Spring Creek Mine

An aerial view of the Cloud Peak Energy Spring Creek Mine near Decker is seen in 2016.

Two state-of-the-art Japanese power plants will receive Montana coal under an agreement announced Tuesday by Cloud Peak Energy.

The coal company said that up to a million tons of Spring Creek Mine coal would be shipped to Fukushima Prefecture, Japan, over 30 to 40 months beginning at the end 2019.

Spring Creek mine is located near Decker. The purchaser under the term export sales agreement is JERA Trading of Singapore.

The power plants, created by Mitsubishi, are designed to convert coal to synthetic natural gas. The process is intended to cut down significantly on the amount of coal carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas.

The first of the two 540-megawatt power plants is expected to begin operation in September 2020, according to the announcement.

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After a 2011 tsunami destroyed the TEPCO Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant, Japan began developing coal-fired facilities. The agreement announced Tuesday is a step toward bringing coal power online.

Cloud Peak President and CEO Colin Marshall said in the announcement that he's hopeful the same technology will lead to new coal-fired power plants in the United States.

“Cloud Peak Energy is pleased to be part of the Fukushima IGCC project and to help support Japan’s investment in next generation coal technology,” said Marshall. “If similar plants were to be built in the U.S. it would go a long way to addressing concerns about CO2 emissions while providing low-cost reliable electricity. Today’s announcement also demonstrates the strategic importance of American energy resources to key Asian allies.”

Commercial-scale, gasified coal power plant development in the United States has struggled mightily. The largest coal-gasified power project, Kemper County Power Plant in Mississippi, converted to natural gas last year after several cost overruns and construction delays.

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