KBZK: Cloud Peak lands major deal to ship Montana coal to Japan

GILLETTE, Wyo. – Coal from the Powder River Basin will soon be on its way to Japan to fuel two new coal gasification plants in Fukushima Prefecture.

Gillette, Wyo.-based Cloud Peak Energy, which operates the Spring Creek Mine near Decker, will begin to ship up to 1 million tons of coal a year to Japan by the end of 2019, the company announced Tuesday.

The coal will power two, state-of-the-art, coal gasification plants that will begin operation in 2020. These types of plants use combined-cycle technology to power the plants with reduced carbon emissions and more efficient generation.

Japan is building the new next-generation coal technology plants in response to the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, where three nuclear reactors melted down following a massive earthquake.

It was the biggest nuclear accident since the 1986 Chernobyl meltdown in Russia, and it’s given the U.S. coal industry a window to help supply a Japanese energy industry looking for alternative sources. According to U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, Japan is replacing 54 nuclear reactors with 45 new coal-fired plants.

“These Japanese power plants are state of the art, low emissions technology, ensuring the coal they’re burning is used responsibly.  So this is something that can be exported, not only across Asia, but certainly will help the U.S. reduce emissions as well,” said Rick Curtsinger, Cloud Peak’s public affairs director. 

The Japan-bound coal will be shipped by rail to export terminals near Vancouver, B.C.

Curtsinger says it’s too early to say if the new contract will translate into new jobs. Cloud Peak currently has about 1,300 total employees, mostly in Montana and Wyoming.

In 2017, Cloud Peak exported 4.5 million tons of coal to its Asian partners. In addition to Spring Creek, the company operates two mines in Wyoming, the Antelope and Corero Rojo mines.

Cloud Peak has been seeking to boost its exports for years at a proposed new coal dock in Longview, Wash., which has been stymied by state regulators concerned about coal dust along rail lines and in the Columbia River. 

Daines, a Montana Republican, praised the company’s new deal in Japan and lamented the progress of the Millennium Bulk Terminals dock in Washington. 

“This is exciting news for Montana jobs, including tribal jobs, and state and local tax coffers as well. Montana coal is high quality and low sulphur, high efficiency, and it’s playing an important role in meeting global demand for low-cost energy. Unfortunately, the lack of export infrastructure is holding back our Montana mines from being able to fully meet the growing demand,” Daines said in a release.