August 22, 2019
Issue 288  |  View Past Issues

Editor's Note

For almost 30 years coal mining companies have promoted carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology as a perennial ‘get out of jail free’ card. The performance of the two coal plants with CCS, along with the rapid decline in the cost of renewables, means the technology has been largely left behind in the power sector. A new assessment of the prospects for the technology in the Japanese power sector mirrors the experience elsewhere: it is very expensive and there are very few suitable sites.

The Japanese coal sector has been in the news on other fronts too. A proposed 1300 megawatt (MW) plant has been deferred and most likely cancelled. A new Greenpeace report on financial support by Japanese Government agencies for coal plants overseas estimates they could cause between 148,000 and 410,000 premature deaths.

Another Greenpeace report reveals that over half of human-made sulphur dioxide emissions are from coal power plants or industrial plants where coal is burnt. One of the worst-affected countries is South Africa, where a suite of myths promoted by the coal lobby serve only to delay the development of a just transition strategy for affected communities and workers. Elsewhere, such as in India and the US, shifts away from coal are being driven by utilities and investors. In Australia, Adani’s plan to build the massive Carmichael mine has suffered a further setback with the global contractor Aurecon moving to cut all ties with the company.

Bob Burton


Coal is now the emperor with no clothes

Myths promoted by supporters of South African coal mining only hinder the development of a just transition strategy for workers and communities facing the decline of coal power and exports, write Bobby Peek from groundWork, Makoma Lekalakala from Earthlife Africa and Melissa Fourie from the Centre for Environmental Rights in Business Day.

In the US the really big coal plants are beginning to close

With many of the small older coal units already retired, the latest round of coal plant closures are of far bigger plants with more significant climate benefits from closure, writes Benjamin Storrow in Scientific American.

How one billionaire could keep three countries hooked on coal for decades

A string of favourable regulatory and financial deals could allow high-cost coal from Adani’s Carmichael mine in Australia to be shipped to the company’s Godda coal power plant with the power for export to Bangladesh, write Somini Sengupta, Jacqueline Williams and Aruna Chandrasekhar in the New York Times.

A burning question for coal’s brightest star

If India is such a bright hope for global coal demand, why can’t investors see it, asks David Fickling in Bloomberg.

Top News

Japanese coal plant deferred: A spokesperson for Kansai Electric Power has confirmed that the proposed 1300 MW Akita coal plant has been “delayed” and that “no new construction schedule has been set.” The project was first proposed in March 2015 with construction slated to begin in August 2019. In March 2019 Marubeni Corporation, one of the companies in the joint venture that proposed the project, said that it would not proceed with the plant but had been unable to persuade Kansai Electric Power to abandon the project. Kansai Electric Power declined to comment on speculation that the joint venture has surrendered access rights to the electricity grid. (Reuters, Global Energy Monitor)

Report reveals deadly toll from Japan’s support for global coal plants: A report by Greenpeace Southeast Asia and Greenpeace Japan estimates that international coal plants funded by Japanese Government agencies between January 2013 and May 2019 are likely to cause between 148,000 and 410,000 avoidable premature deaths. Japanese agencies have provided US$16.7 billion in financial support for 17 coal plants. The report estimates most of the premature deaths would occur in India, Indonesia, Vietnam and Bangladesh. The report also estimates that Japanese-backed coal plants emit up to 13 times more nitrogen oxides, 33 times more sulphur dioxide (SO2) and 40 times more dust than plants built in Japan. (Greenpeace)

NASA data reveals world’s biggest sulphur dioxide polluters: A Greenpeace analysis of NASA data has revealed that India is the largest emitter of human-made SO2 emissions, accounting for 15 per cent of global tally. Other major SO2 emission hotspots associated with coal power plants are in South Africa, Russia, China, Turkey, US and Australia. The report estimates that over 52 per cent of the human-induced SO2 emissions originate from regions with high levels of coal use for power generation or industries. (Greenpeace)

Pakistan coal storage approved without public environmental assessment: Sindh Environmental Protection Agency has approved the construction of a new nine9 hectare coal storage project at Bin Qasim without requiring a public environmental assessment. The volume of coal being imported through the Pakistan Inte­rnational Bulk Terminal’s (PBIT) project at Bin Qasim has increased after a 2018 Supreme Court ruling limiting imports by the Karachi Port Trust. The court ruled that no coal should be stored in open stockpiles in Karachi city, which includes Bin Qasim, and could only be transported if strict dust control measures were implemented. PBIT has refused to release details of its proposed storage facility. (Dawn)

Myanmar deputy minister promotes coal plants: The Minister for Electricity and Energy, U Tun Naing, has told the upper house of Myanmar’s parliament that the government is “planning to go ahead with our plan to build coal-fired plants in partnership with private companies.” Citing the 33 per cent share nominated for coal in the country’s latest power development plan, he said that would equate 7940 MW of coal plants. Myanmar currently has only 160 MW of operating coal capacity. While Japanese and Chinese companies have floated coal projects, strong community opposition has stalled most projects from proceeding further. (Myanmar Times)

Australia blocks Pacific Island Forum mentioning coal, but at a cost: The Australian Government insisted any references to coal be eliminated from the final communique of the Pacific Islands Forum and refused to endorse calls for member countries to be carbon-neutral by 2050. Prior to the forum, small island states including Tuvalu and Kiribati adopted the Tuvalu Declaration which called for a ban on new coal mines and power stations and a phase-out of existing coal plants. In 2018 the Australian Government announced a ‘Pacific Step Up’ plan aimed at rebuilding Australia’s influence in the Pacific and countering growing Chinese influence. However, Australia’s refusal to address the threat that continued reliance on coal poses to low-lying nations angered many Pacific Island governments, some of which flagged that accepting support from China may be “the lesser of two evils.” The former President of Kiribati, Anote Tang, has called for Australia to be suspended or expelled from the Pacific Islands Forum. (ABC, SBS, RNZ)

“It makes no sense to invest heavily in expensive technology that is itself energy intensive to strip the CO2 [carbon dioxide] from the flue gas and pump it underground, just to keep on using coal when there are alternatives available,”

says Simon Lewis, a professor at University College London.


Australia: Adani bankrupts Aboriginal leader over legal challenge costs.

Australia: Queensland Government introduces bill to allow searches of climate change protesters and ban lock-on devices.

Czech Republic: Subsidiary of CEZ sues [Czech] protesters who entered Bilina lignite mine for 661,000 crowns (US$28,000) in costs.

Germany: Analysts monitor September 1 state elections in Brandenburg and Saxony states for implications for national coal phase-out plan.

UK: Protesters blockade Field House coal mine in Durham and Shotton coal mine in Northumberland.

US: Doubts over viability of deal aimed at propping up the San Juan Generating Station in New Mexico.

US: Appeals court rebuffs Jacobs Engineering request for immediate review of coal ash decision.

Vietnam: Government to sell a 35 per cent stake in Vietnam National Coal–Mineral Industries Holding Corporation, the country’s largest coal mining company.

Companies + Markets

CCS in the power sector eclipsed by renewables: Analysts have dismissed the commercial viability of retrofitting CCS technology onto coal power plants due to the dramatic fall in costs of renewable power alternatives. There are currently only two commercial coal power plants fitted with CCS technology. David Schlissel from Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis said that since the Boundary Dam plant in Canada was commissioned in 2014 it has only operated at 51 per cent capture rate compared to Saskpower’s 90 per cent target. The Petra Nova plant in Texas captures only one-third of the flue gas of one of the four units at the plant. The cost of firmed solar and wind power are now far lower than CCS, even after assuming further cost reductions are achieved if more coal plants are fitted with the technology. (Financial Times)

NGO finds Japan’s carbon capture strategy is flawed: The Government of Japan’s June 2019 strategy for meeting its Paris Agreement obligations emphasised the importance of carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) technology, especially with new coal plants. However, a preliminary study by Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry estimated it would cost US$124 per tonne to capture carbon dioxide at existing coal plants and store it underground. The NGO group Kiko Network argues that since Japan has little petroleum production, the prospects for “enhanced oil recovery” and accessible storage sites are very limited. Kiko Network also notes that as Japan is vulnerable to major earthquakes, there are concerns about the long term stability of any carbon dioxide storage sites. (Kiko Network)

Global engineering company dumps Adani: The global engineering and consultancy company Aurecon has moved to sever all commercial ties with Adani, including on the Abbot Point coal terminal which is earmarked to handle coal from the proposed Carmichael coal mine. Aurecon also ruled out working for any projects for any Adani company. In a separate development, Unisuper, a major Australian superannuation fund and one of the top Aurizon shareholders, has confirmed that it has been pressing the rail services company to avoid any relationship with Adani beyond that which is legally required as the operator of a monopoly rail network. Aurizon is the only company that can feasibly transport coal from the proposed mine to the export terminal. (Australian Financial Review, ABC)

Funding for Indian coal plants plummets, mostly from public banks: An analysis of project finance lending to 54 energy projects in India in 2018 found that funding for coal power projects declined by 90 per cent compared to 2017. The Centre for Financial Analysis, a financial institute based in Delhi, found that in 2018 only five coal power projects gained funding. Support for the coal projects, which have a combined capacity of 3800 MW, amounted to 60.1 billion rupees (US$850 million). Of the funding for coal projects, two-thirds came from majority government-owned financial institutions, while almost 75 per cent of funding for renewables projects came from privately owned commercial banks. (Centre for Financial Analysis)

Data reveals Chinese ‘green’ bonds support coal projects: In the first half of 2019 an estimated US$1.1 billion in “green” Chinese corporate financial bonds were allocated to 13 new coal plant, coalbed methane and coal-to-chemicals projects. While Chinese regulators had proposed to bring green bonds into line with international standards, which exclude coal plants and projects, the powerful National Development and Reform Commission has opposed the move. In 2018, 80 per cent of China’s renewable energy fund was allocated to support coalbed methane and shale gas projects, a move criticised by environmental groups. (Reuters)

US company wins case against US tax service over treated coal: A US Tax Court judge has ruled in favour of Fidelity Investments in its challenge against an Internal Revenue Service decision to disallow tax credits and claimed losses for the production of chemically treated coal for use in coal power plants. Fidelity Investments had invested in coal treatment plants at three South Carolina power plants which could qualify for up to US$330 million in tax credits over a decade. In the US, chemically treated coal is estimated to generate over US$1 billion a year in tax credits. However, the tax loophole that allows the scheme has faced criticism from environmental groups and members of Congress which argue the chemically treated coal does not reduce pollution from power stations, which was the original justification for the tax credits. (Reuters)

Navajo company aims to buy three mines from bankrupt Cloud Peak Energy: The Navajo Transitional Energy Company (NTEC), which in March 2019 dropped plans to buy the Navajo Generating Station and associated mine, has reached agreement to buy three Wyoming coal mines from Cloud Peak Energy. The deal involves the purchase of the Antelope and Cordero Rojo mines in Wyoming and the Spring Creek mine in Montana. In 2018 the three Powder River Basin mines produced about 50 million tons (45 million tonnes) of thermal coal and generated revenue of US$832 million. The purchase, if completed, will make NTEC the third largest US coal producer. (Gillette News-Record, Navajo Transitional Energy Company, Cloud Peak Energy)

Correction: In CW #287 (“Study finds little impact from German coal phase-out”) the costs of Germany power prices after the closure if 24,000 of coal capacity were misreported as 0.4 and 0.5 Euros when they should have been 0.4 and 0.5 euro cents. The sentence should have read: “The study finds that with renewables increasing to 65 per cent by 2030, household power prices would be 0.4 Euro cents (0.44 US cents) per kilowatt-hour higher while industrial prices would benefit from wholesale prices being 0.5 Euro cents (0.55 US cents) per kilowatt-hour lower.”


Double Standard, Greenpeace Southeast Asia and Greenpeace Japan, August 2019. (Pdf) (Executive summary in English here, Japanese here and Vietnamese here).

This 52-page report reveals that coal plants funded overseas by Japanese Government agencies impose a heavy health cost on host countries due to their lax pollution control standards.

Global SO2 emission hotspot database, Greenpeace, August 2019. (Pdf) (An interactive map of the sites is here and the Excel spreadsheet database is here.)

This 39-page report analyses NASA data on S02 emissions and includes a ranking for all 500 plants and an overview on emission standards for coal power in major polluting countries.

Coal vs Renewables 2018, Center for Financial Accountability, August 2019. (Pdf)

This 16-page report reveals a 90 per cent decline in coal power project finance and lending in 2018 compared to 2017.

Risky Dreams: Carbon Capture, Utilization, and Storage (CCUS), Kiko Network, August 2019. (Pdf)

This 5-page briefing paper challenges the Japanese Government’s reliance in its June 2019 strategy to meet its Paris Agreement targets by relying heavily on the viability of carbon capture and storage technology.