Earlier this year I posted a piece that observed that in the US, nuclear power was largely an Eastern phenomenon. I was curious about other differences in the sources for electrical power in the East and West portions of the US. The EIA publishes numbers for electricity generation by state and "fuel". Several caveats go with the following discussion:
- Figures are for calendar year 2007, the last year before the recession.
- Hawaii and Alaska are excluded.
- "West" is the 11 states from the Rockies to the Pacific Coast, "East" is the other 37 contiguous states.
- Pumped-hydro power is excluded -- it's minor and in some states has a negative value, which just confuses things.
The share provided by the five largest sources of generation for the West and East are shown in the table to the left. As expected, there are fairly dramatic differences between the two regions. The East depends much more on coal and nuclear (almost 75% of their total) than the West does (about 40%). If conventional hydro power is counted as renewable, then the West gets about one-quarter of its electricity from renewable sources. Western wind, with a value of 0.0181, was close behind geothermal as a renewable source in 2007, and passed geothermal into the fifth spot in 2008 [another update: by 2010, renewables totaled a bit over 28% in the West].
The next table shows the top ten sources of electricity by region and source when measured against the US total. Depending on your biases, the table is making any of several different points. I'll stick to the one that says the table shows the need for two distinct energy policies (at least with respect to electricity) in the US, one for the West and one for the East. The problems of replacing the power from an aging fleet of nuclear reactors is an Eastern problem. The problems of replacing large amounts of coal generation in order to address climate change issues is an Eastern problem. When the time comes -- and I believe it will -- when the East requires a heavy dose of austerity, in terms of sizable per-capita reductions in electricity use, it will be difficult to justify imposing exactly the same degree of pain on the West.