Natural gas for electric production at record highs, EIA says

By BOB DOWNING Published: January 25, 2016

From the U.S. Energy Information Administration:

Since January 1, consumption of natural gas for electric power generation (power burn) has averaged 26.0 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d), 24% greater than the five-year average and 3% higher than the five-year maximum. While power consumption is typically highest in summer to meet air-conditioning demand, about 39% of all households in the United States rely on electricity as their primary heating source. In the Southeast, where most of the homes use electricity for space heating, natural gas is a relatively large share of the generation mix. However, the growth in power burn this month has occurred despite electricity-weighted heating degree days that were close-to-average nationally and in the Southeast region.

Low natural gas prices and growth in natural gas power generation infrastructure are the main drivers in the consumption growth. This is a continuation of a trend, with 2015 being a record-high year for power burn, according to preliminary Bentek data. Bentek estimated that power burn averaged 26.4 Bcf/d in 2015, 6.8% greater than the next-highest annual average, in 2012.

Nationwide, natural gas-fired generation has been rising, as coal has declined as a share of total generation. In 2015, coal plant retirements accelerated as the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) rules were implemented. Through October 2015, around 11 GW of coal-fired generation was retired, although this generation was likely already running at a reduced capacity factor, meaning that those plants were active for fewer hours a day than before