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Short-Term Energy Outlook

Release Date: August 9, 2016  |  Next Release Date: September 7, 2016  |  Full Report    |   Text Only   |   All Tables   |   All Figures


Coal Supply

U.S. coal production in July was 65 million short tons (MMst), an 8 MMst (14%) increase from the previous month but 11 MMst (15%) lower than in July 2015. In 2016, coal production is expected to decrease by 163 MMst (18%), which would be the largest decline in terms of both tons and percentage since at least 1949.

In 2016, forecast coal production in the Appalachian region and in the Western region declines by 20%, while Interior region production declines by 11%. In 2017, total U.S. coal production is expected to increase by 32 MMst (4%), with almost all of the increase coming from the Appalachian region and the Interior region. Coal in these two regions has the advantage of lower transportation costs and a higher heat content compared with Western region coal.

According to the most recent data, electric power sector coal stockpiles were 196 MMst in May, virtually unchanged from April. The end-of-May coal stocks were 22 MMst (13%) higher than the May 2015 level and 26 MMst (15%) higher than the previous 10-year average for the month. Warmer-than-normal winter temperatures and coal's continuing loss of market share to natural gas for electric power generation contributed to the increase in coal stockpiles. EIA expects that coal stockpiles will decrease over the summer, and inventories will end 2016 at 156 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 64 MMst (9%) in 2016. The decline is a result of both competition with low-priced natural gas and relatively mild weather in the first half of 2016 that reduced overall electricity generation. 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 17 MMst (3%) in 2017, mostly because of rising natural gas prices coupled with increasing electricity generation.

Coal Trade

Coal exports of 4.2 MMst in May 2016 were less than 1 MMst (8%) lower than the previous month, but they were almost 3 MMst (38%) lower than the amount exported in May 2015. EIA forecasts U.S. coal exports to decline by 19 MMst (25%) in 2016 to 55 MMst, the lowest level in 10 years. Exports are expected to decline by 4 MMst (8%) 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 roughly 11 MMst in both 2016 and 2017.

Coal Prices

EIA estimates that the delivered coal price to electric utilities averaged $2.23/MMBtu in 2015. Forecast prices are $2.19/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 2.19 2.24
Supply (million short tons)
U.S. Coal Production 1000.0 895.4 732.0 763.8
Imports 11.3 11.3 11.5 10.8
Exports 97.3 74.0 55.5 51.1
Consumption (million short tons)
Electric Power Sector 851.6 739.7 676.2 693.4
Other Sectors 66.1 61.9 59.2 59.5
Total Consumption 917.7 801.6 735.3 752.9
End of Period Inventories (million short tons)
Electric Power Sector 151.5 197.1 156.0 137.6
Total Inventories 197.7 242.8 201.1 182.0

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