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District of Columbia   District of Columbia Profile

State Profile and Energy Estimates

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

Last Updated: July 20, 2017

Overview

The District of Columbia, also known as the city of Washington, is located on the Potomac River between Maryland and Virginia. The capital district was created by an Act of Congress in July 1790. It is under the exclusive jurisdiction of the U.S. Congress and is not a part of any state. The District is situated between the Potomac's first rapids in the north and its tidal estuary to the south.1,2 The city rises from the banks of the Potomac River and its tributary, the Anacostia River, to low hills in the north and east.3 There are no conventional energy resources in the District and only minor renewable resources.4 Although the District of Columbia occupies only about 68 square miles, its population is greater than that of either Wyoming or Vermont, and its population density is greater than that of any U.S. state.5,6

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

The city of Washington is overwhelmingly an energy consumer, not an energy producer.7 Nevertheless, in total, the city consumes less energy than any state except Vermont. Per capita, the District uses less energy than two-thirds of U.S. states.8,9 The city's climate is temperate, but summer days can exceed 100°F, and the rivers contribute to high humidity throughout the year.10 As a result, air conditioning is widely used.11 About three-fifths of the energy used in the District is consumed by the commercial sector, which includes the federal buildings, museums, and universities that contribute to the city's commercial activity.12

Petroleum

The District of Columbia has no petroleum resources and uses less total petroleum and less petroleum per capita than any of the states.13,14 The city's only two utility-owned petroleum-fired electricity generating facilities were retired in June 2012. One of them was completely dismantled by 2015.15,16 Three-fourths of the petroleum consumed in the District is used by the transportation sector. About one-sixth is consumed in the District's industrial sector, which includes a small amount of chemical products manufacturing, and the rest is shared equally between the commercial and residential sectors.17,18 Fewer than 2% of District households heat with fuel oil.19 The U.S. General Services Administration's (GSA) Central Heating and Refrigeration Plant, which provides heating and cooling to about 100 Washington buildings, uses petroleum only as an emergency fuel source.20

The District of Columbia does not have any petroleum product pipeline terminals. Petroleum products arrive by pipeline from the Gulf Coast at nearby terminals in northern Virginia and Maryland and are trucked into the District.21,22,23 Motor gasoline sold in the District of Columbia is a reformulated blend containing fuel ethanol.24 Washington is among the leading cities in registered electric vehicles and is home to a large number of alternatively fueled vehicles in local and federal government fleets.25,26 To service those vehicles, the District of Columbia has more fueling stations that supply alternative fuels than fueling stations that sell only conventional motor gasoline.27 Some of those alternative fuel stations supply only government or private fleets.28 The U.S. Department of Energy, which is headquartered in the district, is committed to using alternative fuel sources in more than three-fourths of its transportation fleet.29,30

Natural gas

The city of Washington does not have natural gas reserves or production, and District consumers did not have access to natural gas supplies until 1931, when pipeline natural gas came to the city for the first time, arriving from Kentucky and West Virginia.31,32 For more than 80 years before that, manufactured gas was locally produced from coal and petroleum. A mixture of natural and manufactured gas was used 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 1986.33

Natural gas is now supplied to the District by a single natural gas distribution utility that services the city and some surrounding suburbs in Maryland and Virginia.34 No interstate natural gas pipelines enter the District.35 The utility's local distribution pipelines bring natural gas into the city from interstate pipelines in Maryland and Virginia. Historically, most of the natural gas entering the District of Columbia came from the south and west through Virginia, but increasing amounts of natural gas are coming to the District through Maryland from Pennsylvania, where natural gas production from the Marcellus Shale has rapidly increased in recent years.36,37,38 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 storage field in West Virginia.39

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.40 Among the commercial customers is the federal government. GSA's Central Heating and Refrigeration Plant, which provides steam and chilled cooling water to many federal buildings, uses 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.41 Natural gas is also the primary fuel at the Capitol Power Plant, which provides heating and cooling to the U.S. Capitol complex.42 The residential sector, where more than half of households use natural gas for home heating, is the second-largest natural gas-consuming sector in the city. A small amount of natural gas is used by the transportation sector. There is no reported industrial natural gas use in the District.43,44

Coal

There are no coal resources in the District of Columbia and little coal is consumed in the city, less than in any state other than Vermont or Rhode Island. Coal consumption is limited to commercial and institutional users.45 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.46,47 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 now the primary fuel source at the Capitol Power Plant, coal is kept in reserve in case of natural disaster, a federal emergency, or a fuel shortage.48,49 GSA's Central Heating Plant is also still capable of burning coal but now runs on natural gas.50

Electricity

There is no utility-owned electricity generation in the District of Columbia, and, other than the federal generating plant, all the District's power supply is distributed (customer-sited, small-scale) generation.51 In 2012, the only utility-owned electricity generation facilities in the District, two small petroleum-fired power plants, were retired from service.52 They had been used for electricity generation only a few hours per year, typically in periods of high demand.53 District residents receive nearly all their electricity from outside the city through the distribution system of the local electric utility, which is part of the PJM regional power grid.54,55

In 2016, the only electricity generated within the District came from the GSA's Central Heating and Refrigeration Plant, which is fueled with natural gas, and from solar photovoltaic (PV) panels on commercial and residential rooftops.56,57 The Capitol Power Plant, which provided electricity to two dozen buildings on Capitol Hill from 1910 until 1951, has received local permits to construct two natural gas-fired cogeneration units.58 If built, the new units would allow the plant, which produces steam and chilled water, to once again produce electricity. The electricity generated would be for on-site use. The new units would use fuel oil only as a backup fuel.59,60 Additional generating capacity exists at the District's wastewater treatment plant, where digesters can produce about 10 megawatts of power for use on-site to reduce the plant's electricity costs.61

Nearly three-fourths of retail sales of electricity in the District of Columbia are made to the city's commercial sector. Most of the rest of the city's retail electricity sales go to the residential sector. With its small population, the District of Columbia consumes less total electricity than all but six states, but its large number of federal buildings results in high commercial sector consumption, which places the District among the top 5 states in per capita electricity consumption.62,63

Renewable energy

The District of Columbia leads the nation’s cities in the number of Energy Star-certified buildings.

Solar energy is the District of Columbia's primary renewable resource.64 The density of city development provides many rooftops that can accommodate solar photovoltaic (PV) installations. By the end of 2016, there were almost 2,900 solar energy systems in the city.65 One of the largest solar panel installations in the District of Columbia is located on the roof of the U.S. Department of Energy's Forrestal headquarters building. The panels generate about 230 megawatthours of electricity each year. The Department of Energy also increased energy efficiency at its headquarters building by installing cool roofs that reflect heat and reduce building cooling needs.66 Washington leads the nation's cities in its number of Energy Star-certified buildings.67 An Energy Star-certified building meets strict 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.68 Many of Washington's federal buildings are Energy Star-certified, including the U.S. Department of Energy's headquarters building.69,70

In 2005, the District of Columbia adopted a renewable portfolio standard and has amended it several times since. The Renewable Portfolio Standard Expansion Amendment Act of 2016 requires that 50% of all retail electricity sales in the District come from renewable sources by 2032, with no less than 5% of retail electricity sales generated from solar resources. The standard applies to both the investor-owned electric utility that serves the District of Columbia and to any retail suppliers.71 The 2016 Act established a new solar energy initiative, Solar for All. In addition to increasing the amount of solar energy generated in the city, the Act is designed to provide the benefits from locally generated solar power to small businesses, nonprofits, seniors, and low-income households. To help reach that goal, the city plans to install solar systems on more than 6,000 low-income homes annually, reaching at least 100,000 of the District's low-income households that have high energy burdens by December 31, 2032, and reducing their electricity bills by 50%.72,73,74

Endnotes

1 Fogle, Jeanne Mason, Washington, D.C., Encyclopaedia Britannica, accessed June 19, 2017.
2 Durum, W. H., and W. B. Langbein, Water Quality of the Potomac River Estuary at Washington, D.C., U.S. Geological Survey, Potomac River Studies, Geological Survey Circular 529-A (1966), p. 1.
3 World Atlas, District of Columbia, District of Columbia Geography, accessed June 19, 2017.
4 U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), District of Columbia Profile Data, Reserves and Supply, accessed June 19, 2017.
5 U.S. Census Bureau, Geography, State Area Measurements and Internal Point Coordinates, accessed June 19, 2017.
6 U.S. Census Bureau, Resident Population Data (Text Version), Population Density, accessed June 19, 2017.
7 U.S. EIA, State Energy Production Estimates 1960 Through 2015, Table P3, Energy Production and Consumption Estimates in Trillion Btu, 2015.
8 U.S. EIA, State Energy Data System, Table C10, Energy Consumption Estimates by End-Use Sector, Ranked by State, 2015.
9 U.S. EIA, State Energy Data System, Table C13, Energy Consumption Estimates per Capita by End-Use Sector, Ranked by State, 2015.
10 Fogle, Jeanne Mason, Washington, D.C., Encyclopaedia Britannica, accessed June 19, 2017.
11 U.S. EIA, Residential Energy Consumption Survey (RECS), 2009 RECS Survey Data, Air conditioning in South Region, divisions, and states (HC7.10), accessed June 19, 2017.
12 U.S. EIA, State Energy Data System, Table C10, Energy Consumption Estimates by End-Use Sector, Ranked by State, 2015.
13 U.S. EIA, State Energy Data System, Table C11, Energy Consumption Estimates by Source, Ranked by State, 2015.
14 U.S. Census Bureau, State Population Totals Tables: 2010–2016, Annual Estimates of the Resident Population for the United States, Regions, States, and Puerto Rico: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2016 (NST-EST2016-01).
15 Pepco Holdings, "Benning and Buzzard Point Decommissioning," Press Release (June 6, 2014).
16 Pepco Holdings, Benning Power Plant Demolition Completed (July 2015).
17 U.S. EIA, State Energy Data System, Table F15, Total Petroleum Consumption Estimates, 2015.
18 U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, Regional Data, GDP & Personal Income, Annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by State, GDP in current dollars, NAICS, All industries total, District of Columbia, 2015.
19 U.S. Census Bureau, American FactFinder, District of Columbia, Table B25040, House Heating Fuel, 2015 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates.
20 U.S. General Services Administration, Central Heating Plant, Washington, DC, accessed June 19, 2017.
21 U.S. EIA, District of Columbia, Profile Data, Distribution and Marketing, Major Pipelines, accessed June 19, 2017.
22 Kinder Morgan, Southeast Region, Plantation Pipeline Company, accessed June 19, 2017.
23 Colonial Pipeline Company, System Map, accessed June 19, 2017.
24 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Gasoline Standards, Reformulated Gasoline, accessed June 19, 2017.
25 McDonald, Zach, "Comparing the Top 10 Cities for Electric Vehicle Adoption," fleetcarma (August 11, 2016).
26 U.S. EIA, Alternative Fuel Vehicle Data, Fleet & Fuel Data, State Ranks-CNG, EVC, E85, HYD, LNG, LPG, OTH (2015).
27 U.S. EIA, District of Columbia, Profile Data, Distribution and Marketing, Fueling Stations, accessed June 19, 2017.
28 U.S. Department of Energy, Alternative Fuels Data Center, Alternative Fueling Station Locator, accessed June 19, 2017.
29 Costlow, Brian, "Leading by Example," U.S. Department of Energy (November 3, 2011).
30 U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Alternative Fuels Data Center, Vehicle Acquisition and Fuel Use Requirements for Federal Fleets, updated May 21, 2017.
31 U.S. EIA, District of Columbia Profile Data, Reserves and Supply, accessed June 20, 2017.
32 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.
33 National Park Service, National Capital Parks-East, District of Columbia, Washington Gas-East Station Site, accessed June 20, 2017.
34 Washington Gas, Company Profile, accessed June 20, 2017.
35 U.S. EIA, District of Columbia, Profile Data, Distribution and Marketing, Major Pipelines, accessed June 20, 2017.
36 U.S. EIA, International & Interstate Movements of Natural Gas by State, District of Columbia, Annual, 2010–15.
37 U.S. EIA, International & Interstate Movements of Natural Gas by State, Maryland, Annual, 2010–15.
38 U.S. EIA, "Marcellus, Utica provide 85% of U.S. shale gas production growth since start of 2012," Today in Energy (July 28, 2015).
39 Washington Gas, Company Profile, accessed June 20, 2017.
40 U.S. EIA, State Energy Data System, Table F30, Total Energy Consumption, Price, and Expenditure Estimates, 2015.
41 U.S. General Services Administration, About the Central Heating Plant, How Does the Plant Function?, accessed June 20, 2017.
42 Architect of the Capitol, Cogeneration at the Capitol Power Plant, accessed June 20, 2017.
43 U.S. EIA, Natural Gas Consumption by End-Use, District of Columbia, Annual, 2011–16.
44 U.S. Census Bureau, American FactFinder, District of Columbia, Table B25040, House Heating Fuel, 2015 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates.
45 U.S. EIA, Annual Coal Report 2015 (November 2016), Table 26, U.S. Coal Consumption by End-Use Sector, by Census Division, and State, 2015, 2014.
46 Architect of the Capitol, Capitol Power Plant, updated December 15, 2015.
47 U.S. General Services Administration, Central Heating Plant, Washington, DC, accessed June 20, 2017.
48 Architect of the Capitol, Capitol Power Plant Cogeneration Project, accessed June 20, 2017.
49 Architect of the Capitol, Cogeneration at the Capitol Power Plant, accessed June 20, 2017.
50 U.S. General Services Administration, Central Heating Plant, Washington, DC, accessed June 20, 2017.
51 U.S. EIA, Electric Power Monthly (February 2017), Tables 1.3.B, 1.17.B.
52 Pepco Holdings, "Benning and Buzzard Point Decommissioning," Press Release (June 6, 2014).
53 Pepco Holdings, "Pepco Holdings Seeks to Retire DC Power Plants," BusinessWire (February 28, 2007).
54 Pepco Holdings, Service Area Map, accessed June 20, 2017.
55 U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Electric Power Markets, PJM, accessed June 20, 2017.
56 U.S. EIA, Electricity, Form EIA-860 detailed data, 2015 Form EIA-860 Data-Schedule 3, 'Generator Data' (Operable Units Only).
57 U.S. EIA, Electric Power Monthly (February 2016), Tables 1.3.B, 1.7.B, 1.17.B.
58 Architect of the Capitol, Capitol Power Plant Cogeneration Project, accessed June 20, 2017.
59 U.S. Government Accountability Office, Capitol Power Plant, Architect of the Capitol Should Update Its Long-Term Energy Plan Before Committing to Major Projects, GAO-15-436 (September 2015), p. 1–10.
60 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).
61 DC Water, The Largest Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant in the World, accessed June 20, 2017.
62 U.S. EIA, Electric Power Monthly (February 2017), Table 5.4.B.
63 U.S. Census Bureau, State Population Totals Tables: 2010–2016, Annual Estimates of the Resident Population for the United States, Regions, States, and Puerto Rico: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2016 (NST-EST2016-01).
64 U.S. EIA, Electric Power Monthly (February 2017), Tables 1.10.B, 1.14.B, 1.15.B, 1.17.B.
65 Public Service Commission of the District of Columbia, Report on the Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard for Compliance Year 2016 (May 1, 2017), p. ii.
66 Costlow, Brian, "Leading by Example," U.S. Department of Energy (November 3, 2011).
67 District of Columbia Department of Energy and Environment, "Washington, DC Number One on EPA's 2017 Top Cities List,"
Press Release (June 26, 2017).
68 Energy Star, Energy Star Certification, accessed June 21, 2017.
69 Koch, Wendy, "Which U.S. Cities Have the Most Energy Star Buildings?" USA Today (March 12, 2013).
70 U.S. Department of Energy, "DOE Headquarters Receives Energy Star Recognition from EPA" (July 9, 2008).
71 NC Clean Energy Technology Center, DSIRE, District of Columbia, Renewable Portfolio Standard, updated October 19, 2016.
72 District of Columbia, Department of Energy and Environment, Solar for All, accessed June 20, 2017.
73 District of Columbia, Renewable Portfolio Standard Expansion Amendment Act of 2016, 2016 District of Columbia Laws 21-154 (Act 21-466).
74 District of Columbia, Executive Office of the Mayor, "Mayor Bowser Signs Renewable Portfolio Standard Into Law," Press Release (July 25, 2016).