GILLETTE — It was a cold December morning, and Cody Nehl stood in a lot off of Little Powder River Road, waiting for a customer. A large pile of stoker coal was stored in the back of a truck, ready to be sold.
After a few minutes, another truck pulled up and drove onto a scale. Nehl powered up a conveyor belt, which transported the coal and dumped it into the bed of the truck. The coal would be used to heat someone’s house and shop north of town.
That day, Nehl, operations manager for GMHR LLC in Gillette, completed his first sale of stoker coal, and he hopes it’s just the first of many to come.
GMHR, which stands for Gascoyne Materials Handling and Recycling, has opened a coal retail and sales operation in Gillette. It deals with the coal, rail and oil industries, as well as other areas.
Bill Dahlin, a Sheridan businessman and co-president of GMHR, said this will be the company’s third coal sales outlet, joining locations in Minnesota and North Dakota.
It offers stoker coal, both non-treated and oil treated. Lump coal will be available at a later date.
In generations past, it was common to heat houses and buildings with coal, Dahlin said, and even though most homes have moved to another source of heat, some people still use coal to heat their homes, shops and small businesses, he said.
Dahlin said there are several hundred thousands of tons of available to market in the region, which includes Wyoming, North and South Dakota and Montana. And he saw a need in Campbell County.
Even in Gillette, Wyoming, ground zero for the nation’s largest and most productive coal mines, individuals here had trouble finding coal to burn.
“There are still a lot of people that travel out of town to find coal,” Nehl said.
But now they won’t have to.
Located north of Gillette at 3301 Little Powder River Road, GMHR is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. For more information, call 605-695-0880.
The coal comes from Wyodak mine, which has been “fantastic to deal with,” Dahlin said.
Nehl said he already has been getting a lot of calls from potential customers about pricing and quantities.
The operation can only handle smaller orders right now, Nehl said, but he hopes to be operating at full capacity at the start of the new year. He’s working on putting up a silo to increase his storage capacity. Then, he’ll be able to fill large orders.
“We’re not to full throttle yet, but we will be shortly,” Dahlin said.
Both Dahlin and Nehl believe coal has a big part to play in the energy picture. It already makes up a large piece of the puzzle, and “I don’t see that changing in my lifetime,” Nehl said.
The future of coal is uncertain, to say the least, and even with coal production and consumption declining, Dahlin believes the drop will stop at some point.
“Coal has gone down, there’s no question about that, and it’s unfortunate, but I think it’ll stabilize at some point and have a place,” Dahlin said.
“Coal is just a good, reliable source of energy, and something that needs to continue for the foreseeable future,” he added. “There’s nothing that’s going to go out there and take its place in an economical way.”
“There are good renewable sources, but it takes a lot of coal to (make them possible),” Nehl said.
Dahlin doesn’t know when coal will stabilize, and said there are a lot of elements that play into this.
“That depends on the political atmosphere, it depends on technology, and I wish I could say it was starting to happen now, but there’s a lot to it that’s evolving,” he said.
Until then, everyone in the industry should be united, not divided, he said.
“The entire coal industry should work together to support coal, not be in a situation trying to undercut each other,” Dahlin said.
As to why he opened a location in Gillette, he said it presents a lot of opportunity and he enjoys doing business here.
“It’s the energy capital of the world, and it’s a great location,” he said. “Gillette has very good people, an outstanding location to do business and we’ll make the best of it.”