September 14, 2017
Issue 199  |  View Past Issues
CoalWire

Editor's Note

New coal projects continue to encounter strong headwinds. The announcement by the global reinsurance company SCOR that it won’t reinsure new lignite plants for greenfield thermal coal projects may well herald moves by other insurance companies to also distance themselves from coal. In South Africa, two proposed coal plants face a legal challenge on the grounds climate impacts were not properly considered.

The devastating impact coal has on public health has also been prominent over the last week. In China, a new study has found extreme pollution from the provision of free coal in the north of the country cuts 3.1 years off the life expectancy of residents compared to those in the south of the country. In Vietnam a report on air pollution in two of the country’s major cities reveals international air quality standards are routinely breached, with coal plants one of the contributors. Some of Vietnam’s coal plants are also struggling to cope with the volume of coal ash requiring disposal.

The dramatic cost decline of renewables continues to reshape the prospects for both new and existing coal and gas plants. In the UK, a reverse auction saw the cost of offshore wind plummet by 47% in over two-and-a half years while the US Department of Energy has reported electricity from US utility scale solar fell by 29 per cent in a year. Not all have got the message though. The Australian Government is attempting to bully a major utility to keep open an old coal plant slated to be retired in 2022.

Bob Burton

Features

The war on US coal communities

Over the last 40 years US governments of all political persuasions have launched a war on coal communities which resulted in ruinous damage to streams, forests, wildlife habitat, writes Jack Doyle in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Adani's mine is a black hole for brands

The global engineering company AECOM knew their sustainability credentials were at risk when they decided to partner with Adani on the proposed Carmichael coal mine, writes Julien Vincent from Market Forces in the Sydney Morning Herald.

Campaigns

Reinsurance company backs away from new coal

SCOR, the world’s fourth-largest reinsurance company, has announced it will no longer insure or facilitate re-insurance of “new greenfield thermal coal mines or stand-alone lignite mines or plants.” This effectively rules the company out of support for Adani’s Carmichael mine in Australia and as many as 100 proposed lignite plants in Turkey, Eastern Europe and other countries. However, it added a loophole that it would provide cover “for the benefit of the local community or workers.” SCOR also stated it no longer has investments – or will invest – in companies which earn more than 30 per cent of their income from coal. SCOR’s announcement was welcomed by the Unfriend Coal coalition, which is pressing the insurance industry to completely end its support for coal projects. (SCOR, Unfriend Coal)

Top News

Ex-Alabama MP pleads guilty to accepting coal company bribe: Former Alabama state MP Oliver Robinson has pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy, four counts of fraud, tax evasion and accepting a bribe from a lawyer representing Drummond, a major US coal company. Robinson was paid US$360,000 to oppose US Environmental Protection Agency’s proposals to expand the boundaries of two contaminated sites, a move which could have cost Drummond millions of dollars. Federal prosecutors will seek a reduced penalty at Robinson’s December 8 sentencing hearing if he co-operates with investigators. (AL.com, AL.com)

Legal challenges against two proposed South African plants: The environmental group groundWork, has filed legal challenges against two proposed independent power plants on the grounds that the Minister and the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) authorised the projects without properly considering their climate change impacts. While construction on the proposed 600 megawatt (MW) KiPower plant was originally scheduled to commence in late 2015, work has been delayed by legal challenges. The proposed 300 MW Khanyisa plant is being promoted by Saudi Arabia's ACWA Power. (Center for Environmental Rights)
 

Vietnam’s coal plants face coal ash storage crisis: Some of Vietnam’s 21 existing coal plants are running out of coal ash storage space. The 2300 MW Mong Duong 1 plant in northern Quang Ninh province is likely to run out of storage capacity within eight months, even though the plant was only commissioned in late 2015. The capacity of the waste dump at the 680 MW Cam Pha plant has already been exceeded. While some coal ash in Vietnam is reused in cement and brick production, coal plants in the country’s south are a long way from existing brick and cement plants. (VietnamNet)

Vietnam’s coal polluted air: Air quality in Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital city, exceeded international standards for PM2.5 fine particle pollution on 139 days in the first six months of 2017, according to a report by Green Innovation and Development Center. The worst pollution occurs outside busy traffic hours, suggesting industrial pollution the 20 coal plants operating in the Hanoi region are a significant contributor. Ho Chi Minh City recorded 115 days over the World Health Organisation recommended limits during the January to June 2017 period. A study by the US-based Health Effects Institute estimated Vietnam’s air pollution caused 42,200 premature deaths in 2015. (VnExpress)

In northern China, higher levels of coal pollution shortens lives: A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) found the Chinese Government policy of providing free coal for heating north of the Huai River has caused residents in northern China to live 3.1 years less than people in the south. The study – based on data from 154 cities between 1981 and 2012 – estimates air pollution levels in the north are 46 per cent higher than the south of the country. It also estimates that a 10 micrograms per cubic metre increase in PM10 or smaller fine particle pollution reduces life expectancy by 0.6 years. (South China Morning Post, PNAS)

Illegal coal plants operating in Romania: Fifteen of Romania’s 28 coal plants are operating illegally, according to a Greenpeace report. The report argues the 15 plants do not comply with the European Union’s Large Combustion Directive requirement to adopt ‘best available technology’ for controlling pollution or have the requisite environmental permits. While plants can obtain a temporary exemption from the directive’s requirements if they propose to close or invest in pollution control equipment, none of the 15 plants meet these conditions. (Romania Insider, Greenpeace Romania)

News

Australia: Rio Tinto subsidiary fined US$40,000 after the collapse of a dam wall caused a spill of 4 million litres of waste water.

Canada: Alberta establishes transition fund for municipalities and First Nations affected by coal phase-out.

India: Central Bureau of Investigation files corruption case against former senior officials of Bharat Coking Coal.

Myanmar: Mon state parliament backs crackdown on illegal coal plant at new cement factory.

Pakistan: Government utility seeks approval for 50 MW of coal units to power nuclear power plant.

Poland: Owner of Konin coal mine sues Greenpeace after two-hour blockade froze production.

South Africa: Legal challenge against granting of a 220 square kilometre mining license on the border of the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park.

Switzerland: Gunvor, a major shareholder in US-based Signal Peak Energy, under investigation over oil bribery scandal in the Republic of Congo.

Thailand: Hundreds protest against EGAT’s proposed 2200 MW Thepa coal plant.

Companies + Markets

Renewables costs keep plummeting:  A reverse auction for new UK low-carbon capacity has resulted in two offshore wind projects with a capacity of 2310 MW winning contracts at a price of US$76.5 per MW hour (MWh), a fall of 47 per cent since the last auction two-and-a-half years ago. Offshore wind is now, with onshore wind and solar, projected to be cheaper than new gas generation. In the US, the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) estimates the cost of utility-scale solar fell by 29 per cent in the year to the end of the first quarter in 2017 with a cost of generation between 4.4 and 6.6 US cents per kWh. In the year to March 2017 13,600 MW of solar capacity was installed in the US, with 10,600 MW of that for utility scale projects. (CarbonBrief, NREL)

Uncertainty grows over China coal import cuts: In what some analysts have described as an “unofficial” Chinese government policy, Guangzhou – the largest coal import terminal in southern China – last week temporarily halted coal imports. According to anonymous analysts, imports through other ports are also being slowed down in a bid to assist domestic coal producers. The analysts argue cutting imports has not been specified in a formal government policy in order to avoid trade challenges. (Reuters, Australian Financial Review [paywall])

Ink company pursues coal plant in Vietnam: Toyo Ink, the Malaysian subsidiary of a Japanese printing ink company, is seeking to finalise a power purchase agreement and financial close for the 2000 MW Song Hau 2 plant in southern Vietnam by mid-2019. The company is hoping to attract joint venture partners to contribute to the US$3.45 billion project. The company estimates power sales would generate US$800 million to US$900 million a year which would only be taxed at 10% after the plant has been operating for five years. (The Edge Markets,  CoalSwarm)

Poland touts coal gasification, nukes: Poland’s Energy Minister, Krzysztof Tchorzewski, said that after the completion of three part-built coal plants and a fourth proposed plant “we will not be planning new projects based on coal.” Instead, he suggested new nuclear plants will be commissioned late next decade and that the public utility Enea may build a 500 MW coal-gasification plant using coal from the Bogdanka mine. Poland has strongly resisted European Union climate policies and sought to block the development of new wind farms. (Reuters, Reuters)

Australian Government demands plant stay open: Australia’s largest coal-burning utility, AGL, has told Australian Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull it plans to close the ailing 2000 MW Liddell plant in 2022 and replace its capacity with renewables and other supply. In a bid to placate a pro-coal group in his party, Turnbull had demanded the CEO of the privately-owned AGL, Andrew Vesey, meet him and agree to extend the life of the plant for five years beyond its announced closure date or sell it to another company. Vesey said he would relay the request to his board but restated the company’s plan to shut the plant. (RenewEconomy, AGL)

Resources

Fuelling Injustice: Women’s rights and Australian coal mining in Africa, ActionAid Australia, September 2017. (Pdf) (The data used in the report is available here.)

This 24-page report documents the scale of Australian companies coal interests in Africa, their potential climate impacts and the implications for women’s rights and sustainable development across the continent.

Air Quality in Vietnam: January to June 2017, Green Innovation and Development Center, September 2017.

This 34-page report investigates Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi’s poor air quality and the contribution to the pollution load by coal plants operating in the surrounding region.