May 23, 2016 - 3:15pm

These 10 Power Plants Produce the Most Electricity in America

Senior Editor, Digital Content


Power transmission lines are suspended from an electricity pylon in Clifton, New Jersey.

Everyone love lists. We’re fascinated discovering what are the biggest, the fastest, the most-popular, the greatest.

In 2015 Forbes contributor James Conca put together a list of the biggest power plants in the United States. Instead of listing the plants that could produce the most electricity, he gathered a list of the plants that did produce the most electricity.

I haven’t seen him update the list, so I went ahead on my own using Energy Information Administration 2015 data. It shows how important nuclear and fossil fuels are to producing the baseload power that keeps the lights on and keeps our economy moving.

Some observations:

First, eight of the top ten power plants are nuclear. Nuclear plants dominate the list because they run almost 24/7 over long periods of time. As Conca noted nuclear power plants have high average capacity factors (90%) and get closer to their full generating capacity than other types of power plants. Compare nuclear power to more-intermittent, less-reliable renewable electricity sources like hydropower (40%), wind (30%), solar thermal (24%), and solar photovoltaic (20%). Because of nuclear's importance, the federal government must fulfill its legal responsibility by building a permanent nuclear waste storage facility at Nevada’s Yucca Mountain.


Second, the largest power plant in the United States, and the seventh largest in the world—Grand Coulee Damn—didn’t generate the most electricity in 2015. This could be due to factors like the amount of rainfall in the Pacific Northwest last year. It shows that being the biggest doesn’t mean you generate the most. It’s more important to run at a consistently high capacity for long periods of time.

Third, two fossil fuel power plants made the list. Despite this, don’t underestimate coal and natural gas’ importance to the power grid. According to the Energy Information Administration, in 2015, coal fueled about one-third of all our electricity. (Nuclear generates about one-fifth.) It’s unwise for the federal government to be attacking this critical energy source with regulations like EPA’s Clean Power Plan.

As for natural gas, its share of electricity production was also about one-third in 2015. An advantage of natural gas plants is an abundance of cheap fuel—thanks, fracking. But on the flip-side, these power plants need pipelines to get that fuel. Regulators and anti-fossil fuel activists are blocking needed pipelines and energy infrastructure to turn cheap fuel into electricity.

Fourth, could wind or solar power ever make this list? Anything is possible, but wind and solar have to scale a lot. The Alta Wind Energy Center in California, the largest onshore wind farm in the United States, generates 2,600 GWh of electricity. The output of the 3,200 acre facility would have to multiply by seven to make it on the list. The mountain for solar is steeper. The world's largest solar thermal power station, California's Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, stretching over 3,500 acres, is expected to generate 940 GWh of electricity annually. To make the list, it would need to increase electricity generation by 1900%.

Renewable power has a place in America’s diverse energy mix—see the Grand Coulee Dam--but as this list shows, wind and solar aren’t capable of replacing the big nuclear and fossil fuel power plants that make up the backbone of our power grid.

Below is the list of the top ten producing power plants in the United States.

1. Palo Verde Nuclear Station

State: Arizona
Fuel source: Nuclear
Electricity generated in 2015: 32,525,595 mWhs


2. Browns Ferry Nuclear Station

State: Alabama
Fuel source: Nuclear
Electricity generated in 2015: 27,669,694 mWhs


Browns Ferry Nuclear Station in Alabama


3. Oconee Nuclear Generating Station

State: South Carolina
Fuel source: Nuclear
Electricity generated in 2015: 21,939,740 mWhs


4. West County Energy Center

State: Florida
Fuel source: Natural gas
Electricity generated in 2015: 20,428,360 mWhs


5. Braidwood Nuclear Station

State: Illinois
Fuel source: Nuclear
Electricity generated in 2015: 19,740,011 mWhs


Braidwood Nuclear Station in Illinois.


6. Byron Nuclear Generating Station

State: Illinois
Fuel source: Nuclear
Electricity generated in 2015: 19,478,139 mWhs


7. South Texas Project Nuclear Station

State: Texas
Fuel source: Nuclear
Electricity generated in 2015: 19,400,553 mWhs


South Texas Project Nuclear Station


8. Limerick Nuclear Generating Station

State: Pennsylvania
Fuel source: Nuclear
Electricity generated in 2015: 18,904,377 mWhs


Limerick Nuclear Power Station in Pennsylvania


9. Grand Coulee Hydroelectric Station

State: Washington
Fuel source: Hydroelectric
Electricity generated in 2015: 18,838,602 mWhs


10. James H. Miller, Jr. Electrical Generating Plant

State: Alabama
Fuel source: Coal
Electricity generated in 2015: 17,815,891 mWhs

More Articles On: 

About the Author

About the Author

Sean Hackbarth
Senior Editor, Digital Content

Sean writes about public policies affecting businesses including energy, health care, and regulations. When not battling those making it harder for free enterprise to succeed, he raves about all things Wisconsin (his home state) and religiously follows the Green Bay Packers.