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Despite 7.5% YOY decline, gas-fired generation still on top in November 2016

Despite a 7.7 million MWh year-over-year drop in natural gas-fired generation, the fuel still provided the lion's share of U.S. electricity generation in November 2016.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration's latest "Electric Power Monthly" released Jan. 26, net utility-scale generation declined 3.2 million MWh year over year in November 2016 to 297.4 million MWh. Over the same period gas-fired generation declined 7.5% to 94.6 million MWh to account for 31.8% of total generation. Meanwhile, coal-fired generation declined 227,000 MWh versus the year-ago period to 87 million MWh to account for 29.3% of the nation's electricity. Over the same period, renewable output declined 72,000 MWh despite a 52.7% increase in solar output, which climbed to 2.6 million MWh.

November marked the 11th straight month that natural gas has beaten coal in the generation market share battle.

The latest government figures have coal's share of U.S. power generation at a significant deficit to that of natural gas through the end of November 2016 as coal-fired generation fell by 11.2% versus the same period in 2015. According to the EIA, coal provided 1.12 billion MWh, or 30%, of the nation's electricity through the end of the month. Meanwhile, natural gas provided 1.29 billion MWh, up 5% versus the prior year, to account for 34.4% of the nation's electricity.

As coal-fired generation has struggled to compete against natural gas-fired generation, coal production cuts have allowed utilities to chip away at elevated coal stockpiles. But coal production climbed year over year in November 2016, allowing for an above-average stockpile build of 8.7 million tons. For the four weeks ended Nov. 26, 2016, the EIA estimates domestic coal production totaled 66.1 million tons. That compares to 64.3 million tons during the four weeks ended Nov. 28, 2015.

The EIA estimates that the November 2016 stockpile level of 172.1 million tons translates to 90 days of burn and 85 days of burn, respectively, for bituminous and sub-bituminous coal, 14.8% and 31.2% above the five-year average for the month.