U.S. Coal Use Is Plunging at Fastest Rate Since Eisenhower Era

Posted by Laura Arnold  /   March 06, 2020  /   Posted in Uncategorized  /   No Comments
  • Consumption dropped 13% last year, set to fall as much in 2020
  • Utilities are increasingly shifting to renewables, natural gas
Coal that will be burned to generate electricity moves down a conveyor belt at a coal-fired power plant in Winfield, West Virginia.
Coal that will be burned to generate electricity moves down a conveyor belt at a coal-fired power plant in Winfield, West Virginia.Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg

U.S. coal use plunged more than 13% in 2019, the most in 65 years, as power plants shut down across the country. That’s poised to happen again this year.

Total consumption slumped to 596 million tons in 2019 from 688 million tons in the prior year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. This year, the figure is expected to slip again, to 517 million tons.

Down, Down, Down

U.S. coal consumption crashed last year and 2020 will be just as bad

bloomberg coal

U.S. Energy Information Administration

Note: Figures for 2020 are estimate

The decline reflects the rapidly changing U.S. energy mix, as coal is increasingly struggling to compete on price with natural gas, wind and solar. The dirtiest fossil fuel is also facing growing pressure for its role in climate change, prompting states from California to New York to mandate a transition to clean energy. President Donald Trump’s efforts to revive the industry have done little to stem the inexorable shift away from coal.

“It’s definitely a stark rebuke to to all of Trump’s promises that he’s going to bring the coal industry back,” Mary Anne Hitt, director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign, said Thursday in an interview.

U.S. consumption plunged 14% during a brief recession back in 1954, but promptly rebounded almost 15% the following year, according to EIA data.

Utilities have already announced plans this year to shut at least seven plants. Last year, the second-biggest on record for retirements, about 18 gigawatts of coal capacity went dark or were given a timeline for closing, according to the Sierra Club.

(Michael Bloomberg, the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News, has committed $500 million to launch Beyond Carbon, a campaign aimed at closing the remaining coal-powered plants in the U.S. by 2030 and slowing the construction of new gas plants.)

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