In September, all new electricity generating capacity added in the US came from solar and wind.
Five wind projects totalling 300 megawatts (MW) and 18 solar projects for 133 MW were added, according to the latest “Energy Infrastructure Update” from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s Office of Energy Projects.
And renewables account for almost half (43.8%) of all new capacity that’s come online this year so far: 77 wind projects (4,055 MW); 154 solar projects (936 MW); 76 biomass projects (340 MW); 7 geothermal projects (123 MW); 10 water power projects (9 MW); and 1 waste heat project (3 MW).
That’s a 29% increase from the first nine months of 2011. Renewable energy sources now account for 14.9% (including hydro) of all installed U.S. electrical generating capacity. Excluding hydro, renewables now supply over 5% of US electricity.
By comparison, 61 natural gas projects came online at 4,587 MW (36.8% of total additions), and 3 coal projects added 2,276 MW (18.3%).
And many more small generators were added (under 25 MW) than large ones, most commonly solar and landfill gas, along with a significant number of “peaking generators” which operate only during periods of peak demand.
“The remarkable expansion of renewable energy’s contribution to the nation’s electrical supply reflects continuing declines in costs, the impact of state renewable electricity standards, and the mix of tax and other incentives provided by the federal government,” says Ken Bossong, Executive Director of the SUN DAY Campaign. “Particularly in light of the declining role of coal and the recent decision to close the Kewaunee nuclear reactor in Wisconsin, proposals to scale back on investments in renewable energy appear to be particularly short-sighted and unwarranted.”
In fact, most of new capacity for the past 15 years is wind and natural gas.
Efficient natural gas combined-cycle generators are competitive with coal over much of the country. This year, they were added in states that traditionally rely on coal.
Only one coal-fired generator came online in the first half of 2012, an 800 MW unit in Illinois. No new coal plants are planned in the US, but 13 are in the pre-construction phase and 1 is under construction. Those that haven’t begun construction may not be built.