Coal’s Dominance in U.S. Power Continues to Slide

The State Journal
1 February 2012
By Pam Kasey

Natural gas continued narrowing the gap with coal in U.S. power production in 2011.

Producing more than half of the nation's electricity not long ago, coal dipped into the low 40-percent range, based  on 11 months of 2011 U.S. Energy Information Administration data annualized by The State Journal.

Gas, at the same time, neared a quarter of generation for the first time.

Total U.S. generation was on track in November to end about flat in 2011 with 2010, at 4.13 billion megawatt-hours — still shy of its 2007 peak of 4.16 billion mwh.

Coal remains well down from its 2007 peak of 2.0 billion mwh, at an estimated 1.8 billion mwh in 2011.

And coal's share of generation continued a long slide. From a 1993 peak of about 54 percent of total U.S. generation, coal dipped below 50 percent in 2004 and likely finished 2011 at about 42.6 percent.

Natural gas, however, had already generated more through November than in any previous full year, and was on track to finish the year at over 1 billion mwh for the first time ever. It likely made up nearly a quarter of generation: 24.4 percent.

In West Virginia, generation still relies almost exclusively on coal.

The state generated an estimated 80.2 million mwh in 2011, down 1 percent from 2010 generation and still well down from a 1999-2007 plateau of around 94 million.

Coal's share of West Virginia generation looked on track to come in at 77 million mwh, or 96.2 percent of the state's total for the year — down a little from 2010's 96.7 percent and continuing a slide from the 1999 peak of 98.6 percent.

So coal remains king in West Virginia power. Even so, with the drop in total power production and the drop in coal's share, it looked likely, aside from a deep dip during the recession in 2009, to generate less electricity in West Virginia in 2011 than it has since 1993.

At the same time, gas generation more than doubled from about 140,000 mwh in 2010 to an estimated 289,000 mwh in 2011 — but still made up less than 0.4 percent of the state's generation.

Notably, West Virginia's share of total U.S. generation has fallen, from highs of 2.6 percent in 1990 and 1997 to likely about 1.9 percent in 2011.