Inside 'big coal country' as coal-fired energy demand returns

Montana often is known as "big sky country." But ask any local, and they'll tell you the phrase "big coal country" is just as fitting.

Along with Wyoming, Montana is home to the Powder River Basin—a region that boasts some of the biggest coal mines in the world. The two states account for 40 percent of all the coal produced in the U.S.

So if you thought coal was a fading fuel—upstaged by natural gas and solar panels to power homes and businesses—guess again.

Reports of coal's demise are greatly exaggerated

The frigid winter that froze much of the country also caused a surge in electricity demand. Natural gas prices soared to their highest level in years. So U.S. power plants trying to balance higher energy demand with rising fuel costs fired up more coal burners to keep consumer energy costs at bay.

Coal's recent growth naturally has created a ripple effect in the economy. Coal has boosted businesses throughout the supply chain including L&H Industrial, a Gillette, Wyo.-based maker of mining equipment. "Approximately 30 percent of our business is derived from coal mining," L&H Industrial's Joel Christophersen told CNBC recently. "That's a major contributor to the economy of our state."

Beyond growth prospects, energy providers like coal for its stability. Fuel naturally is the biggest cost for any power plant. And because coal supplies are less volatile than natural gas stockpiles, coal prices don't fluctuate as much. That's why coal still is the country's single biggest fuel source—accounting for nearly 40 percent of all the electricity generated in the U.S., according to government data. That's more than natural gas, solar and wind sources—combined.

There are environmental concerns associated with coal. The Environmental Protection Agency in September proposed steep reductions in carbon emissions for new power plants. While the rules still are in the comment stage, they have already effectively halted plans for any new plants.

That has U.S. coal companies looking overseas—particularly in Asia—for demand. But port capacity in the Pacific Northwest is limited, and proposals for a new port as well as added rail traffic to transport coal, are controversial. 

For now, coal isn't going away any time soon. So the next time you flick on a light switch or crank up that AC, consider the commodity used to generate that power. There's a good chance the fuel source was mined from the bustling Power River Basin, aka "big coal country."

—By CNBC's Brad Quick.


L&H Industrial Named a Finalist for 2014 BBB Torch Awards for Business Ethics

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L&H Industrial was named a finalist for the 16th annual Better Business Bureau Torch Awards for Business Ethics. Nine businesses from Northern Colorado and Wyoming that have demonstrated exemplary marketplace ethics were named finalists. The awards ceremony is set for April 30 at the Lincoln Center in Fort Collins, CO.

“We were honored to be finalists for the BBB Business Ethics Award,“ said Mike Wandler, President, L&H Industrial, “This is an area of our business that we believe to be critical and have worked diligently on for many years. Our company’s core values are honesty, integrity, loyalty, and respect, safety, productivity, innovation and accountability. We focus on going the extra mile and giving customers more then they expect. These values are how we conduct ourselves professionally and personally and, I believe, are one big reason L&H is a great company to work for and do business with.”

The BBB Torch Awards, a program of the BBB Foundation, recognizes businesses that demonstrate exemplary business ethics, uphold high standards in relationships with customers, suppliers and shareholders, show honesty and integrity in marketing and advertising, and give back to their communities.                


About the BBB

The Better Business Bureau, founded in 1912, is a champion for ethics and trust in the marketplace. Only businesses that meet the high BBB standards are invited to become BBB Accredited Businesses. Today, 138 BBBs across the United States and Canada rate more than 4 million local and national businesses and charities with scores ranging from A to F. Only a BBB Accredited Business may elect to participate in BBBOnLine, one of the most trusted and recognized Internet seal programs in the world. For more information on the Torch Awards:


L&H Industrial continues its presence in the rail market with the engineering, manufacturing, rebuilding and enhancing of a bucket wheel loader used for conveyer belt loading of Taconite. 

L&H Industrial is no stranger to the rail market having engineered and manufactured the Pre-Gauger which improves work performance and safety as it makes threading new rail into plates a much simpler task. Over 26 Pre-Gaugers have been manufactured and shipped to three different class 1 railroads. L&H has also developed a Super Sport TKO Work Arm, designed to remove rail ties This new contract with BNSF moves to solidify L&H as a strong alternative to the OEMs in the rail industry.

L&H is replacing major structures of the machine including the ladder boom, mast, gantry, lower and outer discharge booms and the rear main frame as well as rebuild the main frame, side frames and carbody. Flanders, a strategic supplier to L&H, will supply electrical system replacement, rebuilds, upgrades and modifications to the current system, with the latest TLC controls and operator cab upgrades.

The bucket wheel machines were originally designed and built in 1970’s by the Mechanical Excavators Inc. in Los Angeles, CA.

The project work will take place both onsite and in the Gillette, WY manufacturing facility and is expected to be completed at the end of 2014.

For more information, contact Michael Niebur, Railroad Account Representative at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .


Bucketwheel Before Teardown

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On Thursday, March 20th, the business channel CNBC produced filmed segments from L&H Industrial’s corporate headquarters in Gillette, WY.

The CNBC crew, including reporter Scott Cohn, Senior Correspondent who interviewed L&H’s General Manager of the Gillette location, Joel Christophersen, visited about the coal industry, L&H’s products and services in the mining market and the general outlook for energy in 2014. CNBC also visited Cloud Peak Energy’s Spring Creek Mine, and interviewed the mine’s President and CEO, Colin Marshall, focusing on the importance of coal for electricity in the wake of an ongoing cold winter and prospects for coal in the future. In addition to L&H Industrial and Spring Creek Mine, CNBC toured Basin Electric’s Dry Fork Power Plant.

Watch the clip and read the article here:

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