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District of Columbia   District of Columbia Profile

State Profile and Energy Estimates

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Profile AnalysisPrint State Energy Profile
(overview, data, & analysis)

Last Updated: October 21, 2021

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 Anacostia River, a Potomac tributary, 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 11,300 people per square mile.4,5

Unlike any state, the commercial sector consumes most of the energy in the District of Columbia.

The District consumes almost 85 times more energy than it produces.6 However, the city consumes less total energy than any state except Vermont. On a per capita basis, the District uses less energy than three-fourths of the states.7,8 The city's climate is temperate, but summer days can exceed 100°F, and the rivers contribute to high humidity throughout the year.9 As a result, air conditioning is widely used in the District.10 Unlike any state, the commercial sector accounts for more energy consumption than any other sector in the District. 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.11 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 the city's GDP, followed by finance, insurance, and real estate at about one-eighth.12 The amount of energy the District uses to produce one dollar of GDP is less than that of any state and only one-fourth of the U.S. average.13

Renewable energy

Solar energy and biomass are the primary renewable resources used to generate electricity within the District of Columbia and accounted for about 59% of the city's total net generation in 2020. There is no commercial hydroelectric, wind, or geothermal power development in the city.14,15,16

In 2020, small-scale solar installations (with capacities of less than 1 megawatt each), such as rooftop solar panels, accounted for about one-third of all the electricity generated in the District of Columbia. The District's many government and other commercial buildings, including apartments and schools, have rooftops that can accommodate small-scale solar photovoltaic (PV) installations. As of April 2021, there were nearly 8,700 solar power generating systems in the city with a total generating capacity of about 131 megawatts.17 In 2019, the District produced electricity from utility-scale solar facilities (1 megawatt or larger in generating capacity) for the first time. The city had five utility-scale solar power sites as of mid-2021. The three largest 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 4.5-megwatt solar farm with 12,000 panels that came online in May 2021 at DC Water's Blue Plains Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant, and a 1.7-megawatt solar array on the carports and rooftops of Ridgecrest Village Apartments in Southeast D.C. that came online in June 2021.18,19,20,21,22 Blue Plains is also the site of the District's only large-scale biomass-fueled generating facility, which has 12 megawatts of capacity and can produce electricity from on-site waste biomass to help reduce the plant's power costs.23,24

Washington ranks second among cities, after Los Angeles, in the number of Energy Star-certified buildings, a total of 549 buildings with nearly 148 million square feet.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 renewables generate 100% of the electricity sold in the city by 2032.

In 2005, the District of Columbia adopted a renewable portfolio standard (RPS), which has been amended several times. In 2016, the District updated the RPS to require that 50% of all electricity retail sales in the city come from renewable sources by 2032, with at least 5% from solar energy. In 2019, the RPS increased again to double the renewable requirement to 100% of the District's electricity retail 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 includes electricity generated by renewable facilities in other states as meeting the RPS requirements.28 The District 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

The District of Columbia receives nearly all of its electricity, about 98%, from power plants in surrounding states.

The District of Columbia receives about 98% of its electricity from power plants in surrounding states through the local Pepco 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 2020, solar from both utility- and small-scale facilities accounted for about 42% of the electricity generated (which represented 2% of the electricity used) in the District. Natural gas accounted for 41% of the District's total electricity generation and biomass was 17%. There are no operating coal, petroleum, or nuclear power facilities in DC.34

The District's largest electricity generating facilities are located at government sites, but they are small compared to the generating plants found in most states. DC Water's Blue Plains Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant (12 megawatts) uses biomass as a generating fuel and the U.S. General Services Administration's (GSA) Central Heating Plant (10 megawatts) uses natural gas.35,36,37 The Capitol Power Plant (7.5 megawatts) 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.38,39,40

With its relatively small population compared to most states, the District of Columbia consumed less electricity in 2020 than all but three states (Hawaii, Alaska, and Vermont). However, the city's large number of federal and office buildings results in high commercial sector power use, which places the District 12th in the nation in per capita total electricity consumption.41,42 The commercial sector accounted for about two-thirds of the electricity retail sales in the District of Columbia in 2020. However, in 2020 power sales to the sector fell 16% from 2019 levels, in part because of COVID-19 mitigation efforts, as many of the District's commercial buildings closed or scaled back operations and many employees worked from home.43,44,45,46 The District's total electricity consumption in 2020 was the lowest since 1989. About one-fourth of the city's electricity sales went to the residential sector, where about 4 out of 10 households use electricity as their primary heating source. The transportation and industrial sectors together accounted for about 5% of the District's power sales.47,48,49 The District's transportation sector includes electric cars and the subway system that runs on electricity. Washington is among the top 10 markets for electric vehicles, and the city has many electric vehicles in private and government fleets.50,51 To service those vehicles, the District has more than twice as many public electric vehicle charging stations than stations that sell motor gasoline.52

Natural gas

Washington, DC does not have any natural gas reserves or production. District consumers did not have access to out-of-state natural gas supplies until 1931, when pipelined natural gas came to the city from Kentucky and West Virginia for the first time.53,54 For more than 80 years before then, manufactured gas was locally produced from coal and petroleum. A local utility used a mixture of natural gas and manufactured gas from 1931 until 1946. After that, manufactured gas was produced intermittently during periods of peak gas demand until the mid-1980s. The city's last gas-manufacturing plant, which was located near the Anacostia River, was demolished in 1986.55

Natural gas is now supplied to the District by a single natural gas distribution utility, Washington Gas, that serves the city and some surrounding suburbs in Maryland and Virginia.56 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 into 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 is also imported from other countries and arrives at the Cove Point liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal on the nearby Chesapeake Bay.57,58,59,60 Although the District does not have any natural gas storage facilities within its boundaries, Washington Gas provides some gas supply to the city from the company's natural gas storage field in West Virginia.61

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 less than three-fifths of total natural gas use.62 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.63,64,65 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. The conversion project began in 2007 and was completed in 2018.66 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 natural gas use.67,68 The transportation sector also uses a small amount of natural gas. Compressed natural gas fuels about 440 buses in the city.69,70

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.71,72 The Colonial Pipeline and PPL Pipeline (formerly known as the Plantation Pipeline) transport petroleum products from Gulf Coast refineries to nearby terminals in northern Virginia and Maryland. The petroleum products are then trucked into the District.73,74,75

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

The transportation sector uses more than four-fifths of the petroleum consumed in the District.76 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.77,78 The District does not have any ethanol or biodiesel-producing facilities, but does consume small amounts of both biofuels.79,80 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, which includes the third-largest subway system and sixth-largest bus network in the country. However in 2020, like public transportation systems in many cities, ridership dropped dramatically during the COVID-19 pandemic.81,82,83,84

The industrial sector, which includes a small amount of chemical, plastics, and petroleum products manufacturing facilities, consumes almost all the rest of the petroleum in the District.85,86 About 2% of District households heat with propane, fuel oil, or kerosene.87 The GSA's Central Heating Plant runs its two generators on natural gas, but uses petroleum as an emergency backup fuel source.88 The last two utility-owned petroleum-fired electricity generating facilities in the city retired in 2012.89,90

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.91,92 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.93,94 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.95,96 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.97

Endnotes

1 Fogle, Jeanne Mason, Washington, D.C., Encyclopedia Britannica, accessed August 31, 2021.
2 World Atlas, District of Columbia, District of Columbia Geography, accessed August 31, 2021.
3 U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), District of Columbia Profile Data, Reserves and Environment, accessed August 31, 2021.
4 World Atlas, District of Columbia, Which State is Washington, D.C. in?, accessed August 31, 2021.
5 U.S. Census Bureau, Data, Historical Population Density Data (1910-2020), updated April 26, 2021.
6 U.S. EIA, State Energy Data System, Table P3, Total Primary Energy Production and Total Energy Consumption Estimates in Trillion Btu, 2019.
7 U.S. EIA, State Energy Data System, Table C11, Total Energy Consumption Estimates by End-Use Sector, Ranked by State, 2019.
8 U.S. EIA, State Energy Data System, Table C14, Total Energy Consumption Estimates per Capita by End-Use Sector, Ranked by State, 2019.
9 Fogle, Jeanne Mason, Washington, D.C., Encyclopedia Britannica, accessed August 31, 2021.
10 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, 2021.
11 U.S. EIA, State Energy Data System, Table C11, Total Energy Consumption Estimates by End-Use Sector, Ranked by State, 2019.
12 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.
13 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, 2019.
14 U.S. EIA, Electricity Data Browser, Net generation for all sectors (thousand megawatthours), District of Columbia, 2001-20.
15 National Hydropower Association, District of Columbia: Existing Hydropower, accessed August 31, 2021.
16 U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, WindExchange, Wind Energy in District of Columbia, accessed August 31, 2021.
17 Public Service Commission of the District of Columbia, Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards, A Report for Compliance Year 2020 (May 3, 2021), p. iv.
18 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 2021, Plant State: DC, Technology: Solar Photovoltaic.
19 DC Water, "Catching some rays: DC Water harnesses the power of the sun," What's on Tap (Summer 2020).
20 Brears, Robert, "Wastewater Treatment Plant Capturing Energy from the Sun," Medium (March 3, 2021).
21 The NHP Foundation, Gaining Ground by Going Green: Now NHPF Partners to Improve Energy Efficiency, Ridgecrest Village Apartments + NEO, p. 5.
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 2021, Plant State: DC, Technology: Other Waste Biomass.
25 Environmental Protection Agency, 2021 Energy Star Top Cities, accessed September 1, 2021.
26 Energy Star, Energy Star certification for your building, accessed September 1, 2021.
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 2020 (May 1, 2021), p. 1-4.
29 Public Service Commission of the District of Columbia, Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards, A Report for Compliance Year 2020 (May 1, 2021), p. 20-21.
30 District of Columbia, Department of Energy and Environment, Solar for All, accessed September 1, 2021.
31 Pepco, Company Information, Service Territory, accessed September 1, 2021.
32 PJM Interconnection, Who We Are, accessed September 1, 2021.
33 U.S. EIA, District of Columbia Electricity Profile 2019, Table 10, Supply and disposition of electricity, 1990 through 2019.
34 U.S. EIA, Electricity Data Browser, Net generation for all sectors (thousand megawatthours), District of Columbia, 2001-20.
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 2021, Plant State: DC, Technology: All.
36 U.S. EIA, Electricity Data Browser, Net generation for all sectors (thousand megawatthours), District of Columbia, 2001-20.
37 DC Water, "DC Water leverages technology first in North America to generate clean, renewable energy from wastewater," Press Release (October 7, 2015).
38 District of Columbia, Department of the Environment, "District Issues Air Quality Permits for Cogeneration Equipment at the U.S. Capitol Power Plant," Press Release (June 6, 2013).
39 Architect of the Capitol, Cogeneration at the Capitol Power Plant, accessed September 1, 2021.
40 KCI, Capitol Power Plant Revitalization and Expansion, accessed September 1, 2021.
41 U.S. EIA, Electric Power Monthly (February 2021), Table 5.4.B.
42 U.S. EIA, Table C17, Electricity Retail Sales, Total and Residential, Total and per Capita, Ranked by State, 2019.
43 U.S. EIA, Electricity Data Browser, Retail sales of electricity (million kilowatthours), District of Columbia, 2001-20.
44 U.S. EIA. "U.S. energy consumption fell by a record 7% in 2020." Today in Energy (April 5, 2021).
45 Public Service Commission of the District of Columbia, Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards, A Report for Compliance Year 2020 (May 1, 2021), p. ii.
46 Davies, Emily, "Less than 25 percent of office workers have returned to downtown D.C., new report says," The Washington Post (October 8, 2021).
47 U.S. EIA, Electricity Data Browser, Retail sales of electricity (million kilowatthours), District of Columbia, 2001-20.
48 U.S. EIA, State Energy Data System, 1960-2019 estimates, Consumption, Full reports & data files, All consumption estimates in physical units.
49 U.S. Census Bureau, House Heating Fuel, Table B25040, 2019 ACS 1-Year Estimates Detailed Tables, District of Columbia.
50 Minnock, Olivia, "Top 10 U.S. Cities for Electric Cars," Energy Digital (February 24, 2021).
51 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).
52 U.S. EIA, District of Columbia, Profile Data, Supply & Distribution, Fueling Stations, accessed September 3, 2021.
53 U.S. EIA, District of Columbia Profile Data, Reserves and Supply & Distribution, accessed September 2, 2021.
54 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.
55 National Park Service, Anacostia, Washington Gas-East Station Site, updated April 21, 2020.
56 Washington Gas, Corporate Governance, accessed September 2, 2021.
57 U.S. EIA, International & Interstate Movements of Natural Gas by State, District of Columbia, Annual, 2015-20.
58 U.S. EIA, International & Interstate Movements of Natural Gas by State, Maryland, Annual, 2015-20.
59 U.S. EIA, "Increases in natural gas production from Appalachia affect natural gas flows," Today in Energy (March 12, 2019).
60 Berkshire Hathaway, BHE GT&S, Cove Point LNG, accessed September 2, 2021.
61 WGL, Hampshire Gas, accessed September 2, 2021.
62 U.S. EIA, Natural Gas Consumption by End-Use, District of Columbia, Annual, 2015-20.
63 U.S. General Services Administration, About the Central Heating Plant, How Does the Plant Function?, updated September 17, 2020.
64 U.S. General Services Administration, Central Heating Plant, Washington, DC, Building Overview, updated September 29, 2017.
65 "GSA putting a lot of energy into new D.C. plant," Washington Business Journal (October 13, 2003).
66 Architect of the Capitol, Cogeneration at the Capitol Power Plant, accessed September 2, 2021.
67 U.S. Census Bureau, House Heating Fuel, Table B25040, 2019 ACS 1-Year Estimates Detailed Tables, District of Columbia.
68 U.S. EIA, Natural Gas Consumption by End-Use, District of Columbia, Annual, 2015-20.
69 Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, FY 2022 Proposed Budget (July 1, 2021), Age of Fleet, p. 108.
70 U.S. EIA, Natural Gas Consumption by End-Use, District of Columbia, Annual, 2015-20.
71 U.S. EIA, State Energy Data System, Table C15, Petroleum Consumption, Total and per Capita, Ranked by State, 2019.
72 U.S. EIA, District of Columbia, Profile Data, Reserves, Supply & Distribution, accessed September 3, 2021.
73 Kinder Morgan, Southeast Operations, Products (SE) Pipe Line Corporation, accessed September 3, 2021.
74 Kinder Morgan, Form 10-K, For the fiscal year ended December 31, 2020, Products Pipeline, Southeast Refined Products, PPL Pipeline, p. 10.
75 Colonial Pipeline Company, System Map, accessed September 3, 2021.
76 U.S. EIA, State Energy Data System, Table F16, Total Petroleum Consumption Estimates, 2019.
77 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Gasoline Standards, Reformulated Gasoline, accessed September 3, 2021.
78 American Petroleum Institute, U.S. Gasoline Requirements, updated January 2018.
79 U.S. EIA, State Energy Data System, Table PT1, Primary Energy Production Estimates in Physical Units, District of Columbia, 1960-2019.
80 U.S. EIA, State Energy Data System, Table C3, Primary Energy Consumption Estimates, 2019.
81 U.S EIA, State Energy Data System, Table E20, Motor Gasoline Price and Expenditure Estimates, Ranked by State, 2019.
82 Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, Metro Snapshot, accessed September 3, 2021.
83 Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, Metro Ridership Snapshot (May 2021).
84 Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, Rail Ridership Data Viewer and Bus Ridership Data Viewer, accessed September 3, 2021.
85 U.S. EIA, State Energy Data System, Table F16, Total Petroleum Consumption Estimates, 2019.
86 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.
87 U.S. Census Bureau, House Heating Fuel, Table B25040, 2019 ACS 1-Year Estimates Detailed Tables, District of Columbia.
88 U.S. General Services Administration, Central Heating Plant, Washington, DC, Overview, accessed September 3, 2021.
89 Pepco Holdings, "Benning and Buzzard Point Decommissioning," Press Release (June 6, 2014).
90 Pepco Holdings, Benning Power Plant Demolition Completed (July 2015).
91 U.S. EIA, Annual Coal Report 2020 (October 4, 2021), Table 26, U.S. Coal Consumption by End Use Sector, Census Division, and State, 2020 and 2019.
92 U.S. EIA, Annual Coal Report 2020 (October 4, 2021), Table 15, Recoverable Coal Reserves at Producing Mines, Estimated Recoverable Reserves, and Demonstrated Reserve Base by Mining Method, 2020.
93 Architect of the Capitol, Capitol Power Plant, accessed September 3, 2021.
94 U.S. General Services Administration, Central Heating Plant, Washington, DC, accessed September 3, 2021.
95 Architect of the Capitol, Letter to District of Columbia Department of the Environment (May 16, 2013).
96 Architect of the Capitol, Cogeneration at the Capitol Power Plant, accessed September 3, 2021.
97 U.S. General Services Administration, Central Heating Plant, Washington, DC, accessed September 3, 2021.