Coal supply disruption adds to energy woes.
Torrential rains in Kansas at the beginning of October washed away hundreds of feet of track on Union Pacific Corp.'s lines and damaged several rail bridges, disrupting coal supplies being shipped from Wyoming. Since Wyoming mines provide about a third of the nation's coal the disruption resulted in several utilities that depend on Wyoming coal to run dangerously low on supplies, sending prices to record highs.
Last week's track problems aren't the first of the year. Power plant owners across the Midwest, Great Plains, Southeast and Southwest have been receiving on average about 85 percent of expected coal deliveries since May, after heavy precipitation caused two trains to derail in Wyoming and started a massive maintenance program by the railroads to repair the track.
Since the May derailments, utilities have been relying more on power from natural gas-fired power plants and wholesale electricity purchases. But that was before Katrian and Rita tore through the natural gas fields in the Gulf, putting domestic supply of natural gas in question. As winter approaches and temperatures drop, utilities could come under intense pressure to produce enough energy to meet peak winter demand.
Air quality levels will suffer. Some utilities have turned to higher-sulfur eastern coals to replace missed shipments from the West, a move that requires them to buy more sulfur allowances to cover the extra pollution that will result.
Even so, an especially cold winter could push demand for energy past our ability to supply it.
This might be a good time to get one of those corn burning stoves and lay in a good supply of fuel before corn prices start rising too!