Southern states now get more electricity from gas than coal

For the first time, electricity in the South is primarily supplied by natural gas-fired power plants, according to a recently-released report by the Southern States Energy Board (SSEB).

In 2015, natural gas was used to generate 773 TWh, 40% of electricity generation in the South, compared with 34% two years ago, according to the “Energy Profile” report released June 28 by the board and its Secretary and Executive Director Kenneth Nemeth.

During this same time period, coal-fired generation has decreased from 40% to 33%. Nuclear power remains the No. 3 source of generation in the South at 19%, according to the report.

“The electricity generation portfolios of both the SSEB region and the United States are rapidly changing, influenced by market conditions, environmental regulations, and state and federal policies related to energy production,” according to the board’s report.

The Southern States Energy Board (SSEB) is a non-profit interstate compact organization created in 1960. Sixteen southern states and two territories comprise the membership of SSEB: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, U.S. Virgin Islands, Virginia and West Virginia.

The inclusion of Texas and Oklahoma in the SSEB might help account for the fact that wind actually out-generated hydro-electric power in 2015, according to SSEB data.

The SSEB statistics, drawn from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) and other public sources, indicate that wind turbines generated 61,867 GWh of power during 2015, making it the No.4 source of power. Hydroelectric power in the SSEB region accounted for 47,787 GWh to be the fifth largest source of electricity.

By comparison the GWh data was 772,612 for gas; 642,023 for coal and 357,477 GWh for nuclear power.

Renewable electricity generation increased by 17% in the SSEB region in 2015. Wind power remains the fastest growing and is now the dominant source, at 43%, of renewable electricity generation in the region, according to the report. Hydro, which varies from year to year due to rainfall and temperature, represents 33% of the renewable electricity in the region. Solar generation exhibited the largest proportional gain, increasing 67% in 2015.

West Virginia was the SSEB’s most reliant state on coal during 2015 at 94%; followed by Kentucky (87%) and Missouri (78%).

Meanwhile Mississippi had the largest reliance on natural gas during 2015 at 70%. It’s worth noting that Southern (NYSE:SO) utility Mississippi Power is development the Kemper project in Mississippi that will gasify local lignite coal.

The 16 member states and two territories in the SSEB region consumed more than 46% of the electricity used nationwide.

Energy consumption per capita and per unit of gross domestic product (GDP) continues to be substantially higher in the South than in the rest of the nation. Total energy consumption in member states has risen by 181% from 1960, to more than 44 Quadrillion Btu in 2014.

Pollution mitigation measures at regional power plants include the use of lower-sulfur fuels and the installation of clean coal technologies. In the SSEB region, sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions from electricity generation have been reduced 81% since 1995.

Despite a 32% increase in electricity consumption since 1995, carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in the SSEB region have increased by only 1.1%. Regionally, CO2 emissions from electricity generation peaked at 1.3 billion tons in 2007 and were reduced to 1.049 billion tons in 2015, a 17% decrease in the past ten years.

Electricity prices in the SSEB region in 2015 were 11% lower than the national average and have remained approximately stable over the past decade.

“While the South remains the leader in energy consumption, electricity prices in 2015 were lower than the national average,” according to the report. Even though residential prices were considerably lower in the region, consumption per household remains higher than the national average partially due to those lower prices, weather requiring a heavy air-conditioning load, and housing stock.

Each SSEB jurisdiction is represented by the governor and a legislator from the House and Senate. A governor serves as the chair and legislators serve as vice-chair and treasurer. Ex-officio non-voting Board members include a federal representative appointed by the president of the United States and SSEB’s executive director, who serves as secretary.

About Wayne Barber 4201 Articles
Wayne Barber, Chief Analyst for the GenerationHub, has been covering power generation, energy and natural resources issues at national publications for more than 20 years. Prior to joining PennWell he was editor of Generation Markets Week at SNL Financial for nine years. He has also worked as a business journalist at both McGraw-Hill and Financial Times Energy. Wayne also worked as a newspaper reporter for several years. During his career has visited nuclear reactors and coal mines as well as coal and natural gas power plants. Wayne can be reached at