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Last Updated: October 15, 2020

Overview

The District of Columbia, commonly known as Washington, DC, is located on the Potomac River between Maryland and Virginia. The nation's capital was created by an Act of Congress in July 1790, and it is not part of any state.1 The city's center is mostly flat and rises from the banks of the Potomac River to low hills in the north. The Potomac's tributary—the Anacostia River—runs through the District's eastern side.2 There are no fossil energy reserves in the District, but there are some renewable resources.3 Although the District of Columbia occupies only about 68 square miles, its population is larger than that of either Wyoming or Vermont, and its population density is greater than that of any U.S. state at nearly 12,000 people per square mile.4,5,6

Most of the energy used in the District of Columbia is consumed by the commercial sector, which includes federal buildings.

The District consumes almost 100 times more energy than it produces.7 However, in total, the city consumes less energy than any state except Vermont. On a per capita basis, the District uses less energy than three-fourths of the states.8,9 The city's climate is temperate, but summer days can easily exceed 100°F, and the rivers contribute to high humidity throughout the year.10 As a result, air conditioning is widely used.11 Unlike any state, the commercial sector accounts for more energy consumption than any other sector in the District. More than three-fifths of the energy used in the District is consumed by the commercial sector, which includes the many federal government buildings, museums, and universities that are a large part of the city's economic activity.12 Government and government enterprises are the biggest contributors to the District's gross domestic product (GDP), accounting for about one-third of the total. Professional, scientific, and technical services account for about one-fourth of GDP, followed by finance, insurance, and real estate at about one-eighth.13 The amount of energy the District uses to produce one dollar of economic output is less than that of any state.14

Renewable energy

Solar energy and biomass are the primary renewable sources used to generate electricity within the District and accounted for about 86% of the city's total net generation in 2019. There is no commercial hydroelectric power or wind energy development in the city.15,16,17 In 2019, about half of all the electricity generated in the District of Columbia came from small-scale, customer cited solar photovoltaic (PV) panels. The District's many government and other commercial buildings, including apartments and schools, have rooftops that can accommodate small-scale solar PV installations. As of April 2020, there were about 6,200 solar power generating systems in the city with a total generating capacity of about 92 megawatts.18 In 2019, the District generated electricity from utility-scale solar facilities for the first time. The three largest utility-scale solar generating sites in the District are a 5.9-megawatt facility with about 15,000 panels that came online in early 2019 at the Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling military complex, a 1.5-megawatt solar farm with 5,000 panels in Northeast Washington that came online in early 2020, and a 1-megawatt solar array at the Washington Nationals' baseball stadium.19,20,21,22 The District's only large-scale biomass-fueled generating capacity is located at DC Water's Blue Plains Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant, which with 12 megawatts of capacity can produce electricity from on-site waste biomass to help reduce the plant's power costs.23,24

Washington, DC ranks second among cities, after Los Angeles, in the number of Energy Star-certified buildings.25 An Energy Star-certified building meets energy-performance standards set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and uses less energy, costs less to operate, and produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions than comparable buildings.26 Many of Washington's federal buildings are Energy Star-certified, including the U.S. Department of Energy's headquarters building.27

The District requires that 100% of the electricity sold in the city be generated by renewable sources by 2032.

The District of Columbia adopted a renewable portfolio standard (RPS) in 2005 and has amended it several times since then. The RPS was updated in 2016 to require that 50% of all electricity retail sales in the District come from renewable sources by 2032, with at least 5% of electricity retail sales generated by solar sources. The RPS was increased again in 2019 to double the renewable requirement to 100% of the District's electricity sales by 2032, with the solar energy requirement increasing to 5.5% by 2032 and to 10% by 2041. Because most of the electricity sold in the District comes from surrounding states, the RPS recognizes electricity generated by renewable facilities in other states to meet the RPS requirements.28 The District also has a program to provide financial assistance to small businesses, nonprofits, seniors, and certain households to help pay the costs to install solar power systems. The program's goal is to reduce electric bills by 50% for at least 100,000 low- to moderate-income households by the end of 2032.29,30

Electricity

District of Columbia residents receive nearly all their electricity from power plants in surrounding states through the local electric utility, which is part of the PJM Interconnection that manages electricity transmission on the regional power grid for the District and all or part of 13 states.31,32,33 In 2019, nearly half the electricity generated in the District came from customer-sited, small-scale solar PV panels located on homes and commercial buildings throughout the city. Biomass fuel accounted for more almost one-third of the District's net generation, and natural gas-fired facilities made up the rest.34

The District's largest electricity generating facilities are located at federal and commercial sites, but they are small compared to the generating plants found in most states.35 The U.S. General Services Administration's (GSA) Central Heating Plant is fueled with natural gas, and DC Water's Blue Plains Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant uses biomass as a generating fuel.36,37,38 The Capitol Power Plant has two natural gas-fired cogeneration units that enable the plant to produce steam and chilled water for nearly two dozen buildings on Capitol Hill, as well as electricity for on-site use at the plant.39,40,41

The District of Columbia ranks 11th in per capita electricity consumption.

With its relatively small population compared to most states, the District of Columbia consumed less electricity in 2019 than all but five states (New Hampshire, Hawaii, Rhode Island, Alaska, and Vermont). However, its large number of federal and office buildings results in high commercial sector power consumption, which places the District 11th in per capita electricity consumption.42,43 Nearly three-fourths of the electricity retail sales in the District of Columbia are made to the city's commercial sector. Most of the rest of the city's electricity retail sales go to the residential sector, where about 4 out of 10 households use electricity as their primary heating source.44,45

Natural gas

Washington, DC does not have natural gas reserves or production. District consumers did not have access to out-of-state natural gas supplies until 1931, when pipeline natural gas came to the city from Kentucky and West Virginia for the first time.46,47 For more than 80 years before then, manufactured gas was locally produced from coal and petroleum. A local utility used a mixture of natural and manufactured gas from 1931 until 1946. After that, manufactured gas was produced intermittently during periods of peak gas demand until the mid-1980s. Demolition of the city's last gas-manufacturing plant was completed in 1986.48

Natural gas is now supplied to the District by a single natural gas distribution utility that serves the city and some surrounding suburbs in Maryland and Virginia.49 The utility's local distribution pipelines take natural gas into the city from larger interstate pipelines located in Maryland and Virginia. Historically, most of the natural gas that entered the District came from the south and west through Virginia, but now larger amounts of natural gas come to the District through Maryland from Pennsylvania, where natural gas production from the Marcellus Shale has increased in recent years. Some of the natural gas from Maryland also arrives from overseas at the Cove Point liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal.50,51,52,53 Although the District does not have any natural gas storage facilities within its boundaries, the distribution company that supplies the District owns and operates a natural gas storage field in West Virginia.54

Half of the District’s households rely on natural gas for home heating.

As with total energy consumption, natural gas consumption in the District of Columbia is higher in the commercial sector than in any other sector in the city, accounting for slightly more than half of total natural gas use.55 The federal government is among the city's largest commercial sector natural gas customers. The GSA's Central Heating Plant, which provides steam and chilled cooling water to about 100 buildings, uses two 5-megawatt natural gas-fired turbines to generate electricity and produce steam. The electricity generated at the plant runs high-efficiency chillers that produce the chilled water for cooling. Any excess power is sent to the regional grid.56,57 Separately, the Capitol Power Plant, a 7.5-megawatt cogeneration facility that provides heating and cooling to the 23 buildings of the U.S. Capitol complex, converted from using coal to natural gas beginning in 2007. The conversion project was completed in 2018.58 The residential sector, where half of District households use natural gas for home heating, is the second-largest natural gas-consuming sector in the city and accounts for about two-fifths of total natural gas use.59,60 Natural gas is also used by the transportation sector, where more than 460 city buses are fueled by compressed natural gas (CNG) and more CNG-fueled bus purchases are planned.61,62,63,64

Petroleum

The District of Columbia has no crude oil reserves or refineries, and consumes less total petroleum and has lower petroleum use per capita than any state.65,66 Petroleum products arrive by pipeline from the Gulf Coast at nearby terminals in northern Virginia and Maryland and are trucked into the District.67,68,69

Per capita motor gasoline expenditures in the District are lower than in any state.

Nearly four-fifths of the petroleum consumed in the District is used by the transportation sector.70 Motor gasoline sold in the city, as well as in the surrounding Maryland and Virginia suburbs, is a reformulated blend containing ethanol to reduce smog-forming pollutants.71,72 The District does not have any ethanol or biodiesel-producing facilities, but does consume small amounts of the fuels.73,74 Both the District's total and per capita gasoline expenditures are lower than those of any state, due in part to its expansive public transportation system that has the third-largest subway system and sixth-largest bus network in the country. However, like public transportation systems in many cities, ridership dropped dramatically in response to health safety concerns with the coronavirus.75,76,77,78

Washington is among the top 10 markets for electric vehicles, and the city has many alternative-fueled vehicles in private and government fleets.79,80 To service those vehicles, the District has more electric vehicle charging stations than stations that sell motor gasoline.81 More than four-fifths of the city's electric vehicle charging outlets are available for public use.82 Almost all the rest of the petroleum consumed in the District is used in the industrial sector, which includes a small amount of chemical and petroleum products manufacturing.83,84 About 2% of District households heat with propane, fuel oil, or kerosene.85 The GSA's Central Heating Plant runs its two generators on natural gas, but uses petroleum as an emergency backup fuel source.86 The last two utility-owned petroleum-fired electricity generating facilities in the city were retired in 2012.87,88

Coal

There are no coal reserves in the District and little coal is consumed in the city—less than in any of the states except for Vermont and Rhode Island. Coal consumption is limited to commercial and institutional users.89,90 Both the Capitol Power Plant—which began generating electricity in 1910—and the Central Heating Plant—which began operations in 1934—were originally coal-fired.91,92 By the 1950s, the Capitol Power Plant stopped generating electricity but continued to provide steam for heating and chilled water for cooling the U.S. Capitol, the House and Senate office buildings, the Supreme Court building, and other buildings in the Capitol complex. Although natural gas is the primary fuel source at the Capitol Power Plant, coal can be used as a backup fuel in case of a gas supply disruption.93,94 GSA's Central Heating Plant runs on natural gas. The facility is also still capable of burning coal, but uses only petroleum as emergency back-up fuel.95

Endnotes

1 Fogle, Jeanne Mason, Washington, D.C., Encyclopedia Britannica, accessed August 31, 2020.
2 World Atlas, District of Columbia, District of Columbia Geography, accessed August 31, 2020.
3 U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), District of Columbia Profile Data, Reserves and Environment, accessed August 31, 2020.
4 World Atlas, District of Columbia, Which State is Washington, D.C. in?, accessed August 31, 2020.
5 U.S. Census Bureau, American FactFinder, State Population Totals, Tables: 2010-2018, Annual Estimates of the Resident Population: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2018.
6 Statista, Population density in the U.S. by federal states including the District of Columbia in 2018, accessed August 31, 2020.
7 U.S. EIA, State Energy Data System, Table P3, Total Primary Energy Production and Total Energy Consumption Estimates in Trillion Btu, 2018.
8 U.S. EIA, State Energy Data System, Table C11, Energy Consumption Estimates by End-Use Sector, Ranked by State, 2018.
9 U.S. EIA, State Energy Data System, Table C14, Total Energy Consumption Estimates per Capita by End-Use Sector, Ranked by State, 2018.
10 Fogle, Jeanne Mason, Washington, D.C., Encyclopedia Britannica, accessed August 31, 2020.
11 U.S. EIA, Residential Energy Consumption Survey (RECS), 2009 RECS Survey Data, Air conditioning in South Region, divisions, and states (HC7.10), accessed August 31, 2020.
12 U.S. EIA, State Energy Data System, Table C11, Energy Consumption Estimates by End-Use Sector, Ranked by State, 2018.
13 U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, Interactive Data, Regional Data, GDP & Personal Income, Annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by State, GDP in Current Dollars, NAICS, District of Columbia, All statistics in table, District of Columbia, 2019.
14 U.S. EIA, State Energy Data System, Table C10, Total Energy Consumption Estimates, Real Gross Domestic Product (GDP), Energy Consumption Estimates per Real Dollar of GDP, Ranked by State, 2018.
15 U.S. EIA, Electricity Data Browser, Net generation for all sectors (thousand megawatthours), District of Columbia, 2001-19.
16 National Hydropower Association, District of Columbia: Existing Hydropower, accessed September 1, 2020.
17 U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, WindExchange, Wind Energy in District of Columbia, accessed September 1, 2020.
18 Public Service Commission of the District of Columbia, Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards, A Report for Compliance Year 2019 (May 1, 2020), p. iii.
19 U.S. EIA, Electricity, Preliminary Monthly Electric Generator Inventory (based on Form EIA-860M as a supplement to Form EIA-860), Inventory of Operating Generators as of July 2020, DC (September 2020).
20 Catholic Energies, Catholic Charities - Archdiocese of Washington, accessed September 1, 2020.
21 Association of Energy Engineers, AEE/NCC Tour of Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, accessed September 1, 2020. Bolling
22 National Capital Planning Commission, Executive Director's Recommendation, Commission Meeting: September 7, 2017.
23 DC Water, "DC Water leverages technology first in North America to generate clean, renewable energy from wastewater," Press Release (October 7, 2015).
24 U.S. EIA, Electricity, Preliminary Monthly Electric Generator Inventory (based on Form EIA-860M as a supplement to Form EIA-860), Inventory of Operating Generators as of July 2020, DC (September 2020).
25 Environmental Protection Agency, 2020 Energy Star Top Cities, accessed September 1, 2020.
26 Energy Star, Energy Star certification for your building, accessed September 1, 2020.
27 U.S. Department of Energy, "DOE Headquarters Receives Energy Star Recognition from EPA" (July 9, 2008).
28 Public Service Commission of the District of Columbia, Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards, A Report for Compliance Year 2019 (May 1, 2020), p. 1-3.
29 Public Service Commission of the District of Columbia, Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards, A Report for Compliance Year 2019 (May 1, 2020), p. 21-22.
30 District of Columbia, Department of Energy and Environment, Solar for All, accessed September 1, 2020.
31 Pepco, Company Information, Service Territory, accessed September 2, 2020.
32 PJM Interconnection, Who We Are, accessed September 23, 2020.
33 U.S. EIA, District of Columbia Electricity Profile 2018, Table 10, Supply and disposition of electricity, 1990 through 2018.
34 U.S. EIA, Electricity Data Browser, Net generation for all sectors (thousand megawatthours), District of Columbia, 2001-19.
35 U.S. EIA, Electricity, Preliminary Monthly Electric Generator Inventory (based on Form EIA-860M as a supplement to Form EIA-860), Inventory of Operating Generators as of July 2020, DC (September 2020).
36 U.S. EIA, Electricity, Preliminary Monthly Electric Generator Inventory (based on Form EIA-860M as a supplement to Form EIA-860), Inventory of Operating Generators as of July 2020, DC (September 2020).
37 U.S. EIA, Electricity Data Browser, Net generation for all sectors (thousand megawatthours), District of Columbia, 2001-19.
38 DC Water, "DC Water leverages technology first in North America to generate clean, renewable energy from wastewater," Press Release (October 7, 2015).
39 District of Columbia, Department of the Environment, "District Issues Air Quality Permits for Cogeneration Equipment at the U.S. Capitol Power Plant," (June 6, 2013).
40 Architect of the Capitol, Cogeneration at the Capitol Power Plant, accessed September 1, 2020.
41 KCI, Capitol Power Plant Revitalization and Expansion, accessed September 1, 2020.
42 U.S. EIA, Electric Power Monthly (February 2020), Table 5.4.B.
43 U.S. EIA, Table C17, Electricity Retail Sales, Total and Residential, Total and per Capita, Ranked by State, 2018.
44 U.S. EIA, Electricity Data Browser, Retail sales of electricity (million kilowatthours), District of Columbia, 2001-19.
45 U.S. Census Bureau, House Heating Fuel, Table B25040, 2019 ACS 1-Year Estimates Detailed Tables, District of Columbia.
46 U.S. EIA, District of Columbia Profile Data, Reserves and Supply & Distribution, accessed September 3, 2020.
47 Hershman, Robert R., and Edward T. Stafford, Growing with Washington, The Story of Our First Hundred Years, Albert W. Atwood (ed.), Washington Gas Light (1948), p. 58.
48 National Park Service, Anacostia, Washington Gas-East Station Site, updated April 21, 2020.
49 Washington Gas, Corporate Governance, accessed September 3, 2020.
50 U.S. EIA, International & Interstate Movements of Natural Gas by State, District of Columbia, Annual, 2013-18.
51 U.S. EIA, International & Interstate Movements of Natural Gas by State, Maryland, Annual, 2013-18.
52 U.S. EIA, "Increases in natural gas production from Appalachia affect natural gas flows," Today in Energy (March 12, 2019).
53 Dominion Energy, Cove Point, accessed September 12, 2020.
54 WGL, Hampshire Gas, accessed September 12, 2020.
55 U.S. EIA, Natural Gas Consumption by End-Use, District of Columbia, Annual, 2014-19.
56 U.S. General Services Administration, About the Central Heating Plant, How Does the Plant Function?, updated February 26, 2019.
57 "GSA putting a lot of energy into new D.C. plant," Washington Business Journal (October 13, 2003).
58 Architect of the Capitol, Cogeneration at the Capitol Power Plant, accessed September 12, 2020.
59 U.S. Census Bureau, House Heating Fuel, Table B25040, 2019 ACS 1-Year Estimates Detailed Tables, District of Columbia.
60 U.S. EIA, Natural Gas Consumption by End-Use, District of Columbia, Annual, 2014-19.
61 Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, 2017 Metrobus Fleet Management Plan (September 14, 2017), p. 18.
62 "WMATA Upgrades Fleet with up to 694 New Buses from New Flyer," Mass Transit Magazine (July 5, 2018).
63 "WMATA orders 110 buses from New Flyer," Mass Transit Magazine (September 18, 2019).
64 U.S. EIA, Natural Gas Consumption by End-Use, District of Columbia, Annual, 2014-19.
65 U.S. EIA, State Energy Data System, Table C15, Petroleum Consumption, Total and per Capita, Ranked by State, 2018.
66 U.S. EIA, District of Columbia, Profile Data, Reserves, Supply & Distribution, accessed September 12, 2020.
67 U.S. Internal Revenue Service, Active Fuel Terminals (June 30, 2020).
68 Kinder Morgan, Overview, Southeast Operations, Plantation Pipe Line Company, accessed September 12, 2020.
69 Colonial Pipeline Company, System Map, accessed September 12, 2020.
70 U.S. EIA, State Energy Data System, Table F16, Total Petroleum Consumption Estimates, 2018.
71 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Gasoline Standards, Reformulated Gasoline, accessed September 12, 2020.
72 American Petroleum Institute, U.S. Gasoline Requirements, updated January 2018.
73 U.S. EIA, State Energy Data System, Table PT1, Primary Energy Production Estimates in Physical Units, District of Columbia, 1960-2018.
74 U.S. EIA, State Energy Data System, Table C3, Primary Energy Consumption Estimates, 2018.
75 U.S EIA, State Energy Data System, Table E20, Motor Gasoline Price and Expenditure Estimates, Ranked by State, 2018.
76 Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, Metro Snapshot, accessed September 12, 2020.
77 Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, Metro Ridership Snapshot (March 2020).
78 Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, Rail Ridership Data Viewer and Bus Ridership Data Viewer, accessed September 12, 2020.
79 Minnock, Olivia, "Top 10 U.S. Cities for Electric Cars," Energy Digital (December 8, 2019).
80 Center for American Progress, Plug-In Electric Vehicle Policy, Table 2, Market shares of plug-in electric vehicles by state, 2013-2017 (June 7, 2018).
81 U.S. EIA, District of Columbia, Profile Data, Supply & Distribution, Fueling Stations, accessed September 12, 2020.
82 U.S. Department of Energy, Alternative Fuels Data Center, District of Columbia, Fueling Stations, Electric charging outlets, accessed September 12, 2020.
83 U.S. EIA, State Energy Data System, Table F16, Total Petroleum Consumption Estimates, 2018.
84 U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, Interactive Data, Regional Data, GDP & Personal Income, Annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by State, GDP in Current Dollars, NAICS, District of Columbia, All statistics in table, District of Columbia, 2017.
85 U.S. Census Bureau, House Heating Fuel, Table B25040, 2019 ACS 1-Year Estimates Detailed Tables, District of Columbia.
86 U.S. General Services Administration, Central Heating Plant, Washington, DC, Overview, accessed September 12, 2020.
87 Pepco Holdings, "Benning and Buzzard Point Decommissioning," Press Release (June 6, 2014).
88 Pepco Holdings, Benning Power Plant Demolition Completed (July 2015).
89 U.S. EIA, Annual Coal Report 2019 (October 5, 2020), Table 26, U.S. Coal Consumption by End Use Sector, Census Division, and State, 2019 and 2018.
90 U.S. EIA, Annual Coal Report 2019 (October 5, 2020), Table 15, Recoverable Coal Reserves at Producing Mines, Estimated Recoverable Reserves, and Demonstrated Reserve Base by Mining Method, 2019.
91 Architect of the Capitol, Capitol Power Plant, accessed September 12, 2020.
92 U.S. General Services Administration, Central Heating Plant, Washington, DC, accessed September 12, 2020.
93 Architect of the Capitol, Letter to District of Columbia Department of the Environment (May 16,2013)
94 Architect of the Capitol, Cogeneration at the Capitol Power Plant, accessed September 12, 2020.
95 U.S. General Services Administration, Central Heating Plant, Washington, DC, accessed September 12, 2020.