Utilities in the United States added about 70 times more wind and solar capacity than natural gas in the first three months of 2016, according to the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC)’s Energy Infrastructure Update.
The decisive imbalance between natural gas and new renewable energy installations challenges popular media accounts linking the decline in U.S. carbon emissions to the number of coal-fired power plants replaced by gas, according to at least one clean energy publication.
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In the first three months of the year, grid-scale power producers added 18 megawatts of new natural gas capacity to their generating fleets, compared to nearly 1.3 gigawatts of new renewables, FERC’s figures reveal. Wind and solar installations led, with 707 and 522 MW respectively, with utilities adding 33 MW of biomass and 29 of hydropower, ThinkProgress reports. No new coal, oil, or nuclear facilities came online in the first quarter.
The agency’s number likely underestimates the actual amount of solar capacity installed in the nation this year, ThinkProgress notes, since FERC doesn’t track rooftop solar installations or facilities with a “nameplate capacity” below one megawatt. The U.S. solar industry reported in February that it had installed more generating capacity than natural gas providers in 2015.
“Because of the coincident rise in power sector natural gas capacity, it’s easy to conclude our transition from dirty coal to less-dirty natural gas is the biggest contributor to this decline,” Cleantechnica writes. “However, significant evidence shows the acceleration of renewable energy and energy efficiency contributed far more than natural gas in reducing carbon emissions.”
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