U.S. Midwest Holds Onto Coal, Everyone Else Moves On

Keith Kohl

Written By Keith Kohl

Posted June 20, 2017

Last year was a pretty big deal for natural gas.

It was the first time the fossil fuel produced more energy for the U.S. than coal, which has, until now, dominated the country’s energy portfolio.

This was big news for the energy industry… but not so much for certain regions of the U.S.

See, some of them have been relying on natural gas instead of coal for quite a while. Northeast states have been running mostly on natural gas since 2011.

To them, all this news meant was that the rest of the country was finally catching up.

According to the Energy Information Administration, there is now only one state in the entire country without a single natural gas plant: Vermont, which has opted to replace its coal capacity with renewables instead.

Short of that, even the Midwestern states, which still rely mostly on coal for energy, have added new natural gas plants to their rosters in the last few years.

In fact, natural gas capacity across the country has grown more than 174 GW in the last 15 years. Coal capacity has slipped by 33 GW in that same time.

A combination of clean energy initiatives and record low gas prices have simply pushed coal out of the range of cost effective energy production… for most, anyway.

States in the Midwest still get around 54% of their energy from coal, making it the only region where coal still has such a massive lead. The EIA estimates that gas and coal will be evenly matched everywhere else over the summer, coming in at 34% and 32% respectively.

The difference between the two, of course, is that natural gas is slated to take the lead again, while coal will continue to fall.

EIA Coal 2018(Source)

The coal industry has been in decline for decades, and the outlook isn’t getting any brighter.

EIA estimates call for a slight rise in coal energy production, but not enough to overtake natural gas again. Meanwhile, U.S. coal production is still declining, with only a few Western states accounting for the slight uptick through 2018.

The industry’s last hold-outs won’t be able to hold out for much longer in this kind of environment.

We may still be using coal for years to come, but its day in the sun has officially come and gone.

To continue reading about coal’s demise in the U.S., click here.

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