EIA: U.S. lost enough coal power for 47 million homes

The coal-fired American Electric Power Mitchell Plant can generate 1,600 megawatts, which is enough to illuminate up to 1.6 million homes. However, the U.S. lost enough coal-fired power for as many as 47 million homes from 2011 to 2016. (Photo by Casey Junkins)

The coal-fired American Electric Power Mitchell Plant can generate 1,600 megawatts, which is enough to illuminate up to 1.6 million homes. However, the U.S. lost enough coal-fired power for as many as 47 million homes from 2011 to 2016. (Photo by Casey Junkins)

WHEELING –Amid both stringent environmental regulations and low natural gas prices, the U.S. lost enough coal-fired electricity to power 47 million homes from 2011 to 2016, but new projections show the mineral will soon regain some of its share of the generation mix.

Also, Energy Information Administration data shows natural gas-fired electricity will continue to grow for the next few years, as demands for power show no signs of slowing down. In this light, developers continue planning the now 595-megawatt Moundsville Power plant that would use natural gas for this purpose along the Ohio River in Marshall County.

In 2016, 92 percent of coal produced in the U.S. went to electricity generation, but natural gas exceeded coal as the primary fuel for electricity. Until at least as late as 2008, coal supplied about 50 percent of U.S. electricity generation. However, the EIA cites significant shale natural gas production since 2009 as a primary reason that coal no longer holds such as commanding cost advantage.

Coal

Coal production of 749 million tons last year was the lowest domestic total since 1978. However, the EIA expects climbing natural gas prices to create an opening for coal this year to slightly increase production and usage.

This should help companies such as Alliance Resource Partners, which operates the Tunnel Ridge Mine in Ohio County. Alliance’s net income of $339.4 million for 2016 edged the $306.2 million earned in 2015.

“Meaningfully higher natural gas prices and a colder winter have prompted us to expect increased coal demand for the first half of 2017 compared to last year,” company President and CEO Joseph W. Craft III said. “Through the dedicated efforts of the men and women at Alliance Resource Partners, we enter 2017 poised to benefit from improving coal markets.”

Obama administration regulations such as the CO2 mitigating Clean Power Plan and the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards helped lead American Electric Power and other generators to look beyond coal to produce wattage. AEP turned out the lights on 5,535 megawatts of coal-fired power in Appalachia in June 2015, including the former 630-megawatt Kammer Plant in Marshall County. Furthermore, AEP plans to transition its portion of the Cardinal Plant in Jefferson County to run on natural gas no later than the year 2030, while some generators in Coshocton County also will end coal usage.

Craft said Alliance believes President Donald Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress will work to remove these regulations, thereby, helping to generate coal demand.

“Longer term, we are hopeful the new Trump administration will remove the threat of the Clean Power Plan and further reduce the regulatory overreach which has burdened the industry over the last few years, providing clarity for stable, and potentially growing, coal demand over the next decade,” Craft said.

Natural Gas

The EIA shows that approximately 11.2 gigawatts of new natural gas power generation should come online this year, with another 25.4 gigawatts in 2018. There are 1,000 megawatts in a gigawatt, so that means enough power for up to 11.2 million homes is expected to enter service this year.

Of those natural gas power plants tentatively set to open in 2018 is the Moundsville Power facility, which would be built on a strip of land between the Moundsville Country Club and the Williams Energy fractionator in Marshall County.

The Moundsville project is now under the auspices of Houston, Texas-based Quantum Utility Generation. This company lists the Moundsville project on its website as a 595-megawatt plant, with plans to have it running before the end of 2018.

To this point, however, the project site appears very much as it did in June 2014.

Moundsville Power spokesman Curtis Wilkerson said the persistent delays are the result of objections to regarding the facility’s air permit. Although the West Virginia Air Quality Board found no problem with the permit last year, Wilkerson said opponents of the plant are now taking the matter to court.

“They would like to have broken ground by now, but the project is being held up in court,” Wilkerson said.

The planned project has been the source of controversy and debate since members of the Marshall County Commission and Board of Education approved payment in lieu of tax agreements in 2014 to prevent developers from paying regular property taxes.

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