From Scott Carlberg

Less power is being used during the pandemic. Less power means less use of coal to make power. Coal is stacking up, unused and un-needed is some places.

Coal has not been the fuel-of-choice for some time. Electric generation from coal has decreased 32 percent in four years says one energy consulting firm. (Source)

Source: EIA Short-term outlook; analyst.

That trend continues. “U.S. coal consumption is likely to decline sharply again in 2020, though the current roster of planned and completed coal plant retirements suggests the year may not be quite as rough as the past two.” (Source)

Low natural gas prices push on coal plants’ economics. The continuing reduction in the cost of renewables likewise presses on coal.

Coal train in the Midcontinent US

Even traditional coal mining regions see the writing on the wall. A recent op-ed in a Wyoming newspaper said, “The pitfalls of a fossil-fueled economy, however, are no mystery. No other state in the nation had a more narrow economy than Wyoming, focusing on coal, oil and natural gas. Those industries already were stumbling toward new lows before the COVID-19 pandemic tightened the screws.”

That’s big. Coal industry regions have traditionally been energetic advocates for the mineral.

Then, the pandemic and reduction in power needs.

“‘Just about everything that can go wrong, has gone wrong for the coal industry,’ says Matthew Preston, a coal analyst … He says coal demand this year is down between 35 and 40% from last year, ‘and last year wasn’t a great year.’” (Source)

It’s one thing to advance the use of coal when there is a need for power. It’s another when there is an overall reduction in power generation.

The pandemic of 2020 checks-off another victim, it appears, but this time it hastened what has been a trend that the industry has seem for some time.