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EIA slightly raises 2020 estimate for utility-scale natural gas-fired generation

In its December "Short-Term Energy Outlook," the U.S. Energy Information Administration slightly raised its forecast for the amount of U.S. utility-scale electricity generation that will be sourced from natural gas-fired power plants but generally maintained its prior predictions.

Natural gas-fired power plants are expected to provide 39% of utility-scale electricity generation in 2020, compared to the EIA's forecast of 38% for the year included in its November outlook. The EIA's 2020 estimate for natural gas-fired generation slowly has risen in recent months; in the October outlook, the EIA said it saw natural gas-fired power plants supplying 37% of the country's utility-scale electricity generation in 2020.

Otherwise, the agency largely maintained its expectations for the nation's energy mix in 2020 from its last short-term outlook. Coal-fired generation still is anticipated to drop to 22% of the total generation in 2020, and the estimate for nuclear for that year has not wavered much in months and continues to sit at close to 20% of total utility-scale generation. Hydropower and nonhydropower renewables such as wind and solar still are notched at 7% and 12% for 2020, respectively. Nonhydropower renewables are estimated to make up 10% of the energy mix in 2019.

The "EIA continues to forecast strong growth of about 15% from 2019 to 2020 for U.S. electric generation from renewables other than hydropower, largely wind and solar," EIA Administrator Linda Capuano said in a statement.

In 2019, 20% of the country's total nonhydropower renewables generation is estimated to come from Texas, according to the December outlook. The agency expects that figure to rise to 22% in 2020. The current forecast for 2019 is one percentage point above what the EIA predicted in its October and November outlooks. Estimates for the Midwest and Central power regions in both the December and November outlooks were slightly elevated from those in the October short-term outlook.

The agency continues to estimate that California will account for 15% of nonhydropower renewable generation in 2019 and 14% in 2020.

Retail electric sales are anticipated to reach 913 billion kWh for the fourth quarter of 2019, a 0.6% uptick from the agency's prior monthly forecast, according to a forecast comparison chart. Estimates for the first and second quarter of 2020 are unchanged from the November outlook, although the fourth-quarter estimate for that year is anticipated to notch a 0.6% decline from the previous estimate.

According to the same forecast comparison chart, the average residential retail electricity cost for the fourth quarter of 2019 is projected to be 12.68 cents/kWh, down 0.6% from the last short-term outlook estimation for the quarter.

Carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels are expected to decline in the 2018-2019 period by 1.4%, compared to the previously estimated decline of 1.7%. But the agency predicts that those emissions will decline by 2.2% in the 2019-2020 period, compared to a prior forecast of a 2.1% decline.