Gas and renewables dominate 2012 installations

Natural gas and renewable power generation were the predominant sources for new power plants in the first half of 2012, continuing a 15-year trend, according to new government report

The federal Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported that from January through June of 2012, 165 new electric power generators were added in 33 states, for a total of 8,098MW of new capacity. Most of the additions were in natural gas and renewable generation.

Illinois was the leader of new generation capacity overall, with more than 900 MW, but that with the addition of an 800-MW coal plant at the Prairie State Energy Campus. It was the only new coal plant in the six-month period — although Dominion (NYSE: D) brought its 585-MW coal-and-biomass plant online in Virginia during July.

More typical were states like Tennessee and Georgia, with more than 800 MW each of new combined-cycle natural gas generation. California added more than 750 MW, all of it renewables, with the vast majority in wind generation.

Of the 10 states with the highest levels of capacity additions, most of the new capacity uses natural gas or renewable energy sources. Capacity additions in these 10 states total 6,500 MW, or 80% of the new capacity added nationally in the first six months of 2012.

In its 2011 annual survey of power plant operators, 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.

More small generators were added than large generators: of the 165 generators added, 105 were less than 25 MW. Many of these use renewable energy sources, most commonly solar and landfill gas.

So far, 2012 has also seen a significant number of new peaking generators, which are mostly natural gas or petroleum, but can also burn landfill gas (Michigan added eight of these in the first half of 2012) or agricultural byproducts.

In Texas, which is facing a shortage of generating capacity reserves, 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.

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.

More capacity was added in the first half of 2012 than was retired, the EIA reported. 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.