About the Power Sector Opportunties Fact Sheet Series

This series of fact sheets aims to shed light on these opportunities by illustrating the CO₂ emissions-reduction potential from measures in a variety of states. For example, states could build off of existing initiatives like renewable portfolio standards, energy efficiency standards, and other policies as well as use tools like greater efficiency at coal plants, increased use of combined heat and power, and fuller utilization of unused capacity at natural gas plants. We show how emissions savings from these existing policies and infrastructure stack up against the reductions that could be required under forthcoming standards.


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 Pennsylvania can use its existing policies and infrastructure to reduce power plant emissions.

Executive Summary

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, Pennsylvania would be required to reduce its CO2 emissions in the range of 22 to 31 percent below 2011 levels by 2020. WRI analysis finds that Pennsylvania can reduce its CO2 emissions 21 percent below 2011 levels by 2020. These reductions would meet or exceed moderately ambitious EPA power plant emissions standards.

CO2 reduction opportunities using existing policies include:

  • Meeting alternative energy targets. Pennsylvania has an alternative energy standard in place requiring 8 percent of the state’s electricity to come from renewables by 2021. Meeting this requirement by adding new renewable generation in Pennsylvania will reduce CO2 emissions by 4 percent below 2011 levels in 2020.
  • Meeting energy efficiency targets. Pennsylvania’s existing efficiency standard requires utilities to implement programs that help customers save energy. Meeting this standard can reduce Pennsylvania’s CO2 emissions by 11 percent below 2011 levels in 2020.

CO2 reduction opportunities using available infrastructure include:

  • Using more combined heat and power (CHP). Pennsylvania 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 by only 26 percent could reduce CO2 emissions by 3 percent below 2011 levels in 2020.
  • Using more gas. Pennsylvania’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 3 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 2 percent below 2011 levels by 2020.

Pennsylvania 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 energy efficiency standard past 2016 to achieve annual energy reductions in the range of 1.5–2 percent is a cost-effective way to position the state to achieve stringent standards.