December 1, 2016
Issue 161  |  View Past Issues
CoalWire

Editor's Note

Momentum behind countries committing to phasing out coal continues to grow with Finland’s Cabinet pledging to dramatically cut use by 2030, while  Canada’s Alberta province has committed to end coal power by the same year. A Senate committee of the Australian parliament has also proposed – in conjunction with a ‘just transition’ strategy for coalfield communities – a staged retreat from coal. This was an unthinkable proposition just a few years ago. Discussion of a just transition is also building in Spain. China on the other hand is grappling with how to slow or stop construction of vast numbers of unneeded and unviable new coal plants.

As the Trump transition team is fleshed out, former staffers from pro-coal and gas think tanks aligned with Koch Industries and their foundations have been appointed to key positions. Even so, US utilities remain committed to closing old coal plants, a transition made more attractive by the rapidly falling cost of renewables. Meanwhile, in the US territory of Puerto Rico last week dozens were arrested for attempting to block the dumping of coal ash from coal plants, in local landfills.

Bob Burton

Features

Russia’s coal boom comes at a high cost

Many of the UK’s remaining coal plants consume Russian coal which is produced at a high environmental and social cost, writes Zach Boren in Greenpeace’s EnergyDesk.

Top News

Dozens arrested over Puerto Rico coal ash dumping: Forty-one people, including a Senator, have been arrested attempting to block the dumping of coal ash in landfill sites in Puerto Rico by Applied Energy Services (AES), which operates coal plants in the US territory. In March it was revealed the Puerto Rico Electric and Power Authority and the US Environmental Protection Agency had secretly agreed to drop a clause banning AES from dumping coal ash locally and requiring it to be exported from the island to continental US for disposal. (Telesur, OpenDemocracy)

Alberta to phase out coal plants by 2030: The Alberta government has announced it will pay Capital Power, TransAlta and ATCO a total of US$72 million a year from 2017 to 2030 to close all 18 power plants by 2030. All but six are scheduled to close or be converted to gas before 2030 anyway. The settlement was negotiated to avoid legal action by the companies over voided power purchase agreements. The government estimates the settlement will amount to a cost of less than US$7.5 per tonne of avoided emissions. (Globe and Mail, Government of Alberta)

Finland proposes 2030 deadline for coal: The Cabinet of Finland’s ruling centre-right government has amended its ‘Energy and Climate Strategy for 2030 and Beyond’ to include phasing out most coal power plants by 2030. (While widely reported as a 'ban', the Cabinet proposal would allow some continued coal generation.) Finland currently has 2119 megawatts (MW) in coal plant capacity. The government’s proposal will be submitted to parliament for ratification in December. (Independent, Reuters)

Senate committee urges Australian coal phase-out: An interim Senate committee report has recommended the “orderly” retirement of Australia’s fleet of 24 coal plants which produce about 63 per cent of the country’s electricity. The committee also recommended an independent agency be established to oversee the transition and ensure support for affected workers and communities. In a significant policy shift, the opposition Australian Labor Party (ALP) agreed to the phase-out. The Greens and the ALP had a majority on the committee while the members of the governing Liberal Party submitted a dissenting report. (Guardian, Parliament of Australia)

Trump appoints energy think tankers to transition team: Doug Domenech, the Director of the Fueling Freedom Project at the right-wing Texas Public Policy Foundation, has been appointed to head President-elect Donald Trump’s Department of Interior transition team. The Department of Interior oversees public land management, including coal leasing in the Powder River Basin. The foundation does not disclose its donors but has been tied to funding from Koch Industries and associated foundations. Thomas Pyle, president of the American Energy Alliance – another group which has received Koch funding – has been appointed to head the Department of Energy transition team. (E&E News)

Indian utility surrenders coal allocation: Mahagenco, the major power generation company in Maharashtra state in western India, has bowed to public pressure and is seeking to surrender the Mahajanwadi coal allocation. The proposed mine, which would have displaced up to 50,000 people, has been opposed by a coalition of villagers and political parties. The state’s energy minister stated the relocation costs would have made the project unviable. (Times of India)

“I’m sceptical that there is a lot you can do to stop this coal plant replacement cycle from happening … Renewables are the cheapest form of new power in most of these markets [in the US],”

said Bryan Martin, a managing director at DE Shaw & Co, a major New York hedge fund.

News

Canada: Saskatchewan claim that it can operate unabated coal plants past 2030 raises Greenpeace’s ire.

China: Safety crackdown after a collapse at a coal plant in Jiangxi province kills 74 construction workers.

South Africa: Fitch downgrades national outlook, in part on instability caused by Eskom coal scandal.

India: Investigators raid offices in three states in money laundering case linked to coal scandal.

Mongolia: China cans talks on Tavan Tolgoi mine railway and gasification plant after Dalai Lama visit.

Philippines: Ethics complaint filed against Energy Regulatory Commission officials over Meralco’s coal power contracts.

Companies + Markets

Study finds China risks blowing US$490 billion on coal plants: China risks wasting US$490 billion building unnecessary coal plants due to slowing demand growth and falling utilisation rates, according to a report by Carbon Tracker. With the existing 895,000 MW of operating coal capacity suffering utilisation rates of 45 per cent, the report argues no new coal plants are needed before 2020. With other less-polluting sources of generation increasing, Carbon Tracker estimates coal generation could fall by up to eight per cent between 2015 and 2020. (Carbon Tracker)

Further delays for Indian ‘ultra-mega’ project: NTPC’s long-mooted 4000 MW Pudimadaka Ultra-Mega Power Project in Andhra Pradesh is likely to be further delayed due to slowing power demand   and the company’s failure to win a coal allocation. While 1200 acres for the project was acquired by the government despite strong community opposition, NTPC still requires a further 1000 acres for coal ash disposal. The plant was initially proposed in 2011 to be based on imported coal but has recently been directed by the national government to source local coal. (The Hindu, CoalSwarm)

Coal can’t compete in US, says Bloomberg: Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) estimates that even if President-elect Donald Trump were to strip federal tax credits from solar and wind they would still be cheaper than coal plants. In Texas, new wind farms can be built for just US$22 a megawatt-hour and solar projects in Arizona and Nevada can generate electricity for under US$40 a megawatt-hour, while average US costs for new coal plants are US$65 a megawatt-hour. BNEF estimates 40,000 MW of wind and solar plant capacity will be added in the next two years. (Bloomberg)

US utilities hold to coal closure course: Despite the election of Donald Trump as President most US electricity utilities remain committed to the closure of 46 coal units with a combined capacity of over 15,000 MW already approved by regulators. “Many of our coal plants are aging and need to be replaced with cleaner, modern generating technologies, which is what our customers are asking of us,” said a spokesperson for DTE Energy. Further plant closures have been announced but not yet approved by regulators. (SNL)

New Indian coal ports flagged: India’s Ministry of Shipping has backed the development of at least three major new coal ports as part of the Modi Government’s plan to expand the country’s port capacity. The Paradip Outer Harbour project is proposed to have a capacity for up to 175 million tonnes a year of thermal coal for power plants in the country’s south and west. Other ports proposed to handle cargo including coal have been flagged at either Machilipatinam or Vodarevu in Andhra Pradesh and either Cuddalore or Shikazhi in Tamil Nadu. (First Post)

Resources

Chasing the Dragon? China’s coal overcapacity crisis and what it means for investors, Carbon Tracker, November 2016. (Pdf) (Media release is here and an infographic here.)

This 56-page report details the risk to China of investing over US$490 billion in unnecessary and unviable coal plant capacity.

Human Rights Violations In Case of Ex-Lumbung Coal Mine in East Kalimantan, National Commission on Human Rights, October 2016. (Pdf)

This just-released 64 page report finds the deaths of 27 people at abandoned coal mining sites in East Kalimantan represented violations of human rights of residents.

Retirement of coal fired power stations, Parliament of Australia, 28 November 2016. (Pdf)

This 80-page interim report details why a majority of an Australian parliamentary committee supports a planned phase-out of coal power and also includes the government members dissenting report.

Beyond Coal: Sustainable alternatives for the future of coalfield regions, Greenpeace Spain, November 216. (Pdf)

This 11 page report outlines elements of a potential transition plan for the coalfield region of Andorra-Sierra de Arcos in Spain.