Coal power in the United States

Coal power in the United States generates about 20% of the country's electricity.[2][3] It accounted for 39% of production at utility-scale facilities in 2014, 33% in 2015, 30.4% in 2016, 30.0% in 2017, 27.4% in 2018, 23.5% in 2019, and 19.3% in 2020.[4] Coal supplied 12.6 quadrillion Btu (3,700 TWh) of primary energy to electric power plants in 2017, which made up 91% of coal's contribution to US energy supply.[5] Utilities buy more than 90% of the coal consumed in the United States.[6]

Plant Bowen, the third largest coal-fired power station in the United States.
Sources of electricity for 2016.[1]
Coal electrical generation (black line), compared to other sources, 1949-2016
Coal power generation in 2011 by state.

In 2019 there were 241 coal powered units across the United States.[7] Coal plants have been closing at a fast rate since the 2010s due to cheaper and cleaner natural gas and renewables.

Coal has been used to generate electricity in the United States since an Edison plant was built in New York City in 1882.[8] The first AC power station was opened by General Electric in Ehrenfeld, Pennsylvania in 1902, servicing the Webster Coal and Coke Company.[8] By the mid-20th century, coal had become the leading fuel for generating electricity in the US. The long, steady rise of coal-fired generation of electricity shifted to a decline after 2007. The decline has been linked to the increased availability of natural gas, decreased consumption,[9] renewable power, and more stringent environmental regulations. The Environmental Protection Agency has advanced restrictions on coal plants to counteract mercury pollution, smog, and global warming.

Trends, comparisons, and forecastsEdit

The average share of electricity generated from coal in the US has dropped from 52.8% in 1997 to 27.4% in 2018.[10] In 2017, there were 359 coal-powered units at the electrical utilities across the US, with a total nominal capacity of 256 GW[11] (compared to 1024 units at nominal 278 GW in 2000).[12] The actual average generated power from coal in 2006 was 227.1 GW (1991 TWh per year),[13] the highest in the world and still slightly ahead of China (1950 TWh per year) at that time.[citation needed] In 2000, the US average production of electricity from coal was 224.3 GW (1966 TWh for the year).[13] In 2006, US electrical generation consumed 1,027 million short tons (932 million metric tons) or 92.3% of the coal mined in the US.[14]

 
Coal use has declined in the United States since the mid-2000s, while natural gas use has risen

Due to emergence of shale gas, coal consumption declined from 2009.[15][9] In the first quarter of 2012, the use of coal for electricity generation declined substantially more, 21% from 2011 levels. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, 27 gigawatts of capacity from coal-fired generators is to be retired from 175 coal-fired power plants between 2012 and 2016.[16] Natural gas showed a corresponding increase, increasing by a third over 2011.[17] Coal's share of electricity generation dropped to just over 36%.[17] Coal use continues to decline rapidly through November 2015 with its share around 33.6%.[1]

The coal plants are mostly base-load plants with typical utilisation rates of 50% to 60% (relating to full load hours).

Utility companies have shut down and retired aging coal-fired power plants following the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) implementation of the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSAP).[18][19] The extent of shutdowns and reduction in utilization depend on factors such as future price of natural gas and cost of installation of pollution control equipment; however, as of 2013, the future of coal-fired power plants in the United States did not appear promising.[20][21] Recent estimates gauge that an additional 40 gigawatts (GW) of coal-fired capacity will retire by 2020 (in addition to the nearly 20GW that have retired as of 2014). This is driven most strongly by inexpensive natural gas competing with coal, and EPA's Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS), which require significant reductions in emissions of mercury, acid gases, and toxic metals, scheduled to take effect in April 2015.[22] Over 13 GW of coal power plants built between 1950 and 1970 were retired in 2015, averaging 133 MW per plant.[23] In Texas, the price drop of natural gas has reduced the capacity factor in 7 of the state's coal plants (max. output 8 GW), and they contribute about a quarter of the state's electricity.[24]

The cost of transporting coal may be around $20/ton for trains, or $5–6/ton for barge and truck.[25][26] A 2015 study by a consortium of environmental organizations concluded that US Government subsidies for coal production are around $8/ton for the Powder River Basin.[27]

In 2018, 16 of the 50 Federal States of the US had either no coal power in their power production for the public power supply (California, Idaho, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Vermont), less than 5% coal in power production (Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Delaware) or between 5 and 10% (Alaska, Nevada, Mississippi, Oregon and Washington State) [28] [29]

Environmental impactsEdit

In the United States, three coal-fired power plants reported the largest toxic air releases in 2001:[30]

The Environmental Protection Agency classified the 44 sites as potential hazards to communities, which means the waste sites could cause death and significant property damage if an event such as a storm or a structural failure caused a spill. They estimate that about 300 dry landfills and wet storage ponds are used around the country to store ash from coal-fired power plants. The storage facilities hold the noncombustible ingredients of coal and the ash trapped by equipment designed to reduce air pollution.[31]

Acid rainEdit

Byproducts of coal plants have been linked to acid rain.

Sulfur dioxide emissionsEdit

86 coal powered plants have a capacity of 107.1 GW, or 9.9% of total U.S. electric capacity, they emitted 5,389,592 tons of SO2 in 2006 – which represents 28.6% of U.S. SO2 emissions from all sources.[32]

Carbon footprint: CO2 emissionsEdit

Emissions from electricity generation account for the largest share of U.S. greenhouse gases, 38.9% of U.S. production of carbon dioxide in 2006 (with transportation emissions close behind, at 31%). Although coal power only accounted for 49% of the U.S. electricity production in 2006, it was responsible for 83% of CO2 emissions caused by electricity generation that year, or 1,970 million metric ton of CO2 emissions. Further 130 million metric ton of CO2 were released by other industrial coal-burning applications.[33]

Click Here to see a graph displaying CO2 emissions from coal powered plants.

Mercury pollutionEdit

U.S. coal-fired electricity-generating power plants owned by utilities emitted an estimated 48 tons of mercury in 1999, the largest source of man-made mercury pollution in the U.S.[34] In 1995–96, this accounted for 32.6% of all mercury emitted into the air by human activity in the U.S. In addition, 13.1% was emitted by coal-fired industrial and mixed-use commercial boilers, and 0.3% by coal-fired residential boilers, bringing the total U.S. mercury pollution due to coal combustion to 46% of the U.S. man-made mercury sources.[35] In contrast, China's coal-fired power plants emitted an estimated 200 ± 90 tons of mercury in 1999, which was about 38% of Chinese human-generated mercury emissions (45% being emitted from non-ferrous metals smelting).[36] Mercury in emissions from power plants can be reduced by the use of activated carbon.

Public debateEdit

AdvocatesEdit

In 2007 an advertising campaign was launched to improve public opinion on coal power titled America's Power. This was done by the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (then known as Americans for Balanced Energy Choices), a pro-coal organization started in 2000.

OppositionEdit

In the face of increasing electricity demand through the 2000s, the US has seen a "Growing Trend Against Coal-Fired Power Plants". In 2005 the 790 MW Mohave Power Station closed rather than implement court ordered pollution controls. In 2006 through 2007 there was first a bullish market attitude towards coal with the expectation of a new wave of plants, but political barriers and pollution concerns escalated exponentially, which is likely to damage plans for new generation and put pressure on older plants.[37] In 2007, 59 proposed coal plants were cancelled, abandoned, or placed on hold by sponsors as a result of financing obstacles, regulatory decisions, judicial rulings, and new global warming legislation.[38][39]

The Stop Coal campaign has called for a moratorium on the construction of any new coal plants and for the phase out of all existing plants, citing concern for global warming.[40] Others have called for a carbon tax and a requirement of carbon sequestration for all coal power plants.[41]

The creation in January 2009 of a Presidential task force (to look at ways to alter the energy direction of the United States energy providers) favors the trend away from coal-fired power plants.

StatisticsEdit

United States coal generation (GWh)[42]
Year Total % of total Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
2001 1,903,955 177,287 149,735 155,269 140,671 151,593 162,616 179,060 183,116 154,158 148,931 144,117 157,402
2002 1,933,131 164,358 143,049 151,486 142,305 151,406 164,668 183,195 179,955 165,366 159,099 156,054 172,190
2003 1,973,736 181,313 156,982 155,002 141,960 150,263 162,285 181,852 185,332 164,910 159,323 158,223 176,291
2004 1,978,359 180,657 161,503 154,288 141,471 157,076 167,642 181,492 178,181 164,253 157,605 157,436 176,755
2005 2,012,874 177,014 155,818 163,613 143,083 153,958 174,867 186,091 187,574 171,656 162,437 158,798 177,965
2006 1,990,511 169,236 158,616 161,325 141,426 157,010 169,693 187,821 189,455 161,590 161,390 159,440 173,509
2007 2,016,455 175,739 163,603 159,811 146,250 157,513 173,513 185,054 190,135 169,391 162,234 159,382 173,830
2008 1,985,800 182,876 166,666 160,743 146,983 154,916 171,043 186,733 180,576 161,356 151,841 154,281 167,786
2009 1,755,905 171,925 140,916 135,530 125,935 131,673 148,087 158,234 163,260 137,145 139,956 136,810 166,434
2010 1,847,289 173,320 153,044 144,406 126,952 143,272 165,491 179,600 177,745 148,746 132,270 135,185 167,258
2011 1,733,341 170,803 138,311 134,845 124,488 137,102 158,055 176,586 171,281 140,941 126,627 121,463 132,929
2012 1,514,043 129,091 113,872 105,526 96,285 115,983 131,261 160,450 152,181 125,589 120,999 128,727 134,079
2013 1,581,116 138,105 123,547 130,634 111,835 119,513 138,283 152,867 149,426 133,110 120,996 120,940 141,860
2014 1,581,710 157,097 143,294 136,443 109,281 118,786 137,577 149,627 148,452 126,110 111,296 119,127 124,620
2015 1,352,400 132,451 126,977 108,488 88,989 104,585 125,673 139,100 134,670 117,986 96,759 87,227 89,495
2016 1,239,129 113,459 92,705 72,173 72,113 81,695 116,034 136,316 135,635 114,118 99,194 86,940 118,747
2017 1,205,835 115,333 86,822 89,365 81,335 92,777 107,508 127,698 119,488 98,202 89,776 90,986 106,545
2018 1,149,487 119,284 82,050 80,626 73,346 85,227 101,503 115,376 115,129 96,544 87,264 92,819 100,319
2019 964,958 100,905 79,929 78,352 59,922 71,885 78,540 100,771 94,040 85,707 66,777 75,549 72,581
2020 773,365 65,100 56,114 50,644 40,624 46,530 65,335 89,391 91,252 68,448 59,895 61,332 78,700
2021 169,654 81,806 87,848
Last entry, % of Total

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

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  40. ^ Want to stop global warming? STOP COAL!
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External linksEdit