September 26, 2019
Issue 293  |  View Past Issues

Editor's Note

Ahead of the United Nations Climate Action Summit the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres made clear that ending the construction of new coal power plants and closing existing plants is a crucial element in meeting the Paris Agreement target. The massive global climate strikes and the electrifying speech at the summit by Greta Thunberg further increased pressure for significant new national announcements. The biggest surprise was the announcement by Greece that it would close all its lignite plants by 2028. Hungary also confirmed that it would exit coal power by 2030.

Most of the other national leaders’ speeches committed to incremental improvements or re-announcements of old commitments. The latest edition of the Coal Exit List produced by Urgewald and partner groups reveals 259 coal plant developers are still pursuing new projects in in 60 countries. Meanwhile, a new report has found that to meet the Paris Agreement’s 1.5 degrees target, all coal plants must close by 2040.The three largest promoters of coal plants outside their own borders — South Korea, Japan and China — made no significant announcements. Meanwhile, a review of Chinese power companies’ pursuit of overseas coal power projects finds risks are increasing. A study has also found that South Korea’s Doosan Heavy Industries, which has a role in coal plants in Vietnam and South Africa, is in financial trouble and chasing a declining coal and nuclear market.

In Spain, new data reveals that coal power generation has collapsed. In Germany, a legal group is urging the federal regulator to investigate RWE over what it claims were exaggerated impacts of the court decision to suspend permission for the further clearing of the Hamach forest.

CoalWire will take a one week break and return on October 10.

Bob Burton


How China’s power companies invest overseas

Chinese power companies are facing increasing risks as they pursue overseas coal power projects, write Wang Yan and Li Danqing in Panda Paw Dragon Claw.

KEPCO’s Australian setback raises questions about its other global projects

The rejection on environmental grounds of Korean Electric Power Corporation’s proposed Bylong mine in Australia should raise questions about the wisdom of the company’s other overseas coal projects in Vietnam and South Africa, writes Simon Nicholas in RenewEconomy.

Top News

UN sidelines coal promoters at climate action summit: Ahead of this week’s climate change summit the United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, said countries such as Japan and Australia had not been invited to speak as they continue to promote the construction of coal plants at home and abroad. Guterres also wrote to countries planning on attending the summit that he wanted all countries to commit to stop building new coal plants and to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. Ahead of the summit, over four million people attended Global Climate Strike events in 185 countries. (Financial Times,

Greece announces coal phase-out by 2028: At the United Nations Climate Action Summit, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis announced that “our goal is to close all lignite power plants at the latest by 2028.” Lignite plants supplied 31 per cent of Greece's electricity in 2018. However, the announcement increases uncertainty about the fate of a 660 megawatt (MW) Ptolemaida V unit which is currently under construction and not due to be commissioned until 2022. Details of the phase-out strategy are set to be announced by the end of 2019. At the summit, President Janos Ader announced Hungary would phase out its coal-powered electricity production by 2030. (CourtHouse News Service, Europe Beyond Coal)

Study reveals many coal plants developers remain undeterred: The 2019 Coal Exit List produced by Urgewald and partner groups reveals that, despite growing opposition to new coal plants around the world, 259 coal plant developers have proposed new projects in 60 countries. While almost two-thirds of proposed projects never proceed, if all the projects were built they would expand the world’s coal fleet by 579,000 MW or almost 29 per cent. The report also finds that 200 of the world’s largest coal mining companies are still expanding their coal mining activities. The study also finds that 34 companies are expanding coal infrastructure such as coal ports and railways. (Urgewald)

Study finds coal phase-out needs to accelerate to hit Paris Agreement goal: A new report of Climate Analytics finds that no new coal plants should be built in the 36 OECD countries if the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global heating to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels is to be achieved. The report argues that world coal power output needs to fall by 80% by 2030 and be eliminated in all non-OECD countries by 2040.The report finds that while the global pipeline of new coal-fired power stations has plummeted by 75 per cent since 2015, the cancellation of new projects alone is insufficient to meet the Paris Agreement goals and the decline in coal generation needs to be far faster than previously estimated. (Guardian, Climate Analytics)

Study warns water constraints likely to hit coal plants in Asia: A study published in the journal Energy & Environmental Science has found that the proposed development of 400,000 MW of new coal plant capacity in Asia by 2030 takes little account of likely increasing water constraints. The study finds that reduced water availability due to climate change is likely to result in reduced capacity factor of coal plants in Mongolia, Southeast Asia, and parts of India and China. The study also estimates that if there was a high uptake in carbon capture and storage then water demand for coal plants could be 50–80 per cent higher than it currently is. The authors argue that while careful siting of new coal capacity could reduce the risks of reduced generation due to water constraints, system reliability will be affected on a daily time scale. (Energy & Environmental Science, ScienceBlog)

US study finds selenium levels in fish rising downstream of Canadian metallurgical coal mines: A joint study by US federal agencies of water pollution in the Kootenai River in northern Montana and Idaho has found elevated selenium concentrations in the eggs of whitefish and in some fish at levels likely to cause reproductive harm.  The study, which was done in conjunction with the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho and state regulators from Idaho and Montana, followed alarm at the potential health and recreational impacts of pollution from the metallurgical coal mines in Canada’s Elk Valley. While it was previously known that selenium concentrations in water entering Lake Koocanusa, which straddles the US–Canada border, had been increasing for decades, the study revealed high selenium levels downstream from the Libby Dam which created the lake. (Missoulian, US Environmental Protection Agency)

“There is a cost to everything. But the biggest cost is doing nothing. The biggest cost is subsidizing a dying fossil fuel industry, building more and more coal power plants, and denying what is plain as day. That we are in a deep climate hole and to get out, we must first stop digging. After all, is it common sense to give trillions in hard-earned taxpayers’ money to the fossil fuel industry to boost hurricanes, spread tropical diseases, and heighten conflict? Is it common sense to build ever more coal plants that are choking our future?”

United Nations Secretary-General  Antonio Guterres asked at the Climate Action Summit in New York.


Australia: The Queensland Government, with input from the mining lobby, is seeking to criminalise climate protest actions.

India: Gujurat’s Minister for Energy unveils solar policy changes with aim to generate 30,000 MW of renewable energy by 2022.

Philippines: Bishop Broderick Pabillo from the Catholic Archdiocese of Manila calls on Philippines banks BPI, BDO and Metrobank to divest from coal.

Portugal: Minister for Energy says [Portuguese] faster solar growth may enable closure of the last two coal plants by 2025 instead of the current target of 2030.

South Africa: Pretoria High Court grants the Center for Environmental Rights ‘friend of the court’ status in case over whether municipalities have the power to procure electricity without permission from the Minister of Energy.

Taiwan: Greenpeace estimates switch to clean power by electronics companies could save 100 lives a year.

US: As Powder River Basin coal sales slump and Pacific market export prices fall, Wyoming’s Governor is pitching coal export plan through Mexico.

US: In response to lobbying by coal companies to relax manganese emissions to waterways Pennsylvania regulators instead propose tightening standards.

Companies + Markets

Spanish coal generation collapses: Spain’s 10,000 MW of coal plant capacity is rapidly being sidelined by rising European Union carbon dioxide costs, increased renewables generation and competitive gas costs. In the eight months to the end of August 2019 coal power has contributed just six per cent of Spanish electricity. Much of the existing coal fleet is expected to close by June 2020 when the European Union’s new pollution standards for power plants take effect. While two units at EDP’s 922 MW Abono plant, which have adjoining captive industrial plants, are likely to continue to operate, three other plants are likely to close. Endesa’s 1050 MW Teruel plant is to close in 2020 and Macquarie Viesgo's 324 MW Puente Nuevo is likely to follow suit. Endesa has also suspended upgrading work on the 350 MW units 3 and 4 of the As Pontes plant as it reconsiders the plant’s future. Spanish coal production, which peaked at 40 million tonnes a year in the 1980s, is expected to be close to zero in 2019. (Platts)

Report raises doubts about the viability of South Korea’s Doosan: A report by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis has found Doosan Heavy Industries, a major South Korean company which has been heavily reliant on equipment orders for new fossil fuel and nuclear power plants, has failed to make a profit since 2013. The report finds the market capitalisation of the company is now just US$1 billion, down 75 per cent over the last five years, and the company has become reliant on competing with Chinese and Japanese manufacturers for new thermal coal projects supported by heavy subsidises from Korea’s major banks. Report co-author Melissa Brown warns that Doosan’s financial decline should be of concern to South Korea’s Financial Supervisory Service and to domestic and global lenders. (Korea Herald, Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis)

Legal group calls for investigation of RWE’s Hambach forest claims: ClientEarth has requested Germany’s Federal Financial Supervisory Authority (BaFin) investigate RWE over its October 2018 claim that a court decision suspending approval for clearing the Hambach forest would cut its earnings in “the range of a low three digit million Euro amount per year.” After RWE’s statement the share price slumped and slashed the company’s market capitalisation by over €1 billion (US$1.1 billion). A report for ClientEarth by energy consultancy Energy Brainpool argues RWE significantly overstated the impact of the court decision on earnings. The report argues RWE had already agreed to mothball five units which together consume 11 million tonnes of lignite and the court decision would have made no difference to production levels. ClientEarth has requested that if BaFin finds any criminal offence may have been committed that it be reported to the public prosecutor’s office. (ClientEarth, ClientEarth [pdf])

Sasol looks to offload its coal mining division: The South African government-owned coal-to-oil company, Sasol, is reportedly planning to sell its 40 million tonnes per annum coal mining operation to reduce its environmental liabilities and cover massive cost overruns on its Lake Charles chemical plant in the US. Sasol’s sale of its coal mines, which supply its Secunda coal-to-oil plant, would be conditional on a coal offtake agreement for the mines production. (Bloomberg)

Indian Government presses NTPC to salvage stranded plants: India’s Minister of Power, RK Singh, has requested the publicly owned NTPC to consider bidding on coal power plants that are before the National Company Law Tribunal for having defaulted on loans. Originally there were 34 coal plants with about 40,000 MW of capacity before the tribunal but this has been whittled down to 23 plants. Singh’s request comes as private power developers have lobbied government to rescue stranded thermal power projects even as NTPC has increased its focus on rapidly expanding its renewable generation capacity. (Financial Express)

Russia cuts rates for thermal coal for European market: The state-owned Russian Railways will cut rates for thermal coal shipments by 7.4 per cent for the remainder of 2019 in a bid to boost exports to the declining European market. The discount is aimed at boosting capacity in the “underutilised” North Caucasus rail line which serves export terminals on the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov. Over the January to July period in 2019, thermal coal imports into the European Union from other countries has fallen by 10 million tonnes, a 16 per cent fall. (Montel, Argus)

Citi estimates global seaborne thermal coal market in surplus in 2020: Citi estimates that rising domestic thermal coal production in China and India and exports from Colombia and South Africa “are set to shift the seaborne market into surplus in 2020.” India’s slowing economy and low demand growth could result in reduced thermal coal imports. Citi estimates that growth in demand in Southeast Asia, such as the commissioning of a 2000 MW Jimah East plant in Malaysia in the second half of the year, is unlikely to outweigh reduced demand from Europe and the US. (Platts)


Global and regional coal phase-out requirements of the Paris Agreement: Insights from the IPCC Special Report on 1.5°C, Climate Analytics, September 2019. (Pdf)

This 34-page report estimates that achieving the 1.5 degrees temperate Paris Agreement goal requires that coal power be reduced to 80 per cent below 2010 levels by 2030 and phased out entirely before 2040.

Companies Driving the World’s Coal Expansion Revealed: NGOs Release New Global Coal Exit List for Finance Industry, Urgewald and partners, September 2019. (Pdf) (The table of proposed coal plants by country is here.)

This 7-page briefing details how 400 of the 746 companies on the Global Coal Exit List are still planning to expand their coal operations.

“German villages bulldozed to make space for coal mine”, Channel 4, September 19, 2019.

This 7-minute video investigates the push to expand the Garzweiler lignite mine in Germany and the threat it poses to five more villages.