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Is your state on santa’s naughty energy list?

7 min read

Nobody wants to get coal in their stockings—it’s not fun to play with and it’s terrible for the environment. When coal is burned to create electricity, it emits carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and particulates that contribute to poor air quality and climate change. With a rep like this, coal is the leader on Santa’s Naughty Energy List.

So which states are on the Nice List versus the Naughty List? Using data from The US Energy Information Association, we compiled a report that highlights the percentage of coal each state used in 2018. In order to create this report, we took the total amount of electricity generated (megawatt hours) in each state and compared it to the total amount of coal that was reportedly used in each state. Check out the details below to see if your state is naughty or nice.

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Here’s the data for the map

Naughty vs. Nice Energy

For Santa’s purposes, “nice energy” can be defined as clean and renewable, whereas “naughty energy” can be defined as dirty and nonrenewable. While most states use a mix of sources to generate electricity, we focused Santa’s Naughty Energy List solely based on coal usage, as coal pollutes more than other energy sources.

See the entire breakdown of how much the US uses each type of energy

Nice Energy Sources*Naughty Energy Sources
Nuclear 19%Natural Gas 35%
Hydro 7%Coal 27%
Wind 6%Petroleum 0.6%
Solar 1.5%Other around 3%
Biomass 0.4%
Geothermal 0.3%

*Defined by the US Department of Energy.

A Few Naughty Facts About Coal

  1. According to an article published earlier this year in USA Today, coal is expensive. It states, “Coal is more expensive than other major electricity generation systems. U.S. utilities no longer build coal-fired power plants because newer, more efficient natural gas and renewable power plants produce cheaper electricity.”
  2. Burning coal emits greenhouse gasses. Coal is composed of carbon and hydrocarbon. When it’s burned to generate electricity, it emits large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which has been shown to contribute to climate change. The EPA reports that electricity production from burning fossil fuels, like coal, generates the second largest share of greenhouse gas emissions in the US.
  3. Coal can have negative effects on people’s health. A study originally published in 2008 and updated in 2017 by the Union of Concerned Scientists suggests that coal emissions are linked with asthma, cancer, heart and lung conditions, and neurological problems.
  4. Coal mines are dangerous. Coal miners have to deal with serious threats on a daily basis, like toxic gases, fires, explosions, being crushed, drowned, injured, or trapped. Asia has the most coal mines open today, but the industry is shrinking in the US. At its peak in the early 1920’s, the coal mining industry employed almost 900,000 coal miners; today that number is just over 50,000.

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The Five States that Use the Least Coal

When it comes to coal consumption, these five states are on Santa’s Nice List. As stated above, most states use a mix of resources to provide power, but the states below have invested in more renewable energy sources like wind, solar, and hydro and aren’t as reliant upon coal.

  1. Vermont, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island are tied for first place on Santa’s Nice Energy List with 0%, but Vermont should be considered Santa’s nicest, because nearly all of the electricity produced by the state has come from renewable sources, including solar, wind, and hydropower, since 2014.
  2. Idaho produces most of its electricity from renewable energy sources, like wind and hydroelectricity.
  3. California produces half of its energy from renewable sources, like solar, wind, geothermal, and hydropower.
  4. Connecticut has a goal to expand its energy standards by 2030, requiring that utilities in the state must get 40% of the electricity they sell from renewable energy sources. The last remaining coal plant in the state is scheduled to close in 2021.
  5. New York, like Connecticut, has a goal to expand its energy standards requiring that all utilities in the state must get 50% of the electricity they sell from renewable sources by 2030, which is ambitious, but it will have a significant impact on greenhouse gas emissions.

NOTE: Interestingly, all of the states on this list have incentives for homeowners to go solar.

The Five States that Use the Most Coal

Sources close to Santa state that while coal consumption has gone down since 2001, some states still rely on it too much as an energy source. If these states want to make it on the nice list, they’re going to have to invest in cleaner, more renewable sources of energy like wind and solar power.

  1. West Virginia ranks as the state that uses the most coal to produce electricity. Its percentage of coal use has remained higher than 90% for over two decades.
  2. Wyoming produces most of its electricity with coal, but the state is also starting to invest in wind power.
  3. Kentucky is a longtime coal mining state, so it’s no wonder that most of its electricity comes from coal.
  4. Missouri, much like Kentucky, gets most of its electricity from coal, however by 2021 the state will require that 15% of its electricity come from renewable energy sources, like solar power.
  5. Indiana has used coal to generate most of its electricity for two decades with no signs of stopping anytime soon.

NOTE: While these states are on the naughty list, they still have incentives available for homeowners and businesses to invest in cleaner energy, like solar.

While naughty energy sources, like coal, still prevail throughout the United States, there have been clear shifts to look toward cleaner, more renewable options like solar, wind, and hydropower. Hopefully next year we will see a shift with more states making it to Santa’s Nice Energy List.

A ranking of states from nice to naughty*

RankState% of Coal Usage in 2018*State Abbreviation
#1Rhode Island0%RI
#4New York0.50%NY
#7New Jersey1.50%NJ
#9New Hampshire3%NH
#20South Dakota18%SD
#21South Carolina19%SC
#25North Carolina23%NC
#34New Mexico41%NM
#42North Dakota64%ND
#48West Virgina92%WV

*According to a report from the US Energy Information Association

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