Per Capita Electricity Emissions by State
The U.S. is the second-largest CO₂ emitter worldwide, with electric power contributing significantly to the country’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
U.S. Power Sector: Second in CO₂ Emissions
According to the Global Carbon Atlas, the top three global polluters are China, the U.S., and India—accounting for half of the world’s CO₂ emissions.
The U.S., however, leads by far in terms of CO₂ emissions per capita, with 15.3 metric tons per person, while China and India have lower rates at 7.4 and 1.9, respectively.
A substantial portion of these emissions comes from electricity generation. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the electric power sector is the second-largest source of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, contributing 25% to the total.
Examining emissions per state, Wyoming, North Dakota, and West Virginia top the list of CO₂ emissions per capita, relying primarily on coal as their source of energy.
Here is a table showing emissions by state per capita, from highest to lowest:
|State||CO2 emissions in tons per capita (2021)||Biggest Source of Electricity (2021)|
|North Dakota||37.08 t||Coal|
|West Virginia||35.84 t||Coal|
|Alabama||10.61 t||Natural Gas|
|Mississippi||9.57 t||Natural Gas|
|New Mexico||9.40 t||Coal|
|Louisiana||8.67 t||Natural Gas|
|Texas||6.96 t||Natural Gas|
|Pennsylvania||6.74 t||Natural Gas|
|Ohio||6.45 t||Natural Gas|
|Arizona||5.41 t||Natural Gas|
|South Carolina||5.36 t||Nuclear|
|Nevada||4.74 t||Natural Gas|
|Florida||4.70 t||Natural Gas|
|Georgia||4.36 t||Natural Gas|
|Alaska||4.13 t||Natural Gas|
|North Carolina||4.11 t||Natural Gas|
|Rhode Island||3.54 t||Natural Gas|
|Virginia||3.22 t||Natural Gas|
|Connecticut||3.13 t||Natural Gas|
|South Dakota||2.93 t||Wind|
|New Hampshire||1.88 t||Nuclear|
|Delaware||1.86 t||Natural Gas|
|New Jersey||1.59 t||Natural Gas|
|New York||1.42 t||Natural Gas|
|California||1.21 t||Natural Gas|
|Massachusetts||1.18 t||Natural Gas|
|District of Columbia||0.09 t||Natural Gas|
Interestingly, from the top 10 on our list, only Alabama doesn’t have coal as the main source of electricity.
Conversely, four of the 10 states with the lowest CO₂ emissions per capita rely more heavily on renewables, especially hydropower.
Two of the largest consumers, California and Texas, have natural gas as their main source of electricity, but also maintain a significant share of renewable sources, with 34% and 44%, respectively.
Although coal accounted for 59% of CO₂ emissions from the energy sector, it represented only 23% of the electricity generated in the United States. Natural gas accounted for 37% of electricity generation in 2021.
The Transition to Low-Emission Sources
The U.S. has set a goal to reach 100% carbon pollution-free electricity by 2035.
Transitioning to low-emission energy sources like hydroelectricity, biomass, wind, and solar is essential for meeting U.S. climate goals.
In addition, clean energy stands out as the most significant job creator in America’s energy sector, with over 3 million Americans employed in clean energy jobs during 2021.
By embracing more renewables and nuclear power, U.S. utilities can reduce emissions and contribute to economic development.
Click here to learn more about how electric utilities and the power sector can lead on the path toward decarbonization.
Visualized: Carbon Pricing Initiatives in North America
We map out all of the national and subnational carbon pricing initiatives in North America using data from the World Bank.
Visualized: Carbon Pricing Initiatives in North America
Carbon pricing mechanisms are a vital component of an effective emissions reduction strategy. But these initiatives currently cover just 15% of total North American carbon emissions.
To discover which initiatives are currently contributing to this coverage, this graphic sponsored by the National Public Utilities Council maps out all of the national and subnational carbon pricing initiatives across North America using data from the World Bank.
Let’s begin by looking at types of carbon pricing.
Carbon Pricing Explained
Carbon pricing is a market-based policy tool that assigns a cost to carbon emissions, incentivizing reductions through the use of economic signals.
While there are several ways to go about carbon pricing, the most commonly used types of carbon pricing strategies include:
- Emissions Trading Systems (ETS)
ETS establishes a market for trading emissions allowances among companies. A cap on total emissions is set, and all companies receive tradable emission units. Those exceeding their limits can buy allowances from those with a surplus.
- Carbon Taxes
Carbon taxes impose a direct price on carbon emissions. Their goal is to disincentivize carbon-intensive activities, such as burning fossil fuels, by making them financially less attractive.
In 2022, carbon pricing strategies generated $5 billion in the U.S. and $8 billion in Canada. These funds were primarily allocated toward green investments and support for low-income households.
Carbon Pricing Initiatives By Country
The U.S. is currently the only country in North America without a national carbon pricing initiative. Both Canada and Mexico, on the other hand, have implemented federal ETS and carbon tax programs.
Beyond federal initiatives, many regions on the continent have also implemented or are considering their own carbon pricing initiatives. These subnational initiatives are listed in the table below:
|Region||Carbon Pricing Initiative||Status|
|🇨🇦 Alberta, Canada||ETS||Implemented, 2007|
|🇨🇦 British Columbia, Canada||Carbon tax and ETS||Implemented, 2008 and 2016|
|🇨🇦 Manitoba, Canada||Carbon tax and ETS||Under Consideration|
|🇨🇦 New Brunswick, Canada||Carbon tax and ETS||Implemented, 2020 and 2021|
|🇨🇦 Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada||Carbon tax and ETS||Implemented, both 2019|
|🇨🇦 Northwest Territories, Canada||Carbon tax||Implemented, 2019|
|🇨🇦 Nova Scotia, Canada||ETS||Implemented, 2019|
|🇨🇦 Ontario, Canada||ETS||Implemented, 2022|
|🇨🇦 Prince Edward Island, Canada||Carbon tax||Implemented, 2019|
|🇨🇦 Quebec, Canada||ETS||Implemented, 2013|
|🇨🇦 Saskatchewan, Canada||ETS||Implemented, 2019|
|🇺🇸 California, U.S.A.||ETS||Implemented, 2012|
|🇺🇸 Hawaii, U.S.A.||Carbon tax||Under Consideration|
|🇺🇸 Massachusetts, U.S.A.||ETS||Implemented, 2018|
|🇺🇸 New York, U.S.A.||ETS||Under Consideration|
|🇺🇸 North Carolina, U.S.A.||ETS||Under Consideration|
|🇺🇸 Oregon, U.S.A.||ETS||Implemented, 2021|
|🇺🇸 Pennsylvania, U.S.A.||ETS||Under Consideration|
|🇺🇸 Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI)*||ETS||Implemented, 2009|
|🇺🇸 Washington, U.S.A.||ETS||Implemented, 2023|
|🇲🇽 Durango, Mexico||Carbon tax||Implemented, 2023|
|🇲🇽 Guanajuato, Mexico||Carbon tax||Scheduled, 2023|
|🇲🇽 Jalisco, Mexico||Carbon tax||Under Consideration|
|🇲🇽 Queretaro, Mexico||Carbon tax||Implemented, 2022|
|🇲🇽 State of Mexico, Mexico||Carbon tax||Implemented, 2022|
|🇲🇽 Yucatan, Mexico||Carbon tax||Implemented, 2022|
|🇲🇽 Zacatecas, Mexico||Carbon tax||Implemented, 2017|
The RGGI was the first mandatory ETS initiative in the U.S. and applies to power plants in Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Virginia.
Since its inception, emissions in the RGGI region fell by more than 50%—twice as fast as the nation as a whole—and raised nearly $6 billion to invest in local communities.
Are All Carbon Pricing Initiatives Created Equal?
In the landscape of carbon pricing initiatives, one critical factor stands out—the price of carbon itself.
According to The High-Level Commission on Carbon Prices, achieving alignment between carbon pricing strategies and the Paris Agreement temperature target requires a price of US$40–80/tCO2 by 2020 and US$50–100/tCO2 by 2030.
Unfortunately, many North American initiatives fall short of these prices, especially in the U.S. and Mexico, where carbon prices reach as low as US$12/tCO2e. Conversely, most Canadian initiatives set a price of US$48/tCO2e.
It’s also important to note that the broader impact of these initiatives depends on a multitude of other factors, including the industries they cover, their flexibility in accommodating changing economic conditions, and the manner in which generated revenue is invested back into sustainable practices.
Within the balance of these various elements lies the potential to steer all industries—including the power sector—toward the necessary emissions reductions.
Learn more about how electric utilities and the power sector can lead on the path toward decarbonization here.
Visualizing Clean Energy and Emissions Goals by State
An overview of each U.S. state’s ultimate clean energy or GHG emission reduction goal, broken down by goal type and target year.
Visualized: Clean Energy and Emissions Goals by State
In its Nationally Determined Contribution to the Paris Agreement, the U.S. set a target of reducing its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 50-52% below 2005 levels by 2030, as well as achieving 100% carbon-free electricity by 2035.
To discover how each state is contributing to these goals, this graphic sponsored by the National Public Utilities Council provides an overview of each state’s ultimate clean energy or GHG emission reduction goal.
An analysis of the aggregated data by S&P Commodity Insights reveals a broad spectrum of clean energy and emission reduction goals in the United States.
While some states have more ambitious goals of attaining 100% clean energy by 2040, others, such as Ohio, have opted for more modest and short-term targets, aiming to achieve 8.5% renewable electricity by 2026.
Eleven states, or 22%, have never set clean energy or emission reduction goals. These states include Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Tennessee, and West Virginia.
Similarly, another ten states (20%) have expired goals with target dates as far back as 2015. These ten states, including the Dakotas, Missouri, Kansas, Montana, and Oklahoma, have not reset their goals since.
Shares of Clean Energy by State
To get a glimpse into how far each state has to go in achieving its goal, a snapshot of the use of clean electricity in each state is shown below.
Using data from the Nuclear Energy Insitute, the bars show each state’s 2021 share of emission-free electricity broken down by nuclear and various renewables.
While clean electricity made up 70% or more of the electricity mix in several states, nuclear and renewable energy sources comprised approximately 40% of total U.S. electricity generation in 2021.
To hit its 100% carbon-free electricity goal, therefore, the U.S. needs a minimum 4.3% annual increase in clean electricity generation through 2035. For context, an average annual growth of 2.4% was observed in the last five years.
On the GHG reduction side of things, emissions were 17% below 2005 levels in 2021, showing the need for an additional 35% reduction by 2030.
As these figures show, achieving the ambitious clean energy and emissions reduction goals in the U.S. will require a significant ramp-up of clean electricity generation in the upcoming years, along with accelerated decarbonization efforts across all sectors.
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