Which US States are Still Dependent on Coal for Electricity?

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At the recent UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, world leaders convened to negotiate new goals for reducing carbon emissions in the effort to slow the pace of global warming.

Across two weeks of negotiations, one of the major issues under discussion was the use of coal as an energy source.

Some coal-dependent nations including India and China argued for a “phase down” rather than a total “phase out” of coal power in the final agreement. Meanwhile, U.S. envoy John Kerry predicted in an interview that the U.S. would eliminate coal by 2030.

Coal is one of the cheapest energy sources available in the U.S., in part because the U.S. houses a large portion of the world’s coal reserves. But coal also has other environmental and social downsides that have made it a less desirable fuel source.

Mining and burning coal heavily emit greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane and also poses risks of air and water pollution. Many policymakers and environmental advocates are now pushing for a transition away from coal for that reason.

Until recently, however, cost won out, and inexpensive coal was the predominant fuel source in the U.S. Coal accounted for more than half of electricity generation in the U.S. until 2003.

Since then, dependence on coal has plummeted and currently accounts for only 19.3% of the total electricity generated in the U.S. The swift decline in coal is partly because other, cleaner energy sources have become less expensive.

Natural gas has seen a major boom over the last two decades as techniques like hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling made it easier to extract. Renewable sources like wind and solar have also become less expensive and more widely adopted in recent years thanks to government investment and technological advances.

As a result, the share of electricity generated from renewables has risen by two-thirds since 1990.

US dependence on coal for electricity

Some states that have traditionally relied on coal both as an economic driver and as an energy source have been slower to make the transition.

The majority of coal production in the U.S. is contained in a handful of states, including Wyoming and West Virginia, and because coal is cheap and plentiful, these heavy coal producers are also among the states that generate the greatest share of electricity from coal and a lower share from renewables.

In contrast, the states that depend more heavily on renewables either have governments that have prioritized clean energy and emissions reductions or geographic features that make them well-suited to wind, solar, or hydropower installations.

West Virginia dependence on coal for electricity

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The data used in this analysis is from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

To determine the states most dependent on coal for electricity, researchers at Commodity.com calculated the share of total electricity generated from coal. In the event of a tie, the state with the greater total electricity generated from coal was ranked higher.

Researchers also calculated the total and proportion of electricity generated from renewable sources. Renewable sources include solar, wind, geothermal, biomass, and hydroelectric.

Here are the states most dependent on coal for electricity.

The Most Coal-Dependent States in the U.S.

Arkansas
Photo Credit: Jonathan C Wear / Shutterstock

15. Arkansas

  • Share of electricity generated from coal: 28.2%
  • 5-year change in electricity generated from coal: -29.1%
  • Total electricity generated from coal (MWh): 15,420,998
  • Share of electricity generated from renewables: 10.5%
  • Total electricity generated from renewables (MWh): 5,735,702
Kansas
Photo Credit: Arno Jenkins / Shutterstock

14. Kansas

  • Share of electricity generated from coal: 31.1%
  • 5-year change in electricity generated from coal: -31.0%
  • Total electricity generated from coal (MWh): 16,959,839
  • Share of electricity generated from renewables: 44.2%
  • Total electricity generated from renewables (MWh): 24,117,519

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Colorado
Photo Credit: Joshua Schultz / Shutterstock

13. Colorado

  • Share of electricity generated from coal: 36.0%
  • 5-year change in electricity generated from coal: -38.2%
  • Total electricity generated from coal (MWh): 19,478,405
  • Share of electricity generated from renewables: 30.9%
  • Total electricity generated from renewables (MWh): 16,724,964
Montana
Photo Credit: Robert Paulus / Shutterstock

12. Montana

  • Share of electricity generated from coal: 36.4%
  • 5-year change in electricity generated from coal: -47.0%
  • Total electricity generated from coal (MWh): 8,490,284
  • Share of electricity generated from renewables: 59.4%
  • Total electricity generated from renewables (MWh): 13,872,119
Ohio
Photo Credit: Corey B Stevens / Shutterstock

11. Ohio

  • Share of electricity generated from coal: 37.2%
  • 5-year change in electricity generated from coal: -37.2%
  • Total electricity generated from coal (MWh): 45,008,596
  • Share of electricity generated from renewables: 2.9%
  • Total electricity generated from renewables (MWh): 3,500,737
New Mexico
Photo Credit: photoBeard / Shutterstock

10. New Mexico

  • Share of electricity generated from coal: 37.5%
  • 5-year change in electricity generated from coal: -37.4%
  • Total electricity generated from coal (MWh): 12,788,184
  • Share of electricity generated from renewables: 27.2%
  • Total electricity generated from renewables (MWh): 9,253,738
Wisconsin
Photo Credit: Ralf Broskvar / Shutterstock

9. Wisconsin

  • Share of electricity generated from coal: 38.7%
  • 5-year change in electricity generated from coal: -36.1%
  • Total electricity generated from coal (MWh): 23,761,097
  • Share of electricity generated from renewables: 9.4%
  • Total electricity generated from renewables (MWh): 5,779,793
Nebraska
Photo Credit: marekuliasz / Shutterstock

8. Nebraska

  • Share of electricity generated from coal: 51.0%
  • 5-year change in electricity generated from coal: -22.3%
  • Total electricity generated from coal (MWh): 18,788,647
  • Share of electricity generated from renewables: 28.9%
  • Total electricity generated from renewables (MWh): 10,648,740
Indiana
Photo Credit: Amy Nichole Harris / Shutterstock

7. Indiana

  • Share of electricity generated from coal: 53.1%
  • 5-year change in electricity generated from coal: -38.9%
  • Total electricity generated from coal (MWh): 47,772,885
  • Share of electricity generated from renewables: 8.2%
  • Total electricity generated from renewables (MWh): 7,364,544
North Dakota
Photo Credit: David Gaylor / Shutterstock

6. North Dakota

  • Share of electricity generated from coal: 58.1%
  • 5-year change in electricity generated from coal: -11.7%
  • Total electricity generated from coal (MWh): 24,496,807
  • Share of electricity generated from renewables: 38.1%
  • Total electricity generated from renewables (MWh): 16,084,768
Utah
Photo Credit: Gary Whitton / Shutterstock

5. Utah

  • Share of electricity generated from coal: 61.5%
  • 5-year change in electricity generated from coal: -28.0%
  • Total electricity generated from coal (MWh): 22,806,021
  • Share of electricity generated from renewables: 12.5%
  • Total electricity generated from renewables (MWh): 4,644,687
Kentucky
Photo Credit: The American Wanderer / Shutterstock

4. Kentucky

  • Share of electricity generated from coal: 68.7%
  • 5-year change in electricity generated from coal: -39.9%
  • Total electricity generated from coal (MWh): 43,638,313
  • Share of electricity generated from renewables: 8.5%
  • Total electricity generated from renewables (MWh): 5,395,636
Missouri
Photo Credit: Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock

3. Missouri

  • Share of electricity generated from coal: 71.3%
  • 5-year change in electricity generated from coal: -20.8%
  • Total electricity generated from coal (MWh): 51,755,690
  • Share of electricity generated from renewables: 7.5%
  • Total electricity generated from renewables (MWh): 5,450,572

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Wyoming
Photo Credit: Jim Parkin / Shutterstock

2. Wyoming

  • Share of electricity generated from coal: 79.4%
  • 5-year change in electricity generated from coal: -22.6%
  • Total electricity generated from coal (MWh): 33,359,104
  • Share of electricity generated from renewables: 16.1%
  • Total electricity generated from renewables (MWh): 6,763,997

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West Virginia
Photo Credit: Kristi Blokhin / Shutterstock

1. West Virginia

  • Share of electricity generated from coal: 88.6%
  • 5-year change in electricity generated from coal: -26.2%
  • Total electricity generated from coal (MWh): 50,216,398
  • Share of electricity generated from renewables: 6.2%
  • Total electricity generated from renewables (MWh): 3,496,285

Detailed Findings & Methodology

The data used in this analysis is from the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s Electricity Power Data.

To determine the states most dependent on coal for electricity, researchers calculated the share of total electricity generated from coal. Only states with complete data available are included in the analysis.

In the event of a tie, the state with the greater total electricity generated from coal was ranked higher.

Researchers also calculated the total and proportion of electricity generated from renewable sources. Renewable sources include solar, wind, geothermal, biomass, and hydroelectric.

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