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EIA expects coal-fired share of power generation to fall below 25% in 2019

The U.S. Energy Information Administration is expecting domestic coal-fired power generation this year to reach its lowest level in over 70 years.

In its Short-Term Energy Outlook released March 12, the federal agency forecasts coal's share of U.S. generation to fall from 27% in 2018 to an average of 24.6% in 2019 and roughly 23% in 2020 due to markets favoring cheaper natural gas-fired generation. In an accompanying statement, EIA Administrator Linda Capuano said this is the first time since 1949, the earliest year listed in EIA’s "Monthly Energy Review," that coal-fired generation will fall below 25% of all power generation.

The EIA expects the share of utility-scale electricity generation produced by natural gas-fired power plants to continue to rise from 35% in 2018 to 37% in 2019 and 2020. Nuclear generation's share will stay near its 2018 level of 19% for both 2019 and 2020, while hydropower's share is forecast to average slightly less than 7% in 2019 and in 2020, as it had been in 2018.

Capuano said the EIA continues to expect wind to overtake hydropower as the leading source of renewable electricity in the U.S. with forecast shares of 8% in 2019 and 9% in 2020. In total, wind, solar and other nonhydropower renewables are expected to see their share increase from about 10% in 2018 to 11% in 2019 and 13% in 2020.

After rising by 2.9% in 2018 as a result of increased natural gas use due to a colder winter and warmer summer, the EIA forecasts that U.S. energy-related carbon dioxide emissions will decline by 1.6% in 2019 and 0.5% in 2020 due to temperatures returning to near normal levels and renewables and natural gas producing a higher share of electricity generation.

The EIA's outlook also expects total U.S. electricity production to fall from an average of 11.45 million MWh/d in 2018 to 11.20 million MWh/d in 2019, before increasing to 11.24 million MWh/d in 2020. Overall, the EIA forecast a total decrease in power production of 1.84%, or 0.21 million MWh/d, from 2018 through 2020. The EIA also anticipates that total retail electricity sales will decline from 10.42 million MWh/d in 2018 to an average 10.25 million MWh/d in 2019 before rising to 10.30 million MWh/d in 2020.

The previous January and February outlooks had higher forecasts for electricity productions and retail sales.