Myth #2 The electric grid is not that clean

This myth, like many others, is probably the result of old, out of date information. For decades, electricity production in the US was almost entirely generated by burning coal - the dirtiest of the fossil fuels. But now, the grid is much cleaner and getting cleaner every day as old plants are replaced with clean energy technology.


Coal plants are shutting at a very rapid rate due to the lower costs of producing electricity with natural gas and renewable sources like wind and solar.  As a result, the national electric grid has become cleaner over the last two decades.  A study by Carnegie Mellon University reports that the average carbon intensity of the US electric grid has decreased by 30% between 2001 and 2017.

This trend is continuing as the price of generation from wind and solar continues to decline and more coal plants are scheduled to retire. A record number of coal plants were retired in 2018 and the EIA projects coal will decline from 39% of total generation in the US in 2014 to 27% by the end of 2019. Newer, efficient natural gas power plants emit 50% to 60% fewer greenhouse gasses than even the best coal burning plants according to the Union of Concerned Scientists.  

Wind, solar, nuclear and hydroelectric based electricity generation produce no greenhouse gas emissions. “By 2023, we think solar’s going to be cheaper than gas almost everywhere around the world,” according to Tom Heggarty, senior solar analyst for Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables. As the costs of wind and solar generation continue to decline, nearly all new electricity generation in the US is being built with renewable technology.

PGE Basic Service Plan - Data for 2017

PGE Basic Service Plan - Data for 2017

In Oregon, the electric grid is cleaner than the US average - nearly 40% of the energy delivered to customers in 2017 was from renewables or other emissions free sources.  This includes its own generation sources and the electricity purchased from neighboring states.

In addition, all of us can choose to buy Green Power plans from our utilities that ensure that the electricity that is generated for our use is 100% renewable.