 to one and twenty-six hundredths of a pound in January 2021. And the carbon intensity of PJM fell from ninety-two hundredths of a pound in January 2019 to eighty-six hundredths of a pound in January 2021.