The amount of coal that utilities used to generate electricity last year was the lowest in more than 30 years, according to a federal report released Friday.
The report was about the methods used to transport coal, but the information on how much coal utilities burned underscored the challenges facing the industry in Kentucky — where jobs and production have plummeted — and elsewhere.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration reported that the nation’s power sector consumed 677 million short tons of coal in 2016. That was the lowest amount since 1984.
Most of the coal mined in Kentucky goes to produce electricity.
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Cheap, abundant natural gas and, to a lesser extent, renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power have eaten into coal’s share of power generation.
In addition, increased energy efficiency in buildings and appliances has helped hold down electricity consumption, and demand for power hasn’t recovered to levels from before the recession that began in 2008.
The country consumed less electricity in 2016 than in 2007, according to one recent report from researchers at Columbia University.
Coal consumption by the electrical power sector was 35 percent lower in 2016 than in 2008, the EIA report said.
Competition from natural gas, tougher federal environmental rules, the depletion of many premium coal seams and other factors have hurt the coal industry in Kentucky, especially the eastern end of the state.
Coal employment in Kentucky declined from an annual average of 18,069 statewide in 2011 — 13,679 of those in Eastern Kentucky — to 6,587 statewide in 2016 and 3,844 in the state’s eastern coalfield, according to the state Energy and Environment Cabinet.