Thursday, November 29, 2012

Coal will continue declining, especially in Appalachia, congressional report says

Coal will continue to be a key fuel source for America, but its share of electric generation will keep dropping because of cheap natural gas and other factors, according to the Government Accountability Office, the auditing arm of Congress. "The report adds to the fairly common notion that less coal will be burned for domestic electricity production," reports Taylor Kuykendall of The State Journal of Charleston, W. Va. "In the Central Appalachian coal basin, many companies are beginning to turn their focus to metallurgical coal used for steel making as opposed to that fed into coal-fired power plants." Metallurgical coal is much less abundant than bituminous coal burned to make steam for electric turbines.

Cheap gas, along with new limits on carbon-dioxide emissions, will be the biggest factors reducing the amount of coal burned for electricity. The GAO predicts that utilities will cut coal-fired generating capacity from 15 to 24 percent by 2035, and it found that 15 to 18 percent of coal-fired capacity is planned for retirement. About 90 percent of U.S. coal is used to generate electricity, and coal generated about 42 percent of electricity in 2011.

The GAO reports says coal production's decline will vary by region. Using Energy Information Administration data, it predicts that Western coal production will increase while Appalachian coal production will decline through 2035. Just 24 percent of the country's coal supply will be mined in Appalachia by 2035, down from 31 percent in 2010, which represents an industry trend that started in the 1990s. (Read more)

All of this is nothing new to those who follow the coal industry. As Ken Ward Jr. of The Charleston Gazette writes, the report "confirms things we already knew about the future of Appalachian coal."

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