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Mexico, U.S. and Canadian fossil fuel plants compared

Power plants that burn fossil fuels are responsible for more greenhouse gases than any other industrial sector. These were the findings in a new detailed report and database released by the Commission for Environmental Cooperation, entitled...


Power plants that burn fossil fuels are responsible for more greenhouse gases than any other industrial sector. These were the findings in a new detailed report and database released by the Commission for Environmental Cooperation, entitled North American Power Plant Air Emissions

Taking into account Canada, the U.S. and Mexico, the report says North America has over 3,000 fossil fuel burning power plants, mostly coal, although also including oil and natural gas-fired plants.

The plants emit sulfur dioxide, mercury and greenhouse gases — all pollutants linked to environmental problems such as acid rain, climate change, smog and asthma.

The fossil fuel electricity-generating sector represents 33 % of North American greenhouse gas emissions, and 6% of global emissions. The emissions are mainly carbon dioxide from the combustion of coal. Natural gas plants in Canada and Mexico are also major sources of methane and nitrous oxide, both potent greenhouse gases. Mercury emissions are 98% sourced from coal-fired plants.

The report found that the age, capacity and efficiency of power plants were a significant factor. For example, many of the largest U.S. coal fired plants had lower emissions of carbon dioxide per unit of electricity produced than the largest facilities in Canada and Mexico. Similarly, Mexico’s three top emitting plants produced “considerable higher” emissions of sulfur dioxide per unit of electricity than the three top emitters in Canada and the U.S.  These results suggest “differences in environmental controls and performance,” said the report.

CEC executive director Evan Lloyd said: “North America’s continuing reliance on fossil fuel electricity comes at a steep price in terms of air pollution and public health, and the challenge, and the long-term benefits, of making the transition to a cleaner, low carbon economy.”

The report builds on an earlier CEC assessment that was published in 2004. To view the 2011 report, click here

The Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) was established by Canada, Mexico and the U.S. to implement NAFTA’s side accord, the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation (NAAEC).