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

Executive Summary

WRI analysis finds that Tennessee can reduce its CO2 emissions 41 percent below 2011 levels by 2020. These reductions would meet or exceed ambitious EPA power plant emissions standards.

CO2 reduction opportunities using available infrastructure include:

  • Using more combined heat and power (CHP). Tennessee can build more CHP systems at existing facilities—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 to achieve 25 percent of additional technical potential in 2030 can reduce CO2 emissions by 4 percent below 2011 levels in 2020.

  • Increasing use of existing natural gas plants. Tennessee’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 11 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 in 2020.

CO2 reduction opportunities using clean energy include:

  • Improving energy efficiency. The Tennessee Valley Authority, the state’s largest utility, offers a variety of energy-saving programs to its customers. If Tennessee commits to achieving 1 percent annual energy savings, Tennessee could reduce CO2 emissions by 10 percent in 2020 compared to 2011 levels.

  • Increasing renewable energy. Tennessee increased its use of renewable energy by an average of 2.9 percent per year over the past decade, such that renewables contributed 14 percent to the state’s total generation in 2013. By continuing this same rate of increase, through a variety of measures, Tennessee could generate 16 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020, reducing its CO2 emissions 9 percent in 2020 compared to 2011 levels.

By taking advantage of available infrastructure and underutilized resources, Tennessee is in a good position to comply with ambitious EPA standards for existing power plants in the near-term. By adopting stronger measures that support renewable energy and energy efficiency development, the state can put itself in a strong position to meet even more ambitious power plant standards in the long-term.