EIA: Coal output to fall 26% by 2040 under the Clean Power Plan

U.S. coal production is projected to decline by about 26%, or 230 million tons, between 2015 and 2040 in the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s Annual Energy Outlook 2016 (AEO2016) Reference case, which assumes the implementation of the Clean Power Plan (CPP).

The Clean Power Plan, issued by the U.S. Environmental Environmental Protection Agency, is currently stayed during a federal appeals court review process triggered by dozens of plaintiffs, which include states, power industry groups and coal producer Murray Energy. The plan would cut greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants by 32% by 2030.

In a scenario that assumes the CPP is never implemented (No CPP case), U.S. coal production remains close to 2015 levels through 2040, said the EIA in the July 8 edition of its “Today in Energy” feature. Although production in each major U.S. coal supply region is expected to decline when the CPP is implemented, the magnitude of the effects differs because of differences in coal quality, pricing, and the markets served by each region.

In 2015, the coal production shares of the West, Interior, and Appalachian regions were 55%, 19%, and 26%, respectively. In the scenario without the Clean Power Plan, these shares were expected to shift to 52%, 29%, and 20% by 2040, respectively, as coal production from the Interior region increases while coal production in the West and Appalachian regions decreases. In the Reference case, the decline in coal demand impedes growth for the Interior region and leads to even larger declines in the West and Appalachian regions. By 2040, market shares for the West, Interior, and Appalachian regions are 51%, 26%, 22%, respectively.

  • West – Coal production in the West region falls by 155 million tons between 2015 and 2040 in the Reference case, compared to a reduction of 31 million tons in the No CPP case. Approximately two-thirds of Western coal production occurs in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming and Montana, where relatively low mining costs and low-sulfur coal have offset higher transportation costs and allowed western coal to remain economic in distant markets. However, the addition of sulfur control equipment at existing coal-fired power plants early in the projection period makes higher sulfur coals more competitive at units that had previously used low-sulfur coal to comply with prior limitations on SO2 emissions. In the Reference case, competition from natural gas and renewables combined with coal-fired power plant retirements also lowers coal demand in the states that are currently large consumers of Western coal.
  • Interior – Coal production in the Interior region increases by 86 million tons by 2040 in the No CPP case. In the Reference case, this increase is smaller, totaling 5 million tons by 2040. Over the projection period, coal producers in the region are projected to control costs using longwall mining, a technique that is well-suited for the region’s coal reserves. Additionally, the installation of sulfur control equipment at existing coal-fired power plants will enable Interior coal to displace some use of lower-sulfur Western and Appalachian coals.
  • Appalachian – Coal production in the Appalachian region, which has declined steeply over the 2000-2015 period due to factors like depletion of the best coal reserves, is projected to see the smallest reduction in production attributable to the CPP. In the No CPP case, Appalachian coal declines 50 million tons by 2040. In the Reference case, Appalachian coal declines 79 million tons. Appalachian steam coal production is relatively expensive relative to other coals, and it is expected to experience decreasing labor productivity. This lower productivity further cuts into its competitiveness with coal from other regions, as well as with other fuels, such as natural gas. However, production of metallurgical coal, which is used in the steelmaking process, represented about 28% of the region’s total coal production in 2014 and is not affected directly by the CPP. But, slower growth in international metallurgical coal demand and falling international steam coal trade also limit projected export growth for Appalachian coal, the EIA noted.
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.