Southern clean energy group says states still rely too much on coal

The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE), based on new data from the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), said Jan. 14 that many states, despite an overall drop in coal use lately in the U.S., are still too dependent on coal-fired power generation.

Thirty-seven states were net importers of coal in 2012 (the most recent data available), paying a total of $19.4bn to import 433 million tons of coal from other states and nations. Of these states, eight spent more than $1bn each on net coal imports. Sixty percent of domestic coal comes from just three states (Wyoming, West Virginia and Kentucky), while foreign coal burned in U.S. coal plants mainly comes from Colombia, the alliance noted.

“Power providers in many states are taking billions of dollars out of their local economies to send across state lines and, in some cases, overseas,” said Jeff Deyette, assistant director of energy research at UCS. “This money can be better spent on investments in homegrown clean energy sources, which keep more money in these states and helps support local economies.”

The new analysis is a follow up to UCS’ 2010 Burning Coal, Burning Cash report that ranked states’ expenditures on coal imports using 2008 data. Texas tops the new ranking list, having spent $1.85bn on out-of-state coal (mostly from the Wyoming Powder River Basin). Rounding out the top 10 states most dependent on coal imports (in ranked order) are North Carolina, Georgia, Missouri, Florida, Michigan, South Carolina, Alabama, Tennessee and Wisconsin.

The analysis found that coal generation and coal imports have declined overall in the country. Between 2008 and 2012, expenditures on net coal imports fell by nearly a quarter, from $25.7bn to $19.4bn. Expenditures on coal imports from other countries dropped by 75% – from 16 states spending $1.8bn in 2008, to seven states spending $464m in 2012.

“Ohio’s shift away from coal imports is one of the most dramatic, with a 67 percent drop between 2008 and 2012. As a result, the state fell from fifth to sixteenth place,” said Deyette. “Georgia fell from first place to third, due to a 36 percent reduction in spending on coal imports.”

This decline in imports comes as more and more utilities are switching off their coal-fired plants in favor of increasingly cost-competitive natural gas and renewable energy. Coal-fired electricity fell from almost half of the U.S. power mix in 2008 to 37% in 2012, when natural gas prices dipped to historic lows.

“Natural gas burns more cleanly than coal, but it does have a history of price volatility and, as a fossil fuel, is not a sufficient long-term solution to the climate change crisis,” said Deyette. “A better solution would be to replace more coal generation with renewable energy and energy efficiency.”

Founded in 1985, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy is a nonprofit organization that promotes responsible energy choices that create global warming solutions and ensure clean, safe, and healthy communities throughout the Southeast U.S.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.