EIA Report: Gas-fired Generation Will Continue to Outpace Coal

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) released its first look at expected power generation in 2019, and its conclusions are much the same as those it expects in 2018—the use of natural gas to produce electricity will continue to rise, and the use of coal will continue to decline.

EIA’s Short-Term Energy Outlook, released January 9, forecasts natural gas will provide 34% of the nation’s electricity in 2019, with coal at 28%, continuing the trend of recent years. Coal held the top spot as recently as 2015, and 15 years ago produced more than half of all U.S. power, at 51% compared to just 17% for natural gas, according to EIA.

Nuclear power produced 20% of U.S. electricity in 2017, and is forecast to hold that level this year, then fall to 19% in 2019. The report said non-hydropower renewables “provided almost 10% of electricity generation in 2017, and its 2018 share is expected [to] be similar before increasing to almost 11% in 2019. The generation share of hydropower was more than 7% in 2017 and is forecast to be slightly lower than 7% in both 2018 and 2019.”

The report also forecasts that 2019 will be “the first year wind overtakes hydropower as the leading source of renewable electricity generation, due to a combination of hydro’s cyclical nature and the continued growth in wind capacity.”

EIA expects U.S. wind power generation capacity will rise to 96 GW by year-end 2018 and 104 GW by year-end 2019, up from about 88 GW in 2017. The agency forecasts solar power generation capacity will hit 50 GW by the end of this year and 65 GW by the end of 2019, up from 43 GW last year. The report says wind’s share of generation will be 6.4% this year, rising to 6.9% in 2019, with solar’s share of total U.S. generation at 1.5% this year, rising to 1.7% next year.

The report says about 20 GW of new natural gas-fired power generation is scheduled to come online this year, which would be the largest single-year increase since 2004. EIA says about 6 GW are scheduled to be placed into service in Pennsylvania, and more than 2 GW is scheduled to come online in Texas.

The report also specifically discussed electricity generation in the Western U.S., noting that increased generation from natural gas is expected to partly offset reductions in hydropower. EIA said natural gas and hydropower “each supplied between 26% and 27% of total generation in the West census region” in 2017. “The share provided by hydropower in the Western states is forecast to fall to 23% in 2018, and the share provided by natural gas is forecast to rise to 29%.”

Wednesday’s report came just two days after the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) rejected a plan by Energy Secretary Rick Perry to skew electricity markets to prop up struggling coal and nuclear plants. The Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) “Grid Resiliency Pricing Rule” proposed in September 2017 directed FERC—an independent regulatory government agency that is officially organized as part of the DOE—to exercise its authority under the Federal Power Act and require that independent system operators and regional transmission organizations “establish just and reasonable rates for wholesale electricity sales” for power plants that show “reliability and resiliency attributes.” Those attributes include keeping a 90-day supply of fuel onsite at power plants, which would favor coal and nuclear plants.

“There is no evidence in the record to suggest that temporarily delaying the retirement of uncompetitive coal and nuclear generators would meaningfully improve the resilience of the grid,” FERC Commissioner Richard Glick wrote after Monday’s action, concurring with the agency’s decision to reject the proposal. “Rather, the record demonstrates that, if a threat to grid resilience exists, the threat lies mostly with the transmission and distribution systems, where virtually all significant disruptions occur.”

The commission said it would continue to study grid resiliency, and asked grid operators to submit comments during a 60-day window. The commission said after that period it could issue a new order regarding rules in competitive electricity markets.

Darrell Proctor is a POWER associate editor (@DarrellProctor1, @POWERmagazine).