York County power plant makes 'dirty dozen' greenhouse gas polluters: See the list

Noel Miller
York Dispatch

A gas-fueled power plant in York County made Penn Environment's list of Pennsylvania's biggest greenhouse gas emitters.

The York Energy Center in Peach Bottom Township ranks sixth on the list, emitting 3 million metric tons of pollutants in 2021. According to the environmental group, that's the equivalent of the annual average emissions from 670,000 cars.

Penn Environment created the report as part of its research into data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that ranked the state fourth in the nation for greenhouse gas emissions.

The York Energy Center in Peach Bottom Township ranks sixth on Penn Environment's list of Pennsylvania's greatest emitters of greenhouse gases, emitting 3 million metric tons worth of pollutants in 2021.

“It was a lot of good data, we looked at nearly 300 different facilities across Pennsylvania and took several months to crunch the numbers,” said Zach Barber, a clean air advocate with the nonprofit advocacy group.

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York Energy Center, which is owned by Calpine, primarily burns natural gas but can also use ultra-low-sulfur diesel fuel oil, according to the company website. The plant started operations in March 2011 in Peach Bottom Township and has a baseload — or the amount of energy produced in 24 hours — of 464 megawatts.

The plant uses heat from natural gas combustions to produce steam, which moves the steam turbines to create power, according to the company website. Also mentioned on the website was that emissions are “very low” compared to other plants that use fossil fuels.

Messages left with Calpine were not returned.

According to the Penn Environment study, more than 40% of the state’s greenhouse gas pollution comes from 287 industrial facilities like power plants and mines. The dozen are the largest emitters and alone make up almost one-fifth of the state’s climate pollution.

Barber said that emissions have continued to be problematic because of the misconception that burning gas is a clean alternative to burning coal. This myth propagates gas-powered plants as a bridge from coal to clean energy.

However, data from the study shows about half of the top climate polluters in the state are using methane gas as fuel, according to Barber.

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While rising global temperatures and melting ice caps are often pointed to as effects of climate change, there are specific local impacts affecting everyday life, Barber said. In Pennsylvania, that means extreme weather becoming more severe and more frequent.

Air quality also worsens with increased greenhouse gas emissions. This hits close to home for York County, which has a history of poor air quality. A recent report by the American Lung Association, for example, highlighted mixed results for the county.

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Barber said his organization is advocating for systemic change to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

"If we want to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, it's clear that individual action isn't going to be enough and that we need systemic policy change," he said. "That's going to come from our leaders at all levels from D.C. to the local level."

That can include more stringent federal regulations as well as advancing partnerships, such as the multi-state Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which seeks to reduce emissions from regulated power plants in participating states, he said.

— Reach Noel Miller at NMiller3@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @TheNoelM.