U.S. builds fewer power plants in first half of 2012

Wed Aug 8, 2012 9:00am EDT

Aug 8 (Reuters) - Power generating companies built fewer power plants in the United States during the first six months of 2012 than in the first half of 2011, U.S. energy regulators said in a report.

Generating companies completed 280 units so far in 2012 with a capacity of 8,656 megawatts (MW), versus 334 units in the first half of 2011 with a capacity of 9,583 MW, the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) said in a report late on Tuesday.

One megawatt powers about 1,000 homes.

The report did not say why fewer units were built this year, but some energy analysts have noted the growth in power demand was still low -- and the numbers were close -- and some big units were still expected to enter service later in 2012.

One of the biggest new plants expected to enter service in 2012 was the second 800-MW coal-fired unit at American Municipal Power's new Prairie State plant in Illinois in December.

The biggest units that entered service so far in 2012 were the first 800-MW coal-fired unit at American Municipal Power's Prairie State in June 2012, Hess Corp and ArcLight Capital's 512-MW Bayonne natural gas-fired plant in New Jersey, and IDACORP's 300-MW Langley Gulch natural gas-fired plant in Idaho.

Overall, generators built 1,608 MW of coal-fired facilities, 3,708 MW gas-fired, 2,367 MW of wind and 588 MW of solar during the first six months of 2012.

The number of coal plants is expected to decline as natural gas and renewable generation increases as power companies plan to shut about 50,000 MW of smaller, older coal-fired plants over the next few years as cheap natural gas prices and stricter environmental rules have made coal the more expensive option. See Factbox

The United States now has about 341.6 gigawatts (GW) of coal-fired generation (29.7 percent of the nation's total), 481.7 GW of natural gas (41.8 percent), 105.5 GW of nuclear (9.2 percent), 99.7 GW of water (8.7 percent) and 51.2 GW of oil (4.5 percent), according to FERC.

One gigawatt equals 1,000 megawatts.

Renewables like wind (4.3 percent of the nation's total), biomass (1.2 percent), geothermal (0.3 percent), and solar (0.3 percent), make up much of the rest of the nation's installed generating capacity.

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