A combination of coal-fired power plant retirements and increasing production from the Marcellus and Utica shales has led to the approval of more than 30 natural gas-fired power plants in Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia alone over the last five years, according to data obtained by NGI from state agencies.
Most of the plants have been authorized in Pennsylvania, where the state Department of Environmental Protection's (DEP) Air Quality Program has issued plan approvals for 26 new natural gas plants since 2012. Ten of those are natural gas combined cycle (NGCC) facilities with a total capacity of 9,025 MW, while 16 of the plants are new natural gas internal combustion facilities with a capacity of 336 MW, according to DEP spokesman Neil Shader.
Plan approval applications for nine other new natural gas plants in the state with a total proposed capacity of 3,058 MW were under review as of February, at the timeNGI obtained data from all three states. The number is continually in flux across Appalachia, where project developers continue to propose even more facilities and where others have filed amended applications for additional capacity, making it difficult to pin down the number of facilities or the additional capacity they would provide at any given time.
In addition to plan approvals for new projects, Shader said, the DEP has authorized three existing NGCC plants to undergo expansions that would provide 151 MW of new capacity. The agency has also issued plan approvals for modifications at three existing coal-fired power plants to co-fire natural gas, he added.
In neighboring Ohio, state Public Utilities Commission spokesman Matt Schilling said the Ohio Power Siting Board has approved 4,414 MW of natural-gas fired power since 2012, giving the green light to four new NGCC plants and another project that would convert a single-cycle facility to NGCC. He added that a pending agreement with American Electric Power Co. and state regulators would add even more natural gas generation to the mix, as the company's plan would require conversion of some of its coal-fired units to natural gas (see Daily GPI, April 28).
Schilling said another application for a 1,100 MW NGCC plant in Columbiana County, an area of heavy shale drilling, is currently pending at the siting board. What's more, since April, NTE Energy has proposed a 1,000 MW natural gas plant in Pickaway County, OH, while Apex Power Group LLC said it plans to file for permits over the summer for another 1,100 MW facility in Guernsey County, in the heart of the Utica Shale (see Daily GPI, April 15; April 5).
In West Virginia, just one NGCC plant, Moundsville Power, has been partially approved (see Daily GPI, April 22, 2014). There were no other pending applications for similar facilities in the state as of February, according to state DEP spokeswoman Kelley Gillenwater. Moundsville, which would have a capacity of 540 MW, has received its air quality permit. Its National Pollutant discharge elimination system permit and others were still pending at the beginning of the year.
Gillenwater added that there are currently three simple-cycle natural gas plants that are operating in the state, but those are small peaking facilities that don't generate much electricity, she said.
Some of the facilities are currently under construction, while developers of others plan to start soon. It remains unclear how those facilities might help reduce the glut of natural gas in the region if they all come online as concerns remain about more efficient electricity use among consumers (see Shale Daily, Jan. 27). As for the pending applications, all three state agencies said it can take anywhere from six to 18 months to approve them.
Of the 18 GW of electric generating capacity that was retired in the United States last year, 80% came from coal-fired units, according to the Energy Information Administration (see Daily GPI, March 8).
While wind accounted for the largest share of U.S. electric generation capacity additions in 2015, natural gas surpassed coal as the leading fuel for domestic power generation for the first time in April 2015 (see Daily GPI, March 24). In March, EIA said it expects natural gas to power 33% of electric generation in the United States for 2016, compared to 32% from coal (see Daily GPI, March 16).