At the mid-way point of 2012, America is on course to have a good year building new electricity generation, and natural gas and renewable energy are dominating the new generation market, according to the excellent monthly Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's Infrastructure Report.
From January to June 2012, America installed 8,656 megawatts of new generation that must report to FERC and natural gas and renewable energy accounted for 42% and 38% respectively of the total. FERC reports 1,600 megawatts of new coal plants began operation too or about 16% of the total. By the end of 2012, when all new generation is added up, America will have built about 20,000 megawatts of new power facilities.
The FERC total number for new generation is actually low, because it does not include the considerable amount of distributed generation--mainly solar, small wind, and fuel cells-- that is built on roofs and at premises of companies and homes. Such on-site power often does not need to report its construction or operation to FERC. And it adds up, reaching possibly 1,500 to 2,000 megawatts this year.
Renewable energy continues to prosper, even though lower wholesale electricity pricing, caused substantially by lower gas prices, makes more difficult financing new generation of all sorts, including paradoxically natural gas plants. Even in the age of low gas prices, renewables are doing well partially because in their distributed, on-site form they compete against the full bundled electricity pricing--generation, transmission, and distribution. While the wholesale price of electric generation is 4 cents per kilowatt-hour, the full bundled rate for residential customers averages 11 cents nationally and is as high as 34 cents in Hawaii.
Other advantages for renewable energy generation include strong policy support for them in most states, substantially declining costs, and lower siting and permitting hurdles to clear. A major reason that renewable energy power facilities are easier to site is that they typically use and discharge no water and emit no air emissions.
Of course, there are more than a few exceptions to this general rule that renewable energy is easier to site, but virtually any nuclear, coal, or even natural gas developer would gladly trade their development headaches for those of a wind farm or solar developer.