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America's 10 Dirtiest Power Plants

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All power plants are not created equal. It takes energy to make energy, and some corporations are nothing more than carbon clunkers. Here are America's top 10 polluting plants.

Emissions addiction
The Environment America Center released a report this week outlining America's 100 dirtiest power plants. Spoiler alert: 98 of them use coal. Electricity production is responsible for 41% of total carbon dioxide pollution in our country, and the 50 most-polluting plants alone account for more than 2% of global carbon dioxide pollution. With more than 6,000 electricity generating facilities nationwide, let's take a look at the worst of worst.

From bad to worse
10. Arizonans can blame their own government for starting off the top 10. Its state-owned, coal-powered Salt River Project Navajo plant emits 15.9 million metric tons, or MMT, a year. How's that for a public service?

9. DTE Energy's Detroit Edison Monroe plant in Michigan nabs ninth place with 16.4 MMT. The plot thickens with a bit of "greenwashing," when the same plant won a Neighborhood Environmental Partnership award from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality last year. Seven hundred acres of wildlife habitat, seagull nesting sites, and produce gardens may be nice, but they're not cutting any carbon.

8. FirstEnergy's (NYSE: FE  ) Generation Bruce Mansfield plant almost exactly matches Monroe's emissions, but it plops its own pollution in Pennsylvania. Bruce is coughing out carbon today, but FirstEnergy submitted a closure plan for the plant in March and has been busy closing down coal-fired power plants across the board.

Source: FirstEnergy. 

7. AEP's Ohio Power Company General James M. Gavin Plant ups the ante with 16.6 MMT of carbon emissions. This should come as no surprise to the plant's 200 neighbors, residents of small-town Cheshire. An interesting documentary takes a closer look at the local impact of a polluting power plant, as well as AEP's proposed solution to Cheshire's predicament.

6. Duke Energy's (NYSE: DUK  ) Gibson plant in Indiana adds 16.9 MMT of carbon to America's atmosphere every year. With 3,145 MW capacity spread across five units, Gibson claims the title of Duke's largest power plant. Built in 1982, Gibson was at one time the largest coal plant in the United States and the third largest in the world. Although it's still operational today, Gibson may be a goner in future, as Duke spends $9 billion to retire more than 3,400 MW of coal-fired units.

Source: Duke Energy. 

5. NRG Energy's Texas Power WA Parish plant makes the top five, but its days of emissions may soon be over. The Department of Energy and NRG are splitting $338 million to run a carbon capture experiment on the plant, potentially paving the way for "cleaner coal." The company has big plans and hopes that extracted carbon dioxide can eventually be used to enhance oil extraction operations in the Texas Gulf Coast. Now that's carbon trading.

Source: NRG Energy 

4. Ameren's (NYSE: AEE  ) Union Electric Labadie plant in Missouri, located 35 miles outside St. Louis, inches closer to a top spot with 18.8 MMT. Coal waste has been an issue for residents and shareholders alike. According to SourceWatch, the plant's ash pond has been seeping around 35 gallons of coal byproduct every minute since 1992. Locals opposed a new coal ash site in 2010, and a 2011 shareholder resolution to disclose waste-management practice risks missed a majority vote by 4 percentage points.

3. Privately owned Luminant Generation's Texas Martin Lake power plant takes third place, emitting 18.8 MMT of carbon every year. They say everything's bigger in Texas, but second and first place suggest otherwise.

2 and 1. Southern (NYSE: SO  ) snags silver and gold for most polluting plants. Its Alabama James Miller Jr. facility emits 20.7 MMT a year, while Georgia's Scherer plant emits 21.3 MMT, more carbon dioxide pollution than all of Maine consumes in a year. That's a lot of lobster boils. Scherer is a joint venture operation (NextEra Energy (NYSE: NEE  ) has 76% ownership in one of four units) and provides around 3,520 MW of capacity to the Southeast. The plant may be the top polluter, but it also pulls its weight in generation and has churned out 21 billion net MW of generation since 1982.

Source: Southern. 

Cutting out the carbon
These 10 facilities are the worst of the worst. The quest for clean power isn't as easy as pointing fingers at polluting plants -- but it's a start. Coal is a common characteristic of all 10 plants, and smart utilities are already making their exit from this carbon-emitting fuel source. With this hit list in hand, carbon cleanup is clearer than ever. From natural gas to wind, alternatives exist that won't ever make this list. Progressive power companies are already cutting out coal and exploring options that reveal coal for what it really is -- a carbon clunker.

Coal used to be king, but investors have seen their profits piddled away in recent years. The best investing approach is to choose great companies and stick with them for the long term. The Motley Fool's free report "3 Stocks That Will Help You Retire Rich" names stocks that could help you build long-term wealth and retire well, along with some winning wealth-building strategies that every investor should be aware of. Click here now to keep reading.

Read/Post Comments (7) | Recommend This Article (3)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On September 14, 2013, at 1:26 PM, prginww wrote:

    You guys know that all you did was name the largest producers of electricity in the country right?

  • Report this Comment On September 14, 2013, at 2:33 PM, prginww wrote:

    You let them run for their normal useful life. It's not going to effect the global temperature to close them early.

  • Report this Comment On September 14, 2013, at 4:49 PM, prginww wrote:

    The democrats are destroying the coal industry gambling on cheap NatGas to save their jobs. However when everyone switches to NatGas it can only go higher and when Americans see their electric bills sky rocket democrats will have a hard time being elected Dog Catcher.

  • Report this Comment On September 14, 2013, at 5:38 PM, prginww wrote:

    If everyone would change out their incandescent bulbs for LED's we could close many of them without having to replace them.

  • Report this Comment On September 14, 2013, at 8:17 PM, prginww wrote:

    For an article on power plants, it's best to employ a writer that knows the difference between power (MW) and energy (MWHrs).

  • Report this Comment On September 14, 2013, at 8:23 PM, prginww wrote:

    So I guess the choice is "dirty" coal power plants or dead birds from wind farms or ugly solar panels!

    Coal wins in my book....besides, they have many plants that employ the new technologies that make burning coal very clean!

    The greenies keep pushing the wind farms that are proven kill birds....especially eagles!

  • Report this Comment On September 14, 2013, at 11:48 PM, prginww wrote:

    Presumably, if you're worried about "dirtiest" plants, the correct metric wouldn't be total CO2 emissions. It might be CO2 intensity, or some weighted damage function of CO2, SO2, NOX, arsenic, and mercury emissions. Indeed, these plants still may be the dirtiest, but perhaps not...

    Ideally, it seems that you could take the social damage of each plant and weigh it against each other, using fuel combustion as a weighted metric. But simply listing the most CO2 emissions? That's partially a metric of size.

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