America’s No. 2 coal-producer, Arch Coal Inc., announced last week that it paid $25 million to acquire 38 percent interest in Millennium Bulk Terminals-Longview, LLC, one of dozens of companies scrambling to boost coal export capacity from the West Coast to customers in Asia.With the Millennium Bulk deal, Arch joins Peabody Energy Corp. — both major producers of Powder River Basin coal in Wyoming — in banking on the Asian coal market for growth. Wyoming coal producers Peabody Energy, Arch Coal, Cloud Peak Energy and railroads Union Pacific and BNSF Railway have all expressed interest in boosting coal exports from the West Coast.
In Rocky Mountain Power’s current rate increase request of 17.3 percent for Wyoming customers, utility officials say the rising cost of coal is a bigger factor.“One of the single biggest factors in our Wyoming pricing request is related to coal,” said Jeff Hymas, spokesman for Rocky Mountain Power, Wyoming’s largest regulated utility. “We have expiring contracts for coal used at our power plants, and expiring contracts for power we have to purchase.”
Wyoming coal producers fared well during a tumultuous year for the industry nationwide, increasing output by an estimated 2.6 percent in 2010. It’s a modest recovery in production, after slipping 7.8 percent in 2009. Wyoming’s year-to-date coal production as of December 25 was 434 million tons, and the industry was on track to finish the year at 442.5 million tons, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration data.