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On February 6, 2018, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) released the 2018 Annual Energy Outlook (AEO). The final AEO 2018 contains projections of energy use from the electric power, residential, commercial, industrial, and transportation sectors through 2050. It is important to note that the AEO Reference case is not a forecast, but is instead a projection based on estimates of fuel availability, changes in technology costs, and currently enacted legislation.

Synapse maintains EPA’s Avoided Emissions and Generation Tool (AVERT) model, a publicly-available tool designed to estimate the emissions displaced at electric power plants by incremental additions of energy efficiency and/or renewable energy. Recently, Synapse worked with EPA to implement several upgrades to the AVERT framework, including incorporation of particulate matter (PM2.5) into the tool and several algorithmic improvements. In addition, the release of the 2016 data year means that a full decade of AVERT data is now publicly available.

In April, U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Perry ordered his staff to produce a report on the degradation of baseload power, stating his expected conclusion: that “the diminishing diversity” of U.S. generation “resulted in part from regulatory burdens introduced by previous administrations that were designed to decrease coal-fired power generation.”

Today’s electric system looks remarkably different than it looked 10—or even five—years ago. Coal generation is retiring at an unprecedented rate and being replaced by natural gas and renewables. The United States’ wind, solar, and geothermal electric generating capacity now exceeds capacities from hydroelectric and nuclear resources. Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are at their lowest levels since the early 1990s, and both total generation and electric sales have remained essentially unchanged for 10 years.

Today marks the release of Synapse’s Coal Asset Valuation Tool (CAVT) Version 6.0. We are thrilled to announce this latest version, which features key data updates and usability enhancements, including the latest AEO gas and coal prices, full updates to environmental control presets, and a smaller file size so users can run CAVT faster on any machine.

Data released May 26 by the EIA shows that March 2016 was a historically low month for coal generation in the United States. National coal generation dropped to just 72 TWh, the lowest level of monthly coal generation measured since April 1978 (see Figure 1). While before 2015 it was uncommon for natural gas generation to approach equivalent levels of coal generation, in March 2016 nearly 1.5 times as much electricity was produced from natural gas-fired generators as coal-fired generators.

April 2015 was the first month ever in which more electricity was produced from natural gas-fired generators than from coal-fired generators nationwide, according to data released last week by the EIA. The EIA’s monthly update includes data through April 2015, so we do not yet know how natural gas fared against coal in May and June.

In addition, this April saw the lowest amount of coal-fired generation in 32 years—not since April 1983 has coal-fired generation been as low as it was in April 2015.

The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio denied on Thursday the price stabilization rider attached to Duke Energy Ohio’s proposed electric security plan, holding with Synapse and with numerous other intervenors concerned that the rider could be detrimental to ratepayers. Synapse associate Sarah Jackson testified in October 2014 that the rider—which would pass on the net costs or benefits associated with the sale of generation from Duke’s Ohio Valley Electric Corporation (OVEC) assets into the PJM market to its customers—could cost consumers millions through 2024.

Synapse released a report on Wednesday based on the latest version of its Coal Asset Valuation Tool (CAVT), which shows that the United States could save roughly $262 billion over the next three decades by shutting down a significant portion of its coal plants and replacing them with less expensive alternatives. The report demonstrates how a variety of factors, including aging infrastructure, more stringent environmental regulations, and lower natural gas prices, are converging to make the majority of coal plants uneconomic.

In 2014, the U.S. electric system looked remarkably different from how it looked ten—or even five—years ago. In the past year alone, the system nearly doubled the amount of incremental installed capacity from renewables as compared to 2013, saw a 13 percent increase in renewable generation, and reached the lowest level of CO2 emissions since 1996.