Only one coal-fired generator was brought online in the first half of 2012, according to a report by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).
This is more bad news for the struggling coal industry.
The only coal-fired generator brought online this year was an 800-megawatts (MW) unit at the Prairie State Energy Campus in Illinois.
In its 2011 annual survey of power plant operators, the 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, the report said.
Natural gas, renewables dominate electric capacity additions in first half of 2012, according to the report.
“During the first half of 2012, 165 new electric power generators were added in 33 states, for a total of 8,098 megawatts of new capacity,” the report said. “Of the ten states with the highest levels of capacity additions, most of the new capacity uses natural gas or renewable energy sources. Capacity additions in these ten states total 6,500 megawatts, or 80 percent of the new capacity added nationally in the first six months of 2012.”
Most of the new generators built over the past 15 years are powered by natural gas or wind, the EIA report said.
“In 2012, the addition of natural gas and renewable generators comes at a time when natural gas and renewable generation are contributing increasing amounts to total generation across much of the United States,” the report stated. “In particular, efficient combined-cycle natural gas generators are competitive with coal generators over a large swath of the country. 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.”
More small generators were added than large generators, the report added.
“Of the 165 generators added, 105 were under 25 megawatts,” it said. “Many of these use renewable energy sources, most commonly solar and landfill gas; wind plants aggregate many individual turbines into one large "generator" for reporting purposes. So far, 2012 has also seen a significant number of new peaking generators, the combustion turbines and internal combustion engines that operate when electric demand is at its highest, which also tend to be on the small side. These technologies are usually fueled by natural gas or petroleum, but can also burn landfill gas.”
The report said that Michigan alone added eight of these in the first half of 2012, or agricultural byproducts.
The report added that “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 megawatts of new utility-scale solar capacity has come online, more than tripling the 619 megawatts in place at the end of 2009,” the report said. “Despite this significant increase, these additions understate actual solar capacity gains. Unlike other energy sources, significant levels of solar capacity exist in smaller, non-utility-scale applications (e.g., rooftop solar photovoltaics). These appear in a separate EIA survey collecting data on net metering and distributed generation.”
The report stated that more capacity was added in the first half of 2012 than was retired.
“A total of 3,092 megawatts was retired, from 58 generators in 17 states,” the report added. “Over half of this was coal, and another 30 percent was petroleum-fired generators.”
Two recent “Today in Energy” articles address future coal generator retirements, both as reported by powerplant owners and operators, and as projected by EIA as part of a long-term forecast, which appears to be more bad news for the future of the coal industry.