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Coal Power Drops Below 40% of U.S. Electricity, Lowest in 33 Years

By Joe Romm on March 12, 2012 at 11:10 am

"Coal Power Drops Below 40% of U.S. Electricity, Lowest in 33 Years"

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The U.S. Energy Information Administration reported on Friday:

… coal’s share of monthly power generation in the United States dropped below 40% in November and December 2011. The last time coal’s share of total generation was below 40% for a monthly total was March 1978. A combination of mild weather (leading to a drop in total generation) and the increasing price competitiveness of natural gas relative to coal contributed to the drop in coal’s share of total generation.

It’s a tad ironic that warming weather, driven in part by coal-fueled emissions, contributed to the drop in coal use.

Another reason for the steady decline in coal power is that the Sierra Club, with the support of centrists like Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York, is working to shut down all U.S. coal plants in the Beyond Coal campaign.

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10 Responses to Coal Power Drops Below 40% of U.S. Electricity, Lowest in 33 Years

  1. Mike Roddy says:

    We have to give Sierra Club a big thanks for their hard work here, especially by Resources Director Bruce Hamilton and, lately, Michael Brune. Bruce used to edit High Country News, and saw what the coal plants did to red rock country.

    Now, if we can only get them to get off natural gas…

    • Sasparilla says:

      Nice to see us break below 40% and thank you to the Sierra Club for their continued work to shut down coal plants.

    • John Weiss says:

      Natural gas is much cleaner than coal: there is much less carbon in the molecule. Take what you can get. Another few years and it will all be electricity from renueables. Hell’s bells I might see this in my life time. You’all surely will.

    • John Weiss says:

      Natural gas use is a baby step forward: there’s a much better ratio of hydrogen to carbon in it. Still too much carbon, of course.

  2. malexy says:

    The time of year when this low consumption occurred is also interesting. As the chart shows,use peaks during winter, roughly beginning with November. The fact that use this last Nov & Dec hit multi-decade lows suggests the trend to even lower consumption will continue. Given that the winter peak has tended to be 5% to 10% more than the spring/summer trough, it is possible we will see 35% or less for this spring.

    • climatehawk1 says:

      Wow, are you saying it’s a death spiral, like the Arctic sea ice? Something karmic here.

  3. nyc-tornado-10 says:

    “It’s a tad ironic that warming weather, driven in part by coal-fueled emissions, contributed to the drop in coal use”

    The warm winter also decreased the use of natural gas for heat, which helped lower the spot price of natural gas to as low as 2.50 for a million btu. Imagine getting 7 gallons of heating oil for 2.50, that’s how cheap gas is for the next month contract. It is likely that any gas fired power source was favoured over a coal fired source in recent months, and this will continue for a while.

    If summer is hot, the reverse could happen, with gas demand soaring. On the other hand, natural gas storage is near record highs, the rate of new drilling is slowing down, so gas supplies may be adaquate even for a hot summer.

    • Calamity Jean says:

      It is likely that any gas fired power source was favoured over a coal fired source in recent months, and this will continue for a while. I’m hoping that natural gas prices stay low for two or three years, then jump up. While gas is low, coal plants may be retired or converted to gas. Then if gas prices go up, it would be too expensive and time-consuming to go back to coal, so wind and solar become strongly cost-competitive. Gas, in other words, could be a “bridge fuel”, but only very short-term.

  4. Anne van der Bom says:

    “It’s a tad ironic that warming weather, driven in part by coal-fueled emissions, contributed to the drop in coal use.”

    It is called a ‘negative feedback’.