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Electricity Monthly Update

With Data for October 2014  |  Release Date: Dec. 23, 2014  |  Next Release Date: Jan. 26, 2015

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Electric Power Sector Coal Stocks: October 2014


In October, total U.S. coal stockpiles increased by almost 10%, or just over 12 million tons, to 136 million tons. This is the largest month-to-month percentage increase since at least January 2009. In absolute terms, this was the largest build since 12.5 million tons were added in October 2011. The increase was split evenly between bituminous and subbituminous coal types, which both increased by nearly six million tons. The build in subbituminous stocks was the largest in percentage terms going back to at least January 2009 and the largest in absolute terms since 6.1 million tons were added in January 2012.

The increase in coal stockpiles this month follows the normal pattern of building stocks during a shoulder month before winter though the magnitude of the increase, one of the largest in many years, is a welcome sign given the concern expressed this year in regards to low stockpile levels. In the Midwest, stockpiles at many coal-fired generators were rapidly depleted last winter as a result of increased electricity demand and rail delivery problems. This caused some power plant operators to take conservation measures by lowering output or idling units, buying replacement power on the wholesale market and re-routing deliveries from one plant to another in order to manage stockpiles. Railroad operator BNSF has also been called on to increase coal deliveries to power plants, as this problem has centered on subbituminous coal deliveries from the Powder River Basin across BNSF rail lines.

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. Like total stockpile levels, days of burn estimates increased in October. Days of burn at bituminous units increased from 81 to 82 days in October while days of burn at subbituminous units increased from 46 to 50 days of burn, on average, though these numbers remain below last October. The percentage of bituminous and subbituminous coal-fired capacity having less than 30 days of burn fell from 18% to under 8% and the capacity with 30 to 60 days of burn fell from 41% to 37% in October.

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

  October 2014   October 2013   September 2014  
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 7,335 83   5,614 53 30.7% 6,819 88 7.6%
  Subbituminous 605 117   560 69 8.0% 553 133 9.3%
South Bituminous 37,118 85   44,707 87 -17.0% 33,309 86 11.4%
  Subbituminous 6,699 74   6,184 64 8.3% 6,324 69 5.9%
Midwest Bituminous 14,592 74   14,808 67 -1.5% 13,142 69 11.0%
  Subbituminous 28,254 47   33,506 53 -15.7% 25,024 42 12.9%
West Bituminous 4,963 88   6,043 101 -17.9% 4,597 82 7.9%
  Subbituminous 19,949 49   27,806 63 -28.3% 18,362 47 8.6%
U.S. Total Bituminous 64,007 82   71,172 79 -10.1% 57,867 81 10.6%
  Subbituminous 55,507 50   68,056 58 -18.4% 50,263 46 10.4%

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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