Coal accounts for 10% of 8,100 MW added so far in 2012

Source: Daniel Cusick, E&E reporter • Posted: Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Natural gas and renewable energy resources have effectively replaced coal as the fuels of choice for electric utilities building new generation, according to new data from the Energy Information Administration.

That finding, issued in a “Today in Energy” brief from the agency, comes as another dose of bad news for the U.S. coal industry. It has witnessed a steep drop-off in domestic demand as electric utilities increasingly look to alternative fuels to meet their needs

But coal’s declining market share for electricity is not a recent trend, EIA said. In fact, “most of the new generators built over the past 15 years are powered by natural gas or wind,” the brief stated.

“In particular, efficient combined-cycle natural gas generators are competitive with coal generators over a large swath of the country,” the brief continued. “And, in the first half of 2012, these combined-cycle generators were added in states that traditionally burn mostly coal (with the exception of Idaho, which has significant hydroelectric resources).”

Only one coal-fired generator, an 800-megawatt unit at the Prairie State Energy Campus in Illinois, came online in the first six months of 2012. Eighteen additional coal units remain in either the pre-construction or planning phases, while only one unit actually began construction after 2010.

EIA said it received no new reports of planned coal-fired generators in its latest survey of power plant operators.

10 states led in generation additions

For the first half of 2012, EIA said, 165 new electric generators came online in 33 states, accounting for 8,098 MW of new capacity. The largest additions — roughly 6,500 MW of capacity — came in 10 states: Illinois, Tennessee, Georgia, New Jersey, California, Ohio, Washington, Colorado, Texas and Oklahoma.

Broken down by fuel type, three of the 10 top adding states — Tennessee, Georgia and Ohio — met their generation growth fully with natural gas, while Illinois achieved most of its growth with new coal and wind.

California, Washington and Oklahoma’s capacity growth all came exclusively with new renewables, while New Jersey and Colorado saw strong growth in gas-fired generation with modest increases in solar power. Texas added 400 MW of new generation in the first half of the year, much of which will go to industrial consumers.

EIA said more than 60 percent of the new generators added in the first half of 2012 were under 25 MW in size, reflecting continued growth in renewable energy technologies, “most commonly solar and landfill gas.” Wind power companies generally report their generation figures in aggregate numbers based on numerous wind turbine sites.

The agency also noted a significant number of new peaking plants, usually small combustion turbines and internal combustion engines that operate only during periods of peak power demand. Most of these peaking generators run on natural gas or oil, but some are able to burn landfill gas or agricultural byproducts, the agency said.