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Natural gas likely to overtake coal for electricity

This is likely to be the first year in which natural gas has a higher market share for electricity generation than coal does, federal analysts predict.

Coal has been the dominant fuel for electricity generation and accounted for 39 percent of fuel used in 2014, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA).

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But EIA is predicting that when 2016 ends, natural gas will have generated 33 percent of the country’s electricity, compared to 32 percent for coal.

The agency said Wednesday that historically low natural gas prices are the primary reason in the switch.

“Environmental regulations affecting power plants have played a secondary role in driving coal's declining generation share over the past decade, although plant owners in some states have made investments to shift generation toward natural gas at least partly for environmental reasons,” the agency said.

But regulations limiting pollutants like mercury and carbon dioxide will play a bigger role in the future, EIA said.

“Owners of some coal plants will face decisions to either retire units or reduce their utilization rate to comply with requirements to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from existing fossil fuel-fired power plants under the Clean Power Plan, which is scheduled to take effect in 2022 but has recently been stayed by the Supreme Court pending the outcome of ongoing litigation,” it wrote.

April 2015 was the first time gas beat coal for a month, and it happened again in four more months that year.