March 30, 2017
Issue 176  |  View Past Issues
CoalWire

Editor's Note

The shift away from coal continues – despite US President Donald Trump’s best efforts to hold the clean energy tide back. In Australia, the 1600 megawatt (MW) Hazelwood coal plant has finally closed, while in Vietnam the Ho Chi Minh City council is resisting a proposal for a polluting coal plant near the city. In Japan the proposed 1000 MW Ichihara coal plant near Osaka has been scrapped while a big rally was held in Seoul, South Korea against the proposed Danjin coal plant. In South Africa the scandal-plagued utility Eskom has been rocked by revelations its CEO’s stepdaughter was the director of a company which won lucrative contracts, including on the new Kusile coal plant.

Without doubt the Trump plan to undo Obama Administration reforms on climate and energy policy has pleased coal companies and their lobbyists. However, there is no denying the structural challenge to coal power - with Moody’s suggesting wind power is now so cheap in the US Great Plains states that many coal plants will be retired far earlier than previously thought. US coal use is set to keep going down; the only question now is how fast the decline will be.

Bob Burton

Features

Closure of old Australian coal plant illustrates need to plan ahead for a just transition

The closure of the 1600 MW Hazelwood power station in Victoria this week raises the question of whether the transition from coal power will be fast enough to avoid the worst risks to climate. There is also a need to plan ahead for a just transition to sustain regional communities, writes Dr Nicholas Aberle in the Guardian.

Overlooked carbon costs could turn Western Balkans' new coal plants into white elephants

Countries in the Western Balkans – Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia – are planning new lignite plants that are likely to become uneconomic as soon as these countries join the European Union and have to pay a carbon price and compete in the European Union electricity market. Taxpayers could end up footing the bill, writes Pippa Gallop from CEE Bankwatch.

Subtle Indonesian regulatory changes increase risks for coal investors

Subtle but significant changes made by Indonesia’s Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources to the principles governing new power purchase agreements make it riskier for proponents of new coal power plants, writes Yulanda Chung from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis in the Jakarta Post.

Campaigns

Japanese consortium dumps proposed coal plant

As public opposition in Japan to new coal plants grows, a consortium has announced the scrapping of the 1000 megawatt (MW) Ichihara coal plant near Osaka. TonenGeneral Sekiyu and a subsidiary of Kansai Electric Power Company (KEPCO) attributed the decision to “changes in the feasibility and the surrounding environment”. The decision follows the Minister for Environment rejecting the environmental assessment of the project. Kiko Network has welcomed the decision as vindication of the growing movement against coal and renewed its call for all existing coal plants to be phased out. (Times of India, Kiko Network)

Top News

Ho Chi Minh City opposes coal plant on pollution grounds: Ho Chi Minh City’s (HCMC) People’s Committee, the city’s council, has objected to the risk of pollution posed by the proposed construction of a US$3.1 billion 1600 MW coal plant near the city. The former head of the Institute of HCMC Industry University’s Science, Technology and Environmental Management warned the pollution impact from the proposed plant would “be serious”. The plant has been proposed by Korean Electric Power Corporation and a local partner. (Vietnam.net, CoalSwarm)

South Korean protest against coal plant: Over 1500 people protested against the proposal by the Korean private company SK to build a new 1160 MW coal plant in Dangjin City. In July 2016 a decision on the plant was deferred after a week-long hunger strike by residents who also objected to pollution from the nearby 6040 MW Dangjin plant, one of the largest in the world. (EndCoal, CoalSwarm)

Eskom CEO may face investigation over step-daughter’s business interests: The CEO of Eskom, Matshela Koko, may face an investigation by the Public Protector after revelations the project management company his 26-year old step-daughter worked for was awarded lucrative contracts by the utility. Koketso Choma, who graduated as an accountant three years ago, was appointed a director of Impulse International which subsequently landed over US$80 million in contracts by the division Koko headed at the time. The contracts included work on the Kusile coal plant which is under construction. (Sunday Times, South African Broadcasting Corporation)

Australian mining lobby pushes for Asian coal coalition:  The Minerals Council of Australia has proposed the Australian Government promote and support the creation of “an Asian Clean Energy Initiative around High Efficiency, Low Emissions (HELE) coal-fired power plants.” The coal industry lobby group proposed a “small number of key regional countries” launch the initiative and identified a “strong coincidence of interest” between Australia as a coal supplier, China and Japan as builders of coal plants and countries in South and South-East Asia seeking to increase power generation. (Minerals Council of Australia)

Bulgaria seeks exemption from pollution control restrictions: The Bulgarian government is seeking an exemption from proposed European Union coal plant pollution standards designed to cut sulphur dioxide, mercury and nitrogen oxide emissions. The government claims the cost of upgrading polluting old coal plants could be US$556 million. Environmental groups argue Bulgaria, which has 35 coal generating units operating, should expand investment in renewables rather than seeking to prolong the life of the polluting plants. (Reuters)

Global coal lobby says peak coal may be here: The head of the World Coal Association, Benjamin Sporton, has conceded “global coal demand is probably at a peak, in a way” though adding there may be some “slow growth” to 2040.  Following the revelation of a 48 per cent drop in pre-construction activity of coal plants in the past year, Sporton stated the cutbacks in China were a signal of a more developed economy” and disputed that renewables were displacing coal in India. (CarbonBrief, World Coal Association)

Trump signs energy order; coal companies applaud: President Donald Trump has signed an executive order seeking to unwind Obama Administration climate and energy policy reforms. The order rescinds the moratorium on new coal leases on federal lands, the use of a social cost of carbon in decision making, directed the gutting of the Clean Power Plan and requires a suite of reviews of regulations affecting the energy industry. However, most analysts argue the order will at worst slow the transition away from coal. (Washington Post, White House, Sierra Club)

“Wind power economics are driving coal generation up the dispatch curve and into earlier retirement. Around 56 gigawatts [56,000 MW] of regulated coal-fired capacity in the [US] Midwest has operating costs that are higher than the all-in costs of new wind power,”

stated Jairo Chung, a Moody's analyst.

News

Australia: Queensland expands black lung inquiry to cover port, power station and railway workers.

Bangladesh: High Court summons police to explain why they ignored complaint over killing of protester against the proposed Banshkhali plant.

Indonesia: NGO reveals coal tugboats damaging coral reefs in Karimunjawa National Park.

India: For over a month a coal mine fire in Chhattisgarh has caused widespread pollution.

Netherlands: Company bids US$1.1 million to buy an old coal plant in Amsterdam to close it down and convert it into a theme park.

Thailand: Locals argue public forums skewed to favour Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand’s plans for new coal plants.

Pakistan: Supreme Court finds Sindh Coal Authority illegally funded projects beyond its mandate.

US: Alarm not triggered despite over 20,000 litres of coal slurry spilling into river from Alpha Natural Resources plant.

“Man­aging the risks associated with banking a clean coal power station [in Australia] would present insurmountable obstacles for any bank officer wishing to prolong their ­career,”

wrote [paywall] Rob Henderson, a former chief economist (markets) with the National Australia Bank.

Companies + Markets

Wind blowing coal away in US Great Plains: The financial ratings agency Moody’s estimates the cost of wind power in the Great Plains states in the US central west is now so low that it may accelerate the retirement of up to 56,000 MW of old coal plants. Moody’s estimates power purchase agreements for wind projects are about US$20 per Megawatt hour (MWh) after allowing for the US Government’s Production Tax Credit (PTC) while most coal-fired power generation in the region has operating costs over US$30/MWh. (Moody’s, GreenTechMedia)

Contract signed for new Mozambique coal railway and port: Thai Mozambique Logistics (TML) – a joint venture 60% owned by Italian Thai Development – has awarded a US$2.3 billion construction contract to the Portuguese company Mota-Engil and China Civil Engineering Construction for the construction of a 500 kilometre long railway from the Moatize coalfields and a new port at Macuse. TML states the railway and new port are initially aiming to cater for 30 million tonnes of coal a year. Elsewhere, Vale has completed, pending the finalisation of finance, the sale of a 15 per cent stake in its Moatize mine and 35 per cent share of the company’s railway to Mitsui. (Macauhub, Reuters)

Doubts raised over US CCS plant’s cost recovery: The sole Republican member on the Mississippi Public Service Commission (MPSC), Sam Britton, has raised doubts that Mississippi Power will be entitled to recover the $2.88 billion previously specified as the limit of capital costs for the US$7.13 billion 582 MW Kemper CCS project. Cost recovery from the 186,000 consumers served by the project is only possible, Britton said, if the expenses were “prudent”. Mississippi Power is scheduled to submit its application to the MPSC in early June. (Watchdog)

Mongolian miner reports losses: Mongolia Mining Corporation, which operates the Ukhaa Khudag mine in the Gobi desert, has reported losses of US$154.2 million in 2016 with total liabilities of $US921 million. The mine, which produced 1.5 million tonnes of coking coal for export to China, has touted plans to produce 78 million tonnes by 2018. However, the company notes that whether it can continue operations hinges on the restructuring of its debt. Earlier this decade Mongolia was touted as a major new global coal exporter. (Reuters, Mongolian Mining Corporation)

Resources

Carbon costs for planned coal power plants in the Western Balkans and the risk of stranded assets, BankWatch, March 29, 2017. (Pdf)

This 17-page briefing paper analyses ten proposed coal projects across the Western Balkans and concludes they are at serious risk of becoming stranded assets due to carbon dioxide costs which haven’t properly been considered.

“A roadmap for rapid decarbonization”, Science, March 24, 2017.

The authors argue that the challenge of decarbonisation agreed to in the Paris Agreement should be posed as requiring a ‘carbon law’ specifying a halving of gross anthropogenic carbon-dioxide emissions every decade. This would require an end to the use of coal for power generation by around 2030–2035.

Environmental Impact Assessment Report for Hwange Coal Mining Activities, Centre for Natural Resource Governance, 2017 (Pdf) and Report on the Situation of Coal Mining in Hwange, Centre for Natural Resource Governance, July 2016. (Pdf)

These two reports provide a detailed insight into the social and environmental impacts of coal mining at Hwange in Zimbabwe, which supplies the country’s only coal plant.