Coal Tattoo

What’s driving the decline of coal?

In this Sept.  26, 2011 file photo, raw coal from a coal mine pours off of a conveyer belt, near Trinidad, Colo.  (Mark Reis/The Gazette via AP, File)

Here’s the latest from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration (see page 8):

EIA expects a 7% decrease in coal consumption in the electric power sector in 2015, despite a 1% increase in total electric power generation. Lower natural gas prices are the main driver of the decline. Projected low natural gas prices make it more economical to run natural gas-fired generating units at higher utilization rates even in regions of the country (Midwest, South) that typically rely more heavily on coal-fired generation. Increased generation from wind, solar, and biomass is also expected to displace coal-fired generation, as several biomass facilities have been converted from coal-burning facilities. The retirements of coal power plants in response to the implementation of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards also reduce coal demand in the power sector in 2015. The full effect of the coal plant retirements on capacity will be felt in 2016, but projected rising electricity demand and higher natural gas prices are expected to contribute to higher utilization rates among the remaining coal-fired fleet. Coal consumption in the electric power sector is forecast to increase slightly in 2016.