Gas prices have undercut historically cheap coal, which made up 50 percent of U.S. electricity generation in 2007 and just 39 percent in 2013. Almost a fifth of America’s remaining 310 gigawatts of coal power in 2012 are projected to shut by 2020, because of historically cheap gas prices and flat demand.
In the short term, 2014 will give coal a bit of a break, with production edging up almost four percent on more stable inventories and an uptick in consumption.
"I wouldn't say coal is dead-dead," said Samuel Thernstrom, executive director of the Washington-based Energy Innovation Reform Project. "We're still burning a lot of coal. We're going to be burning a lot of coal for a while."
In the long term, the fate of coal will depend on how long gas can stay this cheap, the strength of any new EPA regulations on carbon pollution and the availability of carbon-capture technology that could clean up coal power.