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Coal-fired power has been surging

Coal-fired electrical generation is expected to surge by 22 percent this year, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) said this week.

CNN reported that the agency said the increase will be the first annual uptick in coal-fired generation since 2014.

But the agency also said the increase in demand for coal is not expected to last. The current surge is due to increasing prices of natural gas, and the agency predicted coal demand will decline next year.

There port forecasts a 5 percent decrease in coal-fired generation in the United States in 2022 as coal-fired generation units are retired and natural gas prices decline slightly.

Coal was the main fuel source for the U.S. power grid for decades, but by the early 2000s the percentage of power it provided had dropped below 35 percent. By last year, the percentage of U.S. electricity produced by coal was just 19 percent.

In recent years, uti l ities switched to other fuels, mainly natural gas, because of climate crisis and very cheap natural gas. U.S. coal consumption fell in 2019 for the sixth straight year, dropping to the lowest level since 1964, as natural gas prices fell to record lows, CNN reported.

Natural gas prices have spiked in the past few months, making coal more cost-competitive for power companies.

According to CNN, the EIA report said coal power generation is rising because of “significantly higher natural gas prices and relatively stable coal prices.” Natural gas delivered to U.S. power plants has averaged $4.93 per million British Thermal Units (BTUs) this year, more than double last year’s price, CNN reported.

U.S. power plants have retired nearly one-third of their generating capacity at coal plants since 2010, meaning that returning to coal-fired plants would be extremely expensive. Some of the plants have been torn down to make room for other types of generation plants.

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