Tennessee May Have Natural Gas to Thank for Major Drop in Carbon Emissions

May 30, 2014

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Carbon emissions in Tennessee dropped by a third over five years, according to a new study. It says the closure of coal-fired plants and the historically low price of natural gas are driving the trend.

“That has meant a less carbon-intensive fleet of electric-generating facilities within the state,” said Christopher Van Atten, the study’s lead author.

Between 2007 and 2012, Tennessee’s coal-powered energy dipped 40 percent. At the same time, natural gas generation was 11 times greater — in other words, it shot up 1000 percent. The study examined the country’s 100 largest power producers based on their 2012 data. The Tennessee Valley Authority is the sixth largest energy producer in the nation.

Van Atten is with the Massachusetts-based consulting firm M.J. Bradley & Associates. The study’s corporate funders included Bank of American and publicly-traded natural gas companies Calpine and Exelon.

Van Atten said the Tennessee Valley Authority shutting down eight coal fire power plants will help further reduce carbon emissions, and so will doubling down on producing power with natural gas. Both reflect national patterns in energy production.

“So that has translated very directly into improvements in the air that we breathe,” he said.

Critics say while natural gas burns cleaner, its extraction — including fracking techniques — has environmental ills. They say it generates methane emissions and pollutes groundwater.

Next week, the Environmental Protection Agency is expected to propose new regulations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, or CO2 emissions, at power plants. It’s part of President Obama’s plan to tackle the effects of climate change.

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