Energy. Environment. Economy.

Gas expected to surpass coal in electric power generation this year

Panda Liberty Power Plant in Wysox.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

The Panda Liberty natural gas power plant in Bradford County is scheduled to come online this year. It's part of a broader national trend as the fuel powering the electric grid shifts from coal to natural gas.

Natural gas is expected to surpass coal this year as the nation’s primary source of electric power generation, according to a new forecast from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Until the mid-2000’s about half the electricity in the country was produced by burning coal and 20 percent or less came from gas. But the fracking boom in the Marcellus Shale and elsewhere changed all that. It has unleashed huge quantities of natural gas, which drove down the cost.

“It’s primarily driven by economics and to a lesser degree some environmental regulations,” Tyler Hodge of the EIA says of the shift.

In 2017 gas and coal generation are expected to equalize as the price of gas ticks back up again.

“We’ve started seeing some slowdown of the growth of the natural gas production, so that drop in supply growth is having a pullback and pushing up the prices, but they’re still forecast to remain at pretty historic lows,” says Hodge. “We’re forecasting natural gas prices to slowly begin rising over the next 24 months.”

Over the past few years coal-fired plants have retired and in some cases switched to natural gas. Part of the shift has been driven by the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, which requires Pennsylvania to cut its carbon emissions by a third over the next 15 years, however it was recently stayed by the U.S. Supreme Court pending the outcome of ongoing litigation.





  • Dag Johansen

    I’m pretty sure natural gas passed coal a few months ago. And good riddance! We don’t need that dirty dangerous 18th century garbage fuel. We have onshore wind, geothermal, hydropower, nuclear, solar PV, tidal power, natural gas, offshore wind, biomass, CSP, OTEC, etc.

    • Reddler

      Why is coal dangerous? Are plants dangerous? Coal comes from fossilized plant life. If coal is dangerous then plants must be dangerous.

  • Reddler

    Of course nat gas will be cheaper than coal. Coal has had so many regulations placed on it by the EPA during the Obama administration the price of producing power is now higher than nat gas. The idea has been is regulate coal out of business.

  • Al Hopfer

    Down the road in a few short years (or less) it will become very clear that the renewable energy crusade will come to a halt.

    Hawaii, for example has shown this already. Hawaii, with 20% of all residential rooftops using solar panels have forced a halt to net metering. Why? No power company can afford to run a generation plant where they are getting money in from 80% and paying out to 20%. The state of Hawaii had to end net metering else run out of power as power plants cut back and eventually must shut down.

    Without storage renewables are too costly unless constantly supported by tax breaks and subsidies. The fuel is free, but the only cost power plants save is the fuel they burn. The remaining costs remain the same. 80/20 loss of business if left to continue to say 70/30 or 60/40… you’re out of business.

    Solar farms, in the US, have another situation. Solar farms sell their generated power to existing power plant grids, by annual or multi-annual contracts. Since it is known that the Sun does not shine every day all day (nor night time) solar farms received permission to use Natural Gas to prop-up their output when the Sun is not coming through very well. Initially, by contract, this would be about 1.5 hours per day. However, since reality has set-in, Solar Farms are now given up to 4.5 hours per day to burn Natural Gas. Considering that a Solar-power-plant day of sun shine is about 9 hours (else the angle of the sun is very poor) well, many more or larger solar farms are required.

    The largest solar farm in the US would require 32,000 of that size to replace fossil fuel production of electricity….. but that number is based on 9 hours of good Sun.
    Ouch! Wind mills? Good economics to install, bad economically to operate. So get your money (fat cats) upfront and quick and then bail.

    If fat cats no longer are making a killing on the low-hanging solar fruit, the renewable crusade will collapse.

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