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Gas Share of Power Generation Jumps 38%, EIA Reports

Natural gas use in the electric generation sector has grown 38% during the past decade (2001-10), according to a report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).

While noting that this translated into increased summer gas loads of up to 7 Bcf/d and winter load increases over the decade of 5 Bcf/d, EIA said there were total additions of gas-fired generation in the period of 237 GW, sparked by relatively low wholesale gas prices that have been driven in more recent years by the increased domestic gas production from shale plays.

California provides a microcosm of these national statistics with a steady influx of gas-fired power plants since its wholesale energy market meltdown 10 years ago. Since 2001, California has sited 48 new gas-fired baseload and peaking plants totaling 16,635 MW, according to statistics provided by the California Energy Commission (CEC).

Even as California struggles to get nine large-scale solar projects (three under construction) built totaling nearly 4,200 MW, it has 17 gas-fired generation projects listed as under construction or in pre-construction that represent another 6,376 MW of natural gas-generated power capacity in a state that has historically relied heavily on gas for its electric generation resources, according to the CEC.

A further testament to the emphasis on gas-fired generation over the past decade is the fact that California also has another 14 gas-fired projects totaling more than 6,700 MW collectively that have been approved by the CEC but are either on hold, their licenses have expired or they have been canceled. Since 2001, the CEC approved 79 gas-fired generation projects totaling nearly 30,000 MW of capacity, 65 of those projects are either in operation, under construction or in pre-construction phases.

These statistics from EIA and California emerged at the same time the chief economist for the American Petroleum Institute (API) was predicting that shale gas supplies could account for 40% of all domestic U.S.-based natural gas by 2020. API's John Felmy said the United States is poised to become what he called "the Saudi Arabia of tomorrow's energy."

While reports in late June in the New York Times -- although thoroughly discredited by industry and government experts -- have raised questions about the future of shale gas, some members of Congress are calling for more investigative work regarding the long-term potential for shale and the environmental aspects of its production.

But the EIA statistics paint a clear picture of the recent past being dominated by domestic natural gas fueling the nation's power generation. Gas now accounts for 39% of the nation's power supplies, which constitute 1,042 GW of generating capacity. Nearly 237 GW of gas-fired generation capacity was added over the past 10 years. During that time 81% of all new power generation in the United States was gas-fired, the EIA said.

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