COVID-19 has minimal effect on power plant startups, EIA says

Efforts to mitigate the spread the COVID-19 have delayed the start dates of proposed power plants slightly more than average, according to the Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) March and April preliminary monthly electric generator inventory data.

About 20% of the power projects due online within 12 months in 2018 and 2019 experienced some delays. In March and April, 21% and 29% of projects, respectively, experienced delays, some of which were attributed to efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the EIA reported.

The minimal increase in delays suggests that COVID-19 mitigation efforts “may have been a contributing factor” in some project delays reported in March and April, but not the only factor involved, EIA said. “The majority of projects in development are still on schedule,” the authors said.

Generating projects that expect to begin commercial operation within 12 months report their status to the EIA. If a project is delayed, project developers must provide the EIA with a cause for the delay.

In an effort to better understand the impact of COVID-19 mitigation efforts, such as state-mandated stay-at-home orders and business shutdowns, the EIA emphasized an existing survey question that allowed respondents to specify whether or not project delays were attributable to COVID-19.

In March 2020, 163 of the 772 proposed power projects reported delays in their startup dates, with 41 citing COVID-19 for the delay. In April, 746 power projects reported they expected to begin operation within 12 months. Of those, 220 reported delays and 67 cited COVID-19 as a reason.

The COVID-19 related delays reported in March and April represent 3.1 gigawatts (GW), or 18% of total delayed capacity. The median delay reported was two months, regardless of whether or not COVID-19 was cited as the cause of delay.

The EIA data showed that projects in construction were more likely to be delayed as a result of COVID-19 than projects in earlier stages of development. Sixty-one projects, totaling 2.4 GW, that were under construction in March and April were delayed as a result of the COVID-19.

Even though construction workers are considered essential, building a power project requires scheduling of simultaneous and dependent activities that involve numerous components, equipment, and specialized workers, EIA noted. The impacts of COVID-19 mitigation efforts, including supply chain disruptions, permitting delays, and restricted travel of specialized workers, affected project scheduling and increased the risk of project delays, the EIA report said.

COVID-19 related delays aside, most of the delays reported in March were for project in construction while most of the delays reported in April were for projects in the permitting process.

Among technology types, solar photovoltaic projects were most affected by COVID-19 restrictions.

In March and April, 53 solar projects, totaling 1.3 GW, were delayed as a result of COVID-19. Wind power projects were the second most affected by COVID-19, with 1.2 GW of wind projects citing the pandemic's mitigation factors as a cause for delays.