The Energy Information Administration (EIA) said in its March 8 Short-Term Energy Outlook that natural gas would supply the largest share of U.S. electricity in 2016, continuing its rise against coal.
EIA data from 2015 showed that gas and coal pulled into a near-tie on the year, with coal generating 1,356 TWh, for a 33.2% share, while gas-fired generation produced 1,335 TWh, accounting for 32.7% of the total. But gas pulled ahead over the second half of the year, edging coal 34.8% to 32% from July through December.
In its most recent projections, the EIA predicts that trend will continue at least through 2016. Coal is expected to fall to 32% while natural gas will supply 33.4%. The slightly reduced share for gas will be made up by growth in renewable generation (Figure 1).
Before April of last year, natural gas had never topped coal power. But 2015 closed out with a string of months where gas took the top slot, though the year ended with coal still generating slightly more energy. All-in-all, gas actually exceeded coal’s share in seven months last year, and EIA now indicates that trend is likely to grow.
“The recent decline in the generation share of coal, and the concurrent rise in the share of natural gas, was mainly a market-driven response to lower natural gas prices,” EIA said. Stricter environmental rules, including the Mercury and Air Toxics Standard and the planned Clean Power Plan, have also played a role.
Nearly 18 GW of electric generating capacity was retired in 2015, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), and more than 80 percent of that was coal-fired.
About 30 percent of those coal retirements happened in April after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) rule went into effect.
According to the EIA, some plants applied for and received one-year extensions and will retire this April. Several plants received additional extensions beyond April 2016 based on their roles in grid reliability.
According to the EIA, much of the country’s existing coal capacity was built between 1950 and 1990. Coal units that were shuttered in 2015 were primarily built between 1950 and 1970. The average age of those units was 54 years. The average age of the country’s remaining coal-fired plants is 38 years.