June 6, 2019
Issue 278  |  View Past Issues

Editor's Note

The latest data released by the International Renewable Energy Agency argues that by 2020 solar and wind will respectively be cheaper than 700,000 and 900,000 megawatts (MW) of existing coal plant capacity. Frederick Starace, the CEO of the major utility Enel told the Financial Times that when renewables are cheaper than fully depreciated coal “the old technology is dead.”

But economic factors alone don’t explain continued decisions to back new coal. The CEO of Storebrand, the big Norwegian asset manager, points to the power of Keidanren, Japan’s domestic business lobby group, in resisting any move to back away from coal at home and abroad. While individual Japanese utilities and finance houses are shifting, Prime Minister Abe has so far stuck by the coal lobby. In China, debate has resurfaced over the country’s 2020 goal to cap consumption at 4.1 billion tonnes of coal equivalent. In Sri Lanka, Cabinet has backed a proposal for new coal plants despite the unreliability of and pollution from the country’s only coal plant.

Other countries are pushing in the opposite direction. In Taiwan, Taipower has been directed to shut two coal units from autumn and winter this year. In Great Britain, the national electricity grid ran coal-free for a record-breaking 18 days. As renewables undercut coal, demand in the export market is weakening and prices in both the European and Asia-Pacific markets are falling.

Scandals involving coal power utilities continue to pop up. In Indonesia, the head of the public utility PLN has resigned after being arrested by the country’s anti-corruption commission. In South Africa, the global engineering company ABB has told the government’s anti-corruption agency of pressure from a former CEO of Eskom to sub-contract the company of his friend.

Bob Burton


Japan must exit coal

Ahead of the G20 summit in Osaka in late June, Japan should break with domestic lobby groups promoting coal power and establish itself as a world leader in the transition to renewables at home and abroad, writes Erik Saugestad, CEO of Storebrand Asset Management in Japan Times. (Storebrand is the largest private asset manager in Norway.)

Top News

Taiwan utility directed to accelerate coal shutdown: Taiwan’s Deputy Minister of Economic Affairs, Tseng Wen-sheng, has ordered Taipower to close two 550 MW units from autumn and winter this year. Taipower, which had proposed to retire the coal units at the Hsinta Power Plant only after new gas-fired units have been commissioned, has scheduled to close the two remaining 500 MW units after 2023. A task force appointed by Tseng disagreed with Taipower on the closure schedule but has given conditional approval to an environmental impact assessment on the proposed construction of three gas turbines at the Hsinta site. The proposed gas units have a combined capacity of 3900 MW by 2023. (Taipei Times)

Chile aims to end coal power by 2040 but closure schedule vague: Chile’s conservative president Sebastian Pinera has pledged in his annual address to the nation to close eight of the country’s 28 operating coal units by 2024. Pinera also announced that the closure schedule for the period after 2025 would be determined by the power generation utilities with the aim of closing all remaining coal plants by 2040. Chile, which will host the annual UN climate talks in December, has 5461 MW of coal units with a new 375 MW unit commissioned by Engie last week. However, Chilean civil society groups, which have been pushing for a coal phase-out by 2030, said Pinera’s plan to retire 40 year old plants by 2024 could be achieved by 2021. In April 2018 Engie announced three units at the Tocopilla plant would close within 12-36 months. However, in his statement Pinera re-announced the closure of these units as if it was a new decision. Pinera pledge has the support of the major power generation companies, Engie, Enel, Colbun and a subsidiary of AES. (Greenpeace Chile [Spanish], Prensa Presidencia)

Head of Indonesian utility resigns after arrest over corruption investigation: The President Director of PLN, Sofyan Basir, has resigned after being arrested on May 27 by Indonesia’s Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) as a suspect in its investigation into bribes paid by a shareholder of Blackgold Natural Resources to gain approvals for the proposed 600 MW Riau 1 coal plant. The KPK has also questioned Indonesia’s Energy and Mineral Resources Minister, Ignasius Jonan, over his knowledge of the approvals for the Riau 1 coal plant. Jonan has failed to appear for questioning on four previous occasions; he was on an overseas work trip in one instance. (Jakarta Post, Antara)

Investigation into claims made by ABB against former Eskom CEO: The South African Government’s anti-corruption arm, the Special Investigating Unit (SIU), is evaluating a claim by the engineering company ABB that former Eskom CEO Matshela Koko directed it to subcontract work to another company owned by a former university friend. ABB has a 90 million rand (US$6.2 million) contract for work on the Kusile power station. In a submission to the SIU, ABB alleges that Koko wanted it to subcontract work to Leago, a company owned by Thabo Mokwena. Koko went to university with Mokwena and was groomsman at his wedding. ABB claimed the sub-contract was “a conduit” for Koko’s benefit but both Koko and Mokwena rejected the claim that there was anything inappropriate about the deal. (TimesLive)

South Korea adopts coal and nuclear phase-out plan: South Korea’s Ministry of Trade, Industry, and Energy has finalised an energy plan that aims to increase renewable generation to 35 per cent by 2040, up from its current 8 per cent. The plan rules out the construction of more coal or nuclear plants but allows for some existing coal plants to be converted to run on liquid natural gas (LNG). The final plan is largely unchanged from a draft plan released in April. (Reuters, The Korea Bizwire)

Adani wins approval for weak plan for endangered finch: The Queensland Government has approved Adani’s proposed management plan for the endangered black-throated finch which lives in part of the proposed open pit mine site. Adani claimed the plan, which was resubmitted after earlier versions had been rejected, has been subject to “rigorous scientific evaluation.” However, scientists who had assessed earlier versions of the plan were scathing in their assessment of Adani’s continued poor understanding of the bird, its feeding habits, where it lived or the feasibility of proposed actions it claimed would avoid making it extinct. (Guardian, The Conversation)

Coal plants identified as major driver of Western Balkans air pollution: A United Nations Environment Program report estimates that every city in the Western Balkans — a region spanning Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia — are exposed to air pollution at up to five times national and European Union guidelines. The report, released to coincide with World Environment Day, noted that high air pollution in the Western Balkans cities was estimated to cause between 15 and 19 per cent of premature deaths. The report noted that one of the key contributors to the region’s poor air quality were 15 old coal plants which are responsible for high levels of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and fine particle pollution emissions. (Associated Press)

“The European energy sector has reached a watershed where cheaper, clean energy will destroy the economic viability of coal production within a decade,”

said Francesco Starace, the CEO of the global utility Enel and the outgoing president of Eurelectric, the European power industry lobbying group.


Australia: The ABC, a public broadcaster, axed a story about the economic viability of Adani’s Carmichael coal project after a complaint by the company.

Australia: The 535 MW unit 2 at the Loy Yang A plant trips with unit expected to be offline for up to three months for repairs.

Ireland: Data revealing worsening air pollution prompts call for ban on coal heating and shutdown of Moneypoint power station.

Kenya: Ahead of court ruling on proposed Lamu plant, residents object to the damage done by an associated port project.

Myanmar: Police launch crackdown on villagers protesting against coal-fired cement plant.

Poland: PGE has retired the one of the 13 units at Belchatow plant, the world’s largest lignite power plant.

US: A New Mexico appeal court has rejected a bid by a Peabody Energy subsidiary to have coal classed as a chemical in order to claim a tax deduction.

US: The climate policy of Joe Biden, who is seeking to be the Democratic Party’s 2020 nominee for President, copied language on carbon capture and storage from a coal industry group.

Vietnam: The public coal mining company, Vinacomin, and the public power utility, EVN, have been placed under the supervision of a government commission to ensure compliance with laws on the management and use of public capital and assets.

Zimbabwe: Rocked by corruption and mismanagement scandals, Hwange Colliery — the sole supplier to the country’s only coal plant — needs US$50 million in capital.

“The question has always been: can the cost of wind or solar generation beat the cost of a fully amortised old coal plant? When that happens the old technology is dead,”

said Mr Starace, the CEO of the global utility Enel.

Companies + Markets

Study finds new solar and wind pose huge threat to existing coal plant: The International Renewable Energy Agency estimates the cost of power from both solar photovoltaic and onshore wind fell in 2018 by 13 per cent in 2018 compared to the year before and expects further declines in the years ahead. The study also finds that by 2020 new solar power is expected to cost less than the marginal operating cost of about 700,000 MW of operating coal capacity and that new onshore wind power should generate electricity below the marginal operating costs of almost 900,000 MW of coal capacity. (International Renewable Energy Agency, International Renewable Energy Agency [pdf])

Standard Bank shareholders pressure managers for action on coal policy: Standard Bank shareholders have voted 55 per cent in favour of a resolution requiring the bank to “publicly disclose a policy on lending to coal-fired power projects and coal mining operations.” Another resolution, which was also submitted by the RAITH Foundation and Theo Botha with the support of the responsible investment NGO Just Share, would have required the bank to publish an assessment of the greenhouse gas emissions resulting from its financing portfolio and its exposure to climate change risk from its lending. This resolution gained 38 per cent of the votes cast. The executives of the South Africa-headquartered Standard Bank, Africa’s largest lender, had urged shareholders to vote against both resolutions. (BusinessLive, JustShare)

Japan provides more funding for Bangladesh coal port: The Japan International Cooperating Agency (JICA) has approved a further US$360 million loan towards completing the construction of the US$500 million Matarbari port in Cox's Bazar. The project is being undertaken by a consortium comprising Japan's JERA Asia and the Bangladesh conglomerate The Summit Group. The port is proposed to have the capacity to handle up to 20 million tonnes a year of coal and general cargo. Japan has previously agreed to provide financial support for the proposed 1200 MW Matarbari coal plant which would be reliant on imported coal. However, on her recent visit to Japan, Bangalesh’s Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, reportedly requested additional JICA funding to expand the plant to add a further 1200 MW of capacity after the first two units are commissioned. (Reuters, Japan International Cooperation Agency, Energy Bangla)

Mongolia likely to defer coal mine part-privatisation: Gombojav Zandanshatar, the Chair of Mongolia’s parliament, has flagged that the proposed privatisation of the government-owned coal company, Erdenes Tavan Tolgoi (ETT), may be deferred until 2020. The most recent plan was for the sale of a 30 per cent stake in ETT in late 2019 via an initial public offering on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. In January, ETT’s Chief Executive, Gankhuyag Battulga, suggested the proceeds from the sale, which is estimated to yield up to US$3 billion, could be used to finance the construction of the proposed 300 MW Tavan Tolgoi coal plant backed by Rio Tinto and the Mongolian Government to supply the Oyu Tolgoi copper mine. Mongolia’s potential coal exports are tied to demand from China and the policies of the respective governments. At the Belt and Road Forum held in Beijing in April, Energy China entered into an agreement with the Australia-headquartered Aspire Mining for the Erdenet to Ovoot coal railway and associated road. (Nikkei Asian Review)

European coal prices hit as renewables grow and warm weather undercuts demand: The rapid growth in cost competitiveness of wind and solar power is reshaping Europe’s largest power markets, with coal prices slumping as a warmer-than-usual winter has led to stockpiles of unused fuel. Another factor undercutting coal is the influx of shipments of cheap LNG which has made gas-fired power generation more profitable than coal power driving down the prices for both gas and coal. Coal demand has also been affected by high carbon emissions prices and reduced coal generation in countries such as the UK, which has run free from coal generation for over 18 days. (Bloomberg)

Asian coal prices slide: Market analysts suggest that a sharp drop in thermal coal prices in the Asian market could hit high-cost exporters from Australia, Russia and the US. In Taiwan, cooler weather is resulting in lower power demand while public pressure over pollution is also driving reduced coal use. Prices for high-ash cargoes from Newcastle have fallen to US$58 a tonne and Chinese demand has all but dried up. Indian buyers are only interested in high-ash cargoes at lower prices. Thermal coal prices in the Asian market have fallen as purchases by South Korea, Taiwan and Japan have declined. Analysts also suggest that some high-cost thermal coal producers, bound by rail and port contracts to export minimum volumes, may continue exporting rather than pay penalties or be forced to cover the costs of mothballing mines. Other analysts have suggested that higher prices for semi-soft coking coal may encourage some coal producers to wash thermal coal to reduce ash content. (Platts, Platts)

Study warns enforcement required to hit China coal cap: A study by Chinese Government think-tanks and industry associations estimates that China’s coal consumption grew by 34 million tonnes in 2018 to 3.83 billion tonnes. China has a cap coal use target of 4.1 billion tonnes of coal equivalent by 2020. However, the researchers warned that the cap will be hard to meet unless the recent growth in the power and steel sectors are constrained. In 2018 coal plant capacity reached 1144 gigawatts (GW), a three per cent increase on the year before. The growth in coal-to-chemicals production is also driving demand the researchers warn. They argue the government should adopt coal use caps for particular industries to prevent companies relocating plants from coal-controlled regions to unregulated regions. The researchers warned that a more ambitious target of 3.5 billion tonnes of coal use would require even stricter enforcement. (Reuters)

Sri Lankan Cabinet approves more plants as existing plant breaks pollution limits: An investigation in September 2018 by the Industrial Technical Institute found the flue gas desulphurisation unit on the second 300 MW unit at Sri Lanka’s only coal plant had failed and that sulphur dioxide emissions from the plant “exceeded the maximum permissible level”. They also reported that five of the 15 fields in the electrostatic precipitator had also failed. Blackouts have repeatedly hit Sri Lanka due to the continual problems the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) has had with the 900 MW Norochcholai coal plant. The first Chinese-built unit at the plant was commissioned in late 2014. Despite the problems, Sri Lanka’s Cabinet has now approved a proposal by Power and Energy Minister Ravi Karunanayake for the construction of three more 300 MW coal units, two at Trincomalee and another at the site of the existing plant at Norochcholai. The country’s previous power development plan had ruled out further coal units on economic grounds but the CEB and the CEB Engineers Union argued against that assessment. (Sunday Times, Times Online)