Coal’s Still Kicking as Alternatives Replacing It Seen as Costly

Coal’s grip on more than one-fourth of the U.S. electricity supply isn’t likely to loosen within the foreseeable future.

Last year the U.S. generated enough coal-fired power to supply the equivalent of 84 times the consumption of the state of New York, said Moody’s Corp.’s Investors Service, its credit unit, in a report Monday.

Replacing all of America’s coal fleet with natural gas, nuclear, wind or solar, would be too costly -- forcing utilities to boost revenues as much as 65 percent -- which would prompt an outcry from consumers and force regulators to relent, Moody’s analysts found.

“Coal’s large share of the U.S. electricity supply means it is here to stay, at least for a while,” analysts including Jairo Chung wrote in the report.

Plant closings due to tightening environmental regulations and cheap natural gas aren’t a death sentence for coal, Moody’s said.

The credit-rating service forecasts 13 gigawatts of coal-fired electricity will be retired this year out of 300 gigawatts of capacity in 2014.

The coal fleet’s average capacity factor -- how much of its production potential it’s achieving -- has risen to 61 percent today from 55 percent five years ago, according to Moody’s.

“Smaller coal-fired power plants with low capacity factors have retired already, increasing the existing coal-fired generation fleet’s overall capacity factor,” the report said.

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