September 27, 2018
Issue 247  |  View Past Issues

Editor's Note

First the good news: a campaign targeting Standard Chartered has succeeded in persuading the company to exclude support for any new coal plants anywhere in the world beyond those they have already made commitments to. However, the bad news is that new satellite data reveals that China’s central government has failed to rein in a massive 259,000 megawatt (MW) coal plant building spree being pursued by provincial governments.

Elsewhere, the economics of coal power continue to bite. In the US an Indiana utility has unveiled plans to accelerate the close of its coal fleet. Two investors considering buying the ailing Navajo Generating Station have backed out of the project. Not surprisingly, some owners of existing coal plants inaccurately claim there are technical reasons to limit the contribution of wind and solar power.

Coal continues to be engulfed in controversies over pollution and political scandals. In the US, a court has ruled that the case of workers suing a company over the health impacts of a coal ash clean-up can proceed to trial. This comes at a time when coal ash dams in North Carolina and South Carolina have been hit by floods caused by Hurricane Florence. In Malaysia, the national government has triggered a backlash by suggesting the revival of a long-abandoned plan for a coal power plant using domestic coal. In China, a senior official at a government energy agency is under investigation for as-yet unspecified “disciplinary violations”.

Bob Burton


China’s emissions keep on rising

The latest data reveals Chinese greenhouse gas emissions increased by 3 per cent in the first half of 2018 as government stimulus polices keep boosting industrial power demand and construction activity, write Lauri Myllyvirta and Emma Howard in Unearthed.

The International Energy Agency guideline that doesn’t exist

Despite claims to the contrary by critics of renewable power, there is no International Energy Agency guideline that specifies that renewable power should be curtailed to ensure power from coal and other ‘dispatchable’ generation never falls below 50 per cent of generation, writes Bob Burton in RenewEconomy.

As Marubeni distances itself from coal, other industrial behemoths will follow

The announcement by Japan’s Marubeni Corporation, one of the world’s largest developers of coal plants, that it will cut its involvement with coal projects, increases pressure on other leading companies to follow suit, writes Simon Nicolas from the Institute for Energy Economics & Financial Analysis.

The Cerrejon coal mine in Colombia poses a challenge for the Catholic Church

The Catholic Church has had a troubled relationship with the communities affected by the Cerrejon coal mine in Colombia but that may be about to improve, writes Richard Solly from the London Mining Network in Independent Catholic News.


Standard Chartered rules out new loans for new coal plants

Standard Chartered, one of the world’s largest banks, has ruled out “providing financing for new coal-fired power plants anywhere in the world.” The bank states that it “will continue to honour” financing commitments made for 14 projects in seven countries. In 2016 Standard Chartered ruled out financing “new standalone, non-captive thermal coal mines.” Market Forces, the NGO that led the campaign on Standard Chartered’s climate policy, welcomed the decision and noted the bank had been in line to fund three coal plants in Vietnam. Standard Bank advised the developers of both the 557 MW Thabametsi and 306 MW Khanyisa proposed coal plants South Africa of their new climate policy ruling out funding for new coal plants. (Standard Chartered, Market Forces, Fin24)

Top News

Data reveals China has failed to end coal building spree: Analysis of satellite imagery has revealed that development work is proceeding on 259,000 MW of new coal plants, enough to expand the country’s grid by 25 per cent. This is despite existing plants running at less than half their capacity. The data reveals that the central government has been ineffective at stopping the boom in new coal plant capacity driven by provincial governments. It is estimated that cancelling the plants would free up US$210 billion in capital expenditure, enough to build nearly 300 GW of solar PV or 175 GW of wind power in China. (CoalSwarm)

China investigates energy agency head: China’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection has announced it is investigating the head of its National Energy Administration (NEA), Nur Bekri, for “serious” but as-yet unspecified “disciplinary violations”. “Disciplinary violations” is commonly used to refer to anti-corruption investigations. The NEA has carriage for national energy polices and laws. He was previously chairman of Xinjiang territory, which is struggling with major power plant overcapacity due to the construction of coal and wind projects in excess of local demand and without access to transmission infrastructure. Depending on the nature of the issues being investigated, there may be an impact on power projects. In December 2014, a former director of the NEA, Liu Tienan, was sentenced to life in prison for accepting a US$5.3 million in bribes from promoters of business projects. (Bloomberg, Guangfu [Google Translate])

Backlash against Malaysian Government plan to support domestic coal mines: A range of civil society and political groups have rejected the proposal by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad that Malaysia should cut its reliance on imported coal by exploiting deposits in the Sabah and Sarawak states. A proposal to build a mine-mouth coal plant in Sabah state in 2009 was scrapped after opposition from civil society groups. The Deputy Chief Minister and Minister for Tourism, Culture and Environment, Christina Liew, said the proposal was just at the discussion stage. (FMT News, FMT News)

Legal risk hangs over proposed Polish plant: The directors of two Polish state-controlled companies, Energa and Enea, have been warned by ClientEarth that they are at risk of legal action if they decide to proceed with the construction of the proposed 1000 MW Ostroleka C project. The two companies have voted to proceed with the project and signed construction contracts with General Electric and Alston but have yet to obtain finance. The project is reliant on capacity payments to make it viable. (Global Legal Post)

Eviction of German forest protest despite death of journalist: An estimated 7000 people attended a protest against RWE’s proposed clearance of the Hambach mine for its adjoining power station. Two weeks ago police claimed that the demolition of an estimated 50 treehouses was required due to “fire-safety concerns”; the claim was dismissed by environmentalists. The police action was briefly suspended after a journalist died falling from a bridge between two treehouses. RWE has chosen to defy a growing domestic and international controversy over its plan to clear the forest in October. (Deutsche Welle, Deutsche Welle)

US coal ash dams in peril after hurricane: In the wake of Hurricane Florence, floodwaters have breached a dam at Duke Energy’s closed L.V. Sutton Power Station in North Carolina and flooded a coal ash dump containing 400,000 cubic yards (305,820 cubic meters) of coal ash. Polluted water from the site is flowing into the Cape Fear River. Several days earlier another coal ash dam at the site was breached. In South Carolina a coal ash dam with 200,000 tons (181,000 tonnes) of waste at Santee Cooper’s closed Grainger plant is at risk of being flooded by the rising Waccamaw River. (Washington Post, Post and Courier)

US court overturns coal ash pollution finding: In a 2:1 decision a US federal appeals court has overturned a lower court decision ordering the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) to remove 14 million cubic yards (11 million cubic meters) of coal ash from unlined pits at the Gallatin Fossil Plant next to the Cumberland River in Tennessee. While the majority of the judges acknowledged that pollution of the river from the pits is a “major environmental problem” they decided the US Clean Water Act is not the “proper legal tool of correction.” In August 2017, a district judge ordered the TVA to excavate the coal ash and remove it to a properly constructed disposal site. The Southern Environmental Law Center, which acted for the Tennessee Scenic Rivers Association, said it is reviewing the decision. A separate case against the TVA by Tennessee regulators over similar issues at the plant is pending. (The Tennessean, Southern Environmental Law Center)

New report identifies coal power as a major mercury polluter: The European Environment Agency (EEA), a European Union (EU) body, estimates that the main source of new mercury emissions in Europe is burning coal and lignite. The EEA estimates that about 50 per cent of mercury deposited in Europe comes from outside the region with about 30 per cent originating from Asia. The report claims that over 41 per cent of the EU’s estimated 111,000 water bodies exceed the mercury concentration limit set to protect fish-eating birds and mammals. The report says that global coal and lignite combustion accounts for about one-quarter of mercury emissions to the air, with cement and non-ferrous metal production each accounting for about 10 per cent. (European Environment Agency)

“Climate change is one of the single biggest challenges society has to address. More than 1.1 billion people still do not have access to reliable power but recent developments in technology mean that alternative sources are increasingly available to meet that need without the impact of coal-fired power on the environment,”

stated Bill Winters, the CEO of Standard Chartered when announcing the bank will cease financing new coal projects.


Australia: Expert reviews find Victorian lignite plants are among the most poorly controlled in the world.

Australia: Documents reveal Adani ignored rainfall data over last 14 years in application for extracting 12.5 billion litres of water a year from the Suttor River.

US: Court allows Sierra Club and Kentucky Waterways Alliance to sue Kentucky Utilities over coal ash pollution at Herrington Lake.

US: AEP decides to close 650 MW Oklaunion coal plant in 2020.

“Retiring our aging coal fleet sooner will cost substantially less compared to our original plans for extending retirements over a longer duration,”

said Violet Sistovaris, the President of Northern Indiana Public Service Corporation, when announcing its plan to accelerate the retirement of 1800 MW of coal plants.

Companies + Markets

US utility says accelerated coal plant retirements is the cheapest option: The Northern Indiana Public Service Corporation (NIPSCO) has unveiled an updated electric generation strategy in which it proposes to retire four units with a combined capacity of 1625 MW at its M. Schahfer Generating Station in Indiana by 2023 and close its 469 MW Michigan City Generating Station “within the next ten years.” In its 2016 plan NIPSCO proposed to retire only two of the Schahfer units without any date for the closure of the other two units or the Michigan City plant. NIPSCO stated the accelerated retirement plan would be “the most viable option for customers”. (Platts, NIPSCO)

Eskom’s old coal plants increasingly unreliable: Eskom data reveals that unplanned plant breakdowns in the utility’s fleet of aging coal plants are increasing. Short-term forecasts of demand already suggest that in the next three months the utility may face a supply shortfall of between 1000 and 2000 MW. Independent experts argue that Eskom needs to radically revise its plan to avoid the coal supply crisis by cutting coal generation, boosting utility-scale renewables, embrace an energy efficiency program and boost security by adding utility-scale battery storage. Commentators argue that, without a plan to cut fuel costs by retiring old plants and avoiding high capital costs on new units at the Kusile plant, Eskom’s losses will continue to mount. (EE Publishers, Fin 24)

Buyers back out of plan to save ailing US plant: US companies Avenue Capital and Middle River Power, two potential buyers of the 2250 MW Navajo Generating Station in Arizona, have announced they are no longer interested in the project as they could not get buyers for power from the plant. The plant, which is on land owned by the Navajo Nation, is due to close in December 2019. Peabody Energy has spearheaded a lobbying campaign to keep the plant going as its Kayenta mine will be stranded without a customer or access to other markets. In early September, members of the Navajo Nation protested outside the New York offices of the Avenue Capital Group. (Associated Press)

Complaint filed over subsidy for Bosnian plant: The CEE Bankwatch Network and the Aarhus Resource Centre have filed a formal complaint with the Energy Community Secretariat over moves by the Government of Bosnia and Herzogovina to guarantee a €614 million (US$722 million) loan from the China Export–Import Bank for the construction of the Tuzla 7 coal plant. The Energy Community Treaty obliges member countries to follow EU rules limiting subsidies in the energy sector. In most cases the rules limit loan guarantees to 80 per cent of the value of the loan but the government decided to guarantee the whole loan. (CEE Bankwatch)

Indian court stays action seeking Adani documents: The Bombay High Court has ordered a stay on the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) requesting information from other countries over allegations that Adani subsidiaries over-invoiced for Indonesian coal imports. The court directed DRI to file a detailed response to the submission of Adani Enterprises arguing that the agency should be prevented from seeking information from overseas government agencies in the matter. (First Post)

US judge allows coal ash workers’ case to go to trial: A US district court judge has rejected an application from Jacobs Engineering to dismiss a lawsuit brought by workers employed to clean up the December 2008 coal ash spill from the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Kingston Fossil Fuel Power Plant. Judge Tom Varlan ruled the workers’ lawyers had presented sufficient evidence that coal ash was potentially the cause of their illnesses and that they were not provided with protective equipment. The next phase of the case will commence on October 16. (Knox News)


Tsunami Warning: Can China’s Central Authorities Stop a Massive Surge in New Coal Plants Caused by Provincial Overpermitting?, CoalSwarm, September 26, 2018. (pdf) (The media release is here and a Chinese version of the report here.)

This 19-page report reveals that hundreds of new coal-fired power plants are under development in China as the central government has failed to cancel unnecessary projects.

Mercury in Europe’s environment – A priority for European and global action, European Environment Agency, September 2018. (Pdf)

This 72-page report reviews mercury pollution in the EU and identifies Poland, Germany and Spain as the largest emitters from energy generation.