March 5, 2020
Issue 312  |  View Past Issues

Editor's Note

A key Vietnamese advisory body has recommended a major reduction in proposed new coal plant projects included in the country’s next Power Development Plan. The recommendation reflects the increased viability of renewables and the courageous work of NGO advocates such as Nguy Thi Khanh from GreenID. One of the losers in plans to reduce new coal plants in Vietnam may be General Electric, a company that simultaneously wants to portray itself as a green technology leader while also backing new coal plants around the world.

In Tamil Nadu, a state-owned utility may scrap seven proposed new coal plants as recent winning tender bids have revealed renewables plus storage projects can be cheaper than new coal plants. The Indian Government is also pursuing diversification in the sources of metallurgical coal imports, a strategy aimed at reducing the dominance of Australian metallurgical coal exporters in the seaborne market. Another threat to metallurgical coal producers is the rapidly increasing interest in ‘green’ hydrogen produced from renewable energy for use in industrial sectors considered hard to decarbonise such as steel production.

There have been other notable developments over the last week with a US federal court judge overturning a Forest Service decision to open up an important roadless area in Colorado to coal leasing and mining. In the UK, the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, a major philanthropic fund, has written to the Chairmen of Barclays, HSBC and Standard Chartered urging an end to support for coal.

Bob Burton


How one woman is taking on Vietnam's Big Coal.

Nguy Thi Khanh, the founder of Green ID, a leading NGO in Vietnam, has been an effective voice in pressing the government to boost renewables and scale back its support for coal power plants, writes AFP.

General Electric says it’s going green. Overseas, it’s still pushing coal.

If GE were a country, it would have the seventh largest slate of upcoming coal plants in the world, writes Shashank Bengali in the Los Angeles Times.

Japan’s coal fleet set for decline even with new additions.

Japan’s coal power fleet and project pipeline is set for a significant decline over the next 20 years even without further action on climate change, writes Simon Nicholas from the Institute for Energy Economics & Financial Analysis.

Top News

Vietnamese advisory committee urges cuts to coal plans: The Vietnamese Government’s National Steering Committee for Power Development has recommended that about 15,000 megawatts (MW) of proposed coal plant capacity be cut from the country’s next energy development plan by 2020. While the central government has strongly promoted coal plants to meet the country’s growing electricity demand, local and provincial government officials have resisted coal projects due to public alarm at impacts on agriculture and public health. The Global Coal Plant Tracker notes that Vietnam has 11,840 MW of new coal plants currently under construction with a further 19,360 MW proposed. While some proposed plants have gained finance, analysts suggest that the retreat of many major banks from coal finance is likely to result in many proposed projects being cancelled. (Bloomberg, Global Coal Plant Tracker)

Indian utility considers scrapping 7500 MW of coal plans: An anonymous official with Tamil Nadu’s state-owned utility, Tangedco, has indicated that proposals to build seven more coal plants with a combined capacity of 13,300 MW could be scrapped if electricity from renewables paired with storage continues to undercut prices from new coal projects. At a recent auction conducted by the Solar Energy Corporation of India, the winning bidders for a combined tender for 1200 MW came in at prices well under new coal generation. However, the Tangedco official said that five coal plants currently under construction, which have a combined capacity of 5700 MW, would be completed. (Hindu Business Line)

US court overturns approval for mine expansion into roadless area: A US federal court judge has ruled that the US Forest Service “failed to provide a logically coherent explanation” for its decision not to protect 4900 acres (1980 hectares) in the Gunnison National Forest’s Pilot Knob roadless area. The US Forest Service reopened nearly 20,000 acres (8100 hectares) near Paonia in Colorado to allow for coal mining but refused to protect the Pilot’s Knob area. As a result of the court ruling, the US Forest Service has to reconsider reserving more of the North Fork Valley. (WildEarth Guardians)

UK billionaire warns banks of legal action unless they dump coal: Graham Sweeney and Sir Christopher Hohn, the Chairman and Trustee respectively of the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF), have written to the Chairmen of Barclays, HSBC and Standard Chartered urging them to phase out support for coal in OECD countries by 2030 and in Europe by 2040. Hohn flagged that he may fund legal actions against directors of the three banks unless they outline plans for ending their support for coal projects. “Chairmen and boards of directors could be sued for breaching their fiduciary duty,” he said. CIFF also wrote to the Bank of England and the European Central Bank and the CEOs of the three major ratings companies, Moody’s, Fitch Ratings and S & P Global. (Financial Times)

US coal company lobbies to restrict drones flying over mines: Drummond Company and the Alabama Coal Association are promoting a legislative change which would ban the use of drones over “critical infrastructure” which is defined to include pipelines and mines. In May 2019 a federal court judge ruled in favour of Black Warrior Riverkeeper that Drummond Company had violated the Clean Water Act by discharging acid mine drainage from the abandoned Maxine mine into a tributary of the Black Warrior River. Drone footage was part of the evidence presented by the NGO to the court. Records disclosed as part of a separate case revealed Drummond lawyers billing for time spent liaising with the company’s lobbyist “regarding drone legislation and amendment to legislation to cover Drummond facilities.” (

Provincial and federal Taiwanese officials face off over coal plant permit: To the alarm of Taichung City Council, Taiwan's Environment Protection Agency (EPA) overturned a decision to revoke the operating permits for two units at state-owned Taipower’s 5500 MW Taichung Power Plant. In December 2019 Taichung city officials announced the two units would not be allowed to operate after January due to breaches of limits on coal consumption. The EPA claimed the limits had not been breached, a claim Taichung officials said was based on listening only to Taipower’s side of the issue. (Focus Taiwan, Taipei Times)

Eskom’s pollution control commitments to World Bank ignored: When the World Bank agreed in 2010 to provide loans to Eskom for the 4800 MW Medupi coal plant, a condition was the installation of flue gas desulphurisation (FGD) equipment on each of the plant’s six units by December 2021. On December 30, 2019 the World Bank agreed to the seventh amendment of the loan agreement allowing the FGD units to be installed between 2027 and 2032. Lauri Myllyvirta from the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air estimates the lack of FGD units could result in the premature deaths of up to 900 people over the next 10 years. The ongoing controversy over Eskom’s breaching of air pollution standards comes as President Cyril Ramaphosa has flagged his support for the sale of some of the utility’s power stations to private investors to help reduce its crippling debt. (News24, Fin24)


Australia: Australian Government awards A$4 million for 1000 MW coal plant feasibility study to a company that has no office or energy industry experience.

Bulgaria: Two NGOs have filed a complaint with the European Commission over the burning of waste in coal power plants.

Canada: Neptune Bulk Terminal in Vancouver to close between May and September for C$800 million upgrade project aimed at doubling coal export capacity to 20 million tonnes a year.

Mexico: Tender for coal to supply the 2100 MW Petacalco plant delayed as coal generation cedes ground to other fuels.

Mongolia: Ban on coal exports to China extended until March 15 as coronavirus crisis continues.

New Zealand: Government will require providers of default superannuation funds to exclude fossil fuel investments after July 2021.

Pakistan: Shanghai Electric achieves financial close on Thar Block-1 mine associated with the 1320 MW Thar 1 coal project.

Poland: Officials from Katowice back plan for technology and gaming hub on site of a former coal mine.

South Korea: Ministry of Energy announces 28 coal units will be idled in March to cut pollution.

UK: Last two coal units at the Drax power station will cease regular generation by March 2021 with closure likely in September 2022 when the capacity market agreements expire.

US: Southern Company seeks to block clean energy advocates from participating in regulatory hearings.

US: A bid by the Wyoming Governor to divert an estimated US$12 million in coal royalties to a pro-coal campaign fund has been defeated.

Companies + Markets

German Minister backs green hydrogen push but wants coal-based hydrogen excluded from funding: The German Minister for the Environment, Svenja Schulze, has proposed annual tenders until 2030 for increments of 5,000 tonnes of hydrogen produced from renewable energy. Hydrogen that can be produced via electrolysers powered by renewable energy — referred to as ‘green hydrogen’ — is an alternative to the production of hydrogen from coal, oil and gas, which some have promoted in conjunction with carbon capture and storage (CCS). Last year the International Energy Agency noted that about 95 per cent of the estimated 70 million tonnes of hydrogen produced a year is from coal or methane. Schulze said she doesn’t want the German Government’s hydrogen strategy, which is due to be finalised in March, to be overshadowed by controversy over CCS technology. (Recharge)

Indian Minister confirms desire to diversify sources of metallurgical coal: The Indian Minister for Steel, Dharmendra Pradhan, has told parliament that the government is seeking to diversify India’s sources of metallurgical coal by investigating supplies from the US, Russia and Mongolia. Coal India is also looking to increase domestic production. In 2018–19 India’s total metallurgical coal consumption was 58.37 million tonnes, of which 51.83 million tonnes was imported. In 2018, 71 per cent of India’s metallurgical coal imports came from Australia, with minor additional supplies from the US, Canada and Mozambique. In 2018, India’s steel production was 106 million tonnes with the 2017 National Steel Plan targeting 300 million tonnes of steel capacity by 2030, a target which is considered optimistic. (Business Standard)

Trump administration looks to reopen federal coal leasing program: The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced it has lifted the ban on applications for new coal leases on federal lands after completing a court-ordered environmental assessment on the impact of the program on the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. The BLM study examined the impacts of the potential emissions from only four coal leases which account for only a small fraction of coal production from public lands. The moratorium on new coal leases on public lands was imposed by President Obama in 2016. (The Hill, Washington Post)

US regulator seeks to block Peabody and Arch joint venture: The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has filed an administrative complaint seeking to block a proposed joint venture of Peabody Energy and Arch Coal covering major mines in Colorado and the Powder River Basin. The FTC alleges the joint venture would “eliminate” competition between the companies, which produce over 60 per cent of all thermal coal from the Southern Powder River Basin. The FTC alleges that as a result of the joint venture power utilities would face higher prices. At the heart of the proposed joint venture are Peabody Energy’s North Antelope Rochelle Mine and Arch Coal’s adjoining Black Thunder Mine. The two mines produced a total of 157 million US short tons (142 million tonnes) in 2019. The FTC has also applied for a restraining order and injunction to prevent the merger proceeding until the completion of the administrative court trial, which is due to start on August 11. (S & P Global, Federal Trade Commission)

US coal demand falls further in 2019: The US Energy Information Administration estimates that coal sold to US power plants fell to 555.02 million tons (504 million tonnes) in 2019, a decline of 45 million tons (40 million tonnes). This represents a fall of 6.7 per cent on the year before. A recent analysis of sales of US domestic thermal coal production found that almost 20 per cent was sold to power plants earmarked for closure before 2025. According to the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign, 305 coal units have either been closed or their closure announced since 2010. Dominion Energy has requested permission to close two units at its 1015 MW Chesterfield plant in Virginia in May 2023 while Birchwood Power Partners has announced plans to close the 258 MW Birchwood plant in February 2021. (Platts, S & P Global, NBC)

Russian Treasury floats tax on coal production to underwrite Putin spending plans: The Russian Ministry of Finance is canvassing options to raise increased revenue, including a tax on increased coal production, in order to fund social programs ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin. The ministry is reportedly looking to raise 40 billion roubles (US$604 million) a year from the coal industry. The Russian Government has promoted increased coal exports especially into Asian markets, assisted by the weak exchange rate of the rouble to the US dollar. However, the national tax base has been narrowed by tax incentives that cover a growing proportion of oil and gas production. Proposals to increase coal taxes have been opposed by the ministries of Economic Development, Energy, and Industry and Trade. (S & P Global)

Another global sampling company dragged into Australian coal quality case: New documents filed in an Australian court case allege that SGS, a global testing company, was also involved in altering coal analysis certificates supplied to Jera Trading for seven shipments of coal worth US$39 million. Jera Trading is a joint venture between subsidiaries of two Japanese utilities, TEPCO and Chubu Electric Power. Justin Williams, a former commercial manager at small Australian coal mining company TerraCom, had previously alleged that a subsidiary of the testing company ALS had falsified certificates on the calorific value of shipments to be delivered to customers in Asia. ALS has suspended four staff and confirmed that some analysis of some coal samples had been changed “without justification”. SGS said it has started an internal investigation into the allegations. (Australian Financial Review [paywall])


Down to Zero: The politics of just transition, groundWork, Friends of Earth South Africa and others, November 2019. (Pdf)

This 234-page report details the challenges and some potential pathways in the development of a just transition in South Africa’s coal belt as the impacts of the climate crisis grow and the decline of Eskom accelerates.