New data from the US Energy Information Association (EIA) shows that total US coal consumption has fallen to the lowest level since 1979. US coal consumption peaked in 2007, but has been falling since, due mostly to the decline in coal use in the electric power sector.
According to the EIA:
In 2007, coal-fired capacity in the United States totaled 313 gigawatts (GW) across 1,470 generators. By the end of 2017, 529 of those generators, with a total capacity of 55 GW, had retired. So far in 2018, 11 GW of coal-fired generating capacity has retired through September, and another 3 GW are expected to retire in the final three months of the year, based on data reported to EIA by plant owners and operators. If these plants retire as planned, 2018 will be the second-highest year for coal retirements. Another 4 GW of capacity are planning to retire by the end of 2019.
The EIA has projected coal consumption will decrease 4% in 2018 and 8% in 2019.
Behind the Decline
One of the main reasons for the decline in coal use is the price of coal, when compared to natural gas. Other reasons cited by the EIA include age of generators, changes in regional electricity demand and increased competition from renewables.
The increase in coal retirements has also been due to growing environmental concerns and stricter emissions standards required by the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) rule.