August 17, 2017
Issue 195  |  View Past Issues
CoalWire

Editor's Note

The shift away from coal continues to gather pace. In Australia, a former coal plant town will host a solar thermal station while India is on track to generate more power from renewables than coal and gas within a decade. In the US, a federal court judge overturned a permit for a mine expansion in Montana, stating that the Office of Surface Mining failed to consider the impact of burning the extra coal on the climate. In Pennsylvania, a state tribunal overturned an underground longwall mining permit due to the serious damage to a stream. In Vietnam, protests against the proposed ocean dumping of sludge from dredging to facilitate a major power station have prompted a government backdown.

In another major grassroots win, the Commonwealth Bank of Australia announced it wouldn’t be financing Adani’s proposed Carmichael coal mine. For its part, Adani has been accused by Indian regulators of tax avoidance and – despite protesting its innocence – is facing potentially serious Department of Revenue sanctions. In Pakistan, the national anti-corruption agency has charged 10 people with being part of a scheme to allow coal allocated for a coal plant to be illegally sold on the open market.

Bob Burton

Features

By train or by ship, coal causes trouble

The derailment of a coal train on the banks of the Clark Fork River in Montana is just the latest in a long list of coal transport accidents highlighting the risks of shipping fossil fuels long distances, writes Bob Burton in EndCoal.

Indonesia at risk of expensive over-commitment to coal

Indonesia’s state power utility, Perusahaan Listrik Negara (PLN), is at risk of locking into expensive long-term power purchase agreements for coal plants far beyond the country’s likely requirements, writes Yulunda Chung from the Institute for Energy Economics & Financial Analysis.

Campaigns

US Court blocks mine expansion for failing to consider climate impacts

A US District Court judge has overturned an Office of Surface Mining (OSM) decision to allow the expansion of Signal Peak Energy’s Bull Mountain coal mine in Montana. The judge found OSM failed to properly assess the public health and environmental impacts of the project and ignored the climate impacts of burning the 160 million tonnes of coal projected to be produced from the mine expansion. The ruling blocks the mine expansion pending further studies being undertaken. (US News & World Report, Western Environmental Law Center)

Top News

Vietnam backtracks on plan to ocean dump dredging sludge: Protests by residents, environmentalists and the fishing industry has prompted Vietnam’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment to rescind approval for the sea dumping of 1 million tonnes of sludge from dredging the harbor adjoining the part-built 6224 MW Vinh Tan plant. An online petition against the proposal gathered support from thousands of people. Binh Thuan provincial government stated the waste material will be used as fill in another bay with an erosion problem. (Radio Free Asia, CoalSwarm)

Court overturns Pennsylvania underground mine permit: The Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board (EHB) has overturned a permit issued in 2015 by the state’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to allow Consol to expand its underground Bailey Mine and “essentially destroy” the Polen Run stream. While the longwall mining panel at issue in the decision has now been completed, the decision is likely to affect two further panels which the state agency is reviewing. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Sierra Club)

Indian Ministry backs major mine expansions without public review: The Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change has approved allowing coal mines to expand by up to 40 per cent in two to three stages without having to be subject to a further public hearing. The EAC approved the change subject to conditions including that the initial mine hearing covered all of the land proposed to be mined. Greenpeace said regional offices have little capacity to monitor compliance with environmental conditions and removing public hearings is “the last nail in the coffin for both environment and the community.” (LiveMint)

Report finds Australia’s coal power standards worse than China’s: An investigation of 10 of Australia’s largest coal plants has found lax pollution standards, poor monitoring and negligible enforcement of licence conditions despite causing an estimated US$2 billion in health impacts. The report found permitted mercury emissions from some plants in New South Wales are 666 times higher than would be allowed in the US and 33 times than the legal limits in China and the European Union. (Sydney Morning Herald, Guardian)

Ten charged over sale of coal allocated for Pakistan power plant: Pakistan’s anti-corruption agency, the National Accountability Bureau, has charged a provincial member of parliament, three government officials and six others over the allocation of a coal block to a textile company for a 200 megawatt (MW) plant. The NAB alleges the company did not build the plant but illegally sold the coal on the open market, with the knowledge of government officials, thereby depriving the government of US$23.7 million in revenue. All those charged have pled not guilty. (Dawn)

China triples solar target as coal cuts confirmed: The National Development and Reform Commission has confirmed that 150,000 MW of new coal plants will be frozen during 13th Five-Year Plan period between 2016 and 2020, with a further 20,000 MW of old plants shut down and other plants upgraded. China recently announced the target of 230,000 MW of installed solar capacity by 2020, up from the 77,000 MW installed by the end of 2016. (Xinhua, RenewEconomy)

News

Australia: Solar thermal plant to replace closed Port Augusta coal plant.

Indonesia: Limited results for coal companies appealing against mining licence cancellations.

South Africa: Regulator orders Eskom to disclose coal data to justify 19.9 per cent price rise bid.

Spain: La Escondida mine in Castilla and Leon region closes as utilities shift to cheaper imported coal.

Taiwan: Coal ship with 80,000 tonnes of coal runs aground on way to Taiwan Power’s Hsinta plant.

US: Safety manager of Kingston coal ash clean up accused of denying workers dust masks and respirators.

US: Delay of North Dakota legal challenge against EPA standards on new power plants welcomed.

US: Trump Administration move to change coal plant wastewater standards unlikely to stall retirements.

Companies + Markets

Commonwealth Bank ducks Adani but still friends with coal: The Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA) will not finance Adani’s proposed Carmichael coal mine, stating that it has not been approached by the company “or will be”. After months of protests at branches of the bank, the announcement was welcomed by environmental groups. However, in its inaugural climate policy released days later, the CBA backtracked from its commitment to keeping global warming at less than 2°C and has left the door open to funding more coal projects. (Sydney Morning Herald, Guardian)

Indian regulator accuses Adani of inflating costs and avoiding tax: The Indian Government’s Directorate of Revenue Intelligence has accused the Adani Group of inflating the cost of equipment purchased via a Dubai-affiliated company as a way of avoiding paying tax in India. The claim against the Adani Group is currently being dealt with by the Department of Revenue’s Adjudicating Authority, suggesting a fine may be imposed or assets seized. The revelations come as Adani is seeking a taxpayer-funded loan of up to US$780 million towards the Carmichael coal mine in Queensland. (Guardian, Directorate of Revenue Intelligence)

Indian audit reveals flawed financing behind stranded plants: The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India has criticised the Power Finance Corporation (PFC) and the Rural Electrification Corporation for breaching internal guidelines and Reserve Bank of India rules in their lending to some power projects. The CAG audit of non-performing loans found the public agencies provided funds to companies which had little experience in the power sector and for projects which were never likely to be viable. The audit notes PFC loaned funds to GVK despite failing to consider that, after allowing for taxes, the project was unviable. (Deccan Chronicle, Comptroller and Auditor General of India)

Indian renewables set to overtake coal by 2027: The Government of India’s Economic Survey 2016-17 estimates that by 2027 renewable energy generation could exceed coal and gas power generation. Morgan Stanley recently noted that, with the price of solar power having already reached grid parity in India, the next two phases of disruption to existing generators will come when the cost of renewables with storage reaches grid parity and with the expiry of current long-term power contracts  which will force generators to compete with renewables. (Energy Infra Post, Morgan Stanley)

Bangladesh pitches for AIIB funding for coal: Bangladesh is pitching for the newly-formed Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) to provide US$1 billion for power projects including the proposed 350 MW Gazaria coal plant. While senior executives with the China-backed AIIB have stated it wants to be “lean, clean and green”, the bank’s power sector lending policy includes loopholes which could be exploited to justify funding coal plants. (Daily Star, CoalSwarm)

Republican coal baron Governor presses Trump for subsidies: West Virginia coal baron and Governor, Jim Justice, has proposed the Department of Homeland Security pay power generators of US$13.6 for each tonne [US$15 per US short ton] of Appalachian coal consumed. He estimates this would cost up to US$4.5 billion a year. Justice, who owns Appalachian coal mines, claims supporting the local coal industry is a matter of national security with President Trump “really interested” in the idea. The Institute for Energy Economics & Financial Analysis estimates the policy could cost as much as US$60 billion over five years if producers from other regions also won subsidies. (Bloomberg, Institute for Energy Economics & Financial Analysis)

Indian coal imports keep falling: In response to slowing demand and increased availability of domestic fuel, imports of thermal coal through India’s 12 largest ports fell by 17.4 per cent between April and July compared to the year before. Meanwhile, the relatively high cost of imported coal has caused Tata to lose US$67 million in the April to June quarter on its 4000 MW Tata Mundra plant. Tata has offered to see a 51 per cent stake in the Mundra plant for 2 US cents to state power utilities which purchase power from the plant. (Economic Times, Livemint)

Resources

Toxic and terminal: How the regulation of coal-fired power stations fails Australian communities, Environmental Justice Australia, August 2017. (Pdf) (Executive summary here, website here.)

This 88-page report provides a detailed assessment of ten of Australia’s remaining coal plants and compares their weak pollution standards with international benchmarks.

Overpaid and Underutilized: How Capacity Payments Could Lock Indonesia Into a High-Cost Electricity Future, Institute for Energy Economics & Financial Analysis, August 2017. (Pdf)

This 33-page report finds Indonesia’s public utility PLN is at risk of contracting to pay up to US$76 billion over the course of 25-year power purchase agreements from coal plants even though the costs of renewables will continue to fall rapidly.