5 Dense Carbon Polluters In EPA Crosshairs

The utilities most vulnerable to EPA carbon regulations are not the giants—despite their giant volumes of CO2 emissions—but rural electric cooperatives that rely on old coal plants for cheap electricity. Some have been slow to embrace renewable-energy alternatives.
The Environmental Protection Agency is expected to announce regulations this week regulating carbon-dioxide emissions from existing power plants. And rural coops operate some of the dirtiest plants, according to a report released last week by Ceres, a non-profit that mobilizes investment in clean energy.
The rural coop lobby has been bracing for bad news.
"The potential costs of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) greenhouse gas regulations threaten every household and business on a budget, not to mention the ability of electric cooperatives to continue providing reliable and affordable energy," Jo Ann Emerson, CEO of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association said recently.
The polluters listed below aren't the largest gross polluters in America. The largest gross polluters are huge utilities like American Electric Power Company, Duke, and Exelon, who have been mobilizing for some time to get off of coal. AEP, the nation's largest gross carbon polluter, plans to shutter 6,600 megawatts of coal-fueled generation in the next few years. Exelon has long supported government efforts to regulate carbon, even pushing for a carbon tax, which would aid Exelon's ailing nuclear fleet.
The polluters below are smaller utilities that don't have the portfolio diversity of the giants. They depend heavily on coal, and as a result, they produce the highest concentrations of carbon pollution for every megawatt-hour they generate. According to Ceres, they are:
1. Big Rivers Electric, Kentucky – This non-profit electric cooperative based in Henderson, Kentucky emits 2,267 pounds of carbon dioxide per MWh—the highest concentration of carbon pollution of any of America's top 100 utilities (the average carbon pollution rate is 1,275 lbs/MWh), according to Ceres. BRE has warned its "member-owner" customers about the impact of carbon regulations on electricity rates: "We are committed to ensuring that environmental policy makers understand the impact proposed regulations have on electric bills to help shape the final regulations so they are fair, attainable and affordable for our Member-Owners’ customers," said board chair James Sills and CEO Mark A. Bailey, in a message on the utility's website.
2. Great River Energy, Minnesota, Wisconsin – Another non-profit cooperative, GRE depends on coal for 94 percent of its generating capacity, according to Ceres, and much of that coal is burned in old plants most vulnerable to new EPA regulations. (GRE says that its coal mix is 67 percent but is counting renewable energy it purchases). For this reason, and because GRE has seemed reluctant to retire those plants and seek cleaner sources, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission rejected GRE's annual Resource Plan last year. GRE emits 2,201 lbs/MWh. It serves 1.7 million customers.
3. Basin Electric Power Coop, North Dakota – Basin claims to be "one of the most progressive electric cooperatives in America" but is 93 percent coal dependent, according to Ceres, and it emits 2,190 pounds of carbon dioxide per MWh of electricity it generates. Basin's peaking facilities—power plants that respond to peak demand—are oil plants, also likely targets of EPA's regulations, and natural-gas plants. But the company recently embarked on a new gas plant and three wind farms.
4. Omaha Public Power District, Nebraska – Most of OPPD's power has come from three baseload power plants: North Omaha Station and Nebraska City Station, both coal-fired plants, and Fort Calhoun Station, a nuclear power plant. But when Fort Calhoun was shut down for repairs in 2011, OPPD's dependence on coal jumped to 98 percent, according to Ceres. In 2012 it emitted 2,139 pounds of carbon dioxide per MWh. In addition to restarting its nuclear plant, it has embarked on plans to increase renewable energy sources and build gas-fired plants to balance its portfolio and lower its emissions rate. Organized as a political subdivision of the State of Nebraska in 1946, OPPD is governed by an elected board of directors.
5. Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, Colorado, Nebraska, New Mexico and Wyoming – Tri-State is a wholesale electric power supplier owned by 44 electric cooperatives. Tri-State generates and transports electricity to more than one million customers throughout a 250,000 square-mile service territory. It is 92 percent coal dependent, according to Ceres, with the rest of its generation coming from natural gas. It emits 2,128 pounds of carbon dioxide per MWh of electricity it offers to its 12,000 customers.
Corrected: This story originally identified Tri-State as a rural utility in Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee. The Ceres report only refers to "Tri-State," but Ceres officials have clarified that the report is referring to the Colorado-based Tri-State.
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