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Electricity Monthly Update

With Data for February 2019  |  Release Date: April 24, 2019  |  Next Release Date: May 24, 2019

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Resource Use: February 2019

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

In February 2019, net generation in the United States increased by 2.3% compared to February 2018. This increase in electricity generation occurred because the country, as a whole, experienced a colder February this year compared to the previous year. This led to an increase in the need for residential customer heating for the country during February 2019 compared to the previous February, which increased the need for electricity generation compared to a year ago. At the regional-level, the Northeast, MidAtlantic, Southeast, and Western regions saw an increase in electricity generation compared to a year ago. In particular, the Northeast saw the largest year-over-year increase in electricity generation (6.1%) due to cooler temperatures compared to the previous February, albeit still above the region’s historical average for the month of February. The Central region, Florida, and Texas saw decreases in electricity generation compared to February 2018, with Florida seeing the largest year-over-year decrease in electricity generation (-1.5%).

Electricity generation from coal decreased in all parts of the country compared to the pervious February, except for in Texas and the Western region. All regions of the country, except for Texas, saw electricity generation from natural gas increase compared to the previous February. The West saw the largest year-over-year increase in natural gas generation (28.7%) due to a much colder February than compared to the previous year, and reduced hydro generation (down 22.7% in the Pacific Contiguous region). Nuclear generation was relatively flat compared to February 2018, only decreasing by 0.1% compared to a year ago.

Fossil fuel consumption by region





map showing electricity regions

The chart above compares coal consumption in February 2018 and February 2019 by region and the second tab compares natural gas consumption by region over the same period. Changes in coal and natural gas consumption were similar to 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. Texas and the West were the only two regions that saw an increase in the share of coal at the expense of natural gas in February 2019. All other regions saw their share of natural gas increase at the expense of coal during the month.

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. The average price of natural gas at Henry Hub decreased from the previous month, going from $3.18/MMBtu in January 2019 to $2.82/MMBtu in February 2019. The natural gas price for New York City (Transco Zone 6 NY) saw a significant decrease compared to the previous month, going from $6.16/MMBtu in January 2019 to $3.18/MMBtu in February 2019. For the first time in eight months, the average price of Central Appalachian coal saw a decrease from the previous month, going from $3.52/MMBtu in January 2019 to $3.41/MMBtu in February 2019.

For the second consecutive month, the New York Harbor residual oil price saw an increase from the previous month, going from $11.69/MMBtu in January 2019 to $12.44/MMBtu in February 2019. Unlike the beginning of last winter where very cold temperatures led to a spike in oil use by electric generators, oil used as a fuel for electricity generation was largely priced out of the market during February 2019.

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. The price of natural gas at Henry Hub ($22.61/MWh) was below the price of Central Appalachian coal ($36.82/MWh) on a $/MWh basis, with the spread between the two increasing from the previous month, mainly due to the decrease in the Henry Hub natural gas price. The price of natural gas at New York City ($25.47/MWh) was now below the price of Central Appalachian coal ($36.82/MWh) during February 2019, due to the sharp drop in the New York City natural gas price compared to 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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