November 26, 2020
Issue 349  |  View Past Issues

Editor's Note

Bloomberg has published a fascinating profile of Xie Zhenhua, one of the key architects of China’s recent 2060 coal neutrality pledge. Xie has also flagged that the next five-year plan, which is due for release early next year, will have to restrict new coal plant construction. In Shandong Province, a major aluminium and textile company has complied with orders to close 3400 megawatts (MW) of coal capacity this year. Accelerated closures are unfolding elsewhere too, with lignite generation in Greece collapsing ahead of the 2023 phase-out deadline for operating plants.

As President-elect Joe Biden prepares to assume office in January, key financial legislation is already in place that could be used to ensure the US financial system excludes support for fossil fuels. In Colorado, a government commission has ordered the early closure of over 1000 MW of coal plants by the end of 2028. In Ohio, the scandal over the legislated bailout of two coal and two nuclear plants has deepened, with the chair of the state’s utilities regulator resigning days after his house was raided by the FBI.

In South Africa, a proposed coal mining lease near the Kruger National Park has been rejected after strong community opposition to the project. Local residents discovered that part of the information cited in the company environmental assessment was a direct cut and paste from a report for another project. In Australia, the legal intervention of horse breeders has for the moment stalled the revival of a mothballed coal mine.

Bob Burton


The secret origins of China’s 40-year plan to end carbon emissions

The secret drive for China’s 2060 target took shape inside Tsinghua University, where climate scientists had quietly spent more than a year modelling different pathways to reach net zero, write Lucille Liu and Jing Li in Bloomberg.

The most important US climate legislation has already passed

The Dodd-Frank Act, legislation that was passed in 2010, will give the Biden administration the power to supercharge the clean energy transition, writes Justin Guay from the Sunrise Project in GTM.

India’s coal communities face transition challenge

Community rights leaders warn that ensuring a timely and just transition for coal-dependent communities will be difficult due to the lack of planning by state and national governments in the face of increasing unprofitability of India’s coal mines, writes by Mayank Aggarwal in Mongabay.

Is the weakening of Indian coal standards aimed at helping private miners?

Allowing coal plants to burn coal from any source without reviewing their environmental licence seems to be a move tailored to assist the private companies that won allocations in the recent coal mining auctions, writes Shripad Manthan.

Top News

Chinese official flags prospect of ban on new coal plants in next five-year plan: A senior advisor to China’s Ministry of Environment, Xie Zhenhua, said the country’s 2021–2025 Five-Year Plan, which is due to be released in March 2021, “will probably start to restrict and ban the further development of coal and coal-fired power plants.” A new report by Draworld Environmental Research Centre and the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air warned the push by coal industry groups for a further 200,000 MW of new coal plants risks wasting 2 trillion yuan (US$303.60 billion) on projects that would become stranded assets. The report argues meeting President Xi Jinping’s stated goal of carbon neutrality by 2060 requires a ban on new coal plants and suggests a 2030 target of 630,000 MW of the existing 1100 gigawatts of coal plants. (Reuters, Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air [Pdf])

Chinese aluminium company closes 3400 MW of captive coal plants: The Weiqiao Group, the world's largest aluminium and textile producer, has closed 3400 MW of coal capacity following a directive by Shandong Province for 3800 MW of coal units to close by the end of 2020. Four of Weiqiao’s coal units were only nine years old. Shandong Province, which has the most coal capacity in the country, came under pressure from the central government to meet air pollution reduction targets. In 2018 it was reported China's Environmental Protection Inspection Group 3 found the Weiqiao Group had illegally built 45 coal units since 2013, with local authorities taking no action against the plants. (Bjx [Chinese])

Coal closures accelerated under Colorado’s haze plan: Colorado’s Air Quality Control Commission has approved a stronger regional haze plan including accelerated closure of three of the largest and most polluting coal plants in the state by the end of 2028. The Sierra Club and the National Parks Conservation Association proposed that the original plan, which flagged the closure of 11 coal units, be improved by bringing forward the closure dates of the 535 MW Craig 3 unit, the 294 MW Rawhide plant and the 207 MW Ray Nixon plant. The commission deferred a decision on the closure of the 465 MW Hayden plant. Under the US Clean Air Act, states are required to develop plans to protect the visibility at national parks and other public lands. Xcel Energy, which owns the Hayden plant, argued the commission did not have the power to mandate closure of plants and that this was the preserve of the Public Utilities Commission. (CBS Denver, Earthjustice)

South African coal mine lease application rejected: The South African Department of Mineral Resources has rejected an application by Manzolwande Investment for a coal mine near the Kruger National Park in Mpumalanga Province. A coalition of landowners, tourism interests and residents objected to the proposal arguing the convening of a public meeting on the project at short notice on a Sunday morning under trees in a nearby town was not legal under the terms of the Mining Act. Cindy Benson from the Marloth Park Rate Payers Association also discovered the environmental impact assessment included material cut and pasted from another project at a different site. A director of the company flagged they may appeal against the decision. (Lowvelder)

Australian horse breeders stall reopening of coal mine: The New South Wales Land and Environment Court has refused to approve the reopening of the mothballed Dartbrook underground coal mine after the Hunter Thoroughbred Breeders Association (HTBA) were granted permission to intervene in legal proceedings over the project. Early in November, Australian Pacific Coal reached an agreement with the Independent Planning Commission (IPC) to allow a five-year extension to the company’s mining licence. Justice Duggan found that parts of the company’s proposal were so significantly different from the original project that it could be deemed to be a new proposal. As a result of HTBA’s intervention the ratification of the agreement between the company and the IPC has been blocked for the moment. (ABC News)

Chairman of Ohio regulator resigns after utility reveals US$4.3 million payment: The Chairman of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO), Sam Randazzo, has resigned a day after FirstEnergy informed the stock market that three former executives were fired in October over a US$4.3 million payment made in early 2019 to “an entity associated with an individual who subsequently was appointed to a full-time role as an Ohio government official directly involved in regulating the Ohio Companies, including with respect to distribution rates.” FirstEnergy is a major beneficiary of Ohio legislation which bailed out nuclear and coal plants and is now subject to a federal racketeering investigation. Randazzo, a former utility industry lobbyist and lawyer, was appointed as PUCO Chairman by Republican Governor Mike DeWine in February 2019. The FBI raided Randazzo’s home four days before he resigned. Fitch Ratings subsequently downgraded FirstEnergy’s credit rating stating the revelation of the US$4.3 million payment increased the risks associated with the Department of Justice investigation. (, Associated Press, Fitch Ratings)

Data reveals spate of North Korean coal ship accidents: International Maritime Organization data indicates six coal shipping accidents in North Korean waters in 2019 that killed 12 crew and injured five. Before United Nations sanctions were imposed in November 2016 over the country’s missile testing program, coal sales were the country’s largest source of foreign exchange revenue. In response to the sanctions, North Korean ships reportedly often turn off their tracking devices to conceal ship-to-ship coal smuggling which occurs in China’s Zhoushan Port area. (38North)

Australian coal company challenged over Canadian coal mine: Latasha Calf Robe says members of the Blood Tribe were not canvassed on whether they supported a proposal by Australian mining company Riversdale Resources to build the Grassy Mountain mine. In July 2019 the Blood Tribe’s Tribal Government agreed to support the mine but in a recent media release stated funding “was not adequate” to do “extensive community engagement” on the project. In the public hearing on the project the company stated 500 construction jobs would be created by the mine but the number was later amended to 190. Residents have also expressed alarm at the potential selenium pollution of water catchments, with the company stating it was planning on relying on technology currently being trialled by Teck Resources. (Lethbridge News Now, Global News, The Star)

“The coal industry is going up in smoke, as investors see more stranded assets and voters see more harmful pollution and climate damage. There must be no new coal, and all existing coal in the European Union should be phased out by 2030 in OECD countries, and by 2040 elsewhere,”

said United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres.


Australia: High winds derailed a coal loader at Newcastle coal terminal, forcing coal companies to declare force majeure on delayed shipments.

Australia: Three arrested at Faith in Climate Action protest against coal railway company Aurizon.

Cambodia: A subsidiary of the Royal Group has won an engineering, procurement and construction contract with a Sinosteel subsidiary for the 700 MW coal plant in Botum Sakor National Park.

Czech Republic: Ministry of the Environment occupied in protest against proposals to delay coal phase-out until well after 2030.

India: Tata Steel trial shipments of Russian metallurgical coal as an alternative to reliance on Australian suppliers.

Philippines: Marchers call on Department of Energy to rule out all new coal plants not just those at greenfield sites.

US: Residents oppose 615 per cent surge in coal exports through the Levin Richmond terminal.

US: Judge says US$75 million damages case against Drummond Company brought by convicted coal executive can proceed.

Last year as part of my presentation I showed a portion of a video highlighting the efforts of a group known as Unfriend Coal. The message was an attempt to convince insurers to stop providing insurance coverage to entities that have coal as part of their portfolio … I can state that Basin Electric has been impacted by these efforts,”

said Steve Johnson, Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer of Basin Electric Power Cooperative, a US utility.

Companies + Markets

Greek lignite generation collapses ahead of 2023 end date: Lignite power has crashed to less than 10 per cent of Greece’s electricity generation in 2020, according to data from Energy Exchange, the Greek electricity market operator. In 2019, lignite generation had a 25 per cent share of the market in the 10 months to the end of October. Between January and October 2018 lignite generation accounted for 33 per cent of electricity generation. The Greek Government plans to close seven lignite plants with a combined capacity of 2800 MW by 2023. The 660 MW Ptolemaida V, which is currently under construction, is due to end lignite generation by 2028 when it may be converted to run on other fuels. (S & P Global)

Asian coal conference told finance drying up: Participants at the annual Coaltrans Asia conference were told finance for coal projects is evaporating as banks and insurance companies retreat from involvement in the sector. Lachlan Shaw from the Australian bank ANZ suggested a possible strategy for companies seeking funding for new coal projects would be to present finance institutions with a plan for offsets and carbon trading so they can say “we have a package here that is totally offset from a carbon emissions point of view.” (Reuters)

Eskom CEO doubts new coal plants in energy plan will be built: Eskom CEO, Andre de Ruyter, has raised doubts that the 1500 MW of new coal plants included in the South African Government’s Integrated Resource Plan of 2019 will ever be built and has proposed increasing the amount of wind and solar capacity instead. Marubeni wants to abandon the proposed 630 MW Thabametsi plant which was one of two new coal plants the government insisted be included in the plan even though they weren’t compatible with the least-cost pathway. De Ruyter said even if finance was available it “was going to be a very tough ask to build 1500 MW of additional new coal.” He said Eskom would be interested in partnerships with private companies to redevelop existing coal plant sites such as through the installation of new solar and wind capacity. (Mining Weekly)

Coal India executive touts permit deregulation for future auctions: A Coal India executive has called for automatic environmental and forest approvals for the “initial 25 per cent to 33 per cent capacity of the mine” as a “sweetener” aimed at encouraging interest from international companies in future coal auctions. In the recent auction of 19 coal blocks, other than the UK-headquartered Vedanta, there was no interest from international companies. Sanjay Kumar, from Western Coalfields, a Coal India subsidiary, also suggested blocks for future auctions have stated recoverable reserves and with a preference for offering mines with a 15–20 year mine life to ensure a faster payback period. (LiveMint)

State Bank of India ponders bailout for Adani’s Australian project: Protests have occurred around the world in response to reports the State Bank of India (SBI), a government-owned bank, is due to consider a 50 billion rupees (US$1 billion) loan to Adani for the company’s proposed Carmichael coal project. Market Forces, an NGO which has led the campaign against banks considering support for Adani’s project, said it was extraordinary for a public Indian bank to consider support for the project at the time of major domestic financial challenges due to COVID-19. Eighty-nine private banks have ruled out support for the project. In 2014 SBI entered into a memorandum of understanding with Adani but backed out of the deal following controversy in India over the proposal. Prime Minister Modi has close ties to Gautam Adani, the founder of the Adani Enterprises, and used an Adani jet during the 2014 election campaign. (South Asia Times,  Market Forces, Business Standard)

US coal jobs decline despite Trump’s efforts to deregulate sector: Despite a raft of regulatory rollbacks implemented by President Trump, US coal production has fallen by 31.5 per cent since 2017 with a 23.6 per cent fall in employment. In the third quarter of 2020 the coal sector provided just 40,458 jobs of the over 149 million jobs in the US. Peabody Energy, the largest domestic producer, estimates its fourth quarter production will decline. The shift of power utilities towards cleaner energy has undercut domestic demand while reduced prices in the export market for both thermal and the more labour-intensive metallurgical coal have combined to push employment lower. (S & P Global)

Trio of companies invest in Chinese coal port expansion: A consortium of companies comprising China Shenhua Energy Company, Guangdong Yuedian Faneng and Zhuhai Port have agreed to invest 650 million yuan (US$100 million) to expand the capacity of the Shenhua Yuedian Zhuhai Port Coal Terminal by 16 million tonnes a year. The port, which is near Hong Kong, has a current coal capacity of almost 41 million tonnes a year and is the largest coal transfer terminal in southern China. (Seatrade Maritime News)


Coal-free Czechia 2030: An energy pathway towards 2030 coal phase-out, Ember, November 2020. (Pdf) (The Executive Summary in English is here and in Czech is here.)

This 7-page report maps out a pathway for the Czech Republic to phase out coal generation by 2030.

“The impacts of coal mining in Kuzbass, Russia”, Climate Action Network International, November 2020. (YouTube video)

This 2-minute video provides a brief overview of the social and environmental impacts of coal mining in Russia’s Kuzbass region.

After the Hazelwood coal fired power station closure: Latrobe Valley regional transition policies and outcomes 2017–2020, Centre for Climate and Energy Policy, Australian National University, November 2020. (Pdf)

This 33-page paper examines the economic and social transition policies implemented in the aftermath of Engie’s March 2017 closure of the Hazelwood power station in Australia.

Just Transition in India: An inquiry into the challenges and opportunities for a post-coal future, International Forum for Environment, Sustainability and Technology, November 2020. (Pdf) A media release on its launch here. [Pdf])

This 126-page book argues there is an urgent need for the development of just transition strategies for Indian coal communities with a detailed case study of Ramgarh in Jharkhand. The book is not yet available.