Feds predict slowdown in annual power plant growth

HOUSTON — The U.S. will build 351 gigawatts of new electric generation capacity by by 2040, according to an  Energy Department forecast – the equivalent of nearly 100 plants the size of NRG’s big W.A. Parish plant near Houston.

That’s a lot of power, but the new report by the Energy Information Administration says the annual growth is slowing, though it still will meet projected demand.

The Parish plant in Fort Bend County can produce 3.7 gigawatts with its 10 generators, four powered by coal and six by natural gas.

Not surprisingly, the study projects that natural gas will fuel most new power plants, as the government pushes carbon emissions limits that mostly will affect coal plants, and the U.S. continues a natural gas production surge that keeps prices low.

The agency projects new capacity over the next three decades will be 73 percent natural gas, 24 percent renewable and 3 percent nuclear.

In the near-term, through 2016, the agency projects power companies will add  about 16 gigawatts per year, with the annual growth falling to nine gigawatts from 2017 to 2022 then rising to 14 gigawatts through  2040.

All those rates are well below the capacity growth in recent years. That new generation, combined with lower growth in power demand, have resulted in a surplus relative to the emergency reserve capacity many areas require, the agency said.

It said a growing population’s demand for electricity is  offset partly by increasingly efficient appliances and equipment.  Total electricity demand is expected to increase 0.9 percent annually through 2040.