February 2, 2017
Issue #168  |  View Past Issues
CoalWire

Editor's Note

Not everything revolves around Trump. Ireland’s Parliament has voted for its US$9 billion Ireland Strategic Investment Fund to exit all fossil fuel investments. In Alaska an agreement to retire coal mining rights has been achieved, in part through selling the carbon rights via California’s carbon trading scheme.

While President Trump’s appointments and announcements are aimed at boosting fossil fuels, the Brookings Institution argues automation will continue to erode US coal jobs. Energy consultancy Wood Mackenzie believes coal power’s poor economics will result in declining demand, while two more US coal plants were announced this week for retirement.

On a global scale even BP, long known as a fossil fuel promoter, finally sees coal’s days as numbered. Meanwhile, in South Africa and Australia coal mines and power stations continue to be promoted even though renewables are now the cheaper option.

Bob Burton

Features

Opposition to Makhado mine reflects broader debate over South Africa's energy policy

Opposition to the proposed Makhado coal mine in South Africa by a coalition of local farmers, villagers, big agricultural businessmen and activists is symptomatic of a broader debate over South Africa’s energy and development policies, writes Jason Burke in the Guardian.

Increased automation guarantees a bleak outlook for Trump’s promises to coal miners

President Trump has made empty promises to make the coal industry great again, vowing to reverse decades of the industry’s downward employment trajectory, write Devashree Saha and Sifan Liu in The Brooking Institution.

Campaigns

Irish parliament votes to divest from fossil fuels

Ireland’s Parliament has voted 90 to 53 in support of the US$9 billion Ireland Strategic Investment Fund divesting from all coal, oil and gas shareholdings within five years. Despite the vote, the bill can only become law after being reviewed by the Government’s financial committee. (Climate Home, RT)

Two US coal plants set to retire in 2018

AES subsidiary Dayton Power and Light has announced plans to retire two of its coal plants in Ohio by 2018: Stuart and Killen, with a nameplate capacity of over 3,000 megawatts (MW) combined. In addition, the company said it plans to develop at least 300 MW of solar and wind energy projects in Ohio by 2022, as well as provide funds for energy efficiency and a clean power transition. (Dayton Daily News, Sierra Club)

Rights to Alaskan coal field retired

New Forests has bought 25,000 hectares of coal mining rights to most of the Bering River Coal Field in the Carbon Mountains region to enable them to be retired as part of a carbon offsets agreement. New Forests will transfer the coal rights it bought from Chugach Alaska Corporation to The Nature Conservancy and the local Native Conservancy land trust and sell the rights through California’s cap-and-trade carbon market. The coal field lies on the edge of Alaska’s Copper River Delta, which is the largest contiguous wetlands and rainforests on the Pacific Coast of North America. (The Cordova Times)

Top News

BP concedes decline of coal demand: BP’s annual Energy Outlook, produced by the global oil and gas company, has for the first time estimated coal demand peaking and then declining, which it considers will occur in the 2025-2030 period. While global coal use fell in 2015, BP estimates it will continue to grow over the next decade. Previous versions of the company’s outlook have repeatedly downgraded future coal use and underestimated the growth of renewables. (Carbon Brief)

Trump appoints ex-coal lobbyist to enforce environmental crimes: Jeffery H. Wood, who was until recently a lobbyist for the power utility Southern Company, has been appointed by the Trump Administration as Acting Assistant Attorney General of the Environment and Natural Resources Division, which is responsible for prosecuting environmental pollution crimes. In the past the division has taken action against coal companies and utilities, including against Duke Energy over the 2015 Dan River coal ash pollution disaster. Southern Company is developing the Kemper CCS plant in Mississippi. (The Intercept)

Indian court directs further inquiries into former agency head: Ranjit Sinha, the former head of the India’s anti-corruption agency the Central Bureau of Investigation, has reportedly admitted to having meetings at his private residence with coal company executives under investigation as part of the ‘CoalGate’ inquiries. While Sinha insisted there was no connection with the closure of the cases, the Supreme Court has ordered a further investigation of allegations that cases were closed as a result of the meetings. (Hindustan Times, Hindustan Times)

Bangladesh police suppress coal plant protest: Police used water cannons, rubber bullets and tear gas in a bid to prevent 200 people protesting on the streets of Dhaka against the proposed 1,320-megawatt (MW) coal plant near the Sundarbans World Heritage site. Local campaigners said 50 protesters were injured in the police crackdown on the protest. (Reuters, Dawn)

"For some time now, in various high-level meetings, the coal ministry and Coal India officials have been saying that coal will die in India in the coming 10 to 15 years," 

said secretary of the All India Coal Workers Federation Manas Kumar Chatterjee, in response to an unpublished report by Coal India that sees a steep decline in domestic coal demand due to the increased cost of extraction and growth in renewable energy capacity.

US Republicans to undo stream protection rule: The US House of Representatives plan to kill regulations passed in December that tightened the protection and reclamation of streams impacted by coal mining and pollution. The repeal would be under the 1996 Congressional Review Act, which requires only a majority vote and is immune to filibuster by Democrats. It is planned for a vote this week and would then move to the Senate, in what Republicans say is the first of many planned votes against coal regulations passed under former President Obama. (ABC, Vox)

News

Australia: Hazelwood coal plant to be replaced with solar farms, according to owner Engie.

Bangladesh: Concerns grow over delay in salvaging sunken coal ship.

China: Coal imports from North Korea grew despite UN sanctions.

China: China Guodian to boost investment in renewables and cut spending on coal plants.

Germany: Deutsche Bank will halt financing for new greenfield thermal coal mining and coal plants.

Japan: KEPCO cancels plan to convert 1,200-megawatt oil plant to coal in Hyogo Prefecture, citing declining power demand.

Mongolia: Consortium including GE promotes plan for new coal-to-oil plant.

US: Companies of Jim Justice, coal baron elected as West Virginia Governor, owe US$4.6 million in fines.

US: Class action lawsuit alleges Southern Company misled investors over Kemper CCS plant progress.

Companies + Markets

WoodMac doubts Trump coal jobs plan: Energy industry consultancy Wood Mackenzie has concluded there is “nothing” in President Trump’s energy policies “that will dramatically change the future for coal.” The consultancy considers US coal will continue to lose market share to renewables and gas, with the only possible positive factors for coal being the mid-term impact of the axing of the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan and the possibility of a global deployment of Carbon Capture and Storage. (Wood Mackenzie)

World Bank loan scheme undermining clean energy: The World Bank’s Development Policy Finance program, intended to support low-carbon development, has in fact supported the development of coal power plants and infrastructure in Indonesia, Egypt and Mozambique, according to a Bank Information Center (BIC) report. The BIC reviewed World Bank operations between 2007 to 2016 and found support for four coal plants and three coal railways in Indonesia, new coal plants in Egypt, and four coal plants, three coal ports and two coal railways in Mozambique. (BBC, Bank Information Center)

Australian coal lobby’s power plan twice the cost of renewables: The construction of new ultra-supercritical coal plants – as advocated by the Australian coal lobby and federal government ministers – would cost twice as much as renewables, according to the University of Melbourne. Federal Minister for Resources Matthew Canavan claimed new coal plants could cut power emissions by 27 per cent compared to current levels. However, Dylan McConnell from the University of Melbourne estimates the new coal plants would cost US$62 billion, while for the same cost solar and wind capacity would cut emissions by 65 per cent. (Guardian)

In 2015 China boosted imports from North Korea and Mongolia: The dramatic 2015 price increase of metallurgical coal driven by Chinese production restrictions triggered a sharp spike in imports from Mongolia and North Korea. China has vowed to honour a UN limit of 7.5 million tonnes in imports from North Korea, pitting Mongolian suppliers – which are reliant on trucking coal long distances to rail heads – against Australian suppliers to the seaborne market. (Reuters)

“We [South Africa] have to decide if we stay in the old business-as-usual world of coal and nuclear, or the new world of renewables. We are now at a tipping point here in South Africa. The cheapest way to create new power here is wind, solar, and what I call flexibility, which includes lots of approaches ranging from natural gas–fired power stations through to demand reduction,”

said Tobias Bischof-Niemz, head of South Africa’s Council for Scientific and Industrial Research.

Whistleblower claims Origin Energy deliberately ignored coal seam gas leaks: According to claims filed in Australia’s federal court by Origin Energy’s former senior manager Sally McDow, the company knowingly ignored leaking coal seam gas wells for more than a decade. McDow alleges Origin had a deliberate policy not to comply with mandatory regulations, calculating it would be cheaper to pay fines if imposed. The new allegations have led to calls for a complete overhaul of self-regulation in coal seam gas wells. (Guardian)

Resources

World Bank Development Policy Finance Props Up Fossil Fuels and Exacerbates Climate Change: Findings from Peru, Indonesia, Egypt, and Mozambique, Bank Information Center (BIC), January 2017. (Pdf) (This report includes three coal-related case studies on Egypt, Indonesia and Mozambique.)

BIC’s report finds the World Bank’s Development Policy Finance has been poorly designed and in several instances introduced new subsidies for coal projects including in Egypt, Indonesia and Mozambique. The World Bank’s responses on the Egyptian case study and BIC’s response is here.

Blazing Saddles: Coal miners are galloping out of bankruptcy; will taxpayers be left behind?, Carbon Tracker, January 2017.

This 36-page report reviews the background of the US Department of Interior’s ‘self-bonding’ program and argues Peabody Energy has sufficient capacity to cover its rehabilitation bonds with commercial reclamation bonds.

"What Trump Can and Can’t Do to Dismantle Obama’s Climate Rules", New York Times, January 26, 2016.

This article provides a concise overview of the key Obama Administration coal and climate policy areas the Trump Administration is likely to target and the challenges it is likely to face.