America got more electricity from natural gas than coal for the first time ever last year, according to data published Monday by the Energy Information Administration (EIA).
The average capacity factor, or how intensely the power plant is running, of America’s natural gas plants rose steadily from an average of 35 percent in 2005 to more than 56 percent in 2015, according to the EIA. In 2005, almost half of all coal plants ran at capacity factors above 70 percent. Today, less than one-fifth of all coal plants operate at capacity factors higher than 70 percent.
EIA attributes this change to the falling price of natural gas from hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Fracking unexpectedly created an incredible amount of new natural gas production, making the resource very cheap and undercutting coal power. The U.S. is now the world’s largest and fastest growing producer of natural gas, even surpassing Russia’s production early last year.
Natural gas has also benefited from anti-coal environmental regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency and other federal regulators.
The trend towards natural gas will likely lead to a large drop in CO2 emissions. The Department of Energy agrees with Berkeley Earth that “the transition from coal to natural gas for electricity generation has probably been the single largest contributor to the … largely unexpected decline in U.S. CO2 emissions.”
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