Shipments of coal on the Great Lakes totaled 721,453 tons in March, an increase of 25% compared to a year ago, the Lake Carriers’ Association reported April 10.
However, the coal trade was 11% below its five-year average for March. Loadings at Lake Superior ports increased by nearly 60%, led by port facilities at Superior, Wisc. Superior shipped 516,397 tons in March, up from its five-year average for that month of 357,917 tons. Loadings in Chicago doubled their total of a year ago. However, shipments from Lake Erie ports like Toledo and Sandusky in Ohio slipped by a total of 100,000 tons in March compared to their year-ago levels.
Year-to-date, the Lakes coal trade stands at 1.1 million tons, a decrease of 17% compared to a year ago. Loadings are nearly 40% behind the five-year average for the first quarter.
The overall decline in Great Lakes coal trade in recent years is in large part due to Ontario Power Generation shutting coal-fired power plants that took coal from the U.S, particularly through the Lake Erie ports.
A partuclarly big customer for coal moving via the Lakes is the Detroit Edison unit of DTE Energy (NYSE: DTE), which runs the big Superior Midwest Energy Terminal (SMET) on Lake Superior. SMET was commissioned in 1976 to provide for the low-sulfur western coal needs of the Detroit Edison plants in southeastern Michigan. Capacity is also available at SMET for other coal end-users, with a particular emphasis lately on developing European customers for coal moving via this route. SMET has a transshipment capacity of 25.5 million tons per year, with coal from the Powder River Basin and elsewhere moving from rail-to-ship via this facility.
The Lake Carriers’ Association represents 17 American companies that operate 56 U.S.-flag vessels on the Great Lakes.