While coal-fired generation continues to decline, with October 2011 coal generation 4.1% lower than in October 2010, new coal plants exceeded coal plant retirements through November 2011.
Through November 2011, America added 16,093 megawatts of new generation from all sources to the national grid. Of the new plants, 6 were coal plants with 3,062 megawatts of capacity. See www.eia.gov/electricity/monthly/index.cfm.
The new coal plants were constructed in 6 states: Missouri, Texas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Wisconsin, and Kentucky. The new coal represents about 0.3% of all US generation. The new coal plants must have modern pollution controls and will likely be more efficient, requiring marginally less coal to produce electricity than older coal plants.
On the retirement side of the ledger, through October 2011, 16 coal units had retired that total 976 megawatts. The coal retirements represent a bit less than 0.1% of all US generation.
The single biggest coal retirement was the Eddystone 279 megawatt unit in Pennsylvania. Most of the retiring coal units were below 100 megawatts of capacity.
As of November 2011, America had a total of 1,052,633 megawatts of capacity from all generation sources.
Why is the amount of coal-fired generation falling, when the amount of coal-fired capacity actually increased slightly? Low-priced gas means that existing natural gas plants are running more and coal plants less. Conversely, high natural gas prices mean coal plants run more and gas plants less.
Since the shale gas boom crashed the price of natural gas in 2009, gas plants have been displacing more coal generation. That is a fact with which some in the environmental community have a hard time accepting.