This week, I have been working on my annual mea culpas. The timing is fortuitous, cause I wrote something rather inelegantly that could easily be misinterpreted.
Stated less generously, what I wrote was wrong, and this my official correction.
In Nothing Trump Does Can Save Coal, I wrote:
Despite all of that, coal generated most of the electricity in the U.S. for a long time; as recently as 20 years ago, it accounted for the majority of power produced. That was down to about 30 percent last year. When the numbers are counted next year, coal will barely account for a quarter of electrical production.2 (emphasis added)
The footnote referenced that “All data from https://www.eia.gov.”
But the sentence about next year’s numbers — an extrapolation / forecast on my part — was not from EIA. I can see how that might be misinterpreted as EIA’s forecast, which it is decidedly not.
In hindsight, what I should have written was something like: “When the numbers are counted next year, and extrapolating the trends of the past 20 years, coal might barely account for a quarter of electrical production,” or some other such qualifying language.
In its earlier drafts, the paragraph looked like this:
Despite all of that, coal generated most of the electricity in the United States for a long time. It accounted for the majority of electrical generation in this country as recently as 20 years ago: in 1997 coal produced 52.8 percent of all utility generated electricity. By 2007, coal’s fortunes were reversing: According to the U.S. Department of Energy, coal slid to 45.0 percent of electrical production in 2009; 39 percent in 2014, 33 percent in 2015, and 30.4 percent in 2016. When the numbers are counted next year, coal will barely account for one on every 4 megawatts of power produced in the United States.[i]
In drafting this, I moved the footnotes around a few times; eventually the history and the forecast got smushed together. That was my error.
A reader pointed our that EIA forecasts are for coal generated electricity to rise next year:
- EIA expects the share of U.S. total utility-scale electricity generation from natural gas will fall from an average of 34% in 2016 to about 31% in 2017 as a result of higher natural gas prices and increased generation from renewables and coal. Coal’s forecast generation share rises from 30% last year to 31% in 2017
I cannot get enthusiastic about that forecast, because EIA made the same prediction for 2017; it appears by the chart they used that similar forecasts for increases were made for 2016.
Regardless, I should have made it clear that 2018 numbers were my guesses, not theirs, and while there are a range of forecasts, mine is an outlier.
I always try to be transparent in my biases and disclose any conflicts. The same goes for errors — when we make them, we should acknowledge the mistake, correct them and move forward.