By Tom Lutey, Billings Gazette

Decker Coal Mine

It wasn’t the first time a Montana coal mine had gone bankrupt, but Decker Coal’s reason for calling it quits had never been stated so plainly.

There are no longer customers lined up at Decker’s door for Montana coal.

Detroit-based energy company DTE no longer needed the 2.5 million tons of coal it has bought from Decker every year for $15.25 a ton. A customer since 2003, DTE was done. It was retiring three coal-fired power plants by 2022, and converting two more to natural gas. It was a death blow for mine owner Lighthouse Resources, the debtor in bankruptcy that shuttered Decker mine.

“DTE will no longer purchase any coal from debtors beyond early 2021. As of that date, debtors will not have a buyer for the coal at the Decker mine,” said Darin Adlard, chief finance officer for mine owner Lighthouse Resources. He was unpacking Lighthouse’s crisis for the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware.

DTE’s power plants were just the latest in a stunning nine-year run of coal-fired power plant closures that have claimed at least 30 customers for Montana coal, some big, some small. There were 50 power plants that burned Montana coal during the last decade. Only seven power plants reported burning Montana coal last year. Four power plants that were buying just a year earlier were either shuttered or offline.

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