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.
Some years back I heard Alaska Mining Hall of Famer Ernie Wolf say that a pessimist was an optimist with experience. Unfortunately, “experienced optimists” are in over-supply in the mining industry right now, both worldwide and here in Alaska, as the global mining industry enters its fifth consecutive year of depressed commodities prices, lackluster corporate financial performances, and a disinterested investment climate.
During the last several years, various media outlets in Alaska have been rife with discussion of the potential for economic development in the US Arctic, which is essentially northern Alaska.
In my role at Alaska’s trade association representing the mining industry, I am frequently approached with inquiries all bearing the same theme: “How are things in the mining industry?” Especially in today’s environment of low commodity prices, reduced state and federal government spending, and layoffs in the multi-industry support sector, Alaskans and Americans are interested in learning what the future of mining may look like and how the industry may impact the economy.
The past thirty years witnessed Alaska’s economic growth through climbing and falling oil prices, growing pains of Alaska Native corporation prosperity, and a position in global logistics eyed by not only businesses but also the US military.