If New York Life Insurance is known as the “quiet” company in that business genre, Solar Sources probably occupies a similar niche in the U.S. coal industry.
It is a tried-and-true formula that has worked well for the Indianapolis-based company started by Bowman’s father, Felson Bowman, several decades ago. And while some similarly sized coal companies have fallen by the wayside or harbor ambitions of significant growth in a tough coal market, Solar hunkers down and turns out the coal.
Just two months into 2015, Solar already had committed sales for all of its projected production of up to 2.5 million tons this year. While that amount would not make Peabody Energy or even Alliance Resource Partners blink, it represents reliably stable output, if not a slight increase, compared to its roughly 2 million tons of production in 2014.
Currently, Solar operates just two surface mines in southern Indiana — Shamrock in Dubois County and Antioch in Daviess County.
For now, the company is not planning to open a long-proposed underground steam coal mine, Charger, in Pike County, Indiana. A few years ago, prior to the current coal market downturn, Charger was envisioned as a moderately sized continuous miner operation, producing at least 1 million tons a year.
Solar still would like to reopen the long-idled Cannelburg surface mine in Daviess County, but is awaiting the proper “market signals” first.
Fred Bowman said Solar is not opposed to internal growth or, for that matter, exporting coal overseas. “We’ll expand with the market, but that’s not what’s happening right now,” he said.
What’s happening now at Solar is the company continues to go about its business in a workman-like manner, while not calling a lot of attention to itself.