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U.S. Coal Energy - Statistics & Facts

Since its first use at the end of the 19th century to generate electricity, coal has been an important source of energy throughout the world. By the 1960's, it was playing a significant role in U.S. electricity generation mix and this has continued in the following decades. In 2019, coal was the third most heavily consumed energy source for primary energy in the United States, with Texas the state with the highest consumption of coal energy. However, despite its importance the U.S. has been gradually moving away from this resource due to the shale gas boom, as well as its immense environmental impacts. Coal produces the most energy-related carbon dioxide emissions of any fuel, emitting around 50 percent more than natural gas. Coal energy consumption for electricity generation has been in decline for more than a decade, and dropped to 539 million tons in 2019. This was around the same consumption last seen in the 1980's. By 2050, U.S. coal power generation is expected to have decreased to around 700 terawatt hours.

The popularity of coal as an energy source in the U.S. is largely due to its price. For example, the cost of coal for electric generation in 2019 was 2.02 U.S. dollars per million British thermal units, compared to 2.89 U.S. dollars for natural gas. In the same year, one metric ton of thermal coal cost approximately 80 U.S. dollars. The cost of coal depends on the carbon content which can change the energy density that coal contains. Coal consumption is rapidly decreasing in the United States due to increased availability of renewables and natural gas, as well as stronger environmental regulations. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has regulated coal plants due to mercury pollution, smog, and climate change.

Coal plants in the United States have been the focus of recent energy policy under the Trump administration. A large majority of coal plants in the U.S. where regulators set rates have operating expenses that exceed revenue. In these regions, utilities and regulators often force plants to stay open in order to maintain grid stability. Despite this, many utilities are planning to retire coal plants while replacing them with natural gas and renewables.

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Coal energy in the U.S.

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