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Gas Could Ease Electric's Growing Pains, INGAA Study Says

Gas Could Ease Electric's Growing Pains, INGAA Study Says

The need for new natural gas-fired generating capacity over the next decade could be as much or more than double what some industry experts have forecasted, according to a new study commissioned by the INGAA Foundation.

The study found that the potential for gas-fired generating additions by 2007 ranged from about 97,000 MW to 143,000 MW. This was substantially greater than the North American Electricity Reliability Council's (NERC) projection that gas will fuel 62,900 MW, or 66% of the net generation additions that are expected by then.

NERC forecasts that gas use in power generation will grow at 3% a year - from 3.3 Tcf/year in 1998 to 4.4 Tcf/year in 2007 - while the Energy Information Administration sees demand rising to 5.7 Tcf by 2007.

Gas-fired generation is "uniquely suited" to meet the growing electricity market, according to the study, "Reducing Electric Transmission Constraints with Gas-Fired Power Generation." In fact, it said gas-fired power plants - which can be built quickly near high-demand areas - could help relieve electricity transmission constraints and capacity shortages that are expected to only worsen in the years ahead.

"New gas-fired combined cycle units can be built in or near [electric] load centers experiencing capacity problems. Their compact size, environmental benefits and quick construction times make gas the ideal fuel to meet growing consumer demand for electricity. And gas pipelines, which are integrated and can provide transportation service to a range of gas markets, already serve those areas," the study noted.

Because gas-fired plants can be built near urban load centers, the need to transmit power between regions would be minimized and, therefore, congestion would be eased on the system, the study contends. "Congestion and bottlenecks...often occur as a result of the need to transmit electricity from distant generating units to urban load centers."

The role of gas-fired plants will be critical given that only 6,600 miles of new power transmission above 230 kV are planned over the next decade, representing a 4% increase, and generation reserve margins in many of NERC's 10 reliability regions are expected to fall below historical levels by 2007, the INGAA Foundation study said.

In spite of the "significant" generating capacity additions that are planned, NERC believes significant shortfalls in generation capacity potentially could occur in most of its regions over the next decade due to the growth in electricity demand. The biggest shortfall would be in the Western Systems Coordinating Council (17,200 MW). This would be followed by the Mid-Atlantic Area Council (7,100 MW); the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (5,500 MW); the Southwest Power Pool (5,400 MW); the East Central Area Reliability Coordination Agreement (4,400 MW) and the Mid-Continent Area Power Pool (3,500 MW).

Susan Parker

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