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Short-Term Energy Outlook

Release Date: September 9, 2014  |  Next Release Date: October 7, 2014  |  Full Report    |   Text Only   |   All Tables   |   All Figures

Coal

Electric power sector coal inventories fell to 133 million short tons (MMst) at the end of June, 38 MMst lower compared with the same time last year. Coal inventories in the Midwest and South, two regions that rely heavily on coal-fired generation, are down 19% and 29%, respectively, when compared with last year. Midwestern electric generators have recently cited continuing problems with rail coal deliveries to power plants. One utility in Wisconsin is concerned that it may have to cease or curtail operations at a coal plant and in Minnesota one utility states that it has begun curtailing output at a large coal-fired plant to conserve fuel. Coal car loadings have fallen in 8 of the past 9 weeks, and although year-to-date rail coal shipments are up by 0.1%, this has been insufficient to maintain stocks. Some Southern generators are reportedly turning to shipments of imported coal to meet their needs.

Coal Supply

EIA estimates that coal production for the first eight months of this year (658 MMst) was slightly lower (5 MMst) than production over the same period last year. EIA expects that U.S. coal production will grow 1.4% to 998 MMst in 2014, driven by higher consumption and a need to replenish consumer inventories, particularly at power producers. In 2015, forecast U.S. coal production increases slightly by 0.5% to 1,002 MMst.

Coal Consumption

EIA projects total coal consumption growth of 2.0% to 943 MMst in 2014 because of higher electricity demand and power sector natural gas prices more than 20% above their 2013 level. Total coal consumption is projected to fall by 2.6% in 2015, as retirements of coal power plants rise in response to the implementation of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, electricity sales growth slows to 0.4%, and natural gas prices fall relative to coal prices.

Coal Trade

EIA estimates that coal exports for the first six months of this year were 17.2% (10.5 MMst) lower compared with last year, with tonnage declines for steam coal exports more than double those of metallurgical coal. Coal exports are projected to decline to 96 MMst in 2014 from 118 MMst in 2013, primarily because of slowing world coal demand growth, lower international coal prices, and increasing coal output in other coal-exporting countries.

Coal imports for the first six months of this year increased by 43% (1.8 MMst) compared with last year. Rail congestion, coupled with falling global coal prices, has made imports an attractive alternative to domestic coal, especially to power plants in the East. EIA expects coal imports to total 12.8 MMst in 2014 and fall slightly to 10.8 MMst in 2015.

Coal Prices

Annual average coal prices to the electric power industry fell over the past few years, from $2.39/MMBtu in 2011 to $2.35/MMBtu in 2013. EIA expects the average delivered coal prices to be $2.36/MMBtu in 2014 and remain at that level in 2015.

U.S. Coal Summary
  2012 2013 2014 2015
Prices (dollars per million Btu)
Electric Power Sector 2.38 2.35 2.36 2.36
Supply (million short tons)
U.S. Coal Production 1016.4 984.0 997.7 1002.4
Imports 9.2 8.9 12.8 10.8
Exports 125.7 117.7 96.3 99.5
Consumption (million short tons)
Electric Power Sector 823.6 858.4 877.3 852.9
Other Sectors 65.6 66.8 65.9 65.6
Total Consumption 889.2 925.1 943.2 918.4
End of Period Inventories (million short tons)
Electric Power Sector 185.1 148.0 131.6 134.2
Total Inventories 238.9 197.5 182.6 187.1

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