The recent rise in the price of natural gas price as relative to coal prices could lead to a return back to additional energy generated by coal-fired power plants and thus increased CO2 emissions in the coming year.

A new report from the U.S. government’s Energy Information Agency states that power plant operators will begin to make the switch back to coal because of 34 percent higher natural gas prices over the last 6 months. This switchover will bring with it an across-the-board 2.8 percent rise in all carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S. for 2013.

Due to an expected additional 20 percent jump in the cost of natural gas supplies, the report sees a 9.3 percent rise in the use of coal-fired facilities next year and a 9 percent rise in coal-related plant emissions. Coal burns much dirtier than natural gas but utilities have tended to favor it because it has a much more stable pricing structure.

“The recent trend of substituting coal‐fired generation with natural‐gas … may be slowing and will likely reverse,” according to the agency’s report.

With some existing utilities finding competition from new solar-powered energy providers, coal has still remained the source of nearly 50 percent of our nation’s energy supply. And while some power plants have been using more natural gas as of late because of its low prices and a glut in the market, it looks like that is coming to an end – at least for now. Seems maybe all this fracking isn’t really all that energy companies make it out to be. After all, wasn’t it supposed to lead to enough cheap natural gas to provide for our nation’s energy needs for the next 110 years?

If utility companies are already turning their coal-fired power plants back on, I don’t have high hopes for this imaginary future of fracked natural gas.

[via Reuters]

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