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Electricity Monthly Update

With Data for February 2015  |  Release Date: April 27, 2015  |  Next Release Date: May 26, 2015

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Electric Power Sector Coal Stocks: February 2015


In February, U.S. coal stockpiles fell to 150 million tons, down 3% from the previous month. Declining coal stockpiles are a normal pattern most years from January to February as coal-fired generators meet winter electricity demand. The month-to-month stockpile change differed by coal type and reflected the large weather variance between the eastern and western U.S. Bituminous coal stocks, largely burned in eastern power plants, fell 8% in February as nearly every state in this region experienced one of its coldest Februarys on record. Subbituminous coal stocks, largely (but not entirely) burned in western power plants, actually increased during the month as most states there experienced one of their warmest February's on record. Total stockpiles this year are significantly higher (25%) than last February, when a combination of high electricity demand and limited coal deliveries caused a large drawdown in coal stockpiles. The stockpile levels at a handful of plants in the Midwest last winter off of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad dropped to just a few days of burn. This problem seems to have been resolved this winter, as conservative operating plans and higher levels of coal deliveries by BNSF has restored stocks at those plants to more normal levels.

Days of burn

The average number of days of burn held at electric power plants is a forward looking estimate of coal supply given a power plant's current stockpile and past consumption patterns. Days of burn patterns differed widely between bituminous and subbituminous units during the month of February. For bituminous units largely located in the eastern U.S., extremely cold weather caused a decline from 81 days to 79 days of forward looking days of burn estimates. For subbituminous units largely located in the western U.S., extremely warm weather contributed to a sharp increase in forward looking days of burn estimates, from 69 days of burn in January to 77 days in February. The percentage of bituminous and subbituminous coal-fired capacity having less than 30 days of burn increased slightly in February to 7.5% from 4% in January. This is a much lower percentage than last February, however, when over 21% of units had less than 30 days of burn.

Coal stocks and average number of days of burn for non-lignite coal by region (electric power sector)

  February 2015   February 2014   January 2015  
Zone Coal Stocks (1000 tons) Days of Burn   Stocks (1000 tons) Days of Burn % Change of Stocks Stocks (1000 tons) Days of Burn % Change of Stocks
Northeast Bituminous 6,005 85   4,074 61 47.4% 7,049 91 -14.8%
  Subbituminous 742 259   245 94 202.8% 779 203 -4.7%
South Bituminous 30,245 81   28,305 74 6.9% 33,064 85 -8.5%
  Subbituminous 5,941 80   4,215 52 41.0% 6,184 82 -3.9%
Midwest Bituminous 13,369 73   9,133 49 46.4% 14,363 73 -6.9%
  Subbituminous 33,125 65   26,082 49 27.0% 33,409 57 -0.8%
West Bituminous 5,634 75   5,612 76 0.4% 5,349 70 5.3%
  Subbituminous 31,056 91   22,059 66 40.8% 28,839 82 7.7%
U.S. Total Bituminous 55,253 79   47,124 67 17.3% 59,824 81 -7.6%
  Subbituminous 70,864 77   52,601 56 34.7% 69,210 69 2.4%

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration

NOTE: Stockpile levels shown above reflect a sample of electric power sector plants, which were used to create the days of burn statistics. These levels will not equal total electric power sector stockpile levels.

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