The 2020 fuel mix report was released this week, and shows that while coal-fired power decreased slightly, the use of natural gas increased.
The report, released by the Washington State Department of Commerce, requires power utilities to report their sources of power. Power in the state comes from three sources: specific power plants, the Bonneville Power Administration, and power bought in a transaction mostly from bulk power markets.
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Unsurprising to anyone familiar with power in the Pacific Northwest, hydroelectric power was the most common source, accounting for nearly 55.8% of the state’s total supply in 2020. It marked a slight increase from 2019. In total, power utilities in the state reported 97.5 million megawatt-hours (MWh) of power in 2020.
At the same time, the share of natural gas increased slightly from 11.6% in 2019, to 12.9% in 2020. Coal-fired power decreased slightly, but still accounted for more than 10% of all power in the state.
Still, that 10% of coal-fired power accounted for 63.3% of all CO2 emissions in the state’s power mix, pumping out nearly 9 million metric tons of CO2. Natural gas, while accounting for 12.9% of the state’s power supply, generated 4.85 million metric tons of CO2, accounting for one-third of emissions from the state’s energy fuel mix.
Puget Sound Energy, the state’s largest utility company, provided more than 21.7 million MWh of energy in 2020. While this amounted to about 22% of the total MWh statewide, the utility accounted for nearly 47% of all natural gas used in the state, and 50% of all coal-fired power in Washington last year.
While natural gas creates only about half as much emissions as coal when burned, there are concerns among climate scientists that instead of replacing coal, in many places it is supplementing it. And the process of acquiring natural gas through fracking often leads to the release of methane gas, which is up to 90 times more powerful at trapping heat than CO2, in the short-term.
Puget Sound Energy has stated it has a commitment to using entirely carbon-free electricity by 2045. At the same time, the state’s Climate Commitment Act, which passed last session, is designed to phase out emissions through a cap-and-invest program.
That trend of augmenting coal with natural gas seems to be holding somewhat true in Washington State, as the share of coal-fired power has only reduced by about one-third since 2010, while natural gas use has increased by roughly one-fifth.
The report also notes that wind energy increased by more than 1.08 million MWh between 2019 and 2020, accounting for 5.36% of the state’s energy mix last year.
It also examines the Northwest Power Pool’s fuel mix, which relies much more heavily on coal and natural gas. It includes electric utilities in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and parts of Montana, Nevada, Utah, and California.
While hydroelectric power is still the largest source, accounting for nearly 44% of all power, coal represents 21.6%, and natural gas represents 17.7% of the pool’s power mix.
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