Alabama’s energy use per capita is high because of demand from the state’s manufacturing base.
Alabama is located on the Gulf of Mexico, where warm Gulf waters provide the abundant moisture that creates the humidity found throughout the state during most of the year. Two-thirds of the state consists of coastal plain. In its northeast, Alabama rises to include the southwestern limits of the Appalachian Mountains. Although the climate is subtropical, cold air brings snow to the higher elevations in the north in most years. Alabama is rich in energy resources with sizeable deposits of coal, as well as some crude oil and natural gas reserves, including coalbed methane. The state also has renewable resources. Alabama’s many rivers flow generally southwest from the Appalachian highlands toward the Gulf of Mexico. Several dams along those rivers provide hydroelectric power. Forests cover more than two-thirds of Alabama, the third-largest amount of timberland acreage among the Lower 48 states, giving the state an ample biomass resource.
Alabama ranks among the top one-fourth of all states in energy consumption per person. The state is well above the national median in total energy consumption because of high demand from Alabama’s industrial sector, which consumes more energy than the state’s transportation sector and residential sector combined. The automotive, chemical, metals manufacturing, technology, forestry, and aeronautical industries are major contributors to Alabama’s economy, as are mining and food production. Despite high energy use for cooling during the hot, humid summers and the widespread use of electricity for home heating, the residential sector and the commercial sector together account for only about one-third of the state’s end-use energy consumption. The transportation sector uses about one-fourth of the energy delivered to end users in Alabama, and the industrial sector accounts for more than two-fifths of end-use consumption. However, together the Alabama end-use sectors account for only three-fifths of the total energy used in the state, and electric power generation consumes the rest.
Alabama’s hydroelectric facilities provide three-fourths of the state’s renewable electricity generation. The rest of the state’s utility-scale renewable generation comes from biomass, most of which is generated at industrial facilities. Additionally, Alabama has five commercial biomass pellet plants with a combined annual production capacity of 837,000 short tons, almost 7% of the nation’s total productive capacity at existing pellet plants. A sixth plant, with a capacity of 485,000 tons per year, has been proposed. Alabama does not have any ethanol plants, but the state does have three facilities that produce biodiesel from multiple feedstocks. Although there are no significant wind resources in Alabama, there are a few areas along its short coastline and along the spine of the mountains in northern Alabama where the wind resource is modest. The state has no utility-scale wind generation.
There is little commercial electricity generation from solar power in Alabama. However, the U.S. Army, in collaboration with the General Services Administration and Alabama Power, the state’s largest electric utility, is developing large-scale solar projects at three of its military installations in the state. The state’s other major electricity provider, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), operates two solar facilities in Alabama, one at a botanical garden and one at a wastewater treatment plant.TVA has agreed to purchase power from a planned new 80-megawatt solar farm to be built in 2016 near Florence, Alabama.
Alabama does not have a renewable portfolio standard. The state has adopted a mandatory building energy code for commercial and residential buildings and energy standards for state agencies. TVA offers homeowners and businesses financial incentives to install renewable energy generation. Participating customers receive credit on their utility bills for power sold back to the electric grid.
The Browns Ferry plant has the second-largest nuclear electric generating capacity in the nation.
Alabama is sixth among the states in electricity generation. Coal has typically fueled the largest share of electric power generation in the state, but, because of market fluctuations and increased supply, natural gas has provided a larger share in recent years, exceeding coal-fired generation in 2012, 2014, and 2015. Alabama is one of the largest generators of electricity from nuclear power in the nation. Its two nuclear power plants, with a total of five reactors, typically produce about one-fourth of the electricity generated in Alabama. The three reactors at the Browns Ferry nuclear power plant in Limestone County have a combined generating capacity of 3,309 megawatts, second only to Arizona’s Palo Verde plant in generating capacity among nuclear power plants in the United States.
Alabama is one of the largest hydroelectric power producers east of the Rocky Mountains, second only to New York. Two dozen hydroelectric dams, located along several of the state’s many rivers, typically supply about 6% of the state’s net electricity generation. Alabama also ranks among the top five states for electricity generation from biomass, much it from wood and wood waste from the state’s substantial forest products industry.
The largest share of retail electricity sales in Alabama is delivered to the industrial sector, followed closely by the residential sector. Average monthly consumption of electricity in Alabama’s residential sector is among the highest in the nation because of high demand for air conditioning during the hot summer months and the widespread use of electricity for home heating during the winter months. Three out of five Alabama households heat with electricity. Power production in Alabama exceeds the state’s consumption, and large amounts of electricity are delivered to neighboring states over several high-voltage interstate transmission lines.
Alabama produces natural gas both onshore and offshore in state waters. The state’s annual natural gas production has steadily declined from its peak in 1996, and Alabama currently contributes less than 1% of the nation’s total natural gas production. Three-fifths of Alabama’s natural gas production comes from onshore wells, and more than two-thirds of that production comes from coalbed methane-a natural gas derived from coal seams. Alabama’s coalbed methane wells are located primarily in the Black Warrior Basin. Overall, Alabama’s proved reserves of natural gas have fallen to about one-third of their 1992 peak of 5.8 trillion cubic feet.
An increasing amount of the natural gas delivered to customers in Alabama is going to the electric power sector, and, since 2007, that sector has been the largest natural gas-consuming sector in the state. The industrial sector consumes the second-largest amount. Although about 3 out of every 10 households use natural gas for heating, the residential sector typically uses about 6% of the natural gas delivered to customers, primarily because of the state’s mild winters.
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