As the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) moves forward with standards to reduce power plant emissions—which are due to be finalized in June 2015—many states are wondering how they will comply. WRI’s fact sheet series, Power Sector Opportunities for Reducing Carbon Dioxide Emissions, examines the policies and pathways various states can use to cost-effectively meet or even exceed future power plant emissions standards. This post explores these opportunities in Illinois. Read about additional analyses in this series.
Like all U.S. states, Illinois will need to reduce its power sector carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in order to alleviate climate change impacts and comply with future EPA standards. The good news is that the state has already taken steps to reduce its emissions, including saving energy and increasing its use of renewable energy sources. And, Illinois has the potential to go even further. New WRI analysis finds that Illinois can reduce its CO2 emissions 35 percent below 2011 levels by 2020 just by complying with current policies and taking advantage of existing infrastructure. Achieving these reductions will allow Illinois to meet or exceed moderately ambitious EPA power plant emissions standards, which are due to be finalized in 2015.
Illinois’ Power Sector Is Getting Cleaner
Power sector CO2 emissions in Illinois fell 2 percent between 2005 and 2011, even as electricity generation increased by 3 percent. This is mainly because Illinois has been using less coal for electricity generation while increasing its use of renewable sources. Renewable generation increased seven-fold between 2005 and 2011, while coal generation fell 2 percent. Over 800 MW of new wind and solar capacity were added in 2012 and renewable sources comprised 7 percent of all electric capacity.
The state’s reliance on coal will continue to decrease as aging coal plants are retired. As of 2012, nine coals plants in the state, comprising 15 percent of existing coal capacity, were slated for retirement. But coal still comprised 45 percent of in-state generation in 2011, while nuclear and renewable sources comprised 48 percent and 4 percent, respectively.
How Illinois Can Meet Future Emissions Standards
As we discussed in a blog post in August, states may have considerable flexibility in how they comply with EPA’s forthcoming power plant emissions standards. EPA could allow states to pursue a range of CO2 reduction opportunities—including greater use of existing lower-carbon power plants, increased use of renewables, and energy efficiency, among other strategies. Our analysis found that Illinois could use the following tools to reduce its power sector CO2 emissions:
- Meeting renewable energy targets. Illinois already has a renewable energy standard in place, requiring 25 percent of the electricity from its investor-owned utilities to come from renewable sources by 2025. By meeting this requirement with in-state renewable generation, Illinois can reduce its CO2 emissions by 17 percent below 2011 levels by 2020.
- Meeting energy efficiency targets. The state’s existing efficiency standard requires utilities to implement programs that help customers save energy at their homes and businesses. Meeting this standard can reduce CO2 emissions by 9 percent below 2011 levels by 2020.
- Using more gas. The most efficient natural gas plants in Illinois – combined cycle (NGCC) units—generated much less electricity than they were capable of producing in 2011. Running existing NGCC plants at 75 percent capacity can reduce CO2 emissions by 8 percent below 2011 levels by 2020.
- Increasing existing coal plant efficiency. Existing coal plants could save energy by upgrading their equipment and making other operations improvements. Increasing coal plant efficiency by 2.5 percent could reduce CO2 emissions by 1 percent below 2011 levels by 2020.
- Using more combined heat and power (CHP) at commercial and industrial sites. Businesses like universities, hospitals, industrial manufacturers, and others can save energy by installing combined heat and power (CHP) systems, which generate electricity more efficiently than the average power plant. Illinois is currently only using about 15 percent of its CHP potential of nearly 9 gigawatts. Increasing the use of CHP could help the state meet its energy efficiency resource standard.