Renewables, natural gas dominate new capacity — DOE

Source: Christa Marshall, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, March 24, 2016

Wind, natural gas and solar power constituted almost all new U.S. electricity generation last year as distributed rooftop solar set a record, the Department of Energy said in new data released today.

While many of the nation’s general electricity trends are known, the data provide a more detailed state breakdown and overview of factors driving renewable and natural gas growth. In total, DOE reported that wind made up 41 percent of new U.S. capacity in 2015, followed by natural gas at 30 percent and solar at 26 percent.

“The trend of wind, natural gas, and solar additions making up most new capacity is likely to continue in 2016,” the U.S. Energy Information Administration said in a statement.

Wind jumped from less than 1,000 megawatts added in 2013 to around 8,000 MW of new capacity last year — a rebound effect after the production tax credit was allowed to expire in 2012. Texas added the most wind capacity followed by Oklahoma, Kansas, Iowa and North Dakota. “In Texas, new wind power records are continuously being set as the wind fleet continues to grow,” DOE¬†said.

Separately, the American Wind Energy Association reported yesterday that farmers and rural landowners now receive about $222 million a year from wind farms, with much being distributed in areas with below-average incomes.

“The rapid growth of wind energy largely benefits rural communities, including some of the most economically distressed parts of the U.S.,” Tom Kiernan, CEO of AWEA, said in a statement about the data, which will be part of the association’s annual market report next month.

According to DOE, utility-scale projects in California, North Carolina and Nevada helped drive the 2015 solar surge. North Carolina, for example, more than doubled the amount of utility-scale photovoltaic last year, while a 110-MW project in Nevada that came online boosted capacity there. That project, SolarReserve’s Crescent Dunes, is the world’s largest concentrating solar power plant with integrated molten salt energy storage.

The growth in distributed PV, especially in the residential sector, also was boosted by Nevada, where new capacity more than doubled.

“Lower prices are really driving industry growth and so is financial innovation, including leases and [power purchase agreements],” said Alexandra Hobson, a spokeswoman for the Solar Energy Industries Association. The industry estimates solar will grow from about 1 percent of the U.S. electricity supply now to about 3.5 percent in 2020.

However, DOE noted the ongoing challenge for distributed solar in Nevada going forward, considering recent net-metering changes by the state Public Utilities Commission that provide lower compensation rates for rooftop solar PV customers.

“Further growth of Nevada’s distributed PV sector, however, is uncertain,” DOE said, adding, “These changes are an effort to address concerns about grid maintenance costs being shifted disproportionately from customers with solar systems to non-solar customers.”

Meanwhile, half of new natural gas capacity came from Texas and New Jersey, where two combined-cycle plants came online, DOE said. The expanded Transco natural gas pipeline, which would bring larger volumes of natural gas from the Marcellus Shale, boosted capacity, it said.