August 25, 2016
Issue 147  |  View Past Issues
CoalWire

Editor's Note

Plans conceived in coal’s boom-time era are finally fading away. The latest example is the collapse of a proposed Oakland coal export plan for the US West Coast. Even in India, dramatic changes are afoot, with the Indian Government’s plans to triple coal production by 2020 looking increasingly fanciful. Coal India has huge stockpiles, about one-third of India’s coal plants are idle, utilisation rates are falling and the country’s largest coal power generator plans to become the country’s largest solar power developer.

The transition to solar is likely to be further bolstered by news that a solar plant won a power auction in Chile with the cheapest price ever recorded for a solar plant, coming in at almost half the price of power from coal plants. Despite excitement amongst some media commentators that increased coal prices in the export market signal a coal industry resurgence, more sober analysis argues it is a temporary phenomenon.

Bob Burton

Features

Cross currents hit Indian Government’s grand coal expansion plans

With about one-third of India’s fleet of coal plants idled, the Modi Government’s grand coal industry expansion plans are looking shakier than ever, write Bob Burton and Ashish Fernandes in EndCoal.

No, a global coal comeback isn’t happening

Despite financial media hyping that the latest uptick in international prices has turned coal into the ‘hottest commodity’ of 2016, the coal industry is not coming back, write Lauri Myllyvirta and Marina Lou in EnergyDesk.

Campaigns

West Virginia mountaintop mine permanently shut

The Kanawha Forest Coalition is celebrating the decision of West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection to order the permanent closure of Keystone Development No. 2 mountaintop removal mine in Kanawha State Forest. Keystone Industries signed the closure consent agreement last month after revelations of a range of water pollution violations including a failure to monitor water quality at the mine and in a nearby landowner's drinking water. The project, which was approved in May 2014, has mined about 40 hectares of the 167 hectare permit area. The coalition co-ordinator, Chad Cordell, stated the decision was “a powerful demonstration of the impact citizens can have when we take a stand, stay persistent, and don't back down.” (Kanawha Forest Coalition)

Utah drops loan plan for Californian coal terminal

Following the unanimous rejection by Oakland Council of a bid to export coal through Oakland port,   four Utah counties have withdrawn their request to use a US$53 million loan to subsidise the project. While the counties have not given up on supporting the port, one official indicated no new loan bid would be considered until the impact of the Oakland coal ban was clear. The port developer has previously warned of a possible legal action. Bowie Resource Partners, which hoped to benefit from the project, has subsequently cancelled its proposed float on the US Stock Exchange due to “market conditions.” (Salt Lake Tribune, East Bay Express)

Top News

Adani fined over Mumbai coal ship disaster: The National Green Tribunal has fined Adani Enterprises US$750,000 over the sinking of the MV Rak off the coast of Mumbai in 2011. The ship was carrying over 60,000 tonnes of coal for Adani when it sank. Adani had argued that it should not be included as a party to the case. The shipping company, Delta Marine Shipping Company, has been fined US$15 million and directed to salvage the vessel if possible or face further pollution fines. (Business Standard)

Duke Energy reveals billions in coal ash clean-up costs: Duke Energy has revealed in 2013 it estimated the cost of removing the contents of all its North Carolina coal ash pits to lined landfill sites would be US$6 billion. This is higher than a US$4 billion estimate in a company filing to the Securities and Exchange Commission earlier this year but lower than a US$10 billion figure maximum cost the company has cited. The Southern Environmental Law Center argues Duke Energy has used the US$10 billion figure in a bid to discourage excavation of coal ash from all its leaking coal pits. (Salisbury Post)

India likely to overtake China on coal air pollution: A study by Tsinghua University and the Health Effects Institute (HEI) estimates coal use in China caused 366,000 premature deaths in 2013 but will require “even more aggressive strategies” to reduce the health burden by 2030. According to HEI’s President, Dan Greenbaum, the Indian Government’s lack of action on air pollution is causing the health impact from coal to worsen “at a much faster speed than China.” (Reuters)

US utility sued over new units without permits: The US utility Ameren is being sued by the Environmental Protection Agency for breaching Clean Air Act provisions by installing two new coal boilers at its Rush Island power plant in Missouri without appropriate permits. Ameren, which operates four coal plants with a combined capacity of over 5300 megawatts (MW), claim the new boilers were “routine maintenance” and didn’t require permits. (St Louis Public Radio)

German Greens unveil 20 year coal exit plan: The German Greens, which may end up holding the balance of power after the September or October 2017 national election, has released a 10-point plan to end coal power generation within 20 years. Central to the plan is a ban on new open-cut mines, the immediate closure of the most polluting plants and the adoption of a “carbon dioxide budget” for each of the remaining plants. The plan also proposes tightening air pollution standards and the establishment of an oversight commission to implement the plan. (Phys.org)

Mine regulators rely on faulty NSW pollution data: An analysis of seven months of data from air pollution monitoring stations near the Maules Creek mine and Idemitsu’s Boggabri mine in NSW revealed periods when the instruments reported negative levels for both PM2.5 and PM10 dust pollution. The NSW Environmental Protection Agency has defended mining companies running four monitoring stations as an “interim solution” while it considers the feasibility of a publicly-run system, as occurs in the Hunter Valley. (Sydney Morning Herald)

“Coal India is today running after the client to take coal … Coal India doesn't know what to do with the coal. They had to cut down the production in order to save the coal from burning,”
said
India’s Coal Secretary Anil Swarup.

News

Australia: Ex-NSW Minister for Mines charged over US$23 million Bylong Valley coal deal.

India: In protest over land acquisition and jobs, Kansamunda villagers blockade NTPC’s Kaniha mine.

India: Ministry of Commerce and Industry interested in joint development of Russian coal projects.

Myanmar: Over 800 attend vigil to oppose planned coal plant at cement factory in Mon State.

US: North Carolina Governor’s aides deposed to testify under oath over coal ash pollution warnings.

UK: Emails reveal coal importers’ lobby group sought meetings to complain about carbon floor price.

Companies + Markets

China’s power glut to last for years: Utilisation rates of China’s coal plants – which fell to 50 per cent in 2015 – will continue to fall as new plants are commissioned, said Xizhou Zhou, head of China energy research at IHS Markit. According to the Global Coal Plant Tracker, China currently has over 895,000 MW of coal plants operating with a further 205,000 MW under construction. An additional 481,000 MW of coal plants have been proposed or permitted, though the National Energy Administration is urging some provincial governments to defer or cancel further projects. (Bloomberg, CoalSwarm)

Chilean solar power comes in at half coal’s price: A proposed 120 MW solar plant in Chile’s Atacama desert has won a bid in a power auction, coming in at almost half the US$57 a megawatt-hour cost of electricity for power from existing coal plants. The winning bid of US$29.10 a megawatt-hour power for solar sets a global record for new utility-scale solar supply though there are significant local factors at play. A wind plant also won a bid for supply at US$31 a megawatt-hour. As of July 2016 there were 530 MW of new coal plants under construction in Chile with a further 2647 MW proposed or permitted. (Bloomberg, CleanTechnica)

Job losses follow Mozambique’s coal bust: A government official has estimated at least 3937 jobs have been lost in Tete province since 2015 as international coal prices have fallen from boom-time highs when major mines near Moatize were built. Vale, which commissioned the Moatize mine in 2011 and the Nacala railway last year, was responsible for 2348 of the jobs lost. (Macauhub)

Change in freight rates for Indian coal: Faced with falling freight volumes and surplus coal wagons the Ministry of Railways has cut freight rates by between four and 13 per cent for coal shipments of over 700 kilometres. However, the cost of transporting coal to plants between 200 and 700 kilometres – which Essar Power estimates affects about 60 per cent of railed coal – has been increased by between 8 and 14 per cent. Affected private power producers argue power prices should be increased to reflect the increased freight costs. (Times of India, Livemint)

Modi Government OK for Reliance to mortgage coal block: Despite the opposition of the Ministry of Coal the Modi Government has approved Reliance Power’s bid to mortgage the coal allocation assigned to supply the 4000 MW Sasan Ultra Mega Power Project. Reliance Power argued the mortgage over the publicly-owned coal block was essential for the consortium of bank lenders to the power plant. Earlier bids to mortgage the block, going back to 2012, had been rejected. (Economic Times)

NTPC coal imports slashed: NTPC, which generates almost one-quarter of India’s electricity and consumed about 170 million tonnes of coal this year, is likely to end coal imports next year, well ahead of its 2020 goal. Last year the utility imported 9.5 million tonnes and expects to import only 1 million tonnes this year from a pre-existing contract. With large coal stockpiles remaining at Coal India mines, NTPC is under increased pressure to use only domestic coal. “With power demand remaining flat, the situation would not warrant any more coal imports this year,” an anonymous government official stated. (Mydigitalfc.com)

Resources

Burden of Disease in China from Coal-burning and Other Sources, Tsinghua University, Health Effects Institute et al, August 2016. (Pdf) (Media release, tables and executive summaries are also available in Chinese here.)

This 134-page report reviews the role of coal burning in China and finds it is the fifth largest cause of premature deaths, with the health effects estimated to increase by 2030 without more aggressive measures to cut the use of coal.