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Use of Coal For Power Generation Decreases

Coal-fired power plants have supplied a decreasing amount of the electricity over the past decade across the Mid-Atlantic region that is served by PJM Interconnection.


The U.S. Energy Information Agency reported that coal-fired generation made up 14% of the PJM region’s supply in 2023, compared to 44% in 2013, just 10 years earlier. The EIA attributes the decline to coal’s higher price compared to other energy sources, notably natural gas. Unconventional natural gas well development, or fracking, unlocked an abundant supply of that fuel in the Marcellus and Utica shales of Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio, which are part of PJM’s footprint.


As a result, there has been a move to build combined-cycle, natural gas-fueled power plants, which are more efficient as they use gas combustion to power turbines, with the waste heat used to power steam turbines. Natural gas accounted for more than 40% of electric generation in 2023.


PJM Interconnection is a regional transmission organization (RTO) that coordinates the movement of wholesale electricity in all or parts of Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia. It is one of seven RTOs across the U.S.


The job of RTOs is to coordinate and direct the flow of electricity across their grids, balancing changes in demand, weather, and other factors in order to provide reliable and safe service. They coordinate energy coming from a number of power plant operators and energy sources.


PJM takes into account the operating costs of various resources to determine which plants will be used. Coal is being called on less to provide baseload, or continuously available, power due to competitive pressures from natural gas, which also emits less carbon dioxide, and other energy sources. That is contributing to coal plant retirements, with about 34 gigawatts (GW) if capacity being retired in the past 10 years.


In 2023, the Homer City Generating Station in Indiana County, the largest in Pennsylvania, ceased operation, retiring 2 GW of generating capacity. While coal is still the third-largest energy source in PJM after natural gas and nuclear, it share continues to fall, and nearly 20% of the region’s coal capacity is scheduled to retire by 2028.

 

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