WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. fossil fuel emissions will rise 2.8 percent next year as higher costs for natural gas prompt power plant operators to switch to coal, according to a government energy report released on Wednesday.
Coal-fired power generation will increase by 9.3 percent next year, the report said, in part because utilities are expected to pay almost 20 percent more for natural gas. Burning coal releases more carbon dioxide gas into the atmosphere than natural gas.
Power plants have in recent years been using more natural gas to keep turbines churning, chiefly because an abundance of the fuel has made it more economical than coal.
But a spike in the cost of natural gas in recent months will next year prompt more generators to burn coal, which has had more stable prices, said a report from the Energy Information Agency which supplies nonpartisan research.
"The recent trend of substituting coal-fired generation with natural-gas ... may be slowing and will likely reverse," according to the report.
"This is a function of price" said Carol Raulston of the National Mining Association. "Plants that have the capability to switch fuels are doing so."
While emissions from petroleum and natural gas should be nearly flat next year, coal emissions will increase by 8.5 percent, the report said.
But the near-term projections for an uptick in coal use will not shake a long-term transition towards cleaner energy, according to Sarah Forbes of the World Resources Institute.
"While prices for natural gas are slightly higher today, consumption will undoubtedly continue to grow," she said.
About 8.5 percent of coal-fired capacity that existed last year will go dark by the end of 2016, according to the EIA.
(Reporting By Patrick Rucker; Editing by Phil Berlowitz)