WV, other states more energy efficient over the past decade - WOWK 13 Charleston, Huntington WV News, Weather, Sports

WV, other states more energy efficient over the past decade

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Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration

Energy-related carbon dioxide emissions fell almost 13 percent in West Virginia over the past decade, from about 113 million metric tons in 2000 to 99 million tons in 2010.

But what did the state produce with the energy it used?

Energy intensity — the amount of energy it takes to produce a dollar of gross domestic product — is one of the more interesting aspects of the May 13 release of the first state-by-state analysis of energy-related CO2 emissions from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

West Virginia entered the millennium using 27 thousand British thermal units, or Btus, of energy to create a dollar of GDP. It finished that economically tough decade 21 percent less "energy intensive," closer to 22 MBtu/$GDP.

Most states nationwide reduced energy-related CO2 emissions and energy intensity over the decade, although West Virginia and other states saw an uptick in both from 2009 to 2010 as the nation began rebounding from the recession.

The new data come from the EIA's State Energy Data System. These energy-related CO2 emissions represent the great majority of all emissions. The agency noted that, while its method of estimating state-by-state CO2 emissions differs from that used in its national-level emissions estimates, the totals differ year to year by less than 0.5 percent.

Before considering energy use and CO2 emissions for each state, it's useful to review what a state-level view of the data means and what it doesn't mean.

Energy-related CO2 emissions in this analysis are attributed to the state where the emissions were released — not to the state where the product of the emissions is used. Most emissions come from the production of electricity, and much electricity crosses state borders so, for example, the emissions from electricity burned in West Virginia but consumed in Maryland count in West Virginia's column. States like West Virginia that burn coal, the major source of carbon dioxide emissions, and send the resulting electricity to other states have very high emissions and per capita emissions compared with other states.

So while state-to-state comparisons are tempting and do reflect some patterns, the data may be less meaningful in comparisons than in time series.

A 30-year series shows that West Virginia's CO2 emissions peaked in 2002 at 116 million metric tons and plummeted in 2009 to 89 million metric tons, by far the lowest level of the past 30 years. That was the year Century Aluminum closed its plant in Ravenswood, which represented 11 percent of Appalachian Power's demand for electricity. It also was a year in which electric utilities began switching significantly from coal-fired to natural gas-fired production because of the new, cheap supplies of gas from shale.

In a state-to-state comparison, West Virginia's per capita emissions came in at fourth in 2010 behind Wyoming, North Dakota and Alaska, and were trailed by Louisiana — all energy-producing states.

The time series on energy intensity provide the most insight into the economy.

A reduction in energy intensity like the one West Virginia experienced over the last decade, from  27 MBtu/$GDP to 22 MBtu/$GDP, can reflect in part the loss of energy-intensive manufacturing: for example, the drop in energy intensity from 24.6 MBtu/$GDP to 20.2 MBtu/$GDP when Century Aluminum closed in 2009.

At the same time, reductions in energy intensity in West Virginia in future years through greater efficiencies in energy-intensive manufacturing and through updated building codes would mean cost savings and lower CO2 emissions at any level of economic activity.

The vulnerability of West Virginia's economy to the regulation of CO2 emissions is evident in data showing that the state was the most dependent on CO2-emitting coal in 2010. More than 80 percent of the state's emissions came from coal, with about 13 percent from petroleum and 6.5 percent from natural gas. The next highest coal state was Wyoming, at 70 percent.