This wasn’t supposed to happen.
Cheap natural gas was supposed to be the answer to our dependence on dirty old coal. But now, it seems, coal is making a comeback. The bitter winter, the coldest in 30 years, has pushed natural gas prices to some of their highest levels in four years, and that has made coal attractive to utilities again.
Electric companies are generating more than 4.5 million megawatt hours a day using coal, the most since 2011, Bloomberg reported, citing government data. As a result, coal’s share of power production rose to more than 40 percent from 39 percent last year.
Cheap and abundant natural gas supplies from the hydraulic fracturing boom had made natural gas a cheaper and cleaner alternative to coal for the past several years. Economics, though, had to catch up at some point. With demand for gas rising this winter, pushing prices as high as $5.56 per million British thermal units at the end of January, coal is looking more attractive.