Coal country forecast to see largest natural gas increases

Areas that depend the most on coal for electricity generation will see the largest increases in the use of natural gas for electricity in coming years, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) said.

The EIA’s analysis, released Friday, is based upon electricity reliability councils, nine regional entities responsible for ensuring reliable electricity access.

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Every region the EIA studied will increase its use of natural gas for electricity by 2040, the agency said.

It predicted that natural gas generation will grow by about 1.5 percent a year. In the same period, natural gas production will rise by 56 percent.

The SERC Reliability Corp., ReliabilityFirst Corp. and the Western Electricity Coordinating Council will lead in natural gas increases during that time period, and are also the top coal users currently, the EIA said.

SERC, which covers much of the Southeast, is projected to increase its natural gas generation the most. The Western council, covering the Western states, will follow, with ReliabilityFirst’s states in the mid-Atlantic and part of the Midwest shortly behind.

But each region will experience different changes in how coal competes with natural gas and other energy sources, the EIA said.

“Coal-fired generation still grows significantly in SERC Reliability Corporation and ReliabilityFirst Corporation, despite significant retirements of coal-fired capacity, and the increased cost of building new coal-fired facilities,” the agency said.

“In the Western Electricity Coordinating Council, natural gas-fired power competes with renewable sources for future electric power demand, while in the Texas Reliability Entity region, natural gas accounts for almost all the growth in new generation.”

The EIA’s analysis does not take into account the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed carbon limits for power plants, which are expected to greatly decrease coal use and largely replace it with natural gas.