February 21, 2018
Issue 218  |  View Past Issues

Editor's Note

Many commentators have assumed that it is inevitable that the rapidly electrifying Asian region would be wedded to coal for a long time to come. A seemingly disparate set of developments over the last week suggest that a coal-centric path of development is far from certain.

In Thailand, the military regime has agreed to scrap the current environmental assessments on two proposed coal plants with a combined capacity of 2800 megawatts (MW) to resolve a hunger strike by residents opposing the projects. In Japan, in a signal of the rapidly changing nature of the energy debate, an advisory committee to the Minister of Foreign Affairs has recommended a coal phase-out. A few years ago the idea that high-level government officials would be even debating a coal phase-out would have been considered fanciful. In Australia, the government is nervous about the growing anti-coal sentiment in South Korea.

At a global level, McKinsey note that the dramatic falls in solar and wind prices achieved in recent power auctions could slash thermal coal use in India and China by over 50 per cent by 2050.

Bob Burton


South32’s shift away from thermal coal puts BHP to shame

The company spun off in 2015 to host some of BHP Billiton’s worst performing coal assets — mostly in South Africa — has decided thermal coal is so unloved by investors it plans to offload them, writes Bob Burton in EndCoal.

It'd be wonderful if the claims made about carbon capture were true

The only way carbon capture and storage (CCS) will ever be built at scale is with a carbon price so high it would kill the rest of the coal sector, writes Simon Holmes a Court in the Guardian.

Top News

Thai military regime retreats on coal plants to end hunger strike: After a one-week-long hunger strike by opponents of coal plants, Thailand’s Minister for Energy, Siri Jirapongphan, has agreed to cancel the current environmental assessments of the 2000 MW Thepa plant and the 800 MW Krabi project in the country’s south. The Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand will also drop the legal actions it has initiated against some activists. The minister agreed to undertake a new strategic assessment of the suitability of the two sites for power projects. If coal plants are considered inappropriate by experts agreed to by the groups opposed to the plants, the ministry will cancel the projects. If they are considered appropriate, a new independent environmental assessment will be undertaken. (The Nation, ABC News)

Japanese foreign affairs advisory body urges coal phase-out: A committee advising the Minister of Foreign Affairs on climate change has recommended Japan should develop a plan “for the gradual retirement of domestic coal-fired power” and should aim for the “immediate end to the public assistance for the export of coal-fired power.” The committee argued that “even the most advanced coal-fired power cannot meet the 2 degree target of the Paris Agreement.” The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has yet to respond to the committee’s report on energy. (Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

Pressure mounts on Rotterdam Port for coal phase-out: A coalition of environmental groups has called for the city council of Rotterdam to advance a coal phase-out plan for the coal port in line with a resolution adopted in November 2017. The port handled about 25.7 million tonnes of coal in 2017 with roughly equal shares of thermal and metallurgical coal. About 40 per cent of the coal consumed in northwestern Europe passes through Rotterdam Port, with most destined for Germany. (Europe Beyond Coal, Europe Beyond Coal)

UK air pollution plummets with coal plant closures: The closure of UK coal plants led to a rapid reduction in UK pollution levels according to data from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Sulphur dioxide emissions fell by 29 percent in 2016 compared to the year before and nitrogen oxide fell by 10 per cent over the same period. Despite the plant closures, UK nitrogen oxide levels still exceed European Union standards. (Bloomberg)

Australian Government launches charm offensive for South Korean governor: The Australian Government has sponsored a visit to Australia for the Governor of South Chungcheong province, Ahn Hee-Jung, to meet government officials and ministers. While South Chungcheong hosts 29 coal plants, Ahn is a leading supporter of a shift away from coal power. In 2016–17 Australia exported 28 million tonnes of thermal coal to South Korea, its third largest export market. (Guardian)

Adani flouts licence conditions for Indian plant: In 2016 Adani Power was granted approval to use forest land for an expansion of its 3300 MW Tiroda plant even though the allocation of 15 hectares for a railway siding was in contravention of Ministry of Environment and Forests rules. A further 149 hectares of forest land was retrospectively approved after the completion of the plant expansion. Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation also sold Adani 110 hectares of land to build a 6-million-tonnes-a-year cement plant to reuse ash waste but, seven years later, the plant has not been built and the land has been used for a coal ash dump. (Times of India, CoalSwarm)


Australia: Pro-Adani Townsville City Council blocks screening of Adani documentary in council building.

Greece: Public power utility seeks private bids to extend life of polluting Amyntaio plant.

Mongolia: Government pushes Rio Tinto to support new coal plant at Oyu Tolgoi mine.

Pakistan: Exploration licence granted covering the over 8000 hectare Thatta-Sonda coal deposit.

South Africa: General Electric executives lobby for proposed 300 MW Khanyisa power station.

South Africa: Mining company tells parliamentary committee Eskom favoured Gupta-linked Tegeta despite them producing more expensive coal.

US: Peabody Energy demands US$35 million tax cut to lift sale prospects of Navajo power station.

US: Department of Energy awards US$44 million for CCS projects, including for studies at three existing coal plants.

Companies + Markets

McKinsey estimates new low renewables prices could hit coal hard: In its 2018 Global Energy Demand report McKinsey estimates that, if sustained, the low renewables prices achieved at recent auctions could cut coal demand in China by 60 per cent and in India by 52 per cent by 2050 and see global coal consumption decline by 22.5 per cent. The report says that without the fall in renewables prices, global coal demand could fall by just over nine per cent by 2050. (McKinsey)

Indian ratings agency expresses concern over coal plant viability: India Ratings (Ind-Ra), a ratings agency, has continued to rank India’s thermal power sector as “negative” due to the inability of private power generators to obtain long-term power purchase agreements. Ind-Ra notes that distribution utilities already have power purchase agreements with state and national government generation utilities, which have 40,000 MW of new coal plants under construction. The agency also notes coal plants “remain vulnerable to coal and water availability.” While the agency expects coal plant load factor to remain around 60 per cent, it warns private generators with lower utilisation will struggle to cover debt costs. (Business Standard, Economic Times)

South African court rules communities must be consulted on mining: The High Court of Pretoria has ruled that mining-affected communities must be consulted in the development of a mining charter which sets a policy framework for ensuring social and economic benefits from mining. The mining charter released in June 2017 by Mineral Resources Minister, Mosebenzi Zwane, excluded direct input from communities, including those in the Mpumalanga coal belt affected by extreme pollution. (Business Day)

US coal fleet under siege from renewables: A review of operating costs of the US coal fleet has found that it could be cheaper to build new onshore wind capacity by 2020 and solar plants by 2021. In the US the average capacity factor of coal units has fallen from 61 per cent in 2014 to 53 per cent in 2016. The steady reduction in operating hours for coal plants is forcing operating and environmental costs to be absorbed on an ever narrower base of electricity sold while the cost of renewables are falling rapidly. (CarbonTracker)

Standard Chartered breaches policy over Vietnamese coal plant: Standard Chartered, a major UK bank, has been accused of breaching its own climate policy by planning to co-finance the proposed 1200 MW Nghi Son 2 coal plant in Vietnam. While the bank’s climate policy states it will only fund coal plants that use “the best available technology”, the proposed plant would emit more carbon dioxide per kilowatt hour than permitted under the bank’s policy and double the average of the existing coal plants in Vietnam. (Climate Home News, Market Forces)