For the first time since the U.S. Energy Information Administration began collecting the data, generation from natural gas-fired plants is virtually equal to generation from coal-fired plants, with each fuel providing 32% of total generation in April, said EIA in the July 6 version of its Today in Energy feature.
In April, preliminary data show net electric generation from natural gas was 95.9 million megawatthours, only slightly below generation from coal, at 96.0 million megawatthours. Coal-fired generation in April was down nearly 23% from April 2011, while gas-fired generation was up nearly 36%. Coal consumption for electricity production in April was 51.6 million tons, down from 66.9 million tons in April 2011.
There are strong seasonal trends in the overall demand for electric power, EIA noted. In April, demand was low due to the mild spring weather. Also in April, natural gas prices as delivered to power plants were at a ten-year low, at an average of $2.74/mmBtu, down from $4.85/mmBtu in April 2011. With warmer summer weather and increased electric demand for air conditioning, demand will increase, requiring increased output from both coal- and natural gas-fired generators.
The mix of fuels used to generate electricity—and specifically the competition between natural gas and coal—is dependent on several factors, including: decreasing coal share of generation, increasing coal stockpiles, rising coal exports, the impact of natural gas prices, and natural gas consumption by sector.