Coal power in the United States

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Sources of electricity in the U.S. in 2009.[1]
Coal electrical generation, compared to other sources, 1949-2011
Electricity Produced by Coal Consumption

Coal power in the United States accounted for 42% of the country's electricity production in 2011.[1] Utilities buy more than 90 percent of the coal mined in the United States.[2]

In 2009, there were 1436 coal-powered units at the electrical utilities across the US, with the total nominal capacity of 338.732 GW[3] (compared to 1024 units at nominal 278 GW in 2000).[4] The actual average generated power from coal in 2006 was 227.1 GW (1.991 trillion kilowatt-hours per year),[5] the highest in the world and still slightly ahead of China (1.95 trillion kilowatt-hours per year) at that time.[6] In 2000, the US average production of electricity from coal was 224.3 GW (1.966 trillion kilowatt-hours for the year).[5] In 2006, US electrical generation consumed 1,026,636,000 short tons (931,349,000 metric tons) or 92.3% of the coal mined in the US.[7]

Recent trends, comparisons, and forecasts[edit]

Electricity production from coal power by year in the USA from 1995 to 2006.
Coal reserves in the USA in 1996.
Coal reserves in BTUs as of 2009

The average share of electricity generated from coal in the US has dropped from 52.8% in 1997 to 45.0% in 2009.[1] In the first quarter of 2012, the use of coal for electricity generation has declined substantially more, declining 21% from 2011 levels. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, 27 gigawatts of capacity from coal-fired generators is to be retired from 175 coal-fired power plants between 2012 and 2016.[8] Natural gas showed a corresponding increase, increasing by a third over 2011.[9] Coal's share of electricity generation dropped to just over 36%.[9]

The coal plants are mostly base-load plants and account for about 32% of the peak electricity production in the summer, when the electricity demand is the highest and the auxiliary (mostly non-coal) plants are added to the grid.[10]

As of 7/7/11, utility companies will shut down and retire aging coal-fired power plants following the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) announcement of the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSAP).[11] The extent of shutdowns and reduction in utilization will depend on factors such as future price of natural gas and cost of installation of pollution control equipment; however, as of 2013, the future of coal-fired power plants in the United States did not appear promising.[12][13]

Canceled and slowed proposals[edit]

Safety[edit]

Coal power has historically been known for being a dangerous working environment.[citation needed] The Mine Safety and Health Administration of the United States Department of Labor reports deaths by state and year for the period of 1996 to 2009; total deaths for that time frame were 437. In the US there were 47 deaths in 2006, 34 in 2007, and 30 deaths in 2008.

Accident types include:

Reference: [1]

Environmental impacts[edit]

In the United States, three coal-fired power plants reported the largest toxic air releases in 2001:[16]

The Environmental Protection Agency classified the 44 sites as potential hazards to communities, which means the waste sites could cause death and significant property damage if an event such as a storm, a terrorist attack or a structural failure caused a spill. They estimate that about 300 dry landfills and wet storage ponds are used around the country to store ash from coal-fired power plants. The storage facilities hold the noncombustible ingredients of coal and the ash trapped by equipment designed to reduce air pollution.[17]

Acid rain[edit]

Byproducts of coal plants have been linked to acid rain.

Sulfur dioxide emissions[edit]

86 coal powered plants have a capacity of 107.1 GW, or 9.9% of total U.S. electric capacity, they emitted 5,389,592 tons of SO2 in 2006 – which represents 28.6% of U.S. SO2 emissions from all sources.[18]

Carbon footprint: CO2 emissions[edit]

Emissions from electricity generation account for the largest share of U.S. greenhouse gases, 38.9% of U.S. production of carbon dioxide in 2006 (with transportation emissions close behind, at 31%). Although coal power only accounted for 49% of the U.S. electricity production in 2006, it was responsible for 83% of CO2 emissions caused by electricity generation that year, or 1,970 Tg of CO2 emissions. Further 130 Tg of CO2 were released by other industrial coal-burning applications.[19]

Mercury pollution[edit]

U.S. coal-fired electricity-generating power plants owned by utilities emitted an estimated 48 tons of mercury in 1999, the largest source of man-made mercury pollution in the U.S.[20] In 1995-96, this accounted for 32.6% of all mercury emitted into the air by human activity in the U.S. In addition, 13.1% was emitted by coal-fired industrial and mixed-use commercial boilers, and 0.3% by coal-fired residential boilers, bringing the total U.S. mercury pollution due to coal combustion to 46% of the U.S. man-made mercury sources.[21] In contrast, China's coal-fired power plants emitted an estimated 200 ± 90 tons of mercury in 1999, which was about 38% of Chinese human-generated mercury emissions (45% being emitted from non-ferrous metals smelting).[22] Mercury in emissions from power plants can be reduced by the use of activated carbon.

Public debate[edit]

Advocates[edit]

In 2007 an advertising campaign was launched to improve public opinion on coal power titled America's Power. This was done by the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (then known as Americans for Balanced Energy Choices), a pro-coal organization started in 2000.

Opposition[edit]

In the face of increasing electricity demand through the 2000s, the US has seen a "Growing Trend Against Coal-Fired Power Plants". In 2006 through 2007 there was first a bullish market attitude towards coal with the expectation of a new wave of plants, but political barriers and pollution concerns escalated exponentially, which is likely to damage plans for new generation and put pressure on older plants.[23] In 2007, 59 proposed coal plants were cancelled, abandoned, or placed on hold by sponsors as a result of financing obstacles, regulatory decisions, judicial rulings, and new global warming legislation.[24][25]

The Stop Coal campaign has called for a moratorium on the construction of any new coal plants and for the phase out of all existing plants, citing concern for global warming.[26] Others have called for a carbon tax and a requirement of carbon sequestration for all coal power plants.[27]

The creation in January 2009 of a Presidential task force (to look at ways to alter the energy direction of the United States energy providers) favors the trend away from coal-fired power plants.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Electric Power Monthly - Energy Information Administration
  2. ^ http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/news/cityregion/s_586978.html
  3. ^ "Existing Electric Generating Units in the United States". Energy Information Administration. 2009. Retrieved 2010-07-27. 
  4. ^ "Inventory of Electric Utility Power Plants in the United States 2000". Energy Information Administration. March 2002. Retrieved 2008-06-19. 
  5. ^ a b "Electric Power Annual with data for 2006". Energy Information Administration. October 2007. Retrieved 2008-06-19. 
  6. ^ See Wikipedia article on Chinese economy
  7. ^ "U.S. Coal Consumption by End-Use Sector". Energy Information Administration. July 25, 2008. Retrieved 2008-08-29. 
  8. ^ Gerhardt, Tina (1 November 2012). "Record Number of Coal Power Plants Retire". E-Magazine. 
  9. ^ a b Electric Power Monthly, March 2011 (released May 2012), U.S. Energy Information Administration
  10. ^ EIA - Electricity Data, Analysis, Surveys
  11. ^ EPA finalizes rules for cross-state air pollution - The Hill's E2-Wire
  12. ^ Brad Plumer (April 8, 2013). "Study: The coal industry is in far more trouble than anyone realizes". The Washington Post. Retrieved April 8, 2013. 
  13. ^ Lincoln F. Pratson; Drew Haerer and Dalia Patiño-Echeverri (March 15, 2013). "Fuel Prices, Emission Standards, and Generation Costs for Coal vs Natural Gas Power Plants". Environmental Science & Technology (American Chemical Society). doi:10.1021/es4001642. Retrieved April 8, 2013. 
  14. ^ Washington Post. Power Plant Rejected Over Carbon Dioxide For First Time.
  15. ^ Souder, Elizabeth (2007-10-15). "Plans for 8 Texas coal plants formally canceled". The Dallas Morning News. Retrieved 2008-06-19. 
  16. ^ Coal and Oil Power Plants Top North American Polluter List
  17. ^ Associated Press - June 2009
  18. ^ "Technology Transfer Network: State Emission Index". U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Retrieved May 2008. 
  19. ^ "Inventory of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and sinks: 1990–2006" (PDF). U.S. EPA. April 15, 2008. Retrieved 2008-08-29. 
  20. ^ "Mercury emissions control R&D". U.S. Dept. of Energy. 2006-01-18. Archived from the original on 2007-12-22. Retrieved 2008-01-27. 
  21. ^ Mercury study: Report to Congress (EPA-452/R-97-004) (PDF) 2. United States Environmental Protection Agency. December 1997. Retrieved 2008-07-31. 
  22. ^ Streets D. G., Hao J., Wu Y. et al. (2005). "Anthropogenic mercury emissions in China". Atmos. Environ. 39 (40): 7789–7806. doi:10.1016/j.atmosenv.2005.08.029. 
  23. ^ Palang Thai: The Growing Trend Against Coal-Fired Power Plants (USA)
  24. ^ "59 Coal Plants Cancelled, Abandoned, or Put on Hold in 2007," Lowbagger.org, 1/22/08
  25. ^ "Victories 2007," CoalSwarm
  26. ^ Want to stop global warming? STOP COAL!
  27. ^ Cap-&-Trade and Carbon Tax Legislation

External links[edit]