August 31, 2017
Issue 197  |  View Past Issues
CoalWire

Editor's Note

This week saw thousands turning out to protest against Germany’s continued heavy reliance on coal power and associated mining. In China, public alarm over air pollution has pushed the government to announce new cleaner air targets. In Russia, President Putin – who was jolted into action by a phone in call from a schoolboy – has been talking up measures to cut coal dust pollution at coal ports such as Murmansk. In Thailand, the military-backed government has so far been unresponsive to a sit-in protest by villagers opposing the proposed Thepa coal plant.

In India, commercial upheavals continue over past corporate and government actions. A recent audit report highlighted how one 3600 megawatt (MW) coal plant partly funded by two public agencies was doomed to fail from the outset. The Punjab Government has announced an audit of past deals with private power generators by the publicly-owned utility. A Gujarat Government attempt to lure stranded power projects into action with the offer of a guaranteed coal supply attracted no interest. Meanwhile, Adani has been trying to block India’s customs agency from accessing records relating to its Indonesian coal imports.

Bob Burton

Features

How to get rid of the coal dust choking Murmansk? Call Putin!

President Vladimir Putin recently highlighted new measures to combat coal dust pollution at Murmansk port as evidence that “ecological problems are becoming sharper” over port management practices, writes Charles Digges in Bellona.

Indian Auditor-General finds public banks have US$1.8 billion at risk on dud coal plants

A damning audit report by India’s Comptroller and Auditor General reveals two of India’s leading public sector banks are at risk of losing US$1.8 billion on coal plants doomed to failure from the outset, writes Bob Burton in EndCoal.

Will Utah trade a dinosaur wonder for a coal mine?

While the coal industry is hoping the Trump Administration will reduce the size of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah, local businesses have boomed as the area has become a dinosaur fossil tourism attraction, writes Heidi McIntosh from Earthjustice in the Salt Lake Tribune.

Top News

New Chinese air pollution targets to hit coal plants: The Ministry of Environmental Protection has unveiled a “battleplan” to cut PM 2.5 air pollution between October 2017 and March 2018 by 15 per cent compared to the year before. The new target will apply to Beijing and 27 other cities in Hebei, Shanxi, Shandong and Henan provinces. Achieving the target will require cuts to steel production, coal power generation and pollution control upgrades on many of the coal plants intending to operate during winter. (Reuters)

Mass protests against coal in Germany: An estimated 6000 people participated in protests against RWE’s three huge lignite mines and four power plants near Cologne. One group of protestors occupied the rail line used to supply lignite to the Neurath plant. Another group formed a 3000-strong circle around the Hambach mine, which is expanding into a forested area. Consideration of a coal phase-out has been deferred by the centre-right Merkel Government until after the September 24 general election. (Deutsche Welle, Deutsche Welle)

Villagers vow to renew protest against Thai plant: Villagers have vowed to renew their sit-in protest in Bangkok against the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment’s approval of the Environmental and Health Impact Assessment (EHIA) for the proposed 2200 MW Thepa coal plant. The proposed plant in the country’s south would require the demolition of 250 houses, three mosques, a Bhuddist temple, an Islamic school as well as relocation of a cemetery. The villagers fear the proposed plant will further destabilise the region, which has long been wracked by violence between several insurgent groups and the Thai military. (Bangkok Post, The Nation)

Bangladesh teachers arrested over coal exam question: Thirteen Bangladeshi teachers have been charged with sedition over a high school exam paper which favourably referred to an opposition political leader involved in the March 2016 mass protest against the construction of the Chinese-backed 660 MW Banshkhali plant. The teachers, who were remanded in custody by the Banshkhali court, could face life imprisonment if convicted. (The Express Tribune)

Colorado utility to retire two coal plants: Xcel Energy will retire two 1970s-era coal-fired generating units totaling 778 MW at the Comanche Generating Station under an agreement with environmental groups, consumer advocates, and independent power producers. The retirements are scheduled for the end of 2022 and 2025. A third unit, built in 2010, will continue to operate. The retired capacity will be replaced by a combination of natural gas as well as by planned investments of US$2.5 billion in new renewable sources. Expected retirement of tax credits for solar and wind power accelerated the timing of the retirements, according to one environmental advocate. (The Denver Post)

News

Australia: Adani appeals against US$10,211 fine over breach of coal port pollution limits.

China: Ban on coal trade with North Korea spurs import spike from Mongolia.

India: Inspection reveals uncovered coal stockpiles and missing screen sections at Adani operated terminal in Goa.

India: Ballari Thermal Power Station in Karnataka restarts after a month offline without water.

US: South Carolina utility Santee Cooper sued for charging customers for part-built coal plant.

US: Department of Energy allocates US$50 million for two large-scale pilots for “transformational coal technologies.”

Vietnam: Indonesian engineering consultancy signs MOU to build new coal port in unnamed southern province.

Companies + Markets

Adani seeks to block Singapore access to records: A Singapore-based subsidiary of Adani applied to the Singapore High Court to overturn a lower court decision allowing India’s Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) to access documents relating to the company’s Indonesian coal imports. The court challenge was scheduled for September 21 but subsequently Adani did not respond to requests for comment. In a separate development, a DRI officer controversially dismissed allegations against Adani over the possible over-invoicing of business costs to related parties outside India. Another DRI case against Adani is continuing. (Indian Express, The Wire)
 

Indian utility faces audit over power deals: The recently elected Punjab state government has ordered an audit covering the last five years of operations at the state-owned Punjab State Power Corporation (PSPCL). Among other alleged irregularities, the audit aims to investigate allegations of excessive payments for Power Purchase Agreements with private power generators. The engineers union has also complained that substantial losses were incurred because of a PSPCL decision to buy coal from Adani rather than from the utility’s own mine. (Hindustan Times)

Gupta’s South African asset sale sparks questions: As a parliamentary committee moves to launch an investigation into “state capture,” sparked in large part by coal deals between the controversial Gupta family and Eskom, questions have been raised about the reported sale of Tegeta Resources and Exploration to the Swiss company Charles King SA. The reported owner of Charles King SA is Amin Al Zarooni, who has previously established new corporate entities for Gupta family members, according to leaked emails. (Daily Maverick, Bloomberg)

US grid study pins coal plant closures on gas: A US Department of Energy study into grid reliability, requested by Energy Secretary Rick Perry, has largely attributed the closure of coal and nuclear plants to the rapid expansion in the fleet of gas plants. Falling demand, the growth of renewables and new power plant regulations were identified as secondary factors. Responses to the study varied, with pro-coal trade groups claiming it supported the need for subsidising baseload resources such as coal and nuclear plants, and pro-renewables groups claiming that in a modernizing system with higher levels of renewables public policy should shift toward resources with more flexible dispatch characteristics. (SNL, Bloomberg, Greentech Media)

China creates mega coal and power company: The Chinese Government’s State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission has approved the merger of Shenhua, the country’s largest coal mining company, with China Guodian, its largest power generator. The new merged entity will have 225,000 MW of generation capacity, with 77 per cent being coal plants. The government is planning more mergers in a bid to cut overcapacity in the power sector. (Bloomberg, Bloomberg)

Indian reverse auction for coal power attracts no bids: A reverse auction by the Gujurat Government failed to attract any bidders for the supply of 1000 MW of coal power from private power generators in return for guaranteed coal supply. The auction was aimed at ensuring the commissioning of stranded assets. In return for guaranteed coal supply, bidders were required to sell power for 2.82 rupees (four US cents) per unit or less. The Association of Power Producers, a lobby group for private power generators, insists the power supply price needs to be higher. (Business Standard, Economic Times)

Resources

The A Files: A Repository of Information on the Adani Group of Companies, August 2017.

A new website established by renowned Indian journalist Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, the former Editor of the Economic and Political Weekly, is archiving key stories and documents relating to the business affairs of the Adani group of companies.

“Coal in decline: an energy industry on life support,” Guardian, August 24, 2017. (Part two in the series is here.)

This two-part series investigates the expected decline of coal power in Australia and the uncertain prospects for Australian coal exports.