US Coal’s Last Lifeline Evaporates

January 11, 2021

Financial Times (Paywall):

US coal miners’ last-ditch hope for shipping big volumes to Asia has crumbled as the developer of a sprawling export terminal abandons its project on the Pacific coast. 

The Millennium Bulk Terminal would have loaded 44m metric tonnes a year of thermal coal for export to electric utilities — a potential boost for producers reeling from the decline of coal-fired power generation in the US. 

But the project’s bankrupt owner on Saturday pulled the plug, making it the last of more than half a dozen proposed west coast coal ports never to be built. “It’s the end of the pipe dream that Asia can save the US coal industry,” said Clark Williams-Derry, analyst at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, a research group that favours clean energy. 

The terminal’s demise is a victory for climate activists who fought to hinder coal exports and their associated carbon emissions. It is a blow to the economies of Wyoming and Montana, whose open-pit mines in the Powder River Basin would have supplied the facility on the Columbia river in coastal Washington state. 

It also runs counter to the pro-coal agenda of outgoing president Donald Trump. 

“About 10 years ago there were maybe a half-dozen major terminals proposed for the west coast because of some excitement about PRB coal. All those have fallen through,” said Matt Preston, research director for North American coal markets at Wood Mackenzie, a consultancy. 

US coal exports peaked at 125.7m short tons in 2012. In 2019 they had fallen to 93.7m short tons and the majority was metallurgical coal used in steelmaking, not thermal coal burnt by power plants to generate electricity, according to the US Energy Information Administration. In the first nine months of 2020 US coal exports were down 32 per cent on the year.

Wyoming Public Media:

A long sought after terminal to ship coal internationally from Washington may soon no longer be in the cards. A federal bankruptcy court has authorized the rejection of the ground lease between the Millennium Bulk Terminals-Longview, LLC and Lighthouse Resources Inc, effective this Friday, Jan. 8.

Lighthouse, owner of the Millennium Facility via a debtor, has sought to ship coal off the Washington coast for years; Millennium submitted permit applications back in 2012. The western state, though, never permitted the project and it’s since been held up in court. Wyoming is currently involved in litigation hoping to bring the port to fruition.

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