Energy Information Administration

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The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) is the statistical and analytical agency within the U.S. Department of Energy. It was created in response to the energy crisis of the 1970s to provide "independent and impartial energy information" to lawmakers. EIA collects, analyzes, and disseminates energy information to "promote sound policymaking, efficient markets, and public understanding of energy and its interaction with the economy and the environment."

The Department of Energy Organization Act of 1977 established EIA as the primary Federal Government authority on energy statistics and analysis, building upon systems and organizations established in 1974 following the oil crisis of 1973.[1]

The EIA has been critiqued for its methods of collecting data: the EIA relies on research from outside consultants, who often have ties to the fossil fuel industry. Some of the consultants pull the data they supply to the government from energy company news releases and annual reports. Projections are therefore based in part on some guesswork and modeling,[2] in ways that have been found favorable to coal[3] and gas,[4] and unfavorable to renewables.[5]

Annual Energy Outlook 2012

Coal plant owners and operators reported to EIA that they expect to retire almost 27 gigawatts (GW) of capacity from 175 coal-fired generators between 2012 and 2016. In 2011, there were 1,387 coal-fired generators in the United States, totaling almost 318 GW. The 27 GW of retiring capacity amounts to 8.5% of total 2011 coal-fired capacity.[6]

Annual Energy Outlook 2011

Key findings of the EIA's 2011 Early Release Energy Outlook Report include:

  • Coal: "Non-hydro renewables and natural gas are the fastest growing fuels used to generate electricity, but coal remains the dominant fuel because of the large amount of existing capacity. Coal remains the dominant energy source for electricity generation because of continued reliance on existing coal-fired plants. EIA is not projecting any new central station coal-fired power plants, however, beyond those already under construction or supported by clean coal incentives."
  • Shale Gas: "A higher updated estimate of domestic shale gas resources supports increased natural gas production at prices below those in last year's [2010] Outlook: The technically recoverable unproved shale gas resource is 827 trillion cubic feet (as of January 1, 2009) in the AEO2011 Reference case, 474 trillion cubic feet larger than in the AEO2010 Reference case, reflecting additional information that has become available with more drilling activity in new and existing shale plays. This larger resource leads to about double the shale gas production... in 2035."
  • Natural Gas: "Industrial natural gas demand grows sharply in the near term from 7.3 trillion cubic feet in 2009 to 9.4 trillion cubic feet in 2020. The share of generation from natural gas increases from 23 percent in 2009 to 25 percent in 2035."
  • Energy Imports: The net import share of total U.S. energy consumption in 2035 is 18 percent, compared with 24 percent in 2009, which EIA says is due to domestically produced biofuels, demand reductions resulting from the adoption of energy efficiency standards, and rising energy prices.
  • Renewables: "The generation share from renewable resources increases from 11 percent in 2009 to 14 percent in 2035 in response to Federal tax credits in the near term and State requirements in the long term.
  • CO2 emissions: "Assuming no changes in policy related to greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide emissions grow slowly, but do not again reach 2005 levels until 2027: After falling 3 percent in 2008 and nearly 7 percent in 2009, largely driven by the economic downturn, energy-related CO2 emissions do not return to 2005 levels (5,980 million metric tons) until 2027. CO2 emissions then rise by an additional 5 percent from 2027 to 2035, reaching 6,315 million metric tons in 2035."

Annual Energy Outlook 2010: Coal Projections

The Annual Energy Outlook 2010 Report (AEO2010) presents a projection and analysis of U.S. energy supply, demand, and prices through 2035. The projections are based on results from the Energy Information Administration's National Energy Modeling System. The AEO2010 includes a Reference case based upon current energy usage, and additional cases examining alternative energy markets.[7]

Coal Production

In EIA's Annual Energy Outlook 2010 Report (AEO2010), EIA projects for its Reference case that from 2008 to 2035, increasing coal use for electricity generation, along with the startup of several coal to liquid (CTL) plants, would lead to growth in U.S. coal production averaging 0.2 percent per year.[7]

According to the report, total mining/production of Appalachian coal will begin declining from current levels, "as output shifts from the extensively mined, higher cost reserves of Central Appalachia to lower cost supplies from the Interior region and the northern part of the Appalachian basin." EIA projects coal production in the Interior U.S. will rebound, supplanting more expensive coal from Central Appalachia that currently is consumed at coal-fired power plants in the Southeast. The Interior region includes mines with "extensive reserves of mid- and high-sulfur bituminous coal in Illinois, Indiana, and western Kentucky" and "increased lignite production in Texas and Louisiana."[7]

Coal Prices

EIA estimates future coal prices based upon national economic performance, U.S. energy usage, and the price of oil. At 2008 trends, EIA projects coal production would increase by 6 percent from 2008 to 2035, although variations in economic growth, U.S. energy usage, and oil prices could mean a decrease in coal usage of 7 percent up to an increase in coal usage of 16 percent. These projections do not take into account the effect of greenhouse gas (GHG) regulations or legislation.[7]

In EIA's High Oil Price case, higher oil prices stimulate the demand for coal-based synthetic liquids, or synfuels, leading to a substantial expansion of coal use at coal to liquid (synfuel) plants and projected production of coal-based synfuel totaling 919,000 barrels per day in 2035, nearly four times current projected levels.[7]

Possible Impact of Greenhouse Gas Regulations

To compare the cost and production of coal depending upon greenhouse gas (GHG) regulations, EIA compares two scenarios: a Reference case in which GHG regulations are a concern, and a "No GHG Case" in which investors are not worried about GHG regulations.[7]

For the Reference case, EIA estimates the cost of capital for investments in GHG-intensive technologies, including coal to liquid plants and coal-fired power plants without carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies, to increase by 3 percentage points, reflecting "the behavior of utilities, other energy companies, and regulators concerning the possible enactment of GHG legislation which could mandate that owners purchase allowances, invest in CCS, or invest in other projects to offset their emissions in the future." A "No GHG Concern" case, in which the additional 3 percentage points for GHG-intensive technologies is removed, is used to evaluate the impact on energy investments.[7]

In the No GHG Concern case, coal use for both electricity generation and production of coal-based synthetic liquids is considerably higher, adding 65 gigawatts of new coal-fired generating capacity between 2009 and 2035, as compared with 31 gigawatts in the Reference case.[7]

Also, additions of both natural gas and renewable energy generating capacity are lower in the No GHG Concern case than in the Reference case. The production of coal-based synthetic liquids is higher in the No GHG Concern case, at 525,000 barrels per day in 2035, compared with 243,000 barrels per day in the Reference case.[7]

CO2 emissions increase to 6,488 million metric tons in 2035 in the No GHG Concern case, about 3 percent higher than in the Reference case and 12 percent higher than in 2008.[7]

Critique of EIA: Inflated fossil fuel estimates

Coal projections

The group Sightline Daily noted that the EIA’s Annual Energy Outlook 2012 has more favorable coal projections than virtually any other major forecasting institution, including rebounding growth in coal exports and domestic coal use.[8]

Shale gas data

A June 2011 N.Y. Times analysis of hundreds of oil/gas industry e-mails and internal documents found that energy executives, industry lawyers, state geologists and market analysts often voiced skepticism about optimistic natural gas reserve forecasts and questioned whether companies were intentionally, and perhaps even illegally, overstating the productivity of their gas wells and the size of their gas reserves. Many of the existing gas wells were depleting much more quickly than companies had been expecting.[9]

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), created in response to the energy crisis of the 1970s to provide "independent and impartial energy information" to lawmakers, has been critiqued for its methods of collecting data on shale gas. The EIA relies on research from outside consultants with ties to the industry. Some of the consultants pull the data they supply to the government from energy company news releases. Projections about future supplies of natural gas, therefore, are based not just on science but also some guesswork and modeling. Regardless, EIA administrator Richard G. Newell has hailed the prospects for shale gas by calling it a “game changer” in the United States energy mix.[10]

Alternative Energy Reports

Several think tank and non-governmental groups release their own future energy reports, which often estimate greater funding and support for renewable energy, such as the 2010 Civil Society Institute's Beyond Business as Usual: Investigating a Future without Coal and Nuclear Power in the U.S. Report.

Click here for more future energy usage reports.


  1. "About EIA" EIA Website, accessed May 2010.
  2. Ian Urbina, "Behind Veneer, Doubt on Future of Natural Gas" NY Times, June 26, 2011.
  3. Eric de Place, "Why is the US Government So Bullish On Coal? Energy Department forecasts at odds with industry," Sightline Daily, July 19, 2012.
  4. Ian Urbina, "Behind Veneer, Doubt on Future of Natural Gas" NY Times, June 26, 2011.
  5. Michael Levi, "Why We Fail to Correctly Project Renewable Energy Growth," Council on Foreign Relations, July 23, 2012.
  6. "27 gigawatts of coal-fired capacity to retire over next five years," EIA, July 27, 2012.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 7.6 7.7 7.8 7.9 "Annual Energy Outlook 2010: Coal Projections" EIA Annual Energy Outlook 2010 Report, May 11, 2010.
  8. Eric de Place, "Why is the US Government So Bullish On Coal? Energy Department forecasts at odds with industry," Sightline Daily, July 19, 2012.
  9. Ian Urbina, "Insiders Sound an Alarm Amid a Natural Gas Rush" NY Times, June 25, 2011.
  10. Ian Urbina, "Behind Veneer, Doubt on Future of Natural Gas" NY Times, June 26, 2011.

External resources

External articles