September 20, 2018
Issue 246  |  View Past Issues

Editor's Note

For months there have been ample indications that Japan’s position on new coal plants both domestically and globally has been in a state of flux. Japan not only has a raft of proposed domestic coal plants but is an outsized funder of new projects throughout the Asia-Pacific region involving major Japanese construction and equipment companies. The announcement by the major Japanese company Marubeni of a decisive shift away from involvement with new coal plants (albeit with caveats) is the latest indicator that the government lags well behind some of its major corporate players.

On the other hand, Kansai Electric Power and Kobe Steel, which are facing a ground-breaking legal challenge over a proposed plant, are yet to make the switch. Three Japanese banks are also the subject of a challenge that they have breached voluntary global guidelines for multinational companies over their support for a proposed coal plant in Vietnam.

New coal plants are facing hurdles elsewhere too. In Indonesia, the recent freeze on over 11,000 megawatts (MW) of new coal plants reflects a move by the government to curb PLN’s power plant spree. In South Africa, the latest crisis to hit the beleaguered Eskom is over its mismanagement of its coal supplies. To make matters worse Eskom is pushing for more plants to be exempted from the new tighter emissions standards due to take effect in 2020, a move which, if successful, would cost thousands of lives.

Elsewhere there has been a wave of protests against coal mining projects from the Hambach forest in Germany to New Zealand and coal ports in Australia and Canada.

Bob Burton


Indonesia hits the reset button on PLN’s expansion plans
The announcement earlier this month that 13,374 megawatts (MW) of planned new power capacity would be delayed represents a decisive government move to curb the runaway expansion plans of the government-owned utility PLN, writes Melissa Brown from the Institute for Energy Economics & Financial Analysis.

Hambach Forest — just because it's legal doesn't make it right

The protest against moves by electric utility RWE to clear the Hambach forest for the expansion of a lignite mine is about the future of Germany’s energy and protection of the global climate, writes Sonya Diehnlah in Deutsche Welle.

Adani's rail line cut shows project is on life support but still a threat to climate

The latest changes to Adani’s proposed Carmichael mine confirm that, despite optimistic talk about a long-term future for coal, the writing is on the wall, writes John Quiggan in The Guardian.

Texas electric grid did just fine without coal-fired power plants

After utilities shut down several expensive coal plants in Texas last year, critics wrongly claimed the state would be hit with soaring prices and blackouts, writes Chris Tomlinson in the Houston Chronicle.

Top News

Marubeni signals plan to avoid new coal projects, with caveats: The Japanese company Marubeni, which has over 12,000 MW of new coal plants under development and is one of the world’s largest new coal-fired power plant developers, has unveiled a new coal policy in which it will halve its 3000 MW of existing coal projects by 2030 and, with caveats, “no longer enter into any new coal-fired power generation business.” The company flagged that its exit from new coal generation is “a general principle” and that it “might consider pursuing” ultra-supercritical projects that are consistent with Japanese Government policies and standards. (Nikkei Asian Review [paywall], Marubeni)

Lawsuit filed against new Japanese plant: Thirty-one families, with members aged from 2 to 80 years, have filed a suit seeking an injunction against the construction and operation of two new 650 MW coal units in Kobe City. The new units are proposed to be built at the site of an existing plant operated by Kobe Steel. The lawsuit against Kobe Steel, Kansai Electric Power and the company created for the project, Kobelco Power Kobe No. 2, alleges the proposed plant will make air quality in the heavily populated city worse and contribute to climate change. (Citizens’ Committee on the Kobe Coal-Fired Power Plant)

Indonesian coalition launches campaign for clean energy switch: A coalition of 30 Indonesian civil society groups have launched the“Bersihkan Indonesia” [Clean Up Indonesia] campaign ahead of the April 2019 presidential election. The groups want the candidates for President and Vice-President to commit to cutting Indonesia’s use of coal and supporting a transition to clean energy. The coalition wants candidates to commit to ensuring that all energy commissioned after 2025 is from renewables. They estimate that over 6000 people die prematurely each year from pollution caused by coal plants, increasing to 28,300 a year if all proposed coal plants were built. (Antara)

German coal plant not likely to proceed: An executive from the power utility RWE has conceded that the proposed 1,100 MW lignite-fired Niederaussem L project is unlikely to proceed. “Formally we have not cancelled the approval application, but if one is honest, the likelihood that this plant will be built is very slim,” said Roger Miesen, the CEO of RWE Generation, the division of the utility responsible for the company’s coal plants. The Niederaussem L project was first proposed in 2011 and submitted its permit application for the units to Cologne district government in 2016. The new project was originally planned to replace four older units. (Montel News, CoalSwarm)

Protests over German police removal of protest camp in Hambach forest: Thousands of people across Germany have attended rallies and other protests against the removal of a protest camp by police in the Hambach forest. Police were accused of heavy-handed tactics as they removed tree houses and arrested dozens of protestors to allow utility company RWE to begin clearing more of the forest to cater for an expansion of its Hambach lignite mine. The police crackdown comes as the national coal-exit commission debates a shutdown of the country’s coal plants. (AP, Deutsche Welle, Deutsche Welle)

Eskom seeks another pollution compliance delay: Despite Eskom being granted extensions in April 2015 for compliance with new pollution standards, the publicly owned utility has applied for even more extensions, including for its new 4800 MW Medupi plant. A recently released background document has revealed that Eskom proposes that 13 coal-fired power stations will not comply with the 2020 sulphur dioxide standard until 2030. The document also reveals that eight coal plants will not meet the 2020 standards for oxides of nitrogen while five plants will not meet the new particulate matter standards. Five leading South African environmental justice groups have objected to Eskom’s latest bid for further extensions for the compliance deadline and estimate that each year’s delay will cause an estimated 2200 premature deaths. (Center for Environmental Rights)

Dozens arrested at protests against Australian coal port: A blind 92-year-old war veteran, Bill Ryan, was among 26 people arrested for blocking a coal railway and coal loaders at the Newcastle port. “I will be gone by the time climate change is in full swing, but I am taking action for my grandchildren, great-grandchildren and all future generations,” Ryan said. The protest was the culmination of two weeks of protests against the continued operation of the Newcastle coal port. Earlier in the week a former coal mine worker stood on top of a loaded coal train with a sign “End Coal” and called for a transition away from coal. He was arrested and charged with obstruction of a train. Charges against those arrested will be heard in early October. (Newcastle Herald, Newcastle Herald)

US coal ash dam fails in face of hurricane: Duke Energy has confirmed that the coal ash dam at the decommissioned L.V. Sutton Power Station in North Carolina partly failed after torrential rain from Hurricane Florence. Part of the crest of the dam was washed away in at least two places. Duke Energy initially stated that 2,000 cubic yards (1,530 cubic meters) of coal ash escaped from the dam and most likely flowed into the plant’s cooling pond but could not rule out that it flowed into the Cape Fear River. Floodwater also swept over the top of capped coal ash dams at the closed H.F. Lee Power Station and may also flood dams at the W. H. Weatherspoon Power Station. The US Environmental Protection Agency also reported a second spill of unknown volume from the Sutton plant. (Wall Street Journal, The Hill)

“Marubeni Corporation recognizes that climate change is a major issue shared by all of humanity. It is a problem that threatens the co-existence of the global environment and society, a problem that has an enormous effect on Marubeni’s business and its shareholders, and a problem that Marubeni believes must be dealt with swiftly,”

stated Marubeni in its new climate policy.


Australia: GFG Alliance ordered to repair damage to creek bed caused by subsidence from Tahmoor mine.

Bosnia and Herzegovina: Shareholders of Bosnian power utility EPBiH approve go-ahead for China-backed 450 MW Tuzla unit.

Canada: Ten more states and countries join the global Powering Past Coal Alliance including four US states, Rotterdam in the Netherlands, Wales in the United Kingdom and the Australian Capital Territory.

Canada: Fishing operators oppose plan by Kemron Coal to build coal transhipping terminal in Nova Scotia.

India: Coal India considers closing 53 underground mines as company focusses on larger open-cut pits.

New Zealand: Protest at gates of Huntly mine greets mining conference delegates.

Thailand: Supreme Court overturns ban on Mae Moh coal mining near river snail fossil conservation area.

US: Scott Pruitt, the former Environmental Protection Agency head, is in discussions to work as consultant for coal baron and CEO of Alliance Resource Partners, Joseph W. Craft III.

US: Washington State is now being sued by six other states for its refusal to grant permits for a coal-export terminal on the Columbia River.

Companies + Markets

Adani changes railway plan to cut costs: Adani has dropped its original plan for a new 388 kilometre-long railway for the Carmichael coal mine in favour of a new 200 kilometre rail line to connect to the existing Aurizon network. The company claims the change will substantially cut the cost of the rail project as the original proposed line would have cost A$2.3 billion. The Queensland Government has refused to sign the native title rights of the Wangan and Jagalingou traditional owners over to the company until it has finalised finance for the project. The Australian Government has decided that Adani does not have to complete a full environmental impact statement for its expansion of a proposed 2.2 billion litres water supply dam to 10 billion litres. (ABC News, Guardian, Guardian)

South African plants face coal supply crisis: South Africa’s publicly owned utility, Eskom, is facing a coal supply crisis as coal stocks at 10 of its 15 coal plants have fallen to less than 20 days supply. From August 2018 Eskom had planned to begin trucking coal from Medupi to its power stations in Mpumalanga province but encountered concerns from municipalities and other government agencies. Due to the late completion of new units at Medupi. The current crisis was in part caused by the financial collapse of the Gupta family company, Tegeta Exploration and Resources. Eskom is in the process of negotiating new tenders for coal supply. (EE Publishers, Reuters)

Reserve Bank of India refuses to join committee on stressed loans: The Reserve Bank of India has refused to join a government-initiated committee to address stressed loans to the power sector as the matter is still before the courts. The Supreme Court recently put a stay on the August 26 deadline for stressed power companies to be forced into the bankruptcy court for loan defaults. In the wake of the decision, which will return to the Supreme Court on November 14, the Indian Government is seeking to have the banks, power companies and state utilities reach agreement on the bad debts and avoid pushing the stressed power companies into bankruptcy proceedings. (Economic Times)

Complaint lodged against Japanese banks over Vietnamese coal plants: The Australian NGO Market Forces has lodged a complaint with the Japanese Government alleging that three Japanese banks — Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation, Mizuho Financial Group and Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group — have breached the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises by financing and considering support for specific coal-fired power projects in Vietnam. Market Forces identified the 1200 MW Nghi Son 2 plant as a specific example and wants the banks to ensure landholders have access to the environmental assessment of the plant, that residents are consulted, the human rights impacts of the project are reviewed and lending for the project reconsidered. (Market Forces)

German coal-exit commission stumbles on: Following its fifth meeting the four co-chairs of the German Government’s coal-exit commission insisted that there were “no predetermined decisions among the chairs” on the ultimate phase-out date for the country’s remaining coal plants. Earlier, the magazine Der Spiegel had reported that one of the four co-chairs of the commission, Ronald Pofalla, a former adviser of Chancellor Angela Merkel, had brokered an agreement to close 7000 MW of coal plants by 2020 and the remaining plants between 2035 and 2038. The suggestion of a deal caused alarm among other members, including environmental groups, that the government would seek to impose an outcome on the commission. According to the Global Coal Plant Tracker, Germany has 81 operating coal plants with a combined capacity of 48,375 MW. (Clean Energy Wire, Global Coal Plant Tracker)

Indonesian government flags plan to increase exports but industry has limits: In the wake of a 10 per cent depreciation of the rupiah against the US dollar the Indonesian Government has approved an extra 22 million tonnes of coal for export over the rest of the year to boost foreign exchange earnings. The government had initially flagged it would consider increasing exports by up to 100 million tonnes but the Indonesian Coal Mining Association stated that production was constrained by the difficulty in obtaining additional mining equipment. In 2017 Indonesia exported about 389 million tonnes out of its total production of 461 million tonnes. (Bloomberg)


Exposed: €58 billion in hidden subsidies for coal, gas and nuclear, Greenpeace, September 2018.

This Greenpeace report finds that 66 per cent of past, existing and proposed payments to existing power generators in European Union countries from capacity payments schemes are for coal plants.

“Coal capacity payments? Add it to the list of Poland’s coal subsidies…”, Sandbag, September 2018.

This article provides an overview of the history of Poland’s capacity payments system and how it is being used to support existing and proposed coal plants.