Guest opinion: Montana should meet world's energy needs

2014-04-03T00:00:00Z 2014-04-03T10:28:12Z Guest opinion: Montana should meet world's energy needsBy COLIN MARSHALL The Billings Gazette
April 03, 2014 12:00 am  • 

This year’s frigid temperatures have been a stark reminder of the importance of reliable and affordable electricity for families in Montana and across the nation. For many, the electricity that heats homes and keeps the lights on comes from coal produced here in southeast Montana.

Coal remains America’s single-largest source for electricity. The federal Energy Information Administration projects that coal will be the country’s leading electricity fuel for decades to come as there are no practical alternatives currently available.

It is frustrating that opponents of coal are able to propose that moving quickly from coal is viable without having to explain the massive economic impacts there would be through rapidly rising electricity costs. Europe, having tried this experiment, is increasingly using coal.

89 million tons of coal

Cloud Peak Energy is proud to be one of Montana’s largest job providers and taxpayers. We operate Montana’s largest coal mine, the Spring Creek Mine, near the Wyoming border. Cloud Peak Energy’s 2013 total coal sales of 89.1 million tons supplied approximately 4 percent of the nation’s electricity; enough energy to power approximately 15 million U.S. homes.

In 2013, our company paid $360 million in taxes and royalties, of which $55 million went to the state of Montana. For the same year, our corporate income totaled $52 million.

While American electricity demand is projected to be stable for the next few decades, there is a tremendous opportunity to increase production from Montana to export to growing Asian markets.

Cloud Peak Energy’s logistics business exports coal from our Spring Creek Mine to Asian utilities in South Korea, Japan and Taiwan. According to the International Energy Agency, Asian coal imports are projected to increase by 65 percent over the next 30 years, as those countries build state-of-the-art, coal-fueled power plants.

Montana is in a favorable position to benefit from that increasing demand due to close proximity to Pacific Coast shipping ports. However, existing ports are at capacity, and additional terminals need to be built in order for Montana to meet this demand.

That’s why well-funded environmental groups have been working so hard to frustrate and delay new Pacific Coast projects. We are confident that any legitimate concerns regarding coal exports can be addressed but are well aware that opponents of terminal development are much more interested in stopping coal exports than in ensuring they are executed responsibly.

Stopping port development would have a direct and profound negative impact on Montana’s ability to grow its economy, create jobs and avoid increasing the tax burden on Montana citizens. A University of Montana study found that if the Spring Creek Mine expanded by roughly 50 percent, 1,500 new jobs would be created, $60 million in new economic activity in our communities would be added and more than $50 million in new tax revenue could be generated.

These are big impacts — and that is just one of the multiple opportunities to expand coal production in the state. Utilizing the state’s coal reserves helps spur investment in infrastructure that would aid the state’s entire economy, not just coal.

Exploring Crow coal

In addition, Cloud Peak Energy signed option and exploration agreements with the Crow Indian Tribe in Montana covering more than 1 billion tons of the tribe’s coal. If even a small portion of their coal were to be mined, it would bring significant benefits to the tribe’s people by providing well-paying, stable jobs and significant tax revenues.

Coal is a vital part of our national energy portfolio. Moreover, coal is an important export commodity in high demand throughout the world. Montana has a tremendous opportunity before it to supply some of that demand and create new jobs and investment in our state in the process.

Colin Marshall is president and CEO of Cloud Peak Energy, which is headquartered in Gillette, Wyo. He is a keynote speaker at Montana Energy 2014 today in Billings.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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