October 24, 2018 Read More →

Power plant closures are turning Westmoreland’s minemouth assets into liabilities

S&P Global Market Intelligence ($):

Two lawyers who specialize in Chapter 11 restructuring see differing paths for Westmoreland Coal Co.: shedding debt and coming back as a leaner company with lenders in control or breaking up by selling most of its assets.

Pending bankruptcy court approval, the company plans to sell its core assets, which includes its San Juan operations in New Mexico as well as its Rosebud mine in Montana, to the highest bidder. Its lenders would act as a stalking horse bidder and take the assets in exchange for the company’s debt if there are no higher offers.

Steven Abramowitz, a partner with the law firm Vinson & Elkins LLP who focuses on restructuring and bankruptcy, said the lenders usually buy the assets in these sorts of cases, noting that the lenders probably know there’s little chance of another entity paying more than the value of Westmoreland’s debt.

Westmoreland also intends to sell some of its noncore assets, which include the Absaloka and Savage mines in Montana; the Beulah mine in North Dakota; the Buckingham mine in Ohio; the Haystack mine in Wyoming; and the Jewett mine in Texas.

Peter Morgan, senior attorney with the Sierra Club focusing on issues related to coal, including bankruptcies, said the company’s bankruptcy is taking “a very different form” than the recent Chapter 11 proceedings of other coal producers, such as Peabody Energy Corp., Alpha Natural Resources Inc. and Arch Coal Inc. While those companies’ restructuring plans helped them shed some debt while continuing normal operations throughout their proceedings, he said, “Westmoreland really seems like it’s just being split up and sold for parts.”

Morgan questioned the value of the company’s core assets — minemouth operations that service coal-fired power plants with units that are scheduled to retire within a decade. Rosebud sells its coal to Colstrip, a plant that will shutter its two older units by 2022 and may close down the remaining two units in 2027. The San Juan mine sells to the San Juan plant, which is slated to retire after its existing coal contract expires in 2022. “When your crown jewels, when your most valuable assets are mines that are inextricably tied to power plants that are in the process of closing,” Morgan said, “that suggests that there’s very little value left in that company.”

More ($): With few potential buyers for its mines, Westmoreland could be ‘sold for parts

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