(Reuters) - Coal used to generate U.S. power fell in April to its lowest monthly level since 1978, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said in a report.
Coal-fired power plants generated just 72.2 million megawatt hours in April, their lowest since April 1978, according to EIA data released on Friday. One megawatt is enough to power about 1,000 U.S. homes.
Natural gas, meanwhile, surpassed coal as the United States’ top fuel source for the third straight month, producing 100.0 million MWh in April, the EIA said.
Of the total 293.3 million MWh generated in April, gas accounted for 34 percent and coal just 25 percent.
The EIA said gas produced a record 1.362 billion MWh, or about 34 percent of the total, in the year through April 30, compared with 1.250 billion MWh, or 31 percent, for coal.
Other major sources of power production over the year were nuclear at 20 percent, and non-hydro and solar renewables, such as wind, at 7 percent, the EIA said.
The agency has previously forecast generators would burn more gas than coal in 2016 for the first year.
Coal has been the primary fuel source for U.S. power plants for the last century, but its use has been declining since peaking in 2007. That was around the same time drillers started pulling gas out of shale formations.
Ten years ago, coal produced 50 percent of the nation’s power supply, while gas accounted for just 19 percent. Now both fuel about a third, according to the EIA.
After shutting a record 17,500 MW of coal-fired power plants in 2015, energy companies said they planned to close more than 13,000 MW this year as weak gas and power prices make it impractical to upgrade older coal plants to meet increasingly strict federal and state environmental rules.
Spot prices at the Henry Hub benchmark have averaged $2.03 so far this year, while futures for the balance of 2016 were fetching $2.83. That compares with $2.61 in 2015, the lowest since 1999.
Reporting by Scott DiSavino; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Lisa Von Ahn