Angleton: Havent Felt This Good About Illinois Coal in a Long Time

Angleton: Havent Felt This Good About Illinois Coal in a Long Time

Thursday, August 10th 2006

With the announcement on Tuesday that two Illinois communities are in the final running for FutureGen–a $1 billion low-pollution coal-fired power plant–things are looking up for the state’s coal industry.

“For coal in general, I think we’re seeing a major upturn,” said Joe Angleton of Du Quoin, current director of the Office of Miners and Minerals of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

“We’ve got a new coal mine that is in the Saline County area, part of the Black Beauty complex, and Williamson County coal is going to be a major mine that’s going to produce more than 5 million tons,” Angleton said. “We also have an application for Franklin County that would be as large or larger than that.”

Knight Hawk Coal, which operates mines near Cutler, Elkville and Ava, will open a high-wall mine in the near future, and Steve Carter, the company’s chief executive, said that Knight Hawk plans to open an underground mine at Royalton, as well.

Although it will take some time for that operation–dubbed the Royalton Falcon–to reach full operation, Carter said the mine would eventually employ more than 100 workers.

“We have just received our response to our permit application from the state, and we have a few amendments to make to the application,” Carter said. “We expect that permit should be issued in four to five weeks.”

Meanwhile, Knight Hawk will begin mining at the Prairie Eagle location near Cutler in the next few weeks, Carter said. “Our development’s ready, and we’re going to go at it fairly slow–we’ve really got sufficient capacity at this point, and we’re not going to try to overload our market.”

Angleton noted that several small surface mines in Randolph county have permits, and he expects to see applications coming in for permits from Drummond Coal from Alabama, which owns large reserves in Fayette County and adjoining areas.

And while Peabody Energy’s proposed Prairie State Energy Campus is awaiting a ruling on its final air permit from the state Environmental Protection Agency, Angleton said that venture also promises an upswing in Illinois coal production.

“I think that’s just a matter of getting over the environmental hurdles,” Angleton said. “That would be a major economic engine for our part of the country.”

“We’re looking forward to favorably resolving the administrative process,” said Peabody spokesman Derrell Carter of the Prairie State operation. “we’ve received all of our major permits to proceed forward.”

Bill Hoback, who is bureau chief of the Office of Coal Development for the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, said technology is key to coal’s future as an energy resource.

“Coal is a mineral that’s extremely rich–if you use the right kind of technology, it’s extremely clean,” said Hoback, who lives in Perry County and worked as an underground miner for 20 years.

Hoback’s office has played an integral role in pitching Illinois as a site for the FutureGen plant, which is also backed by several coal and electric companies–including Peabody Energy–and the federal government.

FutureGen would offer 150 permanent jobs at its 275-megawatt plant. Prairie State would create 450 permanent jobs once the 1,500-megawatt power plant is constructed.

“FutureGen is seriously the future for Illinois coal,” Hoback said. “Gasification is extremely clean–the separation of not only carbon dioxide but also sulfur and things that are in the emissions streams can actually be sold as byproducts.”

Fertilizers, synthetic natural gas and methanol from coal are just some of the possible products that could be generated from coal, Hoback said, although most power plants would probably only use FutureGen technology to create synthetic fuel from coal.

The potential renewed market for Illinois coal holds out promise for mining operations in the state. Knight Hawk’s Carter said he approaches new projects cautiously, though.

“We’re in a transition time–Illinois markets have been horrible in the past. They improved here in the last couple years, but I think there’s a slight oversupply right now,” Carter said. “There’s a lot of projects that are coming on, and really the market has to rationalize that. I think we’re really two to three years for a good demand for high-sulfur coal.”

As utilities begin to install scrubbers at their facilities in the next two to three years and ethanol and gasification plants begin to use coal resources, Carter expects to see demand for Illinois coal to increase.

Copyright © 2006 Du Quoin Evening Call

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