Coal dominated the electricity sector for a century
Last year was a rough one for coal companies in the United States. Many of the industry’s largest companies filed for bankruptcy, President Obama issued rules that will force the retirement of many coal fired power plants across the country and an international agreement in Paris that led many countries to commit to limiting the production of electricity from coal.
Now, a new report shows power companies may have burned more natural gas than coal in 2015. The U.S. Energy Information Administration has previously said that power plants burned more natural gas than coal in five of the first ten months of 2015. That trend likely continued in November and December as natural gas maintained a low price conducive to encourage its use, according to the Reuters report
The triumph of natural gas over coal would mark a landmark moment in efforts to shift the U.S. energy mix away from fossil fuels that do the most environmental damage. Coal has been the top source of energy for power plants for the past century. Just a decade ago coal power plants produced half of the country’s power and gas produced less than 20%. Now, they both produce about a third of the U.S. power supply, according to Reuters.
Environmental activists have sought to reduce the use of all fossil fuels for power, but coal has been the top target given its outsized contribution to climate change. The fossil fuel creates more than 75% of the total carbon dioxide emissions from the U.S. electricity sector, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.