U.S. coal electricity drops 30% as gas jumps — report

Source: By Carlos Anchondo, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, August 13, 2020

Coal-fired power generation in the United States plummeted by 30% in the first half of this year, according to a report yesterday from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

The agency said “historically low” natural gas prices this year have made coal uneconomical in most regions, further exacerbating the coal-to-natural gas switch. The shift was most prevalent in the PJM Interconnection and Midcontinent Independent System Operator — two regional transmission organizations the agency said constitute roughly 35% of the Lower 48 states’ power generation.

The new EIA data noted increases for renewables and natural gas for their share of total power generation.

Natural gas-fired generation increased 9% over the first half of the year compared with 2019, EIA said, and renewables’ share — made up of wind, solar and hydroelectric generation — increased by 5% over 2020’s first half.

The data came out one day after the agency released its separate short-term energy outlook for this month. That projected natural gas would make up 40% of U.S. electric power sector generation this year — up 3% over 2019 — before declining to 35% next year because of higher natural gas prices.

The report also reduced U.S. crude oil production estimates for the year by 370,000 barrels per day from its previous short-term outlook — contributing to a 7.4% decrease in this year’s production average compared with 2019, falling from 12.2 million barrels per day last year to an expected 11.3 million barrels per day in 2020.

The agency anticipates U.S. crude oil production will drop another 1.7% next year.

“May’s average U.S. crude oil production was 1.1 million barrels per day lower than we assessed in July,” said EIA Administrator Linda Capuano in a statement, “indicating more extensive production curtailments than previously estimated.”