U.S. coal use falling fast; utilities switch to gas

NEW YORK (AP) - As utilities switch to cleaner and cheaper fuel alternatives, America is shoveling coal to the sidelines.

The share of U.S. electricity that comes from coal is forecast to fall below 40 percent for the year. It's the lowest level since the government began collecting this data in 1949. Utilities are aggressively ditching coal in favor of natural gas, which has become cheaper as supplies grow.

Natural gas will be used to produce 29 percent of the country's electricity this year, up from 20 percent in 2008.

The shift from coal is reverberating across Appalachia. Virginia-based Alpha Natural Resources plans to produce 11.5 million fewer tons of coal this year. The company has announced that 12 mining operations in Kentucky and West Virginia will be idled or slowed, and 353 jobs cut.

And Patriot Coal closed a mine in Kentucky, idled several others in Kentucky and West Virginia, and has cut 1,000 jobs.

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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