For the seventh consecutive year, the largest source of planet-warming greenhouse gases in the United States is a coal-fired power plant in Alabama.
According to data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Alabama Power’s James H. Miller Jr. Electric Generating Plant in Jefferson County emitted more greenhouse gases than any other power plant, oil and gas refinery or factory in the country in 2021.
Plant Miller, located about 20 miles outside of Birmingham, has topped that list every year since 2015.
In 2021, Miller released nearly 21 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (or CO2 equivalent), 5 million tons more than the next facility on the list, a coal-fired power plant in Missouri.
Plant Miller isn’t the largest coal plant in the country by total capacity, but Alabama Power media relations manager Alyson Tucker said the plant is atop the list because it is a large plant with long run times.
“Plant Miller is an efficient, low-cost producer of electricity and appears on this type of list primarily because it’s a very large plant – one of the largest in the country – with a safe and reliable run time that exceeds other power plants,” Tucker said via email.
Tucker said Alabama Power has reduced its carbon emissions at other facilities across the state.
“As a company, we have achieved significant carbon reductions – 36 percent across our generation fleet from 2007-2021 – and expect carbon emissions to be further reduced over time,” Tucker said.
Many large coal-fired power plants across the country have been retired or converted to run on natural gas, which generates lower carbon emissions, including in Alabama.
Gases like CO2, methane and chlorofluorocarbons trap heat in the atmosphere, and have contributed to an increase in global temperatures of roughly 1 degree Celsius, according to NASA.
Many utilities, including Southern Company, Alabama Power’s parent organization, have pledged to reduce carbon emissions in the future.
Emissions at Miller have remained relatively stable since 2010, fluctuating between 17-22 million metric tons of carbon emissions from 2010 and 2021, while many of the other large plants have dropped from the top of the list due to closure or conversion to natural gas.
Tucker said no plans have been announced for Plant Miller to retire or convert to natural gas, even as Southern Company, Alabama Power’s parent group, has established a “net-zero” carbon emissions goal by 2050.
Charline Whyte, Senior Campaign Representative for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign in Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi, said Alabama Power’s continued reliance on coal harms the planet by continuing to release such high levels of greenhouse gases when cleaner options are available.
“What Plant Miller really represents is the new climate change denial: climate delay,” Whyte said via email. “Unfortunately, we cannot buy back time. The longer Plant Miller remains operational, the more irreparable damage it will wreak on the environment, the people and customers’ wallets.”
Whyte said that while Southern Company has pledged net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, the company and its subsidiaries like Alabama Power have not shown enough action on that pledge.
“Southern Company wants us to believe that they’re sincere about tackling climate change by making a commitment to reach ‘net-zero’ carbon emissions by 2050, but it’s hard to reconcile a common urgency when they won’t even consider retiring the No. 1 greenhouse gas polluter anytime within the next 20 years,” Whyte said.
“At the end of the day, Southern Company needs to exit the coal business. Coal pollution makes it harder for us to breathe and gives our kids asthma, and the coal ash left behind threatens the safety of our water supply. We have the technology to transition to a clean energy economy, right now. We just need to keep pushing Southern Company to do the right thing.”
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