The New York Times has an interesting article on the rapidly increasing export of coal from the US (likely helped by the new-found opposition to building coal fired power from the banking sector as well as the general population) - "An Export in Solid Supply".
These days, people really are taking coals to Newcastle. That flow is part of a vast reorganization of the global coal trade that is making the United States a major exporter for the first time in years — and helping to drive up domestic prices of the one fossil fuel the nation has in abundance.
Coal has long been a cheap and plentiful fuel source for utilities and their customers, helping to keep American electric bills relatively low. But rising worldwide demand is turning American coal into another hot global commodity, with domestic buyers having to compete with buyers from countries like Germany and Japan.
Environmental concerns have forced some American utilities to cut back on plans for coal-burning power plants. Nonetheless, spot prices for two benchmark American grades of coal, from central Appalachia and the Powder River Basin of Wyoming, have been rising, with occasional dips, since last spring. They eased in recent days but are still up by 93 percent and 64 percent, respectively, in the last year, according to figures from Doyle Trading Consultants and Evolution Markets.
How high prices will go, and how quickly the increases will be passed along to electricity customers, remains to be seen. American utility companies buy almost all their coal on long-term contracts, locking in prices for several years. But as those contracts come up for renewal, price increases are likely, analysts said.
“Watch out, consumer,” said David M. Khani, a coal analyst at Friedman, Billings, Ramsey Group. “You’re probably going to see accelerating electricity prices in 2009, 2010 and 2011.” ...
For coal producers, the new demand abroad is good news at a time when coal is under political attack at home. More than 50 proposed coal-fired power plants were delayed or canceled over the last year because of concerns over greenhouse gas emissions.
“This export boom right now is the difference between slow growth in our markets and hyper-expansion in our markets,” said Gregory H. Boyce, chairman and chief executive of Peabody Energy, the world’s largest private coal company. “You have two billion-plus people looking for a better standard of living. The world is energy-short and the U.S. coal sector is beginning to fill that gap.”
Many environmental groups see the rising global trade as an ominous development, however, since it promises to confound efforts to limit global emissions. World consumption of coal has increased in recent years by more than 4 percent annually, a major reason that emissions of carbon dioxide are going up, not down.