Power plants are responsible for the bulk of the pollution blamed for global warming, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, which this week released its most detailed data yet of greenhouse gases.
One Kansas plant – the Jeffrey Energy Center northwest of Topeka – ranked as one of the nation’s top 20 producers of carbon dioxide emissions, according to a survey.
Other Westar power plants in Lawrence and Tecumseh rank among the state’s top contributors to global warming, according to an Eagle analysis of the EPA survey — the first of its kind to catalog contributors of greenhouse gas emissions.
Power plants released 72 percent of the greenhouse gases reported to the Environmental Protection Agency for 2010. The results of the report could be used to set policy to reduce carbon emissions, which constitutes 95 percent of all heat-trapping gases.
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“A lot of the sources are associated with fuel consumption,” said Tom Gross, chief of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment’s Bureau of Air. “The bigger the boiler, the more fuel it burns.”
Wester had already begun more than $200 million in environmental improvements at Jeffrey as a part of a January 2010 agreement with the Department of Justice to settle a lawsuit that contended the coal plant in Pottawatomie County had violated the Clean Air Act.
That same year, the Jeffrey center reported to the EPA that it produced about 14.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, ranking it 17th in the nation. The EPA said that is the same amount of carbon dioxide produced by burning by 1.4 billion gallons of gasoline.
“Jeffrey Energy Center is the power plant with the greatest output of greenhouse gas emissions in Kansas because it is the state’s largest power plant,” said Gina Penzig, Westar’s director of corporate communications.
“Proven technology is not available to capture carbon dioxide from power plants, but Westar has embarked on several initiatives that offset greenhouse gas emissions,” Penzig added. “We have the largest commercial wind energy program in the state and offer our customers a variety of energy-efficiency programs to help reduce their energy cost and benefit the environment.”
The La Cygne power plant was second in the state for carbon dioxide emissions with 9 million metric tons, which ranked 63rd in the report. The EPA report included data submitted by more than 6,700 industries, which represent about 80 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emission. Nine Kansas facilities reported producing 1 million metric tons or more of carbon dioxide, including the crude oil refinery in El Dorado. The Butler County refinery produces 1.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions, equal to burning more than 156 million gallons of gasoline, according to an EPA greenhouse gas calculator.
Penzig estimates Jeffrey powers about 1.5 million homes. An EPA greenhouse gas calculator shows emissions by the Jeffrey plant equal the average amount produced in one year by generating electricity for 1.6 million homes.
Westar continuously monitors the emissions of the plant, which it reports to KDHE as part of a 2008 agreement.
“We are the only utility in Kansas to have an agreement with Kansas Department of Health and Environment to develop a plan to identify commercially feasible, cost-effective means to mitigation (greenhouse gas) emissions,” Penzig said.
Other Wester programs aim to reduce sulfur dioxide by 90 percent and nitrogen oxide by 75 percent. The utility hopes to reach those goals by 2015.
Greenhouse gas emissions aren’t an immediate health threat.
“There are not the short-term health risks of toxic chemicals polluting the air,” Gross said. “This is more for long-term analysis for trends and evaluating strategies.”