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EIA 2020 update: U.S. gas-fired generation growing while overall demand falling so far

The overall demand has fallen, but natural gas-fired power plants in the U.S. are generating about 12 percent more electricity this year than same time in 2019, according to statistics released by the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

The EIA’s Hourly Electric Grid Monitor shows that year-to-date gas-fired power generated 301,100 GWh nationwide up through March 18. This is a double-digit increase even excluding  the additional leap day this year.

The growth in gas-fired generation happened despite an overall 5 percent drop in total electricity generation in the U.S. That decline is likely a result of warmer than average winter weather and maybe the social distancing impact on commercial operations.

Two other reasons drove the rise in gas-fired generation so far this year– Strong gas production – up to 94 billion daily cubic feet and, consequently, prices falling below $2 per million British thermal units (Btu).

Things are not as rosy for other parts of the U.S. generation mix, the EIA data shows. As gas increased, coal-fired generation declined by an average of 965 GWh per day so far in 2020. Switching capacity from coal to gas has been particularly noticeable in the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) territory, which covers much of the midwest and a portion of the gulf coast.

Traditionally, coal-fired power has exceeded the share of gas-fired generation or at least been equal within MISO. However, the gas-fired share has equaled coal-fired generation as the Chicago Citygate gas spot price approached $2 per million Btu.

Capacity additions over the past year have also contributed to the growth in natural gas-fired generation across the Lower 48 states. According to EIA’s Electric Power Monthly, the United States added a net 6,674 MW of new combined-cycle capacity in 2019.

The growth in capacity is expected to continue with another net 5,840 MW of combined-cycle capacity planned for 2020.

Those new plants include We Energies’ F.D. Kuester plant in Michigan and two Entergy projects in Louisiana, St. Charles (pictured from a POWERGEN International tour late last year) and Lake Charles, both of which became operational in the last 12 months.