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Louisville, Kentucky — American Electric Power is laying off about a third of the workforce at its Cook Coal Terminal on the Ohio River near Metropolis, Illinois, blaming a decline in coal coming through the facility, an AEP spokeswoman said Monday.

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The Columbus, Ohio-based company plans to furlough 22 of Cook's 69 employees, with the reductions taking place around November 3, Melissa McHenry said in an email.

Cook has a capacity of 15 million st/year of coal and has handled as much as 18 million st in peak years, she said. However, "the volume of product coming through the terminal has declined dramatically over the past few years, and we do not see volumes increasing in the foreseeable future," he said.

McHenry did not elaborate, but said AEP has no plans to close the terminal at this time.

Article Continues below...

"We are still transloading coal through the terminal, just less than we have in the past," she said.

At Cook, coal trains from the low-sulfur Powder River Basin and other areas are transloaded onto barges for a river journey to power plants, including some owned and operated by AEP. The 2,600-MW Rockport baseload plant in Spencer County, Indiana, has relied heavily on PRB coal since its twin 1,300-MW units went into commercial operation in the 1980s. Rockport is operated by Indiana Michigan Power, an AEP subsidiary.

AEP in November completed the sale of its commercial barge transportation subsidiary, AEP River Operations LLC, to American Commercial Lines for $550 million. ACL is owned by Platinum Equity, a global investment firm. AEP River Operations, based in Chesterfield, Missouri, had 56 towboats, 2,301 barges and 1,090 employees.

AEP recently disclosed its regulated power plants burned 13.6 million st in the first half of 2016, a 30% drop from 19.3 million st a year earlier. The company cited mild winter weather and low natural gas prices for the decrease.

In early 2016, AEP projected it would burn approximately 33 million st of thermal coal this year at its 11 regulated plants in Ohio, Indiana, Virginia and West Virginia. The regulated plants burned 37.3 million st in 2015, 41 million st in 2014 and 51.1 million st in 2013.

Although AEP does not release coal burn figures for its Ohio merchant plants, they are believed to have consumed about 10 million st in 2015.

--Bob Matyi,

--Edited by Jason Lindquist,