Less Coal in Your Stocking?
In the 1880s coal surpassed wood becoming the largest energy source in the United States. Coal consumption in the U.S. continued to rise until reaching its peak in 2007. In 2018, coal consumption fell 44% from that top 2007 point, making consumption the lowest it has been since 1979 which mean this Christmas, there can be less coal in your stocking.
Gas is the new coal
This rapid decline is thanks for the most part to the shale boom. In 2019 Q2, power generation from coal was at 21%. Natural gas provided 36%; wind and solar power provided 11%, hydropower 8% and nuclear 20%. Why the drastic change from coal to natural gas? The EIA says the decline “in coal consumption since 2007 is the result of both the retirements of coal-fired power plants and the decreases in the capacity factors, or utilization, of coal plants as increased competition from natural gas and renewable sources have reduced coal’s market share.”
Follow the money
Coal-fired plants are increasingly uneconomical. With the affordability of natural gas and renewables, coal can’t keep up. According to the investment bank, Lazard, the lower end of the average price for coal-fired power in 2018 was almost $20 higher per megawatt hour than natural gas. Add to that the increasing age of the facilities, the greenhouse gas reduction regulations, and coal has nowhere to go but down.
Can coal come home again?
Is there a possibility of a return to coal? The Trump administration has been an advocate for coal, but most likely it’s too little too late. Finding a site and gaining permits for the construction of new coal-fired plants to replace the aging ones is next to impossible. Possibly the repeal of some of the strict emission regulations, such as the 2015 rule requiring new coal plants to include costly carbon capture technology might help, but it is unlikely. Coal is increasingly less viable both financially and environmentally. Hopefully, the transition of our nation away from coal will be an easy one. There are still many individuals in this country depending on the coal industry for their livelihoods, and there are many regions in this country counting on coal for the health of their economies. We can only wait and see how this national metamorphosis will play out and regardless if you were naughty or nice there will not be less coal in your stocking.