U.S. power plants short on coal; Utilities scrambling with cold temps ahead

Travis Deti
Travis Deti, the executive director of the Wyoming Mining Association.

By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily
(this story originally appeared on Cowboy State Daily)

Who says coal is a thing of the past?

Although the push to move away from coal remains a top agenda item for many lawmakers, high natural gas prices and the experience from last year’s freeze in Texas have made some utilities nervous.

Coal in U.S. power plants have dropped to levels not seen since the 1970s and acquiring the resource has sent prices soaring.

And even acquiring coal is proving to be a challenge because of supply chain issues that every industry is experiencing.

None of this is a surprise to Travis Deti, the executive director of the Wyoming Mining Association.

“We’ve been screaming from the rooftops for the last 10 years that America needs coal and that you can’t throw all of your eggs in one energy basket,” Travis told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday.

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“Gas prices were never going to stay below $2.00 forever. Gas is at about $4.60 and some analysts are predicting it to be over $7.00 in the winter,” he said.

The problem is that coal is sold in advance and because of the push to move away from coal, the resource has lost market share.

Getting it back on the table is easier said than done.  As Deti explains, it’s not that there is a shortage of coal, it’s producing the necessary amount again to meet demand. It takes manpower to ramp up.

“Ever since the decline started to happen a decade ago,  we said you need to keep coal in the mix.  You gotta keep it in the mix,” Deti said.

Coal is the one resource, he said, that is “always affordable, always reliable, and always abundant.”

“As for reliability, coal-fired power is going to be there when you turn on the light switch,” he said. “Unlike the renewables which we saw, fatally, in Texas last winter.”

The Wall Street Journal reports that supplies have become so low in some areas of the country that one power company that serves 1/5th of the U.S. population is reserving coal for the coldest days this winter.

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The high prices for coal is a good thing for Wyoming especially if the coal mines can get it out of the ground. There’s a shortage of workers.

Deti said mines in the Powder River Basin could use an extra 200 miners right now, as well as more trains to move the coal.

“You’ve got companies up in the basin right now that are offering $5,000 signing bonuses just to come on board,” he said.

Deti said the short-term prospects for coal is good.

“The basin is sold-out for 2022,” he said. “They are selling into 2023. We are going to have a couple pretty good years.”

 

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