Burning Coal, Burning Cash: Ranking the States that Import the Most Coal — 2014 Update

Importing coal to produce electricity is an economic drain on states that rely heavily on coal-fired power
January 2014

Thirty-seven states were net importers of coal in 2012, sending billions of dollars to other states and nations for coal — money that could have instead been used to support local economies.

By investing in renewable energy and energy efficiency, states can reduce their coal imports, protect consumers, improve public health, and decrease the global warming emissions from coal-fired power plants, which currently account for 80 percent of all the carbon emissions produced from power generation.

This 2014 analysis — a follow up to the 2010 Burning Coal, Burning Cash report — ranks the 37 coal-importing states, highlights the rapid changes taking place in the U.S. energy landscape, and provides recommendations for states to move toward a cleaner, healthier, and more affordable energy future.

Download state fact sheets (PDF)
Alabama -- Florida -- Georgia -- Kentucky -- Illinois -- Michigan
-- North Carolina -- Ohio -- Tennessee

Download national findings and rankings (PDF)
Burning Coal, Burning Cash 2014 Update (PowerPoint Slides)

Ranking the states

  • The 37 coal-importing states collectively spent $19.4 billion for coal imports in 2012. Eight states spent more than $1 billion each.
  • Texas tops the list of most coal import-dependent states, having spent $1.85 billion on out-of-state coal, followed in order by North Carolina, Georgia, Missouri, Florida, Michigan, South Carolina, Alabama, Tennessee, and Wisconsin.
  • Most of the coal import-dependent states are located in the Midwest and Southeast.

Coal imports and coal-fired power are on the decline. What replaces them has far-reaching implications.

  • Nationwide, coal-fired electricity fell from almost half of the U.S. power supply in 2008 to 37 percent in 2012.
  • Between 2008 and 2012, expenditures on coal imports fell by nearly a quarter, from $25.7 billion to $19.4 billion.
  • The amount spent on coal imports from other countries dropped by 75 percent — from 16 states importing $1.8 billion in 2008, to just seven states spending $464 million in 2012.
  • This decline in imports comes as more and more utilities are switching off their coal-fired power generators in favor of more competitive natural gas and renewable energy.

Relying primarily on natural gas to replace coal has significant risks. Investing instead in renewable energy and energy efficiency would provide substantial benefits.

Georgia: A case study of coal dependence shows signs of progress

  • Despite having no in-state coal supplies, Georgia relied on coal for 33 percent of its in-state electricity generation in 2012 and spent nearly $1.7 billion to import coal  from other states — earning Georgia the number three ranking nationwide. Georgia's coal imports have declined since 2008 — when the state relied on coal for 63 percent of its electricity and spent more than any other state on imported coal.

    Nearly $1.7 billion left Georgia in 2012 to pay for imported coal. Enlarge map

  • Georgia Power, the state's largest power provider, sent $1.1 billion out of Georgia for coal in 2012. Georgia Power's parent company, Southern Company, ranks first among all U.S. power providers for coal import dependency in 2012, spending more than $2.2 billion on out-of-state coal across its major subsidiaries in four southeast states.
  • In 2013, Georgia took a strong step toward becoming a leader in solar power when it approved plans for Georgia Power to procure 735 MW of solar power capacity through 2016.

Michigan: The most coal import-dependent state in the Midwest

Nearly $1.2 billion left Michigan in 2012 to pay for imported coal. Enlarge map

  • Michigan generated 49 percent of its in-state electricity from coal in 2012, despite having no in-state coal supplies.
  • To supply that power Michian's power producers paid nearly $1.2 billion to import 21 million tons of coal from nine states, mostly Wyoming.

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