January 23, 2020
Issue 307  |  View Past Issues

Editor's Note

In a significant development Japan’s Minister for the Environment has challenged the possible financial support for a Mitsubishi-backed coal plant in Vietnam. Japan remains one of the key backers of new coal plants in Asia. In the US, Richmond City Council has unanimously voted to phase out over three years coal transport and exports through a small port which catered for coal mined in Utah. It is another decision that cuts off western US coal producers from the Asian market.

A year after the German coal exit commission proposed a compromise on ending coal power generation the national government has reached an agreement with the coal-producing states on a watered-down version of the original compromise. The final deal won’t be sufficient to meet the country’s climate targets and has been strongly criticised by former commission members.

In India, a government investigatory agency has filed charges against Adani alleging the company conspired with others over a coal supply contract awarded in 2010. Meanwhile, India’s largest power utility, NTPC, is lobbying to dramatically water down a pollution control standard applying to the most recent coal power plants. In South Africa, Eskom is pursuing legal and regulatory challenges to decisions limiting power price increases it can impose on customers. A successful challenge may restore Eskom’s financial viability but price increases of up to 50 per cent are only likely to drive reduced demand and increased self-generation.

CoalWire will take a break next week and be back on February 6.

Bob Burton


Pull out or perish: behind Blackrock’s grand exit from coal

A key factor behind BlackRock’s announcement that it would start to retreat from support for coal was the decision of Japan’s Government Pension Investment Fund to shift US$50 billion from BlackRock to Legal and General over concerns that climate impacts of investments were not being properly addressed, writes Tim Buckley from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis in Michael West Media

New China-backed coal plants on European Union’s borders could saddle states with massive carbon costs

Feasibility studies used to seek and obtain approval for new Chinese-backed coal plants in Bosnia and Serbia massively underestimate carbon costs once the countries join the European Union’s carbon market, writes Eleanor Rose in Unearthed.


Californian city bans coal storage

Richmond City Council has unanimously voted in favour of a three-year phase out of shipments of coal and petroleum coke from the port operated by Levin-Richmond Terminal Corporation. In 2019 the port exported about 1 million tonnes of coal to Japan and South Korea. Both the port operator and Wolverine Fuels, which exports coal from its Utah coal mines through the port, threatened legal action if the ban was instituted. Richmond City Council Mayor, Tom Butt, said he was unable to reach agreement with the port operator ahead of the council voting for the ban. The Sierra Club and San Francisco Baykeeper welcomed the decision as eliminating the exposure of residents to dust pollution from the rail transport and open air stockpiles. The port began operation in 2013. (San Francisco Chronicle, Salt Lake Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Sierra Club)

Top News

German Government negotiates coal exit but waters down commission recommendations: The German Government has agreed to allocate €40 billion (US$44 billion) to support economic restructuring of the four states affected by the closure of hard coal plants by 2035 and lignite power plants by 2038. The deal provides for 2800 megawatts (MW) of lignite plants to be closed by 2022, 200 MW less than recommended by the coal exit commission, but with no plants to be closed between 2022 and 2025. The agreement also allows the commissioning of the 1000 MW Datteln 4 unit. The government is also proposing to allocate €2.6 billion (US$2.9 billion) to RWE for lost revenues on its plants and a further €1.75 billion (US$1.9 billion) for power utilities in the east of the country. The deal provides for the demolition of six more villages to cater for mine expansions but spares Hambach forest, but only as an island surround by mining. The weakening of the coal exit commission’s proposed package has been criticised by former commissioners who argue the government’s proposed legislation should be modified to reflect the original recommendations. ClientEarth estimates up to 6000 MW of lignite plants could still be operating up to 2038. (Clean Energy Wire, Deutsche Welle, Ecowatch, ClientEarth)

Indian agency files charges against Adani over coal contract: India’s Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has filed charges under the Prevention of Corruption Act against Adani Enterprise and officials from the National Cooperative Consumers’ Federation (NCCF), alleging they conspired over a 660,000 tonne coal supply contract awarded in 2010 for an Andhra Pradesh government-owned company. The CBI allege that the former NCCF chairman, Virender Singh, its then managing director, and others favoured Adani Enterprises for the contract even though it didn’t meet the tender specifications and was bidding through a proxy company. Adani states that it has done nothing wrong. (Livemint)

Indian power utility lobbies to weaken pollution standard: NTPC, a publicly owned utility which generates about one-quarter of India’s electricity, is lobbying for a significant weakening of nitrogen oxide pollution standards for coal plants built after 2017. Standards to protect public health were announced in 2015, with coal plants commissioned after 2017 not allowed to exceed nitrogen oxides concentrations of 100 milligrams per cubic metre of air (mg/Nm3). NTPC wants new plant pollution limits for nitrogen oxides to be set at 450 mg/Nm3. The Modi Government is already seeking to lift the nitrogen oxides limit on coal plants built between 2004 and 2016 from 300 mg/Nm3 to 450 mg/Nm3. NTPC is claiming trials of nitrogen oxides pollution control in India have proved ineffective at controlling emissions, a claim disputed by companies involved in the projects. The revelation comes as coal plants in breach of the December 2019 deadline for the installation of flue gas desulphurisation units continue to operate without penalty. (IndiaSpend, Times of India)

Sri Lankan President backpedals on coal plant pollution: After meeting local community representatives, environmentalists and the Bishop of Chilaw, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, Sri Lanka’s President, Gotabaya Rajapaksa has promised action to cut pollution from the unreliable Chinese-backed 900 MW Norochcholai coal plant. Last year residents complained that an agreement drawn up to settle a legal action against Ceylon Electricity Board had not been honoured by the utility. Rajapaksa, who was elected in November 2019, also stated that “no decision has been taken yet regarding the fourth phase” of the plant. However, in June 2019 the Sri Lankan Cabinet voted to strip the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka (PUCSL) of its role in regulating the economics of new power projects and backed the construction of four new coal units including two further 300 MW units at the Norochcholai coal plant. In 2017, the PUCSL had ruled out further coal plants on economic grounds. (EconomyNext)

Taiwan NGOs alarmed at lack of coal unit closures at Taichung plant: Environmental groups and the Taichung City Mayor have objected to the approval of an environmental impact assessment of two proposed 1200 MW gas units without guaranteeing the closure of existing coal units at the 5500 MW Taichung power plant. Without the closure of existing units, the NGOs argued the new gas units would represent an expansion of the plant and result in increased pollution. Deputy Economics Minister Tseng Wen-sheng said Taipower would only be allowed to operate more than six coal units for up to 240 hours a year after the gas units were commissioned and would restrict the plant from operating more than 10 units at a time. (FocusTaiwan, Focus Taiwan)

“We have almost entirely weaned ourselves off coal. But there’s no point in the UK reducing the amount of coal we burn if we then trundle over to Africa and line our pockets by encouraging African states to use more of it. Is there?”

said UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the UK–Africa investment summit in London.


Australia: BHP reports smoke and dust from bushfires “impacted” thermal coal production from its Mt Arthur mine in New South Wales.

Australia: Environmentalists argue that Shenhua’s proposed coal mine should not be allowed because of the risk of further koala losses.

Bangladesh: Forty national and international NGOs call on Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to abandon plans for 29 coal units.

India: Villagers protest forest clearing for a coal mine to be developed and operated by Adani Mining on behalf of Neyveli Lignite Corporation.

India: The Talcher coal-to-fertiliser plant in Odisha has been approved and is planned to be restarted by 2023.

US: A federal judge has refused to overturn the conviction of former Massey Energy CEO, Don Blankenship, for conspiring to violate mine safety laws.

US: Wyoming and Montana seek Supreme Court ruling to overturn Washington State’s rejection of a permit for the Millennium Bulk Terminals coal export terminal.

US: Tri-State Generation announces closure of 257 MW Escalante plant in New Mexico in 2020 and two units at the Craig plant in Colorado, which have a combined capacity of 892 MW, before 2030.

Zimbabwe: Floods shut down 400 MW Hwange coal plant and leave mine pits under water.

Companies + Markets

Japanese Environment Minster questions possible support for coal plant in Vietnam: Japan’s Minister for the Environment, Shinjiro Koizumi, has challenged the prospect that the Japan Bank for International Cooperation could provide financial support for the construction of the proposed 1200 MW Vung Ang 2 power plant in Vietnam. The project has been proposed by One Energy Ventures, a joint venture with the Mitsubishi Corporation subsidiary Diamond Generating Asia, and China Light and Power (CLP) each holding 40 per cent stakes. However, in December 2019 CLP announced it will not invest in additional coal capacity, suggesting it will withdraw from the project leaving Mitsubishi isolated. A coalition of Japanese NGO groups welcomed Koizumi’s comments and noted that Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation, DBS Bank and Standard Chartered have decided not to participate in financing the project. (NHK, Mainichi, Project Finance International [paywall], Friends of the Earth Japan [Japanese])

Japanese companies back exit from coal: A Reuters Corporate Survey has revealed that 20 per cent of 246 Japanese companies polled supported an exit from coal generation with a further 62 per cent supporting a reduction. Only 18 per cent of respondents supported continued promotion of coal power. The Abe Government has come under increasing international criticism for its continued support for new coal plants at home and across Asia. The survey was undertaken between December 25 and January 10. (Thomson Reuters Foundation, Reuters)

Dutch insurer tightens coal investment policy: The Dutch insurance company Aegon has announced a tightened coal investment policy under which it will end investments in companies producing more than 20 million tonnes of thermal coal a year and companies that have more than 10,000 MW of coal power capacity. Aegon, which has over 300 billion (US$333 billion) under management, said its exclusion of investments in companies with over 30 per cent of revenue from thermal coal or coal power will be reduced in stages to 5 per cent or below by 2029. (Reuters)

US company dumps coal expansion: Sunflower Electric Power Corporation and Tri-State Generation have announced they have abandoned a US$2.2 billion, 895 MW expansion of the Holcomb plant in Kansas. The joint venture partners waged a vigorous decade-long campaign for the project with a 2017 Kansas Supreme Court ruling clearing it for construction. In its announcement Sunflower blamed changing economic factors for its decision noting that when it first proposed the project in 2005 gas prices were high and “wind power was in its infancy.” (Wichita Eagle, Sunflower Electric Power Corporation)

Egyptian thermal coal imports for cement industry spike: A fuel switch by Egyptian cement plants from oil to coal has resulted in thermal coal imports growing by almost one-third in 2019 to 6.3 million tonnes. Almost one-third of the imports are for El Arish Cement, the country’s largest cement producer. Egyptian thermal coal imports have accelerated since April 2014 when the use of coal in the cement sector was authorised. Despite opposition from civil society groups alarmed at the prospect of increased pollution in residential areas, the cement sector persuaded the interim cabinet, which was governing while parliament was suspended, that gas supplies were too expensive and unreliable. (S & P Global)

Eskom pursues big price rises to remain viable: In an urgent application to the Gautung High Court Eskom is arguing to overturn a ruling by the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (NERSA) limiting tariff increases of 9.1 per cent, 8.2 per cent and 5.2 per cent increases over the 2019 to 2022 period. Eskom had applied to NERSA for larger tariff increases. Eskom argues that the increases approved by NERSA represent a “material risk of potential catastrophic consequences” to the utility and the national economy. Eskom has also applied to review another NERSA decision which could benefit the utility to the tune of 102 billion rand (US$7 billion). If Eskom were to win all its cases, power prices could increase by up to 50 per cent over the next three years. (Daily Maverick)

China restricts Australian metallurgical coal imports: China has re-instituted restrictions on Australian coking coal imports with customs officials at the Caofeidian and Jingtang ports directed to clear cargoes only on a case-by-case basis. One anonymous China-based trader said restrictions on imports could be much stricter than those applied in 2019 but loosened at the start of 2020. One uncertainty is whether the recently announced US–China trade deal will result in removal of the 29 per cent tariff on US coking coal imports. If so, Chinese coal importers could increase imports of US coal. However, in 2017, before the tariffs were imposed, China imported just 2.3 million tonnes from the US. In 2018–19 China imported 30 million tonnes of metallurgical coal from Australia. (Argus Media, Reuters)

India renews calls for end of thermal coal imports: The Minister of Parliamentary Affairs in the Modi Government, Pralhad Joshi, has stated that India should aim to end “substitutable” coal imports in the next three to four years. The Modi Government is keen to substitute domestic thermal coal for imports where possible and has announced policies to auction up to 100 coal blocks and ended Coal India’s monopoly on coal mining in order to entice international mining companies to invest in new projects. With recent indications that India’s economy is struggling, the government has a strong economic incentive to cut expensive imports. However, while the growth of renewable power generation has undercut demand for coal, India currently imports about 235 million tonnes of thermal coal mostly from Indonesia and South Africa. (Economic Times, Reuters)

UK axes overseas aid for thermal coal projects: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced at the UK–Africa investment summit in London that the UK Government would no longer provide foreign aid for thermal coal mines or coal power stations. Johnson said the ban on thermal coal mining or coal plants included Official Development Assistance, investment and export credit support. Catholic Agency for Overseas Development identified only £84 million (US$109 million) spent on coal equipment between 2010 and 2017 with most assistance for the oil and gas sector. However, the UK export credit agency has not provided support for coal plants since 2002 while the Department of International Development had not provided support for overseas coal plants since 2012. (Telegraph, Climate Home News)


The case against new coal mines in the UK, Green Alliance, January 2020.

This 16-page report argues the proposed Woodhouse Colliery metallurgical coal mine in Cumbria should not proceed as the decarbonisation of steel production is possible and necessary.