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Short-Term Energy Outlook

Release Date: September 7, 2016  |  Next Release Date: October 13, 2016  |  Full Report    |   Text Only   |   All Tables   |   All Figures

Coal

Coal Supply

U.S. coal production in August was 71 million short tons (MMst), which is 6 MMst (9%) higher than in the previous month and 12 MMst (14%) lower than in August 2015. In 2016, coal production is expected to decrease by 164 MMst (18%), which would be the largest annual decline in terms of both tons and percentage based on data going back to 1949. In 2017, total U.S. coal production is expected to increase by 32 MMst (4%), with the majority of the increase coming from the Appalachian and Interior regions. Coal produced in these two regions has the advantage of lower transportation costs and higher heat content per ton than coal produced in the Western region.

Electric power sector coal stockpiles were 185 MMst in June (the most recent available data), a 5% decline from May. The end-of-June coal stocks were 18 MMst (11%) higher than the June 2015 level and 20 MMst (12%) higher than the previous 10-year average for the month. U.S. coal stockpiles are still at relatively high levels because of the mild winter earlier in the year and also because coal continues to lose market share to natural gas for use in electricity generation in most regions of the country. EIA expects the level of coal stocks will decrease over the summer, and power sector inventories will end 2016 at 158 MMst.

Coal Consumption

Coal consumption in the electric power sector, which accounts for more than 90% of total U.S. coal consumption, is forecast to decline by 67 MMst (9%) in 2016. The decline is a result of competition with low-priced natural gas and the relatively mild weather in the first half of 2016 that reduced overall electricity demand. Retirements of coal-fired power plants reduce coal-fired generation capacity in the forecast period, primarily in 2016. The retirements are the result of increased competition with natural gas generation and the industry response to the implementation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS). Coal consumption in the electric power sector is forecast to increase by 18 MMst (3%) in 2017, mostly because of rising natural gas prices and increasing electricity generation.

Coal Trade

Coal exports in June 2016 were 1 MMst (29%) higher than in the previous month, but exports for the first six months of 2016 were 32% (13 MMst) lower than the amount exported in the first half of 2015. EIA forecasts U.S. coal exports for all of 2016 to decline by 15 MMst (21%) to 59 MMst, the lowest annual level since 2006. Exports are expected to decline by 6 MMst (10%) in 2017.

Atlantic and Gulf Coast power generators are forecast to maintain their current levels of coal imports, which are primarily from Latin America. Imports are projected to be almost 11 MMst in both 2016 and 2017.

Coal Prices

EIA estimates the delivered coal price averaged $2.23/MMBtu in 2015. Forecast coal prices are $2.18/MMBtu in 2016 and $2.24/MMBtu in 2017.

U.S. Coal Summary
  2014 2015 2016 2017
Prices (dollars per million Btu)
Electric Power Sector 2.36 2.23 2.18 2.24
Supply (million short tons)
U.S. Coal Production 1000.0 897.0 732.8 764.4
Imports 11.3 11.3 10.7 10.7
Exports 97.3 74.0 58.7 52.9
Consumption (million short tons)
Electric Power Sector 851.6 739.7 672.9 691.3
Other Sectors 66.1 59.7 58.2 59.5
Total Consumption 917.7 799.4 731.0 750.8
End of Period Inventories (million short tons)
Electric Power Sector 151.5 197.1 158.2 140.6
Total Inventories 197.7 242.0 203.4 185.0

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