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Coal usage projected to fall again

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The country's electricity mix likely will continue its drift away from coal and toward natural gas and renewables, a government report stated Thursday.

If the forecast from the U.S. Energy Information Administration is accurate, the pattern would continue a trend in place for at least the past five years as utilities have shuttered coal-fired power plants while building new natural gas-fired and wind and solar generators.

The trend has been led by a combination of lower natural gas and renewable energy prices along with regulations and consumer sentiment increasingly favorable to the cleaner fuels.

EIA's forecast projects the country's share of total utility-scale electricity generation from coal to dip to 25% this summer, down from 28% last summer and 35% in the summer of 2015.

The share of electricity from natural gas-fired power plants is expected to increase to 40% this summer, up from 39% last summer and 35% in the summer of 2015.

Renewables' share is expected to grow to 16% this summer, up from 15% one year ago and 11% four years ago. The share of nonhydro renewables is projected to grow to 9% this summer, up slightly from last year and up from 6% in 2015.

Renewables represent a larger stake in the Oklahoma region. The Southwest Power Pool has about 21.5 gigawatts of installed wind capacity, up from 3 gigawatts in 2009. Another 51.75 gigawatts of wind capacity is planned or under construction, along with about 24.5 gigawatts of solar power and about 4.4 gigawatts of battery storage.

Southwest Power Pool officials have said the organization does not favor any fuel but that that the goal is to use the most reliable and affordable power sources available to meet anticipated load needs daily.

Still, one result of the country's changing fuel mix is a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions, Thursday's EIA report stated.

"After rising by 2.7% in 2018, EIA forecasts that U.S. energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions will decline by 2.1% in 2019 and by 0.8% in 2020," the report stated.

"EIA expects emissions to fall in 2019 and in 2020 as forecast temperatures return to near normal after a warm summer and cold winter in 2018 and because the forecast share of electricity generated from natural gas and renewables increases while the forecast share generated from coal, which produces more CO2 emissions, decreases. Energy-related CO2 emissions are sensitive to weather, economic growth, energy prices, and fuel mix."

Adam Wilmoth

Adam Wilmoth returned to The Oklahoman as energy editor in 2012 after working for four years in public relations. He previously spent seven years as a business reporter at The Oklahoman, including five years covering the state's energy sector.... Read more ›

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