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Coal power accounts for about half of the electricity production in the United States, and about 19% in Canada. The good news about coal is there is lots of it. Some estimates say the USA has enough coal to last several hundred years. The bad news is that burning fossil fuels emits carbon dioxide, and burning coal for electricity is just about the worst contributor of carbon dioxide in the USA, contributing about 36% of all the country’s carbon dioxide emissions.

Coal usage in the USA is growing fast. In 2006, there were 1493 coal-powered units at the electrical utilities across the US, with the total nominal capacity of 335.8 GigaWatts (compared to 1024 units at nominal 278 GW in 2000).

The average share of electricity generated from coal in the US has dropped slightly, from 52.8% in 1997 to 49.0% in 2006. However, due to growth of the total demand for electricity, the net production of coal-generated electricity increased over the same period from 1.845 to 1.991 trillion kilowatt hours per year in absolute terms. The United States Energy Department forecasted that coal's share will rise to 57 percent by 2030, fueled in part by rising natural gas prices.

The electricity delivered to your home may or may not come in part from coal fired plants. The map below shows the states where coal usage is most intense.

Coal plants are mostly base-load plants, which means that they are on to support 24 hour electricity supply. Coal plants account for about 32% of the peak electricity production in the summer, when the electricity demand is the highest and the auxiliary (mostly non-coal) plants are added to the grid.

Emissions from electricity generation account for the largest share of U.S. greenhouse gases, 38.9% of U.S. production of carbon dioxide in 2006 (with transportation emissions close behind, at 31%). Although coal power only accounted for 49% of the U.S. electricity production in 2006, it was responsible for 83% of CO2 emissions caused by electricity generation that year.