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EIA: ‘Natural Gas, Renewables Dominate Electric Capacity Additions In First Half Of 2012′

By Joe Romm on August 21, 2012 at 12:29 pm

"EIA: ‘Natural Gas, Renewables Dominate Electric Capacity Additions In First Half Of 2012′"


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The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) is reporting that most of the new electric generation capacity added in the first half of 2012 used either natural gas or renewable energy.

graph of electricity capacity additions for the first half of 2010-2012, as described in the article text

“Other renewables” includes hydroelectric, geothermal, landfill gas, and biomass power.

This is a trend that has been going on for quite some time. As the EIA notes:

Most of the new generators built over the past 15 years are powered by natural gas or wind. In 2012, the addition of natural gas and renewable generators comes at a time when natural gas and renewable generation are contributing increasing amounts to total generation across much of the United States.

The EIA is reporting here only on generators greater than 1 MegaWatt in capacity. So it counts the big utility-scale solar plants and misses virtually all new commercial and residential systems:

Solar has shown significant growth in the electric power sector over the past two years. From the beginning of 2010 to the end of June 2012, 1,308 MW of new utility-scale solar capacity has come online, more than tripling the 619 MW in place at the end of 2009. Despite this significant increase, these additions understate actual solar capacity gains. Unlike other energy sources, significant levels of solar capacity exist in smaller, non-utility-scale applications (e.g., rooftop solar photovoltaics). These appear in a separate EIA survey collecting data on net metering and distributed generation.

Other good news is that a lot of coal-fired capacity is being retired.

More capacity was added in the first half of 2012 than was retired. A total of 3,092 MW was retired, from 58 generators in 17 states. Over half of this was coal, and another 30% was petroleum-fired generators.

If you were wondering who is building new plants running on coal or petroleum/other, here’s the answer:

graph of electricity capacity additions for the top ten states for the first half of 2012, as described in the article text

Yes, it’s the President’s home state of Illinois:

Only one coal-fired generator was brought online in the first half of 2012, an 800-MW unit at the Prairie State Energy Campus in Illinois. In its 2011 annual survey of power plant operators, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) received no new reports of planned coal-fired generators. Of the planned coal generators in EIA databases, 14 are reported in the construction phrase, with an additional 5 reporting a planned status but not yet under construction. However, only one of the 14 advanced from a pre-construction to an under-construction status between the 2010 and 2011 surveys.

The Prairie State Energy Campus website proudly explains that an “on-site coal mine produces nearly 7 MILLION TONS per year.” So I suppose it’s like locally-grown food, if you grew and ate poisonous mushrooms locally, that is. You’ll be glad to know that this is “clean coal” — or it could be in some alternative universe where homo sapiens are actually sapiens:

Prairie State is part of a balanced energy portfolio that can help us transition to lower intensity carbon generation. The plant has the potential to accept greenhouse gas capture systems when the technology is commercially available.

Seriously. As for Texas, “70% of the capacity added was in the industrial sector and not the electric power sector: the Formosa Plastics Corporation added two generators burning petroleum coke.”

Bottom line: The U.S. grid is slowly cutting its carbon intensity. Unfortunately, the U.S. (and global) climate is rapidly deteriorating. Avoiding far more extreme weather and devastating droughts post-2040 would require taking U.S. electric generation carbon emissions to near zero by 2050. There just is very little room for new natural gas and no room for new dirty coal.

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One Response to EIA: ‘Natural Gas, Renewables Dominate Electric Capacity Additions In First Half Of 2012′

  1. Maybe one of the good things about this natural gas boom, even though it is to some extent suppressing renewable development, is that it is also suppressing nuclear development. Whatever (false) appeal there might be in the “nuclear solution” looks a heck of a lot less appealing when the bottom line is compared to gas electric generation costs.

    Of course, that comes at a price in terms of greenhouse gas emissions. Gas produces at least half the GG’s of coal. But at least if we suddenly wake up and start to take climate change seriously, we won’t have already invested untold billions in nuclear plants which come with a whole host of their own environmental problems and take years to get online.

    A crash program can build a bunch of concentrated solar thermal plants in a hurry — they have few safety or environmental issues, their only hangup being the grid’s readiness to bring them online. The grid, of course, can be improved quickly and relatively cheaply (compared to building nukes, anything is cheap). And grid work will save energy and create jobs.