May 11, 2017
Issue 182  |  View Past Issues
CoalWire

Editor's Note

In France and South Korea new presidents committed to cutting coal use have been elected. In Europe the major utility Enel has confirmed it has dropped imports of Colombian “blood coal,” and in New Zealand a small proposed mine has been scrapped.

In India the Gujarat government has dropped a proposed 4000 megawatt (MW) coal plant, preferring to add new renewable energy capacity instead. The results of the latest solar power auction in India underscore the speed of the shift: the winning bid was four US cents a kilowatt hour, on par with existing coal-fired generation. Even new coal plants in India are facing big problems. The leading Indian ratings agency, IRR, has warned falling utilisation rates at over 45,000 MW of coal plants are likely to result in loan defaults by private power utilities.

As renowned US investor Warren Buffett told Berkshire Hathaway shareholders at the company’s annual general meeting on the weekend, “If you're tied to coal, then you’ve got problems.”

Bob Burton

Campaigns

Enel cans Colombian “blood coal” imports

Franceso Starace, CEO of the major Italian power utility Enel, told the company’s annual general meeting that it had stopped importing coal from Colombian coal exporters Drummond and Glencore’s Prodeco on the grounds of climate impacts and human rights concerns. The company also confirmed the 1050 MW Teruel and 1200 MW Compostilla plants in Spain will be closed by June 2020, with Starace stating the Enel group would no longer have coal plants within 10 to 15 years. (Re:Common [Italian], Economia [Spanish])

New Zealand coal company drops plan for a new mine

A small New Zealand mining company, Mokau South Resources, has withdrawn its permit application for the proposed Panirau Plateau coal mine at the head of a major water catchment. Coal Action Aotearoa, Waikato Climate Action and Climate Justice Taranaki, which organised submissions objecting to the project, argued the company’s environmental assessment was inadequate and local Maori groups had not been consulted. (Coal Action Network Aotearoa)

Top News

New French President to pursue coal phase-out: In his victory speech France’s President-elect Emmanuel Macron vowed France would “respect” the international commitments made in the “fight against global warming.” During the campaign Macron stated he would work to phase out France’s four coal plants by 2022 and increase the carbon price to US$109 a tonne (€100) by 2030. However, Macron’s recently formed party has no current members in the 577-seat lower house of Parliament, with polling indicating it may fall short of having a majority after the June parliamentary elections. (Climate Home, Business Green)

New South Korean President plans coal crackdown: Moon Jae-in has been elected President of South Korea, in part on a platform of reducing coal plant use to cut worsening air pollution. During the campaign Moon Jae-in pledged to phase out ten old coal plants, idle during April and May when fine particle pollution is worst. He also pledged to block the completion of nine plants where construction is less than 10 per cent complete, and to boost renewable capacity from two per cent to 20 per cent by 2020. According to the Global Coal Plant Tracker, as of January 2017 South Korea had 8760 MW of proposed coal plants and a further 5917 MW under construction. (Bloomberg, Platts)

Another Indian Ultra Mega Power Plant proposal canned: Eight years after proposing the construction of a 4000 MW Ultra Mega Power Project based on imported coal the government of Gujarat scrapped the plan and announced it would pursue the development of renewables capacity instead. (SmartInvestor.In, CoalSwarm)

US EPA director vows to help coal industry: US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) senior policy adviser Mandy Gunasekara told a US coal industry conference, “I’m here to talk to you to make sure what we’re doing in DC is beneficial for you … If it’s not working, I want to hear about it so that we can work it out.” Gunasekara complained of the legal and technical sophistication of NGO groups such as the Sierra Club, stating the Trump Administration is aiming to ensure EPA actions are beyond legal challenge. (SNL, ThinkProgress)

Massive death toll if Myanmar builds new coal plants: The construction of 10 proposed coal plants in Myanmar could lead to the premature deaths of 280,000 people over the 40 year life of the units, according to a new study by Greenpeace. While Myanmar already has all of the 10 most polluted cities for particulate emissions in the ASEAN region, the proposed coal plants would increase by sevenfold the country’s sulphur dioxide emissions and triple nitrogen dioxide emissions. (Channel NewsAsia, Greenpeace SE Asia)

Rampal plant in Bangladesh could kill thousands: Greenpeace estimates the construction of the 1320 megawatt (MW) Rampal plant near the Sundarbans World Heritage site would cause over 6000 premature deaths and could render fish from the Bay of Bengal unsafe to eat due to mercury emissions. Bangladesh’s Minister for Energy, Nasrul Hamid, said he had read the report but claimed there is “no risk of air pollution.” Norway’s sovereign wealth fund has dropped its investment in the Indian heavy equipment company BHEL over its role in working on the Rampal plant. (BenarNews, Economic Times)

US coal exports from British Columbia may hinge on election result: In a political upset the Greens look likely to hold the balance of power after winning three seats in the British Columbia provincial election, with the ruling Liberal Party 43 seats short of a majority in the 87-seat legislature. Several seats are very close, with final votes to be tallied May 21–22. Late in the campaign Liberal leader Christy Clark requested the federal government ban US thermal coal exports from British Columbia and later proposed a US$51-per-tonne carbon tax on the over six million tonnes of US coal exported through BC. The BC Greens have stated they oppose the expansion of thermal coal exports. (Globe and Mail, BC Greens)

“If you're tied to coal, then you’ve got problems … If someone walks in with a solar project tomorrow and it takes a billion dollars or three billion dollars, we're ready to do it. The more there is the better,”

said the Chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, Warren Buffett, at the company’s annual general meeting.

News

Australia: WA utility to shut 240 MW Muja AB plant in 2018 despite US$227 million refit commissioned in 2014.

Australia: NSW Environmental Protection Authority says collapse of Clarence Colliery waste dam due to “incompetence.”

India: Indian Premier League cricket player says Delhi air pollution made it “almost impossible to breathe.”

Philippines: Ex-head of military appointed Environment Secretary to dismay of environmentalists, delight of mining industry.

South Africa: Democratic Alliance demands ethics investigation of MP with coal company consultancy.

South Africa:  Eskom backpedals on plan to close five old coal plants, describing it as a “scenario.”

US: Four states sue Trump Administration over decision to overturn federal coal leasing ban.

Zimbabwe: Hwange Colliery pins hope for exports and coal plant supply on restructuring deal.

Companies + Markets

Indian solar price plunge: India’s Minister for Power, Piyush Goyal, announced the winning bid for the 250 MW Bhadla Solar Park in Rajasthan would deliver power at 4.05 US cents per kilowatt hour. The average price of electricity supplied by NTPC—which generates about one-quarter of the country’s power and mostly from coal—is 4.95 US cents per kilowatt hour. It is estimated India will add 8800 MW of new solar capacity over the next year. Over the last year the price of solar power in India has fallen by 32 per cent. (Livemint, Renew Economy)

Indian banks exposed to coal power defaults as utilisation falls: The Indian affiliate of Fitch Ratings agency, India Ratings and Research (IRR), estimates banks are exposed to increasing risk of defaults on US$29 trillion in loans made to private power producers for 45,000 MW of Indian coal plants which are now operating at utilisation rates below 50 per cent. IRR estimates utilisation rates will fall further in 2017–18 due to the commissioning of more coal plants, low power demand growth and the reluctance of distribution utilities to enter into new power purchase agreements. (Economic Times)

Adani’s project would flood global market: A confidential internal report for a NSW coal company estimates Adani’s Carmichael coal mine could trigger a price fall of US$3.80 per tonne resulting in a 11 to 12 million tonne reduction of exports through Newcastle port—the equivalent of the output of a major mine employing 1400 people. While a reduction in exports would cut royalties paid to the NSW Government, the Queensland Government is reportedly negotiating with Adani for no royalties during the early years of the project. The Australia Institute estimates a royalty “holiday” could amount to US$810 million of foregone revenue. (ABC News, Australia Institute)

European subsidies shift from coal mining to old plants: Ten European Union countries paid US$6.9 billion a year in subsidies to coal mining and power plants over the 2005 to 2016 period, according to a report by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI). While subsidies for coal mining are falling, six countries’ member states have introduced support totalling US$954 million a year since 2015, mostly in the form of capacity payments to keep old coal plants online.  (Climate Home, Overseas Development Institute)

Trump Administration ponders lifeline for coal and nukes: The US Secretary of Energy, Rick Perry, told an energy industry conference that due to “the erosion of critical baseload” capacity such as coal plants the Trump Administration may consider intervening in the energy market to protect “the national security of this country.” Perry specifically referred to how current regulations treated “baseload” plants in the dispatch order and how they are compensated. (GTM)

China considers mega-mergers of big utilities and coal producers: The Chinese Government is considering the option of restructuring the publicly owned power sector by merging eight coal and nuclear companies into three companies with combined assets of US$855 billion. The option is being considered as one way to rationalise debt and cut overcapacity, but some analysts fear the creation of market monopolies. Fitch Ratings argues the government’s target of closing 150 million tonnes of coal production capacity in 2017 will be difficult to achieve due to the challenges of redeploying workers and the use by some parent companies of the proceeds of debt-for-equity swaps to support “zombie” mines. (Bloomberg, Fitch Ratings)

Resources

Can Coal Make a Comeback?, Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, April 2017. (Pdf)

This 55-page report attributes the decline of the US coal industry to increased gas production, the rise of renewables, increased energy efficiency and major changes in the global coal market. The report argues that Trump’s policy changes will have little impact, while economic diversification would do more to help coal communities.

Europe’s Coal-Fired Power Plants: Rough Times Ahead: Analysis of the Impact of a New Round of Pollution Controls, Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, May 2017. (Pdf)

This 39-page report assesses the implications of the newly adopted European Union pollution standards and identifies 108 old units that face expensive refits to cut pollution or closure.

CorruptionInCoal, website.

This website provides details on a large sample of scandals involving coal projects around the world.