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Wyoming company’s search for buyer signals more weakness in Powder River Basin coal industry
Cloud Peak Energy’s long-shot search for a party to buy its struggling Powder River Basin mines is “a fracture in Wyoming coal’s newfound stability after years of layoffs and bankruptcies.”
Rank-and-file economic fears in Wyoming after Westmoreland goes bankrupt
After Westmoreland Coal filed for bankruptcy this month, residents of the rural area around the company’s Kemmerer Mine in Wyoming face an uncertain future. The mine employs almost 300 people and expectations are that it will be auctioned off as part of the company’s restructuring. "Our people are just worried to death about their jobs, their pensions, their health care," said a United Mine Workers of America executive.
Wyoming county is shorted millions in wake of Westmoreland bankruptcy
Lincoln County, Wyo., is at risk of losing millions of dollars in taxes that are due from Westmoreland Coal, which filed for bankruptcy last week. State legislators are considering reforms that would keep such companies from defaulting on their annual obligations to county governments. The situation “highlights a weakness in the laws that leave county governments vulnerable when trying to collect ad valorem taxes from busted energy companies.”
Wyoming moves to close reclamation loophole for mining companies
Wyoming is moving closer to limiting “self-bonding” by coal companies that use the practice to avoid buying mine-cleanup insurance. State officials are worried that taxpayers will be left holding the reclamation bag on vast tracts of the Powder River Basin unless the loophole is closed. “Wyoming is not a bank,” said the administrator of the state’s main conservation agency. “We’re not in the business of bankrolling reclamation.”
Peabody cancels federal coal leases in Wyoming
Peabody Energy, the biggest coal company in the U.S., has relinquished several thousand acres of federal leases in Wyoming after deeming them no longer economically viable. The news comes amid indications that a downturn will continue, after several bankruptcies across the industry and following an announcement by Alpha Coal earlier this year that it will curb production at Black Thunder, a mainstay in the state and one of the largest coal operations in the country. “Everyone knows it’s only a matter of time before a Wyoming coal mine closes,” said the chairman of the Powder River Basin Resource Council.
New norm sets in among Powder River Basin coal producers
Unpredictability is the “new norm” in coal production across the Powder River Basin of Wyoming as spot market prices replace long-term contracts and as more coal-fired power plants close nationally. Twelve mines in the basin account for about 40 percent of the receding U.S. thermal coal market. “Obviously there are some long-term hurdles to overcome when your country is not building any new coal-fired power plants,” said the executive director of the Wyoming Mining Association.
More signs of coal’s diminishing market share
The national appetite for coal remains stagnant as the U.S. electricity sector continues to switch to other forms of fuel, most notably natural gas, which is better suited to day-to-day changes in demand—especially during warm-weather months, when air-conditioning use drives the market. “Wyoming feeds about 40 percent of national coal demand, but the fuel’s hold on the electricity market has weakened substantially in recent years, a trend that may continue.”
Study: Keeping PacificCorp’s coal plants going will cost ratepayers $11.7 billion
A new study concludes that rising operational costs at PacifiCorp’s coal-fired electricity plants are hurting consumers. PacificCorp, the parent company of Rocky Mountain Power, operates in six states. The study, by Utah-based Energy Strategies, calculates that keeping PacifiCorp’s aging fleet of 22 coal plants online for “the remainder of their lives” will cost $11.7 billion.
Rocky Mountain Power sees renewable energy as ‘increasingly attractive’
“Renewable energy — particularly solar and wind power — have become increasingly attractive,” says a spokesman for Rocky Mountain Power, which has signed a long-term agreement to buy power produced by the first utility-scale solar project in Wyoming. The Sweetwater Solar LLC plant received crucial clearance this week from the Bureau of Land Management. It will produce enough electricity to power 17,000 homes, and is expected to go online by the end of this year.
‘Good, high-paying jobs’ in Wyoming’s emerging wind industry
As Wyoming grapples with how to manage its energy industry transition, more people are considering the economic benefits of the wind industry. One project in particular, the TransWest Express,captures some of the possibilities. “These are good, high-paying jobs. And when we finish this project, the permanent jobs are going to be roughly 150 people, well paid, fully-benefitted jobs that are really a boon to those communities,” said the CEO of the company building TransWest.
Younger workers are leaving Wyoming as state’s traditional energy economy falters
As Wyoming’s traditional energy economy contracts, younger workers are leaving for opportunities elsewhere, and the state’s population is growing older, according to recent data from the Wyoming Economic Analysis Division. The trend makes Wyoming the fastest-aging state in the country, and many former residents have left because they lost their jobs in the oil, natural gas and coal-mining industries.
Editorial: ‘It isn’t the job of the federal government to pick winners and losers in business’
An editorial board for a newspaper in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming has questioned the Trump administration’s controversial proposal to prop up failing coal-fired electricity generation plants. “Coal’s place in the energy sector has changed,” the editorial says. “Investing in our past will only shortchange us in the future.”
Wyoming county has yet to be paid $4 million in overdue coal-royalty taxes
Local officials say Campbell County, Wyo., has been stiffed on a $4 million tax payment due May 1 from Contura Energy, the company that acquired the Eagle Butte and Belle Ayr coal mines last year from Alpha Natural Resources. The mines, near Gillette, have since been acquired by Blackjewel LLC, “a firm troubled by environmental concerns and court cases in Appalachia.” Eagle Butte and Belle Ayr are also beset by millions of dollars in cleanup obligations.
West Coast shift in energy policy undermines Wyoming’s bet on coal
As West Coast states look to power their electricity grids with cheaper and cleaner energy sources, their retreat from traditional generation models poses an existential threat to Wyoming’s coal industry. Utilities involved in the transition include regional household names like PacifiCorp and Rocky Mountain Power. “If Oregon, Washington and California ditch coal, it may leave Wyoming’s largest utility, and its customers, holding a bag they don’t want to carry,” reports one newspaper.
Coal Company With Mines in Five States Gets a Bankruptcy Reprieve, for Now
A cash infusion from creditors will help stave off bankruptcy for Westmoreland Coal, but the company, which owns mines in five states, is still in trouble. “Westmoreland faces many of the same pressures irritating the coal sector nationwide,” reports a Wyoming newspaper, “including competition from cheap natural gas and environmental regulations that made some older coal units too expensive to keep running.”
12,000-Home Solar Project Approved in Wyoming
Sweetwater County Commissioners have approved the biggest solar project on record for Wyoming, the country’s No. 1 coal producer. The 80-megawatt solar farm will cover one square mile and generate enough electricity for 12,000 homes. The project is a subsidiary of a Korean company.
Economy of Southwest Wyoming Town Hangs in the Balance
State officials plan to spend as much as $22.5 million to help expand a coal mine whose owner is in peril of bankruptcy and despite the loss of the mine’s main customer. “The developments regarding the mine and power plant raise questions about the economic future of Kemmerer, population 2,771, and surrounding communities,” where 300 people work at the Kemmerer Mine.
Westmoreland Coal Faces Prospect of ‘Selling Off Assets or Closing Some Mines’
Westmoreland Coal, which is based in Colorado and operates in five states, is facing the prospect of having to shrink its core business as it struggles to remain a viable company. “They will have to get rid of some of their debt, get new financing to consolidate things, but also restructure the company to make it more viable for the long-term,” one analyst says. “And it could mean selling off assets or closing some mines.”
Editorial: Wyoming Deserves a More Diversified Economy
The editorial board of the Casper Star-Tribune has called for a civil discussion around development of an economy that is less susceptible to the energy industry’s boom-and-bust cycle. “In order for Wyoming to flourish, the state must diversify its economy and adjust its tax structure in order to reduce its dependency on fossil fuels and foster positive growth in Wyoming communities,” say the authors. “Economic diversification is crucial for the future of our great state.”
Report: Owner of 2 Wyoming Mines Paid $20 Million for Another Company to Take Them Over
New company filings show that that the owner of two well-known coal mines in Wyoming paid more than $20 million for Blackjewel Inc. to takes possession of them in December. Contura Energy had owned the Eagle Butte and Belle Ayr mines as a result of Alpha Energy’s bankruptcy reorganization in 2016 during an industry downturn that has continued: “Some say the deal heralds bad days to come. Others are more diplomatic about the challenges for Wyoming coal, but agree that the sale is telling of how the sector has changed in a few short years.”
Wyoming Has Added Only 5 Full-Time Coal Jobs Since 2016
The latest government jobs report shows Wyoming, the biggest coal-producing state in the U.S., having added only five full-time coal-mining jobs since 2016. The industry is hampered by the rise of natural gas and renewables alongside customer preferences for clean electricity generation. “When companies don’t see a lot of positive on the horizon, they’re always reluctant to hire again,” said one Wyoming official.
Ruling on Montana and Wyoming Federal Coal Lease Policy Another Setback to Mining Industry
In a blow to the coal industry in Montana and Wyoming, a federal judge has ruled that the Bureau of Land Management must consider potential impacts on climate change in deciding on further permitting of federal coal leases. The case could ultimately put a legal limit on the amount of coal mined in the region. “This ruling is the latest example of courts forcing the federal government to be honest with the American public,” one plaintiff said.
Wyoming Moves to Protect Taxpayers When Coal Companies Break Cleanup Promises
Wyoming, home of the Powder River Basin and the largest coal reserves in America, is moving to hold coal companies more accountable around their mine-cleanup promises. At issue is industry “self-bonding,” which left taxpayers holding the bag with the bankruptcy last year of companies that included Alpha Natural Resources, Arch Coal, and Peabody Energy. “It’s a recognition that these sophisticated multinational companies were able to take advantage of those loopholes in the older regulations and that there’s some commonsense fixes that could be put into place that make sure that companies aren’t going to leave Wyoming taxpayers hanging,” said one critic of the historical system.
In Wyoming, a Population Exodus
Wyoming is reporting its biggest population drop in a quarter century after about 8,300 people moved out of the state in 2017, mostly from the Powder River Basin, where the economy is heavily dependent on coal mining. Campbell County was among the hardest hit areas, losing 2,500 people, or 5.2 percent of its population. Conversely, Lincoln County, which is more reliant on tourism, and Albany County, home to the University of Wyoming, reported census growth of about 1 percent each. “Migration is mostly driven by changes in employment, which is particularly true for Wyoming,” said the chief economist for the State of Wyoming’s Economic Analysis Division.
Coal company with mines in several states is in financial peril
An analysis of Colorado-based Westmoreland Coal shows that it is in deep financial peril, a situation that may affect communities in Montana, New Mexico, Ohio, and Wyoming as the company’s customer base dries up. “The cost inherent in coal-fired power are moving (utilities) away from coal," says the study’s author.
Michigan’s Biggest Utility, Buyer of Wyoming Coal, Is Shifting Direction
Consumers Energy, the biggest utility in Michigan and an important customer of Wyoming mines owned by Arch Coal, Peabody Energy, and Cloud Peak Energy, is phasing out its coal-fired generation in favor of other power sources. The utility supplies electricity to more than 60 percent of Michigan’s 10 million residents. “We believe we’re going to be on the right side of history on this issue,” said Consumers CEO Patti Poppe.
As Coal Revenues Dry Up, Wyoming Considers Turning to Property Taxes for School Funding
The state senate voted unanimously to move forward with a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow school districts to pay for new school construction with property tax revenue. The plan is a departure from reliance on coal leases from public lands and is being pursued as a way to replace $1 billion in such funding, which has all but disappeared in recent years.
Coal Mine Sale in Wyoming Is Another Indication of Declining Market
Contura Energy’s unexpected sale of its Belle Ayr and Eagle Butte mines in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming raises questions about the persistent market difficulties facing U.S. coal producers: “The Powder River Basin, the biggest producer of American coal, does not need another coal company trying to succeed off marginal reserves in a falling market.”
In Powder River Basin Exit, Coal CEO Wishes Miners ‘the Very Best’
Contura Energy, the company created last year from the bankruptcy of Alpha Natural Resources, has jettisoned its mines in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming: “CEO Kevin Crutchfield extolled the virtues of the Wyoming mines and miners in his sendoff statement Monday, wishing ‘them the very best.’”
Governors Are Leading U.S. Energy Transition
Wyoming is among the states developing renewable energy for export, one example of many in which “state leadership and energy markets are already headed toward renewables and away from fossil fuels, a trend federal policy changes won't deter.”