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What are the largest electricity-producing power plants in each U.S. state?

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Kent Knutson's picture
Energy Market Specialist Hitachi Energy USA Inc.

Kent Knutson is a market specialist focusing on energy industry intelligence for Hitachi Energy.  He has more than 30 years of experience designing and developing intelligence products for some...

  • Member since 2018
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  • Feb 21, 2022
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Can you imagine what life would be like without electricity? Nearly everything we use every day comes from electricity. The lights we turn on, the phones we charge, the electric motors we run, the food we refrigerate and freeze, and in many cases, the heat we derive to stay warm in the winter and cool in the summer. We have come to depend on electricity at such a high level we assume it will always be there, and for the most part, it has been.

The power grid has been extremely durable and reliable thanks to a sophisticated mesh of generating power plants, substations, transmission, and distribution wires. In 2020, electricity production in the United States was about 4 trillion megawatt-hours (MWh) produced by roughly 10,000 power plants. The generating plants constitute a wide variety of technologies and capabilities, including behemoth nuclear and hydropower facilities, huge multi-unit fossil generators, large wind and solar farms, and relatively small renewable and oil-burning facilities.

With this backdrop, what are the largest electricity-producing power plants within each state? How old are they? What fuels do they burn? How much of each state’s total electricity production is attributed to these power plants? Answers to these questions and more are discussed below and summarized in the table at the end of this report.

Leading power plants in fifty states

Based on operational data from 2020 compiled by Hitachi Energy’s Velocity Suite research team, the combined electricity output from the largest power plants in each state was just over 595 million MWh – about 15% of the U.S. total. Most of the power from these generating plants was nuclear (355 million MWh), followed by coal (135), natural gas (52), hydroelectric (51), oil (2), and wood (<1).

In twenty states, the largest producing power plants are nuclear. Most of the other states’ largest power plants run on coal (14 states), natural gas (9), and hydropower (5). Hawaiian Electric’s Kahe Power Plant represents the only oil burning, state-leading generation resource in the country. Burlington Electric Department’s (VT), J.C. McNeil Generating Station represents the only wood-burning facility among a state’s leading power generators in the country.

U.S. fuel-mix make-up of largest electricity-producing power plants in each state, 2020

The single-largest power-producing plant in the U.S. is the Palo Verde nuclear plant in Maricopa County, Arizona, which produced 31.6 million MWh – more than the total electric output in 11 states. Since the plant started operations in 1986, it has generated nearly 1 trillion MWh. Tennessee Valley Authority’s Browns Ferry nuclear plant in Alabama is the second-largest state-leading power plant which produced 28.8 million MWh. The smallest electricity-producing power plant to lead in any state was the previously mentioned J.C. McNeil wood-fired plant that can also burn either oil or natural gas and represents more than 10% of all electricity production in Vermont.

New Hampshire’s NextEra Energy’s Seabrook nuclear facility, which accounts for more than 60% of all power generated in the state, is the largest single contributor to overall state electricity production. Conversely, the smallest percentage of state-level generation is from the South Texas Nuclear Plant in Matagorda County which represented just 4.6% of total electricity production in the energy-rich state. Despite the small percentage of total state output, South Texas generated more than 22 million MWh.

The oldest facility on the list is Washington State’s iconic Grand Coulee Dam operated by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, where the first unit came online way back in 1942. The youngest top state plant is Alaska’s Southcentral Power Project, operated by Chugach Electric Association which first went into service in 2013.

Plant closures on the horizon

Several of the top state power generating plants are scheduled for retirement including two units at Pacific Gas & Electric’s Diablo Canyon nuclear plant (2024 and 2025) that accounted for 8.4% of California’s power production. Other top-producing plants on the list with planned closure dates – all of which burn coal – include:

  • Great River Energy’s Coal Creek power plant, ND (2022)
  • Three units at the Tri-State Generation & Transmission-operated Craig Station, CO (between 2025 and 2029)
  • Three units at Duke Energy’s Gibson Station, IN (between 2025 and 2035)
  • The Arizona Public Service-operated Four Corners plant, NM (2031)
  • The PacifiCorp-operated Jim Bridger plant, WY (2037)
  •  

The largest of these in terms of percentage of total state electricity production is Jim Bridger (24.9%), followed by Four Corners (22.3%), Coal Creek (19.5%), Gibson (13.1%), and Craig (13%). They’ve all been big contributors to their states’ power production and have helped keep the American power grid extremely reliable through the years.

Top U.S. electricity-producing power plants in each state in 2020

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Feb 21, 2022

Has any of the outcomes from major closures in recent  years fed into the future of these closures in terms of being reconsidered or at least better preparing to fill in the gaps left? 

Kent Knutson's picture
Kent Knutson on Feb 22, 2022

For the most part, the state-leading producing power plants have been steadily supplying electricity for years.   The most recent came online back in 2013.  Most of the facilities are much older.  Looking forward: The closure of Diablo Canyon would be the most impactful given it provides 24/7 365 days a year electricity and represents more than 8% of all California generation.  As your readers share often, there is a lot of interest in keeping Diablo operating.  We'll see what happens?  Coal Creek in North Dakota was acquired by an affiliate of Rainbow Energy Marketing Corporation.  Their plan is to continue running as a baseload plant and work to develop carbon capture as well as adding wind to the mix.  They also acquired an HVDC transmission line that connects the Coal Creek switchyard to a substation near the Twin-cities.  The power line is a valuable asset.  The Jim Bridger plant in Wyoming is converting 2 units to natural gas within a few years.  They will be looking at carbon capture technology for the remaining two units.  It is hard to replace large generators as is evidenced in states like Massachusetts and New York in recent years.  One thing is for certain, the make-up of state-leading power generators will change over the next few years.  One example is Georgia, where Plant Vogtle (nuclear) will become the largest generator of any kind in the US once the two new reactors are up and running.     

Gene Nelson's picture
Gene Nelson on Mar 1, 2022

Thank you, Kent for your post and comment. Independent nonprofit Californians for Green Nuclear Power, Inc. (CGNP dot org) has been tirelessly working since its founding in 2013 to keep Diablo Canyon Power Plant (DCPP) running beyond 2025.  The poorly-kept secret is that the California state plan is for most of DCPP's safe, reliable, zero-emissions, and cost-effective output to be replaced with emission-laden Wyoming coal - fired generation. This plan is being hidden behind California legal euphemisms such as "unspecified imports."  The recently adopted CPUC Preferred System Portfolio utilizes the bureaucratic sleight-of-hand of setting the criteria pollutant levels for unspecified imports to zero on page 107.  Warren Buffett in his February 21, 2021 letter to shareholders admits the cost for the interstate transmission network to bring this power to California is $18 billion.  Unless this plan is stopped, California will have the worst case scenario.  Significantly higher power sector emissions, lower reliability, and even higher electricity rates.

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