Developers connected a modest 6.4 gigawatts of generation capacity to the U.S. electric grid in the first quarter of 2022. For the fourth time in three years, distributed and utility-scale solar facilities comprised more than half of the generation capacity built this quarter. Only 284 megawatts of gas generation capacity went online in the first quarter of 2022 – the least amount of fossil gas buildout since the third quarter of 2020.
In the chart below, we illustrate the past two years of new power plant capacity in the U.S., disaggregated by energy source on a quarterly basis.
Steady Growth Continues in Utility-Scale Solar and Wind
Although the total generation capacity buildout in the first quarter of 2022 looks meager, it was a strong first quarter for solar and wind. The first quarter of the year is typically a low point for solar generation capacity buildout. Still, this quarter saw the second-most solar ever installed in the first quarter of the year, slightly behind the first quarter of 2021. 57 percent of new electricity generation facilities built this quarter are powered by the sun – a total of 3.7 gigawatts.
Read our 2021 update examining the size of state solar markets and the saturation of distributed and community solar systems.
Nearly 2.5 gigawatts of wind generation went online in the first quarter of 2022 – neither a record high nor a record low. All of the wind installed this quarter was onshore.
Distributed Solar: The People Vs. Monopoly Utilities
1.5 gigawatts of small-scale solar generation capacity were installed in the first quarter of 2022, making this the sixth consecutive quarter where U.S. solar developers together built at least one gigawatt of community, commercial, and residential solar. Further, 1.5 gigawatts is the most distributed solar ever installed in the first quarter of the year. It is the third most distributed solar ever installed in one quarter.
Although distributed solar is on its way to becoming a main power source for electric grids everywhere (the gap between distributed solar and fossil gas buildout is narrowing), utilities are fighting tooth and nail to keep their monopoly hold on electricity generation. In a close call, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis just vetoed an anti-solar bill passed by the Florida Legislature. The bill would have imposed fees on residential solar generators. Florida Power & Light, the monopoly utility company serving much of Florida, supported the bill and campaigned heavily to pass it. Thanks to community organizing and reframing the narrative, Gov. DeSantis vetoed the bill out of regard for Florida residents.
Utilities are using their outsized power to squash competition from private energy generators, especially rooftop solar. ILSR and allies petitioned the Federal Trade Commission to investigate these monopoly utility abuses.
Building a Gas Plant Is Not Worth the Environmental and Financial Risks
Only 284 megawatts of generation capacity from gas-fired power plants went online in the first quarter of 2022. Unlike renewable energy resources, gas-fired power plants have fuel costs — a cost that has ballooned in recent months. The cost of fossil gas makes new plants financially perilous for electric customers as well as harmful to the climate. Gas has contributed less than ten percent of new electricity generation capacity in four of the last eight quarters.
Find out how state “value of solar” policies protect households from high gas prices.
Interested in earlier trends and analysis of new power plant capacity? Check out our archive, illustrating how electricity generation has changed in previous quarters and years.
Featured Photo Credit: U.S. Department of Agriculture via Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)