Coal has long been the dominant fuel source of electricity generation in the US, much more so in some regions than others.
According to the EIA, the eight Mountain states of the US saw coal-fired power generation make up almost 50% of the region’s total generation in 2015, compared to the national average of 33%. In 2005, coal’s share in Mountain states was 63%, before natural gas and wind power made significant inroads in the region.
In 2015, Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico accounted for 79% of the region’s coal-fired electricity generation as shown below.
Low-cost coal from nearby coal deposits supported coal-fired electricity generation in those states while the other states in the region lack abundant coal resources and have pushed alternative sources.
Electricity generation from nonhydro renewables in Mountain states increased from 1% of the region’s generation in 2005 to 8% in 2015. Wind generation increases were mostly in Colorado and Wyoming, while solar generation growth was mostly in Arizona and Nevada.
The rising use of nonhydro renewables in the region is partially attributable to individual states’ renewable portfolio standards (RPS). Many states also export electricity to neighboring states because renewable energy certificates associated with renewable electricity generation can be sold to other states to fulfill their RPS requirements.
Trends seen in the EIA’s data indicate that even in traditionally coal-friendly states, competition with cheap natural gas and wind bode ill for the fuel source in the long-run.