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Electricity Monthly Update

With Data for February 2017  |  Release Date: April 25, 2017  |  Next Release Date: May 24, 2017

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Resource Use: February 2017

Supply and fuel consumption

In this section, we look at the resources used to produce electricity. Generating units are chosen to run primarily on their operating costs, of which fuel costs account for the lion's share. Therefore, we present below, electricity generation output by fuel type and generator type. Since the generator/fuel mix of utilities varies significantly by region, we also present generation output by region.

Generation output by region



map showing electricity regions

Net generation in the United States decreased 8.1% from February 2016. The country, as a whole, experienced its second hottest February on record. This led to a decreased need for residential heating and thus, a decrease in electricity generation compared to last February. At the regional-level, all parts of the country saw a decrease in electricity generation from the previous year, with the Northeast (-10.0%), MidAtlantic (-13.0%), and Southeast (-13.6%), seeing the largest percent decreases in electricity generation compared to February 2016.

The change in electricity generation from coal was mixed throughout the country, with Florida, Texas, and the West all observing increases in coal generation, while the Northeast, MidAtlantic, Southeast, and Central regions all saw decreases in electricity generation from coal. Natural gas generation decreased in all parts of the country compared to February 2016, with the Central region seeing the largest percent decrease (-34.1%) compared to the previous February.

As a whole, nuclear generation was down 2.4% compared to February 2016, with Florida seeing the largest percent decrease (19.5%) from the previous year, due to the St. Lucie nuclear plant being offline in February 2017 for a refueling outage. Hydroelectric generation was down across most of the country compared to the previous February. However, in the Western region, increased precipitation during the month led to a nearly 21% rise in hydroelectric generation.

Fossil fuel consumption by region





map showing electricity regions

The chart above compares coal consumption in February 2016 and February 2017 by region and the second tab compares natural gas consumption by region over the same period. Changes in coal and natural gas consumption closely mirrored their respective changes in coal and natural gas generation.

The third tab presents the change in the relative share of fossil fuel consumption by fuel type on a percentage basis, calculated using equivalent energy content (Btu). This highlights changes in the relative market shares of coal, natural gas, and petroleum. In February 2017, Florida, Texas, Central, and the West saw an increase in the share of coal consumption at the expense of natural gas consumption, while the Northeast, MidAtlantic, and Southeast regions saw a decrease in coal consumption at the expense of natural gas consumption.

The fourth tab presents the change in coal and natural gas consumption on an energy content basis by region. The changes in total coal and natural gas consumption were similar to the changes seen in total coal and natural gas net generation in each region.

Fossil fuel prices




To gain some insight into the changing pattern of consumption of fossil fuels over the past year, we look at relative monthly average fuel prices. A common way to compare fuel prices is on an equivalent $/MMBtu basis as shown in the chart above. For the second consecutive month, the average price of natural gas at Henry Hub decreased from the previous month, going from $3.40/MMBtu in January 2017 to $2.90/MMBtu in February 2017. It was also the second consecutive month that the natural gas price for New York City (Transco Zone 6 NY) decreased, going from $3.94/MMBtu in January 2017 to $2.92/MMBtu in February 2017.

The New York Harbor residual oil price saw a decrease from the previous month, going from $9.70/MMBtu in January 2017 to $9.26/MMBtu in February 2017. Regardless, oil used as a fuel for electricity generation is almost always priced out of the market.

A fuel price comparison based on equivalent energy content ($/MMBtu) does not reflect differences in energy conversion efficiency (heat rate) among different types of generators. Gas-fired combined-cycle units tend to be more efficient than coal-fired steam units. The second tab shows coal and natural gas prices on an equivalent energy content and efficiency basis. For the first time since November 2016, the price of natural gas at Henry Hub was below the price of Central Appalachian coal on a $/MWh basis. This was due to the decrease in the price of natural gas at Henry Hub from the previous month. The price of natural gas at New York City on a $/MWh basis was also below the price of Central Appalachian coal for the first time since November 2016, also a result of the natural gas price at New York City decreasing from the previous month.

The conversion shown in this chart is done for illustrative purposes only. The competition between coal and natural gas to produce electricity is more complex. It involves delivered prices and emission costs, the terms of fuel supply contracts, and the workings of fuel markets.

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