Coal Shipped to the U.S. Electric Power Sector Declines 22% in 2020 – Today in Energy
Source: US Energy Information Administration, Power plant operation report
To note: Other includes pipeline, other waterways, Great Lakes barge, tidal wharf and coastal ports. Multimode rail includes certain movements on railways; multimode nonrail uses multiple modes which does not include railroad. Data for 2020 are preliminary.
The US electric power sector received 428 million short tons (MMst) of coal in 2020, the lowest annual level for the sector since we started reporting this data in 2007. US coal shipments have increased. Decreased by 22% in 2020 from 2019 levels, due to lower overall electricity demand due to responses to the COVID-19 pandemic and the continued decline in electricity capacity and production in the coal in the United States. Over two-thirds (67%) of the coal that was delivered to the U.S. electric power industry in 2020 was shipped in whole or in part by rail; the remainder was shipped by river barge, truck or other method.
The location of the plant – whether it is near a river, railroad, or supplier coal mine – and the cost-effectiveness of the shipping method largely determine the main way in which a power plant receives its coal. Although river barges are often the most cost effective method of transporting large amounts of coal over long distances, river barges are limited to the relatively few coal-fired power stations located on suitable rivers. Truck shipping is only cost effective for short distances, and most coal mines are located far from power plants and consumers.
Although more expensive per tonne than trucks or river barges, transporting coal by rail through America’s extensive rail network is the most common way of transporting coal. Rail transport is a cost-effective way to transport large volumes of coal from the relatively few coal-producing regions in remote areas to coal-fired power plants located close to electricity customers. Almost all of America’s coal comes from four regions:
- The Powder River Basin (Wyoming and Montana)
- The Illinois Basin (Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky)
- Central Appalachians (Kentucky and West Virginia)
- Northern Appalachia (Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia)
Shipments of coal by truck and coal received by Minemouth power stations (coal-fired power stations built near coal mines) declined less in 2020 than other modes of transport, falling 18% and 19% respectively from levels in 2019. Coal shipped by inland waterways fell 20% from 2019 levels. Rail shipments in all forms, including multimode, fell the most, at 24%.
We have published updated tables of average coal transportation costs by mode of transportation, year, origin, and destination, which show state-to-state highways (for example, Wyoming to Illinois) and highways across Canada. coal basin to the state (eg, the Northern Appalachians to Maryland). Our updated summary of coal transportation tariffs through 2020 shows the average actual costs per tonne of coal transportation from mines to power plants by mode. These costs come from the data plant owners and operators report on our EIA-923 form, Power plant operation report.
Further information on our surveys of the coal and electricity industry is available in the interactive coal data browser and the electricity data browser.
Main contributor: Bonnie west