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More people's electricity coming from natural gas

Stephen Huba
| Thursday, July 27, 2017, 12:27 p.m.

Natural gas is on pace to either equal or exceed coal as a source of electricity for the second year in a row, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said Thursday.

Coal and natural gas generated 30 percent and 34 percent of U.S. electricity in 2016, respectively — the first year that natural gas-fired electricity generation exceeded coal-fired generation. EIA projections show that natural gas and coal will each generate 31 percent of the electricity in the United States in 2017.

The federal government report comes at a time of growth in the number of gas-fired power plants in Western Pennsylvania and Eastern Ohio. The 925-megawatt Tenaska Westmoreland Generating Station in South Huntingdon Township will supply power for up to 925,000 homes once it comes online in late 2018.

For the first four months of 2017, coal has provided 30 percent of electricity generation, while natural gas has provided 28 percent, the EIA said.

The amount of natural gas used for electricity generation, known as power burn, from April 1 through July 25 averaged 27.1 billion cubic feet — or 7 percent lower than last year's consumption over the same period, the EIA said.

Although power burn in 2017 is lower than in 2016, it is still relatively high compared with the previous five-year average for that period, the EIA said. Higher natural gas prices relative to last summer and reliance on renewable sources explain part of the decrease.

Power burn reached its highest daily level so far in 2017 during the past week, exceeding 41 billion cubic feet on July 20, according to data from PointLogic Energy. Natural gas-fired electricity generation typically peaks at the end of July or the beginning of August because of high demand for air conditioning during that period.

In addition to Tenaska in Westmoreland, several other gas-fired power plants are at various stages of development in the region.

In January, Boston-based developer Clean Energy Future announced that it was building a second plant in Lordstown, Ohio, next door to the 940-megawatt plant that is scheduled to go into service in June 2018.

In Wellsville, Ohio, Advanced Power Services is building a 1,100-megawatt plant that will provide enough energy for an estimated 1 million homes once it comes online in 2020.

Also under development are plants in Renovo Borough, Clinton County (Bechtel Development Corp.); Cumberland Township, Greene County (Hill Top Energy Center); and Robinson Township, Washington County (Robinson Power Co.).

Stephen Huba is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-850-1280, or via Twitter @shuba_trib.

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