January 26, 2017
Issue 167  |  View Past Issues
CoalWire

Editor's Note
 

Not unexpectedly the Trump Presidency has begun with a proclamation of enthusiasm for reviving the coal industry and supporting ‘clean coal.’ Across the Atlantic the National Audit Office revealed the reason the UK Government’s Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) program was scrapped: Treasury was unaware of the huge lifetime project subsidies required. The coal industry’s dream of CCS to the rescue still seems a long way off.

Meanwhile in Colombia, a court ordered a halt to a river diversion for the expansion of the Cerrejon coal mine because of the risk of depriving downstream communities of vital water. In the US the head of a lab has been sentenced to two years in prison for falsifying water pollution test results for the coal industry. In India over one billion people have no access to real-time air pollution monitoring data at a time when increased coal generation is only making things worse. Meanwhile, in South Korea the leading contender to be the next President is vowing to cut coal use in a bid to reduce air pollution.

Bob Burton

Features

A billion people in India aren’t being warned about toxic air pollution

Only two of India’s 10 most polluted cities are covered by the government’s real-time air quality monitoring system, leaving more than one billion unprepared for toxic episodes, write Lauri Myllyvirta and Emma Howard.

Campaigns

Groups call for end to violence in Colombia mining region

Nearly 90 organizations from 25 countries, responding to the murder of Aldemar Parra Garcia in early January, have called for Colombian authorities to crack down on neo-paramilitary armed groups defending mining companies in the Cesar region. Garcia was a leader of the El Hatillo peasant farmer community, which was forcibly relocated due to severe air pollution from adjoining coal mines. The groups argue the murder of Aldemar is not an isolated incident, as it “fits a pattern of violence” in the region, with at least 200 leaders assaulted or killed in Cesar from 2012 to 2016. (London Mining Network)

Top News

Leading candidate for South Korea’s Presidency pledges to cut coal: The leading candidate to become South Korea’s next President, Moon Jae-In, says “we should reduce consumption of fossil fuels, coal in particular”. He specifically flagged the problem of fine particle pollution from coal plants. Moon has proposed the development of renewables and switching to plants fueled by gas imported from Russia. The election may be held in mid-2017 depending on whether the constitutional court upholds parliament’s impeachment of President Park Geun-Hye. (Platts)

Court orders halt to Colombian river diversion plan: A Colombian court recently ordered a halt to work on the diversion of the Arroyo River by the Cerrejon Coal Company, a joint venture of BHP Billiton, Glencore and Anglo American. The Court has required the company to negotiate with the local Wayuu indigenous communities before moving forward with the project. Local residents have challenged the permits for the diversion on the grounds that two towns and four communities would be at risk of losing their water supply. In a bid to overcome the indigenous Wayuu community’s opposition to the river’s diversion, the Colombian Government and the company are seeking to negotiate to provide a package of community development projects. (Bloomberg, La Guajira Hoy.com [in Spanish])

Trump’s energy policy backs “clean coal”; analysts have doubts: The Trump Administration’s energy policy, released shortly after his inauguration, vowed to repeal the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan and the Stream Protection Rule. It also states it is “committed to clean coal technology, and to reviving America’s coal industry” though most analysts believe the shift away from coal is a permanent structural shift in the power generation market. (Climate Central)

US lab manager jailed for faking water tests: A federal judge has sentenced a former manager of Appalachian Laboratories, John Brewer, to two years in prison after he pleaded guilty to faking test results submitted to the state Department of Environmental Protection on water pollution samples for West Virginia’s coal industry. The judge said Brewer and most of the more than 30 people working at the lab had been involved in the falsification of results. However, neither Appalachian Labs nor its owners have been charged with any offenses and continue to operate. (Charleston Gazette Mail)

Global coal lobby group forms pact with UN agency: The World Coal Association, the coal industry’s peak lobby group, has entered into a formal agreement with the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) to “increase the awareness of the role of coal in the global energy mix and in providing access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.” UNECE has 56 member states across Europe, Western Asia and also includes the US and Canada. (World Coal Association)

“If the latest projections are close to the mark, coal technologies will have a very tough time competing with wind and solar for the cheapest source of energy … But it seems unlikely that replacing them [existing coal plants] like-for-like would be a viable solution to any of our energy challenges,” writes Tennant Reed from the Australian Industry Group in a critique of the promotion of new coal plants by mining industry lobby groups.

Thai activists challenge secrecy over new coal plant: The Network of Songkhla-Pattani Peoples against the Coal-Fired Power Plant has expressed alarm that the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) has secretly completed bidding for a proposed 2,000-megawatt (MW) coal plant in Songkhla's Thepha district. In a letter to a local school principal, EGAT stated that under the interim charter adopted by the Thai military regime it was permissible to commence project bidding procedures before the completion of an environmental impact assessment study. Activists are considering lodging a legal challenge in the Administrative Court. (Bangkok Post)

News

Australia: Federal Government approves expansion of Acland mine; state hurdles remain.

Myanmar: New report from residents documents health impacts from Tigyit coal plant.

Pakistan: Protests continue against proposed dispossession of villagers for mine waste water dam.

Netherlands: Government defers decision on possible closure of five coal plants until after March election.

US: CEO of coal company Alliance Resource Partners and US$750,000 donor to anti-Clinton group allocated a seat at Trump’s inauguration.

US: Office of Surface Mining orders review of validity of permits for Usibelli coal mine in Alaska.

“Following the [UK Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS)] competition, many stakeholders think the government should bear more risks, particularly over stored CO2. Government taking a greater share of the risk could reduce delivery costs but would expose taxpayers to losses in the event of risks materialising,” wrote the UK Government’s National Audit Office in a review of the cancelled CCS program.

Companies + Markets

Chinese coal production plummets: The Chinese government’s mandated limits on the number of days coal mines can operate in 2016 had the effect of slashing domestic coal production by nine per cent, according to the official data. The domestic production restrictions – which have since been eased – spurred higher import demand and prices. Overall Chinese coal use in 2016 declined by an estimated 1.6 per cent, with a further decline expected in 2017. (Bloomberg)

Indian government approves more coal plants: Despite the Central Electricity Authority flagging the lack of need for new coal plants in the next five years, a committee of the Ministry for Environment, Forests and Climate Change approved 15 of 18 new coal plants considered at its first meeting in late December. The day before another committee approved seven of the 10 coal mines under consideration. The EIA Resource & Response Centre has warned the ministry’s decisions are likely to make the existing coal glut worse. (Economic Times)

Engie hikes cost of Australian mine closure liability: Engie has dramatically revised the rehabilitation cost of Hazelwood mine and power station up to US$561 million. Engie had previously estimated the cost of rehabilitating the mine alone – which is scheduled to close in March – at US$55 million but now considers it will cost US$332 million. “It is very likely that other mines and power stations are grossly underestimating their clean-up costs,” said Environment Victoria campaigns manager, Dr Nicholas Aberle. (The Age)

CCS costs blowout led to UK canceling subsidy, says Audit Office: A National Audit Office (NAO) review of the UK Government’s Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) program revealed the scheme could have cost taxpayers US$11 billion over 15 years, up from the initial Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) estimate of US$4.8 billion. The NAO found DECC had begun a second round of the CCS program without agreeing with Treasury what the lifetime costs of the shortlisted projects could be. Treasury withdrew funding for the scheme, which forced DECC to cancel the program in January 2016. (Bloomberg)

Resources

Carbon Capture and Storage: The second competition for government support, National Audit Office, January 2017. (Pdf)

This 50-page report reviews the second competition the UK Government ran for large-scale CCS projects and the factors which led to its ultimate failure.

“The shift to ‘base-cost’ renewables: 10 predictions for 2017,” Bloomberg New Energy Finance, January 2017.

This is a thought-provoking article sketching 10 likely trends to help reshape the global energy markets this year.