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July 15, 2020

COVID-19 mitigation has delayed construction of some electric generators

delay status for generating units originally planned to start operating within 12 months
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Preliminary Monthly Electric Generator Inventory

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) March and April Preliminary Monthly Electric Generator Inventory data, COVID-19 mitigation efforts have resulted in slightly more delays than average in the commercial operation dates of proposed electric generator projects. Based on the average of delays reported in 2018 and 2019, about 20% of the projects scheduled to come online in the next 12 months experienced some delay. In March and April 2020, 21% and 29% of projects, respectively, experienced delays, some of which were attributed to efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Because there were not significantly more delays in planned operation date as reported in March and April than the monthly average for the past two years, COVID-19 mitigation efforts may have been a contributing factor in some projects’ delays but not the sole factor. The majority of projects in development are still on schedule.

All generating units that are planned to start commercial operation within 12 months report their status to EIA. If a project is delayed, respondents must provide a cause for the delay. To better understand the impact of COVID-19 mitigation efforts, such as state-mandated stay-at-home orders and business shutdowns, 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 generating units delayed their operational date, with 41 citing COVID-19 as a reason for delay. Of the 746 generating units reporting in April, 220 were delayed and 67 of these reported COVID-19 as a reason. The delays attributed to COVID-19 during these two months represent 3.1 gigawatts (GW) of capacity, or 18% of total delayed capacity. The median delay was two months, regardless of whether or not COVID-19 was cited as the cause of delay.

number of generating units reporting delays by project stage and reason for delay
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Preliminary Monthly Electric Generator Inventory

Although the ongoing pandemic has affected projects in all stages of development (including early planning, permitting, construction, and testing), projects in the construction stage were more likely to be delayed as a result of COVID-19 than projects in earlier stages of development. Sixty-one unique projects, with a total of 2.4 GW of generating capacity, under construction during March and April were delayed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Power plant construction workers are considered essential and critical infrastructure workers, and they were advised to follow Centers for Disease Control social distancing strategies while operating. However, the construction of electricity projects requires scheduling simultaneous and dependent activities that involve numerous components, equipment, and specialized workers. 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.

generating units reporting delays by technology and reason for delay
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Preliminary Monthly Electric Generator Inventory

Among technology types, solar photovoltaic (PV) had the most projects affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. In March and April, 53 unique solar PV projects, totaling 1.3 GW of capacity, were delayed as a result of COVID-19. In terms of capacity, wind projects were the second-most affected by COVID-19, with 1.2 GW of wind turbine projects citing the pandemic's mitigation factors as a cause for delays.

In addition to delays as a result of limited personnel travel and changes in finances, the solar and wind industries have also been affected by shutdowns of local and international component manufacturers. Some factories that produce critical components for wind and solar PV projects have paused operations, resulting in project delays.

Principal contributors: Whitney Jarrett, Ray Chen