Published on May 15th, 2012 | by Stephen Lacey


Coal Generation Drops 19% in 1 Year in US

May 15th, 2012 by  

Power generation from coal is falling quickly. According to new figures from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, coal made up 36 percent of U.S. electricity in the first quarter of 2012 — down from 44.6 percent in the first quarter of 2011.

That stunning drop, which represented almost a 20 percent decline in coal generation over the last year, was primarily due to low natural gas prices. As EIA explains, natural gas generation will climb steadily this year, while coal will see a double-digit drop by the end of 2012:

Natural‐gas‐fired generation continues to expand its share of total generation at the expense of coal‐fired generation. During the first quarter of 2012, natural gas accounted for 28.7 percent of total generation compared with 20.7 percent during the same quarter last year. In contrast, coal’s share of total generation declined from 44.6 percent to 36.0 percent over the same period.

Prices for natural gas delivered to the electric power industry fell by 7.5 percent in 2011, which contributed to a significant increase in the share of natural‐gas‐fired generation. EIA expects this trend to continue in 2012, withelectric power sector coal consumption falling by 14 percent. Natural gas in the electric power sector grows by almost 21 percent in 2012, primarily driven by the increasing relative cost advantages of natural gas over coal for power generation in some regions.


EIA also projects that coal production at mines will fall by more than 10 percent this year. However, with prices falling due to an increase in secondary inventories, the agency predicts that domestic consumption may rise by just over 1 percent next year.

The U.S. coal industry if facing major headwinds. The current drop in generation is mostly due to competition from natural gas. But there are other factors that will assist in pushing coal out of the electricity mix: An aging fleet of plants, cost-competitive renewables, new clean air regulations, and a strong anti-coal movement are working together to reduce the attractiveness of coal. Since 2010, plant operators have announced 106 retirements of coal facilities — representing 13 percent of the U.S. fleet, according to the Sierra Club.

The continued decline in domestic coal generation is good news for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Carbon dioxide emissions from the fossil fuel sector are expected to decline by almost 3 percent this year — continuing the 1.9 percent decrease seen in 2011. Emissions from natural gas will rise by 5.5 percent, while emissions from coal will fall by almost 12 percent.

This article was originally published on Climate Progress and has been reposted with permission.

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About the Author

is an editor at Greentech Media. Formerly, he was a reporter/blogger for Climate Progress, where he wrote about clean energy policy, technologies, and finance. Before joining CP, he was an editor/producer with He received his B.A. in journalism from Franklin Pierce University.

  • With the use of coal significantly, we can look forward to getting our energy sources from more natural sources, such as the sun and wind. It’s a great boost for those promoting green energy.

  • RobS

    The EIA seem convinced in their short term energy outlook that this is a short term trend and we will soon see rises in coals contribution again, they predict a long term average to 2035 of 39% coal. Personally I think they’ve lost the plot. These aren’t just coal plants being idled there being decommissioned, over 120 in the last 2 years with many more scheduled. This means to see a substantive rise in coal consumption we would have to see new coal plants being built to replace the retirements, with 6-8 year commissioning times compared to ~1-2 years with most renewable projects they’re competing with renewable economics and energy politics years into the future, a risk which is higher then most in the game can handle. Furthermore with new EPA guidelines making coal more risky and costly and rising public opinion against coal fired power and the possibility of carbon pricing all in all it is phenomenally unlikely the downward trend in coal generation will ever reverse, we may see temporary blips but I predict the overall trend will remain downward.

    • yeah, i don’t know what the EIA is smoking. but just hope they aren’t somehow correct.

  • Luke

    Fantastic news… Are we on the peak of the CO2 emission Bell Curve?

  • Bob_Wallace

    Preliminary numbers show coal at 42.2% for 2011.

    I’d be a bit hesitant to project the rest of 2012 based on Q1 coal use.

    In the spring there’s lots of hydro and lots of wind while demand is low.

    Spring started very early this year.

  • This is great news… Go renewables!

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