April 5, 2018
Issue 223  |  View Past Issues

Editor's Note

As the economic viability of coal power continues to decline, opposition to coal power and mining is flourishing. In Indonesia a community in South Kalimantan has launched a legal challenge against a proposed coal mine. In Vietnam, a member of parliament has publicly opposed the construction of further coal plants. In South Africa, the recent dumping of President Zuma has opened up new opportunities for the country to pivot away from expensive coal towards ever cheaper renewables. In addition, two proposed coal plants in South Africa are being challenged before the energy regulator and one in the courts. In Australia, a poll has revealed majority support for the world’s largest thermal coal exporter to join Powering Past Coal Alliance in aiming to phase out coal power by 2030.

Bloomberg New Energy Finance’s (BNEF) latest assessment of power generation costs argues the combination of wind, solar and battery storage is fast eroding the economic viability of both coal and gas even in countries such as India. In South America, Engie will shortly unveil plans to phase out most of its existing coal plants and replace the capacity with renewables. And elsewhere, coal power and mining companies are in distress. In Pakistan, India, the US and South Africa, coal consumers are looking to governments for financial relief from the costs of flawed business decisions that assumed coal power and mining would be viable for a long time to come.

Bob Burton


South Kalimantan indigenous residents resist a coal invasion

Residents and the environmental group Walhi have launched legal action against the Indonesian government for permitting a proposed coal mine despite the lack of any environmental impact statement, writes Ian Morse in Mongabay.

Upheavals provide opportunity for Eskom to embrace renewables

The appointment of President Cyril Ramaphosa has created the opportunity for South Africa to embrace renewables instead of the expensive coal and nuclear plants pushed by former President Jacob Zuma and his supporters, writes Hartmut Winkler, Professor of Physics at the University of Johannesburg, in The Conversation.

Top News

Vietnamese MP opposes more coal plants: A member of Vietnam’s legislative body National Congress, Le Cong Nhuong, has publicly opposed the proposal to seek Chinese funding for the Quang Trach 2 coal-fired power plant in his Quang Binh province. “We should not seek funds from China and should not build more coal-fired power plants,” he said. His comments follow a proposal from a private Vietnamese firm and its Chinese partner to seek Chinese funds to finance 80 per cent of two coal plants, Quynh Lap 1 in Nghe An province and Quang Trach 2 in Quang Binh province. Vietnam’s Ministry of Finance has flagged the introduction of a coal import tax in a bid to help control pollution. (Dat Viet [Google Translate], VnExpress, Reuters)

South African coal plant faces new legal challenge: Earthlife Africa and groundWork have lodged a further legal challenge against the Minister for Environment’s decision to uphold the authorisation of the proposed 630 megawatt (MW) Thabametsi coal plant despite significant climate and local pollution impacts. The groups and the Center for Environmental Rights also argued before the National Energy Regulator of South Africa that applications for generation licences for the proposed Thabametsi project and the 300 MW Khanyisa plant should be rejected. The Minister for Energy, Jeff Radebe, has signed 27 power purchase agreements for renewable energy projects after the High Court rejected an application by a mining union to block the new contracts. (Center for Environmental Rights, Engineering News)

Poll reveals majority support for Australian coal phase-out: An opinion poll of 1417 Australians has found that 60 per cent of respondents supported Australia joining the Powering Past Coal Alliance comprising countries that agree to phase out coal power without carbon capture and storage by 2030. If Australia backed the alliance, which was founded by Canada and the UK, it would be the first major thermal coal exporter to join. The poll was undertaken in early December for the Australia Institute, a progressive think tank. (Guardian, Australia Institute)

Engie flags closure of Chile coal plants: In the next few weeks the French utility Engie will reveal details of its plan to close its 778 MW of existing coal plants in Chile. The company said it plans to replace them with renewable capacity and use its existing gas plants as back up. Engie considered the option of selling its coal plants but decided it would not get a good price in the current market and would also lose its customer base. “Our customers are also interested in moving to green energy,” said Philip De Cnudde, Engie’s CEO. A new 375 MW coal unit at the Mejillones power station is currently under construction and due to be commissioned in mid-2018. (Bloomberg, Bloomberg, CoalSwarm)

European lignite emissions rise as coal falls: European Commission data reveal that greenhouse gas emissions from hard coal plants fell by eight per cent across the 28 member countries in the European Union. However, with greenhouse gas emissions from lignite plants rising by three per cent in 2017, total power section emissions fell by only one per cent despite the rapid expansion of renewables. While lignite emissions fell by one per cent in Germany, they grew in Poland, the Czech Republic, Greece, Bulgaria, Romania and Spain. (Sandbag)

Coal ship at centre of Indonesian investigation of deadly oil spill: Indonesian authorities are investigating the possibility that the source of a major oil spill and fire which killed four fishermen in Balikpapan Bay was a Panamanian-registered coal carrier, the MV Ever Judger. The oil slick has spread across the bay with the fire sending thick black smoke across the city. Authorities have taken samples of the ship’s bunker fuel for tests. Indonesian oil company Pertamina, which operates a refinery in Balikpapan, argues the oil spill was of diesel fuel oil not crude oil from the refinery. (Radio Australia)


Australia: Government data reveals pollution from coal plants and mines increased over the last year.

Australia: NSW Government challenged to reveal details of negotiations over proposed Shenhua mine.

China: Fujian province temporarily bans foreign imports into the port of Luoyan.

India: Lobby group for private power producers opposes NTPC’s contract to supply power to Bangladesh.

Kenya: Court rejects one of two legal challenges against Chinese-back coal plant.

Netherlands: German utility Uniper demands compensation for early closure of Maasvlakte coal plant.

Poland: Australian company sues Ministry of Environment to grant licence for Jan Karski project.

Companies + Markets

Bloomberg says renewables eating case for coal: A BNEF report on the levelised costs of electricity (LCOE) of major electricity technologies finds that coal and gas generation is facing an “unprecedented challenge” from the rapidly falling cost of wind, solar and battery storage. [LCOE is one technique for comparing the cost of power generation across a wide range of technologies.] BNEF estimates the cost of coal power in India is US$68 per megawatt hour (MWh), compared to onshore wind at $US39 per MWh and solar at US$41 per MWh. In India the cost of onshore wind has fallen by 66 per cent over the last year while solar power has dropped by 45 per cent. (Bloomberg, RenewEconomy)

Indian private power lobby calls for stressed plants bailout: Ashok Khurana, Director General of Association of Power Producers (APP), which represents companies including Adani Power, Essar and Reliance Power, has conceded that “anytime” the cost of thermal coal on the global market goes higher than US$70 per tonne, imported coal power plants “become unaffordable and cannot be dispatched.” APP wants banks to write off about 70 per cent of the value of loans to private power developers, public utilities to take over Tata and Adani’s stressed Mundra plants and the finances of distribution utilities to be restored to enable prompt payment for power. (MoneyControl.com)

Coal India plans to cut inventory and boost solar: Coal India produced 567 million tonnes of coal in the 2017–18 financial year to the end of March, a 2.4 per cent increase on the year before. While the publicly owned company had a target of 600 million tonnes, it reduced production to allow large stockpiles to be cleared before they deteriorated further. The company sold just over 580 million tonnes in the year, with stockpiles reduced to just over 55 million tonnes. New mines producing 25 million tonnes were commissioned and a further 21 projects are slated to add a further 43 million tonnes capacity in 2018–19. The company has also restated its goal of building 20,000 MW of solar capacity by 2022 on land it already owns. (Coal India, Economic Times, Economic Times)

Pakistani industry group lobbies for abolition of coal import tax: The Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FCCI) is lobbying the Pakistan Government to drop the five per cent import duty to make industrial coal power and cement plants reliant on imported coal viable. The FCCI complains that the rise in the cost of imported coal and the devaluation of the Pakistani rupee against the US dollar is increasing the pressure for industrial plants to close their coal units and connect to the national grid. (Pakistan Observer)

Moody’s downgrades Eskom’s credit rating: Despite changes to Eskom’s board Moody’s has downgraded the utility’s credit rating due in part to concern that its commitment to completing the 4800 MW Kusile and 4800 MW Medupi coal plants will limit its ability to reduce debt. With opposition to further power price increases and with flat electricity demand Eskom is under growing pressure to reduce the number of staff. It has previously flagged the need to close old power stations but faces opposition from some unions representing the utility’s employees. (Moody’s, Fin 24)

US utility files for bankruptcy and calls for bailout: FirstEnergy Solutions, a subsidiary of First Energy Corporation which operates two coal plants, has filed for bankruptcy protection while it attempts to restructure its debts. Two days before filing for bankruptcy First Energy called on US Secretary of Energy, Rick Perry, to have the Department of Energy (DOE) use its emergency powers to bail out its struggling coal and nuclear plants as well as all similar plants in the PJM Interconnection region which spans 13 states and Washington D.C. In late 2017 the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission rejected a proposal by DOE to bail out uneconomic coal and nuclear plants. (Think Progress, Energy Collective)

Major US coal miner in default of loan agreements: Westmoreland Coal, one of the largest US coal producers, has revealed its auditor has flagged “that substantial doubt exists regarding its ability to continue as a going concern.” The qualified audit report in its annual report, which puts the company in breach of several loan agreements, has forced management to renegotiate waivers to the agreements to allow more time to restructure its US$1.1 billion debt and suspend the search for a new chief executive officer. (Westmoreland Coal, Billings Gazette)


“Prospects for steam coal exporters in the era of climate policies: a case study of Colombia”, Climate Policy, March 13, 2018. (Pdf)

This 20-page journal article provides a detailed overview of Colombia’s coal industry and the need to plan for a transition away from coal as the key markets shift away from coal power.