November 2, 2017
Issue 206  |  View Past Issues
CoalWire

Editor's Note

In a new report the United Nations Environment Programme has identified how existing and new coal plants could put the 2 degrees target beyond reach and urges massive expansion of renewables. There are already encouraging signs. Over the last month a series of announcements have signalled a new trend to closing young coal plants, way before the end of their technical life. In Chile, a major copper mining company is looking to source possibly over half its power requirements from solar and wind and cut back on coal power.

How best to cut coal-plant pollution has also been a major topic of debate in several countries over the last week. In India, environmental regulators in the state of Goa have recommended deferring consideration of the proposed expansion of the Mormugao coal port while a detailed assessment of current air pollution is undertaken. In Spain, the government’s exemption of most coal plants from new pollution standards is being challenged in court. In the Netherlands, an assessment of the recent coalition agreement on climate policy has found that more ambitious measures are required, increasing pressure for an even earlier shutdown of coal plants than 2030.

Coal industry scandals keep unfolding. In South Africa, leaked letters have revealed that the lover of the minister responsible for Eskom gained a letter of support from the utility when her company was seeking to buy coal mines. In Argentina, the former Planning Minister has been arrested over his role in possible embezzlement of funds allocated for a coal mine. In Australia, it has been revealed that the mayors of two cities were both given free flights to India by Adani before their councils agreed to fund an airport for the company.

Bob Burton

Features

To close climate goals gap UN says drop coal, ramp up renewables

A new United Nations Environment Programme report argues countries will have to phase out coal and invest in renewable energy even faster than previously expected to avoid the most dangerous impacts of climate change, writes Georgina Gustin in Inside Climate News.

Rejected teenagers: the trend of closing young coal plants

The storyline that only old coal power plants are being closed down is rapidly being superseded as plants in the Netherlands, Italy and the US are being slated for closure when, at best, they will be barely teenagers, writes Bob Burton in EndCoal.

Top News

Indian state urges delay on coal port expansion plan: The Goa State Pollution Control Board has urged the Ministry for Environment, Forest and Climate Change to defer consideration of the proposed expansion of coal terminals at Mormugao Port until an air quality study of the town of Vasco has been completed. JSW and Adani have proposed a major port expansion despite widespread public concern over air pollution from their current operations. (Herald, Financial Express)

Dutch coalition advised climate plan too limited: An assessment of the new Dutch coalition agreement by the Netherlands’ Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL) has found the plan would fall well short of the target of cutting greenhouse gas emissions to be 49 per cent lower than 1990 emissions by 2030. PBL instead found that the new government’s plan might only cut emissions by between 35 and 42 per cent and raised doubts about the viability of plans for carbon capture and storage on industrial plants. (DutchNews.nl)

Legal challenge against Spanish plan for pollution exemptions: The International Institute for Law and the Environment (IIDMA) has filed a legal challenge in the Supreme Court against the decision by Spain’s Council of Ministers exempting 21 coal plants from stricter European Union emissions limits for the January 2016 to June 2020 period. The legal action argues that the Spanish Government did not undertake the necessary environmental assessment even though nine of the plants are within five kilometres of Natura 2000 Sites. IIDMA estimates Spain’s coal plants were responsible for 700 premature deaths in 2014. (IIDMA)

Adani provided free flights for Queensland mayors: Adani paid for the flights to India of the mayors of Townsville and Rockhampton, with both subsequently voting for their respective councils to allocate over US$12 million (A$15.5m) each to build an airstrip for the company’s Carmichael coal project. According to the council minutes, neither mayor disclosed the potential conflict of interest during the discussion on funding the airstrip. Queensland Premier Anastacia Palaszczuk, who called a state election for November 25, has been dogged by protests against Adani’s proposed mine. (ABC News, Guardian)

Ex-MP in prison over Argentinean coal mine scandal: Argentina’s former Minister for Planning and current MP, Julio De Vido, is being held in prison after Congress voted to remove his immunity from prosecution. Prosecutors are investigating De Vido’s role in two cases, one of which is the possible embezzlement of government funds invested in the Rio Turbio coal mine in Patagonia which has never operated as planned. De Vido rejects the prosecutors’ accusations. (BBC, Reuters)

South African Minister embroiled in new Eskom controversy: In late January 2017, Eskom’s chief procurement officer, Edwin Mabelane, offered a general letter of support to Dr Ingrid Tufvesson of San Spirit Energy when the company was seeking to buy the Mooiplaats Colliery. Tufvesson is the lover of the Minister for Public Enterprises, Lynne Brown. Tufvesson said Brown had nothing to do with her business affairs while a spokesman for Brown said she received no benefit from any transactions. However, Brown declined to respond to questions on whether she was aware of Tufvesson’s efforts to secure a coal offtake agreement with Eskom. (amaBhungane & Scorpio)

India’s water standards weakened to suit new coal plants: The Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change has weakened mandatory water consumption limits to allow 18 new coal plants to increase water use by up to 20 per cent. The plants are already in breach of new air pollution standards. Under the revised regulation new coal plants can consume three cubic metres of water per megawatt hour (MWh) compared to the original standard of 2.5 cubic metres per MW/h. If the 50,000 megawatt (MW) of part-built and other plants slated to be completed by 2022 complied with the original standard, enough water to irrigate 35,000 hectares of land a year would have been saved. (Scroll)

 “Avoiding new coal-fired power plants and accelerated phasing out of existing plants — ensuring careful handling of issues such as employment, investor interests and grid stability — would help [achieve the Paris Agreement climate goals],”

states the United National Environment Program.

News

India: Lancet Commission estimates over 80,000 deaths a year in India attributable to coal-plant air pollution.

Myanmar: Ex-MP argues memorandum of understanding between Kayin state and Thai construction company for a 1280 MW plant is illegal.

Philippines: Rally urges Cebu City council to reject permit for proposed Sawang Calero plant.

Poland: Environmentalists describe the Polish Government’s legal challenge against new European Union coal pollution limits as “irresponsible”.

Tanzania: Environmental clearance granted for Kibo Mining’s proposed Mbeya mine and 300 MW mine-mouth plant.

US: Trump plans to redraw boundaries of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, world famous for dinosaur fossils, to allow coal mining.

US: St Louis, hometown of Peabody Energy and Arch Coal, votes unanimously for 100 per cent renewables by 2035.

“Australia is helping Mr. Adani get what he wants, but it’s the opposite of what Australia, India or the rest of the world needs,”

states an editorial in the New York Times.

Companies + Markets

Chilean mining company looks to renewables to replace coal: Antofagasta, a mining company which operates four copper mines in Chile, is looking to renegotiate electricity contracts for three of its mines to source potentially over 50 per cent of its electricity from wind and solar generation. The mines currently rely on coal power. The company’s fourth mine, the Los Pelambres copper project, currently sources almost 45 per cent of its electricity from a hydro project of which it was originally a minority owner. (Reuters)

Ethics adviser to Norway’s wealth fund eyes cement and steel sectors: The Council on Ethics is considering advising Norway’s US$1 trillion Government Pension Fund to expand the scope of its climate policy to screen investments in more greenhouse-gas-intensive sectors such the cement industry and possibly even the steel industry. The cement and steel industries are major consumers of coal. The fund, which makes the final decision on changes to its screening criteria, has previously excluded investments in some coal mining and power companies due to their climate impacts and involvement in controversial projects. (Bloomberg)

US$237 billion at risk in speculative China power projects: Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) estimates over 120,000 MW of new coal plants are still under construction even though it considers all the projects are “highly risky investments that will under-perform.” Together with 195,000 MW of projects that have been cancelled since 2016 and another 100,000 MW of projects seeking approval, BNEF estimates up to US$237 billion is at risk. (Bloomberg New Energy Finance)

Indian official dismisses Adani fraud complaint allegations: A senior Indian customs official has reportedly rejected a Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) allegation that the Adani Group defrauded the Indian Government by over-invoicing on equipment supplies to transfer funds to Dubai, an overseas tax haven. KVS Singh, who adjudicates DRI complaints, reportedly decided that while Vinod Adani is involved with both the Dubai company and the Adani Group, the transactions were fair. A case before the Delhi High Court is seeking a court-appointed investigation into all fraud claims against Adani and other energy companies. (Guardian, Indian Express)

Philippines utility pressing for go-ahead for three new plants: Meralco is pressing the Philippines Energy Regulatory Commission to quickly approve three new power purchase agreements (PPAs) with its parent company, the Manila Electric Company. While the company is claiming it needs a quick resolution on the 3000 MW of coal projects, the PPAs are highly controversial as they are estimated to be far more expensive than power from solar projects. A private company, Solar Philippines, has offered to supply Meralco with solar power for about one-third less than the proposed coal projects. (The Standard)

Global steel industry overcapacity remain persists: While China plans to close steel mills with a further 50 million tonnes of capacity, the OECD estimated last year over 737 million tonnes is currently surplus capacity. Last year global steel production last year amounted to 1.67 billion tonnes. To the detriment of other global steel producers, Chinese overcapacity led to a boom in low-cost exports to the global market earlier this decade. With recent cuts to Chinese production and the imposition of provincial pollution reduction targets, metallurgical coal prices in the seaborne market have fallen. (Financial Times, Platts)

Legal hurdles remain for US coal port despite court ruling: A judge of Washington State Superior Court has ruled that the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) improperly denied an application by Millennium Bulk Terminals for a sublease to operate a new coal export dock on the Columbia River. Judge Stephen Warning did not grant the sublease, but the ruling requires DNR to reconsider the lease application. However, even if the sublease is granted, Millennium faces an uphill battle after the Washington Ecology Department recently rejected its application for a water permit. (Seattle Times, Billings Gazette)

Resources

The Emissions Gap Report 2017 – Bridging the gap – Phasing out coal, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), October 2017. (Pdf)

This 10-page chapter from the UNEP report provides a concise overview of the need to phase out coal power, some of the policy challenges and pathways to ease the transition to low-carbon alternatives.

China’s Renewables Curtailment and Coal Assets Risk Map, Bloomberg New Energy Finance, October 2017. (Pdf) (Executive Summary here.)

This 73-page report examines in detail the provinces where coal plants are most at risk of failing financially and the regions where renewables are most at risk of being curtailed.