The Environmental Issues Of Electricity Production

The variety of fuels used to generate electricity all have some impact on the environment. Fossil fuel power plants release air pollution, require large amounts of cooling water, and can mar large tracts of land during the mining process. Nuclear power plants are generating and accumulating copious quantities of radioactive waste that currently lack any repository. Even renewable energy facilities can affect wildlife (fish and birds), involve hazardous wastes, or require cooling water.

For specifics on any issue:

Air Impacts

1. Air Quality Issues of Electricity Production: Climate Change

What do we mean by global climate change?

The term “global climate change” usually refers to changes to the earth’s climate brought about by a wide array of human activities. Because of predictions of a steady rise in average world-wide temperatures, global climate change is sometimes referred to as “global warming.” Regardless of which term is used, different methods of electricity production can impact the earth’s climate in ways that raise extraordinary environmental issues.

There is increasing scientific evidence showing that human enterprises — especially burning fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas – are altering the earth’s climate. Burning fossil fuels releases carbon that has previously been locked up in coal, oil and natural gas for millions of years. The carbon in these fossil fuels is transformed into carbon dioxide (CO2), the predominant gas contributing to the “greenhouse effect,” during the combustion process.

The greenhouse effect allows energy from the sun to pass through the earth’s atmosphere and then traps some of that energy in the form of heat. This process has kept global temperatures on earth relatively stable – currently averaging 60 degrees Fahrenheit (33 degrees Celsius) — and livable for human populations. Nonetheless, jumps in emissions of CO2 and other gases, such as methane, traced to fossil fuel burning and other human endeavors, boost heat trapping processes in the atmosphere, gradually raising average world-wide temperatures.

The US Environmental Protection Agency observes that the surface temperature this century is as warm or warmer than any other century since at least 1400 AD. The ten warmest years on record have all occurred since 1980. The warmest year so far on record was 1998.

The release of vast stores of fossilized carbon threaten to raise average global temperatures at an accelerated pace. Scientists have observed that the earth’s surface warmed by approximately 1 degree Fahrenheit during the 20th century. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the scientific advisory body created by the United Nations to analyze the science of global climate change, reports that unless the world takes drastic and immediate steps to reduce the emissions of gases that are creating a magnified greenhouse effect, global temperatures could rise another 1.6 to 6.3 degrees Fahrenheit by the year 2100. This would represent the fastest rate of warming since the end of the last ice age more than 10,000 years ago.

It is difficult to know precisely how quickly the earth’s temperature will jump since human influences mix with natural events that may slow or accelerate these long-term trends. It is quite possible, however, to identify actions to reduce causes of climate change, thereby reducing the intense risks associated with such a hot planet. Energy-related ventures account for about 86 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions linked to human activities. Since power plants, and related electricity generation operations, produce 36 percent of total US greenhouse gas emissions, reductions in this sector can play a major role in slowing global climate change.

What are the consequences of global climate change?

Human health impacts

Global warming poses a major threat to human health by way of increased infectious diseases. Increasing temperatures nurture the spread of disease-carrying mosquitoes and rodents. IPCC scientists project that as warmer temperatures spread north and south from the tropics and to higher elevations, malaria-carrying mosquitoes will spread with them, significantly extending the exposure of the world’s people to malaria. Scientists at the Harvard Medical School have linked recent US outbreaks of dengue (breakbone) fever, malaria, hantavirus and other diseases to global climate change.

Extreme weather impacts

The IPCC identifies more frequent and more severe heat waves as a potential lethal effect of global warming. Some segments of the population, especially people in a weakened state of health, are vulnerable to heat stress. Recall the deadly 1995 Chicago heat wave that stretched on for days and killed 669 people during the summer of 1995. Though imprecise in their predictions, global weather models indicate that extreme weather events are more likely to occur from increases in global average temperatures. The ocean temperature shifts, especially the El Nino and La Nina events in the southern Pacific Ocean, may occur more rapidly and more often, generating major changes in global weather patterns.

Coastal zones and small island flooding

As global temperatures rise, sea levels will also rise. The seawater expands as it warms. Water previously bound to mountain and polar glaciers melts and flow into the world’s seas. Much of the world’s population, especially the poorer people of the world, live at or close to sea level, areas vulnerable to the lethal combination of rising sea level and increasingly severe ocean storms. The rising water table along coastlines could also encourage the release of pathogens into septic systems and waterways. More than half the world’s people live within 35 miles of an ocean or sea. Areas at risk include developed coastal cities, towns and resort areas, saltwater marshes, coastal wetlands, sandy beaches, coral reefs, coral atolls, and river deltas. Sea levels have already risen 4 to 10 inches over the last century.

Forest devastation

Forest ecosystems evolve slowly in response to gradual natural climate cycles. The rapid pace of global climate change resulting from combustion of fossil fuels and other industrial and agricultural activities disrupts such gradual adjustments. Many tree species may be unable to survive at their present sites due to higher temperatures. Increased drought, more pests and disease attacks, and higher frequency of forest fires, are all projected to occur at spots throughout the globe. The IPCC report states that “averaged over all zones, the [global] models predict that 33 percent of the currently forested area could be affected . . .”


Agriculture depends on rainfall, which impacts how to manage crop production, the types of seeds planted, and investments in irrigation systems. Changing weather patterns associated with changing global climate patterns pose major challenges for the farmers, small and large, who feed the world’s growing population. Just as forest ecosystems face the stress of loss of traditional habitat, so will the world’s farming community.

How does electric power production affect the global climate?

The generation of electricity is the single largest source of CO2 emissions in the United States. The combustion of fossil fuels such as coal is the primary source of these air emissions. Coal supplies 57 percent of the total energy harnessed to generate electricity (and approximately 86 percent of all coal consumed in the United States is used for electricity generation). Burning coal produces far more CO2 than oil or natural gas. Reducing reliance upon coal combustion has to be the cornerstone of any credible global climate change prevention plan.

Some methods of electricity production produce no or few CO2 emissions – solar, wind, geothermal, hydropower, and nuclear systems particularly. Power plants fueled by wood, agricultural crop wastes, livestock wastes, and methane collected from municipal landfills release CO2 emissions but may contribute little to global climate change since they also can prevent even greater releases of both CO2 and methane.

Biomass fuels that depend on forest resources must be evaluated carefully since the stock of forests world wide represent a storehouse for CO2. If forests are harvested for fuel to generate electricity, and are not replaced, global climate change could be accelerated. If electricity generators use forest or other plant stocks that are being regrown in a closed cycle of growth, combustion and regrowth, the CO2 emissions may be offset by plant and animal growth that withdraws CO2 from the atmosphere. Closed cycle systems such as this one are carbon “neutral.” These neutral biomass systems represent progress since they displace the fossil fuel combustion that would otherwise increase the CO2 linked to rising temperatures.

On a pound for pound basis, methane has over 20 times the heat trapping capacity of CO2. Power plants that capture methane — or prevent methane releases — are therefore extremely beneficial when it comes to slowing global climate change. Methane is produced by the natural decay of organic materials underground or in other spots lacking oxygen. Municipal landfills, large piles of animal wastes, and other sites where plant wastes decay without exposure to the air, generate large volumes of methane that escape into the atmosphere. Natural gas is simply methane produced by the decay of plant and animal matter that is captured beneath the earth’s surface over millions of years. It is therefore important to stop methane production or capture and burn it so that it does not escape into the atmosphere, where it may accelerate global climate change.

How can consumer electricity choice address global climate change?

The impact of climate change may be pervasive. Still, it is quite difficult to predict specific outcomes. The potential impacts cited are but a sample of a much longer and even more sobering litany in the scientific literature. Most of the steps consumers can take to reduce levels of greenhouse gases will have beneficial effects on public health and the environment — regardless of the actual degree of future changes in global climates.

The new opportunity to choose among electricity suppliers in competitive retail markets allows all of us to select power sources that generate the fewest CO2 and methane emissions when they generate electricity.

If concerned about global climate change, seek out companies and products that do not rely on coal for electricity generation. Renewable energy — wind and solar fuels in particular — release negligible amounts of gases contributing to climate change, even when the manufacturing of the hardware is considered. Buying electricity from landfill gas power plants is also a good response to the global climate change threat since methane is not allowed to seep into the atmosphere. Because fossil fuels still remain a major part of most energy diets in the short term, consumers can encourage their service providers to seek out fossil fuels with the lowest carbon content, beginning with natural gas power plants and then a ranking of oil-fired facilities.


The Energy Project, Land and Water Fund of the Rockies, How the West Can Win: A Blueprint for a Clean and Affordable Energy Future (1996).

Empire State Electric Energy Research Corporation (ESEERCO), New York State Environmental Externalities Cost Study Vol. 1 (1995).

Pace University Center for Environmental Legal Studies, Environmental Costs of Electricity (1990).

Additional Information:

An Inconvenient Truth – the book and the movie: A fan-based website providing information and resources related to climate change and the acclaimed climate crisis movie “An Inconvenient Truth”

Brookings Institute: “U.S. Climate Policy: Toward a Sensible Center”

Climate HotMap

Environmental Protection Agency’s Global Warming site

Natural Resources Defense Council:
Global Warming Fact Sheets and Reports
This Green Life, Footloose and Carbon-Free
Pace’s Global Warming Central then click “Affiliated Sites”

UNEP/WMO Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change

Union of Concerned Scientists – USA: Global Warming

World Resources Institute: Climate Changel

2. Air Quality Issues of Electricity Production: Acid Rain

What is acid rain?

The term “acid rain” is used to describe rain, mist or snow that is unusually acidic. A pH value is the measure of acidic or alkaline material. The lower the pH, the higher the acid reading. Rain and snow are naturally slightly acidic due to naturally occurring chemical reactions in the atmosphere. Compared to normal rainwater with a pH readings of 5.6, the Eastern U.S. suffers from some of the most severe acid rain, with levels typically reading at 4.4, though some locations in the west also face severe impacts.

The burning of fossil fuels generates air pollution that scientists have determined is the major cause of acid rain. Power plants, along with factories and vehicles that also burn fossil fuels, all emit sulfur dioxide (SO2) and oxides of nitrogen (NOx). When combined with moisture in the atmosphere, these pollutants are returned to the earth as acids. This process is known as “deposition” and occurs when it rains or snows, but it can also occur when dust settles out of the atmosphere during dry periods.

Acid precursors can be carried in the atmosphere for several days and travel several hundred miles downwind of the power plant stack before being deposited on the earth’s surface. Because of prevailing winds, the northeastern United States and Canada receive significant quantities of acid precursors from coal-fired power plants in states stretching from Missouri to the west and Pennsylvania to the east.

What are the consequences of acid rain?

Acid rain is linked to a range of negative impacts on the natural world as well as human environments:

Aquatic impactsScientists

believe that acid rain is responsible for the dramatic disappearance of brook trout and other fish species from pristine lakes and streams. These treasured water bodies receive acid directly from the atmosphere and from runoff from the surrounding watershed. Of the lakes and streams studied in a National Surface Water Survey conducted by the US Environmental Protection Agency, acid rain was determined to cause acidity in 75 percent of the acidic lakes and 50 percent of the acidic streams analyzed. Some lakes are particularly susceptible to acid rain since the underlying soil has limited ability to neutralize, or “buffer,” the acids. Lakes suffering from chronic acidity can be found in several regions of the United States and Canada, including the Adirondacks, the mid-Appalachian highlands, the upper Midwest and the high elevation West.

Aquatic species vary in their tolerance to elevated levels of acidity. The acid interferes with reproduction much sooner in some especially sensitive species than with others. Generally speaking, acid rain fosters a shift in fish population from acid-sensitive to acid-tolerant fish and other aquatic plant and animal species.

Forest impacts

Acid rain may render intense impacts on the health of forest ecosystems. According to the National Assessment Precipitation Assessment Program’s 1998 Biennial Report to Congress, the current mortality and decline of high elevation red spruce populations in the Northeast, and decline in growth rates for Appalachian red spruce, “are the only cases of significant forest damage for which there is strong scientific evidence that acid deposition is a primary cause.” Nonetheless, several recent studies conducted by the United States Geological Survey and others point to acid rain as contributing to long-range damage to forests by depleting calcium, a nutrient vital to plant growth.


Acid rain affects many types of materials, from objects of particular historical artistic or cultural value — buildings and monuments — to more ordinary objects such as cars and trucks. Acid rain, especially in the “dry” form, corrodes metal, and accelerates the deterioration of stone and paint.


Sulfur dioxide emissions reduce visibility when they form sulfate particles in the atmosphere. Visibility reductions are most pronounced in the eastern part of the United States, particularly in and around national parks. How does electricity production contribute to acid rain? Electricity generation accounts for the lion’s share of air pollutants that spawn acid rain. Every year, the nation’s fossil fuel power plants spew roughly 70 percent of SO2 emissions and 30 percent of NOx emissions that are critical ingredients in making acid rain.

Of course, not all power plants generate the same level of air pollutants contributing to acid rain. Emissions rates vary widely depending upon factors as the precise fossil fuel type used, the nature of the combustion process, pre- and post-combustion air emission controls, as well as vintage of the power plant. Older coal plants exempt from modern clean air standards under “grandfathering” provisions of the Clean Air Act (especially those designed to burn high sulfur content coal) are at one extreme and are the most significant source of acid rain pollutants. These power plants are highly concentrated in the Ohio Valley and Midwest. Given the prevailing winds, these older, largely uncontrolled pollution sources exacerbate the acid rain experienced in the Northeast.

On the other end of the spectrum are new natural gas-fired generation fitted with best available control technology. They release a fraction of the SO2 produced by coal-fired power plants. However, the performance of natural gas plants is decidedly more mixed in the area of NOx emissions, the other major precursor of acid rain. Although possible to mitigate NOx emissions using advanced technologies, many gas-fired power plants now in service use older, more polluting technologies.

How can consumer electricity choice address acid rain?

Competition in the electricity industry offers consumers for the first time the opportunity to directly influence the environmental footprint of electric power production. In several states, suppliers are assembling electricity resource portfolios that are significantly cleaner than the status quo. By selecting one of these resource portfolios, which boost the amount of renewable energy sources in the fuel mix, consumers can help ensure that the emissions of pollutants that cause acid rain are reduced. Consumers can send a powerful signal to electricity suppliers that they demand their supply not include power from older coal power plants exempt from the nation’s federal air quality standards. These dirty power plants have increased their power production recently in response to wholesale competition. Between 1995 and 1995 [typo in the draft REPP report – need to find actual date – I assume the date should be 1996], a single Midwestern utility increased coal-fired generation by 10 percent, which increased its share of NOx emissions by over 50,000 tons. That increase in NOx emissions from a single utility surpasses the total NOx emissions from all fossil power plants operating in Massachusetts and New Hampshire combined.


The Energy Project, Land and Water Fund of the Rockies, How the West Can Win: A Blueprint for a Clean and Affordable Energy Future (1996).

ESEERCO, New York State Environmental Externalities Cost Study Vol. 1 (1995).

Pace University Center for Environmental Legal Studies, Environmental Costs of Electricity (1990).

National Science and Technology Council, Committee on Environment and Natural Resources, National Acid Precipitation Assessment Program Biennial Report to Congress: An Integrated Assessment (visited Aug. 12, 1999)

United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Environmental Effects of Acid Rain (last modified April 1999)

United States Geological Survey, USGS Tracks Acid Rain (visited Aug. 12, 1999)

Additional Information:

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: The Effects of Acid Rain

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: Acid Rain Division

U.S. Geological Survey — On-line data and reports (on acid rain, atmospheric deposition and precipitation chemistry)

Environment Canada’s Acid Rain Site

3. Air Quality Issues of Electricity Production: Ozone (Smog) and Fine Particulates

While Climate Change and Acid Rain impact the general environment on a regional or global scale, air emissions from fossil fuel power plants also have direct impacts on human health. Most especially, human health is jeopardized from the formation of ozone (or “smog”) and fine particles that result from fossil fuel combustion technologies. Ozone is formed as a result of chemical reactions of nitrogen oxides emitted into the atmosphere; fine particulates may form either in power plant smokestacks or in the air as a result of the emissions of any of the three primary gasses from fossil generation plants – carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide or nitrogen oxides. Both ozone and fine particulates pose health risks within the vicinity of the emitting power plants or may travel hundreds of miles and pose health risks far from the sources of the precursor emissions.


What is ozone?

Ozone is a molecule comprised of three oxygen atoms linked together. Stratospheric ozone provides a vital protective shield against the sun’s ultraviolet radiation and occurs naturally in the upper reaches of the atmosphere. Tropospheric ozone, in contrast, can be extremely harmful to human health and the environment as it becomes a major pollutant when created at ground level.

Ozone is not emitted directly into the environment. It is produced by a complex chemical reaction when nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) react in the presence of sunlight. NOx is produced when cars and trucks, electric power plants and industrial processes burn fossil fuels. VOC’s are unstable and easily-evaporated organic compounds present in vehicle exhaust, paint fumes, and industrial process waste. The interaction between these two chemicals create ozone pollution, the primary harmful ingredient in urban smog.

Weather conditions are critical to ozone formation, which is greatest during the summer, when long hours of sunlight and high temperatures speed the photochemical reactions that produce ozone. These chemical reactions take place while the pollutants are being blown through the air by wind. What this means is that ozone pollution can be far more severe many miles away from the original power plant site that generates the NOx precursors. As a result, tall smokestacks that emit NOx can contribute to air pollution build-up in downwind states located hundreds of miles away.

What are the consequences of ground level ozone?

At ground level, ozone can damage humans, green plants and everyday materials.

Human Health Effects

Ozone reacts readily with membranes lining the lung’s air passages as well as the eye. Mounting scientific evidence links ozone to a number of short- and long-term respiratory and visual problems:

  • Decreased ability of the lungs to function properly, increasing respiratory illness, especially in children that are active outdoors.
  • A long list of breathing problems: shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing, chest tightness, headaches and nausea.
  • Pronounced allergic reactions.
  • Increased hospital admissions for respiratory problems, especially for children with pre-existing conditions such as asthma.
  • Reduced ability to exercise resulting in poor athletic performance.

Plants and Crops

Ozone interferes with the ability of green plants to convert sunlight into useful energy. This interference with the normal photosynthesis process causes damage to agricultural crops, commercial timber and natural forest ecosystems, ornamental plants (grass, flowers, shrubs, trees) and other natural flora. The EPA estimates that ground-level ozone pollution is responsible for several hundred million dollars in annual losses from reduced crop yields.


Ozone damages rubber products, dyes and paints, fabrics, plastics and electrical components. The damage comes in the form of corrosion, fading and cracking.

How does electricity production contribute to ozone formation?

Electric power plant emissions account for about one-third of all NOx released into the atmosphere from human sources. As noted, NOx is the major precursor of ground-level ozone.

NOx emissions rates can vary significantly among generating companies, individual power plants and geographic regions. A 1997 study conducted by the Natural Resources Defense Council, Public Service Electric and Gas and the Pace Energy Project found that the emissions per unit output of electricity varied by a factor of ten between the highest and lowest polluting power companies. The study concluded that much of the difference in pollution rates is directly attributable to air emission control requirements, which can vary immensely depending upon any specific power plant’s vintage and precise location. Many electric generators in the Midwest and Southeast release largely uncontrolled NOx, emissions. Tighter NOx emissions limits prevail in areas currently out of compliance with air quality standards – such as the Eastern U.S. On top of that, disparate air quality regulations allow many older coal-fired generators to emit NOx at a rate five to ten times that of a new coal plant and 20 to 30 times that of a new natural gas electricity generator.

EPA has recently taken several steps to limit NOx emissions from power plants: the issuance of stricter air quality standards for ozone; requirements to retrofit power plants with control technology under provisions of the acid rain program; and a requirement that states contributing to the non-attainment, or interfering with attainment of air quality standards in downwind states, submit new air quality plans focused on limiting interstate pollution. EPA’s effort to control the environmental and health effects of ozone has been dealt a setback, however, by the Appellate Court for the District of Columbia, which struck down EPA’s revised ozone standard. This decision is being appealed.

How can consumer electricity choice address ground-level ozone?

The advent of competition in the electricity business presents both risks and opportunities for those concerned about the air quality and public health impacts of electricity generation. Competition has already led to increased use of high-polluting coal-fired power plants that are exacerbating the air quality problems outlined above. If concerned about ozone pollution, consumers can “vote” with their pocketbooks and switch to power products consisting of non-polluting renewable energy sources. Even supply portfolios made up, in whole or in part, of electricity generated by traditional fossil-fuels (coal, oil, natural gas) exhibit a wide range of environmental performance. A well-informed consumer would identify and select those electricity suppliers whose sources have taken steps to greatly reduce harmful NOx emissions.


The Energy Project, Land and Water Fund of the Rockies, How the West Can Win: A Blueprint for a Clean and Affordable Energy Future (1996).

ESEERCO, New York State Environmental Externalities Cost Study Vol. 1 (1995).

National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Benchmarking Air Emissions of 100 Largest Electric Generation Owners in the U.S.

Pace University Center for Environmental Legal Studies, Environmental Costs of Electricity (1990).

Washington University in St. Louis, Effects of Ozone Pollution (last modified Apr. 14, 2000)

Fine Particulates

What are fine particulates?

Particulates are tiny solid or liquid droplets found in the air. These particles come in many shapes and sizes, and from many different sources. Some particles, like soot or smoke, are large or dark enough to be seen by the naked eye. These coarse particles (PM-10) are generally emitted from sources such as road and wind borne dust, materials handling, and crushing and grinding operations. Others are so small they can only be seen with special microscopes. These “fine” particles measure less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter (PM-2.5) — about the size of bacteria – and are of particular concern because they can be breathed deep into the lungs and generally contain more toxic substances. (see below)

For example, the British Columbia Ministry of Environment reports that a number of harmful substances have been found in PM-2.5. Sulphates produced from sulphur dioxide emissions are acidic in nature and may react directly with the lungs. Carbon produced during wood and engine combustion can pick up cancer-causing chemicals, which are then transported into the lungs. Additionally, toxic trace metals such as lead, cadmium and nickel have been found to be more concentrated in PM-2.5 than in larger particulates. (B.C. Ministry of Environment, “Fine Particulates, What They Are and How They Affect Us”, February 1995)

Combustion of fossil fuels is the main source of fine particulate pollution, including the burning of coal, oil, diesel fuel, gasoline, and wood in transportation, power generation and space heating. Old coal-fired power plants, industrial boilers, diesel and gas-powered vehicles, and wood stoves are the worst emitters of fine particulates.

What are the consequences of fine particulate emissions?

Particulates have come to be viewed by health experts and environmental regulators as one of the most serious pollution problems. Particulates inhaled in the respiratory system are directly linked with a number of health effects. Exposure to coarse particles is tied to respiratory conditions such as asthma. More than two dozen community health studies since 1987 have linked particulate matter to reduction in lung function, increased hospital and emergency room admissions, and premature deaths. A 1995 Harvard University study determined that populations exposed to elevated levels of fine particulates had a significantly higher likelihood of premature death than those living in cleaner cities. (Summarized in Center for Clean Air Policy, Air Quality and Electric Utility Restructuring, March 1997.) The Natural Resources Defense Council estimates that at current particulate pollution levels, approximately 64,000 premature deaths from heart and lung disease may be occurring each year. (Natural Resources Defense Council BREATH-TAKING: Premature Mortality Due to Particulate Air Pollution in 239 American Cities, May 1996.

Particulates are also a major culprit in reducing visibility. Visibility is caused by the absorption of light by certain particulates (such as soot); and the reflection of light by other forms of particulates (such as sulfates and nitrates). Visibility problems are not confined to urban areas; they are also a major air quality concern in and around national parks and wilderness areas. Moreover, visibility is not only a quality of life issue; it is a vital economic issue for industries dependent upon a pristine environment.

How does electricity production contribute to the health and environmental problems associated with fine particulates?

Electric power production accounts for roughly a quarter (23%) of all particulate matter emitted. Particulate emissions correlates strongly with emissions of the pollutants that contribute to acid rain and smog; namely, sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx). (See “Acid rain” and “Ozone” discussion issues). As is the case with these pollutants, coal-fired generation is the power generation technology most strongly associated with particulates. Looking at 26 types of generating technologies, the New York State Energy Office reports extremely high emissions rates for wood waste, residual oil combustion turbines, biomass gasification, and municipal solid waste facilities. (New York State Energy Office, 1994 State Energy Plan, Vol III, p. 621 and fig. 21)

Currently available control technologies can be effective in removing particulate matter that is ten microns and less in diameter. These control measures can remove up to 99 percent of particulate emissions. Unfortunately, these control technologies are not as effective in removing the smaller and generally more harmful fine particles.

How can consumer electricity choice address fine particulates?
As noted above, emissions of fine particulates are strongly connected to certain types of energy production facilities; namely, uncontrolled emissions from coal-fired, oil and many waste-to-energy facilities. More discerning consumers can help clean the air of fine particulates by supporting those forms of generation that are non-polluting such as solar photovoltaics and wind.

A smaller, though still significant bite can be taken out of the particulate problem by supporting less-polluting technologies fueled by natural gas, or those facilities that make an investment in control technology. Power Scorecard can assist in identifying these facilities.


The Energy Project, Land and Water Fund of the Rockies, How the West Can Win: A Blueprint for a Clean and Affordable Energy Future (1996).

ESEERCO, New York State Environmental Externalities Cost Study Vol. 1 (1995).

Pace University Center for Environmental Legal Studies, Environmental Costs of Electricity (1990).

Additional Information:
Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) Benchmarking Air Emissions of the 100 Largest Electric Generation Owners in the US

Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) BREATH-TAKING: Premature Mortality Due to Particulate Air Pollution in 239 American Cities, summary

Washington University in St. Louis, Effects of Ozone Pollution

Government of British Columbia Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection Fine Particulates: What they are and how they affect us

EPA’s Summary of Air Quality and Emission Trends

Center for Clean Air Policy/Air Quality Program

NRDC web page provides answers to “Frequently Asked Questions” about the effects of particulate pollution.

American Lung Association of Texas web page provides a Fact Sheet summary of the health effects of particulate pollution. April 2004

4. Air Quality Issues of Electricity Production: Mercury and Other Toxic Air Emissions

What are air toxics?

Toxic air pollutants — also referred to as “air toxics” or “hazardous air pollutants” — are substances released into the air that can cause cancer or other serious health effects. They may also damage ecosystems. These pollutants can come from natural sources, as is the case with radon gas. However, they are predominately generated by factory smokestacks, electric power plants and motor vehicles. The federal Clean Air Act lists nearly 200 hazardous air pollutants as targets for clean-up that include heavy metals like mercury and chromium, organic chemicals like benzene, and dioxins.

Mercury has been the focus of regulatory activity because of its documented carcinogenic effect, as well as its persistent prevalence in the environment. Since mercury is volatile and readily mobilized, and often travels great distances before being deposited, regulatory concern about the environmental impacts of mercury appear to be quite justified.

What are the consequences of air toxics?

Although much remains to be learned about the human health effects of mercury and other air toxics, scientists have linked these pollutants to neurological, cardiovascular, and respiratory disease. Effects on the liver, kidney and immune system have also been documented. Fetal and child development may too be harmed by mercury and air toxics. Some health effects are immediate. Such was the case in Bhopal, India in 1984 when more than 2,000 people were killed by the accidental release of methyl isocyanate. Other health impacts associated with air toxics may not manifest themselves for several months or years after exposure, as is the case with leukemia, a form of cancer typically caused by chronic exposure to benzene in the workplace.

Some air toxics pose a special health risk to sensitive human populations — such as young children or senior citizens. The EPA reports that roughly a third of the 200 air toxics can harm the development of a fetus, causing birth defects or miscarriages, and can prevent young children from growing into healthy adults.

Mercury poisoning is illustrative of the exposure pathways and health risks of all air toxics. Atmospheric concentrations of mercury at toxic levels are rare. Nonetheless, mercury washes out in rainfall and bioaccumulates in the tissue of animal and fish in an even more toxic form. Bioaccumulation means that concentrations of mercury in predators at the top of the food chain can be thousands — and even millions — of times greater than the concentrations found in the water they drink.

Human exposure to mercury typically occurs when contaminated fish are eaten as food. Over 40 states have issued health advisory warning against the consumption of certain species of fish because of this fear. In the words of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “Neurotoxocity is the health effect of greatest concern with mercury exposure….Children born of women exposed to relatively high levels of methylmercury during pregnancy have exhibited a variety of developmental neurological abnormalities, including delayed onset of walking and talking, cerebral palsy, and reduced neurological test scores.” (U.S. EPA, Mercury White Paper)

Reproductive effects in wildlife are also of major concern. At concentrations well below those considered to be lethal, mercury has been found to impair the reproductive function of predatory birds and mammals that subsist on fish, resulting in lower egg hatching rates, lower birth weights and delayed motor development. Beavers, bears, eagles, gulls and loons have all exhibited these disturbing symptoms.

How does electricity production contribute to increased levels of mercury and other air toxics?

The smokestacks of power plants spew a broad range of toxic substances into the air. Included among these chemical vapors are known carcinogens such as mercury, heavy metals (arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, nickel), dioxin, furans and PCBs. Based on a recent national inventory of hazardous air pollutants released into the air by electric power plants, EPA found that coal and oil fired generating units represent a major source of several major hazardous air pollutants. Other generating technologies – especially waste-to-energy facilities (municipal solid waste, tire burning and wood waste) also contribute to the nation’s inventory of listed hazardous air pollutants. By contrast, natural gas plants and facilities relying on renewable energy sources have negligible or no toxic emissions, respectively.

Coal fueled electric power plants are the single largest source of mercury emissions. An inventory of mercury emissions conducted by EPA found that one-third of all mercury air emissions come from coal burning electric power plants. Mercury is present in the coal used as feedstock in the utility boiler. As the coal is combusted in the utility boiler, mercury is vaporized and released as a gas. Pollution controls employed by utilities to curb other pollutants are not effective in removing mercury. At present, there are no commercially viable control technologies for mercury. As a consequence, this highly toxic form of air pollution continues to go largely unabated.

How can consumer electricity choice address mercury and other air toxics?

Consumers can choose to buy their electricity from products certified as being comprised of renewable energy sources. Among the renewable resources, solar, wind and hydropower technologies emit zero air emissions. Biomass and geothermal fuels, as well as state-of-the-art natural gas facilities, may emit tiny amounts of air toxics. In contrast, coal, oil, and waste-to-energy facilities emit significant amounts of toxic air pollutants. While pollution control technologies for these sources could become commercially available, the high costs likely preclude widespread use in a competitive power market. By choosing a power product that does not emit mercury or other air toxics, consumers can send a signal to electricity suppliers to not deploy existing power plants, or build new facilities, that generate these deadly emissions.


EPA, Mercury Study Report to Congress, Vol.2: An Inventory of Anthropogenic Mercury Emissions in the United States (1997).

Center for Clean Air Policy, Mercury and Utilities: Science and Technology Roundtable Proceedings (1997).

The Energy Project, Land and Water Fund of the Rockies, How the West Can Win: A Blueprint for a Clean and Affordable Energy Future (1996).

ESEERCO, New York State Environmental Externalities Cost Study Vol. 1 (1995).

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Mercury White Paper

OAQPS, EPA, Study of Hazardous Air Pollutant Emissions from Electric Utility Steam Generating Units, Final Report to Congress (last modified Feb. 25, 1998)

OAR, EPA, Air Toxics (last modified Mar. 3, 1999)

OAR, EPA, Mercury Study Report to Congress: White Paper (last modified Mar. 3, 1999)

Pace University Center for Environmental Legal Studies, Environmental Costs of Electricity (1990).

Additional Information:

Minnesotans for an Energy Efficient Economy (ME3) / Mercury

Center for Clean Air Policy / Air Quality Program: Mercury

Environmental Defense “Scorecard Web Site” profile of mercury pollution

Water Impacts

1. Water Quality Issues of Electricity Production: Consumption of Water Resources

How does electric power production use and consume water?

Cooling Technologies

Thermal electric generating facilities make electricity by converting water into high-pressure steam that drives turbines. Once water has gone through this cycle, it is cooled and condensed back to water and then reheated to drive the turbines again. The process of condensation requires a separate cooling water body to absorb the heat of the steam. These condenser systems typically consist of banks of thousands of one-inch diameter tubes, through which cooling water is run, and over which the hot steam and water is circulated.

Two cooling technologies are in use today:

  • Closed-cycle systems discharge heat through evaporation in cooling towers and recycle water within the power plant. The water required to do this is comparatively small since it is limited to the amount lost through the evaporative process. Because of the expense associated with closed-cycle cooling, once-through systems are far more common.
  • Once-through systems require the intake of a continual flow of cooling water. The water demand for the once-through system is 30 to 50 times that of a closed cycle system.

The amount of water used for power plant cooling also varies by each specific power plant’s electricity generating technology and size. For example, nuclear reactors require the most water for cooling, and baseload fossil fuel power plants come in second. Steam electric generating plants across the nation draw in more than 200 billion gallons per day. Most renewable energy technologies require little or no water for cooling.

Hydropower Generation

To generate power, hydropower plants divert water from the river through turbines. Water is diverted from the river via an intake at the dam. At some hydropower plants, the turbines are located in the dam and thus the water is released again right below the dam. At other hydropower plants, the turbines are located in a powerhouse significantly downstream from the dam (in order to generate enough height difference, or “head,” between where the water is diverted to where the power is generated). This means that the water can be diverted outside of the stream for some distances, sometimes several miles, before being released back in the river.

What do we mean by water use and consumption?

Most electric power plants require water to operate. Nuclear and fossil fuel power plants drink over 185 billion gallons of water per day. Geothermal power plants add another 2 billion or so gallons a day. Hydropower plants use water directly to generate power. These power plants represent the single largest consumer of water among any industrial, governmental or residential activity. Since 98 percent of the water used in power plants is returned to its source, distinctions are made between use and consumption.

Water use is a measure of the amount of water that is withdrawn from an adjacent water body (lakes, streams, rivers, estuaries, etc.), passes through various components of a power plant, and is then ultimately discharged back into the original water body. Environmental concerns surrounding water use center around any chemical or physical alteration of the water body and any impacts these changes may have on the plants, fish and animals who reside in the ecosystem.

Water consumption refers to water sucked up in power plant operations that is lost, typically through evaporation. The primary concerns surrounding water consumption is how best to utilize this essential resource, especially in areas, such as deserts in the West, where water is in short supply.

What are the consequences of water use and consumption?

Withdrawal of large volumes of surface water for either power plant cooling or hydropower generation can kill fish, larvae and other organisms trapped against intake structures (impinged), or swept up (entrained) in the flow through the different sections of a power plant.

Large fossil fuel and nuclear plants require incredible quantities of water for cooling and ongoing maintenance. The Salem Nuclear Generating Station alone takes 3 billion gallons a day from the Delaware Bay. Studies of the environmental consequences of this phenomenal water demand indicates that Salem is responsible for an annual 11 percent reduction in weakfish and 31 percent reduction in bay anchovy. At the Indian Point 2 and 3 reactors on the Hudson River, the number of fish impinged totaled over 1.5 million fish in 1987. The 90 power plants using once-through-cooling (see below) on the Great Lakes kill in excess of 40 million fish per year due to impingement (Pace University, Environmental Costs of Electricity, p. 287).

The use of water to generate power at hydropower facilities imposes unique, and by no means insignificant, ecological impacts. The diversion of water out of the river removes water for healthy in-stream ecosystems. Stretches below dams are often completely de-watered. Fluctuations in water flow from peaking operations create a “tidal effect,” disrupting the downstream riparian community that supports its unique ecosystem. A dam’s impoundment slows water flows, which hinders natural downstream migration of many fish species. By slowing river flows, dams also allow silt to collect on river and reservoir bottoms and bury fish spawning habitat. Silt trapped above dams accumulates heavy metals and other pollutants. Disrupting the natural flow of sediments in rivers also leads to erosion of riverbeds downstream of the dam and increases risks of floods.

The impoundment of water by hydropower facilities fundamentally reshapes the physical habitat from a riverine to an artificial pond community. This often eliminates native populations of fish and other wildlife. Dams also impede the upstream and downstream movement of fish and other wildlife, and prevent the flow of plants and nutrients. This impact is most significant on migratory fish, which are born in the river and must migrate downstream early in life to the ocean and then migrate upstream again to lay their eggs (or “spawn”). As mentioned above, withdrawal of water into turbines can also impinge or entrain significant numbers of fish.

(See also Hydropower Generation, Water Quality and Land Impacts Issue Papers for more information on hydropower impacts.)

How can consumer electricity choice address water use and consumption?

By re-directing their electricity dollars to support environmentally benign energy resources, consumers are empowered, in states that offer supply choice, to influence the existing generating resources that are deployed to meet demand. They can also support the construction of new and cleaner electricity resources that will be built to meet overall growth in demand in the future. By supporting these power options, consumers can minimize many water use and consumption impacts. Still, it should be noted that directing one’s dollars to cleaner power products in no way helps remediate damages that already have occurred. Consumers can stop the construction of new hydropower facilities or alter conditions of siting and operation, but they cannot undo previous environmental degradation that occurred at existing hydropower facilities.


The Energy Project, Land and Water Fund of the Rockies, How the West Can Win: A Blueprint for a Clean and Affordable Energy Future (1996).

ESEERCO, New York State Environmental Externalities Cost Study Vol. 1 (1995).

Pace University Center for Environmental Legal Studies, Environmental Costs of Electricity (1990).

Karl R. Rabago, What Comes Out Must Go In: Cooling Water Intakes and the Clean Water Act, 16 HARV. ENVTL. L. REV. 429 (1992).

U.S. Geological Survey. Estimated Use of Water in the United States in 2000. USGS Circular 1268, 15 figures, 14 tables (Published March 2004)

Additional Information:

American Rivers

Low Impact Hydropower Institute

Economic and Engineering Analysis of the Proposed Rule – Cooling Water Intake Structures (Section 316(b) Clean Water Act). U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

2. Water Quality Issues of Electricity Production: Pollution of Water Bodies

What do we mean by water quality impacts?

Water bodies come in many forms: huge oceans; large and small lakes; and a diversity of rivers and streams. Each of these ecosystems feature a tapestry of waterborne species that are all dependent upon a high degree of water quality. These bodies of water are also essential to human survival and public health. For example, underground aquifers often supply us with drinking water. Waterways are also not only key transportation routes for billions of dollars in global commerce, but they represent popular opportunities for recreation in the form of fishing, boating and water sports. Some particularly pristine spots in or near ocean, lakes and rivers may be candidate for long-term preservation because of their stunning aesthetic values.

The construction and continued operation of power plants, particularly those fueled by fossil or nuclear fuels, are among the human activities that can have the most profound and wide ranging negative impacts on water quality.

How can electricity production impair water quality?

The following procedures all can occur during routine operations and maintenance of power plants and each can significantly impact water quality:

  • Boiler blowdown: This waste stream results from periodic purging of the impurities that become concentrated in steam boiler systems. These pollutants include metals such as copper, iron and nickel, as well as chemicals added to prevent scaling and corrosion of steam generator components.
  • Coal pile run-off: This waste stream is created when water comes in contact with coal storage piles maintained on the power plant site. While most piles are kept covered, active piles used to meet the power plants immediate needs are often open to the elements. Metals and other naturally occurring contaminants contained in coal leach out with the rainfall and are deposited in nearby water bodies.
  • Cooling process wastes: Water used for power plant cooling is chemically altered for purposes of extending the useful life of equipment and to ensure efficient operation. Demineralized regenerants and rinses are chemicals employed to purify waters used as makeup water for the plant’s cooling system. Cooling tower blowdown contains chemicals added to prevent biological growth in the towers and to prevent corrosion in condensors.
  • Boiler cleaning wastes: These wastes derive from the chemical additives intended to remove scale and other byproducts of combustion.
  • Thermal pollution: Thermal plants create or use steam in the process of creating electricity require water for cooling. This water typically comes from adjacent water bodies or groundwater sources and is discharged back into the water body at significantly higher temperatures. By altering the temperature in the “mixing zone,” the discharge of thermal wastewater can both negative and positive effects on aquatic life. On the plus side, the warmer temperature water may create more favorable feeding and breeding conditions for certain species located near the power plant’s water source. However, when the power plant is suddenly shut down for routine maintenance or unplanned outage, the resulting wide swing to colder temperatures can be lethal to sensitive fish populations. Hydropower dams can also alter the natural temperature of the water, as discussed above.

What are the impacts of power production on water quality?

Many large central station fossil and nuclear power plants rely upon water for cooling and are therefore located near bodies of water. In some instances, the diversion of rivers creates reservoirs adjacent to power plants for cooling, rinsing and the releases of effluents. A variety of processes associated with fuel handling and ongoing maintenance of large thermal power plants create or concentrate chemical pollutants that are then discharged into nearby water bodies. Even when releases are limited to what is allowed in water use permits, there is still the occasional but inevitable accidental release.

Both of these sources of pollution can be legal and alone can cause significant harm to streams, rivers, lakes, estuaries and groundwater. Water quality can degrade to the point where fish and other aquatic life populations decline – even when power plant operators abide by water permit restrictions. Often, the water used in the power plant is also being diverted from other “higher” uses such as recreation or tourism, drinking water supplies, and other less intrusive commercial opportunities.

In addition, the habitat of many animal and plant species can be destroyed during the construction of and continued operation of large fossil and nuclear power plants. These same facilities represent challenges to maintaining a sense of aesthetics in scenic environments.

Construction and operation of hydropower facilities can also have negative impacts on water quality. By slowing the river’s flow, most dams increase water temperatures. Other dams decrease temperatures by releasing cooled water from the reservoir bottom. Fish and other species are sensitive to these temperature irregularities, which often destroy native populations. These temperature changes, when combined with water stagnation, may also lead to the accumulation of decaying materials in the reservoir and a corresponding loss of oxygen, which then increases substances toxic to aquatic wildlife in the reservoir. And when this oxygen-deprived water is released from behind the dam, it can kill fish and vegetation downstream. Alternatively, water falling over spillways to spin turbines to generate electricity can super-saturate the water with gases from the surrounding air. The gas bubbles, which are absorbed into fish tissue, may cause damage and ultimately kill the fish. Crystal-clear rivers can also degrade quickly when water is impounded behind a man-made dam, accumulating sediment and silt.

Hydropower dams also impact fish and wildlife habitat. Construction of a dam converts river habitat into a lake-like reservoir. This often eliminates native populations of fish and other wildlife. Warm, slow moving reservoirs also often favor predators of naturally occurring species. It has been argued that reservoirs can enhance waterfowl habitat, but such artificially created habitats may be of considerably lower quality than the naturally evolved and undisturbed river systems. Peaking power operations can also cause dramatic changes in reservoir water levels — often up to 40 feet — that degrade shorelines and disturb fisheries, waterfowl, and bottom-dwelling organisms.

(See also Hydropower Generation, Water Consumption and Land Impacts Issue Papers for more information on hydropower impacts.)

How can consumer electricity choice address water quality problems?

Water quality impacts vary – sometime significantly – from electricity generating technology to technology. Many renewable energy technologies such as wind and solar photovoltaic technology produce electricity without generating any waste effluent released into waterways or without relying upon any cooling water. By contrast, thermal power plants that run on coal and other fossil fuels introduce a myriad of chemicals for maintenance or operational purposes, and through combustion, liberate other chemicals from the fuel that wind up in the power plant’s discharge. Nuclear power plants consume even more water than fossil fuel facilities because of the additional cooling requirements of reactor cores and can have major impacts on marine environments.

Consumers can help maintain the sustainability of rivers and streams, lakes and oceans, by ensuring that their power comes from low impact and renewable sources that do not rely upon water for cooling. Some renewable resources, such as solar thermal facilities or geothermal power plants may require cooling water and therefore may have more of an impact than those other renewable sources that lack any need for water cooling. Most renewable resources, however, are smaller than coal and nuclear power plants and therefore their negative impacts on water bodies are considerably less.

Additional Information:

American Rivers

Low Impact Hydropower Institute

Land Impacts

Land Use Issues of Electricity Production: On-site and Off-site Land Impacts

What are the land impacts of generating electricity?

  • On-site

The gigantic central-station, electric generating facilities that provide the vast bulk of the electricity in the US can occupy acres upon acres of land just for the power plant components alone. These power plants also require on-site fuel storage facilities as well as structures for connecting to the transmission grid, which requires additional land. Depending on the fuel burned at any one power plant, electricity generators can leave their sites irrevocably scarred or polluted. Construction of hydropower dams floods riverside lands, permanently eliminating riparian and upland habitat. All of these are known as on-site land impacts.

  • Off-site

Most generating facilities also produce solid waste by-products of combustion that can be toxic. Solid wastes from power plants are typically landfilled, another way in which a generating facility impacts land as it extends its environmental footprint beyond the boundaries of the power plant site. In this case, the waste will likely remain at the landfill forever. Mining, collecting and transporting the natural gas, coal, oil, and nuclear fuel necessary to generate electricity can also impact land in much the same way by precluding other uses and leaving permanent scars. All of these are known as off-site land impacts.

What are the environmental issues with regard to land use?

  • On-site issues degrade and devalue the land
    The average life expectancy of power plants today is 40 years or more. This figure translates into a potentially major reduction in the value of the land around the site for at least that period of time. Even following decommissioning, power plants can leave indelible scars if fuel was stored on site and the generating facilities leave toxic residues or other forms of pollution, which often can never be completely cleaned up. Power plant sites may become sacrifice zones, sealed off from any future land use due to contamination linked to the operation of a power plant.
  • Off-site issues have far-reaching impacts on ecosystems and aesthetics.
    The mining, collection and transporting of fuel can impose severe land-use impacts. Natural gas pipelines often traverse private land all across the country, restricting its use and disrupting plant and animal habitat as well as other potential land uses. Coal mining can chew-up whole hillsides and mountains, leaving unsafe and unsightly disruptions of landscapes that may have also represented scenic or recreational values.

Storage of solid waste, both on and off site, can also leave long-lasting marks. Not only does solid waste storage permanently preclude using the land for other purposes, but rain can create leachate which, if not properly contained, can contaminate nearby underground water sources. The impacts of solid waste are, as a general matter, in direct proportion to volume and toxicity. Environmentally sound waste disposal techniques can reduce, but not eliminate, these impacts.

The land impacts of hydropower facilities depend on individual dam design, location and operation. Land use and ecosystem impacts of facilities that use large impoundments can be severe. The dam and reservoir may transform the landscape, obliterate sensitive land resources, and permanently alter regional land use patterns. In contrast hydropower facilities can also be designed to limit or offset such impacts.

(See also the Hydropower technology page and the Water Consumption and Water Quality issue pages for more information of the land impacts of hydropower.)
These negative environmental impacts associated with land use are not as clear-cut a factor in evaluating a power supply option as are air and water impacts. A power plant built on land that is not valued for other uses, and which was sited with the best environmental controls and with full public input and agreement, may produce few significant environmental insults to the land. On the other hand, a nuclear reactor, which leaves behind radioactive wastes that will be with us long after it is decommissioned, imposes land impacts that can exceed concerns over air or water impacts associated with another generating technology.

How can consumer electricity choice address land impacts?

Certain fuel types leave no permanent land impacts. Renewable solar and wind facilities, for example, can be dismantled and removed from sites during decommissioning. Having used no stored fuel, they leave no fuel-related pollution behind. Similarly, these renewable resources eliminate concerns over fuel collection or transportation impacts.

Geothermal technologies that uses the earth’s heat to generate electricity may also leave few permanent on-site or off-site impacts. If the power plant developer harnessed the heat properly and ensured no contamination of surrounding water supplies, these resources can be decommissioned without leaving behind major on-site land impacts. Geothermal facilities also require no national transportation network for fuel delivery.

Biomass facilities that utilize a fuel resource that is sustainably generated, like willow trees grown for fuel, or unfinished wood waste from a furniture manufacturer, also leave few on-site or off site land impacts. Though they do produce solid waste, it is of less toxicity than wastes from fossil fuel resources. Biomass power plants that combust sustainably-generated wood waste streams to create electricity also reduce the amount of solid waste earmarked for landfills, which extends the life of these already crowded facilities.

Choosing a power supplier that sells electricity derived from wind, solar or low impact biomass in its mix reduces the direct impacts that your electric supply can have on land. The advent of retail competition offers consumers for the first time the opportunity to directly influence the environmental footprint of electric power production. In several states, suppliers are assembling resource portfolios that are significantly cleaner and more dependent upon renewable energy sources. By selecting one of these resource portfolios, you will help ensure that the generation that supplies the power system are those that minimize on-site and off-site land impacts. You will also be sending a powerful signal to power plant developers that consumers prefer that their power supply come from sustainable energy sources.


The Energy Project, Land and Water Fund of the Rockies, How the West Can Win: A Blueprint for a Clean and Affordable Energy Future (1996).

ESEERCO, New York State Environmental Externalities Cost Study Vol. 1 (1995).

Pace University Center for Environmental Legal Studies, Environmental Costs of Electricity (1990).

Also see technologies for details on the various methods of producing electricity.