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Natural gas pumps up electricity generation

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While natural gas producers and distributors push to convert transportation away from gasoline, natural gas is steadily becoming the fuel of choice for electricity.

In April, natural gas plants pulled even with coal as the largest providers of electric power, according to the U.S. Energy Information Agency, the statistical arm of the Department of Energy.

Mat Most, vice president for demand development policy for natural gas giant Encana Corp., called it a “banner year.”

“April was the first month since the DOE has been keeping records that production of electricity from coal and natural gas were tied in terms of total generation in megawatt hours, at 32 percent each,” Most said.

Electricity has been the fastest-growing demand sector for natural gas for more than a decade, with consumption by natural-gas generating plants doubling since 1997, according to Encana.

The low cost of natural gas and stricter environmental controls over carbon and other emissions from coal plants are accelerating those trends. Encana reports that about 39 gigawatts of coal-fired capacity is proposed to be retired between 2012 and 2025, with most retirements planned for mid-decade as EPA compliance deadlines kick in. Encana expects natural gas generation to be the dominant fuel replacement.

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