January 14, 2021
Issue 353  |  View Past Issues

Editor's Note

Since late December there have been several notable legal and political decisions against coal projects. In the UK, the Newcastle City Council rejected Banks Mining’s proposed Dewley Hill mine. In the US, a California court rejected a legal challenge against Richmond Council’s ban on the transport and storage of coal in the municipality. In Australia, the New South Wales Land and Environment Court rejected an appeal by the South Korean utility KEPCO against the refusal of its proposed Bylong coal mine. In another case a bankrupt US coal company has requested a judge allow it to end its lease over a proposed coal port site, effectively ending the project.

The US utility AES has closed two units at its Ventanas coal plant in Chile and has also announced its plan to sell its half-share of a coal plant in Vietnam. After resisting a proposal by NGOs for the accelerated closure of its Hayden Generating Station in Colorado, Xcel Energy has brought forward the closure dates. In South Korea, 10 of the country’s largest financial institutions have ruled out support for the part-built 2100 megawatt (MW) coal plant in Gangwon province.

In an indication that the metallurgical coal sector is encountering turbulence, South32 has flagged it may end further involvement in a fully permitted proposed mine in Queensland. This comes at a time of growing interest in steel produced from hydrogen rather than metallurgical coal. However, on the flip side of the ledger, the UK Government has allowed a new underground metallurgical coal project in Cumbria to proceed.

The next edition of CoalWire will be due out on January 29.

Bob Burton


2020 was a dismal year for coal power

South and Southeast Asian countries radically reconsidered their commitment to new coal plants last year in the face of new economic realities following the spread of coronavirus, writes Tom Baxter for Energy Tracker Asia.

As a sacred spring dries up, Hopi leader suspects a link to Peabody Energy’s coal operations

The falling water level at the sacred Toreva Spring has members of the Hopi community wondering if one of the causes is groundwater extraction for the coal mine operated by Peabody Energy, writes Ian James in Arizona Republic.

Poland goes all-out on coal rescue against the European Union’s higher climate goal

Just after European Union leaders agreed on an enhanced climate target for 2030 the Polish government launched a new hunt for more subsidies for its coal industry, write Elif Gunduzyeli from Climate Action Network Europe and Joanna Flisowska from Greenpeace Poland in Euractiv.


UK council rejects coal mine application

In late December the planning committee of Newcastle City Council unanimously voted against Banks Mining’s proposed Dewley Hill open-cut coal mine. The council stated the project “would not be environmentally acceptable with respect to landscape and visual impacts and impacts on biodiversity during both the operation and restoration of the site and could not be made so by planning conditions or obligations.” The company has proposed to mine 800,000 tonnes of coal over three-and-a-half years. The decision has been welcomed by Friends of the Earth and local groups. (Guardian, Newcastle City Council [Pdf], Friends of the Earth)

Court rejects appeal by South Korean utility over Australian mine

The New South Wales Land and Environment Court has rejected an appeal by KEPCO against the Independent Planning Commission’s (IPC) decision rejecting the proposed Bylong coal mine. The South Korean utility had proposed to produce 124 million tonnes of thermal coal over 25 years from the project. In September 2019 the IPC found the mine would have adverse impacts on groundwater, agricultural land and a range of scenic, heritage and natural values. The IPC also stated it was “rational” to reject fossil fuel projects that have higher impacts than alternative carbon intensive projects. In 2010 KEPCO paid A$400 million (US$269 million) for the mining rights for the project and spent a further A$115 million (US$77 million) buying up 13,000 hectares of agricultural land. In February 2020 the company announced it had written off A$642 million (US$432 million) on the proposed mine. The decision was welcomed by the Bylong Valley Protection Alliance. (Sydney Morning Herald, Environmental Defenders Office)

Top News

US court rejects legal challenge against Richmond ban on coal handling: On Christmas Eve the Superior Court of the State of California rejected a legal challenge against a City of Richmond ordinance phasing out the storage and handling of coal and petroleum coke (petcoke) after three years at the Levin Richmond Terminal. The court found “there is substantial evidence that coal and petcoke dust are harmful to human health based on a number of scientific studies and reports” and stated “there appears to be no argument that in general coal and petcoke dust are harmful to air quality.” The ordinance was adopted in 2020 in order to protect the health of residents. The companies that challenged the ordinance have the option of appealing the decision. (Sierra Club, Superior Court of the State of California)

Accelerated closure for Colorado coal plant: Xcel Energy has announced it plans to close the 275 MW Unit 2 of the Hayden Generating Station in Colorado by 2027 and the 190 MW Unit 1 by 2028. In October 2020 the utility announced it planned to close Unit 1 in 2030 and unit 2 in 2036. In November 2020 Colorado’s Air Quality Control Commission deferred a decision on a request by the Sierra Club and the National Parks Conservation Association for the accelerated closure of the plant, with Xcel Energy arguing the commission did not have the power to mandate closure of plants. (Casper Star-Tribune)

AES closes coal units in Chile and aims to sell Vietnamese plant stake: AES Gener, a subsidiary of the US-headquartered AES, has placed the two coal units at the Ventanas coal plant into emergency reserve several years earlier than planned. Chile’s national coal exit plan, which was announced in June 2019, allowed the two units at the 322 MW Ventanas plant to operate until 2022 and 2024 respectively. AES has also announced it plans to sell its 50 per cent stake in the 1242 MW Mong Duong 2 coal-fired power plant in Vietnam to a consortium led by an unspecified “US-based investor”. AES said it expects the sale to be completed in late 2021 or early 2022. (Argus, AES Corporation)

Bankrupt coal company finds no bidders for coal export terminal lease: Lighthouse Resources has been unable to find any bidders for its leases for the proposed Millennium Bulk Terminals coal port in Washington State. Lighthouse Resources, which filed for bankruptcy in December, has requested a bankruptcy court judge terminate its lease on the proposed terminal site and other contracts related to the project. Clark Williams-Derry from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis said, “if the judge approves this motion, I think the project should be considered completely dead.” (Casper Star-Tribune)

NSW water agency opposes plan for underground mine expansion: WaterNSW stated in a submission to the Independent Planning Commission (IPC) it is “strongly opposed” to a proposal by South32 to extend its Dendrobium underground mine under part of Sydney’s water catchment as it estimates it would cause surface water losses of up to 6–7 gigalitres a year. It also warned up to 25 key swamps could be affected by the diversion of water caused by subsidence and cracking caused by the mine. The National Parks Association argues water losses could be far worse than WaterNSW’s estimates. The proposed expansion has the backing of the Planning Department and the IPC is due to release its decision on the proposal on January 22. South32 has offered to pay A$108 million (US$84 million) to cover water losses, a proposal described by Lock the Gate as a “sweetheart deal so the company can bypass water law.” (Sydney Morning Herald)

Ohio Governor’ daughter benefitted from FirstEnergy-linked group: FirstEnergy, the utility at the centre of Ohio’s US$1.3 billion coal and nuclear power plant bailout scandal, contributed over US$13 million in 2019 to a range of campaign groups including US$300,000 to one that backed Republican Governor Mike DeWine and US$75,000 to one that supported the campaign by his daughter, Alice DeWine, to be elected Greene County prosecutor. Her campaign was unsuccessful. In July 2020 the FBI arrested Ohio House of Representative Speaker Larry Householder and four others over their role in a US$60 million bribery scandal associated with the passage of bailout legislation. Recently released records have revealed Sam Randazzo, while serving as the Chairman of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO), proposed changes via his private email account to the draft bailout bill to hamper wind projects. Randazzo was appointed to the PUCO by DeWine. In November the FBI raided Randazzo’s house after which he resigned but no charges have been laid against him. (Dayton Daily News, Cleveland [paywalled])

UK Government clears way for new coal mine: Environmental groups have expressed dismay at the decision of the Secretary of State, Robert Jenrick, not to call in for review the decision of Cumbria Council to approve West Cumbria Mining’s proposed metallurgical coal mine. The mine has a proposed life of 29 years. Friends of the Earth and a coalition of environment groups said Jenrick’s failure to call the decision in “undermines UK government claims of global leadership on the climate crisis”. The UK Government will host the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow in November 2021. (Guardian, West Cumbria Mining, Friends of the Earth)

Philippines Energy Secretary unveils loopholes in moratorium policy: The Philippines Department of Energy has clarified that its October 2020 policy announcing a moratorium on new greenfield coal plants will only apply to projects that have not already requested endorsement from the agency. The department’s memorandum, which is dated December 22 but was posted on January 11, states the moratorium does not apply to “existing power plant complexes which already have firm expansion plans and existing land site provision” or “indicative power projects with substantial accomplishments” including leases or acquired land and permits from local or regional councils. In the Philippines In July 2020 the Global Coal Plant Tracker estimated there was 900 MW of coal capacity which had been  announced, 7370 MW in the pre-permit phase and 1870 MW already permitted. It is unclear at this point how many projects will be affected by the new loopholes. (Manila Standard, Philippines Department of Energy)


Australia: Thai company Banpu agrees to pump A$150 million (US$117 million) into debt-laden NSW miner Centennial Coal.

Australia: Documents reveal Trevor St Baker’s Delta Electricity was asked to apply for an A$8.7 million (US$6.7 million) government grant for Vales Point plant upgrades weeks after the funds were announced in the federal budget.

China: National Energy Administration approves six coal mine projects in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region to produce 15.3 million tonnes a year.

US: The Environmental Quality Council has dismissed landowners’ concerns and upheld Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality permit extension for Ramaco Carbon’s proposed Brook mine.

US: Talen Energy challenges US$285 million cleanup plan for leaking ash ponds at the Colstrip plant in Montana.

US: Since 2016 power utilities and trade associations gave over US$6.8 million to members of Congress who sought to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.

Companies + Markets

South Korean banks rule out support for coal plant: Ten of South Korea’s largest managers, including Hanwha, KB Asset Management and Shinhan BNP Paribas, have ruled out investing in the 4.9 trillion won (US$4.5 billion) 2100 MW Samcheok Blue Power plant in Gangwon province. Site preparation work has largely been completed but still requires an additional US$730 million, to be raised through bonds over the next three years, to complete construction. Korea Beyond Coal estimates the plant would emit 390 million tonnes of greenhouse gases over a 30-year life. In comparison, South Korea’s plan for a Green New Deal aims to cut greenhouse gases by 12.3 million tonnes by 2025. (Financial Times, Global Energy Monitor)

Swiss National Bank rules out some coal investments: The Chairman of the Swiss National Bank (SNB), Thomas Jordan, announced the bank “will from now on exclude all companies primarily active in the mining of coal from our portfolios.” At the end of 2019 SNB had US$4.7 million invested in five coal companies. The Climate Alliance, a Swiss NGO, said the SNB’s announcement was a “small step” in reducing the climate impacts of the US$900 billion in foreign currency reserves placed abroad. However, the alliance noted that by only ending investments in major coal producers it “appears that SNB even intends to keep some of the largest coal producers, such as Glencore, in its portfolio.” (Climate Alliance, Swiss National Bank)

South32 doubts proposed Australian metallurgical coal mine will proceed: South32 is reportedly considering selling its 50 per cent stake in the part-built Eagle Downs metallurgical coal mine in Queensland following the results of a feasibility study on the project. South32 bought the part-built but mothballed project from Vale in 2018 for $US106 million with a further $US27 million to be paid in later payments. In late 2019 South32’s CEO, Graeme Kerr, flagged doubt that the returns on the A$1.5 billion mine would be attractive enough. The Chinese steel company Baowu owns the other half of the project but it is uncertain whether it would be interested in buying South32’s stake at a time of heightened trade tensions between Australia and China. (The Australian [Paywall])

Investors file resolution for HSBC to end coal lending: Fifteen pension and investment funds, supported by Share Action, have filed a resolution that would require HSBC to publish a strategy aligned with the goals of the Paris Agreement and set targets to reduce its fossil fuels exposure “starting with coal”. While HSBC has ruled out project financing for new coal plants, the resolution notes it is “one of the only mainstream banks in Europe that has not yet instituted a corporate finance exclusion policy for coal power.” Shareholders will vote on the resolution at the company’s annual general meeting in April. The resolution will be binding on the board if it gains 75 per cent support. (Guardian, Share Action)

Japanese bank condemned for support for Vietnamese coal plant: Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC), a public export credit agency, announced in late December it will lend up to US$636 million to the consortium proposing the 1200 MW Vung Ang 2 project in Vietnam. The project has drawn criticism from environment groups, investors and Japan's Environment Minister, Shinjiro Koizumi. Eri Watanabe from 350.org said the decision “shows the Japanese government is not very serious about complying with the Paris agreement and mitigating CO2 emissions.” (Japan Today, Japan Bank for International Cooperation)

Colombia exports slump in 2020: In the first 11 months of 2020 Colombia’s coal exports declined to their lowest volume since 2009, falling 2.7 per cent on 2019 levels to 66.5 million tonnes. Colombia’s coal export income over the first 11 months of 2020 was US$3.88 billion, down from US$5.26 billion over the same period in 2019. Production at Cerrejon mine, the country’s largest exporter, was hit by a three-month-long strike that ended on November 30. Exports have also been hit by rapidly falling demand in Europe, the major market for Colombian coal, the suspension of production at Glencore’s Prodeco mine and the slump in export prices. (Platts)

India institutes permit requirement for coal imports: India’s Ministry of Commerce and Industry will require importers to gain a permit for all coal cargoes arriving at Indian ports after February 1, 2020. Over the last five years India has promoted the goal of substituting domestic production for imported coal. In the wake of the economic shock after the COVID-19 pandemic the government has emphasised the need for coal import substitution to reduce foreign exchange outflows. (Reuters, Ministry of Commerce and Industry)


South and Southeast Asia’s Last Coal Plants, Global Energy Monitor, December 2020. (Pdf)

This 7-page briefing paper documents the dramatic decline in new coal plants proposed in South and Southeast Asia following major policy changes in Bangladesh, the Philippines, Vietnam and Indonesia.

A Review of the Role of Fossil Fuel-Based Carbon Capture and Storage in the Energy System, Friends of the Earth Scotland and Global Witness, January 2021. (Pdf) (A summary of the report is available here [Pdf] and the media release on it here.)

This 29-page report on global carbon capture and storage projects finds that just 0.1 per cent of annual global emissions from fossil fuels are captured using the technology with 81 per cent of the captured carbon dioxide used to extract more oil.