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Good News Abounds for Alaska’s Clean-Burning Coal Industry

Usibelli is well-positioned and dedicated


University of Alaska Central Heat and Power Plant in Fairbanks, constructed in 1964, operates two stoker boilers and three steam turbines with 13 megawatts electricity capability and has a full-stream baghouse. The plant also provides space heat and air conditioning on campus.

Courtesy of Usibelli Coal Mine, Inc.

Usibelli Coal Mine (UCM) has provided affordable fuel to power plants in interior Alaska since 1943—more than seventy-three years and going strong! The future of UCM looks bright, as major consumers of coal in Interior Alaska are making sizable investments in modernizing and expanding facilities that rely on coal to produce electric power and space heating.


Aurora Energy LLC operates a coal fired power plant on the banks of the Chena River in downtown Fairbanks. The plant provides wholesale electricity to the local utility and provides district heat to approximately two hundred customers.

Courtesy of Usibelli Coal Mine, Inc.


Named “Ace-in-the-Hole” by Healy school children, the dragline is the largest land mobile machine in Alaska.

Courtesy of Usibelli Coal Mine, Inc.


Major Consumers of Coal

One major consumer of coal is the University of Alaska Fairbanks. The electrical, heating, and air conditioning requirements of the UAF campus will continue to be met by coal for many decades in the future when the Central Heat and Power Plant upgrade is completed. The upgrade project includes a new, state-of-the-art boiler and a much larger turbine generator sized at 17 megawatts.

Another major consumer of coal is Eielson Air Force Base. The Eielson central heat and power plant has removed and replaced one boiler, is progressing on schedule with another boiler upgrade this winter, and programmed for a third boiler to be replaced in the near term.

Golden Valley Electric Association made tremendous progress last year to bring an additional 50 megawatts of coal-fired energy online in Healy. The plant, formerly known as the Healy Clean Coal Project, is now referred to as Healy Unit #2. When combined with Healy Unit #1 and Aurora Energy LLC in downtown Fairbanks, it will yield 100 megawatts of low-cost energy for Fairbanks-area consumers.


Usibelli’s electric-powered dragline “Ace-in-the-Hole” is at work where it can move 24,000 yards of dirt in a 24-hour period, leaving a strip of uncovered coal 145 feet or more wide. The size of the dragline comes into perspective when realizing the pickup truck in the foreground and the bulldozer in the background.

Courtesy of Usibelli Coal Mine, Inc.


Well-Positioned to Meet Needs

Usibelli Coal Mine is well-positioned to meet the fuel requirements for these customers and others. Two Bull Ridge Mine continues to be the primary mining area, but future demand for coal will also be met with a new mine seven miles to the northeast, the Jumbo Dome Mine. The coal seams at Jumbo Dome are approximately thirty to forty feet in thickness and extend for many miles. More than 700 million tons of surface mineable coal has been identified on current UCM leased property, which is enough coal to supply current demand for more than 350 years.

UCM coal has the lowest sulfur content of any coal mined in the United States and one of the lowest on the globe. This feature makes the coal very attractive for customers seeking to meet targets for lower emissions. Anyone who has visited the mine will clearly walk away with a comfortable feeling that the Usibelli family is serious about protecting the environment. UCM established an environmental stewardship program well before the government required mines to conduct reclamation and restoration procedures. The mine has a proven reputation for taking good care of the land, air, and water.


The Caterpillar 785 dump truck is capable of hauling 150 tons of cargo while the O & K RH170 track mounted excavator is capable of loading a truck in approximately four passes of 26 cubic yards each.

Courtesy of Usibelli Coal Mine, Inc.


The Alaska Railroad delivers coal northbound to Interior Alaska coal-fired power plants; approximately four trains per week, each train with approximately forty-five hopper cars.

Courtesy of Usibelli Coal Mine, Inc.


Dedicated to Employees

UCM leadership believes that the most important ingredient in its environment are the People. As of February 10, more than 115 UCM employees have achieved 575 continuous days without a single lost time injury. That includes the entire calendar year of 2015. This is a considerable accomplishment while operating and maintaining heavy equipment in tough and challenging conditions, including adverse weather.

Joe Usibelli Jr., President of UCM, is dedicated to taking care of company employees and their families, with a focus on good, stable wages and benefits, a safe work environment, proper training, and career progression. Joe believes supporting the community is part of taking care of the mine employees. He supports and advocates for a vibrant and healthy local school system, sports programs, artistic endeavors, community library, child care facilities, and recreational activities to mention a few.

Joe Usibelli, Chairman of the Board of Directors, once said: “Nepotism—it is a good thing if you keep it in the family.” Perhaps he said this with a humorous tone, but the reality is that 36 percent of the current workforce is second, third, or fourth generation employees. It is a testament to the high-quality work environment at the mine that so many children of employees feel privileged to follow in their parents’ footsteps.

UCM employees look forward to coming to work each day, to be challenged with a tough job and make a positive contribution, providing a quality product, on budget and on schedule. They are proud to do that, day after day. Usibelli Coal Mine is a great place to live, work, and raise a family.



This article first appeared in the April 2016 print edition of Alaska Business Monthly.

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