- The United States added 15 GW of capacity to the nation's power grid last year, with wind and solar making up most of the new utility-scale power plants. It was the largest addition since 2011, and followed a 4 GW decline in generating capacity in 2015.
- Additions last year included 8.7 GW of wind capacity, 7.7 GW of solar, and 9 GW of natural gas. The new projects offset 12 GW of capacity retirements.
- Coal additions have been less than 1 GW in each of the last four years, EIA noted. The first nuclear plant to come online since 1996, Watts Bar Unit 2, added 1 GW of capacity in 2016.
Looking at the last 15 years of capacity changes in the United States, only twice has the country seen a net decline. But both of those are relatively recent years (2015 and 2013), and you have to go back to 2009 to actually find a year with higher capacity additions than the nation saw last year.
The 15 GW of net additions looks strong compared with recent history, following a period of slower growth. But it is modest when compared to years like 2002 and 2003, when the country added 53 GW and 43 GW of capacity — almost all of it gas-fired.
"Large amounts of new utility-scale wind capacity started entering the market in 2007 and have since averaged 7 GW per year, despite occasional lapses in available tax credits," EIA wrote in a recent research note. "With the exception of 2014, annual utility-scale solar additions have increased in each year since 2008."
The 7.7 GW of utility-scale solar was added last year was the most ever, EIA said. For some comparison, that's more than all utility-scale solar that had been added through 2013, the agency said. Although not included in the new stats, another 3.4 GW of distributed solar came online last year.
Since 2002 more than 50 GW of coal capacity has been retired, and roughly the same amount of gas. Five nuclear plants totaling 5 GW retired since 2013.
A mix of tighter regulations and emissions restrictions, along with cheap gas, has pressured other fuel-based plants. In January, EIA said renewable energy and natural gas will likely continue to grow regardless of what happens with the Clean Power Plan, and that the United States will become a net energy exporter sometime in the next decade.
Repeal of the climate regulations, however, could allow coal to regain its leading role in the nation's generation mix, after being eclipsed by natural gas last year, EIA said.