Great Lakes coal trade recovers a bit of what it’s lost

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.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.