One of the marvels of the modern age is the availability of reliable electricity. You do not have to go back many generations to find individuals who grew up on farms or communities without electricity. Ask your parents, grandparents or great-grandparents if they remember life before the Rural Electrification Act of 1935 when only 10% of rural residents had electricity. Or maybe you have experienced being without power for a few hours after a thunderstorm or even for days and weeks following a hurricane.
On most days and nights, if you need electricity to read by or use your computer all you have to do is flip a switch or push a button. But do you know where your electricity comes from? What is the fuel source to your power company?
Of course, almost all power companies rely on a combination of fuel sources: coal, natural gas, nuclear, hydroelectric, other renewables, or petroleum. In that way, they can shield the consumers and stockholders from large shifts in the prices of commodities and construction for facilities. But a great deal of information on electricity production (residential and industrial) is available from the Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration .
Twenty states (WV, IN, KY, WY, ND, UT, OH, MO, NM, KS, IO, NE, MI, CO, WI, GA, MN, MD, NC, and TN) generate more than 50% of their electricity from coal. In fact, more than 90% of the power in West Virginia, Indiana, Kentucky and Wyoming is from coal. Only 5 states (RI, NV, FL, MA, and AK) use natural gas for over 50% of their electrical generation. And of those states, only Alaska is a natural gas production state. The others must depend on natural gas transmission pipelines or liquefied natural gas import terminals.
Nuclear power is generated in the fewest number of states and only 5 states (VT, CT, NJ, SC, and IL) generate over 50% of their electricity from this source. Hydroelectric power generates electricity to some extent in a number of states. Over 50% of the power in WA, ID, OR, SD, and MT is from hydroelectric and it is over 85% in Washington, Idaho and Oregon.
Almost all states have some level of electricity generation from renewable fuels other than hydroelectric, including wind, solar, geothermal, and biomass. While the use of other renewables is not at 50% in any state yet, over 10% of the electricity in Maine, Iowa, Minnesota and California is generated from this fuel source category.
Petroleum-fired power plants produce the smallest amount of America’s electricity. And the only state with greater than 50% of generation in this manner is Hawaii, where over 82% of the electricity comes from petroleum-fired sources.
Depending on where you live and the manner in which electricity in your state is regulated, you may have a choice of electricity provider or fuel source. Contact your state’s Public Service Commission or State Energy Conservation Office to learn more about your power options.
About the author: Rob Lawrence joined EPA in 1990 and is Senior Policy Advisor on Energy Issues in the Dallas, TX regional office. As an economist, he works to insure that both supply and demand components are addressed as the Region develops its Clean Energy and Climate Change Strategy.