A New Generation of Miners Plans for New Coal Power Plants Are Increasing Demand for Indiana's Mining Industry

08 October 2005 | 02:24 Code : 5976 Geoscience events
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A New Generation of Miners Plans for New Coal Power Plants Are Increasing Demand for Indiana's Mining Industry

An aging work force and the rising price of coal are forcing Indiana's mining industry to seek a new generation of workers.

The workers are needed at a time when demand for Indiana coal is expected to increase in the next few years. Plans for new coal- fired power plants in the Ohio Valley provide a key opportunity for Tri-State coal producers.

"If Cinergy and Vectren follow through with their plans for a power plant in Edwardsport, we would be a logical supplier for that power source," said Nat Noland, president of the Indiana Coal Council.

Last month, Vectren and Cinergy/PSI said they would work together on plans for a possible coal gasification plant in northern Knox County. This week, United Supply of America, based in Pennsylvania, said it would build a $400 million coal-fired power plant near Carmi, Ill.

Both projects would provide welcome benefits to the region's mining industry, which is beginning to rebound with a renewed interest in underground mines.

According to the Indiana Coal Council, underground mines produced 3 million tons of coal in 1998. In 2003, that number was up to 10 million tons and is projected to grow in the coming years.

"We're seeing more and more new mines coming on-line," Noland said. "The economics are there to where we can mine underground now."

To meet the growing demand and to staff those new mines, mining companies are putting out the call to potential employees. The challenge is finding workers who are qualified for underground work and who live near coal-rich areas.

At the Executive Inn Tuesday, officials with Vigo Coal Company were accepting applications for heavy equipment operators, field mechanics, drillers and lube truck operators.

Earlier this year, Alcoa said it would spend $45 million to purchase coal from the company. The agreement would create 60 to 70 jobs.

"There's a huge demand for this work force throughout the country," Nolan said.

But because the focus for so many years was on surface mining, there is a "missing generation" of underground mine workers, Nolan said. Many workers also left the area when their mines were closed.

"Part of the problem is we skipped a whole generation of miners," Nolan said. "It's our responsibility to get the message to young people that these jobs have excellent pay and the safety is there."

To help meet the demand for more mine workers, the Indiana Department of Labor and the state's mining industry have partnered with Vincennes University to offer a 40-hour course and additional training programs for miners.

The mining industry hopes the new program, announced in August, will attract younger workers and help provide a source of labor for the future, Nolan said.

Mining jobs might provide an opportunity for some workers, but organized labor leaders are warning that the new positions are not covered by union contracts.

Phil Smith, communications director for the United Mine Workers of America, said the union would face a challenge in trying to organize new mine workers. He said many of the new workers may not have any prior experience working with a union and might not fully understand a union's role.

"Organizing in any industry in this day and age in this political climate is going to be difficult," Smith said. "Certainly, we do anticipate organizing to be a challenge

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