Electricity Use and the Environment

by
Dr. John Vann, Department of Marketing
Green Initiatives Coordinator
February 2003

There are good non-financial reasons for reducing electricity consumption.  The Energy Information Administration (EIA) reports burning coal generates about 95 % of Indiana's electricity (others estimate as high as 98%). Indiana is ranked 11th among states in coal production.

Nationally, coal combustion is the major source of human generated emissions of mercury, a highly toxic neurotoxin. The EPA estimates that in Indiana, 50% comes from coal burning power plants and 44 % from commercial/industrial energy production.  The EPA estimates 1999 coal combustion in Indiana emitted 2.44 tons of mercury (5th most among the states). According to the National Wildlife Federation, one gram of airborne mercury per year deposited into a 25-acre lake will make the fish unsafe to eat. The Indiana Department of Health has put all Indiana fish under a general advisory because of mercury contamination.

Burning any fossil fuel moves carbon stored in the earth's crust to the biosphere and there causes a net increase in CO2  (the quintessential greenhouse gas). Renewable fuels produce no net increase. Coal emits more CO2 per Btu than other fossil fuels (about 1.3 times as much as oil and 1.8 times as much as natural gas). The EIA reports that during 1997-99, Indiana was the 3rd worst state in pounds of CO2 emitted per kWh of electricity generated (2.13 lbs./kWh).  One hundred  computer monitors operating continuously for 8 hours generate over 150 lbs. of CO2 in one day.

Coal combustion also emits N2O and SO2 which contribute to acid rain.  For 1997-98, Indiana was the 2nd worst state in terms of pounds of N2O produced per kWh of electricity generated, and in 1996 was 2nd in SO2 generated per kWh.  General particulate emissions also threaten respiratory health.

Reducing electricity consumption produces financial, environmental, and social benefits.