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Where Does My Electricity Come From?

2009 September 11

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?

image of electricity transformer towerOf 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.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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37 Responses leave one →
  1. Verdoliva, S; Weber, P.M. permalink
    September 11, 2009

    Great information. thank you 41 World USA-La Crosse Eagle Power, La Crosse, WI 54601

  2. Verdoliva, S; Weber, P.M. permalink
    September 11, 2009

    Thank you for the Electricity and Energy Updates. Professionally,
    41 World USA-La Crosse Eagle Power Co.

  3. Joe permalink
    September 11, 2009

    Other interesting data are:
    How many water electric plants need depending on source of energy?
    Which plants were closed in a drought seasson?

  4. Michael E. Bailey permalink
    September 11, 2009

    I live in Orange County in southern California, only a short distance from the San Diego County line. We get alot of our power from San Anofre Nuclear Generating Station; but, we are also getting more coming on line alternative power sources much cleaner than coal or oil and much safer to have than nuclear. Several wind farms have been set up to create wind power, there is geothermal power coming into the system from Imperial County. There is a major program underway to retrofit solar power panals on the roofs of lower income persons who have power bills above $150.00 a month. I have also seen the Governor’s Climate Change Action Team draft report and if climate change goes here as they predict–longer drier seasons and a little shorter but much more intense wet seasons, then solar and hydrogen will be perfect fits for what the climate will be like. Wind is still going to be a good fit. A brand new alternative power source for us–wave power–will also be a perfect fit for California’s coastal and near coastal areas as the ocean water level will be going up. If we had hydrogen fueled power plants and used solar energy to manufacture the hydrogen we would have developed a pollution free way to provide inexpensive electric power because solar has zero emissions and hydrogen emissions are pure water vapor. Best wishes, Michael E. Bailey.

  5. bgcoffeelover permalink
    September 11, 2009

    I am a friend of Coal <:), and believe that clean use is possible. The clean air act started the move to improve our environment, but we have miles to go. I look at a nearby TVA plant and see a rust colored plume that goes to the horizon on a cool day….. I know my electricity usage contributes to this problem.
    This is what I have done to minimize usage while waiting for a technology change to improve the generating source.
    1. Passive solar – If you have a south facing wall open up the blinds and let the sun heat your home. Winter – the sun is low in the sky and shines straight in, Summer- the sun is high enough in the sky that it will only shine in the morning and evening.
    2. Replace your lamps with new CF bulbs, We like the “daylight” version – bright white light. Works well in “can lights”
    3. Turn down your electric hot water heater to 120 deg F, this is your #1 user.
    4. If it (anything electric) is not in use turn off the power.
    5. Replace any air conditioner or heat pump more than 5 yrs old. Great advances have been made in recent years.

    I have done each of the items above and cut my usage by 30+%.

  6. Jackenson Durand permalink
    September 11, 2009

    I know that in the south region of the greater of Boston in Cape Code Area. We get a wonderful Central Wind power termaninal

  7. bgcoffeelover permalink
    September 12, 2009

    I live in south central Kentucky

  8. Johnny R. permalink
    September 12, 2009

    Harmless sources of electricity is half the answer. The other half is to reduce demand by PEACEFULLY reducing the human population with family planning education and free clinics Worldwide, while safely recycling 100% of all waste and garbage. The slowly shrinking Earth cannot support a growing economy pushed by a growing population.

  9. Rob permalink
    September 15, 2009

    That is a very interesting point. I recall reading a news article last year about water intake structures for a power plant in the southeast that was dangerously close to being unable to take in the needed cooling water in the 2008 drought. I am not sure if any power plants have reached that point this year. It must be considered as part of any adaptation strategy for our changing climate.

  10. Rob permalink
    September 15, 2009

    Reliable, nearby alternative sources are always good options to pursue. Having flexibility in planning allows the industry to adjust to changing conditions – environmental or economic.

  11. Rob permalink
    September 15, 2009

    Thanks for the helpful hints that everyone can implement. #4 on your list is a big issue with me – Why does an electric toothbrush need to be charging 24 hours a day when it is only used for a couple of minutes twice a day?

  12. Jordan S. permalink
    September 28, 2009

    The above comment post makes the common misperception of coal burning being “much safer” than nuclear energy. While nuclear power plant failure is highly publicized and very memorable, it is very rare. Statistics prove it is “much safer” to live next to a nuclear power plant as opposed to a coal fired power plant. The reason being: coal of all kinds when burned releases mercury into the air, which is in turn inhaled by residents living nearby plants. Nuclear plants only release steam and water vapor into the air, but nuclear is not perfect , the by product is highly radioactive waste which has been safely handled for over 50 years with very few incidents. The combination of lead lined containers, concrete, and cooling pools reduces the risk of radiation contamination to nearby residents to zero. The few incidents are very well known, Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. Combined these incidents and lack of reliable knowledge fuel the debate against an energy source that needs new attention. New technologies and techniques for delivering nuclear energy effectively, efficiently, and safely have emerged in the 21st century. I will also note that coal produces carbon, nuclear energy does not. Nuclear energy should not be ignored because it is thought coal is safer.

  13. Jordan S. permalink
    September 28, 2009

    This article discusses natural gas production and relates natural gas production in terms of states. The article reads, “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.” This information is skewed because of the simple fact most of the natural gas produced in the United States is not produced in any state at all. 2,798,718 million cubic feet of natural gas is produced in the Federal Offshore Gulf of Mexico. Alaska produces 433,485 million cubic feet. Numbers are from the Energy Information Administration, official energy statistics from the U.S. government. Numbers as of 2007. Valuable resources are not only found within state borders.

  14. Anonymous permalink
    October 21, 2009

    Where does the N.R.G come from to N.Y?

  15. Derek permalink
    December 10, 2009

    Where do you get your state by state data? I was using the “Power Profiler” on the EPA’s website to look up zipcodes in South Dakota and all of the ones I looked up claimed that around 73% of the energy comes from coal. I realize that this is largely because the “Power Profiler” is giving me an energy breakdown by region, but how can I get more precise information (say, by state or by county) as you seem to have access to?

  16. peter dublin permalink
    December 12, 2009

    Thanks for the info Rob

    RE Petroleum-fired power plants,
    an importtant point I think is that imported oil is not used in USA electricity generation, given the worry over oil imports.

    On EPA administrator Lisa Jackson’s Facebook page
    I have a discussion topic of
    power station CO2 reduction policy options,
    Cap and Trade, Tax or EPA Regulation,
    with explanations of how they might work.

    Also
    CO2 Emission Reduction Alternatives

    Introduction: The need – or not – to deal with emissions
    The Overall Picture
    Emission sources, land and ocean cycles, agriculture and deforestation
    1. Direct Industrial Emission Regulation
    Mandated reduction of CO2, monitored like other emission substances
    2. Carbon Taxation
    Fuel Tax — Emission Tax
    3. Emission Trading (Cap and Trade)
    Basic Idea
    Offsets — Tree Planting — Manufacture Shift — Fair Trading
    Allowances: Auctions + Hand-Outs — Allowance Trading
    Companies: Business Stability + Cost
    In Conclusion
    4. Contracted CO2 Reduction
    Private companies compete for contracts to lower CO2 emissions.

  17. Mikey permalink
    December 27, 2009

    This was a very good piece of information i didnt know you were able to choose the fuel source

    “you may have a choice of electricity provider or fuel source”

    You can also generate your own electricity at home using perpetual motion (Magnet Motor Generator)

  18. John Patterson permalink
    January 14, 2010

    I am so proud to be an Oregonian with us taking the initiative to use our river systems to produce 85% of our electricity. As there is a lot to be said about coal or nuclear power, I am glad our region of the country is using our natural resources productively to provide energy.

    This is also a cool link about renewable energy sources that can implemented in your own home to save power and money.

  19. crackgerbal permalink
    March 15, 2010

    the statistic about oregon producing more than 85% of its electricity via renewable resources is incorrect.

  20. crackgerbal permalink
    March 15, 2010

    Or excuse me. the information here is at the very least inconsistent with other information floating around the state of Oregon. Can you tell us which one is valid?

  21. brock clerg permalink
    April 5, 2010

    hey these informatons are useless i cant find wat m searching for can u plx giv me true info about where we get electricity i want to do my skul works

  22. Cathy Davis permalink
    August 1, 2010

    Is nuclear power safer then coal? Especially when you think about possible nuclear spills and radiation…
    —-
    C. Davis

  23. Gabriels solar cell home permalink
    August 27, 2010

    I have been looking for ways to save money due to the way our economy is today and I have Four kids to feed and me and my wife try to find every opportunity we can to save and to also helps promote global awareness our little world is getting punished big time because of our bad habits so I teach my children some of the things that help look after our Environment I think its the least I can do also I just posted a article on my blog about other ways to save money and promote environmental awareness Did you know that you can generate your own
    electric energy, using a magnetic energy generator.
    It works by itself, and it produces absolutely free energy.not a bad idea to generate homemade electricity so I am in the process of installing this if your interested check out my blog and I will keep you updated with my progress you have got a great blog here so I will be back and let you know of my progress keep up the good work

    Thanks Gabriel
    Check it out here:
    http://newsolarpowerlightsreview.com/articles

  24. William permalink
    September 22, 2010

    These days we just assume all power is 100% reliable, then we complain about why the costs are so high. No doubt with the pursuit of alternative energy, we’ll have to endure a period of transition where we sacrifice reliability. Hopefully we can see the big picture enough to make it through!

    William Lamontagne

  25. William permalink
    September 22, 2010

    These days we just assume all power is 100% reliable, then we complain about why the costs are so high. No doubt with the pursuit of alternative energy, we’ll have to endure a period of transition where we sacrifice reliability. Hopefully we can see the big picture enough to make it through!

    William Lamontagne

  26. David Evans permalink
    October 15, 2010

    Hey,

    Awesome! Love your article, thank you for writing this.

    -David

    p.s. I just wrote one here with a free report as well

  27. VNM permalink
    April 2, 2011

    VNM
    Great post, very informative. I think a lot of people will find this very useful.

  28. ShameOnTheRepublic permalink
    December 9, 2011

    What I want to know is if Nuclear power is so good, why are we in Connecticut paying the highest rates in the country? I would also like to know why every Nuclear power plant built has almost doubled in cost and last but not the least! Where the heck are we supposed to store all the spent fuel rods? The current (On site) option is not working. just look at what happened in Japan. and remember our pools are 3 to 5 times fuller then those were. Get real or we will all suffer.

  29. Amanda permalink
    January 31, 2012

    I live in the SF bay area in CA. My question for this group of people is this: What is the carbon footprint for people who plug in their electric cars in the states that use coal as their primary source of electricity? Is it worse for the environment, the same as gasoline (or hybrid) cars, or is it really better? Does it matter if the footprint comes out of your tailpipe or at the source of your electricity? I’m just curious and would like people’s honest opinions, not trying to ruffle anyone’s feathers!

  30. Abbey permalink
    May 2, 2012

    Didnt understand, didnt answer my question, too many words

  31. nick B permalink
    February 12, 2013

    WHERE DO YOU LIVE

  32. Anonymous permalink
    February 12, 2013

    how is electricity made dose it come from the sun?

  33. nick B permalink
    February 12, 2013

    Where does coal get its energy.

  34. D.C permalink
    February 12, 2013

    Where dose electricity come from

  35. D.C permalink
    February 12, 2013

    Dose it come from the sun or coal IM LOOKING FOR A AWNSER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  36. Fowler permalink
    September 6, 2013

    Duke Energy has many sources, I want to know where my power comes from. Nuclear or hydroelectric? Misleading title to your thread.

  37. BooPoo permalink
    May 9, 2014

    You need to go to the Duke Energy Buck Plant It is fun but it is not open to the public

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