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Coal reclaims some market share lost to gas

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Coal is reclaiming market share lost to natural gas last year in electricity generation, according to a report from the Energy Information Administration.

"Total natural gas use for power generation in the United States was down 14% during the first seven months of 2013 compared to the same period in 2012 … mostly because of higher natural gas prices relative to coal prices," said the report issued Sept. 25.

"High natural gas-fired generation in 2012 occurred as a result of the lowest spot natural gas prices in a decade — in fact, the two fuels contributed approximately equal shares of total generation in April 2012. Despite lower gas use for generation thus far in 2013, natural gas generation remains consistently higher than levels before 2012."

Gas use for power generation has generally risen since 2008, the EIA report said.

"The increasing gas use for power is a structural change that is occurring across a wide range of temperatures and seasons. Several factors underpin this trend, including moderate natural gas prices, increased shale gas production, and additions of natural gas generating capacity," the report said.

Trends in natural gas use for power vary by region, according to the EIA.

"In some regions, such as the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic, natural gas use for power is significantly lower in 2013. This larger drop is because natural gas made greater inroads in 2012 compared to regions like Texas where low natural gas prices in 2012 did not displace nearly as much coal-fired generation," the report said, "Fuel competition is less intense in parts of the country where coal fuels a very small portion of the generation or where the delivered coal price is extremely low, resulting in relatively greater coal consumption."

Gas use for power generation declines when outside temperatures rise from the 30s to the 50s and then picks up again as the weather warms, according to the EIA.