High Electricity Demand in the Northeast U.S. PJM Reliability Network and Peaking Unit Impacts on Air Quality

Caroline M. Farkas, Michael D. Moeller, Frank A. Felder, Barron H. Henderson, Annmarie G. Carlton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


On high electricity demand days, when air quality is often poor, regional transmission organizations (RTOs), such as PJM Interconnection, ensure reliability of the grid by employing peak-use electric generating units (EGUs). These "peaking units" are exempt from some federal and state air quality rules. We identify RTO assignment and peaking unit classification for EGUs in the Eastern U.S. and estimate air quality for four emission scenarios with the Community Multiscale Air Quality (CMAQ) model during the July 2006 heat wave. Further, we population-weight ambient values as a surrogate for potential population exposure. Emissions from electricity reliability networks negatively impact air quality in their own region and in neighboring geographic areas. Monitored and controlled PJM peaking units are generally located in economically depressed areas and can contribute up to 87% of hourly maximum PM2.5 mass locally. Potential population exposure to peaking unit PM2.5 mass is highest in the model domain's most populated cities. Average daily temperature and national gross domestic product steer peaking unit heat input. Air quality planning that capitalizes on a priori knowledge of local electricity demand and economics may provide a more holistic approach to protect human health within the context of growing energy needs in a changing world.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)8375-8384
Number of pages10
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number15
StatePublished - Aug 2 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Chemistry(all)
  • Environmental Chemistry


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