Coal mining

Coal suffers as gas takes on major role

Major US power players are predicting tough times ahead for coal-generation in the US as more and more states look towards natural gas for their baseload generation.

“The long-term prospects for natural gas have never looked more favourable,” Paul Browning, president and CEO of thermal products at GE Power and Water said. “Natural gas production has boomed in the US over the last decade allowing existing national gas plants to ramp up their output. Capacity factors have increased from 45 per cent to 80 per cent in recent years."

It is believed that natural gas in stepping up to the plate at just the right time with many of the ageing coal-fired power plants coming to the end of their working life. “The amount of coal being used for electric generation is dropping in the US,” James Ferland, president and CEO of Babcock & Wilcox added. It is expected that more natural gas combined-cycle will be the trend going forward.

Gordon Gillette, president and CEO of Florida utility Tampa Electric and Peoples Gas, said that he expected there to be no new coal-fired plants built in the US and that older, non-scrubbed coal plants would close. “If you want to build new conventional coal unites you had better have a presence in Asia,” he said.

The lack of coal generation presents the US with several challenges and the move to natural gas provides several opportunities, not least of which are the environmental benefits. “In 2005 the US was the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gasses,” Browning said. “Since 2005 the US has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions more than any other country. This is largely attributed to the shift from coal to gas generation."

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