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What are the largest sources of global warming emissions in California? The list is out

Nov 23, 2009 - McClatchy-Tribune Regional News - Paul Rogers San Jose Mercury News, Calif.

The state Air Resources Board this past week finished tallying and made public the list of the largest greenhouse gas emitters in the state.

The first-of-its-kind rankings show that oil refineries, power plants and cement plants lead all industrial facilities statewide in pumping out carbon dioxide, a byproduct of burning fossil fuels that has been building up in the Earth's atmosphere in increasing concentrations.

The single largest California emitter last year was the Chevron oil refinery in Richmond, which emitted 4.8 million metric tons of greenhouse gases. Second was the Shell refinery in Martinez, with 4.5 million metric tons, followed by the BP and Chevron refineries in Carson and El Segundo, near Los Angeles. Rounding out fifth place was the Dynegy Power Plant at Moss Landing, a massive 1950s-era structure on the Monterey Bay that burns natural gas to create electricity for much of Northern California.

"This shows a commitment by California to move forward with real action to address climate change," said Stanley Young, a spokesman for the Air Resources Board. "We need accurate accounting to be sure we are getting the reductions that we are planning for."

The largest emitter in Santa Clara County was the Metcalf Energy Center, a power plant built in 2005 by Calpine in south San Jose. The plant ranked 27th among statewide industrial sources, with 1.27 million metric tons.

Second in the county was Lehigh Cement Plant in Cupertino, ranking 47th statewide, with 709,347 metric tons, and third was the Cardinal Cogen Plant, which produces electricity for Stanford University, ranking 64th with 477,642 metric tons.

All data were compiled and submitted by the facilities themselves. The accounting is required under AB 32, the landmark global warming law Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed in 2005.

Industrial sources and power plants make up 43 percent of California's greenhouse emissions, with transportation at 36 percent. A separate California law requires all new cars sold statewide to reduce greenhouse emissions 30 percent by 2016.

Environmentalists praised the reporting rules.

"What are the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases? It's important to know," said Jim Metropulos, a spokesman for Sierra Club California. "We should focus on the largest sources first. Spotlighting, transparency and holding people accountable are important."

The Air Resources Board worked to create uniform software for each industrial facility to tally its emissions. Verification by a third party -- essentially a pollution accountant trained by the state -- is also required under state law. Any industrial facilities that emit more than 25,000 metric tons a year of carbon dioxide or related greenhouse gases are required to report. In California last year, 605 facilities passed that threshold.

Five coal-burning power plants in Utah and Wyoming that sell electricity in California also are included, and topped all California industrial sources, including the Chevron Richmond refinery.

Young said the emissions totals will be used as a baseline as California prepares to launch a "cap and trade" market in 2012. Under such a market, which is used in Europe, companies are given a limit of the amount of pollution they can put out, and if they produce less, they can sell credits to other companies to help them meet their required amount.

A bill passed by the House in June and pending in the U.S. Senate would require similar mandatory greenhouse emissions limits and a trading market for the entire United States.

Oil industry officials said their facilities top the list because they use large amounts of natural gas to heat crude oil and convert it to gasoline, diesel and jet fuel -- products that Californians demand.

"We use about 45 million gallons of gasoline a day in California," said Tupper Hull, a spokesman for the Western States Petroleum Association. "It's easy to criticize refineries, but everyone forgets they produce the cleanest burning gasoline on Earth and it is central to the economic vitality of the state."

Hull said that the oil industry already is working to make its facilities more efficient and investigating research into storing carbon dioxide underground. The industry, he added, also will participate in California's carbon trading market.

"The low-hanging fruit is to increase your efficiencies," he said. "Any time you can get more use out of natural gas, that will result in reduced greenhouse gas."

Contact Paul Rogers at 408-920-5045.

Top Emitters of Greenhouse Gases in California, 2008

(in metric tons)

1. Chevron Refinery, Richmond: 4,792,052

2. Shell Oil Refinery, Martinez: 4,570,475

3. BP Refinery, Carson: 4,504,286

4. Chevron Refinery, El Segundo: 3,603,446

5. Dynegy Power Plant, Moss Landing: 2,962,149

6. Exxon Refinery, Torrance: 2,852,374

7. Valero Refinery, Benicia: 2,796,057

8. Tesoro Refinery, Martinez: 2,703,145

9. Southern Calif. Edison-Mountainview Power Plant, Redlands: 2,697,142

10. La Paloma Power Plant, McKittrick: 2,544,398

Source: California Air Resources Board


To see the list of industrial facilities in California and their 2008 greenhouse gas emissions, go to:

For an interactive map showing the location of each facility, go to

So even if the US and Europe were to cut CO2 emissions by far more than the targeted 20 percent, the total CO2 increase from Asia will offset it by a wide margin.

Coal-fired power in India will rise from 95,000 MW to 294,000 MW over the next 11 years. This accounts for the largest percentage rise (300) plus the biggest quantitative rise (199,000 MW). So India alone will increase CO2 by 955 million tons per year

The US presently operates coal-fired power plants at a much lower efficiency than those in Europe. Many of the new Chinese power plants are highly efficient. A number of small old power plants have been replaced. However within the last decade China has increased capacity from less than 50 per cent to more than 200 percent of the US capacity. Its CO2 emissions far exceed those from US power plants. Since coal is also still burned in residential and commercial boilers, Chinese total coal burning CO2 emissons far exceed the US.

China and India have coal resources. Other Asian countries have access to supplies from Australia and other nearby sources. The cost of coal-fired power is low compared to the alternatives in the near-term. Since planning of new coal-fired power plants occurs as much as a decade in advance, there is not likely to be a major change in the forecast through 2020. Any impact of renewable energy in Asia is only likely to happen after 2020.

McIlvaine Company tracks every coal-fired power project in World Power Generation Projects.

For more information, visit


Updated: 2016/06/30

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