November 24, 2016
Issue 160  |  View Past Issues
CoalWire

Editor's Note

While Donald Trump’s embrace of coal continues to grab headlines, countervailing actions by other countries may be more significant. The announcement by Canada that it aims to phase out its remaining coal plants by 2030 underscores commitments at the recent United Nations Marrakech climate conference by by member countries to shift rapidly away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy.

Even Trump's coal industry supporters don't think he can offer much more than a band-aid for the ailing industry, although he can try to hobble competitors like solar. The Obama Administration is aiming to finalise the Stream Protection rule, which is designed to reduce the damage by mountaintop mining to watersheds, before Trump takes office.

Elsewhere, the challenges for coal remain. In Thailand a legal challenge has been filed against the national power development plan because of its inclusion of coal. In South Africa the coal rail carrier Transnet has retreated from earlier exuberant projections of future exports and Poland has won approval from the European Commission to shut down uneconomic coal mines.

Bob Burton

Features

Can Donald Trump really make the clean energy tide recede?

Most analysts believe that no matter how much President-elect Donald Trump waves his magic wand there’s not much he can do to revive the prospects for thermal coal, and at best may simply slow its decline, writes Bob Burton in EndCoal.

Tax subsidy extension push for US Carbon Capture and Storage plants

With a tax subsidy for Carbon Capture and Storage plants likely to expire in the next few years Congressional supporters of the technology are pushing for tax credit provisions to be made permanent - even though a new report finds carbon dioxide escapes from enhanced oil recovery projects. The escapes have been revealed in recent years, writes Dan Zegart from the Climate Investigations Center.

Coal mine threatens ecological paradise in Chile’s Patagonia region

Approval for an open-pit coal mine on the southern island of Riesco, a paradise of biological diversity in Chile’s southern Patagonia wilderness region, is a reflection of how weak Chile’s environmental laws are, writes Orlando Milesi in Inter Press Service.

Top News

Five Thai agencies sued over coal plans: The Thai environmental group the Association Against Global Warming has filed a lawsuit against the Energy Minister, the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand and three other agencies challenging the validity of the Thailand Power Development Plan 2015-2036, which endorses further coal plants. The association argues additional coal plants will only add to a growing surplus and impose additional costs on consumers. (Prachatai)

Canada accelerates coal phase-out: The compliance deadline for Canada’s remaining coal plants to meet new emission performance standards has been brought forward 10 years to 2030. The new standard, limiting plants to 420 metric tons of carbon dioxide per gigawatt hour (tCO2/GWh) by 2030, will apply to four plants – two in Nova Scotia and one each in Saskatchewan and New Brunswick – not already being upgraded or scheduled to shut down. Coal plants converted to gas will be permitted to emit 550 tCO2/GWh for a 15-year period or until 2045, whichever comes first. (Bloomberg, Government of Canada)

France announces end for coal by 2023, but lacks mechanism: Speaking at the UN climate conference in Marrakech French President Francois Hollande vowed France would phase-out its coal plants by 2023. However, in late October in the 2016 budget, the French Government decided to drop a proposal to impose a carbon tax on the remaining four coal plants, deferring consideration of how to further reduce coal emissions until after the April 2017 election. (The Independent, RFI)

Water quality crisis grips Chinese coal province: The Environmental Protection Bureau in China’s largest coal province, Shanxi, has classified almost one-third of water at 100 sites tested in the first nine months of 2016 as unfit for human consumption. Pollution levels were so high at 29 of the sites tested the water was ranked as being “below grade five”. Grade five is the lowest category. In the survey period, five sites in the coal city of Datong water quality worsened. Shanxi produced 944 million tonnes of coal in 2015, more than one-quarter of China’s total production.  (Reuters)

US stream protection rule likely before Trump takes over: The US Department of Interior is aiming to complete its Stream Protection Rule before President-elect Donald Trump assumes office on January 20. The rule, which would regulate the ability of mountaintop mining projects to destroy or bury waterways, has been strongly opposed by the coal industry. The development of the rule follows legal challenges by environmental groups to mountaintop mining and studies documenting the health impacts of water pollution on downstream communities. (SNL, Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement)

“Australia cannot have a healthy Great Barrier Reef and a continuing coal industry,”

said Graeme Kelleher, the former head of the Australian Government’s Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.

“Australia cannot have a healthy Great Barrier Reef and a continuing coal industry” - @graempa #SavetheReef  http://act.gp/2gF3UQm https://pbs.twimg.com/media/Cx2f5UJWIAAG4rB.jpg

News

Laos: Thai company defers consideration of fourth 626 MW unit at Hongsa plant for a decade.

Pakistan: Villagers resume protest against displacement by wastewater dam for Thar coal mine.

US: Navajo youth protest against 30-year delay in pollution cleanup for Arizona coal plant.

Companies + Markets

Transnet cuts South African export plans: With only marginal increases in coal exports over the last year the publicly-owned rail company Transnet has deferred rail capacity upgrades to the Waterburg coalfields, from 2019 to 2022. Transnet has also quietly shelved its target of carrying 81 million tonnes a year of export coal to the Richards Bay Coal Terminal and other ports. This was far lower than earlier targets of up to 110 million tonnes including coal from mooted projects in Botswana.  (MiningMx)

US coal company sued for misleading financial statements: The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection is suing the major US coal producer Alpha Natural Resources alleging it “knowingly” made “false and misleading” financial projections to the bankruptcy court. The suit follows revelations Alpha has a US$100 million shortfall which the agency believes puts the company at risk of collapsing and jeopardising funding of US$244 million in mine rehabilitation liabilities. (Mother Jones)

China eases coal restriction to cut prices: China’s National Development and Reform Commission has authorised major coal companies to increase production from a cap of 276 days to 330 days. The changes will allow increased production until the end of winter when domestic demand for thermal coal eases. Increased domestic supply has already led to lower prices for imported coal with significant falls likely in the months ahead from the current US$100 per tonne in the Pacific market. (Bloomberg, Reuters)

India looks to further cuts to imports: India’s Minister for Coal, Piyush Goyal, has told Parliament he expects Indian coal imports to decline by 20 per cent to 160 million tonnes in the year to the end of March 2017. India imported about 199.88 million tonnes of coal in the year to March 2016 while Coal India – which produces about 80 per cent of domestic coal – increased production to 639 million tonnes that year. (Platts, Economic Times)

Poland gets all clear on US$1.9 billion for mine closures: The European Commission has approved a Polish government plan to spend US$1.9 billion to cover the cost of closing uneconomical mines by the end of 2018. The funds are to be allocated for mine closure and rehabilitation costs, support for displaced workers and to cover the ongoing losses of the mines until 2018. (Reuters)

Coal lobby head concedes CCS for more oil is no climate answer: Benjamin Sporton, the CEO of the World Coal Association, has conceded the use of carbon dioxide captured in Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) plants but then sold to boost oil production is not appropriate. “Ultimately that’s not the climate answer – you can’t do that,” he said. The Boundary Dam CCS plant in Saskatchewan in Canada sells carbon dioxide for an ‘enhanced oil recovery’ project and the Kemper plant in Mississippi is proposing to as well. (Guardian)

Resources

Out with the coal, in with the new, Pembina Institute, November 2016. (Pdf)

This 61-page report argues the phasing out of coal power in Canada by 2030 instead of 2040 would result in double the environmental and health benefits by 2030 and avoid over 1000 premature deaths.

Bangladesh Electricity Transition: A Diverse, Secure and Deflationary Way Forward, Institute for Energy Economics & Financial Analysis, November 2016. (Pdf)

This 64-page report details a low-carbon electricity strategy for Bangladesh which is achievable at lower cost and faster than the current government’s policy of building new coal plants based on imported coal.

Coal Tax Subsidies: A Boon For Kemper, Friends of the Earth and Taxpayers for Common Sense, November 2016. (Pdf)

This 9-page report details the tax credit subsidy for Carbon Capture and Storage plants in the US and the Kemper project in Mississippi in particular and the push by some members of Congress to make them permanent.

The Destruction of the Highveld, groundWork, November 2016. (Pdf)

This 217-page report details the social and environmental impacts of coal mining on South Africa’s Mpumalanga Highveld.

Carbon Trap: How International Coal Finance Undermines the Paris Agreement, NRDC and Oil Change International, November 2016. (Pdf)

This report details how just a handful of countries in the Group of 20 – principally Japan, China and South Korea – account for the vast majority of international finance for coal-related projects. The report is also available in Japanese and has a supporting Excel spreadsheet of the database of international coal-related projects financed by G20 countries.