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Short-Term Energy Outlook

Release Date: May 10, 2016  |  Next Release Date: June 7, 2016  |  Full Report    |   Text Only   |   All Tables   |   All Figures


Coal Supply

EIA estimates that U.S. coal production in April was 46 million short tons (MMst), a 6 MMst (12%) decrease from the previous month and 29 MMst (38%) lower than in April 2015. Forecast coal production is expected to decrease by 150 MMst (17%) in 2016, which would be the largest decline in terms of both tons and percentage since data collection started in 1949. In 2016, forecast coal production in the Appalachian region and Western region declines by 15% and by 20%, respectively. Interior region production declines by 9%. In 2017, total U.S. coal production is expected to increase by 32 MMst (4%).

According to the most recent data, electric power sector coal stockpiles were 189 MMst in February, nearly unchanged from January. This pattern deviates from the normal seasonal pattern where stockpiles decrease during the winter months. U.S. end-of-February coal stockpiles were still at high levels, despite the coal plant retirements that have occurred in recent months. This year, February stocks were 26% (39 MMst) higher than the February 2015 level.

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 58 MMst (8%) in 2016. The decline is a result of competition with low-priced natural gas and from warmer-than-normal winter weather that reduced overall electricity generation. Coal consumption in the electric power sector is forecast to increase by 25 MMst (4%) in 2017, primarily because of rising natural gas prices.

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 Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS). In April, EPA granted units at five power plants an additional one-year extension to comply with MATS. These power plants will continue to operate while emission controls are installed or until reliable alternative generation sources are made available.

Coal Trade

Slower growth in global coal demand and lower international coal prices have contributed to a decline in U.S. coal exports. Lower mining costs, cheaper transportation costs, and favorable exchange rates are expected to continue to provide an advantage to mines in other major coal-exporting countries compared with U.S. producers.

Coal exports in February were 5 MMst, up 2% from January but 31% lower than the amount exported in February 2015. EIA forecasts U.S. coal exports to decline by 15 MMst (20%) in 2016 and by 3 MMst (4%) 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 total about 11 MMst in 2016 and 2017.

Coal Prices

EIA estimates the delivered coal price averaged $2.23/MMBtu in 2015. Forecast prices are $2.18/MMBtu in 2016 and $2.21/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 2.21
Supply (million short tons)
U.S. Coal Production 1000.0 895.4 745.7 777.9
Imports 11.3 11.3 11.3 10.8
Exports 97.3 74.0 59.1 56.5
Consumption (million short tons)
Electric Power Sector 851.6 739.7 681.7 706.8
Other Sectors 66.1 61.9 59.4 58.8
Total Consumption 917.7 801.6 741.2 765.7
End of Period Inventories (million short tons)
Electric Power Sector 151.5 197.1 176.1 153.4
Total Inventories 197.7 242.8 221.2 197.8

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