For immediate release
December 1, 2010

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RENEW Wisconsin
Michael Vickerman

Wisconsin Cannot Afford to Ignore Rising Coal Prices

Long-considered an inexpensive and reliable fuel source, coal has become subject to market and regulatory pressures that threaten to make it an expensive and risky way to generate electricity, according to national news reports and pertinent utility filings with the Wisconsin Public Service Commission (PSC).

“The expectation of continued increases in coal prices reinforces the value of relying on Wisconsin’s own energy resources. If there’s an effort to find savings for utility customers, the logical move would be to shutter antiquated coal plants before they become more of a liability,” said Michael Vickerman, Executive Director of RENEW Wisconsin, a statewide, nonprofit renewable energy advocacy organization.

A key driver behind coal’s rising cost is China, which has moved from an exporter to an importer of coal. The New York Times (NYT) reported last week that Chinese coal imports will hit all-time highs for November and December of this year. Some of this coal is coming from Wyoming’s Powder River Basin, the coal field that also supplies many Wisconsin power plants.1

In the New York Times story, an executive from Peabody Energy, the world’s largest private coal company, predicted that his company will send larger and larger quantities of coal to China in the coming years.

Further adding to the upward price pressure on coal is the rising cost of diesel fuel. The PSC has estimated that half of the delivered cost of coal in Wisconsin is attributable to rail shipment, that is highly sensitive to the price of diesel fuel, which sells for 38 cents more per gallon than it did a year ago, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.2 Tom Whipple, editor of the Peak Oil Review, expects diesel fuel supplies to tighten in 2011 as a consequence of flat production volumes and increasing demand from Asia.3 This phenomenon could affect Wisconsin electric utility rates as early as January 2011, according to Vickerman.

We Energies’ coal costs have escalated by $57 million, of which transportation costs account for almost $33 million, according to the utility’s most recent rate filing with the PSC. On top of that, We Energies expects to pay an additional $8 million in oil surcharge costs.4

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