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Goldman Sachs Withdrawal Signals Dim Outlook for US Coal Export Proposals
WASHINGTON - January 9 - The proposal to build the largest coal export terminal in North America lost its investment from Goldman Sachs, as the Wall Street giant's Infrastructure Partners subsidiary sold its investment in Carrix, the company behind the Gateway Pacific terminal proposal near Bellingham, Washington. Goldman Sachs had been urged to quit this coal export proposal by the Rainforest Action Network and thousands of citizens, and its departure is the latest signal of diminishing confidence in the US coal industry's efforts to expand exports to Asian markets.
"The combination of unprecedented public opposition and a shrinking seaborne coal market is proving too risky for financial players like Goldman Sachs. The US coal industry is struggling, and the smart money is getting out of coal exports," said Greenpeace climate and energy campaigner Kelly Mitchell.
Three of the six originally proposed coal export terminals in Washington and Oregon have been cancelled or tabled amid falling global coal prices and uncertain Chinese demand, as well as determined opposition throughout the region. The International Energy Agency's annual outlook for the global coal industry, released last month, highlighted this dim outlook for US coal export proposals:
"Uncertainties surrounding future demand in China and actions by environmental and anti-coal groups will also hamper the growth of US coal exports, despite the existence of promising low-cost production areas, including the Illinois and Powder River basins."
Goldman Sachs' own analysts published a report in July 2013, "The window for thermal coal investment is closing," which stated, "We believe that thermal coal’s current position atop the fuel mix for global power generation will be gradually eroded by the following structural trends: 1) environmental regulations that discourage coal-fired generation, 2) strong competition from gas and renewable energy and 3) improvements in energy efficiency." Similar reports about the declining outlook for the global seaborne coal market have been published by Citi, Deutsche Bank, and more.
The two proposed coal export terminals along the Columbia River have also faced financial and political setbacks in recent months. Investors in Ambre Energy, the lead backer of the proposed Millennium Bulk and Morrow Pacific Terminals, recently approved a deal that would allow the private equity firm Resource Capital Funds (RCF) to take majority interest in the company. An independent auditor described the deal as "not fair" but reasonable, given the risk of insolvency if Ambre refused the deal and RCF demanded repayment of its $110 million loan. In its much-delayed 2012 annual report, Ambre Energy revealed losses of $30 million since its previous financial statement, prompting an auditors warning that "there exists a material uncertainty whether Ambre Energy Limited would be able to continue as a going concern."