Energy | Ecotrope

A Dramatic Decline In Coal-Fired Power

Ecotrope | June 8, 2012 3:17 a.m. | Updated: Feb. 19, 2013 1:31 p.m.

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Coal-fired power has declined from nearly 50 percent of the U.S. power mix in early 2011 to 34 percent in March 2012.

Coal-fired power has declined from nearly 50 percent of the U.S. power mix in early 2011 to 34 percent in March 2012.

New graphs from the Energy Information Administration illustrate how coal is becoming a smaller component of the energy mix in the U.S. and on the West Coast.

Coal stockpiles are growing at power plants across the country, and utility executives are showing much less confidence in coal as a future energy source in the U.S. Meanwhile, exports to Asia and Europe are noticeably on the rise.

All of this seems to back up the explanations for why there are six coal export terminal proposals in the Pacific Northwest.

Coal’s share of total electricity generation dropped to 34 percent this March – the lowest it’s been since the EIA started keeping monthly stats in January of 1973.

You can see from the graph above, it’s down from nearly 50 percent in January of 2011. You can also see how natural gas is growing as a source of electricity with prices nearing 10-year lows. Natural gas generation grew about as much as coal generation shrank from March 2011 to March 2012.

The  graph below shows how much coal-fired power declined on the West Coast over the past year. 

The blue line shows coal-fired electricity generation on the West Coast in March 2011. The brown line is March 2012.

The blue line shows coal-fired electricity generation on the West Coast in March 2011. The brown line is March 2012.

The next graph shows coal stockpiles at U.S. power plants growing by 18 percent from March 2011 to March 2012 – because the coal isn’t being burned for power.

Earlier this year, the EIA reported a dramatic drop in coal consumption in the power sector was being partially offset by rising coal exports.

Total coal exports increased by 32.6 percent from 2010 to 2011.

As coal consumption in the U.S. declines, coal exports are on the rise.

As coal consumption in the U.S. declines, coal exports are on the rise.

Then, this week, an annual survey of more than 500 utility executives found dramatically less confidence in coal as a future energy source this year compared with last year. The percentage of executives who said they saw a future for coal in the U.S. dropped from 81.5 percent in 2011 to 58 percent in 2012.

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