EIA data: wind replaced natural gas, not coal in 2017

The U.S. Energy Information Administration recently released its electricity data for Minnesota in 2017, and boy, were there some interesting findings. One of those interesting findings is that contrary to the popular narrative that by building wind turbines, we will make Minnesota less dependent upon coal-burning power plants.

The graph below shows the annualized capacity factor for each generation source in 2017. I’ve used this graph in recent blog posts but this merits its own 15 minutes of fame in this post. The capacity factor for coal was 61 percent, much larger than the capacity factor for wind at 35.9 percent, solar at 18.2 percent, or natural gas combined cycle at 30.9 percent.

This is telling because it shows that wind and solar still aren’t producing anywhere near their full capacity. Furthermore, it is important to remember that humans control what the capacity factor will be fore nuclear, coal, and natural gas plants, but the capacity factors of wind and solar are controlled by the weather.

Interestingly, the amount of power generated by coal was essentially flat from last year (falling about 500,000 megawatt hours) , but the amount of electricity generated by natural gas fell by 2.2 million megawatt hours, or nearly 25 percent. This occurred as generation from wind power increased by 1.2 million megawatt hours or 12 percent.

This suggests natural gas is primarily being used as a back-up source of electricity for wind and solar and not as a primary source of power. This is important because Minnesota families and businesses are still paying billions of dollars per year on wind, solar, and natural gas plants that comprise 55 percent of Minnesota’s generation capacity on the system, but only generate 31.4 percent of the electricity we use.

This is incredibly wasteful and expensive. Minnesota ratepayers pay higher electricity costs because we must still pay the fixed costs for these power plants, such as capital costs, property taxes, and staffing, whether they are generating electricity or not. On top of that, we are also paying a 7.2 percent markup on the cost of the capital spent in the form of utility company profits.

Essentially, we are paying more money for a less efficient system. Enjoy the Pro Bowl!