March 23, 2017
Issue 175  |  View Past Issues
CoalWire

Editor's Note

It is huge news. The number of new coal plants in the pre-construction phase has nearly halved. This is revealed in the latest annual update of the Global Coal Plant Tracker. Five years ago, when the coal plant boom was in full swing, few would have dreamt such a dramatic shift was so close. While the drop is welcome news, communities in just 10 countries are now confronting proposals which make up three-quarters of the proposed plants left in the pipeline.

The shift in thinking away from coal is gathering pace on other fronts as well. The Port of Amsterdam, a major European coal port, is aiming to be coal-free by 2030. It may well happen far earlier as support for an accelerated coal phase-out gathers momentum. A majority of parties likely to form the next Dutch government back a coal phase-out. In Vietnam, one of the ten new coal plant ‘hot spots’, the government-owned coal company is hiking prices to cut losses while a provincial government – wary of polluting power – is signing up major solar agreements. In Japan, another of the new coal plant ‘hot spots’, the prospects of solar, wind and energy efficiency are getting brighter by the day.

Bob Burton

Features

As coal pipeline shrinks, community resistance in 10 countries could decide fate of the climate

As the global coal plant pipeline shrinks, local communities in just ten countries are resisting proposals which account for three-quarters of all the new plant capacity outside of China and India, writes Nicole Ghio in the Sierra Club’s Compass.

Coal power in Japan set to slide

Due to Japan’s steadily declining electricity demand – driven by an aging population and increasing energy efficiency – most of the 45 new coal-fired power plants proposed will not reach the construction phase, writes Tim Buckley in Renew Economy.

The Australian mining lobby’s campaign for costly coal

The coal industry is frantically attacking wind and solar power while promoting the replacement of old coal plants in Australia with new ones, even though renewables would cost half as much and go far further in cutting Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions, writes Dylan McConnell from Melbourne University in the Energy & Climate Intelligence Unit.

Top News

Global coal plant pipeline withers: The third annual survey of the global coal plant pipeline has revealed a 48 per cent drop in pre-construction activity in the past year with work frozen at over 100 project sites in India and China. The report reveals the prospects of limiting energy-sector greenhouse gas emissions to levels consistent with the two degree temperature increase scenario now largely hinge on whether the new coal plants proposed in countries such as Turkey, Indonesia, and Vietnam proceed or also stall. (Vox, Guardian)

Global energy-related emissions flat as coal slides: The International Energy Agency estimates global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions in 2016 remained at the same level as the two preceding years even though the global economy grew by 3.1 per cent. Underlying the plateauing of emissions were falls in the use of coal in the US, China and Europe as power generation shifts to renewables and gas and energy efficiency slows demand growth. (International Energy Agency)

Port of Amsterdam sets sunset date for coal: The Port of Amsterdam – which handled 16 million tonnes of coal in 2016 – will aim to be coal-free by 2030.  The Port, which is the second largest European coal port after Rotterdam, will include the scenario in its 2017-2021 strategic plan. The port reported coal transhipment fell by eight per cent in 2016, and expects it to decline a further 29 per cent by 2021. “The transformation in the energy landscape is unmistakable and will result in the phasing-out of coal from the energy mix,” the port said. The Port of Amsterdam said the reduction in space required for coal would allow new activities to be established and help diversify the port business. (Climate Home, Port of Amsterdam)

Overwhelming opposition to subsidy for Adani rail plan: An opinion poll undertaken for the Stop Adani Alliance, a coalition of 13 community groups, has revealed three-quarters of Australians oppose a proposal for Adani to be given a US$770 million government subsidy to help fund a vital railway for its Carmichael coal plan. In a bid to build political support for its ailing project Adani recently hosted a delegation of Queensland state and local government officials at its Mundra port operations. However, a delegation of Australian community leaders presented Adani managers with a letter signed by 90 eminent Australians including the cricketing legends Ian and Greg Chappell. (Bloomberg, Australian Marine Conservation Society)

US polling reveals support for curbing coal: As President Donald Trump prepares to announce plans to unravel the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan and other coal and climate policies, public opinion polling by Yale University reveals seven in 10 Americans support government regulation of carbon dioxide pollution from coal plants. The polling also revealed a majority in every congressional district supports limiting carbon dioxide emissions from existing coal plants and two-thirds of those polled supported utilities sourcing 20 per cent of electricity from renewables. (New York Times, New York Times)

Coal phase-out may be centre-stage in Dutch government negotiations: Moves to accelerate the phasing out of coal plants to meet its 2020 greenhouse gas emissions target may become a pivotal issue as the Netherlands Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, attempts to form a multi-party minority government after last week’s election. Rutte’s VVD party plans to work with the D66 party and the Christian-democratic CDA but will require additional support, most likely from either the GreenLeft or the Christian Union. All the parties in the likely coalition have voted for a coal phase-out though GreenLeft is pushing for an accelerated phase-out. (ICIS)

“The decline in new coal plants in Asian countries is truly dramatic, and shows how a perfect storm of factors are simply making coal a bad investment,”

said Paul Massara, the former CEO of the UK utility RWE Npower and now head of a solar company.

News

Australia:  Jailed former NSW MP Eddie Obeid and family members directed to pay millions for “irresponsible” legal case against anti-corruption watchdog over coal deal investigation.

China: Last coal power unit in Beijing municipality shut down as plant built in 1999 closed to cut pollution.

India: Coal India seeks expressions of interest for building a coal-to-liquids plant in Jharkhand state.

South Africa: Chief Operations Officer of Coal of Africa fined US$26,800 for insider trading

UK: Inquiry launched into allegations Metropolitan police, in conjunction with Indian police, hacked environmentalists’ and journalists’ email accounts.

US: Two more coal plant retirements announced, making 251 plants closed or slated for closure since 2010.

US: Legislator proposes US$10m loan in bid to keep loss-making Montana plant open a little longer.

“In the evolving world energy scenario, it is quite possible that India’s coal reserves remain unused in the times to come as we would be shifting towards cleaner energy technologies like solar and wind, among others,”

India’s Minister for Power, Coal, Renewable Energy and Mines, Piyush Goyal told a media event in New Delhi.

Companies + Markets

Vietnam’s coal industry losing out to imports; solar gains ground: Vinacomin, the government-owned mining company, has increased the price of domestic coal by three per cent to 10.7 per cent to reduce losses on production. Vinacomin’s sales have been hit by cheaper coal imports. While the central government has strongly backed coal plant proposals, support for dollar projects is growing. Daklak province has entered into MOUs with private companies for an estimated US$3.3 billion for over 2550 MW of solar projects, including one for a 300-500 MW project proposed by the US-based AES Corporation. (Vietnam.net, Reuters)

Indian utilities slash coal imports for blending: Between April 2016 and January 2017 the volume of coal imported by Indian utilities for blending with domestic coal halved compared to the same period in 2015-16. According to the Ministry of Coal, 16.6 million tonnes of coal was imported for blending in 2016-17 compared to 31.6 million tonnes the year before. Coal India is also marketing a domestic blended product to coastal power plants in a bid to further reduce imports of high-energy low-ash coal from the international market. (Economic Times)

Expansion of Russian Far East coal port approved: The Russian Federation Government has granted land to enable the construction of two new coal export terminals at Vanino Port in the Far East region. The new terminals are to double the coal export capacity from 12 million tonnes to 24 million tonnes and cater for increased sales into the Asia-Pacific market. (Port News, CoalSwarm)

Tata Power signs MOU for Russian coal project: The Indian-headquartered Tata Power has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for the development of the Krutogorovsky coal deposits on Kamchatka Peninsula in the Russian Far East. The MOU, which was co-signed by several Russian government agencies responsible for the development of the Far East, also provided for JSC Sberbank of Russia to provide US$400 million in 2018 of the estimated US$560 million project cost. (Construction.RU)

Kemper CCS project loses key staff, more delays: Mississippi Power, a subsidiary of Southern Company, has further delayed the commissioning of the 582 MW Kemper Carbon Capture and Storage plant after one of the two gasifier’s suffered “tube leaks” triggering an outage. The company has not indicated when it proposes to commission the plant, only that it will make an announcement in early April. The Kemper project is also struggling to recruit key staff, including a plant manager, for the project. (Mississippi Power,  Climate Investigations Center)

Peabody’s shaky bankruptcy exit plan: A federal bankruptcy court has cleared Peabody Energy to emerge from bankruptcy in April after the company negotiated settlements with some investors and federal agencies over environmental liabilities. Peabody is the world’s largest private sector coal company. However, analysts argue the company’s plan is based on mistaken assumptions which don’t account for the imminent closure of the Navajo Generating Station in Arizona, its mines in Colorado and New Mexico which are vulnerable to market forces and the rapidly declining demand for coal from the Powder River Basin. (Reuters, IEEFA)

Resources

Boom and Bust 2017: Tracking The Global Coal Plant Pipeline, CoalSwarm, Sierra Club & Greenpeace, March 2017. (Pdf) (Also available in Hindi, Indonesian, Japanese, Turkish and Vietnamese. The English media release on the report is here.)

This 16-page report on the third annual survey of the global coal plant pipeline reveals a 62 per cent drop in new construction starts in 2016 compared to the year before. The report includes a detailed country-by-country breakdown of proposed plants.

Japan: Greater Energy Security Through Renewables: Electricity Transformation in a Post-Nuclear Economy, Institute for Energy Economics & Financial Analysis, March 2017. (Pdf)

This 43-page report details how increasing energy efficiency, policies to support solar power and offshore wind generation could substantially cut Japan’s reliance on imported coal and nuclear power.