Reduced coal generation drove power sector greenhouse emissions down 10% in 2019, report says
Though carbon emissions from the power sector rose slightly in 2018, a continued trend of declining coal power led to improved results in 2019. Natural gas replaced the majority of the lost generating capacity from coal, adding around 40 million metric tons of carbon emissions to the sector. But coal retirements cut emissions by 190 million metric tons, creating a net decrease of 150 million metric tons in the power sector.
Meanwhile, mass coal plant retirements between 2005 and 2016 saved an estimated 26,610 lives, 570 million bushels of corn, wheat and soybeans, and reduced regional climate impacts, according to the UCSD report. Smog-causing pollutants such as sulfur and nitrogen, as well as carbon monoxide and heavy metals are some of the “short-lived climate pollutants,” that don’t necessarily stay in the atmosphere but instead linger regionally, and are specific to coal power, the report noted.
The Rhodium report’s results for 2019 could potentially lead to another 0.9% change in the mortality rate, and a 4-7% increase in crop yields for areas closest to the plants, assuming the reduction in coal plant emissions between 2017 and 2019 are caused by plant shutdowns rather than reduced production, UCSD report author Jennifer Burney, an associate professor at the university’s School of Global Policy and Strategy, told Utility Dive in an email.
“Either way we’d expect less pollution, but the first case is obviously closer to the study for extrapolation purposes,” she said. “The total aggregate numbers would depend on where the plants are, but I would imagine that the numbers would be similar to in the paper and in similar regions.”