Bituminous coal, which dominated the U.S. power generation landscape for decades, is now taking the biggest hit as coal-fired plants are increasingly retired.
A new U.S. Energy Information Administration report noted that units fired by bituminous coal accounted for 68 percent of coal-fired plant retirements in the past decade. Close to 90 GW has been retired from the onetime 318-GW coal-fired portfolio which existed in 2011, according to the EIA.
Bituminous coal, primarily mined in the Appalachian and Illinois basins, was long valued for its abundance and higher energy density compared with subbituminous, lignite and relatively rare anthracite types. Of those surviving coal plants, subbituminous coal-fired facilities are considered more economically competitive due to lower delivered price points, the EIA says.
For instance, recent reports indicated that coal from the Powder River Basin of Wyoming fetched $11.90 per short ton, according to the EIA. Appalachian coal was closer to $60 and Illinois Basin product at $35 per short ton.
Much of that capacity has been replaced by the 94.5-GW of natural gas-fired plant capacity built in the U.S. over the past 10 years. In formerly coal-rich areas of West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio, the energy picture was reshaped by the highly productive Marcellus and Utica shale plays.
Natural gas now powers about 38 percent of the U.S. electricity resource mix, a leading portion once held by coal, which is now close to 20 percent of the national power generation portfolio.
Subbituminous coal is primarily mined in Wyoming.