The Good, Bad, & Ugly Emissions Story Of The Keystone State

State Economy

The population of the “Keystone State”, Pennsylvania is approximately 12.80 million people[1]. Pennsylvania is the 5th most populated state in the United States.

In 2020, Pennsylvania’s economy was ranked 6th in the United States in gross domestic product (GDP)[2]. The state’s economy is dependent on the manufacturing, natural gas, agriculture, coal, pharmaceutical, and tourism industries[3].

Environment Policies

In 2004. Pennsylvania enacted the Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard, which mandates all retail electric suppliers sell at least 18% of their power from renewable energy by 2020-2021[4].

In July 2021, state utilities[5] used natural gas (52.7 %), nuclear energy (28.3 %), coal (16.2 %), and renewable energy (2.8 %) to generate electricity. Wind, hydropower, biomass, and solar are the primary types of renewable energy used to generate electricity in Pennsylvania.

In July 2021, the average cost of residential electricity in Pennsylvania was 13.73 ¢ per kWh, compared to the national average of 13.90 ¢ per kWh.

Recent renewable energy developments in Pennsylvania include:

  • 191 MW Solar Projects – In March 2021, Governor Tom Wolf announced that photovoltaic solar arrays will be installed in seven state government buildings. The solar projects are scheduled to be commissioned by year-end 2022.
  • 127 MW Solar Project – In August 2021, Maryland power company, Competitive Power Ventures has announced plans to build the Maple Hill solar project at a site approximately 70 miles northwest of the city of Philadelphia.
  • 20 MW Solar Project – Australian infrastructure company, Lendlease Energy Development is continuing work on the Gaucho solar project at site approximately 5 miles west of the city of Pittsburg. The project is scheduled to be commissioned by year-end 2022.



Coal was first commercially mined in Pennsylvania [6] in 1792. In 2020, 36.3 tons of anthracite and bituminous coal was produced from 134 mines in Pennsylvania[7].

In 2010, 49.4% of Pennsylvania’s electricity was generated from coal-fueled power plants[8]. In July 2021, 16.2 % of the state’s electricity was generated from coal-fueled power plants. Why the decrease ?

  1. Pollution – Coal ash, the product of coal burned in a power plant contains arsenic, mercury, and lead; which are toxic. In 2019, coal ash was documented to have leaked into the ground water around 241 coal-fired plants in America[9].
  2. EconomicsThe cost to generate power from coal is more than double the cost to generate power from renewables, like solar.
  3. Climate Change Coal generates 40% to 45% more greenhouse gases than natural gas.

Pennsylvania’s policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions can be characterized as –

  • The GoodState electric utilities have reduced greenhouse gas emissions by moving from coal-fueled power plants to natural-fueled power plants. Coal-fueled power plants produce 40% to 45% more CO2 than natural gas fueled power plants.
  • The BadPennsylvania utilities have failed to meet the state’s mandated Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard requiring all retail electric suppliers to sell at least 18% of their power from renewable energy by 2020-2021.
  • The Ugly The lack of new renewable energy projects is due in part to communities[10][11] across the state blocking the development of new wind and/or solar projects based on fake news, about renewable energy.

Overall, Pennsylvania’s story on greenhouse gas emissions is one of The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly. Unless policies dramatically change, the Keystone State’s greenhouse gas emissions story will have a tragic ending.

Jack Kerfoot

Website – “Our Energy Conundrum”



[1] Pennsylvania Population 2021, World Population Review

[2] U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Economic Analysis

[3] Biggest Industries in Pennsylvania  – World Atlas

[4] National Conference of State Legislators – State Renewable Portfolio Standards and Goals, January 4, 2021

[5] U.S. Energy Information Agency – Pennsylvania State Profile and Energy Estimates,

[6] “History of Anthracite Coal Mining” Mine Safety & Health Administration, US Dept. of Labor, January 23, 2016.

[7] U.S. EIA, Annual Coal Report 2020, October 2021

[8] U.S. Energy Information Agency, Pennsylvania Electric Power Consumption Estimates 1960 – 2018

[9] Reuters, “Coal Ash Contaminates Groundwater Near Most U.S. Coal Plants: Study” by Valerie Volcovici, 3/3/2019

[10]Pennsylvania Is On The Cusp Of A Solar Energy Boom. Some Communities Want To Fight It” by Rachel McDevitt, 12/23/2020

[11]A Surge, Then A Fade For Pennsylvania’s Wind Industry” by Amy Sisk, 1/12/2018

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