By Anya Litvak
May 10, 2018 - Not only is India gobbling up the coal coming out of the ground at CONSOL Energy Inc.’s Pennsylvania Mining Complex, according to its head of coal marketing, but other countries are starting to clamber as well.
“I think the Europeans are cognizant of what’s going on in Southeast Asia,” said James McCaffrey, who recently spent some time in India and was “astonished by the amount of interest.”
CONSOL Bailey Mine
Canonsburg-based CONSOL, which in November split from its gas division — now known as CNX Resources Corp. — sent 70 percent of its coal exports to India during the first quarter of this year, McCaffrey said, speaking after the company’s annual meeting on Wednesday.
Next week, he’s scheduled to pitch CONSOL's coal to European countries at a conference in France. He’s heard some German utilities are looking for a deal.
On a call with analysts earlier this month, CONSOL's CEO Jimmy Brock said he’s encouraged to see that Turkey is considering loosening its limit on the amount of sulfur in imported coal.
“This is a very good news for high quality Northern (Appalachian) coal,” he said on the call.
While coal plants are closing at a fast clip in the U.S., demand for the fuel is growing elsewhere.
CONSOL's exports, which rose to one third of the 27 million tons produced at the company’s southwestern Pennsylvania mines last year, will likely hover around that for the foreseeable future, McCaffrey said.
Where at one point the predecessor company considered either selling or spinning out CONSOL's marine terminal in Baltimore, now it’s a central part of the company’s core strategy, said CEO Jimmy Brock on Wednesday.
From there, CONSOL's coal travels to five different continents.
Back in the U.S., the company supplies fuel to 13 “core” customers, the biggest being North Carolina-based Duke Energy Corp. In previous years, Texas-based GenOn Energy Inc. bought the largest share of CONSOL's product, but the company went bankrupt in June of last year.
Speaking of bankrupt, McCaffrey said that none of CONSOL's coal goes to Bruce Mansfield, a coal-fired power plant in Beaver County owned by bankrupt FirstEnergy Solutions, where two of its three units have been offline since January after a fire damaged critical equipment there.
McCaffrey said he’d be surprised if those units ran again. In the meantime, the volatility that their absence has created in the marketplace has benefited CONSOL, which has signed so-called base-price-plus-escalation contracts with some power plant clients.
That means CONSOL sets a floor price for its coal that roughly corresponds to the cost to produce it, and if electric power prices rise — as they often do when supply is uncertain or disrupted — CONSOL gets a boost and is able to make a profit.
While most of CONSOL's coal is sold to power plants, the company does have some reserves that could be marketed to steelmakers, called metallurgical coal.
Brock, CONSOL's CEO, said he’s been fielding some interest from other mining companies about a joint venture partnership to develop the CONSOL's West Virginia reserves of metallurgical coal.
Non-disclosure agreements have been signed, he said, but there are no deals on the table yet.
The company has started to apply for permits for the West Virginia assets, he said.
On Wednesday, CONSOL and CNX Resources held their first annual shareholder meetings as distinct companies.
Separated by a few walls and two hours, the gatherings were brief — no one sang the praises of coal nor the promise of natural gas. No shareholders showed up to argue for proxy access or environmental disclosures. Corporate secretaries for both firms announced that shareholders had approved board member nominations, audit firms and compensation packages for top executives.
Brock also became president of the company in December after dismissing Katharine Fredriksen, who is suing the company for pay discrimination and retaliation. He was approved to receive a compensation package worth $4.4 million for 2017. His CFO, David Khani, was approved for a $4.6 million package.
At CNX, CEO Nick Deluliis was awarded a package worth $10.6 million, half of his 2016 compensation.
CNX, which had 561 employees at the end of last year, now controls more than half a million acres in the Marcellus Shale and about 620,000 acres in the Utica Shale. The acreage is spread across Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia. It also has substantial holdings in coalbed methane.
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