U.S. CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

Energy Blog

Energy Blog

US Chamber of Commerce Blog

Sean Hackbarth Power transmission lines are suspended from an electricity pylon in Clifton, New Jersey.Photo credit: Steve Hockstein/Bloomberg.

Everyone love lists. We’re fascinated discovering what are the biggest, the fastest, the most-popular, the greatest.

In 2015 Forbes contributor James Conca put together a list of the biggest power plants in the United States. Instead of listing the plants that could produce the most electricity, he gathered a list of the plants that did produce the most electricity.

I haven’t seen him update the list, so I went ahead on my own using Energy Information Administration 2015 data. It shows how important nuclear and fossil fuels are to producing the baseload power that keeps the lights on and keeps our economy moving.

Some observations:

First, eight of the top ten power plants are nuclear. Nuclear plants dominate the list because they run almost 24/7 over long periods of time. As Conca noted nuclear power plants have high average capacity factors (90%) and get closer to their full generating capacity than other types of power plants. Compare nuclear power to more-intermittent, less-reliable renewable electricity sources like hydropower (40%), wind (30%), solar thermal (24%), and solar photovoltaic (20%). Because of nuclear's importance, the federal government must fulfill its legal responsibility by building a permanent nuclear waste storage facility at Nevada’s Yucca Mountain.

Second, the largest power plant in the United States, and the seventh largest in the world—Grand Coulee Damn—didn’t generate the most electricity in 2015. This could be due to factors like the amount of rainfall in the Pacific Northwest last year. It shows that being the biggest doesn’t mean you generate the most. It’s more important to run at a consistently high capacity for long periods of time.

Third, two fossil fuel power plants made the list. Despite this, don’t underestimate coal and natural gas’ importance to the power grid. According to the Energy Information Administration, in 2015, coal fueled about one-third of all our electricity. (Nuclear generates about one-fifth.) It’s unwise for the federal government to be attacking this critical energy source with regulations like EPA’s Clean Power Plan.

As for natural gas, its share of electricity production was also about one-third in 2015. An advantage of natural gas plants is an abundance of cheap fuel—thanks, fracking. But on the flip-side, these power plants need pipelines to get that fuel. Regulators and anti-fossil fuel activists are blocking needed pipelines and energy infrastructure to turn cheap fuel into electricity.

Fourth, could wind or solar power ever make this list? Anything is possible, but wind and solar have to scale a lot. The Alta Wind Energy Center in California, the largest onshore wind farm in the United States, generates 2,600 GWh of electricity. The output of the 3,200 acre facility would have to multiply by seven to make it on the list. The mountain for solar is steeper. The world's largest solar thermal power station, California's Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, stretching over 3,500 acres, is expected to generate 940 GWh of electricity annually. To make the list, it would need to increase electricity generation by 1900%.

Renewable power has a place in America’s diverse energy mix—see the Grand Coulee Dam--but as this list shows, wind and solar aren’t capable of replacing the big nuclear and fossil fuel power plants that make up the backbone of our power grid.

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Does America need an "All of the Above" energy strategy? Find out here. This Chamber Explainer will get you up to speed.

 

Below is the list of the top ten producing power plants in the United States.

1. Palo Verde Nuclear Station

State: Arizona
Fuel source: Nuclear
Electricity generated in 2015: 32,525,595 mWhs

palo_verde_site_aerial_photo_02-22-13.jpg Palo Verde Nuclear Generating StationPalo Verde Nuclear Generating StationPalo Verde Nuclear Generating Station. Photo credit: Arizona Public Service.
  2. Browns Ferry Nuclear Station

State: Alabama
Fuel source: Nuclear
Electricity generated in 2015: 27,669,694 mWhs

wikimediacommons_browns_ferry.jpg Browns Ferry Nuclear Station in AlabamaBrowns Ferry Nuclear Station in AlabamaBrowns Ferry Nuclear Station.
  3. Oconee Nuclear Generating Station

State: South Carolina
Fuel source: Nuclear
Electricity generated in 2015: 21,939,740 mWhs

oconee-aerial-2010_duke_energy.jpg Oconee Nuclear Generating StationOconee Nuclear Generating StationOconee Nuclear Generating Station. Photo credit: Duke Energy.
  4. West County Energy Center

State: Florida
Fuel source: Natural gas
Electricity generated in 2015: 20,428,360 mWhs

west-county_fpl.jpg West County Energy Center in FloridaWest County Energy Center in FloridaWest County Energy Center. Photo credit: FPL.
  5. Braidwood Nuclear Station

State: Illinois
Fuel source: Nuclear
Electricity generated in 2015: 19,740,011 mWhs

bloomberg_braidwood_il_nuclear.jpg Braidwood Nuclear Station in Illinois.Braidwood Nuclear Station in Illinois.Braidwood Nuclear Station. Photo credit: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg.
  6. Byron Nuclear Generating Station

State: Illinois
Fuel source: Nuclear
Electricity generated in 2015: 19,478,139 mWhs

wikimediacommons_byron_nuclear_power_plant_il.jpg Byron Nuclear Generating Station in IllinoisByron Nuclear Generating Station in IllinoisByron Nuclear Generating Station. Photo credit: Ben Jacobson. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic license.
  7. South Texas Project Nuclear Station

State: Texas
Fuel source: Nuclear
Electricity generated in 2015: 19,400,553 mWhs

bloomberg_southtexasprojectnuclear.jpg South Texas Project Nuclear StationSouth Texas Project Nuclear StationSouth Texas Project Nuclear Station. Photo credit: F. Carter Smith/Bloomberg.
  8. Limerick Nuclear Generating Station

State: Pennsylvania
Fuel source: Nuclear
Electricity generated in 2015: 18,904,377 mWhs

bloomberg_limerick_nuclear.jpg Limerick Nuclear Power Station in PennsylvaniaLimerick Nuclear Power Station in PennsylvaniaLimerick Nuclear Power Station. Photo credit: Bradley C. Bower/Bloomberg.
  9. Grand Coulee Hydroelectric Station

State: Washington
Fuel source: Hydroelectric
Electricity generated in 2015: 18,838,602 mWhs

wikimediacommons_grand_coulee_dam_in_the_evening.jpg Grand Coulee Dam in Washington State.Grand Coulee Dam in Washington State.Grand Coulee Dam. Photo credit: Steven Pavlov. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.
  10. James H. Miller, Jr. Electrical Generating Plant

State: Alabama
Fuel source: Coal
Electricity generated in 2015: 17,815,891 mWhs

Alabama Power's Plant Miller How Electricity Is Generated 3D Animated Tour
Steve Case A Samsung Galaxy S5 smartphone, and an Apple iPhone 5c.Photo credit: Brent Lewin/Bloomberg

To the 45th President of the United States

From: Steve Case

Dear 45,

Welcome [back] to Washington! As you move into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and go to work on your agenda, I want to remind you that 250 years ago America itself was a startup. It was just an idea. And now we’re the leader of the free world ― in large part because we have the leading economy.

dear45-logo.jpg Dear 45 logo That didn’t happen by accident. It was entrepreneurs who led the way in the agricultural revolution. It was entrepreneurs who led the industrial revolution. More recently, entrepreneurs led the technology revolution. That’s why we are home to the largest, most innovative economy in the world.

Today, we’re at the dawn of a new economic order ― what I call the Internet's Third Wave. I’m convinced that people don’t realize how fast the tectonic plates of our economy are about to shift. Because of significant advances in technology and the ubiquity of the “Internet Of Everything," entrepreneurs now have the tools to transform major sectors of the economy and in the process change the way we live our lives. That means innovating in health, education, financial services, energy, transportation and food. It means that some of America’s oldest corporations may get toppled. And it means changing how we think about work itself, as more people opt (or need) to embrace flexible schedules possible in the freelance economy. 

In order to create the conditions for companies, workers and the country to continue to lead in this Third Wave, we need to adopt a new playbook. For the next president, that means fixing our broken immigration system so we win the battle to attract and retain talented innovators from across the globe; reforming securities laws to increase access to capital so everyone has the opportunity to put their idea into practice; and modernizing the social safety net to reflect the “uberization” of more jobs. And it means we need to have an open, constructive dialogue between government and innovators so we balance the need to enable companies to grow while putting in common-sense regulations that reflect this new economic order. 

 

The First Wave was about building the Internet itself ― and government played a key role. Companies like AOL, Cisco and AT&T helped to lay the foundation for the online world. The Second Wave was about building apps and mobile capabilities on top of the Internet ― companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter and Waze led the way. I’m optimistic about the future of our country and the future of entrepreneurship as we enter the Third Wave ― especially if we make important decisions today that ensure a strong startup culture in the years ahead.

I’m looking forward to working with you on these important issues.

Sincerely,

Steve Case
Chairman of Revolution and The Case Foundation

Sean Hackbarth Power lines near a coal power plant in Winfield, West Virginia.Power lines near a coal power plant in Winfield, West Virginia. Photo credit: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg. Why is energy so important?


Without energy, almost nothing in your home works. Not your air conditioner, your lights, your computer, your phone, your refrigerator.  Not even your car.  Nothing.

No business can run without energy either. It is as vital as other economic inputs, such as labor and raw materials. When energy is more affordable, a business can invest in other parts of the business. But when energy becomes less affordable – because of market forces or regulations that restrict production – businesses can’t hire more workers, pay employees more, invest in better equipment, or grow the business.

Over the past few years, we’ve been blessed with an American energy renaissance. Both oil and natural gas production have skyrocketed. Energy imports have declined and the United States is now exporting energy to hungry global markets. This abundance has attracted manufacturing and investment to the United States.

eia_electricity_generation_2016.png Energy Information Administration chart on electricity generation sources for 2016.Energy Information Administration chart on electricity generation sources for 2016.


One of America’s greatest strengths is its diverse portfolio of energy resources.  In 2016, natural gas is forecasted to provide 33% of electricity, coal 32%, nuclear 19%, renewables 8%, and hydropower 6%.  That kind of diversity helps our economy withstand the ups and downs of markets, and ensures that we aren’t overly reliant on one particular resource.

There are loud voices who claim that America is on the wrong track and who seek to limit the varieties of energy we have available.  They’re misguided and wrong.

But wait: Why is there a war on American energy?


Instead of embracing all kinds of energy production wherever it makes economic sense and with appropriate environmental protections, energy opponents want government to pick energy winners and losers. They wish we abandoned fossil fuels, “keep it in the ground,” and blindly hope that renewable energy can somehow supply our needs. But that’s simply impossible with an economy and lifestyle that is dependent upon always-available, 24/7 energy.

Listen to the The Business Impact podcast on the value of energy diversity.

President Barack Obama’s administration is doing plenty to help this ill-devised attack on our modern way of life. With oil and natural gas, the Administration has blocked development off the Atlantic Coast, made it nearly impossible to access our resources in the Arctic Ocean, and issued unnecessary regulations to burden onshore federal lands.

The Administration has in particular waged a ruthless “War on Coal.”  EPA has launched a series of regulatory attacks on coal-fired power plants – the biggest being EPA’s Clean Power Plan. Through an expansive suite of regulations, the president is doing all he can to make coal (and coal-related jobs) a thing of the past.

Then what’s the argument for more energy development?


First, we get more oil, natural gas, and coal to power our economy.

We’ve seen the benefits from domestic oil and natural gas development—both on and offshore. Because of advanced extraction methods (like fracking), the United States has increased total energy production for six-straight years, despite a 10% decrease in coal production.

With increased domestic oil and natural gas production, U.S. energy security has improved for three years straight, according to the Institute of 21st Century Energy’s Index of U.S. Energy Security Risk, and oil prices have fallen from $110 a barrel in 2014 to under $50 a barrel in 2016. As a result, households have saved $747.30 per year on energy costs between 2008 and 2014.

u-s-oil-production-2008-2015.png  2008-2015U.S. oil production: 2008-2015


Second, there are the jobs created through energy production. According to the American Petroleum Institute, oil and natural gas supports 9.8 million jobs, and coal supports over 700,000 jobs, according to the National Mining Association.

Third, we become less dependent on energy from other countries, especially ones that don’t like us. In 2005, the United States imported 30% of its energy demand. That’s now down to below 10%. Because of the shale energy boom, we are now exporting oil and natural gas around the world.

This trend can continue by opening up more areas to energy development and removing unnecessary regulatory barriers to ensure continued access and increased energy security and affordability.

Can we produce energy safely?


We can and we do – every day.

Take oil and natural gas. Despite anti-fracking fear mongers’ protests, propaganda “documentaries,” and millions of dollars spent trying to convince people that hydraulic fracturing is dangerous, neither government nor university researchers have found that it hurts the environment.  In the words of an EPA draft report, fracking has not had “widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water.

Energy companies have every incentive to be mindful of the environment, and regulators at every level enforce regulations and issue permits to ensure energy development is done properly.

What about protecting the environment?


It is being done. Hey, we live here, too. We all want clean air and clear water.

History has shown that economic growth leads to environmental progress. Economic development drives technological progress that allows economies to produce more goods and services with less waste.

With higher incomes from a growing economy, we have more means available to protect the environment. Based on many indicators, our atmosphere is today cleaner when it comes to methane, ozone, and sulfur dioxide (a component of acid rain). Only a vibrant economy can generate the technologies needed to accomplish this.

epa_ozone_chart.jpg EPA ozone air quality chart.EPA ozone air quality chart.


Affordable energy is required to power that economic growth.

As for climate change, it’s about finding the right policies. Just as the problem is global, a solution must also be global in scope, be realistic and achievable – and not put the United States at a competitive disadvantage. The approach that President Obama’s administration is pushing — EPA’s Clean Power Plan — doesn’t meet any of these criteria.

Is there more to the American energy debate than fossil fuels vs. renewables?


Definitely.

Energy isn’t an either-or proposition.  We can continue to use more renewable energy while continuing to enjoy the unique benefits of traditional sources.  As our economy continues to grow, we will need more energy from all sources—and so will the rest of the world.

The energy debate must also focus on energy infrastructure. Whether it’s pipelines to move oil and natural gas, electrical power lines to link the parts of the country where power is produced to where its used, or export facilities to sell coal and other fossil fuels to world markets, these projects are more often the target of opponents and regulatory red tape. In 2015, Washington passed legislation to speed up permitting reviews and approvals. That was welcome. It’s up to organizations like the U.S. Chamber to fight groups who will do or say anything to block these needed projects.

We also must not forget the significant contribution of nuclear power, which supplies the United States with 20% of its electricity. One of the big hurdles facing its continuing viability is the federal government’s failure to follow the law and build a permanent nuclear waste storage facility at Nevada’s Yucca Mountain.  The government should fulfill its responsibility to ensure nuclear power’s continued reliable and emissions-free contribution.

What’s the bottom line?


American economic growth, job creation, and improved quality of life depend on affordable, abundant energy. We can either import it — often from countries that aren’t friendly with us — or rely on domestic sources.

The energy debate shouldn’t be pro- or anti- any fuel source. It has to promote an “All of the above” approach—and it can’t just be rhetoric. That’s the smart path that ensures households and businesses have the energy they need to keep moving and compete in an increasingly competitive world.