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Short-Term Energy Outlook

Release Date: January 12, 2016  |  Next Release Date: February 9, 2016  |  Full Report    |   Text Only   |   All Tables   |   All Figures


Coal Supply

EIA estimates U.S. coal production declined by 109 million short tons (MMst) (11%) in 2015, the largest decline ever recorded. The 2015 drop in production occurred in all coal-producing regions, with the largest percentage decrease occurring in the Appalachian region (15%). Production in the Interior region, which includes the Illinois Basin, declined by 11% in 2015, which was the first decline in that region since 2009. Western region production declined by 9%, with production below 500 MMst for the first time since 1998.

Forecast U.S. coal production continues to decline over the next two years. Production is projected to fall by 38 MMst (4%) in 2016 and by an additional 9 MMst (1%) in 2017. Interior region production, which accounted for only 13% of coal production 10 years ago (2006), is projected to account for 20% of production in 2016 and 2017. This increase in share reflects the region's growing competitive advantages compared to the other coal-producing regions. These factors include the higher heat content of the coal, closer proximity to major markets than coal produced in the Western region, and lower mining costs than Appalachian-produced coal. Appalachian production, which accounted for 34% of production 10 years ago, is projected to decline to 24% in 2016 and 2017. The Western region's share, which was 53% 10 years ago, increases to 56% in 2016 and 2017.

Electric power sector coal stockpiles were 176 MMst in October, an 8% increase from September, which is similar to the typical seasonal pattern. October coal inventories averaged 155 MMst during the previous 10 years (2005-14). Coal stockpiles are still relatively high because of the loss in market share to natural gas for power generation.

Coal Consumption

EIA estimates that coal consumption decreased by 11% in 2015, mainly as a result of an 11% drop in electric power sector consumption. Lower natural gas prices are the primary driver of the decrease in coal consumption. Low natural gas prices make it more economical to increase generation at natural gas-fired units and to decrease generation at coal-fired units. Retirements of coal-fired power plants, stemming from both increased competition with natural gas generation and the implementation of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS), also reduce coal-fired generation capacity, but the full effect will not be evident until 2016.

Higher forecast natural gas prices in 2016 and 2017 are expected to contribute to higher utilization rates among the remaining coal-fired power plants. This higher utilization rate somewhat mitigates the effect of lower consumption from coal-plant retirements. Coal consumption in the electric power sector is forecast to remain relatively unchanged in 2016. In 2017, increases in nuclear (1%), hydropower (8%), and other renewable-based (12%) electricity generation are forecast to contribute to a 1% decline in electric power sector coal consumption.

Coal Trade

Slower growth in world 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 will continue to provide an advantage to mines in other major coal-exporting countries compared with U.S. producers over the next few years.

EIA estimates U.S. coal exports decreased 20 MMst (21%) from 2014 levels to 77 MMst in 2015. The current global coal market trends are expected to continue, and coal exports are forecast to decline by an additional 9 MMst (12%) in 2016 and by 2 MMst (4%) in 2017.

U.S. coal imports, which were 11 MMst in 2014, remained at that level in 2015. Coal imports, primarily from Latin America, are forecast to maintain their market share with power generators along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, as imported coal's delivered price in those markets remains competitive with prices for domestically produced coal. Imports are projected to average just under 11 MMst in 2016 and 2017.

Coal Prices

The annual average price of coal to the electric power sector averaged $2.36/MMBtu in 2014. EIA estimates the delivered coal price averaged $2.23/MMBtu in 2015. Forecast prices are $2.19/MMBtu in 2016 and $2.20/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 2.20
Supply (million short tons)
U.S. Coal Production 999.7 890.5 852.4 843.3
Imports 11.3 11.3 10.7 10.8
Exports 97.3 76.9 67.6 65.1
Consumption (million short tons)
Electric Power Sector 851.6 754.0 753.3 743.4
Other Sectors 65.4 62.1 61.2 60.8
Total Consumption 917.0 815.8 814.5 804.2
End of Period Inventories (million short tons)
Electric Power Sector 151.5 178.1 170.7 165.2
Total Inventories 203.4 229.6 221.7 216.4

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