Special Report

10 States Burning the Most Coal

President Barack Obama released in August the final version of his climate policy and energy use program, the Clean Power Plan. The plan, if it passes, will allow the EPA to set carbon emissions targets for every state in the country. States will be required to meet the targets by changing energy sources.

One of the industries that will likely be affected the most is coal production as well as the plants using coal as an energy source. Burning coal produces a variety of unhealthy particulates and roughly twice as much carbon dioxide as natural gas. Some states generate tremendous amounts of energy from coal and use coal as a main power source. In West Virginia, all but 4.5% of the state’s electricity comes from fuel. 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the 10 states burning the most coal in the country.

In a conversation with 24/7 Wall St., Christopher Namovicz , U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) alternative energy analyst, explained that with newly discovered reserves and the advent of hydrofracturing technology, there has been a significant increase in the country’s reliance on natural gas as an energy source. Last year, 27.4% of the nation’s electricity came from natural gas-burning power plants, compared to 17.1% in 2001. In addition, the steadily increased use of solar, wind, and other alternative energy sources, has meant a decline in coal usage. In 2004, the country generated nearly 2 million gigawatt-hours (GWh) from coal. Last year, the country generated 1.58 million GWh from the fossil fuel.

Click here to see the 10 states burning the most coal.

This shift is true of some of the largest coal-burning states as well. In Pennsylvania, for example, the share of electricity generation from coal out of total production fell by 20 percentage points from 2001 to 2014. Natural gas, meanwhile, jumped from just 1.5% of total production to 23.7% over the same period.

The presence of natural resources in a given area often dictates their use within a state. Most of the states that rely heavily on coal as a means of energy are also coal rich. West Virginia and Kentucky, the two most coal-reliant states in the country, are first and third, respectively, in coal mining.

This is not always the case, however. Some heavy coal-burning states such as Florida and Michigan mine no coal at all within the state but import it by rail, truck, and waterway from states such as West Virginia and Kentucky.

Not all of the states that burn the most coal are as reliant on it as others. Texas and Pennsylvania, for example, generate the first and sixth amounts of electricity from coal, but it amounts to just 36.1% of Pennsylvania’s total energy generation and to barely one-third of Texas’s. These states produce massive amounts of energy. Texas, for example, generates roughly one-fifth of all the electricity in the country each year, and coal is only a part of it.

In order to determine the states that burn the most coal each year, we consulted the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s state energy profiles, which include state electricity generation by source from 2001 through 2014 for state use. The EIA also included total energy production, which also measure energy that may not be used within a state but in other places. The EIA also included the proportion of energy-producing natural resources such as coal that are shipped to other states, as well as electricity consumption per capita. All values used are for the latest available year.

These are 10 states burning the most coal.

10. Florida
> 2014 coal electricity generation:
52,046 GWh
> 2014 total electricity generation:231,062 GWh
> Coal as pct. total electricity generation: 22.5%
> Natural Gas as pct. electricity generation: 61.0%

Florida — the third-largest consumer of energy in the country — generated more than 52 thousand GWh of coal energy in 2014, 10th most of any state. However, there are no coal mining operations in The Sunshine State. All the coal burned in the state is shipped by barge and rail from other major mining states, primarily Illinois, West Virginia, and Kentucky. Florida is one of the most populous states in the country. So while the state produced the 10th highest amount of energy from coal in the country, this energy accounted for just 22.5% of the state’s electricity generation– well below the share of coal-based electricity generation nationwide of 38.7%. Natural gas is of greater significance in Florida. More than 60% of the state’s energy came from natural gas, the fourth highest share in the country.

9. Michigan
> 2014 coal electricity generation:
53,086 GWh
> 2014 total electricity generation:105,821 GWh
> Coal as pct. total electricity generation: 50.2%
> Natural Gas as pct. electricity generation: 10.9%

Roughly 50% of electricity in Michigan was generated by burning coal, a somewhat lower share from just a few years ago. In 2009, roughly two-thirds of electricity generated in the state was from coal. The major cause for this shift has been an increase in the state’s nuclear power output. State reactors generated more than 31 thousand GWh in 2014, or nearly 30% of the state’s electricity production, up from 21,000 GWh, or 21.6%, five years prior. While there was once a substantial coal mining operation in the state, there are no active mines currently. Michigan receives its coal by rail primarily from Kentucky and West Virginia. .

8. Missouri
> 2014 coal electricity generation:
72,746 GWh
> 2014 total electricity generation:88,074 GWh
> Coal as pct. total electricity generation: 82.6%
> Natural Gas as pct. electricity generation: 4.5%

Nearly 83% of Missouri’s electricity was generated by coal last year. Plants burned more than 43 million tons of coal to produce nearly 73,000 GWh. Though Missouri is itself a coal producing state, only 1% of the coal it consumes is also mined there. Most of the coal burned in Missouri is shipped by freight train from Wyoming. The next biggest contributor to the state’s energy mix was nuclear power, which generated slightly more than 10% of Missouri’s energy in 2014. While many states are shifting to an increased reliance on natural gas, Missouri is not. The 3,952 GWh generated from natural gas in the state last year was only slightly higher than the 3,874 GWh generated in 2001. Missouri’s lack of any significant natural gas reserves may partially explain its lopsided energy mix.

7. West Virginia
> 2014 coal electricity generation:
77,510 GWh
> 2014 total electricity generation:81,162 GWh
> Coal as pct. total electricity generation: 95.5%
> Natural Gas as pct. electricity generation: 0.8%

Last year, West Virginia generated the 19th most energy out of all states, producing roughly 81 thousand GWh. The state, however, generated the seventh most energy from coal, or 77,510 GWh. This amounted to 95.5% of West Virginia’s electricity generation, making West Virginia the most coal-dependent state in the country. This may not be surprising given the scope of the state’s coal mining industry. The state’s Appalachian Plateau region contains rich natural gas and coal deposits, and no state east of the Mississippi yields more coal each year than West Virginia. Roughly a quarter of the state’s coal stays in West Virginia, and the rest is shipped elsewhere to be turned into electricity. Consequently, while the state has just 0.5% of the country’s population, its resources are used to generate about 5% of total U.S. energy production.

6. Pennsylvania
> 2014 coal electricity generation:
80,067 GWh
> 2014 total electricity generation:221,709 GWh
> Coal as pct. total electricity generation: 36.1%
> Natural Gas as pct. electricity generation: 23.7%

Home to the coal-rich Appalachian Mountains, Pennsylvania is one of the largest coal-producing states in the country. Pennsylvania exported nearly $1.6 billion worth of coal in 2014 alone. The state is also one of the biggest consumers of coal in the country, and much of the coal mined in Pennsylvania stays there. The state generated 80,067 GWh from coal in 2014, the sixth highest amount of any state in the country. Despite its high coal consumption, Pennsylvania has a relatively diverse energy mix. Just over 36% of the Pennsylvania’s energy came from coal, while 35.5% came from nuclear power, and 23.7% came from natural gas. Between nuclear power, natural gas, and coal, Pennsylvania is the leading energy producer in the eastern U.S.

5. Kentucky
> 2014 coal electricity generation:
83,497 GWh
> 2014 total electricity generation:90,737 GWh
> Coal as pct. total electricity generation: 92.0%
> Natural Gas as pct. electricity generation: 2.7%

With 92% of Kentucky’s electricity coming from coal, only West Virginia relies more heavily on coal to keep the lights on. The state is the third largest producer of coal behind West Virginia and Wyoming, and one out of every four coal mines in the country can be found within the state. Roughly two-thirds of all coal mined in the state is exported. Apart from a small amount of hydroelectric energy, the state has almost no renewable energy generation at all.

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