Today in Energy

April 17, 2017

Most coal plants in the United States were built before 1990

graph of U.S. utility-scale electric generating capacity, as explained in the article text
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Preliminary Monthly Electric Generator Inventory

Coal-fired electricity generators accounted for 25% of operating electricity generating capacity in the United States and generated about 30% of U.S. electricity in 2016. Most coal-fired capacity (88%) was built between 1950 and 1990, and the capacity-weighted average age of operating coal facilities is 39 years.

About half of the coal capacity operating in 2016 use bituminous coal as their main energy source, a type of coal that comes from Appalachian states such as West Virginia, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania. Bituminous coal is the most abundant type of coal in the United States and is more commonly produced in eastern and midwestern states. Bituminous coal has a greater range of sulfur content. The other half of coal plants use subbituminous coal, which is mostly produced in western states such as Wyoming and generally has a lower sulfur content than most bituminous coals. Less than 5% of operating coal capacity uses lignite or other coal types.

graph of monthly regular grade retail gasoline price by region, as explained in the article text
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Preliminary Monthly Electric Generator Inventory

As natural gas and renewables have increased their market shares of electricity generation over the past decade, coal generation has decreased. Average annual net generation from coal-fired units reached an annual high of 2.0 billion kilowatthours in 2007 and has since fallen to 1.2 billion kilowatthours in 2016.

graph of net coal-fired electricity generation, as explained in the article text
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Electric Power Monthly

Texas has the most coal-fired capacity of any state, with 23.6 gigawatts (GW)—or 9% of the national total—almost all of which is fueled by subbituminous coal. Two other states—Indiana and Ohio—have at least 15 GW of operating coal-fired capacity. Twelve states have less than 1 GW of coal capacity, including two states—Maine and Vermont—that do not have any coal capacity.

This article is part of an ongoing series of Today in Energy articles examining the fleet of utility-scale power plants in the United States. A previous article examined U.S. hydroelectric generators.

Principal contributor: Scott Jell