Coal Shortage Nationwide...But Will It Have Local Impact?

APRIL 26, 2006 -- POSTED AT 9:45 P.M. CST

JONESBORO, AR -- A coal shortage isn't something that you might think would cause your utility bills to rise, but in many areas across the country that is exactly what they are seeing. The coal shortage for power plants was caused by 2 different coal trains derailing in Wyoming last May.

“The result is that many, many utilities that depended on that coal fire generation saw a significant impact on their costs. The good news for our customers here at City Water and Light is that we think the impact is going to be relatively small,” says Ron Inboden, the special project administrator for CWL in Jonesboro.

Inboden went on to say that the problem hit this area several months back and they think most of the customers won't even notice the impact on their CWL bill. But if this coal shortage is an estimated 10 million dollar cut to the CWL budget, how can such a big cut not increase the customer's bill?


"The reason why our customers shouldn't be impacted significantly has a lot to do with the inside of our board and some long range planning that took place many, many years ago," says Inboden.

Because of excess coal generating facilities that CWL purchased years ago, they fortunately don't have to turn to natural gas for power. But if needed, they have the ability to power the city with gas right here at home.

Natural gas fire generators are currently the most expensive source of energy and if you've been to the pump lately, you probably know why. Inboden mentioned the other two sources they use, which are both low cost; coal fire generators and hydroelectricity.

"On a normal day, we use very little natural gas fire generation. Primarily we get our generation from the coal plants and the hydro projects," says Inboden.

Thanks to some good pre-planning from the folks at the local City Water and Light, Jonesboro customers actually shouldn't see this as much of a problem.

As for the other utility companies, such as Craighead Electric, who were forced to turn to natural gas, they should start to gradually see a decrease in costs over the next few months, giving their customers' a break in costs.