Pennsylvania’s COVID-19 shut-down has cut electricity usage and along with it, air pollution from power plants

Written by on May 15, 2020

Pennsylvania’s COVID-19 shut-down has cut electricity usage and along with it, air pollution from power plants

By Susan Phillips, StateImpact Pennsylvania

May 15, 2020

The COVID-19 shut-down has cut electricity usage and along with it, air pollution from power plants. Carbon dioxide emissions have dropped as well. 

StateImpact Pennsylvania’s Susan Phillips reports pollution could spike once business starts picking up again.

Electricity use dropped after the shut-down began. As a result, power plants went for cheaper and cleaner burning fuels like natural gas, nuclear and renewables instead of the most expensive fuel — coal. 

PJM Interconnection runs the power grid that includes 13 states and the District of Columbia. PJM data shows carbon dioxide releases for the area dropped by about 23 percent in March, when compared to the same time the year before. Nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide had even more dramatic drops — about 40 and 60 percent respectively.

While the decrease in power plant carbon emissions is not enough to help mitigate climate change, the drop in other air pollutants should benefit public health says Peter DeCarlo at Johns Hopkins University.

“So I think right now we’re seeing an improvement to air quality. I’m a little bit worried about what’s coming next,” said DeCarlo. 

Once things start to open back up, electricity usage could spike in a hot summer, forcing power plants to burn more coal to meet demand.

DeCarlo says in addition to power plants, more cars could be on the road after the shut down if people fear taking public transit. 


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