The Stonewall power plant in Loudoun County, Virginia, represents another step in the power industry’s march toward natural gas and away from coal – a transition that has reshaped how Americans get electricity.
The 778 MW natural gas-fired power plant on the outskirts of Washington D.C. is scheduled to go live in 2017 and is expected to generate electricity for nearly 780,000 homes. The facility is owned by Panda Power Funds, a Dallas, Texas-based energy investor.
Stonewall is just one of a number of natural gas-fired power plants slated to go live next year. The Energy Information Agency is predicting that 2016 will be the first year that natural gas-fired generation exceeds coal generation in the United States on an annual basis when roughly 34 percent of electric power generation is expected to come from natural gas, and 30 percent from coal.
Stonewall is just one of a number of natural gas-fired power projects transforming the power sector in the U.S. and beyond. In New York State, Stonewall owner Panda Power Funds is transitioning the Greenidge Generation facility from a coal-fired to natural gas-fired plant. The trend also extends beyond the U.S. In its latest Outlook for Energy report, ExxonMobil projects that by 2040, 25 percent of global energy demand will be met by natural gas.
A number of factors are spurring the switch to natural gas. First, the fuel is less carbon-intensive, emitting up to 60 percent less CO2 than coal when used in power generation, which will help reduce emissions. This has been the case in the United States, where emissions are at the lowest levels since the 1990s. The fuel is also versatile. It is not only a reliable source of electricity, but also increasingly used in transportation. While many people think of buses when they think of natural gas vehicles, by 2040 liquefied natural gas is expected to meet about 30 percent of the U.S. freight rail industry’s energy needs.
This ongoing transformation of the domestic energy landscape has not just added new options to the country’s portfolio of energy sources, but it has also generated economic gains in the form of jobs associated with natural gas production, power plant construction and the boost in manufacturing from lower energy costs.