President Obama announced the first-ever National Climate Plan for the United States in June 2013. Under the plan, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will set carbon pollution standards for power plants. In September 2013, EPA introduced emissions standards for new power plants and is expected to announce standards for existing plants in 2014. Once EPA establishes those standards, states will develop and implement their own plans to achieve the necessary emissions reductions.

In this fact sheet, WRI examines how Illinois can use its existing policies and infrastructure to reduce power plant emissions.

Read about additional analyses in WRI’s fact sheet series, Power Sector Opportunities for Reducing Carbon Dioxide Emissions.

Executive Summary

WRI analysis finds that Illinois can reduce its CO2 emissions 35 percent below 2011 levels by 2020. These reductions would meet or exceed moderately ambitious EPA power plant emissions standards. Although EPA has not yet announced what its power plant emissions standards will look like, WRI based its analysis on two hypothetical standards. Under these scenarios, Illinois would be required to reduce its CO2 emissions in the range of 32 to 37 percent below 2011 levels by 2020.

CO2 reduction opportunities using existing policies include:

  • Meeting renewable energy targets. Illinois has a renewable energy standard in place requiring 25 percent of the electricity sold by its investor-owned utilities to come from renewables by 2025. Meeting this requirement by adding new renewable generation in Illinois will reduce CO2 emissions by 17 percent below 2011 levels in 2020.

  • Meeting energy efficiency targets. The state’s existing efficiency standard requires utilities to implement programs that help customers save energy. Meeting this standard can reduce Illinois’ CO2 emissions by 9 percent below 2011 levels in 2020.

CO2 reduction opportunities using available infrastructure include:

  • Using more gas. The state’s most efficient natural gas plants—combined cycle (NGCC) units—generated much less electricity than they were capable of producing in 2011. Running existing NGCC plants at 75 percent can reduce CO2 emissions by 8 percent below 2011 levels in 2020.

  • Increasing existing coal plant efficiency. Existing coal plants could save energy by upgrading their equipment and making other operational 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). Illinois has the potential to use more CHP systems—which use waste heat to generate electricity more efficiently than the average power plant—at sites like universities, hospitals, and manufacturing facilities. Increasing the use of CHP could help the state meet its energy efficiency targets.

Illinois is in a good position to comply with moderately ambitious standards for existing power plants if it builds off its progress to date. Weakening or repealing existing measures would make meeting emissions standards more difficult. Taking additional action could help the state achieve greater emissions reductions and adhere to ambitious standards, should EPA pursue them. For example, expanding the existing renewable energy target past 2025 by 1 percent per year is a cost-effective way to position the state to achieve stringent standards in the long term.